Saturday, December 24, 2011

Some Questions on Bats, Christmas, and the Wild World

We had a bat . . .  

. . . show up with our Christmas tree . . . 
Yes, it seems that the first real tree we have had for Christmas in over a decade came with a bat tucked into one of the branches. The bat, poor thing, didn't make itself known until the tree was bedecked with lights and hundreds of ornaments, and until, most likely, it had come out of its semi-somnolent state now that it was in a warm, well-lit house. I didn't get to see the show, unfortunately. Steve discovered the bat, rather like a "large moth fluttering around the lamp," when he was getting ready for bed one night while I was at work. 

I wish I had been there. I have been paying attention to bats for the last four years when Bat showed up in the first sandtray landscape I created during my first appointment with my Jungian expressive arts psychotherapist. For those of you familiar with sandtray, Jungian, expressive arts, and/or depth psychotherapy, you will know this is of deep significance. The first dream, the first images, the images that follow you are the ones to pay special attention to. And when an image or symbol comes to you in person, well, it is an extraordinary and snychronistic event. However, the bat didn't come to me. It came to my husband, and it came because of my insistence that we have a real tree this year. I felt an intense need for the bracing smell of evergreen, for the perfect imperfection of branches that are crooked and unbalanced, for the nuisance of needles littering the floor. I felt that I couldn't bear not to have these in the house this year. 

It was just a few weeks ago that Bat showed up in my journal pages, in a story of a young woman named Artemis who found an old house on Crescent Place filled with scurrying creatures within and powerful totem animals without. Here is the image of the bats issuing in the address of her residence, which was a Found piece of paper I've had for some time:

I wonder if I was issuing an invitation for something wild to enter our home. It would seem so. 

And not just any wild thing, but one of the most bizarre creatures to grace the planet. In researching for this posting and looking for images, I came across this meandering exploration of Bat:
"All is mystery, darkness, and imposture in this transitional series, in all these moulds of the ambiguous, branded at the edge of the abnormal, the hideous and the fantastic." - Conrad Roth

Roth is so right. All is mystery, darkness, and imposture. The bat is on the edge of air, cave, and earth. It is mammal and bird. They glide and also engage in sustained flights of power without feather or wing. They hang upside down to sleep, give birth, and nurse their young. They see in the dark by hearing, truly a synesthete creature. They inhabit the eaves of houses, woodpiles, caves, and the trunks of undisturbed trees, including those standing on a hillside Christmas tree farm. They fascinate us, frighten us, and awaken something primitive deep within us. 

"Bats carry our projections of a 'reverse' order that forces our perspective into the nocturnal, the underworld, and the equivalent cavernous depths of psyche. The twilight emergence of bats in the thousands or millions to forage embodies for us the concealed, 
primordial forces of the netherworld breaking out in expansive liberation."  
- ARAS Book of Symbols

Somehow, that a bat traveled to our home in a Christmas tree on this particular year comes as no surprise to me. Pay attention, Bat seems to be saying. Pay attention to the Wild World. It is clamoring for us to listen with our own bat ears, singing out for an echolocative response from us, wanting us to come to the edges and see what terrible mystery and magic might meet us there. 

And, really, is that not what Christmas is truly about? Not the presents, the eggnog, the Santa, the holly and the ivy. If we can remember back, back, back long ago in our earliest times at the edge of our memories as two-legged creatures, this time of year was about the world getting dark and darker. It was a time when the sun stood still for just a moment before, thank the Powers That Be, it began to move again, and we knew there would be Light and warmth again. Christmas is when we remember this Grace, this journey down and through Darkness so that we may see Light again. Because there is no Light without Darkness. Nor is there Darkness without Light. Christmas is when we remember that it is, indeed, a possible miracle that the Wildness of Love can be born within the human heart. It is when we reach out to one another because the world can be so lonely. 

The Bat is a question mark in our psyches. Neither this nor that. Residing in a world turned upside down. Awake when it is neither dark nor light. Liminal time and liminal space. The Bat is a question we must hold before us, with never a promise of an answer. Yet it is the questions themselves that can save us. 

"There was, however, a keen awareness of this Presence in her house. Was it even her house? 
Maybe she was residing in the House of the Other? Animal? Mineral? Vegetable? 
The Twenty Questions of relationship with the Other: 
Will you see me, really see me? 
Will you hear me, really hear me? 
Will you tune your ear to the drumbeat that pulses deep in my gut? 
Will you touch me here and here? 
Will you elicit music and starlight from my throat? 
Will you forever know my name and call me by no other? 
Will you let me carry my own heartache and yet make it beautiful? . . . 
Will you be my Key, my Thread, my Doorway, my Nothing and Everything? 
Will I be your Cup, your Bowl, your Vessel? . . . 
Will you be my hiding place, the wing that covers me when the storms come?" - 
Artemis at 107 Crescent Place, from author's personal journal

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Shiftless Wanderer in Blogland

I have been busy surfing Blogland these last few nights, ever since I saw Jane's updated blogroll, which has some delightful offerings. One can get lost in this new world I've entered. I haven't quite decided what to make of it all. It is overwhelming at the very least, a cacophony and kaleidoscope of words and images so loud, wondrous, and disconcerting to boggle the mind.

I don't think anyone would be surprised to know that one of the most noticeable reactions I've had to this Meander I've followed is to second guess my own blog and my writing and my purpose and my abilities and my future as a blogger and my weight and my clothing choices and my professionalism and . . .and . . .and . .  .

And my next most noticeable thought is, "Does it really matter? and Does anyone really care? Do I really care? Am I making a big deal of something that is not really all that important? What is my purpose in this blog?" That's the question, really.

So, here's a few answers. No, it doesn't really matter. No, no one really cares all that much. And no, I don't care. Well, okay, yes, I do care. A little bit. And sometimes I care a lot. Yes, I am making a big deal of something that, in the whole scheme of things - Occupy Wall Street, the death of North Korea's leader, the Sailor's upcoming deployment (and after some discussion, my oldest son's blog name is now the Naval Officer, since he worked damn hard to earn that title), the Scholar's appointment with a rheumatologist tomorrow, the travails of daily crises and the pain and trauma of large crises that my clients are working so hard to bear - isn't that important at all, from this perspective.

But the purpose of the blog . . . that feels really important. One of the things that I second guess myself about is the gravity and density of the writing here. I've been reading some great blogs that are short, sweet or not so sweet, and to the point - Divatology, Geogypsy, Telling Dad, Whiskey and the Morning After - all worth checking out. But I came across this little nugget of wisdom in Jeff Goins' blog; "The more you focus on a particular topic, the more specialized you become and the more you attract an engaged audience." So I'm going with that. I am a fairly grave and dense person. I'm a depth psychologist. Not that you have to be grave and dense to be a depth psychologist. But that is the kind that I happen to be. No sense trying to be someone I'm not. And no sense in trying to write something that isn't true for me. I guess rather than a particular topic, I am specializing in a particular experience.

It is when I bring my most authentic self to the keyboard and to the blank page that something magic happens. I think that's true of most writers. Goins also urges the blogger to remember that this public medium isn't just a place for the writer to stand front and center and glory in the attention that may or may not come her way. The blogger must be faithful and attentive to the readers that may or may not come her way. So true. But I really don't know how to most honor the reader unless I've started by honoring the writer.

I have realized as I've wandered down some strange, busy roads these last few days in Blogland that I'm not especially interested in becoming a famous blogger like The Bloggess or Erika Napoletano or Zen Habits. That much attention scares me to death. What I am interested in is good conversation. I like smart blogs. I like blogs with interesting, new, quirky ideas. I like blogs that have some weight to them.

I have also realized that I am not interested in making things easy for people. I haven't really known this about myself until recently. I don't want to compromise my gravity and density for others' comfort. Does this sound mean? I don't intend for it to be a thoughtless, "screw you" kind of statement. What I mean is, I think it's okay for us to work sometimes. I'm reading the German and French phenomenologists and, believe me, they had no interest in making life easy for their readers! But I enjoy the challenge. I have to slow down. I have to reflect. I have to engage with the text. I have to be present. This is the kind of experience I hope to provide for those people who find their way over here. Then we can wander around together in this dense, gravity-laden life we're living and maybe not feel quite so alone.

That's my hope anyway. Maybe we can hold hands while we walk. That might make things a bit easier.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Children cannot live on tagliarini alone. (But somehow we all managed to survive.)

My son, the Scholar, informed me and his girlfriend last week that the 18 years he was growing up and living at home we only ever had spaghetti and leftover meals for supper. I asked him how it was possible for us to have leftovers if all we ever had was spaghetti. My older son, the Sailor, tells me that to this day I ruined his appetite for spaghetti and soup. And whenever the family gets together for a meal, especially if there's someone new in the group, they have to tell about the time I inflicted torture at the supper table in the form of peanut butter pasta.

Okay, yes. We ate spaghetti maybe once a month, with leftover meals of spaghetti for a few days. But we did not eat it for 18 years. And yes, I tried to make sure that I didn't throw food out. I wasn't always successful, but you can make a good pot of Stone Soup with leftover this and leftover that. Of course, then you have to eat the leftover soup of leftovers.

And yes, I did indeed make peanut butter pasta. It was a Thai recipe. I had never fixed Thai food before, and the recipe did call for peanut butter. But maybe Adams Natural Peanut Butter isn't the way to go. I'm not sure because I never did try to make Thai food after that. We were all a bit traumatized.

I only made it the one time, but the meal lives on in infamy. Mostly because Steve had just finished lecturing the kids that they needed to eat what was given to them without complaining and they needed to eat all they were given. So when I served the peanut butter pasta, Steve had to literally eat his words. He gagged on them a bit. The peanut butter pasta wasn't that bad, but it wasn't all that good either. (Pay attention, guys, this is the only time I will ever admit this.)

Peanut butter pasta was the meal I will never live down. Green chicken and almond casserole is the meal my mother-in-law never lived down.

Mom passed on almost 4 years ago, a wonderful woman who, no matter what people said or did, would just comment with marvel in her voice, "People are so interesting!" She'd listen to the story of her green chicken and almond casserole with equanimity and very little defensiveness. Unlike my responses to my Thai fiasco, she would, in fact, just laugh along with everyone else. (I could really take some lessons from my mother-in-law!)

The casserole got green because the recipe called for almonds, so Mom used leftover cookie-making almonds dyed with green food coloring. When they went into the casserole, the rest of the dish turned green as well. When the family sat down to dinner, there it was - a pile of green chicken and some moist bright green substance. This became Mom's meal of infamy.

According to her three children, in addition to the green chicken casserole, the only other thing Mom ever made was tagliarini (which we Southerners, evidently, pronounce "tag-larni.") Mom would put up a tiny bit of a fuss when this accusation was leveled at her. And I know for a fact that the almost 30 years I knew Mom, she never fixed tagliarini. Mom's tagliarini was my spaghetti.

But poor meI grew up eating only my stepmom's hot dog and baked bean casserole with crushed saltines sprinkled and browned on top. Which would have been fine, except that she always put dried onion flakes in it, which I hated. This beans and weenie casserole routine was occasionally broken with a meal of Hamburger Helper or pigs in a blanket made with Pillsbury Crescent Dinner Rolls and Kraft American Singles. Somehow I made it to adulthood with a healthy heart after eating hot dogs in some form or fashion or sodium-laden Hamburger Helper every night of my childhood.

I look forward to the day when my grandson tells his girlfriend and friends he was forced fed every day of his poor poor childhood and how he grew up healthy and hardy despite a lifetime of spaghetti, or tagliarini, or green chicken casserole, or beans and weenies with crushed saltines. And I'm sure someone in the room will say, "Well, let me tell you about the time that your Mimsy served us poor, poor people peanut butter pasta!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The smallness of me is oddly reassuring.

When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.

Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: “Yes, but I love myself.”

A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation. ~ Stephen Crane, from "The Open Boat."

When I was teaching high school, a student came across this extraordinary passage while studying for the GED exam. She didn't understand it, and so we sat and unpacked it, phrase by phrase. I asked her if she had ever gone out on a clear night during the dark of the moon and stood under the night sky looking up at the stars. No, she said, she'd never done this before. I was teaching in an urban school, smack in the middle of downtown Seattle, so I suppose I wasn't surprised. But I was sad she'd never had this humbling, age-old experience.

When my grandson was very young, one of the first words he learned to say was "star." He was fascinated with the night sky. Now almost five years old, he still is. I often wonder if children, newly arrived on this planet, are not only fascinated with the night sky but also look at it with longing, as if homesick. My grandson told me just a few days ago with much authority that the moon was made of "green glowing cheese! and ROCKS, of course!" Of course, I said, how perfectly obvious.

The stars we wish upon and the moon made of cheese, or the lights of planes flying through a black sky, or the lights of houses and cities breaking the dark plains of America as one flies over on a cross-country flight - I feel small and humble when I gaze upon these things. The world feels immense, and I feel insignificant. A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation.

This insignificance is oddly reassuring. It relativizes me, my ego, my daily dramas and crises that I feel are so extraordinarily urgent. It relativizes my busy-ness, my self-important tasks that keep me on the treadmill, nose to the grind. When I look at a star's light that started its journey across the universe four, five, ten, or more years before this moment in time, I'm stunned at the immensity of time and space. My own smallness is correlative to the inifinitude of our universe and all the other universes beyond that. I know the pathos of my situation.

Pathos is a complex emotional experience. It is more than suffering. It's not really suffering at all. It's the emotions that arise when we recognize the capacity of the human heart to suffer. To know and recognize the capacity to suffer opens the heart to compassion and empathy. I stand on my deck, tilt my head back as far as I can, let my eyes rest on the high cold stars in the winter night sky, and I feel a connection with every person on the planet who stands under this same sky. Who is born. Who does daily life, plugging along as best as one can. Who knows so much of what I know about living. And dying. I feel connected by the strands of light coming from a distant star dancing out there in Alpha Centauri.

I feel like this every winter as we make our way to the Solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is turned away from the sun, and the planet teeters in liminal space, the apex of the longest darkness and the turning back to light. I feel small, filled with humility, not so full of myself, no longer too big for my britches. I remember again my humanity. One in a sea of. It's exhausting carrying the weight of a demanding ego. It's good to lay that burden down every now and then. To simply be a person, stripped down to what is basic and necessary. Because then I recognize again who my truest self is, greet her again like an old friend, and I have great compassion for that small person filled with humility.

There's a great couple of lines in Thornton Wilder's moving masterpiece Our Town that also relativizes our place here on this blue planet:

Rebecca: I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.

George: What's funny about that?

Rebecca: But listen, it's not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God - that's what it said on the envelope.

I think of that ever expanding spatial concentric circle that defines each of our places in the Universe, and ultimately, in the Mind of God. Or whatever Higher Power you believe in and kneel down before. Even if it is the Mind of Reason and Law. Somewhere we are both the center of it all and just a tiny speck of dust, floating in a ray of sunshine in someone's empty parlor room. Like Horton's discovery of the small planet of Whoville on a speck of dust.

A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation. Winter's Solstice is almost here, and these are the things I think about. Some would say that my thoughts are depressing, pathetic. Depressing, no. But pathetic, yes, as in full of pathos. Full recognition that my smallest self is connected to the large heart of the world's humanity. I take great comfort in that in some of my darkest moments, and certainly in this darkest time of the year.