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Friday, September 12, 2014

Heavy Reading

            I have now FINALLY completed two very long reads: Gabriel García Márquez’ one hundred years of solitude, and Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Embracing Israel/Palestine:A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East.  Reading in these two very different genres at the same time provided challenges of focus for me, but also relief when one book might overwhelm me without having the other for contrast.

            Márquez’ long story of a family in a remote mountain (in the Andes?) in South America was difficult to follow if I tried to keep all the characters straight.  Every generation had similar names, not only for the male lineage, but also for the women in the families.  The founder of the family and the village, José Arcadio Buendía,  and a son, Aureliano Buendía, provide names for multiple descendents through the Arcadio and Aureliano names.   I gave up trying to follow these relationships and simply took delight in the many stories of war and peace, chicanery and loves and sexual activities that were detailed in this lengthy history of the beginning of a village until its destruction a century later.  How Márquez kept the many characters and events straight was indeed a phenomenal achievement.  In fact, his book took a Nobel Prize.  Reading a few chapters at a time was the only way I could manage this voluminous creation, but it was worth the effort.  The humor, the hijinks, the sorrows and tragedies all kept me reading to the end, of over 450 pages.

            In contrast, Rabbi Lerner’s non-fiction study (also around 450 pages) of the disturbing and frustrating relationship between Israel and Palestine, particularly since 1947, held my attention for other reasons.  Lerner’s Network of Spiritual Progressives and his Tikkun Community provide the basis for his current efforts to find a sure path toward healing and community between Israel and Palestine.  In his study of the current situation and a broad historical view leading up to the present, I found this clear account enlightening.  His strategies for healing the relationships between these two people, his detailed steps for ending the terrible conditions that exist for everyone in that land, are a light we could follow successfully if only this effort were realized.

            Reading two books at the same time has become for me helpful in keeping up both with important publications and what I love so much: mysteries and the methods for solving those mysteries.  My current very favorite reading has been with the Canadian author Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series set in Quebec.  I would dearly love to live in Three Pines among all those delightful characters.  Now on the latest of that series I am already sad that another is not waiting in line.  The author recently spent time in Durham, but alas, I was not able to be there to see and hear her.

            Old age is a great time to catch up on the books that were once put aside in deference to required reading for degrees, or for learning skills about writing, or some other Important Reason.  Now I can read what I want, in both Kindle and real book forms.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Field of Childhood

            In my childhood, my literary education was guided by my mother and also my imagination.  The first stories I was acquainted with were those told by my mother while I sat in her lap on a summer evening on the front porch.  She rocked while she told the stories.  Two of them stayed with me, as I asked for them over and over again, during the warm Southern evenings accented by katydids and lightning bugs and the hum of her voice.  There was Lambikins and The Little Red Hen, both of whom outwitted the bad fox every time. The Little Red Hen had scissors with her and cut her way out of the fox’s bag.  I forget how Lambikins escaped, but both used their ability to outwit the evil fox.  I also remember feeling sorry for the fox’s children, when he came home with an empty bag, and they remained hungry.

            When I began to wrestle with the written word, however, my world widened forever.  For my seventh Christmas, I received Eugene Field’s Poems of Childhood from my grandmother.   My mother and I both were captivated by the poems and also the magnificent illustrations by Maxfield Parrish.  Those pictures will always be in my head.  (I also had a Parrish-illustrated play that I loved throughout my growing up.  I don’t know which of our children now has that.) 

            I think the tragic poems still draw me back into Field’s book, as it also did with my mother.  “Little Boy Blue” evokes tears even now: the story of a little boy whose toys were faithful to him and waited for his return even though he had died in childhood.  Legend holds that this was about Field’s son, but his death occurred a year after this poem was written.  The poignant ending continues to have its power:  “And they wonder, as waiting the long years through/In the dust of that little chair,/What has become of our Little Boy Blue,/Since he kissed them and put them there.”

            Another tragic poem is “The Little Peach.”  My mother and I both agreed that this was one of our favorites, despite its sorrow.  Johnny Jones and his Sister Sue take bites from the green peach they knocked down from the tree.  “Under the turf where the daisies grew/They planted John and his Sister Sue,” were the lines that caught me, but all because of the Maxfield Parrish illustration that accompanies the poem.  These two creative “fields” brought me my first fascination with books and poetry.”

            Tragedy is not the sole proprietor of this volume, however.  There are close to 200 pages of poetry collected here.  Only a few have claimed their own fame: “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,”  “Jest ‘Fore Christmas,”  “The Duel” (the battle between the gingham dog and the calico cat), “Seein’ Things at Night.” Many others are light-hearted and fun to read out loud.  I love the lyricism of “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night/Sailed off in a wooden shoe— ” the rhythm captures an essence of our human need for order.  In this poem, the Parrish illustration in its mystic setting provides the right mood for a sleepy child.

            When I wonder how our sense of timing, our joy in particular words and phrasings, the plots of simple stories suited to childhood affect our later use of language, I find the answers in what we heard and read in our first years.  Our ideas form, our manner of speaking and writing, can be traced back to what held meaning for us not only in ideas but in speech patterns and emotions.  These remain with us.  I am grateful for wandering in the Fields.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


            One of the best-known gospel stories has to do with Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes with nothing but five loaves of bread and two fish, offered by some who were among the crowd.  At the conclusion of the event, we are informed that there were leftovers: twelve baskets full of broken pieces.  It was mention of the broken pieces that my attention refocused.  Broken pieces.  Isn’t that what all of us are in this broken world?
            My thoughts go to Israel, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and well, the whole Middle East.  They also go to our own country, in places like Ferguson, Missouri and other places of racial tension and anger and bloodshed.  I think of Greensboro and the poor and hungry residents here.  I think of the violence against women across the country, of families who are broken because of a multitude of reasons . . . we are indeed a broken world.
            Sometimes we take refuge in our Face Book messages, our Twitter accounts, our organizations and places of worship, waiting for the Great Superhero to swoop into our lives and rescue us all.  Sometimes we simply feel so overwhelmed that we withdraw into ourselves, our own needs, our own ideas.  Sometimes instead, we let our vulnerability to the power of others, their words and their wealth, provide escape routes from the realities we live in every day.  We forget our own power, as we cower under the weight of brokenness in our world.  We depend on what is beyond our own strength to make everything right.  The result simply becomes a life that is more broken.  The pieces taunt us and we escape into whatever is available to make us ignore the pain of being broken.
            I strain to recognize where the glue is that will mend our societies, our political structures, our battlefield injuries, our hatreds, our efforts to kill possibilities for change.  I hope that we can lay down the guns of death, both those real and those symbolic of death.  I hope we can discover how to put back together this jigsaw of pieces so that the complete picture will be one of community and progress.  I know it is present somewhere in the maze of disarray and splintered society, and our call is to locate the healing and become what we once dreamed of for our lives together.  Thus endeth my sermonizing for this day.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Heather Ross Miller's newest collection holds poems about her professor (or teacher, as she names him) Randall Jarrell, her birth family and her married family, and observations of what lies around her and in her mind's eye.  Celestial Navigator: Writing Poems with Randall Jarrell connects teacher and student in the work of bringing poems to life, the right word with the right line, the beauty of syllables and of laughter abounding through the lives of Randall and wife Mary.

Miller's classmates at what was then Woman's College of the University of North Carolina, drew upon inspirations that flowed from this poet, forming a unique sorority of young women captivated by a master of our language.  I regret not having met Jarrell, and will be posting another blog about that oversight in my life, but now I want to say bravo to Heather Ross Miller for giving this man back to us in ways we could never do: through her poetry.  

She describes herself in "A Woman Things Happen To" as:
". . . I'm an old woman
who tends the fire, waving aside smoke,
and dipping out the best morsels
so the children can eat."

She introduces her mentor in "Speaking In Tongues" by this stanza:
"Dandelions ripened and flew while I drew
on the sidewalks my hopscotch, world wars,
and fierce new tongues, German, Japanese.
Then when I'd grown and gone to college,
I found a man who spoke these, wrote these,
laughed them out loud, tongues he brought
together in one place, smelting sounds
in a Spartan kind of thing, a poem,
and he said I could too."

And so she could. And so she does still.  You need to read how she responds with her life-long words and poems.  I've given you just a quick taste of what she learned from that Celestial Navigator.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Working with Words

Today is a sunny day, just right for spilling words into it.  When the chaos of the world overwhelms, as it does: Gaza, Israel, Ukraine, Latin America, and leaders try to set things right again: Pope Francis, President Obama, the unnamed peacemakers throughout this world, I feel whelmed over.  
I am a political animal who enjoys writing poems and flash fiction, and a reader of murder mysteries and friends' poetry collections.  I read the newspaper, internet news,watch msnbc, and on the car radio I prefer music stations to news. 
Saying all this, today I need to sit beside Katie, the beagle-jackrussell, and let her bark her little heart away at all the noises in the neighborhood.
The churches are in trouble.  The country is in trouble.  The world is in trouble.  So today I plan to ignore all the troubles, until I come up with a solution.  Or resolution.  My next blog will probably have more to read about.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Labels Can Be Harmful

To begin my blogging again, I'll share this poem written a while ago because it seems to be relevant still, unfortunately:

        First I was, by birthright, a conservative like the
        rest of my family, active in politics of the Right
        during college and fearful of Communists. Then I
        moved leftward after marriage until I claimed with
        pride the label of liberal.  I loved the word and did
        all the things that would put me into the liberal
        camp like make friends with the black community
        during those dangerous civil rights times when to
        question prejudices was unacceptable by the social
        crowd I ran with, and to question the political
        decisions by a Republican President got me in
        trouble and I was no better off because my
        alternate label in those days was radical feminist.
                 Then the L word became a smear from the
                  other side and eventually lost its wings but
                  soon it was modified to white liberal and
                  that was not something to be desired so I
                  changed vocabularies and became a
                  progressive.  A naive progressive.  An
                  innocent progressive.  I was in the
                  progressive wing of the church and a
                  progressive activist in civic organizations
                  and so I progressed.
        Now that label is no good because the word is attached to 
        mystique which morphs into progressive myth which
        leaves some ambiguity but overall I find myself confused
        and unable to fit beneath any label so far except some that
        I will not use lest they too become out of date and

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Time To Return

After a very long hiatus from my blog, I have decided that it is time to start blogging again.  I will be adding posts very soon, and sharing thoughts, activities, and other stuff on here.