Tag Archives: life

hallelujah

“Hallelujah is not a mere liturgic command, like a prelude to something exuberant. It is a crucial exercise that teaches us not only how to live but also how to die.” – Arie Uittenbogaard, Hallelujah.

Hallelujah  is the ultimate expression of surrendering control to god, the universe, collective consciousness, and/or divine power, and it is at the heart of the spiritual practice of letting go.

RIP to the great poet, musician, and activist,  Leonard Cohen. Thank you Gungor for sharing this prayer and reminder, in tribute.

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reading series 5.4

flying-letters11

 

“Stories of failure” was a project I began through this reading series which, in spirit, is something of a cross between Russell Banks’ “Success Stories” and Samuel Beckett’s conceptual line, “fail better.” My idea for this series was to share some personal stories and anecdotes from some of the more challenging times in my life. I suppose it is an odd project because most people, myself included, like to focus on the positive. However, I do feel that the challenging times in our lives define us as much, if not more, than the positive times. These times teach us how to rise from the fall, how to find light in the darkness, how to learn new ways of being, how to persevere, and how to find reserves of strength within ourselves, enabling us to begin again, anew.

I wanted to write a little about this before I started up the series again because the last time I embarked on this project, I had received a couple of letters from friends asking if I was okay. They were worried about me because I guess stories about failure tend to be on the sad, depressing, and/or negative side. For the most part, I have tried to temper this with what I learned, how I grew from the experience, or how these experiences have informed my writing, but sometimes the experience stands as is, without a contextual explanation. Nevertheless, I feel that in our failures – what hasn’t worked out, what brought us to our knees, what left us in spiritual darkness, what we have had to overcome – we find, in reality, the truest measure of our success.

 

Quotes about Failure:

 

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” – Henry Ford

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Confucious

“Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure.” – George Eliot

“Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” – J.K. Rowling

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell

“It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” – Ellen DeGeneres

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis

“We are all failures – at least, the best of us are.” – J.M. Barrie

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

“We climb to heaven most often on the ruins of our cherished plans, finding our failures were successes.” – Amos Bronson Alcott

“Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.”  – Mary Pickford

“There are defeats more triumphant than victories.” – Michel de Montaigne

“Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” – John Dewey

“The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it – so fine that we often are on the line and do not know it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Many people dream of success. To me, success can only be achieved through repeated failure and introspection.” – Soichiro Honda

“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” – Isaac Newton

“It is only through failure and through experiment that we learn and grow.” – Isaac Stern

“Failure is not the enemy, but a life-changing experience. It is a human experience, and it prepares the way for us to grow and transform our lives.” – Sobonfu Somé

 

 


on letting go

letting_go_by_bandico-d5s1eyh

I’ve been wanting to write about letting go for some time. However, something kept holding me back. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say because, the truth is, letting go is not always easy for me. It’s not always difficult, either. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I wanted to write a post about it, because sometimes writing posts on specific topics gives me a place to explore the topic more deeply.

My general idea about letting go is often defined by it’s opposite concept: holding on. I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to give up. I’d say I’m more the type of person who likes to keep trying. I will think a thousand ways around a problem in order to find a solution. It’s in my nature to analyze in order to understand things. Nevertheless, I also understand that sometimes there are things that can’t really be understood, and we need to make our decisions and choices with nothing more than intuition, a deep trust in the universe. I think that knowing when to let go is a little like that.

There’s a balance between holding on and letting go, it’s a dance we engage in constantly throughout our lives. From the moment of birth, we form our first attachments; we also grow and change, establishing a cycle of learning how to let go. As we evolve and move through different stages in life, it is necessary for us to leave the past behind in order to step into our future. Sometimes we hold on to things, even if these very things are preventing us from moving forward. Sometimes we hold onto these things especially for that reason, because we are afraid of change.

We repeat this cycle throughout our lives. When we are born, we do not know how to walk. At first, we do not even crawl. We are dependent on those around us to carry us, to feed us, to care for us. What propels a child to crawl? I think it is natural curiosity, the same curiosity that also propels a child to walk. During the process of being carried to crawling to walking is a constant exercise in holding on and letting go, even for caregivers, who are also receiving lessons as to when to hold on, when to let go. I do not remember what it was like to stand for the first time, on my own, but I imagine dizzying freedom.

In thinking about letting go, I’ve also thought a lot about the nature of attachment. In psychology, the nature of attachment refers to Attachment Theory, which basically seeks to understand the way we interact with and respond to people as rooted in the infant/caregiver dynamic, extending to different types of relationships. Attachment is a biological imperative, and the foundation of our interpersonal relationships. This is where we work out our issues surrounding love and trust, nurturing and caring, power dynamics, giving and receiving, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.

As a parent, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that growth is rooted in change. Indeed, the only constant in life is change. With each life stage my children have gone through, I had to say goodbye to who they were at that particular stage, and also to the person I was during that time. In response to this, I have learned that parents need to grow and change with their children at each stage – essentially, holding on and letting go.

Since my own life has been one of constant flux and change, I’ve come to accept many aspects of holding on and letting go. This has affected how I parent, but it has also affected how I am. With everyone I know, I try to be conscious of the fact that we all change. The person I was yesterday is not necessarily the person I was last year, and I accept that we are always growing, changing, and evolving. When I engage with my children, I am looking at who they are right now, not who they were in the past, or who they will be in the future. When I look at my love, I fall in love with him each time I see him, because he is not the same person I saw the last time we were together. In this way, I have cultivated an awareness of the present moment, and of living in the present moment.

But still, I have trouble letting some things go. I’ve been thinking about different times in my life where I had to let go. Sometimes I have let things go with relative ease, accepting and optimistic about the future. Other times, I have had great difficulty letting go. Recently, my cat died. It happened very suddenly, and no one was prepared. I had a lot of difficulty letting go. I could not let go of the pain. My sense of loss was profound. I was very attached to my cat. I cried so much, I began to worry that my reaction to his death was too severe. I tried to think about all of the moments we shared, all of the things I loved about him. I had to let go of the loss and sadness I felt without him alive. I had to let go of trying to find a reason. I had to let go.

In religion, Buddhism in particular, attachment refers to the things which cause us suffering. Our attachments may be people, places, things, thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, etc. To put it simply, the reason for our suffering is rooted in the idea of holding on and letting go. We hold on to what is impermanent. The reason we suffer is because everything in life is impermanent. It is only through letting go that we can achieve enlightenment … meaning, understanding that our attachments are mired in our own preoccupations, our possessions, our obsessions, even – but all of these things are impermanent and fleeting in the great cosmic dance of life. So you have to let it all go, to just be. That place of being is my understanding of enlightenment.

Of course, enlightenment is the goal. It is not quite as easy to live in moment and to “just be” as it is to explain what that means. I feel that there are moments where I have engaged this state of mind during meditation, writing, and sex. But I do not feel that I am living in the moment on an everyday basis. I’m aware of my attachments, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have them.

For example, I have a lot of books. I guess I’m attached to books. When I moved, the primary thing I had to move was my books. I don’t have a lot of clothes or shoes. I don’t have a lot of furniture. I don’t have a lot of things, in general. But I do have a lot of books. I don’t think it is a problem, because I don’t have to sculpt tunnels through the house (I have bookshelves, counters, only one or two piles), or spending an exorbitant amount (I get most of my books used). I’m aware that I’m rationalizing … I know that I have a psychological attachment to books, as much as I love the physical object. It goes deep.

Every once in a while, I donate books. I do it consciously. I go through my bookshelves, looking for ones to part with, making room for new books. In this sense, I’m letting go. I’m still holding on, but, I guess that subconsciously, I’m seeking to balance my attachment. As humans, we are biologically predisposed towards attachment. It is part of how we have evolved as a species, and how we continue to evolve. Nevertheless, from the moment our earliest attachment bonds form, we are in a continual balancing act of holding on and letting go.

As we get older, we grow and change sometimes in less noticeable ways than we did when we were children, yet the process is the same. Sometimes, we need to let go of relationships that have become hurtful, jobs that no longer serve us, places that constrict us, people who control us. We need to let go of the past in order to make way for the future. And although it is difficult to live a life free of attachment, we need to at least question our attachments, to be aware of them, to make sure that they are healthy and promoting our overall growth. The most important step in balancing our attachments is also the hardest: we need to discern when to hold on and when to let go.

Finding this balance and level of discernment can be challenging. Sometimes we stay too long in bad situations, afraid to change, holding on because we are afraid to let go. Other times, some people do not try hard enough, they give up too easily, letting things go because holding on would take too much work.  I think that when most people think about letting go, the connotations include putting the past behind us, freeing ourselves from a bad situation, and accepting one’s limitations. However, we also are letting go when we open our mindset or challenge our belief systems, when we accept creative energy and flow, and when we accept change without fear, as a vehicle towards evolution. Letting go means to release something, to free something. When we exhale, we let go.

There is also an aspect of control when it comes to attachments. It almost seems in human nature that the first step after attachment is the need to possess. When a child becomes attached to a favorite toy, the child will cry if the toy is not ‘there’. Sometimes children like to collect things, because they are so attached, they need more of them. We carry these behaviors into adult life in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We want to possess things, as well as people. The root of this possession is our attachment, and all of the layers of meaning that we’ve attached to it. I think that control plays another role too, in the sense of general control that we have over our lives. Control is in many ways an illusion. When things happen that threaten our sense of control, it can be very disorienting and confusing. We don’t understand why some things happen. They just do. Sometimes letting go means letting go of the illusion of control, and allowing trust to carry you on part of your path.

As humans, our attachments are many. We bond with people, animals, plants, places, things. We wrap our self-identity in our attachments, seeking definition and meaning from them, telling us and others who we are. I think it is this enmeshing of identity and attachment where people find the most difficulty letting go. We can be so attached to a person, a place, a state of mind, that we lose ourselves in mirrors, powerless, afraid to change. And yet, we still change.  We always do. Whether by circumstance or by choice, we change. And in the process, we subject ourselves to forming attachments, over and over again, certain to hurt us. We hold on, learning what it means to live, to love, to grow. We want to hold on to what is impermanent – life, time, money, illusions, possessions, everything. We let go, over and over again, we let go.

I’m going to close here with some quotes I found about “letting go.”

Holding on is believing that there’s a past; letting go is knowing that there’s a future.
—Daphne Rose Kingma

Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.
—Hermann Hesse

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.
–Lao Tzu

Suffering is not holding you. You are holding suffering. When you become good at the art of letting sufferings go, then you’ll come to realize how unnecessary it was for you to drag those burdens around with you. You’ll see that no one else other than you was responsible. The truth is that existence wants your life to become a festival.
—Osho

Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.
—Deborah Reber

What happens when you let go, when your strength leaves you and you sink into darkness, when there’s nothing that you or anyone else can do, no matter how desperate you are, no matter how you try? Perhaps it’s then, when you have neither pride nor power, that you are saved, brought to an unimaginably great reward.
—Mark Halperin

It is by giving the freedom to the other, that is by letting go, we gain our own freedom back.
—Aleksandra Ninkovic

Even as I hold you, I am letting you go.
—Alice Walker

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
— Havelock Ellis

Anything I cannot transform into something marvelous, I let go.
– Anais Nin

We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
– Joseph Campbell

Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.
– Ann Landers

In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.
– Deepak Chopra

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love

love_poem_400x400

It’s no secret that I love love. Love is an essential component to nearly everything I do. It is basically the driving force of my life, and the lens in which I view my work and my purpose in this world.

This quote by Joseph Campbell is very important to me: “Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” To me, this relates to trusting oneself while traveling into the unknown, following one’s instincts, and following our passions as a guide in which to live our lives. I feel that what we love is the single most important factor driving and determining our individual paths.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about love.

Romantic love has been a challenge for me throughout most of my adult life. I feel like I had a good beginning, a sweet beginning, and I am so grateful for those early experiences. But moving on into my later teenage years and way into adulthood, I never connected with another person the way I had longed for when I imagined love. Romance and relationships and sex always seemed to come hand-in-hand with issues and problems, and while I was willing to work through these things with other people, I never had the kind of “true love” that people say exists, the kind of love that connects people at a soul level so deeply that they are bonded (happily) throughout their lives.

I think that these types of soul connections happen in different types of relationships, not only romantic relationships. Nevertheless, it seems that finding this kind of connection with a romantic partner can be very elusive. Yet, it does exist.

A good friend of mine has been married for over 20 years, and she and her husband share this kind of connection. They had known each other for less than 3 weeks before deciding to spend the rest of their lives together. Within 6 months, they were married. Over the years they have supported and nurtured each other, helping each other reach their individual and collective dreams. This isn’t to say that they don’t have problems or conflicts, but maintaining a good and healthy relationship is important to both of them. She says that they make a choice to be together, not as a residual throwback to 20 years past when they first fell in love, but as a choice to fall in love with each other all over again, each and every day.

Interestingly, even though they had known each other for “only” a few weeks, neither my friend nor her husband felt that they were jumping into things. She says that they both just “knew.”

And that is the elusive part of romantic love – it’s intuitive nature. It’s not something that can be quantified or defined. It is felt, sensed, understood in the heart and soul before the mind can make sense of it. You can’t buy it in a store. You can’t place an order for what you want. You can’t mold another person into the right one for you, no matter how much you think you love him or her. You can’t even work with the law of averages and go out on hundreds of dates, hoping to strike a match. You can be open to romantic love, but you cannot force it, or even truly understand it – to understand this kind of love is like trying to hold a rainbow in your hand.

Recently I came across an article online that was titled something to the effect of “the relationship types you will have before you meet your true love.” The article itself was kind of funny, but I think it also spoke to a great truth, in that many people have to go through different experiences with different kinds of people before they are ready to meet someone on that soul level, their minds/bodies/hearts open in acceptance.

So many times throughout my life I have wondered why I got involved with certain people. Many times even if I sensed that the relationship wouldn’t work on a fundamental level, I still loved them and tried to make it work. And maybe we were not a match in the “true love” sense, but I think the love I felt for them was true. The lessons I sometimes learned were difficult, but I think each relationship I have had has taught me important things, which helped me grow and evolve as an individual.

Recently I was thinking of my children’s father, and a single image kept recurring. When I met him, I was 22 and working in a bookstore full time. After we met, we had a grand meeting of the minds. Within a very short time, I was translating his favorite book”Nadja” from the original French, and he gave me 19 poems about my eyes. I worked in the “home” section, which included all books on cooking, crafting, gardening, etc, and he worked in “genre fiction.” I loved working in the home section very much, and it truly was my own little home. One day, I was organizing books in antiques & collectibles, and I was standing on a step-stool because the shelves were high at the top. He came into my section and held up a ring to me, a bright orange plastic pumpkin ring.

I think he mumbled something about how he was on break and saw it and thought I might like it and if he had more money, he would wish to buy me something nicer, something to that effect. But in my memory, he didn’t say a word. It was his gesture that spoke volumes. I accepted the ring, just as I accepted his love – wholly, completely, without hesitation. And even though a relationship between us failed miserably and he left me to raise two babies alone, I don’t hold any animosity towards him, and I actually think that staying away was the kindest path he could have taken. Despite all the things we went through together, when I think of him, the first memory that comes to mind is that time he offered me the pumpkin ring, and I accepted it. He changed the course of my life. Love changed the course of my life.

Did we have a soul connection? I think we did. But I also think we were very young, too young to deal with the relationship we found ourselves in. In retrospect, I understand that there was no way that our relationship would be able to sustain the trials and tests of time. But I also know that there was no way that I would have been able to turn away from it, either.

Elizabeth Gilbert has an interesting view on this. She says: “People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in…”

In some of my research on this topic, I came across the idea of a “dark soul mate” and I believe that this is what Elizabeth Gilbert is truly referring to.

Linda George discusses the idea of light and dark soul mates in her article, “The Astrology of Soul Mates.” What she relates is quite profound, and gives much to think about, so I am going end here by quoting her article.

Soul Mates. The words evoke a sense of divine partnership, a blessed union where two hearts, two souls, two people, come together as One.  The state of Oneness prevails through all of life’s adversities. The couple is melded together through thick and thin, and there is always and throughout pervasive feelings of telepathic connection, unconditional love, and simmering sexual passion.

Ah, bliss.  We all share this innate longing for our “other half.”  Since the age of romance began, literature has fed us the imagery of such a perfect union. Much is illusory, a fantasy; but still, we crave this perfection.

Our bodies hardly need encouragement.  It is the prerogative of the body to seek its “other half,” the yin for its yang. And for our higher selves, our souls, the desire to merge comes from an instinctive “knowing.” Our higher self knows that only through relationship can we bring our “unwholeness” into our conscious awareness, in order to heal—and thus become whole.

We cannot do this on our own.  We need another to help us negotiate our gaps and wounds, and to teach us how to open, and keep open, our hearts.  There is no healing with a closed heart.  We must open and let go. And this we do best when we are loved and loving.

The words “Soul Mates” are a bit like the words “God” or “Love.”  We can create any number of interpretations for these words; they are capable of expressing the highest truths, as well as truth’s opposite. From the pain of deception, loss, betrayal, and separation to the joy of profound intimacy and deep merging with another, the Soul Mate relationship can bring us any or all of these.

I use the word Soul, together with the word Mate, tentatively. And for the reason mentioned above—the words are too easily misconstrued.  They are minimized, mangled, and mutated, changed from two innocent, singly comforting words to something almost intimidating:  Do you have a Soul Mate? Is your partner your Soul Mate, or a watered down version of one? And if he is, why is living with him so difficult? He can’t be.  Or: Will you ever find that elusive Soul Mate? Do you even believe in such things?  If they’re for real, why hasn’t yours shown up yet? Where IS he?  The subject of soul mates seems invariably to be accompanied by feelings of ambivalence and vulnerability.

There is a lot of confusion about Soul Mates (as there is about anything to do with the mysterious Soul), which is why I wanted to talk about them.  After forty something years of living and loving, I have come to the conclusion that every significant relationship we enter into is with a Soul Mate. When we give our heart to another—for however short or long the duration—we are entering into the sacred territory of the Soul.  This person has then become a Mate of our Soul; our Soul Mate.

Now, we need to qualify the above.  Significant relationships are all Soul Mate relationships, but there are soul mates and Soul Mates.  There are “dark” Soul Mates and there are “light” Soul Mates.

Some of those with whom we enter into a significant relationship have come into our lives to demonstrate the less attractive side of relating—and to show us the less attractive side of ourselves. You may have known such Soul Mates in your past; your relationship with them would have been marred with darkness, destruction, and desperation. Soul Mates have been known to kill each other!

The Soul has a “knowing” that our conscious selves do not possess.  This knowing ineffably, sooner or later, draws us into the orbit of people with whom we have shared a past, a past that is outside of our conscious awareness. We “mates of old” have karma to resolve together; perhaps we have agreed to come back into a relationship to complete something we didn’t finish up in the past, or to do it differently. As an evolutionary astrologer I would add to that: ideally, complete in a positive and integrated way.  Sometimes we finish our relationships, but we neglect to complete the work we were in them to do!

These Soul Mate relationships serve the great purpose of assisting us in our awakening. They unerringly dredge up the old karmic patterns, the needs and expectations that we have unconsciously crafted through lifetimes of experiences: pain, fear, disappointment, loss, betrayal.  Once our relationships show us—often in glaring Technicolor—where exactly our “issues” are, we may be forced to go through more than a few dark nights as we learn to meet ourselves and transmute our woundedness into something more life giving.

We both signed up for this relationship, we Soul Mates.  And however long, short, or in between, this partnership that takes us to the deepest and often most painful places is an agent for the Soul.  Always, “darker” Soul Mate connections will end in a parting of the two personalities–one way or another. The karmic contract will expire and then there is no longer a necessity to stay together.  Hopefully, the work has been done and each party has healed some wounds and come to a place of greater self-awareness.  If not, then there is always the next lifetime…

Light Soul Mates are those are not fueled by the need to complete karmic contracts. They are, rather, about growth. These are two Souls who have come together in a significant relationship, in full consciousness.  That is, the personalities have matured emotionally and spiritually to a point where they understand that they are responsible for their realities—in or out of a relationship. They know that life is an ongoing journey of unfolding, learning, and growing—and that this new relationship will bring up a new set of lessons and challenges. This conscious awareness draws partners of a like mind.  The couple is concerned with each other’s growth and wellbeing as much as their own.  They also know that love is the reason they are together.  This is why their relationship is light-filled.

We cannot hope to create positive, fulfilling, loving, life-affirming relationships if we are fractured spirits ourselves.  No one can rescue us from ourselves.  If we understand the deeper significance of our principles, if we know about the light and dark expressions of these, then we move to a higher awareness.  We are “awakened” to our greater potentials and we can consciously choose to bring them into our lives.  When we do, our relationships naturally transform. Our self awareness spills over to become a tolerant, compassionate, benevolent energy in the relationship. We know ourselves and our partners more deeply. Tolerance, for both, arises from this acceptance.

All of our relationships of significance are with our Soul Mates, but the more conscious we become, the more we move toward light Soul Mate relationships—and away from the dark, destructive ones. Once we have made friends with ourselves, come to a place of acceptance (self-worth) and celebration for who we are, in the depths of our hearts, then we attract souls who resonate in kind, who love us because we do too!  These are the lovers with whom we will grow and evolve.  We draw them into our lives to share a divine partnership where two hearts, two souls, two people, come together as One.

Until we do this work to make friends with ourselves, to love ourselves, we will continue to attract relationships that offer us a reflection of what we feel about ourselves.  The dark and destructive Soul Mate is simply the mirror showing us how little we are valuing ourselves.

Nothing in this life is more valuable than the journey we make into the center of ourselves.  The master keys to creating joyful, loving lives are self-knowledge and an awakening to who we really are.”

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reading series 8.14

Through the Looking Glass by Mo T

I wanted to share something fun and different through this reading series, so I decided to share a little bit of a play that I had created many years ago.

When I received a MFA in Creative Writing, my concentration was not in fiction or poetry; it was in playwriting. I had entered the program on the strength of my poetry. I had intended on switching to fiction. But I fell in love with playwriting, and I decided to focus my efforts there. My thesis project was a full-length play called “Through the Looking Glass.” I loved and lived this play for many months, and it was the culmination of the time I spent at the university pursuing an MFA. Upon graduating, there was a staged reading of my play at a space in Manhattan, and it was bound and published in the university library, where all the thesis projects are stored. You can read the beginning of this play here.

For a long time, I was a writer without a MFA. I had studied poetry and fine art as an undergraduate student. After I received my bachelors degree, I spent about a year working at a bookstore. While working there, I ran a poetry workshop and immersed myself in writing. I was considering going for a MFA, and I began an inquiry into graduate programs across the country.

As fate would have it, I also fell in love with someone I had met while working at that bookstore. He introduced me to Andre Breton. I introduced him to Bettie Page. We shared a love of surrealism, poetry, music, and art. I started receiving pamphlets and booklets from graduate programs in writing around the same time I discovered I was pregnant. The pile on top of my desk became heavy, but it could not match the weight of the life that was growing inside me. I loved poetry. I lived poetry. And ultimately, that was what led me to my decision.

At 23, we moved in together, a musician and a writer. We were in love. We were going to start a family. We had no money; dreams were our currency. And at the time, I believed that was enough. I decided to go back to school to receive a masters degree in Education. I had initially went to the New School with the intention of learning and enjoying education again. I intended on pursuing teaching at the masters level, after I received my BA. I wanted to have a career as a teacher, so I could have a stable income. First, I thought that being a teacher would provide a job I would love while I pursed my writing. Then, I thought being a teacher would provide an income for my family. I never thought that I would make any money as a writer, but I also never wrote for money. That was never a motivating factor for me. I actually went into “being a writer” feeling that I would never make money from it. I didn’t care. Writing was just something within me, something I couldn’t stop doing if I wanted to, something that was given to me, a gift.

Fast forward a few years, and I was a single parent with two children under the age of 5. I was working nights and weekends as a cashier in a grocery store. (The bookstore had closed almost 2 years after I worked there) I was healing from the break up. I was raising my children. I was writing. I took a couple of classes each semester to finish my degree in Education. In order to graduate, it is necessary to complete a semester of “student teaching.” Those twelve weeks were some of the hardest of my life. I enjoyed teaching. I loved the children I taught, and they loved me. I loved my experiences teaching kindergarten and first grade. But I had to leave my own children in the care of others from early in the morning until late in the evening. It affected my relationship with them. It affected my relationship with my self. I felt that even though I’d make good money as a teacher, I would not be there to raise my children. That wasn’t acceptable to me. It was at that time that I decided that I would wait just a few more years (until they were both in elementary school) to get a full time teaching job.

I left my job as a cashier and began tutoring. I worked at a learning center, then as a freelance private tutor at a SAT company. During that time, I was writing mostly poetry. I had published some poems over these years, but not very much. I had two full-length manuscripts of poetry, unpublished. I applied for grants. I applied for book publication. I applied for a lot of things that would help me get my work into the world. But I felt mostly invisible (This was also before the explosion of the internet into what we know it to be today). I began noticing that most of the contemporary writers I was seeing published had MFA’s. I began wondering if that was what was stopping me from being published. For the first time in a long time, I remembered the choice I had made, and I realized that I could make another choice.

I couldn’t go across the country to get a MFA. I couldn’t even go into Manhattan, which is about an hour away from where I live. The commute alone would take away too much time from my work and my family. I needed something close by. Even though I had never heard of any, I decided to look into graduate programs in writing in the area I lived. That would be the only way that I could get a MFA.

At the exact time I looked into this, a relatively local university decided to start a MFA program in creative writing – to begin the next year!! I couldn’t believe it. No other colleges or universities in my area offered an MFA. It would mean adding an extra year to my plan, but it would only be another year. This was my second chance. I received the information. I applied. I was accepted! I applied for loans, which were also granted. Strangely enough, that summer before I attended, I received notification that three of my poems were accepted in some new experimental-type online journals. This was proof that I didn’t need a MFA to be more widely published, like I had started to think. The type of writing I was doing was different. The world of publishing, especially considering online resources, was changing. But I took this as a sign that I was on the right track. I entered the program, which was brand new. Because it had just begun, it was a very small and intimate program. It was just right for me. I was among the first graduating class.

I was 33 when I decided to get a MFA in creative writing, exactly 10 years after I had seriously considered it as a possibility, a lifetime away from where I had been ten years ago. My intention on entering the program was simply that I wanted to be a better writer, to expand, to grow. I wanted to enter the world of writers again. I had been solitary for so long. I wanted to learn how to write fiction, because it seemed elusive to me. I had never been introduced to playwriting before the program, and when I took my first playwriting class, I loved it so much. (It is said that most people come into playwriting as either actors or poets.) I met a lot of different people through the program, people of varied ages and stages of writing, people I still consider close friends. I became a different student than I had ever been in the past. I have always loved school, but this time I was incredibly active in my learning. I was back in a world where writing and reading mattered. I spoke out in class. I wanted to! I shared my work. I read my work aloud. I offered my ideas, opinions and insights. I listened to the ideas and opinions and insights of others. I learned how to stand behind my work, to make conscious choices. I didn’t take a single thing for granted.

After the program, I immediately got a job teaching at an elementary school. I continued writing. I began publishing more. After a few years, I was laid off from my teaching job. I went through a series of unemployment and crappy jobs. I continued writing. My writing moved in an inverse direction, and my work has been published more. I am proud of the work I’ve done so far. After I was unemployed was about the time I created this website and blog, so this brings me to now, where I am. My goal for so long was to have a career as a full time teacher. I was devastated when that plan fell through. I became an unemployed teacher, surprisingly unqualified for most other jobs (or at least those who are hiring seem to think so). I have dated and I have had long term relationships, but I’ve never had a marital relationship (nor do I want one). I am still a single parent. I still don’t have that ability to provide for my family in the way I wanted to. I am poor. I work at very low paying jobs, the only jobs I seem to be able to get. What happens when you don’t have a plan B? What happens when a dream falls apart? I know, I know. This is the story of my life. Fail better.

When I received a MFA in creative writing, I entered a transformational space. I did literally begin again, anew. I didn’t think that at the time. I looked at it as a second chance to do something that I had wanted to do in the past, but didn’t. I didn’t think that it would change me, or that it would alter my path in any way. I even went right back to my idea of teaching elementary school. I imagined it as a moment in time, and I knew it was an important step for me, but I couldn’t foresee the ways in which it would affect me. When I was unemployed, I also entered a transformational space. Similar things resulted. I was forced to begin again. I didn’t know the ways it would affect me or how it would change me. But interestingly, that wasn’t something I chose. That was something that life chose for me.

Sometimes we are fixated on what we want to happen, and forget that the world is so mysterious, so filled with things we can barely understand. Things happen for reasons that we do not understand, in the universe, in the world, our societies, our governments, our personal lives. Even when a choice is made for you, you can choose how you respond and how you grow from the experience. I believe that we each have a path in life, and that we are guided by our passions. Some people call this intuition. Others call it following signs, which is the idea that Paulo Coelho talks about in The Alchemist.  I believe that following our passions is the only guide we really have in which to live our lives. It is what we love, at the core of our being, that helps us make our decisions and choices. As Joseph Campbell says so wisely,

“Follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t even know they were going to be.”

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the fig tree

fig tree with sleeping gnome

The last few months have been very difficult, and I wasn’t planning on planting a garden this year. Since I avoided the garden, I didn’t notice that the fig tree wasn’t coming back to life. It wasn’t until a neighbor said “I think your fig tree died” that I thought about it.

Every year, for almost 16 years, the fig tree had come back to life after winter. And every year, it grew bigger and stronger. It got to a point where I could no longer wrap it during the winter, and I would worry that the weather was too severe for it to survive. New York isn’t the ideal climate for fig trees, but the tree had grown, and had grown strong. I thought we lost it a few years ago, but it came back with a force that seemed to double it’s size.

The tree was a hybrid of two cuttings – one from my friend’s father’s glorious fig tree and one from a local nursery. The placenta from each of my pregnancies had nourished the root. It sat in the corner of my garden, and in truth, it had taken up most of the spot. I had to extend the garden along the fence, because there was no more room in the original garden to plant vegetables and herbs that needed full sun. But I didn’t mind. I loved the fig tree. In it’s shade, I could still plant things that would grow.

The fig tree was the pride of my garden. Every year, I anticipated it’s arrival. Every year, I loved watching it come back to life. People who visited in late summer would leave with a bounty of figs, and there was still enough for all the birds and squirrels. We had families of birds living in the backyard in nests and various birdhouses, some who hung out all day among the branches, singing, and many species who came from far and wide to feast on the fruit.

So this year, when my neighbor told me that he thought the fig tree died, I was upset at the prospect that it really died, but I was also upset that I was so wrapped up in my problems, I had neglected to notice it.

I went into the garden and surveyed the tree. There were shoots at the bottom, new growth. The fig tree had not died completely. But all of the branches, even the strongest limbs, were dead wood. I took a deep breath and went back into the house, changed my clothes, found my saw and a lopper, got a drink of water, and went back outside.

It was hot. The sun beat down as I circled the tree, cutting off each branch and limb carefully, methodically, one by one, down at the base, and then watched, sometimes guided, each one as they fell. Some of the limbs were over 10 ft tall. The air around me began to smell like over-ripe peaches, and it actually became so overwhelming, I wondered where the scent was coming from. Then I realized it was the sawdust and cut wood from the fig tree.

I was sweating, soaked in sweat; my shirt was sticking to me, and drops fell from my skin like tears, burning my eyes. I was thinking of everything. I was thinking of nothing. I wanted to stop. I did not stop. I kept sawing. For a second I wondered if I was crying and didn’t know it, and then I thought that it was as if my entire being was crying, gushing through my skin. I was kneeling on the earth, covered in dirt, taking care of the dead, preparing the way for new life.

When I was done, I stood up. All around me were felled branches and limbs, splayed out in a grotesque circle. My neighbor called out in passing, “that’s a lot of work!” and I muttered back, “it feels like a massacre.”

Then I began the work of chopping each one into a manageable length, sawing first in pieces along the trunk, then lopping each network at the top, organizing them into piles and bundles, to be disposed of and recycled later. By the time I finished completely, hours had passed, and I was numb. I stood and looked at what remained. At the base of the fig tree stood more new growth than I had thought, strong growth, reaching almost 2 ft. The garden gnome on a stake who used to be at the bottom of the tree is now almost at the top. The gnome is climbing up the stake and he has his hand to his mouth, as if he is whispering to the plants beside him, “grow, grow.” And when I saw that, I couldn’t help but smile.

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