woody guthrie as writing teacher

Woody would sit at his typewriter for hours and bang at the keys much to the dismay of some of his housemates and women and children and he didn’t give three and a half shits because he would bang those keys and then he would sometimes even throw those pages away he didn’t care it wasn’t about production or fame so here I am at my macbook wishing it was a typewriter and wishing I didn’t care what came out of this writing session and wondering if we have writers these days who still write on typewriters and whether or not they throw out their work just because they are in a bad mood that day and I know I have a lot to say and I know it matters how I say it but goddam it feels good sometimes just to pretend I am banging on a typewriter and that in about five seconds I will pull the page out and crumple and throw it in the wastebin because hell it never really was about fame or success or getting a degree so how did it become that

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writing while she walks

Mary Oliver takes a notebook outside and walks in the woods every morning and jots down what she sees. Then she goes back home and looks at what she jotted and turns the jots into a poem.

I would like to try this method, but I wonder, does she write as she walks? Or does she stop every once and a while to reflect? Does she write standing up or does she find a boulder or a dead tree branch or a dry patch of pine needles and plop down?

What about the winter? Does she have special gloves that her pen doesn’t slip through? Or does she write with a pencil?

I shouldn’t assume that Mary Oliver writes with a pen.

was rumi a slow walker?

“The world is filled with people like Shams of Tabriz but where are the men like Rumi to see the truth in them?”Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought by Sefik Can, page 67.

I think I must pass many wise people when I go throughout my day. Wise with a capital “W”. Wise about the ice on the pond and the gunshots and the meditation pillow and the swastikas and all the police who are not in prison.

I think I must pass many wise people, and yet we all walk so fast these days. How can I even have time to begin to see the truth in them?

It’s Black History Month… and I’m angry.

Amazing poem by Jasmine Mwanaisha.
Hell yes, Solidarity, Anger, Consciously choosing not be blind. Yes Yes Yes

READ ME TWICE

My eyes roll counter-clockwise as if to dial back enough time to catch myself from swinging.

My soul makes sounds for words my mouth hasn’t learned to form yet

This heavy burden grieves me

The weight of atrocity that some have the option to not see

Like changing the channel on TV – they can easily remove themselves from my reality.

But the reality is I’m still grieving.

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poem for the february sun

It is 4pm in Western Massachusetts in February and

the sun is shining

and it is 33 degrees outside.

Let me repeat that.

It is 33 degrees outside.

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Let me clarify in case you are confused.

I am used to relief

at over-zero.

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Don’t get me wrong.

There is still a lot of snow.

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But after so many

blizzards

and below-zero days

and grey skies

relief flows like water

pulled by gravity.

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I have not been able to motivate myself

to walk out my door

into the cold

and yet

when I pushed myself

to do so today

I felt I was breathing for the first time.

Oh what a joy

to watch my feet disappear

in the snow

to hear icicles dripping

and to think maybe there are green buds in me

about to burst through

just as there are in the earth

unseen but present and ready.

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inspired by the art garden

Last night I was able to attend a glorious event called Paradise [not yet] Lost at The Art Garden, a community arts space in Shelburne Falls, MA. The invitation to the event read: “You are invited to participate in Paradise [not yet] Lost, a community exhibit about environmental issues, climate change, and the places we love and want to take care of.”

The exhibit included stunning works of visual work including paintings, collages, ceramic work, and mixed-media pieces. At 7pm performances began, and these included storytelling, recitations of poetry, musical sing-a-long, and an incredible interactive piece involved levitating ping-pong balls (with the use of hair-driers and many helping hands) that each said positive qualities such as “balance”, “intention,” and “love.”

I was inspired beyond belief, and the feeling still lingers twenty-four hours later. All the visual and performance work touched on the beauty of the natural world, the activism people are doing to care for the world, the love and belonging people feel to the places they live, and the investment in building community around these issues.

Everyone was invited to write an intention for engaging with nature and in a creative, social, and preserving way. We wrote our intentions on leaves and taped the leaves onto a card-board tree that was built in a corner of the room.

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Especially amidst the isolation, loneliness, and quiet of winter, I could not have asked for a more wonderful way to spend an evening with humans, feeling grateful for humans and for the beautiful world we live in, despite the challenges we face. So much gratitude to Jane Beatrice Wegscheider, artist director of The Art Garden, the many staff there, and all the artists who participated last night. My creative juices are flowing. My appreciation for nature has been rekindled. Thank you!

anthropological look at psychiatry: questioning a system

I am reading a book called Of Two Minds: An Anthropologist Looks at American Psychiatry by T.M. Luhrmann. While a bit on the academic side for “pleasure” reading, it is a fascinating look at the culture and process of how psychiatrists begin to think like psychiatrists. It was published in 2000, and many things have changed in the field of psychiatry in the past fifteen years, but many arguments that Luhrmann makes are, I believe, still very valuable today.

This illuminating quote is a bit long and jargon-y, but bear with me, there’s some good stuff in here. Luhrmann writes, “If a very new resident is asked whether a patient meets DSM [The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] criteria for, say, schizophrenia or paranoia, that resident will pick up DSM and read the criteria for each. She may find that the patient meets some for both and the difference between the two categories is not that straightforward, at least in this case. If you ask that same resident about such a patient one year later, when she has developed prototypes for the illnesses, she will probably not reach for the diagnostic handbook, and she will probably not feel that the difference between the categories is inherently uncertain. She is more likely to believe that there are clear differences between illness categories and more likely to pick up data in a case presentation that correspond to the prototype and ignore information that does not. As this happens, it becomes difficult for the psychiatrist to remember that initial skepticism about the diagnostic criteria. A patient’s illness seems less like a sorting problem–is it like this or like that?–and more like an identification task. Diagnoses begin to feel like real, distinct objects in the body” (Luhrmann 42).

In terms of documenting how psychiatrists begin to think, this is a bit frightening, no? Human beings become more likely to be defined by their diagnosis as a psychiatrist gains more training. Of course, at the same time, the psychiatrist is gaining more experience, and therefore their instinctual diagnoses might be more likely to be on target. Still, given the amount of mis-diagnosing that occurs, and that a diagnosis often leads to a medication prescription, this is a bit scary.

Then there is the topic of stigma, and how those of us who struggle with mental health issues begin to internalize the diagnose(s) we are given. In my case, I am fairly certain my diagnosis is correct. However, has it impacted the way I see myself, and the way I think about how others see me? Absolutely.

I don’t feel I know nearly enough about the inner workings of psychiatry or psychiatric training to make broad generalizations about the quote above (I haven’t finished the book, and even if I had, woe to the person who reads one book on a subject and thinks themself an expert.) However, being on the other side (i.e., being a patient and not a clinician) it feels very personal to read one account of how the minds of those judging my own mind get changed early and throughout their training. The quote mentions the likelihood, over time, to notice more and more what fits with the gut diagnosis, and ignore what doesn’t. We all do this throughout our days, in some form or another, in terms of “selectively seeing” and “selectively noticing.” There is simply too much for us to see and notice to be able to take it all in with equal amounts of attention. However, human beings are complex, and it concerns me that with more training a diagnosis procedure would become less–not more–complex.

I am aware that many psychiatrists have helped many people, including me, and that there is a great deal of good that is done in the field. However, recent experiences have led me to question the system and process itself, and whenever there is an eagerness to question a system, I think we ought to start exploring.

my last day working at the bookstore

I will miss the peace of being surrounded by books and feeling that all the words in the world are holding me.
I will not miss being made to feel stupid because I made a small mistake.
I will miss intellectual and literary conversations with strangers I will never see again.
I will not miss customers harrassing me and asking me out and making me feel uncomfortable at work.
I will miss the wonderful people who work in the bookstore and in the building and who have become friends and backup teams and silly gooses and who work hard at what they do.

Every job has it’s ups and downs. When you decide it’s time to move on to the next part of your journey, it’s a mixed bag. I feel nostalgic already for the parts of bookstore life that I love. I feel excited for what lies ahead. Change is always happening, but sometimes the change feels big, and the change begs to be honored and marked. I am honoring and marking this change, grateful for all that I have learned and the experience I have gained, and eager to see what is next. Is “I’m standing at the crossroads” cliche. Absolutely. Is it true right now? Absolutely.

Sincerely,
grateful and humbled and proud and ready

escape: “the dirty life” by kristin kimball, reflections part 3 of 3

In my final reflection post about The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball I find myself eager to discuss Kimball’s contemplation on the escape of horses, and the larger concept of escape in general.

“I’ve had more than one opportunity to wonder…what it feels like to be a horse running away. I know there is fear, but I also think there’s a certain joy, or if not joy then exhilaration, abandon. The broke horse is always poised between his instincts and his training, and running is giving in to the instinct.” 

Commitment is scary, be it in the context of a relationship or a job or a lifestyle or, in the case of The Dirty Life, all three at once. There is a power to nesting and rooting and grounding. Today you can read Kristin Kimball’s blog about Essex Farm and see the amazing work that is being done there as a result of committing to finding stability amidst the chaos of running a farm.

However, I am also interested in this concept of abandon and exhilaration. The tension between instincts and training. After spending so many years trying to be “good” and “do the right thing” and “not get in trouble” I often feel that my instincts are more trustworthy than my training. And I wonder if following my instincts, and abandoning my “training” (in the broad sense of that word) I can experience joy and exhilaration, and from that place, discover my own version of grounding and rooting myself into a life that feels meaningful. I think society has things mixed up and backwards most of the time, and this passage makes me ponder if escape can be what brings us home.