"Lotus Opening" by L. Folk

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Excerpts from My Dream Journal with Collages

Tidal River

Last night I went to a beach with a tidal river, and it swelled the sandy banks with its pristine water. There was a museum with ancient Greek statues, half eroded in pure chalky white marble. I looked through glass into the immediate depths of the river, wondering if it was dangerously cold. The water was perfect; you could see every grain of sand in place at the bottom. And then the glass was gone and the river was allowed to wash in lovingly around the statues, brush its foam against their pedestals. It was all part of a dynamic exhibit that included the tidal river acting as a sensual element, how it contributed to additional sculpting—a subtle type of erasure. There was also a shop where items were displayed. These items were mostly rusted iron figurines that were buried in the sand for thousands of years, uncovered by the river’s washing in and washing out and discovered by people walking the banks. I made a choice, some rusted relic with wings, and brought it to the cashier. She rang it up and charged me $4. She put it in a sturdy paper bag and handed it to me. I went out to go sit on the bank, but by now the river was swelling in full and people who were sunbathing had to leave. There was no room; if you were going to stay, you had to swim. I looked out at the night sky stealing in, a dark slate, how it contrasted with the white foam of the rushing tide and I felt pure fear. I was alone.

Supernatural Fish Bones

I had become distinctly aware of something floating just above me on the right side of the bed. It was a fish, but this fish had no scales, no flesh. Its bones were radiant and its eyes glowed. It hovered above me in a lime-green hue, fluorescent, flapping its tail gleefully. It lit up the dark. And just when I reached to grab it, I slipped back through the portal of consciousness. My immediate feeling was terror, because I had realized then that I had been with something unworldly. Why is my first feeling always fear? Would not a supernatural fish be intriguing? Wouldn’t this be a particular remedy to a day-to-day life that chisels away continuously at imagination? Am I not constantly yearning for imagination?

Fish Kiss

Last week, on an abnormally warm day, I took the twins to the dentist. As I sat there watching them lay back in their silly sunglasses getting their teeth cleaned, I noticed a large empty fish bowl on a shelf. It was wonderfully round and elegant. Before they were put in their chairs, the kids were asking for the fish, where were they? Where was the tank? They had to be told several times that the fish tank was being repaired. The fish were unavailable at the moment. This was very disappointing to my kids. Marielle pointed out the empty fish bowl on the shelf, and that's when I put to mind the exquisite curvature of the bowl. The fish bowl reappeared in my dream a following night, and inside it was a fat yellow-bellied fish. This fish was female, and it floated vertically in the water with its lips puckered at the lip of the water. I placed my lips on top of its lips. What a delicate thing to do! And then suddenly there was a marring of the water in the tank; there was a dust plume floating beside the vertical kissing fish. Or was the dust plume a placenta? There was no baby. I attempted to get the fish out of the dirty water into clean water without letting in the dust plume placenta; this was arduous and I nearly gave up. I finally succeeded in placing the fish in a two-part tank in which she could slide over a small plastic bridge and into a second body of water. I thought this could be an interesting activity for her, to keep her from getting bored. And then suddenly, as if it was spontaneously generated, a carp appeared in the tank. The carp was a brilliant vermilion color and could jump from one side to the other. I thought the yellow-bellied fish could learn from the carp, how to jump and live a more exciting life. But the carp wasn’t happy jumping from one part, over the bridge, to the other part. The carp leapt out of the tank entirely and landed on the carpet, twitching. I fetched it, and he flopped in my hands. I put him back in the tank and then he flipped back out again.

Some creatures, some ideas, some people are simply wild and must come and go as they please.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Idea of Simple Christmas and Simple Christmas Collages

Early Christmas Eve morning, there was a bone-white moon in a pale pink sky. I had seen its face--a circle of ghastly white--suspended in the embroidered web of the tree of life, a curtain I have had hanging in my living room for ten years or more. It was a full moon, a placid moon, a Christmas moon. The previous night, it was a comfort, as it has so often been, while I lie with one eye awake on the couch, watching Josie, who lay in her bed on the floor, a bandage over the gash she opened a week ago. She was fidgety, and I was worried she would get into it again, nibble at the sutures the doctor sewed into her after he took out the tumors. Part of the incision has healed fine, but the part she had gotten to bloomed into a fleshy pink rose with  an opalescent white center, a tendon, perhaps, in the middle of it. I couldn't look at it at first, but life has a way of making things mandatory. So now I am a professional dresser of wounds.

This entry is supposed to be about Christmas, the concept of Christmas, or rather, what I have long discovered, how Christmas can never live up to what we expect from it. This is the mistake we make in our society. The "stuff and story" part of Christmas renders it a child's holiday, toys, Santa, elves, etc., but even children feel the insatiability of Christmas, of materialism, always looking for one more present to open. (I can acutely remember the hollow feeling of Christmases past and opening that last gift, myself). Adults over drink and over eat. We over decorate, over buy. This all feels so stupid and I keep asking myself why do we keep doing this?

If you look south when you drive over the Bridge Street bridge, crossing the Bass River at night, you'll see a small tree out on a pier, lit up with lights. It's just a a simple pine tree, maybe four feet tall. It doesn't have a thousand fancy ornaments, and there are no presents beneath it. I look at that tree, and it gives me such joy to see it. It's as if someone is saying, I know there is darkness everywhere; it is the time for darkness, but there is light, there is festive light, if you take care.

Hearing a choir sing Silent Night also gives me joy, as does the moon on an anxious night, and a star, a prominent star, something to follow, to reflect upon, early Christmas morning. Josie had fallen into a deep sleep, and I thought I could go up to my bed, top off the night with quality rest, and I turned to look out the stairway window and I saw it. It was the brightest star I had ever seen, and I waited for it to move because it just had to be a plane, and I blinked, and still it did not move. It was a star. It was the Christmas star. There wasn't a congregation of angels dancing around it. It was just a simple star, but it was the brightest star I had ever seen.

If maybe we start to expect less of Christmas, we will have a better chance of being fulfilled. If we turn to nature, as the Wise Men did, we might find our gifts there. The collages that I have created here are my attempts to find a simpler Christmas, one more soulful and satisfying.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

On Grace and Gratitude

I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my house and I was determined to do it right. Tasks were delegated to family beforehand; each member was to bring a side dish or other provision. My sister cooked the turkey; I baked the pies. I devised a clean-up plan that included certain stations: garbage scraper, compost filler, dishwasher loader. There were activities for the kids: a puzzle, a papier mache turkey to decorate, card games. I thought I had Thanksgiving conquered. But when it came time for the meal, for what should have been grace, there was this chaotic momentum that destroyed the most sacred part of the day. It all happened at once: the kids needed their plates made at their table in the kitchen, and I wasn't in the dining room to put a halt to the passing of food, which then led to the eating of food, to a full communal nose-dive into every plate and platter. It wasn't one of our best moments.

Truth is, I had planned to find a poem on gratitude, or better, write one, but there was this debate going on in my head about being too literary--it might turn people off--or too cliche or sentimental (that would turn me off). I didn't have time to strike a balance and deliver words that could be effective. So I skipped it. In truth, I ran away from the question of grace and how to properly say it.

It was a moment indicative of the times. Our society is so incredibly fast-paced and overburdened with stuff, so focused on satisfying needs and desires, on acquiring things (we've even allowed Black Friday to infiltrate our day of thanks), we don't create an adequate space for gratitude. Yes, you can have the typical Thanksgiving grace where you utter a quick prayer to God (really it's more of a nod) and go around the table with every guest uttering something for which they are grateful, and we all say the same things: family, food, shelter, possessions, successes, without really acknowledging the value of these things.

My mother attempted to rectify the situation afterward by having us all gather in the living room, hold hands, say a prayer, give thanks. By doing this, she created a space for gratitude, but it was a bit awkward and somewhat shame-inducing. I suppose it was better than nothing.

To truly make a space for gratitude, to fully incorporate it into a life (and I am speaking mostly to myself here, to teach myself a lesson) it has to involve ritual or creativity or concerted effort. You need to have not only a space, but time. Thanksgiving grace is fleeting and can be trite, the way it is normally done. So how can we do gratitude right?

First, we need to examine what gratitude is. In "The Science of Gratitude: How Being Thankful Makes Us Happier" David DeSteno, professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride defines gratitude as "an emotion that we feel when we believe that someone or something has given us something that we couldn't easily achieve on our own." DeSteno says that gratitude, when it is fully recognized, is not a "passive thing." It inspires us to want to pay back our givers, or perhaps even "go above and beyond" and pay it forward.

So, fully realizing gratitude has a chain reaction effect, and this is all good once the realization actually occurs. That's the hard part. To stop the momentum of life to fully assimilate gratitude.

DeSteno recommends gratitude journaling. I think this is a good start. Taking time to write out the things you are grateful for and explain why is key. I can easily say I am grateful for family, friends, etc, but this is trite. If I elaborate on why I am grateful, well, this fleshes out a certain history, one that may include a significant about of suffering. We shy away from that, but we shouldn't.

Before my husband and children, I struggled, overall, with existential angst that would manifest itself in crippling anxiety. I worried endlessly about irrational ideas regarding my health. My relationship with my husband has grounded me; I knew from the beginning that I was guaranteed love. He was and is my rock and rampart. My kids, two beings that I created with my own body (at the same time, mind you), astound me daily with their physical beauty and talents and the cute little sayings that come out of their mouths. They give me a strong sense of purpose, but they also teach me not to take myself too seriously, which is the perfect anecdote for angst.

So there is the why of my gratitude. Or part of it. I need to remind myself of this when the days are stressful and I want to run away.

I know myself, though. I must be careful to curb my perfectionist tendencies, because these are the enemies of gratitude. I tend to have expectations for people as I have for myself. This can be a real gratitude killer, because I nitpick about what is missing instead of appreciating what is there. Perfectionism is another topic entirely and it does have its place, especially in terms of writing and art, but one needs to be also mindful of its propensity to destroy a perfectly good emotion.

I recently bought an over-priced but extremely quaint and festive Advent calendar from Pottery Barn. I was planning on stocking it with chocolate and candy for the kids for the 24 days of Advent, but I think I need to walk the walk and push myself to come up with something, some little or big thing that I am grateful for on each particular day and have the kids do the same. This will hopefully offset any of the materialistic indulgences of the holiday season.

Well, maybe it will give it a nudge.

Because it is a type of meditation, I fully believe that a practice in gratitude can change the wiring in the brain and the emotions it triggers (or doesn't trigger). It's truly a matter of discipline. I can only hope I stick with the challenge to reap its benefits.

Here are some websites:

Gratitude journaling: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-journal/

Gratitude meditation: https://jackkornfield.com/meditation-gratitude-joy/

Gratitude poses in yoga:  https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/two-fit-moms-8-gratitude-poses-illuminate-blessings#gid=ci020756aee00a25bd&pid=two-fit-moms-in-wild-thing

Gratitude crafts including making your own gratitude calendar: https://www.bhg.com/thanksgiving/decorating/bring-thanks-to-your-thanksgiving-table/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=bhg_mybhg&utm_content=editorialboost_netflix&utm_term=2018111917

Gratitude to-do calendar: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/Happy_November_2018.pdf

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Meditations in the Ethereal: Poetry and Collage

For me, the ethereal has a spirituality about it, something that transcends the banality of daily life. It has a suddenness to it; it comes unexpectedly, in sudden realizations. It has an ingredient of subtlety; if you're distracted and not in tune, you won't receive its gifts. The ethereal has much to do with lightness, air; ether is at the heart of the word. The ethereal has an elegance, an arabesque, a sort of delicacy, like a lace doily that rests under the frame of a loved one. It can be whimsical. It's definitely elusive.

My daughter seems to have an ethereal quality to her--she is just a wisp of a thing with eyes, eyes that tell the story of emotion and beauty and sensitivity. Eyes that are apprehensive about this world. Eyes with an ineffable hue; eyes not of this world. Her naked body getting into the bath reminds me of Sally Mann's nymph-like children; there's innocence there, but otherworldly qualities as well that portray a sort of ancient knowledge.

Maybe this ancient aspect can be translated into timelessness. Maybe the ethereal, like the divine, exists outside time. And yet, maybe science is honing in on it; it manifests in a higher frequency on the electromagnetic wave spectrum (after all, the ethereal is shaped in light). This science intersects with memory and myth in the mind. These are the ingredients. It's seemingly abstract and incomprehensible when we first witness it, but the mind makes its emotional connections and we learn to define its suddenness for ourselves. This is the interface of story, of myth.

Whatever it is, ethereal is the fine dance of mystery that exists in all of us.

I've tried to match some of my ethereal poems with collage work that has traces of that same quality. I am not sure I was successful in accomplishing my goal, but then again, the ethereal is foremost elusive, and maybe by not capturing it, I've captured it precisely.

            Totem Beasts
            There are no ghosts in this house.
                        No hem of a muslin dress
            draped over a riser.
                        No Emily Dickinson archetype
            figured prominently at the banister.
                        No face in the naked glass.

            The boreal firs, always a regiment,
                        are noble, melancholic as the
            tide bathes the sedge. 
            We listen for what the hayfield says.
                                                We wait
            for totem beasts, but no coyote parts these
                        fallow fields.  No moose.  No
            osprey in wake of wind.
                        Quotidian, these crows, those gulls.

            I am filled with pale green air.
                        My sister's child thumps in Utero.
            Clouds snuff the sun, the sacrament, the
                        fiery heart.
            Night comes.

            I sit quietly inside myself.
                        My father bows his head here,
            the lines echoing around his eyes.

            The Slow Pale Rise of Indigo
            The slow pale rise of indigo taps
                        at the door of the Underworld—
            it wants to walk here, free.

            It knows
            every twilight is a prophecy
                        and the visible carries
            the invisible on its back.

            Our last breath passes through tarnished
                        skin and
            clogs the holes in our bones.
                        We fret, catch the slack vowels
            of the lullabies we sing ourselves.

            Something stands between me and the
                        morning glory's cup of prayer.
            Its thin vine grasps at every near thing.
                        At night, it wrings itself tightly
            as if it had hands.

Swollen Mandala

Everything white, as if baked in a kiln.
Moon hazed now, my one hundred year old
eyes closing, a song hidden just under my skin
demands an ear or two.  The seeds
have been sewn.  The sacred chant and
four rosettes are embedded in the
swollen mandala.  I summon the myths
of my ancestors, the mountains supine
and shadowless, the labyrinth on the hill,
the chapel, the Golgotha of cacti crosses.
Huddled in the back pews, the Indigenous
their dark eyes, pious heads.  I walked
the labyrinth to settle my nerves while
their sorrows protruded through the dirt
like small weeds.

My sister's child is a molded angel
white as the dust in that kiln.  There
on the sill, stone wings draped in leaves.
Take root, I say to the rosettes, unfolding.
Lay your pious heads on the translucent pillow,
wrap yourselves in the crimson sheets
and be lulled by song.

Friday, August 31, 2018

One percent inspiration: a manifestation in collage

In my days of monotony, work, mothering, domesticity, I yearn for the exalted existence, for beauty. Sometimes I can find the time to create; most of the time, I can't and it kills me. That's what's happening in this piece (left); there is a tightness, a gut-wrenching aspect, but also something ethereal, something divine, something lovely. I think that's what creativity is: it's the work, the churning, the suffering, the yearning, the knots, and then, the release, the unraveling, the denouement, the divinity, the manifestation. Epiphany. Beauty. One percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. That sort of thing.

More ethereal work to follow.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Jesus, Debunked (Sort of): A Review of Reza Aslan's Zealot

My daughter and I were sitting in Panera the other day when I found myself eavesdropping on a conversation at the next table. Here was a group of elderly people, three women and two men, and the men were eating their bagels and drinking their coffees while the women chatted away. The two men seemed to be deep in their own thoughts, looking away from one another, until one of them said, "A funny thing happened to us while we were at the park the other day," or something to that effect. The gentleman then proceeded to tell his friend quite casually how he and his wife saw Jesus's face in the bark of a tree. The wife noticed it first, and then she pointed it out to her husband. "Do you see it? There, there..." and sure enough he saw it, and they both sat there marveling at the famous face for a while. He went on to say that his wife went back the next day to see it, but the face was not there. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't see it. Then the older gentleman, who seemed to me a reasonable and rational man, one that had seen many things in his day and one who was not easily excitable, sat back, and without any facial expression whatsoever, said, "Imagine that, two Jews see Jesus's face in a tree."

I have recently had my own run in with Jesus--the historical Jesus--upon reading Reza Aslan's book Zealot. 

I found Aslan's argument fascinating, acutely documented, and very plausible. It confirmed my own beliefs of how the world works and how with every heroic figure, there is a very human agenda. Jesus's agenda, according to Aslan, was to free the Jews from the Romans. The occupied state was everything to Jesus and made him who he was.

One of Aslan's main claims is that the gospels, written decades after Jesus's death, were embellishment, but embellishment with a specific purpose, and Aslan carefully lays out the reasons for this embellishment every step of the way.

Aslan constructs his argument on the claim that the gospels "are not eyewitness accounts." Obviously this is the case because of the time the gospels were written. The gospels instead are "testimonies of faith" and in this way "tell us about Jesus the Christ, not Jesus the man," i.e. the spiritual figure--the myth.

First of all, it must be said that the people of the ancient world "did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality; the two were intimately tied together...[t]hey were less interested in what actually happened than in what it meant." So this "embellishment" had a purpose and that purpose was to connect with the Christian mythology that was needed at the time. And when I say myth, I do not mean "lie," as is often interpreted. (See Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth for a more thorough explanation). Myths are archetypal stories to instruct us on how to live; they deal with unconscious desires of the body and mind, rites of passages, ways to define mystery, and social ethics. Ancient societies were tied to myths because they had less distractions: they were intimately connected to the world of the subconscious (dreams) where myths arise.

But Jesus the man, the Son of Man (a very interesting and enigmatic term), the zealot revolutionary, was a remarkable figure in himself.

Aslan begins making his case by giving us the lay of the land and what was happening at the time, the key figures in the occupied society and its social mores. Jesus wasn't the only one claiming to be the messiah of the Jews; the place was crawling with men claiming to be messiahs including "Hezekiah the bandit chief, Simon of Peraea, Athronges the shepherd boy, and Judas the Galilean."(Note the term "bandit" does not mean thief but zealous itinerant rebel who resisted the Roman occupation).

This begs the question, What makes Jesus different? Why was he the pillar on which a worldwide religion was built? The answer lies in one event: Jesus's trashing of the Jewish temple and the philosophy behind it.

Aslan painstakingly describes the elements of the Temple in Jerusalem in the chapter "A Different Sort of Sacrifice." The Temple was the one and only place for Jews to honor God by the ritual of sacrifice, i.e. the shedding of blood. This was the sacred place where the high priests slaughtered animals to wipe away the sins of the Jews; the shedding of blood was believed to be a sort of purification process. These animal sacrifices were not unlike the ones you read about in the Iliad and the Odyssey; it was a thing for ancient people. It was a way to make things right with the gods.

The sacrificial animals were sold right there in the Temple. Money changers exchanged "foul foreign coins for the Hebrew shekel," collected tax, and even issued credit. So this holiest of holy places was also a place of business, and that really pissed off Jesus, so much so that he did the unspeakable: he trashed it. And with this came the crucifixion and Jesus's fame: "Above all, this singular event explains why a simple peasant from the low hills of Galilee was seen as such a threat to the established system that he was hunted down, arrested, tortured, and executed."

I found myself constantly underlining text, starring it, rereading it, writing myself notes to process it. Aslan's argument is so informed, so complete, it can't help but ring true as to why Jesus rose to fame. Moreover, you get a sense that Aslan needs to define who Jesus was for himself; as a former born again Christian who studied history of world religions in college, he walked the path of faith, then doubt, then reverence:

I continued my academic work in religious studies, delving back into the Bible not as an unquestioning believer but as an inquisitive scholar. No longer chained to the assumption that the stories I read were literally true, I became aware of a more meaningful truth in the text, a truth intentionally detached from the exigencies of history. Ironically, the more I learned about the life of the historical Jesus, the turbulent world in which he lived, and the brutality of the Roman occupation that he defied, the more I was drawn to him.

Aslan's argument also focuses on the duplicity of the high priests and their favor with Rome, the brutality of Pilot (not the innocuous figure who sides with Jesus in the gospels), the role of John the Baptist, the role of James, Jesus's brother (dismissed by the Roman Catholic Church to keep Mary's virginity intact), the role of Saul/Paul, and the Roman intellectual elite for whom the evangelists (gospel writers) rewrote the story of the crucifixion, holding culpable not Rome, but the Jews themselves:

A generation after Jesus's crucifixion, his non-Jewish followers outnumbered and overshadowed the Jewish ones. By the end of the first century, when the bulk of the gospels were being written, Rome--in particular the Roman intellectual elite--had become the primary target of Christian evangelism. Reaching out to this particular audience required a bit of creativity on the part of the evangelists...the Romans had to be completely absolved of any responsibility for Jesus's death. It was the Jews who killed the messiah. The Romans were unwitting pawns of the high priest Caiaphas, who desperately wanted to murder Jesus but who did not have the legal means to do so.

So the evangelists adapted the myth to the times and people who were willing to practice the faith. One could say that the faith "evolved." One can also say this with respect to the Resurrection: it was a part of the "evolution" of the faith. This event in itself is the reason a "failed messiah who died a shameful death as a state criminal [was] transformed, in the span of a few years into the creator of the heavens and the earth: God incarnate."

How exactly did this happen? Aslan argues that the apostles themselves were ill-equipped to deliver Jesus's message and could not "theologically expound on the new faith or compose instructive narratives"; they were illiterate lay people. It took a diaspora of "educated, urbanized, Greek-speaking Jews" who would deliver the message of Jesus to both Jews and gentiles. These people, steeped in "Greek philosophy" and "Hellenistic thought" are responsible for transforming Jesus from revolutionary zealot to "celestial being."

That was hard thing to wrap my head (or is it heart?) around; the idea that the Resurrection was fabricated to prove that Jesus was not a failed messiah. The Resurrection means a lot to me, as it does every Christian; it's the link between this world and the next. It gives us all hope that we do not simply end with the body. 

And why wouldn't it? After all, mythology is a set of archetypes to show us the natural progression of things. Myths don't have to happen as factual history to be something to believe in. A novel can have all the elements of human truth but not be factual with respect to history. Moreover, the fact that the Resurrection was juxtaposed in the spring with the pagan celebration of Eastre, the goddess of spring and fertility, is key. The two events resonate with each other and are further proof that myth, which translates across religions, which is steeped in story and metaphor, is a universal message connected to the spiritual realm, to ritual, and something we must live our lives by to give them meaning.

Despite all this debunking--separating the mythical Christ from the historical Christ-- I still feel the need to for a sanctuary on Sundays where there is a lesson on how to be good, where there is soulful singing, where you can shake hands with people and wish them peace. Christ, despite being a revolutionary zealot, was a compassionate man who championed humility, who cared for the poor, who embodied the Golden Rule. I don't think Aslan would dispute this. And Christ, the myth, the spiritual being, has his own way of showing up in people's lives, and this is not exclusive to dogma. He manifests in the love we express for one another, in forgiveness, compassion, or just maybe in the bark of a tree.

Note: Another aspect of the mythical Christ is his miracles, raising the dead, healing the sick, etc. Aslan says there is simply no way for us to know whether these supernatural events actually happened as fact and are part of the historical Christ; what we do need to recognize is that Jesus's followers (and enemies) were wholly convinced of them. This, of course, was recorded in the gospels.