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Friday, November 2, 2012

Dona Nobis Pacem

Villages tend Peace
like food, cultivating by
hand and in person.
A Fountain of Youth
central to all—Peace quenches
thirst freely, fairly
Let's imagine it
now, here, building with stone soup—
Perfect!  Possible!
by Susan Chast)

I know praying for peace and attending marches and rallies and meetings, but blogging for peace is new to me.  I like having this challenge at this time because I have no time for it.  Absurd?   I am a workaholic that fills up my life so totally with the here and now that I forget to attend to larger things like peace or the death of myself and all I care for.  Emily Dickinson addresses this in her poem "Because I could not stop for Death":
Because I could not stop for Death – 
He kindly stopped for me –  
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –  
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility – 

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –  
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –  
We passed the Setting Sun – 

Or rather – He passed us – 
The Dews drew quivering and chill – 
For only Gossamer, my Gown – 
My Tippet – only Tulle – 

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground – 
The Roof was scarcely visible – 
The Cornice – in the Ground – 

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads 
Were toward Eternity – 
The Long Day of reckoning is the fulcrum between two different kinds of neglect.  The forgetfulness after death I cannot address, but the neglect caused by being too busy to attend while alive I can and should address.  That would be blogging for peace, I think, blogging to discover if it is viable to continue to live as if someone else would take care of peace.   I deliberately take this break from what engages me now in order to blog for peace, precisely because I haven't the time. 
*  *  * 
          I remember a decade when I was actively involved in peace work.  Back in the late 1970s, I was part of a women center group called FUSE, Feminists United to Save the Earth.  We educated ourselves so that we could educate others on the issues of war and peace, especially the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear power on the earth.  I remember teaching aids like posters full of statistics measuring weapon stockpiling against what each weapon actually did and how much it cost.  I can see from social networks like Facebook, that this essential teaching still goes on.  If it is less personal, it spreads much further. 
          I remember being the back-up person for the FUSE affinity group during the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant anti-nuclear protest in 1979 when my group scaled the fence and was arrested.  The two days on Long Island caused the school district where I taught to dock my minimum-wage pay and it also gave me the words for what has been a life-long question:  
Is it a luxury to maintain a normal work life and save for retirement in the face of war and destruction; or is it a luxury to  protest when the world may not end and I will need a retirement plan?
I have been living into the answer.

* * * 

          I remember "Ladies Against Women," a local branch of a larger effort to reach out through satire and humor.  The humor included costuming like a 1950's sitcom and dialogue like: 
"Does your husband know you're here today?"
"Yes.  I cleaned the toilet yesterday and it sparkles so!  He gave me permission to raise funds for the Pentagon!  That's what this bake sale is for.  See?  $100,000 for this banana bread will buy  two bullets for . . ."
And so pictures of bullets and bombs and prices lay on tables along with familiar bake sale items, exposing some of the trade-offs we make for war.    It was dangerous  theatre, as some men and women thought "Ladies Against Women"  ridiculed housewives.  I thought the comedy had potential to mobilize housewives and career women for peace.  I hope this type of comedy still exists.

* * *
          I remember working in a collective to form the performance piece "It's Better to Speak" specifically shaped for the peace workers who sent material to use in it.  The title is from Audre Lorde's poem "A Litany for Survival" from which I quote only the last few lines:
. . .
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
― Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn: Poems

We asked for any writings which caused feelings of despair and its opposite--feelings of hope, empowerment and pride in humanity.  The piece we shaped rolled back and forth between material that raised us up and that which dragged us down.  We deliberately used the Shakespearean tool of comic relief in order to reanimate burnt out peace workers and raise energy for the cause.  Of the many places members of the "It's better to Speak" company performed, the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice may have been the most powerful.
          The idea for the Women's Peace Encampment grew when a young woman who received an inheritance wanted to make a difference.  She formed two groups: One was a foundation to which women could apply for funding; the other was a collective charged with finding and buying land for the purpose of establishing an encampment akin to Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp established in England by the Women for Life on Earth.  We wanted an encampment that would also be an experiment in living among different types of women united for the larger cause.  
          (There is so much to say about this all-consuming effort that I save it for a major project.   To read more now, visit the Archive highlighted above or the Wikipedia article in the meantime).

* * * 
        One result of the peace work I had done was an increased interest in the way theatre works to unify community through creating art together and/or sharing a common experience.    In 1983, I started attending graduate school for theatre.  Another result was that I started attending Quaker Meetings regularly.  I would become a committed member of the faith in another 10 years, but in 1983 more inportant to me was how calmly Quaker women lived through the "negotiation of differences" at the Peace Encampment.   There were many differences.  Desire to increase the peace and work for justice was our lowest and our highest common denominator.  The women at the encampment were feminists and anti-feminists, lesbians and homophobes, right to lifers and free choicers, patriots and world citizens, Christians and Pagans and every faith under the sun, mothers and non-mothers, vegetarians and vegans and meat eaters, law makers and anarchistsI took long-hand notes, took long walks, met all kinds of passionately interesting people, and joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) both in worship and in training in what was still fairly new at the time: Alternatives to Violence.
           Teaching is the ministry that education, faith, the women's  movement and the peace movement guided me toward.  As a teacher, I found the ATV training very helpful for class management, class dynamic exercises, and both writing and research projects. Add to that acting, directing, playwriting, improvisation and HIPP (Help increase the Peace Training) and I had the tool box for opening communication and welcoming student voices into meetings for learning.  I taught from 1977 to 1979 and from 1983 to 2012, a total of 31 years, sometimes high school English and sometimes college-level acting, directing, theatre history and performance theory.  Always, I learned along the way.

* * * 
           I am now retired with disability due to pain from deteriorating lumbar discs, fibromyalgia, and other conditions common at my age.  For the last few months, I have been writing poetry, maintaining this blog, and devoting every Tuesday night to making phone calls for the local Obama phone bank. That will end after election day.   
          This month, November 2012, I began writing historical fiction about what I outline above.  Ways to peace.  The way it was. Choices.  I am using the program of NaNoWriMo to stay disciplined.  Will I finish?  Is this what I should be doing?  Remembering and creating certainly gives me joy, and the work environment here at home is both peaceful and stimulating.  Now, eight months into retirement, I am busy writing and testing out the way forward. 
* * * 
          My mother, an 88 year old artist, has been sending me "GO VOTE" visuals on Facebook, asking me to send them on to others.  Tonight we had a good laugh on the phone because we could publicize with just a few pushed buttons.  The process used to be to design a flyer, reproduce with a mimeograph technique or offset printing, poster and flyer our area (these are verbs), and address envelopes, stuff, stamp, sort, and post (as in bring to a post office).  Although we must still do some of this old process to reach all of the people, for most technology-producing countries, communication is instantaneous.   
          Language also changes with technology.  I think it was Kurt Vonnegut who pointed out that the language of the analog clock is already going (gone?).  "It's one minute before midnight" is one of the phrases we will lose.  It means that--if we say that the entire lifetime of this planet is 60 minutes--the planet has less than a minute left to live.  That's the rate at which we are destroying the environment with gasses, with continuing to mis- and over-use resources, and with war.  
          When I apply this 60-minute analogy to my own life, I find I have a full 20 minutes more to do what needs to be done. Compared to earth's one minute, paradoxically, I have lots of time.  And I have already lived into part of the answer to the question raised in the Shoreham action of 1979:
Is it a luxury to maintain a normal work life and save for retirement in the face of war and nuclear destruction; or is it a luxury to go off and protest when the world may not end and we will need a retirement plan?  
There is no luxury, but sorrow and happiness both exist. 
I am--we each are--responsible for maintaining self, including listening to and loving self as we build relationships with God and other people. 
I am responsible for asking for the help I need and accepting it gratefully. 
I should always, always live as if there will be a tomorrow and always be all I can be.  

And I will.

To Be Continued . . .

Peach Blossom and Dove, ink and colors on silk


Isen'in Hoin Eishin (Japanese, 1775-1828)

                   Susan Chast   (2012)

Look behind the shower curtain as a human washes her body religiously
Look under a human's hands surprising another by covering his deep eyes with love
Look over the bare foot of a child testing the water before plunging into the colorful sea of humanity
Look around the wings of Pegasus rising over the surface of the moon-filled night to bring humans an end to their worst fears.
Look through your soul to find the obstacles to peace.

Other Peace Poems by Susan Chast: