Friday, December 21, 2012

When words seem to fail...reflections on darkness and light

Winter solstice. We mark the longest darkness here in the north. But the promise of emergent sunlight heralds not yet warmth but rather the beginning, the deepening of the long cold of winter.

My  neighborhood...
How often here in Wisconsin that brilliant returning sunlight of January is accompanied by the coldest temperatures of the year. They go together.

Like today. I live along  Lake Michigan so we didn't get hit by the big snows here, mostly a lot of rain. Under the clouds all week long, our temps have hovered much above normal. The lake is unusually warm for this time of year, which is why we are having trouble turning precipitation into snow. When the sun reappeared just now, as if making a grand entrance on the stage of the solstice, I realized how long its been since we've seen it. And it comes on the tail end of the storm, on the howling winds of a night cast into cold, darkness, and silence as the power went out.

It's damn cold outside this morning...

I know there's wisdom in all those metaphors somewhere. We humans strive for it, search like lost people for something in the air, the wind, the movement of sun, the angle of the earth's rotation, the alignment of planets and stars, our 'major' religions, our plentiful and varied spiritualities, for something that can relieve us of our loneliness, our fear, our awful vulnerability, that feeling of waking up in the deep forest and realizing you are lost.

That feeling when you turn on the TV one morning to check the news highlights of the day and what you see are police descending on an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

So many festivals of light this time of year, so many traditions that attempt to wrap deep meaning around these long, cold, dark nights.

The dark nights of the soul. We're in one.

I finished the draft of the big memoir. Pouring into and through those last chapters had me in a bit of a state that made it hard to stay faithful to this blog. But I'm back and full of difficult, churning emotions. Using the multi-generational stories of my ancestors and my family to break open the wholly unsustainable, collapsing Myth of the American Dream, why we are having such a hard time dealing with the reality of that, what it was built on, the pain and suffering buried in it, why trying to hold it in place is destroying us - has been a hard task amidst so many horrific events that just kept screaming in my heart, "Yes, yes, this is correct, this is what's happening and why it's happening!"

Weeks of revisions and editing ahead, but I see the finish line and the hope that this will actually get published and put into the hands of people who care about these things. I hope that it will, some day soon, spark a lot of conversation, sharing of stories, awakenings, as we realize how common these threads are, including the ones that have created so many pathologies passed down to us, creating havoc in our lives and our world, along with courage, dedication, and a willingness to endure through incredibly difficult times.

October sunrise
We will need endurance as much as anything I can think of in the coming days - endurance with deep roots sunk in the ground of compassion and solidarity.

With this big work done, I look forward to time for more poetry and essay-writing. I am pretty well immersed in transition right now, on so many levels. If I have learned anything in recent years it's the truth of the wisdom that nothing lasts, the truth of our mortality, the truth of the fear rooted there, the truth of a culture that has tried to build itself on an immense amount of clinging to what is, even as what is becomes pathological because of the attempt to hold it in place.

As a writer, I try to address this in words and stories. But the moment I let them out into the world, they begin to change. I cannot know either how they will be received when read. They elude my grasp at the very moment that I write them, at the very moment that they come to me.

This fall, I slowly read and relished Jane Hirshfield's wonderful book of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. I found in her words something of what motivates me to keep trying to open myself to the words, the phrases, the metaphors, the narratives that appear and want to be written. There is so much pouring out of the human experience right now that for me one of the most important things we can do is open spaces for this emergence, open wide the floodgates so that it can pour out and through. We have dammed the human spirit, and in doing so have damned the human and much of the life on this planet. There is still time, but what still must come is a great letting-go. What still must come is the full realization that this letting-go must occur - now, and with urgency.

Of words, too...

Reading 'Nine Gates'

In time, the words turn
colors like the leaves
in autumn,
then fall off their trees,
become mulch and waste
nutrient and soil.

They change.

Everything dissolves,
even the words we write.
                                                           Margaret Swedish

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