November 9, 2017

Immeasurable Heaven

by lisa st john

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion 
And the act…                 
  –T.S.Eliot’s The Hollow Men” 

 

 

As I sit at the Detroit airport picking past the pretzels in my bar mix (say honest to god pretzels don’t taste the same as tree bark) I wonder about the in between.

The crumbs of the salty nacho bagel chips have to affect the smooth, oriental rice crackers. They are in there together, right?

Together and in between.

If I got nothing else out of the Women’s Convention it was this: we are all in this together, and to win we must work together and for each other. I don’t have what it takes to run for a local political office, but I DO have a hand on my sister’s back who does have the courage to run.

It’s changing. American society really is changing this time. Five years ago a female student argued with me about women being minorities. “Not anymore they’re not,” she decreed. I asked her to come back to me when she finished medical school to tell me I was wrong and that she was treated equally alongside her male peers. She hasn’t come back. I hoped she would be right. Not yet.

Between the conception
And the creation 
Between the emotion
And the response…

But standing next to my daughter-in-law in a hall with 3,000 other women who are working to change the status quo has given me real hope. We (I am 52 years old. Boomer? Gen X?) didn’t raise our daughters OR OUR SONS to be anything other than equal. Men are a huge part of this movement, and we need to make that a big part of the discussion.

Rose McGowan’s speech gave me goose bumps. But is was when Rev. Mark Thompson (the only male speaker) said, about sexual assault, “This didn’t start in Hollywood…it began when they first stepped off the boat here…continued throughout slavery…the white man turned on his own women…the true history of sexual assault is a straight line…” I realized that this isn’t just another movement. This is real. 

We aren’t rookies either. Look at how long it took to get marriage equality. We have been working on many levels for many causes, but it’s time to focus on women again.

Senator Nina Turner reminded us, “We have been here before.”

Side note: if you haven’t seen the documentary about the history of the Women’s Movement, SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY, please watch it.

I cannot imagine my friends’ daughters letting someone tell them, “No. You can’t. You’re a girl.” They are the strongest generation because the daughters and granddaughters of the 1970’s are raising them.

“There is no Trump white house big or bad enough to stop women who are determined to shake this world.” (Sen. Turner) Pre and post Trump? Pre and post the social revolutions of the 70s and 80s?

Republicans versus Democrats? “Dr. Bernice King gave a speech earlier this year to the DNC. She said that, today, people are not looking for people just based on whether they’re Democrat or Republican — they’re looking for people who will stand up for humanity” (Nina Turner). Are there natural dichotomies? Or is everything in a state of in between?

Laniakea: immeasurable heaven. It’s where we live, in a supercluster of galaxies.
It’s in between

gorgeous galactic collisions. Tom Chi explains, in his awesome TED Talk “Everything is Connected” says that, “Every one of our heartbeats is connected” through iron. Fe. He explains it much better than I could. 

We are in between and we are together. “Every breath contributes to countless lives after you…Each one of these things that we put out into the world through the creative process … allow us to expand the Palate of Being for all of society after us” (Chi). We have to continue to fight for equal rights (that sounds so redundant and obvious when I type it out). My point is, we CAN make this happen. We CAN smile when our grandchildren ask us what is was like before the Equal Rights Amendment passed.
So we are in between right now. And in immeasurable heaven. And we are all connected.

Between the desire
And the spasm 
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent…
falls the shadow. 
What falls next is up to us.

 

October 13, 2017

“JUST” Words?

by lisa st john

“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.” Rita Mae Brown

 

Poetry especially could have a “hidden” power. But just like the moon, we know how it works. It all starts with gravity

 

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

If I have no name for snow, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Of course not. But if I have no word for freedom, that could be a problem. Although, the word freedom has multiple meanings in different contexts for different people. 

The language we use certainly does affect the way we think.

Everything from neuroscience to linguistics points to this. Language affects our perception of the world, not the world itself.

Philosophically, we could argue that our perception IS the world, but that’s another debate.

When our Secretary of Education has no background in education,
when our Federal Communications Commission wants to get rid of net neutrality ,
when the term for lying becomes alternative fact,
is it time to get scared?

Before I decide we are truly living an Orwellian nightmare, I have to think about …thought. Thought and language.

Words shape thought.

Watch this amazing talk on sexual violence and language (or, if you are pressed for time, scroll to 2:35 for his sentence structure example from Julia Penelope). 

Language matters.

“For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. What we have learned [however] is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently … Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.” -Boroditsky from EDGE (an amazingly fabulous website).

What language are we speaking? That’s it’s okay for a man to grab a woman’s pussy? Our children are listening.

“New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences.” (“Something universal occurs in the brain when it processes stories, regardless of language” Science Daily)

empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

 

“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” Philip K. Dick

 

 

Those who speak and write and make art have the power. For now.

 

 

 

September 8, 2017

What is There to Know?

by lisa st john

There is no other system that responds to aerodynamics and fluid dynamics quite like shifting sand.

Physicists have formulae for the behavior of solids, liquids, and gases but do not have an adequate scientific description of granular motion. Granular behavior doesn’t fit neatly into a single physical theory.

 

Long Beach Island

Why do you like games so much?

Because when I’m playing Bocce or Canasta or Scrabble I know there are rules, and if I play by these rules, with a little luck there is a chance I can win. Unlike real life, where you can do everything right and still get screwed.

 

Scrabble tile lost to the bushes

Games have a science behind them. They are analytical and organized, unlike shifting sand. But the beauty of science is that just because something doesn’t fit into a neat little theory is not to say that we know nothing about it. Knowing is not the same as universal truth. Science is based on change. Did the Sun and planets all revolve around the Earth back in Ptolemy’s time? Of course not. But was it “true” (scientifically) back then? Sure.

As artist Tim Minchin says, “Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed/Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved./If you show me/ That, say, homeopathy works, Then I will change my mind” (Storm).

I do not mean to discount belief. We must believe that sand moves in mysterious ways in order for us to know it as a fact. We can’t know something and not believe it. Aside from Gettier, knowledge must be justified, true AND believable. This is the logical analysis of knowledge.

Logic is important to me because without it, all we have is guesswork and belief. Logic isn’t always easy though. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy. If I throw two dice ten times and I don’t get a 7 then I am “due” to get a 7 soon, right? Wrong. The dice do not know (or remember) what the previous throws were. Every time you throw it will still be  6/36 chance that you will roll a 7. We tend to believe that we are “due” to get a 7 because it’s instinctual; it’s intuitive. Why do we believe weird things? Watch this 14 minute fun video:

Why am I going on about all of this? Because of fake news and social media and a HUGE lack of scientific, logical thought in our world today. We need sites like Snopes (no, we are not putting Robert E. Lee on the $20 bill) and Politifact (no, Katy Perry did not convince ISIS to lay down their guns) because we aren’t taught to think critically, and it’s a critical time to start.

We need knowledge.

We also need belief.

Crash Davis does not, “believe in Quantum Physics when it comes to matters of the heart,” nor should he. What does he believe in, you ask?

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hangin’ curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, over-rated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughta be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. And I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days” (Bull Durham).

It’s a great writing/mindfulness exercise. Rewrite Crash’s speech for yourself. I tried it. Here it is:

http://bovano.com/

I believe in double rainbows, the cock, the cunt, the wonder of the universe, the buzz of hummingbirds, real ice cream, red wine, that the poetry of my teenage years was angst-ridden garbage. I believe that Trump did “grab pussy.” I believe there should be a constitutional amendment making rape a high crime like treason and punishable by death. I believe in true love, soulmates, fuck-buddies and that only christians should celebrate Christmas. And I believe in the power of art.

What if we balanced every minute of mainstream media watching with an equal amount of poetry reading?

What if we didn’t comment on social media as much as we danced in our kitchens?

I would like to know.

 

Buy my poetry chapbook, Ponderings, HERE.

August 20, 2017

Time for Words

by lisa st john

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.                                                                                                                                —Buddha

Maine.

Homemade bluberry (picked that morning) pie with a crust so lovely it needs a better name (than crust).

I’m in a kayak floating around the lake when I see a loon taking his morning bath. I wonder if he and his mate were the ones who brought on evening yesterday with their haunting call and response. He flips around and cleans his white underside, neck impossibly agile; he twists and flutters and shakes off the water that he is not floating in. I don’t want to get too close and disturb his routine but I like watching him.

I am reminded of my beautiful daughter-in-law saying that the living by the water is magical because it’s alive, full of life above and below the surface. Just like she and my son are—in love with life and knowing how important moments are. It’s a gift and I am filled with joy that they discovered it at an early age. That’s another word that should be different: daughter-in-law. The etymology isn’t interesting and the connotation is mechanical. The Spanish la nuera is prettier.

Words are powerful in a way no other form of communication can match. They stay with us, haunt us, remind us.

When the news blares hate over and over and over in baleful repetition I turn it off. The violence of the language and images of what happened (is happening) in Virginia is not going to stop violence.

In Toni Morrison’s essay, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear” she evokes the power of words, of art. I know that watching the talking heads postulate about what could happen and what should have happened will not help us heal. Rather than “what if-ing” (which is what most mainstream media seems to do lately) Morrison gives us a task: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Artists give strength to the idea of positivity and mindfulness and creation as tools against hate.

Lady Gaga: “I know we are not created to hate each other, but to help and love. Use hashtag #BeKind #ThisIsNotUS to tweet positive messages.” #Charlotte

Photo by Sarah St. John

Dave Matthews Band: “The multicultural tapestry that is America must come together, acknowledge our very difficult but remarkable history. We must move away from the racist and ignorant elements of our past toward an inclusive, kinder, more intelligent future.”

In response to a video showing a Neo-Nazi in a Johnny Cash tee-shirt, his family “sickened by the association” posted that, “Our dad told each of us, over and over throughout our lives, ‘Children, you can choose love or hate. I choose love.'”

The Presidential Arts and Humanities Committee resigned. They didn’t start a fire or blow up a building. They said, “No.”

Sara Benincasa provides a list of places to support.

Here are a few more ideas.

  1. Love each other and say so.
  2. Support artists who support peace and denounce hatred.
  3. Spread kindness.
  4. Refuse to be silent.

Remember: THIS IS NOT NORMAL. We cannot get used to this.

July 31, 2017

Art is My Religion

by lisa st john

Art is our new religion and museums our cathedrals.” Theodore Zeldin

Art is everywhere.

This is not a new idea. Alain de Botton’s beautiful talk “Art as Therapy” expands on Zeldin’s idea. He says that art’s function is in “giving us hope.” It reminds us that we are “not alone in our suffering.” Sounds theological doesn’t it? Recently, I realized I have a religion after all: art.

I got a last minute invitation to an event by The Secret City (“Sincere and fabulous community celebrations of the everyday creative life. With outfits”) recently, and it was nothing less than … spiritual. Artists getting together and

Chris Wells

sharing what they do with the rest of us, but also engaging us, inviting us to join them.

 

This interactive event included music by the Secret City Band, dance by Energy Dance Company, guided breathing, a shared ice cream treat by Cashewtopia, an amazing musical interaction by Sxip Shirey, a powerful a cappella protest song by Prana, fabulous memoir excerpt reading by Chris Wells, the most wondrous “Ukulele Anthem” by Amanda Palmer, and visual art provided by Martyn Thompson: meditation, music, singing, mingling, recitation…sounds like

 

AFP

church. It felt much better than any church-going I have ever experienced. It was a truly joyful celebration. We weren’t celebrating our union with a separate-from-us god; we were celebrating art and artists and the harmony that our union with them can provide. We need this. We need to connect with art so we know there are others like us. We are not alone.

 

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent.” –Toni Morrison

 

This brings me to how we connect to the arts. What can we do to promote and enjoy and partake in the magical making of things? One way is Patreon. We do not have to be insanely rich Medicis to support the arts. With crowdsourcing and gofundme and kickstarter, indiegogo, et cetera, we can all make a difference in the world; we can all be patrons. I give a little + you give a little + someone else gives a little = an artist has the money to record an album. That’s about as mathematical as I get, so … .

Let’s be kind.

Let’s share art,

and let’s be fucking joyful.

July 15, 2017

My Atheist Soul

by lisa st john

Sophia is becoming more and more alive right now.”Susan Tiberghien

 

 

So much is possible. I am younger than when I arrived at the International Women’s Writing Guild Conference.

I am not alone. I am not alone in my own energy. I can connect to the whole whenever I am willing to listen.

I am not alone. I am part of the greater soul; keeping that door closed is no longer possible. I weaken the impact of anger by giving it voice. Writing.

But this is not soul work exclusively.

This is art.

In the joyous atmosphere of the IWWG, I opened myself up to the possibility of success (an ever-changing definition) in writing. Being among these powerful women gave me back a sense of power and purpose and connection.

It is difficult to express the true impact of these women’s workshops on my life, but I have to try.

Maureen Murdock’s workshop reminded me that, “Every woman has to learn where her true source of validation is.” (The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness)

Susan Tiberghien taught me that, “With [our] words [we] become light bearers in the world.” (One Year to a Writing Life)

Marj Hahne connected me to my poet’s voice through art, and Myra Shapiro rekindled a light within me.
Carren Strock showed me that I am not limited to one form.
Dorothy Randall Gray illuminated me—hugged me from the inside out, and Alyce Smith Cooper brought me home to my ancestors. Mary Beth Coudal smiled me alive, and Lynne Barrett brought me down to earth. April Eberhardt opened new windows and got me to see through them.

The laughter echoing through Muhlenberg College resonated the halls. The tears, for we need them too, were shared and new writing was born. I am excited for next year’s conference, for my writing, for art in general, and life majestic. Thank you IWWG. 

You can buy my chapbook of poetry, Ponderings, HERE.

July 7, 2017

Changing Culture

by lisa st john

“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” –Mahatma Gandhi

 

You don’t want this flag pin, do you?

Yes! It will be perfect on my new jean jacket.

Ugh.

What? It’s MY country. No semi-literate government official is going to change that.

 

I love that I don’t have to wear a veil. I love that if a woman WANTS to wear a veil, she can. This is the “land of the free,” so now it’s time once again to reiterate, rise, and remind this American Culture that women are people too.

Don’t “believe” in abortion? Uhm…it exists. Don’t believe in having one? Don’t. It has existed since well before this country was “discovered” by Europeans, and it will exist as long as women can get pregnant.

Reproductive freedom is just one issue, however, in this sexist rape-culture we have found ourselves in. “No need to call yourself a feminist—you are a human being or a sexist human being.” I don’t know where this quote came from (hard to attribute memes—someone should come up with an app for that) but it resonates with me. Our language is more than a reflection of culture; language creates culture. We have the power to change it.

I watch my friends’ daughters and sons playing side by side in soccer, and wonder what they will feel like when teams split into boys and girls. Reviving Ophelia and Raising Cain will help us understand stereotypes and (hopefully) how to raise centered and loving human beings, but what will help the girl who is (suddenly) shunned by her friends (for either being too girly or not girly enough)? How can we Keep Her in the Game?

Be careful what you say, my brothers and sisters. Little girls are listening. Can we change the conversation?

“Wow! You look GREAT! How did you get so thin?”
Yes. Yes we can.
“Wow! You look GREAT! How did you get so healthy?”

We have the language; therefore, we have the power. It might seem like a tiny thing sometimes.
e.g.: “I don’t mean it like THAT. I have lots of gay friends.”
“Yes, but when you say, ‘that’s so gay’ it really turns ‘gay’ into a negative thing.”
“I guess so… .”

 

Tiny things make ripples. Language reverberates and mutates and is recreated every day. It happens fast. When was the last time you said (or heard), “Groovy, man”?

Next post: The Artist’s Role

 

Comment with your favorite sources for changing our culture.

Just the Start of a List*:

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is an honest and important history of the Women’s Rights Movement.

Women’s Voices Now “promotes the free expression of women’s struggles for civil, economic, political, and gender rights worldwide. Through the power of film [they] inspire and challenge … viewers to change the world.”

The Gina Davis Institute on Gender in Media: If she can see it, she can be it. It is the “only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence content creators and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconditional bias, highlighting gender balance, challenging stereotypes, creating role models and scripting a wide variety of strong female characters in entertainment and media that targets and influences children ages 11 and under.”

 

*Speaking of lists:
“Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.” –Denis Leary

I just love him. Check out his important foundation, The Leary Firefighters Foundation.

July 5, 2017

Little Things

by lisa st john

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

-Marcus Aurelius

It really is all about the little things. Cigarette machines repurposed as little Art machines, for example. Art-O-Mat is part of The Cosmopolitan’s fabulous, changing Art Program. This is only one of the many wonderful things about this hotel–the only one on the strip (I believe) to have balconies. Las Vegas is opulent and ostentatious, welcoming and lonely.

The nighttime lights of this city laugh at the vast desert, but the mountains hush the neon into submission at sunrise. Oh, Duality.

 

 

Back to little things.

Here is a brief list of little but magnificent.

-campfire light in the backyard
-roses and daisies together in a vase
-watching your son live a life all his own, beautiful as his birth almost thirty-one years ago
Halo Top ice cream
-landing on your feet again
-loving your tribe and feeling the love back
-Art
-romping dogs
-just…landing

 There will be time; oh yes Mr. Eliot. This year there will be gorgeous amounts of time.

sabbatical (adj.) 1640s, “of or suitable for the Sabbath,” from Latin sabbaticus,

from Greek sabbatikos “of the Sabbath” (see Sabbath). Noun meaning “a year’s absence granted to researchers” (originally one year in seven, to university professors) is from 1934, short for sabbatical year, etc., first recorded 1886 (the thing itself is attested from 1880, at Harvard), related to sabbatical year (1590s) in Mosaic law, the seventh year, in which land was to remain untilled and debtors and slaves released.

And where is my metaphorical untilled land? Who are the debtors and slaves of my heart?

This too, I will explore. Adding to the little list: gratefulness.

 

I just landed. I’m a little rusty. It’s time to let the writing genie back in (or at least unlock the door).

 

January 22, 2017

So, I took a walk…

by lisa st john

So I was taking a walk with 500,000 of my friends the other day… .

img_5253

 

This is part one of several blog posts about the Women’s March.

 

Right now, it’s been less than 48 hours since I took a walk. I have a poet’s brain so I’ll give you a few fragments since it will take more than 48 hours to digest and process the beauty of January 21st 2017.

 

SHOW ME WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE!

THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE!

img_5256

Beautiful men from newborns to the elderly, holding their signs, hugging their women, walking. Standing. BEING feminists.

img_5212

SHOW ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!

THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!

 

We are here. We are here together. We are holding signs and singing, “This Land is Your Land.” We are chanting. We are smiling at each other and giving what is needed and taking what is offered. We are holding each others’ babies and wiping each others’ noses and taking each others’ pictures and laughing at this…feeling…this connection. We are here. We are safe. We are powerful.

 

SHOW ME WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE!

THIS IS WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE!

img_5247

Pink PussyHats. EVERYWHERE. Men in trees with rainbow flags. Three generations of women marching together. Chants of, “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” Chants of “TRANS LIVES MATTER!” People in homemade vagina outfits (not as easy as it sounds to make…). People in rainbows. People in pink pussy hats. People draped in signs and symbols. People SEEING each other. People born three months ago. People who have been alive for more than 80 years. People in wheelchairs and people in high heels. People just BEING together as human people.

img_5264

Oh, if there are gods and goddesses they were there. They blessed us all. I do not tear up at Hallmark cards or sad movies. But yesterday I wept. Today the tears of power are still falling, and I hope I never stop crying again.

Watch the speeches.

See the pictures.

These links will be old before I hit POST. But there are others. There always will be. We are here. We will not be silenced…ever…again.

December 10, 2016

More links than content, but isn’t everything connected?

by lisa st john

Some things happened recently that made me remember that not everything is okay. Not everyone is okay. And I am not even talking about the elections. I teach English Language Arts in high school. B…

Source: More links than content, but isn’t everything connected?

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