On attending an Art Response to Japanese Internment:

cranes on branch
The dancing, the poems carried the message,
Viscerally.
In our muscles, our bones.

Words,
letters from the interned.
A connection –
tenuous but important
to those left behind.

A thousand tiny red origami cranes
moving with the hands of the dancers,
forming shapes,
a heart.

The presence of people
black, brown, white
so warm and right.
All one
together.

Japanese Internment.
Immigrant Detention.
Incarceration of minor drug offenders.
Genocide of Jews, of Armenians,
Indigenous Peoples,
Africans on slave ships.
Apartheid.
Segregation.

The pain of separation
one group from the rest
is a ripping pain,
ripping
our Selves
apart.
No longer whole.

For the oppressed side
immediate,
horrendous
pain,
their very lives threatened.

The oppressors
hide,
numb themselves
to the pain
eating them
from the inside out,
killing them, too,
soul dead.

We cannot be whole without all of us present.
When I left the Art Response I carried with me a desire to never again be in a gathering without everyone there, every race, religion, culture, age, gender.

All the living and non-living things in the Universe are One Being emerging from one singularity. All pain belongs to all of us. When we hide ourselves from the ugliness of the pain we have caused, deny the pain, it becomes a disease eating us from the inside.

We are oblivious to it and it will destroy us all.

Never again.  Never again.  NEVER AGAIN!

 

FIRE ROARS IN ME

firebird

Insights from an InterPlay Class

“Play with fire,” she said.

I wanted to dance
about an elder who leaves home,
who goes wandering.

Not fire.

I craved the wandering,
the letting go,
the peace.

But I was supposed to dance with fire.

I moved.
I spun.
Empty mind
spinning.
Letting go.
Peace…

Images came.
Words came.
Filling the void.
Understanding
the wish
to leave
because…

THERE IS A FIRE ROARING IN ME

A fire tamped down
again and again.
Sometimes discharging
a small flame of
carefully controlled passion
in words on the page.

But still it growls
in my chest,
in my belly,
wanting to be released.

I have been water
flowing down the easiest slope.

Not a pounding wave
or a flood.
Just a stream flowing.

Water is good.
Without pure water
no people
no species
no life.

Water helps things to mix
forming new things.

I’ve been the flow
that lets people mix
recognizing,
celebrating their cultural differences.
Forming new cultures.
World fusion!

I have been air
reaching into atmospheric intellect.
In rare moments of outrage
I am wind,
but never hurricane.

And yes, I have been nurturing earth
helping my students
my friends
my family to grow
(and sometimes
just being the ground beneath their feet)

BUT NOW FIRE ROARS IN ME
wiping out the tangling undergrowth.
Wind howls a path through the thickets of my mind.
Deluge pounds the dry hard earth beneath my feet,
tenderizing the soil,
making a place for the seeds of change to grow.

Let it be so.

 

The Silencing

the_silence_of_the_lambs_by_ineedchemicalx-d5oo88hI am posting this because I think perhaps we all feel silenced, no matter how much real time we get to tell our stories.  I raged because I felt silenced, and then realized how privileged I am in being able to tell so much.
Others are far more silenced than I am.

This is the story:

Anna walks in silence
Walks and walks and walks
It used to be the tiny dog followed, running after her.
But the dog died
And now she walks alone.
She doesn’t talk
except to nod, say my name,
and keep on walking.

One day she saw me standing in witness
Staring as a police officer put handcuffs
On a young black man with beautiful dreadlocks,
A pretty, sweet looking young man.
Bobby, who was working on a car right there at the curb
Right beside where the police car sat in the street
Right behind the young man’s car
where another officer searched the trunk,
Bobby said to me, “I ain’t saying nothing.”
He was frightened.

I was frightened, too,
even though I’m not black,
I hadn’t done anything…
(Maybe the young man hadn’t done anything either –
He wasn’t arrested…
But he was handcuffed, standing in the middle of the street,
Not moving,
Not offering any resistance.)

Anna saw me standing in witness
As she walked by
with quick glances at the police
at me.

The next day she spoke,
“You know that boy you watched yesterday?”
(She called him a boy.
I thought him a boy, too, young, vulnerable,
but by law he was a grown man)
I nodded.
“He was shot, killed.  Yesterday, later.”*

I felt my eyes open wide.
Frozen.
How… how…
(But that’s how I know he wasn’t arrested.
If he’d been arrested, he wouldn’t have been shot.)

She nodded and kept on walking.

One day I wanted to tell this story,
But I was silenced.
It was not really a good time to tell the story.
It was not an inappropriate silencing.
I knew that.
(And maybe I can tell this story so much better here, on paper,
than stumbling bumbling though the verbal)
But still, a rage welled up in me.
Silenced, I thought.
It feels like I’m always silenced.

I danced my rage,
my rage about myself
about my being silenced…
and something else happened.
Something much more important.

In the midst of my rage at being silenced
Another rage erupted
Coming from deep down
A volcano of rage.
I recognized how much more silenced
The people of my neighborhood are.
I saw how privileged I am.
I have the money to host a blog.
I have the time and the education to write books,
To post on Facebook, on Twitter.

I realized that Anna
That thin stark figure who walks and walks
Anna has been truly silenced,
Bound, shackled by our society
much like her ancestors were shackled.
Listen
Listen
As Anna walks in silence, she talks.
Listen
Her body tells the story.

* Just to be clear, this was not a police involved shooting.

Blue Birds and the White Cliffs of Dover

doverI’m a piano teacher.

Saturday I came home to find a big stack of old music left on my front porch by a neighbor who’d found it in a piano bench.

My first thought, was, “Oh, no, not more music,” but as I thumbed through it I found myself thoroughly enjoying sitting down to the piano to read through the old sheet music.

Some were familiar, others weren’t.

I found myself laughing somewhat ruefully at the words of Ira and George Gershwin’s The Man I Love.  As an adolescent I loved this song. I still believed in “Prince Charming,” I guess, and that someone would come along and “take care of” me. Actually, I don’t think I really thought that far ahead. I suspect I just wanted to be hugged. Or to be accepted as an okay person, i.e. beautiful female. Even then I had a strong streak of independence that wouldn’t have put up with being encaged in “a little home just meant for two, from which [I’d] never roam.”

When I came to the piece There’ll Be Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover, I laughed at the title, and then realized that this was a WWII song written in 1941 by Nat Burton and Walter Kent, both American Jews. As I played it, singing the words, I felt the poignancy of the people of England facing the bombing of their homes, the children sent away for safety.

Then I came to the words, “There’ll be love and laughter and peace ever after, tomorrow when the world is free,” and I felt tears welling up. Will there ever be a time when we have “peace ever after”, when “the world is free,” (according– since West Side Story was based on Romeo and Juliet – to my own terms of what freedom means.) The blue birds, it turns out were the planes of the RAF painted blue on the bottom so they would be harder to see against the sky.

As I continued on through the music I found more songs echoing a wistful hope for a better world.  A Time for Us from Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (an incredibly well done version of Shakespeare made in the late 60’s) calling for “A time for us… a new world of shining hope for you and me.” One reviewer compared this movie to West Side Story, which I found hilarious – since West Side Story was based on Romeo and Juliet – before I saw the movie, and understood completely after seeing it.  And then, of course, there is Somewhere from West Side Story (which wasn’t in this pile of music) – “We’ll find a new way of living … a way of forgiving.”

I’m sure there are dozens, maybe hundreds, more of these wistful, hopeful songs going back centuries. (Add your favorites in the comments.)

These songs are important, but they tend to paralyze me, rather than push toward working for change. What we really need is songs that call us to action, and there are plenty of these, as well. (These too could be listed in the comments.)

In the Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet there is at least one song that is a call to action. Arise! asks us to “open our eyes,” “beat our feet to the beat of our heart,” and “join the dance of life.” You can hear the music and see the words here.

Tonight I Danced Alone

BRAND_BIO_Bio-Shorts_Harriet-Tubman-Mini-Biography_0_172241_SF_HD_768x432-16x9One of the things I’ve been working on lately is having the courage to do things alone.  I am in awe of Harriet Tubman who went alone down into the south where she risked being re-enslaved, or murdered, to rescue people. Alone.

Sometimes some command to do something wells up in me, but I tamp it down, afraid.  I always want someone to do it with me as if that gives me permission. When I think about it rationally, I think, how stupid to let the fear of what others might say keep me from doing something courageous that’s needed. But I do. I think the fear of condemnation by others far outweighs any fear for my physical wellbeing.

Last night I went to a vigil for a shelter-less man, Roberto, who died in the doorway of the old UHaul Rental store just a few blocks from my house.  It was a good experience with neighbors.

Two men who had been his friends came a little bit into the vigil with candles and faces engraved with grief. They were day laborers and talked about how hard it had been for Roberto working only one or two days a week. How hard it had been for Roberto — and I knew they were also speaking about how hard it is for them. They said much more in Spanish and some of it was translated by someone there, but much wasn’t.

Two different men played Indian flutes, one Navajo flute and one a Mayan flute with a drone.

When the first man started playing the flute (such a perfect instrument, a perfect sound for this vigil in front of an empty car rental store, on a busy city street), I found my body demanding to dance on behalf of Roberto, and all the other Robertos. My whole body wanted to move and I felt no need to silence it. I tried to move to the back of the group where there was space, but I was penned in, leaning against the wall right next to the flute player, who didn’t want to move out in front of the group. Nor did I have any desire to dance in front of the group. Just to dance. A demanding, overwhelming urge.

The two friends stayed in the middle, facing the shrine, where they belonged. Our silence, the music, was as much for them as it was for Roberto.

I closed my eyes and the flow came, empty of words. My hands moved, the rest of me anchored to the wall. I sank into some other place letting my arms flow with the need, with the music, with some kind of bodily awareness of the needs of these men. A kind of oneness with… something… happened.

When I opened my eyes one of the two friends was crying.  I thought that he was crying for Roberto, and maybe also for himself.

I feel like I’ve graduated in some way. Moved into a space where I can feel what I feel, let flow through me … something … and do what I do without worrying about what others think. Truly give the gift on behalf of this man and all shelter-less people everywhere.  And it was good.

Tonight I danced alone. I didn’t risk my life freeing slaves. Not yet. But I danced alone letting go of all the self-consciousness. I danced for the man who died and for all the shelter-less people who die alone. And it was good.

 

“We Are the Protectors of the Water”

WireAP_3cde92f497e64fe79555f2a5eb252e7f_16x9_1600

We are the Protectors of the Water

This morning I watched a beautiful video explaining that the women of the Standing Rock Sioux are the keepers of the water and so they are not “protestors”, but “protectors”.  As I watch this “standing up” for the water happening in the Dakotas I am particularly engaged because, a year or two ago, as I wrote the Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet, it became clear to me that one of the main characters, Yameno, a native Uhsean (Are you wondering who the country of Uhs might be?) would have to be the protector of the sacred waters and lead the indigenous people from all over the earth to save the waters.

I don’t feel like some of these ideas (in the book) or even some of the writing really comes from me, but through me.  Of course, the idea of the indigenous people being the protectors of the water has been around for a long time and certainly my understanding of that was in my brain cells somewhere.  But still, I love the way different ways of thinking or acting seem to emerge from many points on the planet at the same time.  We are emerging, growing, changing, becoming more one with the earth, with each other, with the Dance of Life – in Earth Woman Tree Woman called the Tsin Twei.

The humans in the book take on other forms when they visit Ninas Twei, the land of the Dance of Life.  Some take on the form of animals, others, mythological characters.  Yameno becomes a wolf.

A quote from the fourth book:

“Water,” cried Tata. “Yameno Wellkeeper, the tree must have water.”
“We are coming,” called Yameno, and the Tree Woman gripped his back as he leapt into the air.

      I am the wild, the freeborn, earth traveler!
     My soul singing touches the moon and the sun.
     I am the herald, the seeker, the messenger.
     I bear the song for those seeking the One.
     I am the hunter, the knower, the lover.
     My voice like a spear pierces deep in the night.
     I am the lone, the many, the mirror.
     My call is like lightning, jagged and bright!

Out of the mists came hundreds of wolves and cougars, swans, coyotes, squirrels, snakes, elk, and eagles, surrounding the Wolf and the Earth Woman Tree Woman.

      We are the wild, the wild,
               freeborn, earth travelers –
         soul singing, earth travelers –
               touching the moon and the sun.
         We are the commune, the sharers,
               the lovers,
         joining together, ever seeking the One.

It’s his nation, Tree Woman realized, the people of his village who have come here countless times over the years. And more… The sound of a thousand drumming circles throbbed through the air as Yameno sang – the indigenous peoples woven into the land of the Americas and all the lands of the earth, drumming and chanting, their feet pounding the ground. Hi, ya! Hi, ya! they called.

 

 

Who is your Tla Twei?

Well, I didn't quite imagine myself like this!

Well, I didn’t quite imagine myself like this!

Tla Twei?  What’s that?

In my book, Journey to Ninas Twei, Book One of the Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet, a mystical world exists – Ninas Twei – where the grandsouls of all the species on earth meet to dance the Dance of Life.  Here they are able to understand each other’s needs and form the compromises that make life on earth work.

Well, almost all of earth’s species.

Homo Sapiens have lost the ability to form this grandsoul and cannot join the dance.

But some humans do know about the Dance.  Among them is a small group of people from the country of Uhs (the name of the country has been changed to protect the “innocent”). Many years ago an indigenous group living on the northwest coast of what is now Uhs found they could travel to Ninas Twei and observe the dance if they transformed into a mystical, but corporal, form – a kind of avatar – called a Tla Twei.  As the years passed they included other sympathetic Uhseans and now the small group is a very bonded, diverse community.

In our daily lives we frequently identify with characters who could be our Tla Twei.

Sometimes we choose a “totem animal.”  When we read folk tales or see super hero movies we choose characters that are our favorites, and children have no problem pretending to be these characters.  When I was a little girl I played Robin Hood with my friends in the nearby woods.  There are gods and goddesses from various traditions that speak to us.  (I’m very attached to Kuan Yin, myself.)  And real heroes from the past, like Harriet Tubman whose courage continues to inspire me.

Why do we find ourselves pulled toward these characters?

In Journey to Ninas Twei when the characters transform to their Tla Twei they don’t become the real thing.  Luhanada MoonMother, for instance, has become the physical form of a cougar, but the characteristics of courage and wisdom that the cougar represents to the local indigenous people are what she has taken on.  She is drawn to the cougar because she wants more of these qualities.

I think every time we choose a Tla Twei, an animal totem, a folk hero, etc., we are really drawn to a characteristic that we want more of.  Practicing being our Tla Twei is a way of growing the qualities we want in our life.

This is much like the spiritual practice of Charya Nritya a mental process of seeing oneself as having the appearance, ornaments, inner qualities, and awareness of the deity one is envisioning” practiced by the Newar Buddhist priests of Nepal and brought to this country by Prajwal Vajracharya.  You can find more about Charya Nritya at  http://www.dancemandal.com/dance-mandal-offerings/

Want to find out more about your own Tla Twei?  Watch this site for a free book on Finding and Becoming Your Own Tla Twei coming soon.  You can download Journey to Ninas Twei as an ebook from Smashwords and Kindle.

Recognizing Racism in Ourselves

 hard-to-see

Racism permeated our childhood
A muddy stream constant through our lives
Crying out to our innocence with its painfulness
Interfering with our friendships
Seen clearly in our child-eyes as the wrong it was
Murdering the purity of our souls

I’m going to tell three stories, two about myself, and the other told me by a friend who heard it from a friend. All of these story tellers are opposed to racism and trying very hard to eliminate it from our lives, and yet…

I was walking down the street. Some neighbors were planting drought resistant plants in front of their house. They were Latino. My first thought? Wow, they know how important it is to plant drought resistant plants even though they’re Latino.

It took me a moment, but then I recognized the subtle racism of my thought. They’re Latinos so they won’t know about these things – won’t be educated …

Wrong!

One day I was standing opposite the side door to a church where I would be attending an event in the evening. A black man came along and moved back and forth in front of the door, reading the sign on it and looking around. If he’d been white I’d probably assumed he was trying to figure out if this was the place he was looking for, but the first thought that flickered through my head was, Is he looking around to see if anyone is watching him — planning to go in and steal something?

Fortunately, I erased that thought almost immediately in a wave of shame, my face turning hot with embarrassment. My face got hot again that night as I recognized him. He was the pianist for that night’s event.

It is impossible to avoid the rampant racism around us. What we can do is be alert for it, recognize it, and name it when we find it floating through our heads.

The other day someone told me a story her friend had told her. The story was really about the reaction of the friend to being suddenly and without cause punched in the face. The friend was proud of himself – and rightly so – for not responding violently, instead saying, “I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”

But the story I want to tell is about the descriptive language used in telling this story. The person who told it to me said, “My friend was walking down the street and all of a sudden this big black man jumped up and punched him in the nose.” She told of her friend’s non-violent response, and then said, “The black man’s friends came running up and pulled him away apologizing to the victim. Another man – a client of my friend’s – ran up and helped my friend.”

After hearing this story, what do you know of the race of the various characters? Only that the perpetrator was “black”. Why did the story teller tell me this and not the race of the others? Because it made the big man sound scarier. There was no other reason race was important in this story at all. Of course, my friend, who works hard at not being racist, was not really aware of having done this. This kind of language is so prevalent in our society that it slips out without even the most conscientious of us realizing it.

We in the United States are still seeing “black” as synonymous with “scary”. We must consciously weed this concept out of our minds and our language. Were the guy’s friends scary? No, they were helpful, reasonable. How about the “client”? Was he scary? No. But all of these people were also African American…

Oh, do you notice the difference? Not black, but African American. Not so scary.

We need to get beyond this. Describe someone as black or white if it’s relevant, but not as a stereotype – in this case the stereotype of the black male as violent. Being black or white doesn’t make a person scary. It’s their actions that are frightening whether they are “big black men” or “big white cops.”

Did you notice that? If you’re African American the big scary guy is white. As history shows, not an unreasonable fear.

The Rights of Humans vs. Others, Part Three

 

To Be or Not to Be

The Lion and the Cougar

Recently a lion was lured out of a wildlife refuge in Zimbabwe in order to be killed by a trophy hunter. The lion was well known by the keepers and others who frequented the refuge. People all over the world were horrified at this senseless killing.

But a Zimbabwean man, Goodwell Zou, told a different story in his opinion piece in the New York Times.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/opinion/in-zimbabwe-we-dont-cry-for-lions.html?emc=edit_ty_20150805&nl=opinion&nlid=50342746&_r=1) In his village lions were a frightening threat. His uncle was attacked by one, others were killed by them. He was glad this lion was killed.

When I was a child one of my favorite books was Man-Eating Tigers of Kumaon, by Jim Corbett. This was an adult book, but the stories Corbett told of his years in India hunting animals that were threatening people in small villages were captivating. Why? Not because of the thrill of the chase, but because Corbett was able to see both sides of the conflict.

Corbett’s compassion for both the animals he killed and the people who were endangered by them was what drew my attention. I remember the story of the Thak tiger, a very young mother, who had been shot by buckshot causing her inner and outer skin to grow together. Think of your cat and its loose outer fur. When Thak’s inner and outer skin grew together she could no longer hunt her regular prey. She couldn’t move fast enough. Instead she killed a six year old child and a grandmother.

Corbett did believe in human exceptionalism. Making the decision on whether or not the tiger or the humans should survive, he didn’t see any choice. Humans came first. Today we are beginning to see things differently. Steven Shaviro  says in The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism (Posthumanities), “Indeed, human exceptionalism is even less tenable today, now that we know that not only chimpanzees and parrots but also fruit flies, trees, slime molds and bacteria communicate, calculate, and make unforced decisions…”

Corbett was a British colonist. I wonder what his choice would have been between a “white” man and one of the villagers? We are still struggling with “White man exceptionalism”, much less human exceptionalism.

Goodwell Zou says, in his article: “Don’t tell us what to do with our animals when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the eastern United States. Don’t bemoan the clear-cutting of our forests when you turned yours into concrete jungles.” White man exceptionalism sometimes sounds like ‘do as I say, not as I do.’

Actually, I’m willing to guess that Europeans and Westerners had a great deal to do with the clear-cutting of his country’s forests – as they (we) did here.  For the villagers, the defense against the lions has to do with survival, but the exploitation of African, and of our own, forests has more to do with greed. The destruction of habitat is the biggest killer of nonhuman species all over the world. It probably has killed more lions than trophy hunters have. (I am not excusing the trophy hunter. Anyone who kills a living being so he can hang its head or skin on a wall is reprehensible … and disgusting.)

But does Goodwell Zou really want Zimbabweans to make the same mistakes we made? Does he really want Zimbabwe to be a “concrete jungle?” I can’t imagine that he does.

Recently, outside of Los Angeles, a cougar (mountain lion) was killed on a freeway. The freeway runs in a mountainous area right through the middle of the cougars’ habitat. Advocates are trying to get a “wildlife bridge” built across this freeway to allow passage for cougars and other wildlife. This will protect both the animals and the humans in cars who might hit animals dashing across the freeway.

Cougars have been known to attack humans, although rarely, and they are not as powerful an animal as the African lion. In my community of Berkeley, CA, twenty minutes from San Francisco, we have had cougar sightings, mostly in the less populated hills, but at least once on the main downtown street.  Some people, of course, called for killing the cougar, but most of the town just wanted her relocated to a more rural environment.

As for the one sighted in the hills around the large complex of the Lawrence National Laboratory – the three thousand plus workers were just warned to be alert, and all of us were told to keep our distance since she might have cubs.

Mostly, I think we were delighted that these magnificent wild creatures were going to be living near us.  And that’s the way I feel about the skunk, the opossum – even the raccoons in my back yard. I’m working on the ants.

The Rights of Humans vs. Others, Part Two

The Cat, the Skunk and the Possum

We’ve been feeding a very young feral cat (Zelda) and have finally lured her into the house worried about her vulnerability to the raccoons.

She is now hiding in my office, terrified.  I can’t touch her.  I feed her.  I try to soothe her with my voice, and I wonder – was this the right thing to do? I think she’ll be better off if she’s fixed and given her shots, even if she can’t be tamed and is released back into a wild cat world.  But what about her?  What does she think?  Do I have the right to make that decision for her? Do I have a right to keep her from having babies?  People worry about the cats and the birds, but more likely the babies are food for other critters, like raccoons.

Before we managed to bring Zelda in, when I fed her on the back stoop and didn’t pick up the food right away, a little skunk (hereafter known as “Flower”) would come quietly up the steps and finish it off.  Even when I had brought the food in, the little skunk would search the steps for fallen food.  One time Zelda was eating and Flower came quietly up the other side of the steps.  The kitty glared at Flower and she went back down.  Another time Flower was eating and a little opossum (Pokey?) snuck up as far away from Flower as he could. This time it was Flower who stared Pokey down.  The little opossum turned and slipped back out into the night.

The dogs have barked at Flower through the glass door.  She turns and walks slowly away with her beautiful big fluff of tail waving like a flag, but she has never sprayed the dogs, the cat, the opossum or us.

Why is it all right for me to feed the feral cat and not the skunk and the opossum?

I’m very aware that humans have run over the habitat of other creatures all over the world.  The biggest sin of humans against the rest of the earth is the destruction of habitat.  Knowing that, what is my responsibility to the ants, the skunk, the opossum, even the raccoons whom I chase away because they are a danger to my pets?  Whose land is this that I claim as my own?

(Not that the raccoons chase very easily.  They’re bold fearless creatures … like humans.)