Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The House of Rumour

This is a piece I like to put out there now and then. I don't have anything particular on my mind at the moment, no rumors floating around my life, just revisiting something I really like.

The House of Rumour

from Ovid’s Metamorphoses

In the centre of the world, situated between earth and sky and sea, at the point where the three realms of the universe meet, is a place from which everything the world over can be seen, however far away, and to its listening ears come every sound. There Rumour lives, in a home she has chosen for herself on a hilltop. Night and day the house lies open, for she has given it a thousand apertures and countless entrances, with never a door to barricade her thresholds. The whole structure is of echoing brass, and is full of noises, repeating words and giving back the sounds it hears. There is no quiet within, no silence in any part, and yet there is no loud din, but only murmured whisperings, like the sound of the sea’s waves, heard at a distance, or the last rumbles of thunder when Jupiter has crashed dark clouds together. A whole host inhabits these halls: they come and go, a shadowy throng, and a thousand rumours, false mixed with true, stray this way and that, while confused words flit about. Some of them pour their stories into idle ears, other carry off elsewhere the tales they have been told, the story grows, and each new teller adds something to what he has heard. Here live Credulity, a hot-headed Error, groundless Joy and craven Fears, Sedition newly-born, and Whispers whose origin no one knows. Rumour herself sees everything that goes on in heaven, in earth, and on the sea, and seeks information the world over.

Brigit Approaches

I look forward to our annual celebration of the Feast of the Goddess Brigit. This year especially, since I'm dealing with a loved one much in need of healing.

In honor of Brigit in her role as fire in the poet's brain, goddess of inspiration, I invite all to join in the Second Annual Brigid in Cyberspace Poetry Reading anytime on February 2, 2007 on your blog.

This is a spell begun by Reya and being continued by Oak, so "link to whoever you hear about this from and a mighty web of poetry will be spun."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Our New Kitties

Oona, fka Bubbles

Fernando is the one in front.

On January 13th, I sent this news to a few friends:

Here are Fernando and Bubbles. (Bubbles is undergoing a name change, top contenders being Oona, Mercedes and Isabel.) Marmalade and white Fernando is from an all-male litter called the F Troupe. Bubbles, a medium-haired calico, is from an all-female litter born of a petite mama. One litter was imported to the Bay Area from Manteca and the other from Merced (hence the possible name Mercedes), Valley communities where low-cost spaying and neutering is not available so more kittens need adoptive homes. Fernando is 10 weeks old, Bubbles 8, both are neutered.

They were adopted from The Milo Foundation in Berkeley. Even though they’re from different litters, they adapted to each other instantly, playing, sleeping and grooming together. Mr. Fernando is a regular purring machine, and is a tremendous leaper. Bubbles is full of curiousity, so tiny she can lie on my arm.

Both slept with us last night, in a little pile. They’re great fun. We’re really enjoying them and looking forward to having them in our family for many years to come.
That was nearly two weeks ago. Tonight they are tearing all over the house. They are at least twice the size they were when they arrived here. Two weeks ago they could curl together on my lap; now they've grown so that one or the other of them tends to slide off. Fernando is bigger and purrs more readily and louder, but spunky Oona (aka Oona Banoona) holds her own with him.

I took this photo last week. You can't photograph them in action because they bounce off the walls. They move like lightning.

Oona and Fernando, age 9 and 11 weeks, respectively.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Woman's Choice

Or who owns our bodies?

Apparently Tuesday, the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, was Blog for Choice Day. I didn't hear about it till Wednesday and was sick all day, so today I'm bringing up the rear.

My reproductive history was affected by big changes in the law.

At the time of my first pregnancy, safe legal abortion was illegal in California, which was where I lived at the time. I could take a chance, assuming I had enough money and good connections, and go underground or to Mexico if I chose to terminate pregnancy. I was in my late teens and had no marketable skills. I was not self-supporting. I was a student at San Jose State. I was unmarried. There was tremendous shame associated out-of-wedlock births, for both mother and child. Few women, even with good skills, could earn a living wage. There was no social support for single women, and no mandated child support from the father.

The only viable choice I could see was surrending my child for adoption, so that's what I did. It was the most painful choice I've ever had to make. The pain of that loss remains forever. It has receded in the intervening years, but it doesn't take much to restimulate it. And even adoption laws have been drastically liberalized since those days.

In 1964 I began taking birth control pills, Enovid E to be precise, which was later proven to have its own set of problems. (See Malcolm Gladwell's essay about Enovid E in The New Yorker.) The doctor who prescribed them for me was prochoice, and he ended up prescribing them for my two under-21 flatmates as well, but mainly birth control pills were only available to married women.

My second pregnancy occurred when I had an IUD in place and was in a committed relationship with the man who eventually became my husband. He had two children already and we were not prepared to become parents at that time. This was around 1969, when one could obtain a safe, legal abortion in a hospital if one could prove that it would be a danger to the life of the mother to continue the pregnancy. With counseling and sound advice from our local Planned Parenthood, I was referred to two psychiatrists who were supportive a woman's right to choose. They had to interview me -- at some expense, I might add -- and state that my life was endangered by bringing my pregnancy to term. Both were male. So I needed two male authority figures and a male M.D. to affirm my decision.

The standard method in those days was dilation and curettage (D&C). This requires shaving the pubic hair. At the hospital I had a hostile nurse who scraped my skin with some vigor, I must say. I had been shaved for delivery of my first child, but this was wicked. I swear she used a rusty razor. Regardless of shaving, a D&C is invasive and carries some danger.

The third time I became pregnant, my late husband Rod and I had our beautiful and much-loved Deirdre Blessing. She was born at home in our North Beach flat with the help of midwives Nan Bowe, RN, CNM, and Vani Garabedian, Lay Midwife, coaching by Rod and photography by the late Richard Smith.

During the time surrounding my divorce I again became pregnant. I was not in a position to take responsibility for another child at that time, nor did the father wish to have it. I had an abortion at Kaiser. By this time, the procedure was placing some kind of seaweed in the cervix to dilate it before vacuum aspiration. The most difficult part was enduring the pokes and jabs from nurses and doctors trying to find a vein for the saline solution or sedative or whatever it was they were giving me intravenously. My veins are not close to the surface of my skin; I always have this trouble when donating blood or getting lab work done. I recovered much more quickly from the VA than from the D&C.

My fifth pregnancy, with the same man (a seven-year monogamous relationship) as with the fourth, was terminated by VA at the Oakland Feminist Women's Health Center (unfortunately now defunct). One of the founders was the late poet June Jordan. It was she who greeted me when I came in for my abortion. There, they assigned me a companion who stayed with me throughout the procedure, offered care and comfort. Ironically, the doctor who performed the abortion was Dr. Gore.

Who cares about my personal reproductive history? Probably no one but my loved ones. I offer it here to show how profound the changes have been since I came of reproductive age and now that I am past that age.

I'm glad we now have personal choice in making such a difficult decision. My daughter and her contemporaries take it for granted. The great news is that Deirdre is now training to be a midwife with Elizabeth Davis at Hearts & Hands.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Marin Remembers MLK

The Marin Interfaith Council and the Marin Interfaith Youth Outreach presented an event in honor of Dr. King called Jubilee: Civil Rights & Marin County 50 Years Ago at Congregation Rodef Sholom tonight. I went alone. Some of the speakers were people I'm acquainted with, mostly through the MIC.

Rabbi Stacy Friedman, the senior rabbi of the host site, spoke of the meaning of the 50th anniversary, or jubilee. The jubilee is a year of restoration and celebration, called in Hebrew yobel, or "ram's-horn trumpet" with which the jubilee year was proclaimed. Besides celebrating 50 years of civil rights activism in Marin, the event also celebrated the jubilees of none Marin religious congregations.

Noah Griffin recapped significant events in the struggle for civil rights, citing legal rulings, Rosa Parks' bus ride, and his own few meetings with prominent civil rights leaders. He just rolled off all these facts; probably is asked to to it a lot.

Sister Chandru Desai of the Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center (soon to open a meditation center in Novato), in her very gentle way, lead us in chanting "Om Shanti Peace."

Interspersed between the speakers was some lively gospel singing. Fortunately, for me at least, most of the gospel singing was of well-known freedom songs rather than Christian hymns. Many, if not most, of the 500 people in attendance, sang and clapped and stood up and rocked. I'm always happy to join in good-time song.

The highlight of the evening was a screening of "Civil Rights & Marin County: 50 Years Ago," a film by Scarlet Shepard. Most of the interviewees were in attendance. Among those interviewed were American-born Nisei who'd been rounded up and interned during World War II -- a shameful chapter in U.S. history. Others were African-Americans whose families had come to Marin during WW II to work for Bechtel building Liberty Ships at Marinship in Sausalito. One of the women spoke of growing up in Marin City, how most of the housing for the workers had been temporary and Marin City itself had been integrated. The housing complex at Marin City was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

A white woman who was graduated from Tam High in 1950, spoke of the covert racial discrimnation she witnessed in earlier years, and noted landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and his dancer wife Anna spoke of their thwarted efforts to buy real estate in Kent Woodlands because they were Jews and how Roger Kent stepped in and made it happen.

I found the interview footage fascinating, yet I think the film needs to be expanded to contextualize the interviews and some polish. I'm viewing it as a work in progress.

One of the speakers preached, and as preaching goes she was good, but I don't want to be preached to no matter how skilled the preacher. I feel that preaching is inappropriate in interfaith contexts, even ones that celebrate the life of another African-American preacher.

I must admit that when one man sang a song he'd written about 'the Lord,' I just had to walk out for a while. He was a fine singer with a good strong voice, but the song made me so uncomfortable. Daresay it offended me. I know it was meaningful to him. But was it appropriate to all present? I don't think so. Not to me anyway. I returned after he finished.

What should a nice Pagan woman do in such a situation? I felt the only option I had to address my own discomfort was to absent myself for the duration. I did mention to the Director of MIC, who was one of the main organizers, how I'd been put off by such overt religiosity of a particular stripe. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this kind of work. I don't seek it out. It comes to me -- not this particular event, but in general I participate in interfaith activities because someone asks me to. I pass such opportunities to others when I can, and generally I feel I do a credible job, but still -- I'm never sure I'm the best person to be doing it.

We share many values -- peace activism, concern for the poor and homeless, opposition to capital punishment, green concerns -- and when we work together on those problems, I'm just fine. But still I find that the majority Abrahamics tend to slip into their assumption that all the world's population is monotheistic. It bugs me. I feel I should try to bring it up in as constructive a way as I can. How do others deal with it?

Monday, January 08, 2007

News with a Witchy Flavor

A couple of interesting news stories came to my attention this morning.

Two days ago Starhawk had put out a call for someone to lead a spiral dance at a rally to save some Valley Oaks (quercus lobata) on the UC Berkeley campus, and to support the urban tree-sitters there. I didn't volunteer because I was unsure of the specifics of the protest and how I might feel about it (both the validity of it and the methods) and I had a scheduling conflict. I certainly love the trees. I know they grow slowly and become very large. In addition, I love leading spiral dances, or just dancing them. They're seductive and intoxicating. They make you feel really good. Today this story, with plenty of photos, appeared in the Sunday SF Chronicle. Not surprisingly, the reporter, or the editor, played up the "California woo-woo" angle. This part in particular gave me a chuckle:

They chanted "Om," someone began drumming and then it began: an ancient pagan ritual known as the spiral dance.

Singing their song and forming one long line, they walked around and around in circles within circles, forming a spiral. A man told them it was key to look each other in the eyes during the spiral dance. "It's pretty amazing," he said.
"An ancient pagan ritual known as the spiral dance." I love it!

The second story, in the same edition but also sent by a Pagan friend who was among the 1200 who participated, is about a large-scale plea for impeachment. While not quite as audacious as the Baring Witness shoots I've taken part in, the scale is immense. What a job it must have been to get all those people settled in the right places. And then having to shoot the photo from a helicopter!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Madame Speaker -- Huzzah!

I've been happily absorbed in all the media coverage of Nancy Pelosi's ascension ot Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. I caught a smattering of it on the tube as I was leaving for work Wednesday, then read the text of her speech online and found some video on my iBook at work, then spent too much time in my local Peet's Coffee reading the many articles about her, her career and family in the SF Chronicle. I got teary listening to her eloquent acceptance speech. I wave my pointy black hat in celebration.

At the tea given for Nancy the day before her swearing in, she specifically pointed out the influece of one of her mentors, the late Congresswoman Sala Burton of San Francisco (wife of Rep. Phillip Burton, he who brought the splendid GGNRA to the Bay Area) and the late Gov. Ann Richards of Texas. (Ann once said of our current President, "Poor George, he can't help it...He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.") I got misty watching her bring all the House women up on stage with her (including our own Lynn Woolsey), plus Senators Barbara Mikulski and Dianne Feinstein. I've watched all of their careers for so many years, with admiration.

When Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro was chosen at Walter Mondale's Vice Presidential running mate in 1984, I cried. I found Second Wave Feminism in the '60s, and the idea of a woman actually running for a national office of that magnitude struck many of us as a great accomplishment that women of my generation could barely have imagined possible.

But even before that, in 1972, I campaigned for the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, the late Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn, in her bid for the presidency in the primaries. Congresswoman Chisholm gave this speech in support of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970, and in spite of our now having many, but not enough, women in the Senate, the House, governors' mansions, state legislatures, city halls and school boards, we still have not managed to pass an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing our equal rights as women.

I'm encouraged by Nancy Pelosi's accomplishment, her sense of optimism, and her energetic beginning. Recent conversations with younger women, my daughter and stepdaughter among them, and with friends of my vintage about their daughters' attitudes, lift my spirits and warm my heart. I'm on board with Third Wave Feminism. Let's keep the dialogue going. Let's keep up the pressure for our rights. Let's change culture.

Thank you, Madame Speaker, for your work, and for the role model you offer our daughters and granddaughters.