Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holy Land

(Map is from, as my Bible and scanner are in a garage far from me)

I wrote this essay last year, when Palestine first approached the UN with a request for observer status. I think it's as true to how I feel today as I ever have. You are free to disagree, but let's stop bombing and killing each other over this landscape.

The maps in my childhood Bible had impossibly brilliant turquoise seas and green ridges within the yellow deserts that reminded me of turtles. I read many books with maps of magical lands and it took a long time to realize that the biblically crisp drawings were of real places, and further, that their mysticism stood a test of time that Mossflower and Middle Earth did not.

Maps of the Middle East draw boundary lines of a space overrun with passion, a place made holy through timeless wonder and faith. That the land of “The Holy Land in Biblical Times” is the same land shown in newscast insets as Palestine fights for the dignity of statehood slays me. To cradle such strength of belief must require some certain intangible power—I believe in this landscape. It at once a mythic story land, a political minefield, and where people as ordinary as me get up each morning to live their lives. That the reality of the land in those disparate, historically distant maps is thick and rich and still green with life opens my heart.  To think of these layers of time and history and faith embedded in the contours of the land beneath the map, layers built by folded hands and covered heads and belief-bent bodies…the cumulative weight of all this faith makes my weightless soul fly from my body while my feet root deeper to the earth.

What is miraculous to me is that not one, not two, but three ways of believing in the scope and creation of the world sprang from this soil. It is not the particulars of these faiths themselves that sanctify the land, but rather that such a trinity exists, all knotted, rooted in the same soils. It would be spectacular enough if this landscape brought even one person to live in grace.

The power of belief fascinates me. I do not have faith in any particular religion myself, but I take faith in religions’ existence, particularly in the plurality of forms that holiness takes across the world. At heart I can’t understand how the multiple sanctities of the Middle East are not held to enhance, enrich, the value of the land—make the sum holier than its parts? How can faithful disrespect the fervor of another, particularly if their beliefs grow from common ground?

When I lived in Montana, I went to Glacier National Park several times. Everyone I ever saw at the head of Lake MacDonald did the same thing--skip a few stones and then ask whoever else is around to take their picture with the turquoise lake and the impossible ice-cream peaks of the mountains looming behind their small bodies. I know I did this. How many family scrapbooks are filled with the same pictures against the backdrop of famous monuments and scenic vistas? I used to think that it was trite—all these identically postured tourists. But, lately, I’ve felt that the number of people who bear such witness vastly magnifies the wealth and depth, the beauty and history, of a place. The very ordinary nature of appearing in thousands of photographs across the world makes Lake MacDonald more beautiful to me. Perhaps a fractal of each person’s faith the place has been left behind, amid those brilliant stones. The line between witnessing sublimity in landscape and sensing religious awe blurs.

The Holy Land may be the same as the countless beautiful moments on the shore of a cherished lake. The stones of Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Mecca are literally touchstones of faith for millions. Somewhere in the folds and layers of the maps that try to prescribe the enigmatic land, respect and respite for the struggles that define each faith can be found. It is not redrawing, but settling the layers in concert with each other—think of the see-through pages of a child’s anatomy book. Here are the bones, layer the veins atop, the page of vital organs and then the skin until the strange shapes becomes human once again.

Places are not holy. We make landscapes holy through our belief that they are so, through our love. No place is as beloved as the Holy Land, no map more layered. The complexity is the strength and I stake my faith in the full promise of the land.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Surprise! Fox News is Wrong! (Again)

I recently read a Fox News article about how men don’t want to get married to the women who are available because, since Feminism came in and crazy ladies burnt their bras, “women aren’t women” any more. And that all this rah-rah pro-lady bias in the media has made men feel sad and broken and unloved. 

In college I wrote a paper on what the privatization of land among the pastoral Maasai and Samburu tribes was doing to the masculine identity in those cultures. Both cultures have had very divided gender roles, with the women dealing entirely within the domestic sphere—they build their own houses, raise their children, farm and tend the small livestock—and the men heading out to cattle camps with the herds and men of their extended family groups. Now that grazing lands have been “protected” or privatized, there is a loss of identity among the men. They are lonely, without their fathers and brothers in the cattle camps, and the world has changed within their lifetime. The steps that are often taken to combat the loneliness result in men going to cities and contracting diseases, drinking problems, drug abuse, and other domestic ills. According to Fox News, this loss of identity is similar to what American men are feeling, and instead of Colonialism and Capitalism to be blamed, it’s all on us ladies. Not that we’re even women any more.

The entire Fox argument is just weird on so many levels. Worst, I worry that there is a niggling grain of truth buried in the deep, deep, deep layers of total bullshit. Not that women aren’t women or that ladies are responsible for men’s loss of identity, but that while girls were being raised on the idea that we can be anything, that we CAN do math and science and be nerds and artists and mechanics and mommies and carpenters and princesses, not shave our legs or armpits, sleep with and/or marry men and/or women, be strong and powerful, have or not have babies, own sexy lingerie and Carhartts, play sports, run for political offices, and on and on and THANK THE LORD AND ALL THOSE BRA BURNERS AND BRAVE LADIES AND MEN OF THE EARLY FEMINIST MOVEMENT, very little was done to adjust the dudes to this new, and more awesome paradigm.

My father, god bless him, has lived in a very female-centric world for the last forty years. His mother, his sister, his wife and his three daughters all have few issues with expressing our opinions, and we tend to bristle at the idea that there are limits to what ladies can do. Not that this topic comes up a whole lot—he did raise his daughters to be like this and can’t be too surprised at the results—but sometimes I think that the capability of myself, my mother, and my sisters takes him by surprise. At a reading by the wonderful Terry Tempest Williams this spring, my father stood up to ask about, in TTW’s newest book about her mother, is there a place for her father?

And suddenly I understood that he just doesn’t want become obsolete amid all the women. I don’t imagine that he is alone among men of his generation, who have no model for how to age gracefully with capable women. I don’t imagine he is so very different from men of my own generation who were raised with more rigid expectations of gender roles.

There has been so much necessary focus on women and girls in so many fields. I applaud the results, and while the glass ceiling isn’t an open sky yet, we’re getting there. What worries me is that boys are not getting similar lessons in role models in how to go beyond traditional gender roles. To wit, in a grad school class, a women presented on impact of girl only outdoor programs on the confidence of those girls as they become women. The student presenting mentioned the possibility of less sexual violence against these women, as they would have gained the confidence to avoid abusive relationships, and to stand up for themselves physically. Wise (lady) professor pipes up: “this is great for the girls, but why don’t we have more programs developed for little boys explaining that rape is bad?” A good question, as I doubt anyone dreams of growing up to become a rapist. In fact, the thought of looking at a class of elementary school aged kids and knowing that some of them will grow into heinous criminals incapable of expressing healthy sexual emotions is both terrifying and sad.

Which is why I am so thankful for the men and women I am friends with. I’m not saying everyone is perfect, or escaped unscathed into adulthood without emotional and identity baggage that comes out in weird ways. But, by and large, I think the people of my generation I know have a good grip on the duality (forgive my heteronormity) of what makes men and women great and different and awesomely, commonly human. We’re perhaps the first generation to possibly have it all ways. I don’t know any men who can’t cook, I don’t know any women who refuse to cook or sew because it’s too “traditional and repressive.” I know both men and women who are largely, the stay at home parent. Perhaps I just know a lot of mama’s boys and penis-envying women, but I really don’t think so.  That said, there are things that I can’t do, or can’t do as well by the same metric as men can because I have lady biology. That goes for the dudes as well, and I think that’s great. I have friends who are better at foreign languages than I am, no reason that I shouldn’t have friends who are stronger than me, or who look better in pretty dresses than others of my friends. I know heaps of strong, capable, brilliant, creative, athletic women who like to curl up with Adele, a rom-com, and have a good cry. And I know a lot of strong, capable, brilliant, creative, athletic men who have a need to do “dude stuff” which I don’t understand the point of, but wish them well. Not all paths need to cross all the time—we have biology and it plays out differently. We’re not, nor should we strive to be, asexual robots. Or GI Joe figures. Or Stepford Wives.

It’s actually pretty awesome, this everyone being better able to do EVERYTHING. When I am doing traditionally masculine things like building trails or belching like a long-haul truck, I like to say that I can do these things because I am a lady. A friend sent out an apology email recently, saying he couldn’t come out for a beer because he had a cold and was sitting home in his slippers and tea because he is a man. It’s all true, and there’s no war on each other from where I sit.

Now, if we could just get equal pay, equal health care, maternity and paternity leave, more women in government, and a few other small items, it’d be great. No one gets obsolete, everyone gets to hang out with each other and marry or not marry as we all, equally, see fit. Go us!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Following the successful[1] election, I elected to migrate south to the urban circus of Boston. Until further notice, the granite of my bunniness will be in spirit only.[2] Which means that I will now be trying to prove my own hypothesis[3] that all places are good places, even if there is a much farther distance between the alpine zone and me for the time being.
A few years ago, I moved to Portland, Oregon. These first days in Cambriville feel rather similar to the start of that time—my dog and I run around town, trying on a new life while staying with generous friends and trolling Craig’s List for homes and jobs. Within my first week in Portland my phone died[4], my bike got stolen, I got pulled over for making an illegal left hand turn[5], and the family cat who was like a teddy bear died back in New Hampshire[6]. I’m pretty sure that some other almost-amusing-now-but-horrible-then stuff must have happened that same week, but even with those few details, it was a rough start. Thus far, everything this go around of urbanizing has gone smoothly[7].
And, I often think that I enjoyed living in Portland more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived[8]. It’s not a greener-than-thou-smug-yuppie/hipster[9]-thing, but I really like being able to walk or bike to a grocery store. I don’t know yet[10] how much biking to the grocery store and taking public transportation to cultural stuff[11] equals having snow days from work to go skiing and star gazing from the porch, but all of this walking and living in a smaller footprint feels weirdly satisfying[12]. Alternately, I was never sure how many hours of mind numbing seasonal work equaled how many hours of watching the sunlight and underwater shadows in the river behind the house I used to live in. Like most things, none of this is a clean trade.
We shall see.

[1] Here’s to poorly/hilariously timed t-shirts and knocking on abandoned homes that look like Silence of the Lambs! That, and, of course, common sense prevailing. Well done, voter-friends!
[2] I have it on good authority that the majority of the rock of my beloved hills is schist, rather than granite. But no one wants to read about a Schist Bunny. Don’t be absurd.
[3] Just like a real scientist would…
[4] The ambient moisture of a Portland January seeped into the charge port and my phone had weird blue mold fungus and would not turn on.
[5] I maintain that the opposite driver had motioned for me to go. The policeman who pulled me over had not seen this, and the other driver had driven off. In New Hampshire, you do not have to insure your car, let alone carry proof of said whimsical insurance. In Oregon, they present you with a fine and a court summons if you do not have this information on your person at time of ticketing. Also, it was pouring rain, and I was lost en route to a job interview when I made my driving error. I did not get that job, incidentally.
[6] A sixteen-pound white kitty with black splotches like a Holstein, bonus toes on her front paws, one of the prettiest cat-faces I’ve ever seen, and a purr like a friendly jackhammer. She was a winner.
[7] Smoothly, of course, aside from looking at one apartment with the pervasive pot odor, a hookah in the living room and a foosball table in another common space. And, further aside from the guy at another posting who turned me and Dog-face down for a room in his apartment, but based entirely on my emailed description of myself as a potential housemate, asked me out. And, of course not counting, the woman who forgot to mention the pet snakes she keeps in tanks in the living room. Smoothly, for Craig’s List, is what I ought say.
[8] It got better, after that first week. It would be hard for it to get worse.
[9] Yupster?
[10] I don’t think I’ll ever know.
[11] Why, yes I do have a graduate degree, read a lot, enjoy movies, theater, music, and bookstores, would happily camp out in museums, and refer to all this culture as “stuff.”
[12] Sort of like pledging to NPR feels good, actually. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

How To Not Be Angry (Maybe)


Prolonged exposure to death 

Has made my friend quieter.

Now his nose is less like a hatchet

And more like a snuffler.

Flames don't erupt from his mouth anymore

And life doesn't crack his thermometer.

Instead of overthrowing the government

He reads fly-fishing catalogues

And takes photographs of water.

An aphorist would say 

The horns of the steer have grown straighter.

He has an older heart 

that beats younger.

His Attila the Hun imitation 

Is not as good as it used to be.

Everything else is better.

I do not want to be angry any more.

The 2012 election is tomorrow and I am tired of all things political. Except for my looming anxiety that if Mitt Romney and the increasingly conservative Republicans win, the glass ceiling will be replaced and reinforced in highly personal and professional realms, civil rights—especially in terms of marriage and voter equality—will be diminished, social services will sublimate into corporate entities, education for non-economically practical subjects will disappear, corporations—although they poison us—will be further and more dangerously deregulated both financially and environmentally, and any legitimate actions to combat and adapt to ferociously shifting climate will be aggressively curtailed, I just want it all to be over. Technically, I want it over and I don’t want a different President. I like this one.

In short, I am afraid. But the fear comes out as a fury that careens towards tears and impotent rage and black depression. So I get angrier at the twists of emotion that these things take. I don’t feel like Attila the Hun so much as a confused Hamlet, stuck with knowledge and no clear path towards resolution. Or perhaps Ophelia, as she is more trapped and frustrated even than Hamlet. No wonder she loses her cookies.

And I am tired of being angry without knowing what to do. I go canvassing for Obama and the Democrats, because as of yet, there is no effective Green-Socialist party that I can join. But knocking on doors of empty houses, occasionally speaking with a live person, or donating what I can when I can to good organizations, this does not feel like enough. I was told once about political activism in another form will “never be enough, but you have to do it anyway.” And I hold that thought tight while I am peering into the dusk looking for house numbers, but it doesn’t feel like enough. In that gap, the frustration grows into anger, then fear, and then it is two a.m. and I am staring into the dark, wondering what is going to happen to entities and institutions and realities that I care about. What more can I do, where is the useful outlet for all this fear and rage and frustration?

If you know, please, tell me.

Being a somewhat moody individual, I have a soft spot for the superheroes who morph when their rage gets too much. But I can’t turn huge and green or sprout Adamantium claws or fly against Romans and Visgoths and crush the injustices I see with force. Besides, the show of force, getting into a yelling match or trying to prove by weight or volume that you are the angriest, the most right…that doesn’t seem like a useful path towards anything good. As T.H. White and his once and future King Arthur demonstrate, might is not right.

That’s one reason I don’t like all the yelling and combativeness of current politics. Sound and fury, signifying that we’re losing the ability to speak and listen to each other like adults.

But at the same time, I’m livid at what all is on the line in the current political climate. And I don’t yet know how to reconcile my yearning for quiet photographs of water with my desire to the overthrow corruption and willful ignorance that seems to be overrepresented in current government.

It occurred to me this weekend that I’ll never be able to choose between the two. I have many friends who seem reconciled to this dichotomy. They are happy, and they are furious, and seem to conduct their lives in the light of both. What I see in these people is proof that rage and frustration, unless they are all you ever feel, don’t have to totally dissipate. And also that happiness is not the same as placidness and complacency.

Mark Helpin wrote that “real power is with those who are forever still.” I am not temperamentally suited to stillness yet, or to Hoagland’s quiet. So, I guess, for now, all I can do is simply live in a way that makes me happy on a daily basis. I’ll snuffle around with photographs of water at times and to hang up the bullhorn and hatchet, but have each ready at a moments notice. This is what I see my wisest friends do, and I am calmed and encouraged by their examples.

Truly, on the basis of my waking up each morning, eating breakfast, and doing something good with my life, I don’t know if it will much matter who wins any contest tomorrow, or any other day. In terms of living beyond my own home, of living in a society that embodies values that I believe in, of course it will matter quite a bit. But the trick, I think, is to put effort into both spheres.

On that note, I’m heading out to play with my dog in the woods. A few flakes of snow are falling along the river in the grim morning light of November. It’s starkly beautiful. Then I’ll skulk outside the library for enough wi-fi to post this rant and later today, I’ll trot down to the local Obama office and put my shoulder to the wheel and feet on the pavement. No action alone will be enough for active happiness, enough to quiet the rage. But the combination, maybe. I hope so, because I am ready for everything to be better.