I came across a blog post by poet Annie Finch on her website a little while ago, and it’s stuck with me. It reflects many of my own feelings about the poetry community, its relationship with the rest of the world (or the lack thereof), and my personal poetic inclinations. So, en lieu of rehashing what has already been said well by poets more experienced than I, I figured I’d just send readers to the blog post itself. It’s a quick read and well worth the time: Omniformalism Revisited
Annie Finch is one of my favorite poets, partly because of her bold, unique perspective (as an earth-centered, feminist Wiccan poet who is well-respected by the poetry community at large — how rare is that?) but also because of her deep knowledge of poetic forms and her use of them in her work that avoids sounding cliche or stiff. Most of all, I love her fascination with and respect for mystery. I’m glad that formalism has reemerged in the poetry community, not because I dislike free-form poetry (the grand majority of my poems are, in fact, free form) but because I enjoy seeing the new expressions that old forms can take in a modern context. I like play with structure as much as I like deviation from it, which is what Omniformalism is all about — celebrating all forms of poetry.
In May, a poem of mine will appear in Subprimal Poetry Art, an online journal based in Mexico that “looks toward poetry, flash fiction, music, and art work that takes the reader / viewer / listener out of the ordinary and into a place altered from that which they normally experience. In an enjoyable, thought-provoking way.” The next issue will feature not just the text of my poem but also a recording of me reading it. I’ve never done something like that before, so I’m excited about it and look forward to hearing what readers/listeners think. I’ll provide more details when it’s published.
I’ll end with a quote from the above-mentioned manifesto:
We have a madness for poems that pound in the blood, that are moved into three dimensions by the immanent necessities of their form, that know the stubborn patterns and rhythms the world keeps.
It’s spring now — the azaleas and dogwoods in our yard are in bloom; the little songbirds are singing their mating calls; a haze of pollen hangs in the air, swirls in the wind, coats everything in sight with its green-yellow hue; and, on March 22, two days after the vernal equinox, I gave birth to our son, Espen Avery.
I’d wanted to have a natural birth, but after 14 hours in labor (and having been awake for 26 hours because I’d worked the day my labor started) and only dilating to 5 cm, in spite of the intense contractions occurring about 45 seconds apart and coupling, I was too stressed and exhausted to go any longer the way I was. So I had an epidural, which was a beautiful relief — an hour later, I’d dilated to 8 cm and I was finally able to get some rest. Nine hours later (with an hour and a half of pushing time), Espen was born at 4:59 PM.
Change is always a little bittersweet for me, no matter how much I’d looked forward to it, planned for it, even needed it. There’s a feeling of loss — of my old self, my old life — and a cloud of anxiety about the future that I must fight early on in the change process. I felt that way when I started grad school and attended my first residency; I felt it when I started my (now defunct) copy writing job. And, as guilty as it makes me feel, I have felt it now and then as a new mother.
One would think that I would handle change better — even whole-heartedly embrace it — since I grew up in an Army family that relocated every few years throughout my childhood. It’s not so much physical change that bothers me — I love a change of scenery, and the few close attachments I form to people and locations are never enough to keep me stationary. It’s the emotional and mental changes that I find most challenging. I think that’s true for all people — growth is difficult, anxiety-ridden. Transformation is painful. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. The opposite, in fact. That’s what gets me through those periods of anxiety — the knowledge that they will pass, and that growth-oriented change (which motherhood inevitably is) is always ultimately rewarding.
It seems that an essential part of the human experience — and life in general — is transformation through pain. Religions the world over bear stories of transformation through death (the most dramatic form of pain) — Jesus had to die to absolve mankind of sin and return to Heaven; Odin had to hang himself from the Tree of Life to gain infinite knowledge; Odysseus traveled to the realm of the dead to learn from Tiresias the wisdom he needed to return home; Ushas, the Hindu goddess of dawn, was imprisoned by demons in the cave called Vala and liberated from it by Indra.
In life, childbirth is the most obvious and stark example of painful transformation, but any transformation involves some kind of pain. I don’t know why this is, but it is. And, as with childbirth, it seems that the most effective way to go through the process of transformation is to accept the pain, even embrace it. That’s how I was able to endure the first 14 hours of labor without reprieve — until it became clear that it was going nowhere fast and I desperately needed some rest.
Which brings me to another, seemingly contradictory (but not really) lesson I learned through labor — that there’s no shame in acknowledging and accepting one’s limitations and seeking aid in mediating pain. It’s a different kind of strength that’s required to swallow pride and admit need, but it is certainly a valuable, sometimes necessary strength. I relied on that wisdom a few days later when the baby blues, a different kind of pain, set in and I needed help getting enough sleep, not feeling guilty whenever I wasn’t with the baby, and overall battling the overwhelming feelings of fear and doubt I felt about my ability to handle the stress of raising a newborn. Fortunately, my husband and mom have been here to help, and I just needed the strength to admit when I needed them to do so. And, again, knowing that that pain was part of the process of becoming a new mother was a huge aid in enduring and getting through it.
These lessons came at a symbolically significant time — the passing from harsh, barren, cold winter to life-bearing spring. Spring is a season of new and regained life, of growth and transformations of all kinds. It’s a season of new light, and light is always preceded (and even defined) by darkness. It’s the darkness that makes the light so brilliant.
I’m intentionally not a very political person, and I don’t often like to get on the soap box (especially on this blog). Most of the time, I don’t feel that it would do any good, or I’ve found that lots of other people have said pretty much the same thing and my response would only be redundant, or the issue is too complex for me to say for sure that how I feel or what I think is absolutely correct. However, sometimes an issue will prick me to my core and continue to sting until I say something about it, especially if that issue has received little attention and I feel that by doing something — even something as small as writing a blog post — will raise a little more awareness to prevent what seems dangerous and imminent from happening. I was confronted with one of those issues recently, and so here I am, on my dust-laden soap box.
A bill, proposed by Governor Butch Otter, is up for vote in Idaho that will allow hunters to freely hunt gray wolves, a species that has been reintroduced by conservation groups following decades of near-extinction. Proponents’ reasoning comes from two angles:
1. Wolves kill the livestock that ranchers depend on for their livelihood 2. Wolves kill the elk that hunters like to hunt
For a more detailed account of the issue (including a video showing speakers on both sides), check out this article. And this one.
While I understand the frustration that the first group — the ranchers — feels, I also believe that there must be an alternative solution. The second group — the elk hunters — is completely inexcusable to me. The main point that both groups are missing is this: the wolves are killing and eating for survival.
Let me say this: I’m not against hunting on principle, just as I’m not against eating meat. I eat meat (although I eat less of it than a lot of people). I accept that humans are naturally omnivorous and require some meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet without relying on vitamins and supplements. And while I don’t hunt, I also accept that humans are predatory animals and that there is a side to our species that, quite possibly, needs to kill — just like sharks, alligators and, incidentally, wolves. I respect that part of humanity, just as I respect that part of the wolf species.
What I don’t respect is irresponsibility, selfishness and a lack of creativity in problem solving, all of which to me seem rampant in this issue. The hunting angle bothers me the most. First of all, one of the justifications I’ve heard from hunters for hunting is “to control the population” of the animal being hunted — to keep the population healthy and thriving. So hunting wolves to keep them from keeping the elk population in check bears absolutely no logic. Second, hunting by humans is very rarely survival-based, making nearly all hunting “for sport” these days. Even those who eat the meat of the animals they hunt still go to the grocery store to buy meat. They hunt because they enjoy it, not because they need to. Which is very different than the wolf’s purpose for hunting. But, like I said, I’m not against hunting per se; I recognize a difference between “regular” seasonal hunting and the kind of hunting that’s being advocated in Idaho against wolves.
These wolves are killed because people hate them. For the most part (I can’t say “all,” since I don’t know for sure), they are not eaten, which is wasteful. Additionally, where most hunting places a limit on the number of animals that can be killed, the wolf issue is about decimating a population that has historically struggled to exist. Efforts have been made in the recent past to reintroduce a healthy wolf population to its natural ecosystems. Conservation has only recently reached the point where groups are considering delisting them from the endangered species list, and this legislation and recent hunting behavior is threatening to erase all of that hard work. In fact, Governor Otter’s legislation proposes reducing the population to 150 wolves in Idaho. 150 in 83,642 sq. miles of land.
Perhaps the most troubling issue here is that Idaho isn’t the only state taking these kinds of actions; Wisconsin, Wyoming, Montana and other states have also opened the doors to “wolf population control.” As the Live Science article I linked in the previous sentence states:
Wolves were hunted, trapped and poisoned to the brink of extinction in the 20th century, and they rebounded only after being protected under the Endangered Species Acts of the 1960s and subsequently being re-introduced to Yellowstone.
Maybe I’m being aggressively political here, but no one can tell me that wolves do not have the right to exist. No one can tell me that 150 is a comfortable number for any species’ population. No one can tell me that all of that land isn’t enough room for wolves and humans and elk and livestock. If people are truly concerned about the elk population in Idaho, why don’t they hunt fewer elk? Why don’t they leave more food to the animals that need the meat for survival? Perhaps then the wolves won’t be so hungry that they need to kill livestock. Wolves don’t kill for sport, and they don’t kill out of spite. They are trying to survive, and it’s incumbent upon us as active, responsible members of the world to allow them to do that.
Responsible hunting (which one wolf hunting gathering supposedly supported) is not about vindictive genocide. It’s about respecting the natural world and allowing it to prosper while permitting the darker, violent side of our own nature to express itself. We need to let go of the notion that we are the only important species on the planet and that our lives and well-being are the only ones that matter. We need to respect other life forms, accept competition for survival as a fact of life and deal creatively with our challenges.
On the ranching side, several individuals and groups (including ranchers) have addressed the complex issue of maintaining livestock while preventing wolf-killing, often suggesting non-lethal methods for managing livestock predation. Check out these links for more information:
Origin: 1400-50 late Middle English < Late Latin intuitiōn- (stem of intuitiō ) contemplation, equivalent to Latin intuit( us ), past participle of intuērī to gaze at, contemplate + -iōn (via Dictionary.com)
In psychology, intuition is “the ability to acquire knowledge without inference and with the use of reason.” Intuition, the opposite of “sensing” in MBTI terms, focuses on possibilities and alternatives over what is obvious and present — the abstract over the concrete — and the whole over the parts, or the parts as they relate to the whole. Jung considered intuition to be an irrational function, as it looks beyond what is evident to what could be, based on previous experience and abstract understanding. Intuitives see the facts as a starting point, not an ending.
In INFPs and INTPs, intuition is an extroverted function, meaning that this type takes in external stimuli and filters them through a psychological sieve composed of memories and generalizations. We all do this to some extent — if we’ve been burned by a stove in the past, we know not to put our bare hands on a red eye now — but it’s particularly pronounced in extroverted intuitives, who filter everything they come across through this sieve of belief and meaning. And things like “belief” and “meaning” are highly valuable to introverts (like me), who gain energy by turning inward and examining and reaffirming their beliefs as they move along in the world.
People with extroverted intuition are “adept at seeing the big picture of any given situation [and] sensing patterns” that are not readily visible. We enjoy word games, problem solving, analogies — anything that utilizes patterns and theories. I personally enjoy languages — how they are constructed as well as how they convey meaning.
I also love literature and writing for much the same reason — sentences, paragraphs and stories are systems in which all of the little pieces (from word choice to motifs) compose a greater whole. Intuition is critical to writing. Not only is coming up with living characters, situations, settings and dialogue a completely abstract activity, but the very act of working with words is an exercise in abstract thinking. Words are symbols — they’re useless and flat without meaning (ideas, emotions and mental images) breathed into them. We give them meaning, but that meaning is not concretely related to the words themselves at all. In any kind of writing, we are taking something — an idea, an emotion, an experience — and using what we know about these abstractions and our audience (a friend, a stranger, a group) to craft and transmit meaning. This is true for all types of writing — marketing, blogging, technical writing, creative writing. It’s all based on the writer’s understanding of what words mean, how readers feel about certain words and which words are most meaningful in a given context. Which is to say that if I weren’t intuitive, I’m not sure I could be a writer.
I’m interested in reading people, too — I’m in the habit of noticing the little things people around me say and do, collecting these observations and then putting the pieces together to understand the themes that operate under the surface. And I have a passion for mythology and fairy tales — cultural systems. I love the stories themselves, but I also love how each story reveals something about its culture and how the various myths create a total image of a culture. Most of all, I enjoy putting the pieces together, finding new meanings in them and rediscovering the whole through them.
This doesn’t mean that intuitives are always mystically accurate. Many intuitive people hold biases and incompletely formed preconceptions that lead to incorrect assumptions about others and the way of the world. This is why, for intuitives, it’s important to regularly audit their perceptions, test them for truth rather than rest in the comfort of the familiar belief, in order to prevent their judgments from being clouded and leading them astray — making their lives and that of others more difficult.
My own intuition has often been wrong, and I constantly work to adjust my understanding of the world to push toward the truth, whatever that may be. And truth (distinct from both fact and honesty), perhaps the greatest of the “big pictures,” is incredibly important to me.
For the first post in the series (on introversion), click here.
A couple of posts ago, my mom left a comment suggesting that I explain my MBTI personality type (IN[F/T]P). I think it’s a great idea because the MBTI test is a good way to gauge general motivations and impulses, although the personality types find unique expression in each person depending on environmental factors and personal history. When I get to the F/T part, I’ll explain the uncertainty, but I think that, since so much can be said about each element of the type, I’ll dedicate one post to each. And so we begin with a discussion on introverts.
Most people have a very clear image of introverts: shy, even avoidant, soft-spoken wallflowers. However, while introverts do prefer solitude over crowded parties, introversion doesn’t have to mean that one dislikes the company of others or is incapable of functioning well in social situations. I’m an atypical introvert; in fact, most people (those who don’t know me well) would be shocked at the idea. I’ve been called bubbly, high-energy, vivacious, even a “social butterfly.” While the latter is way off, I am capable of interacting with others and having fun at concerts, parties, and other social situations, and doing it pretty well. I go to work, socialize with my coworkers, and lead weekly meetings; I dance at parties; I’ve attended nearly every concert that my husband has performed over the last eight years that we’ve been together. That doesn’t make me an extrovert, and this is why: it’s incredibly draining.
In between these things, I need periods of solitude (equal to the amount of time spent socializing, if not more) in order to remain healthy and sane–to (as a similarly introverted friend of mine said once) “feel like a person again.” My house is my cave, my safe place, and most of my nights at home include just one other person, my husband, who isn’t so much another person to me as the cliche “other half.” Being together is like being alone but in the best way; we respect each other’s privacy and need for silent meditation, but we also feel comfortable freely sharing our thoughts with each other when we want to bounce them off another person who innately understands our motivations and sense of the world. I can sit quietly for hours without the pressure of feeling the need to entertain and then pipe up with an idea, out of the blue, without filtering my thoughts. Anyway, I need time alone (or mostly alone) to re-energize, to think and address the thoughts and emotions I’ve collected throughout the day or week, and to create (whether it’s a sewing project or a poem or short story). And when I don’t get this time to myself, I become tense, moody, even at risk of a breakdown.
Introversion, as defined by Jung, means “inward-turning.” This means that one’s energy and motivation come from one’s internal world: thoughts, ideas, dreams. Introverts are thought-oriented seekers of depth (rather than breadth) of knowledge and substantial (rather than frequent) interaction; I’d rather have an intellectually nourishing conversation with a small group once a month than attend a cocktail party full of small talk once a week.
For introverts, energy is expended through interaction with the external world. We need time to reflect before and after bouts of action, and too much action can cause us to feel stifled and cornered and become withdrawn. In essence, we’re like sea mammals or amphibians that spend most of our time underwater, poking our heads up now and then to express air and glimpse the busyness above but always needing, for whatever reason, to go back down again.
Well, this is the longest I’ve gone between posts — over four months! It’s shameful, and I am ashamed. But, in my defense, I have been going through some pretty significant changes during this time, and they’ve thrown me for a loop, and I’m just now finding my feet once again.
The biggest change is that I am, as they used to say, quick with child.
I’m currently 19.5 weeks along, and it has thus far been a fascinating, exciting, sometimes painful (hip pains are no joke!) journey. Eric and I weren’t necessarily trying to get pregnant, but we’d decided at the beginning of the year (literally the beginning — early New Year’s morning) that we were ready and would let fate determine when it would happen. And then it happened. Since then, I’ve been obsessed — researching the baby’s weekly growth and developments, researching what to expect and what to do/not do during pregnancy, keeping a journal, figuring out the solutions to financial challenges, musing over names, and planning the nursery (which is going to be cost-effective, whimsical, gender neutral, and elegant). It’s a lot to think about.
The second big thing that’s happened is that I got a job as a web copy writer, in addition to the freelance work I was already doing, and so I have had very little time to devote to other things, like this blog or answering emails (I have been really bad about that). I’m excited to finally have a writing job, which means gaining good experience in the industry, building my portfolio, and being challenged in many ways. Good things. I’ve recently been designated the company blog editor, in addition to my copy writing responsibilities, so I’ve had blogging on my mind for the past week and have been feeling guilty for ignoring this one for so long. I enjoy blogging as an open letter to the world and a public dispensary for my thoughts, and I want to keep at it.
So I’m finally resurfacing and am determined not to let this blog die a sad, lonely death. I’m also determined not to make every post about my pregnancy (it’s inevitable that it’ll creep in now and then, but I promise to try to make it at least as interesting as my other posts).
I’m a terrible blogger in some ways. I’m whimsical, coy, and frequently silent. I blame this on being an INF(T)P (I also love blaming perceived flaws on personality types and star signs — I’m a Pisces — because it helps me bear them philosophically). Anyway, seeing as I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve been racking my brain for the past few weeks for something to post about. I’m extremely picky about what I feel is “worthy” of posting. It can’t just be something cool I found, where I post a brief introduction and a link and am done with it; it has to be something I can explore and build on to say something about myself or my perception of the world (very INTP). I don’t know why I’ve set this requirement for my blog, but there it is.
I was cruising Pinterest and Google images today for inspiration for a new tattoo idea I have: just a cloud, but not a cutesy one, or a cartoonish one, or an 8-bit one, or a Chinese-style one, something kind of ethereal that will still somehow work with my more classic-style blue jay tattoo. The idea was inspired by the following lines in Wendell Berry’s poem “The Morning News”:
What must I do to go free? I think I must put on a deathlier knowledge, and prepare to die rather than enter into the design of man’s hate. I will purge my mind of the airy claims of church and state. I will serve the earth and not pretend my life could better serve. Another morning comes with its strange cure. The earth is news. Though the river floods And the spring is cold, my heart goes on, faithful to the mystery in a cloud, and the summer’s garden continues its descent through me, toward the ground.
I love that. If I had to name a personal living hero (and I’m not really into that; hero worship is a little dangerous), I’d probably say Wendell Berry. The line I bolded has particularly stuck with me; I think of it every time I watch the clouds drift across the blue expanse above me like a herd of diaphanous elephants. If I identify with any natural presence, it’s clouds. They have tender, fleeting existences; they take various shapes throughout their “lives” as they are created and transformed by the elements and forces around them; at different points, they are benign or malignant, soothing or ominous; and when they’re gone, it’s only back into the earth, where they nourish life and eventually are reborn in other forms. In some ways, at least from my perspective, their mystery is our human mystery. And when I get my tattoo, and people ask me what it means, I can say with droll, stark ambiguity, “I’m faithful to the mystery in a cloud.”
During this morning search for tattoo inspiration, I came across (not for the first time) the photographs of Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, whose surreal images of clouds within empty interior spaces have garnered a lot of attention this year. These images are not of clouds photoshopped into spaces; Smilde creates the clouds himself by misting the air and then turning on a fog machine, and an assistant takes the photo at the right time.
The creation of the cloud, as performance or installation art, is a statement on impermanence and the awe one feels when watching something mysterious and unique (as no two clouds are exactly alike) unfold. The photograph, however, is representative of mankind’s special ability and deep desire to make the evanescent (more) eternal.
An article on Slate explains: “Smilde is interested in fleeting moments, the ‘in-between situations’ that are open to interpretation.” Smilde himself wrote that “the cloud brings duality because you can’t really grasp how to interpret the situation you are viewing. This is not so much about the shape of the cloud but rather by placing it out of its natural context; in this case the unnatural situation can be threatening.”
I don’t find the surreal threatening, however. I’m always drawn to the liminal and the strange. Like Emily Dickinson, I know it’s my kind of art when “it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me.” Viewing his photographs is a spiritual confirmation. It nods to a wordless truth — something about the beauty of transience, how things have power and beauty simply because they are impermanent — that is wonderful in every sense of the word.
We discovered recently that we have a relatively small colony of little brown bats living in our attic, pictured above (you can click on the image to see it larger). It might surprise some people, but we’re mostly excited about them. The guano mess is going to be a pain to clean up, of course, and the removal by exclusion process can be a hassle, but their presence is a welcome addition to our ecosystem for a number of reasons:
1) They eat insects like mosquitoes, wasps, gnats, and agricultural pests. In fact, a single little brown bat can eat around 600 mosquitoes in an hour. We are rife with mosquitoes around here, but we’ve already seen a significant decrease in their population since the bats arrived.
2) Guano is apparently an excellent fertilizer. We’re starting a garden this year, so we’ll test that theory soon enough. You can’t beat free fertilizer.
3) They aid in crop pollination.
4) We think they’re cute. They have sweet little faces and furry little bodies and squeaky little voices.
So, instead of just calling someone in to evict them (or worse — we’ve heard some terrible stories), we’re going to offer them an alternative: a bat house, mounted on the side of our house beneath the vent they’re currently calling home. There are lots of bat house plans online for those who like to DIY, but we were intimidated by that prospect (being fairly inexperienced in the ways of building wooden structures and knowing that bats can be kind of picky about their accommodations), so we ordered this one:
It’s good-looking in the picture, but it’s beautiful in person. And it’s extremely cost effective compared to other bat houses of similar quality and specifications we’ve seen. The only adjustment we made was to add shingles (i.e. free samples from Lowes) to the eave, which is recommended to prevent water damage and regulate heat absorption.
For anyone interested in buying/making a similar bat house, other criteria for good bat accommodations, as established by Bat Conservation International (a great resource for all kinds of information about bats), are as follows:
1) Multiple chambers — large houses with multiple chambers tend to be more successful than ones with only a single chamber because bats prefer options and privacy. Our bat house has only one chamber, but I imagine that, given its size, the size of their colony, and their current arrangement between the attic vent and the screen, the bats will still consider it an upgrade.
2) Roughened interior crevices — all over, not just on the landing area — are essential so the bats can have something to cling to while they sleep. If the house lacks this feature, they won’t be able to use it.
3) The shade of the exterior paint/varnish is another important factor to consider, and it varies from region to region. For cooler areas, a darker shade is best to increase heat absorption, but hotter regions need lighter shades to keep the temperature comfortable. No one wants to live in a house that’s suffocatingly hot or freezing cold. The Bat Con site has a map showing regional paint/varnish shade needs.
4) Height and depth — bat houses should be at least two feet tall with a landing area that extends 3″-6″ from the opening. The chamber(s) should be at least 20″ tall and 14″ wide.
5) Open-bottom construction — this provides decent air flow and keeps the house clean. Guano builds up pretty quickly (I know from experience, obviously) and can make a house unlivable.
6) Decent sunlight — bats need houses that get at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. This keeps them warm while they sleep. Ours have parked themselves on the eastern side of the attic, which is the side that gets the most sunlight, so that’s where we’ll mount the bat house.
7) Mounting on buildings or poles — according to research done by various groups, it seems that bats prefer their houses to be mounted on buildings, but they also seem to do all right in pole-mounted houses (as shown above). One location they definitely don’t like is a tree-mounted house. I imagine this has to do with the critters that live in or frequent trees. Building-mounted houses are particularly good at protecting bats from predators and invasive pests.
8) Houses should be checked annually for signs of decay and wasp nests, which can create problems for the bats. If nests accumulate or you find some wear on the house, adjustments should be made in the fall/winter after the bats have migrated or in early spring before they make their return. You pretty much have to leave the bats alone once they’ve occupied a space.
Again, Bat Con Intl. has further details on their site, and I highly recommend visiting it if you’re considering buying a bat house or even if you just want to get some more information on bats. Education is never a bad thing.
We’re going to set up our bat house this evening (before the bats wake up, which is around 8:00 PM) and hopefully start the exclusion process, unless they’ve already had their pups, in which case we’ll have to wait until August. I’ll provide bat status updates as they happen. I love them, and I’d like for other people to love them, too. And if love isn’t possible for everyone, I’ll strive for bat appreciation.
Feel free to leave any comments or questions about bats (or anything else I’ve mentioned) in the comment section below, or you can click the contact link at the top-left of this post to message me privately. Bats are wonderful and helpful creatures that are, unfortunately, highly misunderstood, and it’s my goal to provide a little space to help change that.
In honor of the March equinox/first day of spring (at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere), here are a few things that look both forward and backward — fitting for this time in which dark and light are momentarily in balance and things begin to wake or make their return.
“The Current” by Wendell Berry
Having once put his hand into the ground, seeding there what he hopes will outlast him, a man has made a marriage with his place, and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back. His hand has given up its birdlife in the air. It has reached into the dark like a root and begun to wake, quick and mortal, in timelessness, a flickering sap coursing upward into his head so that he sees the old tribespeople bend in the sun, digging with sticks, the forest opening to receive their hills of corn, squash, and beans, their lodges and graves, and closing again. He is made their descendant, what they left in the earth rising into him like a seasonal juice. And he sees the bearers of his own blood arriving, the forest burrowing into the earth as they come, their hands gathering the stones up into walls, and relaxing, the stones crawling back into the ground to lie still under the black wheels of machines. The current flowing to him through the earth flows past him, and he sees one descended from him, a young man who has reached into the ground, his hand held in the dark as by a hand.
From “Rising” by Wendell Berry
6. Ended, a story is history; it is in time, with time lost. But if a man’s life continue in another man, then the flesh will rhyme its part in immortal song. By absence, he comes again.
There is a kinship of the fields that gives to the living the breath of the dead. The earth opened in the spring, opens in all springs. Nameless, ancient, many-lived, we reach through the ages with the seed.
It’s our first spring at our (first) house, and it’s exciting to discover the flowers and plants we didn’t know existed when we bought the place late last summer. We’ve planted strawberries and lemon thyme in the front yard around the mailbox and more strawberries in the backyard near the porch, and the seeds we’ve ordered for our vegetable and herb gardens should be coming in any day now. So, for us, it’s a time of surprise and anticipation, of eagerness and hope. It’s also, as with other things, a time of returning. As my husband said while we were preparing the soil around the mailbox, “It’s like being a kid again — digging in the dirt outside.”
My editor-in-chief sent this review to me a couple of days ago (I’ve been strangely internet-averse lately and so haven’t been as vigilant with my email-checking as I usually am). The author is David R. Matteri, who has some glowing things to say about the issue and AA as a whole. __________________________
American Athenaeum invites you to step into their “museum of words” with their latest “Understanders” issue. Inspired by T.S. Elliot’s unwavering dedication to his craft in the face of stinging criticism, the editors dedicate this issue “to every artist who stays true to their art and vision amid the naysayers.”
Reading this issue really is like walking through a museum. The “Views from the Past” section features writing from across human history. There is poetry from Li Qingzhao and the Sixth Dalai Lama, and haiku from Matsuo Basho. Sojourner Truth and Henry David Thoreau speak of gender and the human impact on the environment in a pair of thoughtful essays. We even get a few laughs from the wickedly funny play “Philosophies for Sale” by Lucian of Samosata, a chapter from Hugh Lofting’s “The Story of Doctor Doolittle,” and James Kenneth Stephen’s poem “The Millennium”:
Will there never come a season Which shall rid us from the curse Of a prose which knows no reason And an unmelodious verse: When the world shall cease to wonder At the genius of an Ass, And a boy’s eccentric blunder Shall not bring success to pass
It is this journal’s mission to bring together voices from the past and present, and there are plenty of strong contemporary writers here. For example, Ed Tasca shows us how the people involved in the trial of Socrates could have interacted if they had access to twitter in “If Plato Tweeted: A Techno Defense of Socrates.” The entire story is written in tweets as Plato tries to gather support for his beloved teacher. He does his best to defend Socrates in under 140 characters but is rebuffed at every step:
@Platothephilosopher Meletus, you were the one who brought the charges against our great teacher. And all you care about is Glucosamine’s party?
@olympusrules_Meletus Plato, my inbox is on overload! Give it a rest!
Plato’s frustration is confounded by the technology he uses. Not only do people disregard his arguments, but they also criticize his lack of technical savvy: @Aristophanes3xfestivalwinner says, “For Olympus’s sake, Plato learn how to tweet. All ur tweets are 2 long and don’t make sense.” The communication breakdown is parallel to our own dysfunctional internet debates. It is funny, but so close to the truth that it hurts.
Jacqueline West takes a leap into magical realism with her short story “Paper Dolls.” It is about a young woman living by herself in a big city. She works at a school, but does not interact with other people or get enough to eat. Loneliness and hunger permeate the story as the woman goes about her mundane life: “No one would have noticed, she knew, if she had folded herself into smaller and smaller shapes until she finally disappeared.” Out of this crushing loneliness comes the unexplainable urge to create a paper doll in her small apartment. Over time, this doll takes shape and an eerie, life-like personality. The woman starts to hear voices as her work progresses: “Hungry, they said. Hungry.” It would be unfair to tell you what happens next; let’s just say that the departure from the real world is sudden and shocking. Trust me; you have to read this for yourself.
Adriana Páramo takes us into the poverty-stricken heart of Kuwait in her essay “Cheesus, A Very Good God.” Sent to this oil-rich country as a teacher, Páramo goes on a quest to learn more about the mass of immigrants moving into the small sheikdom. She offers an extensive history of the country’s prosperity and shows how the multitude of jobs created by the booming oil industry attracted so many immigrants that the number of native Kuwaitis dropped to 37 percent of the population by 1995. Páramo witnesses the grinding poverty and abuse that came as a result of this mass migration by posing as a Christian missionary. However, Páramo also discovers that the missionaries she tags along with are just as capable of cruelty and ignorance as the apathetic Kuwaiti government. It is a tightly written essay loaded with gritty details of the horrendous living conditions the immigrants are forced to live under with the opulence of Kuwait City looming in the background:
The kitchen, a tiny windowless room of about ten-by-fifteen feet where, despite the lack of ventilation, ten propane cylinders were connected to ten small stoves with mismatched, amended hoses. The assemblage more so resembled a grade-school science project than a functional kitchen for grownups.
There is more to this issue than just solid prose and poetry. There are also reviews and historical essays, and there is a special section dedicated to authors promoting their latest books with stories that reveal their creative processes.American Athenaeum is a rich journal with plenty of jewels to offer. With that said, I’ll leave you with one more jewel from Editor Heidi Parton: “Reading opens us up to a larger community—however remote in space and time—that is always there, and through it we realize that we are never truly alone.” _______________________________________
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