Let Despairing Be Dispelled

Friends of Our Wilderness Awareness School Community,

I have been thinking deeply and with a heaviness about this for some time, and I want to welcome to conversation anyone who might be silent and feeling the same way, or is interested in strengthening cross-political friendships in this time of grief and disconnect.

As some of you may or may not know, I have come to hold some different views than many of the good people at Wilderness Awareness School. I am a Conservative.

I say this outright because it is precisely the fear of saying it which I must challenge. It is this fear of social marginalization which I carry within myself, but a roar I must run to. We are all humanely prone to move in our small bubbles, not realizing that there is more intellectual diversity among our people than we realize. We are not a truly diverse organization if we welcome diversity that is only skin-deep.

Over the past couple years I have persistently worried that I am not welcome as a Conservative (even a Centrist or a Classical Liberal who is grateful for our Western Civilization) to be open with you whom I have called by beloved community. I come from a very, very Liberal background, and was still largely identifying in this way while I was an Anake of 2012-13. But we question and we grow; we challenge the unchallenged perspectives we are brought up with.

While I still empathize with and support a number of traditionally Liberal views, I also hold Conservative, mainline-Republican views which I worry are becoming increasingly demonized among well-meaning people who also want to protect what is sacred to them. We’re all carrying these sacred things we burn to protect, and I fear this growing divide. How easily we go to war with each other, and we make our neighbor our enemy. I do not carry hatred within me. I carry human anger and grief, like you. I have engaged with Intersectional Social Justice and have come away with the conclusion that it is not healthy or humane. This is my perspective. It is not the only perspective. Other good people do not share my perspective, but neither will I accept being thought of as “hateful” or a “supremacist” for not agreeing with this ideology. Furthermore, I am concerned that this ideology attempts to gather all People of Color and all gender-nonconforming people into a small political box of a perennially suffering identity which silences their independent dissenting voices, too.

We need to not be seeing each other as our enemies. A deep connection with Nature should belong to everyone, not just those we are politically in agreement with, not just the anointed ones. Insofar as issue has been taken with traditionally mainline-conservative approaches to nature, this should mean that welcoming Conservatives is all the more of a pressing need: would they not greatly benefit from what WAS has to teach?

Speaking to this almost entirely left-leaning community, we need to listen to Conservatives among us, because that is a part of this amazingly complex, diverse reality which we as a community are missing. And for the sake of real and serious peace, Conservatives must know that they, too, can safely come to communities like WAS to learn and grow as people without being told that all their views are wrong or hateful. Let them be welcomed to meet others not like them, to find delight and friendship in ancestries and gender identities unknown to them. If you want people to listen, they have to know they will be listened to, also. Let despairing be dispelled.

One of the areas we must examine is how, as a mostly-White group of people, we are rightfully eager to be sensitive to and deeply respectful of the experiences of People of Color, but at the same time we painfully and increasingly hate ourselves with such self-abuse, because we think that “whiteness” itself is some sort of inborn social evil we must spiritually atone for. Believe me, my beef is not and has never been with People of Color: it is with other White People. This grieves me heavily, that such a time as this is upon us. While I do not assert that every person reading this thinks in such a way in their attempt to extend generosity and inclusion to minority ancestries, I do maintain that I have witnessed this self-abusing trend and I am calling it out as unhealthy and lacking kindness and respect towards ourselves. Are we so frightened of some largeness within us? We are unremarkable, just another group of human beings with our own culture and history, our own deep beauty and wretched problems, with all the good and the bad that comes with any human heritage.

There is much more I could say about this, but I will end this invitation here. I have had somewhat more brief and heated conversations with a few of you before, in moments when I was admittedly feeling less gracious and more upset. That is the product of grief, and I know I am not the only one here to have wrestled that demon. Every one of us will fail to live up to our better angels on this darkened path through the Unknown World. I am shaking as I write this, because it’s damn scary to speak up to you all about this, but it must be done. I have had good dreams. I am not masterfully practiced in every moral responsibility I know I carry as one who lives in this liminal space –not unlike other cultural liminal spaces– but which is nonetheless one unseen at Wilderness Awareness School currently. It is unseen among The Left, the ones who made me who I am. That is not an intentional maliciousness on the part of our communities, I hope, but it is a cultural shortcoming which countless communities in our civilization are now dangerously contending with. I can’t be there for all of them, but I can show up for the ones that have mattered to me. I will do my imperfect best to be a good human creature, and I welcome you in your imperfect best to join me and break open what scares us. Please, speak to me. I will speak in response. Let us listen to each other.

In Courage,

Amber

Greatly Loved In Its Wildness

I’m an ex-cradle-born-Unitarian Universalist for good reasons. I’m politically moderate. I converted to sparkly Roman Catholicism at age 21. I am Jewish-curious, and am deeply attracted by their cohesive peoplehood and long, honorable struggle with a crazy God. When I was 22, I did something like animism and nature-based rites of passage in a community, but that community didn’t stick, even though the spirituality sure did. I don’t believe in fairies, I believe in birds. I don’t believe in unicorns, I believe in equines. I don’t believe in dragons, I believe in reptiles. The World is what’s real. Prayers and spells don’t save you; human research and evidence-based practices do, but a really grounded spirituality makes it all worth living through. Now I’m a scientific panentheist (is it really necessary to differentiate between pantheist and panentheist? Really?) who believes in a Creator that lives, breathes and moves in all created beings. I don’t claim that this Creator is always or ever going to do as we wish, or can even be trusted the conventional sense, though it can be greatly loved in its wildness. Nature is violent, insane and unjust, and we have every reason to think that any Creator who wrought it might be the same way. But Nature is also, simultaneously, beautiful, life-giving and deeply good. And so the same must be for this mysterious Creator. Such is life on earth. Sometimes I wish I were born in an Animist hunter-gatherer tribe of 30,000 years ago. Then again, I’m grateful for the gift of reason, evidence, vaccines, the internet and refrigerators. What I want most of all is a real tribe I can belong to. I wander, but I am not lost.

 

 

 

Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

Writing Wisdom from Philip Zaleski

“Words have consequences; writing is a moral act,” writes Philip Zaleski, editor of The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004. “To recognize this pays a triple dividend, for it inoculates us against the three daily literary devices of pandering to popular taste, creative laziness, and didacticism. The last item may surprise those who fear that any talk of moral writing will unleash an army of bluenoses ready to censor at will or of apparatchiks who will demand a political subtext to every sentence. But such worries stem from misunderstanding the obligations placed upon us by the nature of the craft. To write ugly prose, or to cripple one’s language to meet the standards of the day, or to warp one’s creation into a political placard -all this is to write immorally. The task of the spiritual writer is to uphold truth and beauty at whatever cost, in whatever way his art demands.”

 

 

Photo by Jason Wong on Unsplash

Laughing in Mountains

 

 

Beloved, Beloved,

come out from within things,

as you look out from within things,

from the eyes of your creatures,

from the spark of creation

as from the inside of a tree

there comes fire.

Come down, o love Divine,

and complete my half-written words

for your glory, my love,

for your beauty, my love,

so that all creatures

may seek you and know you.

Most beautiful!

The One who is love incarnate!

Follow my heartbeat, as I follow yours,

tracking your footsteps in the land.

My face, sometimes it is sorrowful.

If you may look upon me in love,

even in these times,

not turning your sun from me

even in these times,

then surely not a sparrow falls

without your swooping down

on mother-bird wings

to comfort and carry

each home.

You lead me

through vine thickets and brambles

to see the great stag leap

from his cavern!

Most beautiful Lord,

friend of plants, laughing in mountains,

draw from my mouth the good words

for hearts sorely in want of you.

 

 

 

image source: Creative Commons CC0

On the Genres: Living Language

The differences amongst genres are mainly about what we are trying to say or do with our writing. I have always felt that what one actually writes about is more important than any particular style, or the much-lauded fact that we are being writers by putting words together. Among the creative genres of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and screenwriting, I perceive a kindred design: these are the genres of the tale which longs to be told.

Poetry is the primal language, the firstborn of these. It is the language that comes from below human words. It is the language of the heart, of the back of the mind where the grip of logic does not rule, nor fully comprehend. If the human mind was not so emotionally inclined, we might not see the fruition of all other forms of writing which, at the root, flow from here. For by the sheer force of will you may conjure up the words of a factual article, a rational thesis, a streamlined argument, but you cannot fake a poem. Undomesticated feeling comes first, from which everything else draws it’s source. I once heard it was said by C. S. Lewis that a thing is not what it is made of: the sun may be made of a spherical conglomeration of burning gas, but that does not define what the sun innately is in it’s ultimate purpose or essence. Poetry is much the same way. Poetry “is”, according to dictionary.com, “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.”. Poetry is a flashing string of wild words shot through the woods of the unsuspecting heart. It’s very definition defies the stricture of definition -by definition! Poetry is first and fundamental to language and life.

Fiction is a fair child of poetry. As organization flourishes, the very best works of fiction emerge from the convergence of feeling and thought into a longer and more clearly expository entity which we call “story”. Fiction’s teasing links with dreams and fables on one hand, and this “real” world on another, create an important link between here and there, mundane and enchanted, lost and found. Fiction may use for it’s setting the tempestuous night of your dreamland or the tepid, daily hum of your suburban neighborhood to tell the tale. Through this organized yet unpredictably infinite source of material from which is draws, fiction is a vital link between the literary canon and the human need to chronicle.

Then comes nonfiction, the younger but more worldly progeny of language. Nonfiction’s wide-ranging versatility, enabling it to go far beyond the tender bosk of narrative and into the wind-battered plains of spear-sharp facts and weary conflict makes this beast a testy warrior. Strong and capable, respected, upheld by the powers of men in grey halls yet called upon by all for the light of proof in times of great debate, nonfiction is our more battered, yet not alien, friend. Still handsome, but with lines about his well-rubbed eyes by so many assemblies of armies calling on his abilities. He knows about the work of his sister, Fiction, who steps between worlds, though he can only speak of such. He may nod in loving reverence to his mother, Poetry, but is constantly warned to never become her, for he was destined to a different fate in the alphabet soup: one of explanation, and to be satisfied by it.

Screenwriting, taken what we know about the aforementioned genres, is then something of a metamorphosis arising from the characteristic pieces of the herd. A wholly different and radically contemporary body of work arises out of the ancient elements and floods its way into the land of vision. A film contains multitudes. Though the genre of screenwriting is radically new, appearing so recently in the 20th century with only the play preceding it, it is yet in another way very old. The best screenwriting takes us full circle, back to the original oral tradition at the root of all storytelling. But, you say, just how is film in any way similar to the oral tradition?! I hear you protest. It is similar because nobody needs to be taught how to watch a movie, like nobody needs to be taught how to listen to a very good story, provided you can understand the language. Whereas the written word relies on a complex cryptology of assembled visual symbols which only the trained eye can decipher, both movies and oral storytelling enthrall their audience through the immediacy and intimacy of sound and sight.

I have become interested in point-of-view when storytelling, the various voices and eyes an author may use. The aboriginal Poetry and the undulating Fiction genres lend themselves to first, second and third-person perspective with great versatility, but Nonfiction and Screenwriting are almost exclusively of the more discipled, more removed third-person omnipresent. When an author finds her voice she must see into and through the interlocking eyes of a story.

 

 

Image © Gentle J. Pine. All rights reserved.

Notes from Karl Marlantes at Holy Innocents Church in Duvall, WA, 2012

Don Juan – death is over your shoulder in war & spirituality, be in the present moment.

Loss of ego and awareness of death. “Psycho-spiritual”. Kali- Hindu Dark Goddess who eats things (Sam’s tattoo).

Buddhism – demons guard the gates of heaven.

“Troparian” – a kind of Orthodox song

Zenia of Petersburg was a Holy Fool: she dressed in her dead husband’s clothes, a religious jester.

In modern war, you hardly ever see the enemy. 19-year olds are the best warriors because they lack self-awareness. Asking 19-year-olds to kill is asking them to play God. Ecstasy in war and in killing. Young soldiers struggle to integrate back because of what they have been through, like asking St John of the Cross to work at McDonald’s.

“Solipsistic” – writing gets us out of our isolated lives. We see through other peoples’ eyes. We can identify with characters that are unconscious within ourselves.

from Jung: “That which is unconscious is doomed to act in reality.”

Writing as spiritual discipline. Literature is how we move through this. Through writing we turn ghosts into ancestors. America’s media sex & violence comes from our repressed puritanical cultures.

There is a natural aggression given by God, and words will not save us from our attacker. Literature heals this.

We turn ghosts into ancestors through taking the ghost out of our hidden inner worlds and looking objectively at the fear. We externalize into the light. This is “the great work”. Be in this, the work of the spirit. This is the truest writing.

Commercial fiction is not about turning ghosts into ancestors. It is about entertainment. And that’s ok! But it is a totally different game than literature.

Good writing is one of the hardest things any human could undertake.

Karl’s Capuchin friend put on a mass for all Karl’s dead people he knew. It was literally a dark & stormy night. Karl saw the ghosts come into the church, even his grandparents. This is how he became Catholic.

Books: Matterhorn. What it is Like to Go to War.

 

 

image: Creative Commons CC0