Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Intentions

"Full Moon Mandala" by SoulArteEclectica

Lately I’m finding myself paying more attention to the cycles of the year. Solstices are particularly meaningful days which mark turning points that I cannot let pass by unnoticed. For the past two years, I have participated in writing circles on the solstices, which provide an opportunity to quietly mark the significance of these days.

In the candlelight of our recent Winter Solstice circle, we wrote a simple exercise that lifted up a trio of themes. We divided a page into three columns:

1. Letting go of; 2. Celebrating; 3. Intentions.

We then had several minutes to generate lists in each column. I found myself jumping back and forth from joy to yearning, to resolve, back to yearning, and surprisingly paying more attention to joy than usual.

My lists morphed into this draft of a prayer-poem:

Solstice Prayer

Let go of darkness

Celebrate joy

Light – let it in, let it shine

through me.

Follow the joy,

let go of lack.

A new way of living, celebrating

love, friendships, family.

Let creativity flow.

Value the process of creation,

Follow the arrow from creative flow

to financial flow.

Follow the joy.

Releasing, celebrating, and setting intention; there is a satisfying combination in these categories. Too often I overlook the celebrating part. But if I think of these three as the legs of a stool, it is equally as important as the other two.

With this in mind, on the final day of this calendar year, I celebrate. I celebrate my increasing ability to hold my center through a variety of circumstances. I celebrate my increasing trust in my inner voice which is revealed to me through writing. I am feeling the growth and am so grateful for the work I’ve done, and those who have been supportive anchors. Could 2011 be a year of reaping benefit of all this work? I welcome this! I welcome my professional endeavors hitting a stride where my energy feels less dispersed. I welcome continued clarity about my desires, and a continued embrace of the (new) belief that desire is pure when it comes from a place of truth and self-love. I welcome an inpouring of abundance through known and unknown channels. I welcome my creativity, and I allow time for the pure joy of creation. I have new story ideas I wish to pursue. I have old stories that are finding their way to maturity. I am excited about what the new year holds.

If you find yourself tired of the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions, I highly recommend this simple three-column exercise. It’s fun to see where the writing takes you.

Happy New Year!

-- Kim for the Poplar Grove Muse

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Little Brown Purse

As a rule, I avoid basements; they all seem dark, dank, cluttered and unfriendly. Truth be told I avoid the stairs leading down to basements whenever possible as well. Knowing this, my husband, Jay, kindly took on the intimidating task of excavating our basement in preparation for our move. As he sorted and packed he would set aside the things he wanted me to go through, not sure if they were things I wanted to keep or not.

I discovered one such article perched on a box, quietly awaiting its fate. Next to some Christmas decorations sat an old leather purse. Not much larger then a cigar box it was the color of butterscotch left on the burner a bit too long. The purse had smooth rectangle sides that angled in where they met at the top, creating a long-sided triangle shape for the purse. Demure black stitching lined the border of the small zippered pocket on the side and a tiny gold rooster logo was attached near the top. Two short stitched leather straps served as handles and the leather was marred with scratches and wear.

I could imagine what Jay saw as he looked at the purse; it was just an old purse I didn’t use anymore. What I saw when I looked at that purse was a long haired young girl of twenty, shopping at Ayres. The girl had recently been told by her husband of six months that he was in love with someone else and their marriage was over. She was engaged in the apparently age old custom of buying expensive things that her soon to be ex-husband will get the bills for at some later date. As she strode through the store hell bent on running up that charge card her eyes fell on a small leather purse. The price of the purse was Twenty-five Dollars, which was an absurd amount of money for a purse at the time and far more then she had ever spent on such a thing. She had never even owned a leather purse. By the time she had it in her hands and felt its smooth soft leather and saw the tiny gold rooster on its side, she had made up her mind. She bought that little leather purse.

I’m sure you have guessed, I was that young girl, many, many years, many, many lifetimes ago. It turned out that the, someone else, was in fact my slightly older sister who I had always been very close to……. but that is a story for another day. That old purse bought so long ago will be an antique soon. It amazed me that seeing it setting there among the other flotsam that it had the power to conjure the memory of that day so vividly to my mind.

While I searched through the purse looking for that hundred dollar bill we all think we have tucked away and forgotten in our old purses, I found something else. I found a very old TWA (for you young ones, Trans World Airlines) boarding pass. It was a date in November of 1976, the first time I had ever flown in an airplane. I was pregnant with my daughter Christina and was flying from Indianapolis to Denver Colorado so I could drive back home with my husband. He had been in school there for three months. I remember, I was wearing my favorite maternity top. It was a striped sweater in shades of green with a black turtleneck. I remember, the man I was seated next to was very kind to the nervous first time flyer and he helped me find my way in the Denver airport. I remember my husband’s face as we spotted each other in the airport corridor.

The people that know about these things say that the objects are not the memories and they are correct they are not. They are however the things that signal your brain to bring that memory front and center A.S.A.P.

The need to keep the stuff that prompts those memories must be inherent in all of us to some degree. We treasure the mementos of the watershed moments in our lives, the births, the deaths, the graduations. We store them in boxes that fill up our attics, closets and basements. Is this our brains way of organizing our memories, are they downloaded to these items for later retrieval like an external hard drive or offsite storage facility? It almost makes me understand the strong compulsion to hoard, almost.

We continue to pack, sort, dispose of and re-evaluate our possessions and thankfully the basement is empty. The closets upstairs, yes, there is an upstairs, await and I am sure along with the old clothes and extra blankets I will find some powerful “stuff”.

And of course, that little leather purse and its contents will be heading west.

--Diana for the Poplar Grove Muse

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Focusing in a Kaleidoscope World

Focusing in a Kaleidoscope World

Today as I sit in my chair and watch it snow I think of how hard it has been to focus the past few months.
Dad’s surgery. Mom’s broken neck. My accident. I’ve been in adrenaline mode since late July. The urgencies have eased up in the last couple of weeks; everyone is in solid recovery mode. I’m starting to breathe again. And as I breathe, I begin to notice my surroundings and enjoy the things I love. I’m learning to focus again.
This weekend as I was mulling over topics/themes to write on for the Poplar Grove Muse, I saw the past couple of days as images that came into focus as I turned the kaleidoscope of my memory.
On Friday, Casey, my son, called and as we spoke about family matters, I saw the image of him as a small boy caring for a sick robin he named Duke. And I was so proud of the caring person he’s grown up to be. Later that night, Jackie, who is like a daughter to me, came to spend the night and help facilitate Poetry Detectives on Saturday. As we sat and talked I drew into focus the picture of her as a college student working at the IDS and kicking butt as copy chief. And here she is ten years later helping make a success out of a project dear to my heart.
The next image, a flash of a face filled with excitement as enlightenment comes over a tricky line of poetry as we discuss a poem by Adrienne Rich. Later that day in an intergenerational writing workshop at the Poplar Grove School, the turned up faces of young women writers making their voices heard in the world, the serene faces of mothers happy in the presence of their daughters; the collages we all made with their colors, images and words.
Now as I sit here with a hot cup of black cherry tea, I’m watching Saturday Night Live that I recorded last night and there is Paul McCartney singing, what I’m sure is his homage to John Lennon who died 30 years ago this month, “Give Peace a Chance” and I see myself at 17, a senior in high school, in front of the TV watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember thinking how ridiculous those screaming girls in the audience were. I just wanted them to shut up so I could hear Paul, John, George and Ringo.
So what’s my point? My point is that no matter how many times we turn the kaleidoscope to move the little bits of colored glass/plastic around, the big picture doesn’t change all that much. Forty-one years after “Give Peace a Chance” was released we still don’t have peace in the world; we still argue about abortion, gay rights, health care, education and taxes. Our world comes to us in Tweets, Facebook postings, YouTube videos and sound bites, no wonder it’s so hard to focus. Can’t we all just take a deep cleansing breath and try to focus on making the world peaceful and nurturing instead of running our own agendas?

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Lump of Coal

My mother, Anne Lodge, is an abiding source of inspiration in…to…for my writing and my life. At a recent visit to our family farm in Ohio, she handed me a faded photocopy of something she’s kept around. This scrap, along with so many slips of paper, snips, quips, quotes, make their way, if she sees fit, into my fortunate hands. The latest was a quote from the poet William Matthews (1942-1997 ). He’s credited in the clipping with “a lucky wit” and “startling intelligence” and offers “a short but comprehensive summary” of all the subjects for lyric poetry:

1. I went out into the woods today and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.
2. We’re not getting any younger.
3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey.
4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case, the coin is too soon spent and on we know not what.

So, yeah, this about sums it up. What’s left out are the particulars that bring these themes to life-- startling metaphors, unique turns of phrase, specific images, the grace notes and voicings on any artful canvas or in any room that sing to us the songs of ages. While any story, song, play, dance, or piece of art might tell us the same things again and again, it’s of course how they do so in new and surprising ways that lift and lead us.

Nor does Matthew’s summary speak to the courage it takes to truly live inside his/our themes. Or to come out from underneath the bushel that hides us from ourselves and the world; that gives any of us permission to look, see and say from the deepest parts of our uncensored selves what is true of our experience in the world. I guess Matthews had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when we wrote his summary, given that he was a prolific poet and could not be diminished by his own ironic point of view. I happen to agree it’s healthy not to take ourselves too seriously about too much of anything. At the same time, if we’re intimidated, or down right bored by the so-called limited subjects available –to whatever it is any of us confronts every ordinary day, we miss a lot. It could be the risk of devastation, the toil of reconstruction, and every little death and rebirth it takes to live into a life.

I went into the woods today and fell down in the snow. My face was cold. My body warm. The sun trickled through the web of tree branches and I rose to meet it. The snowsuit-clad child who came alive inside me reached for the sky and together, we floated up . Call it what you want, but I was in no way alone. The air crackled with connection. It was, you know, sort of religious.

We’re not getting any younger. Well, I know I’m not. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window glass this morning and wondered who the silver-haired woman looking back at me was. On another day, I might grieve what’s gone. Today, the scent of my teenage daughter’s shampoo in that same silver hair confused me. I did a double-take in the window, then thought I might want to have breakfast and a nice long chat with the woman who gazed so frankly at me over her reading glasses. She intrigued me.

It sure is cold. Well, literally it is these December days. And loneliness is most often temporary. AND It is real and it hurts. I think we need to call it out when we’re feeling it. Unspoken loneliness is dangerous and the journey through is never ever easy. Let’s look out for ourselves and one another in this realm.

Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness…the coin is too soon spent. I cried suddenly and raggedly in my car on the way to pick up Dan this week with the radio news of Elizabeth Edward’s death less than 24 hours after reading in the papers about her grave condition. It was like a lightening bolt struck through me. “No, I thought…not yet!” In that moment, Elizabeth Edwards’ was the face of any number of loved ones and friends -- of me, for god’s sake! There I was driving through my beloved snow-covered town, in a menopause-fueled eruption of random grief for the passage of time, for the ways good people -- all people --die, and the circumstances of any life lived flip heads to tails with happiness and sadness in ways we cannot control. Anything any of us are able to think or feel or do to make sense of this over a lifetime is a blessing for the journey.

Below is a good poem from William Matthews for the season; for poets and writers or anyone in need of seeing something more in a lump of coal than a rocky threat. Let it keep the fires of life-force and inspiration burning year round for you. May your holidays be fueled by love, by light and warmth, wherever you are, whomever you are with.

Poem (The Lump of Coal My Parents Teased)

The lump of coal my parents teased
I'd find in my Christmas stocking
turned out each year to be an orange,
for I was their sunshine.

Now I have one C. gave me,
a dense node of sleeping fire.
I keep it where I read and write.
"You're on chummy terms with dread,"

it reminds me. "You kiss ambivalence
on both cheeks. But if you close your
heart to me ever I'll wreathe you in flames
and convert you to energy."

I don't know what C. meant me to mind
by her gift, but the sun returns
unbidden. Books get read and written.
My mother comes to visit. My father's

dead. Love needs to be set alight
again and again, and in thanks
for tending it, will do its very
best not to consume us.
--William Matthews

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We're Looking for Bloggers

We are looking for some local writers who might like to post recent essays, poetry or fiction on this blog. If you want to test out your writing wings in blog form please contact Amy at:

Amy @ womenwritingbloomington(dot)com

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Old Friend from Far Away

I am facebook friends with a man I have known since we were 15. Jim and I came to know each other first in band camp, where we two shy sophomores (in my high school sophomore year was the first year) sat across from each other each night at a picnic table in the camp mess hall--he the lone male in a rank of clarinetists, me the only xylophone player. We ate and drank kool-aid in silence. I never knew what to say to him, and I suppose he did not know what to say to me. He was cute and most of the clarinetists had crushes on him. I don’t think I did, but maybe I would have if I could have thought of something to say.

Not long after those weeks in band camp we found ourselves part of a group that hung out in the library. For some reason we drifted toward an AFS club, and we befriended the foreign exchange students. Before we knew it, we were throwing parties and hanging out at pizza places and making googly eyes at each other in marching band. He turned out to be quite popular and had a string of girlfriends that came in and out of his life. I suppose I wouldn’t have minded being one of them, but we had so much fun just hanging out together, and we had a little gang and we laughed so much I did not give it much thought.

When we went to college we visited each other. Michigan to Chicago, Chicago to Michigan. In the era before cell phones and email we sent letters and talked on the phone. He met my college friends and I met his. Summers we met up back at home--working together at the mall or ice cream stands or at a company in Cleveland that manufactured chemicals. We commuted together and went to bars after work.

Is it any surprise to the reader that my lifelong friend came out to me toward the end of our college careers? I was lucky not to have been one of a string of girlfriend relationships that never went anywhere, but a true friend. Jim has been in my life for thirty years and though we do not see each other often, as is the way of many old friends, I know he is there.

He is fortunate that he was coming out as the era of AIDs was in full force and the beginnings of understanding about transmission were emerging. By then he knew the importance of practicing safe sex. The bell curve of gay men who contracted AIDS bloomed just before he came out. I feel thankful that my generation missed the onslaught of death that faced people just a few years older than me.

Jim left Michigan for San Francisco and grad school. I left Chicago for Indiana and grad school. I have seen him throughout the years in our home town, at weddings and friendly gatherings and now on facebook.

He just posted on my FB wall: a comment about an article I posted about I-69. I posted a comment on his photos where is is working in China. When I saw his words across the years and miles I absolutely wanted to weep. There is no friend like an old friend. I treasure them, and him.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Into the Woods

I had the pleasure of attending a public reading given by Wendell Berry during his recent visit to Bloomington. This fast write was inspired by his words.

- - - - - - - - - -

“In the woods is perpetual youth.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was a woods girl. It helped with the loneliness. The only girl in our small neighborhood, I found friendship among the trees and land that surrounded our home.

My favorite place was the pine tree forest on the other side of our neighbor’s large yard. It was a substantial forest, carpeted in pine needles, with plenty of space to explore. Some of the trees had thick low limbs I could reach to climb my way up, sap sticking to my palms and fingers. One of these trees had a lookout point. I would nestle myself there and peer out over the neighbor’s yard, undetectable in my private haven.

The woods were within earshot of my house, although I was usually free to play uninterrupted for hours, and I was very earnest about retuning home in time for dinner on summer evenings.

The pine trees gave way to deciduous woods on the east, and here I would explore the forest floor for plants and wildflowers that interested me. I imagined a day when I would build myself a shelter at the base of a tree where I could spend the night. I dreamed of who might join me in my woodland home.

Sometimes I ventured even further, across three fields, to an old barn that stood fallow in a large farm field bordered by Stoute's Creek. This barn was a favorite destination, smelling of livestock in the lower level where stalls now stood empty. Up a ladder was the hayloft with a creaky floor and ceiling boards spaced apart enough to allow sunlight through. Outside there was a small shed that held tack and supplies. I’d often peek through the windows, imagining I owned horses that lived in the barn.

I’d often join my brother on journeys to the creek, where we’d hunt for fossils, finding many for our collections: crinoids, brachiopods, and geodes he would try to smash open to reveal the crystals inside. I liked turning rocks over to reveal crawdads darting backwards, forming dirt clouds in self-protection. Once we found a giant snapping turtle in the creek. We were so excited we ran all the way home to get Mom and bring her back to share our discovery with her.

As an adult I have chosen to live in a larger neighborhood with more friends nearby for my daughter. In many ways it’s the best of both worlds; ours is a wooded neighborhood, with a small pine tree grove at the public park down the street. And a little further still, you’ll find a wooded forest that defines the eastern edge of town. These woods hold their own treasures. Times have changed; children don’t wander alone at such young ages. But my husband, daughter, and I venture together to these woods as often as we can.

- Kim for the Poplar Grove Muse

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Writing, A Solitary Process?

Writers who have a basic process always amaze me, especially those whose process doesn’t vary all that much. Of course, most of the writers whom I hear talk about how they approach writing are best selling authors, so who am I to question them? I have so many ways to write that I don’t even try to count them. The one I used most recently was writing most of the piece in my head before actually getting anything down on paper. On my last trip to my hometown to visit my parents I started writing an essay in my head on Saturday night. I didn’t get the piece into the computer until Wednesday afternoon at my desk during my lunch hour. For me, writing is not necessarily solitary. I was so into the process that I bordered on being rude to my co-workers; it felt all-consuming. Writing this way has produced some of the pieces I’m most proud of, but it only seems to work when the subject is extremely personal. I would like to share the essay that I wrote in my head with all of you.

Whistling in the Dark

It is 7:45 on a Saturday night and I’m hurtling through the night with my dad at the wheel. I look over at the dashboard to see how much over 100 he’s going, but the speedometer is only registering 35mph. I feel like I’m on the nose of a rocket heading through the darkness of outer space. Maybe it feels out of control because he seems so casual and oblivious to the other cars for someone who’s 90 and doesn’t see well after dark. He’s making that little whistling noise he’s always used as a stress reliever. It helps. I do that too.
We have just left the Lincoln Center Rehabilitation Wing where my stepmother has been admitted to help her get back on her feet after a fall that broke her C-3 vertebrae this summer. She hasn’t been the same since. Her neck has healed, but her personality did a 180: she’s grouchy, confused, argumentative and weak as a kitten -­ no muscle tone, just slack skin hanging on her long frame. Dad and I are worried that she has the beginnings of dementia caused by the trauma of her fall, that she won’t ever be her sweet self again. Life is out of control.
Dad pulls into Wendy’s parking lot and I take my foot off the imaginary brake. Ok. We made it half –way home. We’ll eat dinner and then just a few more blocks to safety. We order salads after bickering over who’s going to buy. I let him win. He needs a victory right now, even a small one. We sit across from each other and it’s like eating in front of a mirror. We pick at our salads the same way. Hunting and pecking, eating the “good stuff” first, wiping our mouths and taking sips of our drinks in unison. We organize the trash on our trays exactly the same, folding and smoothing crumpled napkins, folding up the paper off our straws into one-inch rectangles, making everything neat and orderly, even our trash, controlling the things we can control.
An acquaintance of Dad’s comes over to our table to chat. Dad jokes with him, asking him if he comes here often. Mr. Doyle replies that since his wife died he’s there every day. Then he says he’d better get home, doesn’t want to be late falling asleep in front of the TV. He and Dad chuckle half-heartedly; Mr. Doyle facing the reality of his life and Dad envisioning what his is becoming. We say goodbye to Mr. Doyle and head out the door. I brace myself for another Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but it’s mostly uneventful, just one little bobble to the right, plowing through his neighbor’s leaves piled at the edge of the street.
Inside the house it feels safe and WAY too warm. Old People Warm. But we’re in the beautiful home that my stepmother so tastefully decorated, and it makes my stomach hurt to think she may never get to live there again, surrounded by beauty and Dad’s love for her.
I go to my room to change my clothes and when I come back to the kitchen, Dad is standing on a chair in front of the refrigerator taking the clock off the wall to change the time. It’s another thing I can’t control, my wobbly dad standing on a wobbly chair because he wants to do everything for himself.
Just as we sit down in the family room the phone jangles and it’s my stepmother crying and saying she’s scared because she can’t find her call button. She wants Dad to call the nurse’s station and tell them she needs to go to the bathroom and could he have me come over and sit with her for awhile. That I can do, sit with her and try to calm her fears, at least for tonight. Make a safe space for her like she did for me when my own mother disowned me. Dad says he’ll stay by the phone so I can call and let him know how she is.
I head back to the rehab facility. This time I’m driving, but it still feels like I’m racing through the darkness toward unknown dangers and the ugliness of getting old.

Rebekah for Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hello from Portland, OR

Actually a little west of there, but only a letter-writing train ride and a few short blocks away from Powell’s bookstore in downtown.
Life here is full of complicated contrasts. The up-and-outwardness of exploring a new city and coast, the down-and-insideness of feeling my tender and recently-torn roots.

It’s taken me four months to seek out another writing community. I clearly know why – nothing can replace what I had with you.
It’s been easy to ignore my writing practice. The sun has been shining (mostly) all summer and into the fall . I go out and play. Find cool things, go for long bike rides, enjoy nature. I do some writing in my blog and journal. Yet I don’t write with process or ritual and I don’t hear my words back from others. I don’t have the accountability or the support of other women. I even put off the invitation to do a blog update.

This is a happy story, though. The happiness is that I know, deeply, how much the WWF(a)C Bloomington community has touched, and continues to enrich, my life. And with that gift, I tune in to my new home with renewed spirit. I take a risk. I run my first Google search, “women+writing+Portland.” That’s a start, a good start.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Girls' State, Years Late

I’ve just been to my first High School State Meet. Ever. For girls.

My freshman daughter’s high school girls’ 2010 cross country team made it to State. We all traveled out to Terre Haute this weekend for the big spectacle. And a big spectacle we got. Thousands of people scurrying from one viewing point to another, multiple fields of endless car parking, cities of colorful team tents and suburbs of port-a-potties, media on ladders and miles of fences loosely corralling runners and watchers into interconnecting human rivers.

My own freshman high school girls' swim team would have made it to State in Minnesota in 1974, and well might have won it. If there had been one. Only 2 years after the enactment of Title IX, the “Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act,” the gains for women’s athletics were still modest.

But significant. Growing up in frigid South Dakota, a young girl’s athletic choices boiled down to ballet or tap, swimming, and summer softball, only the last of which involved team spirit and competition. Hopelessly out of place in a dance studio, I swam, moved to a larger community, and swam competitively; I began to discover the power and pleasure at the heart of the athletic experience, feeling muscles grow strong, exploring the new-found psychological confidence that springs from gaining physical strength and control of one’s body.

High school girls’ team sports, however, were truly transformative. As we 1970's swim girls trained, competed, partied, sang on the bus, banqueted, mangled our unsingable national anthem, and crushed our competition together, solidarity flourished, individual agendas fell away, and barriers to more positive girl connections dissolved in the water. I can only imagine what ascending through a state tournament system might have forged among us.
My first season on the Girls' Cross Country Ski Team was even better. When we stripped off our outdoor gear and showered naked together, it was the most constructive body image revelation I could have hoped for, as we all realized that no body is “perfect,” that each of us is self-conscious about some perceived flaw. There was no snow that year, so we ran and ran and ran in winter twilight, although none of us was a runner first. That unasked-for group exertion under difficult circumstances hammered us into something hard and shiny and beautiful, a glittering gem of memory I treasure.

Watching my daughter’s team run in this elite, demanding event was thrilling, and deeply healing. We left after the girls’ race (to attend the other daughter’s concert), so we could even pretend that all the fuss was about the girls alone.

Hurrah for Girls’ High School Sports! Thanks, Patsy Mink! And congratulations to both BHSN and BHSS Girls’ X-C Teams, for putting your hearts into your sport, for all the selfless support and love you have offered one another, and for seizing an opportunity most girls throughout history never imagined.

Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eight Seeds is nowhere
except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle
of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water...

– from Fall Song, by Mary Oliver

This underground theme is real for me right now. Last week I dreamt eight miners appeared at my door, still in muddy clothes and smelling of earth. I invited them in, offered them seats in my living room, and busied myself getting water for them to drink.

I’ve always been fascinated by dreams, the subterranean castle of consciousness where we work out our human conundrums. I wonder about the riddle I was working out in this dream. It ended before I had a chance to interact with these 8 messengers, but it was clear that I wanted to offer them hospitality, to comfort them. My heart went out to the Chilean miners during their time underground, and this dream offered me a rewarding release, a sense that yes, there was something I could do: get them fresh water.

I ponder the symbolism of the dream. The number eight feels significant. One guidebook suggests that eight is a number of change and inspiration, a change in mood from what has gone before and an entrance into some new phase that comes directly out of past experience. This makes sense. I’m in one of those human phases where external conditions haven’t been lining up. Perhaps the miners are telling me that (once again) it’s time to shift my focus from external circumstances to what lies underneath.

I like Mary Oliver’s metaphor of a subterranean castle – because there are jewels deep below the surface: jewels of insight in the form of sealed seeds to bring back to the surface. Yet how many of us resist entering this castle? “I don’t want to go there. It’s dark, it’s unpredictable, I’ll go broke in the process, my lover will leave me, and everyone else I care about will be gone when I return.”

After darkness, seeds sprout when water and sunshine are added. In my dream, perhaps the miners represent eight seeds in need of watering. Maybe this time I don’t have to get muddy. Maybe that work is already done. Maybe I just forgot to gather the seeds. Maybe it was an act of grace that the seeds came to me.

And now the meaning unfolds. For the past two months, I had been working hard to manifest a new circle of young women writers. I went down to the basement of the schoolhouse to create a space for us to write together. The space smelled of earth and was connected to the roots of the trees in the back yard. Allison, my teaching partner, and I worked with that space, teaching it our intent. I was afraid at times, it was dark, it was unknown. I faced those fears, many of which remained from childhood, when I was a girl afraid to venture into the basement of our home alone.

In my studio, directly above, I found eight nasturtium seeds, saved from a packet we planted during the very first writing workshop I held for girls two years ago. I placed the seeds in a small container to symbolize the seeds of our circle. To my disappointment, the circle didn’t manifest according to the timetable I planned. Yet, the miners affirm for me that yes, the seeds are present, they just need some more nourishment: I need to get them some water.

I am grateful for this opportunity to work through my dream. Once again, the process of writing has loosened meaning behind symbols. I’m sure there’s even more to it than the writing circle. The writing circle is probably a metaphor for something even deeper. It’s like looking into a mirror, and seeing another mirror, and another. I wonder how many people have worked with underground metaphors in their dreams these past few weeks. Have you?

-- Kim for the Poplar Grove Muse

Special note: I'm gathering a list of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade girls who might like to spend time exploring their creativity and inner life in the nurturing environment of a writing circle. Please have parents contact me at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sinning Against the Light

Sinning Against the Light

The past snuck up on me on a rainy Saturday afternoon while I was cozied up on my couch. I had a cup of pomegranate tea, a comfy fleece blanket and my latest Netflix selection. It snuck up on me as I was watching All Passion Spent, a movie, based on Vita Sackville-West’s novel, about Lady Slane, who was widowed in 1930, at the age of 85. She was very much a product of the Victorian era, who married young to a rising star in the British diplomatic corps, raised six children, and served with her husband, a Viceroy of India, all very proper. A life lived in the service of others. While she was keeping vigil over her husband’s body, her family was gathering to plan the rest of her life for her. It was obvious they cared for their mother, but they assumed that she would neither be able to nor want to make her own plans. Wrong.

She already had a well thought-out-plan which she executed quite well on her own. She moved to Hampstead, rented and renovated a house she had fallen in love with 30 years earlier and surrounded her self with only the people and things she wanted in her life. Of course, not without a lot of protesting and accusations of impropriety from her family, but she prevailed. She gardened and started painting again. Her eyesight was failing and as a result, painting just frustrated her. Her life-long passion for putting brush to canvas was spent.
One afternoon, while having tea with an old friend, she told him of her passion for painting and how she allowed her family and duty to her country to take precedence over her desire to create art. The friend told her, “You have sinned against the light.”

Lady Slane took me right back to the person I was at 18. I didn’t have the family support I needed to realize my dream of going to college and becoming a teacher. My mother decided that I was going to be a hairdresser, because that’s what she had done when she graduated high school. I gave it a try, but it wasn’t for me. So I chose the next best thing. At 21, I married my high school sweetheart. He rescued me from my mother and moved me away from my hometown. Like Lady Slane, I did what women have done throughout the centuries. I chose marriage because my options seemed limited. I loved my husband and we had a good life for many years, but the best thing to come out of that marriage was our son.

The problem with that choice was that I had married into a family of soul killers, where only hard work was valued. No encouragement was given to any other pastime. I was put in a box to be observed, my accomplishments measured, tasks completed and catalogued, my personal inventory taken daily.
Every morning promptly at 7:30 my mother-in-law called me to crow about the work she had completed so far that morning. “What have you done?” was the inevitable question. I mumbled, “Um…answered the phone?” She was not amused. Every afternoon she called to see what I had been doing all day. I decided to start making stuff up because I knew that reading a book or writing were not acceptable answers. One day, fed up with her third-degree interrogations, I told her I had waxed the driveway. She thought that sounded like a good idea.

My father-in-law believed that any one who slept past 5:00 a.m. was lazy and would never amount to anything. I have always been a night person, so you can imagine how he viewed my nocturnal wakefulness and early morning snoozing. I didn’t fit into their mold and they never quit trying to hammer square me into their round hole.

Some days I felt as if my throat had been slit and my voice box removed. My voice, saying what I wanted, what I valued never to be heard. My husband and I were in business together with his parents. We all worked in the family business. The control was complete.

I spent 24 years sinning against the light. I pushed down my creative side. The only time I let it surface was when I worked with my son on his interests and his art, but those were his interests and his art. I cherish the memories of my time exploring dinosaurs and sharks with him, of sitting with him while he drew amazing pictures of those creatures. That activity was permissible because it meant I was being a good mother, nurturing my child. What I resented was the unasked for judgment that was put on everything I did.

My marriage ended after 24 years. It needed to end. We had nothing in common and our world views were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. I did not grieve for long. With the dissolution of the marriage I received a bonus. I was free of my in-laws. Free to start building my life the way I wanted it to be. Free to decide who and what I wanted to be. I began re-inventing my self, step by painstaking step. It took years, but I was worth it.

What has emerged is a writer. It’s not just something I do, it’s who I am. I’m no longer sinning against the light. I follow my passion for writing, reading, opera, poetry, travel and growing spiritually, the list goes on. I’m no good to any one else if I’m not the best person I can be. You wouldn’t like a stifled me. The analogy of the oxygen mask on the airplane works for me. I can’t help any one else, if I can’t help myself.

So I leave you with a little food for thought: Who gets to decide what is valuable?

Rebekah for The Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, October 11, 2010

Greening in the Desert

Somewhere I read that the Sonoran Desert is one of the greenest deserts in the world. And this is probably true. I was there once years ago in the springtime. The desert was a-bloom; life in relief against what was greening at that time was visible to me in abundance. On a recent re-visit to the area outside of Tucson, late September, still officially the tail end of the extremely hot summer season, I had to work harder to orient to the environment; to find a little “green” in the midst of so much taupe, ochre, mauve, and rust . Even as I fled a Midwestern drought, I longed for the lushness of my Indiana home during the first 24 hours at the White Stallion Ranch.

I arrived prickly; resistant to the landscape, the moisture evaporating from my own body, and initially, I was unable to settle. The "watch for rattlesnakes" communique at the front desk didn't help matters. I’d gone to attend a strategic planning, communications, and leadership workshop and partake of Dude Ranch hospitality. I went because it seemed that my life and my work required it of me and I knew we’d be doing something with horses. This part was a mixed bag for me, since having been a girl who welled up with longing at the sight of horses from the window of our Rambler station wagon on the back roads of rural Ohio so long ago, I carried both that longing, and some trauma from a spill taken on a runaway mule 40 years ago that forever after made me completely anxiety-stricken around horses. I knew by now that the horse-sense I’d acquired as a kid (when I woke up in a rocky ditch in Southern Colorado bruised and bewildered), had something to do with humility. I actually thought I could ride the animal only my cowboy cousins rode successfully and in no uncertain terms, I learned that I was nowhere near as tough or steely in the saddle as they.

Fast forward to the round pen exercise we did at the workshop. This was the “horse sense” part of the week where, as aspiring leaders, we were each invited to go one-on-one with a horse in the pen, show our leadership moxie in the unspoken language of horses, summon the alpha mare inside of us, and convince, in my case, the fabulous, feisty 1200-pound A.J. to move her feet per my instruction. I’m skipping the talk beforehand, when twinkly-eyed Frank, the horseman told us about herd dynamics, alpha mare leadership –always-and the unspoken dance that happens in horse world and in the relationships between horses and humans. In horse language, the horse that gets the other horse to “move its feet” will be the lead animal. Once you prove yourself the alpha mare, once you assure the animal you will lead it and mean it no harm, the horse will believe you, will trust you, and will follow.

Against a dusty backdrop of the livery, a memorial cactus garden, grey hills in the background wavering dully in bright desert light, something happened in the round pen for me. Something greened in me as I brought gentle but clear intention into the pen, moving , dance- like, but with so little effort and not a single word, first one way, then another, turning A.J. first left then right around the perimeter, marveling at her pirouettes as I pointed a short crop at the ground to guide her movements. People watching told me afterward I was smiling, beaming with joy and purely focused on A.J.. I wish I could say I was completely in my body, but I felt my energies encircling the whole pen. No fear. I was barely there anymore; though my observers all told me what they saw was a kind of pure presence. To say I got out of my own way is a massive understatement.

Near the end of the exercise, the instructions were to completely withdraw your energy, put your head down, withdraw any eye contact with the horse and wait. Theoretically, at this juncture, the horse would stop moving and might make its way over to you. You could also choose to walk around the horse, close in behind –even into the dreaded kick zone and, with eyes still downcast, move to the horse’s head, keep walking, and she might follow.

I made my way to the gate with A.J. walking just behind my right shoulder. The desert bloomed inside of me at that moment.

While I was soon shaken back into my body as I left A.J. in the pen, I shed tears for time gone by and the girl who wanted to ride like a boy. Tears for greening the women, the Alpha Mare who would continue to lead and mean no harm.

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

For more information about the workshop Dialogue in the Desert, led by Joe Williams of Joe Williams Communications visit the website.