The earthquake theory of misfortune (poem)

People like to think that they are special,
that bad things can’t happen to them.
This is why they want to know
what disease
such-and-so died of.
They then compare to themselves.
“I don’t smoke, so I won’t die that way.”
“I exercise, so I won’t die that way.”

As if death is a punishment,
a thing that happens
as a natural result of
bad choices,
rather than being something
that happens to everyone.

Or they want to know
where the crime happened,
to see how close it is
to them.
On neighborhood watch pages,
someone will post that there was a
break-in, or a mugging
and everyone wants to know
what street,
as if being closer
is more dangerous.
As if criminals don’t travel.

People want to know
where the epicenter is,
to see how close
or far away
they are.

The poet John Donne said
“Ask not for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.”

Blue escape

A meditation on leaving bad doctors, clubs, churches – of feeling ignored, part of a machine, a number but not a name. How big community isn’t community anymore. And – an excuse to make use of an art supply that others don’t think of as an art supply – aluminum foil. Thus – Seeing things in new ways. Making use of a bad situation.

Gesso
Crumpled thin aluminum foil from Baja Burrito
Tissue with distress ink stains
Stamps
Envelope
Copied money
Acrylic paint
Crushed glass sparkle glitter
Glazing medium
14 x 11 canvas

Whole
b1

Top left
b2

Top right
b3

Bottom left
b4

Bottom right
b5

Current iteration worked on March and April 2016. (It may or may not be completed.)

In the desert, we remember.

I am enshrouded in the welcoming smells of desert sand cooling, the dusky smoke of the fire, of roasting lamb slaughtered that afternoon. I recline upon rugs, handwoven by my grandfather (taught by his father, taught by his father…). They are a little musty from being rolled up for too long.

For too long we have walked on carpets made by machines and not men, soaked up the rays of florescent lights, breathed recycled air, listened to artificial music.

We’ve left, gone west into the desert, no map, no plans, no forwarding address. We’ve slipped loose this mortal coil, this mortal toil for older times. We slip into our djellabas like slipping into a warm bed on a cold night – comfortable, comforting, consoling, smoothing away the calluses built up like armor, like a shield against an unforgiving, unwelcoming world.

We’ve left that world behind.

We left at twilight, dusk gathering her cloak about her. She had not yet bejeweled herself with stars. By the time we found our home for the night amidst the hills she’d gone all out for us, diamonds against dusky cobalt.

We wear turbans out here, all of us.

We are doing as we have done for thousands of years. It is us, always us, out here under the stars, laughing with storytellers, singing with song weavers. Out here, we remember.

Out here, we remember who we are.

Irish day

I don’t understand how St. Patrick’s Day has gotten equated with getting drunk. But then again, to be fair, every holiday in America is equated with that.

Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick ’s Day are both ethnic holidays where people who aren’t even of that ethnicity get roaringly drunk. People who don’t even know anything about the culture before they start to drink get so bombed that they don’t even know anything about their own culture by the time they are done. But it isn’t just these holidays. New Year’s, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day – you name it, if there is a holiday, Americans are drinking to it.

Perhaps we collectively have a holiday problem. Perhaps we are just so wound up from our jobs and our families and our lives that we have to escape, at least mentally, every time there is a holiday. Perhaps we need to create lives that don’t need to be escaped from. This doesn’t mean we need to get a better paying job or a bigger house or more friends. This means we need to start appreciating what we have now.

I’m reminded of the story in Exodus, of the Israelites escaping from Egypt. They were slaves in Egypt, but now they are free. They are grumbling to Moses about how they don’t have any food in the desert. They say they were better off in Egypt, that at least they had meat. Right now they have almost nothing, just this crazy manna that shows up every morning. It isn’t what they want. It is filling, and it provides energy, but it is boring. They complain, and Moses complains to God. God thinks they are ungrateful and sends enough quail that they are up to their knees in the birds. They gorge on the quail and get very sick. They never ask for meat again. It doesn’t mean that they don’t ask for anything else – but on that, they’ve learned their lesson.

To me, St. Patrick’s Day is about celebrating the persistence of the heart of Celtic life amidst adversity. The Irish suffered greatly at home and in America a century ago. They were the “immigrant problem” of the time. To be Irish is to endure despite hardship, and to keep your Self intact amidst a culture that wants you to assimilate.

This is something that transcends culture and ethnicity. For all of us who are staying true to your inner Being and not yielding to a culture that tells you to buy more, be mindless, to not care – you are Irish, regardless of your ethnicity.

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t a drinking holiday. It is a holiday about persistence and endurance. It is an Exodus story. It is about finding a safe place to be. Let us remember everything we have gone through to get where we are. Let us not make “here” another “there” that has to be escaped from.

Peacemaker and the Process.

I said at one point about a year ago that my goal in life was to be a peacemaker. I’m not doing a very good job of it. Either I need to reapply myself to my goal, or I need to be honest with myself about what my goal really is.

When I said that was my goal I was in the deacon discernment program in the Episcopal Church. It was tedious. It was a lot longer and harder than I thought it would be. I thought that if a person said that they wanted to be helpful to people, they’d be given some training and some oversight and a task right away. Folks would get help in a helpful way, soon. Nope. Their plan was wait three years and think about it. Meanwhile, I’m stumbling along, clueless. Meanwhile, people are still coming to me with their problems and I still don’t really know what to do.

Part of the Process of discerning if you are called by God to be a deacon in that church, and it really is a Process with a capital P, is a series of assignments. You get an assignment once a month. You need a whole month to work on it. The last one that I was given before the Process was put on “pause” (read, thanks for playing, but you can stop now, you aren’t what we are looking for) was about my goals for life. It was to teach me that everything that I’ve already done in my life was training for what I’m going to do. I felt a bit cheated. If I already have all the training and experience, then what do I need this Process for? If I can figure out for myself what I’m being called to then why do I have to go to these meetings every month and bare my soul to these near strangers?

I’m a little bitter, still, about the whole experience. I try not to write about it much because it just opens fresh wounds that I’m trying to heal. But I’m learning that it is important to examine the source of pain in order to heal. This is a new part of my practice. I’m still learning how.

I said that I wanted to be a peacemaker. I said that I’d love to travel around the world and get people who have disagreed for years to actually listen to each other for a change and see things from each other’s perspectives. I thought that peace in the Middle East would be a big coup.

But then I thought I’d need to learn all those languages, because you always lose something in translation. And I thought that they certainly wouldn’t listen to a young American woman. That is three strikes right there.

Is that the yetzer hara speaking again? Is that the voice of the “evil inclination” that is trying to prevent me from doing what I’m called to do? Or is it the voice of reason that points out that is really not my calling?

Who am I kidding? Peacemaker?

I don’t even talk to my brother or my aunt. I don’t go to my previous church in part because of a huge falling out with the priest. And I’m spending Thanksgiving at home with just my husband because of a falling out with his family. My circles just keep getting smaller.

I don’t have a great track record with making peace.

My usual modus operandi is to avoid the problem. If you don’t talk about it, it will go away, right? Don’t talk about the elephant in the room. We herded elephants in my family home. Just thinking about that madness makes my stomach start to cramp up again. Who doesn’t want to avoid pain? Running away seems very healthy. Until it isn’t, and you realize that you’ve run away your whole life and there isn’t anywhere to run away to anymore.

I feel like I was cheating a bit when I said that I wanted to be a peacemaker. It sounds good. It is close to what I want, what I feel called to. I don’t really want what I’m being called to – but then I want nothing else. The idea of not doing what I’ve been put on this Earth for makes me sad. Nothing is more tragic than seeing someone waste her life thinking she has another day, another month, another year to start living it. I don’t want to be that person.

But then I don’t have a word for what I’m called to. That was why I consented to be part of the Process. I figured it would separate the wheat from the chaff. I figured out it would separate the signal from the noise and let me know what I was hearing. I figured if several of us listened together we’d hear better.

Turns out instead of boiling off the stuff that I don’t need, like skimming off the scum from chicken soup that you are reducing to juicy goodness, it just boiled everything over and spilled it on the floor. I didn’t know I had so much in me. I didn’t know that I can’t be contained to one denomination’s rules and rubrics. I didn’t know that one expression of faith wasn’t going to be enough for me. I didn’t know that this process would widen things up instead of narrowing them down.

I know God works through everything. I know that everything I go through is from a loving God who wants the best and is working with and through me to bring forth what is best. I also know it doesn’t feel very fun while it is happening.

Perhaps peacemaker is part of it. Perhaps I need to know what peace isn’t in order to understand what peace is. Recovering addicts make really good counselors. They’ve been there. They know. Perhaps I’ll know what my calling is when I get there. Perhaps God is treating me like I’m a secret agent. Not even I know my mission because that is for the best that way. Perhaps I just need to live my way into it and take one moment at a time, with trust.

Sestina – gate

Across the green expanse I see the sheep.
They have spent so many seasons here, young and old.
Their home is this valley,
their world is the sky, the grass, the dung.
They share their home with a lone pale horse
who only wants to go back east.

One day he’ll remember what East
he meant. There is no use in asking the sheep,
for this pale riderless horse.
He can’t even recall his home, he’s so old,
and all he remembers now is the dung
that covers the valley.

The animals spend most of their lives in this valley,
or at least all of it up to now, before they head east.
If they noticed how much dung
they had created they’d realize that sheep
don’t ever get this old
and their only companion is this horse.

Why is there only one horse
living in this valley,
growing old,
never making it back east?
He is starting to think he’s a sheep,
and he notices there is now less grass and more dung.

Every day there is more dung.
Every day the horse forgets more and more how to be a horse
and starts to become a sheep
mindlessly wandering this no-name valley
never making it back east.
Every day they just get old.

It is starting to feel like they have always been old
and their world has always been covered with dung.
Thinking this way, they will never get back east
and the horse
will die in this valley
along with these sheep.

They will get very old before they ever know the true nature of this horse.
Filled with dung, this valley
points towards the East but now there are only mindless sheep.

(I chose the sestina words from the names for various gates in Jerusalem.)