Dear travelers with me,
some months ago I wrote this letter to a friend, and today she sent it back to me, thanking me for it. Day before yesterday was the Women’s March – so now I tinker with my letter, update it, and offer it to you. My own tradition is Christian – those of you who have read my books know my struggle with my tradition – here that struggle with its problems and its strengths are clearly visible:
A lot of years ago, as my daughter, Laurel, who is a theologian and author of some amazing books of theology, (Beyond Monotheism; Awake to the Moment) was washing dishes and I was drying, she said, “Oh, Mom, by the way — some young feminists are saying the gospel of John may have been written by a woman.”
I laid down the towel and without a word went into the front room, closed the door, sat down on the couch and sobbed those deep, racking sobs that come up very seldom and usually from a place within us of which we are not fully aware. It would take too many paragraphs to adequately tell what the gospel of John meant to me. Let it suffice to say that almost, if not all, of the tender stories of Jesus and women are in it, and I spent two years once teaching from it, one verse at a time, researching what history I could related to that verse in preparation for the next Sunday morning class.
Nothing like those moments with Laurel has happened since.
Until the night recently when our friend, Emily Savin sat between Peter and me on the couch in the living room and played from YouTube for us the twenty-third Psalm by Bobby McFerrin. To hear this gentle, sweet coming to the words “mother and daughter” simply broke open some place in myself I didn’t even know existed. Again, I was reduced to sobs. Only later, only in the days and the events that have wracked our nation and our world, have I come to understand the feelings that those two events brought to my awareness.
This morning I read in the New York Times a careful and caring response to the Women’s March on Washington last Saturday – but I do not agree with it. It said, in essence, that marching makes us feel good but doesn’t change a thing.
Wrong. It does change something.
I am full of hope, my sisters and brothers. I believe that Donald Trump has ripped open and made visible, as no one before him has, the ugly truth about the forever place women have lived in — less than, second to, touched where we don’t want to be touched, told as I was told in graduate school that I could not get the degree I wanted “because unfortunately you are a woman” and I didn’t even feel any anger —just soggy disappointment because that was the way the world was.
“Mother” and “daughter,” Bobby McFerrin sings. And I remember Jesus kneeling beside the woman about to be stoned, writing in the sand with his finger.
Let us write, my sisters. Let us speak and write and sing the truth of our lives, and let us have hope because so many good men marched with their women, so many good men are seeing for the first time, understanding for the first time, how it might feel as it felt when I was twelve years old, riding by myself on a Greyhound bus on an inside seat, when all at once a finger began moving up and down my leg. It was 1946. I never until now told anyone about that moment. Why should I? That’s just the way the world was for women. But it doesn’t have to be that way forever.
The Women’s March does change something. It has changed something in this one old woman’s heart and mind. I will write. I will write to my senators and representatives as I never have before. And I will continue to write the truth of my own life. Poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
Here is Bobby McFerrin, singing a deep truth of our lives:
In this season of great fear and danger, when wars and rumors of wars clash against our consciousness, it seems to me that we must do two things: commit ourselves to action toward peace and justice in every way possible to us, – and find in the small things, the tender things, the quiet things, meaning and patience and hope.
I do hold the hope and the belief that we are not alone in this universe. Although it is beyond my understanding or ability to name, I do experience what the ancient Hebrew poet expressed: Underneath are the everlasting arms.
I offer this new poem as a year’s end gift:
the birds feed on
air full flakes
cover the hand
Mercy and woe
always the fall
and the hand
I was asked to write the introduction to a book of writings by 50 homeless and recently homeless women writing together at Mary’s Place in Seattle, WA. They use the method described in my book, Writing Alone & With Others, Oxford University Press.
This may be the best statement I have ever drafted of the work we do in Amherst Writers & Artists, and why we do it. The essay is here adapted for Anchor Magazine. Please click the link to read it online.
I’m delighted that my poem “The Patience of Ordinary Things” has just been published in Anchor Magazine accompanied by Fanny Rush’s stunning painting. (Please click on the link above or the painting below to see it).
Written by Pat Schneider shortly before Elizabeth’s death.
I sit at her old desk, my laptop computer awkward between antique lamps. For me, this is a holy place, because it is a place of my own origin. A part of me was born here, raised here. The part of me that became the adult, separate me. The part of me that first believed I might become an artist with words. The part of me that became a woman in the world, rather than a girl from a tenement.
I am sitting in Bye’s desk chair. Before me are two shelves – a bookcase made to fit the desk. The back of the big desk and the two shelves are stacked with orderly boxes, notebooks, envelopes clipped to box edges. There are cans full of Number 2 pencils, and looking at them I remember Bye, one foot up on a low stage, another foot bearing her weight on the theatre floor, a pencil held poised above the clipboard on her knee, her face intent in thought as she looks into the space of the stage.
The pencil was her tool of choice. All around me are pencilled notes to herself, but among them, on a big bulletin board, there is a three-by-five card with a typed quote that I sent her. I know this because she has penciled in a corner, “From Pat Schneider c. July 9, 1987.” It is by Rainer Maria Rilke:
This birthday is one of the best. For one thing, 81 is far less disturbing an idea than 80. 80 was O.M.G. terrifying. 81 is just more of the same. Cool – I’m “in my eighties.” No longer a stone of stumbling – more like bedrock.
Yesterday, the last day of May, Becca, my first-born, and her husband, Will came. In a day of occasional rain-showers, Becca and I worked in the flower beds around this old house. Gardening in the rain – it was purely delicious. Of course I mostly had to stand and supervise because of my left hip’s tendency to disconnect. She had the fun of getting mud all over herself. After this year’s long, merciless winter, we were surrounded by the green of spruce and maple, the white of peony and Japanese dogwood, and the yellow of iris and baby marigolds. Continue reading
Beginning Thursday June 4, Sue Reynolds and I will be leading a combined SoulCollage and writing retreat in Amherst. I asked her to write a guest blog on my site this month to explain SoulCollage a little bit, because it can be difficult to understand if you haven’t done it for yourself.
“I am the one who goes into the depths to retrieve treasure.”
A Guest Blog by Sue Reynolds
When Pat offered to let me write a guest blog on her site, I was delighted to share a little of the SoulCollage® process.
This card pictured to the left may be my favourite, of all the many (over 200!) I have created over the years.
It’s called “The Depth Seeker” and my journal entry around this begins: “I am the one who goes into the depths seeking my treasure.” This defines the work we do as writers and artists.
The cavernous background conveys the vastness of those depths. This isn’t about going down a narrow well and climbing back out again immediately. This is about descending into and investigating a whole other world. Continue reading
Once, in a poem, I wrote “There is another way / to enter an apple. / A worm’s way.” I am finding another way to enter my writing. It allows me to go inside, through a door I didn’t even know was there, have a fresh experience, savor a new and delicious taste, surprise myself.
Sometimes something goes “bump” in the mind. A hint, a tease, or an outright “smack upside the head” when you are trying with all your might to get into your writing. It takes practice to learn the difference between the inner chatter of writer’s block, and the gentle nudge of an idea trying to get in. The chatter is just annoying distraction. The nudge is a gift. Some writers call a magical moment of inspiration “the muse.” I like better the way Goethe understood it. He said, “When one is fully committed, Providence moves, too.” Some writers claim they receive dictation from some source beyond themselves. I have never felt that, although frequently I do feel assisted — by “Providence” or whatever — but only when I am in need, fully committed, and paying attention.
Life is crowded. I got up at 4:30 this morning to answer email that had piled up — more than 130 unanswered messages. Then, sleep deprived and groggy, I turned to my necessary writing task – to create a blog entry inviting readers to come to a workshop I will be leading with Sue Reynolds. I got a cup of coffee, curled up on the couch with my computer, and got nothing. Nada! I wanted to say something about the relation between visual and written art. Something about pictures and writing. But what? What? Continue reading
What I want to say is . . .
Journal: March 13, 2015.
What I want to say. Often I don’t know, myself. This week is like that. Peter’s brother, Hank died; I, too, loved him deeply. And there’s been scary illness in my family. And there’s been demanding work that left me drained and exhausted. Now everyone has gone to the memorial service three thousand miles from here. I am home alone because my left hip and leg won’t allow me to sit for long flights. I want to write, but that desire fragments into a flock of wild birds that I can neither capture nor name. There are feelings, colors, images, but they fly as soon as I try to word them into captivity.
What I want to say is . . .
March 14, 2015. Journal.
I have created a small, separate journal. Continue reading
Poems are pouring out of me. It is as if they have been storing up behind some door, a door I left open only a crack while I wrote How the Light Gets In, and closed for a time of rest when I finished it. Now poems are coming. Lately, most of them have been about trouble.
I wish my work held a larger quotient of praise, but the truth is, trouble seems to be the key that opens the door for praise finally to come through.
There is a song in the African American Heritage Hymnal 169 that came to mind after I wrote that sentence:
Over my head, I see trouble in the air.
Over my head, I see trouble in the air.
Over my head, I see trouble in the air.
There must be a God somewhere!