writing about flowers

It has been months since I posted here, for reasons far too numerous to mention. In any case,  today’s Poem-a-Day from Academy of American Poets spoke to me so deeply that I decided to break my silence by sharing it here.

This question of writing about flowers is in fact very near and dear to my heart. The need arises in all of us who live close to the earth, to the heart, to what pulses through and connects all of life. As a poet, I love the idea of writing a bouquet of poems arising from a common seed. I also love the sublte metaphor and its shift through the poem. It draws me into multiple layers of meaning. [Clearly, my weeklong poetry workshop wtih Marge Piercy is still with me!] And, of course, I love how a simple experience can evoke such a powerful poetic response.

How Can Black People Wriet About Flowers at a Time Like This,
by Hanif Abruddaqub

dear reader, with our heels digging into the good
mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something
about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself
but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown
& lord knows I have been called by what I look like
more than I have been called by what I actually am &
I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this
exercise, which, too, is an attempt at fashioning
something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anytning
worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics
arrive to the tongue first, say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather
clock, he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent
heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning,
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.

The poet writes of this poem:

I was at a reading shortly after the election, and the poet (who was black) was reading gorgeous poems, which had some consistent and exciting flower imagery. A woman (who was white) behind me—who thought she was whispering to her neighbor—said ‘How can black people write about flowers at a time like this?’ I thought it was so absurd in a way that didn’t make me angry but made me curious. What is the black poet to be writing about ‘at a time like this’ if not to dissect the attractiveness of a flower—that which can arrive beautiful and then slowly die right before our eyes? I thought flowers were the exact thing to write about at a time like this, so I began this series of poems, all with the same title. I thought it was much better to grasp a handful of different flowers, put them in a glass box, and see how many angles I could find in our shared eventual demise.

Does it speak to you in some way?

 

earthday greetings

'with all of life' by Deborah Koff-Chapin

‘with all of life’ by Deborah Koff-Chapin

Two of my favorite inspirations greeted me this Earth Day morning. First, Mary Oliver’s wonderful poem, thanks to Writer’s Almanac, resonated with me instantly as the only sane way to start the day. Immediately following,  Deborah Koff-Chapin’s hauntingly moving image in honor of the day. I just happened to see both first thing today!

Although I have been absent from this page for weeks, it is not for lack of inspiration; rather, for being awash in it. But the only way out is through – as true with managing inspiration as anything else, it seems. And so, in the spirit of moving forward gently, with presence and as much consciousness as we can muster, may you also begin your day thus.

I HAPPENED TO BE STANDING
by Mary Oliver

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

“I Happened To Be Standing” by Mary Oliver from A Thousand Mornings. © The Penguin Press, 2012.

PS Yes, I know, Earth Day was several days ago. However, it was while attempting to post this entry that I learned my site had been disabled. And it took most of the week to get it back online. Having put the time into this post after so long away, I decided to go ahead and share it with you. Besides — shouldn’t EVERY day be Earth Day?!!!

happy birthday parker palmer!

credit - center for courage and renewal

credit – center for courage and renewal

Thanks to Diana Chapman* for this loving tribute to Parker Palmer, who turns 75 today. He has inspired a generation of leaders and teachers by work and example. I first met him during my training for Women Writing for (a) Change and have continued to be inspired by his work, his words, and his wisdom. Check him out. You’ll be glad you did!

“As we humans come to terms with the reality of what we have wrought, we will need nothing less than all of what you have taught. We will need the personal courage to face the shadows within and beyond. We will need ‘communities of congruence’ to help us nurture “a knowledge that springs from love,” a knowledge, as you have written, that can ‘wrap the knower and the known in compassion, in a bond of awesome responsibility as well as transforming joy,’ a knowledge that can ‘call us to involvement, mutuality, accountability.’

And this, in the end, is what it means to be human. You, my dear friend Parker, have shown us how to hold on to that fragile thread whatever storms may rage around us, to reach out, and keep reaching out, and keep weaving real connections.

So happy 75th birthday, Parker J. Palmer, from all of your fans, all of your friends, from all of us who carry your loving — laughing — presence, always, in our minds and hearts.”

Diana Chapman Walsh was President of Wellesley College from 1993 to 2007, and is now active on a number of boards including the Mind and Life Institute and MIT.

evergreen self-care

self-care

credit – lisa a mccrohan

I love the concept of ‘evergreen’ content. Probably because I live among perennials – concepts as well as plants.

Take self-care, for instance. This entire blog is about self-care: staying present to life; appreciating/sharing beauty; protecting the fragile; midwifing empowerment; finding humor and humility in small things; becoming …

This morning I came across a piece of evergreen content written a full year back on Everyday Feminism – about self-care. In keeping with my Wednesday posting theme of ‘wise words,’ I share excerpts below, with credit and thanks to Sarah Ogden, who writes :

… The world is an especially exhausting place for those of us who work to fix it, for those of us who strive to live kindly and consciously. … – when you give a piece of yourself to someone or something else, you have to replace it with something new.

…The point of self care isn’t to try cookie-cutter techniques … but to really explore what it is that we need and to find ways to provide ourselves with the fuel that we require and deserve in order to do this work of existing.

…How can we act in meaningful ways to take care of ourselves to make our important work more sustainable?

1. Acknowledge That Things Are Hard

There is incredible power in nam[ing] your experience. Not only is it validating to hear your own voice claim what exists in your bones, it is also important for those around you to be aware of what you’re going through.

2. Ask For Help

When we can identify our needs and ask another person to help us meet these needs, we work to build intentional community around the concept that we are all connected and moving through this work and earth together.

3. Accept Vulnerability

… the reality is that vulnerability is actually a strength – it is a reminder that we are real and authentically ourselves. It reminds us that we are very much alive and that we are doing the work that we need to do to make this world what it should and can be.

4. Cultivate a Routine that Involves Both Rest and Play

… Whatever rest looks like for you, find a way to include it in each day. The same goes for play. Whether you play soccer on a team or a card game with your neighbor, find a way to play.

5. Do What Is True To You

Talk about what matters to you. Write about what you think is most important. Act in ways that feel the most authentic to who you are and who you want to be. … When we reject others’ expectations and make choices about our actions (professional, volunteer, recreational, whatever!) that are in accordance with our own deepest values and goals, we make the world and ourselves more whole.

What are your favorite forms of self-care? Do they depend on what’s going on around you? Or are there some things that are part of every day no matter what?

passion within

photo of book coverToday’s WP Daily Prompt asks about appearances. I am deeply involved in helping bring Full Circle Festival to fruition this April in Burlington VT, celebrating the heart and art of aging. Do appearances matter? Not to us! My interview with author Jane Buchan takes the conversation to a deeper level. May her perspective open your eyes beyond the mirror!

SWB:  This is the 30th anniversary of your novel, Under the Moon, a novel “begun in the intemperate fires of outrage when I was in my late-twenties… (in) response to the evils of segregating people according to age…” You lament that not much has not changed in the past 30 years.

JB:  The most troubling aspect of growing old in our culture is the assumption that at a certain age, or with the onset of a certain condition, we are no longer capable of making wise decisions for ourselves. The aging story we all live with is that adulthood grants us control over our lives.  Yet once we’re vulnerable, this cultural bias places us on an unstoppable decline into ‘less than.’ Many believe this negative view because anti-elder propaganda is so pervasive.  As we grow older – to borrow a vivid metaphor from My Dinner with Andre we’re conscripted into building the prison of ageism by assuming our doctors and family members are correct about our decline and need for medical intervention.

Edna, Under the Moon’s protagonist, capitulates to her daughter’s insistence that she move to a retirement home to be “safe.”  Edna realizes her mistake as soon as she moves into Sunset Lodge because she recognizes that an overly medicated, sterile, hyper-regulated life is no life at all. There are exceptions of course, but generally the ageism of thirty years ago has grown worse with more drugs available to “manage” residents and more regulations in homes designed for staff convenience and cost effectiveness, a euphemism for maximum profits.

SWB: You say “modern consumer society invented the ‘senior citizen’ to capitalize on that great motivator of spending, fear … ” Tell us a bit about alternatives to fear as a motivator for those not yet familiar with your work. 

JB:  Consciousness is always the most effective alternative to fear. We lose physical strength and speed as we age. This does not mean we have a disease that is about to do us in.  When we view growing old as an opportunity to learn from the wisdom schools, the natural world, and men and women who continue to define themselves until they draw their last breath – think Margaret Mead, Doris Haddock, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and closer to home, of Madeline Kunin and Bernie Sanders – we align with the life in us, not the fear. Amazing faculties emerge as we move into our final decades:  the ability to form highly complex global perspectives, the sense of connection to all that is, and the capacity for deep reflection.

SWB: Has your recent research suggested specific directions for change or improvement ahead? If not – what would YOU as a positive change agent like to see in your lifetime?

JB:  I hope Under the Moon will help to inspire aging conversations among diverse populations.  As more of us move into old age, we have the opportunity to discover our collective wisdom.   Until now, we’ve pretty much accepted the ‘Consumer’ label of the 1970’s, and readily follow anti-aging trends as if these are more valid than our actual experiences and desires. Given our present cultural choices, it is far too easy to accept that we either beat aging with surgery and drugs, or we capitulate to aging with surgery and drugs.

Once we’ve dismantled the cultural view of aging promoted in the media, we can tune in to the amazing reality of what it means to be an aging being on our beautiful Earth.  Some elders are creating their own group living arrangements, often in modest spaces with gardens, open kitchens, and shared resources.  A little more common are long-term facilities where pets, gardening, and the arts are becoming an integral part of institutional life. Now more than ever before, people in their sixties and seventies are talking about pioneering new living arrangements that support individual choice, lifelong learning, and a variety of solutions to common aging problems. Those who can are choosing retirement residences that allow for complete autonomy until nursing care becomes necessary.  However, residences supporting autonomy are few and far between, and their high costs make it unlikely they will become the norm.

We are on the cusp of great change, both as an aging society and as overly medicated citizens. Alternative medicine practices – acupuncture, massage, energy medicine, yoga, naturopathy, and the like – are helping people establish connections with their inner states of being rather than mask symptoms that are actually helpful messengers of important physical changes.  More of us are choosing these alternatives as complementary to necessary medical interventions.

Learning the health benefits of exercise, growing and eating local organic foods, and participating in skills’ exchanges to support sustainability and resilience, all can help us to refute the view that life is finished with us at a certain age.  I once stood within the hollowed out trunk of a thousand-year-old yew. Despite its thousand years, it hosts birds and squirrels, perfumes the air, enriches the earth, and feeds human spirit.  Before I die, I hope to meet hundreds of thousands of people who identify with ancient, life-giving trees as they age.

SWB: Your website www.winterblooms.net offers a delicious array of tools and inspiration for empowered aging in a soothing and inviting design.  How do you make the translation from training to leadership in your offerings?

JB: I am passionate about dance, energy tools, and journal keeping as methods of maintaining my healthiest aging self. These tools are what I offer others to prevent on-the-job compassion fatigue and a general loss of joie de vivre. Each participant in a workshop or gathering is deeply involved in her or his own life. Yet each needs rejuvenation, broader perspective, some tools for deeper self care.  I offer very simple but highly effective tools to influence the positive daily flow of personal energies.  After an evening or a weekend, participants tell me they feel far more centered, optimistic, and peaceful than before; and best of all, more comfortable in their own skin and more empowered to remain so.

SWB: You write that Edna “becomes the change in her own unique way.”  What ‘advice’ might you give to someone in later life to be the change, uniquely or otherwise?

JB:  Live your passion. I often ask participants, “What are you passionate about?  After an initial “Oh, I don’t know …” people erupt with a flow of insight about how our children are overscheduled, or the terrible food served in hospitals, or the dangers of climate change, or the assaults on our water supply, or the appalling conditions in prison.  For me, a person’s passion is the link to her Higher Self, that all-wise Being who recognizes, “This isn’t the place for me,” or asks, “I wonder why I didn’t find this place of service sooner.”

Passion – for liberating bodies or spirits, for growing interconnected communities, for nurturing plants and animals, for creating sacred space, for repairing quilts and neighbourhoods, for building friendships and sustainable dwellings, for singing songs, for dancing alone and in groups, for storytelling – passion holds the key to our joyful involvement in making the world anew. Many Boomers grew up with Depression Era fears of scarcity. We learned to postpone what we loved as responsible citizens doing all we could to make the world a better place through duty. In the process, many of us lost touch with our unique passion.  As we enter later life, we have the opportunity to rediscover our passion and channel it into creating a world that will survive current environmental, social, and spiritual crises, a world we will be proud to leave to future generations.