Saturday, November 22, 2008

Good Quakers are Retired

This morning, Peter suggested we call a landscaping company to see about raking up our leaves. Now, our yard is pretty small, but the leaves haven't shown any signs of raking themselves up, any more than the yard has tidied itself of fallen branches in the last few weeks, or the fence gate repaired itself. His suggestion is a practical one, and, if we're not rolling in dough, still, we probably could swing it.

But it feels wrong, so very wrong. What about simplicity? What about being close to the earth? Shouldn't I at least want to get out there in the bright light of morning, put in my couple of hours of yardwork, and bask in the glow of homeowner satisfaction?

I said as much to Peter.

"Good Quakers don't hire someone else to rake their lawns!" I said to him. "Good Pagans don't hire someone else to take care of their yards!"

"Good Quakers are retired," he observed. "and good Pagans are students."

Damn. He has a point.

We used to do these things. I remember being out there in that yard, mulching in the compost I'd made into container gardens for tomatoes and green peppers. I remember splitting my own stovewood in Vermont, for that matter, and feeling the better for it.

I remember having time for community, for walks in the woods, for lingering over a journal in a cafe, too. Where did the time for that go? Into teaching. Into fifty-five and sixty hour work weeks with the need to grade papers during the weekends. (If we just had the weekends, I often think.) I know that plenty of people think teachers work from 8:00 to 3:30 and that's it, but I can't help that. For neither Peter nor me is teaching a mere "full-time" job, and those summers off are really just comp time for the extra hours we put in during the school year.

Teaching school is only hard if you're doing it right, perhaps.

One question Peter and I have been asking ourselves a lot recently is whether jobs like ours are incompatible with being a Quaker--or a Pagan. How is it possible to live simply when each night sees us falling into bed exhausted, with scant time for ourselves, let alone community, friendships, committees?

If God had a leading for me today, how quickly could I act on it?

When we heard about my mom's accident, it took us eight hours of flat-out, full-bore preparation and arrangements to get the car out of the driveway and on our way to the hospital.

That was a bit disconcerting. As emergency response time goes, it sucked.

Our lives are anything but simple, anything but free. But surely the work we do is worthwhile. I know I am doing it well. I can feel it making a difference--feel the change it makes in the world, palpably on some days. Not many people can say that.

And yet, and yet... it is so hard to stay rooted in community. It is so hard to have a life in the body. It is so hard to make time for Spirit.

Peter's words are shocking and they're funny and they have a painful grain of truth embedded within them, like the cutting grain of sand at the heart of the pearl:

Good Quakers are retired. Good Pagans are students.

What this is saying about religion, work, and the hard job of discernment is anybody's guess. We're just asking the questions around here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Personal: A Request for Prayers and Spells

I hope you will excuse my being off-topic on this one.

Yesterday, my mom was badly hurt when she was struck by a car as she was walking down the road. Happily, the driver stayed with her and called for help; she was thrown by the impact some distance into the woods, and might not have been found if he/she had been less conscientious.

So already, there is something to be grateful for.

Medical stuff: I'll update or correct this as I have web access and better information later--but the bottom line at the moment seems to be: she hurts, she's going to have a long recovery, but she's going to be OK.

My mom has a number of broken bones; the worst is her leg and ankle, but she also has several broken ribs, a broken arm, and some cracked vertebrae that, thankfully, are not expected to result in long-term damage. No head trauma. She's lucid and clear, though on a morphine drip for pain and in the ICU, and she's going in for surgery on the leg this morning--they want to be sure of circulation to the foot.

Peter and I are going to go up to Maine to visit her and spend some time with my dad, so I can't be sure of being able to update this blog immediately on her condition. However, the current picture is pretty good; my mom is a very young and athletic seventy, as is my dad, and we have family in the area that are already looking out for both of them.

But your prayers, candles, spells, and just holding in the Light are welcome.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yet Another Meme: Six Bad Books

This post is at least partly Cosette's fault. She named me in a perfectly good meme over at Pandora's Bazaar--the Six Random Things meme. But I'm feeling a bit twisted today, so I'm going to twist it. You ready? The new, twisted rules are these:
  • Link to the person or persons who tagged you.
  • Post the rules on your blog.
  • Name 6 obscure books that you honestly love--but think almost no one else could. (You must really love the books; you must think most people would hate them. No cheating with books you think other people will love, too!)
  • Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them.
  • Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
  • Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
So, here are my Six Bad Books I love. (Really. I think they're awesome. But don't take that as a recommendation...)
  1. Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson. This epistolary novel from the 18th Century is the longest novel in the English language. (And you thought that was Joyce's Ulysses!) It is almost out of print, and the only reason it isn't is that it gets assigned to graduate students. Even in its heyday, those who really enjoyed it spoke of it as "that great, still book." It has almost no plot--it's nothing but agonized soap-opera ruminations on Puritan morality put to the test under the most artificial and contrived conditions possible. I adore it. Trust me--you wouldn't.
  2. Sir Charles Grandison, by Samuel Richardson. Even fans of Clarissa normally dislike this book, which is Richardson's attempt to depict a perfectly moral 18th Century gentleman. This one is out of print--but if you can score me a complete hardcover edition at less than museum collection prices, I will love you forever. The way I love this book. But don't be tempted to keep it for yourself--you won't like it, I promise you.
  3. Frances Hodgson Burnett's adult romance novel, The Shuttle. You know how Burnett's children's books, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden have a timeless appeal? Her adult romances do not. They read like toothless dilutions of Edith Wharton, only without the style. This book is actually a sequel; I like it better than the original. Yes, I really like it. Quite a lot. Sad, but true. I like a bunch of her other adult books, too, but that's really cheating, since they are so much alike. So instead, I'll move on to:
  4. Fanny Burney's Evelina. This one is kind of cheating, because you can find critics, even today, who like this book. And, hell, this one is worth reading, even if you're not me, just for the biography of Frances Burney they'll tuck in the front. On some levels, it's a typical Austen-esque story of trying to get a girl well married... but just a little bit more reality sneaks in around the edges than Austen would have been comfortable with. So, well, if you like Jane Austen, you might like this book. Possibly.
  5. But don't, under any circumstances, try Burney's The Wanderer, which does not work--kind of a failed attempt at a proto-feminist novel. But I love them both... cross my heart.
  6. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, or: Life Among the Lowly. Yes, it's sentimental. Yes, Stowe totally underestimates the toxicity of slavery and racism, and is blissfully unaware of her own stereotyping. Yes, she ladles treacley-sweet dollops of 19th Century piety over the whole. But, you know what? She's funny in some places, and engaging in other places, and, on the whole, I really liked climbing inside her Victorian mindset. (I'm trying to get hold of a copy of her other, edgier, much less popular book, Dred. I bet I'm going to love it even more... and that most normal human beings would like it even less.) No reading a Classics Illustrated or abridged version of this one and claiming to like it. If you haven't chewed on Harriet Beecher Stowe uncut, you haven't really had the full monty. But don't stay for the whole show unless you are truly stout of heart--and don't blame me if you don't love it, too!
So that's my six. And I'm going to inflict this meme on Cosette, because it's her fault; Bright Crow of Wallhydra's Porch, because Surly Librarians surely love them some dreadfully bad books; Brightshadow over at Enchante, because he actually tried to read Clarissa (poor brave soul!) knowing how I love it--not to mention the sheer obscure genius that creates a libretto based on Casablanca for Verdi, a mere 107 years after his death; Kevin, at Quakerthink, because he writes too well not to love a few bad books; Ali over at Meadowsweet and Myrrh, because sensitive and well-read poets clearly have a few bad books they cherish stuffed under the mattress somewhere; and Peter, because, reading this post over my shoulder, he has already begun to compile his list of six.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Long Time Coming.

I know it's not over. I know that the hard job of governing the country has not yet begun, let alone the harder job of uniting a country divided by a long and polarizing campaign.

But I know, too, that I am not the only person out there who has been hearing, in Barack Obama's victory speech, echoes of an earlier speech:
We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!
As Obama said, it's been a long time coming. But I am more grateful than words can say that the time has finally come that an ancient promise to Americans has been kept.

So many have died to keep this dream alive.

May we all strive to be worthy of it, to live together in this day, at this time in history, to take hold of one another's hands and heal one another's wounds, and honor together those who have brought us this far.

No, it won't be easy. It never was. It never is. But we mustn't let that, or our cynicism and fear, keep us from moving toward healing and freedom together in love.

Let's try simply to be worthy of our times. Welcome to the Promised Land, brothers and sisters. Now let us go, and live together in it in peace.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Little Bit of History

I don't think I have been as moved by the act of casting a ballot since I turned eighteen.

I began to realize just how different this election felt to me as I left school. In spite of my eagerness to learn about voter turnout and to begin the election night past-time of trying to scry the vote, I turned the news off as soon as it came on and rode home in silence. It just felt wrong to clutter my mind with commentary on the way to do something that, I suddenly grasped, had an importance to me that was more than usual.

I did miss voting one year. I had injured my back--pretty seriously, as it happens--and I was in a lot of pain.

Other than that, I've kept my dates with history, but I do forgive myself for standing the country up at the polls that one time. Life happens.

But, I realized, I was not going to be OK with it if anything kept me away from the polls this year.

Not if I broke down by the side of the road. Not if I were in the hospital. Not if some weird little glitch developed with my registrations somehow. Nothing was going to be acceptable to me if it interfered with my ability to exercise my vote today.

Here's the thing: I live in Massachusetts. It really is pretty well a foregone conclusion how Massachusetts is going to vote. And the likelihood of some last-minute interference with my voting, regulatory or through direct tampering, is also pretty remote. You could make a pretty good case that my vote doesn't matter much, and it would not make any real difference if I didn't show up at the polls today for whatever reason.

But, oh, it would have mattered to me!

I was a little freaked when I got to my normal polling place and found, not the usual sign-holders just beyond the precinct limit, but signs telling me the polling place had been moved. I'm still a little worried--will it have flustered my daughter out of voting? I know that it will not. But mamas stay nervous for a lifetime, I guess. At least for the big things.

This is a big thing.

On the way out of the polls, I felt a huge sigh of relief escape me. An older man, looking on, smiled.

"Now you can rest," he said.

Yes. Oh, praise heaven and history, now I can rest.

Now I am part of history. Now I can tell my grandchildren--it really feels as though I will be able to tell them, one day--

"I voted for the first black President of the United States."

It's been a long time coming. But I think something very good is near.

I wept as I went got back in my car.
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