Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hold Fast to Dreams

An ethereal voice called out and woke me from an all too rare sound sleep, “Langston Hughes!”

“What in tarnation – to coin one of my Dad’s favorite expressions – could that be about?” I thought.

In the wee pre-dawn hour, with no clue of the whys and wherefores, I stumbled to the kitchen to write down the name. Back at my still warm pillow I reprimanded myself that solving this mystery would have to wait until morning; knowing my female brain to ruminate over such things to the point of bleary-eyed exhaustion. 

The name Langston Hughes has flown in and out of my awareness, once, twice, maybe three times in my life, like an elusive bird. Try as I might I could not resurrect any memory of who this man was or what he stood for. Cup of tea in hand and autumn sun well enough above the hilltops to clear the fog in my head, I began the search.

Nothing that I read about the man sounded familiar except for a vague recollection that he was a poet. He was also a novelist, playwright, and columnist. I learned of his African American and mixed Caucasian ancestry, the history of his rise to fame, and his dedication to writing for a cause.
So why did this guy call out to me in my slumber?

It was immediately clear that Langston and I share something in common. We are dedicated writers with a “mission.” Another thing that stood out to me was that he was a social activist, very concerned not only for the welfare of the “negro,” the term in his era, but also that of all people who were downtrodden and struggling to survive within very unbalanced social and political structures. 

After reading two of his poems I came upon “Let America be America Again,” whose passionate strains are reminiscent of my recent frame of mind and I suspect the state of millions of minds in this good ol’ U.S. of A., based on what I see on social media and hear in the general population. How many of you, like me, have turned toward fantasies of “the good ol’ days when everything was hunky dory?” That would be me, longing for an escape from all the front page newsy horrors.

Sorry, but it just isn’t true. We’ve never had “hunky dory.” Mr. Hughes poem sparked memories of my own mother making the news when she wrote to President John F. Kennedy regarding the threat of the atom bomb, and received a reply that directly addressed her concerns. She was also recognized in the small town of Hornell, N.Y. for writing to Nikita Krushchev, appealing to him to make peace with our country. 

“Let America be America Again,” brought back the confusion of my very young self, curled up under a desk or crouched low with my head smooshed against the school hallway wall, supposedly to protect against the fallout of the deadly A-bomb. More smooshing, voluntary this time, behind living room furniture occurred during the televised funerals of J.F.K., R.F.K., and Martin Luther King whose deaths were too much for my little brain to wrap around. Then there was the crush of hearing that my best friend’s sister’s boyfriend was killed in Viet Nam and later worry that my own dear male friends would be taken away.

Ah-ha! The light bulb virtually burst over my head! I’ve heard it said that once your spirit returns to the ethers, the highest wisdom is available. It seems as though my spirit and the spirit of Langston Hughes met up in dreamland. His voice was speaking loud and clear now! "I did not steal you from your pillow to tell you to dwell on what is wrong in this world now or in the past!" He cried out to appeal to the mission I’ve committed my spirit to; the power of Love. In his own way he made me see, from the perspective of the Eagle, the reality of the timeline that was strewn across the furrows of my mind.

You see, Langston was reminding me that although he could only observe and experience the dreadfulness of racism and poverty in his lifetime, he missed the victories achieved after the efforts of M.L.K. and many others. He did not live to see how his own work has affected the esteem of millions of people and will most likely continue to do so. This very morning he made me see how it is all cyclical, the struggles and the victories, and how the power of Love plays into it all. 

The power of Love is what lies behind every concerned heart that keeps passion alive and never gives up during times of political, social, personal, and environmental stressors. The power of Love fueled Langston Hughes to make manifest his impassioned works. The power of Love has brought the human race through seemingly impossible trials and into this millennium. And it is the power of Love that will guide us to stay the course in our current troubles and help us rise out of them.

Imbalances were made to come into balance again. Langston Hughes demonstrated that all people are made of and for Love and “We the people” have what it takes to make America, America again! Thank you Langston Hughes for your timeless message!

Many Blessings,
Let America be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Good News Challenge!

You know it’s true. Throughout history there have always been “bad news” and things to worry about. Before events of the last several decades, there was concern about the atomic bomb and the Korean War. Before that was WWII and the Holocaust. Before that WWI, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the Salem Witch Trials, and everything in between. Tired yet? There was more. There is always more bad news.

I’m not talking about personal tragedy, the kinds of things you share with friends to receive emotional support, but rather the larger things; current events that you can’t necessarily do anything about. Yes, when we are aware of present-day issues we may choose to take a stand to do something about it, whatever “it” is. Yet, being aware does NOT mean we must constantly consume bad news. When our FOCUS is on what’s not working in the world, when we are flooding ourselves with the hurt and the pain and the horror of it, we lose momentum and the precious energy that might otherwise be used to create good.

When I am bombarded with the bad and the ugly, I feel tired…no…exhausted. I feel drained, hopeless, overwhelmed, stymied. I want to crawl into a dark hole and pull a big fluffy comforter over my head. I know Robin Williams had strong feelings about the state of our world and our environment. I wonder if his tenderness, combined with where he placed his “attention” may have played a part in his demise. He could no longer see any light or anything worth living for.

Imagine a world where we have only Good News channels and what is wrong in the world is being made better by you and I, visibly, on a daily basis. If our children observed us all focusing on what is good in the world would there be so many school shootings and high rates of teen suicide? While not being fed a constant menu of distressing information, would they feel more hope and encouragement? They would still know there are things that need work and we’d all have the energy and stamina to go out there, meet the challenges head on, and heal them together. You would not turn a blind eye, but rather fill yourself up with what is right in the world, like vitamins or a daily tonic. You would spend time outdoors drinking in the beauty of a forest or lakeside. Refreshed and renewed, with a focus on kindness, compassion, generosity, and LOVE, you would go out and plant a forest. (Well worth spending 16 touching minutes here: http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=5309)

Studies show that those who watch footage of “pleasant scenes” of rural and urban environments show a stronger improvement in blood pressure and mood than those who have just exercised. Watching “unpleasant scenes” correlated with reduced health benefits. A positive nature experience seemed to increase the positive effects of exercise. (Benefits of Green Exercise: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es101129n)

During my body-centered psychotherapy training we were purposefully exposed to various positive and negative news articles that the staff took turns reading aloud, in order to have us pay attention to our bodies and recognize the feelings that arose. 60 classmates agreed hands down, that negative images and words create feelings as described above – hopelessness, anger, angst, fatigue, and so on. Over time, too many of those kinds of taxing feelings build up a toxicity of disease-inducing chemicals within the body. Simultaneously there is a reduction of endorphins and other hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system – the ones that cause us to feel calm, relaxed, and physiologically stable. In conclusion, exposing yourself to too much negative news will rob you of the very thing you say you want to do…change the world. Negative thoughts and feelings only produce more of the same.

So here is “The Good News Challenge.” Put yourself on a “Bad News Diet.” As with any diet, you need to stick with it for a period of time in order to create a new habit. For some this will be the same as kicking an addiction. It IS an addiction; one that the media would love you to keep because bad news sells. Find a substitute for bad news to help you through. Suggestions for things I’ve tried: Find a child to spend time playing with; nurture a plant; vow to compliment every person you cross paths with; focus on what people do right rather than what they do “wrong” (since that is often your projection anyway) and tell them how great they are; stand on a street corner with a “Free Hugs” sign and soak up the hugs; print out calling cards with positive messages and leave them everywhere!

Before you begin your diet, watch one or more TV bad news channels for an hour or more. Pay attention to how your body feels. Does it feel happy, peaceful, scared, upset? Do you like feeling that way? Pay attention to what is advertised during the commercial breaks. Are those products and services things you want to support? When you’re jonesing to share bad news ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this anything I can personally have a hand in solving?
  • If so, am I doing anything about it?
  • If I’m not doing anything when I could be doing something, why am I just complaining about the bad situation and focusing on it?
  • What CAN I do about it? If the answer is “nothing,” then what might I do instead? Hint: find a cause or project you CAN stand behind and participate in its resolution.
  • Why do I feel the need to share this negative information with others? Is it so that THEY will do something about it or so that we can be overwhelmed, miserable, and hopeless together?

Start with a week of abstinence and extend to a month, then a year and beyond. And please share any good news on my Facebook pages or pop me an email! Make it like a treasure hunt! There is a WEALTH of good news happening in the world every day! This is how bad news will gradually be healed and turned into more good news…by focusing on good so we have energy to DO GOOD. I’ve seen this work and it happens still.

One more thing. If you are tempted to share bad news with me, I thank you for sharing it somewhere else.

Monday, June 9, 2014

More Than a Name

Recently, during the opening of a story I told onstage, I said that naming something has a way of diminishing it. The people, creatures, and other life on this earth are so much more than the names we give them.

Two days ago I said goodbye to my cat Rhiannon, so named because I knew she came as my teacher. Once upon a time, when I finally had the wherewithal to pick through my set of “Goddess Cards,” Rhiannon stood out as the purrfect name for my new friend: “She is an embodiment of life, death, and rebirth, for in her realm there is no death without regeneration. Her name derives from Rigantona, which means ‘great queen.’ She is a shape-shifter…a muse…a regal figure symbolic of rejuvenation, beauty, and strength, and instinctual masculine energy. She demands that we honor our instinctual and animal selves as a source of creativity, abundance, and order.”

Seventeen years ago, I was in serious need of some masculine energy and regeneration when a friend suggested that I consider getting a kitten. After a devastating loss, I plummeted into an emotional desert, every sense flat-lined, white noise, dead inside in a way that felt inescapable, yet at the same time I had no available energy to do anything about it. I was slipping down the shadow side of what felt like way too many losses for one person to endure.

There I was in a ten by ten foot, off the grid cabin – homeless in a sense, yet graced to have a roof over my head on the property of friends while I began the process of putting my life back together. The 6 week old kitten, whose mother was feral, was the last of her litter to be adopted. As I watched her tentatively sniff every corner of our temporary home, I thought that helping to recover my feelings was an unfair burden to place on one so small. However, my wise human friend not only proposed the idea, but supported it by offering to care for this little one in her home during my work hours.

For the next three months, kitten and I were bunk mates. Due to my inner state of emptiness and fouled creativity, she remained frostily nameless while her personality blazed hotter than the small fireplace that kept us warm. She waved her kitten smile like a white flag, “Surrender, Robin! Surrender!” When that didn’t work she dove under a chair and reappeared like a decked out clown, her face and whiskers draped with dust bunnies, cobwebs, and dead insects. Or she did somersaults on the bunk, tumbled over the edge, and landed on all fours like a seasoned acrobat. “Surrender! Surrender!”

Still no emotion emerged. Cleaning her litter box, dropping her off at the big house and picking her up, feeding times and play times all merged into one murky vignette. Not even crawling down the dark recesses of my sleeping bag to fall asleep licking my toes was enough to stir my hibernating affections.

This was one persistent kitten. Down the middle of her white and gray tiger-striped back, was a distinct lightning bolt shape. During momentary lapses in unconsciousness, I found myself smiling as she darted around the tiny cabin, “Hey Lightening! You’re pretty fast!” When I walked in the door of the big house she was eager to show me how the other human taught her the game of “Hide Peekaboo.” I was instructed to sit at the top of the stairs and ask, “Where’s kitty?” On cue, kitten popped her head around the corner, then disappeared back behind the wall. I could almost hear kitten laughter as her eyes grew large and her fur bristled. “Surrender? Surrender yet?”

When we finally had our own home to settle into, kitten had a whole new, expanded set of explorations to pursue. It was here on two and a half acres where she grew into a lioness, stalking “prey” such as deer and turkey with no concern that she dwarfed in size comparison. It was here, where she claimed her territory and continued the antics of running, jumping, stretching, carousing, that a tiny crack appeared in the door to my instinctual, animal self. I joined kitten outdoors as I weeded, raked, trimmed, and clipped.

It was outdoors in Kitty Domain where I realized that one of her dark patches of fur formed a purrfect heart. Somehow a kitten with a heart emblazoned on her coat was placed on my path, just when I needed her. “Lightening Heart” I sometimes called to her. That felt more like a spirit name, one known only to her and I. So I gave in to the ongoing queries and crowned her with the formal name she carried through all of our meetings of new friends and neighbors. “Rhia-a-a-non! Rhee-ahhh-non! Rhee? Come here Rhee! Bad kitty, crossing the road.”

Indeed she demonstrated the “Great Queen,” ruling the kingdom when I had the audacity to bring a dog on board. Though curious and even amenable to occasional dog-side naps in a shared sun spot, a discriminating taste left “dog” out of her standard vocabulary and she charged me with the transgression when I’d hear a sudden canine yelp or caught the acrid scent of cat protest in unacceptable places.

So it was that, in the daily raising of “Rhee,” my shape shift was accomplished. It is not possible, without a lobotomy, to keep feelings at bay when a cat sits purring beneath your touch. It is not possible to hold back emotion when you discover your feline friend, who in the process of running with glee, has just catapulted (pun intended) through the air and gotten speared in the belly by a stick. It is not possible to be anything but excruciatingly aggravated when a cat shreds your favorite chair into a heap of threads and polyfluff while refusing to use the nearby scratching post. It is also not possible to smile at the determination and prowess at getting her own way… to be fed, to be played with or cuddled, and ultimately to be returned to her outdoor sovereignty.

Yes, this kitty cat was larger than any name that might try to restrain her. This feline lived beyond her name, in common terms, as my pet. But no, she was a soul mate. No one will ever be able to convince me that there is need for naming or room for making small as in “She was just a cat, what are you so upset about?” I sit looking out on her immense kingdom and tears fall. Yet no one will ever be able to convince me that she isn’t out there, frolicking, capering, and romping in the sunshine, haughtily swiping at objects of displeasure, claiming a new autonomy. 

There IS a heaven for all of us. Thanks to Rhiannon, I can feel it. Heaven is in my heart and the collective of hearts of those who knew her. That’s where I will go when my time comes.