Rereading writing from my teaching notebook this afternoon. Themes emerge. Below are three excerpts.
But first, some wisdom from Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.”
She advocates writing about what most interests us, possibly a thing no one else could write but us. She counsels, like Jude does actually, to give it all away.
“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”
I’m not suggesting the paragraphs below meet that level of urgency but here they are anyway.
2/20 Prompt: something about Going Big
In the fraught days between impeachment and acquittal, women in black hold large letters spelling REMOVE TRUMP, protesting in silence because otherwise they might be arrested. They walk in repetitive loops as if enacting a strange monastic ritual or like an orderly colony of ants, because to be still, they’re told, is an impermissible barricade of the Senate halls and could also result in arrest.
The darkest hour might be before the dawn, but it’s also true that things die. Even Republics.
Heroes come, rise up, and are crucified, goes one story. Now all my heroines shout and shout again: “NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE YOU. There is only us.”
On good days, this inspires. On bad days, a silent and sour question emerges: “Oh yeah? And what are WE going to do?”
2/20 Prompt: “Finally, you wonder, why does Gaia tolerate all this?”
How quickly we run into our obstinate, unyielding consumptive need! Maybe Gaia, being a goddess and all, doesn’t care if we make it as a species. Maybe Gaia doesn’t care if earth remains livable for human beings, either.
That’s kind of like what Ram Dass said that time he shared the stage with someone calling herself a visionary Christian, someone passionately committed to our survival, to our waking up to the nature of our self-destruction. Correct course! Before it’s too late! Ram Dass sat there, so alive, so himself, and asked the question right out: “Why should I be invested in our survival? In one result over another?”
4/20 Prompt: speak as a part of the body — I chose spine
We prepare for darkness, the dust to dust part. Such preparations are not morbid. In fact, they are joyous. How lovely to breathe. How lovely to breathe knowing one day you will not. We crumble and compress on our way to the grave. Such is the way of all structures, not just skeletons, but empires and republics.
Did it ever occur to you that much of your daily agonies arise from wanting, desperately wanting, our Republic to survive?
This is all powerful and heavy. As it should be. Crosses give me the creeps. Catholicism generally makes my skin crawl. Except there are so many good people who are Catholic!!
I loved the National Graduation 2020 or whatever it was called, and was so so happy to listen to Obama’s words. I cry through commercials that have doctors and nurses in them. I was riveted to the NY Times article about the funeral home in the Bronx. No, I wasn’t aware how much I want this Republic saved, but I do. You’re so right! I am studying the Jews as the Nazi’s took over, I feel desperate to know how to survive what if what if this happens again to anyone, what if it happens to me? will I turn to religion? will I kill someone myself? it absolutely one mental land mine after another. Maybe I’ll begin to write more – I believe writing is the most difficult discipline, mentally and spiritually. Thank goodness for gardening.
Thank goodness for Gardening is right! I read that article about the funeral home too and it Was riveting and heartbreaking. Obama was amazing. So glad he could give that national speech in honor of our seniors. I cried at the opening chorus of the Graduate 2020 show.
garden is Power
sadly, through the profligate greed of the corporations that have taken over the world causing such deep divisions in society we will see anarchy in our lifetimes & it won’t be pretty…
This comment truly surprises me. Not for its dark prediction but for coming from you.
(((Dee))) we have to take a stand with empathy, kindness and understanding as our world is changing so rapidly via planetary exploitation & deep inequality, we have to repair the damage we all have wrought through mass consumption. I always felt I would see anarchy in this lifetime but never thought it would come from the far right who are gaining power via Murdoch and the corporations he represents. The next decade will need strong hearts and nerves of steel.
these are my daily concerns.
and at a very simple level, this question.
Can a person say they are a “good person” and say they are a Trump person.
Can someone supporting Trump be good?
the question would arise, what “kind” of good? and to whom? What kind of good
doesn’t mind if the planet is descimated?
A point of clarification. Don’t know if it matters. The panel with Ram Dass was in the early 90’s. At the time the climate crisis was still abstract. It was before all the storms and fires and the predictions of ten years being left to turn things around.
Where I was coming from is this idea that maybe our fears about preserving everything spring from a human-centric attachment. And like other attachments, it causes suffering.
Of course all of us want life to continue. Democracy to continue. For our children. And for their children. It’s hard to imagine wanting anything else.
he might say the same thing today. it’s that thing of not being attached to outcome. I wish he was still here. We could ask him again. We could ask him to say more and he would with his halting speech, his incessant Smile, i wish he were still here. He’s not.
and yes. it IS a human~centric attachment….but that’s what we have to work with, being human, it’s our Work. And if we have a human~centric attachment to Earth as the only Home we have, how do we then live? And yes, it causes suffering. Love, deep and strong Love will cause suffering if the object of our love is threatened with nonbeing for NO GOOD REASON.
Democracy…i don’t know. i take in a deep breath and then exhale long. Democracy. Tribal Cultures have something akin to democracy, but is also fed by Spirit. By deep Earth connection. This democracy here is fed by the false god of capitalism, by “economy”, by having more than enough.
I want this Earth to continue. I want Emrie to live Safe. Healthy. Happy and at Ease within her circumstance. That’s enough. I want that for every single child on this planet, born and as yet unborn.
I am having a really hard time with all of this.
Thanks for this post.
Death felt very close and very real at the beginning of the pandemic … I was frozen by the immediacy of it … overwhelmed by how much there was to do and how seemingly little time in which to do it
the prompts … and your responses … so much food for thought …
It’s funny how the sense of immediacy wants to resolve into normalcy. I think that drive (toward normalcy) is the primary impulse behind premature openings.
Normalcy is the comfort zone all beings strive for – the safety of the familiar – take that away from the most privileged and they lose their minds so quickly. Looking at the numbers, the charts, and graphs from other places that have already blundered through the pandemic, American Exceptionalism will be shown for what it really is, American Arrogance. C19 is going to bitch-slap all of these places very shortly. Living in Georgia, I worry too.
Well said. Conflating health precautions with infringement of personal liberties is a particular brand of dumb. So there’s arrogance and there’s stupidity, too.
Yes, go for it, ask the questions, offer your answers. collectively there must be a value in it.
I think of how well you’ve modeled over the years sharing where you’re at. Doesn’t have to be perfect or even finished.
It honestly hasn’t ever occurred to me *not* to feel that way.
Late to the table as usual and after depositing myself and food offerings, I suggested to my friend that much of your current agonies arose from wanting, desperately wanting, our supposed ‘Republic’ to actually manifest at last, to rise out of the rubble of Pandemic destruction and begin the new age. She nodded obtusely and reached for one of the three-cheese toasted sandwiches I’d brought to share, as I poured out two cups of homemade cherry lemonade and passed hers across the six foot divide we’d arranged at one of the long tables provided by the park. An anarchist at heart, she’d never joined a political party, but voted as a sister independent in every election to date. Friends for decades, we had much in common, were both highly educated and never argued. We discuss, often passionately, but never as a contest of winners and losers. Ours is a rare companionship, blessedly fated to go the distance and in this time of terrible griefs, one for which I am deeply grateful.
We met by chance well into our dotage, immediately and eagerly spending a decade of catch up and getting to know you sessions. Neither of us particularly needy and both of us open to truthful exchange, we shared homes, goods, useful information and personal histories. Now we are both locked down in this vast City suddenly deserted of it’s usual commerce and clatter. We like it. Birds flourish, sing their many songs all day and the occasional fox wanders into view as casually as a domestic dog. The river runs nearby with its current traveling in both directions, up to the North country and Southward down to the ocean, seagulls circle above and a glorious sun is slowly descending, spreading ripples of purple, red and gold along the further shore. We fall into comfortable silence and our breathing becomes easy in the warm air of a fading day.
What a lovely tale of aging and of friendship and of gratitude.
PS Tentative Title-“What Dying Looks Like”/or “Dying”
Or “Living to the End”?