The Spectacle & The Light (Center, Part 6)

The Spectacle & The Light (Center, Part 6)

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month.

Never done it! Going to try it.

For six weeks now, I’ve been creating these little meditations on how to return to center when we’re distressed, dispersed and distracted. Writing fiction is a centering practice for me. I start to feel weird and cranky when I’m not doing it. Which is why I’m using November to return to my second novel.

Given that this will be the last installment for a while, I’ve been wondering, as usual: What useful thing can I offer?

I’ve already written about sustainable political action; cleaning house; postcards from your center; an unusual method of remembering who you are; places that allows you to just be. And I still have thoughts kicking around about the body, and the scattering properties of our phones, and other things.

But what I find myself musing on this week is

Mortality.

Photo: Sofia Titvinidze – sopodesigns.com

I know. Way to pause on a light note.

Maybe it’s the waning light; maybe it’s the week. Two years ago this week, my husband and I were asked to play a song at the funeral of a fourteen-year-old girl. That would knock anyone sober, I think, but shook me in particular; when I was fourteen, I was hospitalized for depression and suicidal thoughts. I made it to adulthood, but it could’ve been otherwise. And now I have children, who one day (God willing) will be fourteen and beyond—but my life is not guaranteed up to that date, and neither are theirs.

That was an awful and important thing to remember. It pretty quickly blew the litter and clutter from my center. Whatever preoccupations I was nursing, failures I was fretting over—their importance got a thousand lumens dimmer.

Now—the poet Anya Silver, who died this year after living with breast cancer for 14 years, once wrote in a poem called “How to Talk to a Sick Woman”: “Do not make me your nightmare… I’m not your it could be worse / or proof of the smallness of your woes.”

May I never flatten another human life (or death) into a measuring stick to show me “how lucky I am.” When I think about that fourteen-year-old girl, I do not say to myself, Thank God it wasn’t me or my kids. I grieve her—what I know of her through her family’s stories.

And then I think, One day it will be me, and it will be my kidswe will die. So I’d better use my remaining minutes well.

℘℘℘

Does that sound like a lot of pressure? MEMENTO MORI, SLACKERS! I don’t think it has to be. Mostly it involves

being present.
being intentional.

Years ago I started a new job, and I was worried about whether I could do it well. I had a wise boss, and he told me: “Just show up and be Jen.” Sometimes I still tell myself that. Show up and be Jen.

In an effort to Show up and be Jen, for the past several months I’ve made two lists every morning. They say

The first list ensures I don’t whip through my life without tasting it. The second list reminds me that my energy in a given day is finite.

Sometimes the first list includes eyesight or Charlie hugged me out of nowhere or I finally figured out how the essay ends. But the list never seems to include That awesome thing I saw on Instagram.

Pretty much every day, the second list includes quick jog or yoga and be patient and present with the boys. Sometimes it includes finish that thing before deadline or read So-and-So’s book or even get the moths out of the cabinets. But it never seems to include Check my phone 61 times. It never seems to include Worry that I was weird and awkward in that conversation.

When I do catch myself checking my phone again, a little voice says: Is this how you want to spend your energy?

℘℘℘

Last thought on mortality, and being present.

Photo: Sofia Titvinidze – sopodesigns.com


My friend Garth Silberstein is a rabbi,
and in the wake of the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue, he wrote a post that said, in part:

Today I stood on the Bimah together with other rabbis, cantors, lay leaders from the Sacramento Jewish community, at a standing-room only gathering of over a thousand people to mourn the deaths in Pittsburgh. Of all the words we heard, from rabbis and elected officials, the most moving moment in the evening for me was when the many non-Jewish clergy members in attendance stood on the Bimah with us and recited the words of Psalm 121… It may still be too soon for comfort, but the fact that we are disconsolate together, our solidarity of grief, is in itself a light shining against the darkness.

Photo: Sofia Titvinidze – sopodesigns.com

It’s striking when human beings show up in a deeply focused, present way, and it’s painful when they don’t. The children’s book writer/illustrator Yuyi Morales writes:

The first time I attended [a Day of the Dead celebration in the U.S.], I was delighted to do it in community. From the time I had emigrated to the USA, most of my celebrations were spent alone at home with my son. I was surprised by Day of the Dead in the Mission neighborhood; this was nothing like the reverent ritual back in Mexico…. That same night I got invited to a Dia de los Muertos party where there was dance, drinks, and a costume contest. The winners were a white couple dressed like sexy vampires. The receiving of our loved ones dead had turned into a Halloween spectacle.

Photo: Sofia Titvinidze – sopodesigns.com

What is the difference between these two experiences of community? Both involve outsiders (Gentiles; white Americans) joining a remembrance of the dead.

But in one story, the outsiders come humbly, in empathy, with reverence. They have an awareness of where they are, and why. And they enter into something profound.

In the second story, they don’t. They never pay close enough attention to know the difference. And they lose out on so much.

Because of that difference,
Morales witnesses spectacle,
whereas Silberstein witnesses light.

℘℘℘

That seems a pretty good place to pause, actually: Spectacle, or light. Sleeves-on-fire, or fire-in-the-belly. Ephemeral bottle rockets, or the fire at the center of the labyrinth—which is where we started, I guess. And where I return now.

Tomorrow—when the morning’s still dark, children still sleeping—I will sit at my desk.

I will light a candle. (Pavlovian ritual. Brain signal. Hey you: Put words on paper).

I will open my notebook, and before I write anything else, I will write:

Wishing you a November full of goodness, focus, joy.

℘℘℘

(PS I’ve been enjoying your comments so much… Leave me your thoughts. XOXOXO)

 

One Reply to “The Spectacle & The Light (Center, Part 6)”

  1. Jen! Please write every day. This world needs your voice. I so enjoy seeing your thoughts come to life in this format and I would love to read some of your fiction too! Good luck this month.

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