Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The more of life

(My messy desk)

I have been feeling guilty about not getting a huge load of homework done this past weekend. And I've also been trying to balance that guilt with the knowledge that I was out of my routine for some really good and wonderful reasons. It was appropriate for me to take time away from homework to take advantage of these good opportunities that came my way to learn new things and bond with people I admire. And yet the guilt lingers.

Yesterday I came across a quote from Amos Bronson Alcott (famous 19th-century reformer and father of Louisa May): "The less of routine, the more of life." So I am walking around with that sentence in my head, repeating it as a mantra and trying to dispel that lingering guilt, trying to affirm that what I did this past weekend was live life! Life offered me some amazing gifts, and I said yes to them.

Here's some of what I lived (and that gave me joy):

A one-day fiber workshop with Judith Mackenzie...

(Here I am with Judith at the end of the workshop.
Do I look crammed full of good info?
Judith is the most patient teacher I know... plus she's a certified fiber goddess.)

(Before and after the workshop I finished spinning some of the Bison roving Judith sells. It is so soft and smushy!)

A one-afternoon visit with Tom Weaver...

(We took him hiking at Gallant Woods, one of the Preservation Parks near town. It was a lovely afternoon!)

(We admired the trees and sky...
and I talked to the horses...)

(there was an event going on that day, with wagon rides...)

(... and we admired the butterflies; this one is a Buckeye, Tom said.
He knows a LOT about our plant, tree, and animal relatives!)

Tom also met briefly with the student team I'm going with to the rez in March of 2011. He taught us a couple Lakota prayer songs, one of which I recognized and had been wanting to learn. It was also good to just hang out with him in our kitchen, cooking some food and talking about families and getting to know each other.

It was a good weekend. Even if I am behind on my paperwork.

Hope you have a chance to experience the more of life soon!


Monday, October 11, 2010

On not celebrating Columbus Day

All day today I kept remembering and then forgetting that it was Columbus Day. When I was a kid, I associated the day with parades in Baltimore and the Little Italy section of the city (and great ethnic food that wasn't the kind my Polish family made). Not that we were all that into celebrating the day--we were Polish, after all, not Italian, when we expressed our ethnic selves.

(a replica of one of Columbus's ships, docked in Columbus, Ohio)

But now the holiday means something different to me. I see Columbus's landing as the beginning of an American holocaust, and the biggest event in modern times: the meeting between the people of the Americas and the people of Europe. (Of course, shortly thereafter, the people of Africa were taken here against their will to replace the native slave laborers who'd been killed off in droves in the Caribbean islands, including Haiti/Hispaniola, Columbus's original landing place.)

Nowadays I tend to focus not on a celebration of a "discovery" (what an incredible misnomer!), but on thinking about what we lost when millions of people were killed--by disease, famine, war, and colonialism--in the Americas. I think about the knowledge we lost: what the indigenous people knew about this land, its animals and plants, its waterways, its seasons, its hundred-year rhythms. I think about the songs they sang, the stories they wrote, the art they made, the stars they mapped. I think about how they understood their place in relation to the universe--Mother Earth, Father Sky, the divine all around us, the divine within us. I think about how they had everything they needed to create a good life in this place, on this land, with the people they loved.

And I mourn. Because the people who were my ancestors didn't know how to listen, and because so much was lost.

And I remember, too, that native people are still here, still singing songs and telling stories and making art and mapping stars. (For example, listen to poet Margaret Noori read her beautiful and compelling poetry in Ojibwe here.) Native people are still teaching those who will listen how we can be in relationship with the plants and animals and waterways here, and with the land itself, and with the divine spirit that lives in this place.

I want to remember and listen. I am ready to learn.


Friday, October 8, 2010

On not writing poetry

Every once in a while, I get what I think is a good idea for a poem. Only I don't write poetry, so I haven't a clue how to begin, and mostly I think the results would be bad. So those ideas just sit somewhere in my brain, not realized but still there. And they haunt me a little bit. They don't really evaporate, but nothing really comes of them either; it's kind of like they're in limbo.

Maybe someday I will write short essays about them. But really, they're supposed to be poems, I think.

Here are some ideas that I think would make good poems...

-- The kid across the street from us has grown into a high school senior. When we first moved here, he was a little younger than my son is now, and kind of gawky, definitely a little kid though on the tall side. He went through a rather goofy-looking young-teenager stage, and now before our very eyes, he has become an adult human, tall and poised and more graceful than he used to be, but definitely still a teenager. He drives a car and has a girlfriend and is visiting colleges. He's still a little shy. I look at him and I wonder about my son's next 8 years, wonder what he'll look like and how he'll move and what he'll spend his attention on and what will make him laugh and what will make him angry. I see this kid across the street and I wonder about my son and who he'll become as he becomes an adult.

(Here's my boy, by a lake in Minneapolis, his totem animal just over his shoulder.)

-- There's an art installation in back of the NMAI called "Always Becoming," by Nora Naranjo-Morse.

It features structures--smaller scale--that represent traditional native buildings; they're all made from materials that are designed to disintegrate. The art is supposed to dissolve, be impermanent.

And it's in sight of the Capitol. (Here's a photo that shows you the juxtaposition.)

The contrast is there, sure, but it's almost too easy, and repeats some comparisons that people have been making for centuries. (In my classes we talk about the rhetorics of "civilized" and "savage" that has facilitated the processes of colonization for the past, oh, 500+ years...)

What strikes me as more interesting, and probably a more provocative idea, is that the piece also tells us about endurance, survival, perseverance. Those native living structures mean, for me, that native people are still here, in the place that seems to have nothing to do with them, and in fact was the site of various violent plans to wipe them out or benevolent plans help them to leave behind their "benighted" ways, and all of those plans disastrous. The poem would have to include some play on the word "house"...

-- The sky on the prairie. It makes me feel small, and yet it makes me feel a part of the earth, a part of the sky, connected and observing. It's wondrous, and I'm a witness. Here are some photos...

... though of course my camera couldn't capture what it feels like when you've got sky in 360 degrees.

-- And the prairie grass. Someone needs to write a poem about the prairie grass...

... how it's like the sea, how it whispers on a windy day, how it shows you where the wind is going, how it smells...

Once upon a time, when I lived in San Francisco, my friend Jane told me about her attempts to write a poem about what it sounded like when she heard a whale surface and breathe. Yes, it's like that: trying to say something that you know is important and deserves the best, most beautiful language possible.

I hope you find all the words you need today.