Re-Imagining the Hero’s Journey

I just got back a week ago from AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs)’s annual conference. (You can check out the action at Twitter. Search on #AWP15) The Minneapolis hotel didn’t run out of alcohol (that has happened in the past) but they did have a run on the tabouleh in the first 24 hours. Well, with approximately 15,000 writers in town, you’re going to run out of something.

Maybe there’s something about being (lost) among that sea of writers that has me thinking about the Hero’s Journey. I could have used a clever animal sidekick or a pair of magic scissors or something. Or maybe it’s just another way for me to think about shaping this story I’m always trying to write. Or this life I’m trying to live. Living the life, writing the book…same project, as far as I can tell.

 

Joseph Campbell picked up where Jung left off and got us all thinking of the Hero’s Quest or Journey as an archetypal form we could overlay onto our own lives. He outlined the steps of the Journey. I’ve seen it stated slightly differently in different places, but here is one model:

  • Hero as outcast/outsider.
  • Hero called to adventure.
  • Hero refuses the call.
  • Hero meets mentor (supernatural aid, spirit guide, etc).
  • Hero “crosses the threshold,” embarks/leaves ordinary life behind.
  • Hero undergoes a series of tests on the path.
  • Hero meets the love that has greatest significance, is all-encompassing, all-meaningful. Campbell called this meeting the Goddess.
  • Hero meets the Temptress, in the temptation to fall from his Quest.
  • Hero faces ultimate challenge/greatest fear.
  • Hero gains the gift or treasure, the fulfillment of the Quest.
  • Hero returns home, with treasure.
  • Hero faces one final test.
  • Hero comes into his own, is crowned King or otherwise recognized in community.

Wikipedia tells me Campbell borrowed Joyce’s term “monomyth” for this. And like monotheism, the “monomyth” has a pronoun problem. Campbell wasn’t so great on the wimminfolk, as you can tell from the above steps. The Hero for him was always a boy or man. True love is represented by “the Goddess,” and tempation likewise takes the figure of a woman. Towards the end of his career (I read this anecdote from The Sound of a Silver Horn, by Kathleen Noble—a great book on women and the Hero’s Journey for anyone interested), a young woman asked him in class, “What about women?” Campbell answered, “Women are the Mother, the Goddess, the Beloved…what more do you want?” “I want to go on an adventure,” she said. “I’m glad I’m retiring,” was his reply.

Freya, by Igor Alexis Osorio Solis

Freya, by Igor Alexis Osorio Solis

Let’s diversify the Journey.

What if the Hero is not an outcast? What if she is enmeshed in her community at the start of the story?  What launches her out of her comfort zone and onto the Path? Is there an archetypal moment of rejection, and would this come from within or from without? Or is she just bored? Is that enough? What if she has children? What if she has an older relative she’s taking care of? What if she is the head of the PTO?

And what happens to her at the end? A wise man may be a king. A wise woman is almost always a witch. Mind you, I’m down with that.  A woman (anyone) who listens to a wilder song and has truly gained wisdom from that will not be welcome back into a community structured by patriarchy. This is why the witch lives at the edge of town, or deep in the woods. This is an essential difference which does not have to be gender specific.

Stretching our imaginations to re-vision the Hero’s Journey is helpful to writers as we think about plots…but larger than that, if the Journey  is an archetype we all may follow in how we think about and understand our lives, there needs to be a diversity of possible paths. Not everyone wants to be king. Not everyone wants to end up married and happily ever after.

If we follow Jungian thought, archetypally, a “king” has been understood to represent someone who is healthily centered, who has embraced their own shadow and is able to rule themselves wisely. Maybe a “witch” is someone who purposefully and deliberately uncenters. Who pushes into the margins, the boundaries, who camps on the edge. Who insists there is still, ever, much of the self she doesn’t yet know.

What would it be to be both?

All my thinking is aswim. What stories can we tell? E with beret

Making Meaning After the Death of Tony Terrell Robinson, Jr.

My town, Madison Wisconsin, is often on Ten Most Liveable Cities lists. Ten Best Biking/Living/Working/Foodie/College Town/This or That or the Next Thing lists.

Madison is also one of the very worst places in the country—the entire nation—to be African-American.

I had an essay to post today. It was all written and set to go on Friday morning, and I thought to myself, “Friday is sort of a dead day…I’ll hold off.”

Then on Friday night, Tony Terrell Robinson Jr. was shot and killed by Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny. Robinson was unarmed. The police officer was white. As Madison Chief of Police Mike Koval said succinctly, “To the extent that you have, again, a person of color, unarmed who subsequently loses his life at the hands of the police, I can’t very well distance myself from that brutal reality.”

Tony Terrell Robinson, Jr.

Tony Terrell Robinson, Jr.

But Madison is not Ferguson.

There are marches. The Capitol is again filled with protesters. But so far, as the song says, “We are a peaceful, angry people.” And because it’s peaceful, it’s not getting much play.

The mayor trusts the protesters, and says so. The police have been present but not antagonistic. Everyone admits anger is justified. Stories of lived experience deserve to be heard.

I dare to hope that Madison may show the world that there are better ways to come together. That Tony Terrell Robinson Jr.’s death may, in the words of Rev. Alex Gee, become more meaningful than he had even dreamed possible, if we can make it so.

Here is something else to consider: Officer Kenny was one of the officers who brought wedding cake to the first gay couples married at our Capitol. He is not a monster. He is one of us. It is very hard to face that truth and embrace it.

There are (at least) two Madisons. At this moment we have an opportunity—so very, very precious—to change that truth.

I hope we can face our fear, our defensive gut reactions. I hope we can check ourselves, breathe deep, and lean into the community’s sorrow. There isn’t a single person who can possibly be happy at this young man’s death. Let us grieve together. Let us be angry. Let us call for justice, and for change. Let us become radicalized in our own community.

And that change starts with each of us. This is how we do, in Madison. We do together.

This is not a well-written essay. The sentences don’t line up right. I’m still struggling for words. Still struggling to understand how this could happen in my town.

The evening Tony Terrell Robinson Jr. was shot, I was attending a poetry reading at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibit, the work of ChanSchatz, caused me to ask deep questions about community, how voices are heard and stories are told, whose voices, whose stories. Who gets to make the art. Who gets to be part of the conversation. Then the last reader, Oscar Mireles, came up to the stage and told us he just learned that a young man had been shot on Willy Street. We would only learn the details when we went home.

Artists make meaning. It’s our job. Right now, my city has a chance to make meaning together, as a community, by working towards real, meaningful and lasting change. I may be Poet Laureate of this city (one of them)…but it isn’t my voice that needs to be heard at this moment. It is the voices of those in our community directly affected and those who experience racism and injustice personally, on a daily basis.

The rest of us need to listen.

Here is the family of Tony Terrell Robinson Jr.’s family, speaking after his death.

Here is a poem read that night by Miona Short, an African-American student at the University of Wisconsin working towards her physics degree. As a physicist, she seeks truth. As a poet, she speaks truth. She has given permission for me to use her poem here. I can think of no better way to end this essay than to cede this space to her voice, and to lean into these painful truths.

Guide to New

 

Come to the liberal city.
Lean on her tit and ask
What makes her so free?
Other people will give you
Answers. Wait for them
To apply to you.

Go home to Chicago,
Whose streets you can
Already understand.

Come back to the liberal city.
Walk her curly streets and
Remind her that you have
Questions. What makes her
So giving? Other people
Tell you. Something about
“Such a low murder rate”
Something about “no one
Will rob you in this city”

Go home to Chicago.

Come back to the liberal city.
Be the only black woman in a room.
Be the optical feast that no one
(Not even you) expected.
Diversity is in her tea-time lexicon.
People say “welcome” until you
Enter where your statistical
Contribution is…unneeded. Ask
The city why her tongue is so
Hungry but eyes too willing
To spit you out for sport.

Go home

Come back to the liberal city.
Read about the demographics of poverty
And incarceration in the place. Again
Ask what makes her so free when she
Is nothing but a wrought iron cage to
People that look like you. Wonder if
You’re being trapped. How would you
Know? Notice she never answers.
Only her entourage does. And all
Them are fake or oblivious. Swear
To yourself that you don’t hate her.
It’s that you haven’t found your
Footing. Convince yourself of this.
And count down the remaining years.
Miona Short
Madison, WI
March 2015

 

Protesters, Madison, March 2015

Protesters, Madison, March 2015

#tonyrobinson #blacklivesmatter #fergusontomadison

Woman with the Pen: Five Moments On My Way Back to Patheos

I suppose, if I want to be orderly about this, I should outline the reasons I took an extended leave first.

But I don’t want to be orderly…
I’m sure I don’t remember them all…
Maybe I wasn’t even there at the time…

So I’m skipping ahead to what brought me back to this space. We’ll fill in the backstory another time.

 

One…

A nice thing happened this week—Junoesq, an online magazine from Singapore, published this interview with me, along withself portrait in five lines a handful of
new poems (one of which, “Small But Real,” was inspired by conversation with Niki Whiting of Witch’s Ashram). The compliment was welcome. This year I’ve wondered deeply about the worth of my own voice—others speak so much more immediately and profoundly to current events and crises.

But…Junoesq’s editor, Grace Chia, reached out to me for the interview after I sent her a few poems out of the blue. They struck an immediate chord with her, as another writer trying to balance motherhood, profession, the nature of a literary calling, and public vs. private persona. Halfway around the world, and yet…same old, same old story. Sigh.

 

Two…

And then, checking out the 1988 book Sacred Dimensions of Women’s Experience, edited by Elizabeth Dodson Gray, I’m struck by how many things have not changed. Women (and men) still struggle to place value on domesticity. We still struggle to love our bodies as they age, thicken, change. We still struggle to insist that our lives have worth, as individuals, as women, no matter our work, our size, our appearance, our voice, or the money we make (or do not make).

So—yes, there are many radical and beloved and ferocious warriors whose voices I treasure above my own. And that doesn’t absolve me from writing my truth. Both. And.

 

Three…

Then, too, I’m writing a novel. Trying to. Daring myself. This is a new adventure and it has me thinking about different kinds of writing, what they are useful for, how they work. Poetry vs. prose. Fiction vs. nonfiction. Where are the fissures and faultlines between “fact” and “truth.” As I work along on my fictional endeavor, it brings me back to this blog. Blogging is even another form of writing, after all, which I have only begun to explore. Writing in here offers its own strengths, its own opportunities.

 

 

Four…

Did I mention I’m working on a novel? At least partly because of one book: The Priestess and the Pen. “Give me blood and magic,” author Sonja Sadovsky writes in the opening pages. I have to agree. In this space, I don’t have to pretend the blood isn’t real. I don’t have to apologize for the term “magic.” No animals will be harmed in the writing of this column, I promise—although I make a special exception for mosquitoes. (Bonus: Jason Mankey interviews Sadovsky at Raise the Horns!)

 

Five…

A fox showed up in our backyard the other day. I want to find a place once again among people who know 1) the fox doesn’t care about my work and 2) the fox is telling me to get cracking.

 

So here I am, returned. As Sadovsky writes:

Ultimately, the woman with the sword is the woman with the pen; the one who wields it creates her reality.

I took the time I needed. And I remembered that for me, the answer is almost always both/and. Yes.

The question is courage.

office 2015

 

One Pagan in the Season of Advent, the Season of #Ferguson #MikeBrown #EricGarner

My colleague Crystal Blanton recently issued a challenge to the (mostly white) Pagan community at large, asking why we have (so far) been so silent on Ferguson, on Eric Garner, on the ongoing, unfolding violent nightmare that is all around us, swamping us, and the courageous protesters that refuse to allow business to continue as usual. “Do you see us?” she asked.

Why have we been silent?

1.

I’m going to make a general statement about the white Pagan community, as I’ve experienced it through Patheos Pagan and other websites this past year. And it holds true for myself as well: we like to write from one of two places: learned and earned wisdom/expertise or direct personal experience.

Faced with the truth of Eric Garner, or Mike Brown, or Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin, or … how long this list should be and how limited I am for word count…as the horror unravels before us, around us, the violence, the death—even targeted slaughter seems an appropriate phrase—the white Pagan community can, most of us, claim neither expertise nor direct experience.

We stare, we gape, we fall to our knees, we try to provide witness, some of us, but we do not know.

What then can I say. What is given me to say. What is left me to say.

I try to see you. I try to hear you. I will continue to try. Maybe this is not enough.

2.

mandala leaves and petals 2

In my Soul Work class this semester, we have been encouraged to move away from language toward image. Away from statement toward question. Away from closure toward opening.

Opening. And then opening some more.

We started drawing mandalas and sharing them with each other. They are as individual and imperfect as fingerprints. As the iris of the eye. My own have evolved into blue and white studies of light and dark.

The act of drawing a mandala has become–for me–a potent practice of listening with my pen: drawing out the shadow(s), allowing the darkness to merge and emerge into and out of a design to inform it, make it beautiful.

This is a time of exploring the shadow. So let’s just say this: for centuries, we white folk have projected a lot of our shit onto Black men and women. WE have created a monster, we have pasted that monster onto the faces of others, and we have reacted—for centuries—with fear to our own creation. This is true for people of color in general but particularly right now we are called to witness injustice against Black men (and how this plays out against Black women, in turn).

Ferguson is what happens when for centuries, on a cultural scale, we do not face our own shadow.

So although I do not write from a place of expertise, or a place of personal experience, I can say this much: I call on my friends and colleagues, my peers, my neighbors, my family, no matter your race, ethnicity, class or politics or background: don’t look away. Don’t justify. Don’t fill the airwaves with defensive noise.

Let us listen, as deeply as we can, to the voices already lifted in protest, in anger, in witness. Let us amplify those voices with our own work. Daughters of Eve. Black Girl Dangerous. Urban Cusp. These are three I seek out regularly and share with you today.

And let us not look away from the dark places within ourselves. Anger, fear, insecurity, childhood trauma, resentment, deep sorrow, abandonment, abuse…there is so much we stuff down over the years.

We will never become a just society without doing the deep internal work, one by one, each of usmandala trust and stardust

3.

Although I am not a Christian, in this Advent season I find profound wisdom and challenge in the example of Mary, a young woman who listened deeply to what her God asked of her, and answered, simply, Yes.

There was nothing easy, or comfortable, or status quo about what was asked of Mary. She had to move into a place of greatest vulnerability, a place where the self changes fundamentally, a journey that could never be turned away from, once begun. Still, she answered Yes. And because of her Yes…the pattern changed.

I name this radical receptivity. And it is radical in both senses: taking us down to the root, and also extreme. It is the power that comes from giving up power.

So, Yes. In this season of advent and protest, horror and love, anger and resolution. Yes to my gods, to my friends, to my colleagues, to my neighbors and family and many many loves.

I do not know if I hear You, but I try to open myself to hear You. I do not know if I see You, but I try to open myself to see You. I will keep trying, and keep opening myself to Your truth, and my own.

Yes.

Mandala Things Come Together

 

 

 

Ten Pagan Writers I Am Grateful For In a Troubled Season

photo 2 (4)On Thursday, my family gathered around a table so filled with plenties of food, of laughter, of love, that all I could do was pray that as we gather around this country, justice and compassion might arise from many such tables. That our love for each other, our willingness to share with each other, how we have learned over decades to be more honest with each other…that all of these might  extend beyond the walls of our houses, the walls of our communities, and spread across the continent like butter on a Parker House roll.

It isn’t easy to write about gratitude, in the face of Ferguson, in the acknowledged history of Thanksgiving itself, our nation’s grounding in racism, exploitation, genocide.

This is my first year writing for Patheos Pagan, and my stumbling early steps have been supported by the work of so many other writers in this community that to single any out feels a little odd. The Patheos Pagan front page is a great place to poke around for a while, when you have some time.

Among all the thoughtful and passionate voices, here are ten I am especially grateful for at the moment, in no particular order. Many of these writers have more than one blog or website online, and several of them have books as well. The links I provide are specific to Patheos Pagan but I encourage you to search for their work in other places as well:

 

Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow, my mates here in Sermons, whose enthusiasm and scholarship I aspire to, and who—amazingly, generously—offered me this platform.

John Beckett, Under the Ancient Oaks, whose willingness to engage and inform with reasoned and reasonable discourse always teaches me something.

Crystal Blanton, one of the authors at Daughters of Eve. I learn from her, among other things, how to braid the roles of mother, witness, and religious seeker together in my life.

Rhyd Wildermuth, one of the authors at A Sense of Place, whose passions and politics are rooted in the ecstatic experience of the visionary in a way that speaks very deeply to me.

Niki Whiting, A Witch’s Ashram, whose sheer energy and intellectual acumen are balanced by her sense of fun and delight.

Cat Chapin-Bishop, Quaker Pagan Reflections, whose writing always appealed to me for its balance between ecstatic vision and calm reflection. Her recent willingness to engage racism in act and word  inspire me to do better myself.

Alyxander Folmer, who writes Wyrd Words every other Thursday for the Agora column, whose friendly and humorous posts were some of the first words that helped me believe I could maybe do this thing.

John Halstead, The Allergic Pagan, whose intellectual gifts are balanced by his willingness to talk about his own history and the path(s) that have brought him to this place.

Finally, most recently, Nornoriel Lokason, Ride the Spiral, whose work as advocate does not take away from his willingness to engage with and welcome dialogue with enthusiastic newbies like myself.

All of these writers have been lights to me this year. They help me understand how to root my spiritual quest for personal meaning, understanding, and justice-making, both in words and in the world we are part of. I have learned much, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Patheos is a multi-faith site, with channels for everyone from Evangelicals to Atheists. I encourage any reader to click around and read a bit. The diversity and liveliness of the voices is a richness for our 21st century times.

And, importantly, thanks to you, readers who have gifted my words with your attention this year. Your comments and responses, here on the blog and in person when I see you, mean a great deal, and the time you spend with my words moves me.  May we continue to find our way forward, together or apart, on the paths before us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elections, Politics, Consent, and #sexyvoterhaiku

 

Yesterday I was a crap mom.

Yesterday I got nothing done on my to-do list. My house remained a mess. I sat in a chair the entire day, almost.

I burned dinner. We ate bread.

I burned my eyes out staring at the computer screen.

Yesterday was an election day.

Yesterday over the course of eight hours I wrote a series of 69 haiku and published them on facebook and twitter. It was a completely improvisatory performance, unfolding in real time, exploring the metaphor of elections and politics as sexy, as seduction, as the whole damntangle.

 

It wasn’t something I planned. I just started noodling around in the morning with the idea that “voting is sexy” and before I knew it I was composing Sexy Voter Haiku one after another, and posting on facebook until the polls closed at 8 PM. Sometimes it happens that way.

Your name’s on the list.
You would be missed. Show up.
Tell me what you want.

Sexy Voter Haiku. As a friend and political scientist commented, “Never before have those three words been used together in the English language.” Of course it is ridiculous. Politics is not sex.

And yet, it is.

 

(consent edition)

Say what you want to
happen. It can’t happen if
you don’t say it, first.

In my opinion, last night the bad guys won. These are the goons who brought us mandatory transvaginal probes. If they (continue to) have their way over the next 2-4-6-10 years, the land will be gutted and fracked, waters polluted, public schools decimated, and cities and towns starved of funding. I think it’s pretty clear what is going on here.

Hold the pen, hold the
paper with its questions. Press.
Turn this poet on.

When is consensus like consent? How about compromise? That old idea that we keep talking til everyone verbally agrees and partners with each other.

These guys don’t work that way.

My colleagues here at the Mound, Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow are working on an anthology around the theme of consent in the pagan community(ies). It’s on my mind this morning, as I process the election results.

so many fingers
press so many buttons and then
watch the results

And this is what Sexy Voter Haiku gives us: a(nother) form of poetry that engages directly with political action and the public sphere.

Because in the face of powerlessness and defeat, Sexy Voter Haiku responds not with anger or despair, but with…joy. Delight. Silliness. This is life loving and life giving.

You do not need an
ID. And the cab is free.
Wisconsin quickie.

These are dark times, but we don’t have to feel defeated by them. Creation stands opposite to war, destruction, and indifference. And after all, good things can happen in the dark: secrets whispered, revolutions begun, seeds planted, babies made.

Moved my pen again
and again. Then the ballot
machine swallowed it.

So here is my series of 69 Sexy Voter Haiku, written on 11/4/14 from about 8 in the morning to 8 at night. They respond to my own experiences throughout the hours, the articles I was reading, the errands I was running. Some of them were written in direct response to comments or requests from friends, but I trust they all make sense, more or less, here in this context.

Now I want to see yours. Already I see a few appearing from my friends, here and there. This morning Wisconsin’s Secretary of State had a beauty, although he didn’t know it:

“This has been a ve-
ry wild and sad night. Final
results not in yet.”

There are people who are well-organized, well-funded, well-scripted who are winning right now. But…they are not sexy or juicy people. They don’t play very much or very well.

That is one of our advantages.

And, it should be clear, what I’m looking for and asking for doesn’t have to be haiku. It doesn’t have to be poetry. The challenge is to find that action that feels creative and joyful and life-giving to you, and use that to engage with the political, the community, the moment. 

The revolution may or may not be televised. But it will be joyful through the dark, if I have anything to say about it. And it turns out, I do.

 

this kiss courtesy of Shutterstock.com

this kiss courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Sexy Voter Haiku

Sarah Sadie

November 4, 2014

 

1

Your name’s on the list.
You would be missed. Show up.
Tell us what you want.

2 (consent edition)

Say what you want to
happen. It can’t happen if
you don’t say it, first.

3

Hold the pen, hold the
paper with its questions. Press.
Turn this poet on.

4

so many fingers
press so many buttons and then
watch the results

5

You do not need an
ID. And the cab is free.
Wisconsin quickie.

6

Moved my pen again
and again. Then the ballot
machine swallowed it.

7 (literati edition)

Uppity women
wearing badges with honor
me and Hester Prynne

8 (bake sale edition)

Afterwards something
sugary to eat because
it makes me hungry.

9 (on being #360 to vote at my ward)

You spin me right round,
baby right round like a record
baby Rock the vote.

10

Politicians put
themselves in my bedroom, so
here I am. In bed.

11

Because when it comes
to turnout size does matter.
Please please me. Vote.

12

If I’m missing
a syllable, that’s where
you take a breath.

13

or maybe today
we have more important things
to count

14 (fb feed edition)

so far the porn one
has the most “likes”…oh Zuck, what
will you do with me

15

Vote. The cold shower
can wait. I want to be with
you when you go…vote.

16

Just think: from seven
this morning to eight tonight.
A woman can dream.

17

More and more of us
voting: how else to upset
Republicans…hmmm….

18 (phone bank edition)

Mine is the low voice
calling to say this is it,
today, now, please…

19

Why did I think I
would get anything else done
on election day

20

If what they’re doing
doesn’t make you hot and bothered
maybe I can. vote.

21

It steams up tonight
after polling closes. All
this is just build up.

22 (on voter education)

Know before you go.
I can tell you a little
learning goes a long way.

23

Buildup or foreplay
which is sexier…who cares,
open turns me on.

24

Women’s disenfran-
chisement was never sexy.
Go vote.

25

How long are the lines?
Not nearly long enough. I
am not satisfied.

26

Who says politics
and poetry don’t mix. Strange
bedfellows, but fun.

27

My presentation
on poems and civic engagement
is writing itself.

28

Wearing my sticker
to the grocery store…oh,
and a new bra, too.

29 (married edition)

“If you don’t vote, no
conjugal anything.”…(sly
smile, back home) “Long lines…”

30

You think I’m done? I
haven’t even mentioned the
word “tight.” We’re good, peeps.

31

Today it is tight
in many places. Insert
yourself. Vote.

32

Who needs a ride to
the polls? I’m ready to take
you where you want to go.

33 (early afternoon, strong turnout reported so far)

This is about the
time a woman hopes you will
keep going just keep…

34 (regarding voter fraud and difficulty)
We need to talk a-
bout protection. Be smart. Be
assertive. Own it.

35

Voting is far more
effective than Viagra.
Let’s end impotence.

36

Tweeting every one.
Because who wouldn’t want a
repeat performance?

37

Tell me you’ll be here
tonight. I don’t want to be
alone at the close.

38 (Poet Laureate edition)

Public poet is
a strange position but I
think it works for us.

39 (more about turnout)

When is big big
enough? Asked no woman
ever. Go vote.

40 (Rock the vote, 2)

U2 in my head
“You take me higher…” Now you, too,
take me higher. Vote.

41

To do this, you must
trust. You must be a grownup.
You must show up.

42 (on the rule that tablets and phones may prove residence)

Battery operated
devices are accepted
in this state I’m in.

43 (seeing pictures of suffragettes)

all these pictures of
women doing it must make
you want to, too.

44

Midterm, midlife, I’m
not hard to please and not too proud:
show me your sticker.

45

Me and the pumpkin
spice latte “Keeping fall spicy”
Spice up your night: vote.

46

Just when I start to
feel tired, the post work voters
tell me “You’re not done.”

47

Let’s try something new.
Because aren’t you too bored with
the same old same old?

48

This is what third wave
Sex positive feminism
Sounds like. Turned on? Vote.

49 (about 5 PM)

We still have hours to
go which in almost any game
is more than enough.

50 (if you’re in line when the polls close)

don’t let anyone
tell you differently:
if you’re in you’re in

51

no one calls it yet:
we’re not done here and you’re not
allowed to fake it

52

ask their history
before you consent and they
should ask your consent. Vote.

53

How am I doing this?
Four long years of frustration,
people. Long enough.

54

Nothing is sexier
than a first time voter I
don’t care your age. Vote.

55

Oh my one track mind
burned the hell out of dinner.
Bread it is, kids.

56

Right wing pundits say
we shouldn’t vote our gender?
So not getting any.

57

I know the only
reason you haven’t voted yet:
to hear me beg. Please.

58

Quadruple digits
at many wards. Take me to
eleven, people.

59

By night’s end I will
be exhausted. But satisfied?
Remains to be seen.

60

If nothing else by
midnight there will be a new
poetic form

61

tonight and to-
morrow I expect a little
pillow talk, friends

62

to all of you who
have been my muses: it takes
two to do it right.

63

This is what happens
when I stop baking cupcakes
Complaints, anyone?

64 (On the rule that if you are in line at 8 PM, you can still vote if you stay in line)

Even better than
last time: if you’re in, stay in.
Please. Do this for me.

65

Now when people ask
What does a poet laureate do
I’ll have an answer

66

Thirty minutes left
Plenty of time for the
Wisconsin quickie

67

Stay with me just stay
with me a little longer
don’t roll over yet

68

do the talking heads
not know we like it slow and
steady? Counting votes is sexy.

69

I hope it was good
for you, friends. Whether it will
be good for us …we’ll see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storytime: Wayland’s Tale

 

Small candle, Mind-Forge, help me fly

Through thorn, to World Tree nine worlds high,

What Was, Is, Will Be:

Three Sisters stand by me.

 

Light a candle, my love, a small mindfire to prick the growing night. For all this starts with a story. Not a pretty or happy story, but one that is True…

 

Once not so long ago, or very long ago indeed, or maybe not until next week…

there was a god who wanted to try his luck as a man. It happens now and again, and there’s always a story to come of it.

This particular man had two brothers, and the three of them were fortunately enough (and that is very fortunate indeed, bad luck or good) to marry three sisters. Nine years they all lived happily enough, and then the sisters flew, called off by their father to far fields of battle. Nine years have we been together, nine years will we be apart, they told their mates. Never seek us, never search us out. We will come back to you. And off they flew, crying and calling to war.

Now the man’s two brothers could not abide to live with their grief and solitude, and they urged the young man to come with them and chase their wives, bring them back to home. But the young man trusted his wife to come back as she said she would, and he urged his brothers to have patience. This they could not, and so they said good bye to the young man, and went to seek their wives. With one thing and another, those two quickly met their deaths, for you cannot chase after what has flown away from you and ever come to any good.

The young man knew nothing of this, however. He turned to the hills, and found within them ore and jewels, and month by month and year by year he practiced a lonely craft as smith. It wasn’t long until he became so skilled at his art, that his reputation spread throughout the land and his small house filled up with treasures of his own making.

 

Now it happened…

that a neighboring King heard of the renown and reputation of the Smith. How could he not, when rumors ran across the country? No smith so skilled as he, travelers told the King. And none so wealthy, either. All by himself he lives, just him, alone, in a house full of gold rings, chains, and hammered armor all of utmost skill and craft.

The King could not forget this Smith, this no one noble, once he had heard these tales. Who is this man, he asked, to have more wealth than I do? Am I not king? And for whom does he do this work, for whom does he hammer the gold and iron, if not for the king? By rights I should have him here beside me.

So the King gathered twelve of his strongest soldiers in the hall guard and together they traveled to the Smith’s small house, intending to ambush him and bring him back to the King’s hall. Luck was with them. The Smith was out hunting when they arrived. The house was empty of any person, but the stories were proved true, it was filled with gold buckles, rings, ornaments and armored magnificence. The men had time to arrange themselves in hiding.

And the King, looking around, had time to take the most beautiful ring of all and stash it in his pocket.

 

As it turned out…

they didn’t have long to wait. The Smith returned successful, a bear over his shoulders. In no time the thirteen had overpowered him, and without delay they tied him up and took him back to King’s great hall, his realm and home. Once there, to ensure the prisoner would not escape (for he was very strong), the King ordered his men to hamstring and hobble the Smith. Then they locked him away by himself, on an island close by. It was the Smith, his forge and anvil, a chest to keep the metals he would work, a simple bed, and very little else.

The ring he stole, the King gave to his only daughter. To his young sons he gave nothing, for he had no other stolen goods to give.

 

Can you imagine, now…

how the days and nights stretched on for the prisoner. Nothing but the sound of surf and seagull, the roar of the forge, the clink of his hammers. Wounds slow to heal, both outer and inner, oh my yes. Yet in his pain, his grief, his anger, he didn’t stop work. And out of that crucible, all his jeweled ornaments, all his fanciful masterpieces, went now to the King.

How long did this last? Some months? Years? How should such mortals as we, free and yet untested, measure time’s reach for one who is captive, for one who has been a god? But the Smith would have his revenge.

 

For as you might guess,one day…

the king’s two sons took it into their heads to row out to their prisoner. They were curious boys, and they knew the rumors of the chest of gold and other metals, they’d heard whispers of the jewels he kept to work his magic on. And after all, what gifts had they received? Did they just want to look, or were they hoping together to trick the smith, or overpower him, and steal his wealth? They didn’t tell me, my lovelies, if they were.

The Smith, healed on the outside by now, at least, welcomed them in and agreed they should see the wonders contained in the chest he kept by the forge. Eagerly, the two leaned over. And as they did, their prisoner brought down the lid with such force it severed their heads from their bodies at once. Oh, he made a clean job of it. The bodies he buried under the dirt floor of his cell. But the heads he had use for. Taking the two skulls, he veined and lined them with gold, fit fine jewels into the eye sockets, and sent the two goblets—rare beauties—to the King as a most precious gift. Delighted, the King promised they should toast the princes, when his sons returned from their bear hunt.

 

But you haven’t forgotten the King’s daughter, surely?

She who was gifted the Smith’s ring had broken the jewel. Worried her father would find out, she rowed out to the cell just as her brothers had, to ask him to fix it, a favor. Her he welcomed more warmly, with spiced wine. And the stories are not so clear, my dears and darlings, if that wine was drugged, or if the drink only softened her smile. But here is the truth of it: when she rowed home, the princess was carrying the Smith’s child. She might have been able to hide her broken ring, but a baby she never could. Weeping, she told her father the King what had happened.

Now the Smith flew free, for he had in the long years of captivity and anger made wings for himself, and hovering above the shocked King his enemy and captor, he admitted, laughing grimly, all he had done. He revealed the goblets’ deep secret, the fate of the princes. And he claimed the son the princess carried, and laid a charm of protection upon both her and the babe, so that the King must house and feed them, until the Smith, a god once more, came back to claim them both for his own.

And the King, broken and bereft, admitted his folly and too late regretted his acts. For the Smith’s triumph over him was utterly complete.

 

Keep the fire lit, a while, my loves, and get you to bed. I won’t be sleeping this night, and how the cold comes on.

 

 

And so the first debt is paid, the first promise kept.

It is.

fire in fall

 

The Thirteen Vanic Virtues

 

fire in fall“Why did you change your name?” people ask, when they see the name on my book’s cover is different than the one I use in here.

I had a hundred and one reasons for changing my writing name but (attention, Facebook) none of them are nefarious. And the answer I give depends on the day, my mood, and the phase of the moon. They’re all true. It was a change coming for years and it was a moment’s decision.

“Why didn’t you go all the way and change your legal name, then?”

To this there is only one answer, but it stands up to all 101 on the other side and balances them: my husband asked me not to, and I adore my husband.

So I walk the world divided, and that provides the tension that sings through me, my poems, and keeps my pulse quick. I’m hardly alone. Writers and pagans are two communities who know all about pseudonyms, pen names, craft names.

Years ago I met a Sadie who has been a fundamental influence on me. Recently I’ve been thinking about her again:

 

Sadie and Maud

by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed at home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine-tooth comb.

She didn’t leave a tangle in.
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chits
In all the land.

Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maud and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.

When Sadie said her last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie had left as heritage
Her fine-tooth comb.)

Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.

 

I discovered this poem when I myself was… in college. And that may be why I read it not so much as a diatribe against education as an argument that the quality of one’s engagement with life has more to do with attitude than privilege. Maud had the privilege and played out the script, and look where she is at poem’s end. Sadie got nothing, and yet she leaves a rich legacy behind her…and had a good time in the meantime, by the sound of it.

Reading that poem at twenty, I decided a fine-tooth comb sounded like a fine way to live. But…what comprises such a comb? Where shall we find the thing, and how shall we know it?

And what do we do if we temporarily lose it?

I found myself remembering that fine-tooth comb again this week, as I’m reading excerpts from Bill Plotkin’s book Soulcraft (New World Library, 2003). Here’s an extended passage on the figure of the Wanderer: Devils Lake path October

 

…This is the time in life when a person is most intensely in search of her deepest self, a self she knows she will not find reflected back to her from within the familiar arenas of her merely human culture.  She searches for the seeds of her destiny in the more diverse, wild, and mysterious world of nature.  She no longer conforms to nor rebels against society.  She chooses a third way.  She wanders, beyond the confines of her previous identity. 

            The Wanderer crosses and recrosses borders in order to find something whose location is unknown and unknowable.  She will conclude she has found it not by its location in a certain place or by its matching a prior image, but by how it feels, how it resonates within her upon discovery.  She doesn’t know where or when or how clues will appear, so she wanders incessantly, both inwardly and outwardly, always looking, imagining, feeling.  In her wandering, she makes her own path. 

            The Wanderer discovers her unique path by perceiving the world with imagination and feeling.  She senses what is possible as well as actual.  She sees into people and places and possibilities, and she cultivates a relationship with the invisible realm as much as with the visible.  She is in conversation with the mysteries of the world, on the lookout for signs and omens.  She attend especially to the edges, those places where one thing merges with another, where consciousness shifts and opens, where the world becomes something different from what it initially appeared to be.

 

Plotkin’s Wanderer sounds a lot like a “livingest chit,” doncha think? And maybe, just maybe, what I’m writing my way towards in here is a Theology of the Livingest Chit.

By definition, there aren’t too many maps in this work I’m embarked upon. The Northern gods I’m tangled up with don’t set down rules to obey…but they do espouse virtues. Traditionally, these are

  • Courage
  • Truth
  • Honor
  • Fidelity
  • Hospitality
  • Discipline
  • Industriousness
  • Self-Reliance
  • Perseverance

The nine Norse virtues are all honorable ideals but honestly they never fit me very well. Trying to bend myself to that list feels, well, like a slog. That probably doesn’t say anything very good about me, but there it is. I realize this morning this could be because these virtues are community oriented and I am at heart a solitary. They seek to weave a group together into a village or town or other workable society and I live at the far edge. My true home is not…the home. (Which is, yes, another source of creative tension for someone currently in the role of at home parent.)

But I have discovered another set of virtues

Some of you will know the Northern gods are divided up into two groups: Aesir and Vanir. The Aesir are the ones most people know (thank you Marvel): Odin, Thor, Heimdall, Baldur, Tyr, Frigga…They tend to be sky gods, gods of justice and community. The Nine Virtues are Aesir virtues, for the most part.

The Vanir, on the other hand, are closer to the land, the seasons, the magics of earth. (And yes, I am grossly generalizing here…there is much subtlety in the system that I’m choosing not to go into in this space.) The Vanir deal a little more in the wild and fey. Frey, Freya, Njord are all Vanir…and so, by most contemporary accountings, is the Smith, Wayland.

And, I just discovered, searching online, they have their own set of virtues. Originally the list was twelve, but I split up Courage and Passion, which seem to me related, but separate:

For the original list, created by Nicanthiel Hrafnhild and Svartesol, see this link. I have slightly edited their list of Virtues and reworked the descriptions of each. (Author’s note: Svartesol is Nornoriel Lokason, whose more recent writings can be found here at Patheos Pagan at Ride the Spiral. And here is his official website.)

 

The Thirteen Vanic Virtues

Beauty
The pursuit of beauty and elegance in thought, form and speech, and the valuation of beauty as worthy in itself.

Courage
The strength of will to see a course of action through. The ability to face difficulty and danger.

Passion
Zeal, vigor; wholehearted zest for life.

Even-mood
Harmonious and balanced thought and action; tranquility, calm, serenity.

Openness
The quality of being receptive to the world around one, non-judgmental. To listen deeply.

Wildness/Ecstasy
Music and dance; the nurturing of inner wildness and radical innocence, being “fey”

Land-rightness
The recognition of nature and the environment as worthy of respect, care and reverence.

Love
The all-encompassing force which expands outward: love for family, for kin, for humanity, for all beings.

Frith
The peace and goodwill between people bound together; loyalty and the keeping of one’s word.

Giving
The binding of two parties into one common bond, generosity and hospitality.

Joy
The ability and willingness to surrender to overwhelming grace, the ability to feel happiness in the moment.

Faith/Piety
The trust that the Gods exist and are worthy of our worship, and Their ways worth following.

Brother(ahem, Sister)hood
The recognition that we – humans, animals, plants, spirits – are all part of the grander scheme of life,
and we share a common heritage, as children of the Earth.

 

So there it is. I think the Vanir have provided me my fine-tooth comb. At least for a while. This list connects me to myself, my true home (which may be no home?), and this earth that continually spins out from under my feet, leaving me dizzy.

 

Meanwhile, over my desk I’ve taped this up:

Do no harm.
Take no shit.
Be a “livingest chit.”

As they say at the end of church service every weekend, May it be so.

Freya, by Igor Alexis Osorio Solis

Freya, by Igor Alexis Osorio Solis

 

 

 

Art, Agriculture, and Ancestors

Patheos Pagan is hosting a conversation about honoring the ancestors this month. I didn’t write anything for it, having no established practice to speak of. More truthfully, the whole concept challenges me.

The relatives I’ve lost (thankfully few) weren’t a very spiritual bunch. They lived deeply in this world. I honor them best by enjoying good food, good friends, and remembering to appreciate the small beauties of each passing day.

As for ancestors of the land, having just passed “Indigenous People’s Day” (which is still known as Columbus Day in much of the nation), I have at best uneasy relationship with this idea. Who am I to assume that the ancestors of this place called Wisconsin, called the USA, welcome my attempts to reconcile with them? They might well be furious—at the genocide and displacements of their people, at the ignorance with which we carved up and plowed into the land, at the disrespect we show to their descendants, even now, in how we treat both the peoples and the land. I would like to believe some sort of connection is possible, but I don’t think I’ve yet put in the work and time that would make this an honest effort. At best, I can bow my head, and promise to try to listen, to teach my children how to listen.

***

But there is a ritual pilgrimage my family makes in October each year.

Too Much Pig, artist: Brian Sobaski

Too Much Pig, artist: Brian Sobaski

Traveling about an hour up the road, the town of Reedsburg, Wisconsin serves as host to a ten-day Fermentation Festival, celebrating all things fermented, from compost to chocolate to kimchi to beer. And as part of this celebration, each year arising out of the farm fields in a 50-mile loop, the Farm Art DTour.

People come from as far away as the Twin Cities and Chicago to drive the loop, stopping at the installations—some of them by professional artists, others by the farm families that own the land, local 4H groups, and some pop ups from local artisans and neighbors. We move as pilgrims through the rural landscape, stopping at each station to read, consider, pause, interact, take pictures, try the food.

Red bandanas, traditional, strung and draped (prayer flags?) in native burr oak.

Red bandanas, traditional, strung and draped (prayer flags?) in native burr oak.

It’s always a profound experience for me to see so many people spend a day visiting art of all kinds, driving through the autumn fields. The DTour ties together agriculture, culture, art, food, history and land. This year, the very first stop was a new sign with this text:

 

Wanąğomįk cinąk

The native inhabitants of this area were called Winnebago by the neighboring Sauk and Fox tribes. In 1993 the tribe reclaimed their original name of Ho-chunk, or “People of the Sacred Language.” Reedsburg has long held a respected place in the history of the Ho-chunk. In the winter of 1893 the citizens of Reedsburg stood up to the US Government military in order to protect the Ho-chunk from the decimation of the forced removal from their homelands. Due to the large number of church-sponsored cemeteries or final resting places located in Reedsburg, the Ho-chunk refer to the city as Wanagomjk cinak, or land of cemeteries.

 

The words washed over me like cool water, reminding me that history is always more complex than the stories we learn (no matter which stories we learn). That in every generation, peoples can work together in spite—or even because of—their differences. That respect and appreciation can grow anywhere. Maybe, just maybe, keeping in mind this piece of local history, I can begin to find my way to connecting with the ancestors of this place in a way that is respectful to them and honest to myself.

A Call to Beauty, artist: Mary Dickey

A Call to Beauty, artist: Mary Dickey

We drove on. Soon we came to a spiral labyrinth mowed into the corn, with signs along the way reminding us to “still your lips” “open your ears” “quiet your mind” “listen to the land…”

Listening Labyrinth

Listening Labyrinth

when we reached the center of this contemplative journey, there were stairs leading up to a platform that allowed us to see over the cornstalks, the view expanded in front of us to embrace the landscape. The metaphor was unmistakable.

One of my favorite aspects of the DTour is that it forces one to see the land, agriculture, and culture, anew. If this is art:

 

Invasive Species, artist: Isabelle Garbani

Invasive Species, artist: Isabelle Garbani

 

Sylvan Chapel, artist: Peter Krsko

Sylvan Chapel, artist: Peter Krsko

What about this?

 

Tractors, photo R. Busse

Tractors, photo R. Busse

And what about this?

 

Cemetery, photo R. Busse

Cemetery, photo R. Busse

How we find food, prepare it, share it, and how we honor our dead…these things may vary from generation to generation, from one culture to another, one region to another, but… we all do procure and share food together, and we all do honor our dead.

 

By the time we finished the loop and headed for home, we had enjoyed pork and sauerkraut sandwiches, Asian-inspired potstickers (including a macaroni-and-cheese version–this is Wisconsin, after all), fermented salsa, local chocolates. I felt my connection to this place reaffirmed and reframed—by returning to the land with a reverential attitude, I already begin to connect to the ancestors of this place, and in doing so, I reconnect more deeply to my own humanity.

Wealth, photo R. Busse

Wealth, photo R. Busse

 

With thanks to my husband, Reed Busse, for the photographs. My daughter insists that I use some of hers as well. Alas, she missed my deadline…so expect to see more DTour shots in upcoming essays. 

Joy at the Breakfast Table

I went out to my favorite trail to run again, Pheasant Branch in Middleton, a three mile loop that takes me through both the prairies and the woodlands of Southern Wisconsin. I know every turn and twist, which helps me see the minute changes from week to week as the seasons progress.

This connection to a specific place, as well as the running, grounds me.

shutterstock_169203356

shutterstock.com

A week ago, three sandhill cranes flew right over my head, belling their prehistoric music, maybe on their way to find the bigger flock they’ll migrate with. I don’t believe in coincidence. The card for JOY in my tarot deck shows three cranes dancing, and my jogged mind said to me, You better write about this.

Joy in the parents with their now-grown chick, headed back to join their community. What is more archetypal than that?

 ***

Not every dance a family does is quite so joyful. My oldest is thirteen now and suddenly my used-to-be-morning child is slugging pretty hard into his bed. No matter that his alarm goes off at 5:30, the past couple of mornings he’s tumbled downstairs, scarfed breakfast…and needed a ride to school because he missed the bus and it’s too late to walk.

“This is your problem to solve,” I holler up at him. “I’m not going to drive you to school every day.”

“I’ll skip breakfast!” he yells from upstairs. “I’ll skip lunch! I deserve to be punished!!”

Change is hard for my kid.

 

There’s the savvy old saying, You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. This is pretty practical advice for parents. Unless you give birth to a mule.

My kid is something of a mule. When he gets thirsty, I know from long experience I can’t lead him to the water. He’ll just balk. Instead, I have to nod my head casually and say, “I hear tell there’s water over thataway.”

I’d like to solve all his problems for him…but he resists that, and I know deep down he is right to resist it. He’s gotta figure it out for himself. Each of us does. My job may be, more or less, to keep a little space clear at home to give him the place and the quiet he needs to become himself in the world.

 ***

I’ve been sitting on this essay for a week, because there’s something about it that felt unfinished, half-realized. And I think, reading it over again, that it’s right here, in the acknowledgment of my own limits. This strange little piece is not just about one mother and son relationship. Maybe this is the best we can do for each other, ever: to keep a little space clear in all our relations to allow family, friends, colleagues, to be and become themselves. I can’t solve your grief. I can’t tell you how to fix your life. I can’t know you, ever, fully. But I can give you room. And I can help to define the boundaries of that space by listening closely, deeply, to your voice.  

 

If we could look at each other and promise, You can be yourself with me, it’s okay, what a gift that would be. What a revolution.

  ***

While I was driving my kid over to school, he said angrily, “Maybe I need to start setting my alarm for 3 a.m.”

“Well you know,” I said, eyes remaining on the road, “I don’t think the alarm is working. Maybe it’s already set too early.”

“Hey–yeah,” he said. Sometimes there’s grace. Sometimes a person is receptive to a new idea. We’ll see how it goes tonight.

 

 ***

Meanwhile, after the kids have gone to school I light a candle
and search out Wayland in my notebooks.

He’s reading a copy of The Anvil’s Ring and says absently,
Did you know they’re still trying to figure out
the Ulfbehrt swords?
He chuckles, shaking his head.

Hey, I say. I could use a little direction here.
This hasn’t been an easy season.

But I should know better by now.

He doesn’t even look up, just smiles to himself.
I hear there’s water over yonder. If
you’re thirsty. Follow those cranes.

 

***

One week later…my son walked to school this morning, and was probably late getting there. He’ll figure it out. Yesterday the three cranes were closer to the trail when I jogged by. You’re still here, I said. The tallest one looked at me. Of course. You haven’t published that essay yet.

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