Where does inspiration lie? Everywhere!

This is my attempt to pounce on and then shape the words I breathe.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Free-writing with Jen: Knots

Getting inside the mystical experience that occurs when I get to the end of my rope:

Knot components

I am at cliff’s edge and God catches me. I think I am going to fall but float instead. I think I am going into the dark but it’s bright with light. I think I’ll cry until I die but smile instead.  I feel my back too bent over but it straightens and lets me take a few dance steps.  I find I can wash the dishes and don’t have to throw them out. And I am glad no one calls because I want this time for myself alone.   

[I stop writing to check the cat because she is too quiet. I take off my pants because they are too tight. And my knees hurt. I have to learn other ways of doing things so I can sit and write without excess discomfort.]

Today is not a mystical day.  I am plodding along with words and breath and sips of water.  My hand, a fist around a pen, produces small scratchy handwriting and not my third grade all-American classic slant.    

One of my performance characters, Alice—who is now the main character in the novel I am writing—has all my ailments and more, but she wouldn't write about them.  Prude and loner that she is, she'd rather talk about lust.  She remembers audience reactions when she said that Helen of Troy had told her she would rather sleep with books than with a man.  While performing Alice performing Helen, I lay down in a pile of broken books and rubbed my body with them. The audience found this titillating, strange, even disgusting.  But was it?  Neither Alice nor I think so, though we may agree that the truth of it is nobody's business.

So what is the knot you are writing about today?  The moment when you realize that you ran out of paper and you are writing on the table instead. [I remember doing this when typing on a manual typewriter.]  Oh!  The moment when you realize you are seeing the sunset but the sunset isn’t seeing you.  The moment you realize, I mean, that the sunset has shown itself but I have hidden.  That moment of bewilderment followed by its opposite: I’m not falling apart.  I’m falling UP! 

[The phone rang, but I was too UP to answer it.  I hear construction sounds from outside, but the soft smells of winter don’t match its thud and mud.]

What is the knot I am writing about?  Passion.  Do I ever write about anything else? 

Do I ever write about anything but the absorption in the wait-a-minute, as in Wait a minutesomething’s moving and alive out there.  Is it a squirrel or a seed? a sibling? a lion?

Bring it on, God!  Plant something alive in the expiring light so it’ll be there when I am ready to see it; when we are ready to see each other.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Susan's Poetry: Self-Reliance

Susan's Poetry: Self-Reliance: Girl on a Swing by Winslow Homer (1879)

           My poem grew as a result of an evening weeping and sobbing like I have never had before.  My friend Helene suggests my experience might be explained by the Hebrew lament tradition--for which she has resources and she has run workshops with a wise friend.  This interests me.  Yet, I fear that taking it into lament tradition will intellectualize it before I have learned all that I can from it.  So here, before I pursue that direction, I will try to put the experience itself into words as raw and true as the moments in which I lived it.
          This writing is a step forward, a capture, from which will most likely come a death and a scientific dissection of the body.   Let us call this phase getting to know the live animal in the wild, finding out where it will lead me or if it will eat out of my hand.  Is there another option between me going wild or me taming it?  If so, I hope I will discover it.
          This poem was my reaction on the next day:

File:WLA hmaa Winslow Homer Girl on a Swing.jpg
Girl on a Swing by Winslow Homer (1879)


Crying for hours with no
hope of rescue created
the river I needed 
to swim out to sea.

Who knew what blessings
your absence would bring? 

Now that I have descended cliffs,
leapt into currents, breasted waves
and tasted the sea, your little 
rope swing and your caution
have no more appeal for me.

These are the parts as I see them prior to writing.  This means I am trusting first instincts to have meaning in the narration of an event.  I don't know how I would approach this if I hadn't written this poem which suggests form or structure: 

  1. Situation of the crying
  2. Hope of rescue
  3. River  (a) cliffs, (b) currents, (c) waves
  4. Sea

I will write out each of these sections.  
Until I do, here are the notes I have on each:

1.  Situation of the crying:  Pain.  Spasms with follow up burning and inability to escape into sleep
2.  Calling Nancy and asking for her company.  Being turned down.
3.  Crying actual wet tears.  Not being able to stop. Calling out "O God!" and realizing I wanted God's help--a God I tried to visualize but could not.  Perhaps that is the cliff that needed ascending/scaling descending, but what are the currents andthe waves?  What is the experience of letting go and riding naked?  Of trying not to?
4.  Going there anyway.  Crying in that place.  A vast sea of Godness expanding me-ness, removing the boundaries of me-ness, absorbing me, rocking me to sleep.  My cat was present.
 And there is a 5: Waking refreshed and changed with the sensation of love and possibility.  Spending the day working on my body lovingly with each exercise.  Writing this poem.  Creating my notebook and calendar gifts.  Talking on the phone to Avis.  Talking in person to Nancy.  Rounding the day with sleep.
 And there is a 6:  In a phone call Helene asking me to talk about "going to that place"--literaly and figuratively her call was a wake-up call.  This is something to spend more time with.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Free-writing with Jen: Thinking about Mystical Experience

Pendle Hill above mist photo by Dr Greg
As we travelled, we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.
George Fox: An AutobiographyChapter 6

Mystic River
Mystic, Connecticut

There is no magic in these words applied so widely.  Was Mystic, CT named after a divine mystical experience?  What of Mystic River?   I can imagine a river being mystical—as in self-aware of existence on more than one plane that is accessible—when its garbage is out of the way.  I would imagine that for a river this would occur closest to its source. 

I have read about famous mystics and have read work by famous mystics—those who were natural or religiously inspired or induced by peyote: Carlos Castaneda, Kahlil Gibran, Omar Khayyam, Rumi, Gurdjieff, Starhawk and Susan Griffin, Hildegard, St. Francis, Meister Eckhart, William Blake, Whitman, Jesus and lots of Quakers and poets and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and also Archery.  I imagine the Bible was written by mystic types whether they knew it or not.  I suppose that priests have access and awareness whether or not they use them. 

But I never noticed that I myself had mystical experience until I had my first few experiences as a Quaker.  After that I could look back over my life and question experiences I had before I knew the concept of mysticism.  And I still wonder if by its very nature the Religious Society of Friends—Quakers—is/are a mystical faith.  Does having mystical experiences make someone a mystic? 

I first met Quakers when part of the planning collective for the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in the early 1980s.  It wasn’t long before I started attending worship with them at Albany Friends Meeting, attracted by two Quakers—a mother and daughter team—who always saw the positive in each situation and smiled while others frowned and struggled.  One day while sitting in Meeting for Worship, I thought I was mind-wandering because my eyes were open and I was looking at each individual in our circle.  Their outlines began to blur until I saw blobs of flesh stuffed into clothes with facial features and long stringy arms and legs.  What the Hell?  But I wasn’t mind-wandering.  As I squeezed my eyes open and shut to shake free my vision, I heard—maybe—what was a voice saying: See?  People are all made of the same stuff, but they are shaped differently with different skills to do different tasks.  So if one of you does it, you all do it—no need for competiveness or jealousy.  That took some unpacking.  It was months before I told anyone.

Another instance from the same time period again appeared in the form of a voice in Meeting for Worship, this time with an added push to it:  Anyone can sit in front of a tank.  You make theatre.  Why aren’t you making theatre?  That should have been clear enough and I did make a piece—a collective piece for the Peace Encampment—letting go of my organizational involvement and other protests.  But it took clearness committees and eldering before I left Albany for graduate school in theatre.  It wasn’t until 4 years later in my third year of Berkeley, California’s PhD Director-Scholar Program that I received the vision that made me realize I had been having mystical experiences.

Again, a voice came in Meeting for Worship, but this time it felt Job-like in give and take.  I remember that I had been absent from meeting for two weeks because I had fallen down 9 concrete steps and had been laid up with a concussion and a cracked thumb bone.  I was saying Thank you for saving my life and for not giving up on me when I am such a bungler, constantly miss-stepping and that in the theatre of all places instead of doing your work.  I was rambling prayer-like, eyes tightly closed when I heard words that made me shut up and stand up: No.  Thank you.  Thank you for Being.  Thank you.   I protested and heard the words again:  Thank you for Being.  Thank you. And I felt overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude enveloping me—not only mine for God but God’s for me.  I was lifted up quite literally into a mystical experience.  I felt my eyes opened as I re-applied myself to my studies, trusting that even if I didn’t see the connections right away, I was doing God’s work.  With my passion for work, that I now saw as God’s passion, I moved forward to become a professor, travelling where that took me until that changed. 

The more I experienced God, the more I yearned for God and the society of others who knew for what they were longing: other Quakers.  Quakerism is a mystical religion, waiting on people to be wanting mystical experience and moved into action by it.  Whether those people are mystics or not is for each participant to judge.  I think I am not a mystic though I now recognize I have had a life full of the kind of experiences that can be called mystical because they included awareness of and interaction with life on another plane than earth.  I think now of my experiences with folk and mythic creatures from tales and stories when I was young and then storytelling in my entire life.  This led to performance years ago and poetry now, wherein I often feel moves and words come from another plane that I interpret boldly.   If this is not God or my Buddy Jesus, it is certainly not of devils or anything evil but an opening of a way to healing for me and/or others.  In contrast, when I am self-aware, I am shy, doubtful and hesitant.  And when I don’t experience God for lengths of time, the depression feels like withdrawal from a fountain of light and drive, a forgetting of what joy and fun are. Fun: a God-given rush and state of being not unlike love, an experience as important as belonging and compassion and contentment.

It is possible that my experience and conclusions have nothing to do with mysticism, that if I had never felt alienated I would know they were merely what humans have available to them daily.  But as a Quaker, I experience other people’s recounting of their experience and therein I hear enough AWE to know these experiences are about our relationship with God. 

Everyone has access to spiritual relationship with God, but few dare to follow.  Isn’t that odd?  To have access to Joy and to refuse it?  But some of the Passion is of the Burning-Bush variety, and—say what you might—few people want to go that far from their comfort zone.  The ones that do are the subject of books, and I am not one of those. Not yet.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Have a Heart: a poem about Racism

Why don't I write poems about racism?  It's hard and it takes courage and other impetuses like rage and loss.  Which I have, and which now are surging.  So this is a beginning to a cycle.  It is itself a circular poem: when you get to the end, start again at the beginning.

Have a Heart

My heart developed abnormalities
absorbing years of antidepressants.
HahahaHA!  having absorbed years of
antidepressants, my heart’s abnormal!

I am in the USA privileged
classes.  And now no reason remains not 
to address class ism and race ism.  
Does reason exist?  Reasons don’t exist.

Neither in my heart nor yours.  Take courage.
Courage: from the Latin cor meaning heart.
Heartache follows.  I don’t choose sadness
and outrage, they chose me as whiteness did.

Choose me!  I called out again and again
while growing up a poor white Jewish girl
too dumb to notice everyone’s pity.
So poor that poor victims befriended me.

Why didn't you tell me that she was black?
I just thought she was beautiful, my friend,
name begins with an M, we jump rope and
whisper and giggle while boys call Heifers!

And that was that.  Discovering systems
that separated and divided  in
binary codes has taken my whole life
and double that to dis-empower them:

boy and girl, adult and child, rich and poor,
white and black, white and color, suburb and
city, city and country, teacher and
student, English speaking and not English

educated and uneducated—
where I jumped all class expectations with
the help of sixty thousand plus dollars
accumulated school loans, I paid off

though it took thirty-five years privilege—
white privilegeto be eligible
for loans, lower-priced housing in pretty
neighborhoods, loan extensions, credit, jobs

though it took forty five years to learn how
to say no and took trial and error
to become part of community—I’m
human now with a heart worth living.

Have a heart is a meaningful statement
to those of us who are healing our scars 
from race ism and class ism and who 
make dismantling both our privilege.  

Posted at Poets United   Poetry Pantry # 215

Copyright © 2014  S.L.Chast

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Native Seeds

Native Seeds

What’s in a seed? Literally, I mean—
Since it is the final line between life and death.

Seed crops are big business in the Twenty-
Teens, as modified chemical commodities.

Who will buy unmodified seeds? Take a
Chance on root rot and visually imperfect fruit?

Go native, eschew “intellectual
property” and find unadulterated seeds?

Look in your backrooms and deepest pockets.
Look in the guts of frozen stone-age animals.

Look in green houses of rich new-agers.
Look in backyards of impoverished survivors.

Before it is too late, look in our wombs
where eggs and sperm await science’s benefits.

Question farmers and cooks, keepers of lost
sciences of harvesting food and next year’s seed.

Ask them what is native to the land and
what’s in a seed?  Literally, and soon.

The final line between life and death
Seeds famed as movie stars, as the best game in town.

Copyright © 2014  S.L.Chast

Note:  For a critical response to Vandana Shiva see "Why Vandana Shiva is so right and yet so wrong " by  in Grist.org (20 Aug 2014).