Friday, August 13, 2010

Women’s Spiritual Archives, Nausicaa vs. Heavy Metal, Helen Luke & Eileen Myles

I think all of us need to be some kind of starfish to survive—have to be able to put our insides out and vice versa in order to keep our balance in the world…Eileen Myles, from "Survival of a Starfish"

The phrase “Women’s Spiritual Archives” floated through my head about two months ago one morning when I woke up, left over from the prior night’s dreamscape I could no longer haul up into memory. It continues to linger, for good reason, for while I am busy posing as the mother of three children, dutiful daughter-in-law, law-abiding citizen, PR person for my son’s Boyscout troop, aspiring poet, loving, faithful wife to Neptune- crazed cross-country coach by day/fitness instructor by night husband, etc, I’m really pretty much an astral traveler who wakes each morning surprised to have landed in the same body.

Having children means I spend more of my waking hours inhabiting that body, less time tuning in to all the extraneous layers of invisible hoo ha that can really keep a girl from having fun in the present moment.

But, I can’t help it, I’m attracted to the idea of scrolls and legends documenting the soul paths of renegade women warriors, I mean, who wouldn’t want to rummage around in the stacks of the women’s spiritual archive of all time? I suppose you’d have to cross water to get there, you’d arrive at some kind of jewel-studded temple, maybe you’d have auspiciously run into the right totem animal who gave you their tuft of fur, feather, or password…

Or…. Maybe the entrance to the archives would be disguised as Taco Bell and you’d have to go in the back where they dump out all the frying oil and hunt around for the secret door…(birthing kids did that to me--I’m jaded—I concede—our waking world is not in fact, flooded with angels, vestial virgins, and fairies alone).

I can easily trace this tangent to the book I’m reading by Robert Moss titled, The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead: A Soul Traveler’s Guide to Death, Dying, and The Other Side, in which he describes leading dream retreatants to a library on the astral. And I’ve had questions of female power on the brain lately—goaded by the trepidation I feel watching my little girl grow towards adolescence.

Remember the movie Heavy Metal? That scene of the young girl who wanders into the fields under the night stars only to be hunted, then overcome, by that menacing green glowing orb of light? I’d say kidnapped--spirited off--into the heart of evil, armed with nothing more than a sword, burgeoning breasts barely contained by her vest, and a pair of blood red boots bordering yards of naked thigh (and a valiant winged companion she rides). I remember watching that movie with mixed terror and fascination, a mythology any of us Earth girls recognize: ordinary girl self vs. the mythic star warrior one wishes to be, though here, depicted through a certain rampant slant of male lens of “woman warrior”…anorexic, busty, gorgeous but lethal, sex and death under one corset.

Around the same time in my adolescence, my brother began to draw; my parents found a drawing tutor for him named Ritchie, a thespian who traveled often with the Renaissance Fair. Ritchie brought humor and levity to our home. He came with a bevy of images for inspiration, including the work of Frazetta, with those muscled half-nude men and women, volcanoes expiring on the planetary horizon tilted beneath the wings of the alien birds the magnificent pairs usually rode. I don't deny the images themselves were compelling, or that the human body should be celebrated.

But as an antidote to the darker images I saw in our culture, like the HM girl, for some years I had a painting up on my wall of a string of vestial virgins gathering flowers on a mountain top, their bodies and radiant faces shrouded in white, an image that shepherded me through some years of soul tiredness when considering the issue of female power and how to proceed. A conversation I continually return to with my closest friends involves the question of imagery—where in our culture, where in myth do we see accurate reflections of what we survive as we try to raise our young, love the partners before us, reach our potential and attend to spiritual longing (with dignity).

A more recent antidote comes in the form of Hayao Miyazaki who has directed such sweet inspiring anime kid films (and I mean kid films in the highest sense--films I love to show my children and happen to enjoy myself) as Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. Mihazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind proves to star a girl savior far more palatable and wholesome, voluptuousness present but not blindingly so as in the case of our Heavy Metal girl. Unlike the disturbing, instant, caustic catapulting of the HM girl into full woman/object/ hood, Nausicaa remains unmolested throughout the story, a girl who uses her intuition, compassion, and heart strength to save her people and respect nature without having to strut her bust. Her male companions respect and chaperone her spiritual gifts.

This version of woman warrior-hood is one I don’t mind sharing with my daughter, from ethereal opening scene of Nausicaa observing the falling spores--white as snow--for a long meditative moment to Miyazaki's signature core dream resonances spiralling up out of the plot, supporting a vision of the essential goodness to be found in the pure impulses of childhood and the necessity of remembering one's most innocent roots for their healing potential.

In the absence of healthy role models of female power lurks despair, depression. In the kinship of other women, both living and dead, I’ve found stepping stones to peace. One such kin thinker for me is Helen Luke, who writes in her essay, The Perennial Feminine; “If we are to stop the wreckage caused by the disorientation of women, by their loss of identity under the stresses of the new way, then the numinous meaning of the great challenge they face must break through from the unconscious; for no amount of rational analysis can bring healing. Only so can the images of the masculine and feminine, which have become more and more dangerously mixed in our society, be discriminated once more, so that they may come to a new synthesis in both woman and man.” (p. 13, Kaleidoscope, the Way of Woman and Other Essays).

The “new way” Luke refers to here points to the downside of feminism, how it contributed to some stunting of our power in surprising ways (and causing some destructive, extreme polarization for both men and women). I’d have to quote her essay in entirety to do her justice; I hope you’ll pursue her writings to see what I mean.

In my conversations with my friends, we talk about how to unearth those new ways of being, those new images. Luke, writing near the turn of the century, speaks to the need for myths to constantly be revisited from the reality of each particular time we inhabit.

I hold out hope for the arts--the anime form mentioned above, painting, sculpture, etc, and of course, my first love--writing--to inevitably unearth such imagery--inspired imagery--healing for women as well as men. I came across this tidbit from Eileen Myles Survival of a Starfish (in the anthology Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation, James L. Harmon). Myles encourages us, “in our time we have to write those books and pass on this message of the great vast female inside, the mind inside the mysterious female body, the dreaming female consciousness that is trying to wake up; we should pass that message on…We have to get our inside out. And women can take that in. Later on I would like to help men. But women first.” (p. 127). Amen, Myles. (And I hope you’ll read the rest of Myles’ bright, cheeky, splash-of-cold-water-in-the-face essay, which explores, among other topics, the question of who's in charge when beer or masturbation are involved.)

And here's a closing image from Robert Moss, which speaks directly to that astral double of mine I started this whole rumination with. Moss writes, “The sarcophagi of Egypt that have been found empty by archeologists were constructed as incubation and holding chambers for the living (not the dead) bodies of royal star travelers (p.8).” That’ll rewrite some history, inspire a few narratives, a screenplay or two (if it hasn’t already).

Maybe I’m just a star traveler light years from home. Or maybe I’m exactly where I'm supposed to be, just a mother of three children, balsa wood gliders now pinging off my cabin door signalling the end of my writing day. Here they are: my girl and her brothers, flouncing across the threshold, wrestling across my futon, spiraling to the floor in beautiful disarray the 90 poems I’ve given up on ordering for now.

Tonight, it’s back to the dream-lab, only this time I’ll try to get the shutter reflex going on my third eye so I can draw you a map to those girly archives I can’t get out of my brain.

Active Dream Workshops with Robert Moss:

Blue tornadoe by Robyn Beattie:

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Thief, The Fishbowl, and The Bank of America

The thief left a size 13 footprint on the chair he’d used to get from our window ledge onto the carpet, taking my laptop, the sword my husband wore for our Renaissance wedding, and a pair of abalone-shaped gold earrings.

My six-month old son on my shoulder, I listened to my husband place the 911 call, visions of CSI in my head, imagining the suspect as good as caught. The Sebastopol sheriff came by long enough to reassure us we’d never see the goods again and to chuckle about the footprint. “Nah,” he said, “we can’t do nothing with that.”

Which set the tone for the landlord’s visit.

“Anything you need to feel safer,” he’d said while drinking coffee at our kitchen table as he told us how violated he felt the time his home had been robbed years ago. I asked for motion lights and a taller fence to replace the two-foot white pickets. “Well, no, see,” he said, pulling on the visor of his cap. “This is the country…fences wreck the view. You’re in the fishbowl. People drive by and see the orchard, horses, your little family. I can’t agree to a fence.” And he went on his way.

So did we, shortly, to buy our own house. My husband built a deck around one of the redwoods adjacent to the east wall and added a couple cabins. He single-handedly took a pick-axe to the hill to make a yard for our three kids, then to the perimeter of the hill, lining the trail with abalone shells. We breathed out into the quiet acre, the only voyeurs the deer browsing through to eat Spanish moss off the downed oaks, the red-hooded woodpeckers knocking holes into the firs, the rains at night on the skylights. At last, no longer renters: this acre and all we’d do to it, ours for the duration.

A stripe of sun crosses the deck once a day, so the kids plant basil in pots. Each seedling gets no more than a foot tall before molding at the stalks; the deer eat my hydrangeas, coming up near the house to strip the few rosebuds off my bushes. Our first three years we chart the course of the sun across the land, dreaming our garden dreams (on the roof? a trellis up the side of the house aligned with that stripe of sun?) for the years to come.

Or, maybe just for this one last year. No thief to blame, nor footprint, for this turn in our luck--just the spiraled out economy, an interest rate on our home loan we can’t afford, the inability to refinance, eleven months of the bank losing our letters asking for
help. When a job for my husband surfaces ten hours away in San Diego, we take it, ignoring the toll it’ll take--his paying for a home he’ll live in solely on the weekends while I’ll raise our children during the week without him. Our son begins to draw black crayon helicopters labeled “Navy”, and says, “Yes, sir,” and “Aye, Captain” so many times his Waldorf teacher makes note of his comments on her mid-year report.

I was ll ½ when I left Illinois in a wooden camper my father built by hand. He moored it to the bed of a maroon 57 Chevy, painting the words “The Piano Doctor” in an arc above the plexi-glass windows. I loved our Illinois farmhouse: the rusted red pump by the juniper bush, the way the sky tinged green before the tornado, the root cellar with its hinged doors where we’d descend to sit out the storm. I’d run my hands over the jars of beets and carrots, sprigs of dill and capers floating between pale lime spears of cucumbers. Someday I would have such a cellar, my garden waiting in winter for my family to eat. We drove off that early morning towards California, my mother fretting about a pair of tablecloths still tumbling in the dryer she wanted to set out for the next tenant.

Spring break. After five months of straddling two cities, my husband drove us the ten hours to San Diego. Half way down, our acre’s grip began to loosen, for the ocean is the ocean all the way down the coast. We stopped in Shell Beach to visit my son’s godparents and headed for the dunes. The vast blue sky against the white backdrop of the sheer sand cliffs cleared my head. The children’s bodies, clothed in primary clothes, were as visible 1000 yards away as at 250.

The next day I sat on a bench outside the Navy Lodge, North Island, Coronado. Three helicopters circled in front of us. The kids abandoned their drip castles to watch the men dropping into the ocean and ascending in pairs slowly back up on invisible cable, as the questions flitted through my mind: Who will live in our house if we leave it behind? Who might we meet here? Who will we love? Who will we lose? The helicopters hovered side by side, then made their loops, all afternoon.

Later in the hotel room, I read about Tiny Broadwick, first woman to jump with a parachute out of an airplane in this area (on the airstrip behind us on base). How Charles Lindbergh started his infamous flight from New York to Paris from this runway. Between the beds on the floor, my son drew a picture for his father.

“Dad,” he says, “Check it out.”

I stole a glance at the red and blue helicopter, the obvious sun penciled in, a rainbow streaming from the other side. I didn’t take it as the burning bush anointing San Diego over our acre in the redwoods, but I couldn’t miss the simple truth that my son needs his father. Wether he’s a homeowner or a renter. Short fence or tall. In the fishbowl or out.

Photo by Robyn Beattie: