My “family” was in town this weekend joining other “family” for events that I was wholly unaware of. Let me remind you that the family I put in quotes made a decision some years ago to part ways over something that my niece’s husband, Mark, claimed happened to him. It started with a strange phone call one night. It spread through my family like a virus. And it culminated in this rift that is nothing short of absurd.
Families are strange and I have many in my family who I shake my head about and many I love and respect, but honestly, this whole rift with its genesis in a man’s claim against a woman who was accused, tried and handed a judgment without so much as asking her side of the equation brought me to the conclusion that the universe had closed a door for me. A favor.
However, I have to say that when my family members, who I am close with, were in this weekend for the “family” birthday party and baby shower, I felt not my exclusion, but heavy that Tin was not invited to participate as a family member with his cousin’s once removed that are his age. Being a single mother and raising a son makes you fantasize about that mother now gone, who would have been a loving and doting grandmother, and my father who would have adored Tin and for cousins that perhaps would yield friendships like when I was growing up and enjoyed hanging out with my many cousins on both my father and my mother’s side of the family.
Cousins are such a wonderful breed of family.
So I had a heavy heart of what I perceived Tin to be missing. And then I just now, as this weekend was coming to a close, I saw something that changed everything – a Confederate flag – posted on the Facebook page of one of these “family” members.
As my friend is want to say, often, “More Will Be Revealed.”
Again, Universe, I am grateful that these people are not Tin’s family, that we are not invited to their parties, that we are not part of their celebrations, because I am here to tell you – that Confederate flag – oh honey – nah, don’t get me started – #knuckledraggers – we would have to go there and it would not have been pretty. So everyone was saved that embarrassment this weekend and a good time was had by all.
BY STANLEY KUNITZ
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
Last night my nephew and his family were over because they are visiting from Atlanta. Yes, I was across the counter from a man that I knew as a baby all grown up now with a child around half the age of my son. Well that’s a history in and of itself.
Yet, that’s not what is on my mind. The world has grown so heavy, so violent, and frightening and well, I feel that it is coiling tighter on itself from one catastrophe after another and there is no place for all this grief to go. It can’t sit on your spirit because you won’t be able to breathe. It can’t be held in abeyance because you might forget about it and not do anything to heal it.
We have to practice self care, which means pausing in that interstitial between beauty and horror. Filling the spaces with silence, art, nature and love. This is not a call to stare unblinkingly at paintings in a museum or sit contemplating under a moss laden oak tree, it is a reminder that if we accept the unrelenting pummeling of senseless violence in this country as who we are, what we are, and where we are going, we will all perish.
Hope dies last.
The struggle is getting harder, the pain is intensifying, and it can push us further forward. All change comes with pain. We are moving out of one cycle and into another.
How many innocent people must die before we register a problem – we might be at our limit right now.
Sometimes when I have a lot on my mind, I go to bed and read until the book is falling out of my hands. Well, I always go to bed and read till the book is falling out of my hands, but sometimes I notice that as I close my eyes and drift into slumber my mind is speed racing through thoughts that feel as if they have landed on a dreamy loop going round and round – I’m asleep already or in a suspended state of mind – then suddenly I jump off of that thought disk and onto another thought disk, this one always has fear associated with it. I am conscious that my thoughts have been buzzing and suddenly the wheel has slowed down enough for me to realize that the spinning is no longer happening. Fear appears – it’s a soft edged fear – nebulous – amorphous – it interferes with falling asleep.
Then the fear itself starts playing hide and seek with me as I try to suss it out and find out what it represents. Next thing you know I don’t remember what my thoughts were spinning and I don’t know what caused me to come out of that groove and I don’t know what the fear was I felt upon coming out of it and now I just really want to go to sleep but I now feel as if I have to find out what just happened to me.
Recently, I find that I go ahead and tell myself that nothing is going on. Not a damn thing that is worth my sleep is going on. Nothing that would warrant me thinking about it is going on. Sometimes, I do get up and write, roam the house, check on Tin, drink some water and then I head back to bed and breathe myself into sleep.
What are the mechanics that set the first spinning disk in motion that then jumps to another disk, and why is fear perched so readily to catch the thoughts that flow off the first disk and is any of it important to explore or best to ignore and perhaps I shouldn’t consider any of this at all but just watch these thoughts and fears drift by like clouds in the sky.
A friend shared this poem.
psalm 88: one of these nights
just like they say:
it’s always worse at night.
the shadows lengthen
and once again the dread slowly starts
its nighttime creep.
it’s really quite the routine,
this nocturnal dance of mine
go ahead, enjoy the show –
i’m sure it must amuse you
the way I thrash through the night,
sheets coiling tighter and tighter
around my throat like
some demented night serpent
faithfully returning every night
to feed on my fears.
one of these nights though
when you least expect it,
the joke will be on you
that’s right i know you’re there
do you really think i can’t see you
lurking offstage in the shadows,
enjoying the nightly entertainment?
oh yes, my latest act
is opening soon and
i just can’t wait to see
the startled confusion on your face
when i finally stop struggling,
spread open my hands,
and sing psalms of praise to you:
the one who hides
in the darkness.
I have contemplated work for the last three years. What is it? What am I doing, who am I doing it for, and what is the compensation? Is my time worth this work? My shift has been glacier, but steadily I have moved away from the work that came easily to me to that which feels less like an excuse and more like a reward for having lived so long.
“Give me whereon to stand”, said Archimedes, “and I will move the earth.”
I’ve asked this of myself – of the universe – of anyone around me who would listen. My work is ? I’m a writer by trade, and so I found my calling in my book that I’ve been writing. I’m about to workshop Chapter Seven of a 10 chapter book – a primer and memoir combined. A book that is needed and I believe will be received.
Meanwhile, there is other work – there is legacy work that entangles me but sustains me, and there is ongoing work to try to keep a conversation about parenting through an anti-racism lens. There is community work, there is social justice work, and there is my work with the girls in Ghana – to help them along their journey. There is a lot of work to be done.
David Whyte wrote:
Good work like a good marriage needs a dedication to something larger than our own detailed, everyday needs; good work asks for promises to something intuited or imagined that is larger than our present understanding of it. We may not have an arranged ceremony at the altar to ritualize our dedication to work, but many of us can remember a specific moment when we realized we were made for a certain work, a certain career or a certain future: a moment when we held our hand in a fist and made unspoken vows to what we had just glimpsed.
Work is a constant conversation. It is the back-and-forth between what I think is me and what I think is not me; it is the edge between what the world needs of me and what I need of the world. Like the person to whom I am committed in a relationship, it is constantly changing and surprising me by its demands and needs but also by where it leads me, how much it teaches me, and especially, by how much tact, patience and maturity it demands of me.
My friend in Boston sent me David Whyte’s Consolations, with his musings on many topics. This he wrote of Work:
To reduce work in our societal imagination merely to competition, and to the act of beating the competition, is to condemn our societies, our communities and our individual lives to imaginative poverty of the very worst kind. In the real world it is also an isolating approach that closes off the possibilities of cooperation and conversation across scientific boundaries and artful borders. In the mystery of real contact and of real creativity, as in the lover’s embrace, there is no abstract other and no competition. With the right work, the right relationship to that work and the mystery of what is continually being revealed to us through our endeavors, we find a home in the world that eventually does not need debilitating stress, does not need our exhausted will and does not need enormous amounts of outside energy constantly fed in to sustain it. We give a gift, not only through what we make or do, but in the way we feel as we do, and even, in the way others witness us in our feeling and doing, giving to them as they give to us, as fellow lovers, fellow struggling marriages: with a person, with a work, with a craft, attempting to keep the conversation alive with the core mystery of what makes us make; a gift that is twice given, physically in the present and imaginatively in the future; a work and an identity that holds both together, not only for an end, but for every step that shapes an onward way.
Work is a gift, it is both given and received. It is a relationship. It is a marriage of sorts. As my work unfolds differently, changing before my eyes, I am confident that what I seek is seeking me. And today I took one step closer to that reality.
I have spent a lifetime in partnership with atheists, those who don’t believe and some who thought very little of those who do believe. Believe in what? Well, I could answer simply with the word – God – but that would not define the believers I know. Yes, some call their faith religious, and some call their creator God, but most of the people I surround myself with these days believe in spiritual connections, believe in mystery and majesty far greater than our conception, and they believe that we – human beings – are not at the center of this diorama, but instead we are only one part of a vast network of interfaces between a world so grand it is incomprehensible and a world so tiny and two-dimensional we often seek bandaids to cover our wounds.
A healer recently told me that my mother weighs heavy on my soul and that I needed to address her. Really? My mother? I thought I had opened that can of worms a long time ago and stared deep down into the abyss and I do believe I have come away more loving a daughter for having peered into her darkness. So why is she weighing me down? Well it could be a number of things – perhaps she wants to tell me not to worry, perhaps she wants to tell me to love myself more, perhaps she wants to say that I’m not a bad mother myself, or perhaps she wants me to write HER story, when I’m effectively writing my own.
I woke this morning hugging myself. I did it on purpose, not because I suddenly found myself in a half Nelson on waking. I hugged myself because another healer told me to do that, she said you need hugs and if you are not getting them from other people, then hug yourself. And so I did. I tell myself “I love you, Rachel” when my mind starts having some nasty conversations about what if and other parts of my narrative that simply cannot be changed. Every day, in every way, I am showing my belly to the world – I’m saying yes, here I am, vulnerable, and open. You could grab my belly meat and pinch hard or you could hug me, I’m going to roll with it either way, because my faith in my ability to withstand life – while remaining open to living – is unshaken.
This has not come from some rational accounting of what was and what will be, this has come from an audit – a spiritual one – where I strung together beads that were building blocks of my life – the thread is time, the beads were experiences, and strung together in a necklace they represent a bold piece of jewelry that is unquestionably gorgeous and magnificent and yes, remarkable. Parts of it are bullet proof and parts are soft like the flesh of my belly. Though you’d have to know me deep and dirty to know which is which.
I learned recently that Ta-Nehisi Coates is an atheist – something I guess I could have concluded myself by his mind, which is so lovely and versatile and strong. That was always my attraction – the mind – I leaned into brilliance whenever it flaunted itself in front of me. I was a sponge, a sucker, a vessel wanting to be filled by knowledge. And now I no longer crave that same platter. My soul cries out for kindness, for love, for hugs, for gentle evenings of hand holding and soft moonlights of awe. I am no longer hungry for what I might know, but instead am thirsty for those who make my heart purr.
My stream of consciousness uses a vocabulary of luck, the number 4, exits and entrances, I’ve passed through here with you before, and rungs on the spiral. I read tarot, I read Black Angel cards, I wish upon stars that I see outside my bedroom window at night, I give thanks when I wake up that I have all my toes, my fingers, my eyes, ears, and nose. I have a magic vibration inside. I’m a believer. Lady Luck favors the prepared.
A monarch butterfly spread its wings as I opened the back door.
The vitex is still blooming.
The liriope’s purple flowers never cease to amaze me.
I’m a good cook. I ate leftover parmigiana for lunch.
My friends are fabulous.
Artists are gifts to us.
My body does what I tell it to do – grateful.
There is never enough time to do all of the things, but there is time enough to do many things.
I can live anywhere.
We are deeply resilient people.
All of us are giving birth to something right now.
Every one got a little piece of me today, but I saved the best for last – myself.
The circus is free. Free I tell you, free.
From Yin to fullness, a guffaw at the pit
of desolation, except you ride, you don’t fall.
Below as above.
Spin as you stand.
The horse, well, it is an intermediary—
a form you can speak of, a vernacular of ancestral hues.
The trees sing with many circled mouths,
each mouth an echo inside the blood-sap flesh.
The arms as galactic instructions,
the branches, the tenfold directions.
each seed—you tumble, you explode
the only feeling is non-feeling.
Call it joy, call it she-hair,
this negative of all negatives.
~Juan Felipe Herrera
I went last weekend to replace the flowers on my mom’s grave – from the red roses of winter to the sunflowers of summer – her flowers were definitely in need of a pick me up. While I was there I was able to get on an ATV with my uncle and head to a neighbor’s farm that was overflowing with tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, corn, and watermelon. “Take what you want,” the farmer said. It was in a word – C R A Z Y!
I felt that I had won the lottery but as the days went by with me daydreaming of what I would make with all this bounty, the eggplants started to spoil, the tomatoes started to gel, and the watermelon didn’t fit in the fridge. Vegetables wait for no one. And so.
I invited friends over who I hadn’t hung out with in a while – they are a family of eight and then I added a friend who just moved here – so with Tin and me, that was 11 total to enjoy an eggplant extravaganza straight off the farm:
1) eggplant parmigiana
2) eggplant ratatouille
3) eggplant with lamb
4) sauteed cabbage
5) whipped yellow potatoes
6) one huge watermelon
7) one box of Cline’s Pinot Grigio
Could I just say that it was so wonderful swinging back into entertainment mode after spending some time with my head in the blue sand. I live for these moments of friends, food, and fun.