Our CatGirl on her bike on a day that’s (surpisingly) cool enough for a fleece jacket. Biking is our main form of transportation around here and her old garage-sale-BMX bike will be replaced soon, I suspect. But I love that it still gets her where she’s going. :)
A pic of GameBoy with Brian Jacques, the author of the Redwall series of books.
What a joy it is for us to attend booksignings and for our kids to be inspired by the writers of their most beloved stories! Brian Jacques did not disappoint–a salty old Brit, his storytelling had the whole plaza outside the bookshoppe reverberating as he yelled the battle cry, “Eulalia.”
I’m somewhat hesitant to share this publicly. It’s from a tough time in my life, an era that I rarely discuss anymore. But true to the theme of this blog, it shows some of the important ‘steps’ of my life journey. Perhaps it might resonate with some of you. It seems worth sharing if just for that reason.
Recently I’ve had three different friends mention their ongoing struggles with depression. Though I feel relatively undepressed right now, there are days that it still seems close. And I always feel afraid that it will return and I won’t be strong enough to fight it or get help. The odd thing for me about this period of my life, was that while I was depressed I found it impossible to see what help I needed, or I lacked the ability to get the help. Now that I am on the other end of it, it seems so clear to me what I should have done. Depression is just hard that way.
One of the things that was helpful to me in my struggle with depression was the archetypal story of the Sumerian goddess Inanna (you can read more about such goddess archetypes in the writings of Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen). A few years later, I wrote this poem about how her story paralleled mine. For those of you not familiar with the Inanna legend, she is a goddess who travels to to the underworld. In the process she is stripped of all of her royal trappings and nearly dies (or rather, she does die, but then she is resurrected by her friends who bring her the bread and water of life–there is much Christ-like symbolism in the Inanna myth, which might resonate with some of you). For me, this legend gave me hope. While I traveled in the shadow of depression, hope was so elusive. During that period of my life, food lost its savor. I stopped eating and weighted less than when I was in high school. I developed chronic bronchitis and other health issues. My favorite thing during that time: running the washing machine–its sounds soothed me. I often curled up next to it just to feel its vibrations move through my body. Such a scary, scary time.
There were other changes in my life that also helped, which aided my return. I returned to school part-time, we moved, John took a job where he could be home more frequently. Many good, healing changes.
I don’t know if this poem will hold any meaning for you. For me it is a bit scary, it makes me sad, but it also shows me how far I’ve come in the intervening years…
Most of the words in italics are from the Inanna legend except for the first stanza where they are bits of wording and my thoughts from the Mormon temple initiation rite. The middle section with the asterisk is from the Psalms–this section, IMO, shows that he knew depression. I have returned to these Biblical verses passage many times, finding comfort that someone else out there understood my pain…
I remove my shoes
Slip off my socks
Pull my gown over my head
Lift off my garments,
Signs and Tokens
a shield, a protection
the possibility of destruction
Lay my marriage rings on the shelf
From the Great Above she opened her ears to the Great Below.
From the Great Above the goddess opened her ears to the Great Below.
From the Great Above Inanna opened her ears to the Great Below.
My lady abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the Underworld.
Inanna abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the Underworld.
She abandoned her office of holy priestess to descend to the Underworld.
I run the washing machine on empty, watch the water fill the tub
Curl up by its side and fall asleep to the vibrations
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint:
my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;
and thou hast brought me into the dust of death
I may tell all my bones;
they look and stare upon me*
Sinew on bone, moving under skin.
The fat melting away leaving the outline of underneath
the thrum of hunger in my loins,
the cough and quiet wheeze of breath
Inanna goes naked, crawls on all fours
Then Erishkegal fastened on Inanna the eye of death.
She spoke against her the word of wrath.
She uttered against her the cry of guile and struck her.
Inanna was turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat,
and was hung from a hook
in the wall
In the hall
is where he lives.
I can see him there in the reflecting mirrors and I am afraid.
I have sores in my mouth
with ragged edges and I gnaw at the corners until blood comes.
And I flick the tip of my tongue there.
O, Oh my insides
O, Oh my outsides
O, Oh I’m dying inside
O, Oh I don’t want to be alone
For the corpse: Inanna
Bread of life, kurgarra,
Water of life, galatur
Awake and arise
And Dumuzi** shall go in your place
Crawling on his belly
Licking your heel.
*KJV Psalms 22:14-16
**Dumuzi is Inanna’s slacker husband. He ends up taking her place in the underworld and is turned into a snake. He’s a sort of Satan figure if you were to make comparisons to Christian cosmology.
CatGirl recently celebrated her birthday with friends. It was a HOT day (over 80 degrees) and we enjoyed carrot cake cupcakes at a nearby shopping center. Even though the frosting was melting off of the cupcakes they were tasty!
I love to see how my kids are growing and becoming their unique selves. CG is more likely to read a “Ruby on Rails” book than to paint her fingernails red. She loves to recycle and to create. She sees everything–from a shiny bead in the crack of the sidewalk to the way I tell stories to John with my eyes. Whip-smart, generous, a good friend, a cracker of jokes, a lover of all things cat, a gifted artist (and did I mention that one of her most recent pastel drawings is on display at a local shopping center?). She is opinionated, sparkly, and good at nearly everything. She plays the flute so well that our neighbors applaud. She is kind and patient with younger children. She loves long hair, comfortable clothes and green/blue/purple (preferably in stripes or swirls all on the same shirt). She loves running her fingers over angora socks and cashmere sweaters. She writes with fancy pencils and strings beaded bracelets. CatGirl is certainly her own person. But I love that she is also mine. :)
Took my camera to the garden with me last night. It was about 5:30 pm and already too dark to snap pics without a flash. I don’t think flowers look their best with a bright light, but this one turned out interesting-looking. It’s sort of a flopped-over iris. :)
Whenever I see my irises in bloom I think of my friend Rebecca who gave them to me. She dug them up from a friend’s garden after that friend died and her kids were remodeling her home and yard to look like some fancy Tuscan villa. One without irises, that is. :)
It’s been awhile since we’ve done some flash poetry, so get a piece of paper or open a text program on your computer and write at the top: I AM
Then fill in the blanks (write the first thing/s that come to mind):
I Am [write your hometown(s)]
I Am [write your favorite color, scent, feeling, and food]
I Am [your hobbies, sports or leisure activities]
I Am [write what you want to become someday, your profession or roles]
I Am [write the names of the people you care about the most]
I Am [write your name]
TA DA!!!! You have a poem.
I Am Tulsa, Bakersfield, & Irvine
I Am red, vanilla, catfur, and soft cookies
I Am blogging, drinking tea, partying with friends, sitting in silence, getting dirty in my garden
I Am a writer
I Am John, CatGirl, GameBoy, and my Mom
I Am Jana
We did this exercise in the class today. We were talking about labels that teachers use with students and had just finished an exercise where we each walked around with labels on our foreheads and had to figure out ‘what we were’ (I was the class Dunce thanks to one of my silly students). After that, having the students read their ‘I Am’ poems there was a kind of reverence in the room. It was just beautiful. So simple and yet so profound.
What surprised me about my own response….I realized that for me being a professor is really just my current path towards being a writer. That that’s ultimately what I most desire as my profession. That was just so profound and clear. I’ve been carrying with me ever since this morning. A Writer. Yes.
So people, your poems, they belong in the Comments…
(note: Oh, and those of you who want to do an ‘in-bed’ version of their I AM, you can share those after we pull out ‘Apples to Apples’ at the next chez pilgrim par-tay)
Some of you may have noticed that I have a new identity now. I’m no longer pilgrimgirl. Well, at least my blog isn’t. :)
I’ve opted for a blog name that’s less about my own identity and is more about my life journey: my ‘pilgrimage.’ So the new name is ‘pilgrimsteps.’ This name, at least for me, is more reflective of who I am right now. Still a girl, but even more than that, I am a traveler. I am moving and changing. I am not in the same place today as I was yesterday, or last week, or last year. So from now on, you can type pilgrimsteps.com into your browser to find my site.
Wow, that was huge. Really. And so exciting!!
So to shift gears a bit:
My favorite book when I was little: The Poky Little Puppy! That, and The Saggy Baggy Elephant. Classics. Can you believe that the writer only got $75 for writing this, the bestselling children’s book of all time?
Okay, so those MesoAmericans, they knew what they were doing! They started drinking chocolate somewhere between 1400 and 1100 BCE. Now why can’t I remember any chocolate references in The Book of Mormon??? Because of this?
Two years ago today, I was just returning home from a whirlwind trip to China. It seems so very long ago now!
What I remember well:
–the air: how wet and misty and ethereal it was.
–the food: excellent and scary sometimes (I stopped asking what I was eating and just tried everything. I learned to love SPICY!).
–the shopping: I was so tired of Chinese touristy crappy stuff by the end of the trip–I came home with suitcases nearly empty except for cheongsam for CatGirl and myself and a few trinkets.
–the bathrooms: thinking LAX toilets were just heavenly after 2 weeks of squatters and no TP
–the people: endlessly interesting to watch, to listen to their voices, to attempt communication.
–fun: crazy taxi rides to the night markets with Dora, Mom and new groovy friends
–the massages. ’nuff said there….
–the escape: getting away from everything familiar for enough time to find parts of myself again.
This is just one section of one of the bookshelves that we have in our home. You can see from this picture how we’ve tagged all of our books (like a library). Tagging and cataloging our books is my secret weapon.
We have thousands of books. There is no better way to know exactly where each of them belongs. Before organizing our books I couldn’t find them when I needed them, and John & I had unecessary duplicate copies of many of our books.
I know it’s geeky to do stuff like this. But I’m okay with that.
Today I have been investing my time in “professional activities.” Because I suspect there’s very little chance that I’ll get a job as a professional blogger, I’ve been trying my hand at a few projects that’ll look good on my CV (in other words, taking flower photos and writing sweater poetry does not equal career success).
So I’ve started a podcast about History. You can find my first episode here, and it will be listed on iTunes shortly (under the title of “Making History” podcast). You might also be interested in taking a look at the blog affiliated with my new podcast. It’s pretty dry and professional stuff. But that’s life, right? :)
That said, I’ll bet you didn’t know this:
1) Did you know that there’s an Italian proverb, quoted by Montaigne, that says, “He knowes not the perfect pleasure of Venus that hath not layne with a limping woman”? Essentially it’s saying that women who limp, they’re better in bed. Just thought you might want to know that.
2) Betcha’ didn’t know that I just spent about two hours sitting in my cozy purple chair recording my podcast and then editing out most of my ‘ummms’ and then uploading everything. When I stood up I realized that the whole time I’d been sitting on a very lovely bar of certified organic 73% Super Dark chocolate. Thanks to my butt, it is now a very lovely certified organic 73% Super Dark chocolate soup.
A list of the 100 most influential books written by women from Wendy via Alison. Of course we could debate about whether these books really are the 100 most influential (as in where the hell are Austen and the Brontes and Lady Murasaki? or in other words are influential books only those written in English in the 20th century?)
But this is a fun exercise anyways. Which ones have you read? Mine are in bold…
1. Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
2. Anne Rice, Interview With the Vampire
3. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
4. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
5. Virginia Woolf, The Waves
6. Virginia Woolf, Orlando
7. Djuna Barnes, Nightwood
8. Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth
9. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
10. Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome
11. Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness
12. Nadine Gordimer, Burger’s Daughter
13. Harriette Simpson Arnow, The Dollmaker
14. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
15. Willa Cather, My Ántonia
16. Erica Jong, Fear of Flying
17. Erica Jong, Fanny
18. Joy Kogawa, Obasan
19. Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
20. Doris Lessing, The Fifth Child
21. Doris Lessing, The Grass Is Singing
22. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
23. Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time
24. Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres
25. Lore Segal, Her First American
26. Alice Walker, The Color Purple
27. Alice Walker, The Third Life of Grange Copeland
28. Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon
29. Muriel Spark, Memento Mori
30. Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
31. Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina
32. Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
33. Susan Fromberg Shaeffer, Anya
34. Cynthia Ozick, Trust
35. Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
36. Amy Tan, The Kitchen God’s Wife
37. Ann Beattie, Chilly Scenes of Winter
38. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
39. Joan Didion, A Book of Common Prayer
40. Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays
41. Mary McCarthy, The Group
42. Mary McCarthy, The Company She Keeps
43. Grace Paley, The Little Disturbances of Man
44. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
45. Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
46. Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart
47. Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
48. Mona Simpson, Anywhere But Here
49. Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
50. Toni Morrison, Beloved
51. Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm
52. Sylvia Townsend Warner, Mr. Fortune’s Maggot
53. Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools
54. Laura Riding, Progress of Stories
55. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust
56. Penelope Fitzgerald, The Blue Flower
57. Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits
58. A.S. Byatt, Possession
59. Pat Barker, The Ghost Road
60. Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle (tried this one, never finished it)
61. Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac
62. Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus
63. Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca
64. Katherine Dunn, Geek Love
65. Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
66. Barbara Pym, Excellent Women
67. Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
68. Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
69. Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist
70. Nancy Willard, Things Invisible to See
71. Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry
72. Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Disturbances in the Field
73. Rosellen Brown, Civil Wars
74. Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra
75. Harriet Doerr, The Mountain Lion
76. Stevie Smith, Novel on Yellow Paper
77. E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
78. Rebecca Goldstein, The Mind-Body Problem
79. P.D. James, The Children of Men
80. Ursula Hegi, Stones From the River
81. Fay Weldon, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
82. Katherine Mansfield, Collected Stories
83. Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills
84. Louise Erdrich, The Beet Queen
85. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
86. Edna O’Brien, The Country Girls Trilogy
87. Margaret Drabble, Realms of Gold
88. Margaret Drabble, The Waterfall
89. Dawn Powell, The Locusts Have No King
90. Marilyn French, The Women’s Room
91. Eudora Welty, The Optimist’s Daughter
92. Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries
93. Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John
94. Tillie Olsen, Tell Me a Riddle
95. Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
96. Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
97. Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day
98. Alice Hoffman, The Drowning Season
99. Sue Townsend, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
100. Penelope Mortimer, The Pumpkin Eater
For most of the summer I had some sores on my right leg that made it painful to wear my prosthesis. I wore it anyways most days, but only for a few hours at a time. And the sores were awful and raw and oozy. And so painful to walk on–I’d say it was akin to hiking with 2″ ulcerated holes on both the heel and ball of your foot while you’re wearing sweat-drenched scratchy wool socks. And then add into that the discomfort from the toes I broke at the beginning of the summer and it was just a painful few months. Painful, I say.
So just yesterday I marveled at how easy it was to walk around my garden. The 30 ft walk from my gate to the hose had seemed pretty torturous for a few months there. And it was just effortless yesterday. No pain. And everything else has been so much easier, too. Cleaning house, walking to class, my daily routines.
I’d like to think that I don’t take walking for granted. And it’s sure nice to have the realization of how lovely it can be.