Sunday, December 28, 2008

What is poverty mind, after all?


“We’re deluding ourselves if we assume that we can recover from the crisis of 2008 so quickly and easily simply by watching the Dow creep upward. The wounds go deeper than that. To heal them, we must repair the broken moral balance that let this chaos loose.”

-Margaret Atwood.

This article rung true on a global/personal endemic view of just how poverty mind creeps into life in more than just economic situations...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

New Media

I have been doing a lot of cartooning lately, as it seems to help when I am having a hard time with a particular issue - this season, grief. Mostly they've been by hand, and I've been putting off scanning them in to post, though some are quite good. Dylan handed me his totally unused Wacom tablet the other week and I finally got it going. Here's my first digital drawing board result!

The process is VERY spontaneous - put down a first stroke or line without thinking and move into the picture, trying not to erase. Then add text. Very fun and freeing for me.

Monday, December 22, 2008

And I thought it was silent when it snowed in Wisconsin

I am in Portland, Oregon. I arrived here a few days ago to visit a good friend, and the first day I got here, she and I (both Wisconsin natives) laughed at the chains on the buses and cars. CHAINS? I mean, maybe I'd seen them in rural Wisconsin, but certainly never in the city. Never. And it was just slushy. Really, barely any weather - a bit of snow and some melting.

Day two, same thing. So light, so easy, a bit messy but for my tastes, better than the average rain of a Portland winter. I was updating my status on Facebook: Life is so easy, I can see the sky, as my partner and friends got pummeled on the east coast and in the Great Lakes area with feet of snow.

Then, as they say, those who laugh...
Day three, WE got pummeled. 1-2 feet of snow. And here's the catch - now I know why they use chains: because Portland owns all of two plows AND it's ILLEGAL to use salt! Some say it's because of ecological reasons, others because of economical reasons, but regardless, everything turns to ice quickly when there is no one to take it away and no salt to break it up. We did venture out - true Wisconsinites - and others were about - the weekend before Christmas, after all, so there was a fair amount of last minute shopping going on. Granted, this was pretty severe even for Wisconsin, but still handleable. Well, we were walking and well-dressed, which helps.

The fourth day I woke up and called an old high school friend to see if we could get together. She owns a spa and told me she's spent the last few days calling off all appointments as well as having to call her employees everyday just to say "not today - let's try tomorrow". Then she said something about an ice storm. Ice storm? Becky joked "maybe Portlanders don't know the difference between snow and ice?" But the woman I was talking to grew up in Wisconsin...

We turned on the forecast and then we really took a close look outside. Oh. Wow. That's not more snow, that's freezing rain.

The snow, covered in a thick crust of ice. The cars, already buried with their windshield wipers stuck in the air to prevent from freezing, like surrender. The roads, surprisingly not more thick, but branches encased in ice, powerlines down, the whole gig. All this, just days before Christmas. We stopped laughing. Work canceled for most of our friends, we snuggled in and made lots of food, and those who had to work strapped on whatever yak tracks and multi-layers they had and walked there. The buses are stranded all over the city. Flights canceled. And this morning, more snow.

So...I was to go home tomorrow. Mind you, this is a good place to be stranded, in a sweet upper apartment with more heat than it needs and vegan bakeries within blocks of us. Not to mention, with one of my best friends, with whom I have such an easy rapport it's like we've lived together in an efficiency without problems for years. And yet, what about my cats? And Dylan? We had no plans for the holiday but to be together...and now I am not so sure.

All of this having been said, one thing finally hit me this morning. One of the parts of snow I like the best (and I do really like snow) is that it hushes everything - car tires, voices, the whole nine. But here, to boot, there are no sounds of plows, barely any shoveling. And no one is out. It's a bit sci-fi really, but totally silent. Like I am on retreat.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

For Keeps

(One of my classes - writing - has only four folks in it this session, so I write with them. Here's what I wrote in class in response to my own prompt "For Keeps" in which I encourage them to picture a box in front of them, a 'gift" from the last few weeks of their lives...)

This was written with both hands - parts in my left hand (non-dominant) are in italics.

Why is a box defined as a square? We can have a round box, but you have to qualify it with the word "round".

My grandmother had hat boxes, but never wore hats. She claimed they hurt her head. It hurts my heart to think of her but instead of dread there's just sadness.

Before she was even dead I claimed the bits and baubles of her closet coffers belt by belt, scarves slithered into sleeves so no one could see but I could sense the silk. Honestly, I only ever stole from my family. This there a symbol in this? Storing her away, close to me, polyester shred and old rhinestoned lipcases somehow keeping her alive to me.

I wonder where her comforter went. Rayon with roses, rimmed in lace.

It was no secret she hated my mother. She did not hide this. But she also had her pride. So they played nicey nice even after her son, my father, died. When the going got tough, I stole away to her closet.

I still have pictures of me from then. Awkward-looking but I didn't feel that way. I was liberated, my hair tied up 20 directions til Tuesday, grinning next to grandma, who had come to hate life.

It wasn't always that way. When I was little she would show me off to her friends at Friday fish fry or at line in the supermarket. Grandchild pride - stationed in the passenger seat of her Pontiac. And she didn't mind being single, retired. She was social.

But if you live to 84 a lot of those you love die first. Her friends. Her son. Even her ex-husband. And then she just didn't want to go on.

High heels with wide toes. Granny clothes I would never wear now. Me spreading hot green cat's cradles in her lap, seeing a laugh.

I know how she felt. She was hiding in her head, far from her heart. That tiny room I knew well - I lived in it at home. I was shocked to see her truly, finally, really alone. No clip on earrings with dangling plastic purple jewels, no matching sky blue polyester pants suits, no drawers full of respectable negligees were going to bring her back from the ice burnt ice cream, cat food instead of clam chowder, accidental world of no longer wanting that she lived in.

Until recently I hoarded these memories, afraid if they saw light, they'd die.

But that box was so small and tight. I would hand it to life and hope it would open on accident, like a present dropped but not broken. It never worked.

Now I am learning to let go.
Goodbye Grandma - enjoy the snow.
Goodbye Dad - I hope there are crossword puzzles for lads like you in heaven.

And what is in my box? Batches of nothing. Joyous emptiness. All potential and no past. The best present - being present. Remove the clutter, pull off the polyester and under it all, underneath, 11 year old me is still eager, un-self conscious, breastless and breathless. That's what can be - not me then, but now, all possibility.

  • purses
  • pencils
  • poison
  • pantry
  • parcel
  • parts
  • pale
  • palor
  • pint
  • purple
  • placemats
  • punky
  • puke
  • purloined
  • placard
  • pointless
  • placating
  • plain
  • pumice
  • pricey
  • plastic
  • pumas
  • pennies
  • pan
  • pushover
  • prize-winning
  • pizzazztastic
  • precious
  • parted

Friday, December 05, 2008

Femininism: A Double Book Review of Sorts

Discussed in this "review":
My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor
Eating in the Light of the Moon by Anita Johnson

I know. All the alternative women's magazines, especially Bitch, fight it. "Feminist" doesn't necessarily mean hairy hippie lesbians, but it CERTAINLY doesn't mean make-up or high heels." This, they imply, is "feminine" as opposed to "feminist." But I wonder, where has the deeper meaning of "feminine" gone?

From Chogyam Trungpa, sent out this week on "Ocean of Dharma":
"Feminine inspiration projects a world which it can regard as workable and friendly since it is its own creation.....An aspect of feminine inspiration is regarding what you have created as sacred. You have created Buddhism, Christianity, Sufism -- it is your production. Since it is fully yours, respect it, work with it. These teachings did not come from somewhere else; your own openness gave birth to them. Moreover, you gave birth to pleasure and pain. You built Paris, London, New York City. You produced the president of the United States. These things are the product of feminine inspiration."
From "Femininity," in THE COLLECTED WORKS OF CHOGYAM TRUNGPA, Volume Six, page 564.

Recently I have read two books which really opened me to the other. One was the super popular current book My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (TED talk here in case you haven't seen it) and the other was a student recommendation, an older book, called Eating in the Light of the Moon by Anita Johnson. On the surface, these books aren't that similar. Taylor is a neuroscientist, who had the mis/fortune to have a massive stroke, and be aware enough to notice it as it was happening, then learn an awful lot about the brain and humanity throughout her recovery. Johnson writes about helping folks (especially women) who have problems with "disordered eating" (all the standards: bulimia, anorexia and overeating, but also anything related to a dissociated relationship with eating, which means, well, most of us). Her main approach is to use myths and stories so we can enter into healing through non-linearily connecting with our actual feelings, instead of stuffing or starving them.

What both women do, through this language or not, is accentuate and elaborate on the "feminine" in the deeper sense - non-linear, creative, round and not straight, circular, spiral-y nature of those traits associated with the feminine. Both point out, REGARDLESS OF GENDER that all of us, men and women, often suffer at the hands of linear judgment, both inside our own minds and also in society. Bolte spends a lot of time emphasizing that we need our orderly mind (her left brain, the home of the critic and also the necessary part of you that knows you put socks on before shoes, is what she lost in the stroke) as much as we need our creative mind, but the right brain (organic, cyclical and associative) goes vastly underutilized and offers a chance to access our own sense of grace, appreciation and creativity every moment, if we just tap into it.

In using stories and myths for healing, Johnson emphasizes just this point. As Chogyam Trungpa says in the excerpt above: "Feminine inspiration projects a world which it can regard as workable and friendly since it is its own creation." Knowing that nothing has true order, in the left brain sense, that though putting one's socks on before one's shoes is most beneficial, one need not, say, write a book or even run one's entire life in that kind of order, is of more than therapeutic value. Both authors point to "dysfunction" or "disruption" as a learning place, where the system breaks down (because of medical or social reasons) we can rebuild, and in doing so, appreciate that our lives are far more sustainable if they are organic, feminine and follow the order of creation (small c).

I have often had a bit of a hard spot for "feminine-ity." Though I wear skirts and occasionally even put on make-up (see social definition), my gut reaction isn't against the exterior manifestation, rather my internal self-judgment that letting things go, allowing the flow to take me along is both weak and passive. Both are bad, by the way, in case you weren't sure, according to my left brain. defines "feminine" in six ways, most of which refer to dress and gender appearances. But these two point to where the trouble truly has been for me, and I think, for many others:
2. having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.
3. effeminate; womanish: a man with a feminine walk.
What's wrong with sensitivity and gentleness? Heck, I try to cultivate those constantly nowadays, sitting on the cushion, wishing love and smoothness for everyone and when I feel disassociated and removed or depressed trying to be sensitive to my own feelings. Why do I have to do all this work if it's inherent to being a woman?
Because it isn't. Because it's socialized out of everyone as being weak. Because the second definition begins to point to a division in gender, and the deep automatic values: what is male is good, what is woman isn't. What is male is strong, what is feminine isn't. What is orderly and masculine is good, what is creative and feminine isn't. Unfortunately that last bit really isn't that much of a leap.

I described this to the student who loaned me Eating in the Light of the Moon as the following example, the way "gender" makes this kind of problem scratch under our radar without notice, followed by another example I thought of since:

It took me years of dating to realize that line from the Police song: "Every (woman) I go out with becomes my mother in the end" is true for me - but not just for the women I date - also for the MEN I have dated. How could that be? In fact, I'd have to say most of my old girlfriends were less like my mother than my boyfriends. Huh? I only figured this out in the last couple of years looking at one particular male ex, through therapy, who was - still is - highly narcissistic. My therapist pointed out that my mother was this way as well, and all of a sudden my surface level associations - carefully constructed out of left brain logic - fell apart in the muddy river of organic right brain world and I realized he was right. Gender doesn't matter, not when it comes to this level of energy.

On a slightly more surface level, how is it that I can feel like I am in DRAG when I dress up? Not in a skirt - I do that often enough, but say, putting on a bridesmaid gown or fancy dress. Heels. Make-up. Hairdo. The whole nine. I am a woman, why is this a "problem," because that is sure what it feels like. As if someone is going to see the real me AND IT IS NOT GOING TO BE PRETTY. My inner masculine energy rails against all that femininity - in the alternative feminist sense - it's not ok to wear these things because they are associated with the "bad" parts of women.

Tell you what. There are no bad parts. To any of us. Even that logical order has its function, but neither brain side nor feminine/masculine energy works for everything. Like anything else, skillful application is necessary. And full recognition of our entire toolbox enables that skillful application. So go read yourself some guidebooks for how to work with our entire mind and spirits - Taylor and Johnson lead the way.