Archive for March, 2014
The Spirit Group met last Sunday and this time the topic was What is God? The answer is not so simple. If someone walks up to you and asks, “Do you believe in God?” – most of you will stumble for an answer, because it is not so simple. If you’re like me, and were raised in a religion, in my case Judaism, but you no longer are observant, then you hem and haw over the first question – what is God? So we decided to talk about answering that question first.
The other day, during the Oscar awards, Matthew McConaughey thanked God for his win – the way he couched God was by referring to a quote – “if you’ve got God, you got a friend, and that friend is you.”
What does that mean? Reductively that God is you?
I’ve been compiling a prayer/inspiration journal because after more than half a century of saying the same prayer my mother taught me, I decided to find a more positive way to frame my gratitude and prayer. “Dear Lord forgive me if I have this day, done any wrong in work or play, always help me to do what’s right and watch over me all through the night.” For some reason, that just doesn’t do it for me even after saying it religiously (pardon the pun) for over fifty years. I looked at many prayers that are already in existence and the one that came closest to what I wanted to say was the 23rd Psalm. There is also a beautiful prayer in Judaism that is said upon awakening called Modeh Ani, thanking god for giving us back our soul because when we drift into that other world it is thought that our soul travels back to god to be repaired – this goes hand in hand with the new research about how dreams sweep clean our brain’s hard drive – again metaphor?
In the journal I’m composing, I wrote a few definitions of God that had sprung up in my readings:
God is a way of life
God is I AM
God is a metaphor for that which transcends all level of intellectual thought
God is the Power of Life itself.
The word God has become so maligned in our culture because we have grown weary of folks fighting in the name of God, hating in the name of religion, and dying and taking others with them for their almighty God.
It all really gives God a bad name.
I got an audio book of Wayne Dyer’s The Power of Intention the other day and was listening to it on a walk with Heidi. Dyer says:
Carlos Castenada said there’s an immeasurable, indescribable force which shamans called “intent” and absolutely everything that exists in the entire cosmos is connected to it. You can call it spirit or soul or consciousness or universal mind or source. It is the invisible force that intends everything into the universe. It’s everywhere. This source is always creating, it is kind, it is loving, it is peaceful. It is non-judgmental, and it excludes no one.
In the Old Testament it says, “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth and everything that God created was good.” That leaves nothing out. So good and God are what it means to be connected to our source. If you go to the Gnostic Gospels — you know, the gospels that Constantine in the fourth century decided shouldn’t be in the New Testament — if you study the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of St. Thomas, they don’t refer to God as God, they refer to God as the “The Good.”
Whenever we are in harmony with that source from which we all emanated, which everything came from, we have the powers of the source. And when we let go of our connection and rusty up the link between ourselves and this connection, dirty it up by living at the lower levels of consciousness, then we create things like illness and poverty and sadness and fear and hatred.
We have to take a look at every single thought that we have and ask ourselves, “Is it in harmony with source or isn’t it?” Any thought that isn’t loving, any thought that is filled with hatred, is a thought that is inconsistent with, not in rapport with source.
The next time our group meets we are going to take up the question again because the answers only generated more questions. When I said “Why can’t we say a resounding yes when asked if we believe in God” – one answered, “Because that is saying yes to his God, and I wont do that.”
The word God is divisive and if you feel as I do that God is you and me then you can’t really know another’s God unless you are using universal metaphors – to know someone else’s God would be like saying you know the entirety of that person which is impossible, so I get what she meant – I won’t say yes to his God – but I do want to understand our God – the god who connects us to each other – the One Love God – the God is Love god.
As I said, our group will have to revisit this question in our next meeting – please chime in if you have any thoughts about this subject – I’d love to hear from you no matter what your framework is about God.
Step One – remove the grass and first part of topsoil:
Step Two – hand till the soil:
Step Three – add sand if clayey soil, then manure and conditioner, then organic soil, line the bed with wine bottles donated from your local wine store:
Step Four – plant vegetables that are prolific, pole beans, cherry tomatoes, and others, along with hardy flowers then mulch:
This weekend, New Orleans hosted the Tennessee Williams Festival and several of my friends were panelist and moderators, and a fellow blogger was covering the festival, which is now in its 28th year. In the past, I’ve always gotten my festival pass as soon as they were available but this year, sign of the times, I was cherry picking which panels to attend. I went to a panel moderated by a friend on memoir writing as one of my books in gestation includes a memoir. It was interesting to see four white women on the panel and hear the subject of race featured so prominently. Turns out one of the women’s father is African American and the other woman of color is Argentinian and grew up in a small town in Alabama during the Civil Rights era. The true memoir was Blake Bailey’s The Splendid Things We Planned, which is a harrowing account of his very disturbed brother’s collision with his family. A friend is lending me the book all the while telling me it is very disturbing. Oh, I can’t wait to read it.
The other panel I attended featured another friend – a woman I had hired as a reporter at OTR Global when the bottom was dropping (read: one of the many times a change in direction, reorg, panic, and mayhem had ensued). She wrote a book about the Times Picayune, Hell or High Water, that is a must read for anyone interested in the newspaper industry and also the overarching theme of how corporations grow so out of touch with the people who work there that they implode [sound familiar?].
She invited me to join her at a cocktail party, where I sashayed into the courtyard of the New Orleans Historic Collection and an attractive woman said to me, “I like your look” – this woman turned out to be Naomi Wolf, here with her son on her first visit to New Orleans.
I had seen Naomi speak when The Beauty Myth came out, in the early 90s and here she was, not looking worse for wear, telling me she liked my look. Banner day, I thought. Naomi was visiting New Orleans for the first time, which I thought odd, how could someone who had gone abroad for school never traveled to New Orleans – one of the most interesting cities in the United States?
Naomi followed us down to Le Petit Theater’s newly remodeled playhouse to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and I thought, well, maybe Naomi’s never been here because here – in New Orleans – celebrating the playwrite, Tennessee Williams’ life, at an eponymous festival – here we sit in our sad little excuse for a theater after one of New Orleans preeminent restauranteur families, the Brennan’s gutted the larger theater to put in a restaurant – making the case to the city and planning department that they were the ones with the white hats – saving the theater from itself – turning the smaller theater in back into the real Le Petit Theater. Sad, is all I have to say, very sad.
Since Naomi lives in New York – why would she come to New Orleans? Is there any reason to leave a place where theaters overflow?
I was late to the festival panels on Saturday because of Stella who chose to get up at an ungodly hour – we continue to be in puppy triage around here – and afterwards, Saturday evening, I went out dancing to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday party. We started at Delachaise for cosmos, Sex in the City style, then headed to dance with DJ Soul Sister at the HiHo – much later, we wound up on Frenchman Street where everyone and their mother was visiting – tourists – it’s a hate and love thing with these out of towners – everywhere I looked were tourists – Frenchman has become Bourbon Street for real.
The weekend ended with my spirit group meeting at my house again – our question this month was What is God? – weighty subject but it’s a question everyone should be able to answer.
In the afternoon, I walked down the bayou to a fantastic party at a friend’s. They had catered both low country and southwestern cuisine in honor of where their children’s new spouses hail from – and it was a lovely day all the way around – so much so that I missed the Stella and Stanley calling contest in Jackson Square which ends the festival. I sat on my friend’s veranda enjoying the beautiful weather and thinking about how it is 40 degrees in New York, and no one there lives in houses that have French doors opening out to a garden which is nearly in full bloom in March – so that is a reason to come visit New Orleans, that is what seduced Tennessee Williams here, into the romantic and intoxicating ether of New Orleans – and that is why I am here.
We live our narratives down South as Eudora Welty was want to say.
A friend whose band, Panorama Jazz Band, often plays at synagogues around the city, recommended I check out Shir Chadash because he said the community there is vibrant and warm.
This is how Tin and I ended up there last Sunday for the reading of the Megillah – the story of Esther and her foolish husband (the King of Persia) and evil Haman who wanted to kill all Jews – which is celebrated in the story of Purim (a holiday where Tin said “we sell gifts to the needy” – you know what he meant.
Panorama provided the soundtrack for the reading, the children all dressed in costume and we danced and twirled noisemakers every time Haman’s evil name was mentioned in the story then we ate little cookies shaped like his ear (hamantaschen).
There have been big loops in my life where I’ve been at the precipice of a new undertaking. The first came in 1989, having gone back to complete my bachelor’s and having told my employer (a law firm) that I would like to move to a four-day a week schedule in order to have time to write. Yes, I took a pay cut. I was living on General Pershing Street in uptown New Orleans renting a half a double with a camelback and small garden with a large pecan tree in the back. It was a period in my life where I felt I had time and I had the ability to frame what would come next.
I had divorced my first husband and just gotten a puppy, Samm Lightning – who went on to be my companion for 14 years. I had begun working on longer pieces of fiction and more importantly working on myself. Then one day as if to provide a metaphor, the kitchen cabinets all slipped off the wall on their own volition and shattered all of the dishes I had been given as a wedding gift.
My transformation was complete.
I moved to Spain with my second husband, which led me on an odyssey that ended in San Francisco where within months I met my third husband and a new chapter of life began. None of this was on my story board. I had intended to find a place eventually in the French Quarter to live, work and write alone.
In 1995, I began my second new undertaking. Once married for the third time, I longed to be back in New Orleans and created an opportunity to do just that. I visited an architectural firm that had doing work with my husband’s San Francisco firm and introduced him to them in absentia. When we returned for a visit to New Orleans together, I sealed the deal – or rather he did. New Orleans’ romantic allure aligned with a juncture in my husband’s architectural career and made this idea more compelling than you might imagine.
My return to New Orleans lasted ten months and included a broken down Saab 900S, two cross country moves, a new puppy name Arlene Starr, and the reemergence of my panic attacks. In no time at all, I found myself back in San Francisco writing a new chapter of my life. I had now decided to be the Madonna of fiction writers and I spent my free time translating Chekov into English, writing novels, and starting my own writing group. Meanwhile, my work took me into the world of finance and it is because of this slight jog to the left in my work where my version on my story board and real life diverged yet again.
I helped build a company in the financial industry that was riding the dizzying heights of the 90’s and I rode that wave into my return to New Orleans a decade later, and three months shy of the 2005 Federal Flood, and this chapter included the building of the LaLa, the ensuing sad and numbing divorce, the death of my mother, the adoption of my son, the loss of my job and my hair, and a realization that change was not finished with me.
Yesterday, in the gloaming, on my knees in the garden I had just created – I was planting the nasturtiums that will glide along the top of the earth and I thought about my story board, about where I am now. Towering behind me is a burned out house with bullet holes in it that I’m contemplating as an investment for my future, to my left was a wee sidelong shadow of the new puppy, Stella, who stole my heart after much deliberation on my part, while housed inside of me is a book bursting from my seams, a new work path opening up, a heart that is finally healed from one too many heartaches, and my hands are deep into the terrain of my living narrative [yet again].
I am creating a new story board even though I know real life is about to intervene.
Now that I am moving more into vegetarianism, gluten-free, and possibly even vegan, I get a puppy who is a carnivore. Stella (the puppy) is chewing her way through my life – claiming the extra hour of sleep I need in the morning, the downtime I require to rest from the juggling of work and parenthood, and yesterday, a pair of brown leggings were added to her list.
A friend recommended nutria strips to give her something to chew on. The pet shop down the street recommended pig ears, which gross me out. Although I was visiting Dr. Bob’s shop the other day to pick up a donation for Waldorf’s silent auction and he fed his Catahoula a pork bone. I turned my nose up and he said, “She’s Jewish, but still eats pork.” Ugh. But after trying everything to get Stella to chew on a toy rather than me and my harmony, I relented and got her a pig’s ear, which has kept her satisfied (for the most part).
I was having dinner with a friend last night and he suggested a bully stick – a bull’s penis – because that is what his dogs have liked. It’s all a great conspiracy to turn me more fully into a vegetarian – I’m sure of this.
Meanwhile, today this friend is bringing me a pen and a smaller more portable crate, so that I can start taking control of my life and Stella’s schedule. She has begun to dominate even the smallest part of my day – I found myself having my coffee on the cold kitchen floor – it was then I knew that I needed to remind myself there is me and her, me and her. And me has needs too. Great needs that are not being met!
I’ve mourned my dogs and realized I was also mourning who I was with my dogs. Arlene’s death took its toll of me, and I imagined I would never bond with another animal after her.
Recently, I ran into a old friend at the new Whole Foods – he had just lost his third dog and we spoke about how hard it is for us, those they leave behind. And he referred me to a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Spring and Fall” (1880)- a musing on mortality:
To a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
It is Rachel I miss – the one Arlene shared her life with.
Years ago, I danced with a woman, a colleague of mine who was a few years older than me, and she said, “After turning 50, I regretted not adopting a child.” Although I have regrets, I don’t have that one. You make a choice in life to keep your heart open, to keep letting people and creatures come in, and some of them form bonds forged in steel and some are inked in kryptonite – but the thing is, you don’t know, until you have already opened the door, who or what awaits.
And still I open.
Today, Stella came to join the Dangermond family. My friend said puppies, and I said no; my friend sent me a photo of the puppies, and I said, hmmmm. The mother had one blue and one brown eye like my Arlene; the puppy I spotted had the coloring of both Samm and Arlene:
Six puppies born to a Catahoula with a brown and a blue eye, six different looking puppies, and I spotted Stella right away – the foster parent joked that she looked like a Bernese Mountain Dog, but she looked more like Samm and Arlene when they were puppies:
I said I would go see her and decide.
The decision was made before I arrived. Today we welcome Stella into the Spirit House with open arms and heart. Heidi was visiting so she got to meet her, mouth her, sniff her and lick her as well.
Not everyone loves babies and puppies – but I do – babies and puppies bring uncertainty into our lives and remind us once again that we have the profound capacity to love.
One thing about motherhood, especially when your child is young, is it does not leave a lot of time for writing or rather it seriously crimps the ability to reflect then write then rewrite.
I find myself in a conundrum where I have been before – it is walking a delicate balance between writing for sustenance and writing for substance. I am taking on jobs where the pay is skimpy because I’m chasing the bills. A friend of mine was here the other night and he said as an artist that is the worst place to find yourself in because inevitably you will take work that pays before you will do work that has meaning.
So I’ve carved out time to write my book and I post on my blogs as often as possible – sometimes just posting photos or a quick status update. I feel strongly that posting on social media robs my blogs of their rhythm and thought process, and yet I do it. Yesterday, I applied for an Amtrak writer in residency. And for that reason, I evaluated my social media currency and found it wanting. I tweet about race and parenting, I write about it, I tweet about Tin, me and New Orleans, I write about a woman’s self-actualization and now the double whammy of motherhood thrown into that mix. I think about media and I write about it (along with other industries), and tweet about it.
I ask myself constantly, am I doing enough? And the answer is always no.
A serious writer would eat her young? Right? Write? Yesterday, my five year old decided to act like a two year old and so I spent my day, with laryngitis mind you, being the ENFORCER. I plucked him out of the booth at Houston’s and dragged him to the car rather than sit through an angry meal. I put him in time out in his room after he refused to pick up one of the many toys strewn throughout this house. And then I put him to bed without a book after he emptied two full bottles of shampoo and conditioner into the bathtub. Really, I was on the verge of gnashing my teeth since I couldn’t scream out having lost my voice. And then I saw this, a photograph of a structure (or sculpture, someone compared it to an Erik Johnson piece) he built in kindergarten – the expression of it took my breath away.
I had watched the documentary about Alice Walker, where her daughter’s rift with her is brought to the fore [was she a negligent mother?] – they are in a public standoff – a writer will forsake her family to work on what matters. What matters?
Sunday, on the way to take Tin to a movie for him – ahem – Tin was fussing in his carseat and I spotted a riot of yellow wildflowers lining the canals along Clearview Parkway – vernal pools of the south – and I said look, look, at the beautiful yellow wildflowers! He continued to fuss and we dipped around an overpass, and came upon another swath of bright mustard yellow and he said, look, LOOK, there’s more!
I desperately need a writer’s retreat to push through my book – Amtrak, please answer my prayers – and I also have to constantly remind myself to trust the process. If I have to growl at my cub for shooting the dog with the bow and arrow (sucker tips, not points, people, please) or for leaving his room and house a wake of half broken toys, and for not showing good manners in a restaurant (he told me later he wasn’t hungry, harumph) or for emptying out the contents of expensive hair products, then so be it.
Sticky notes, posters, chalk board writing, journals surround my space to remind me how to live, how to be, how to trust the process. Just two days ago, I assumed a new way to greet each morning by saying: today something wonderful is going to happen – and for this reason alone, I will spare his young life.