Monthly Archives: January 2008

Early Poetry for Brigid

Posted on by

Are we bloggers going to do another poetry fest in honor of St. Brigid? Her day is less than a week away, and I’ve had an old poem rattling around in my brain lately, so I figure I’ll beat the crowds and post it a few days early.

This is from the days when I was a substitute teacher, really one of the worst jobs in the world. I taught everything from kindergarten (which gave me a huge headache—the chaos! the noise!) to high school (tough when you’re not so much older than some of the guys in the back of the classroom).

It was great fodder for creative writing, however. I couldn’t stand the feeling of absolute outsider-ness that came from taking my bag lunch into the teacher’s room at noon, so would stay in the classroom, haul out my notebook and write. This is one of my favorites from that period.

Guerneville Girls

If these were my own kids I’d slap
them silly, and when they came to
me again with putty in their hair,
or quiet walking, fingering a note of
ownership from some boy with the right
shoes, I’d send the wind down at them
first, unglue the stars and decorations
in the gym, throw out the desks and
tables and start delivering babies
there, on the floor. The mothers will
be the kind who curse and rant and
swear to God that man won’t lay another
finger on them, look what he did to
me that bastard, and where is he now?
The girls will unlace their shoes and
slip quickly behind my back to the
river, where they will not be able
to resist the urge to throw off their
slim jeans and wade, murky, to where
the river becomes real, and a threat,
and they will learn to swim against
it as though strength were a good
thing. Then the moon could draw
down into their bellies and meet no
resistance, sliding on through to where
muddy feet stand gripping the banks
of wideness, silt and foam, and
the white track across the water would
be more than chalk on an empty board.

Anne Hill, Fall 1990

Another voice passes into Summerland

Posted on by

Back in the late 1980s when San Francisco Reclaiming’s Spiral Dance ritual was still held at the Women’s Building, the evening began with a chilling a capella performance by Susan Falkenrath. The room was dark and we were all seated on the floor facing the middle of the room. Susan walked into the center of the circle and without ceremony or introduction launched into her song.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“Spirits” is an evocation of a time and place in the distant past, the final prayer sung by a woman preparing to die on the stake. Susan sang it without affect, looking straight ahead, with her considerable presence and the power of her voice being all that was needed for dramatic effect. I can’t recall a single person being unmoved by that moment in the ritual, and indeed many people considered it the highlight of the entire evening.

In 1992 I helped produce the recording of music from the Spiral Dance ritual, Let It Begin Now. We all piled into this funky little studio south of Market St. owned by Greg Freeman, a friend of Doug Orton’s, who described his business as being a “bottom-feeder” studio. Well, with our budget that was the perfect place for us. In spite of our numbers and inexperience, Greg was remarkably cheerful in guiding us through the arduous process of setting an entire ritual down on tape.

Susan didn’t have a lot of time to lay down tracks in the studio, but I remember well the morning she agreed to come in and sing “Spirits” for us. It was about 10:00 and there were only about eight of us in the studio, unusual given the many large group parts we had to record. She arrived right on time and sat quietly on the couch until we asked her to go in and give it a first run.

She got up and walked in, without any warm-ups, throat clearing, asking for tea or anything. She didn’t want headphones, just sang directly into the mike, eyes closed. Greg started recording, and she began the song’s slow ascent into grief, anger, and release. I don’t think there was a hair on anyone’s head that wasn’t standing on end by the time she was done. Greg, not a talkative fellow by any measure, didn’t say a word for five minutes.

After that first take Susan walked out of the recording booth and sat back down on the couch. We were all sitting there sort of stunned, rendered speechless once again by the power of that song and how she sang it. Feeling like I ought to say something, I asked her if she wanted to do another take, just in case. She said no, and that was that. We had our recording of the song on the first pass.

Susan was like that, very gracious and soft-spoken, but there was something resolute, firm and unyielding in her spirit that demanded respect. Over the years we stayed in touch, and she recorded her bluesy call and response “Circle Casting Song” for Reclaiming’s Second Chants album a couple years later, which I also co-produced.

She needed every ounce of that strength to go through several bouts of a particularly nasty form of breast cancer in the years to come. Last year after another remission, her cancer came back again. By December I heard from friends that she was doing poorly and there was very little hope for any other treatment.

Just over a week ago I heard that she was staying at a friend’s house in the East Bay, in preparation for going into hospice care. Since I was flying back into town late Sunday night I planned to visit her Monday morning before heading home. But by the time I got into my car that morning, she was already gone.

Susan passed away peacefully on Saturday, January 12, surrounded by her parents, friends and family. She leaves behind a daughter and a son to mourn. Those of us who remember her singing have a treasure that will never fade. I am very sorry I did not get to say goodbye to her in person, but every Samhain I will meet her again and say hello, and goodbye, and bless her in her passing.

When is a tiger just a tiger?

Posted on by

I have heard from several friends in other states and countries since a Siberian tiger at the San Francisco Zoo killed one young man and injured two others last December. Aside from inquiring whether the victims were anyone I knew (do I know that many dead people now?), there was a decided strain of “what the hell is wrong with you people?” in my friends’ voices.

I chose to answer only their first question and not the second because truthfully I have no idea what is wrong with us, although I could speculate endlessly. Fortunately, my old friend Craig McLaughlin came through recently with an excellent article about tigers in the SF Bay Guardian which, while it doesn’t answer that particular question, does clear up a lot of much more pertinent ones about tiger behavior, tiger pens, and the culpability of zoos.

I highly recommend the article, even if you haven’t been particularly gripped by the tragedy and the ensuing finger-pointing here in the Bay Area. Craig is a hell of a writer and has some great stories to tell, which I hope to read in hardback someday when his memoir ever gets finished. No pressure though, Craig. It’s just that I’m hoping you of all people might have some insight into that pesky question my friends keep asking me.

New Year’s Resolutions for Dreamers

Posted on by

Determined to start out this year on a lighter note than last year, I have decided to implement a new feature here at Blog o’ Gnosis. It’s my version of New Year’s Resolutions, which I mostly think are a bad idea but occasionally make anyway.

For instance, on New Year’s morning it came to me that I should swear less, as a magical act to take better care with the words that come out of my mouth. By lunch time, though, I had abandoned the whole idea. It would be too much of a set-up for disappointment, as most virtuous decisions are, when the moment of inspiration wears off and there you are, stuck on the road behind a really bad driver again. If you’re going to swear anyway, why add insult to injury by cursing yourself for it?

Besides that, using fewer cuss words doesn’t seem like very much fun. And after this weekend, when a bunch of us braved the California storms and spent a day packing up our dead friend’s house while it snowed and with no electricity, the only New Year’s Resolution I think suitable for 2008 is to have more fun, of all sorts.

This new feature is not like most New Year’s Resolutions because these are not about how to act during the day, they’re about what to do in dreams. Doing the right thing in dreams is much different than doing the right thing in waking life. It is hard to know whether a monster in a dream is an evil demon that needs to be vanquished or a gift in disguise that only needs witnessing in order to completely transform. Sometimes of course it is both, in which case you may want to consult a professional. Fortunately, I am a professional.

These tips are culled from my actual dreams, and I am sharing them so that more people can have more fun while dreaming, if not while awake. I’m not including any dream theory in with the examples because it’s funnier that way, but if you have any serious questions about the dreams just post a comment and I’ll do my best to answer in kind. I would also be interested in hearing your dream resolutions.

And now, the 2008 Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Dreamers

1. When Christopher Walken asks you out for a romantic weekend in Reno, definitely say yes.

2. If the lady at the toll booth gives you a million dollars change for your $2 toll, thank her, take the money, and cross the bridge.

3. When a recently deceased loved one smiles at you in a dream, take it as a gift and don’t read too much into it.

4. Do more research on that British study on cheese and dreams. I can report that Cambozola produces a pleasant effect somewhere between Stilton and Brie, but there are so many more to try!

5. If you find yourself doing wild aikido moves with friends on a tall roof without getting hurt, you’re probably doing something right in waking life. You might also want to try a different kind of cheese before bed.

6. While on a secret mission at Davies Hall you may have to jump off the balcony to avoid detection, but if you don’t panic you will land fine.

7. Making tactful suggestions to pregnant women is as difficult in dreams as it is in waking life.

8. Greedy politicians will do anything for votes, even if it includes trying to suggest things to pregnant women. You can use this to your advantage.

9. Shopping for pianos at a used piano lot is really not a good idea; they don’t cover them up when it rains.

10. When chasing little kids around trying to get their shoes on, first remember that they’re not your kids. Then give the shoes to their parents and go make yourself a hot toddy. Mission accomplished.