The calendar has changed.
A new year, full of hope and promise, lies before us. Oh, how I've longed for this day, and for the one coming in less than three weeks. I look back on where I was a year ago, and the hopes I had for the year, and I shake my head; we had no idea, had we, what was coming towards us? Perhaps you did -- perhaps you had already seen the writing on the wall. Perhaps it was all evident to you, that we were headed for a year of disaster and heartbreak, a year of unveiling.
And now here we stand, on the other side of the door. Looking forward, and looking back. I find I'm still reluctant to plan, or hope, or expect too much. Do you feel it, too?
As the pandemic settled in, and we found that the staying home wasn't just a short-term thing, I found myself retreating. At first, I was trying to make it work, offering my Baba Yaga course for free, telling stories on Facebook. But it got to be too much, and I found that at the same time, it wasn't enough, because I was grieving a growing mountain of small losses. All the work remained, but the things I loved to do -- baseball games, theater performances, storytelling workshops, festivals and fairs, church services and gatherings -- were all melting away, replaced by "virtual" experiences that left me feeling alone and empty. "They call it a performance or a party," I remember complaining to a friend, "but really, I'm alone in my living room, watching tv."
There's no quick end in sight, no easy fix, no magical elixir or spell.
So as I stand here in the doorway, looking forward and back, I'm hopeful and cautious, glad and sad, and very tired. We got a new dog in time for my birthday in August, who has proven to have a strong personality of his own, and who requires far more intentional handling than our old hound did. I learned to teach online, and have been improving my skills week by week, though I still feel like I'm barely dog-paddling most days. We continued homeschooling, amazed by our seeming prescience at taking this new way of life on before the rest of the world had to join us. We celebrated birthdays and holidays, carefully calculating risks and weighing our decisions. We planted gardens and looked for ways to be outdoors. We survived.
This year, I want to revisit hobbies and interests, try new things, keep moving, and notice what is around me more. I want to be kind. I want to learn more, and participate as I can. I want to write more and worry less.
And you? What are you hoping for as we step through the doorway into this new year? How are you holding on to courage and taking joy?
In order to have hope, I have to live in a space of yes, and. Yes, I love my country, and I want it to be so much more than it is. Yes, things are terrible, and they are beautiful. Yes, the history of the United States reads like a list of crimes, and it reads like a list of brave actions by individuals and collectives. The country I celebrate today, is the sum total of the goodness and reckless love and generosity of generations of rabble rousers, artists, teachers, parents -- all of whom were gloriously flawed and human. I say this in full knowledge of the privilege that allows me to say it.
The thing with privilege is, I don't want to say, "oh, it's bad, I shouldn't have it." I want to say, "This is a good thing that should be available to everyone. It should just BE."
To live with hope, I have to acknowledge that there is no easy binary. I cannot cling to childish notions of good and bad. I am not writing this as some kind of BIG LOUD statement for some kind of "platform," I just want to say to my friends, you are allowed to like what you like, and to have simple pleasure in things, and to watch a movie and eat a meal and laugh and sing, to give thanks for our capacity to learn and grow and change, as people and as a nation.
The American dream is what we say it is. We don't have to accept what was handed to us. We can redefine. Retool. Revolt. Revolve. Re-evolve.
The American story is all of us -- even if your story isn't one that has been told loudly enough or to enough people yet. You belong. I belong. We must lift up what is good, and true, and kind, and helpful, and work to change what is causing hurt and pain.
Rainstorms and rainbows.
Days where I feel like I'm doing okay, and days where I'm sure I've failed at everything.
Days when we are thriving, and days when we are barely treading water.
Someone recently wrote a post that compared our lives right now to the opening chapters to A Tale of Two Cities. And they weren't wrong.
I have been longing to write. And having no words. And now as the thunderstorms that have been bubbling up and fading for the last 15 hours keep rolling through, I feel like I can. And not that I've anything profound to say.
When I started this blog, over seven years ago, life was so different. We had a coffee shop. My mother was alive. I was the mother of a preschooler. There was no global pandemic, though we were worried about ebola and various weird animal-named flus. I was still scrambling to find some kind of career after my work as a Waldorf class teacher had come to a crashing, whimpering end.
And I wonder, where will we be in seven more years, when my son is getting ready to step out into the world on his own, when, please God, this time of fear and isolation is a distant memory? What seeds are we laying in the ground now, that will bloom then?
I am coming back up to the surface after being submerged in this strange new world. I have been reading voraciously, learning more about being an anti-racist, learning more about being a homeschooler, learning more about being a human being in these times, in this place.
And more than once in the past week, a rainbow has arched over the southeastern sky at dusk. A promise that there is hope. A promise that there is beauty. That we still have hearts that can beat a little faster in the presence of wonder. I am feeling a longing in my heart for wonder. I am hearing again and again the call to adventure.
I am closing down my facebook business page. I'm finding that it isn't serving me, not as a storyteller, not as a writer, and not as a coach or a parent or a friend. I'll be focusing my work here, and a little on instagram, from which I just took a long break because it was too much, too fast, all the time.
And I'll keep looking up, and hoping for more gasps of wonder and awe.
I haven't been here to write, because I've struggled to say anything about this strange new world. Had you asked me six months ago, "Are you ready for a global pandemic?" I might have laughed. How could anything like that really affect our daily lives? And yet, here we are. I check to make sure I have a mask with me when I leave for work or to the store. We go for walks or bike rides near home. I took my son for a drive-through ice cream today, and to play catch and Magic: the Gathering at a park, which we are allowed to do here, as long as we stay away from anyone who doesn't live in our household.
I want to be able to offer you words of wisdom and encouragement, and I need them deeply myself. I am searching for beauty around me. I am grateful for my work, that it is still here even if very different.
I am making my teachable course, Diving into the Well and Coming Out of the Forest, free for the duration of our stay-at-home order here in Minnesota, and perhaps beyond that. I hope it will bring you joy and comfort to travel in the steps of these fairytale heroines, to see helpers and to be a helper when you can. You can find the course here.
Here's what I said about this course when I ran it the first time:
Mother Holle and Baba Yaga are well known in their home countries. They are powerful expressions of the wild feminine. Both have been pointed out as expressions of pre-Christian goddesses hidden in tales for children. Mother Holle rewards the good and punishes the bad. Baba Yaga, in her chicken-legged hut, provides information, wisdom, and initiation, but only to those who follow her rules and don't get themselves eaten in the process.
What will you get out of this work? A stronger sense of your own power to understand and choose your life story, artistic and writing invitations to take you deeper into the stories, and a potent technique for shifting your viewpoint when you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or lost in the woods.
Want to know a little more about the kind of work we'll be doing? Check out this post: A Taste of Story-Reading.
I tell a lot of stories about myself.
I tell about my travels and my teaching, and about my favorite books, about my relationship with my parents. About my kid.
I also tell stories about how incompetent I am. How I badly I have failed. How I cannot get a real job. How I have no classroom management skills. These stories are rooted in particular experiences, but I tend to make them pervasive and universal. I did this thing once, which means I ALWAYS do it, much in the way that, when you do something one time for a holiday, the children in your presence will say that is what you ALWAYS do for that holiday. The experiences that these pervasive stories are based on, live so strongly in my memory, that they take over.
When I tell these stories, I believe them. And I believe they matter more than any other story about me.
When I tell these stories, they drown out the students I have helped, the tears I have wiped, the joy I have shared. The stories of bad experiences are louder and stronger than the stories of good I have done. Success pales in the face of defeat. These stories squeeze the life out of any good I have done. And they squeeze the life out of me.
I feel myself contracting. Growing smaller. These stories are killing me.
What stories do you tell about yourself?
What if we told the stories of heroes and heroines that way? What if we told about how Cinderella failed to keep her mother alive? What if we told about how the young woman in Finist the Falcon failed to awaken the prince the first two nights? Those are part of the story, but they are not the story. We do not leave the heroine in the woods, alone, to die. We do not leave her weeping at the side of the true love who will not awaken, because he has been drugged, nor by her mother's grave. The fairy tale follows her through repeated failures, to success.
Your failures are not the story. You are more than your worst moments. You are worth more than your debts. You are comprised of far more than one awful day's events, or even a year's or a decade's.
When we learn to tell our whole story, without shame, we become more whole. When we tell the stories of success as well as those of failure, we give others permission to do the same.
Many of us have been taught not to speak well of ourselves. Many of us have been taught not to "toot our own horn," that it is better to laugh at yourself, to tell others how incompetent, how bumbling, how stupid we are. We think it will protect us. If others think too little of us, it will keep them from expecting too much, and that way, we won't let them down...
But it doesn't work that way. All we do is ensure that others will not see what we can do, what we are capable of. All we do is ensnare ourselves in a story that will never let us reach the treasure we hoped for. I have been ensnared in such a story for a long time, now. It is sticky, and it is pervasive, and it is taking my deepest dedication and devotion to healing to even allow for the possibility that these stories are not Truth, writ large. They are only facts, and facts without context, or facts applied in the wrong situation, are tantamount to falsehoods. I am determined to see a fuller reality.
What story are you telling? What happens if you change the story?
Apparently, there is a phenomenon known as the Sunday Scaries. I've been living with this feeling for years and years. It's the feeling one gets on Sunday, knowing the weekend is almost over, and tomorrow, you go back to work. And for me, it's the knowledge that there was so much I wanted to accomplish over the weekend, to prepare for the week, that isn't done.
The Sunday scaries are the opposite of Sabbath. They are the opposite of a day of rest. They are a tool of oppression, and a fear-based way of being. I am tired of fear.
What do I want instead?
The way around this is always the same. Stop imagining that I am locked in the tower, or in the witch's cage, or under the earth. Know who I am, and what I can choose. Look for help. Offer my help where I can.
When I stop and look around, I can always find the way back. Even when I feel like my hand is grasping and flailing, the thread is there.
A few years ago I signed up for a course in the Magic School by Mandy Steward (she has since close the school, but is still living a magical life and making magical art). One of the things she taught in that school, which I never got to finish because perfectionism kept me from moving forward, was that there are tools in our favorite stories and films and books, that we can use in our real lives.
So today. I am using my magic thread, from The Princess and the Goblin, to help me find my way. I am making my home like the House in the Fairy Wood.
We went to a wonderful friend's home for brunch today. It had been planned for a month, and I was afraid it would be cancelled. She's an amazing human, who I am excited to get to know. Our children played and wrestled and were silly and wild together. We adults sat and talked books and history, and shared stories of our lives. It was so good and so needed.
How will you combat the Sunday Scaries this week? What magic tools will you use? What do you want to create in your life?
I'm not myself lately
I hear the words from my lips and wonder, then who am I?
there is a constant drive.
there is a hum under the words, the beating of my heart,
there is a moment in every day where I stop and wonder,
Who is this I, this self, whom I am not, lately?
Who is it, then, who is experiencing this life, if not I?
and I tie myself up in knots,
and I feel the thread slip from under my finger.
Do you know the thread? The thread Princess Irene follows,
up to her grandmother's room, away from the goblins?
I put out my finger, and I cannot feel it.
I put my hand into the back of the wardrobe,
and it's solid behind the coats.
there is a hum under the words, a flutter in the chest,
and every day there are more lines around my mouth,
and around my eyes.
I am not myself.
and I think of the poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez.
and I think of the thread.
and my hands are like my mother's, and I wish hers were here,
so we could hold our same-same hands together.
So I could find the thread, the one that stretches up
to my grandmother's room.
So I could read their eyes in my own,
their love in the lines around those eyes.
So I may be myself.
I'm beginning to see the light. The days are longer, just enough longer that I feel like I can go on...
You, who couldn't afford the gifts you wanted to give.
You, who went into debt.
You who gave joyfully, grateful for the freedom to celebrate this way.
You who are heavy-hearted because of who wasn't with you.
You, who were saddened or angered because of who was with you.
You, whose children were delighted,
you whose children were disappointed.
You, who had to work.
You, who wished you had a job,
and also you, who had a paid day off
and were able to travel to be with family.
You, in the hospital.
You, without transportation.
You, home alone.
You, with no home at all.
You, exhausted from desperately trying to meet all the expectations,
to create magic out of nothing,
to re-enliven dead traditions,
to breathe through clouds of incense,
while others are angry or judgmental,
You, who are bone-weary of pretending.
You, who stand proudly in your truth.
You, who are celebrating for the first time.
You, who no longer celebrate.
You, who wish your own celebrations were as visible
and didn't need explaining.
You who are joyful.
You who are grieving.
You who are all of these.
You, who are numb.
You are enough today. Even when it seems so far from true. Even when you feel so far from where you want to be, and whom you want to be. Even now.
You. I mean you.
Happy eclipse. Happy Hannukah. Happy Friday. Merry Christmas. Happy Kwanzaa. And happy new year to come.
May you be blessed today.
We've almost made it to Christmas. Solstice is past. It's Erev Chanukah. What isn't done yet, may not get done. And that might be okay. I asked my son what else he wanted, to feel like the holidays had been done right. "Nothing," he said. "Except we need nuts to crack. Brazil nuts."
Just some nuts, folks.
We have a small Christmas tree. We baked one kind of cookie. All our Christmas decorations fit in one tub, plus one small cardboard box (well, now that my stepdad has brought over the macrame Santa and Christmas tree, I may need one more small box). I have one gift left to buy, plus a few treats from Santa and his elves.
But it's enough. The activities we've done, they're the ones that mattered to my kid. The other stuff? It's extra. While I'm feeling a little disappointed we didn't have an Advent book this year, and we've barely burned our Advent candles, and we haven't been to look at lights, or to see A Christmas Carol, or to visit Santa, it's time to let go.
The story I shared on Instagram last night was "East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon." You may wonder why I share so many European stories. It's because that's my culture. I want to spend more time in the next year lifting up the work of storytellers and storycarriers of other cultures, especially those whose stories were stolen or suppressed, in their own voices. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to share all kinds of stories from all kinds of people with my students, so that they can see themselves reflected. As a storyteller, I want to tell the stories that were lost through assimilation into "American" culture (read here White, Northern and Western European culture), as well as stories that are woven into this culture, finding their wilder, more interesting roots.
But for now, what I really want to tell you, is it's enough. Tell the stories you know. And if those stories make you cringe, then find new ones. Tell a story, in the car, at the table, around the candles or the fire.
Perhaps, tonight, you might want to tell my favorite story lately, The Donkey, in which a king and queen have an unusual child, who learns a skill uncommon to those like him, and whose true nature is revealed without his consent, but for his own good... (images: Kay Nielsen, the Donkey Welfare Improvement Scheme).
Hi. That's me. I write, sometimes, about parenting, storytelling, and about living a life with stories.