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, February 10, 2020

A Mary Oliver poem

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created. 
Under the orange 

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again 

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands 

of summer lilies. 
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails 

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere. 
And if your spirit
carries within it 

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging --- 

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted --- 

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning, 

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy, 
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray. 

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver 
© Mary Oliver

Starting Over after a 2-Year Hiatus: A Story

I was so worried about being empty-headed that I filled and filled my head with interest and information and activity until I overflowed.  What a waste, I thought.  Unlike music filling and spilling, this was less touching than intrusive.  And, actually, I had to sit and let it all settle—use some up and let the rest settle—before I noticed that a little emptiness allowed for my soul to expand.  Soul is the opposite of ego, I think.  Brain activity expanded my ego, but this expansion took some of the “I” out. 
Perhaps I am still capable of asserting my skills, but that isn’t the pull of the soul in the moment.   The pull is to get up, move outdoors and walk.   We are mid-winter here in the Northeastern United States, so the sun lingers longer each day—at least daylight is longer even in the rain.  Winter hasn’t really shown up.  One 32 degree day and one tornado do not a winter make, but make my thoughts turn toward climate change.  If I’m ever to walk out of doors, I had better do it before it's impossible.
Winter here has meant road work every few blocks and the noise that accompanies it.  I don’t feel up to wrestling with that.  Standing in my yard to sense which way my path might lead, I notice buds greening themselves on Azalea bushes and Dogwood trees.  The Crocus heads peeping out of the earth two months early are dwarfed.  They didn’t have enough cold to hibernate, rest, and grow underground. 
They remind me of the fact that fewer species of plants and animals survived last season’s storms and fires.  I recently heard that it had reached 60 degrees in the Arctic.  I wouldn’t surprise me to hear that we had become un-moored from our place in the solar system, and were about to drift away with unknown results.  I try to imagine President Trump guiding the ship of state through that emergency, with no belief in science and with a full crew who is not privy to his navigational charts.  Non-cooperation lost us our leadership as nations unite around the earth.  We may be more powerful than any three of nations put together, but that doesn’t mean we can navigate the universe.  The whole earth would have to choose a path; we cannot detach our land mass from it.
There goes my head again.  To drop out of the rushing panic such thoughts bring, I get on my knees near a bed of soil that could be a garden.  I wrap my mind around my own land mass—this quarter acre which represents my citizenship, a stability I hold onto despite ensuing storms and hordes of displaced people on the move around the earth. 
I think I feel the earth warm and soften under me, and imagine I hear a sigh.  Walking anywhere else leaves my mind.  I could use loving care and so could my earth.  No, this is not MY earth.  I don’t own this spot so much as it owns me—never mind the jokes about mortgages and related costs, paperwork, and permits.  Never mind the taxes I have to pay to village, town, county, state and country.  Suddenly, I want to have a better relationship with this earth, one in which I accept who she is and learn how I can take part in her healing. 
I’m late.  I know several people who have been doing this all their lives.  Maybe now I get why.  My soul has grown enough to understand that, but it stops expanding the minute I think competitively.  So what if others have been doing this for decades?   I spent the same years following a leading to teach and to purchase land.  Now here, again, I’m being pulled in a definite direction.  Hallelujah!  It’s about time. 
 I rip up a tiny area of lawn before going back inside, feeling as if I’d been in prayer.  My knees ache.  I’ll have to contend with physical limits, but I can, I think.  To begin with, I’ll reread Braiding Sweetgrass.  I’ll research what is and who is indigenous here.  I’ll move slowly.  As Theodore Roethke put it, in his poem “The Waking”:

The Waking
. . . .
Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

#  Susan Chast, copyright 2020 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Resolutions of a writer who hasn't been writing, of an activist who has been inactive


A few weeks ago I had a meltdown.  Oh, I wailed, nothing is working out!  

  • I have a novel half way done that I haven't looked at for almost 2 years, 
  • My father is now in a nursing home with dementia, 
  • One of my best friends has a nasty cancer, 
  • I'm a clerk of a Monthly Meeting whose members rarely attend,
  • Students don't show up for tutoring or come very late,
  • I skip business-like meetings myself,
  • Others attend protests while I wait to be led and I take more classes,
  • I forget to do my PT exercises,
  • I don't want to do all the cleaning and fixing my house needs, and
  • I have two cats who don't love me--or aren't affectionate.

I determined to put down all of my worries and "just have fun."

When I asked my long-time friend and housemate to help me make a list of fun things, she laughed.  That will be a short list, she said, See film. That's what she does for fun.  

Besides, she continued.  You'll never do it.  You'll feel guilty about everything.

I considered that a challenge.  Since then I have seen 4 movies, read 2 books, attended a read-a-thon and a concert. I've cut my volunteer teaching in half.  I've made plans to walk where I haven't tread before. and to borrow her car for day trips to the Jersey shore.  I've only felt guilty about some of it.

Giving myself permission to have fun has increased the time I spend in meditative and prayer modes. Recently, I've glanced at both, spent seconds in them, and rushed through ritual I had developed over time.  It's good to slow down again, to be present to myself.  To write more poetry.


An odd source of help for this change has been Session 2 of the AFSC webinar "Changing Systems, Changing Ourselves: anti-racist practice for Sanctuary, accompaniment, and resistance" ~ CSCO for short. Facilitators focused the second session on how those in sanctuary experience their would-be allies. Panelists were not all bilingual so we would hear first in Spanish and waited for the English translation. Leaders said they wanted us to experience how much slower things go when translation is involved. They also modeled for us how to decenter English as the standard communication tool. To participate, I found I not only slowed down, but became more present than impatient: I stopped anticipating what people would say or do. This meant I occupied the moment and listened more completely. I became intent. I listened intentionally, centering the speakers. I can only hint at how amazing this bilingual session was, with the very insistence of it changing me. I remember the theatre theorist, Antonin Artaud, speaking of hearing an unknown language as an important way to dive beneath the surface in "Theatre and its Double." I thought he was speaking only of rhythms, emotions and emphases ~ but I now know he was speaking of letting go of the ego entirely to be present. To be fascinated.
Further, two of the CSCO speakers offered advice: Make the relationship the priority, not the task. This is more than letting the one who needs assistance be the leader. It is where the spiritual gift resides for the ally as well as the one in conflict. Maybe less will be done, but it will be more important, more human/spirit, more helpful and more gifting for my own spirit. 

Deciding to have fun is opening gates for me.  Time will tell.  Right now I have to practice.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

In the Mood of Tesseract*

My mood is from time folding, as described in A Wrinkle in Time , a young adult science fantasy novel written by  Madeleine L'Engle. The novel was published in the times I'm folding back to, but I'm sure I didn't read it until the end of undergraduate college days, 10 years later.  Here's how Wikipedia writers describe L'Engle's tesseract:  
In the novel, the tesseract functions more or less like what in modern science-fiction is called a space warp or a wormhole, a portal from one area of space to another which is possible through the bending of the structure of the space-time continuum. This meaning is unrelated to the mathematical notion of a tesseract, a shape analogous to a cube in a space with four spatial dimensions.

Schlegel wireframe 8-cell.png
Schlegel diagram
of the mathematical concept

The mood and its music is anxious and emergency and nostalgic simultaneously as the conditions that moved me in my youthful anti-Vietnam War work seem to be recurring in the expanding War on Terrorism the USA has engaged in since the 9/11/2002 attacks on the USA.

Origami rabbit ear fold.

What's new in me is awareness of white supremacy, particularly how it shows itself in European and upper-class and male privilege. Back in the 1960s, I was a barely-emerged feminist with a lot of experience trying to have Black community without understanding why I was distrusted.  Ha!  That's a book waiting to be written. I am still in the process of transforming while learning how to, in Amanda Kemp's words, "hold a space for transformation to occur."

What's new out there is (1) the area of the world hardest hit by hatred and extremism, and (2) social media which spreads video and words almost at once.  The USA otherwise is much the same, with less opportunity and more contradictory and often fake news. There are too many words obscuring truth.  What cuts through it at all is youth--once again, youth--this time the issues may still be categorized under freedom of speech, but much more is at stake. This includes our democracy and two-party system.

I am relieved to be 50 years older and no longer a leader.  At any moment, I can go online and find several ways to be involved praying on my feet.  I am relieved to be less impulsive and innocent, to be waiting on direction from God, to be willing to speak in spirit language that includes my faith and expresses faithfulness.  I am relieved to have support in faith that doesn't measure faithfulness in terms of religion.

On this Saturday noon, I'm sitting home and listening to the old songs. I wrote a poem earlier: "Morning After," and yesterday: "Writing Into Transformation,"
and wrote this reflection today. That's more than I've written for a while, so I feel more satisfied today than I have been able to for a while.  I'm sending this to Jennifer Elam, my writing partner, who is far away in Doha, Qatar for two months of awakening and health.  While she is gone from February through April, I have given myself a writing retreat, an imperative and joyous permission to work on my novel.  This is as close as I've come.  I'm trying to be grateful for what I can do instead of frustrated that everything I've learned is just a beginning. Though I suppose it's better to have everything beginning than ending. Oh, yes, beginning is a gift.  Each day we wake is a gift. I want to live it with complete awareness of God's presence, the meaning of the life of Jesus.

I'll write more as way opens.