RIP George Carlin

The blogosphere’s full of tributes to George Carlin, who died yesterday at age 71. When I see a ton of posts on the same subject, I tend to freeze up, thinking it’s all been said before. This is probably why I was never particularly motivated to stay in the world of new media content provision. I do have something unique to say about George Carlin, though.

When I was a teenager, one of my first paying jobs was as an usher for the Palace Theater in Stamford, CT. It was a great job: I saw the symphony, the ballet, the opera, some rather good plays, great jazz musicians, and George Carlin. Since I was a sullen teenager, I appreciate most of the performers more in retrospect than I did at the time. Except for George Carlin. He was one of the few acts to do two shows in one night, and each time his delivery was spot-on.

This was in the mid-80s, and while I wasn’t aware of it, it must have been after the famous Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television routine. He started the show talking about the words he wouldn’t be saying that evening — words like “shaaaaare.” He also did the “home is just a place to put your stuff” routine.

I suppose what made Carlin’s humor unique was that it was so very focused on words and the way we use words. His New York-style snark also amused me. Ultimately, I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions, but his eloquence and humor can be very convincing in the moment.

Words don’t offend people, context offends people

And via Nex0s, some material about saving the planet. It’s true; it’s not the planet we’re saving, it’s ourselves:

Save the planet

Paganism on Speaking of Faith

Army Guy called me from the road to tell me about a show playing right now on WBUR: an interview of an ecologist and pagan on the public radio show Speaking of Faith. It focuses on paganism, with an interview of Adrian Ivakhiv, an assistant professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont and author of Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona. I’m listening to it now and I’m impressed with Ivakhiv’s historically grounded view of paganism — what we know of the old folk traditions, what has survived, and what the neopagan movement is about today.

You can read about and listen to the show here:

http://www.onbeing.org/program/pagans-ancient-and-modern/transcript/1040

I’m also glad that this interview underscores the deep respect for the earth, a desire to preserve the earth’s beauty, that is central to pagan spirituality. Not all pagans are environmentalists, and not all environmentalists are pagans, but in terms of my own deeply held, spiritual values, one flows naturally from the other.

The Work, the Meaningful Work

I haven’t been writing as much poetry. In January, I had a flood of it. And then, gone.

The work, the meaningful work. When I am not writing, I worry. It feels as though a part of me is missing. I know that the idea of the muse–well, it’s true. The muse is there. Especially with poetry. With other kinds of writing, other kinds of writing, you can force yourself, you can sit yourself down in small increments, sweat it out, give yourself small rewards for small steps forward.

But poetry isn’t like that for me. It comes or it doesn’t.

There is more, of course, to the meaningful work than simply the generative act. There is the revision. The compilation. The submission. Hah. Submission is not something I am good at. But it must be done. Dancing Girl Press is taking submissions through the summer. I should submit. To some women in Chicago whom I’ve never met, but whose work I admire.

I am afraid of being told no, of course.

I’d rather wallow in my fantasies of the perfect collection of my work than do the real work, the meaningful work, of tightening it, revising it.

Writing is hard work. And not rewarded as lavishly as some other kinds of work.

But you don’t write for the rewards. Or, rather, I can’t. I write because there is a thing inside of me that needs to get free. I write because the gift goes sour if I don’t pass it on.

At This Moment

“I care a lot about you,” he said. “And I have a deep affection for you.”

Later, he said, “I like what we have. And maybe it will develop into something stronger. Or maybe it won’t.”

He also said, “It seems that we have different long-term goals.”

I hate this, even though it’s probably true.

Maybe there’s a way to reconcile that, or maybe there isn’t. But even if we had exactly the same long-term goals, I’d still be scared. Skeared.

Because even if he’d said, “I love you madly and want to take care of you for the rest of your life,” I wouldn’t really have been happy.

I just don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen next. Especially with this stuff. The more of them I have, the more the painful ends of relationships haunt me. And it’s trust, trust. It’s stepping out onto ice and hoping it doesn’t break. What happens when I stop noticing it’s ice I’m walking on?

Media recommendations: Kate Nash, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ellen Kushner

  1. Kate Nash. Like Laura Viers, she’s one of those female artists they play on WERS but utterly fail to promote. Mabye I’m a tad sensitive or maybe shit is still broken and needs fixing, but I do wish I could go a day without noticing how many more MALE artists get major promos — in music, in the visual arts, in poetry, in the mainstream book publishing world. Anyway, Kate Nash. After hearing her song “Foundations” for like the hundredth time and wishing they would tell me who the hell was singing it, it finally stuck in my head. Thank God/dess for Google solving the search problem. Wikipedia entry here, official website here. (I’m not linking to the Myspace page because Myspace hurts my designer’s eyes. It buuuuurrrns!!) I went ahead and gave Universal Music all my personal information so they can spam me incessantly and get free market demographics data. In return, I got a music download and a peek at the video for “Foundations”.

    When I listened to her song on the radio, I had this image of Kate Nash as a tough Londoner, possibly of color, the kind of woman who wears jeans and leather jackets and yells really loud at soccer matches and can kick ass if she needs to. Turns out she’s actually super-feminine, curvy, given to wearing girly dresses with puffy bodices in ice-cream colors. The video is extremely well-done. In very detail-oriented sort of way, it does an excellent job of evoking the general sense of wrongness that accompanies the end of a relationship.

    It reminded me of a moment when Army Guy and I were walking through the Pru. A woman at one of those little carts stopped me to demonstrate a little device I’d heard about that gives your nails a shine without the use of nail polish. I’m a sucker for personal care products, especially if they’re made with natural ingredients, and I’d been meaning to seek out exactly what this woman was selling. Of course, she was offering it at a tremendous markup (I got the same thing on eBay for less than $10 later). But I digress. Army Guy patiently waited because he’s a sweetie like that. When I showed him my new, shiny thumbnail, his reaction clearly showed that he didn’t see much of a difference.

    “Women notice the details more,” I said.
    “I guess so.”

    This sort of statement veers closely toward gender essentialism and doesn’t really do justice to the full range and diversity of gender expression in this country. But while I certainly have many gender-atypical aspects to my personality, I present as pretty feminine. And after about a year of dating straight men, I’ve finally come to understand the differences in the way they think.

    Kate Nash’s new album is called Made of Bricks

  2. Dragonsong, by Anne McCaffrey. This is one of the classics of science fiction literature. I remember buying all the Pern books (or all the Pern books there were back then) from the Waldenbooks in the local mall when I was still in elementary school. Somewhere along the way, I thought I had to put aside childish things and traded in my collection of paperback by Alan Dean Foster and Anne McCaffery for Hemingway’s collected work. I still regret the day I dumped them down the garbage chute. After a B.A. in English firmly established my lit cred, I got old enough to re-embrace childish things. I’ve re-purchased some of the books and it’s nice to see that some have been reprinted, but I still long for my original collection. It’s an excellent example of the artwork of the 60s and 70s.

    A friend of mine recently lent me Dragonsong, the fourth in the original six Pern Novels (Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon; Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums). As she said, “you can read it in five minutes.” The prose is, of course, not as finely jeweled as, say Barbara Kingsolver’s, but the story and the themes stand up. Reading it as a woman in my 30s, the issues of gender and sexual politics (and the Scottish overtones) really ring true. As an artist who has at times been less than encouraged in my craft, I also identify strongly with Menolly’s story. Plus: dragons!

  3. On the subject of science fiction novels for grown-ups that deal with gender issues, I also highly recommend Marion Zimmer Bradley‘s Darkover novels. MZB is best known for The Mists of Avalon, a retelling of the legends of King Arthur from the perspectives of Guenevere, Morgan Le Fay, and other female characters. When Anita Diamante came out with The Red Tent a few years ago, the jacket copy described it as The Mists of Avalon for the Old Testament.

    In her acknowledgments page, MZB thanked her husband for believing in her and encouraging her to try her hand at something other than potboilers. Some of those potboilers she’s referring to are the Darkover novels. The sheer number of volumes and the uneven quality of writing from one novel to another means that I’ve never read the entire series. I do highly recommend the three Renunciate books, though: The Shattered Chain, Thendara House, and City of Sorcery. I’m also very fond of The Forbidden Tower. While MZB does an excellent job of world-building (an essential skill for any good scifi writer), three recurring themes truly distinguish her work:

    1. Gender and sexual politics. For reasons discussed in many novels, Darkover is a very patriarchal society, yet MZB’s characters are often strong women who manage to eke out freedom in spite of the dominant culture. She also writes about people on the edges of that society who have found ways to remain true to their own gender and sexual expression. As a woman who came of age after the heydey of the lesbian separatist movement, I appreciate that she avoids the trap of lesbian escapist literature that paints all men as brutes and rapists.
    2. Cultural differences and the impact of technology on society. The difference between the technologically oriented Terrans and the Darkovans, with their own, hidden kind of technology, makes for wonderful mind-fodder.
    3. Variety of sexual expression. MZB’s writes about a world that allows for a variety of sexual and gender expression, rather than the false dichotomy of straight/gay, monogamous/polyamorous, and male/female promulgated in mainstream America. And she doesn’t hit you over the head with it like that last sentence did.
  4. Ellen Kushner‘s Riverside novels. The producer of Sound and Spirit on Public Radio also happens to have written a number of books in the scifi/fantasy genre. Her work, like MZB’s, deals with gender and sexuality within an anachronistic, pre-industrial society. The Riverside novels remind me a great deal of Venice in the 15th century, but with more snow. I read The Privilege of the Sword, about a young girl forced by her crazy uncle to learn swordfighting and wear men’s clothing. I’ve picked up the one that tells the story of the uncle in his younger days as well. Privilege has good prose, themes that interest me, and interesting characterization, but the story line comes to a rushed conclusion that ties itself up a bit too neatly. Still, a very entertaining read.

Invocation of the Goddess

Great Mother Goddess, help me through this day
Great Mother Goddess, keep my eyes on the task before me
Great Mother Goddess, let me release the nonessential
Great Mother Goddess, teach me love and compassion
Great Mother Goddess, open my heart to your abundance
Great Mother Goddess, I am your child and your companion
Great Mother Goddess, remind me I am being taken care of
Great Mother Goddess, I am a lily in your eyes
Great Mother Goddess, I am a rose before you
Great Mother Goddess, I am an oak, I am ironwood
Great Mother Goddess, I am all the creatures of the forest
Great Mother Goddess, I am the bugs crunching within the soil
Great Mother Goddess, I am the slime mold that dismantles the dead
Great Mother Goddess, I am the silence of the frozen winter
Great Mother Goddess, I am the secret germ in the seed
Great Mother Goddess, I am the silence of a swan gliding over still water
Great Mother Goddess, I am a cherry tree in blossom
Great Mother Goddess, I am an apple tree bearing fruit
Great Mother Goddess, I am a hive of bees making honey
Great Mother Goddess, I am a bear moving deliberate through the trees
Great Mother Goddess, I am a wild mustang in the desert
Great Mother Goddess, I am a cow grazing in a green paddock,
Great Mother Goddess, I am a hen laying eggs in the barn
Great Mother Goddess, I am a tadpole wriggling in a pool
Great Mother Goddess, I am a serpent flying through the endless sea
Great Mother Goddess, I am your child, I am your child, rocked to sleep in your lap
I am blessed, I am blessed, I am blessed

After shamanic invocations of the Celts before battle and the work of the bard Taliesin.

Robyn Art: Here at Last the Body, Window Cracked Open at the Helm

In recognition of National Poetry month (April) and belated recognition of Women’s History Month and Small Press Month (March), I’ll be posting notices for the rest of the month about (and, wherever possible, links to) women poets from small presses.

From Wicked Alice Poetry Journal, Winter 2008, Robyn Art:

And here at long last the body, its window cracked open at the helm
[…]
stay here all you broke-down
visions, supernumerary impulse-buys and over glutted infomercials of love, stay here
betwixt and between Restless Leg Syndrome, TMJ, discretionary income and the oft-extolled pleasures of the drug-free life, O boggy and efflorescent self, self of root cellars and forgotten tinctures, of mud and excrement and loam, but still at long last
the body, the non-body nearly arrived, relentless, full-throttle toward the irreparable
becoming […]

See full text here (second item on page)

Faithful America, Religious Liberal Traditions, and Why I Belong to a UU Church

I came across the activist group Faithful America a while ago and really appreciate the message they stand for. Political discourse in this country around religion has been very much shaped by the religious right. Faithful America aims to reshape the discourse to include members of more liberal religious traditions. Their latest campaign is to shape some of the debate happening during this year’s presidential campaign. There’s a “compassion forum” live on CNN this Sunday at 8pm. You should vote on which issue to have the candidates address: click here to do that.

Whenever I talk to someone new, I feel self-conscious saying things like “I know her from church” or “I do lay ministry,” because as soon as people hear the word “church” slip from my lips I know they’re making all kinds of assumptions about my religion, my politics, and my beliefs. For the record (are the new viewers gone yet?), I have been a practicing witch for more than a decade. Most of that time I spent as a solitary practitioner, although I did study with a coven in Connecticut and also ran a website for About.com on the subject that included virtual ritual in chat rooms (not to mention mountains and mountains of emails, and the time-sink-hole morass of bitchy pagans forum). I belong to First Parish Cambridge, a Unitarian Universalist church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Years before I attended a Sunday service at the church, some friends of mine introduced me to the CUUPs rituals that take place on Fridays near the Sabbats of Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, and sometimes Samhain. I appreciated CUUPs’s eclectic approach to pagan practice and was also impressed with the depth and breadth of knowledge possessed by the facilitators.

While the notion of a liberal religious tradition is not entirely new to me, my experience at First Parish Cambridge really was life-changing. To steal the words of my ex-girlfriend, it was an important part of my re-churching. It wasn’t until Sunday services at First Parish that I actually heard the man up in the pulpit saying the exact same things I believed. The words in the hymnals weren’t full of things about Jesus, only-begotten Son of the Father saving us from eternal damnation. They were about a hard-working Mother God, a loving Father God, a Spirit of Life that imbues us all. Instead of the “thou shalt nots” of the 10 Commandments, the seven principles talked about things like the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, the importance of social justice, and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

People like to make fun of the UUs for having wishy-washy beliefs. At the beginning, I used to laugh along with those jokes. But I don’t anymore, because I see the Unitarian Universalist movement as a group of people with very deeply held beliefs. They’re beliefs not based in shame however, but in the irrepressible presence of the Divine in all aspects of existence: in human beings, in society, in the earth itself. People need deeply held beliefs to fight the genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany, or speak out against the excesses of the McCarthy era, or take practical steps to fight racism, or get arrested protesting the genocide in the Sudan, or support the rights of gay families to equal treatment under the law.

The UU tradition allows for a heterogeneity of beliefs that includes secular humanists, deists, Buddhists, “Jew-U’s”, pagans, Christians, and others. It also has something sadly missing in the Catholic church of my youth: democratic governance. All members of a congregation have a say in how the congregation is run, and all matters of theology and the like come up before the General Assembly each year. Ministers don’t get any more say in the running of the church than lay people.

I never expected to find a congregation that so completely shared the same views as me, and certainly not one as active, welcoming, and thriving as First Parish Cambridge. As a result, I give back a great deal to the church, both with an annual pledge and with a fair amount of lay ministry. I’m co-leading a Sunday service for Beltane this year on May 4. If you’re in the neighborhood and would like to hear me preach, please come by. It’s the second lay-led service the Women’s Sacred Circle has done in the past 12 months, and I hope there will be more to follow.

Rita Dove

Rita Dove may have been one of the first published poets I saw as a real human being rather than a sort of mythical demi-god. Sure, Adrienne Rich is still alive, but I’ve always seen her as much more removed and unattainable — in that regard, she’s in the same category as Eliot and Pound and Bishop and Millay. But Rita Dove, for some reason, seems like a real person, someone I might actually be able to meet and talk to one day. Perhaps it’s because she was poet laureate of something or another when I was in college (the U.S. maybe?). Perhaps it’s because I always associate her with a joint project I did with another student, and I still vividly remember that woman’s frustration with me for not being as on-the-ball as her. She also introduced me to those little sticky flag things from Post-It. They cured me of my archivist-horrifying habit of dogearing pages — plus, it’s easier to find a yellow flag than a dog-eared page. I have a package of them in my desk right now.

So. Rita Dove. In an interview in some literary journal, probably conducted because she was the poet laureate of something or another, she talked about learning to leave the end of a poem open, rather than sewing it up with a final sewing-up type line. I think about that a lot when I’m writing poetry. I try to leave room for the poem to breathe at the end, rather than making it a self-contained little jewel. A stale cream puff. Some poems lend themselves to open-endedness more than other poems.

“Daystar” has a lot in common with Rich’s “Orion”, as it speaks directly from the female experience and explores the theme of juggling the various responsibilities of motherhood, womanhood, and artisthood. I hate getting all reductive with the gender stuff, but yes, our society still expects women to be mothers and caretakers and homemakers. Of course, now we get to have careers as well. Which still leaves little time for writing. Or for sitting and thinking.

Daystar

She wanted a little room for thinking:
but she saw diapers steaming on the line,
a doll slumped behind the door.

So she lugged a chair behind the garage
to sit out the children’s naps.

Sometimes there were things to watch–
the pinched armor of a vanished cricket,
a floating maple leaf. Other days
she stared until she was assured
when she closed her eyes
she’d see only her own vivid blood.

She had an hour, at best, before Liza appeared
pouting from the top of the stairs.
And just what was mother doing
out back with the field mice? Why,

building a palace. Later
that night when Thomas rolled over and
lurched into her, she would open her eyes
and think of the place that was hers
for an hour–where
she was nothing,
pure nothing, in the middle of the day.

Rita Dove

From The Longman Anthology of Contemporary American poetry, second edition. Friebert, Young, eds. Longman, New York:1989.
pp 529, 530