fate · god · TEACHING

“Why do good things happen to bad people?”

https://dug-studios.com/2017/10/26/the-fates/
https://dug-studios.com/2017/10/26/the-fates/

In planning my lesson for our 7th grade novel, I’d toyed with the idea of framing the whole book — and perhaps the year — to center around these questions: Why do good things happen to bad people?  Why do bad things happen to good people?

The protagonists in our novels this year are, by turn, a bully attempting to reform, a distraught girl exacting revenge on her best friend, a social outcast hero, and Anne Frank.

It would be very logical to bring these two questions to bear on these books.  But as I think into it further, I wonder if the answer I want them to arrive at is too prescriptive: “Because they do.”

There was a time after cancer when I felt that, because my understanding was that I had in some ways brought leukemia on myself by denying who and what I am in the world, in remission I must act in ways that wouldn’t bring down that wrath again.  So, I joined a band, began singing, got real headshots, auditioned, flopped auditions, got cast.

The two years after cancer (following a few months of emotional whiplash: “You’re going to die!  …  Wait.  Looks like you’re not going to die.  Good on you.  Bye!”) became a flurry of activity, in part to embrace that I was alive and in part out of desperate fear to be in that circumstance again.

At some point during those two years, I was on the phone with a mentor describing my terror of “not doing enough” (even before cancer, “wasting my life” was my biggest fear…and remains up there today…).  I said to her that if “G-d” was trying to send me a message to engage in my life, will “G-d” do it again if I slow down?  I was perpetually haunted by this question.

So my frientor (friend/mentor?!) told me this:  “Maybe you need to take G-d out of the equation.”  Less G-d, she said.

Less Fate, less scales in the balance, less sword of Damacles.  Less notching up good and bad, useful and harmful, actions toward live Molly and actions toward dead Molly.

This was a huge relief to me.

It was important at the time of diagnosis and treatment to dive into the idea that I could effect some change on my circumstance.  And, it became important after remission and treatment to absorb the idea that maybe it didn’t have anything to do with me.  Maybe it just “was.”

This, is a very tough pill to swallow.

In a world where we (I) do much of what we can to exact control over our circumstances, to accept the belief that we’re not at the mercy, or benevolence, of a force outside ourselves — a force wherein “things happen for a reason” — can be unmooring.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.  Sometimes good things happen to bad people.

Sometimes “it is what it is.”

I don’t yet know if and how I’ll bring in these questions to my students.  Are they useful questions?  Or do I have one aim, which is to bring the idea that sometimes they just do?

The present book they’re reading (The Thing about Jellyfish; great book, go read it [Thanks for the rec, Marie!]) is an entire attempt to grapple with the question of “Why?” and itself comes to the conclusion of “Just because.”  So maybe it’s a question to hold up for them for this novel, to help us all see that, while our actions do have consequences, sometimes things do just happen, too.

 

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authenticity · family · fate · love

Retail Christmas: A Family Tale

‘Twas the day before Christmas and all through the store
not a creature was stirring, it was really a bore. 
But some time in the day as I walked back from lunch, 
a gentleman remarked, Gee you don’t hunch. 
What great posture you have, and a convo was struck 
as his wife later joined and we talked cardio stuff
He and I spoke of their trip from Vancouver,
his wife in a fight with their my-aged daughter
I listened and shared; it was strange to be sure
to stand in the racks of not-quite couture
and be talking about things that do really matter
and not prattle on with plastic-smiles, idle chatter.
I gave words of wisdom that were passed on to me
about just showing up and letting her be. 
We even talked of my dad, how things there are rotten;
he said try again, love is never forgotten. 
I have my own opinion and still question his advice
it was odd to talk about this, but somehow quite nice. 
Out came his wife, and we put things on hold,
I said a kind goodbye and to stay warm in the cold. 
But as the wife handed me her card and I entered her digits
She shared she and her daughter were really quite in it. 
I didn’t mention I knew, and just made the suggestion
Tell her you love her and are there to listen. 
We smiled, it was strange, and out of the norm
to be talking real life in this capitalist storm. 
A few hours later, my feet throbbing with pain,
I couldn’t wait to get out and back to the east bay. 
When a coworker said there’s someone looking for you,
around the corner came the wife & her husband, too. 
“I wanted to tell you,” she started to sob, 
“I took your advice while I tried on some bras.
“I texted my daughter I was hurt, but am here,
and, Look! She replied!” her face stained with tears.
I read from her phone, while her husband looked on
a bit happy and startled at her goings on.
“I wanted to tell you, I’m so glad we met,
I wouldn’t have been ready before what you said.”
We teared up, exchanged hugs in the DVF stacks,
a slice of what matters near a discount sale rack. 
They left that day a little lighter it seemed,
and I wondered if this is what ‘meant to be’ means. 
I don’t know why I’m there, in the overpriced store,
but for a minute I’m reminded what humanity’s for. 
And maybe it’s not to sell lots of clothes,
to perfect my eyeliner or hike up my hose. 
Instead I was given the gift of what’s real: 
On the day before Christmas, I helped a family heal. 
fate · life · possibility · writing

storytime

Normal
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170
969
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1190
11.1287

0

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In soft, rainy weather like this, you warm up a mug of cider, coffee, cocoa, cradling your palms around it for heat. You sink into the couch and watch vaguely out the window as everything gets welcomely
drenched.
Your mind begins to drift, out of plan-making, errand-plotting, and back into the story that’s always being told.
It’s the one you were told before you were born. About wood
nymphs, and magic, and the luminescence of play. It tells of quests and triumphs,
failures and wounds burdened. It reminds you of the goat you rescue and the
crow you chase out of the darkness. The lovers you are meant to kiss and those who trick you into it.
In the story that is always behind thought, you meld
with ancient heroes, you are the foes they vanquish, and the cities they lay
waste to. You are the sword of justice and of vengeance. Both the hag and lady of the lake. You are the
unquantified stem cell of protagonist.
In grey weather like this, you aren’t yourself any longer,
because you’ve gone back to what you’ve always been: everything. nothing. and
teeming with every ending ever conceived. 

fate · god · grace · sobriety

BFGOG

This’ll be a short one, due to time, and that I feel quite
drawn today (insert cartoon image of me—get it?).
I’ve been sitting with this phrase since last week, when two
work occasions brought it to mind: “But For the Grace of G-d, there go I.”
The 16-year old sister of a student got locked up in a 5150
last week, for mental and drug-related reasons.
An unstable woman my age sought to get all bases of her soul
covered by coming to my work before she gets sent away to jail.
It’s been 10 years, nearly 11, since I was in a padded room
or a barred cell.
But for the grace of god, there go I.
Call it grace, call it luck, call it divine intervention, call it none of these. I don’t know why, and I don’t test my chances. As best I can, I stay in
the middle of the boat, make phone calls, meditate, get outside help, and just continue to try, because there is a gossamer slip of distance between those
lives and my own.
Call it whatever you want, including random chance. Just
call me grateful. 

community · courage · discovery · faith · fate · poetry · receiving · school

Rituals, Rites of Passage, and the Spindly Lines of Fate.

Here.We.Go.!
I’d written last week to some of my fellow cohorts to ask if they
wanted to mark our graduation with some kind of a “ritual” or ceremony. That
very afternoon, I was invited to read a poem at the “Spiritual Send-off”
graduation ceremony at school. Apparently, I really do and am meant to have a
ritual around this. To mark and honor and acknowledge what a privilege this is, and to mark and honor and acknowledge what we’ve done and how we have shown up and completed something sort of major.
When I got into school two years ago, a friend of mine suggested we have
some sort of ceremony of our own to celebrate and honor and give thanks for
having gotten there, to wherever there was – an answer to a stated and unstated
prayer or longing or wish. For years, when I’d ask folks what they did for a
living – trying to vicariously divine what I ought to be doing for a living – when folks responded that they went to school full-time, invariably, I said that
I envied people who could do that. Who did that. Underneath envy, is longing.
I knew for some time, and said it occasionally or often,
that I wanted to “go back to school.” That I wanted to go for some advanced
degree, but I had no idea what. I toyed with many ideas. Rabbinic School.
Cantorial School (the singers in synagogues). Masters in Education. Masters in
Jewish Education. Clown School (just kidding). Master’s in Literature… that
always seemed to make the most sense, what with my undergrad in English Literature, but I had no inspiration for what I’d study in that or why.
Through a series of “coincidences,” I’d heard of Mills
College. Although well-known here in our little Bay Area enclave, I hadn’t
heard of it prior. What happened was, in about 2008, my friend in Brooklyn,
whom I’d met here in SF, started a magazine. An arts and culture journal. She
called me and asked if I’d interview a writer for the magazine who lived out here in the Bay,
and despite my lack of experience, I said sure.
Yiyun Li was working as a visiting professor at Mills
College, I found out in my research about her before our phone call. This was the first I’d heard of it. I toodled around the
website, and something somewhere in me sighed,
Yessss….
Every six months or so, I’d revisit the website. I’d never
been to the college campus (The first time I even saw the campus was orientation day!). I’d hardly ever been to Oakland. But, I’d read the
description of the English Department’s Masters’ program, and I felt …well,
like I knew. Like I knew, but dismissed, closing the browser for another six
months. That’s for other people. People who can afford to go back to school, or
who really know what they want to do.
I found a notebook recently that has scribbled notes from a
phone call with my Aunt. She’s an English professor at a university in
Virginia, and has been doing all this for a very long time. My notes are probably
from 2008 or 2009. They’re asking me to check out programs, and seek out
writers I like and see where they’re teaching. They’re asking me to take action
to help “figure out” what I want to study.
See, my above list of my options for Masters’ degrees remained.
What did I want to study? Desire and
action are two different things. Vague desire and clarity are as well.
But, at some point, all of those peekings at the Mills
website came to a head. And in the Spring of 2010, I called the English
department admissions coordinator to talk it out.
Huddled in a side office at my job, I sat on the phone with
her, and she told me about the requirements for the Masters in Literature
Program. The problem became, that I didn’t really do so hot in the last days of
my undergrad (read: Pulling a Britney), and I didn’t have any connections with
my professors from then, and I certainly didn’t have any academic papers on
hand.
I called my brother, and asked him to go through my room in
New Jersey, to see if he could find a paper of mine. He said he didn’t see
anything like that as he sifted through a few years’ of my papers and creative
writings, but that “It is obvious that you are, and have always been a writer.”
This phrase helped more than he knew. I called Stephanie at
the English Department, and as the deadline for application drew voraciously
nearer, I asked her what I should do. I asked her, then,… what were the
requirements for the MFA in Poetry Program….? (insert full body chills)
Those requirements, I had. 15-20 pages of recent poems. I
had 16. No lie. Letters of recommendation – my gorgeous and supportive women
Karen and Kristin who’d seen my evolution over a number of years and were aware
of my poetry (go Facebook). And an essay. My essay. An essay which wove
together the disparate streams of chance and circumstance and fate which
brought me to the cave of longing for a Mills’ degree – about Yiyun Li, and the
thread of creative writing through my life (thanks to Heather for that phrase),
and about a mission statement I’d heard from a friend of mine – “To use my gifts
and talents to be of maximum service to [G-d and] my fellows.” That although I
didn’t have my own mission statement yet, mine would be something like that.
It continues to be something like that.
The threads of fate conspired, faint as gossamer, lost as a
cobweb in the dark at moments. At other times, bright and obvious as the red criss-crossed string of a movie manhunt over a map. Termed as I’ve put it, “an answer to a
prayer I’d never have let myself utter,” instead of the MA in Literature, I
applied to the MFA program in Poetry, and I got in.
In my friend’s living room a few weeks after I was accepted
and in process of heading down a path I’d no idea to where, cross-legged on the floor, we wrote down all the things that we
wanted to let go of – things that had brought us to the point where we were
now, but which we believed weren’t serving us any more. To honor those
characteristics and beliefs which had been necessary ‘til then, and then to
burn them as a symbol of surrender and release of them.
So many of my “let go of” qualities were about doing it “on my own,” feeling like I needed to or had to do it alone, or that I had to figure it out.
I wrote down, “I can’t” and I burned it.
When the ceremony was at its end (“ceremony” being us
burning several strips of paper over a bowl!), we wrote down what we wanted to
take with us, as we headed out from there. On one square of blue lined paper, I wrote what I wanted to
take with me from there, to Mills, to my future, to the world as I engage it
more fully:
We Can.