Thursday, October 08, 2015

What moves us makes us human

I wept when I saw the Northern Lights with my own eyes

I love the blog 'Brainpickings'. Maria Popova does an incredible job of curating from the wider world articles about life, art, passion, science, and technology as they relate to the human condition. Today I came across an offering on the blog from 2013 that encapsulated for me both the importance of art (in the large "A" sense: visual art, music, dance, writing, etc) to being alive and the false dichotomy society makes between 'high' and 'low' culture.

Popova talks about and quotes from Greil Marcus's commencement address for the class of 2013 at New York's School for Visual Art.

What really rang true for me was this quote:

"That’s what art does, that’s what it’s for — to show you that what you think can be erased, cancelled, turned on its head by something you weren’t prepared for — by a work, by a play, a song, a scene in a movie, a painting, a collage, a cartoon, an advertisement — something that has the power that reaches you far more strongly than it reaches the person standing next to you, or even anyone else on Earth — art that produces a revelation that you might not be able to explain or pass on to anyone else, a revolution that you desperately try to share in your own words, in your own work." - Greil Marcus

Art is ultimately personal and transformative. And no outside arbiter can determine what will reach inside and turn your heart, mind, and soul upside down. It can be an image, a line of poetry, a snippet of a song, a phrase of dialogue, a scene from a movie - and it can utterly disrupt your life in an instant while being utterly unremarkable to a companion, critic, or stranger.

Which doesn't matter. Because it is that reaction - that capacity to be profoundly moved - which makes us human and each of us will be moved by vastly different influences. No one - NO ONE - gets to determine what is profound to us.

As art becomes more and more accessible to the average person, there seems to be a corresponding increase and ease of the role of the arbiter. Not only can anyone be a creator, but anyone can be a gatekeeper and a critic. And more and more, that criticism seems to be made of mockery.

It's as if we (as a culture) would rather define ourselves by what we disdain that by what we find moving. And so, so many of us find ourselves in a position where we must apologize for what we love.

As a creator, I hear that terrible apology in my own voice more often than I wish. I'll be out in the world and talk will turn to vocation and avocation. I will mention that I write novels. The next question is typically "What do you write?" And I inwardly cringe, ready to minimize and apologize when I answer: Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I love what I love.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

--From Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

I cannot begin to express how much these lines from Oliver's poem mean to me. I re-read it again and again, finding solace and joy in it each time. There are songs - pop songs - that will make me well up even on hearing them for the hundredth time. There is a line from a fantasy novel - The RiddleMaster Trilogy by Patricia McKillip that sends chills down my spine, even just thinking about it. ("They were promised a man of peace.") The final soliloquy from the Doctor Who episode "Family of Blood" reduces me to a ball of emotions.

I don't need to apologize for any of that.

The fact that I am moved, is enough. And if something I create, in turn, moves someone else, then that is enough, too.

Because to be human is to be affected, to be changed, to be moved by what we experience.


  • Free eBook
  • Free/DRM-free short fiction
  • publication news

Monday, September 21, 2015

Learning Forgiveness


    A month without rain; fish and turtles
    retreat, swallowed by the wider mouth
    of the Charles where even the snowy
    egret is mired in mud. Still we gather
    here, pockets filled with week old bread
    and year old sins, eager for the current
    to scour the banks clean. There is more silt
    than flow. I hurl hunks of stale baguette
    and green-tinged sub rolls. This is impatience,
    this jealousy. I keep missing the narrow thread
    of moving water. The sky is relentless,
    unblinking blue. It would be sacrilege to pray
    for clouds, for the rush and spill of storm
    grates to empty into this tiny culvert
    just for the benefit of my failings.

                         - LJ Cohen, 2008

I've been thinking a lot on the nature of redemption and forgiveness. Certainly because this is the time of the year in the Jewish calendar when it's all about reflection. While I am not much in the way of a religiously observant person, it's hard to ignore the power and the pull of the liturgy for these "Days of Awe."

Tashlich is a ceremony, usually performed on the first day of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year, in which we gather by a moving body of water and cast bread into the flow as a way of making the naming and ownership of our failings tangible.

What I have begun to realize is how powerful a ritual of self-forgiveness it is.

Especially when it is done in the presence of others.

We are, all of us, flawed. We are, all of us, prone to human failings. We are, all of us, worthy of redemption and of forgiveness.

But it starts with a frank acknowledgment of our errors along with a sincere desire to be better.

I have made no secret of the fact that the past few years have been hard. Along with the joys that time has given me, it has also brought great sorrow: I have lost loved ones. I have had to make necessary choices that still fill me with regret. I have experienced disasters. I have witnessed the great pain and suffering of a child.

And through it all, I have striven to be a good person, to fulfill my promises and discharge my responsibilities. To be there for neighbors, friends, and family, both in times of need and in times of celebration. I have continued to create and write, pouring my emotions onto the page and struggling to be authentic.

I recently realized how much I feel like a failure.

That no matter what and how much I accomplish, there are projects I have neglected, interactions I have avoided, people I have disappointed and probably angered.

This, too, is the human condition. I have always been better at understanding that for others, yet holding myself to more impossible standards.

I am learning the power of forgiveness, of holding myself in the same lovingkindness I hold others.

It is hard. And so I remind myself:

We are, all of us, flawed. We are, all of us, prone to human failings. We are, all of us, worthy of redemption and of forgiveness.

To any I have harmed, either though words said or unsaid, through action or inaction, I ask for your forgiveness. I ask for a chance to be better and for your forbearance and patience when I stumble.

And if I have a prayer for the world and all its inhabitants, it is this - not a religious tract, or a faith-based message - just a simple hope from a meditation I have found powerful and comforting. One I am learning to direct to myself, as well. 

May you be held in lovingkindness.
May you experience a deep and abiding peace.
May you live free from suffering.


  • Free eBook
  • Free/DRM-free short fiction
  • publication news

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Birthday Blues

A birthday gift, painted my my mother sometime in the 1980's

I woke up feeling melancholy this morning. This is my first birthday since both of my parents passed away. You'd think at 52, I wouldn't feel like this orphan child lost in the woods, but it doesn't work that way.

My mother died 3 years ago this week, after a long battle with dementia. My father passed at the beginning of this summer. I miss them. Perhaps this uncomfortable emotion is more acute now that both of my children are emerging adults and out of the house. I am no longer defined by being my parents' child, nor by being my children's parent. It leaves me in a strange place of limbo.

Who are we, when we are not in relation to others? I am a wife, a friend, a neighbor, but all of those things are clarified and understood by some kind of comparison or external metric. I could say I am a physical therapist, a ceramics artist, a writer, but those are titles that describe something I do.

I am sitting quietly by the computer this morning, surrounded by the clutter of everyday life. My dogs are both curled up on their beds beside my desk. Everywhere I look, there are icons and symbols of my life: a copy of ITHAKA RISING (I was reviewing some scenes for yesterday's work on book 3), an empty coffee cup (one of my 'rejects'). Several clay creatures peek out from a set of cubbies on my desk - things my kids made as young children. A tarot card deck - research for a book. A self inking stamp that reads "WTF". A sea shell from a walk on the beach in Maine a few years ago. A crocheted 4th Doctor, complete with scarf I bought at a con.

Clutter and mild chaos

My office is the place I carved out of the rest of my home. Everything that's here is something I put here. Even the clutter of notes, mail, and bills. Which means, I suppose, that this is how I see myself. Perhaps it's not wrong to define ourselves by our choices and our actions. By what we choose to surround ourselve with. Because, strip all that away, and what makes my bundle of bones, nerves, muscles, organs, and skin any different from yours?

Or maybe it's enough just to say "I am."

Today, I am here.

I love and I am loved.

And even in my sadness, I am so very grateful for that.

With my parents, 1969


  • Free eBook
  • Free/DRM-free short fiction
  • publication news

Saturday, September 05, 2015

This house protected by an attack dinosaur

When we moved into our home 23 years ago, we noticed a small plastic toy dinosaur sitting up about about the 6 foot high mark on a piece of knobby brick near the side of the house. I don't remember what kind of dinosaur it was, but it always amused me that it was there.

The prior homeowners had been parents of a small child, so presumably, it was his. Perhaps it fell when they were getting out of their car and one of the parents stashed it up on the brick so it wouldn't get run over. Regardless, we kept it there.

Some years later, perhaps as part of a construction project, or from a storm, the little dino vanished. By then, we had our own small kid and the eldest was a fiend for dinosaurs. So we had plenty to choose from to be our house's protector. I think we picked a stegosaurus. It lived on the ledge for over a decade.

Just this afternoon, I was helping my husband with some work on his car, and I looked up to find our stegosaurus was gone. There had been a severe wind/hailstorm in the area last month and I suspect it blew our protector down. Which may explain why we've had so many house issues this past summer.

A friend happened to be by, talking with us when I discovered the loss. Her grandson lives with her and has a huge stash of dinosaurs. She went home and found one for us.

So now we have a fierce predator protecting our home from all possible threats, and all is right with the world.


  • Free eBook
  • Free/DRM-free short fiction
  • publication news