"Lotus Opening" by L. Folk

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Upon Waking: My Personal Mythology

We're studying Greek mythology in my World Lit I class and just this past week we watched an excerpt from "Power of Myth," Bill Moyers' classic interview with Joseph Campbell. Having reacquainted myself with Joseph Campbell's philosophy, I have more clarity on my own mythology and its symbols. This is made apparent in my dreams and what I'm trying to get at with the collection of shorts titled Upon Waking. According to Campbell, myth is the stuff of dreams; the two come from the same place--the subconscious, which is the driving force of our desires and fears despite what our intellects tell us. So this has been my project with Upon Waking, to decipher the mythology, the symbols of my subconscious and figure out the themes I grapple with, both subconsciously and consciously.

What are these themes? Rejection is one for sure. Despite my successes as a writer, rejection has damn well become commonplace, and although I pretend to shrug it off, I don't really. It manifests in my dreams as an experience with an ex-boyfriend, someone who, in the past, broke my sweet little heart. This person's ghost rises up from my inner depths and hurts me all over again in a situation that almost always borders on the absurd. "Dauphin" is an example of this, where an ex-boyfriend's ghost walks through my classroom on his way to a business meeting.

A second theme is my battle with the drudgery and the bludgeoning repetition of the days. This is accompanied by my desire to immerse myself in some natural and majestic place. "Roundabout to Wilderness" adequately portrays this theme, as does "The Ship." Both stories feature natural, almost mythical kingdoms, where I (through the guise of a persona, perhaps) experience a feeling of freedom.

It's a funny thing, writing about dreams. You think it's just a bunch of mishmash but when you sit down to record it, you realize there is an actual story there. The absurdity unveils itself into reason and it's curiously spot on with respect to your issues. Also, it's quick. It tumbles out onto the page effortlessly and in minutes. But this is what happens when your mind is trained in meditation; it's the focusing and the breathing that can get you back there. And it's funny how adaptable creativity is; as a mother with young children and a job, I don't think I would be able to write any other way at this point in my life.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Of Sand and Gold (from Upon Waking)

You had brought me to your gilded house in the sand where your sisters sat at a long table drinking wine amidst candles flickering and the white of cloth and the scurry of maids, gossiping, perhaps, to surmise if I were a decent prize with my fine brown hair and embroidered gown. I was allowed to wander; it was an island after all, down to the sea where the waves pushed up the rocks, foaming in laughter, mocking my fear, mocking me, as perhaps your sisters mocked me in their gilded dining hall with the flames elongating like fingers depicting a speaker here, a listener there.

I am humble, you see, a woman. A prize. You are the one with the desire, or are you, absent prince? I walked along the sand when the waves retreated and the island bore her legs. The long rays of the sun warmed my slender white arms; the beach was a pool of amber. They were searching for him, my bone, my blood, for he had been lost, perhaps taken, perhaps dead, according to Rumour. I would not be permitted to greet my sorrow in my own homeland, mourn him.

In the sand, the rocks were smooth, cobbled by the sea; I bent down to gather them, cradle them in my veil, tie them to my waist. On my way back to the pier laughter could be heard, the waves, far away but not too far.

It was there and then it was not, the jetty into the water, the dark wave, your voice, the wash of crepuscular sky.

Battlegrounds and the Need for a Cleared Space

Battlegrounds and the Need for a Cleared Space
The Compassion Anthology: Letter from the Editor

In my twenties I lived in a house with two male roommates: one was a good-natured, unemployed packrat who gleaned (to use Sandra Winter's term in her essay "The Gleaners") from our neighbors' trash, and the other was an ex-con yogi who painted mandalas and hung them on his bedroom wall. The packrat roommate was constantly home creating a mess wherever he went in the house. There were always dirty dishes in the sink, towels on the floor, overflowing trash, CDs, magazines, clothes everywhere, and of course, his gleanings. Nothing had a place. I took the room in the house because I couldn't find an apartment that would take my dog. Also, I was broke. The only way I could live in that chaotic household was to constantly clear a space for myself to exist.

I had my own room and spent most of my time there where it was clean and warm and cozy and where my dog and I watched the Romance Channel. In the kitchen, I cleared a space for a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee every morning. I cleared a small space in the sink to wash my dishes. In the den, I cleared a space on the floor for my yoga mat to center myself after a stressful day of teaching. I managed to exist in this chaos, and I still hold this philosophy, especially when things are in disarray, mentally and/or physically. I think clearing a space is an essential skill for survival, but not only this. When you clear a space and push the minutiae back, you choose a different consciousness,  a sort of simplification. You choose, in a word, peace.

This past winter break I spent every spare moment delving into ancient texts like the Iliad and the Odyssey to create curriculum for the World Literature I class I was assigned. I had forgotten that Homer spares us not the gory details of how larger-than-life soldiers slaughtered one another in the Iliad. The brutality is a bit exhausting to read (in the Iliad, it's the men who are slain; in the Odyssey there's an animal sacrifice on nearly every page) and yet in the midst of Homer's account of the Trojan War occurs a most tender and compassionate scene where King Priam of Troy visits the great hero Achilles to ask for the body of his son, Hector. Achilles not only slays Hector out of revenge for the blood of his comrade Patroclus, he ties Hector to his chariot and drags his body around the camp for days.

Now, Priam is an easy target for the revered warrior Achilles, a lamb gone to slaughter, if you will, but instead of killing Priam on the spot, Achilles does something utterly amazing: he weeps with him. When Achilles beholds Priam, he has "a deep desire to grieve for his own father" and the two "[give] way to grief." Achilles then commands the women slaves to have Hector's body bathed and anointed with olive oil; he himself wraps it in a battle-cape, loads it unto Priam's wagon, and promises Priam a cease fire until Hector's funeral rites are over.

I have been exceptionally aware as of late, how my own battles persist: the battle for good health despite my aging body and its minor yet annoying ailments; the battle with disorder, uncleanliness, and chaos inherent to raising two toddlers; the obstinate battle between creativity and livelihood; the prominent battle between creativity and motherhood. Being a soldier of 101 battles wears me out, and I know when I've reached the point when I need to clear a space for myself; I know when I need to construct a demilitarized zone.

The DMZ that exists between North and South Korea is a favored trope, referenced often by poets and writers. It is, quite literally, "an accidental paradise" to quote CNN, where rare and endangered species live relatively peaceful lives. It is an anomaly, a paradox, just like the space cleared for compassion in Achilles' lodgings.

This clearing of space, this DMZ inside Achilles' lodgings, would never have been possible if not for the god Hermes who put Achilles' soldiers to sleep before they could overtake Priam's wagon. The presence of the god is a metaphor for aligning with our higher natures to claim compassion paramount for ourselves and others. In our rushed and stressed world, to clear a space really seems like a monumental task--a task for a god. But it's possible. This focus on our higher nature is the subject behind Lily Prince's painting "The Better Angels of Our Nature" (pictured above right). This vibrant, ethereal, yet earthy piece has the goddess of liberty figuring prominently in the high ground, an indication that our alignment with such natures is the true meaning of freedom.

For our winter 2016 issue of the anthology, we are especially privileged to have poems from the manuscript Songs in the Storm by the late Admiral Mahic, a Bosnian poet who cleared a space for poetry in the midst of a war. I've been working closely with Mahic's translator and friend, the Canadian writer Brian Fawcett, who resurrected the manuscript from the archives at the University of Northern British Columbia. Mahic's poetry strikes me with a sense of awe for the human spirit and its dichotomies; it reminds me of the Joseph Campbell philosophy of the transcendent energy of God and how, when it hits the time space continuum, breaks into opposites: yin and yang, good and evil, male and female, war and compassion.

Please clear a space in your own lives to process the work here by our artists, poets, and writers and consider joining us for our annual exhibit in May at North Shore Community College titled Women Artists and Writers: Compassion, Creativity, and Courage to benefit Amirah (see Submission Guidelines).

Yours in creativity and compassion,

Laurette Folk, Editor of The Compassion Anthology

Priam and Achilles by Alessando Padovanino (above), The Better Angels of Our Nature by Lily Prince (below)