Where does inspiration lie? Everywhere!

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

Please join me with your comments and make this a dialogue . . . and visit Susan's Poetry!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Letters and Epistles and Quaker Process and Friendship

I am moved to share (and thus save) pieces from this year's PYM Sessions where I went and invested in the work of our undoing racism group (URG), hoping that we could put a structure in place to help our meeting(s) remain faithful to our determination of January 10th, 2015:   
  • Commit to increase our consciousness as Friends about the intersection of privilege and race in our culture and spiritual community. We know our knowledge is often limited by our own experiences and that we have much to learn from each other and from outside resources.
  • Commit to move forward with our entire community.  The yearly meeting is the community of all our individual Friends and monthly meetings and this work needs to be done with the involvement of all of us.
  • Commit to integrate this work into what we do in an ongoing way at the yearly meeting level. We want this work to become part of the fabric of what we do whenever we get together as yearly meeting members and attenders.
As a Yearly Meeting, PYM had asked ourselves this query, and still ask it:  What is God calling PYM Quakers to do next to end racism and white supremacy in the Religious Society of Friends and Beyond?
The Undoing Racism Group formed at PYM sessions in 2014 and has been meeting ever since to learn and share learning about how we experience racism, privilege and white supremacy within PYM. We are an open group of about 30 with a diverse core attendance. Originally we had worked in 4 subgroups for Accountability/Networking, Supporting POC, Education, and Community Outreach. Over the last two years we have contributed greatly to PYM--in Lucy's words: 
The Undoing Racism Group of Philadelphia YM has been working for two years to support the yearly meeting's central corporate witness expressed in this query, "What is God calling PYM Quakers to do next to end racism and white supremacy in the Religious Society of Friends and beyond?" We have offered 10 workshops at sessions last year and this, provided learning materials, a group of traveling workshop leaders, hosted a YM wide viewing of "I am not racist, am I?," hosted affinity groups and led events at YM annual sessions and continuing sessions, led events at Quarterly meetings and young adult Friends gatherings, held a retreat for Friends of Color last year, created a vision and plan for our work going forward, held open monthly meetings that always included learning activities... all while having no formal relationship or place at the table of the new PYM structure. (##‎wearepym‬)
This year we proposed an accountability relationship within our yearly meeting.  We brought it first to the Implementation Committee which didn't accept it but offered suggestions and questions.  Then we introduced it at sessions where it was also challenged.  We educated and held a NVA in support of the proposal, and--in response to feedback--brought in a softened, revised version suggesting a two-year experiment.  PYM could not unify behind this either despite an empassioned plea for unity from the Clerk of PYM.  The opposition and disapproval was (to me) surprisingly diverse and shocking.  Here are links to our two proposals:  
Undoing Racism Group- Proposed Structure and Leadership
Proposed Structure and Leadership, Revised Sunday July 31, 2016

These are my two notes to my Facebook self, separated by two days, from PYM:
First:  Essential conversations and change are underway at PYM Religious Society of Friends. Nothing comes easily--especially not seeing and then altering or abandoning structures that hold power in white middle class hands. Someday "we" will be all of us, through the love and grace of the Light that moves us to action. And, no, PYM is not a "big bad" racist organization, but it can and will be better when the testimonies we speak match our hearts, speech and behavior. We have the diseases of our time and place. When we begin to heal, we will be more effective and expressive in all areas important to us. We will be so rich! 
Second:  Sadness. Such Sadness. I'm at home again (and a very sweet ride it was!) after 4 days of Sessions with the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Many wonderful moments occurred, but we didn't reach unity on the major proposal to establish a new UnDoing Racism aspect to the administration of our yearly meeting--a proposal many of us developed after months of discernment. I am trying to understand how working a proposal through a business meeting harms a meeting for worship as some said, how trying this experimentally harms Quaker process. What are the alternatives? Maybe a staff person in this area? I wonder how that has worked out for AFSC? I suspect that expecting one person to be everywhere is a bit much. Can the undoing racism group stay together for the years it will take for Quakers to find our way to Unity? 
My letter to the presiding clerk of PYM:  
Thank you!  I am sending good will and Light and joy in your direction.  I’m sending this note in case you can’t feel it.  Your clerking on Sunday helped me to  see God in our midst—in all of PYM—in the body which is holy, every part necessary.  You grew so tall and full of grace as you stood there alone (but not alone) and asked for help and opened your heart.  I do believe some of the “Nos” were gut reactions to such an outrageous and faithfully authentic act.  And some were not.  You are right that there is as of yet no unity.  Yet we made incredible progress with your help and faithfulness.  People are talking about their learning and teaching—some have melted and some have hardened, and of course you know the rest.  I am listening to many points of view from white and non-white peoples and find  new understanding that will help me to move forward. Thank you for being a leader and for being part of all. I cannot send enough words of gratitude and love to express how I feel.

I include my letter to a F/friend who has experienced racism and has the courage to stand up for doing the right thing in both her town and her meeting, and has asked for Friends to accompany her for safety and support.  I did not understand what seemed to me to be her contradictory responses to URG:
I’m hoping this note will help us to know each other better.  Maybe for the last 2 years we weren’t really letting each other know who we were.  Maybe we’ve just changed over that time.  I know this time at PYM, I saw another part of you.  I’ve always seen you as loving and intelligent.  Now I see you as a person of power.  And this is wonderful to see. But I am also confused.  Maybe you can explain and maybe there is no explanation.  I don’t want to talk about the Upper Dublin Friends Meeting.  I want to talk about how I’ve seen you as a public speaker since July 12th Before the Commissioner’s Meeting on 7/12, I suggested that I come with you and your God Mother and asked your permission to let PYM know you were doing this and that you could use support.  Lots of people came at your call through me and others.  Your testimony was powerful. That wasn’t confusing.  But then, on Saturday at PYM business meeting, you testified that URG/PYM hadn’t done anything to support you.  And on Sunday at PYM,  when you voted “NO” to the revised proposal and said “Don’t piss on me and call it Rain” I felt that you were telling URG and PYM that you didn’t want anything done—or paradoxically wanted more done.  I didn’t understand. I felt that what you said Saturday wasn’t true—but if you believed it was true for the moment, what you said Sunday contradicted what you said Saturday.  I am asking you to explain. If I knew you better I wouldn’t have been so surprised.  I wouldn’t have felt undermined.  We should know what to expect from each other.
The PYM Young Adult Friends Epistle 2016 discussed the events of the weekend in an insightful appraisal of their work, a portion of which I quote here. Follow the link above for the entire letter:
This year, the Undoing Racism Group offered a proposal to establish the group’s role in the yearly meeting. During Saturday’s business sessions, members of the Undoing Racism Group called on the clerks’ table and the body to address where they fit in the new Philadelphia Yearly Meeting structure—business that was long overdue. Many Friends (literally or metaphorically) stood in solidarity with the Undoing Racism Group. Many members of our community were among the supporters of the call to amend the agenda and continue discernment. This clear leading of Spirit was shut down due to concerns about timing and process. We mourn our yearly meeting’s unwillingness to sacrifice the agenda for the movement of Spirit. We recognize the challenge of agenda-building, while at the same time holding a concern for the ways that rigid time structures perpetuate privilege and white supremacy in our yearly meeting. 
The PYM itself issued a worthy Outgoing Epistle which says, in part:  
Most importantly, throughout Annual Sessions we have talked, thought, prayed, and worshipped about how we will address racism and white supremacy. We disagreed; we protested; we were frustrated, angry, and discouraged. We are being held in the light and we seek its guidance. In all our conversations we made great efforts to speak our Truth with a goal of transforming ourselves and our yearly meeting. Our Young Friends testified that the phrase “people of color” did not resonate with them, to the extent that it should be changed.The Undoing Racism Group presented a proposal for formalizing the structure, leadership, and governance of Undoing Racism Group in relationship with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Using a tool, “Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Institution,” we attempted to place our Yearly Meeting along a spectrum of structural racism.  Many of our conversations about racism continued long into the night, in big and small groups, during meals, and in the hallways outside our formal sessions.. . . . The Undoing Racism Group has asked us to envision a blessed community. We will continue our labors to discern how to move rightly toward achieving that end.
I expect URG will also have an Epistle soon.  Much analysis of things said and unsaid has already been done through the group "Quakers Talk about Racism" on Facebook and through Instagram where the link is #wearepym.  
My friend responded to my letter (above) that she doesn't understand my letter and is unwilling to explain and wants me simply to accept this as her friend.  We have different views of friendship, but I will try.  

And I tried to write out my response to the entire event:
     Well it turns out that I cannot write rationally on PYM Sessions and URG. I am still emotional because my friend and I are fighting. I asked her to explain why Saturday she said PYM/URG did nothing to help her and then Sunday said “Don’t piss on me and call it rain.” I thought I might understand more about my friend and her perceptions since I got to know her and became friends through PYM, and that I felt she had the support she asked for. I have come to know her as smart and funny but most of all loving. We hang out—one of my few real friends. But her answer to me was that she didn’t owe me an explanation. True as this might be, I think we at least try to explain things to friends. So we are fighting. I keep thinking I have more to “get” here about how white supremacy limits friendship. She seems angry that I even ask!      
     I may use reason too much when what I want is love in community/communion/Friends and friendship. I will always stand to support when I finally understand. Thus my work in URG. I will always stand up. Even now I stand when I think we are getting the conversation we have wanted for two years—but trust the connections of URG that say it is not enough! The PYM community leans on its members of color and should trust them and those of us who “get it.” I am still standing, but think that this is a healthy time of truth-saying. I am still standing though perplexed. If only we can stay the course.  
   There are aspects of URG that are in process—the whole history many of you express (workshops, learning, etc) AND a means of networking (and setting a baseline for accountability) among all Friends Meetings. 1 2/3 years ago, the Networking subgroup asked for access to the data base of PYM members who came to the called meeting on the subject, and URG’s own clerks told us to drop it after a meeting with PYM leadership. Now, thanks to the PYM staff. this is HAPPENING, but it is undervalued as a way forward and a way of communicating. Dear Walter, Suzanne, Richie, Tricia, Christie, etc! I have been given a few pats on the head—which is not the point at all—but putting out the proposal could have been part of this ground-level bottom-up interaction. No one needed to be left to discover the proposals for the first time in Sessions. But since it was the first time, the push back has some logic to it.  
     I regret that URG began to operate without subgroup clerks' meetings and the brainstorming that was involved. I think, given this mistake, other mistakes were bound to happen. And other amazingly beautiful things as well, like Richie and Vanessa leading the full-session exercise, like Gabriella standing up and speaking truth to power, like finding the standing URG committee was more than 1/3 of those in attendance and like Penny standing on the end of the stage also speaking her truth to power. WOW!    
I am happy now to have Viv and Lucy lead us into conversations—happy about the participation. Let’s save it and report from it as way opens. Let us continue on this way. I am praying that we don’t lose the people we love as URG changes to go on and PYM changes too. If only we can stay the course‪#‎wearepym‬
I will write more as way opens.  

Way opens 8/12/2016:  

We are still knocking heads, my friend and I.  We are equally stubborn, and maybe she hurts at this loss as much as I.  I cannot know as she hasn't said.  I woke up to another email/text that says don't come back until you've changed.  

But today's meditation has been opening my heart to see where I have done wrong.  So I sent it to her, too.  
Beginning with Yes
Author: Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Yesterday, the URG Networking Committee met and determined to move forward.  Since the URG Clerks had already initiated a mailing through PYM, we may be no longer necessary as a committee.  This is good, but I see some use in continuing to call it URG networking so PYM sees the work of URG more clearly.

I will write more as way opens.

Way opens--and, be warned, this is personal.  No more butting heads.  My "friend" writes in her last note:
Susan, "we are both wrong"? Really? No, I am not wrong for saying I didn't want to talk about an issue. I am not wrong for, two years ago, not driving to see you. You have pulled all the tricks out of the hat: guilt, talking with people on FB about our alleged situation (one you created),  threatening friendship, going in the past to bring up a sore point for you, and now saying we are both to blame. No, this "I am wrong, you were wrong" approach is unfair to me. I recognize all the tactics you are using to get me to admit guilt or shame so YOU can feel better about an unnecessary situation you created. 
Again, I am not wrong. I am not going to discuss Undoing Racism.
This is my last email about this.
I am your friend. 

Is this friendship?  It's definitely clear speaking. I don't understand how or why it is wrong to ask a friend's feelings/position on something we are both involved in.  Maybe someday she will tell me, but right now she wants me to accept an absolute "no."  At first I thought she mistakenly believed I needed her to agree with me.  I no longer believe that is so.  Argh! 
My funny, hurting, loving friend (who hadmore hope for genuine Quaker justicethan you can imagine) has left me—andan angry mistrusting accuser hastaken her place.  While I don’t find myselffree from error, I’m not the trickster shedescribes. And she was never mean before. She who used to be kind, critiques with cruelintent, not caring what is lost.  Maybesomeone else speaks through her?  I miss her so!I can’t withstand the accusations.  I’mbewildered and speechless.  And I am done. Maybe in less intense days, we can try again.Right now I am hurting too much to know.

I will write more as way opens.

Monday, June 6, 2016

First Do No Harm

Layers in My Life

Today I moved into Richard Rohr's meditation on the 8th and 9th step of AA, his take on how the creator of the 12-Step Program can help anyone to Let Go and Let God.  

This was the hardest day for me so far.  It took me three hours to think through who I have harmed through my addictions to property, privilege and righteousness--and how I might ever make amends.  This is three hours on top of a lifetime of paying attention to the oppressions in play around me.

As I have done for the previous meditations in this series, I let my contemplation culminate in a poem, but it is not a poem.  Rather, it turns out to be "a thinking through" of how to move forward from this moment, how to remove one irritant from the vast field of racism that oppresses people of color.

Steps Eight and Nine: Reparations

“It is the indispensable tool against white supremacy.  One cannot
propose to plunder a people, incur a moral and monetary debt,
propose to never pay it back, and then claim to be seriously
engaging in the fight against white supremacy.”
TA-NEHISI COATES, The Atlantic 1/19/2016 

I didn’t mind taking the apartment
that was offered to me just 'cause my skin
was white, one little needle in the hay,
just one more straw to break a burdened back. 

Besides, I lost a scholarship four years before
because Black students stood up and sat-in
demanding equitable aid at last.
Years later, I finally understand:

I never doubted I could find a way
to borrow, work and pay with a fine home
and way opening up for me.  I had
to struggle, true, but I knew what to do.

Presumed innocent in all my conflicts,
I could assume police would protect me
even when I protested war, even
when they did not (like in cases of rape).

But wait.

I’m here to make lists and amends
and find a way to make reparations
too.  Sifting through my life, I see students
I held back and passed on when I shouldn’t—

Ah! Harm. But now, persist!  If we agree
a subject is worth learning, I’ll learn, too,
and break apart structures to find out why
and who they empower the way they are.

And that’s the question I will answer now:
whose feet am I stepping on to be heard
when I aggress and speak up first because
I can, I have, I will, and I am I?

Still blind, I almost pause to stop the flow
of power to me.  I almost respect
you, Friend.  Any minute now I’ll get it
and pause.  Instead of plowing on, I’ll stop.

And then how will I make amends? Now that
I know experimentally
that I hurt you, can I repay? Or pay
forward what I can never quite retract?
At least do no more harm or hold you back?**


Notes:  If I have made progress today, it's because yesterday I participated in an URG meeting, a gathering of a small group of Quakers, an Un-Doing Racism Group within the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. There I marveled at an unspoken dynamic, one in which I both acted and reacted badly.  Three times women of color and white women and men asked that people be mindful of speaking too much or too often, and I suspected they were cautioning me--that I was the aggressor--and they were trying to do so respectfully.  But I couldn't stop.  In fact, I provoked more because I thought those who cautioned were also avoiding meeting my eyes.   And I was aware of being out of line, but I did it anyway. Ugh.  I couldn't stop.  Now God lets me see myself in an inner ocean of shame, but won't let me stay there. That would be too easy. Instead, I have to become aware, write it down and apologize and change.  And it is in here I finally find humility in myself and practice steps Eight and Nine of the Twelve Steps: 
  • Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.*

I have written this down so that I may remember it.  I am not too old to learn, and I hope there is more!  I write this down so that I can pay forward by sharing what I learn about white supremacy with other white people.  God knows it takes us a long time--it takes me a lifetime--to inch forward.

*“J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 55.

**Part of my series Oh, Ye of Little Faith*

My blog poems are rough drafts. 
Please respect my copyright.

© 2016 Susan L. Chast

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Oh, Ye of Little Faith*

Image Credit_ http___morguefile.com_creative_jclk8888_1_all
Image by jclk8888., posted with the Richard Rohr Meditation referenced below

My writing is the prayer that opens me
up to the meditations I read and/
or hear now each and every morning .

A discipline of sorts, it heals my sins
of Absence, Addiction and Attachment.
As a child I competed to get A’s—

But, now, Alone time is the only A
I seek.  Not even Absolution is
preferable to Love, Unlimited.

Writing is the prayer that opens
me—paradoxically opens me—to
in-pouring Love of which words are mere trace.

Out-pouring is the call that I am more
or less obedient to, ministry
I do not understand and so resist.

My writing is the prayer that opens me
beyond logos to roiling listening
and eventually to giving back.

And I hereby exhort myself to write—
despite not feeling it—despite what we
excuse as writer’s block, despite boredom.

Oh, yes, I bore myself and turn to film
and other diversions—most of which are
empty occupations which lead me back.

To where if  I were willing and able
to write through reams of dross, I’d think past
what I can write now into faithfulness.

If I could know the story’s end before,
how easy it would be to follow course—
how little faith I would need, then, to write.

*Matthew 8:26  He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  (New International Version)

Inspired by today's meditation by Richard Rohr: 

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 1
Sunday, May 29, 2016

Quote:  "Nine of Jesus' healing stories are actually exorcisms. Although we may think we are too sophisticated for such stories, the fact that there are so many speaks to their importance. I understand "possession by devils" as a primitive but absolutely truthful way of referring to what we now call addiction. In each case, the person is in some sense trapped by a larger force, and is powerless to do anything about it. The only cure for possession is "repossession." You have to be repossessed by Something Greater than the disease."

Find the entire meditation HERE

And I haven't written either blog posts or chapters since ... since .... Perhaps this is a new beginning.

It generated a series of poems:  

In case you are interested, here are The Twelve Steps of AA (from Great Britain).

My blog poems are rough drafts. 
Please respect my copyright.

© 2016 Susan L. Chast

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Did I say I wouldn't have time to write until Easter?

File:Rembrandt, Hendrickje schlafend.jpg
A Young Woman Sleeping by Rembrandt (1654)

I seem to be always tired.  Especially when it's my time to write.

It is now Thursday, the 7th of April, two days after I created the above title and typed the following confessional narrative. Which is really for me, but I am trying to be open. 

Didn't I say I wouldn't have time to write until Easter?

Uh huh, I said after Easter. I was talking about my novel-in-progress, but here it is Tuesday, the 5th of April and I haven't written a blog post either. I've attempted a poem a day as April is national poetry month, but the real time consumer is being back on Facebook. I've got to get back on schedule! The early writing, half-hour worship, settling down to the computer until lunch, etc--all that worked!

This is why I arranged with my friend Jennifer to start Friday writing again, though she is still far away and engaged in parent care. I'm typing here the question and outcome of last Friday's writing, because if I can't get down to writing, maybe copying out of notebooks is where to begin—even a week after I actually wrote this.

What's Next For Alice?

My pen skipped when I began to write, a great symbol to begin with. I think that must happen for Alice.  She writes all of her known stories and she can't write more until the end of our time together when a story comes to her at the reunion.  Oh, yes, of course, she goes to the reunion, though finding a reason to go that will overcome all of the reasons not to is major.  I haven't discovered it yet. 
Maybe the story she tells at the reunion will be "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." I could write this ending next, I think, letting her find out that the dwarfs—the women she used to know—are just regular people after all. The dwarfs will not be dwarfs when the film is off her eyes. Is it the film of self-absorption and stuck-ness in the past? Something more than that. 

The Snow White who was sent out into the world by the dwarfs to be with her Prince had to learn to stand up for herself. They all had to learn that, actually, even the Prince. (That's been covered thematically in the musical Into the Woods.  But that show did not use Snow White's story.)  The dwarfs will all take new names. 
In the original Grimm tale, the seven dwarfs were unnamed. Using the names from the familiar 1937 animated Disney film (AKA first Disney film), they begin as Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey.  And as in the Pixar film Inside Out, these separate characters can all be seen as parts of one person. I haven't determined the new names yet, but, for example, Sleepy could become Alert; Grumpy could become Happy ; and Happy could become Grumpy. 

Snow White will also undergo a transformation and take a new name. I don't know what yet. One thing is she'll learn that she has been Snow WHITE, a lesson in privilege that doesn't end. Will she learn to love the mistakes in her life that led her to her new knowledge?   Mistakes like taking the wrong side of European Imperialism in This River of Women when it came to the plays of ntozake shange?  Will she be content to get home again and stay there?  I think she'll still prefer to live alone in the life she's created for herself. She'll choose to be who she has always beenthe lovable companion to Miracle Kitty who we met at the beginning of the novel.

Have all ties to home died now that Alice's cat has died? OOHHH! I've leaked another bit I haven't written yet.  This is the huge tragedy of the second half of the book.  Given Miracle's place in Alice's life, what can matter after this? Will she still have her young friend Ricky? The one thing that all the women Alice reunites with have in common is animal companions. 
When Miracle Kitty dies, Alice's friend Sybil is there. I'll use the disease and feelings around Milla's death that Sheila and I actually experienced together in Berkeley, CA. I'll have to ask her what the cancer was.  

Moving backwards from the end of the novel, how does it happen that Sybil is with Alice? They haven't seen each other in decades. (And those long solitary vacation times I spent with Sheila—who is the model for Sybil in the novel—may be a sore spot. I’ll explore the ways it is both wound and blessing to have such a long-time friend.  Bits of Nancy and Tree are in there too.)  

Alice calls Sybil because she has now opened the boxes she's been storing in her locked closet. Alice will call Sybil to see if she is going to the reunion and if so, if Sybil will visit her on the way. This is approaching the climax of the main plot, and it is where I am stuck now.  

Why is it so hard for her to open the past? 

And why open it now?

I think I've established her love for boating on unruffled waters. She has been loving her life.  But now, her storytelling has had to change, and now there is Ricky.  His pain and openness and visit open doors that give Alice insight and courage to face her dead. She is able to step in to one of her stories.  I have to go back and be sure I've established enough suspense around this as I zip this lady open. But first I must write through this bump in the road.

What is in the boxes that would make her call Sybil? 

Alice will find the pictures of her and Sybil taking vacations together in Maine, maybe the actual Monhegan Island and Ogunquit that Sheila and I visited. Here is a friendship that wasn't dependent on the politics of the time.  Whether or not she goes to the reunion, she finds a yearning to see Sybil.  Her co-creator in theatre, Maya, was Sybil's sister.

What stories from each box should I tell?

Only the hottest and the sweetest ones, like the one I've already told from the Women's Music Festival.  

From the YWCA I'll tell two or three stories about (1) leaving so someone else will get the executive director job, (2) the conference of Women in the Arts and meeting both Bernice Reagan and Audre Lorde, and (3) Maybe include the story about the mission of the YWCA and the visiting members of a South African YWCA.

Stories from the Hagborn newspaper? I'm not sure. From the Black Hills Conference, only the story of my car going. More from the Women's Music Festivals? Maybe I've already told enough, though the story of Susan S and the crystals is also a good one. 

From This River of Women Theatre Company, I've already told the story of Maya and Alice conceiving of the company.  I've already told the story of the ntozake shange play, but I could tell the story of Susan Griffin's Voices which played at the Women in the Arts Conference at the Y.  Did I tell yet of It's Better to Speak? That would be a way in to talk about the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice.

And from the Women's Center itself, speak of music and dances and coffee houses and reading poetry and the nearby bar and FUSE and what else is there in the boxes?  How can I make these as lively as the stories Alice tells that aren't in the boxes?  She's got to include some of her poetry in the book she is composing from her performances.

Oh! The self-portraits from those machines that make a strip of four. I used to make one a year—that’s something Alice seems too introverted for. But PICTURES! Of the male lover and the female one. And many of friends and cats—Rosa was Tree’s cat and Milla and Emily were Sybil’s and Grasshopper was another and I will remember more.  And dogs.  And birds.

I remember a line from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town when Emily wants to visit the land of the living after her death, and the Stage Manager tells her “Pick a day. Pick any day. But make sure that it is an ordinary day because an ordinary day will be special enough.” Emily picks a birthday. 

What would Alice pick first as a special day to return to? Would she go directly to her women’s community box or work around it? Would she go directly to the Women’s Theatre Company box or would she leave that one for last? Which box first? Perhaps the Music Festival because she’s already remembered it? And all of that festival time evokes her female lover. Leave Julianna for last? Leave the question about why everyone left her for being with a man for last?

Wait!  No one left her. She left them. Why? And why did she feel abandoned? Was she ashamed of what she had done? Or was she that hurt by the theatre company? Who, by the way, did everything in its collective power to help her, including taking a disastrous journey to NYC to do a scene from Fefu and Her Friends as an audition in front of Carl Weber, the director of graduate studies at NYU.

Good golly.  

Maybe I need to unpack my own closet and start sorting through and tossing stuff to make this all happen. Should I include the covens? The women I knew there? 

The Peace Encampment should maybe be first as that’s when my lover and I were estranged. Versus the YWCA which is when/where we met. I remember how disappointed she was when I left my job as Director of Women’s Programs.

Tremble, but then start.

So, well, Chast, can you make a viable narrative out of this complexity or not? Start somewhere, anywhere, and juggle the parts together in a different order later. You knew you were coming to the hard part, the floodgates part. Let your reader stand in the swelling flood, the tumbling house of cards from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Open your heart to it. Why grow silent now? Enter the Maelstrom. There is no other way to the other side. Interesting that Tanya’s prompt for today (Friday, 1 April) was to do something that I am afraid of. Do it, do it, do it!

To answer the question of what is next for Alice is to answer the question of what is next for me! Enter the closet. Sort. Note the feelings and stories. Let Alice figure this out in a new chapter where she is sitting on her couch—Miracle Kitty watching warily from the Dining Room table or the window sill or the Rocker—knowing something is wrong, afraid that they are moving again. An upheaval is coming. Is in process. Maybe Alice will decide to take one thing from each pile.

So how to move forward? 

Maybe open a box a day to sort. At the least do three boxes a week. This all must happen before summer. 

And so, do not duck out of going to Emma’s writing retreat by the sea next weekend. Gather the objects I want to make a spiritual altar for my character Alice—or what one of her friends might keep about her.

Do it.


Pray about it. Pray in color. Do it.