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Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower - Rainer Maria Rilke

Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

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The Making of Saints in the Inner City

I dare you to love the destitute, the ugly ones, the addict, the criminal, the liar, the abused & the abuser. 

I dare you resist the fear & resentment surging in your mammal mind.

I dare you to love the woman who mugged you & left you stranded, phone-less at the Union City Bart station 45 minutes before your job interview, the day after your husband left you.

I dare you to unclench your fist.

I dare you to forgive the 26 year old dropout who knocked up your daughter. Twice. Who has a rap sheet for car thefts, burglaries, possession of meth & hypodermic needles. Who killed himself in your driveway on Christmas eve.

I dare you to walk gently, unarmed in this world.



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Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front - Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1973. Also published by Counterpoint Press in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1999; The Mad Farmer Poems, 2008; New Collected Poems, 2012.
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A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki

I’m a terribly uncool person these days. I live in a small, somewhat hip college town in Northern California where any number of interesting cultural events are taking place on any given night, but I prefer to stay in and fart around online or watch bad TV. I drink corporate lattes because their place is more conveniently located than any of the locally owned coffee shops. I have no idea what the latest trend is, and I nurture a secret penchant for that famous crucified guy, which casts a cloud of suspicion on my street cred, so I keep it in the closet like a bong packed with purple haze in a red state.

But one thing I do have going for me is this: I was befriended by a local independent bookstore owner at a writers’ conference about a year ago and was invited into her secret bookstore-affiliated book club. It’s not technically “secret,” but it might as well be because its existence is kept on the down-low ---- probably to keep out uncouth literary assholes who would dominate the book club discussions and insult anyone who disagrees with them.

I heard a rumor about this book club a few years ago and pressed one the bookstore employees for information about it. He shrugged and handed me a tiny wad of what appeared to be a chewed up pink jelly bean ringed with fur and before I could ask what it was he snatched it back and said, “Oh, sorry. That’s a rat’s ass and I forgot I’m not supposed to give it to you.”

The book club has about ten dedicated members, all of whom are women over the age of thirty-five. They are hardcore readers who buy hardback books the day they are released. They are also the kind of women who actually participate in the community. They run art galleries and work on novels that aren't just a bunch of rough outlines in private settings on a blog and when they’re not running off to the Bay Area to attend some unique cultural event, they’re travelling to exotic places like Croatia or Argentina. In short, these women intimidate the hell out of me and would likely kick me to the curb if they knew that I was probably watching an episode of “Ice Loves Coco” the night Salman Rushdie was in town.

A couple of months ago we were discussing what our book picks should be for the summer. The woman who just got back from a trip to Sri Lanka piped in with, “Well, Ruth Ozeki has a new one coming out.” Everyone perked up and said, “Oh, Ruth Ozeki, well of course we’ll have to read her new one.” I had never heard of Ruth Ozeki, but I nodded my head in agreement and played it off like, “Yeah, totally. We gotta read Ruth Ozeki’s new one. That’s a total no-brainer.”

time beingI shelled out almost thirty bucks for the hardback and launched into it completely blind, didn't even read the dust jacket, so I'd have no preconceptions.

In A Tale for the Time Being, a woman living on the Pacific Rim of British Columbia finds a package wrapped in plastic while walking on the seaweed-strewn shore after high tide. Thinking it’s trash, she takes it home to dispose of it properly, but her husband opens it and they discover a Hello Kitty lunch box containing a diary written in English, a stack of letters written in Japanese and a vintage watch.

The diary belongs to Nao, a sixteen year old Japanese girl living in Tokyo. Nao was born in Japan, but when she was very young, her family moved to Sunnyvale, California where her father worked as a computer programmer for several years. When the Dot Com bubble burst, her dad lost his job and they moved back to Tokyo where Nao is bullied by her Japanese classmates. Her father, unable to find gainful employment, is consumed with shame and suicidal temptations. Nao reveals in her diary that she also is planning to end her life, but first wants to tell the story of Jiko, her 104 year old great-grandmother who was a novelist and feminist anarchist before she renounced the world and became a Buddhist nun.

The novel alternates between Nao’s diary entries and the reactions of Ruth, the woman who found Nao’s diary and is trying to puzzle together the meaning of the stack of letters and the significance of vintage watch. Ozeki uses footnotes to translate the Japanese that Nao occasionally uses to pepper her diary. After a while it dawns on you, that the author, Ruth Ozeki, has plainly written herself into the novel as the character who found Nao’s dairy, and is revealing to the reader her own struggles as a writer. As it turns out, this style of writing is a Japanese literary genre used in the early 1900's called the “I-Novel” where events in a story correspond with events in the author’s life.

A Tale for the Time Being is both a slick read and a deep meditation on time with multiple layers that fold back, and hurl upward, slip and subduct like tectonic plates in an earthquake. It reveals a bit of the dark side of Japanese society, which is also a characteristic of the I-Novel. This book has left me wanting more of Ruth Ozeki’s worlds. I have already made arrangements to acquire both of her other novels: My Year of Meats and All Over Creation. It’s Ruth Ozeki. Of course I will read her other novels. It’s a total no-brainer.

True Colors

I came across a poll online today asking readers the question: "If you had the power to make people believe anything you told them, what would you say?"

I clicked on the link to the over 500 responses received so far, expecting to see hundreds of uplifting, encouraging, changing-the-world-for-the-better type answers.

Boy, was I wrong.

The top three most popular answers:

1. "You want to have sex with me."
2. "You owe me money/give me money."
3. "I am God, worship me."

I know you can't judge humanity by looking at a poll on the internet, but wow, I had forgotten for a second what a self-serving, materialistic, egotistical lot, we can be.
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50 Writing Tips - Bryan Young

1) Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2) Give the reader at least one character they can root for.

3) Every character should want something, even if it's just a glass of water.

4) Every sentence should do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5) Start as close to the end as possible.

6) Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them--in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7) Write to please just one person. If you open the window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8) Give your readers as much information as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such a complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

9) No one likes to read large blocks of text, keep action to one or two lines but no more than four.

10) Unless you're directing, keep inflections, camera direction, and editing suggestions out of the script.

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The Peace of Wild Things | Wendell Berry

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

- Wendell Berry
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Radical Reinvention by Kaya Oakes

Kaya Oakes resides in my pantheon of literary alterna-goddesses. She is an award-winning poet (Telegraph), author of Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley. She was the co-founder and senior editor of Kitchen Sink magazine ---a wickedly hip publication that ran from 2002 – 2007 which featured saucy essays, interviews, reviews and noodlings on media, art and culture.

Radical-Reinvention-CAT1In her latest book, Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church, Oakes chronicles how a punk rock-loving, third wave feminist finds a spiritual home in a monolithic institution whose politics she opposes.

Oakes grew up in Oakland, California, where she bounced back and forth between Catholic and public schools in the 1970’s and 80’s. Her adolescent perception of the Catholic Church --- formed while doing a lot of eye-rolling --- was shaped by humorless nuns, the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, and the Church services her family attended which featured Vatican II reforms such as, “folk Mass,” liturgical dance, and occasional "reflections" by female parishioners.

As a preteen she viewed the Church as “clunky and dorky,” but secretly enjoyed the late night Masses served in candlelight. When she was a senior in high school, Oakes took a trip to Spain with her classmates. In Ávila, surrounded by medieval churches and baroque cathedrals, the only thing Oakes felt about her Catholic heritage was shame.

After high school, Oakes pursued creative writing and steeped herself in indie culture and leftist politics. Suffering from a “generational propensity for snark and cynicism” Oakes assumed that she was an atheist. But when she caught herself praying and making the sign of the cross whenever she saw a dead animal on the side of the road, she began to question her unbelief and realized she’d been faking atheism.

Oakes starting sneaking into Catholic Mass services where she found a measure of peace she couldn’t find anywhere else. When she finally confessed to her shrink that she believes in “The Catholic God” she felt like she had just blurted out that she believes in leprechauns.

Tired of pretending she doesn’t believe in God, Oakes decides to fully confront the Church she left behind. She begins attending weekly catechism meetings at a liberal-leaning parish, gets confirmed, grits her teeth at the Vatican, hashes out her issues with Jesus, re-discovers some kick-ass women saints to pray to, helps her church feed the homeless, meets a group of progressive lesbians and ex-nuns who are fighting the Church from within, joins their “pray and bitch” group, researches original Hebrew texts, cracks open the essence of the gospel, is asked to give gospel reflections in the Church, becomes a budding theologian, and fights like hell for LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom and radical inclusion.

This book made my heart leap, YESYESOHGODYES! 
Rock Circle

Til We Have Faces

I really, really didn't want to fly back to Ft. Wayne, Indiana for my niece's high school graduation party. Not because I don't love her to bits, but because flying can be so damn traumatic that it often takes me several weeks to recover my balance.

But since my dad passed and my mom's breast cancer has recurred, I figured I should strap myself into a metal canister and be hurtled first to Dallas/Ft. Worth Texas, where my connecting flight was cancelled and I spent the night in the airport on a cot with a "blanket" reminiscent of red rags used by mechanics to wipe the oil from your dipstick, and where, despite my hungry, exhausted, furious state of mind I might have actually been able to get a few hours of sleep if I hadn't froze my ass off all flippin' night because the airport continued to run the AC full blast as if it were the middle of a 107 degree Texas day. 

Despite the trauma of getting there, I feel that my visit was fruitful. I tried not to think about my dad's absence too much, or how he would not be there to embrace me at the airport when I finally arrived, or how the last time I saw him was two years prior, saying goodbye at this same airport, not knowing it was our final goodbye.

My mom has been going through daily radiation treatments for the breast cancer which has recurred in her arm. I was able to attend one of her appointments with her oncologist. The doctor came in and told my mom she just needed to see her left leg.

"You need to see my leg?" my mom questioned.

"Yes," the doctor answered. My mom hesitated, blinked, then stood up and pulled her pants down so the doctor could see her leg.

The doctor moved in to look closely at her left thigh.

"What is it you are checking for?" my mother asked.

"Just checking for any redness or signs or irritation from the radiation," the doctor expained.

"So the skin irritation from the radiation can appear on my leg even though the radiation treatments are on my upper arm?"

"Oh," the doctor said. "I'm confusing you with another patient of mine who has cancer in her left leg. Let me see your arm."

I watched the doctor's face and she showed no sign of emotion or embarrassment, made no attempt at a joke to distract us from this error and help us laugh . I know doctors make mistakes just like everyone else, but NOT WITH MY MOTHER, so get it the F@*K together, people.

One night, after staying up way too late and trying to see and do too many people and things in one day, my mom and I were getting ready for bed. I thought of something I needed to ask her so I went to her bedroom. Her lights were off and the door was open. I looked in at her to see if she was still awake and she was laying on her back, fast asleep. Her face looked so lifeless, it scared the shit out of me. I immediately repressed this image and its accompanying thoughts.

The day of the graduation party, my mom spent hours assembling a scrapbook of photos for her granddaughter (my niece) while I composed a long letter to my niece that I had been writing to her in my head for years.

My niece's graduation party was a hit. She put a lot of time and effort into the hot-pink/zebra-striped decor, and all the lovely desserts and other edibles.

my mom and sister CathyMy sister Cathy was positively radiant the whole night. She's doesn't have the angsty glass-is-half-empty genes that I do, but I had not seen her this dance-happy and carefree since she was a teenager.

I went to church with my mom the next morning. My parents were (are) Unitarian Universalists. There was a drum circle workshop led by a Jewish-looking woman before church that my mom and I attended. The workshop leader provided a bunch of instruments for participants to choose from. There were about 14 people in the circle, all ages, from 5 years old to 88 years old. I did some drumming and played a wooden percussion frog and loved it. It made me want to resume my drumming lessons in Chico. Once upon a time I was learning to speak Baba.

After the drum circle, the official service began in the sanctuary. I felt very tender and open. It was the last service led by the interim minister, Rev. Jennie Barrington, who was instrumental in facilitating a wonderful memorial service for my dad. She loves poetry, so she is family in my book. The choir dedicated many songs to her and I cried while grappling with the giant hole that has been punched in Ft. Wayne by my dad's absence and thanking the universe for all the people who have been stepping up to the plate to help my mom.  

A friend of my parents, Edith, sat between my mom and I during the service. She is a young, funky, librarian and a really warm-hearted person who is neat to talk to. She has done a lot for my folks over the years and was a consoling presence in the days after my dad died. When my mom's cancer came back a few months later, she stayed the night with my mom after her surgery and made sure she took her pain pills every two hours.

Edith held my hand and squeezed it when I cried during the service. It made me realize that no one holds my hand and squeezes it when I cry in California. This made me cry even more and wonder why the hell am I in California when my dwindling family, sick mother and warm, kind-hearted people who hold my hand when I cry are in Indiana....

For the last twelve years I have been pining away for close female friendships and a tribe of friends who like to talk about books and art, see films, go hiking, take road trips with, or even just have coffee on a Saturday morning, but I have not been able to find or create this. The few female friends I have in California are exhausted with parenting and don't have much room in their schedules for a child-free friend.

When I was in Ft. Wayne for my dad's funeral in February, I saw clearly that my parents had gathered and grown around them a wonderful garden of friends for the 30 years they had been living in Ft. Wayne and these friendships were blooming like crazy, harvest season was completely upon us and the timing could not have been better. There seemed to be so much love and support coming from these people, super cool articulate people who are artists and musicians and activists, etc. Some of these friends I met for the first time when they brought food over to the house and sat with us and celebrated my dad's life with us. Others I had not seen for nearly two decades, when I hid behind uncombed, bleached bangs avoiding eye-contact with everyone and struggling mightily with my own demons. The sense that I got from many of these people was that I had an automatic in with their tribe by virtue of being my parent's daughter.

So now I'm faced with a lot of questions:

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