How To Fall In Love With Your Life, Part II

DSC_0836I made the mistake this week of reading a novel that is better than anything I’ll ever write. Bah humbug, was my incredibly intelligent critical response. I had to curl up and feel sorry for myself for hours afterward.

This is where it falls apart. Does this happen to you? When everything out there is prettier than what I’ve got in here…then all the richness of the landscape — both natural and manufactured — can only serve to make me feel poorer. And poorer yet. And poorer yet.

There’s a lot of beauty out there. But none of it will satisfy.

Have you ever noticed that all the children’s stories have talking animals in them? I mean, ALL the children’s stories. It’s not just a theme. It defines the genre. Those stories that don’t have talking animals have floating stars. Or talking trees. Or straight up here’s-a-pat-on-the-head-for-you visits from Jesus.

Do you remember, when the trees talked to you? Do you remember what they said?  

This is one of our favorite fantasies, that there was a time in childhood when we had not yet made our compromises. We lived in the magic world, sisters to the creatures and the trees. Sisters to what in our house we call “our true things.”

Sometimes I think this fantasy is the very worst thing, because it teaches us that these aspirations are for babies. When in truth a good dose of listening to trees and birds could serve our deadened, anxious culture more than a hundred prescriptions for antidepressants.

It’s such a hopeless, lonely thing, to be a self. You know it is. But our post-existentialist realism says these feelings, too, are for babies. Okay, not babies, high school students, but still. Not for grown-ups. Since we were teenagers in love, we are no longer free to think about how much we want to be connected to the magic world…sealed at the heart with All That Is.

That’s not Grown Up.

Until some novel comes along and recreates the beauty, the depth of connection. It restores a vision of what was lost. And it makes me want to curl up and cry for grief.

For me it usually starts this way. I feel it through jealousy for another single soul. Somebody is in the kingdom, still. Somebody is talking to unicorns. Somebody has not lost the key.

I hate that person. 

But I have felt it enough times to know it isn’t really personal. I grieve for what I want. I’d like to undo the rift, in which existentialism is only the other half of Manifest Destiny, and they are both philosophies of the dog-eat-man world of the Triangle Trade and the massacre of Indigenous people, and what all those dirty hippies might call “the rape of the earth.”

At some point in our history, we came so thick into destruction of the sisterhood — what we in our house call “our true things” — we had no choice but to pretend that the feeling of being hooked at the heart with All That Is is just a thing for babies. Ostensibly before you are old enough to hold a musket or a whip.

After centuries of this, dehumanizing the human and the inhuman in the name of “necessity,” and “survival” and “that’s just the way it is,” we look out at the world that isn’t made by our own hands, and we no longer speak the language. The trees don’t speak to us. The little animals. We get nothing. Some people have a fever for it, of course. But the rest of us think that’s boring and remember that camping is uncomfortable. There doesn’t seem to be any way back.

Grown Up Life happens. The veil comes down. The real things are far away. The result is pretty hard to survive without a good pharmacist.

(Or at least a good novelist.)

I grieve for lost Eden. I grieve for the true thread of connection, that weaves through our bones and ties us to the land. I grieve for the different realities, which I have lived across. (Just in this last year, I have crossed the line from mystic to Grown Up and back again, probably three times, but that’s another story.)

It takes a bit of will — a bit of steel — to say, I will not relegate true things to children’s books and master novelists. Even through grief and guilt, and ghosts of violence, I will reach for what has been lost.

I will remember.

New Feminist, Still Feminist (A Guest Post Swap With Hannah Schaefer)

Sometimes I feel just too cynical to even move. Today I’m swapping perspectives with a young woman writer named Hannah Schaefer. Because I need a little of what she’s got. And, maybe, she needs a little of what I’ve got, too. Hannah’s post is below. Mine, “Still Feminist,” is at her site, right here. Here’s to both of us, speaking out from where we are.

Here’s Hannah.

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I am 20 years old.

I usually avoid saying that because it can turn people off to what I have to say. All they can see for the rest of the essay is “young and naïve”, and I wind up being condescendingly told off by an older adult after sharing my opinion. With men my age they often receive encouragement for thinking about such big controversial things, a little pat on the back. But most people seem relieved when women my age stay silent. Don’t be angry. Don’t tell us how to live or how to do relationships. Just leave that to the adults of the world.

My whole life I have been too opinionated. Too intense. Too loud. I make people uncomfortable with my intensity. My passionate nature brings out the insecurity in authority figures. They never initiate conversations, assuming I think they have nothing to offer. When I need them to show up, when I need them to sit in their insecurity and lead me, the most hurtful thing is being told I pushed them away by being what they said they wanted us to be.

There’s a risk that comes with having a raw, bleeding heart. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and I used to cry as I walked past the homeless people sitting on the streets, shaking their cups for coins. I was berated for being “too sensitive”, and I had an anger problem and an over-developed sense of justice.

People watch from afar with curiosity and a little bit of awe, wishing they could “be like me” like I am some sort of foreign species, but everyone has the ability to care. The only reason I care more than most people is that I am incapable of feeling any less. I suppressed whatever I could to blend into the crowd.

I am in the minority of people that are respected: young, average looking, and a woman. But I am compelled to speak, even when no one likes my words. I am compelled to stand, even when everyone else is sitting. And I am compelled to change, even when the world is at a standstill.

These days I am learning to let go of being something I’m not, and to lean into the ache. The ache inspires change, and whether or not I chose it, I am designed to be a voice of change. I am forgiving myself for not being what I was supposed to be. And when I feel ashamed for being too much, I remind myself that well-behaved women rarely make history.

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_MG_5694Bio: Hannah Schaefer lives on social justice with a side of sarcasm, but when she’s not on her soapbox you can find her reading a good book or outside with her camera. When you find her at Starbucks, it won’t be with Uggs or a Pumpkin Spice Latte. You can find her writing about faith, fear and feminism at www.hannahschaefer.com and tweeting sassy things @hannahschaef.

How To Fall In Love With Your Life

fog

We had visitors twice this weekend. Which is unusual for anytime, but almost crazy for this weather. After weeks of melt and freeze, and melt and freeze, you wouldn’t catch me coming up my own road if I didn’t have to, to make it to my own house. We heard the truck coming in a quarter mile away and the kids ran up the slippery hill to see who it was.

It’s not as though we’re particularly easy to find. I just changed my schedule so that three days a week I don’t leave the property. I time out social networking stuff and sometimes blog posts, too, and if Nick is going into town he’ll go in and load up my Voxer and my email for me.

I can read my messages sitting in my own warm bed, like everybody else. But they show up only once, like the evening post.

I’ll tell you the truth, it’s hard to hold the amount of space I like to hold, right in the center of my life. Especially in this January weather, foggy and bleak. I send the big kids to school and my littlest one and I stare at each other. I move objects around the house, pick up and set down books, give myself five more minutes, five more minutes, just one more five more minutes, before I go out for another armful of wood or to bring not-frozen water to the chickens.

We didn’t make a new years’ resolution to this effect – even with of all my new years resolutions – but we’re completely off store bread again. Baking all our own bread, and once you’ve done that for a week or so, solid, it doesn’t seem to matter so much that you’re making it on a woodfired stove. The bread is mostly Nick, but I’m making egg noodles again. And Nick just challenged me to go back to homemade graham crackers.

These are all the things you can do with your time. If you have time.

Also. Reading beautiful books and wisdom texts. Scripture. I pick it up. I read a few words. I set it down. I wander around my circle house and let it seep in. You’d think it was a “spiritual exercise,” but really it’s just my boring/interesting/breathtakingly beautiful life.

You can fall in love with anything if you stare at it long enough. (Be careful what you stare at.) Even your life. You can fall in love with anything if you stare at it long enough.

Being such an explorer of experience in my own life has taught me what a sponge I am. I know how I change, like a chameleon; how I become what I take in. I become whatever is close and bright and shiny. I become what I wave in front of my own eyes.

In January. I am ice and fog. I am blankets and fire. I am careful picking ways across treacherous landscapes, and I am the sitting quiet. I am a crochet hook and a sticky ball of dough.

One of our guests this weekend wanted to talk about economics, scarcity and income. Nick and I shared that we never spend more money than when both of us are working. We never spend less than when both of us are not.

Why? It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to give words to the air you’re breathing. An air of need and want and desperation. You don’t know it’s there until it’s gone. And who has the chance or discipline or opportunity to get free? But when I am filled by space, I live on space. I become fullness.

It means I may be a little unpracticed, when a car comes down our road. I may talk too much in conversation, be a little too excited to see my friend. I might slip right on my butt in our parking area, which is basically a skating rink, trying to catch a bit of what I’ve been missing.

But please don’t accuse me of taking on asceticism as an act of cruelty to myself. Don’t think I live on this rich, filling mist out of an impulse to starvation. I’ve stared at it long enough to fall in love.

On Blogging, at the Intersection of Authenticity and Privilege

I am a passionate believer in story. I believe this truth: that creative process unleashes authentic self; and this one, too: that in a fully voiced community everybody thrives.

Lofty values, these.

I don’t want anyone to look at the way I champion authenticity and voice and think that I don’t see the mash up between this truth and the truth of inequality, especially in how certain perspectives are received. Lest you think I am happy to judge the truth of a writing — how alive it is, how present it is — by the quantity of encouraging comments or the satisfaction of a sales board.

A great deal of very vibrant writing is challenging. There is a narrow field, within which a challenge lands on fertile, receptive ground. This has something to do with the choices of the writer. And it has a great deal to do with the audience, who is willing, or is not willing.

One of my favorite plays, back when plays were my thing, was Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. I directed a reading of it once, and it was esoteric and not properly linear and made you think about the pervasiveness of violence, and how the impulse to violence was actually related to the enduring impulse to create. It was a challenge, certainly. Of a kind.

In the Q and A after the reading I described how on its opening night on Broadway the audience wouldn’t clap, but then it won a huge literary prize. A patron asked, “Well what do you think was wrong with that committee?” I laughed. Well, there you go. It was a play that hit that window, where the challenge was great enough to be a spark to light a fire, but not so great that the work was found revolting and set aside. It was right on the edge. These are the plays that we teach in college classes.

Do we think there was no great play that year that was ignored? Do we think there was no piece that was vibrant and alive that met with closed down walls of sheer resistance? A play that couldn’t be seen at all, because nothing in the reviewers’ psyches could grab onto it?

I had the privilege of working for a time in California with a feminist/womanist theatre company – they might not call themselves either of those things, but I did know them pretty well and I would call them those things – called MOXIE Theatre. I helped with the play selection one year, and we read through the critical reviews of all these plays we were looking at, written by women, and especially women of color. The criticism sometimes just made me want to scream. I wanted to say, “This character is not weak or bland. It is your perception that makes this character appear weak or bland.” I wanted to say, “This narrative is not loose and unsupported; it is your prejudice that refuses to exercise your imagination to fill in the details.”

This is a conversation. The listeners do half the work. 

Certainly there are plays written by women of color that have met with critical success. And I wouldn’t say that these plays were sell outs, by any means. But I also wouldn’t say that you can rate the world this way. Which work is rejected for being irrelevant and which work is just challenging enough to hit the mark? Which work can be swallowed up and which work gets spit out again?

I’m not really into plays right now. (Maybe I will be, someday, again, but that’s another story.) Right now I’m into blogging. Here, too, I believe in story. And here, too, I believe that creative process unleashes authentic voice, and here, too, I believe that a fully voiced community thrives.

And here, too, I see a mash up between the truth of a personal unfurling and the truth of a rigged game.

authpriv

The world of sheer creativity makes room for everyone; is very egalitarian. It doesn’t struggle with too many voices or too much weight. But the rest of this broken world is quite the opposite.

The paradox is exhausting. For those of us who blog towards book deals (and there are lots of us, let’s be honest; some of us didn’t start that way but were converted), we experience a constant onslaught on our authenticity, as we are sourced in a world that is free and just and spirit-led, but we are finished in a world that prefers white and hetero-normative (at least one of those two): radical only if it is neatly and controllably radical, radical within the fertile (marketable) strip.

We are sourced in a world in which truth is beauty and beauty is truth, but we are finished in a world in which beauty is a power play.

There is a constant onslaught on our authenticity, and I would argue that the attack is greater the more agreements we have made with our success.

I ask only this much. Let’s not tell lies. Let’s not say that writing well means that people won’t fight with you. Let’s not say that authentic, true voice makes you safe. Let’s not say that cruel comments or rejection can be sourced back to baiting or strong attitude in the writing. Let’s not say that you can’t be a brilliant, authoritative speaker, person of God and pacifist, and necessarily escape being shot in the face.

Let’s make our agreements with the spirit of freedom: not only as writers, but as readers; not only as speakers, but as listeners. Let’s hold our awareness of this rift, between the world as it is and the world as it could be.

Prayer For New Hearts (At Deeper Story)

professor of lichen 2

I was just told that it’s a thing in website design that you offer your people more than one way to get to the same content. I feel like that today. I feel like I say this same thing over and over and over again. Are you bored?

But I also know that different people hear different things. And different websites have different audiences, which is why I’m writing at Deeper Story today (again!) about authentic healing and splitting the threads of healing and humiliation.

This is the space between “change is possible” and “look at me, I’m going to change myself now, do or die.” This is the trench into which we lose our best intentions on all fronts…from that bit of weight loss to the most essential cause of justice.

I wish I had never heard that positive change was about picking the right picture out of the catalogue. I wish I had never been taught to squeeze my will and hands as hard as I can to make myself into a picture of perfect. I wish that I had never heard the wisdom call, and then transformed it through my pride from good food to poison.

But I did. I did hear all that. I did learn it. These days, it is my life and my love’s work to unlearn it.

You know the drill…the rest is here. May old wisdom fall on fresh ground.

The Discipline of Creativity: Starting Now, With What You Have

We had a small upheaval at our place this weekend. Facing facts. Getting real.

I came to the realization that in our second year of homesteading we have drifted. We have made too many compromises, or held them for too long. I might have fallen for this idea that we had done the hard thing and the next thing ought to be easy, because (what?) surely those two things alternate.

  1. The bad news is that things don’t work out like that.
  2. The good news is that with my best self, I don’t really want them to.

I’ve heard it said that a writer doesn’t love writing, but loves having written. I think there is something of this in the practice of radical homemaking as well. I don’t love the moment of saying, I will not go shopping; I will make a meal of what I have. But I do love eating that meal, which tastes of discipline and caring.

I don’t love the moment of saying, I will not travel to such and such exciting place; I will stay here and make plants grow in this dirt. But I do love caring for those plants, which smell of perseverance and rootedness.

I don’t love the hard part, but I do love having gotten through the hard part.

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I write a lot about creativity, and how I think creativity is built in to each and every one of us. I write a lot about how I think we’d all be healthier if we could practice creativity more, and dependency less.

But I might sometimes skip over this part about discipline.

In my effort to work against scarcity thinking, and to personally not be ruled by fear, I might neglect to mention that in every creative process is that bit of steel, where you say…I’m starting now. I’m starting now with what I have.

Sometimes that moment kind of sucks.

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Examples.

To prepare the meal out of the odds and ends in the jars under the window? Steel. To write the book before you know how it ends? Steel. To send deeper roots into the home or community that is frayed at the edges or racked with hardship? Steel. To engage in your own context a justice issue that makes you feel impassioned but also super insecure? Steel.

And yet, this is not all hardness. It is a discipline of softness…a discipline of trust.

The discipline of creativity isn’t about self-hatred. It can’t be. It isn’t about scarcity or cruelty or competition. It’s about the radical belief that you do have what you need, right now, to begin…even if you can’t see how that could possibly be true.

So often when we have a vision for making things better, we hold out on it. We’re waiting for guidance, or resources…we’re waiting for the shelves to be fully stocked. The discipline of creativity says begin, and those things will be drawn to you. It says stop waiting for someone else to come along and be you. You are already you. Frankly, I find that less than reassuring. But that’s where the steel comes in.

We are warriors for beginning.

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This past weekend I spent some time thinking about what it was like when we got started, out here in the woods. All the adrenaline and excitement, long days, resolving problems right and left. There was so much of dreaming up new ways.

This is the greatest value of the homesteading construct: to re-conceive what is possible. This kind of mind bending is required to release our dependency on systems that, when examined, make our hearts hurt.

But there isn’t any resting on our laurels. A shift into consumer mindset in the second year of homesteading is no more ingenious or admirable than having stayed in a consumer mindset the whole time. It just becomes another version of the American Dream. Look at me! I have a beautiful yurt, and now I’m going to live just like I would if I were in the suburbs! It’s just another picket fence.

But the discipline of creativity is always unearthing, always returning, always beginning. The discipline of creativity says, even if this criticism is valid, it isn’t the last word.

Go looking for the dream, again. It is still there. Start, again, with what you have.

yurt early process shot

A Plea For Grace, and Some Discussion of What Grace Really Is

frayed knees

Do you all know about me that I have an eating disorder? Have I ever told you that? I found myself wondering that, this weekend, as I was triggered by something, some perception of scarcity, and I temporarily lost impulse control.

I thought…would my blog readers even believe this? That a person who has made such a public stand for healthy living, food self-sufficiency, and communion with the natural world is right at this moment binging on frosting left over from a child’s birthday party?

This is my history. I picked up binging and purging when I was fifteen years old. I use those words “picked up” on purpose, because it felt so effortless. It was like the way you pick up something from a store. As a serious student of ballet, I knew other girls who were doing it. And then I was on a lightweight crew team and I had to weigh in to compete, and I was terrified I wouldn’t make the weight. I thought…I’ll try it.

Ten years later I was really, really sick.

At age 25 I finally went into therapy. There were short bursts of medication, lots of talking. Mostly I was finally ready to get better, so I did. Since then I have called myself “recovered.” But for years after I still didn’t like going into the kitchen by myself. Not even to get a glass of water.

I’ve had a hundred coping strategies, and I’m not ashamed of that. When experiencing any level of stress I have to make sure I won’t run out of food. If I’m staying at someone else’s house, I’ll pack a block of cheese in a plastic baggie. At a conference, I put a bowl of fruit in the hotel room. And of course I’ve done so much work on my self-worth…whole books worth of work on my self-worth. I have needed every moment of the work I’ve done.

You could say I got a little cocky, in these last few years. I had such a great experience of healing. It was real, I swear. I had such success with the practice of growing my own food, and making my meals out of that food. I was drawing my sustenance right out of the lush and abundant earth. And it was good. It was really, really good.

It was about a year ago that I realized I was slipping. Although moving to our yurt was a strong, brave move exactly toward the kind of sustenance that I had found so rewarding, it was also a long term move. It wasn’t going to happen instantly. In the meantime, I actually had less of my own produce. And on the wood stove it was so much harder to bake my own bread. I felt less control over my food supply. And when I feel less control… That’s when I get scared.

I want you to understand this, that for me disordered eating doesn’t happen because I am not knowledgable about healthy eating. It happens because I AM. I have had a great deal of information about the problems with our food supply, since I was quite young. And sometimes the guilt related to all of that pushes me the wrong way…right into fear instead of into faith. Sometimes I make worse choices, because of what I know. Sometimes I just feel powerless to face it all.

There’s Monsanto and there’s genetically modified crops and there’s the CAFO feedlots and food deserts and abuse of migrant and immigrant laborers and there’s so much sugar in our kids’ lives. And sometimes, knowing all this…just makes me want to eat frosting right out of the can.

I’ve been reluctant to share this here. I didn’t know if this would make sense to people…that all these things that I am MOST passionate about are also the areas where I am weak and unfinished. I didn’t know if it would make sense that I move hard into systems that promote healthy sustenance because I can’t always do that for myself. Not by myself.

I need this to get better in the wider world, because I can’t do it by myself. 

Today I thought…I’ll go ahead and call on grace. I’ll call on grace. Not the kind where we settle for our weaknesses and grit our teeth and endure. But the kind where we have faith in healing, the kind where we know we’re moving through all these darknesses and these imperfections, the way a shadow moves across a valley.

It is likely that I will always be triggered, now and then, probably for my whole life. But that doesn’t invalidate my journey, or mean that I have nothing to offer to this conversation. My wound is a real wound, but it doesn’t make me any less of a full person. It doesn’t make me any less capable of leadership, or any less capable of walking forward into a Kingdom dream, even a dream of sustainable food systems and healthier living.

Grace is this, too…sometimes. Grace is just taking one step forward right from where you are. Or if you can’t yet move your feet, just reaching out a hand. Grace is knowing that the hope of healing is true, even if you’re living a moment where your own hands aren’t the best example of it. It’s pushing back against the lie that you are named by your wounds. Because even in the darker moments, still; you are named by Grace.

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I linked up this week with a Sunday morning link-up at Lisha Epperson’s place, called #GiveMeGrace. Lots of beautiful, powerful faith words over there. Go check it out, and if you’re a faith blogger, consider linking up! http://seespeakhearmama.com/2015/01/10/give-grace-encouragement-writing-soul/

Church in the Woods at SheLoves Magazine

trees on the drivewayI wrote this post on Tuesday, as if it were for our usual Tuesday church in the woods, but instead of posting it here I shipped it right over to SheLoves Magazine. It’s up there now.

As I’ve mentioned before, it might have been an uneasy situation for me, over at SheLoves, because the center of the community seems to be in Christian woman-ese. Which is a dress that fits me about as well as Martha Stewart’s. But it isn’t turning out to be like that at all. The challenge I have to offer is welcome there. And in return, they keep inviting me to participate in community…which is basically throwing the challenge back at me. So there’s something to that.

I hope this message gives life all over the place today. And in the meantime, my readers here won’t find it unusual at all, it’s just another week of worship.

I was doing fine on my application to a Christian organization (it doesn’t matter what kind) until I hit this question:

“Name of your church?”

I think they wanted me to tell them what building I go into on Sundays. They wanted me to tell them who is keeping an eye on me, or whose beliefs I am willing to proclaim that I share.

I don’t have this kind of a church, anymore.

I bought it for so long, that if I didn’t bend my neck to the church with a small “c” that I couldn’t call myself a Christian. I bought this teaching that my desire for solitude was dangerous, that if I wanted to spend Sunday in a chapel of tall trees and listen to the sermon of the brook I was no less than selfish and maybe as much as a heretic.

Come on over. The rest is here.

Enjoy.

My Interview for A Little Yes

me and the kids in the dark

Today I have the honor of being a part of Heather Caliri’s fascinating interview series, One Woman’s Yes. It has been great fun for me to read and skim the whole series, especially since many of my friends/acquaintances/peers have been interviewed over the two years Heather has been facilitating these conversations.

She did the interview live, so, >>WOAH<< that’s actually my speaking voice, not my writing voice. I feel a bit unmasked without my prose style. But also intrigued. That’s what I actually sound like. She asked me all sorts of questions, about anger, solitude, how I came to faith and what it’s like to be an uneasy parent in a 314 square foot yurt.

Here’s what I said >> It’s Darker and More Beautiful to Start With the Nothingness Inside – One Woman’s Yes With Esther Emery

Her comments section is open, and so is mine, if you want to talk about any of these ideas we’re discussing… Enjoy!

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PS. I just heard from Anita Mathias that my guest post “Why I Live in a Yurt, Off the Grid, On a Mountain In Idaho” is one of her most read posts of 2014, which is awesome. Check it out if you missed it.

(With Some Trepidation) I Announce My One Word 2015

leaf and stalkI’m completely superstitious about words. Unscientifically, illogically superstitious. I’m not sure I can think of anything more powerful than a word. Especially a word unmoored from syntax, released from context…made free to float.

Both of these last two years, shortly after announcing my one word resolution, I have had that word working in my life. Some things about this I liked and some I didn’t. The best I can explain it is that I kept seeing my world through the lens of that word, and processing things through that filter…whether or not I even realized I was doing it.

That’s all you’re going to get for logic today. The rest I can’t explain. It’s just like one of those old Fourth of July smoke bombs. Once you drop it, you can’t control the smoke.

In the year of AWAKE (2013) I got overstimulated and exhausted and had a bear quite literally tapping at my glass door. I had months straight of what you might call low-level anxiety. But I also met a rhythm of dark and light and cold and warm that I had never really known before, not fully. And I saw snakes and bird’s eggs and I tasted six kind of berries and collected a fairy’s wand’s worth of starlight.

In the year of ambition (2014) I lost comforts of all kinds, at all levels, even as I had prophecy spoken over my life. I asked for the courage to speak my whole truth, and felt fire in my mouth. I drew fire in return and got stressed and self-obsessed and very lonely. I felt the beauty and pain of a soul uncurling, even if ever so slightly. My self-ness taking up just a bit more space, and the vanishing of things that have held me, with simultaneous feelings of freedom and loss.

If you were me, would you take on another word? Would you? Really?

It is a powerful thing, to become the woman on the mountain. (I warned you this would sound like superstition.) But I’ll stand by it. It is a powerful thing, to voluntarily step into stillness, silence, isolation. And even more powerful, then, to open my mouth as a channel to something I can not control. It is a kind of mystery, the willingness to step away from a thousand chattering things and become the woman on the mountain…the soul in the canyon.

Of course I haven’t really held this line, not for more than a month or so at a time. You could argue not even ten minutes at a time. I drift away (or run away!) and then I come back. But I do always come back. To tell the truth, I am quite terribly unqualified to do anything else.

If I stand on the mountain and call down a word, I will meet that word, and I will meet its shadow side as well. My word for 2015 is “beauty.”

It’s quite a common choice. Who doesn’t want a little more beauty in their life? But I didn’t choose it for that reason. For me the word “beauty” is more slippery than that, historically connected to cruel things and methods of control. I wrote a poem cycle several years ago — and I won’t share it here; this audience might find it a bit ahem off putting — but I will tell you it was based on this theme. “There is nothing quite so poetical as the death of a beautiful woman.”

I was, at that time, just in case you’re not getting the picture…pretty angry.

I have courted beauty, plenty. I have crafted beauty on the stage. I have tried to possess it, manipulate it, drink it, define it. I have made it the cornerstone of my writing in book form. But to receive beauty? To receive beauty undiluted? This is to be open to truth. It is no light or shallow commitment, but a willingness to fall in love with reality….a reality in which death is not a poem, and cruelty is not a video game.

I chose the word beauty because I knew I needed to. Because right now that’s where I need to live. That’s all I know.

Will I make it a whole year? I’m sure I won’t. I’m sure I’ll cut myself off and wander away and throw sap on the spark. Who knows? I may write about it once or twice, or I may write about it once a week. But as God is my witness, on this Epiphany Sunday, I have named this word. Beauty. I have invited it to work in my mind and in my life with a will outside of my own conscious mind.

May it be a container for a year’s unfurling.