Monday, September 29, 2008

Who's the Muse?

An excerpt from a bit of writing I did a while back and recently rediscovered...

Part of what I was writing in the text was that there is no difference for me between the Muse and the Spirit. Given the truth of that, I also had to step back and notice then how much more human the image of the Spirit had become to me. Or, really, I had to open up to the full possibility of the Spirit revealing herself in different ways all of the time. That by itself, I would readily accept. Symbols of the Spirit have long been diverse for me—wind, ocean waves, the changing morning skies in the various places I've lived, quiet, the stone in my pocket… But, if you ask me to describe my Muse… I’d say she wore glasses and loose fitting dresses with pockets, always with pockets.

She’s short, most of the time. And solid, quite there. She has a kind, penetrating, secure strength about her…and such tenderness too. The strength is used but never wielded. The Muse is fond of touch, not afraid of giving or receiving it. A hand on the cheek or shoulder, a brush with her skirts, and a lingering presence that is something like the wave of Spanish moss in live oak trees, the salty tang of sea air, the stillness of cathedrals from centuries past, and the feeling of cool clean sheets at night after a day of good work, all twined together.

She moves easily in her dresses… not making much sound except the slight jingle of whatever is in her pockets and the rub of buckle on leather on her knapsack. Oh…and when she laughs! Yes, when the Muse laughs, she rarely holds back. Actually, she never holds back. It’s a part of her being quite present, quite there.

She is generous with her quiet as well as her joy…sitting with me comfortably…her feet up, pen and paper in hand, or beads, or a book…or sometimes nothing, simply thinking, watching, noticing, a bird outside the window or the interesting shadows made by objects on the shelves. I think she naps sometimes too.

I asked her once what she kept in her pockets. She put her hand in and fished around a bit, murmuring something at the same time. When she withdrew and opened her fist, there on the palm of her hand was a fragment of seashell, a leather lace of royal blue glass beads, a coin, a feather, a bit of string, and a pencil sharpener. After a moment, in went the hand to the other pocket. She brought forth three sunflower seeds, a flask of water, a tiny globe, a small pouch of dirt, and a remarkably clean square of orange bandana. She didn’t offer any explanations. Just winked, actually, and began to hum as she replaced the contents of her pockets.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friday Five

Turns out yesterday was Johnny Appleseed Day--here are the RevGal Friday Fives in his honor...

1. What is your favorite apple dish?

Apple Crisp--great memories from childhood; Also, made it once in community and it became a favorite birthday request. Also, great for breakfast the following day...uhhh, those rare times there's any left in the pan!

2. Have you ever planted a tree? If so was there a special reason or occasion you can tell us about?

Planted, no--but honored one that was 150+ years old, yes. We had a whole ceremony to honor the Duchesne Oak at the school where I worked in Lousiana.

3. Does the idea of roaming around the countryside (preaching or otherwise) appeal to you? Why or why not?

Yes--I've been told my theme song could be Don't Fence me In--this plays into it. Always meeting new people, exploring, sharing something I love and that is drawn forth from me in the exploration and meeting new people.

4. Who is a favorite "historical legend" of yours?

I do like Johnny Appleseed--Paul Bunyan too, actually. Hmm...would Rosie the Riveter count?

5. Johnny Appleseed was said to sing to keep up his spirits as he traveled the roads of the west. Do you have a song that comes when you are trying to be cheerful, or is there something else that you often do?

Actually, I have a tree that I love--it fills the end of the street as I walk to school each morning. I love watching her change with the seasons, standing there each morning, waiting for me, clapping her greens, waving her branches, dancing with the breeze, cradling the birds.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In case you wondered

From my bus ride home...

"This is how you become REAL do this (approx. five year old boy makes whacking-chopping motions with each forearm) then one arm turns yellow, one turns blue, and then it happens! But, only if you are wearing your tight pants, like in ballet."

THAT explains why it's never worked for me! Mystery solved.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friday 5, the Fall Edition

Questions from RevGals...

As this vivid season begins, tell us five favorite things about fall:

1) A fragrance -- nuts roasting in street vendor carts; loamy earth; chili on the stove; Constant Comment tea (childhood memory).

2) A color-- the heart of fire

3) An item of clothing -- a rose plaid flannel/fleece shirt jacket--well loved, soft, worn-in, borrowed from a dear friend; a purple fleece turtleneck sweater, used to be my mother's; jeans, my own, fitting just right, years in the wearing.

4) An activity -- hitting the streets of New York, stopping for coffee when it gets chilly, walking forever without getting hot, looking at all there is to see, stopping on a park bench to write.

5) A special day -- Sundays, Mass, Brunch with my pals, a good walk afterward with a friend.

Linguistic ponderings

I had another interesting language experience the other night while talking on the computer with someone in Mexico. My friend made reference to knowing that something would happen in el momento adecuado. This made perfect sense to me. The adequate moment—which wasn't adequate exactly, but rather appropriate--the moment that was sufficiently the right moment for whatever to come to pass. I had never heard the word used that way before…yet in that fleeting read of a phrase, pictures in my mind met my method of thinking about things met up with poetry met up with a word in another language and sense was wrought. And this all happened merrily in a pinprick of time. It is completely amazing to me to be able to feel this birthing/learning happen…and it is totally cool. I imagine it is similar to what it would be like to be able to see inside chemical reactions—which I also happen to think would be completely amazing.

Another friend who sitting beside me asked if I knew what the word meant. "Yes." "Well??" "Uhhh…" "But you understand it!" "Yes." "You can't explain it?" "Not exactly."

My question then became, why can't I explain it? I can explain words in my own language to someone in Spanish…but here was a time when I couldn't unravel the thinking in the other direction! So interesting.

"To wonder," though, really threw me, when I tried to explain that once to my friend who was both so very near and so far away. It isn't thinking or considering or dreaming or curiosity or contemplation all alone, but bits of all wrapped together. What word to use in Spanish that conveys the same sense? I remember asking myself, is it possible for a language to not have a way to speak of wonder? What would that mean? Not that it didn't exist, certainly….I knew that there might well be a word for it, but it was an interesting thing to consider.

What happens to the concepts, the realities, when the limitations of language prohibit the expression of them in ways that can be understood by those engaged in the conversation? Where do they go?

Monday, September 15, 2008

¿Que has hecho?

I find myself in a funny position right now. Well, actually, both feet are on the rung of the chair and my hands are resting on the it isn't the physical position that is funny, but rather the mental one. I had one of those GREAT teaching days today that absolutely revs me up with joy and amazement at the way middle school minds can get cranking. I came home and told people about it over dinner. I answered email later on that included an email from someone in Mexico who asked me "Que has hecho de bueno?" What good things have you done? I spent a healthy three or four paragraphs expressing my utter delight from my morning religion class that I carried with me on through what was ultimately a crazy busy day filled with a multitude of things. Naturally, I wrote those paragraphs in the best of my ability...and that bit of puzzling through added a layer to the wonder.

But now that I am here and wanting to write of it, I am thinking...but I already did! Do I translate backwards, do I write all over again? Do I post it as I wrote it? A funny feeling position to be in--knowing that I have expressed things in a way that I can not express them in my first language because I chose to communicate with a friend. Yet, to share with other friends, I need to move from a language that isn't my own to one that is. The ideas were experienced in one language yet recorded first in another. A twisty, though not unpleasant, circle of experience and thought.

This morning my students began to understand the idea that even when we know the definition of words that hold Big Ideas, morality, goodness, happiness, friendship, there is still the question of But what does it mean?? We spoke of being human and therefore interacting with the created world via touch, smell, taste, sound, sight. If we are to understand the meaning of the Big Ideas, it must be in terms of relating to that created world via the senses. I used Peace as an example. IOne student read the definition from the dictionary and then I asked them What peace smelled like, tasted like, looked like, sounded like, felt like and we filled a whiteboard with their ideas....clean sheets, snow falling in the city, a baby snoring, fresh mown grass... The next step was that no image was completely correct and yet none was incorrect but all had the dictionary definition at the core. How is it possible to say that none are completely correct yet none are incorrect? They got it almost instictively. Unique experiences, important experiences. Each image is a piece of the greater meaning of peace. The students were nodding and getting it. The more we come to understand the cores and come to know one another's experiences of Big Ideas, the closer and closer we get to seeing as God sees because our vision is larger, fuller, more dynamic, more textured, than our one piece will ever allow. They got this! I believed they could handle thinking like this and they did! More than that, they seemed to enjoy it! Amen, I say!
It was fantastic.

Eso es lo que he hecho de bueno hoy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

And then...

...there came Oral Interpretation in college. It was there I learned how to translate my own personal experiences into a format that was both safe for me and engaging for others. I began by converting several actual incidents into monologues (the regularly occurring "Don't be Boring for ten minutes" exercise) and realized that others would in fact respect the content, if the delivery was convincing. Real or ficticious didn't matter to those listening at the time. The perfect venue for sailing out there some of my actual reality and thoughts! While using my lived reality without having to declare it as such at the time and encorporating the techniques of the class, I began to notice the consistently positive reception. This was the encouragement I needed to begin slowly acknowledging that yes, I had written the monologues, and it was in fact my own work, my own life, of which I spoke.

I began including my name on any poetry I wrote. I actually began saving copies of my writing even as I gave it away to others. I began to associate a pen with the idea of freedom and voice and creativity and conversation with something beyond. I began to associate writing with praying.

It was in undergrad that I first began to explore Catholicism. There was a campus church that I'd heard was open until quite late. My idea was to go over late enough to avoid anyone who might ask me any questions. I could and did walk around "looking" at things with my senses. I remember following the contours of a smooth wooden statue of Mary with my fingers each time I entered. I remember the smell of wax and the feel of warm, near, peace. One night I discovered a book, laid open to blank pages, with a pencil along side. What an invitation! I filled pages and pages in that book on many an occassion. I had discussions, asked questions, made observations, shared stories... I thought it was absolutely glorious that a church would provide the space and tools for writing to God!

I now know that it was the community's book of petitions... An appropriate place, upon reflection, for someone trying to tell her tale.

Hear me, O God, as I write my own creation story.

And God read that it was good.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lost and found soles

I recently described the process of going back to school as a teacher as one of going from around 30 mph to driving on the Autobahn when all you did was turn a corner.

My students return tomorrow...there will be the thumping of backpacks, giggling, hugging, stamping up the stairs, whispers, welcomes, locker clanging, general hubub and the occassional holler that needs a gentle quash...there will be questions, there will be stories, there will be laughter, there might be tears...

Funny thing is, I don't remember that same sort of hype of re-entry that my students experience. What I remember is going to the door of my local public school to check out homeroom lists so I could see what my potential would be for having a friend or two and what I could expect for trouble... being a contented solitary kid didn't go over so well with some of my classmates. I remember going to the local department store with my mother and buying new school shoes. School shoes and sneakers. School shoes were leather, sneakers were canvas... Navy and tan saddle shoes stick out in my memory as do rubber toe-capped Keds lace-ups in either red or navy, depending on what color was available in my size. Each year I remember thinking that my step was somehow bouncier in new sneaks, that they alone would make me run faster. Ah, such simple thinking, such deeply sought illusions...

On that level, I can easily identify with my students on their return to the halls of their familiar. They too have many deeply sought illusions...of shoulds, mights, somedays, if onlies... that are hidden beneath the protections they have applied for safe keeping.

I am giving a talk at the seventh grade retreat this coming Friday on a moment in my school life when I realized I had a unique gift and how that realization played into my self-esteem. I know the exact moment, actually. And can still, twenty years later, remember the feeling. It ws my senior year, though. How do I tell my students, especially those contented solitaries who are biding their time to bloom, that it took that long?

It was speech class. A requirement for graduation that I postponed as long as possible. We had to give a personal experience speech--I asked the teacher if I could make one up because I didn't feel like sharing one of my own with a class that included several who had taken it as a mission to tease me without ceasing for years. He approved it. I spoke for fifteen minutes about the day I met the Queen of England thanks to a pen pal relationship I had with the Royal Gardener. The class bought the whole thing. I remember thinking as I realized they all believed me..."This is what it feels like to be in be believed even when spinning wool...there is something to having people in the palm and being able to take them where blows the creativity given to me by God."

And so was born a storyteller, a teacher somewhat flamboyant in speech and gesture, though certainly not in dress, a poet who would share her words and write for others, a blogger who believed she had something to say that people would want to read.

Gertrude meets Shakespeare

A rose is a rose is a rose... and would smell as sweet by any other name. Such is the wonder and glory of a God who brings people together in friendship and shares with them the beauty, the bends, the refracted spectrum of shining mystery alive and pulsing in our world.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Take a Left, then Rise

I wrote this for a friend who earlier today sent me an email that included a wish for a special map. She lost the love of her life tragically a little over a year ago. All day long in moments fleeting I kept coming back to the idea of cartography and internal geography...I knew I couldn't draw her one, but maybe I could offer something...

Take a Left, then Rise

You first
find the place
where you and your honey
kissed long and said
forever, amen.

Then go up a bit--
up just round the curve
where the sunflowers grow
and the stars like to gather
for their night time compline praise.

Keep on til you wade
through the stone rippled water
that is sweet and slow and deep.
Meet there the reflections
of the others who've gone-

whose names are known
to the beavers and fish,
to the wind, the crickets, and God.
Let them know
that you're on your way.

Climb the bank,
take a left.

Find the tree
with the bared heart knot
and the roots of welcome.

Rest awhile.

Then rise.

Like bread does,
the sun does,
the moon does,
and we believe
that we will.