The Sacred

…but the car kept coming up,
      the car in motion
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard

– From “The Sacred” by Stephen Dunn, as heard on The Writer’s Almanac

Family Research Council: Hateful, Bigoted, Fearmongering Spam-house.

I joined the FRC mailing list about six years ago because I thought it might be a good idea to know what the other side was up to. You know: a little friendly political espionage. I forgot that hateful political discourse gives me wicked agita.

After at least three requests to be removed from their mailing list, I’m still on it. I know spamming is illegal — the startup I worked for back in 1998 had to hire someone just to straighten out their newsletter management system and keep from getting sued — but for the life of me I’m not sure which authority to complain to. The FCC? Any clues?

For those of you living in blessed ignorance, the Family Research Council is a very vocal, very conservative, very antifeminist, very homophobic, very bigoted organization that appears to speak for some Americans.

Most of its email alerts about efforts to thwart the homosexual agenda and keep women from killing babies (because we all know that homosexuals and women like nothing better than to work every day to tear down the very fabric of society as we know it).

This last unwanted missive from them, however, is all about the worst threat of all. What’s that, you ask? Nuclear annihilation? Global warming? Poverty and disenfranchisement that leads to terrorism? Why NO! It’s our very own elected officials’ eveeel attempt to stage a government takeover of health care!

The subject line of the email pretty much sums up FRC’s fearmongering rhetoric: “Frances, Your Liberty is at Stake.” Silly me. I thought that health care reform would actually help more Americans become free of preventable illnesses, economic anxiety, and an arbitrary system that grants some people access to awesome services with few out of pocket costs while forcing others to wait in long lines and navigate endless bureaucracies for crappy care. I see I was wrong. The government isn’t trying to help more people get access to some of the best doctors in the country. They’re trying to take our liberty! Clearly, this is just part of Obama’s plan to eventually hand over our country to the terrorists and force all men to grow long beards and pray to Allah five times a day. I suppose Tony Perkins wouldn’t mind it if women weren’t allowed to own property, work, or walk outside without a burqa, though.

If you, like me, would like your liberty taken away by a government takeover of the healthcare system and the inevitable rise of fascism that will follow, I encourage you to take a moment to contact your representatives in Congress to ask them pass this clearly horrific bill.

Psalm for a Lost Summer

From the poem on today’s Writer’s Almanac:

3. For there in Colorado we were captive at a high altitude, required
to write without breath; and if we could not write, our consciences
required us to read, and improve our minds.
4. How shall we write our poems in this strange land?

“Psalm for a Lost Summer” by Maura Stanton, from Immortal Sofa. © University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Right Livelihood and the Woman Warrior

From the Daily Dharma:

October 23, 2009
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma

Being a Buddhist Police Officer

For thirteen years I was a law enforcement officer. In the dark humor of that environment, we called ourselves “paid killers for the country.” No one else wanted to be in out boots. I did not identify myself as a Buddhist; I was not aware that the way I behaved and experienced the world fit squarely with the Buddha’s teachings. It is clear to me now that we could have been, and were, instruments of karma. But skillful action, discriminating awareness, karma, the law of causality were not terms in law enforcement basic training.

For a Buddhist in police work, the most important thing is to be constantly aware of ego. It is not your anger, not your revenge, not your judgment, no matter how personal the event. I was paid and trained to take spirit-bruising abuse. I endured things of which the majority of women in America will never even dream. For me it was not judgment, in the Western sense, but discernment. This kept me, and others, alive and healthy. This discernment allowed me to act skillfully in crisis. The law of causality allowed me to know that if I could not stop the perpetrator of violence or pain or loss, that some other vehicle would reach that person—karma.

– Laurel Graham, from “Vajra Gun,” Tricycle, Winter 1998

I think a lot about right livelihood. For me, it means not only not causing harm, but also finding purpose and meaning in my work. Like most challenges of this magnitude, I rarely fulfill them perfectly. But I do strive toward them.

Being in relationship with a veteran has given me a new perspective on the life of a soldier — a warrior. I’ve always had a sort of fascination with this archetype. I view the realities of being a warrior with a mixture of horror and respect. It’s a way of life, a mindset, that in some ways I wish I were more able to stomach. What I’ve realized, though, is that being a warrior — a soldier/a police officer/a litigator/a fighter — doesn’t always mean fighting.

People who have been trained in competitive conflict and who have seen “action” have about them a quiet assurance in their own abilities, as well as a healthy respect for the consequences of violence. It’s one of the things that I find so attractive and admirable in M, and it’s one of the things I wish I had more of in my own self.

Sarah Palin and the Media Elite

Someone on my friends list posted a link to a Vanity Fair article that took a red pen to a transcript of Sarah Palin’s resignation speech. The speech itself — and the woman delivering it — is definitely not going to go down in history as a marvel of oratory. Posting the copy-edited version of it seems a cheap shot, though. The ex-copy-editor in me can’t help but get a kick out of the fact that people are still using the shorthand I learned years ago, and which used to be my bread and butter. The left-leaning Democrat in me loves the schadenfreude that comes with seeing Palin made a fool of. But haven’t we made enough of a fool of her?

And in a way, it seems to me that mocking her lack of verbal skills is just feeding into the class and cultural divides that gave us Red States and Blue States. Dubya was notorious for his lack of oratory, and New Englanders loved to make fun of him for it. But it didn’t stop him from keeping the highest office in the land for not one but two terms.

We can’t assume that people make rational decisions when it comes to politics. It’s much easier to look at things in terms of Red States and Blue States than it is to look at individuals and their motivations. But which is really the more conscious way of viewing an issue?

In the end, I think we can all agree that Palin has about as much a chance of becoming the next POTUS as Dan Quayle does. But we also can’t dismiss her because her speeches don’t stand up to Obama’s. Actions matter — but so does marketing.

This Is Your Hair on Henna

Starting in college, my naturally golden locks started to darken. When I overheard someone describing me as having brown hair (it’s dirty blonde, thank you very much), I finally took the plunge and dyed it red. I look great as a redhead, and at one point had shoulder-length red hair. Unfortunately, chemical dyes are murder on anyone’s hair. Since I’m spoiled with naturally thick and mostly healthy hair, I really noticed the difference when it started to frizz out. Eventually I allowed my natural color to grow back in. Last summer, though, grey hairs started making serious inroads into the faded blonde. When I cut it short, I decided to take the plunge and go red again. Chemical dyes worked okay for a few months, but once again my hair started to frizz, break, and whimper. I wanted to grow my hair long again, but knew that if I kept dying it I’d end up with a full, thick head of damaged, faded red hair and obvious roots.

I’d heard about henna, but had been warned about the difficulty of finding a quality supply. The henna they sell in supermarkets and beauty supply shops isn’t pure henna, and it’s often mixed with unnamed chemicals that can do all sorts of damage to your hair, especially if you’ve already dyed it with something else. Then I discovered that a friend of mine with gorgeous, long, glossy curls uses henna, and I asked her where she gets it.

“I use henna from Yemen,” she said, and sent me a link to Catherine Cartwright-Jones’s online henna empire. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my curly-haired friend sent me to one of the only reliable sources of 100% pure all-natural henna. The website isn’t the easiest thing to navigate, but that’s for the best of reasons: It’s host to a wealth of information about the history and uses of henna. And it’s a home-grown business without the budget to hire an information architect and UX designer.

After a fair amount of perusing, I ordered a 200-gram packet of henna from Pakistan. I opted for the Pakistan henna because it was described as having a lower dye content than the Yemen variety, and I was hoping for a more coppery red.

When I got the package, I was really excited to try it, but also wanted to make sure I paid attention to what I was doing. It’s not difficult to prepare Mehandi henna paste in advance, but it does require some planning. You have to mix the henna powder with a mildly acidic liquid (lemon juice, for instance) and let it sit for at least 12 hours in order for the dye to be fully released. You also have to leave it in for at least twice as long as a standard chemical dye.

My first attempt was less than perfect: I only used about half of a 200-gram packet, mixed with orange juice, and didn’t have quite enough paste to coat my hair in the recommended “mud-mask” fashion. In spite of the shortage, the results were quite impressive.

Here’s my hair before the henna:

Photo of my hair before using henna

And here it is afterward:

Photo of my hair after using henna

This time, inspired by the individual mixes posted by various women, I decided to get more creative. In particular, I wanted something to mellow the smell of uncut henna, which I find vaguely reminiscent of dried blood.

This is what I put in my second batch:
300 grams henna (Lawsonia inermis) (half from the last packet, plus one full packet)
about 20 grams senna (Cassia obovata)
Enough orange juice to give the mix the consistency of stirred-up yogurt
~1/2 C ground cloves
a righteous sprinkle of ground ginger root
cinnamon
frankincense (I’ve always wanted an excuse to put frankincense in my hair!)

I let the mix sit for almost 24 hours, and while the smell of the henna was definitely still there, the other spices masked it well. More than 24 hours after rinsing out the dye, my hair still smells richly of cloves and the other spices I used. It’s a deeper, richer red than the last application. The texture is glossy and smooth, rather than the frizzy, damaged mess that chemical dyes produce.

For my next batch, I’m thinking about reversing the proportion of senna and henna for a more subtle color. I’ll probably use less cloves (they darken the dye) and more cinnamon and ginger root. I may use some cardamom as well, and more frankincense if I have time to replenish my stash (I’ve had a bottle of frankincense on my altar for about 10 years. I don’t think my ancestors mind.)

If you’re interested in learning more about henna, its history and uses, there’s a free e-book on the Henna for Hair website.

I found the historical information fascinating and feel like I’m connecting with an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years, even while I wrap my head in plastic wrap and watch Netflix videos while the henna sets.

Get To, Not Have To

Woke up only slightly reluctantly this morning, all the alarms blaring and the kitty purring. Thought about a blog entry I might write about the night before.

Army Guy calls just a little after 7:00, and I answer the phone saying, “Just ten minutes!”

“Wake up Frances!” he shouts into the phone. Our own little ritual.

I get up.

I get to get up today.

I get to drive to work — I get to have a job to drive to!

I get to have supportive conversations with my coworkers.

I get to see the beautiful puffy clouds.

I get to do some real work.

I get to enjoy springtime in Boston.

I get to be alive.

Alison Townsend in Mudlark: Demeter and Persephone

One of my favorite myths. From Demeter Faces Facts (second poem down)

Without even meaning to, she’s gone underground,

the face whose curve you shaped with your own hand,
fugitive, a sullen stranger’s you’ll never touch the same way

again. Still, you keep brushing and braiding, separating
the strands and binding them together again, as if they were

a rope by which you could hold her, tethering her to your body
as she was once anchored and fed, your blood hers. Before

she got big enough to cross the street without looking back
to catch your eye. When you were still everything she needed.

— Alison Townsend

The poems here don’t always inspire me with tight, bright language, but lately I’ve been inspired by writers whose work is less than perfect. Some deep inner critic, some just-sprouting bulb of defiance inside me says “if they can do it, why can’t I?”

Seeing a feminine moniker in the masthead also soothes the woman-shaped ire within.