EXPRESSIONS OF RESISTANCE

I arrived home yesterday depleted. That’s really the only word for it despite the fact that it was a good day. Wednesday is my hardest and longest teaching day. Paying such close attention to people who are nestled so closely around me for hours on end may, in fact, draw out of me more than it does some of my colleagues. Perhaps more than I’m really able to give.

November Sunset, photo by me
November Sunset, photo by me

At the end of such a day, it makes sense that I just wanted to head home to lay low, to have several cups of steaming tea and soothe my vocal chords.

I dropped all of my bags, set the kettle on the stovetop and opened this laptop. I do this to reconnect with the world that I’m drawn away from by my work and my absences. I move from my email inboxes to Facebook, seeing what I’ve missed (or briefly caught on the screen of my IPhone before it flitted away).

It’s a highly interactive but quiet world that is both a highway of engagement with others and one of my favourite places of retreat.

November 17th, the sun through my kitchen window
November 17th, the sun through my kitchen window

I discover brilliant sites online that I subscribe to happily and which now fill my Inbox every day with notices. I skim through the online papers though there are too many.  I visit the surface of the lives of the people I care about, wanting to see the evidence, through pictures, posts and messages, that they’re well, that they’re still there. I’m apprehensive about letting any of them fall through the cracks of my awareness.

 

When I got home yesterday, Christian and my husband were sitting together watching something on Netflix. Everything about the scene and the feeling in the house was benign and calm, except me.

Victor Hugo, La Pieuvre

I couldn’t bring myself to go sit with them; it was too soon. So I opened up this laptop. And scrolled. And scrolled. And scrolled. And was inundated by posts about the Trump presidency. Facebook’s algorithms saw to it that all of them—from the most considered and balanced to the most polemical and shrill—were unrelentingly distressing, worrying, disturbing, depressing and alienating. This stream was magnified by the posts of friends and their friends from both sides of the border who are, as I am, in agony.

 

This election year in the country of my neighbours to the South has filled me with a sense of dread. There’s a darkness in the world that has revealed itself and that clings to me.

I know how this sounds. But I also know that I’m a healthy and emotionally balanced, level- headed, very intuitive woman and I trust what I’m feeling.

I’ve been alerted.

Warned.

I feel the breath of something that wills ill. Something that’s tearing the social fabric in an unendurable manner. Something that it may take decades to heal from. Something that seeks to separate us from each other and divert us from what we must do and become.

More immediately, it’s a dark energy that will envelop and endanger the people I love: my students from all around the world, my children and grandchildren who will be more wounded than I because they’re still headed into the biggest portion of their lives.

There are so many voices crying out these days. Some of them (many?) screaming painful, ugly, vile things that infect everyone. But many, too, yelling out like sonar beacons in search of kindred minds and spirits and the reassurance of these connections. People of kindness and conscience.

I don’t feel that there is an US and a THEM.

This dark thing that hovers over us all is about inequality, despair, fear, tribalism, malice, innocence, ignorance, corruption, rapaciousness, cynicism, greed, misfortune, selfishness, the degradation of modern life, insecurity, exploitation, and a sociopathy that normalizes and institutionalizes everything that breaks down the connections between us and the planet which is our shared home.

Surveillance, by Levalet

Facebook has hugely amplified my bewilderment and sadness in the wake of the rise of Donald Trump and his entourage. It’s true. Sometimes, what I read there makes me queasy.

I think maybe that’s part of what was happening to me yesterday when I sat down after work. I just felt sad. It was a heavy and cold feeling. It was that longing for a good cry. It’s what creeps in when my energy is low.

In recent weeks, I’ve come to understand that maybe suffering is part of what I’m meant to experience. When there’s little else a person can do to effect immediate change in the face of a terrible wrong, owning the suffering that emanates from that darkness is something. It’s a valuable first step.

This seems to be a shared sentiment because, beyond the unrelenting stream of post-election news online, there are the cries of many voices expressing pain and distress. And also a desire for something good and just and universal.

Melancholy, by Alyssa Monks

From the pain comes resistance. I’ve felt this too and I watch its myriad expressions and modulations appear online every day, especially among artists and writers.

I’ve recently been invited to join other writers searching for a means to combine their voices in an expression of resistance to the darkness, certainly, but also, hopefully, to build pathways of understanding and unity between us.

I want to be part of this movement, but I know that I’m not a political writer. I hope I’ll be able to find a way to contribute something that’s meaningful and useful even though it’s personal.

On the table yesterday, I found a package from Amazon addressed to me (most of them are and most of them contain books). Inside, I found three volumes of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Lean, lovely books that weigh nothing in the hand but somehow have such import.

I opened the smallest one first, A Thousand Mornings, and read one poem after another. At first, I thought that I would break down and cry—her work is so beautiful—but I couldn’t stop reading. There was such grace and truth in the short poems I pored over that I felt them lifting my spirits almost immediately. I can only describe this as a moment of quiet bliss.

The ones I found most beautiful are the ones that spoke to the pain inside me yesterday. Who knows which will resonate in a week or a month from now.

Here are two of them:

 THE MORNING PAPER

By Mary Oliver

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition

is the best

for by evening you know that you at least

have lived through another day)

and let the disasters, the unbelievable

yet approved decisions,

soak in.

I don’t need to name the countries,

ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces

to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

 

POEM OF THE ONE WORLD

By Mary Oliver

 

This morning

the beautiful white heron

was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of this

the one world

we all belong to

where everything

sooner or later

is a part of everything else

which thought made me feel

for a little while

quite beautiful myself.

WORDS FOR JANUARY AND FEBRUARY

I. INNER RESOLVE

« I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it. » ― Maya Angelou

« If you wanna fly you got to give up the shit that weighs you down. » ― Toni Morrison

« And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”  » ― Mary Oliver

II. WINTER

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
Edith Sitwell

FIRST SNOW  by Arthur Sze

A rabbit has stopped on the gravel driveway;

imbibing the silence,you stare at spruce needles:

there’s no sound of a leaf blower

no sign of a black bear;

a few weeks ago, a buck scraped his rack

against an aspen trunk;

a carpenter scribed a plank along a curved stone wall.

You only spot the rabbit’s ears and tail:

When it moves, you locate it against the speckled gravel;

but when it stops it blends in again;

the world of being is like this gravel;

you think you own a car, a house,

this blue zigzagged shirt, but you just borrow

these things.

Yesterday, you constructed an aqueduct of dreams

and stood at Gibraltar,

but you possess nothing.

Snow melts into a pool of clear water;

and, in this stillness,

starlight behind daylight wherever you gaze.

III. MIGRATIONS

The more one is able to leave one’s cultural home, the more easily is one able to judge it, and the whole world as well, with the spiritual detachment and generosity necessary for true vision. The more easily, too, does one assess oneself and alien cultures with the same combination of intimacy and distance.”
Edward Said, Orientalism

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« It’s not like your personality changes when you speak a different language.
It’s more like you’re just putting on a different pair of glasses through which to see the world each time. » —Alex Rawlings, polyglot

« If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave. »
******
« […] Certainly when I’m traveling, especially to the major cities of the world, the typical person I meet today will be, let’s say, a half-Korean, half-German young woman living in Paris. And as soon as she meets a half-Thai, half-Canadian young guy from Edinburgh, she recognizes him as kin. She realizes that she probably has much more in common with him than with anybody entirely of Korea or entirely of Germany.So they become friends. They fall in love. They move to New York City. (Laughter) Or Edinburgh. And the little girl who arises out of their union will of course be not Korean or German or French or Thai or Scotch or Canadian or even American, but a wonderful and constantly evolving mix of all those places. And potentially, everything about the way that young woman dreams about the world, writes about the world, thinks about the world, could be something different, because it comes out of this almost unprecedentedblend of cultures. Where you come from now is much less important than where you’re going. »
An excerpt from Pico Iyer’s TED Talk
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A poem by John, a grade school student in London, Ontario (Canada), and winner of The Meaning of Home contest, which  invited Grade 4, 5 and 6 students from across Canada to submit a written essay about what home means :

THE MEANING OF HOME

Home is a place, like no other place can compare.
It gives a wonderful feeling that everybody should share.
It is the place where you find lots of new things to discover
It’s the place where all your injuries recover.
When you look at it you smile so bright.
So you think to yourself, what a beautiful sight.

You learn even more things there that you never knew.
You learn what is false, and what is true.
You learn to walk, crawl and run at home.
You will find lots of new places to roam.
Think about the times you share with family.
All the moments you spend, smiling with glee.

The memories you make there will never fade.
There is almost never a time there when you are afraid.
When I see someone without the warm feeling that I feel,
I think to myself that, this can’t be real.
But there’s a sad truth that’s looming around.
It’s been here for days, waiting to be found.

That sad truth is one that I hate to say.
There are people around who have no place to stay.
They don’t feel the same warmth and love as we do.
They don’t have the life we’re used to.
But we can bring them the help they need.
I know we can, and we will succeed.

We have let it rest for much too long.
Let’s give them a place where they feel they belong.
We can all make a difference today.
And we can fix the world the right way. 

IV. FROM SHAKESPEARE’S MACBETH

Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it.

—Malcolm’s comment on the execution of the Thane of Cawdor, whose title was then given to Macbeth.

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
Macbeth

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”Malcolm, from Macbeth

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Malcolm (right) speaking to Macduff, after he has learned of the slaughter of his family.