Category Archives: self-help

Thinking Makes It So

The Play Scene in Hamlet, Charles Hunt 1803-1877

The Play Scene in Hamlet, Charles Hunt 1803-1877

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…. Shakespeare, from Hamlet, Act II, scene 2)

Everything old is New Age again

A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle

In 2008, Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle and two million of their closest friends met once a week for ten weeks, online, for the purpose of studying Tolle’s 2005 bestseller, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. The live interactive seminar was reportedly the first of its kind, with all seven continents represented.

In what had to be the planet’s largest-ever classroom, Tolle and Winfrey fielded comments and answered questions via Skype, E-mail, and telephone. The ten 90-minute sessions are available free on iTunes in large-screen, standard-screen, and audio-only formats.

Here’s the thing: A New Earth, stripped of its packaging, isn’t all that new. The message is three thousand to four thousand years old. Tolle certainly deserves credit for reviving this ancient wisdom, compiling it, and presenting it in a way that appeals to millions and keeps them off the street, at least for the length of time it takes to read 336 pages of rather dense prose. If he seems to suggest that A New Earth might literally save the human race… well, who’s to say?

New Testament, New Thought, New Age, Old Story

Another spiritual-genre phenomenon, A Course in Miracles, appeared in 1976 but didn’t gain widespread attention until 1992 with the publication of A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles,” by Marianne Williamson. Tolle owes much to ACIM and Williamson and to dozens of other authors, including Wayne Dyer (whom I greatly admire) and Deepak Chopra (who contributes the rich and ancient Hindu mystical perspective), writing in the same vein but offering original approaches and ideas as well.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey, 2004, photo by Alan Light

My daughter refers to all this as “Christian Science Lite.” The authors’ debt to Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy and her remarkable explication of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
(1875), is undeniable. Mrs. Eddy’s writings in turn reflect New England Transcendentalism, particularly the work of Emerson. They’re part of a metaphysical tradition articulated by the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Rumi, the Buddha, the authors of the Torah and the Christian Bible, and many others..

Christian Science would have gained wider acceptance, I think, had it not been for the emphasis on forgoing medical treatment in favor of a strictly spiritual approach, although my Christian Scientist friends tell me that they are by no means forbidden to seek medical attention. In any case, the New Thought movement emerged in the late nineteenth century making rather less noise about doctors and healing; today’s Unity Church is part of the New Thought legacy. I have not included the much-loved Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale, as part of this tradition because Peale emphasizes faith, hope, resilience, and the miraculous intervention of a loving and very personal God, whereas authors and philosophers from Mrs. Eddy to Eckhart Tolle use, to varying degrees, the vocabulary of science and math. One exception, however, is Marianne Williamson, who combines old and new spiritual practices in a way that is graceful and beautiful to see.

(Christian Scientists are blessed with great generosity of spirit. Even so, they tend to bristle, I’ve observed, when hearing Mrs. Eddy’s complex yet practical message described as faith healing or positive thinking.)

According to Christian Science, as I understand it

  • God (“Divine Mind”), being perfect, creates only perfection
  • Human beings, as God’s divine ideas, are not susceptible to sickness, sin, or death
  • All reality reflects God’s attributes: It is loving, spiritual, eternal, intelligent, joyful, harmonious, and so forth
  • Matter is nothing but a manifestation of thought; it is insubstantial and illusory
  • It is “mortal mind” (“error”) that produces the appearance of anything other than well-being
  • Negative emotions proceed from the false beliefs that people can be separated from God and that matter is real
  • Jesus had a perfect understanding of the divine nature, thus manifesting the “Christ principle”
  • You and I, attaining that level of understanding, would also manifest the Christ principle

Thus, poverty is the manifestation of an erroneous belief in “lack.” War and family strife are examples of the “lie” of inharmony.

Compare these tenets to the “mind-body” metaphysics of modern adherents; I think you’ll find more similarities than differences. More important, though, is that you choose the guru who speaks your language. You might read something out of Chopra that resonates with you in a way Tolle’s writing does not.

Rumi

 
 
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Poem C

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

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A Mother’s Prayer

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Students: Name as many rhetorical devices used in this poem as you can.

Grassy valley under a blue sky

My space inviolate—grassy valley under a splendid sky

My Space Inviolate

My space inviolate, circle of safety, whitewashed
in whorls of sweet sunlit air. Here is a cradle;
here is a lullaby; here is the wild strawberry,
here is the lily of the valley, in the shade, these
unpretentious in their scent and in their aspect.
Charmed, I fill my lungs with earth and flower
essence, and my heart with innocence —
nothing tainted is permitted here;
I fill my sight with creamy pastel spring
blooms and new yellow-green sweet grass.
Angels who whirled in the dance now sit quietly,
expectantly, one who is wise beside me.

New spring grass

New spring grass

Meditate this hour on your angelic
guardians, whose charge is but to guide you
to your joy. Now rest and dream, and when
you rise, put on the vestments of your power.

All that is kind; all things for love; all hope for
harmony, you’ve just to ask. It is our only task
to give you ease, to please you, to create
a clean, unsullied heart in you, fulfilling
what you’ve chanted at the precipice
of sleep, so near believing all these years.
Look! Every tear you spent for love and
penitence is sacred; each was shed in
honest pain, and we have saved them for
this baptism.

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Be happy, then. Know that we look after
him and mend his heart, so sore and
unprotected. There! It is done,
and he has seen the messengers of his
salvation, and believed. Then we embraced him
with a lambence that will cleave to him. You
need to understand that love like this,
angels cannot resist. It’s manna, meat and
drink to us. Now you must let him go;
now do release him; entrust him to us.
We shall keep him in an easy custody,
his warden shall be bliss.

Here in this circle is no place for fear.
Nothing feeds it here. Now be serene,
as you were meant to be, for all is well.
The insignificant, pathetic demons
from the place called “hell,” which is no place
at all, but just a state of mind, were chased
away, by saying, “Boo,” and making faces
at them. And yet they scare you so,
they interrupt your dancing— as if they were
substantial… as if they were not less than air.

Cattails


The Many Roads…

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creek_woods_reeds_halfsize

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Poems

waterfall_mountains_halfwsize

DEEP WATER

The Ancient Ones believe: If we
could hear it in primeval purity,
beside a sacred spring, just by the
sunlit surfacing where it emerges
all but unadulterated, there must
be, in all the fullness of a
symphony, a song within the
watercourse — which, hearing,
touching, tasting, bathing in it
heals the spirit of its slow,
insidious decay and makes us
innocent and wholly realized,
perhaps immortal — who can
say?

Even now, you and I can hear our
voices clear and buoyant in the
chorus — although you might
perceive nuances and notes and
cadences in this eternal mystic
composition differently than I.

For since our origin, we have
sailed on different seas to
different ports; our purposes and
choices have developed separate
pathways in the mind through
which the melodies pour in and
where the orchestration rises like
the ocean at high tide. Yet even
so, divided at a crossroads,
separated by a veil, we can yet
decide — to harmonize or clash,
sing peace or, maybe, dissonance
and, if the latter, float with a
deceptive ease, by flattery and
treacherous inducement,
downstream through the sluice
gate to cacophony; so many
voices, shrill and wounded from
the willful howling, shouting,
shrieking to be heard above the
rest.

And when at last we learn that life
is not a race, nor yet a test, then
destiny — some call it grace —
will bring us home, in this life or
the next, perhaps a thousand
lifetimes hence. The many roads
are one road in the end, and every
soul will seek at last the blessed
lullaby; each in time will kneel
beside a holy well, to rest, to be
made innocent, as once more
called to cleansing in the spring,
the sunlit source of all we know
above the deep and hidden flow.

blade_of_grass

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  • And Then We Shall Return

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Assignment 37.1

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Sestina Time

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1 … 

    goldharvest_okWe’re almost done! This is the final assignment for Chapter 11, and Chapter 12 will be the last chapter.

    I recently wrote a sestina for a poetry contest. I thought, why should I have to suffer alone? So I am asking you to write a sestina as well.

    It’s a rather demanding form, but it’s a very good exercise for “writing poetry and living poetically,” because, while your left brain is busy putting the puzzle pieces together, your creative, intuitive right brain remains free to romp and frisk.

    Harvest moon

    Harvest moon

    Below is Wikipedia’s definition of sestina:

    sestina (also, sextinasestine, or sextain) is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. This organization is referred to as retrogradatio cruciata(“retrograde cross”). These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 1 and 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6 (but other versions exist, described below). English sestinas are usually written in iambic pentameter or another decasyllabic meter.Wikipedia

    Let’s see if I can clarify that a bit.

    • Choose six words. We’ll call them A, B, C, D, E, and F.
    • Your sestina’s first stanza will have six lines. The first line will end with Word A, the second line will end with Word B, the third line will end with Word C, and so forth.
    • You will write five more six-line stanzas. The six lines in each stanza will also end with Word A, Word B, and so forth, but in a different order for each stanza, as specified in the pattern below.
    • The seventh stanza will have three lines. All six words will appear in these three lines, as follows: A and B in the first line, C and D in the second line, and E and F in the third line.

    pumpkin_field

    Here is the pattern, using the words I chose for my sestina (than, round, day, wide, great, countryside):

    Stanza 1
    Line 1-than (A)
    Line 2-round (B)
    Line 3-day (C)
    Line 4-wide (D)
    Line 5-great (E)
    Line 6-countryside (F) 

    Stanza 2
    Line 7-countryside (F)
    Line 8-than (A)
    Line 9-great (E)
    Line 10-round (B)
    Line 11-wide (D)
    Line 12-day (C) 

    Stanza 3
    Line 13-day (C)
    Line 14-countryside (F)
    Line 15-wide (D)
    Line 16-than (A)
    Line 17-round (B)
    Line 18-great (E) 

    Stanza 4
    Line 19-great (E)
    Line 20-day (C)
    Line 21-round (B)
    Line 22-countryside (F)
    Line 23-than (A)
    Line 24-wide (D) 

    Stanza 5
    Line 25-wide (D)
    Line 26-great (E)
    Line 27-than (A)
    Line 28-day (C)
    Line 29-countryside (F)
    Line 30-round (B) 

    Stanza 6
    Line 31-round (B)
    Line 32-wide (D)
    Line 33-countryside (F)
    Line 34-great (E)
    Line 35-day (C)
    Line 36-than (A) 

    Stanza 7
    Line 37-than (A), round (B)
    Line 38-day (C), wide (D)
    Line 39-great (E), countryside (F)

    …And Then We Shall Return

    Now, here is my poem:

    paintbox_farmstead

    Laverne and I like nothing better than
    to climb the oaken steps that circle round 
    and round up to the steeple; to this day
    intact with bell and rope, its windows wide
    and open in the summer to the great
    green quilt of rolling countryside.

    And in the autumn, this same countryside
    is rusty red with sorghum, riper than
    the melons, yellowing upon their great,
    thick, ropy stems. The fruit grows round
    as basketballs — not striped and lush and wide
    like watermelons picked on Labor Day.

    We try, Laverne and I, ‘most every day
    to mount the steps and view the countryside,
    horizon to horizon. On the wide,
    wide world beyond, we ponder gaily then,
    imagining the wonders of the round,
    revolving planet: bustling cities; great

    metropolises, great blue seas, and great
    the mountain forests we shall see some day,
    and then we shall return: The world is round,
    our place in it the motley countryside,
    in which our twisted roots are deeper than
    the sun is high, the stormy seas are wide.

    Wide seas, wide roads we do not crave, but wide
    green fields of corn and wheat; and harvests, great,
    sweet-scented harvests, more abundant than
    the ones before. We pray for cool, dry days
    so laborers can clear the countryside;
    and sometimes, in the evenings, they sit ‘round

    a blazing campfire, as the full, bright, round
    and heavy harvest moon throws shadows, wide
    as haystacks, on the now-still countryside.
    Is there, in all the earth, a work as great
    and satisfying as a harvest day?
    Is there a job more fine and noble than

    the farmer’s? More than seasons turning ‘round
    the wheel, each day is new-made glory, wide
    as seas, great life-bestowing countryside.

    * * *

    Please send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

    tree_landscape_beautiful

    The Riley Factor

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 36

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Case Studies in Poetic Living — Riley

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    A Wallace Nutting colorized photograph
    A Wallace Nutting colorized photograph

    Case Study No. 2 — The Life of Riley

    When I met Riley, in 1995, he was living in a charming duplex — one of three that surrounded a grassy courtyard, where there were eucalyptus and grapefruit trees and flowering shrubs. By September of 1996, he — and his plants and antiques and yellow Labrador retrievers — had outgrown the small duplex, so he bought a three-bedroom house at the end of a cul-de-sac near a park in the central area of Tucson.

    Hoosier cabinet

    Hoosier cabinet

    Riley and I had much in common: Both of our fathers had the name “Horace,” neither of us had a spleen, and both of our mothers were antique dealers. It was from his mother, Rachel, that Riley inherited his love for antiques. Rachel had given him, or he had bought from her, many of the chests of drawers, art prints, rugs, pieces of crockery, and century-old bottles he collected… although, when I was living in Tucson, he and I spent a great deal of time at antique fairs and in antique malls, and his collections have probably doubled in the fourteen years I’ve known him.

    Riley is not what you’d call religious, though he almost unfailingly practices the principles set forth by Martin Buber in his 1923 book I and Thou. (See Lesson 33.1, “What Do You Want?”) He beholds the world, in all its particularity, with reverence, although he does not care for cats and he has periodic attacks of road rage.

    Creative outlets

    "Farmer reading his farm paper," by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

    "Farmer reading his farm paper," by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

    Here is an example of what I mean by reverence, as it applies to Riley:

    I have an oak rocking chair, a modest little thing that has served four generations of Campbells. The chair had been smashed to smithereens (“shattered fragments,” from the Irish Gaelic smidirīn, diminutive form of smiodar, “fragment”). I would estimate that this chair was in at least twenty smithereens, some of them no larger than a toothpick. I had given up on finding someone to repair it, but I kept the pieces anyway, in a grocery bag.

    Eastlake bed (bargainjohn.com)

    Eastlake bed (bargainjohn.com)

    Riley took the bag of shards home one day, not long after we met, and brought the chair back to me in one perfect piece within a week. If you could see it, I would defy you to find any trace of smithereen. With the limited tools then at his disposal (he now has a large workshop and a respectable, manly set of tools), he put every fragment back in its place, seamlessly. He had had to replace one of the curved back pieces, but he chose the oak so carefully and stained it in such a way that it is impossible to tell the replacement from the corresponding back piece on the other side.

    There was a small, dark, discolored area on the seat that, as far as I knew, had always been there. Riley said, “I could have fixed that, but it’s part of the character of the chair” (or words to that effect). “The character of the chair” — What a concept! Riley taught me to see into the souls of inanimate objects.

    Living in southern Arizona, Riley can garden year-round. When I visited him recently, he took pride in showing me the new raised garden beds, the brick walkway between them, the automatic watering system, and the handmade compost bin. That’s another thing we have in common: We can ooh and aah about compost.

    Prickly pear (Opuntia; photo by Stan Shebs)

    Prickly pear (Opuntia; photo by Stan Shebs)

    In precisely the same way, he approached the restoration of a broken-down Hoosier cabinet and the reconstruction of an Eastlake bed (similar to the one pictured above), converting it from three-quarter size to full size.

    Pothos (www.plantdirections.com)

    Pothos (www.plantdirections.com)

    I think he must have been a Druid in a previous life, because he has great reverence for wood, especially oak, and for all growing things, whether they’re in pots or in forests. There are dozens of potted plants in the house and dozens more on the covered patio. The vast majority are from cuttings he took from his own plants.

    A little scary

    In 2001, my sweet Monica, a medium-size mongrel my boys and I had rescued from the Humane Society, died at the age of 13. Riley buried her — reverently — in the bit of yard west of his house and planted three rosebushes over her grave. The roses are the color of coral, and they flourish every year. Riley has planted mesquites and acacias, asparagus fern and ivyprickly pear and jalapeño peppers in the large back yard and the smaller front yard. Everything grows for him. He would no more neglect the care and feeding of a plant than he would of his yellow Labradors, Truman and Dani.

    Riley, me, and my son Eli, 1998

    Riley, me, and my son Eli, 1998

    Riley sometimes refers to himself as “anal-retentive,” but he’s not, really — not quite, just as he is almost but not quite a perfectionist — because he can laugh at himself. Every job he undertakes — from making salsa to building a bookcase — is done lovingly and systematically, and he never hurries.

    Blooming acacia

    Blooming acacia

    There is, however, a teensy suggestion of anal-retentiveness that is evident in the storage of his clothing, which is regimentally folded, or hung, according to type, color, and so forth. It’s a little scary for someone like me, who can never find socks that match.

    More Riley facts

    Riley always pays his bills on time and he never spends money he doesn’t have.

    He knows the names of all the members (and the instruments they played) of every blues or rock band that performed from the 1950s through the 1990s. He owns, I am guessing conservatively here, 120 blues albums on CD.

    He has a complete set of books by Mark Twain, signed by Mark Twain.

    He was something of a rogue in his youth, and that’s all I have to say on that subject.

    Grand Canyon: The muddy Colorado River from Navajo Point

    Grand Canyon: The muddy Colorado River from Navajo Point

    He is loyal. If you become Riley’s friend, you are Riley’s friend for life. Every spring, until recently, Riley went with five or six other men on ten-day backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon. He is one of the younger guys; several of his elders have developed back problems or knee disorders, so most of their hiking these days is done in the mountains that surround Tucson.

    Riley has a graceful, athletic, quietly reassuring way about him. He is confident but never (hardly ever) arrogant. Without having to work at it, Riley lives more poetically than almost anyone I know. As his mother once said to me, justifiably proud of her son, “Riley is a gentleman, literally, in the best possible way — a gentle man.”

    When he’s not at work or on a hike, you might find him refinishing furniture in the workshop, mulching the garden, reading science fiction, or (in season) watching college sports on television. Sometimes he takes Truman and Dani for walks along the dry bed of the Rillito River (there’s a trail about a quarter-mile from his house).

    wallacenutting_road_blossoms1

    Wallace Nutting colorized landscape

    The Wallace Nutting photos, shown above, are typical of the kinds of framed prints Riley favors. He has dozens of prints of that ilk, including several Wallace Nuttings, usually in lovely antique oak frames. But despite all the art, the antique furniture, the valuable glassware (which I won’t even begin to describe) and pottery, and the lovely old rugs, the house is neither museumlike nor cluttered. It feels, and looks, comfortable, soft, pleasing in every way… unless you are allergic to or don’t like dogs.

    evening_after_rain_worcestershire

    Out of Order

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
    Chapter 11: Living Poetically

    What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady
    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    We are getting rather close to the end of this course, and I am finding bits and globs of material that should have been included earlier. If it’s a small bit or glob, I just quietly insert it. But if it’s a big fat key to the understanding of a major concept, which is the case here, I feel bound to call your attention to it. The left-out part is What Does It Mean to Live Poetically?” and I have stuck it in its logical place, namely, Chapter 11, “Living Poetically,” which began with Lesson 33. The new segment is Lesson 33.1 and you will find it here. 

    A Living Poetically Fortune Cookie

    I believe, when all is said and done, all you can do is show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate. But then when you do, it can radically change everything. Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

    redoute-four-1

    Little Things

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course
    Lesson 35
    Chapter 11 (continued): The Morris Chair and Other Metaphors for Love

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    morris-chair-ironwood_publicdomain

     

    A freshwater swamp in Florida (U.S. Geological Survey)

    A freshwater swamp in Florida (U.S. Geological Survey)

    I am not into angst. Give me good, honest sadness, if you must, but don’t take me down sordid side streets dead-ending in despair.

    Do not write poetry about your feelings, except metaphorically, or in passing. You will get stuck there, in that swamp of emotion, when the point is to uncover what lies beneath the muck.

    Let’s say your mother has just died. Please, if she is living, know that I am not ill-wishing her; may she live in robust health and prosperity to 150. My mother — as you know, if you have been paying attention — died in 1974. I did not write much poetry then; it would be another five years or so before I started writing therapeutically, or out of pure joy, rather than to impress someone.

    If I had wanted to write a poem about my mother, I would not have begun by recalling how wonderful she was and how much I had loved her and was missing her. Those were sentiments that were going nowhere… that were honest but superficial; my feelings were so much more complicated than sadness and grief. There were anger, regret, a little guilt, gratitude, laughter, bemusement, mixed with emotions that, to this day, I believe there are no words for — a tangle of knots and orphan threads that were going to either crush or choke me.

    A schoolchild's slate very similar to Mom's

    A schoolchild's slate very similar to Mom's

    As it happened, I went into therapy instead of writing poetry. But if I had written poems for and about my mom, I think I would have begun with the little slate — one of the orphan threads in the tangle.

    I have said that Mom was an antique collector and dealer. One of her prize possessions was a small slate — a child’s personal chalkboard from the days when paper wasn’t plentiful. I’m sure it was fifty or seventy-five years old; it was about five by seven inches if you count the rickety half-inch frame.

    I found the slate in the closet of the spare bedroom a few days after Mom died. Written on it, with white chalk in Mom’s handwriting, was “Merry Christmas 1974.”

    Now, this was very odd, enigmatic bordering on spooky. Mom died on August 8, 1974. For what possible reason might she have, that summer, to all appearances glowing with health and vitality, written “Merry Christmas 1974” on the little slate and put it in a closet where it would be easily found among her treasures?

    Canon Typestar 110 electronic typewriter

    Canon Typestar 110 electronic typewriter

    Pappy’s Journal

    When Dad died, in 1985, I was wiser. I did not go into therapy. Dad had retired about three years after Mom died, had bought an electronic typewriter, and had begun sending to his relatives, periodically, four-page documents printed on the backs of pieces of junk mail. He called this work-in-progress Pappy’s Journal. It contained amusing and sometimes poignant reminiscences about everything from ice-skating on the Des Moines River when he was a boy to a play-by-play of the previous Saturday’s Nebraska Cornhusker football game. Dad had been a CPA and a Scot, and he was thrifty to the core. (He had perfected a way of grafting soap slivers onto just-opened bars of Palmolive.) He always sent four pages, even if the fourth page ended midsentence, because four pages of twenty-pound paper was the maximum you could mail using a single first-class stamp.

    The Red Sea—Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, 2007 (photo by Bobak Ha'Eri)

    The Red Sea—Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, 2007 (photo by Bobak Ha'Eri)

    So instead of seeking psychiatric help, I edited his reminiscences, sparingly, and wrote some annotations, and I also wrote several poems, one of which won first prize in statewide poetry contests in both Kansas and Arizona.

    The Morris Chair

    for Dan Campbell, 1913-1985

    Once it was merely oak and textile, but you
    chose it as your incarnation’s favorite
    dwelling place; and since its cast, at first, was
    hostile to your contours, something had to
    give — the Morris never had a prayer.

    As sitting folks do, you made an impression on the
    topography of the worsted cushion, and, like the
    victim of erosion, the planet was
    reshaped: a plateau here, a gully there… a
    landscape — where before had been mere
    serviceable flatness — was now the sculpted
    valley of adamant flesh, bone, and muscle.

    After the armistice, you and the Morris were
    compatible as the angular pieces of a
    jigsaw puzzle, and anyone else venturing
    to sit upon the thing would find it
    uncongenial, neither rigid nor
    relenting, just tenacious of its silhouette,
    and true to its architect, and steward to
    your indelible effect.

    It doesn’t require a death in the family to write an evocative poem, choosing for its fulcrum something small and secretly prized, perhaps. Here are two of mine:

    Photo by Meredith, http://modcottage.com, with permission

    Photo by Meredith, http://modcottage.com, with permission

    Sun Tea

    When I was the mother of small
    children, every summer morning I made
    sun tea in a gallon jar filled with clear
    well water and set it near the porch, so as
    to sketch the season in my memory, and
    not let pass without a grateful thought
    those long, warm days and small, bare
    feet—reason enough, even without the
    alchemy of linking the deep river with
    the open sky and drinking it with lemon;
    and being put in mind of how things
    happen in their time, and not before it or
    beyond. Reason and more, as it ought to
    be; for I am inordinately drawn to children
    but not particularly fond of tea.

     

    Summer Afternoon, Shinnecock, by Julien Alden Weir

    Summer Afternoon, Shinnecock, by Julien Alden Weir

     

    Meditation on a Summer Afternoon

    All the riches of the world exist in shadows
    of a walnut tree on sunny summer
    afternoons: the small, expressive flutter of
    a leaf in a listless breeze; the cleaving
    scent of earth and pine and grass and
    honeysuckle heavy on the vine; the
    rough-and-tumble scratching of a
    dozen squirrels in a frantic scramble
    branch to branch, and suddenly
    they’re statues munching fat, firm
    nutmeats, littering with shards of
    shell my cluttered yard that I shall
    rake another day; plump robins, in
    shy trepidation, venturing to search
    for succulent gourmet delights, then,
    frightened off by someone’s slamming
    of a door, they dash away on wing
    and call a warning to their mates.
    Nearby a brash woodpecker hammers,
    hammers more, persists in hammering
    upon a maple tree. I clap my hands,
    applauding, and to see what he will
    do. He quits, and then resumes.

    A book of poetry sits idly on my lap,
    unlooked at. Pages turn upon a
    breath of air; perhaps, I fancy, there’s a
    spirit there, enjoying Blake. I listen to my
    children at the neighbor’s, splashing in a
    plastic pool and laughing with the
    unrestraint that grace bestows on
    childhood; and down the street, somebody
    mows a tidy lawn that’s lined by rows of
    peonies, exuberant and lush, ridiculously
    pink or deep merlot.

    Pink peonies (photo by Fanghong)

    Pink peonies (photo by Fanghong)

    Something sighs contentedly. Perhaps it’s
    I, or else a pixie living in a tribe beneath
    the shrubbery. Nothing weighs on me. I
    feel so light that I’m surprised to find
    myself still sitting on my rag of quilt upon
    the grass instead of simply rising, chasing
    birds or playing tag with bees. But I am
    earthen still, and glad of it, delighted to
    be wrapped in humid air; it moves
    sufficiently to cool my skin and curl my
    hair. The ground is warm, a comfort, womb
    of seed and tiny creature curled in sleep,
    awaiting dusk.

    As shadows must, they lengthen and the
    laughter shrills. The time has come. I will
    collect the children and go in. I brush away
    the thought, just for another minute’s
    taste of pure serenity, but also fond
    anticipation of the dinner hour—cheddar
    cheese and melon salad, I decide, and
    lemon pie, and then the bedtime stories
    that transport us to exotic climes. The
    time has come, but I have evening yet to
    savor. Summer comes in such abundant
    flavors—warmth and coolness,
    thunderstorm, forsythia and clover, early
    sunrise, tall and motley hollyhocks—I feast
    upon them all.

    garden_sister_alma_rose-120x139-90x105

    Assignment 35.1

    Every day if you can — but at least twice a week — choose a moment out of the day you have just experienced and write about it metaphorically in the poetic form of your choice. I hope you will do this for the rest of your life. It will prevent your “running on empty,” as Jackson Browne sang… or, perhaps even worse, running on autopilot. Entire spans of years of my life, when I was not living poetically or contemplating things by writing poetry, are a blur to me now, and sometimes I go back and try to recapture those lost moments, as in “Meditation on a Summer Afternoon,” above.

    Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

    * * *

     

    Detour

    The shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line

    In the poetic life, the shortest possible distance between two points is not always a straight line

    MAP LEGEND

    1. We plan to go to the Washington Monument (intended route = straight vertical line)
    2. Just as we are leaving, we receive emergency phone call: Grandma has fallen down the steps. We drive as quickly as possible to Grandma’s, dodging kangaroos along the route; Grandma is able to walk (a very good sign) and knows her name, what day it is, who is president of the U.S., etc.
    3. We take her to see Dr. Checkerout, who says that Grandma is hale and hardy and that the very best remedy for the small laceration on her left nostril (splinter on steps) would be to spend the day at the Washington Monument (Is that a coincidence, or WHAT?)
    4. We drive back to Grandma’s so that she can get her hat and camera and put on her walking shoes, and we set out again for the Washington Monument

    5. Oh, no! There is road construction in the vicinity of the Washington Monument; we must detour via Bermuda
    6. Well, since we have to go there anyway, we enjoy the sun and the surf in Bermuda, along with numerous tropical drinks containing rum; Grandma is sloshed, so we check in to a hotel
    7. We resume our trip to the Washington Monument the next morning, arriving without incident and having a wonderful time

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course
    Lesson 34
    Dealing Poetically with Adversity

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    roadsign_kangaroo2 

    The poetic life is nothing if not flexible.

    In the above diagram, the shortest distance (as the crow flies) from our house (upper left) and the Washington Monument is represented by a vertical arrow. Once we had learned of Grandma’s accident, however, it was not possible for us to take that route, poetically speaking. The shortest distance had become much longer. If you are going to live poetically, you need to use mystic math.

    Mystic Math

    (The Truth Is in the Poetry)

    One thinks of Julio and Jeanne next door....

    One thinks of Julio and Jeanne next door....

    Is it so foolish to deny that 2
    plus 2 must always equal 4? Because

    one thinks immediately of Julio

    and Jeanne next door, with twins, Celine and

    quiet Jim — not counting Thor, the sheltie,

    they are four indeed — but one in the

    directory, one phone, one family,

    one house, one home.

     

    How many syllables comprise a poem?

    How many deities are in the Trinity?

    How many personalities have you, or I

    (not in the psychopathic sense, of course,

    although one wouldn’t know, would one, if there

    were moments unaccounted for — so many

    billion galaxies to travel in for

    one a bit unraveled)?

     

    ...so many billion galaxies to travel in....

    ...so many billion galaxies to travel in....

    And then there is the Christian marriage

    ceremony, wherein 1 plus 1 make 1,

    and during which the wedding guests affirm

    that all are one in Christ.

     

    One day, one night, together, they become —

    a day. Once more, the sum of 1 plus 1

    is 1, at least within the limits of

    the English language — its vocabulary

    vast, indeed, although, alas, not infinite.

     

    fiddlepm_chair_istockAnd think of all those violins, violas,

    cellos, basses, trumpets, clarinets,

    trombones, and horns and cymbals, harps

    and bells and such — and all the men and

    women, dignified in black and white,

    with all their individual concerns —

    one widowed just a year ago tonight,

    another six years clean and sober; to

    her left, an oboist whose brother was

    indicted yesterday for tax evasion; on

    her right, a Pakistani having such

    a frightful allergy attack — and the

    conductor, who has just received a check

    for twenty thousand dollars from the lottery—

    but now she raises her baton — and

    in that instant of anticipation, in

    that sacred, silent metamorphosis, how

    many, would you say, have they become?

     

    Ludwig van Beethoven, an 1804 portrait

    Ludwig van Beethoven, an 1804 portrait

    Four notes — three quick, one slow — are played:

    the Fifth (but first, perhaps, in pure

    and simple glory) symphony of Beethoven

    begins… and in the audience,

    a few may fidget, measuring

    the minutes and intending to

    retreat at intermission. Violinists

    count the silent beats of idleness

    between their passages, but, I imagine,

    seldom ask themselves how many

    notes they play in all, and just

    as well, it wouldn’t change a thing. Do you

    suppose there’s someone who, for fun

    or scholarship, attempts to number all

    the microbes in the hall, and further,

    calculates the ratio of respirations that

    occur between the second movement and

    the third? For to be sure, it could

    be quantified somewhere by some technology

    or other. Fortunately, no one cares.

    And that’s the point. They came, you see, to hear

    the symphony.

     

    ...the stars care nothing of our counting them....

    ...the stars care nothing of our counting them....

    Therefore, you’ll get no argument from me that 2 plus 2 are 4, not 3 or 17
    or 20, but in turn you must forgive
    the solecism I commit, suggesting there’s
    a truer truth than anything that can
    be proven by addition — if it were
    not so, than why would anybody bother?
    What would be the joy of noticing
    this pattern or that symmetry? Do we
    pursue a proof because the numerals
    insist on our attention? I am sure
    the stars care nothing of our counting
    them or our refraining from it. Finding
    order in the universe, or else
    imposing it, or otherwise competing
    in a race with chaos, really has a single
    benefit — it satisfies, however
    temporarily, the spirit, and
    the truth, you find, is in the poetry,
    not in the paper that it’s written on
    or in the composition of the particles
    that dart about at rates astonishingly
    great — as we believe, for so the eye
    of science witnesses, and since we give
    it credibility, we cannot disagree.
     

    ...viruses or other microscopic entities....

    ...viruses and other microscopic entities....

    It pleases us to cede authority

    to science, even though we never see

    the viruses and other microscopic

    entities; but science offers remedies

    for every manner of disease and warns

    that to release a sneeze uncovered will

    unleash a tyranny of demons; so

    it seems, in our experience, and is

    esteemed as fact, no longer theory…

    because it matters. That’s the only

    reason — saves a life, perhaps, or

    fifty million. If the latter, is the

    scientific effort fifty million times

    more worthy? I don’t know.

    You do the math.

     

    by Sister Alma Rose

    February 2006

    “Galaxies,”  “tulips,” and “stars” images © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

     tulips_magentas

    The Ashley Incident

    My son Jack and daughter-in-law Ashley live next door with their children, one of whom is Little Jack, who is almost a year old.

    Computerized tomography (CT) scanner
    Computerized tomography (CT) scanner

    Last Sunday, I got a 7 a.m. phone call from Ashley. She was obviously in huge pain. I told her to go immediately to the hospital, where the emergency-room personnel discovered via numerous expensive high-tech methodologies that she was hemorrhaging, which I could have told them without the machines and the expense. After about six hours spent groaning in agony, Ashley was rushed to the operating room for exploratory surgery, anesthetized, split open like a salmon, and relieved of a couple of pints of blood and a ruptured ovarian cyst.

    i-40_map
    Red line = I-40

    They sent her home on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after the surgery, with an incision the length of Interstate 40 and instructions not to lift the baby or any other heavy object for two weeks. This was one of those unfunded mandates doctors and hospitals are so fond of issuing, because of course they did not send Mary Poppins or Mr. T  home with Ashley.

    “How,” I asked myself, “would a Person Living Poetically respond to Ashley’s dilemma?” This was not an idle question, because I tend to feel that I am to blame for everything, including World Hunger, and that everything is therefore my responsibility. I am a pathological People-Pleaser, and my default definition of myself (CONtentwise) is “one who ties up all the loose ends in the universe.”

    As it happens, I had a lot to do this week, and Ashley’s plight arose at a very inconvenient time for me. I had deadlines to meet and telephone interviews to conduct and no clean underwear.

    ...telephone interviews to conduct...
    …telephone interviews to conduct…

    Theoretically, it would have been possible for me to keep to my schedule, just as it would have been possible for the Washington Monument–bound family to call 9-1-1 for Granny and go on its merry way. But if one has decided to live poetically, such choices are no longer simple. Another possibility would have been to help Ashley and grouse about it continually, moaning and groaning every time I had to carry little Jack from one room to another or, worse yet, up a flight of stairs, which I did, several times, moaning and groaning shamelessly because, after all, I didn’t drop him, so I attained the victory only slightly tarnished.

    Aleutian Islands (triangles = active volcanoes)
    Aleutian Islands (triangles = active volcanoes)

    Fortunately, I had done the decluttering exercise in Lesson 5.1 and I had finished the personal inventory assigned in Lesson 13, so I wasn’t being a knee-jerk do-gooder when I decided to devote as much time as was needed to Ashley for as long as she needed it. Using the Golden Rule, it turns out, is a pretty good way of making decisions much of the time, and what I would want Others to Do unto Me, if I had just lost 25 percent or so of my blood supply and had major abdominal surgery and if I were lurching around due to the pain of an incision that looked like the Aleutian Islands, is, I would want Others to cater to my every whim and relieve me of all responsibility for babies, diapers, six-year-olds, meals, and the like.

    Finnish macaroni casserole (photo by Suvi Korhonen)
    Finnish macaroni casserole (photo by Suvi Korhonen)

    So that is what I have been doing instead of attending to my blogs and my deadlines and my laundry. That, and accepting with gratitude the various casseroles and salads and desserts supplied by the Church Ladies, because that is what Church Ladies DO, just as helping one’s grown children when they are in need through no fault of their own (as opposed to being in need because they have screwed up Big Time) is what I do, when I am living poetically. 

    Assignment 34.1

    1. Identify as many poetic devices as you can in “Mystic Math,” above.
    2. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
    3. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.  

    * * *

     

    What Do You Want?

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
    Chapter 11: Living Poetically

    What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    This journal… does for me what prayer must do for the truly religious—sets things in proportion again…. What is interesting, after all, is the making of a self, an act of creation, like any other, that does imply a certain amount of conscious work. Ellen is very much aware of this, I feel. She would agree with Keats about “a vale of soul-making”…. May Sarton, Kinds of Love

    Jean Lall… calls housework “a path of contemplation” and says that if we denigrate the work that is to be done around the house every day, from cooking to doing laundry, we lose our attachment to our immediate world…. [Something as homely as a scrub brush can be] a sacramental object, and when we use this implement with care we are giving something to the soul. In this sense, cleaning the bathroom is a form of therapy because there is a correspondence between the actual room and a certain chamber of the heart. The bathroom that appears in our dreams is both the room in our house and a poetic object that describes a space in the soul. —Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul : A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

    nebr_purple_coneflower-140x138

    I can’t tell you, item by item, how to live poetically any more than I could write my poetry and call it yours. The only “rule” that I know of for poetic living is practicing the “I-Thou” relationship that Martin Buber wrote about in his 1923 book I and Thou. 

    The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Van Gogh, 1890

    The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Van Gogh, 1890

    I and Thou, Martin Buber’s classic philosophical work, is among the 20th century’s foundational documents of religious ethics. “The close association of the relation to God with the relation to one’s fellow-men … is my most essential concern,” Buber explains in the Afterword…. “One should [never view]… the conversation with God … as something that occurs merely apart from or above the everyday,” Buber explains. “God’s address to man penetrates the events in all our lives and all the events in the world around us, everything biographical and everything historical, and turns it into instruction, into demands for you and me.”

    Throughout I and Thou, Buber argues for an ethic that does not use other people (or books, or trees, or God), and does not consider them objects of one’s own personal experience. Instead, Buber writes, we must learn to consider everything around us as “You” speaking to “me,” and requiring a response…. Walter Kaufmann’s definitive 1970 translation contains hundreds of helpful footnotes providing Buber’s own explanations of the book’s most difficult passages. —Michael Joseph Gross, Amazon.com review

    In a way, Buber’s book is an elaboration on the “do unto others…” maxim often referred to as the Golden Rule

    As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
    —Luke 6:31

    —which scholars refer to as the Ethic of Reciprocity and which exists in some form in virtually every religion. Anne Lamott has expressed it thus:

    Jesus said, “The point is to not hate and kill each other today, and if you can, to help the forgotten and powerless. Can you write that down, and leave it by the phone?”  —Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    If you can consistently and joyfully practice I-Thou relationships (or the Ethic of Reciprocity), I have nothing more to tell you. You are already gentle with others and gentle with yourself. You never, ever beat yourself up. When you make a mistake, you correct it or, if that’s not possible, you learn from it and go on with your life. 

    If — and this is more likely — you flounder around like the rest of us, then you might benefit from the modest wisdom I have gained on living joyfully and poetically:

    Lighten up! The title of the late Richard Carlson’s 1997 book says it all: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — and It’s All Small Stuff.

    Defy entropy. Have a plan but don’t be a slave to it. Find and practice your dharma, your “righteous path, way of living, and ethical system… largely found within oneself, through contemplation, rather than in the external world.” ProQuest

    Engage your imagination. As Nora Roberts points out in her novel Captivated, “The imagination [is] portable, unbreakable, and extremely malleable.” Be creative. Know that your potential is literally unlimited.

    Show up. Be conscious and aware and totally in the moment.

    Liberate yourself. Be larger than life. Do what you do with class and panache, beauty and grace. Practice courage. Be brave. Go the distance to become not just a good singer/dancer/accountant/cashier but a great one. 

    Nelson Mandela

    Nelson Mandela

    Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech of 10 May 1994

    Keep moving. Continually co-create yourself. Let your actions be learned and practiced but not slavishly habitual. Play. Pretend. Always be aware that you have choices. Solve your problems as they arise.

    Find your balance — that place between (a) spontaneity and intuition and (b) wisdom and orderliness. Napoleon Hill, in The Law of Success, maintains that the most successful people are those who trust their sixth sense.

    Assignment 33.2

    garden-of-eden-print-c10101487

    1. Make a list of 100 things you want. We’ll call these your goals. The items on your list can be grand or trivial: a movie you want to see, a new restaurant you want to try, habits you want to form, things you want to do before you die, places you want to visit, people you’d like to meet, desired changes in relationships….
    2. Choose just one thing from your list. It makes absolutely no difference which goal you choose.
    3. Write loosely in prose about, or make a diagram of, the distance between you and the goal and the steps you can take to overcome that distance. Conclude with reaching the goal.
    4. Close your eyes and imagine, but don’t write down, how you will feel when your goal is reached.
    5. Condense your prose into a Spenserian sonnet with the rhyme scheme abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee. An example is the following sonnet (1595) by the English poet Edmund Spenser. The metrical pattern is generally iambic pentameter, and it is easier to discern if you understand that, four hundred years ago, many words were pronounced differently, with added syllables. The first line, for example, might have been spoken thus: “Hap-PY [or, more likely, HAP-py, making the line slightly irregular] ye LEAV-es! WHEN those LIL-y HANDS”; and the word derived in line 10 was probably pronounced “de-RIVE-ed.”

      Happy ye leaves! when those lily hands, (a)
      Which hold my life in their dead doing might, (b)
      Shall handle you, and hold in love’s soft bands, (a)
      Like captives trembling at the victor’s sight. (b)
      And happy lines on which, with starry light, (b)
      Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look,(c)
      And read the sorrows of my dying sprite, (b)
      Written with tears in heart’s close bleeding book. (c)
      And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook (c)
      Of Helicon, whence she derived is, (d)
      When ye behold that angel’s blessed look, (c)
      My soul’s long lacked food, my heaven’s bliss. (d)
      Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone, (e)
      Whom if ye please, I care for other none. (e)

      NOTE: Do not overtly express your feelings of victory or accomplishment in your poem. Let your artistry, and the rhetorical devices you use, do that for you.

      • Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
      • Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.

      Edmund Spenser 1552-1599
      Edmund Spenser 1552-1599

       

       

       

    Lady Irene

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 33

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Case Studies in Poetic Living — Irene

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1 … 

    athens_school_of

    Case Study #1: Living Poetically

    Anne Bancroft

    Anne Bancroft

    None of my case studies is a perfect example of the poetic liver (or pancreas, or gallbladder…). We are, after all, talking about human beings, not gods or angels. But these are human beings who, in nearly every exigency, see not disaster but an infinite number of choices, and from these they select the most elegant or the kindest.

    Irene is an exquisitely complex individual; accordingly, her life has always been complex. She is gifted in a hundred ways, and, with luck (and a bit more focus), she might have excelled in any of a dozen fields.

    Irene the Artist 

    She is an artist in the Renaissance sense: she sketches, she paints, she sculpts, she sings and plays the guitar. We met in high school — we were both singing in our school’s elite A Cappella Choir.

    During our junior year, she had the lead in the Madwoman of Chaillot,

    (French title La Folle de Chaillot) … a play, a poetic satire, by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux, written in 1943 and first performed in 1945, after his death. The play has two acts and follows the convention of the classical unities. It follows an eccentric woman who lives in Paris and her struggles against the straitlaced authority figures in her life. —Wikipedia

    Without Irene, such an ambitious production could not have been attempted at our school. Her performance was so exceptional that even the most lowbrow of our peers, the guys who still thought it was hilarious to make farting noises with their armpits, were agog.

    Mel Brooks, 1984

    Mel Brooks, 1984

    Likewise, Irene’s appearance was, and remains, dramatic. Her late mother strongly resembled the actress Anne Bancroft (1931-2005), perhaps best known for her Academy Award–winning role as Annie Sullivan in the 1962 film the Miracle Worker. Bancroft was married for more than 40 years, until her death in 2005, to Mel Brooks, now 82. (1)

    As Irene ages (she is nearing 62), she looks more and more as her mother did when I knew her — more glamorous, more Anne Bancroft-ish. For the past ten years or so — after decades of supporting herself, working hard at interesting jobs (she was, for example, the executive director of a ballet company) and learning, learning, learning (she studied under Robert Bly in Chicago) — Irene has lived almost entirely on disability income. She suffers agonies from spinal stenosis and fibromyalgia. In terms of material possessions, she is quite poor — though she reverently keeps the family china from two generations — but poverty has never made her hard or bitter. It has, instead, fueled her imagination and called forth her creativity.

    Gifts of the spirit

    Irene's double cartouche, the ideal wedding, anniversary, or Valentine's gift

    Irene's double cartouche, the ideal wedding, anniversary, or Valentine's gift

    Irene has always been more independent than rebellious. Her spirituality is eclectic, embracing paganism, Wicca, and other fringe religious practices… but she never judges the religiosity of others, and she often prays fervently to “Whoever Is On Duty.”  She begins each day with a ritual of gratitude and a salute to the sun. Many years ago, she dramatically quitted the Presbyterian church she was attending when the pastor’s wife unceremoniously ejected a homeless man from the assembled congregation.

    She knows more about Egyptology and pre-Christian Celtic religious practices than do many academics with doctoral degrees in folklore. She privately performs elaborate sacred rituals on the Celtic festival days:

    • Imbolc, celebrated on the eve of February 1st,… sacred to the fertility goddess Brigit, and as such … a spring festival. It was later Christianised as the feast of St Brigid….
    • Beltaine, held on the eve of May 1st., …devoted to the god Bel, and a common practise was the lighting of fires. It was later Christianised as the feast of St John the Baptist, and the festival of May Day is generally thought to have been based upon it.
    • Lughnasadh, … in August, [which]… revolved around the god Lugh, who, according to mythology, was giving a feast for his foster mother Tailtu at that time.
    • Samhain, held on October 31st, [marking]… the end of one pastoral year, and the beginning of another, and … similarly thought of as the time when spirits of the Otherworld became visible to humans. It was Christianised as Halloween, which has kept its associations with spirits and the supernatural right into the contemporary period. —Wikipedia, accessed January 31, 2009
    Lunar-phase diagram donated to Wikipedia by "Minesweeper"

    Lunar-phase diagram donated to Wikipedia by "Minesweeper"

    In spite of the fact that she dances under the full moon and observes certain traditions associated with the new moon… and that she believes herself to be (half seriously, half with tongue in cheek) a latter-day priestess of the Egyptian goddess Isis (or is it Bastet?), and carries forth the goddess’s legacy of protecting and sheltering cats… she is the farthest thing from a fanatic. She is in some ways vulnerable and in others impervious to the opinions of others, and she would be equally comfortable at Buckingham Palace, in an archaeological dig at the sites of the pyramids and tombs of Egypt, and at a roadside diner drinking coffee and munching on a cheese omelet.

    Irene of the generous spirit

    Irene's Isis print, signed and numbered, 11 x 17 inches; the original was done on real papyrus

    Irene's Isis print, signed and numbered, 11 x 17 inches; the original was done on real papyrus

    Irene is a vegetarian and an accomplished cook — chef might be the more accurate term — and she never comes to see me without a gift of food or the loan of a book. Her makeup is always perfect, her hair beautifully styled, and her clothing artistically accented with earrings or beads, or both. Her own home is approximately half of the second floor of a Queen Anne–style Victorian mansion, with a flank of long bay windows, doorways framed with intricately carved woodwork, and a stained-glass transom.

    Her adopted cats live long, pampered lives, protected as they are by Irene and Isis (or, perhaps, Bastet). She (Irene — presumably Isis and Bastet as well) is patient; it took years, but she finally wore me down, in her gentle way, until I adopted two feral kittens, offspring of fecund mama Jezebel, whom Irene has never been able to trap in order to have her spayed. Irene speaks Cat fluently, to my shame, for I have not managed to pick up more than a few words of the language.

    A Queen Anne–style Victorian house

    A Queen Anne–style Victorian house

    The yard of her mansion apartment is tiny, but Irene has found room for a small cat cemetery and for her summer fairy garden of herbs and flowers and stone pathways. She is an aficionado of meditation, visualization, and Tong Ren, and she is a healer by nature and experience.

    I do not know if Irene has ever read Martin Buber’s I And Thou, but she relates to people in the way Martin Buber would have us do — as sacred, each and every one. As was often said about my late mother-in-law, she “never knew a stranger,” and she has instant rapport with everyone from the drive-through-coffee-shop personnel to the postal-service mail clerks and the other folks waiting for their prescriptions to be ready at the pharmacy.

    Sweet basil from Irene's herb garden

    Sweet basil from Irene's herb garden

    Irene lives poetically about seven-eighths of the time. The lost eighth falls at the end of the month, when she has run out of money, in large part because of her excessive generosity. She is something of an adventurer and spent much of her life on the edge, marrying wildly unsuitable men, one of whom spent an entire night holding a gun to her head. She is far too intelligent and resourceful to have remained in these treacherous relationships, though they afforded her some interesting travel opportunities.

    Thwarted

    Among the top ten of My Most Embarrassing Experiences is the Incident of the Thwarted Escape Attempt. We were 19 or so, still living with our parents, and she had made plans to run off to meet one of the unsuitable men, who lived, I think, in Indiana. What was supposed to have happened is that I was to drive to her neighborhood and wait on a side street to the south of her house. Her parents left for work — they owned and operated a meat market — quite early, around 6:30, as I recall, and “always” turned north after reaching the end of the driveway, so I was, theoretically, in no danger of detection. As soon as they were out of sight, I was to pick Irene up and take her to the airport, where she would soar away to her assignation.

    The view from the bay windows (photo by Mike Pedroncelli)

    The view from the bay windows (photo by Mike Pedroncelli)

    Unfortunately, her parents had detected her packed suitcase the night before and had prevented her from phoning me to warn me off. So there I was, at 6:30 a.m. on the designated side street, watching her parents back out of the driveway and turn… oops… southward. I scrunched down in the seat,  hoping to become invisible, but I heard their car pull up beside mine, and I heard her mother say, “Mary?” with a question mark in her voice. Well, there was nothing to do but pop back up into view, only to be scolded, berated, and forbidden ever to have anything to do with Irene again as long as I lived.

    Fortunately, I did not obey. My life would be much the poorer without Irene and her charm, her grace, and her optimism, which sometimes flags but never fails.

    ___________

    (1) Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky; June 28, 1926)… an American director, writer, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor and producer, best known as a creator of broad film farces and comic parodies. Brooks is a member of the short list of entertainers with the distinction of having won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony award. Three of his films (Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein) ranked in the Top 20 on the American Film Institute‘s list of the Top 100 comedy films of all-time. —Wikipedia

    Single cartouche with blessing

    Single cartouche with blessing