Saturday, February 11, 2006

Fields of Emerald and Steel -- Gee, I Wish I'd Written That

Mystique by Arthur Rimbaud

On the dark side of the slope, angels revolving
Their dresses of wool, in fields of emerald and steel.

Flames shoot out of meadows, to the top of the hill.
To the left, the face of the ascent is pitted,
By all homicides and every battle,
And the sounds of disaster string out on a curve.
Behind the ascent on the right, the orient line of progression.

And while this band in the distance
Is made of the whirling, leaping sounds
Of conch shells and human nights,

The flowery softness of the stars and all the sky
Flows over the side of the slope
Like a basket poured out in our face,
And turns the abyss beneath us a flowering blue.


So, do you, too, have authors like this? Authors you like so much that you space out their books, being careful not to read them all at once? For me, Sheri S. Tepper is one of those authors. I've loved her for some time, but I only read a book or two of hers every year. I just finished Six Moon Dance, which I think may be one of her best.

And, do you do this: do you fold over the pages with absolutely amazing passages so that you can copy those passages into your journal? I've kept a journal since I was young enough for that to be presumptuous. And going back once every couple of years and re-reading all my journals, and remembering where I learned a particular concept or turn of phrase is one of my real pleasures. I'm going to turn fifty in a few weeks, and I'll probably go back and start with my first journal and read all the way up through my current one. Interestingly enough, my father was a "journalist" and my grandmother even used the same kind of notebooks that I use to keep her journals. So I at least figure that I come by it honestly.

Here are some of the passages that I'll be copying from Six Moon Dance into my journal. I think you can read them and not find any real spoilers.

* Who could feel claustrophobic in space? One either was well off inside or one was outside and dead.

*Simon leaned forward and laid a rough hand on his shoulder. "Look, Mouche, you've got to understand what Newholme men are about, not from Madame's point of view but from our own. Now most men get taught early on that being dutiful is good, so they think they're being good when they work themselves into exhaustion and meanness. And most men know that pleasure distracts them from duty, so that teaches then pleasure is shameful. But at the same time, we have these restless brains inside that tell us to keep pushing toward the top so we can make a hole, crawl through, and see what's up there. All of us, even Consorts and supernumes, figure we've got a natural right to be there, on top and we use whatever we've got to get there. Humor. Or eloquence. Or skill. Whatever.

Bayne and Dyre, now they've got the idea mutual pleasure is sissy stuff, so the only pleasure they get is sniggering and bullying and destruction. And they don't like duty either, so they avoid it. The only thing that gives them satisfaction is anger, so being angry is how they go looking for themselves, like vandals taking a city: throw, hit break, kill, shatter -- it's all one to them. Destroy enough stuff, suddenly they'll find the hidden door with heaven behind it."

Simon looked at his glass, swirling the liquid in it, watching the patterns it made. "I try to tell you boys, best I can, that there isn't any door. You climb over people, you push and shove and get up there on top, it's empty. I try to tell you pleasure is a good thing, and it's easier with Hunks than most, because you're being trained to give it. And I try to tell you that duty's good, too, but you've got to balance it. And you've got to study yourself to know how much of each you need, for no one man is a measure of all."

* "What does fathers and mothers have to do with who you are? Your planet is your mother; time is your father. Your insides know this! All life outside you is your kin-folk. Even we dosha are your kin, born of another planet but with same father as you. Starflame makes your materials and live-planet assembles them, and time designs what you are, not your fathers and mothers. Pff. You could be genetic assemblage; Bofusdiaga could make you without fathers or mothers; and you would still be persons! But you could not have material without stars, or life without planet, or intelligence without time and be any way at all. It is your stars and your world and long time gives you legs to dance and brains to plan and voices to sing. "

* "We are made of the stuff of stars, given our lives by a living world, given our selves by time. We are brother to the trees and sister to the sun. We are of such glorious stuff we need not carry pain around like a label. Our duty, as living things, is to be sure that pain is not our whole story, for we can choose to be otherwise. As Ellin says, we can choose to dance."

*She complained, "But the Hags didn't have to choose that way of doing things. Surely there's a better solution!"

"If you can suggest one, I know they'd be happy to hear it. They aren't monsters, Questy. They're the descendents of the cultural historians on the second ship, and their ancestresses knew very well that surpluses breed contempt. Too much of anything reduces the honor in which it is held: too many men, too many women, too many children, too many people. "

Six moons. How would our world be different, how would we be different if we had six moons? How would we be different if we weren't afraid of pleasure, if there weren't too many of us?

Friday, February 10, 2006

It Doesn't Get Any Simpler Than This

Once more, slowly, and in short declarative sentences, with pictures for those whose minds have been almost destroyed by listening to Chris Matthews.

The Scariest Words in the English Language

Last night, my lovely friend Angela identified THE five scariest words in the English Language:

1. Michael
2. Moore

3. Ann
4. Coulter

5. Slash

Goddamn, This Pisses Me Off

Bush is selling off our national forests.

Let's be clear. This is nothing but a transfer of wealth. Bush is funding tax cuts for the richest Americans by selling off national treasures, and, given that these are irreplacable assets, no matter what he gets for the forests, he'll be selling them off at bargain basement prices. Those are your forests that are being transferred into new Hummers and plasma screen tvs and Juicy Couture sweat suits for people who are so much wealthier than you are that it's difficult for you to truly imagine how well off they are. But you and your children and your grandchildren and your great grand children are buying them their brand new Hummers.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Small, mean, petty, and viscious

One of the things I like about getting older is that I can do things I was afraid to do when I was younger. Had a late lunch with a friend today at the Old Ebbitt Grill and ate raw oysters and drank white wine and generally gossiped and chatted and had a fine old time.

But the most fun was before we were seated, when John Ashcroft came pushing his sour old face through the crowd at the door and had to walk right past us. I had plenty of time to give him the evil eye, which, I admit, I would have done when I was younger. But when he was directly even with us, I launched into a loud discussion about calico cats, loud, and rude, and mean-spirited. He turned the most satisfying shade of red, from the neck of his long wool coat to the top of his Criscoed-hair, got bug-eyed, and pushed his way out the door. As my friend Katrina likes to say: “I’m only going to get worse.”

I’d have kicked him, but I wanted to get my lunch. Which was very good.

A Nation of Indentured Servants

Yesterday, I was reading T. Thorn Coyle’s Musings concerning the difference between wanting something and needing something, between being hungry and being starved. My first reaction was negative; I adore language and enjoy the colorful use of language. What’s the big deal about saying you’re starving when you’re merely ravenous or that you’re ravenous when you’re merely hungry?

And, yet, Ms. Coyle does have a point, I think. In America today, we’ve more or less lost the distinction between wanting something and needing something. Of course, we have an entire industry -- advertising -- devoted to blurring that distinction and to making us “need” things we’d never even heard of before. Then, today, I began reading about Howard Karger’s new book, Shortchanged.

Mr. Karger looks at the growing “fringe economy” devoted to providing credit -- at usurious rates -- to poor and, increasingly, to middle class Americans. As Karger points out, there have always been pawn shops, rent-to-own furniture stores, and payday loan joints. What struck me is his description of how America’s increasingly cash-strapped, debt-ridden middle class is turning to these operations. Karger says, “Some readers may be put off by the book’s focus on the economic straits of the poor and the middle class, thinking that it minimizes the true impact on the poor. I had originally titled the book Scamming the Poor , but as I dug deeper, I soon realized that the fringe economy is also affecting a growing number of functionally poor households — those with above average incomes but with little or no assets and high debt. Indeed, many financial transactions have become so tricky that the middle class, especially the functionally poor middle class, is also vulnerable to the predations of the fringe economy. As Shortchanged illustrates, the lines between the fringe and mainstream economies are blurred, and the interests of the poor and the functionally poor middle class are growing closer.”

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Americans aren’t special, no matter how much we believe that we are. The world doesn’t owe us anything, including Chinese credit. We can’t, either as individuals, as families, or as a nation keep living beyond our means and using more than our fair share of the world’s resources. Quit living on credit. Get your credit cards paid off. Get at least six month’s net salary in a liquid form of savings. This is all about the two topics I’ve been pondering this year: fear and thriving. Living in debt means living in fear. Thriving is about so much more than acquiring new things. What do you need?

Odds and Ends

Several odds and ends today.

First, my brilliant friend Elizabeth sent me two interesting articles. She works with a group that focuses on the use of technology in education, so the No Child Left Behind program is a special bugaboo of hers. She notes that: "Bush is proposing eliminating Enhancing Education Through Technology funds (for the second year in a row). His idiotic No Child Left Behind legislation
requires "highly qualified" teachers. EETT funds are the ONLY funds in the entire federal budget that are specifically there for professional development for teachers and school administrators.

So no funds for EETT that is a direct support for
NCLB, but sure, you can have federal money to send
your kid to a private (religious) school
! ARGH!!!!!"

She also pointed me to Garrison Keillor’s column in Slate in which he points out that: "Republicans believe in smaller government and deregulation, but it takes more and more of their friends and loved ones to not regulate us, and who can blame them? Washington is the perfect place for the slacker child who flubbed his way through college and flopped in business and whom friends and family kept having to prop up -- find him a government job. Government service is a broadening experience. It certainly has been for Mr. Bush. He has traveled to China and Europe and other places that never interested him before." And, interestingly enough, as Atrios reports, Republican spawn can apparently get jobs telling scientists what to say without even bothering to finish college.

Second, a bit of pimping.

(1) The D.C. Radical Faeries are having their Feast of the Red Dragon this Saturday, February 11th from 2pm – 5pm at the Universalist National Memorial Church, 16th ST and S St NW, Washington, D.C. Funds raised at the Feast of the Red Dragon will go to support the work at Grandma’s House. Grandma's House operates five homes in NW D.C. which care for HIV infected infants and children. The children range in age from newborns to 10 years, and require 24-hour attention. This is always a fantastic event, admission and food are only $10 and if you’re in or near D.C. you have GOT to go!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Shit.Fuck.Damn. I Hate This Goddamn Disease.

So, when I had breast cancer, I didn't enjoy the surgery or the chemo or the radiation or the five years of Tamoxifen. I didn't enjoy the fights with the morons who regularly lost my films or losing my hair or learning to live with the idea that, sooner or later, IT is likely coming back to finish me off, for good. But I'll tell you what I really hated. I really hated the way that having breast cancer defined me in a lot of people's minds. i became a "breast cancer survivor" first and Hecate second.

I.Am.Not.Breast.Cancer. I.Am.Hecate.

But, today, an aquaintance called me to tell me that she has to go in tomorrow for some more pictures because something suspicious showed up on her latest mammogram. She called me because, to her, I'm a "breast cancer survivor." We chatted for a while and it was clear that she's really worried, really freaked out. She's a single woman, fifty years old, all her family is in other countries and other states. And, then, offhand, I said, "Would you like me to come with you?" Her relief was palpable, even over the phone.

So send me a bit of light and compassion tomorrow. I'm short on compassion. I'm not good at warm and fuzzy. I'm going to have to beg off a conference call to do this and, well, if the news is bad, I'm going to take her out for martinis at the Palm and tell her, well, what can I tell her? When you're going through Hell, keep going? What doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Hair and boobs are overrated? You'll either live through this or you'll wish halfway through chemo that you were dead? If you fight really hard with the radiologist you can make them use markers instead of the tatoos they want to use to mark you up for radiation? Good thing you don't have a lover right now because mine left me as soon as he heard the word "cancer"?

I'm really fuckng glad we've spent so much money killing people in some country halfway across the world instead of finding a cure for this mother-fucking obscene dirty obnoxious miserable excuse for a disease.

Postscript: I never cease to be amazed at the support and kindness of this "community." Thanks to everyone for their kind words. And, if you're a woman, please remember to do self exams every month. Put a reminder on your calendar. If you're a man who loves a woman, you could remind her to do self exams. And, women, please insist that your doctor send you for a mammogram any time you feel something. I've heard too many tales of women whose doctors told them not to worry and then, a year later, found out that, if they'd had a mammogram, they could have caught the cancer before it turned into Stage 4. Early detection is still the best way to beat breast cancer.

Post Postscript: Good news. "Normal aging of breast tissue; no follow-up indicated." So we still had martinis mid-afternoon, but they were celebratory, rather than for solace. Here's to normal aging!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sacred Places in the Modern World -- The First in a Continuing Series

So, celebrating Imbolc this week, and continuing to ponder how we thrive in today's less-than-gentle world, I got to thinking about the sacred wells where the Goddess Brigit, whom we honor on Imbolc, was worshipped. When the xians conquered Ireland and Scotland, many of Brigit's sacred wells became the sites of xian churches, often dedicated to St. Brigid or to the Great Mother Mary. Most peoples have found places in the natural world that seemed to them especially blessed, places where we Wiccans say that the veil between this mundane world and that "other world" that we sense is out there is thinner than it is in other places.

You can find lamenting in the Pagan community, and, Goddess knows, much of it is valid, that our sacred places are disappearing, being paved over, turned into dumps, strip malls, office parks. You can also find mystics who show us that every place is sacred, that a plastic bag blowing through a city street can be a thing of immense beauty, an avatar of East/Wind/Swords. The simple truth is that many, if not most, Pagans today live in apartments in cities, not in small cottages, surronded by herb gardens at the foot of Stonehenge. I'd love to wander the fields like Mary Oliver, but almost 99 days out of 100, I drive to an office building in a big city and then back to a suburb, stopping at a large grocery store, or the dry cleaners, or the taqueria on the way back.

So, how do we thirive? What do we do when we need to be in a sacred space? Where do we go? What places in the modern world help us to remember that Earth is alive, we're part of a larger whole, our entire lives are shot through with connection and glory, and, emobodied consciousness that we are, with sensual delight?

I'm not a New Yorker, but my first Sacred Space in the Modern World is Central Park. Watch the video. Take a deep breath. Sacred Space: wherever you go, there you are.