Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Six Months of Sunrise: Joyous Feasts of Light

Six months ago come Christmas Day my husband and I moved from our house in the woods in the fold of a stream valley to High Valley. Because of the pond (affectionately known as Lake Almosta) there is much more sky, much more places from which to observes the comings and goings of great celestial bodies. It has become my practice to go outside and greet the sun every morning, veiled in clouds or not. It has been thrilling to track the sun’s journey to the southeastern sky and my own corresponding trek around the pond to catch the first light. 

Winter cold has not been a deterrent, and I have discovered that no matter how unpromising the dawn looks from inside, outside it is always an event. The birds agree, and I always look to see which ones are gathered in the bare top of the tallest spruce, which accommodates hawks, crows, and sparrows by turns.

 Many people see dawn because they have to commute. All three of my jobs are right here, so I get to see the sunrise only because I want to. Sometimes I think it matters, that greeting the sun is one of our tasks as humans. The practice has changed my life and gotten me through a major depression, which now seems to be lifting. When I can, I watch the sunset, too.

 If I ran for president (or perhaps ruler of the world) my platform would be simple. Everyone stop everything at sunrise and sunset. Just be still and remember where you are: riding through bright dark unfathomable immensity on a whirling, circling, beautiful bit of dust.

I close with some December poems in the form of tanka (5-7-5-7-7 syllables)
Wishing you all joyous feasts of light as the year dawns!

 outside my window
the intricacy of trees
by winter revealed
black sinuous branches bared
leaf-bereft, ablaze with stars


whatever weather
all mornings are beautiful
when you are outside
this one: grey, soft as my cat
warm wind swirling clouds and trees 

moon and sun

across the dance floor
bright dim dawn and evening skies
the two dancers gaze
moon and sun in earth’s dark wings
bathed in their love light I spin 


winter made a rough draft
a sketchy sheet of thin ice
erased by warm rain
now back to the blank wet pond
with a cold determined wind

triple sunrise

first clearing earth’s rim
then one cloud and another
thrice I greet the sun
each time the brightest of stars
a match struck to light the world

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Secrets Lives: Interview with Barbara Ardinger, Part Two

Welcome to the second half of my interview with Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. We are talking about her newly released novel Secret Lives and its host of bodicious characters from the ages of thirteen to "pert near a hundred."

(Attention last minute shoppers. Here's the link to buy Secret Lives!)

Secret Lives has an interesting structure. There are themes and characters that thread through the whole book, but each chapter has a distinct focus on a distinct issue—new love for an older character, a rocky moment in the marriage for a younger one; her daughter’s coming of age; homelessness; medical malpractice; cancer, to name only a few. Then there are the less quotidian problems—some misplaced Norns from the Midwest wreaking havoc with the weather. Can you say a little about how you chose the novel’s structure? Were there elements in the story that took you by surprise?

The book comprises twenty-seven braided stories. I began by writing the story that became Ch. 1, then more characters appeared and I wrote more stories. Yes, some of the elements did surprise me—the inquisitor, Jacoba’s cancer. Madame Blavatsky was a very loud surprise. I did not expect a talking cat. Friends also made suggestions as I wrote. One friend said Bertha should have been a stripper when she was young; another friend suggested what happens to her as the book progresses. Another friend suggested karmic fleas as a result of Blavatsky’s mischief and the circle’s reversing spell. People said Millie was boring, so I gave her a mid-life crisis. I love to write revisionist fairy tales, so that’s where Celestia Wolfe came from, plus the letter she delivers (which still brings tears to my eyes when I read it) is the denoument of an earlier story. I met some older women who were active volunteers with senior citizens, and one of them mentioned that old women often get sold out of their homes, so that was the beginning of Sarah Baxter’s story. Hannah’s dream of the floors falling out of her mother’s house comes from nightmares I had after my beloved grandfather died. One day I saw a pile of rags under a bush in the city of Orange, and when I bent down to look closer, I saw eyes looking back at me; that tiny incident turned into Coyote’s story. There are “real life” elements in every story. But at the same time, the characters dictated and acted out the stories. It’s magical realism plus the craft of writing.

To this day, I have no idea quite where the weather war came from. I don’t know anyone who has been in and steered a cone of power. I needed to make the Wintergreens’ threat against the circle real enough to wound the women and lead to the final diaspora that ends the book. (Secret Lives is thus bookended by diasporas. We need to be outward bound, and the cliché that when a door closes another one opens is true.)

Writing the weather war was the hardest work in the whole book. I had to make it dramatic and scary without turning it into a cartoon or a really bad 3D movie. I chose to see the war through Brooke’s eyes because she’s young and strong, but also intellectual and highly unlikely to have any experience in magical warfare. I also had to tie Matthew more closely to her and the circle, so he became a warrior in service to the crones. I don’t know how many times I rewrote those three chapters. The Wintergreen sisters were also hard to write because I didn’t want them to be foolish, though I knew someone who spoke in malapropisms like Hazel, and I bet everyone has met a flirt like Myrtle. But the Norns are scary! Those three chapters had to show authentic destruction. As the women tell us, a life worshipping the Goddess is not necessarily an easy life. It’s not all pretty rituals and fancy jewelry.

Although I would never describe Secret Lives as didactic, you convey a lot of information about how people practice earth or goddess-centered religion. One poetic thread of the story traces the journey of a shaman from what you call Old Europe. There is also a marvelous send up of a metaphysical church and of a Gardnerian coven that takes itself a bit too seriously. Was giving accurate information on practices many people misunderstand or vilify a strong motivation for writing the novel? Would you tell us a little about your own practice?

There are fifteen rituals in Secret Lives that readers can adapt to their circles … though I’m pretty sure they won’t successfully create any dragons. (Readers—if you do get a dragon, please let me know!)

The prologue, set in Old Europe, is based very carefully on the works of Marija Gimbutas and was corrected by my friend Miriam Robbins Dexter, the protégée of Gimbutas. Old Europe is, basically, the Balkan nations near the Black Sea, plus early Greece. The invasion of the warriors from the Russian steppes is also historically accurate. It’s how the sky and storm gods (Zeus, Jehovah, et al.) came to us.

In my time, I have studied the Aramaic Bible with Dr. Rocco Errico, plus Theosophy and Rosicrucianism. I once belonged to the Edgar Cayce association (I got a nice kiss on the cheek from one of Cayce’s sons). I have taken refuge with Dagmola Jamyang Sakya, been initiated as a Dianic witch by the Circle of Aradia in Los Angeles, and created and facilitated numerous public and private rituals. Today, I’m pretty much solitary (Cairo explains that solitaries don’t belong to organized circles or covens), though I get around. I have friends who are Gardnerians and members of other traditions who shared what they could with me. To this day, a lot of people seem to think that witches are New Age practitioners. Pagans and New Agers have some things in common and borrow a lot (often from each other), but they’re not the same. Explaining the differences is one reason for the chapter about Rev. Debbee and the psychic fair that Bertha and the cat turn into a vaudeville show. (Another reason is that it’s just plain funny and was fun to write.) A friend in the UK who reviewed Secret Lives said she’d met Rev. Debbee (or someone very much like her) at Glastonbury. I think anyone who has ever been to a mainstream metaphysical church has met Rev. Debbee and Gwennie and maybe Donnathea. We see them every day.

One of my intentions in Secret Lives was indeed to teach readers to distinguish between witches (who worship only the Goddess) and neopagans (who worship gods and goddesses) and Gardnerians (who are in the lineage invented by Gerald Gardner) and the mainstream metaphysicians and New Agers. I explain more of this in the FREE READER’S GUIDE. A good friend who is a third-degree Gardnerian gave me information on Gardnerian rituals, but I got the invocations from a website, so there’s nothing oath-bound in the novel. I’m hoping that mainstream readers will enjoy the stories and learn something from them at the same time.

One conflict between the women in the circle is about how open to be, how much or little to reach out to other groups. Emma Clare, the matriarch of a lineage that goes back for generations, is particularly adamant about remaining hidden because her family has suffered persecution. I don’t want to give away plot, but I will say I very much appreciate that you do not sugarcoat the old ways. Did you ever know anyone like Emma Clare? Did you do research to create her character’s background?

No, I’ve never met anyone exactly like Emma Clare, but I went to college in southeast Missouri (the college I call Sagamore State is really Southeast Missouri State University, which was still a college when I was a freshman) and got to know people from the Ozarks. The people of those old mountains have a rich and honorable history. I also did a lot of real library research to get Emma Clare’s Ozark dialect correct and to get the customs in the flashbacks correct. There were “witch women” and conjurers, so Mammy Annis could be based on reality. (There’s also an obvious allusion to the movie The Wicker Man.)

Emma Clare’s obsession with “keeping shet” is real. Even today, Christian fundamentalists picket our rituals held in public parks. (When the Dalai Lama was in Long Beach early in 2011, two bearded men were picketing him, too.) I’ve been harassed myself. Emma Clare’s fear is real, and in 1989-90, neopagans were in real danger in some parts of the U.S. Maybe not so much today, but I listen to the news and hear people like Glenn Beck and the Republican candidates, and say to myself, “Emma Clare was right. Nothing has changed.” Emma Clare looks very much like my ex-husband’s great grandmother, who was 100 years old when I met her in Dexter, Missouri, in 1962. BTW, the story about the Volkswager is true; it happened to me in 1967.

There is a wealth of wonderful, memorable characters in this novel, who, as you note, are as real in their way as we are. Are there any you identity with especially? Were there some that were harder to write than others? Did you do a character study of each one first or did that emerge as the story unfolded? Please give us a little taste of what it might be like to be part of that circle.

One of my favorite characters is Bertha, the circle’s trickster and clown. She gets away with things I wish I could do. But I don’t know anyone who is as powerful as she is. Like Cairo and Brooke, I’m one of the Goddess’s thoughty devotees. (Brooke’s Ph.D. dissertation is my Ph.D. dissertation on Cleopatra.) I’ve known very practical women like Sophie, Verlea is very much like several black women I’ve known, and Herta has elements of my grandmother.

Some people ask how I kept track of so many characters. I made lists! I have lists of their birthdays, of their husbands, of their back stories. I made lists of who was present in any given scene so I didn’t assign dialogue to someone who wasn’t there. For the reader’s convenience, I put a list of characters in the front of the book so readers will know who’s who. Seventeen members of the circle, plus the cat and a ghost. Twenty-seven friends and relatives, including Emma Clare’s ancestors and the shaman. Twenty-four “others,” including Rev. Debbee, two residence managers, the doctor, and more dead people.

Some of the minor characters were harder to write because at first they were less real. I wanted to make Rosa, for example, as three-dimensional as anyone else. Likewise the nurses and Rita and Geneva, the two women who organize the residents of the Towers. It was easy to write Elsie’s asthma attacks (been there, done that), and the black goddess that appears in the prologue and who Jacoba sees in the hospital came to me in the hospital when I had a near-death experience after an asthma attack in 1992. The shaman surprised me when she came back and walked across Europe. I have no idea how she has lived to be 6 ½ thousand years old. But she turned out to be significant—she helps in the weather war and appears in the novel’s final climax when the senior citizens watch the villain get what he deserves. Oh—and that villain … he was suggested by an engineer I once met on a technical writing assignment. Nankhani talks just like him. And, yes, I totally share Cairo’s view of the Super Bowl.

The characters that were the most fun to write were the cat and Frances J. Swift, the residence manager who talks like every corporate memo we’ve ever read. She is redundancy incarnate. But ya gotta feel sorry for her when Madame Blavatsky embodies the Cheshire Cat and starts haunting her. Matthew, the Green Man, was also fun to write; he’s so sexy he almost took over the second half of the book. He has, I confess it, elements of my boy friend when I was writing Secret Lives.

Everything in Secret Lives is real, both real in the sense of older women coping with a society that doesn’t necessarily respect them and magically real. I have been honored to live with them.

Thank you, Dr. Ardinger, for giving us a glimpse into the rich world of Secret Lives. If there is a question haven’t asked that you would like to answer, please do! Also, please include any information you’d like to share about your work as an editor and urls for your website and blogsite!

My day job is editing for beginning authors who are smart people with good ideas but don’t know how to get their ideas down in readable form. They don’t want to embarrass themselves in print, and so they hire me to help them.  http://www.barbaraardinger.com/youreditor  

My hopes for Secret Lives are that (1) I’ll get a return on my investment in it and (2) lots of smart pagan women and smart mainstream women will buy and read it and love the women in the circle as much as I do.

My website: http://www.barbaraardinger.com

My Facebook Secret Lives page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Secret-Lives/140993335978461

I write a blog every month about the time the sun sign turns. I post it on my home page. Just scroll down. http://www.barbaraardinger.com/

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Secret Lives: interview with Barbara Ardinger, Part One

Night after night I savored Barbara Ardinger’s newly-released novel Secret Lives as a comfort and a treat. The women of the circle welcomed me in as I shared their concerns, their joys, their friendships and their wild and practical magic. Full of wit and warmth, Secret Lives deftly explores a host of timeless and timely issues and in particular gives us an original and compassionate view of older women. I am pleased to offer this interview with my friend and fellow author Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. Welcome, Barbara!

I’m so glad to “talk” to you. We can share with your readers that I’ve reviewed all of Maeve’s books and I interviewed you (again via email) when one of them came out. I think that was in The Beltane Papers.

You are a prolific writer and have published many works of nonfiction. Is there a difference in your writing process between fiction and nonfiction?

I have the covers of all eight of my books in plastic frames in a column on a wall in my office. Seeing Solutions is about six inches off the floor. Secret Lives is three inches below the ceiling. I’m gazing at this “ego wall” as I write this.

My first book was Seeing Solutions, published as a mass market paperback in 1989. It was a book on guided visualization and more mainstream metaphysical than Goddess spirituality. Next came A Woman’s Book of Rituals & Celebrations (hardcover, then paperback, 1992 and 1995). New World Library asked me to rewrite the Goddess movement history half of it in 2000 as Practicing the Presence of the Goddess. The title says what it’s about. It’s going to available in a Kindle edition pretty soon. Goddess Meditations (1999) was the first book devoted to meditations on various goddesses, including goddesses that I identified with the chakras (up the column from the root chakra—Baba Yaga, Hathor, Oya, Kuan Yin, Sarasvati, the Cumaean Sybil, and Sophia). The book was, alas, taken out of print, but I still get fan mail from readers! I’d love to rewrite it and get it published again.

Next came my first novel, Quicksilver Moon (2003), which is about a coven of witches in Orange Co., where I lived when I first moved to Southern California, that is under attack by an extremist preacher. It’s very realistic … except for the Goddess-worshipping vampire who teaches the women to defend themselves and ends up killing the preacher. I could drive you to the site of nearly everything in the book (well, except for the scene in hell), and most of the characters live in houses where my friends have lived. And the vampire drives a friend’s car. Quicksilver Moon is set in 1999, and Rev. Donnathea, a minor character in Secret Lives, is a major character.

My next two books were nonfiction. Finding New Goddesses (also 2003) is a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias with goddesses I made up. Like Chi-Chi, the goddess of feng shui, and her evil twin, Sha-Na-Na. Verbena, the goddess of wordplay. Chocolata and Vibrata, the goddesses of ecstasy. Pagan Every Day (2006) is a daybook with an essay for every day, including leap year and a year and a day. It’s not just for pagan readers, however; I also wrote about Christian saints, Jewish holy days, the Prophet Mohammad (on the same page as Le Petit Prince), and holy days of the Buddhist, Hindu, and other calendars. It’s in this book that I also named Miss Piggy as The Goddess of Everything, and I wrote a little prayer to Barbie

Hail, Barbie, full of grace,
Mattel is with thee.
Blessed art thou among dolls
And blessed are thy multitudinous accessories.
Holy Barbie, girlfriend of Ken,
Play with us now
And as long as plastic and fabric will last, amen.

You can see that I like parody as well as puns.

When I’m writing nonfiction, I do a lot of research, some online but mostly in books that I own. I pile the books around me and use Post-Its with notes on them for bookmarks.

I think our process for writing fiction is similar. I watch and listen to the characters and act as their amanuensis. But I’m in charge of the craft of writing! I’m in charge of syntax, punctuation, spelling, etc. Like Maeve, the characters in Secret Lives are real women—in their own magical reality, which is not quite this reality. Madame Blavatsky really is the famous occultist transmigrated. (I explain this in the FREE READER’S GUIDE on my website.) At the same time, the characters share characteristics with people I have known in this life. This is not schizophrenia. It’s magical realism. It’s how authors like you and me live and work. I remember that we talked about our craft while we walked around Greenwich Village when I was in New York a few years ago. We work very hard and (not to brag) we’re both very good at what we do. That’s ’cause we’re both fussbudgets.

When you began writing Secret Lives twenty-plus years ago, what moved you to write about a circle of older women many of whom live in a residence for senior citizens? Though your age remains a mystery and indeed you may not have aged at all, do you feel that your vision was prescient? Did you do much rewriting for the newly-published version of Secret Lives?

Who can remember twenty years ago? I have two or three versions of the genesis of Secret Lives. That was about the time Barbara Walker’s The Crone came out, the first book on the subject, and Caroline Harrison (a professor at the Claremont colleges) had just invented the croning ceremony. Also Jessica Tandy had just won her Oscar (at age 80) for Driving Miss Daisy and The Golden Girls was popular on TV. (For more information, see the FREE READER’S GUIDE on my website.)

I took a class on crones taught by a member of Long Beach WomanSpirit (a real organization that is mentioned in Secret Lives). Some of the women in their twenties and thirties kept insisting that “crone is a state of mind.” (And just this year, women in a Yahoo group I belong to said the same thing.) This is nonsense! It devalues older women. I got so mad, I did research and learned that “crone” comes from a Dutch word meaning corpse. About the same time, my first literary agent suggested that I try fiction, so I wrote some short stories about older women. My agent sent the first version of the book to an acquisitions editor at Harper & Row. (This was before Rupert Murdoch bought the company.) The editor wrote back—I have the letter—that she loved the book, but that no one would ever want to read about old women. We still pretty much face that bias. Just look at almost any female on TV, even many of the anchorgirls. The ideal woman is age 19, size 1.

I was 50 then. I’m 70 now. But I’ve heard people say that 70 is the new 50. Maybe so. I’m about as old as Herta, Cairo, and Margaretta now, but even twenty years ago I was hearing that older women don’t feel old. That’s certainly true of the women in Secret Lives. After all, I even wrote an octogenarian sex scene! Was I prescient? I believe I was describing a little-known reality that is coming into greater popular awareness now that the boomers are aging and retiring. I think that today older women have permission—as if they need it!—to act any age they want to.

My second and third literary agents also tried to sell Secret Lives, but none of the big NYC publishers would touch it. Finally, in April 2011 Sherry Wachter said she wanted to typeset and design the book and help me take it to CreateSpace. Bless her! When I first wrote Secret Lives, I lived in Orange Co., but I moved to Long Beach in 1996, so when I decided to self-publish, I moved the women to the historic Rose Park neighborhood in Long Beach and rebuilt the Center Towers on the corner of Temple and 10th Street, a real corner. I also did another edit of the whole book, let my son (who holds an M.A. in English) go through it, and then asked another sharp-eyed friend to read it. She’s the one who found Ralph Lauren spelled Ralph Loren. Nobody had seen that before! Then I sent it to Sherry, who turned it into a beautiful book. My daughter-in-law made the little witch for me and took the cover photos of my real, actual bookshelves.

Thank you, Barbara! Readers, part two of this interview is coming soon with more information about the lively cast of characters is Secret Lives and the author's powerful motivation for revealing them. Meanwhile, do visit Barbara Ardinger at her website and check out her Facebook Secret Lives page.

Monday, November 14, 2011

WTFWMD?! Celebrating Red-Robed Priestess Publication

Here I am (Maeve, that is) as promised, celebrating the official publication date by answering the questions you’ve posed regarding WTFWMD. 

First a note about Eliz. She has just put her earplugs in because one of the neighbors is using a chainsaw. No diesel engines in the first century. I don’t know WTF to do about noise pollution. But you can read Eliz’s latest Huffpo post Longing for Silence and Solitude If I could I would whisk Eliz away to The Lake Isle of Innisfree or Tir na mBan.


A few other items of business before I begin to ponder WTF I would do. I have a FaceBook page created by my combrogo Tim Dillinger. It will be unveiled on November 15. I welcome your friendship! Eliz has a FaceBook fan page created and maintained by her sister Ruth Cunningham.  Elizabeth herself is not on FaceBook directly, but she receives your kind comments and appreciates them.

The virtual tour schedule will be posted on the above FB pages. It is also appears in the post just prior to this one. Eliz and I have had several interviews that will soon be available for everyone to read. Also: 7:00 Saturday, Nov 19th at Oblong Books Rhinebeck, NY is the book launch. I hope we will be livestreaming. Check in later at the sites above for URL.

Questions and a caution

I am not sure who thought up the idea that I should answer the question WTFWMD? Eliz and/or Tim, but before I begin, let me remind you that I am outspoken, impulsive, and therefore often in trouble. So doing what I would do may not be such a good idea. That said, here goes.

One person asked a question that might be better directed to my friend Mary of Bethany. “Why in the world do some women act like men?”

Those of you have read The Passion of Mary Magdalen may remember that rather than marry Jesus, Mary B ran away with him disguised as a man to join the Essenes. She had a fine old time until she was discovered and sent home in disgrace where she lived as a recluse until she became a full-blown disciple. She acted like a man because, at the time, she could not fulfill her ambition to be a religious leader and teacher in any other way. Eliz just reminded me that the Bronte sisters wrote under male pseudonyms so that their literary works and ambitions would be taken seriously. Having “breasts to die for” (and I quote) I never had the option of passing as male, nor did I have any interest in doing so. My daughter Sarah, however, passed as a boy when she ran away from home. It kept her marginally safer. So I suppose my answer is that it was then and is still a hard world for women. Definitions of how men and women act also keep changing and individual expressions of gender and sexuality vary. A great day will come when we all feel free to be ourselves, without apology or disguise.

"If you had a young daughter in this day and time, what woman/women, would you encourage her to look to as a role model? "

This is a worthy question and I wish I had more knowledge of women in your time. (Eliz has spent so much time hanging out with me in the first century, she doesn’t know a whole lot more than I do about twenty-first century women of note.) If you read Magdalen Rising, you will remember that my role model and namesake was Queen Maeve of Connacht, a warrior queen known for her quantities of lovers. My mothers felt she was an excellent model of women’s sovereignty. With a caveat about practicing safe sex, that kind of woman is still a good model. Not because of the quantity of lovers but because she had the power to say yes—and no! Too often, as regards sexuality, women have felt bereft of choice.

Speaking of my daughter Sarah, when she was twelve (and a runaway!) my old friend and nemesis Mary B found her and took her under her wing. They were an excellent match for each other, being more temperamentally similar. Mary could understand and help Sarah in ways I could not.

More important than a famous role model are older women who can be friends and mentors. The Cailleach, Dwynwyn and Anna the Prophetess all filled that role for me. When Eliz was a teenager, she became close friends with an older woman in her father’s congregation. I would say pay attention to who your daughter likes among your friends, in your community, in her school. Encourage that adult to play a part in your daughter’s life. Teenagers desperately need trustworthy mentors who are not their parents (who they must, to some extent, resist and reject at that time). A good mentor can make all the difference in the world

Several people mentioned estrangement from daughters, difficult marriages, having no money. One person noted that in my life I have faced all these situations and that she consults the novels.

I did have a period of estrangement from Jesus. I threw figs at him in the Temple Porticoes and returned to whoring. We reconciled when he saved me from being stoned as an adulteress. These ways of dealing with marital strife may be a bit dramatic. Today I would go to a couples counselor like Eliz. BTW Eliz says couples counseling is for clarity. Sometimes a couple will reconcile, sometimes they will part. It’s good to have the support and understanding of a third party in either case.

The mother-daughter relationship is so profound, primeval really. When we are in our own mother’s womb, we already carry the egg that will one day be fertilized and grow into our daughter. In our matrilineage, we are like nesting dolls. Many daughters struggle mightily to differentiate themselves from their mothers. Many mothers—Eliz and I included—take that struggle personally. If we were wiser or had more perspective, we might not have.

I find the Demeter-Persephone story helpful. In some versions the daughter is not abducted, but chooses a path that is incomprehensible to her mother. For a while she disappears. The mother rages and mourns, but the daughter returns—and goes away again—then returns—and goes away again. Seasons, tides, moons, all these things teach us about the mother-daughter relationship.

Also, in my experience, some relationships are so profound, you do not experience them on the surface but at the root. Just love your daughter. That’s all I know to do. I love Sarah, I love Boudica, though it is not clear to me that we ever fully reconciled. Still I love her.

One last question: "When you are in an unhappy marriage is it more honorable to stay or leave? If you love someone in a marriage like that, what do you do?"

My own marriage was sadly brief and as ecstatic as it was stormy, so it was not at all like a longterm chronically unhappy marriage. Honor and honesty have the same root, and you cannot have one without the other. The truth can be complex. When people marry they make vows in the moment that are meant to last through circumstances that cannot be foreseen. Is it ever honorable to break a vow? Maybe not. But to say I made a vow, and I no longer want to keep it is at least honest. The thing about honesty is that you cannot predict how the other person will respond. You cannot control it. Lying is a way people try to control another person. Instead of admitting the impulse to control, people often say they want to protect the other person. And they may believe it, too. Honesty begins with facing yourself.

If you love someone in that circumstance, let him or her be. Acknowledge that he or she has to do things in his or her own time. He or she has a lot at stake.

If you are asking would I sleep with someone who is married, see the above caution. I think relationships can take many forms. My favorite example of marriage is Maeve of Connacht’s. She had a husband and a chief lover and everyone was quite content—until the Brown Bull wandered from Maeve’s herd into her husband’s. Now that was a problem. I hope you don’t have to deal with livestock as well as potential adultery.

If you love someone, love that person. Give up attachment to form or outcome. Do nothing deceitful. Deceit hurts more than anything. Truth has consequences, but in the end I have to agree with my beloved: It sets you—and others—free.

Now everyone, please celebrate the publication of Red-Robed Priestess in some way. Have a party, invite all your friends. Eat, drink, and be merry. Open the books randomly and read passages as a form of divination. If you are on twitter, quote a favorite passage with #holywhorereturns as a hashtag.

Finally, thank you all for inviting me into your lives.

Love and Blessed Bees,

Red-Robed Priestess: Virtual Book Tour

We kicked off Elizabeth and Maeve's Virtual Book Tour yesterday with an interview on Creatix Media (Click here to listen if you missed it: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/creatrix-media-live/2011/11/13/maeve-chronicles-series-with-elizabeth-cunningham

There are alot more interviews and reviews coming up as we move into publication week!

Mark your calendars with the following links and be sure to keep up with Elizabeth and Maeve on their Virtual Tour!

Nov 16: Part 1 of interview with Transformational Writers www.transformationalwriters.com

Nov 17: Meredith Gould Interview will post http://meredithgould.blogspot.com

Nov 18: Jane Cunningham http://morethingsithink.blogspot.com

Nov 23: Part 2 of interview with Transformational Writers www.transformationalwriters.com

Dec 2: Part 1 of Jodine Turner Interview www.jodineturner.com

Dec 8: Backdoor to the Moon Interview http://backdoortothemoon.blogspot.com

Dec 9: Part 2 of Jodine Turner Interview (www.jodineturner.com)

Thanks for your support!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In the Midst of Death we are in Life

“Or in the midst of life we are in death,” as it says in the Burial Service in The Book of Common Prayer.  Both statements are true, each one the complement of the other. The ecstatic, orgiastic rites of May Eve gaze across the year at Samhain (translation: summer’s end) also known as the Eve of All Hallows (souls) when pagans and Christians alike honor the beloved dead, the communion of saints, the connection between the seen and the unseen.

We recently cleared the overgrown flowerbeds around the house. In the new-turned earth, I planted tiny seeds: three kinds of Poppy, Black-eyed Susans, Irish Eyes, two kinds of Forget-Me-Nots, and something orange and red (whose name I don’t know and whose seed packet I can’t find), all according to preferences for sun or shade, dry or damp. Then we covered the beds with straw. It seemed the sheerest, most magical act of faith, to plant spring and summer flowers under a lowering October sky in a chilly wind. (I believe, help thou my unbelief.) What better way to celebrate the Celtic New Year than to sow the seeds of new life in the midst of death.

In another garden, a white Iris that bloomed in Spring is blossoming again amidst leaves fallen from an ancient and ailing maple tree and brazen marigolds that just won’t quit. In the late afternoon, the Iris draws all the light to its papery, translucent petals. I have to stop whatever I am doing and bear witness.

There’s a lot going on in my life, too much, really. But that’s all I want to say right now. I published two posts last week in other places. At Tikkun Daily: Keen on Occupy Wall Street and on Huffington Post: Credo: Community without Conformity. Please do visit.

My combrogo Tim Dillinger asked me to remind you that Maeve’s FaceBook page will soon be revealed. You make a friend request now.

The official launch event of Red-Robed Priestess will be Saturday, November 19th at Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck, New York at 7:00. We hope to livestream this event with better sound than our previous attempt. The performance will begin around 7:30 after people have nibbled and guzzled for a bit.

In closing I will note that all the other Maeve Chronicles were published on April 1. Seems right for Red-Robed Priestess to be published in November when we remember that in the midst of life we are in death and in the midst of death we are in life. You'll see what I mean when you read the book. (PS: In answer to a query, here is the indiebound link for the book: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780982324691 )

Next post here will be 11/15 Maeve's answer to: WTFWMD?

Happy Halloween! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Myriad announcements from Maeve

Do you hear that buzzing sound? It is not just the bees working overtime on these rare sunny days after so much rain. It is also the sound of my 21st century combrogos, galvanized by Tim Dillinger, doing their best to generate excitement and spread the word about the November 15th release of Red-Robed Priestess, the fourth and final volume of my very long story—which of course, Eliz is reminding me to say, can be read first and is able to stand alone, like the other three. Here’s some of what’s happening.

November 15th unveiling of my FaceBook page. Tim and I worked on it last weekend. It was somewhat challenging as FB does not recognize some of the places I’ve lived or the activities I enjoy, though it did let me list caber-tossing among my sports. You do not have to wait till then to be my friend. You can go now and make your friend request. (Don’t worry, I’ll say yes!) http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002343434468

Monday, October 17th @ 7:00 Eastern time: Melissa Studdard interviews Elizabeth Cunningham for Tiferet Talk on Blogtalk radio. At the link below you will find a call-in number and you can also tweet or post the link on FaceBook. Elizabeth will be reading aloud a passage from Red-Robed Priestess. Please join her and get a live preview of the book. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/tiferetjournal/2011/10/17/elizabeth-cunningham-tiferet-talk-with-melissa-studdard

Reviews: They have been coming in, and they are very favorable. Here is the link to The Publisher’s Weekly Review. When you go to the site, you can tweet it or post it or like it etc… http://reg.publishersweekly.com/978-0-9823246-9-1

Art Contest: Elizabeth’s long-lost, long-found cousin from New Zealand, Jane Cunningham, is conspiring with Tim to bring you a Maeve Art contest. Neither Eliz nor I know the details. It is my understanding that they shall be revealed next week.

Also upcoming: Eliz and I have been answering intriguing interview questions from three bloggers. When these interviews are posted, we will publish the links here, on twitter, and on Eliz’s FB page if mine isn’t public yet. Here is the link to her page, which her brilliant sister musician Ruth Cunningham created and maintains for her. (Eliz is such a luddite). http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elizabeth-Cunningham/137518912968862

WTFWMD? Speaking of questions, I will be answering that one to the best of my ability on November 14th so that the post will appear in your mailbox on November 15th. People have been wondering what sorts of questions to ask. One person did email to ask me how I would close the distance between myself and my first daughter when we finally meet. Great question and one that Red-Robed Priestess will address. If you tune in to the Tiferet interview (see above) Eliz plans to read the passage about our first meeting since Boudica’s birth.

Other questions: You can ask me how I feel about various contemporary issues. You can ask what I would do if I were in some situation you are facing, but please keep in mind, my judgment might be questionable. I am known to be impulsive and rash. You can also ask me about events or people from my time. Do feel free to ask me theological questions. Oh and did I mention sex? I know a bit about that. I will do my best to answer all questions, but there may be some I don’t know enough to answer or might be better answered by you. I am not an authority on anything. And I will always encourage you to claim your own sovereignty. You can ask questions below or tweet or DM @EliznMaeve on Twitter.

IndieBound link. You can pre-order Red-Robed Priestess from your favorite independent bookstore. Do support those hard-working booklovers! http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780982324691

Thank you all so much for your help in spreading the word about Red-Robed Priestess and all The Maeve Chronicles. I had to write this post, because Elizabeth isn’t shameless enough despite her twenty year tutelage with me. Apologies from Elizabeth if anyone is offended by my self-promotion. No apologies from me. I’ve waited more than two thousand years to find my audience. And here you are at last!

Love and blessed bees,

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Brief Message from Maeve on WWMD

Hello, everyone. It's Maeve speaking, but this is not an official post. I am saying Happy Birthday to Eliz. She had contemplated a birthday post, but I am afraid it would have been about climate change and the clouds of mosquitoes that have prevented her from hiking today and mortality and things like that. I persuaded her not to whinge publicly. (I love that word whinge! Whining is for mosquitoes and chain saws).

If you would like to read a post by Eliz you can go to this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-cunningham/is-god-a-novelist-fiction-spiritual-truth_b_974187.html?ref=tw Our friend Tim Dillinger persuaded her to find out why her Huffpo password had stopped working. For some reason, they gave her a new one, and they published her post "Is God a Novelist?"

But that is not nearly as interesting a question as the one I am going to pose to you now. WWMD? Or if you prefer: WTFWMD? That's right. What would Maeve do? For my release date post which I will write on November 14th so that it will be in your email box on November 15th, I am going to be answering your questions on that subject. If there are more questions than I can answer in one post, I will keep posting till I answer them all. You can start asking them now in the comment section below or by email, if there is a way to do that from here. (Neither Eliz or I know). You can also tweet your questions on twitter to @EliznMaeve.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Following the Sun: Earth Science 101

For twenty-six years I lived in a house with a hill to the south and east. Most times of the year by the time I saw the sun, it had been up for hours and had perhaps once again determined there was nothing new under it. Only in winter could I see it rise from my bedroom. It appeared on the hill like a bright match about to ignite the bare winter wood.

On June 25th we moved to High Valley and as I have mentioned here before, I have been getting up early every day to do chi gung on the dock at the pond, for most of the summer the sunniest place at sunrise. I have written more than one haiku about the sun climbing the spruce trees across the pond. Recently, after a week of cloudy weather, I noted that the sun had moved over to a maple tree, but still the dock had plenty of sun.

This week there is no denying the sun has quit this spot. I have to walk past the dock to stand for a moment in a patch of sun. Before I finish preliminary exercises, the sun has brushed the end of the dock and hurried on. Yes, hurried. That’s how it seems to me. No gradual: now it rises in the maple tree and now over the barn. It is rising in a southward curve, casting one shadow and then another and another. And of course, each day it is rising later.

None of these observations are news. Every year the earth makes an elliptical orbit around the sun, its axis tilting away and towards, giving those of us in northern and southern hemispheres a palpable summer and winter. This is grade school stuff. Except suddenly it isn’t or maybe I am reverting to that age (I believe it’s called latency) when discovering things like the path of the sun or the phases of the moon can hold your attention, because you are not thinking about sex, or not all the time. I still do think about sex, but figuring out why the sun appears to be moving faster than it was a few weeks ago is occupying more and more mental space.

I would like to do a science project, and find a place where I can track the sun’s movement in miniature for a year. I have not yet found a place where there is no shade all day. So I expect I will continue to follow the sun every morning, seeking a patch of early light and seeing how long I can stay in it before it moves. I doubt I will get very scientific in my measurements, but I will continue to write haiku. And I will continue to do my chi gung practice early when the sun gives at least the illusion that everything under it is new.

A few thoughts on personification

We do it. I just did it with the sun. We name hurricanes. If your region or home was devastated by Irene, my heart is with you. Though we were in its predicted path, the east side of the Hudson River got off lightly. We also didn’t feel the recent earthquake, though only fifteen minutes away, others did. What I want to say is that people are quick to ascribe motivation to disasters—God’s or Gaia’s. People on both sides of the political spectrum do it. We like to believe that some force larger than ourselves shares our views and our judgments.

I wish we would all just become curious. There is some evidence of a causal relation between the recent earthquake and fracking. There is also considerable evidence that global warming will result in more frequent and volatile storms and rising seas. But who is affected, where and why, is beyond our ken. I just heard from a neighbor who lives ten minutes from me whose road was washed out. Here we had no damage at all—this time. Was it because I walked out early into the storm and asked Irene not to harm my trees?

I don’t need to know the answer to that question. And I will continue to talk to storms and trees and birds and flowers and insects, because that is my nature. Sometimes with familiar trees and animals, I am pretty sure the conversation is two-sided. But the trees speak like trees. And my translation is just that, a translation. Storms and earthquakes also speak. Let’s do our best to learn their languages before we tell other people what they mean.

Note from Maeve

I am a weather witch, and I pretty much concur with Eliz. BTW Tim is going to be giving me blog assignments soon as the publication date for Red-Robed Priestess gets closer. If you have a venue for reviewing Red-Robed Priestess or interviewing Eliz—or me!—let Tim know: tim@monkfishpublishing.com 

Friday, August 12, 2011


Watching the mists this morning, I realized that I might have gotten the clock reversed in my mind, and the mists are in fact going clockwise. Though, at the eastern shore, there was a small group of mists going the opposite direction. In any case, they appear to circle to the west before going east to the sun and rising. Perhaps the same principle as going left to go right in Tai Chi form. BTW I often get things backwards in the form, too. A kind of nonverbal dyslexia.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

News from the Pond

my news: from the pond
his from the wide world beyond
we meet at breakfast
I report water lilies
he reports London riots

I get up these days around 6:00am and go out to a small dock on the far side of the pond to practice chi gung and tai chi. I have struck a deal with my neighbor across the road, who is not only building a house and a barn but also constantly rearranges the contours of the land with a bulldozer: No earth-moving, nerve shattering, diesel-guzzling machines before 8:00am. It is to his credit and mine that we came to this solution peacefully. Our land situation is complicated and, on a small scale, very similar to the kinds of border/occupancy situations that have resulted in bitter, intractable wars.

This morning was the most beautiful yet, abundant mists after heavy rain, fresh clear sky. I wondered if it was all right to enjoy it so much when there are riots in London, Republican victories in Wisconsin, not to mention war and famine in various parts of the world, and all the personal tragedies the media insists on bringing to our awareness.

Then I remembered how dreams often balance our waking state. If we are unhappy, dreams can bring lightness. If we are flying high, we sometimes have hideous nightmares. As I sat on the dock after practice and noticed spider webs caught in the light, I thought: we are all in this dream; we are all dreamers. I am dreaming the joy right now. It is my job. I am not separate or disconnected from the nightmares. I am not oblivious or impervious. I am just dreaming my part.

My husband walks around in headsets listening to NPR as our larger radio doesn’t get reception. So I no longer hear the news (except from him). Sometimes I feel guilty for not staying tuned to the larger world. But this morning the world of the pond seems huge, as if the whole cosmos had gathered here with the mists that always circle counterclockwise, and the water lilies rising from their dark wet muck, the insects skimming the surface making ripples and the fish swimming up to catch them, and the birds and the frogs calling, and the squirrels upbraiding my cat till he creeps out of the undergrowth and returns to me for comfort. I can never know everything about this world. But I can spend this quiet attentive time in the morning. Now and then I can share some news. Here is some in the form of haiku (5-7-syllables) and tanka (5-7-5-7-7)

Indigo Bunting
can that really be your name?
Iridescent jewel
bringing blue sky, aqua sea
on bright wings to middle earth

the sun calls the mists
turns them back into fire
morning alchemy

Rise, great blue heron
wings green-blue, water and sky
small dinosaur, soar!

swimming in the mists
to the water lily cove
my cat stands lifeguard
trees singing with cardinals
fish nipping my beauty mark

mists circle moonwise
then rise on a ray of sun
now I know the way


I am enjoying these mornings, too. Eliz did not mention in this post what came to her about a new meaning for Lover of the World (one of my titles). For most of my life and hers, we have thought of the beloved as another human being, a soul mate. But what if your lover is the world, and you love the world back—and what if that love is just as erotic and ecstatic as any other?
Just sayin.’

Tim, please give me a blog post assignment soon.

Your combrogo,

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Feast of Mary Magdalen/Maeve Friday, July 22nd 7:30

Dea volente I will be livestreaming a performance featuring selections for all four of The Maeve Chronicles on Friday, July 22nd at 7:30. http://www.ustream.tv/user/ElizNMaeve

For me this is a celebration of twenty years with Maeve, twenty-one if you include her incarnation as the cartoon character Madge!

Hope to see you (or at least to have you see me) there and then!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Stranger in a Familiar Land

Of course High Valley is familiar. My first stay was a two week stint at High Valley's summer camp at age eleven. I was warned then to “stay away from Olga’s son.” (My future husband) “He snaps people’s butts with towels.” When I was kicked out of school at sixteen, my brother suggested: “Send her to Olga. Olga will find her something to do.” So for two years I served a sort of tweeny maid at High Valley School. Later, married to the son and heir, I worked for a time as a cook and a drama teacher. My kids attended nursery school here. And when the school closed, I started The Center at High Valley, which I ran as a sort of back burner operation, always careful to defer to my mother-in-law’s sovereignty and always able to retreat to our house a mile away on the other side of the hill.

Now, as those of you who follow this blog might know, we have moved to High Valley to an upstairs apartment—which I had painted in many intense colors after years of living with white walls. It is a rabbit warren of an apartment where people get lost and where tall people look too big in the narrow hall. (My husband and I are both short). Our bedroom—two walls raspberry, two a rich green to match an old oriental carpet—is the one my husband’s parents shared. It has a commanding view of all there is to enjoy—and tend!

All my adult life, I have kept to an unvaried schedule: write in the morning, work at whatever the job I had in the afternoons and evenings. I raised kids, kept a comfortable house, without paying much attention to detail or dust, and enjoyed an undemanding yard surrounded by the friendly trees of a deep wood. Now that whole part of our life is past. Though our apartment is small and will be easy to keep, we have many other spaces to maintain for the Center, not to mention lawns and endless overgrown gardens.

And, for the first time in twenty years, I am not working on The Maeve Chronicles. (They are complete. Red-Robed Priestess is coming out in November.)

I have no schedule—at least not yet. I wander here and there, tugged by this or that task. Though I still write and have a counseling practice, I am feeling more and more like an arch-housewife and inept groundskeeper. Sometimes I long to go home to my old house and life, and yes, sometime I weep. More often, I feel tickled. I am enjoying being a stranger to myself, growing willy nilly into a new life. I like that every day is different and that the weather plays such a big role. It’s dry, so today is the day to mow. It’s cool and damp in the morning, time to weed. It’s raining…rest!!!

I will close this post with a recent poem:

Reluctant Gardener

Overwhelmed by weeds
besieged by poison ivy
overrun with grass

I weed-whack away at a bit
of lost garden and give
it a bad haircut.

I must plant something here,
something that will spread
and take care of itself.

Oh the choices! A low yellow bloom
whose name I forget, whose leaves
turn red in the fall.

Butterfly weed, iridescent orange,
and a butterfly bush that promises
to grow and grow, adding butterflies

to its blossoms. How tenderly I mulch them
as instructed: cardboard, dirt, hay,
how anxiously I water them,

how I plan to seek more plants
today, ground cover, dark red daisies,
lavender. Now the garden

is becoming mine, has called me
to itself through my ineptitude
and so we will grow each other.

PS: I don't seem to be able to comment on this blogpost anymore. Maeve has something to say. Here goes:

"I still exist and have a voice, even though my Chronicles are complete. My friend, Tim Dillinger, and I have plans for me to take back this blog at some point soon. Though she is not writing my story, Eliz is still performing portions of it live (and perhaps livestreamed). Her next performance is at the Barn Theatre at High Valley to celebrate my Feast Day Friday, July 22nd. Details on how to tune to livestreaming in will be posted on the blog!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Midnight Hour or WTFWJD?

It’s the midnight hour (i.e., between 3:00 and 4:00am when you can’t go back to sleep) before the dawn of Pentecost. For a week I have been struggling intensely with my core beliefs—and core pathologies.

Those of you who have read The Passion of Mary Magdalen will be familiar with the prologue “In the Night.” The Priestess Whores of Temple Magdalen welcome all comers, for the stranger might be a god or an angel. Or Jesus himself, as turns out to be the case when a Samaritan arrives with “a sick man near death,” and Maeve opens the gate she’d barred for the night.

If you follow this blog, you also know that I direct the Center at High Valley at the site of my mother-in-law’s former school. We are about to move into an apartment on that property, and we will be selling our secluded house in the woods.

High Valley has certain Temple Magdalen-like qualities. The school my mother-in-law ran for many years was home to kids with a variety of learning, emotional, and behavioral problems, which all have labels now but didn’t then. It was a place where misfits fit—including me when, as a high school dropout, I worked there as a sort of tweeny maid. The Center still has that quality, one I treasure. Our celebrations are open to people of all faiths and no faiths. The atmosphere is welcoming, the structure is organic. We often joke that we are an unintentional community. Just like at Temple Magdalen, we don’t have meetings, we have parties, music jams, storytelling, homemade arts and entertainment.

As many of you also know, I am descended from a line of Episcopal priests. I can recite much of the Sermon on the Mount by heart. The Gospel passage that is most indelibly imprinted on my psyche is from Matthew 25: “I was naked and ye clothed me, hungry and ye gave me to eat, thirsty, and ye gave me to drink, sick and ye visited me, in prison and ye came unto me. Inasmuch as ye have done it onto one of these the least of my brethren ye have done it unto me.” These verses are on my grandfather’s memorial plaque. They were at the core of every sermon my father gave in or out of church. They also informed my vision of Temple Magdalen.

So when acquaintances asked me to offer space at High Valley on a barter basis to a troubled woman, I said what I would call a complicated yes, though my gut would have preferred a simple no. The woman has no car (we live ten miles from shopping), can't do much physical labor (our major need) and is in rocky shape emotionally. Moreover, our tentative retreat space is downstairs from the apartment we will be newly inhabiting. I did manage to say no to a summer internship (after much agonizing) but I said yes to a three week retreat. Those approaching me on her behalf felt sure that a change from her current environment would lead to a breakthrough.

The woman responded to my offer enthusiastically but asked to bring with her a man with mental and emotional problems far more severe than her own. I’d met him, and my gut was having a fit, but my first response to her was a mild: “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” which of course she ignored. Then I said my first simple no: “The offer is to you, not to him.” Her numerous appeals that he be included became increasingly manipulative and, as I held firm, vituperative. In the end, she refused to come without him.

There was more than one sweated midnight hour during that week. One session began with: “At Temple Magdalen, they would have taken in both of them….” Suddenly Maeve interrupted and brought me up short:

“You are not going to go all fundamentalist on me! First of all, I have no intention of starting a religion. Second, Temple Magdalen and High Valley are not identical. At Temple Magdalen, we had a lot of staff, and we had two wealthy benefactors. So stop this line of thinking right now.”

Wow, I thought. There could be a blog post in this. Some people do refer to The Maeve Chronicles as their bible. You could argue that Maeve and I have rewritten the New Testament—but not to create a new orthodoxy! Temple Magdalen is a phenomenon not an institution. Moreover, The Maeve Chronicles end with a song called: “All Temples Fall.”

Despite Maeve’s admonishment, the midnight hour before Pentecost finds me fretting once again about my failure. “I wrote the Prologue (I say to myself--again). But I can’t live it. I am a hypocrite!” “Jesus Christ!” Maeve says, fed-up. “You have such a Christ complex. Go talk to Jesus. He’s the one who started all this.” So I do.

Jesus asks me: “What have you learned from me?” I quote all the passages about giving even more than you’re asked, concluding with Matthew 25. Jesus offers no comforting exegesis.

“Tell me what happened,” he says. And I tell him the story from the first request to take in the woman to my last no to including her friend. It must be the effect of his listening; I find myself taking care not to justify or reproach myself. I just give him the facts.

He receives the story without comment, and then he asks: “Where did you go wrong?”

“I said yes when I wanted to say no,” I answer.

Then follows one of those brief yet timeless life reviews in which this pattern is painfully and painstakingly illuminated.

Afterwards Jesus asks me, almost casually, just as a point of information. “Do you want to take care of people?”

“No,” I admit.

Then he asks: “What is it you think I want from you?”

I don’t answer right away, pondering all those deeply embedded passages, my compulsion to be good—at least (especially) in my own eyes.

“I want you to be truthful,” he says at last. “I want you to be real. I want you to be yourself.”

At just that moment, my hand closes on a cross pendant that has been lost for several days among the bed sheets.

“Ok,” I say.

And a few moments later, I fall into a sound sleep.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rapture: Does it make Scents?

I thought I would write a possibly- farewell post in case any of us are going anywhere on May 21, 2011 that would take us beyond the blogosphere. For those of you who haven’t heard, the Rapture is supposed to occur this Saturday at 6:00 local time. If you think you are going and are worried about left behind pets , there are avowed atheists standing ready to help.

I personally have been much more concerned about the loss of my sense of smell as a result of a lingering sinus infection and/or allergies. It was missing for more than a week, sending me into a perhaps unreasonable panic that it would never return. The last six months have been extremely stressful, but this deprivation tipped me over some edge, as infirmities often will. Think of Job stoically enduring the loss of his family and all his wealth. But when he is afflicted with boils he sits down in the ash pit and begins his famous rant.

Yesterday morning, I smelled my coffee again. Everything fell into perspective. Who cares if we are in the midst of a messy move to High Valley, the yard awash in mud where the septic system remains unfinished? Who cares whether or not we can afford to maintain it or will resolve all the complex issues with our neighbors? Who cares about the toll the economy is taking on us and everyone else, the extreme weather of which we are having our share and which is almost certainly linked to global climate change? (BTW haven’t the tribulations already begun?)

I spent the morning in olfactory rapture. I could smell wet earth and grass, air laden with the scent of blossoms, never mind if I am allergic. I even liked the less pleasant smells, a whiff of gas at a station where I stopped for a second coffee (flavored with faux blueberry). I welcomed the smell of my own waste, which I realize is one way I assess my health. I decided I could accept how out of control my life feels, the world feels, if only I can go on smelling everything. Given a choice between the Rapture and staying behind, earth wins because it makes scents!

By lunch time, which I planned to celebrate by chopping garlic and onions for a stir fry, my sense of smell was gone again. I sniffed the onion and garlic at close range in vain. Since then it’s been flickering on and off like some faulty electrical connection, and I suppose it is like that. We had another night of torrential rain and I despair of the spring and summer events at High Valley with people slogging through mud and sinking in up to their shins. If I were Raptured, I wouldn’t have to worry about the septic system or about moving. It would solve so many problems!

On the other hand, October 21st (the date the world is allegedly supposed to end ) doesn’t get me out of enough responsibilities to be at all comforting. Moreover the release date of Red-Robed Priestess is not till November, which hardly seems fair. Since I am in control of so little, I think will go blow my nose again and check my sense of smell by sniffing my cold coffee. Whether I can smell it or not, I will remember that rapture and torment, heaven and hell are all right here, in every our breath and whiff.

Makes sense to me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Out of the Closet

Note: We are in the process of getting ready to move from our home of twenty-six years to an apartment at High Valley. I am keeping a journal of the process. Below is an entry.

I finally open a dreaded closet, the one in my office (that used to be part of the attic). I know there are boxes of Christmas ornaments there and probably manuscripts, but my long ignorant bliss of rest of the contents is ending.

I pull out a box with a tarnished silver tray and another also tarnished tray with a glass cover (for smelly cheese?) and six small knives. Unused wedding gifts? What to do with them now? Polish them up and give them away? Add them to High Valley’s eclectic communal stash of cookware and plates?

There is a more poignant box presided over by Glumph (a stuffed lion who was hard for a three-year old to haul around; the name denotes the effort) and Elsa (of later vintage, named, of course, for the lioness in Born Free). Their already-worn fur now sports embedded mouse droppings. Chewed insulation lies in clumps, dry dirty snow that will never melt to any spring. And in the rest of the box: all my writings from just before college till just after as well as letters from my college teacher and mentor who took lavish epistolary care of me long after I was his student.

So I sit and read and sift, marveling at all the spiral notebooks filled with the ink of cartridge pens and the academic papers painstakingly typed on onion skin paper with handwritten corrections. I made far more attempts at writing fiction than I remember. I am impressed with some of my papers and exams. Such an unedited trove, one I would like to discover after my own death, though my progeny may not feel the same way.

Now I compose on the computer. I have lots of word files, but I weed through them, every now and then, pressing the delete key with a fair amount of ruthlessness. I do write and receive a lot of email (most of which I don’t save), but I think I wrote more letters, certainly longer ones, and I received wonderfully long, detailed letters in return.

I have lived long enough to see the passing of an age.

What will be in the closets of the digital age? Will there be no more steamer trunks of journals? (I have one of those, too, crammed with all the journals I wrote till my journal became electronic five years ago.)

I find I like typing with two fingers and having my words so easy to store and transport. I don’t like the mouse shit (or the pee on some of the pages) or the dust of the ages in the boxes. I don’t like the space all my old writings require. But I do like the thrill of discovery, of a largely forgotten life revealed. I felt the same way when we found my father’s correspondence with his father. I knew my father had been hostile toward my ambition to write, but until we found the letters, I never knew his father had said the same awful things to him, almost word for word. (Therein lies another post).

Will going through someone’s computer files or Blackberry yield the same excitement or poignancy?

I am going to have to kiss Glumph and Elsa goodbye (carefully so as not to ingest the droppings). I will probably keep only a small sample of handwritten drafts of published work. But I will keep the term papers and the early unpublished strivings in a file box from Staples. Enough is revealed in these that the journals, as I’ve always intended, can burn.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Last Party

Below is a brief excerpt from the chapter called "The Last Party" from my novel The Passion of Mary Magdalen, one of The Maeve Chronicles. Maeve and I reprint it here (with our own permission) as a seasonal offering. Readers in the region of New York State's Hudson Valley, please join me this Friday, April 22nd, 7:30 at High Valley  for a community reading of the four chapters that tell the Passion story. There will also be original music!

“Listen, my beloved companions, and remember,” Jesus said, as we passed the unleavened bread and drank the first cup of wine. “Whenever you break bread together or share a cup of wine, I’ll be with you, in your midst. Haven’t we always feasted together? Hasn’t there always been enough and more than enough? I tell you, whenever two or three gather together to share what they have, there I am. There is life. There is the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember. Remember me then.”

“But why do we have to remember you?” Peter burst out. “Where are you going!”

“Where I am going now, you can’t follow. Not yet. But you will in time.”

“But how will we find you if we don’t know where you’re going?” Tomas fretted. “How will we know the way?”

“I am the way,” Jesus said quietly.

That is all he said. Or that is all I remember. If the Last Party was indeed an evening of esoteric teaching, only those words remain with me. The words and how he looked at each of us in turn, letting us understand him in whatever way we could.

When he turned to me, I saw the path the rising moon makes across the water. I saw paths made by wild goats in mountain passes. I saw how a flower tracks the path of the sun, how waves part for a ship’s prow; I saw myself opening all my ways to him.

After the second cup of wine, we loosened up and began to sing somewhat irreverent ditties about the plagues of Egypt and then more dramatic ones about the parting of the Red Sea. With the third cup of wine, we sang the ecstatic victory song of Moses’s sister, Miriam. Then all the women took up tambourines (we always had those at a feast) and danced. Soon the men got up and danced in their own circle. And we all sang, songs with no words, the women ululating.

At last a hush fell. We stood bright-eyed and flushed, glistening with sweat, wild with love for each other, as we had been that last night at the Wedding of Cana. Jesus went and flung open the door, in case Elijah should be waiting to come in. Still on our feet, we drank the fourth cup of wine. Then Jesus set down the cup and crossed the room to me. He took my hand and kissed it, the kiss of a suppliant to his priestess. When he released my hand, I took his and kissed it, the kiss of a disciple to her teacher. Then we stood facing each other, not touching, as the companions made a circle around us. In one movement, we came together and kissed each other on the lips.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Derivation of Catastrophe

As I write, heroic workers in Japan struggle to prevent what one headline called potential “nuclear catastrophe” in the wake of the record-breaking earthquake and devastating tsunami. I was struck by the use of the word, so I looked up catastrophe in my 1975 hardcover edition of The American Heritage Dictionary.
Catastrophe 1. A great and sudden calamity; disaster 2. A sudden violent change in the earth’s surface; cataclysm 3. The denouement of a play, especially a classical tragedy. The root derives from the Greek katastrophe from katastreiphen: to turn down, overturn. Kata-, down and strephein-, to turn. From the root Strebh, to wind, to turn, to twist.

At first the root meaning is not obvious to me. Then I think of the earth turning, like its own tides and storms, like the twisted strands of DNA. In a tragedy, literary or literal, there is also a turning. The tragic hero overreaches, underestimates, or both, and the tide turns against him, the people turn against him, the furies, the very elements. He is overturned, overthrown like a corrupt regime, downturned like our economy. We live in catastrophic times. Humans, as a species, share the tragic flaw of the hero, the illusion that we can control what is beyond our control for our own ends. And now we face global catastrophe.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, volcanoes (earth, water, wind, fire) are natural disasters not caused by human agency (though increased storm activity is linked to global warming). They are the earth shaping and re-shaping itself, losing and restoring balance, as it always has, as all life does. This dramatic flux is nothing new on planet earth. A cataclysm (kata, down kluzien, to wash) is catastrophic because we cluster in huge numbers along the coasts or on the slopes of volcanoes or on flood plains where the soil is fertile. And if we must build a power plant on a fault line to meet our needs, we do, hoping for the best, preparing (however inadequately) for the worst—all of us, in every nation that has the capability.

As we appear to be in a period of denouement in our collective drama, we might ponder the meaning of tragedy. The hero in a tragedy is not just flawed but heroic. Our advances in technology, medicine, agriculture that have hugely increased our population and our expectations all began with noble intent. The tragedy, as a form, gives us a chance to identify where the hero (us) lost his way. The survivors of the tragedy (us too) have chance to restore the balance that was lost and begin again.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

WDJS: What Did Jesus Say? Individual and Corporate Discernment

There was a time in my life when in prayer and meditation, I would ask questions of Jesus (among other deities) and often feel that I had received answers—usually in the form of another question that made me see everything in a different light. When I learned that George W. Bush also spoke to Jesus in this direct, intimate way and based his political decisions on these conversations, I felt (and feel) uneasy. Was there any difference between me and the man who ordered the invasion of Iraq despite worldwide protest against this action, including the protest of many religious people and institutions?

In her recent article in Huffington Post “God in Wisconsin,” Diana Butler Bass notes that The Roman Catholic Church as well as most mainstream Protestant denominations have endorsed the Unions in their standoff with Governor Walker, but he remains immoveable, obedient to his personal understanding of God’s will.

Reading her article, I felt an appreciation for corporate religious practice, the checks and balances the institutional church can provide to the individual’s interpretation of divine will (which is often his or her own will dressed up as god, a particularly noxious and often dangerous form of spiritual inflation). My gratitude to mainstream institutional religion is ironic. I have always been on the side of those the church persecuted: mystics, heretics, and other nonconformists. Though I am an ordained interfaith minister, I currently have no institutional affiliation.

The daughter of an Episcopal priest, who practiced and preached the social gospel in the 1960s, I left the church to become a member of The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). I attended a silent Meeting (as distinct from a pastoral) where each person shared in the Meeting’s ministry and anyone moved by the Spirit could speak from the silence. Quakers temper the individual’s “leadings” with the corporate discernment of the whole Meeting. Their model works as well as any I have ever seen. So why didn’t I remain a Friend?

During my time as a Quaker, there was much controversy among Friends about their positions on Christ-centered as distinct to Universalist worship, abortion, homosexuality, and whether or not Friends could accept the worship of the divine as feminine. Friends often reminded each other that it took one hundred years for Quakers to come to corporate agreement on the abolition of slavery. When it came to my beliefs, I found I was not willing to submit to the discipline of corporate process. I was not, in essence, a Quaker.

For the past sixteen years, my communal (as distinct from corporate) spiritual practice has been hosting earth-centered celebrations at The Center at High Valley. Everyone is welcome, and no one has to believe anything. There is a beauty to these celebrations, which involve lots of singing, dancing, and spontaneous creativity, which many find people healing and even profound. But there is no institutional element, nothing to ensure that our heartfelt, eclectic traditions will survive in any form. Nor can we do something as fine as endorse the stand of the Unions. Our lack of institutional identity is a trade-off, a dance on the horns of a dilemma.

My personal spiritual practice is imaginative and has included re-writing The New Testament in a series of novels called The Maeve Chronicles, featuring the Celtic Mary Magdalen who is no one’s disciple and is even more hopeless at institutional affiliations than I am. In Bright Dark Madonna, Maeve struggles with people’s invocation of the resurrected Jesus’s authority. In a dream, she confronts Jesus. He explains somewhat ruefully:

“You’re going to have to get used to people having visions of me, receiving messages from me. It seems to be a side effect of the god-making death, as you call it. The druids never warned me about it… I can’t help ‘appearing unto’ people when they call on me, when they believe in me. I might even ‘speak unto’ them, but remember what Anna the prophetess used to say about prophecy, how it always loses in the translation and gains in the interpretation? It’s like that, and I’m afraid I don’t have much control over translation or interpretation.”

I would like to offer with a few checks and balances for people without institutional ties as well as those whose churches encourage direct, personal communication with the divine:

Is the divine message for you, regarding your own behavior and moral accountability?

Is the divine message directing you to reform others and possibly inflict harm on them?

If the latter, best to recall what Jesus already did say: “You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." -Matthew 7:4

Monday, February 21, 2011

The People, My People: Who Are They?

Friends in Wisconsin have been daily attending the Madison demonstrations for the right of union workers to bargain collectively. They report spirited and witty placards: “The People’s Republic of Curdistan” for Wisconsin’s infamous snack food. People who were activists since the sixties and whose parents and grandparents fought for the right of unions to exist have been hailing each other via email and doubtless more sophisticated social media: All power to the people!

Popular revolution is clearly catching, as people from one Middle Eastern nation after another throng their public squares. The placards in Madison include “Walk like an Egyptian.” And Governor Walker has been called the Mubarak of the Midwest. It is an exciting, scary, encouraging time. Union workers and social activists in other states are taking note of—and maybe notes on—what is happening in Wisconsin.

I can’t help but ponder the differences between our Midwest and the Middle East. In Wisconsin, the tea partiers have jumped into the fray with counter demonstrations. My husband pointed out, they think they are The people, and theirs is the revolution. In most Middle Eastern nations there is no such confusion. A dictator is a dictator. He takes care of his people, a minuscule power elite, and The People en masse suffer, economically and politically. The young especially, with little prospect for employment, have nothing to lose and every reason to spend every day demanding change.

Our political system, born of a revolution, seems designed to prevent another. We have (in theory) free elections and term limits. We have (in theory) a free press and free speech (though we are manipulated by our media in ways far more subtle than government propaganda. We don’t need government censorship when we already have censorship of the marketplace.) We have had a middle and working class that believes in the American Dream of betterment for anyone honest and hardworking. Though in these times many hardworking people are falling into poverty through the gaping holes of a shredded economy and a fast disappearing safety net.

Maybe the difference between our people and the people in more desperate and oppressed nations is dwindling. But we still don’t agree on who the people are or what we need from our more or less freely elected government. The right and left hand of the body politic don’t do much of anything except point fingers. A friend of mine, who doesn’t fit neatly in any category, used to declare, with some frequency, that he would “do anything to defend his people.” I finally asked him: Who are your people? He looked flustered, and then said: “The people who think the way I do.” An honest and telling answer.

The people in the streets and squares of Wisconsin give me hope of another answer. The People don’t need to think alike but we do need to act together when our right to have a voice, to have place at the big messy table of this democracy is threatened. That right is what is at stake in Wisconsin. The outcome of this struggle will affect all the People regardless of what we think.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of Our Stuff--Reposted

I posted the below on 1/25, then discovered my subscription widget had to be reinstalled as the post was not being delivered by email. I hope it reaches you this time. -Elizabeth

While President Obama prepares for his State of the Union address, I thought I would spend my time contemplating the state of my various unions. The other night I was cooking dinner and listening to NPR (de rigueur in my marital union) when I heard a sound bite from a speech the president gave at a GE plant in Schenectady, NY. “We’re gonna invent stuff; we’re gonna build stuff.” I was busy sautéing vegetables or I might have run screaming from the room. 

I know that American workers need jobs and that the last decades have seen the huge and devastating loss of manufacturing jobs to China and the many other places in the world from which we now purchase most of our stuff. But in my own union, marital—and through marriage with a beautiful, run-down property we are trying to preserve—sorting through stuff has become an overwhelming, sometimes guilt-inducing, all-consuming job.

My mother-in-law, an immigrant from Trinidad who came of age during the Depression, let nothing daunt her when people laughed at her ambition to work in coffee importing. Instead she became a teacher and convinced her husband to do the same. In 1945 they bought a farm for a song and eventually ran their own small eccentric school. Over the years, they added onto the original farmhouse and outbuildings in a haphazard, do-it-yourself (sometimes downright scary and dangerous fashion) and after his death my mother-in-law continued buying land and speculating in real estate. On vacations they managed to travel the world and wherever they went they brought back lots of stuff, making little distinction between gems and junk and never throwing anything away. As people from the Depression Era knew, you might need it someday. 

High Valley School, like the times in which such schools prospered, is no more, but High Valley the land, buildings, and eccentric spirit of the place continue under our direction as an (unendowed) center and an odd assortment of people living in not-quite-intentional community. Until my 98-year-old mother-in-law needed more care and moved to a home nearby (where she is avowedly relieved not to have to be in charge) we lived a mile or so away in a house where we raised our children. Now we are preparing to move into a tenant apartment above where my mother-in-law’s stuff still presents us with challenges. What stays, what goes in order to use the downstairs as adjunct center space? Ok, we don’t need to keep a dried up plastic snow scene encasing a leprechaun, but what about all the books, trashy, moldering, rare? And what about all our own stuff, and the stuff my natal family stored in our attic?

Wherever we look at High Valley, paint is peeling; wiring is questionable, plumbing, dysfunctional; energy use, disastrously inefficient. In the last week we have had one instance of power outage; one building ran out of fuel; in two others the pipes froze even with the heat on. Thanks to the sale (at a loss) of a house my mother-in-law built on speculation during a distant and fleeting real estate boom, we have some short-term cash. You better believe we are investing in infrastructure and energy efficiency. We are providing some jobs this winter. We won’t be building any new stuff, though. The land is in conservation easements, and our common purpose is to preserve it. We will be recycling some stuff, moving the fence of a long defunct tennis court to make a deer-proof vegetable garden. We will go on hosting house concerts, singing and poetry circles, seasonal rites. We will rent the facilities to groups who want a day among overgrown gardens and venerable trees. We will strive to pay the taxes and restore the place. Our dream is not growth but sustainability.

I hope the president will address that topic tonight. Our union’s present way of life is not sustainable: the miles of cavernous malls full of stuff (made elsewhere) staffed by underpaid workers who can’t afford to buy much stuff. Why then is our goal to make more stuff, so that we can cling to our slipping superpower status? What if we said (as my husband I have been forced to on a smaller scale): This place is falling apart, it’s a mess, but it has some beauty, some spirit. How can we tend our country, so that we can afford to keep it?