Friday, December 30, 2005

Wild and Precious Life

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? I do. I love new calendars full of unlived days. I love the not-completely-true suggestion that this year I’ll do all those things I always mean to do. I love the notion, as the sign I’ve had on my refrigerator for years says, that “You Can Change Your Life!”

In addition to “fear,” one of the words upon which I’ve been meditating lately is “thrive.” What does it mean to thrive? What would my life look like -- what would your life look like -- if we were thriving? What needs to change in order for us to thrive and which of those things are under our control? New Years Resolutions, for me, are all about figuring out how to thrive and doing what’s necessary in order to thrive.

Along those lines, I looked up this Mary Oliver poem for my friend Rachael this morning:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

And it got me thinking about thriving all over again. I love the final lines:

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

So along with all my busy New Years Resolutions, goals, objectives, and lists of chores, along with my Filofax, Blackberry, laptop, cell phone, and iPod, along with the articles I want to write, the classes I’m going to take, and the projects I’m going to complete, I plan to spend more time this year “paying attention,” and “falling down into the grass, being idle and blessed.” I can’t think of a better way to thrive.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life in the coming year? How are you going to do it? Pick a tarot card and see what your subconscious is trying to tell you about thriving. I'll interpret it in the comments section if you like.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Saw Wicked last night at the Kennedy Center with -- what else -- a bunch of Wiccans. I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, but I enjoyed it. Based on the book of the same name, it tells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, from her point of view. It's also, I think, an interesting story about friendship and how our friends change us. While the song I downloaded to my iPod last night after the show was "Defying Gravity," the song I woke up humming this morning was the duet that Elphaba and Glinda the Good Witch sing to each other and say, "Who knows if I've been changed for the better, but thanks to you, I have been changed for good." That's what happens when we make friends; they change us.

This ties in as well with another topic I've been thinking about lately -- fear. Shirely MacLaine said that the more she traveled, the more she realized that "fear makes strangers of people who should be friends." At first glance, Glinda -- who's lovely, and popular, and perky -- and Elphaba -- who's green, and outcast, and way too self-consciously serious -- seem like odd friends. And, yet, when they're able to get past their fears, they do become friends.

And, I think of how the fear that Bush has generated has depleted the friendship that the rest of the world felt for us just after 9/11. Clinton was, if anything, more popular outside, as opposed to inside, the U.S. But he didn't make other peoples objects of fear in an attempt to influence U.S. politics, then, did he? Irrational fear of Islam and brown people has made strangers of people who could have been and should have been our friends.

Fear also, as the Bene Gesserit noted, is the mind killer. When you're afraid of someone, you can't put yourself in their shoes and imagine why they're acting the way they are. You make up stupid excuses such as, "They hate us for our freedom," and then you act based upon your false premise. Bush and his rubes and dupes are so busy telling themselves scary bedtime stories about "Islamofascists" that they can't begin to figure out why people are willing to strap bombs to themselves and blow up a building in the green zone. Until you can understand what's really motivating people, you can't respond appropriately and you can't understand anything when fear pumps chemicals into your brain and activates the fight or flight response.

In Wicked, the wizard seemed awfully Bushian. As a young man, he's a gigolo and he just sort of stumbles into being the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But if people want to call him wonderful, well, he's happy to let them. He uses Elphaba to create flying monkeys (and they were really great flying monkeys!) that he plans to use as spies and he tells her that you have to give people a group to fear if you hope to unite them.

When Glinda finally throws him out of Oz she quips, "Think of it as regime change." From her lips to the Goddess' ears.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Garden Porn

It's here, right on schedule. Burpee's catalog. This year, the cover shows a pile of lucsious, ripe tomatoes, a new hybrid called Burpee's Red Lightning. They do this on purpose -- send the catalog out in the depts of winter when we're all longing for a little taste of Spring.

And, like Pavlov's bitch, I respond the same way every year. I want everything I see. I want the new purple and red coleus called Fantasy for my front garden. I want parsely and sage and rosemary and thyme and basil and sweet woodruff and wormwood and nasturtiums and marigolds and morning glories and ornamental millet and the black and white mixed scabiosia and the yellow violas and . . . . I do this every winter. And, every April, I curse myself and wonder what on earth made me think I could get all those plants in all by myself, an old lady like me with a full-time job. And, I promise myself that, next year, I'll be more reasonable, frugal, self-controlled. And, I mean it. I do. Until the moment when my secretary brings me the mail and I see the Red Lightning tomatoes, perfect, amazing, shot through a Vaseline-covered lens and simply, well, simply pornographic.

Of course, deep in my garden porn-induced lust, I also forget about all the perinnials I already have -- the rubideckia, the peonies, the iris, the lillies, the woad, the daffodils, and the lilacs. I can't spare a minute's thought for the seeds I harvested myself this fall, the deep black hollyhocks and the rose hips and the pineapple sage. But honestly, that's the planting I love best of all -- plants from plants that I grew last year.

One of, IMHO, the most terrible things the U.S. did to Iraq was to make it against the law for farmers to collect and use their own seed. Agribusiness has been after this for a long time all over the world. And, it's wrong. It's just wrong. Ask any gardener, anyone who spends time with their hands in the dirt and makes a daily ritual of walking around and checking in with each of their plants. I hope the farmers in Iraq just ignore the rule. I hope the Iraqi government undoes it. It's pornographic in the true sense of the word -- an attempt to substitute what's fake for what's real. Bremmer had his dirty little hand in this. And he didn't use a condom.

Now, I wonder if I can put some of the new eupatorium in between the purple millet . . .

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Understaning Jebuz Land

I think that chidyke is absolutely right.. As usual.

One thing her post doesn't mention is that all humans, including those living in the Meth States of America, need ecstacy and transcendence. Poor people in today's America get that from meth, football, and religion. Until we find a way to offer people alternative ways to access ecstatic states, we shouldn't be surprised when they use what they know. As chidyke notes, the Conservative Movement has taken away things like access to education or the chance to run a business and spend time with your family that could have provided an alternative. I'll also add the constant encroachment on wilderness and privacy. People can't get out alone with nature to have transcendent experiences anymore, so they do what they can. They turn on the tv or head off to hear a fire-and-brimstone xian preacher. If the cost for a few hours of transcendent experience is voting against your own interest, or getting meth mouth, or killing off all your cattle, well, as chidyke's post shows, people are usually willing to pay that price.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Lately, I've been at several gatherings where one of the women wanted to introduce her significant other and the gentleman involved offered up, "I'm her consort." The first time, I think the guy was making an affectionate joke:" She's such a princess; I guess I must be her consort. "

On December 24th, my friend Renee, an incredibly gifted cook, had a bunch of folks over for a traditional Polish Yule dinner. One of the women there, Angela, is a minister and the priestess of a fairly large circle. She has a new (and delightful) significant other. They're too old to be "boyfriend and girlfriend." "Lover" sounds a bit, I don't know, like too much information, somehow. So one of the other guests who knows both of them suggested "Consort of the Reverened One." The gentleman involved was delighted with the phrase and kept repeating it with a smile.

I like "consort" better than "boyfriend," "lover," or "significant other." And I love living in a world where a guy would be delighted to be called "Consort of the Reverened One." I love seeing Angela happy. And, Goddess knows, I love Renee's cooking!

Are there other ways of describing men's roles in ways that empower both the women and the men involved?

Sunday, December 25, 2005


This weekend, I've been pondering a flyer I got from Omega Institutue, where I've taken some nice, and some stupid, seminars. They're running a weekend conference in March on "Being Fearless." They've got quotes sprinkled throughout the flyer and some of them are making me think about the things I fear and about the ways in which I've relied upon fear throughout my life.

The first quote, from Tagore, says: "Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless when facing them." My reaction is that this is something Bush and his rubes could profit from hearing. It seems that quite a few Americans are so fearful of an event that will quite likely never happen to them that they're willing to give up any freedom Bush cares to name. Of course, it's foolish to pray to be sheltered from dangers. It's a dangerous world. We can't control that. We can control how much of our lives we surrender to fear.

Of course, I always thought that the Bene Gesserit had the best thing to say about fear: It's the mind-killer. When you're afraid, you're not thinking clearly. You're not reacting from a postion of strength nor are you able to perceive the situation from any point of view other than your fear. Fear is, as the Bene Gesserit continued, the little death. Cowards, we all know, die a thousand deaths, heroes and heroines, only once.

Another quote is from Byron Katie: "Reality is always kinder than the story we tell about it." In my experience, generally true. I was raised by a father who "catastrophized" everything. If you got a C in Math, you were going to grow up impoverished and miserable. I've gotten better, but I can still convince myself that a hangnail will turn into cancer or that one bad ruling from a judge means I'm going to lose the whole case, get fired, lose my house, be a bag lady . . . But reality is generally not that bad. And, the Saudis who flew into the Pentagon and WTC were monsters, but it didn't mean that the whole world hated us or that we had to go to war with Iraq. The reality wasn't as bad as the story Bush told about it.

A third quote from that great witch Erica Jong: "Take your life in your own hands and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame." Well, yes and no. I can take my life in my own hands all I want, and it won't change the bad air I breathe or the economy that is designed to screw women. The illusion that we can control everything is dangerous. It leads to self-blame. Last night, I had dinner with some wonderful folks. It was one of "those" dinners -- amazing food, sparkling conversation, friendship. Two women there were African American and one was decrying affirmative action. She wanted, she said, to earn what she got. The other one pointed out to her that she'd have to work twice as hard as George Bush ever worked in order to have half as much. At some point, blaming yourself is counter productive. But, we like it because it gives us a sense of control, the illsuion that, this year, if we just work harder, we can control everything. We can't. Any more than Bush can prevent terrorism if he just takes away enough of our freedoms.

So, way too long a post. I'll close with one of my great loves, the poet Jelaluddin Rumi: "Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking." May it be so for me. May it be so for you. May it be so for my beloved country.