Monthly Archives: December 2007

Lament for Darcy Gen

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“Weaver, Weaver, weave her thread
whole and strong into your web,
Healer, Healer, heal her pain
in love may she return again.”

—Tune Scottish trad., words by Starhawk

“Friends were calling up all day yesterday
All emotions and abstractions,
It seems we all live so close to that line
And so far from satisfaction.”

—Joni Mitchell, “Song for Sharon”

I first met Darcy Gen when we were barely in our 20s. She had just moved out to the West Coast to be with her sister Margann, my best friend and housemate. Darcy was escaping a life of dead-end jobs, alcohol, and abusive boyfriends back East, and we folded her into our new family with all the enthusiasm and optimism of youth.

It took a few years for Darcy to find her footing, but she had the courage to look life in the eye and rise to any challenge. She struggled with the low self esteem that caused her to seek out men who were no good for her. She knew she had a problem with drinking and hauled herself out of those patterns too, finding new strength in recovery.

In time she met a decent guy, and they got married and moved to the Sierra foothills. She connected with the social services community in her new home, and found fulfilling work helping the victims of domestic violence. Over time, as her first and then second marriages crumbled, Darcy Gen remained committed to stopping the cycles of poverty and abuse.

At some point in the story she started going by her middle name, Genevieve. Like a good friend, I asked her whether she wanted me to stop calling her Darcy. She said no, she liked knowing there were people who had known her long enough to remember when she was still Darcy Gen.

She had a son by her first husband, and somewhere 1986 Cabrillo nursing school graduationI have a picture of Jeremiah and Lyra at 2-3 months, lying side by side in his crib when Margann and I drove up to visit Darcy after his birth. This picture was taken back in 1986, when all of us celebrated Margann’s graduation from nursing school in our boisterous way. Darcy is by her side.

Adolescence proved a wildly turbulent time for both Jeremiah and his mother. Last year on my birthday I got the news that Jeremiah had committed suicide. It is a parent’s worst nightmare, and my heart went out to Darcy Gen that year, as every young man with a hooded sweatshirt walking down the road looked like her son.

Yesterday, the news was even worse. Still blaming herself for his death after a year and a half, and succumbing to the family demon of alcoholism again, Darcy took her own life this week.

In a year filled with losses, I am reeling from this latest blow. I hardly know what to say, and I don’t want this to become the Blog o’ Bummers, but I couldn’t turn the wheel of this season without remembering my old friend and wishing her peace at last.

I will start out 2008 by going to her memorial next weekend, sharing in her sister’s grief and being present, like families do. And I dearly wish for this to be the last lament of 2007. Surely a day’s reprieve is not too much to ask.

Putting Names to Phases

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Well, all our vigiling worked! The sun is now rising earlier and setting later, with no end in sight until next Summer Solstice. My only regret about life continuing for another year is having to live through the insanity of a national election, not to mention the insanity of more 2012 predictions. Haven’t we had enough of the End of the World by now? I’ve still got pinto beans stockpiled from Y2K! In 2008 I think we should declare a moratorium on all wacky doomsday/super-evolution scenarios, especially those fueled by anything Daniel Pinchbeck says.

Anyway, that is not at all what I wanted to write about tonight. Instead, I would like to highlight a great new blog post by my friend Gus DiZerega. Bravely attending public Solstice rituals so you don’t have to, Gus managed to turn what could have been an occasion for heavy drinking into a really thoughtful essay on Pagan ritual and theology.

At the heart of the article are two issues that I would love to see discussed more broadly at a Remaining salon in the months to come: what is the role (if any) of science in Pagan invocation, liturgy, and meditation; and why exactly do we do ritual? Is it, as Gus says,

to bring a person into greater harmony with the Gods at many levels, to offer honor to them, to encourage their actual presence among us, to seek their teaching, and in some cases to do magickal workings.

Or is it for something else? Some political purpose maybe, or as Barbara Ehrenreich says, to fulfill our need for collective joy? There is a lot here to think about, and I do hope that the new year sees an increase in people thinking and talking about important issues, including these.

Meanwhile, may the dawning of the New Year bring you close to the numinous, and to all your loved ones. Stay warm, travel safely, and give thanks for all that is splendid in this vital, living world.

A Poem for the End of the Year

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Another year of losses, of big questions that elbow their way into the room and refuse to leave. A young man who grew up down the street and went to school with my kids was stabbed to death at a party this weekend. Two young men charged with his murder had a brother killed in Iraq at the beginning of the war.

What happens to kids? What makes one succumb while another one thrives? I don’t understand it, and all my pat answers, fears and suspicions merely mask the fact that I simply don’t know. I can’t keep my kids safe now that they’re grown, and the more beautifully they blossom the more I am aware of how fragile our hold is on this life we cherish.

This year the shadow of death fell very close to my family. I lost a brother-in-law, a beloved uncle, and just a few days ago an aunt—and these are merely the deaths I can remember off the top. As my friend Oak writes so eloquently, it has also been a year of stripping away old belief systems, pulling the plug on all the ways that our stories impede our vision. So when I saw this poem in the New Yorker this morning I decided it was the right one to mark the longest night. I’ll see you all again when the sun rises through it.

Alba Red

Hung vial I.V. morphine drip

hummingbird feeder
where the cats can’t get it

long brake light occluded in billowing exhaust
in the chill predawn fog of a final
wish in the world,

and the sun rising through it.

—Richard Kenney

Inscrutable Lyrics and Other Mysteries

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Back in the early 90s I came across a really amusing article in an obscure little magazine. The article was by this guy who had always wondered what the lyrics were in Manfred Mann’s version of the Bruce Springsteen song Blinded By The Light. You know, the part where they sing “Blinded by the light/wrapped up like a…” or “revved up like a…” What the heck were they singing, anyway?

It was the author’s method of finding out what the lyrics were, in those pre-Google days, that made the article so amusing. He went to the Rainbow Cattle Co. bar in Guerneville one evening and, yelling to be heard over the blare of dance music, asked several patrons what they thought the lyrics were. The resulting mini-interviews were hilarious, and the best part is that he never did answer his own question.

I thought of that article today as I turned on the car radio and started singing along to Elton John’s Rocket Man. I was doing okay through the verses and the chorus, but then something bad happened: “And I think it’s going to be a long long time/Till touchdown brings me round again to find/I’m not the man they think I am at home/Oh no, no, no./I’m a rocket man,/Rocket man, burning down the….” Oh no. What is that guy singing?

The worst part about my moment of mumbling is that a few months ago I had run into the same situation, and solved it by going home and immediately googling the lyrics. You would think I’d remember them now after printing them out and saving them, but no. That’s not how memory works in middle age. So for all those of you who are still with me here, the missing line is “Burning down his fuse out here alone.” Got that? Write it down somewhere so you won’t forget, not that that will help you when you need it.

My afternoon in the car was replete with mysteries, fortunately none of them the expensive kind involving mechanics, but mysteries nonetheless. The main one that I’ll pose here concerns people who are merging onto a roadway.

There are people who, if there is a car approaching in the lane they want to enter, will wait for that car to pass before venturing out into traffic. There are other people who, upon seeing an oncoming car, will wait till the very last minute then dash out into the lane just ahead of the car, forcing the driver (let’s say it’s me) to brake suddenly to accommodate them.

All that is to be expected, even here on the outskirts of the Bay Area. People used to city driving bring their harried pace with them even out on country roads, and with the busy lives we all lead it is a reasonable assumption that a driver who makes such a hurried move is in fact in a hurry. What baffles me is what follows.

According to my painstaking research, two things are likely to ensue. The most likely scenario is that within a mile, that car will have to make a left turn. It will slow way down, then force everyone behind it to come to a complete stop while it blocks the single lane road waiting to turn. This occurs so often that even my skeptical teenage daughter has given up arguing with me about it.

The second most likely scenario is that this driver now wants to move slower than everyone behind him (let’s say it’s a him). Slower on the curves, slower on the straightaway. In fact, my research reveals that the only place this driver will speed up is when the double yellow turns to a dotted yellow to allow for passing. Suddenly, this driver will experience a surge in life force the likes of which he has not felt in decades. His foot will find the floor, his jalopy will lurch forward, and we won’t catch up with him again until the center line is a double yellow again.

As a student of life’s mysteries I know that drivers and singers, like other mortals, view their actions in ways which make them seem perfectly reasonable. And as a dedicated relativist for much of my adulthood, normally I would summon the empathy to at least understand their (imagined) point of view, no matter how much I disagreed with it.

A funny thing has been happening to me lately, though. I find that I have less patience for versions of reality that are clearly at odds with physics, not to mention common sense. And in a surprising twist to the doctrine of self-empowerment I have stood by for so many years, I find the apex of its expression in my newfound ability to tell people that they are wrong. Just plain jackassedly wrong, if not completely off their rockers.

It feels like a spiritual awakening, the sense of rightness and satisfaction I get in speaking my mind. Of course I am still capable of tact and diplomacy, probably more so than most. But after all these years I have come to value telling the truth over being nice, and as a result I would say that I am healthier and happier than I have ever been. This too is a mystery, a blessed one that I am grateful for every single day.

Chasing Herons

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We had a couple great blustery rainstorms this week, breaking the long sunny spell of late November. I love watching storms come in here on the coast. Each one is different, but there comes a time in the hours preceding the first downfall when I instinctively head outside to make sure everything is covered that needs protection.

The wind comes in so strongly here sometimes that any gate left swinging is in danger of being ripped off its hinges. Tarps covering stacked firewood have to be secured with something heavier than a log, even if the stack is in a secluded corner. Wheelbarrows can stay outside, but not much else.

Yesterday’s storm damage included a beautiful young hawk who showed up stiff as a board on my front porch. Without examining its body too much, I assumed that it broke its neck flying into my house. Once again I was faced with the choice of what to do with the body. Without more shamanic training of that sort I am reluctant to take feathers from the bird, even if I had a use for them (which I don’t). Chucking it in the bushes seems like a coward’s way out, but could be justified in a circle-of-life kind of way. If I knew anyone who wanted a beautiful specimen to stuff and use for educational purposes—or any purpose really—I’d happily give it away. But meanwhile it sits sentinel on my porch, above the level of my dog Vince’s inquiring nose, waiting for me to make up my mind.

Vince loves the aftermath of storms the best. He knows that he’ll finally get a good long walk in, and if he’s lucky part of that will be off-leash. The morning after a storm the road where we walk is covered with earthworms which have crawled out of the meadow to escape the saturated soil. Anyone whose beliefs instruct them to save life at all cost would be in despair looking out over this roadway. There is no way that one person could save all those worms from their fate.

Fate comes first in the form of magnificent great blue herons that amble along the road after a storm. I don’t know how they choose which worms to eat and which to pass over, but they certainly seem to be in no hurry to find the choicest ones. They stand motionless in the roadway for a good long part of the time, and as Vince and I start our walk I first do a careful scan to see how many of them there are.

While they remain still, Vince doesn’t seem to notice them at all. But as soon as one of them dips down to pick up another worm, or takes a step away from us as we approach, the chase is on. Vince takes any sign of movement as a starting gun and takes off after the heron. He is quite breathtaking in motion, bounding low over brush and hollows, his body gliding smoothly over the ground, eyes intent on his goal, legs pumping in a long, vigorous stride.

The heron reacts in just the opposite way. It casually unfolds its wings, extending them tip to tip as it gives a little push with its spindly legs. Its wings catch the air and for a few strokes it sails low over the ground. Then just as Vince gets near it rises to four feet, five, maybe twelve feet high in its slow survey of the ground below.

Though it seems to be using only a fraction of the energy Vince is, the heron quickly outpaces my dog. But that doesn’t stop Vince, who at this point is almost possessed with the desire to catch the heron. He will continue running until it disappears from sight, and my only hope is that the heron disappears before Vince jumps the fence into the cow pasture, where he can run through the muck for hours while I call him in vain.

The window for optimal heron dining is fairly small, fortunately for me and my muddy dog. The second and ultimate face of Fate for the stranded earthworms is the sun, which doesn’t need to be all that bright or strong to dry out those worms and leave them darkly crisped and curled on the road by late afternoon.

At that point they are not delectable eating for any animal that I am aware of. They are merely sad commentary on the infinite brutality of Nature, and how inseparable her twins beauty and destruction.

What I’ll Be Doing Over Winter Break

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I’ve always liked the phrase “Winter break” even though I long ago realized that it is simply a kindly old euphemism for “not really a break at all, plus it’s cold outside.” Winter break always includes some great time with my kids and family, my daughter’s birthday, Solstice, Christmas, delicious food, and maybe a day or two of rest if I’m clever about it. But it also means squeezing in as much work time as possible around the edges of all those holy days and holidays.

This year I have a very big task on the work table, one that looks daunting from the outside but will no doubt become manageable once I dive in. I’ll be getting ready to teach my first class as a faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary.

I’ve known about Cherry Hill for a long time and have recommended it to many Pagans looking for advanced training in public ministry and pastoral counseling. I’ve even hoped to take a few courses myself when I had the time. The faculty is great and the school fills a gaping hole in U.S. Pagan culture. So I was very honored to be asked to take over teaching their course “Children in Contemporary Paganism” this Spring semester.

The course was developed by Brighde Indigo, who brought together some incredible resources and created such a good outline for the course that I couldn’t think of anything to add or change about it at all. But while the syllabus is intact, that still leaves me the work of reviewing all the readings and developing lecture materials for each class.

My winter work is also shaping up to be a deja vu experience. The main class text is one I co-authored about ten years ago, when I had a small house filled with five bright, charming, demanding children on the cusp of young adulthood. Now, with most of those kids safely through their teen years and only one still left at home, I have an entirely different perspective on raising children, Pagan or no, and on what it means to have a community which supports their journeys to adulthood. (I’m also way more relaxed in general.)

So in the weeks ahead I will be a student of my own book, remembering not only the material itself but who I was when I participated in creating it. As I write the class lectures I will once again be mining my own life experience for what may be of use to others in helping raise Pagan children. This process of self-reflection and summation, of zooming back and forth from the big picture to situational specifics, finding the seeds of wisdom in a complex narrative, is thrilling to me. I expect to learn just as much from this teaching gig as anyone who enrolls in the course.

I love teaching, and I find teaching adults particularly rewarding. This position at Cherry Hill is a wonderful way to combine my decades of devotion to childraising in the Pagan community with my love of telling other people what to do. I mean, supporting people in making informed, intelligent decisions in their communities. Yes, I’m sure that’s what I mean. And if you know of anyone who would like to join me in this grand project, registration is now open!