Saturday, 27 June 2020

Trees and the earth's lovelinesses

Today 10 years ago two South African poets - Norman Morrissey and myself, for those who know us - made a covenant under a tree - a copper beech, whom Norman had named Guinevere, for her splendid auburn foliage.

Today 7 years ago, we formally tied the knot before friends and family.

When Norman fell mortally ill in 2017, I went to Guinevere and asked her for help and comfort. I took down words, which I felt streamed to me from her, and entitled it Song of healing. I made a crude monotype print, painting the words as a mirror image to themselves (a requirement for hand-printing letters), and used a few of Guinevere's leaves in the design.

Today 3 years ago, I gave Norman the framed picture as a fourth anniversary gift.

He died on the 26th day after that.

I published the song in Greater Matter, my book of poems tracking my journey of grief as a widow.

Norman's love for Guinevere, and for trees in general, built a foundation for me sounder than anything I had enjoyed before.

Is it presumptuous to say that Guinevere's witness to our covenant ensured that my heart be rooted into a love that was greater than our mere selves? A love that helped make me far more whole than I had been before, a love that healed woes and wounds and curses?

I don't know.

But I do know that I continue to live in and by the laws of love. And that love has deep roots beyond my human flesh, it has roots feeling into all the earth's lovelinesses.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

The purpose of hate

Many years I lived without hate adding itself to my experience.
At least, I do not remember experiencing it consciously.
It was but a word.

Anger there was a-plenty, for sure - burning, scorching anger, yes. Directed towards me often enough, yes. Directed away from me, towards others, too, more often than I would like to say, yes.

There was mockery I felt. Denigration, humiliation, meanness towards me, yes. And my own meanness, too, I am ashamed to say, invariably towards those I loved the most.

I was granted experience of all those unpleasant things.

Hate remained a word that belonged with Stalin, Hitler and Apartheid, in a somewhat abstract yonder.

Until somebody robbed me of my own agency. That gave birth to hate inside me towards that person.

There were good reasons why I was robbable, why I was vulnerable in that way.

I was compelled to endure the hate. The person who had engendered it had so much leverage on me that I was defenceless. I could neither fight nor flee. I had to endure this person's abuse of their power over me. I knew I was choc-a-bloc with hate, but I did not know what to do with it, where to put it, how to handle it. The hate was simply there. Seismic.

For months I was near-catatonic with disbelief and trauma. I would lie in bed, wanting, intending to rise, but unable to do so - like a person who has had a severe stroke and whose brain is the only part of them still functioning, but with no more muscle power at all. I prayed fervently not to be destroyed by my own bitterness.

After some years, I broke down in such oceans of tears, which would not stop, that my husband (still living at that time) finally bundled me off to a few sessions of therapy. The therapist nearly gave up on me: during one session, my only speech was salt water and sobs.

The poet in me does not wonder that the glaciers are melting, or that the world appears to be halting. My late husband used to say that a woman's primal feelings are not trifles.

While the therapist did help to enable me to continue through each day, somehow, I never had the opportunity fully to process what had happened. Fortunately, the leverage the person had on me disappeared in time and my experience of hating my abuser passed on into the past.

Until Covid-19 came along with its myriad revelations.

Until those poisonous species of mushroom, called Mipo (Minister of Police) and Micoogota (Minister of  Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs), emerged out of the forest deeps.

Suddenly, my hate re-surfaced. Again, my agency over my own life, and private decisions that are nobody's business, were being denied me to make.

I was, this time, given opportunity to examine my hatred. I discovered, interestingly, that hatred was not a fire in me. A sure force, yes, but not a passion that would cause me to take reckless action.

Though it crackled, it had no warmth.

It did not live in the heart.

I paid attention.

I went to 'Head Office' - as retired priest and fellow Ecca poet Cathal Lagan likes to refer to the Divine Being - and asked, "Why, please, protect me from this hate!"

'Head Office', who had lately become somewhat casual with me, replied, "Just note it. Stick with it a bit."

So I did. I wallowed in my hatred. My Beloved endured rants, and a few trusted friends were witnesses via email, in which I freely articulated my most vicious intentions towards Mipo and Micoogota, the poisonous mushrooms. Intentions I could, of course, not fulfil, because ... because why?

The wallowing led to a lovely break in the dam wall of shame, which had contained the hate, and what flowed was illumination.

Hatred, in the way it worked in and on me, is not a feeling. It is a decision. A judgment. It comes from the body in the last parts of the digestive system, that part where expulsion of what is of no use to the body happens.

Hatred tells you not only WHAT YOU ARE NOT, but also, perhaps even more importantly, WHAT YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE.

I NEVER want to be somebody who orders other people about!
I NEVER want to be somebody who abuses her power over vulnerable people!
I NEVER want to abuse my power!
I HATE all that which I DO NOT WANT TO BE!!!!!

Hate is an indicator of what is disposable to your own heart, body, mind and soul. That rejected 'excrement' may be sweet fodder to those whose hearts, bodies, minds and souls are completely different from your own. (There are many people, as we are sadly witness to so numerously right now, who get great pleasure from ordering others about, who get pleasure from abusing their power, etc. etc.) Your hate is simply a sign to YOU of what YOU are NOT.

It is, simply, information about your self.

That, then, is my discovery of the purpose of hate.

PS. I subsequently discovered that in Luke 14:26, Jesus uses the word similarly, to mean not a dangerous passion, but a decisive - the key word is decisive - move away from all the roles one plays on the stage of life, in favour of the absolute priority of serving him, that is to say, serving the power of divine love.

Mushroom images credit to:


Thursday, 11 June 2020

Rather just feel it

A writer can't be squeamish when it comes to emotions.
The 'bad' human emotions all have a place.

I first learned the value of jealousy when I fell in love with the man who would become my second husband.

Prior to that I had, of course, naturally felt jealous, frequently. I was jealous of my sisters when they were born (they were twins, born prematurely when I was not yet 2 years old). I continued to be quite acutely jealous of them every so often, the way that siblings will be, when parents try to be as fair as they can be.

In my 20s, I was jealous of ex-girlfriends, whom my then-boyfriend declared he still loved in his heart. I was passionately jealous, at times, wilfully cutting up photographs, yelling and tossing cups about.
My passions were ugly and violent, and so I felt that my jealousy was wrong and tried to suppress it. The ex-girlfriends were beautiful women, after all. They were innocent - it was not their fault that they were loved.
I visited and even hosted ex-girlfriends with my boyfriend, and later with my first husband, mostly swallowing, or trying to swallow, the terrible feelings I harboured - feelings of possessiveness, which I did not know then were hiding dismay that I was not being treated with respect, that is to say, that I was unable to own my feelings or express them in an acceptable way.
The jealousy made me feel ugly and I did not want to be ugly.
Influenced by the ethics of the hippie era, we were probably many of us trying to deny all 'bad' feelings, all feelings excepting love.

Late in life, I fell in love with an old hippie. (Norman, for those of you who know me.) He was 60, I 44.
We were honest about the fact that we each loved people before we had met one another.
Our love for one another cancelled no other love.
I loved him for having such a big, warm, loyal heart. In any case: I knew I could not love a man who disowned or relinquished the love he had felt for other women - women just like myself.
But my love reached a limit when I realised I did not want to share him.
I knew that the jealousy was an issue between himself and myself, NOT between another woman - who was beautiful and could not be blamed for being loved by him - and myself.
Although we were living apart, I expressed my problem to Norman and he immediately understood, respected and acted on it by committing himself unreservedly to me, notwithstanding the physical distance between us.
This was a completely new experience for me: I was being honoured. My 'ugly' feelings were being taken into account, because I had finally found someone I trusted sufficiently simply to express them.

It was a turning point.
Suddenly my jealousy found its rightful place: its function was to declare a limit, a boundary.
My possessiveness wanted our love in a sanctuary: a paradise, which was closed to all but ourselves.
That is how I made friends with my jealousy.
Now I know better how to guard my heart: when I feel jealous, I always ask myself whether I am maintaining proper boundaries. The jealousy is a warning sign that I am not sufficiently protective of an important sacred space. This can apply to any situation, including my work, my solitude, my very identity.

If you are not friends with your jealousy, it will become a passion and endanger the unlimited love in your heart. It will take control, make you controlling, even violent, and then you can't be free.

Rather just feel it.