30 April 2016

Return Of The Elixir. What My Writing Class Is Teaching Me.

What My Students Teach Me

What My Students Teach Me

Some years ago, I set out on the hero journey, to find out who I am. The final step of the journey, famed in story and myth, is called "Return Of The Elixir."

In this final page, the aging and battered and somewhat wiser hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has himself been transformed. I am a different person than the one who came up to live in a cabin on a mountain 15 years ago.

The first thing you have to know about the hero journey is that the travelers are generally not heroes, nor are they wiser than anybody else. But they have learned things along the way, the one of the final and most meaningful stages of life is to share what one has seen and learned to people who wish to learn from it, and make their own journeys and choices.

This is why I resumed teaching, something I was always wary of, and when I was really open to it, this amazing class of people found me and one another and we have set off on a creative journey together. Five of the people in the class are working on books that I believe will be published, either by themselves or  by commercial publishers.

One student has taught me the meaning of courage, she has used her words and her art to heal and share her great gifts in words and images.

Another is a loving physician who bravely has continued her struggle to be a humane doctor for her patients, and is writing beautifully about it.

A former reporter has begin a lyrical novel about the tragedy of Atlantic City, a once magical town raped and abandoned by corrupt politicians and greedy casino owners.

A much loved school teacher is using words and stories to cope with the loss of her beloved husband and keep his memory alive.

Another is determined to piece together a beautiful story about a bird that carries the spirits and memories of the dead.

Another is writing about her lost adventure, her desire to wander the world, and her determination to recover it.

One paints beautiful landscapes, another has put together a beautiful book of her essays and poetry. Another young and powerfully gifted writer seeks her voice amidst a frantic life of work and parenting.

A retired minister finds a new voice in irony and a bitingly funny way of looking at the world.

A dairy farmer has found a way to speak to the world with humor and honesty about his embattled way of life.

These students teach me every Saturday. They teach me generosity, they are so supportive of one another.They teach me openness, they are confronting their demons and exploiting them to find their creative voices. There is a part of every good writing instruction that borders on therapy and self-awareness.

They teach me humor and determination. They teach me how to grow and learn.

We keep our boundaries, the class is not a therapy class, but it is a powerful class where we seek voice and identity. It is a gift to me, I am sure I am learning far more than I am teaching. Different ages, points of view. These spirits are emerging, growing, responding to the call inside of them.

The thing about The Elixir is that it lives and evolves. For everything you bring back, you are given a dozen things in return. In this way, you are on the path to actually knowing something.

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Getting The Mail

Getting The Mail

Getting The Mail

Maria sat down to read the mail I brought her from the mailbox – I turn the mail over to her, I just don't have the mind for it – and she sat down on the porch. She was soon joined by some of her peeps, the border collies, who are curious about everything, took up position on both sides and Flo the barn cat, started flirting at her feet, showing her belly.

I just love the image, our life is bounded by these wonderful animals, and they wish to be a part of our existence. I can't tell if they are guarding her or checking their fan mail. They are all, I think, keeping Maria company and keeping one eye on the sheep.

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Bob, Cambridge Recycling Station

Bob At The Recycling Station

Bob At The Recycling Station

I asked Bob if I could take his portrait, he works at the Cambridge Recycling Station. He always has a biscuit for Red or Fate and he always rushes over to the car and takes the heavy garbage cans away from when I try to carry them to the trash bin. He is gracious to everybody at the Recycling Station – we will call it the town dump – but ever since he heard about my open heart surgery, I have not been able to carry a can to the trash bin.

I sometimes feel old when people carry things for me, but sometimes, I am grateful I don't have to lug those heavy cans.

He has a face full of character, a strong and kind man. I asked him if I could take his photo with the new monochrome camera, he said "sure." One of the many things I love about living where I live is that people have not really learned to be suspicious or wary, even of strange outlander men with big cameras. They just say sure, they don't even ask me what I plan to do with the pictures. I told him he was about to be better known, he just smiled. I think I'll add him to the list of regular portraits – Kelly at the Bog, Scott Carrino, now Bob – on my list. This is where I live, this is my community. I am pleased to know people like Bob.

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The Community Of Divorce

The Community Of Divorce

The Community Of Divorce

There is no such thing as a broken family, only, I think, a broken and empty heart. Families are made in the heart and soul, and broken there. "The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying," wrote Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love.

I never meant to harm or hurt anyone, I was not angry or vengeful, I just wanted to slip out of one life and into the other, the one I was destined to live, without causing any harm or suffering. I wanted everyone to nod and clap, and say, of course, this is what you needed to do.

In that, of course, I was naive, and failed.

I thought I would die in that other life, that my heart would choke to death, not through the fault of anyone, but through the sometimes cruel and unalterable nature of life. I set out on my hero journey, to find out who I was. I think sometimes that the only thing worse than not knowing who you are is finding out who you are.

In 2008, a therapist helped me to see something I could not bring myself to see.

My marriage of 35 years had ended, without any conscious plan or decision. "You are not married," she said. I was stunned. I had moved away from my life, my wife then, a very good person, and I were living apart most of the time, living very different lives, convincing one another that this separation was an act of love.

When divorce proceedings began, a friend cautioned that getting divorced "was like being in a car crash, every day for two or three years." I did not, frankly, believe him. My wife and I were rational people, committed to being civil and compassionate, and sparing our family any further conflict or trauma.

It took us five years to complete the divorce proceedings, and it left our family torn apart and ravaged, and me with a new understanding of what it means to live in a country that cherishes money and the false notion that it can buy happiness and security. Divorce is so common we rarely think about it, and our culture rarely speaks of it. Perhaps this is why I was so unprepared for it.

I know many people who got divorced, but I had no idea what it would be like, how confrontational the process demands us to be, how centered divorce is on this idea of what it means to be secure in America as we enter middle-age and beyond. Once the first lawyer is hired, the process spirals well beyond our best intentions and out of our control. It seemed from the first that I was fighting for my life, not changing it. Perhaps I was.

Divorce taught me many things, and altered my life in ways that are permanent. and can never be forgotten.  It felt like me to be a huge bomb that blows a family apart and leaves everyone staggered and wounded for many years. There are so many scars. Perhaps divorce exists so that we should never forget, it is not something to ever be taken lightly. The process of dismantling a life together is simply horrifying, no matter how justified it may sometimes be.

I am re-married, and happily, and my former wife is secure and happy in her life, or so I believe. I have found my life to live, and am living it with someone who shares it fully with me.

My ex-wife hasn't told me she is happy.  We don't speak of those things.  We rarely speak any longer, but when we do, it is warm and supportive and comfortable.  We have a daughter we both love, and that will bind us for life., along with our support and love for one another for many years.  Thirty-five years is a long time to be married, and I sometimes dream about my former life, sometimes even call Maria by my ex-wife's name.

That doesn't happen much now, but the therapist warned me to expect it. Don't hide it, she said. Thirty-five years is a lifetime.

Soon, we will be drawn together once more, in support of my daughter, who is having  child in August. We will be grandparents, and no divorce can eliminate that connection.

I think of my other wife once in a while,  and the things we did together, and the habits we had together, although that is getting less frequent. My daughter and I have both worked hard to re-define what it means to be family to one another, and to reconcile what I felt I had to do with what she felt and saw. We are getting there, I think we shall always be getting there.

That is what the other divorced fathers tell me.

There is no one left in my life from that long time, from that other life. It is astonishing to me how you can spend decades living one place, and a divorce will shatter everything in your life, blow it to pieces. My wife's many good friends never spoke to me again after the divorce, nor did the relatively few friends I had in my unhappy suburban life.  I often fantasized about what they would say to me, what I would say to them.

I was excited to be seeing them again last summer at my daughter's wedding.

But those conversations never came, and I know now that they never will. I ran into some of them for the first time.

We had nothing to say to one another.  They had nothing to ask me, they were not interested in my new life, there was nothing connecting us. The fantasy died against the clinking of glasses and the hip music booming from the band.

My ex-wife and I often used the term "amicable divorce," but there is really nothing amicable about divorce.

It is a tearing apart, a violent and hurtful thing, no matter how it ends.

Life begins anew, but divorce is a wound that does not, I think, ever completely heal. It is, after all, a tearing of the self, a violent thing.

And I really wouldn't want it to be painless. However simple it might seem for people to divorce from one another, it is not simple or easy. When I meet divorced people, there is a knowing sense of connection and understanding, we have all been to a place everyone knows about, but that you have to experience to comprehend. We get it.

I am in a good place now, happy and fulfilled and very much-loved and in  love. If divorce taught me what an unhappy marriage was, it also has taught me what a good marriage is. For all the pain and trauma of it, I cannot regret it, even as I so deeply regret it. That is the thing about it, there is no good place to be, it is not clean or black-and-white.

I seek to live in total affirmation. I do not look back much, I do not live a life of regrets, although I am sorry to have ever hurt anyone. Honestly, I don't think that is completely avoidable in life.

There is a Buddhist saying that I like very much:

"This world – just as it is with all its horror, all its darkness, all its brutality – is the golden lotus world of perfection."

If you don't believe that, it is not the fault of the world. You can come to the depth of yourself that is deeper than the pains and sorrows of life. That's what life is, a ritual of joy and a terrible ordeal, the bliss and the ecstasy of fulfillment,  pain and sorrow.

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Last Hay

Last Hay

Last Hay

We put out the last hay for awhile, we hope to be able to rotational graze through the summer, we haven't figured out how the pony will affect us yet. Fate took a pause in her circling to rest a bit and keep an eye on Red. Chloe likes to graze with the sheep, perhaps because horses like to graze with their head down.

We opened up the back pasture, that's where they will be eating for several hours a day.

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