Freedom to Read Week

jeff and chris hedges
It was an evening I’ll remember for a long time. First, randomly, in one of those lovely unwrapped little surprises the universe just drops in our laps, the man of the evening walked up to us in the lineup (we arrived very early), grinned, allowed me to swoon ecstatically for a second, and snap a photo. He then asked directions and moved on. Young again for a moment, that’s how I felt coming unexpectedly face-to-face with someone who has so often profoundly inspired and moved me.

It was an Edmonton Public Library event held at the University of Alberta, to kick off Freedom to Read Week—many, many thanks to them!!–and our guest was Chris Hedges.

At the podium, he stood and spoke to us, apparently not in need of any notes, just spoke. Brilliantly, about dark things like working class hopelessness and the erosion of civil liberties, about our broken electoral politics and our slide into totalitarian capitalism—but he did it with hope and clarity and passion, and a dash of defiance.

He knows what he knows, and he knows it well. He knows what we need to do to protect what is truest and best about human beings. He knows about the ways good returns good, about the futility of violence and greed, about what he witnessed for decades as a New York Times journalist covering conflicts and rebellions and uprisings the world over, about the inaccurate picture of events we come to believe as true when we stop reading and rely instead on television sound-bites, about the decisions made far from the eye of the public, about the unwritten rule of the corporate media not to alienate too deeply the hand that feeds.

Though he has been criticized for being angry in his writings, I saw no anger, only sorrow alongside the hope, and the soul of an honest human being.

When he was finished, we stood and applauded and some of us wept: the ovation had the flavour of ovations we give the rock stars of our youth. There was simply something about his words and being that had the most powerful ring of truth, something that resonated deeply and made us feel infinitely more alive than we did coming in a few hours earlier.

 

Come, Sit and Chat for a Moment

Good morning, all you lovelies, it’s me here today, just me, straight up, to answer the question I am (perhaps in response to some dark kinds of posts recently?) being asked a lot lately—are you okay? My answer is yes, I am, most definitely.

Yes, even though some of those dark posts were about me, or at least partially about me. And yes, even though I have a million tiny shards of something running through my veins today, thanks to my lovely and strong and fearless massage therapist, who yesterday broke up and dislodged the giant slabs of concrete at home in my deepest muscles. And yes, even though, for me, alone often feels lonely, which is unpleasant. And yes, even though having danced with my mortality didn’t exactly leave me, as it does some, nothing but hap-hap-happy and grateful to be here. And yes even though I have this winter, at the urging of some brightly shining wise women and in defiance of our culture of positivity, been spending some significant time visiting the desert, collecting my own bones, listening for that new song that might more fully flesh them out again.

The desert’s barrenness may not be terribly inviting at first glance, true. Visiting may initially induce feelings of panic, as we gain awareness of just how many of the old dreams lie there buried in the sand. The desert may well deliver on its promise of devastating truth. But despite the dark cold nights, it is vast with potential, and filled with the brightest light, and tiny and resilient life. Its unique intensity, away from the busy and anesthetized mundane we mostly live in, can enrich in the most surprising ways. It can give us ears to hear the humming of the universe again, that vibration that sustains our breath and being and stokes the fire within.

Anesthetizing has its place, true. Reality can be intensely uncomfortable, heartbreaking even. But wading in from time to time can yield new muscle, inspiration, action that involves a little less spinning of our wheels. I have been hanging out here in hopes of scurrying for cover a little less, more fully finding my stride again.

Not that I’d want to go to these arid places of black cold nights entirely on my own. Finding the sage willing to walk alongside for a period of time, and the healer in possession of hands and eyes that see beneath the surface of the skin is essential. These amazing human beings, vibrating with essence and energy gleaned from their own sojourn in the desert, will, if we can avoid from running from their bright light and power, impart a portion of it to us. For this I am always deeply thankful.

So again, I’m fine, truly. The life I’m finding here, though perhaps less visible and smaller and quieter than that of the jungle—initially hardly even perceptible—is tiny and vibrantly strong, humming with just the intensity my bones need.

This will resonate with some of you, not at all with others, either of which is completely fine. I am, literally at the moment, having a cup of tea, and should you feel so inclined, would love to hear from those of you for whom it strikes a chord of recognition.

Revivification

You have, in your own words, shed all the tears you can for now. You feel dead inside. Betrayed, defeated, cheated, emptied out, terrified, utterly exhausted. You know that it is perfectly normal to feel the sorrow you feel. And you also know you desperately want to avoid a next time, though you have no idea how to do this.

Reeling, your mind continues to grasp at words and insights that might potentially prevent a next time. If only you could help the other see it from your perspective. This too is normal. But deep down, though you may be unaware of it, you know nothing you can say will reduce the likelihood of a repeat injury. You become trapped, paralyzed in your mind, your body, your questions and blame and grief. You become unable to act creatively on any aspect of your life.

But no matter how you try to analyze the injustice, and how successfully you make yourself believe you can stay in its line of fire and not be burned to your core next time, you will, in time, be burned again, if you stay in this place of hoping words alone might do the trick.

Is there then nothing that can be done? I believe there is. I believe that surrender to the full truth of the nature of the injury can give rise to your truest and deepest self, the one in possession of strong intuition, one that knows another kind of response, one that will move swiftly to get out of harm’s way. I believe that although you have been burned to the core, the bones of your innate strength and wisdom and resilience are still there. To use the language of the brilliant Clarissa Pinkola Estés, if you are willing to spend some time in the desert sifting through the sand it is possible to find the bones, as well as the song you need to sing the flesh back onto them. You can again become strong, agile, creative.

You asked me, “what would you do?” This is my answer: Find someone who can help you plumb the depths and collect the bones and create a new song with which to sing your deepest self back to life.

Everyday, Cheap Antidepressants

It’s been a few days of working on projects-in-process, spinning my wheels, frustration. Of feeling inept, inadequate, insufficient, empty. Then: An argument, a mild disagreement really, with a family member. I hate these. They sink me to the bottom of the muddy pond that is my life some days. Neither of us meant to offend; we both offended, both felt offended.

The result of this very mild disagreement: I can’t bring myself to work on any of those projects-in-process. Nor can I bring myself to look for new projects. I can’t bring myself to do anything.

I have this thing though—have always had it, but since my little dance with cancer, even more so—today is what matters, right now. It’s all any of us ever have, and I want it to be good. I don’t want to cry over spilt milk, or buried pain, or my dead-and-gone ovaries (good riddance, they were malignant, but still, they used to give me wonderful little chemicals that made life sparkle). I don’t want to delay gratification or relief. I want to enjoy this moment. I need to get out, I decide.

So I contact a couple of friends; one of these efforts lands in their junk email. Nobody else seems to be available. I have a moment of panic: just me again, my little world, my ghosts? I don’t want to face them today, and I especially don’t want to face them alone.

So I start grasping. Lunch. I eat scrap of leftover steak and some cold roasted cauliflower from last night’s supper, and have a cup of coffee. Food and caffeine have some antidepressant properties, I discover again.

I take a Scrabble turn. (Yes, I’m still dabbling with that love affair, which began in earnest with my cancer treatment two years ago.) I’m losing this particular game by a lot; there are two tiles left in the bag. I stare and stare at the board, determined. And then I see it: BOUQUETS. On a triple, and it is, for 131 points, perhaps the nicest bingo I’ve ever played.

Then, a text message from my daughter: do you have time for a cup of tea? What was it I was trying to make headway with earlier? Nothing important, I decide. I walk to Elm Café, which I didn’t realize was a take-out place mostly without seating, but we sit on the hard backless metal stools at the counter meant to be used for the length of time it takes them to make a coffee, and talk. Conversation, and walking, don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise, are excellent antidepressants.