I am playing at the piano and as I explore, fingers of both right and left hands moving on the keys, each note and chord is beautiful. A childhood schoolmate is in the kitchen and the question of what I have accomplished comes up. She is affiliated with banking, which would please my father, and I say to myself. “I have written something I am proud of.” Not comparing. I am pleased, satisfied. Then, of course, I am going down the street and realize I am naked.
Maybe there are no clothes for writers and playing music gets you out the door.
In the morning a CBC Q interview, Tom Power with Alanis Morissette: A song comes from and for the person writing it. Once it is out there, it belongs to everyone. Use it for yourself.
I think about being carried, that some art is like a willing horse carrying when needed and dreams are like that too.
I remove the mouse I have held in my mouth, (I think I cut the cord) birth of the small animal of introspection into the world, where, you know, there is no controlling where it will go. It’s a beginning of saying what I see as true, without oppressing. Fancy balancing act.
Social media can be the halls of high school. Careful, careful. Defence of identity is all around. Words are not the same as actions, but thinking them and saying them and writing them are actions.
What is liberal? What is conservative? Is liberal giving voice to the other, the uncomfortable flamboyant, or the meek struggler? Is conservative one who proclaims certainty while rejecting contradictory data, defends the family while giving some members more power and value than others? Is liberal fiscal responsibility? Is conservative fiscal responsibility? Is liberal permissiveness and fear of being called regressive? Is conservative punitive, sadistic policy? Is liberal keeping things the same while pretending to change? Is conservative keeping things the same while enriching only some? Is liberal exploring new systems? Is conservative denying the need for new systems? Is liberal coming to the aid using government systems? Is conservative saying aid should be given only through private and community systems?
And liberal and conservative in politics are not the same as the words on their own. They are modes of thinking. They are modes of acting. They are useful in the timing of their acting.
What people mean when they say these words needs to be clarified for any sense to be made, for acts of unity to be supported, for reconciliation of past misunderstandings, for sustainable community, for deliverance from manipulation by those who wield the words to separate us with fear.
Comet has an unbraided tail. There is no point in braiding it. Its tail is a sign of where it has been and the indication of direction is for old woman on the hill in the dark with binoculars. After all, you are my sister sticking your belly out while yourest your elbows against your breasts to steady the binoculars that rise and fall as you breathe, but you can still see well enough a comet pulsing through the cloud. A firefly was not a distraction but eclipsed the comet like a newborn sibling seen naked with the eye. They are sisters too, the comet and the firefly, each with their tremendous asses that will not stop. The little one flashes yes to a prospective love, indicating her hiding spot. The big one is just giving it all she’s got.
I have this tornado dream as the threat of a virus unites the globe in various self-preserving responses.
I’m into just less than a week since an extended March Break began on a Friday afternoon among young people and staff getting the news that the corona virus will cause us to be separate for longer than usual, and that it is to be taken seriously. Social distancing is something to consider but is not yet implemented, and at this point the full scope of what that means has not landed.
I have taken stock of the fact that even though like many I will have no income, unlike too many, I have enough – shelter, food, access to nature, and the relief of having no one desperate for my hands-on care.
The day before, I hear a woman’s story of being caught in a system that took her from her child. I watch the documentary A Better Man about a woman meeting her abuser. I watch him apologize yet not understand where his behaviour comes from. What, I wonder, is the container that can help him transform and live in his skin?
My family gathers for a video meeting birthday party where I imbibe with over-gleeful enthusiasm. In the morning I recognize this as a milder version of the collective mania response at my nephew’s wedding two weeks after the tornado here in 2011. We blew off steam, over-consumed, whirled on the dance floor.
Perhaps what was learned from all the post tornado suffering prepares for what looms.
Threats and old trauma response patterns…
Tornados are specific yet unpredictable in their paths. In dreams they often represent oncoming emotional upheaval – loss, challenge: You know it’s coming but you can’t predict where it will land. When nature is doing its thing, the assault is different, less personal than person to person violence. A tornado’s aftermath brings lessons in sorrow, confusion, grief, heroism, compassion, betrayal, gratitude, fatigue, resilience, recrimination, endings, invention.
Old trauma response patterns…
Making the acquaintance of a tornado can bring both resilience and fear; you do and don’t know what’s coming.
As I revisit the dream – and it revisits me – I glimpse some of its personal and collective messages.
To begin with, what is coming as we travel?
Driving along a road with others. To the left I notice a cloud that could be a funnel cloud. At closer look it seems to be a thermal swirl from a fire. I wonder what is burning – a building? Or a business? Can the fire create a real tornado? Dark tornado clouds with a fire swirl among them rise together moving forward and forming, the flame swirl generating itself.
Awake I think of Australia and the videos of tornados of fire, how the fire-swirls of emotion have ignited the world’s consciousness to the fact of the climate and how huge our collective effects are, how shockingly powerless we are in the path of these effects, and how much grief we have for the suffering of the plant and animal nations.
The pandemic fever rises. Where will it land?
Fire: good or bad? It contrasts the dark cloud – light in the dark, burns infection, gets rid of the dead wood, is rising passion, spark of genius. Contained. Moving.
The property we are approaching is in the medium distance to the left on the outskirts of this town or city. I keep looking over and back at the funnel cloud. It is there, huge. At one point it morphs into a shape like a fat, elongated gourd – reminiscent of a huge coil-molded pot with a tiny opening at the top. The dark cloud is huge and tall with the horizontal swirl lines of a funnel cloud [and of a coil-formed clay vessel]. It may miss us, but it is so large that I think and feel we should take shelter.
The tornado contains the tension of being more than one thing: a tornado, a vessel of air and fire, a creation of great power that has a point. The maker of the bomb-shaped clay vessel that I recall is an old Japanese American artist in Hawaii, Toshiko Takaezu (1922-2011). I admire that the Japanese value experienced artists calling them Living National Treasures.
Takaezu’s is a bi-fold heritage: her birth nation ended a war by dropping a nuclear bomb on her heritage nation. The artist is well versed in holding tension, letting her creations be containers of transformation – earth and fire. The tornado is created by air – a symbol of words, thoughts, and ideas that swirl barely contained, concentrated, concentrating. Where will it land, and what and whom will it touch?
On the property is a barn and collection of buildings. We go into the barn but part of it does not have a roof, as though this part of the large building has been made into a courtyard. The walls go up the full maybe 20 feet – a traditional, old style, wooden barn. This courtyard is a surprising space – private and intentional – an innovation on this old, traditional building that now is a shared space. It is square. There is a decoration of beach stones placed just so on the sill of a window-like frame up high on one wall, as though whimsically, over time, the family has made this a creative space. It is charming and endearing, but I am worried about the funnel cloud.
I am telling people we need to find a basement. I say the rocks will be thrown about by the wind.
A creative space, a collective sanctuary, already made and shared, implying traditions that have been adapted for and by the family, this square courtyard cleverly has access to the outside nature of the sky while being an inside, private family space. The square implies balance. Sacred tradition calls this space a temenos – a sanctuary, a place for walking around what needs witnessing to apprehend – to grasp the meaning.
Both sides of my family come from dairy farms with their generous production of milk and grains, and their histories of work and family and celebration and secrets. The family farm of the past, built by hard, cooperative work, was meant to nurture the family, yet for some families, like some family businesses, it became a relentless operation that fed on the family, a rolling wheel from which there was no quitting. How do we transform the collective home so that it feeds those who need feeding without destroying itself?
Beach stones – are old and worn and white like bones but hold much older stories and are gathered at times of relaxation and retreat at the liminal space between land and water – groundedness and emotion, waking and dreaming. While the dream self fears the old story stones may be thrown about by the tornado, it may not be a bad thing to see them differently in a new arrangement.
The children and the window
Inside one of the attached house buildings I see two children. I think they must be trying to hide, but they don’t seem anxious as they lie on the floor amid quilts in the gentle light coming in the window, trees outside, nothing dark in the sky. This is a big, picture window and I think it will not be safe here because I know that when a tornado comes the window can be shattered with shards sent at such speed as to be lethal. I worry the people around here are not taking the tornado seriously.
A window is a way of seeing, a perspective. The ‘big picture’ way of seeing is near the children. A belief, like a window, can be shifted, can be opened to let in new air/ideas. Or it can be broken.
Fire makes opaque matter transparent, sand becomes glass.
Are children safe in times of changing ideas? Are they safe at home, in the home? Am I safe alone with my old stories. And what of everything that may be coming home to roost during this self-isolation, enforced together or apart time? Trauma can beget trauma if it is not brought to consciousness, witnessed and contained in compassion and understanding. Does the shared culture know the necessity of retreat and creative space? It is an intense time of both collective and personal change.
My slogan these days is, “Serve the child, not the empire.” Maybe these dream children are safe, resting, being what cared for children can be. The tornado has not landed, yet.
There is something admirably and attractively creative about this group, the people who live here – yet they have the energy of a business too in that their way of life has to generate a living for everyone – but there is a unity of energy and understanding of the work. This farm and family have space and relaxation. And yet if this is a real tornado, there is danger that no one is responding to it correctly. And it does not take very long both to take shelter and for the tornado to pass – but until then it could go in any direction.
Here the dream ego is still afraid of the effects of the tornado on the people. “No one is doing as I advise.” What might happen? Tradition has the double-edged aspects of security and blindness – safety to be and do and grow versus clinging to old ways, not looking deeply to reflect and change. The trauma response can cause us to shut down to innovation. Is this structure truly made to serve the child? How is my trauma response engaged in this time of pandemic?
Notice the tornado has not come. There is a sliver of lucidity that something else may be happening. The family knows about self-sustenance through creativity.
Then I go into a connected room with some people – like a lab and a creative space with light and equipment – a kitchen, a lab, a milk house – clean, shiny metal, maybe tile floors, natural light through the windows.
A kitchen: cooking, nurturance A lab: experimenting, science, study, discovery, knowing A milk house: where gathered milk is stored and kept cool for consumption, perhaps soothing and nurturing after the fire of change. A tradition of gathering, storing and nurturing passed down through generations. Milk of human kindness.
Young woman and broken disk
The people in the lab are displaying intense behaviours – like interior creative or coping responses to something. One woman with dark hair, of round, youthful body and face, is hovering over something like a disk that is under a tool like a drill press or microscope. The disk seems broken and perhaps it generates music. As I watch it looks like she is crazy from the break of this, or from some wound.
But there is a shift: What began as perhaps a vinyl music recording with concentric rings becomes a sort of wooden disk from a tree in two rough, polished, curved halves. Maybe it does something I have never seen.
In the intensity of a personal and collective retreat there is intense scrutiny of what has been recorded: history, global and local government policy, how community works or doesn’t, what families and individuals need to function and thrive, how we have been and how we are. There is a broken record – both the negative, hiccoughing repetition of old beliefs like a “broken record” and the breaking of the playing of those belief messages. When the old messages stop there can be fear from the threat of separation from the ancestors who passed on the old songs. Impossible grief can generate madness from the unbearable separation from what one needs, from feeling whole, loved, belonging. With trauma and impossible grief the mind takes over when the body shuts down.
Perhaps in the lab a marriage of science and art is at work, like the union of the mind and the body – never truly separate but because of trauma experienced as such.
The young woman is holding the tension of the old messages while sorting out what can be learned from the break of the old message’s hold on the collective culture mind. The inherited messages can be drilled into, heard, apprehended – the disk fragments are in her hands – meaning can be extracted.
The transformation of the broken record into a tree disk record implies that what informs the search for new information is the history of nature read in the concentric rings of trees, stories spanning generations. The new material implies the past and future potential of what would/wood be. In the dream ‘concentric’ is a visual representation of the action of concentration. Using mindfulness one applies awareness and concentration to let insight emerge. To recover from trauma and its interruption of focus it is important to learn to generate compassion so that focus can become bearable in order to face the facts of what occurred to understand and transform stories of separation into acceptance and possibility. The madness of the unbearable is not a necessary requirement but is an edge that is present.
The tornado, the fire, the recording, the tree rings – concentrating.
The disk is now two curved almost yin yang-like pieces that look like they could fit together as though from the same piece, and yet as I look at them I see they could be each their own thing, and that beneath there is a third thing very much like the original two, and that the two originals are greater than two halves of one disk. The outer edges of the pieces are gnarled like the rough exterior of a tree that has been worn and sanded and finished.
It is like the two pieces that used to fit together have produced this third piece in a process that takes the old and makes the new. That is what happens when we hold the tension of opposites long enough to have the third, the solution emerge. The gnarled, natural and smooth edges of the wooden pieces remind me of the woodwork my father used to do, allowing the original state of the tree to speak through the undulations of its outer surface as he shaped smooth table tops from disks of the tree’s trunk.
Part of what the young woman and I are discovering in order to help the outside world is that we are greater than the split between masculine and feminine – not halves of a whole but greater – and that a third possibility is emerging from examination of the old story.
Focus for discovery
I sense that I may be wrong in my thought that the young woman is crazy from a wound since I have never before seen what it is she is doing or making or working on.
A young man in the lab who is also creative and feels a bit crazy, or sensitive, has some connection to me – and is maybe a potential partner of the young woman. He works in another part of the same room.
I don’t understand how this got set up. It’s like suddenly I am in an environment where there are assumptions based on something that came before I was aware or present. The young man and woman have the energy of artists or scientists investigating, focusing, reacting to what they are seeing while staying present and deeply involved, going into the information present and experiencing the layers that are available but not obvious without this focus. It feels like work that can only be valued if it is valued, meaning apprehended, meaning understood. From the outside one can’t tell what it is, but the intentional, protected, equipped space to do this kind of investigating is necessary for focus, discovery, and invention.
This feels like the response to the pandemic: looking at what has been, the old cultural messages recorded in media and history books in opposition to information from nature as brought to us by a global virus. What was broken out of necessity is an old record of messages that do not and cannot serve the world, and by examining these old ideas one discovers how things came to be this way. And by holding the tension of what has been – the loving sacrifices of our ancestors and the destructive exploitation of old systems – against what we are discovering, we can create a sustainable way.
A new way is born out of our inheritance and our consciousness. It is made of ideas and clay, vessels of thoughts turning, a crisis that is an opportunity.
When the the inquisitive child self is safe enough, it can explore creatively what would be.
We make use of the quarantine retreat to investigate what is broken and what can be made from our shared inheritance.
The story of quitting
An older, attractive, capable woman looks at me and says two names. One I recognize as a friend or relative of Mom, a female cousin, and I might recognize the name of the other who is a man but I have forgotten it for now. As I write it down I recognize that the cousin is connected to a story not often told of a father who left… and the hardship or shame from that.
Awake, I recall that my mother’s attitude communicated that the shame did not belong to the daughter and the mother, but to the father. The suffering came from his action or inaction. The suffering arose from whatever relationship struggles existed. But no further details – just that dark resentment for the pain caused by another’s quitting.
The quitting of the father and the resentment of the mother are perhaps the origins of the anxiety – and the anxiety of the father may be the origin of the quitting.
Yet here is the place where retreat and creativity and dealing with the past and the broken record of quitting and abandonment and mismatch and unexplained suffering are examined. How to quit and begin consciously. The tornado may be that ever-present haunting of violence, the collective domestic cloud that goes around and around. What container can hold the man and the woman for the cycle to stop?
Art makes containers to hold the violence to be transformed – clay, beach stones, music, wood.
And the young man and woman have resources to apprehend what has been and what can be. Perhaps they are the children from the ‘big picture’ window room uniting their science and art brains.
We are transforming the family farm so that it feeds those who need feeding without destroying the family.
Shall we quit what needs quitting and do what needs doing?
In this tornado dream there is evidence that change is coming, and in the sanctuary of examination a new union and partnership is possible.
My own and the world’s old trauma responses are up for change. We are learning to get comfortable in our skins.
For now the young woman and young man are separate but together. Socially distanced.
The tornado does not touch down.
A collective retreat is underway. There is an inherited meeting place of beautiful resource where we can face the broken record, examine it, maintain necessary focus, hold the tension of the past with the needs of the future to create a shared sustainable reality.
I have not dreamed this flower. It just is. In the midst of pandemic compliance we are still part of spring in the north, or autumn in the south.
As I near grandmotherhood for a second time, I continue exploring my legacy. My father used to say there were a lot of people walking around Toronto with the ass out of their pants because they didn’t get the trump out.
One day, aged, he woke from a nap in a wistful state and spoke of his dream: a little sow in heat that he is leading on a string. He walks it to the market downtown but just can’t do it, can’t enter that space.
He is speaking in an Irish accent with a softness and a fondness I have never seen. I research the original occupant of our old house: a butcher from County Tyrone, once the town’s mayor. I find old pictures of the downtown Square where there used to be a market on the grounds, long before my father’s days here. Carriages, fences, long dresses.
My hurry up legacy is the message that violence is so expensive.
Right now the sundering at birth is not so much moving from breathing water to air as entering a world where one is made to chose between the mother and the father. Moment one, and even before, the beliefs of our ancestors and their ancestors fill us. Ancient systems made people things. Boy children were made things that would own things. Children and women were made things to be owned. Men as things were made to trade people as things, made to corral allies, made to make families tribes of deals made and broken, empires of loyalty and enslavement.
The first breaths are of the air filled with the idea of people as things. The first breaths are filled with the fallacy that one must chose love for the mother or love for the father, fallacy because it is not love in either case when people are treated as things. This is the sundering, the system of the false bottom choice.
We are all born in the middle of the story of things. This story keeps us blind to the story. The heart of the child knows there is a false bottom story, but needs others who will get to the bottom to be freed from the empire of things. The emperor has no clothes, and the energy of the people goes either into trying so hard to believe his clothes are as fine as he says, or into trying to find others who, like the child, will say he is naked and foolish.
A house of cards. The world turned into a game of cards. Getting the trump out is only playing the game. Taking the little sow to market is part of waking up in the middle of a story and not recognizing the ancestors’ voices. The stories fill the air of birthing rooms. To heal the wound from belief that we are things, we need to see we are the ancestors telling stories. The new story needs to serve the child, not the empire.
The first flower flowers in the north or south at its season. It just is being itself. This writing is more than a trump card. It is a quiet trumpet like the opening of a primula in tune with the coming of a child. It is a child pointing to vulnerable flesh that thought it was invincible, that thought it was separate from nature and was a thing, but is a being.
On a bench overlooking the river
longing brings me to the desired sensation
of a hand on my back,
a grandmother’s hand giving comfort and reassurance.
Looking at the sky
I imagine a grandfather and a grandmother in conversation.
They are consulting about what to do.
They are equal in presence and attitude and respect.
They are from a time and place where there is no difference
in value between them.
This I have never seen.
It is the kind of communion I need and feel the world needs.
They are communing over the river valley,
above the early spring tops of trees below me,
this valley’s blanket of dark grey lace over wool.
There is hope in the tips of some of the branches,
red, green, beginning.
and tree branch webs are communing
with the lungs of the world and all the people,
everything breathing in its element.
The grandmother and grandfather murmur in the sky,
on the banks of the river,
over the town.
As we breathe we can hear them with our bodies.
4 million pens and a pencil picked me out of a crowd.
I was not in a line up but they were aligning and the lines they drew
made a net and only one line could be erased.
I walk that line because I love the soft graphite path.
The path is in the internet of calling.
Granted, the information can be static, stored
in those warehousing machines on some piece of land.
But don’t be fooled by the ones and zeros,
their apparent conformity,
their nesting among themselves but not touching.
They vibrate to get close.
They send off signals, tiny as they are.
They go out at night in a tribe called 10,
and have such legs as wolf calls can’t even.
You did not know that shimmying was the love of your hard drive.
Something in the inbox of your pillow vibrates
just before dawn and you won’t remember that is
why you woke up in love.
Rather than being overwhelmed by the number of writers writing their hearts out
I could join them in this hang gliding,
this trench digging,
this tree trimming.
Rather than be jealous, or fearful, which are the same thing, like fraternal twins,
I could pull together these years of punctuation like flotsam on the river in spring breakup:
Ice flows are temporary and edited by seasonal heat
and each other
and the lake at the mouth churning milky, milky brown.
This trimming happens at night, too,
when I dream of desperate lads stealing my hard drive
and wake up remembering I have an external back up.
Maybe the back up is the love of others for the punctuation and other signs of life.
Back up is remember.
Love does remember me.
My heart is climbing to my throat.
The green place in my throat where my voice purrs quietly waiting
is married to the green place in all the other throats.
The spring heat is present at night when it is still cold but not freezing.
I love those thieves who wake me up to what I forgot I had.
Integrate the research.
Dream the bright shadow man who asks a question,
gets an answer
and continues on his way
not needing to be nice
at the intersection.
The top of my coffee is a micro-climate,
a biome of steam trails on the brown sheen. Hot skaters cut across the dark, circled in ceramic. I blow them into swirls and then tip them into my mouth. I can be a morning monster, too. I can smile and chuckle and swallow. No one, to my knowledge, is injured. I walk away,
the powerful mouth of destiny. I am a humble monster and say a prayer of thanks and request: May there always be more skaters and coffee and heat.
This is the other side of love,
the consuming, the ingesting, digesting,
letting fall away the unnecessary,
discerning what the hell that is.
So many looking for meaning
and I say from my detached brain:
We make our own meaning.
Then I’m stung,
the dream of the Buddhist yellow jacket wasp
teaching outside the church.
My dreammaker called that in,
a balance to this meaning making:
a lover’s opening to the facts
and a happy monster’s spitting out bones of the past.
All these monsters and lovers inside the source,
the Great Mystery.
I want to feel it in my skater body
and stop grieving for the bones.
When we channel the souls of the incoming
it is a sacred thing.
We need to be clean.
We need to let them choose the best landing pad.
We need to surrender
to our own strength,
commit to serve the path of possible.
The shadow of our human world is resisting the wise
monster mouth and eating all the wrong things,
Spit out the bones and let them return
to the constellations,