Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What matters

That's one of the phrases I put in my blog description: the writing for me is about what matters. So much of what we read, view, entertain ourselves with just doesn't matter. Yet we live in a time when so much matters, so much of what we do, our life choices, how we go through our day, what we care about, what we pay attention to - really, really matters.

I don't mean that we should not experience laughter, lightness, pleasure, playfulness, and sheer joy. We should! Because these things matter - a lot. As a matter of fact, the dearth of authentic laughter, lightness, pleasure, playfulness, and joy is part of our cultural pathology. That's why we entertain ourselves in such manipulative, numbing ways, entertainment intended to deaden feelings, not awaken them, to hold authenticity at bay rather than delve into it for fear of what we might find there.

Those mystics, artists, and psychologists who have been saying for generations that we cannot experience joy if we cannot also experience sorrow, grief, and the rest have also been right for generations.

Friday, April 20, 2012

On silences and empty spaces

I'm reading Terry Tempest Williams' new book, When Women Were Birds. Extraordinary, as are most things she writes. This one is about silences, about absence, about what is not on the page, as much as what is on it.

I'm in Manhattan this week, not a place of many silences. I love this city, even as I mourn so many of the recent changes, the 'corporatization' of it, the loss of so much of the old personality of neighborhoods and small communities within the larger mass of humanity. I mourn the loss of a city in which such a variety of economic classes could once afford to live. You have to be rich to live here now - or rent stabilized.

And yet, it stimulates, right? My sister and I walk down E. 26th Street and find the site where Herman Melville lived for 28 years, where he wrote Billy Budd. It is marked with a plaque. A couple of blocks away is the site where Henry James lived, and on the way back towards the subway we pass the location where Edith Wharton once resided.

I love this stuff. I wonder if kids read any of these writers in school anymore, and then I wonder how we can claim to be American if we have not.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Friday the 13th. I don't know, seems like just another day...

When the earth gets this dry, I realize again how much I love the rain - the sound of it, the way it quiets down my spirit, how it washes all the dirt and grit away making the urban world vivid again. We hardly realize how much dust we live with from our industrial world until it is showered away.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
Gentle rainfalls of spring - I used to look forward to them, those long rainy days when contemplation comes easily, the mesmerizing sound of it in the night, how, if I enter into that sound, breathing and heart beat slow and become one with it, part of it, all this blessed earth.

It's one way we humans have changed everything. The rains have changed. The seasons have changed. And therefore, so has the human spirit.

And I think not in a good way.

We have forecasts for rain and storms over the weekend, and I pray for it, offer my heartfelt longings to the rain gods that they come through this time. Maybe I can get some writing done.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The use of language, and why this matters

In a political year like this one, it's hard not to get depressed about the use of language, this beautiful instrument and expression of conscious self-awareness, as it becomes a tool for obfuscation, deception, and manipulation. All of which speaks to its power.

And that ought to suggest that we best take care in how we use it. These days we fling words and phrases at one another like weapons in a war of attrition, using them to fiercely, and often violently, defend our point of view as if it was territory under assault from the enemy - so frail are our egos these days, so weak the foundations of those world views.

So I try to remember always to write with care, especially if I am putting anything up into cyberspace where it can float around and attract all sorts of karma, or dynamic energy of one kind or another.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Writing for survival

"...it is no longer such a lonely thing to open one's eyes."

So grateful for the many bold and courageous women writers who over the past decades have made it less lonely to open one's eyes. They don't tell us it's easy, just necessary in order to live one's real authentic life.

"It's exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful."

Yes, all of those things. Because to awaken consciousness means to wake up to what's really going on, to the damage that has been done, to the long road it will take to recover, to heal, to begin life anew.

I'm quoting Adrienne Rich again, this time from an essay: '"When We Dead Awaken": Writing as Re-vision,' in the volume, Arts of the Possible. These days I'm working on memoir and family history, and, in that narrative, searching for some wisdom that can shed light on this moment in our country, a story that is in many ways paradigmatic of our culture's crisis of meaning, a window through which to view how it is that we have come to this point of cultural dis-articulation and fragmentation. We seem so lost.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Words matter

I remarked the other day in my reflections on Adrienne Rich on the gift of language, this amazing ability that evolved through many species into human babble, our multiple, diverse, ways to express ourselves, communicate with our loved ones, our tribe, our culture. It holds tremendous power, language does. It holds people together and divides them up; it builds both bridges and walls.

Turn on cable pseudo-news stations these days, or listen to right-wing radio talks shows and evangelical preachers, and you get a sense of the power of language - how it can hold together tribal identity and shred a society all at the same time.

It seems these days that we hold this remarkable skill - the ability to create language full of nuance and layers of expression - in great disrespect. We treat it with so much disdain. We use it as cudgel, weapon, a destroyer rather than a connector. Listen to the politicians running for election this year. Talk about dragging this gift in the mud!

In my life as a writer, I do what all writers do, struggle with the modes of expression a language provides me to create a narrative that entices the reader to enter in and see the world from another vantage point, or to attempt to open an insight, or simply to tell a damn good story!