All around me. All around my insides as well as my outsides.
I am used to being able to have some control over my life of 80 yeas. I get it that Covid 19 is in the driver’s seat right now. One of my “talents” has always been that I am able to find some pieces of myself to hang onto even in the midst of various forms of chaos; but I can’t seem to find any of those pieces.
As grateful as I am for the support and protection of my family, that all comes at a cost. And the cost is my sense of self at a time when very little is making sense at all. My reality has succumbed to the total chaos that rages all around me.
I am bummed that I don’t seem to be able to handle any of it. Mindfulness? Meditation? Forget it. Chaos rules my mind. I just want to sleep until I can wake to a better reality. And so I sleep. A lot.
I used to be able to gird my loins and launch myself into some creative craft project that would, at least, surround me with a brain buffer. I used to be able to take that chaos and re-purpose it into pretty decent poetry.
Is it so terribly hard now because I am old? Because I have used up my finite resources? I feel totally depleted. I don’t know who I am or why I am.
My late once-husband, who tended to be single-minded, once told me that he wonders what is at my “core”; he saw me like an onion. The layers get pealed back and there’s nothing at the core. And this is how I saw him.
.House cactus. You stand firm and fundamental in your solitary nesting place apart from your leafing, budding sill-mates. You remind me of someone I know
So, I am an onion. Each layer is a period of my life that I created and lived and survived. My layers are what I am. Does that mean I have nothing at the core? Nothing solid, impermeable? Does it matter?
Maybe it does, if I find myself adrift in a chaos that is being absorbed by whatever is left of who I am. Do I even have another layer in me, or is that all there is?
“It was fun while it lasted.” I guess I could say that about many periods of my life, especially when it comes to relationships with men.
I am thinking about that as I read Jack’s obituary. Our relationship lasted about three years, back in the 80s, and it was fun while it lasted. One of the legacies of that relationship, oddly enough, is friendships I formed with a couple of the women whom he dated after me. He had a knack for seeking out smart, creative women.
I kept in touch with Jack on and off over the decades. When, after he moved to Portland OR and my pedestrian son needed a ride from the oral surgeon’s office, I called Jack and he took care of it all. He was a good, imperfect guy. I am glad that I knew him and sad that he is gone.
More than ever, these days, I am painfully aware of the relentlessness of time – which really does seem to accelerate as one ages. And, here I am, at age 78, still trying to figure myself out as those relentless sands continue to carry me along.
It is all about the journey. Slogging through the sands of time. It’s all about the metaphors. Baba Bogina. The Raven. The knight with the swan helmet crest.
My Jungian therapist often uses “sand play” to stir and spur our conversations. I find that I intuitively pick out figures for the sand play without consciously knowing why. And then we work on the why.
I am still pondering why I chose the warrior with the swan helmet crest. It is the only figure I chose that was not obviously either male or female. Its face and body are covered with armor. Its stance can be interpreted as aggressive, defensive, or protective. It is blocking my path. Welcoming? Warning? And then there’s that anomalous spread-winged swan sitting on the top of its head.
My therapist did some searching before I had a chance to, and she send me a link that explained: a medieval tale about a mysterious rescuer who comes in a swan-drawn boat to defend a damsel, his only condition being that he must never be asked his name.
Does that help or not. I don’t know. I will need to ponder this a lot more as I wait for some synchronicity to spark an epiphany.
Is there someone on my path waiting? To lead me to the authentic “me”? To accompany me for a while on my journey? Or is it me in there, under the armor, my wings wanting to escape the hold of the protective helmet.
This is what my “journey” looked like in sand play.
That sound has been a long-time coming, mostly because the cultural context for male-female interaction has been dominated by a male world view, a perspective influenced by both biological/hormonal as well as environmental/experiential histories. The myth of the superior Alpha Male, unfortunately, still endures in our society.
While some men continue to evolve beyond the influence of adolescent hormones and cultural aberrations and learn to interact with women as respected equals, others still cling to the mistaken notion that women are their inferiors and exist mostly as the means to fulfill their unrealistic fantasies. The worlds of sports, entertainment, and politics are well-populated with ego-driven men who relish asserting the power of their popularity and wealth. These men are many of the ones who are currently being “outed” for their long histories of sexually harassing women.
For women, sexual harassment ranges from an unwanted kiss or sexual comment, to the extremes of rape and pedophilia. But, it seems to me that it is unfair to judge the evil of all incidents of “sexual harassment” by the same standards.
Several years ago, when I volunteered in the Alzheimer unit at an upscale assisted living center, one sad 90 year old gentleman kept trying to pat my butt. Each time I saw him coming, I would try to grab his hand before it grabbed me. Sometimes I succeeded; sometimes I didn’t. He was 90 years old and suffering from dementia. I did not feel sexually harassed.
Like many of the men over 65, he grew up in a cultural context in which men expected men to “come on” to women as an assertion of their male egos. That is why the older politicians and entertainers who have been notorious for the sexual harassment of women don’t think it’s such a big deal. They don’t have a clue that the really big deal is that they never grew out of their limited understandings of women and never emotionally evolved into mature, responsible adults males. I can excuse (and gently correct) a 90 year old man with dementia when he makes a grab, because he is on the very low end of the harasser spectrum.
But It’s another thing to be a powerful elder male still engaging in sexual harassment (like Donald Trump and Roy Moore). It is also another thing to be a powerful elder male who did some stupid adolescent pranks in his early years, has proven that he has evolved way past that kind of behavior, and is embarrassed and apologetic about those past transgressions (like Al Franken). Punching someone is not as horrendous as murder; trying to kiss someone is not as bad as forcing more intimate sexual contact.
Most women neither expect nor want any of those advances, but, as we have been reading in countless current confessions, women usually feel powerless to resist, afraid to lose whatever the harassers had the power to take away from them.
For whatever reason, they didn’t slap their harassers when it happened, so they are slapping back now, loud and hard. They are setting an example for other women who felt and might feel powerless to tell their harassers to stop, to back off, to show respect and not condescension.
Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever being harassed, except maybe by the nuns in elementary school, who definitely felt obliged to assert their power over us puny kids in the most unappealing ways.
Maybe it was that I was careful to appropriately dress for every occasion, well aware of the visual signals that purposeful cleavage and a short, tight skirt tend to send to the eager male eye. That is not to say that I never used what limited assets I had to give those signals; but my doing so was a conscious choice, with a consensual expectation and an acceptance of responsibility for what came next.
And that is the responsibility that we women need to take for how we present ourselves to the world of the puerile assumptions of some males. We need to stand against misogyny where it surfaces, and discredit the advertising media that keeps presenting women as sexual objects and therefore encourages the cultural context that we need to reveal, revise, and reform, We need to engage life (as suggested by Camille Paglia) with wary vigilance, personal responsibility, and enough self-assurance to assert our right to hear the sound of our one hand, slapping.
My assignment to my writing group was to write a ode. Here’s mine:
Ode to Hecate
Even though you exist only
in the deepest shadows of our psyches,
your warnings persist in the stories
that drive our most ferocious dreams.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
Claimed by countless cultures,
re-created across eons of fear,
you resist easy efforts to define you
as other than the maternal primal force.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
I sense your counsel in the stirring of autumnal oaks,
hear your sorrows in the howling of midnight dogs.
Those who fear their longings, call you witch;
those who live your bounty, call you Crone.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
Isis, Kali, Lilith, Astarte, Brigid, Hecate.
You are who I need you to be,
standing with me at each challenge of choices,
listening for your call to wonder and power.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
You are who we women need you to be,
relentless truth-teller, fierce warrior,
stand with us at this dangerous crossroads.
You are what we need to be.
Rise, Hecate, rise.
As I was strolling around my peaceful and gun-free, politically Republican neighborhood just now, I had this epiphany. Well, really, Freud had it before me, but sometimes a cigar IS more than just a cigar.
Posts on FB made me contemplate how I feel about guns – and penises. Because I don’t dislike either, and believe that each has a legitimate place in life. While I don’t want or own a gun, that has not been the case in my past life as far as penises go. But I really wouldn’t want to walk around the street seeing either of them hanging out of insecure men’s pants.
Guns and penises. Think about it (and I’m sure many psychologists continue to do so). Just the word “cock” brings up images of both artifacts. And you can use either to “shoot your wad.” Each can be used for violence, and it is usually men who use both for both.
They are both useful, in their place. And both can be dangerous in the wrong hands. (ahem)
I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as my research shows, all of the mass shootings and bombings in America have been perpetrated by men. (I think they were all white men, but that’s not the point here).
Penises and guns. I’d bet my bippy that men who are out-of-control gun fanatics also have some sort of issue about their penises. If you can’t shoot one as well or as often as you want to, how about shooting off the other. If you can’t display your penis in public because it’s illegal, then display your gun, right?
Oh, yes. Guns are fun to shoot. So is sex. But there is a time and a place.
I think it’s interesting that gun fanatics say “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” I bet that they feel the same way about their penises.
Yes, there are plenty of women who like to shoot guns too. There is sense of power (I am told) in shooting off an automatic weapon. I understand needing to feel some kind of power in a culture that has made so many of us, men and women, feel impotent. Power and impotence. Guns and penises.
I have a 15 year old grandson, who plays Grand Theft Auto. I also have a daughter and son-in-law who continually have conversations with him about the the issue of guns and violence, and long ago taught him the difference between fantasy and reality. Actually, the three of them sometimes game together. But it’s their thing, not mine; I play Candy Crush Saga.
Guns and penises. I think there needs to be a whole lot more research into how their essences overlap.
Now, you might bring up the issue of breast feeding in public as some sort of parallel to guns and penises. I have my own middle-of-the-road feelings about that, too.
Five years ago, I crocheted something for “The Snatchel Projet” and posted about it here. (And you can see a photo of what I made.)
This is how I started the post:
What’s a “snatchel”?
Before I get to that, let me just explain that I have in my life marched in protests carrying banners with symbols proclaiming my positions on critical issues. During the wartime 70s, I sewed a gigantic “Peace” banner and hung it from a tree limb that hung over our driveway. I believe in the power of symbols. I believe that sometimes you have to get in the faces of those who refuse to hear what you’re saying.
Symbols are powerful. While you might not be interested in reading this book, the cover says it all. It worked in Poland.
I would love to come up with another project that uses images and symbols to further the cause of the Resistance — something that we can send to legislators (knit, crochet, draw…) and post various places that would be a shout-out of our Crone voices. I’m looking for ideas and collaborators.
How can we add our creative resources to help stem this tide of fascism that will ruin our nation for sure. Yes, there are efforts being made by those with some governmental effect.
But we have to keep giving the symbolic finger to remind those who have stolen our power to uphold our American values.
He was a crowd favorite at urban poetry readings, especially at the former punk club QE2 on Central Avenue, where he screamed his edgy and ironic “White Boy” poems — often completely naked. Occasionally, he wore a baseball catcher’s mask to go with full-frontal nudity.
Such is how my once friend and colleague, Paul Weinman, is described in a tribute posted in the Albany Times Union today. He just died from the complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 75 years old. The newspaper piece celebrates Paul’s delightfully skewed lifestyle and creative pursuits and is an entertaining read even if you never knew him.
I met Paul when I began working at the New York State Museum in 1980. He already was a fixture and a legend in that institution, often annoying the staid administrators with his controversial off-site antics, while, at the same time, becoming a beloved and entertaining teacher in the Museum’s educational program. Parents and kids alike flocked to his workshops based on the Museum’s exhibits, and inner city neighborhood kids would show up in the Museum after school hours just to hang out with Paul and be entertained by his adventurous historical tales and re-enactments of life in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. He treated all kids with respect and affirmation; he dealt with adults with honest response to the way in which they dealt with him; he responded to the hypocrisies of every power structure with naively gutsy irreverence.
My professional path crossed with Paul’s because we were both poets in an institution that shared a building with the New York Sate Library and Archives and that often held literature-related events. Together, Paul and I organized and hosted the Museum’s annual “Banned Book Week” public readings. We held ekphrastic poetry events in conjunction with Museum art exhibits. We worked well together as colleagues supporting the educational mission of the New York State Museum.
Outside of our jobs, as part of the Albany poetry community, we came to know each other as writers, although our styles — in both content in presentation — had very little in common. As a challenge to my more conservative bent, one day Paul suggested that we do a collaborative poetry chapbook that explored male-female sexual tensions. I would write a poem and then he would write a poem in response. We would go back and forth like that until we had enough for a chapbook. Paul would print out and staple copies of the chapbook and then distribute it, for free, around the area, as he did with all of his poetry projects.
The whole idea was way out of my comfort zone, but Paul was pretty much an icon in the local poetry scene, and I was intrigued by both him and the challenge.
This is what the cover and back page our chapbook looked like. “Fruits of the Harvest Press” is just the name Paul gave to his own personal printing and distribution system. There’s no date on the publication, but it probably was in the late 1980s.
It took me a while to figure out how to approach the subject of sexuality, but I found a way to do it my way: through food metaphors. Hence the title: “Eating Disorders and Other Mastications.” My first effort was inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey neck.
something about turkey necks,
gizzards nestled in palm of hand,
stroked with oil,
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
fine night dining,
And we went on from there, as I branched out from the food metaphors into other expressions of female sensuality and Paul responded with blatant come-ons such as this, which became one of his famous “White Boy” series:
IN QUIVERS OF INAD-
EQUACY, WHITEBOY TRIES
BUCKUP UP HIS IMAGE
AS HE STRUTS FOR ELAINE
A. autographing pens
strapped to hips
B. rakish hat
C. boots tooled
with female in-
WHITE BOY TRIPS…
POLEVAULTS ON THAT
POINT HE’S TRYING 2
GET ACROSS: ARRESTED
4 SEXUAL HARASSMENT
My relationship with Paul never moved beyond friendship, although as a willing participant in Dionysian revelry, he might have taken it in that direction. But as attracted as I often was to “bad boys,” Paul was way out of my league in that arena. Plus I got to know Paul’s wife at the time, Judith Braun , a talented visual artist who really didn’t come into her own until she divorced Paul. I liked Judith, enjoyed the bohemian parties they threw, was energized by the creative energies with which they always were surrounded. Paul caused me to stretch the boundaries of my writing and my perceptions of what is acceptable to me in both words and life.
Paul loved the lore of the Adirondacks, and he spent the last five years of his Alzheimer-ridden life making miniature chairs out of tree branches. As the newspaper tribute reports: He built miniature chairs in the Adirondack twig furniture style and left them anonymously around town with a note: “I’m an orphan chair. Please take me home and put a stuffed animal or plant on me.”
I don’t know his latest wife, but I’m going to try to contact her to see if I can get one of those chairs to hold a plant in my garden and hold his memory in my heart.
I am absolutely intrigued by every one of her images in these two portfolio pages , and sent her three responses. I don’t now whether or not she will use any of them, but I like the combinations so much that I am sharing them here:
(Addendum 9/17/16: This poem is being exhibited next to the collage at Geersten’s exhibit as the Mesa Art Center in Arizona.)
She follows the lead
of the lone snow goose
released from the burden of flock —
a warrior in white and Mary Janes,
astride a steed from dreams.
Such is the muse that carries her,
along with miracles of fragrant earth,
safe across the deep seas of memory.
It is always there,
over her shoulder,
both threat and promise —
a whisper in a wind
that can send her flying
finally, into a landscape
devoid of browns and
navy blues, a rainbow
of wildflowers and sunlight
and a bright hint of birdsong.
If she sits, still enough,
breath held and ready…
wait for the moment….
wait for the moment…..
Sometimes it gets into a girl’s head
to wield staff instead of broom,
to stand like a stag in morning mist —
antlers the crowning touch —
to command with eyes devoid of fear,
demanding safety and serenity,
the sovereign right of rulers
to craft their own lives.
Well, I say I know her, but she’s really a friend of a Facebook friend. Well, I say that she’s young; she’s really my daughter’s age — just over 50. It’s all a matter of personal perspective.
Anyway, this young woman is very ill with a disease of the blood and will only get worse. She is very smart and creative and well-known and respected in the technical information/education publication world. That is not a world I know. I only know about her. And I only know about her because there is something in her brightness and bravery that moved me and made me want to learn more about her.
I needed/wanted to do something for her — because I can’t fix any of the things wrong with this world, with my country, with all of those folks hurting and trying and dying. Because I am a maker of things and because I wish — how much I wish — I could make magic.
And so I got on Google and downloaded images from her Facebook page and from her book covers on Amazon. I figured out how to do a simple world cloud using words from her various posts.
I printed out the images on washable fabric. I appliqued the images onto the front of a t-shirt.
Then, I appliqued a healing mandala on the back of the shirt.
And then I looked up her address on 411.com and put it in the mail.
And I included this note:
If Magic were something I could make,
I would spin you a spell of healing,
thread it with the strength and energy
of all of your best moments, color it
blue like water teeming with life,
the burgundy of blood, the red and white
of cells induced to dance again,
of a thousand loving thoughts
warming the fabric of hope.
Then you could wear it like armor
a curative cloak, medicinal mantle,
that primitive sympathetic magic
powerful in intent as any prayer.
I did it as much for me as for her. We are both powerless against the arbitrary surges of fate that drag us into those dark places where we would not choose to go and then leave us, spent, to find a way out. Only she has no way out of this one.
Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.
Go here to read what other writers have written in response to this prompt.
She seeks illusion, eyes
hiding behind a veil
no longer bridal.
Salome knew the illusive
power of veils,
but she is no Salome
and in her white unveiling
is left with only
a homely curtain