October 20, 2012

Truth or Storyscape?

I've got three poems up at Storyscape, lucky woman that I am. It's a supercool issue, so check it out

September 26, 2012

Tales of Quirk and Wonder + Me

My writer friend, Lisa Ahn, interviewed me for her blog Tales of Quirk and Wonder, and she asked some excellent questions. Lisa is an incredible spinner of tales, so while you're there check those out as well. You may also want to follow her on Twitter: @Lisa_Ahn.

Happy reading!

September 21, 2012

Dead Letters and A Glimpse Beyond

Hey folks,

I'm all about the afterlife right now. My chapbook, Dead Letters, is so hot off the press I haven't even seen it yet, but you'll find it this weekend at RoadWorks. If you find yourself with a copy, tell me all about it! All of these lovely books and notebooks are available at Meridian Press, so you should definitely check it out.

Also, I'll be reciting a Mary Oliver poem this weekend at A Glimpse Beyond at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. I've been practicing the poem so much that my children have it memorized.


September 14, 2012

Guest Post by Obo


Hello all you alls,

In case you missed it, Obo is living stateside now, and as I've been a bit swamped with the chaos that is a new job and three kids, he kindly offered to be a guest blogger. Take it away, Obster. . .


Updates from the Pond and Beyond

The last few months have been hectic to say the least. It has also been the start of new beginnings for everybody. Starting new jobs, school, and other things that have sent us all into a daze and have also caused some stress. It's a start of a new era, and we hope it is going to bring us nothing but luck and happiness.

Little Sister (LS) started her sophomore year. She also recently returned from Cali for her Aunt's wedding. She tried out for the school soccer team and got on the team. Hooray!! LS has played two games, and she is thoroughly enjoying playing soccer again. LS also took women's history as an elective this year and finds it fascinating. She couldn't believe that a woman was sent to jail and force fed on LS's behalf, so LS could have the right to vote and to be seen as equal.

Buckaroo began kindergarten this year. He puts up a fight every morning, shouting, "I don't want to go!" but when he returns he can't wait to tell us about his day. As many of you may know, Buckaroo was put on the bus last week when he was supposed to be picked up. After much panic and maybe a few palpitations from the parentals, he seemed unfazed and loved his little adventure.

[I have to interject that Obo rode the bike down to the bus stop in superheroic fashion to pick up his little bro. Thanks again, Obo!]

The Professor, which she'd rather be called from now on, has started teaching at Worcester State University. The computer has now become her home and the bed a desk. Most nights it's hard to steer her away and pry her hands from the keyboard. She is working incredibly hard grading papers and writing syllabi. The Professor is also going to be reading a poem from memory for an event at a cemetery in Cambridge. The dress code is white, which she isn't pleased about, but she's excited nevertheless.

Honey Man is still tending the bees and was happy at the explosion of mushrooms we had this September. He finished my bedroom which I am extremely grateful for. He is not, however, looking forward to chopping wood to keep us warm this winter. He also continues to plan the next steps to finishing the basement.

As for me, I have started classes, and I am determined to get through these couple of months so I can start my college courses in January.

That's all folks.

[I have to add that Obo is finishing up his driving course and will be getting his license soon. He's got his permit already, and he drives us crazy, but he always brings us back again. Just kiddin', Obo. You know we love ya. We celebrated his eighteenth birthday with Indian dinner and Legally Blonde, the musical. Poor Buckaroo had to stay behind, but he does enjoy his babysitter's company.]


August 23, 2012

Last Ploughshares Post & More

Summer is winding down around these parts, and it's time to say goodbye to the Ploughshares blog. My last post is about growing up with poetry, finding inspiration, and creating a community. You'll find it here, and check out the new non-fiction issue while you're over there. Good stuff.

In the future you'll be able to find my blog posts over at Superstition Review, and I have work forthcoming from Generations, Valparaiso, Quiddity, Futurcycle, Main Street Rag, and Storyscape.

My letterpressed chapbook, Dead Letters (Meridian Press) will be out soon as well. Cannot wait.

August 12, 2012

Sugar=Love?

Swing by for a visit at Superstition Review where I discuss my predilection for all things sugary and the trouble with rejection.

August 8, 2012

The Most Amazing Natalie Diaz

I was fortunate enough to have a chat with Natalie Diaz over at Ploughshares. See what she has to say about her book When My Brother Was an Aztec and her work revitalizing the Mojave language. See you there.

Interview with burntdistrict & Spark Wheel Press

I interviewed founding editors of burntdistrict and Spark Wheel Press, Jen Lambert and Liz Kay, at Ploughshares. See you there.

July 28, 2012

Qiu Jin the Feminist Poet

Check out my latest Ploughshares blogpost in which I wonder at the absence of Qiu Jin's poetry in America.

July 24, 2012

Crook's Goodbye


For Sweet P's 15th birthday we took her to the cat shelter, and she picked out two orange kitten brothers whom she named Crook & Shanks (Harry Potter fans will recognize their shared kneazle namesake).

The boys were best friends. They stalked and pounced each other, wrestled, and chased, knocked over knick knacky things we didn't know we had. Every morning at 7 a.m. and every night at 9 p.m. they ran a thundering loop that came to be called the kittiapolis 500. Afterward, they held each other with their paws and bathed each other so fiercely that anyone in their vicinity got a licking, including our Bella Dog.

In June, Crook stopped eating, stopped playing. If you've ever said a slow, sad goodbye to a pet, you know this story. We said goodbye to Crook yesterday. Sweet P is on a cross-country road trip, so I had to tell her during a very fractured cell phone conversation during which she worried that she might have saved him if she'd stayed home.

I've been searching for the lesson here, but at the same time thinking: Again, Universe? I have to learn this lesson again? I lost my dad for fuck sake. What else could there possibly be to learn?

Last week, while Crook was in the hospital being tested and prodded, and we were hoping to save him, Buckaroo and I took a long-planned-for trip to Pennsylvania. We swam, watched fireflies, jumped in puddles, frog-hunted in the creek, and spent long hours chatting and playing with good friends.

Every few hours the most-amazing Dr. Edelstein called from Tufts to update me on Crook and talk over our options, and then I called R at work, and we discussed our options, and the phone calls circled around again, and then I would hang up and cry for a while. After that, I'd pull myself together and go back to vacation. So I learned how to hang on to happy, stay in my joy, and feel the sorrow when I needed to feel it.

Crook's last day at home marked six months since I've given up eating sugar. R left for a work trip in New York, so Buckaroo and I were home alone, and there was a nearly full pack of Oreos in the freezer. They were calling my name, wooing me to feel that sugary numbness. My friends suggested throwing the cookies away, but I was too afraid to even touch them.

Yesterday, after Crook was gone, I sat in my car and cried for a long time, and then I thought about what would make me feel better. I drove through Worcester in silence and imagined myself eating an ice cream sundae, but for possibly the first time ever it didn't appeal to me. And then I had the crazy realization that ice cream would not make me feel better. There isn't one sweet treat I can eat, pill I can pop, booze I can swig, or any pair of shoes I can buy that will make the death of my daughter's kitten less painful. Sure, I might forget about it for half an hour, but just like every other hurt, it will always be waiting for me on the other side, and all I can do is live it. Stay in my joy-- feel grief without despair.

So maybe that's my lesson this time. I'm not sure if there's a lesson for Sweet P or lonely, yowling, Shanks. Or maybe there is no lesson at all. Maybe this is just life.










The Rabbit

Scatterghost,
it can't float away.
And the rain, everybody's brother,
won't help. And the wind all these days
flying like ten crazy sisters everywhere
can't seem to do a thing. No one but me,
and my hands like fire,
to lift him to a last burrow. I wait

days, while the body opens and begins
to boil. I remember

the leaping in the moonlight, and can't touch it,
wanting it miraculously to heal
and spring up
joyful. But finally

I do. And the day after I've shoveled
the earth over, in a field nearby

I find a small bird's nest lined pale
and silvery and the chicks—
are you listening, death?—warm in the rabbit's fur.


Mary Oliver







July 15, 2012

The Non-Fiction Poem

Head over to Ploughshares and check out what Lavonne J. Adams has to say about historical poetry.

July 7, 2012

Three Little Poems

I'm very excited to have my poem, "The Conservationist at Night," up at Anderbo and two forthcoming from Generations Literary Journal.

See ya there!

July 3, 2012

Murder at Ploughshares

Check out my review of Jane Springer's Murder Ballad at Ploughshares.

June 26, 2012

The Unpublished Manuscript

My interview with Tarfia Faizullah about the unpublished manuscript is up at Ploughshares. See ya there.

June 22, 2012

Backstory

Here's a little something about the inspiration for my poem, "Piece by Piece" which appeared in this spring's issue of Ploughshares.

Poet Printer Pages

This week at Ploughshares I interviewed Katherine Case, letterpress printing poet extraordinaire. Head on over and say hello. She's a love.

June 6, 2012

The Temperature at which Books Burn

I'm a fan of banned books-- let me be clear: banned books, not banning books.

The best thing about banned books is that they get so much attention, and then everyone goes out to read them-- so fabulous-- except in the town or school where the library doesn't carry that book anymore. That stinks.

I am of the opinion that adults should be allowed to choose to read any old book they please. That's one of the few great things about being an adult: We get to choose (I especially am not fond of bread crust, and I choose not to eat it ever again).

And whatever a kid wants to read, I say let him read on, because today's Captain Underpants may turn into tomorrow's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lord knows I spent a fair amount of time reading Danielle Steel in high school, until I realized every book told the same story, and look at me now bloggity blogging about Fahrenheit 451. Were you wondering when I would get to it?

I never had any desire to read this one, partly because I'm just not attracted to books written by men (and I know this is so unfair of me because some of my all-time favorite books were written by men-- well, I can think of two), and partly because the story itself seems very masculine. It's about a fireman for crying out loud.

I keep forgetting to say fireman. I want to say firefighter because that's one of those PC things that stuck with me-- unlike mailman/letter carrier, which I'll never get right-- but Guy Montag doesn't fight fires, he burns books. Not just banned books, but all books, because in the future where Montag lives, all books are illegal.

Then Montag has a breakdown in which he discovers how books came to be illegal: It's because of the people. They don't want to read anymore. They don't want to think or be unhappy, and the government realizes how handy this could be. The problem is that no one is happy. They're all trying to commit suicide.

It was a frightening little read in terms of where society may be going, and I was very happy I didn't read it while the Bush administration was still doing its dirty little deeds.

Here's a funny thing, though: Some of the characters in the book wear headphones, listening to mindless jabber to keep from thinking. It didn't occur to me, until I read an interview with Ray Bradbury, that headphones hadn't been invented in 1953. He made them up! Also, as he says in the interview, he was aghast the first time he saw someone wearing headphones while walking through the park.

It's Star Trek and the cell phones all over again-- well, I guess Bradbury pre-dates Star Trek by 13 years. Who's counting?

It's not a book I would read again, mostly because I really do like a few more people of the female variety in my books, but it did make me stop and think about modern media in new and interesting ways. It frightened me enough to make me want to finish one New Yorker article instead of just reading the poetry and short stories. Those articles are always so long and tedious!

And for your perusing pleasure: a list of the most controversial books in America since 1900, and another from Amazon of 2008's challenged books. That one is worrisome. I just can't imagine walking into the library director's office in Nampa Idaho to borrow a copy of The New Joy of Sex. Can you?

Don't these lists just make you want to read all of the banned books? Or am I the only one who's wacky like that?

Happy Reading!




June 5, 2012

Write, Read, Eat, Repeat

Head on over to my latest blog post at Ploughshares where Mari L'Esperance, Aimee Suzara, and Florencia Milito discuss the gift of Hedgebrook.

May 30, 2012

Daughters Writing Grief

Head on over to Ploughshares where Wendy Mnookin & I discuss the process of writing about death, grief, and memory.  

May 15, 2012

Ploughshares in Brooklyn

I'll be making a dash, flash, and run trip to Brooklyn for a Ploughshares reading on May 22. If you're in the neighborhood, stop in and say hey. 


Nick Flynn will host the event, and there will be readings by Mary Morris, Maria Venegas, Eric Fair, Kelle Groom, Melissa Sandor, Danielle Blau, Patricia Caspers, Michael Dumanis, Monica Ferrell, Michael Klein, Eileen Myles, Gregory Pardlo, James Tolan, Suzanne Wise, and Ronnie Yates.

May 8, 2012

What's in a Name?

What if you were named after a slave ship? My new blog post about the first African-American poet, Phillis Wheatley is up at Ploughshares

May 2, 2012

April 17, 2012

Ploughshares & Pomegranates

I'm very excited to announce that my first blog post in the series, "Hearing Voices: Women Versing Life" is up at Ploughshares. I had a little chat with Cassie Premo Steele about her new book, The Pomegranate Papers. See ya there!

April 8, 2012

Birthday Poem


This poem won second place in Worcester Magazine's poetry contest. I wrote it for my dad, and I thought I'd post it here because today would have been his 57th birthday. 

Bargain

What I want is an autumn parade
a smackdab November hoopla,
marching bands jazz dancing

“It Don’t Mean a Thing”
up Park Avenue while clowns
cartwheel through harvest leaves
and unicyclers toss candy already
melting in the dusty rain.
I want confetti and me
atop a fairytale pink frosted cake,
my tiara at a jaunty angle, my hands
kiss-waving at you
the only bystander, fluttering
your Happy Birthday flag
in the curt New England wind.
What I want is my name
trailed behind airplanes
in sparkly fuchsia letters, big as sunshine
against the overcast slow-
swagger-toward-winter sky.
And after, I want a surprise soiree
where fountains pee ginger ale and waiters
in black jackets carry crudités and tapenade
and all the people I love cheer
when you play solo harmonica
in the ballad you’ve written just for me.
I want to go back to plump-with-summer June,
take the driver’s seat, take the stash from your pocket.
I want you alive.
I want this to be the year
you call on the anniversary of my birth
and say, I remembered.

March 29, 2012

Women, Poetry & Ploughshares

On the heels of the VIDA count, I'm offering a little love to the fabulousness of women poets by way of blog posts; not at this blog, however. I'm very honored to be guest-blogging once a week at Ploughshares this spring and summer.

Which means, you know, that Fish Head Soup may be a somewhat more neglected than usual. Perhaps not. It's possible I will be so inspired by the women I celebrate over there that I'll have more than ever to say over here.

One is always allowed her fantasies.




March 28, 2012

Living in the Pink

Several people have asked me when I'm going to start eating sugar again. I could say, "I dream I'm eating sugar every night," which is true. Last night I dreamed it was summer, and I had the windows rolled down in my car, the wind in my hair, and I was sipping sweet tea with lemon through a straw. When I realized I was drinking sugar, I decided it was just too delicious to stop.

"I don't know," is my standard reply.

I imagine there will come a time when I'll stop dreaming of sugar, and then I'll know it's ok to eat it. Or maybe I'll be able to picture having a platter of some crunchy sweet confection in the house and not want to eat every last morsel in one go. That may never happen. My friend Sparkle Fairy says it won't. However, I continue to hold out hope.

Another friend, Rocky Mountain Runner, says it took her a year to banish the addiction, and even then she allowed herself one dessert every three months lest it became a Hydra.

I'm not comfortable with not knowing. I think I make quick decisions because the muddle of indecision is so uncomfortable for me. I'd rather make a poor decision and deal with the consequences later-- which, come to think of it, is probably how my daughter was conceived. Thankfully, she turned out OK, and I learned at least one important lesson.

I was plodding along in my sugarlessness, and then we had a wonderful sermon at church about peaceful eating, which made me want to give up meat. I don't think there could be anything as difficult for me as giving up sugar. I never dream of salt, for instance, or gnawing on a chicken bone. I haven't eaten meat in a week.

I've gone meat-free before. I was horrified to learn that a two pound roast creates pollution equal to 150 miles of driving time, and gave it up for a while, but then I slipped, ate some pepperoni (what is pepperoni?) and felt so guilty about it I fell off the chuck wagon. Recently, though, a good friend said of my sugary desires, "Recovery is not perfection, it's progress." I think it applies to meat as well.

I've decided to live in meat limbo. I'm not going to call myself a vegetarian because I may have a local, grass-fed, organic burger one day. Maybe tomorrow. I'm going to commit to progress, not perfection.

This living in the blurry areas is all very new for me as I tend to create strict rules for myself. I was thinking that it's sort of like living in a gray area, but that's too depressing, and I've had enough melancholy for one lifetime, so I'm going with pink: not the red of failure, not the white halo of perfection. Just pink.

Another wise woman (my mother-in-law, whom I'll call Microscopic Mama, because she works with the tools, and not because of her petite stature) once said, "When you're uncomfortable, it means you're growing."

I must be growing a lot. And at the same time shrinking, as I've lost a pant size.


February 21, 2012

On Anger: A Shared Meditation

This week I had the privilege to collaborate with Rev. Leaf Seligman on a meditation on anger which we then shared with the folks at First Parish UU Church in Fitchburg

Leaf
The late poet essayist Audre Lorde wrote that “anger is loaded with information and energy…We cannot allow our fear of anger to deflect us nor seduce us into settling for anything less than the hard work of excavating honesty.” This morning Tricia and I offer a meditation on anger with the hope it is useful to others in the process of excavating honesty. 
Tricia
My daughter and I recently read To Kill a Mockingbird together. In case, like me, you haven’t read it since eighth grade, here’s a quick refresher: Jean Louise (Scout) and Jem Finch are two kids growing up in Alabama in the 1930s. They are raised by their single father, Atticus, a lawyer who is defending Tom Robinson, a black man on trial for rape.

In what I think is one of the most moving scenes in the novel, a mob of angry white men arrives at the jailhouse seeking retribution as they are convinced Robinson is guilty before the trial has begun Atticus is waiting for them armed with only his wits. They will not hear reason and begin to close in on him. It is, in the end, eight-year-old Scout who breaks up the mob by unwittingly singling out among the men the familiar face of someone who is desperately trying to ignore her. She says:

“Don’t you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch. You brought us some hickory nuts one time, remember?”… “I go to school with Walter,” …“He’s your boy ain’t he?”
"Mr. Cunningham was moved to a faint nod. He did know me after all."

Scout continues to chat, and finally her friendliness reminds Cunningham, the reader must assume, that Atticus is a friend to him, they share the common bond of fatherhood, that they are both human, and with that knowledge Cunningham turns home and takes the gang with him.

Later Scout says to Atticus,
“I thought Mr. Cunningham was our friend . . . "
“He still is.”
“But last night he wanted to hurt you . . . "
“Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man.”
Atticus goes on to say, “I don’t want either of you bearing a grudge about this thing, no matter what happens.”
I think of that jail scene and the following conversation often, especially as my anger flares when I see littered hiking trails, inflammatory bumper stickers, or when I hear hate speech on the radio. I envy Atticus’s gift for seeing the good in people, even when he fundamentally disagrees with them, when they spew hatred at him and his family, when they threaten his life. Atticus does not raise his voice in opposition; he rarely quarrels (except with his sister) but instead lives his beliefs quietly and does not back down.

As I discussed the book with my friends who have kids, we agreed that Atticus is the best lesson in good parenting.  When Scout—who would “just as soon jump on someone as look at them if her pride’s at stake”—complains that kids at school are badmouthing Atticus, he tells her, “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down…Try fighting with your head for a change.”

Atticus’s point is that our anger isn’t going to change another person’s beliefs. As much as we’d like to try it sometimes, it’s really not possible to knock the sense into someone. But for some of us Atticus’s peaceful path is a long, strenuous, trail where we try to lead our children, but often find ourselves lost in fury’s forest. 

“Benevolence” by Tony Hoagland:

When my father dies and comes back as a dog,
I already know what his favorite sound will be:
the soft, almost inaudible gasp
as the rubber lips of the refrigerator door
unstick, followed by that arctic
exhalation of cold air;
then the cracking of the ice-cube tray above the sink
and the quiet ching the cubes make
when dropped into a glass.
Unable to pronounce the name of his favorite drink, or to express
his preference for single malt,
he will utter one sharp bark
and point the wet black arrow of his nose
imperatively up
at the bottle on the shelf,
then seat himself before me,
trembling, expectant, water pouring
down the long pink dangle of his tongue
as the memory of pleasure from his former life
shakes him like a tail.
What I’ll remember as I tower over him,
holding a dripping, whiskey-flavored cube
above his open mouth,
relishing the power rushing through my veins
the way it rushed through his,
what I’ll remember as I stand there
is the hundred clever tricks
I taught myself to please him,
and for how long I mistakenly believed
that it was love he held concealed in his closed hand.
Leaf
None of us like anger directed at us. Few of us relish being angry, though sometimes it can energize or distract us from an even deeper pain. I used to fantasize building a Rage-O-Rama for all the mild-mannered folks like me afraid to unleash our anger for fear like Yahweh, we would leave a decimated village behind. I imagined an airplane hangar full of indestructible material to ignite or wallop, with the assurance nothing and no one would get hurt. Before seeking venture capital to build it, I read Thich Nhat Hanh, the wise, gentle, Buddhist monk who counsels instead:


Just like our organs, our anger is part of us. When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves and take good care of our anger. We cannot say, “Go away, anger, I don’t want you.” When you have a stomachache, you don’t say, “I don’t want you stomach, go away.” No, you take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger. When we embrace anger and take good care of our anger, we obtain relief. We can look deeply into it and gain many insights. One of the first insights may be that the seed of anger in us has grown too big, and is the main cause of our misery. As we begin to see this reality, we realize that the other person, whom our anger is directed at, is only a secondary cause. The other person is not the real cause of our anger.”

So what is? This morning, in conversation with Tricia, I offer a theological response.

Anger is a response to anything that threatens our integrity, our wholeness as human beings. In the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures, God is quick to anger. So are humans. Moses liberates the enslaved Hebrew people and marches them into the desert where they angrily complain. But God demonstrates by far the greatest wrath. In the Genesis flood narrative God furiously destroys almost the entire earth. When I look at the source of God's anger, God is broken-hearted with disappointment that human creatures have gone so wrong so God basically says (and I am paraphrasing here,) “to hell with all of you. I will destroy the world,” until somehow Noah finds favor with God so God instructs Noah to build and ark and gather two of every species so that the flood-ravaged world will not be utterly annihilated.

The source of God's wrath is also the source of God's mercy: God so loves the world that God can’t tolerate how humans have mucked it up so God sees the brokenness of creation and like the angry artist who works for years on the painting and then botches it—or maybe the dog comes in, wags its tail and overturns the bucket of paint onto the drying canvas thus damaging the integrity of the work so God infuriated, shreds the canvas into tiny pieces.
In the gospels, Jesus overturns the moneychanger’s tables in the temple and he has harsh words for the Pharisees in Matthew: 
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! ... Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you clean the outside of the cup and plate but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (23:23-5)

Jesus’ anger stems from the fact that humans have failed to fulfill the potentiality of the moment. Anger arises out of disappointment.

 We get angry at parents who abuse us or drink and abuse themselves, at spouses who violate marriage vows or fail to understand us and our needs. We can spend a lifetime consumed with anger toward the abusive adult: the one who shatters a childhood with his or her drinking; the one who breaks a child's spirit, bones, hymen, with force of body.  Anger arises in response to what violates our totality, what diminishes our fullness, or keeps us from achieving it.

If we, like God, carry an image of what can be, we rail against what prevents the "can" from being.
Tricia
Last Sunday R and I went on an early Valentine’s date. As we were driving home I turned on “This American Life” and as we listened to reporter Jack Hitt describe the impact of Alabama’s “self-deportation” law (HB 56) on its residents, I felt my heartbeat quicken, and my throat fill with the heat of tears. The law, passed last fall, is intended to make life so wretched for illegal immigrants that they’ll choose to leave the state, and many people have compared the new Alabama to the early days of Nazi Germany.

When Hitt interviewed the law’s author, Kris Kobach, who continues to support the law despite a plethora of unintended consequences, I found myself spewing hatred at his voice through the car’s speaker. I dare not share the vile things I shouted at him in my mind. 

I wish I could say that was the first time I’ve had those thoughts about someone I’d never met, but it happens all too often. Every day I urge my four-year-old son to use his words instead of his fists, speak kindly, use his big boy voice, find a word other than hate to explain how he feels. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I dread the day he discovers that I am the tree from which he has fallen.

It’s easy to despise a stranger in one moment’s interaction, more difficult to imagine the faceless person in the car that cut me off as somebody’s son or daughter, or a defender of HB 56 as someone with a keen sense of humor who makes a rockin’ cherry pie.

And then there’s the anger that’s harder to let go, the kind that haunts me when a friend or family member has not lived up to my expectations. The people I love seem to suffer the most from unchecked temper, especially as I have been known to carry that anger for decades.

I’m trying to change that. Psychologist Steven Stosny, who works with domestic violence offenders, posits that anger is a mask for another, deeper emotion, and once we are able to recognize and express that other emotion, whether it’s shame, guilt, or pain, from past hurts, the easier it will be to stay calm, to make rational choices. I’m working on it.

My date with R wasn’t ruined, but I’m frustrated with myself for allowing all of that internal negativity into what was an otherwise romantic evening. Next time I’d like to be able to say, “I don’t agree with Kobach’s argument at all, and tomorrow I’m going to sign every petition that I can find to help repeal this law”—which, after my mini-tantrum ended, is exactly what I did. 

The world famous muppeteer, Jim Henson, said, “Kids don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are,” and unfortunately my 15-year-old daughter sees me as someone who is angry and unyielding toward people with whom I disagree. Fortunately, she finds this tendency endlessly frustrating instead of seeing it as something to emulate.

Still, I don’t want to risk passing my spitfire-ish nature on to my son, so I try to examine my anger, seek the deeper, truer, emotion, and let it go quickly. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, but I think back on Atticus Finch saying of Scout’s pugilistic transgressions, “She doesn’t come up to scratch half the time, but she tries…She knows I know she tries, and that makes all the difference.”   
Leaf
If we think about who and what angers us, much of it relates a) to disappointment, to dashed expectations, and b) behavior that fails to recognize the lattice of connection. Like Tricia, I get angry at right-wing hate mongers who ignore reason, people who gun down doctors to protest abortion or shoot people in a church for being liberal. I rail on a regular basis at the long-gone litterers who have trashed my street. I scream at the woman on the radio who says “owning” a wild animal is a property right. What fractures the integrity of a being, what diminishes the totality of our beingness together elicits anger, which functions as a mechanism of self-protection. But because the self is not a separate entity, and that knowing is encoded in us, we, like the divine ones rendered biblically, try to protect the integrity of Creation. 

Anger operates on the micro level when we feel slighted, insulted, or react to disappointment—and the macro-level of ecocide and genocide: the wholesale destruction of the planet and its creatures. Anger refastens us to our connection with the divine, the core creative energy of the universe. If we, like God, know the potentiality for wholeness, if it is infused in our being, it follows that our human renderings of God in Scripture and poetic imagining will project our anger at defilement. And reflect God’s. 


So two millennia later we read depictions of God angry like a disappointed parent who has expended so much energy to lovingly create and raise humans who turn into ungrateful selfish little brats or worse, violent, homicidal maniacs. We recognize in God the pain-soaked rage of a child now grown who knows parents in the fullness of potentiality should be present, attentive, loving—and yet sometimes they fail due to their own brokenness.

And here's the paradox. Anger functions as a protective membrane—activated as a system of alarm when integrity and wholeness are breached, like skin that keeps life-threatening infection from entering the bloodstream. But if the anger is so inflammatory that we are consumed by it, the skin once charred loses its ability to “breathe” so the tissue blackens and dies. Anger is like that; if it becomes all-consuming, it defiles our integrity—because we are no longer able to function at our full potential. Consumed by anger, we lose our capacity to reason and feel compassion.

Thus anger involves balance. It indicates imbalance and yet too much of it, or too prolonged a period of it causes imbalance. Which is what makes anger holy: like God who creates and destroys: who imbues Creation with such grand potential and then gets so frustrated when the potential is unfulfilled. Amen.
We close with the words of the late poet Jane Kenyon:  

Portrait of a Figure near Water

Rebuked, she turned and ran
uphill to the barn. Anger, the inner   
arsonist, held a match to her brain.   
She observed her life: against her will   
it survived the unwavering flame.
The barn was empty of animals.   
Only a swallow tilted
near the beams, and bats
hung from the rafters
the roof sagged between.
Her breath became steady
where, years past, the farmer cooled   
the big tin amphoræ of milk.
The stone trough was still
filled with water: she watched it   
and received its calm.
So it is when we retreat in anger:   
we think we burn alone
and there is no balm.
Then water enters, though it makes no sound. 

January 30, 2012

No Sugar, No Spice: Not So Nice

The Wise Woman (as I will ever after refer to my therapist) said that sugar was masking my emotions, and I wondered how much more emotional I could possibly be. I tear up several times a day while listening to my iPod, and then again in the evening while reading bedtime stories to Buckaroo and Sweet P. Cynthia Rylant's The Old Woman who Named Things gets me every damn time.

I often let my dream life show me where I'm going, or where I've been, and my first sugarless week I dreamed of sweet things, lamenting a half-licked lollipop, or arguing with friends about the merits of Rocky Road. Obvious enough.

It's been twelve days now, and last night I dreamed I was in China. I walked the streets and photographed everything. I couldn't wait to edit the photos, and then to put it all into words. I woke and wanted to run away from home, and since I couldn't run, I wanted to pull the covers over my head and huddle the day away.

I used to pity people who had no desire to travel, people who've always lived in the town where they grew up. I used to look at them as if they were from another planet. Now I think that must be the planet of contentment, and I feel only envy. How must it be to be completely fulfilled with where you are right now? I have glimpses of that, when I'm snuggled up with R and Buckaroo on Saturday mornings or when Sweet P and I are giggling at Glee, when we're all skating on the lake at sunset. Even in those moments, though, I know the morning will come when I want to grab my passport and flee.

I've felt that travel tug while high on Twinkies, though, so I'm guessing the sugar was not deadening that desire so much.

Then as I spread peanut butter and honey on bread for the kids' lunches, I found myself asking: What is wrong with me? It's certainly not the first time I've asked myself that question, but in the past I've always silenced it with a nice hot mocha and a cream puff.


Well, I didn't eat those things, and I still don't have the answer. All I know is that I've hit the crankypants stage of Discovery, as the Wise Woman said I would. I hope it blows over quickly or I may be divorced and friendless by the time it's done.