Thursday, November 18, 2010

Finding 'god' on an Airplane (Part 1)

A Word About Semantics
If I were hungering for a deeper meaning to my life or dissatisfied with my religion, this might have been a post about how I found God on an airplane.

But I don't and it's not.

This will be a lengthy post.

First a word about semantics--I use capitalizations consciously. You will see that within this post I used the term 'god' and it is not capitalized. I do this because in my reality, the god I encountered on the plane was not "THE" God, if such a thing even exists. Granted, the god I encountered on the plane had powers. One of these is the ability to save people from the most destructive aspects of themselves. He provides hope. But he is so very wrong about so many things--or perhaps it is his followers, speaking in his name, who are the misguided ones.

God, Goddess, Spirit...and Airplanes
I was travelling back home to Massachusetts from a business trip in Orlando. Trudging down the narrow airplane aisle with my bulky carryon, I scanned the rows, counting up to my seat. I reached the assigned place, next to two women who may have been at least partly latina. The younger of the two had the window. I smiled and settled myself. Within minutes, we all engaged in some small talk--I am always talking to strangers when I'm out and about. The middle-aged woman next to me "warned" me that if we hit turbulence, she might grab my hand for comfort. "So don't be offended if I do." She joked. "Don't be offended if I grab yours right back," I said and we all laughed.

Whenever I fly I say my own version of a prayer. It is perhaps more of a projection of my will to deliver me safely to my intended location and ultimately, back home intact to my family. I extend that prayer and intent to everyone on the plane, surrounding the plane itself in a protective bubble. When I do this I also invoke and ask the protection of the Divine Feminine. She is my Deity--my God is Goddess.

Heathen and Pagans and Witches--Oh My! (Or, Stepping off the Plane for a Moment...)
I am not alone in conceiving of The Divine--God, if you will--as "Goddess." Scholars of Religion, Anthropology, History, Archaeology and related disciplines generally recognize that one of humanity's earliest attempts (some form of animism probably came first) to personify "god" was to view It as female.[1] Logically, this makes sense. Female animals give birth. They "bring forth life." Before the connection between sex and procreation was made, giving birth would have seemed magical. Thus, projections of "magic"/Deity would have been female.

I am skipping a lot of history here, but fast forward to historical times. While in prehistory animism and often female-dominated polytheism was the norm, the historic era marked many changes in human society.[2] One of these was the advent of monotheism and concept of a male god. There is certainly not just one factor that was responsible for this change. Rather, it was a myriad of factors including changes in how people lived (nomadic to agricultural), population density, and changes in the global environment. As differing cultural groups came into contact with one another for the first time, it would have stirred up "in-group" vs. "out-group" tendencies inherent in our species. The 'other' and their ways and beliefs would have been considered inferior. There would have been clashes over territory, resources, and ideals.

In any conflict, there are winners and losers. As we all know, throughout the globe monotheism won out.

The losers--those who still worshipped a Goddess or many Deities--lived on secretively. Over centuries, others carried on many of these traditions without really knowing it. Saints in Catholicism and Mother Mary veneration are two examples. Over the last century or so, people have begun to reclaim the lost Feminine Divine. Neo-Paganism is an umbrella term that encompases most of the modern Goddess-centered/polytheistic religions. Wicca--now an officially recognized religion by the U.S. Army--is one of these. It has its roots in 19th century Europe but is only about 60 years old.

Back to the Plane
Protection invoked, I settled in for the ride. I began to read my Kindle, but it was election night, I was flying JetBlue, and I couldn't resist the lure of the cable news networks.

When the snack service began, my neighbor in the seat next to me was peering at the election stats being shown at the bottom of the CNN broadcast. She had several minutes before switched from Fox News to CNN. I was watching CNN also.

"I'm sorry to bother you," she nudged me. I plucked my earbuds out. "I'm sorry..." she apologized again, "but I was wondering if you could tell me what this means?" She indicated one of the stats at the bottom of her CNN display. It was a countdown of how many Democratic seats were being lost to Republicans. I explained it to her. She thanked me.

Several minutes later, my two seatmates realized they'd missed the beverage service that came before the snack. Indeed, they had been napping when the drinks had come by. Now awake, they were talking to each other and pointing up to where the seat lights and air vents were. My seat mate once again nudged me. "I'm sorry to ask, but if I press that red button will someone come so that we can get a drink?" I assured her that's what it was for. The younger woman hesitated. "Are you sure?" she asked. The woman next to me quickly answered that she was sure I was correct, and that I wouldn't say so if I wasn't sure. She smiled at me apologetically. I smiled back, hoping to relay that I was not offended.

The Flight Attendant came, the women ordered drinks. We resumed casual chatting. The woman next to me had recently moved to the suburbs, which she was really enjoying. She'd lived in the city all of her life. She mentioned something about a church she had found in her new community. "Finding a faith community is a really good way to integrate into a new area." I commented. The woman smiled brightly and began telling me about her church. Jesus was mentioned. She then volunteered that she had "found Jesus" several years ago. "It changed my life," she said. "He" changed my life. Before Him I had nothing--my life was a mess and I was into drugs and alcohol. I didn't care about life that much, and I didn't care about religion. But one night I was so lost, so broken, that I called out to Him: 'If you are real, and I don't know if you are, please help me. I don't know what else to do...' And He came to me. He answered my prayers. And my life changed, in that instant."

As I recall, at that point she apologized, "I'm sorry, I don't want to bore you."

People fascinate me. They infuriate me. They are endlessly surprising, disappointing, and wonderfully knowable and unknowable, all at once. I also saw this as an opportunity to try and truly understand how believers of this type have come to believe as they do.

I preach tolerance. I must practice it also.

So I looked into her eyes, smiled, and told her, "I'd love to hear your story, if you want to tell it. I'm truly interested."

So she began. And what she said (coming in part 2) and what I've learned (also in part 2) comforts me and scares me, in equal measure. It strikes at the very heart of what--and why--I write.

I will try to get part 2 up soon.

[1] For example, see the work of Maria Gimbutas and . Ronald Hutton's work includes Goddess culture into historic times, and tying it to Wicca and other neo-pagan traditions. Also interesting and something I enjoyed immensely is Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet versus the Goddess.

[2] For example, see Pandora's Seed.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I am the featured poet on Strong Verse

Hiya...I am happy to relay that a poem I sold to Orson Scott Card's online poetry Journal Strong Verse is up on their website. This is one of my shorter poems, tittled, "This is Why I Hurt You." I'd be interested to hear what you think of it. ( They change the featured author after several days, so just search for my name under "living poets" to find it.

Coming entries on Intimate Partner Violence, Growing U.S. Ignorance. I've been super-busy with work.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

And Thus, The Wheel Turns Again

Fall always speak to me of the new year--I can't quite get myself to believe the January date. Silly Romans and their non-intuitive calendar.

Many cultures past and present celebrate a time during autumn as the new year. This has always felt more "right."

This week is the autumnal equinox, or Mabon, or first day of Fall. Whatever you call it, it is one of the two times per year when day and night are equal length. In the neo-Pagan tradition, it is the second of the harvest festivals.

The Fall is compelling. It is a time of bounty and many new beginnings; it is also a time of slow deaths.

What will you begin? What will you offer to the bonfire of change? What is presently in your life--physically or metaphorically--that no longer serves your best interests? What do you need to shed in order to nurture your highest good?

These are the questions I ask myself this time every year. It is a scary time in many ways.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


The writers I admire most seem to be able to set aside their fear of judgement. Their writing is passionate and scary and bizarre and unsafe. They write as though they have abandoned the rest of the world--that in those hours and days of creation they are utterly one with all that challenges them as people.

To create like this is to ride a searing edge of all that is considered sane and rational. It is throwing yourself off a cliff; into icy, churning waters when you can't swim. It is to enter the purportedly haunted house armed with only a candle and two matches.

I ache to write at this level. I'm not sure how to cast aside all the fear that holds me back. I wear my excuses like armor.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Social Media Does Not Grant You Unlimited Access to Someone's Life

Recently, a friend confided to me that her colleagues at work were being too obtrusive into her personal life. She didn't want to hurt anyones' feeling by unfriending them on Facebook.

Yes--Facebook was a major culprit, although she was also receiving texts at all hours of the day. I asked her if she had made use of the Facebook "lists" feature. This feature allows you to categorize all of your FB connections into categories ("lists") so that you could use some granularity in terms of what you want to share on FB. For example, anyone could create the following lists:

  • Work
  • BFFs
  • Family
  • Former Classmates

My friend had done this, and it helped--but it was still not giving her the control she wanted. And it didn't solve the texting issue.

All of this got me thinking about the role of social media in our lives.

Many people are wary of FB and other forms of social media. My husband is one--and it seems to be the norm among the other programmer/application developer/computer-related-professional types he knows.

Because I am a writer, I made the decision to be "out there" with my social media presence. However, I have had to temper this with the fact that I also have job that does not not pay me to snark and write science fiction. I *generally* have made it a policy not to "friend" my work colleagues.

I also do not take it personally if someone "unfriends" me, and neither should anyone. Facebook is not an accurate, mirror reflection of your relationships with people, and it should not be taken as such. Some of the people I have the most contact with on FB are not my best friends in real life.

I also am quite sure that many FB connections have hidden me from their feeds. Again, I do not take this personally. Maybe my high school friends do not want to receive the scifi content I like to post. Or maybe they don't care to know about the trials and tribulations of being a beginning writer. Maybe my politics are too liberal...etc.

If they want to hide me, that is their right. I hide some content also.

Social media has been revolutionary in its ability to connect with people. BUT this does not mean that people necessarily want to hear from you constantly...text wisely. Would you want to be tapped on the shoulder at any time of day or night?

So please Facebook, text, and Twitter responsibly. Technology does not give you right to completely ignore thousands of years of "rules" regarding human interaction.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Those Who Know You

Have you ever reflected upon how many people truly know you? Or perhaps the opposite--how many people should truly know you, but don't. Like family, for example. Or roommates.

For those people who do not truly know you--why is that? It it because of you, or them--or because you tell yourself you're doing it for them, which quite possibly means you're really doing it for your own reasons?

Perhaps you're gay. Or a closet conservative. Or a closet liberal. Or a member of a non-traditional religious organization. Or film porn for a living. Whatever.

Maybe you think these people just don't really care to know the "authentic" you. Or maybe you're scared to admit who you are. For any number of reasons.

Just something I was reflecting on...thoughts and comments welcomed.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Potential Improvement in My Writing (or, My Life Is Like a Piece of Carrot Cake)

A week ago, I came up with an idea for a poem that I really liked. It also happened to fit in with the theme of "last" which is a convenient coincidence, timing-wise, for a submission to the Last Man Anthology.

So I started writing it that day. And I liked my first draft quite a bit. Actually, I liked the idea I had come up with, and the world in which this idea plays out. It needs some work. I told myself. Usually things do. How often do writers get something "right" on the first draft? Not very often. I have occasionally--very occasionally--done so with poems. (Case in point--the poem that was accepted by Strong Verse--I'm still waiting to hear on when it will be featured on their site. It's titled "This Is Why I Hurt You" in case you are interested.)

Last weekend, I pulled up the work-in-progress on my computer. No, not right. I fiddled with it. I know that one of the first things I have do with my writing when I look back at the first spewing is correct the redundant words. So I did that. Made a few alterations. Saved it.

I worked on it again several times this week. Everytime I worked on it, it got better. I found an inconsistency with the logic, and fixed it. I made the wording tighter. I tweaked the imagery a bit. Still not there. I saved it and closed the file. I bitched a bit on my Twitter feed.

I re-opened it today, on the much lauded Day Off From Paid Job So That I Can Write.* I dug in. Again, I had the feeling of I really like this, but... I took a break from it and checked Facebook, my email, etc. I was at the writing office--the coffee shop--with my husband who was working out-of-office.

He babbled something about health information interfaces. That may sound weird, but he wasn't sweet-talking me or anything--this is what he does for work. (If he were sweet-talking me, it would involve seeing a scifi flick, dinner out, or chocolate.) "Yea," I said he when he was done complaining about a server or an applet or something, "I have something for you to read if you need a break from that." He looked at me warily.

"How about you look at the desserts with me?" he asked. Okay, but I wasn't going to be distracted for long.

(I should add at this point that husband is not overly fond of everything I write. He likes things pretty concise and I'm not always that concise. I tend to write like I speak. Also, he really does not care that much for poetry, and I write A LOT of poetry.)

We returned to our table with a piece of carrot cake the size of our son's head.

Really, this was a LARGE piece of carrot cake. It attracted attention. It caused a general discussion among us and every other patron in the shop--"Please tell me that's awful once you taste it!" and "Wow, it's a good thing there's two of you!" "I'm sure it will be terrible," I promised the ladies in back of us as we sat down. We both took a bite, and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. Not to be waylaid, I pulled the poem up on my computer screen and positioned it toward him. He took another few bites of cake (for strength?) and began to read. I tactfully stepped outside to make a phone call.

When I returned from my call, he had finished reading and was back to staring at his laptop screen. "It wasn't...'right', was it?" I asked, not knowing how else to verbalize what I was feeling. He gave me a don't throw carrot cake look. "No, it's not," he said. It's . . .

But then it hit me. This wasn't a poem--the idea is too big. It's a story. "It's a story." I blurted out. "I'm trying to do too much. . .I have this idea, but the idea is really bigger than a poem." I swear, he looked relieved.

"I agree," he said. "You've created this whole world with all this detail, and it just can't all fit in here."

"You're right." I responded, somewhat sadly. I sat down. I eyed the carrot cake, which had seemed like just the thing at the time, but I no longer wanted any--once I'd dug into it, it also had chunks of fruit. I couldn't abide that--it was a sensory nightmare, despite the awesome cream cheese frosting. "I write poetry, because that's what I have time for. It so hard to keep up the momentum to write anything longer. But we're right--it's a short story, or maybe a piece of flash fiction."

And that's my life. A big, juicy piece of carrot cake, falling off the edges of the dessert plate, filled with walnuts and currants and golden raisins. It's too full. I so desperately want more time to write--and to improve my writing. I love to write--I love the way that words are tools, and you can mix and match and combine them to create moods, new mental pictures. . . or transform existing ones in creative or unique ways. BUT our reality is that we need me to have an income. And if I don't have an income, we need to move.

I want my carrot cake, but it doesn't need currants in it. It doesn't need raisins. It needs cream cheese frosting, some cinnamon, and carrots. And I'd share it with my husband and family, no matter what the size.

So I'll take that poem, turn it into the story it needs to be. And hopefully, get it done soon so that I can submit it. And hopefully, not make myself crazy as strive to do "everything."

* The much lauded DOFPJSTICW usually entails running errands for the kids, laundry, picking up house, and doing work for paid job. At least I'm usually at the coffee shop doing it, though.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I Know I Owe You a Blog Entry....

I am REALLY overdue. (Bad writer, BAD!) I've had several great things written in my head over the past several weeks, including (but not limited to):

* Moments from my recent vacation with the hubby and kids. Tons of material even under the best of circumstances.

* General bitching about the state of (hu)mans' inhumanity to (hu)man.

* How I've started reading The Elements of Style for pleasure. (Clearly, not enough of it, because I'm not 100% sure whether I need that apostrophe above).

* Loss (my aged cat, an in-law, my sanity).

* Religion and science--and the Truly Religious Experience I had beholding pictures taken by the Hubble Space telescope.

* Why completely irrelevant moments add value to life.

* The stalled state of my novel writing. And waiting on poetry submissions.

I am willing to whore myself out and write to whatever topic you'd most like to read. Because I completely and utterly need your attention and approval.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Russian Dolls

I cannot get the image of Russian dolls out of my head. I'm sure you've at least seen a picture of them--A painted "doll" on a vaguely human-shaped box. You open it up, and inside is nested another doll. You open that one--guess what another doll! And so on...

Do we come into our lives as Russian dolls? If so, is life about exposing each new layer at random or pre-determined times, so that at the end we get to the "core" of who we are?

Maybe, the metaphor works in reverse--we come into life small and unformed, and as we progress through space and time we acquire new layers of who we are. Does that mean that at the end of our lives we have become removed from the essence of what we once were? Does it mean we spend our lives "becoming?"

If I am to play with this metaphor, I think I most often feel like I have built up layers around myself. But that is not to say that the layers are not useful; they have added a complexity and a sharpness that was not formerly present.

But sometimes it hurts to feel the burden of the layers--the weight of them pressing upon me. One layer is "society." It it made up of expectations and roles and all the ways in which others judge who or how I should be. It is made up of the ways in which I have learned to navigate my way through, the ways in which I have altered or changed the way I would otherwise be. There is a layer "family. A layer "job." A layer dedicated to all the joy I have ever experienced--and another that shades that joy like a dark woolen cloak--made up of the pain and disappointment life has thrown my way.

What does it mean, then, to love? To be truly intimate with another person? Does it mean you can cast off your layers and show that person your inner doll?

I'm going to ponder all this some more. I welcome your thoughts.

Monday, March 1, 2010

(Re) Defining Self

I received some good news last week. The editor of the online poetry journal, Strong Verse, contacted me in response to a poem I submitted. They would like to publish it. Could they have my mailing address (to send the check) and a brief bio?

Yah. You betcha! :-) Could I get you some home-baked cookies to go with that?

Strong Verse is the poetry site started by writer Orson Scott Card (their motto is "Good poetry is meant to be understood, not decoded.") I am incredibly impressed with all of the poems I've read on the site. There is a lot of bad poetry out there, but the work on this site is wonderful, and I would classify some of the pieces as downright brilliant. So I am incredibly thrilled and honored to be published by them.

So, have I "become" a writer?

I've been writing poetry since I could write. I have very distinct memories of writing poems as early as fourth grade. In seventh grade, I blew my English teacher away with a short story I wrote, about a girl who was a shoplifter. I remember her writing a glowing response, and including the comment that I was "very empathetic." I had no idea what that meant at the time. When I asked her, she told me to look it up. She also told me to keep writing.

In high school and early college, writing poetry kept me sane as I dealt with the tumultuous, tidal feelings that are part of adolescence. In the back of my high school yearbook--in the section where they print what the graduates want to be when they grow up--I wrote, "To become a writer."

So naturally, in the frustrating non-linear way I seem to have handled much of my life, I primarily studied communication as an undergrad. I did minor in English. And took a lot of psychology. Upon graduation I took a job in radio sales. Then customer service. Then inside sales management. Then I took classes in anthropology and archaeology...met my future husband, and went back to school for a graduate degree in psychology...moved to the Chicagoland area... instead of finding a way to finish the semester toward my psychology Masters, I switched to Sociology...we moved back to New England, I took a job as a Research/TA Assistant. Had two kids...etc...

After twenty years, I have come back around to writing. Through everything, it has remained my passion. I have begun to refer to myself as a writer--trying it on for size, tentatively, as though it were an exotic, overpriced hat.

I write. I am a writer.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Writing Rituals

It is Saturday, and I have been able to carve out some writing time this afternoon. The kids have been sick, so no sports to run around to. I did some food shopping yesterday, so that my husband and the kids can be relatively self-sufficient. A few hours of writing, some more rest and time for the antibiotics to get into the kids' systems, and--if all goes well--I get my choice of restaurants tonight to go out to for my birthday. I want cake. And the kids want to sing to me. It's been a chaotic week.

I place my laptop on top of the antique green sewing machine I use as a desk. From this vantage point I can survey the goings-on of the house. I am always on call.

I light two candles. One is on the altar to my right. The other sits on the corner of my desk. The candle holder is shaped like a Goddess holding up the moon. She is an Earth Goddess; Gaia; She is covered in vines, flowers, small animals and assorted greenery. On her breast is a crescent moon. She holds up the candle like a beacon--or perhaps a warning--enter at your own risk--this is my time. Tread lightly.

The rest of the family is playing Monopoly. This should keep them busy. But first, I fetch drinks for everyone. I make sure they are fed. I remind them where to find additional snacks. My son asks for a snack his sister has--I bring him one. "Mom, you are the best Mom in the world. In the Universe." I call him my biggest fan. I think he actually has a love-hate relationship with my writing, although he is surely unaware of this. He is proud of my writing. He really likes some of what I've let him read. He muses, "Wouldn't it be cool if you became a famous writer?" At the same time, he knows it is my passion. I think he tests my committment to writing versus my committment to him. He needs to know he is first.

I microwave my now-lukewarm coffee. Bringing it to my desk, I survey my various Tarot and oracle decks, wanting to pick a card to help me focus my intentions. I pick an oracle deck, and enter the slighly meditative process where I shuffle the deck, and try to get in touch with my intuition. The cards go shuffle, shuffle; cut, cut; shuffle, shuffle. A child comes up and asks a question about where I put something.

I've learned, over the years, how to pop in and out of a semi-meditative state. I'd learned it out of necessity. I plug headphones into my laptop, getting ready to stream some classical music right into my ears. It is an additional physical symbol that I am concentrating, and it helps keep the nosisy chaos at bay.

The phone rings. My son answers, and hands it over to my husband. A call from one of our credit cards--a missed payment? My husband sounds perplexed. He schedules these for automatic payment. I'm grateful he is on top of the financials. It's just not something I have the brain capacity to handle. He figures it out--he set up the current payment for next month, accidently. They will waive any fees. He thanks the credit card company for their "excellent customer service."

My daughter enetrs the room. She has left the Monopoly game. "I'm gonna play Barbies in here." she announces. I smile and nod. I still haven't picked a card. Shuffle, shuffle, cut. I use my intution and select a card from the fanned out-deck. The Altar Priestess. Presparation, prayer, sacred ritual. Uncanny. I place it in front of my candle, behind my cold coffee.

I begin to write.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why We Create (Why I Write)

Humans have a brain capable of abstraction. We can reflect on why something has happened, what may happen...we can project our imaginings into the future, and conceive of countless ways to "be" in the world...we are (as far as we know) the only animals on this planet capable of contemplating our own mortality; of contemplating God or Whatever-You-Want-to-Call-It.

This is why we create.

A hallmark of humanity has been our manipulation of the material world, combined with our ability to think abstractly. We create Art, tools, body adornments, etc. We are brilliant in our facility to adapt our environments to our needs. We excel at contemplating that we *can* do this; and creating artefacts that represent this knowlwdge.

This is why we create.

We are driven by an internal thirst to make sense of why we "are." Why are we here? Are we a dumb and blind product of natural selection, or were we put here by LGM?* Are we the beloved children of a beneficent Supreme Being?

Inside, we are always questing in some way. It is in human nature to never be satisfied. We can be content for a time--even downright happy--but that questing is always there, inside, smouldering in our guts.

When asked why I write, I have often said that "writing saved my life." This form of creation has been by my side since childhood. It has allowed me to voice my growing awareness of the world's complexity. As I grew older, it was an outlet for my inner turmoil. There have been times in my life when I literally felt as if I would burst and die if I could not, in some way, exorcise some of the thoughts, desires, or pain I was feeling....then I would pick up a pen. Or a keyboard. And I would write. And that unbearable pressure would lessen.

We create to give form to that which cannot be contained in other ways. Love, pain, hatred, sorrow, isolation...none of these are quantifiable; all are part of the human condition. And so we write...or paint...or cook...or create in a myriad of ways, according to our skills and inclinations.

We are all artists.

*=Little Green Men