Monday, November 24, 2014

Horror as Consolation

Last week in my weekly, in-person classes, the prompt was about reading. I got so many amazing responses, as I recall was the case the last time I used this prompt, two years ago. In fact, I am going to ask students to share their writings and put together a small book of them - Writers on Reading.

However, one response in particular really hit all of my personal bells.
I wanted to share the part(s) that struck me most here.
The first spot to really shock me awake was her insight about compulsive reading. I often find (and many others wrote about this) that I read mindlessly, intensely, and that's even reading "good literature."

Here's Kara's insight on this that struck home for me:
I grew up as one of those quiet shy girls with my nose in a book. I actually resisted reading at first. I remember in first grade being behind. Then something happened. I know my sister gave me The Little House on the Prairie books in second grade, and the next thing I know, I began tearing through books. I kept reading, and did it a lot. Compulsively. These were my video games.
It's that last set of lines that hit me. That would have been enough. So articulate. But then she went on to describe something I have NEVER heard anyone else describe: assuaging grief with horror. When my father died, I read all of Stephen King, a fair amount of Peter Straub and the like.

Here we go with Kara's passage that blew me out of my seat:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Doing Something When I Needed to Do Nothing

Boy, have I had an interesting week. As in the purported Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times".

I am in France, teaching for two weekends in a row. In between, this week, I am out at a student/friend's lovely home near the forest of Fontainebleu. A beautiful, peaceful village; quiet, quirky home. I had mixed agendas - will I spend time working or resting or both? - but this is typical for me and I settled in after a few hours on the first day,

Tuesday. A nice walk in the forest, some good planning for my upcoming program on Shambhala Online called Write Now... Looking good.

Back in the flat, I diddled with some video on my phone,  trying to get talks uploaded and such onto my laptop. Learning Word Press in a new way, I was a bit frustrated, but moving ahead. In a moment of great efficiency, I emptied the trash on my desktop without realizing I'd somehow, accidentally (now I see it as ironically) put my most current folder, with above-mentioned materials for the upcomig class, etc, in the trash prior.

The folder's name? TO DO.

As I watched the trash empty much more than the single video I thought occupied it, I scanned my desktop, which I keep pretty clean. The gap, the missing folder, was immediately apparent.

It hit me right away but in waves. When I have done this at home (not often, but it has happened) it's no biggie since we back up regularly with time machine. But I've been in Europe for over three weeks and haven't backed up. I've done hard work on some essential projects, now gone. Hundreds of photos, good ones, of and on this trip, not backed up.

Deleting and emptying this folder was a small but reperable mistake, though I didn't know that then.
Here was the real mistake: I felt strongly that I had to DO SOMETHING.
THAT was my mistake, and I did it again and again over 24 hour period.

It was hell.
But to be clear, it was hell mostly because of how I handled it.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Slow Growth

Yesterday, taking the dogs for a walk, my friend-family the Hurns and I encountered some very old growth oak trees. Jubilee Park used to be a location for anti-aircraft machinery in WWII. Now it is a wildlife preserve. Despite the great clearing that occurred in preparation for its defensive purposes, oak trees kept their hold in some places, so now these heritage woods patches can frolic free in the windy plain.

The night before, the BBC reported that trees like these are in trouble in Britain. If you place any population on an island like this - and yes, it is an island - once contamination hits, it spreads like proverbial wildfire. In fact, an algae or fungus - I've forgotten which - has begun to spread, taking out these trees from the bark side in. It turns out the cure is garlic - concentrated, pumped under the outside edges, the garlic is an anti-fungal. However, some argue, just like antibiotics in our system, these anti-fungals wipe out all fungus, including good, useful fungus needed for other thriving. So it's a quick - but strangely expensive - cure. As is often the case with fast solutions, perhaps more trouble than it is benefit.

Monday, September 22, 2014


I read this short post today. It compares the self-soothing of a new baby with the self-soothing of its new mama. A friend and student who works with trauma recovery posted it.

I know a lot of new mamas right now, so though I am not one, I am becoming familiar with their particular brand of fraying. However, I am well-familiar with an overloaded nervous system of other sorts - any sorts - in both my students and myself. One thing I particularly like is how the author draws attention to self-soothing - that it can manifest as overwork, drug addiction, rubbing feet together or going for walks. In other words, she does not judge one as better than the other, simply recognizing that we all have our own methods, most of them semi-conscious.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Counter-Narratives of Joy

It's easy to tell a sad story.

I know, because I have told one a long time. Many sad stories, in fact. I am not saying it is easy to live a sad story, but modern American culture seems to long for tragedies.

I know this is hedgey ground. I, myself, highly dislike overtly positive psychology, affirmations, attraction theories. I think, I believe, it is highly important to not only address our pain, but to tell that story, again and again and again. Until we feel heard, until it is clear, until we understand.

And yet.

At a short writing workshop in Toronto on Monday of last week, a student ended her last piece, the last one read, with a passage about "counter-narratives of joy." This struck everyone immediately - we all felt the power of it, though it took some discussion afterwards to figure out why, and what the different meanings were.

The main gist was this: we tell stories of woe, of suffering, of sadness, and they are essential.
And yet.
Sometimes they become the main narrative. The only story. The way we show how hard we have worked, how much we have been through. Suffering can seem a credential, being a victim a preferred position, always being wronged as being on the right side. So it's not just a need for stories of joy - stories that also express - also, not instead of - where we have reveled, appreciated and celebrated. Not just that need, but that following, developing, expressing that can actually seem antithetical, opposing, against the stream.