And here's the advert for the course I'm teaching. See it? Click on it to make it bigger. See? There I am! Second one down from the top, and so so so excited about this! This course is a toe in the water, testing what might be the beginning of another career for me, and one that could last for a couple of decades or more.
Winter weekends filling up and all sorts of possibilities are right 'round the corner.
When I get there, "the holidays" will have come and gone. The decorations that are not yet up will have been taken down. The meals will have been eaten. (Standing rib roast this year, I wonder? A goose maybe?) Advent, and St. Nicholas, and St. Lucia, and Midnight Mass (carrying in it all the other Midnight Masses we've gone to) will be over for another year, and I will spend January wondering why I feel a little depressed but this year I will be too busy to think about it. By the end of February, I'll be done with all my weekends at school, I'll be done teaching my courses, and I'll be much more than ready for our annual getaway at the beach.
That's what keeps going through my head. In a few more weeks - one winter - which I know goes in a flash - so much of what I am now planning will have become part of my past. I'll be the person who did all that. The planning, the dreaming, the wondering, the wistful wishing and the memories of days gone by ... the moment ... everything after the moment.
Remember these? These wooden mazes with the knobs that make the two inner boxes tilt up and down or side to side? The little metal ball bearing to keep balanced on the line by resisting the temptation to over steer, stopping the momentum, or looking too far ahead?
Every once in awhile, you could get the metal ball into one of the corners along the way, and you could re-gather your focus and get more calm and determined.
But it's not a good idea to try to stop the momentum to try to balance the ball in the middle of the travel sections. For those, you have to stay in the game all the way - you have to keep your eye on the rolling ball and the line, and you have to feel the way the knobs move in your hands. Most of the game is always going to be before or after where that ball is at any moment - and the game happens at the spot where the ball touches the painted line, and it happens in motion. One moment at a time.
But I have happy rubble! There aren't any pictures of happy rubble. My rubble is what happens after a concerted and deliberate effort to push over a wall. Bruises and scrapes and blood and tears of frustration, alternating with highly Zen periods of 's-all-okay, and more impatience and more blood and tears, and a rock fell out now and again, but the wall held ... and now, all at once, crash!!
Me: A Timeline
- Child stage: complete.
- Adolescent stage: complete, with amendments* made at a later date.
- Young adulthood: complete, despite necessary catching up (*see above).
- Active motherhood: done, and done! No really. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Pay no attention to the adult in the bedroom. And, no, actually, I am NOT fussing about things over which I have no more control. It was an excess of sugar that gave me insomnia, okay? (shut up)
- Transition into new phase of adulthood: geeeeeeez! Y'all? Transitions suck!
- The year of turning 50 in A.D. 2010
- Soldier daughter home from a year in the Middle East.
- Older son graduates from college.
- Pairing off happening, prospects very happy-making.
- Course work at school serving as a means for focusing intent.
- Heard Mary Catherine Bateson speak - remembered that I am still me. I am the me I have been becoming my whole life.
- Literature of Resistance + Nazareth House Apostolate + finding out how to be a person in a specific and disciplined practice of a traditional faith ("see the person, not the ideology")
- A conversation with Andrew Pate, the painter and community activist
- An accepted proposal, and now getting ready to teach my first session of Voice Lessons
I'll call the series (something like):
Hearing Your Voice (lots of shared reading aloud + free writes on prompts)
Finding Your Voice (journals, poetry, letter-writing + intentional self-discovery)
Using Your Voice (poetry, records of personal experience + testimonial literature)
... and in conjunction with local artists? Things like, maybe, but I don't know because we haven't talked about it yet ...
... words fail ... this will be a team effort, and it's not time yet to know these titles
Now that the rocks have rolled away and I stand in the midst of the rubble, blinking and a little stunned, I have started to laugh. This is the old dream - it's here again - this is the Art Therapy dream (from February of 2007), but I don't have to do the "art" part!
The low residency MA in Individualized Studies Program offers a 48 credit concentration in Transformative Language Arts with masters degree.The Transformative Language Arts concentration is for students interested in the intentional use of the written, spoken, and sung word for individual and community growth, development, celebration, and transformation. Students choosing this concentration ...
Yarn fibers and hanks of thread.
Twisting maybe strands of belts or straps and
I cannot figure out what it is and
I know it is important
because it was given
this past weekend.
I keep teasing the strands apart
running my fingers through it
like hair I'm trying to braid
behind my head.
Embroidery thread. First,
pull apart the strands.
Lay the threads against each other
so that their spun nature aligns
It is impossible to attend (be attentive, be in attendance) for a weekend of Testimony, Night, Woman at Point Zero, The Little School, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Death and the Maiden ... the palpable answering pain of my fellow students ... without being permanently changed. I was right. I'm back from The Village, and everything here is the same, but I am not the same. So everything's different now for me.
It's becoming a theme for the year.
2010: The Suffering of Others.
2010: The year my soldier came back from Afghanistan.
2010: The Year of Nazareth House. (Give if you can. Please. Click on the link and give if you love the people who love without condition of litmus tests. Color, creed, politics or past - none of it matters to these people. All they do is love.)
2010: The year I heard the pain of men whose women are destructive - several such men, concurrently and all in this year
2010: The Literature of Resistance
Pull apart the strands and feel
the places where it grabs
every tiny scratch or hangnail or rough
place on your fingers.
I hear you. I can feel you here
in the palm of my hand
and along the inner edges of my own touch
You are no longer
Softly faded into the neat and woven
threads of destiny and the history channel
is not pausing for a commercial
and I hear you now.
I find myself wondering if there is anything in the natural world that has its layers peeled back over and over, and yet neither dies nor hardens. Are cork trees like that, I wonder? Cinnamon, perhaps? I know why I was not peeled to this depth before now. I would have died in some way. I think the sounds of this sort of pain would have caused me to turn away in self-protective need ... and maybe that is what happened. Maybe we can stop our ears and block the sounds if we are not yet strong enough to hear them.
But now I've heard them. I cannot un-know, and I cannot un-hear. I got back off the island, left The Village again, I'm back at my flat in London, and I have no idea what to do about what I know and heard. How do I give this into the safe keeping of another?
I think this is becoming a "thing I do." A few weeks ago, my adult daughter called me from the army base, and asked, "What 're ya doin?" I was not yet fully back into the room in which I'd answered the phone -- I mean to say, I was still in the last clutches of my thoughts. And so, to give myself a few more seconds to become conscious again, I said, "Ruminating." She laughed and answered, "Yeah - because that is a thing - that you do." I suspect now that finding ways to help people hear is becoming a thing - that I do.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God
walking in the garden
in the cool of the day
and Adam and his wife hid themselves
from the Presence.
The knowledge of good and evil
the innocence of not hearing
and now it's gone
and there is nothing left to do but listen.
I heard Your voice
in the garden and I was afraid
because I was naked.
And I hid myself.
Lord, teach us to pray.
Because I'm still me. I'm still the me I've been becoming all these years, and I was once the me who could not witness verbal arguments without beginning to shake like a sort of nervous purse dog -- or survivor. And what did I have to survive? Who could be sad in Pleasantville? Sadness is just so very unpleasant, and I'm sure it was not allowed.
Thursday night, I walked to another neighborhood eatery. The places for meals and conviviality are as thick as the falling leaves in that neighborhood. A visitor once asked some of us if there was a place close by where he could get a good beer - and we laughed at him. "Go out onto the sidewalk," we said. "Throw a rock, and head to whatever building it hits. There's probably a good beer in there. A burger too, if you want one."
It's been a long time since I met people for a 6:30 dinner and didn't leave the restaurant until 8:30. One glass of wine - Prosecco, actually - because Prosecco goes with nearly everything in a pasta place. One meal of Rigatoni Zuccati. Only a couple of pieces of bread. And the conversation flowed, and the food took me an hour to eat, and it was good all the way to the bottom of the dish, and perhaps if I ate every meal that way, I would always sleep like a contented baby, safe and quiet inside, safe and quiet surrounding me.
Because I am still me. I am the me I have been becoming my whole life, and I was once afraid to be. To be in the moment. To be at the party. To be without performance or presentation. I've learned at last to be, and to be happy at dinner with people who are interesting because they're interested. (It's even more fun when they're in love.)
And Friday morning came. What is the speech act of testimony? What is it for? What does it do? How do we listen and how do we try not to listen and why?
The boy who wanted only to be his father's son and never can forget the sounds of his own fear as they beat his father senseless - never can forget the sounds of his father's death. The woman screaming about the chimneys and the fire and made silent by her fellow prisoners in a cattle car, who even then could not imagine chimneys and fire and silence. The Plague crept in and stole the people away. They did not stop it before it closed their town. Plague could not happen. Not now. Not here. They could not imagine it. We cannot imagine it.
Because that is what it is.
It is us.
We. You. Me.
We could not imagine it, and so it happened.
And we're still us. We are the us we've been becoming our whole lives.
On Saturday, October 30, 2010, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform one of the Knight Foundation's "Random Acts of Culture" at Macy's in Center City Philadelphia. Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ - the world's largest pipe organ - the OCP Chorus and throngs of singers from the community infiltrated the store as shoppers, and burst into a pop-up rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" at 12 noon, to the delight of surprised shoppers. This event is one of 1,000 "Random Acts of Culture" to be funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over the next three years. The initiative transports the classical arts out of the concert halls and opera houses and into our communities to enrich our everyday lives. To learn more about this program and view more events, visit randomactsofculture.org. The Opera Company thanks Macy's and the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ (wanamakerorgan.com) for their partnership, as well as Organ Music Director Peter Conte and Fred Haas, accompanists; OCP Chorus Master Elizabeth Braden, conductor; and Sound Engineer James R. Stemke. For a complete list of participating choirs and more information, visit operaphila.org/RAC. This event was planned to coincide with the first day of National Opera Week.
Jittery. Jumpy. Twitchy and unable to settle.
There are moments in a life lived consciously, when awareness seeps in under the door and through the cracks around the window frame, and just before losing consciousness you know. Now. It's now. From here on out, all of my reference points and indicators and familiar protections will be altered or gone.
I am choosing - and I know it. I am choosing to stand before the masked faces of my inner jury and make an argument. The changes we have in our lives - the big ones, I mean - they make us Number Six, taken to The Village, held captive there, and finally making our arguments to our own masked faces.
With a few exceptions, each episode begins with a repetition of some of the opening sequences from the first episode--McGoohan resigns; his file is dropped by a mechanical device into a filing cabinet labeled "Resigned"; he is gassed; he wakes in "The Village" and confronts (the new) Number Two. This beginning is followed by a set piece of dialogue:
Prisoner: Where am I?
Number Two: In The Village.
Prisoner: What do you want?
Number Two: Information.
Prisoner: Which side are you on?
Number Two: That would be telling. We want information, information, information...
Prisoner: You won't get it.
Number Two: By hook or by crook we will.
Prisoner: Who are you?
Number Two: The new Number Two.
Prisoner: Who is Number One?
Number Two: You are Number Six.
Prisoner: I am not a number. I am a free man.
Number Two: Ha, ha, ha, ha....
With few exceptions, this sense of knowing has preceded a profound and seismic change in my life. Although (I may at last have learned) "it" will all be the same when I return to my life at the end of the show, I will not be the same. I will have been a Prisoner in the Village, silenced at every turn, unable to make an argument or bring awareness - or find it.
The difference this time is that I have hopped onto the the helicopter of my own volition. I choose this change.
I choose this change - I choose this course in narratives born of pain - I choose this awareness. I choose to be the living clay on which the Literature of Resistance may be written, and I choose it for all of the Prisoners who have been silenced. I choose it for the silencing of gas chambers and columns of smoke, and I choose it for machete amputees and fearful children.
And I choose this next stay in The Village for the smallest darkling spot of confusion in the mind and soul of anyone I might ever stand before as a teacher. I do not compare our privileged lives and times to the unmaking of the Holocaust - the erasure of voices and unreality of a nightmare made corporeal and then snuffed out so easily. But I see that the planting of one healthy tree is an answer to the fire of mountain ranges, and I choose to plant the trees.
I've been here before. I've been drugged and captured and taken to The Village when I did not want to be and no one warned me and the panic of it nearly unhinged my mind and stopped my body.
But this is different. I know the white balloon is here, and I know it will not let me leave until it's time to make an answer to the masks in the gallery. But this time, I choose it.
Every instrument in the symphony of my life is playing on key, in tune, and in concert right now. The course in self-assessment is ratifying my inner foundations, while the course in literary theory is teaching me to assess the literature, using Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a model, and the course in the literature of resistance and pain and injustice and atrocities is giving me the practicalities I need to be a valid witness ... and whether or not I teach at the community center this winter, I will - I know now - I will find ways to be a witness to the stories of others.
This is a thing I could not do before now. I knew I was not strong enough to stand as witness to the testimony of pain in this way. I wasn't born with the filter or the separator that makes some people so utterly capable of volunteering for Hospice or working in the cancer wards where children are the patients or doing art therapy for the PTSD sufferers. I couldn't do it, not because I didn't want to, and not because I would rather be deaf, blind, and dumb to the suffering of others ... I couldn't do it because I couldn't figure out how.
I know what bruises feel like in my body, and I know what injury means to my own loved ones. For them, I can stand as a witness and I can ratify and record their pain when they need a witness. But for strangers? For the people with whom I share no past? All I have ever been able to do for such people is -- well, nothing, really. And nothing else in my life pulls and tears at me like this knowledge - that I have done nothing. That I feel helpless to change such appalling inaction. I am ashamed of my cowardice and humbled by my helplessness.
But now -- because of this book required for The Literature of Resistance -- because it was written by a psychoanalyst and a lit professor who teamed up to "examine the nature and function of memory and the act of witnessing, both in their general relation to the acts of writing and reading, and in their particular relation to the Holocaust," and because in this book they have found a way to teach what they have learned, now I have tools. I'll have to practice to become any good at this, but here is what a witness needs to do for the one giving testimony. The list begins on p. 72.
- Accept the sense of paralysis, brought about by the fear of merger with the atrocities being recounted.
- Accept the sense of outrage and anger, unwittingly directed at the victim, knowing that this tearing apart is happening because of our inadequacy to respond and a consequent desire to make the pain the fault of the sufferer.
- Accept the withdrawal and numbness in one's own reactions.
- Know that the flood of awe and fear make it natural to endow the speaker with a kind of sanctity, and that this is a way to avoid the intimacy entailed in knowing.
- Avoid hyperemotionality, which superficially looks like compassion, but in actuality floods the testifying victim in the defensive affectation of the listener.
and mostly ... for me, mostly ... for me, the missing piece ...
Avoid attempting "foreclosure through facts, through an obsession with factfinding; an absorbing interest in the factual details of the account which serve to circumvent the human experience."I cried when I read that last night. I have hurt a lot of people by defending myself through my obsession with factfinding, and I could not figure out at the time what was happening. Now I know. And I find that I prefer honest regret and repentance to the horrible knowledge that I was only adding to someone's pain.
Thank you, Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub.
I sent off that course proposal to the local Parks & Recreation people last week, and they said they'd make their decision this week, and I feel like I'm waiting for my plastic Junior Birdman wings to arrive after saving up 250 boxtops. I designed a front "cover" sheet for course handouts. I've been coming up with random ways to explain things like perspective and point of view when we write about our own lives and experiences. And, of course, books I could use -- I keep thinking of more. So, I might as well write it all down.
Here they are, for you. My favorite books of self-discovery coupled with the writing process. The covers are linked to the author sites wherever authors have sites, and to Powell's otherwise.
Some of these authors will probably seem a little "out there" for a lot of my friends who I know read my blog. And, to be completely honest, I did have some hurdles to get past, myself, when I first saw some of them.
But here's what I know now that I didn't used to know. There is a lot of value in "whatever works," and there is a lot of truth in home truths, and there is a lot of credibility in old ways ... and most of all, Love answers a lot of questions. Could I use this? Is it loving? Will this help me? Is it loving? Does it matter if I agree with the author about everything else before I can try some of the things that author does or explains? Is it loving?
See, I figure that if a thing in this world works a certain way, then it was made to work that way. If people blossom and bloom and become more fully themselves under certain practices or with very particular kinds of skills ... well, anyone who believes God made people would have to conclude God made people to work that way, right? That's what I think.
I know that we humans botch things up, and misunderstand, and get things wrong ... and I know we can hurt ourselves and often do. But you can figure out what kind of tree you're looking at if you know what fruit it bears. These books have borne good, loving, helpful, and transferable ideas and skills in me.
So here they are, in no particular order -- some of my faves, for lots of reasons. Some are presented as more profound, some as lighter. Some are meant for psychological and sociological study, some for personal self help. All contain exercises that show the reader/writer more of himself or herself, and all are worth owning. With two exceptions (I won't say which ones), I don't really think I'd be best buds with the authors ... but I'd love a meal or two and wine and conversation with all of them at least once.
So ... have they called yet? Check the messages. Can I teach this winter?