We can breathe freely again, we can walk outside without guarding our steps, we can propel ourselves long distances safely, we can even comfortably, amazingly, sit! This exultation only comes from weathering winter; it’s a unique gift for having ...

 

April Snowballs and more...




April Snowballs

Our mid-April blizzard (and ensuing school release day; arg!) has melted down to patches of wet, icy snow on Minneapolis’s boulevards. This is the kind of loose snow you can easily scoop and pack that only appears in the spring. Our family after-dinner walks to the lake have naturally turned into moving snowball fights. Sun warms our shoulders, loons dive down at the lake, an occasional heron flies overhead, and we sling snowballs at each other. We reenact the dual between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. We hurl them into the lake. We aim at stop signs. They splat, leaving a wet smear. They soak through our mittens.

I grew up in New York, where spring starts in March. Even after thirty-two years of living in Minnesota, even though I honestly love the winter, I’m tormented by this spell from March through April. My body says “Enough already!” and my mind turns toward the garden. I had planted kale under the cloche and sugar snaps along the back fence just before we were blanketed in ten fresh inches. Suddenly my equanimity toward the cold collapsed. I joined everyone else in the Midwest in griping about the weather.

Today patches of snow linger in the shade while the grass greens fast and the rivers run high. Snowball fights, which for most of the winter aren’t possible because the snow is too cold to pack, are now sheer delight. When my mittens turn soggy the air is warm enough I can tolerate grabbing a fistful of snow with bare hands. Our three-way, traveling snowball fight pauses frequently for other neighbors out on their evening stroll. Everyone smiles.

Here is the flip-side of too many dark, cold days: This glorious, enthusiastic emergence of humans onto our sidewalks and birds into our parks and new life everywhere! We’re all giddy. We can breathe freely again, we can walk outside without guarding our steps, we can propel ourselves long distances safely, we can even comfortably, amazingly, sit! This exultation only comes from weathering winter; it’s a unique gift for having suffered the cold. Those in warmer climes never know this particular mix of relief and anticipation and glory and full-bodied movement. It’s expansive, communal, playful, and I want to take it in until I’m completely soaked.   –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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Here are the last two Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions before we break for the summer:

May 10: Childhood, Revisited
June 14: Community and Revision

I’m excited to have an essay included in Queer Voices, an anthology published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.  “Wearing Bifocals” looks at the  queer community’s spiritual potential to see through nondual lenses.  The book launch will be on May 14 from 7-9 p.m. at Open Book, but this is just one of many events celebrating the collection.

Happy spring, everyone!

       

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You, Sounding Through Me

Endel, an artist friend of mine, believes that the audience for a work of art emerges from the artist. Whoa! Let me say that again. Endel thinks that audience evolves from the artist through the art into the real people who encounter the art.

This makes my head spin. I’ve always thought of audience as a bunch of people scattered around the country like you, my faithful blog readers; I reach out to you with these words; you read them (or not) and become their audience (or don’t). When I write I have you in mind but I imagine you as separate from me in identity and body. I think of my words as bridging the gap between us.

Endel doesn’t. He traces the noun “audience” back to its Latin origin, audire, the verb “to hear,” and embraces its implied receptivity. “To audience,” he writes, is to “receive from Source by truly hearing in the act of sacred listening.” Artists “audience” inspiration, and this then plants an “audience seed” in us. We cultivate the seed by making art. The audience grows as the art grows. When the art is launched into the world, the seed breaks ground, taking form as a living person or, if we’re lucky, many people.

Endel is teaching me an entirely new way to think about art—and others. The word “person,” he points out, means “sounding through.” A spark of life or inspiration sounds through us into our creations and sounds through our creations into other living, breathing creations who are also sparks of life and sources of inspiration. I’m reminded of the Nguni Bantu word ubuntu from South Africa: “A person is a person through other persons.” We become persons by sounding through each other.

If this is true, then some part of you is deeply within me. By writing I tend that part until it’s strong enough to reach out across cyberspace to sound within you. Which means you wrote this piece. Thanks! I’m mystified, but grateful.  –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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I’ve just learned that Living Revision won a silver Nautilus Book Award!  Hooray!  I’ve long admired the Nautilus Award for honoring books that “support conscious living & green values, high-level wellness, positive social change & social justice, and spiritual growth.”  Be sure to check out their great lists.  Thanks to Skinner House for making this possible.

Hard to believe, but there’s only three more Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions before we break for the summer.  Join me this Friday, April 12, from 1:30-3:30 to explore form.  Every bit of creation has an inherent, unique form—including our stories. We’ll experiment with structural possibilities for spiritual memoir, reflect on how form follows function in writing, and practice listening for emergent unity within the fragments of our memories. Our remaining topics are:

May 10: Childhood, Revisited
June 14: Community and Revision

And look what landed on my desk yesterday!  Isn’t it gorgeous?  The book launch, hosted by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, will be on May 14 from 7-9 p.m. at Open Book.  I hope you can come!

 

Strange Humility

When my mother died I inherited some money from her life insurance policy. Most of it went directly toward retirement but there were two small extravagances I indulged in and about which my mother would’ve wholeheartedly approved: I bought my first couch after 25 years of sitting on a futon, and we hired once-a-month housecleaning help.

My mother kept an immaculate home. You could have eaten a meal off her garage floor. When she died, the state of her craft cupboards made me cry: Every shelf was neat, every box labeled, every item there was either significant or useful. My mother elevated home-making to an art and, perhaps unusual for a woman of her generation, for the most part she thrived in it.

So I grew up in a joyfully clean home. I took my mother’s sense of order and cleanliness for granted until I became an adult and realized that the time and energy she invested in her home was, for me, unsustainable. I inherited her joy in housework and her satisfaction in cleanliness, but I also inherited her values (creativity, community engagement, social action), which for me, especially now that I have an exuberantly creative kid, all too often take precedence over housework. Which means I live with messes. And dust bunnies. And disorderly closets.

Like my mother, I take pride in housework; an hour spent scrubbing the oven by hand I find deeply satisfying. I look back on my childless days, when I could give an afternoon to dusting and reorganizing my bookshelves, with longing. At the same time, whenever I’m confronted with a choice—clean or play with Gwyn? clean or write? clean or go to the school equity group?—there’s really no choice. The decision to pay someone to help was both a concession (I had to admit I couldn’t do it all) and an acceptance of our privilege: We can act on our values and have a clean house. Once a month.

The work of realizing privilege, accepting it, and acting from it is so complex! Because my clean house comes to me as a gift, I have a consequential strange sense of disempowerment. I can no longer claim the state of my home as my doing. I’m tempted to attach my pride to other things (parenting, work) to make up for the lack, but truth be told, every dimension of my life is gift—the fact that I have a daughter to parent, work I love, talents that matter, a roof over my head, a healthy body… My every breath is a gift, and accepting this feels like falling down a bottomless well of humility.

If even my agency is a gift passed along by my family genes and my upbringing and white privilege and happenstance, then any sense that that agency is mine is an illusion. Down that well, I imagine, we’re swept away in a mighty stream of gift-receiving and gift-giving. It’s dark there, but it’s also a lively and life-giving place to be. There’s not much to hang onto except, perhaps, each other. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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Coming in May–the release of Queer Voices! Pre-order it today!

Join me for these upcoming spiritual memoir sessions, second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., at  Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions.

April 12: Parts in the Whole: Form
May 10: Childhood, Revisited
June 14: Community and Revision

 

Receive the Blessings of Failure

There’s an old Taoist story about a farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbors on hearing this came to him and said, sympathetically, “Such bad luck!”

“We’ll see,” the farmer replied.

The next day the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “So wonderful!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“We’ll see,” the farmer said.

Then the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. The neighbors offered their sympathy for his misfortune.

“We’ll see,” the farmer said.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated him on how well things had turned out.

You can guess the farmer’s reply.

I’m thinking of this story in relation to writers and publishing, how our emotions get jerked around as we anticipate, experience, and fail to experience others reading our work. The calmness of this farmer is a good model for all of us. Equanimity like his is born of resisting judgment and cultivating possibility.

Personally I’m great at the latter—I’m a dreamer and worrier; I have no trouble imagining possibilities. But the former is a challenge. Excitement, disappointment, anticipation, frustration, and the whole gamut of emotions tend to take me for rides. So when I submit pieces to journals I have high hopes, which are dashed when those pieces are rejected and elevated if they’re printed. Then my joy is fleeting because a bad review (or more often no review) tramples it. I’m a victim of my emotional attachments.

Honestly, I’m tired of it.

As an antidote I’m exploring how I might cultivate equanimity in my publishing practice and in life in general. It seems to me that if we foster a worldview broad enough to see the blessings of failure—not just “looking at the bright side” but actually living into whatever invitations present themselves—and deep enough to be unattached to success, we can walk the middle way.

I love how this Taoist parable unfolds, each event turning over to reveal a surprising alternative. Everything has creative potential, but that potential is almost never what we expect. For me, orienting my heart toward the bigger Story (not just whatever small story I want to share with readers but the larger unfolding of my life and our lives together and all of evolution) helps me remain engaged with whatever is coming alive, regardless of my small success or failure.

My admiration for that farmer keeps growing. I’m convinced that his practice of steadiness, an open heart, and receptivity is really the only way to freedom.  –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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A few months ago I spent a week digging around archives in Maschito, Italy, researching my Abereshe ancestors.  I haven’t had a chance to write their stories yet, which is why I’m super-excited about Diane Wilson visiting my spiritual memoir drop-in session this Friday.  Diane is the author of SPIRIT CAR, her story of uncovering her Dakota ancestors and their involvement in the Dakota-U.S. war.  Please join us to dive into memoir that connects our ancestors’ lives to our own!

Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.:  Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions.

March 8: All My Relations, with guest author Diane Wilson
April 12: Parts in the Whole: Form
May 10: Childhood, Revisited
June 14: Community and Revision

 

Consenting to the Cold

Yesterday, watching dozens of bundled children careen down the sledding hill toward the creek, I had a pure Minnesota Moment. Big, heavy flakes filled the air; the kids were exuberant, flying over the jump, then trudging back up through deep powder; every so often some fat tire bikers passed by over the frozen creek bed; I felt how fortunate we all were to have hefty snowsuits, parents included, and wool socks and the fortitude to be glorying outdoors.

Eleven degrees and a snowstorm seem balmy only after a stretch of truly hard cold. In the past two weeks Minneapolis has had five school release days; when frostbite sets in after ten minutes and an inch of sheer ice on the roads delays buses over an hour, canceling school is the only option. We’ve been cooped up. Parents try to juggle work and childcare, kids climb the walls, and all of us long for routine. No wonder we’re willing to slide face-first at high speeds into the freezing snow. At least we can!

Minnesota winters are an exercise of consent. If you live where the weather’s always balmy, you never have to practice waking up in the morning and accepting that circumstances beyond your control have utterly altered your plans. Of course accidents and illnesses and death offer everyone this opportunity—life throws curve balls; that’s just how it goes. But Minnesota cold is a collective curve ball. We trundle through it together.

What’s hardest about not carrying on as usual is having our agenda interrupted and being helpless to do anything about it. Much as we might want the kids to go to school, they aren’t. Much as we might want our meeting to happen, it won’t. Our will is thwarted. As a result we have three choices: We can be miserable and rail against circumstances; we can go limp with resignation and feel victimized by our circumstances; or we can consent. Consent accepts what is with agency. Thomas Keating says “the chief act of the will is not effort but consent.” This is a wildly challenging notion, I think. The most powerful, willful action springs from acceptance.

In Minnesotan terms, we take the “bad” weather and make the best of it. On the drive home from sledding, the golf course parking lot was packed with more cars than I’ve ever seen there—all the skiers out for the first good conditions of the season. And I promise you, every one of them was joyful.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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Winter is a great time to write!  Join me for Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions on Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.  I’m especially excited to talk with memoirist Diane Wilson on March 8th.  We’ll discuss her book Spirit Car, share thoughts on writing our ancestors’ stories in relation to our own, and offer writing exercises to practice this work.  Please join us!

Also upcoming:

April 12: Parts in the Whole: Form

May 10: Childhood, Revisited

June 14: Community and Revision