I'd woken early, as I do lately, and had been thinking about my book manuscript and the writer Abigail Thomas, because last weekend I was in Portland, OR for Lidia Yuknavich's writing workshop and had gone straight from PDX to Powell's City of Books, bought Abigail Thomas's newest, along with a bunch of other things (note: always travel to Powell's with a suitcase and room to spare), and then woke at 4 a.m. each day of the workshop to work on the fifth round of my manuscript revisions before Lidia's sessions began. After the weekend workshop ended, on the flight home, I started the new Thomas and remembered that her book Safekeeping had been the one, nearly three years ago, that tipped me into writing the particular manuscript I spent the weekend revising. Reading Safekeeping had helped me figure out a way to write my own material, which became a book, and which is titled, for now, Shiva: a memoir concerto. In the drafts since then, I'd forgotten all about Safekeeping and how it had been my portal. Then, yesterday, while back at home and cleaning out some computer files, I stumbled upon the first draft of my book, the one I'd started right after reading Safekeeping. It was like bumping into a three-years-younger Arielle. I was still in my thirties, I'd barely begun my MFA program. Now I can't hear the rain outside on this winter solstice because I'm in a weird time capsule conversation with my younger self, my current self, Abigail Thomas, and Lidia Yuknavich. You can see why it's loud in here.
But this morning is the winter solstice, and with the mention of rain my thoughts shifted. Darkness, literal or figurative, reveals things not otherwise visible. The moon, the stars, the shadow-self. It is a dark time in American history. A childhood friend, whose family fled from Moscow in the 1980s, has been writing on social media lately about her sense of loss coming out of the election and the electors' vote this week, her loss of trust and faith in America, in Americans, in our democracy. It doesn't take a Russian-born to say it, to know that's how many of us are feeling. And it's small comfort that the majority of voters share our values when the loser is the winner of the presidential office, and the winner has no platform to unite us.
America has taken a strange turn: we are steering toward icebergs. Allied international leaders growl sternly: danger, stay. The ACLU has taken to full-page letters forewarning prosecution. Already, in this new American darkness, we are seeing parts of ourselves that we weren't able to see in the light of an Obama administration. We don't want darkness, and we mean it wholeheartedly. But like the solstices of winter and summer, dark and light cycle in and out. And in the dark, we see stars.
In the Harry Potter books, when Voldemort gains strength and the Death Eaters emerge from their hiding holes emboldened to flaunt their racist, xenophobic bigotry, Harry and his friends unite as a secret Dumbledore's army. Dumbledore has left the scene and knows nothing about the D.A. Without their wise leader, Harry reluctantly teaches his comrades how to fight against wrong. He has no experience teaching, they have no experience fighting. They are children, after all, but they lead the defense against the dark forces of evil. Now, as the eloquent, wise, educated Obama family and administration leave their post, many of us feel poorly prepared for the fights that we face. But as Harry and his friends find themselves fighting against wrongs they might previously have turned away from, you and I are now faced with our core values, passions, strengths, and, hopefully, we will re-discover the power of a group when it is willing to come together.
At the end of Lidia's workshop, one of the editors at Connotation Press asked some of us to record on video a minute or two about some uplifting or optimistic aspect of this current political climate. I wanted to participate, but in the end I made some excuse and walked away. Any positivity seemed pollyanna. I didn't feel that I had any new perspective to share. The next day is when I stumbled on the old computer files, and this morning is when I woke in dialogue with my younger self. We live moving forward in time, our past with us but invisible like stars in daylight, filed away in drawers we rarely open. What I might have said for the video is that maybe it was time for dark to remind us of our deepest, oldest mores, the ones beyond our daily living, that guide our every rule. Maybe it was time to start fighting for them, not just for the greater revolution, but for our own personal evolution.
Here we are, the longest night of the year. Hello, darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again. Let's get quiet for a minute, still. We are made of stars and dinosaur bones, heartbreak, and the strange ever-temporariness of time. This is an era of darkness: there is no fighting that fact. While here, we must strain our eyes to see what wasn't apparent before. Turn them inward. Turn them outward. We must point the telescope beyond the horizons we thought we knew, build fires of passion, burn whatever we must to warm this chill, give socks and soup to the hungry and homeless, send letters and money to those on the front lines, listen to stories at the campfires, invite strangers in, and hold on tightly, tightly, tightly to the ones we love.
I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you about three things:
First, the Yoga & Creativity Retreat is next month! We moved to a larger estate -- a gorgeous spot in Ojai, CA, perfect for a weekend of yoga, campfires, introspection, and delicious meals -- which opened up a few spots. Darby and I have been creating this retreat for a long time, but it's taken on new levels of importance since the national election outcome. We cannot think of a better time to join together for reflection, community, and creative inspiration. We'd love for you to join us January 20-22 in Ojai to practice yoga and create new visions for 2017. Other than location, the original plans are all the same: four yoga sessions; several creativity workshops; a wine tasting on Friday night; time for writing, optional massages, or hikes on Saturday; and a campfire circle on Saturday night. The poet Mary Oliver asks, Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? In Ojai we will ask, What is it we each plan to do with our one wild and precious 2017? Every year is a new gift, and 2017 will surely hold its own surprising beauty.
Second, my little piece about stepmothering and pie (with recipe), "How to Make an Apple Pie," has finally been published by From Sac, a print journal in Sacramento. If you're up there, keep your eyes peeled on the news stands. You can also purchase a copy here. It's over 200 pages of stories and photographs, and only $12. I hope you'll support the independent press.
Lastly, during my MFA work, I was honored to be selected to serve as Editor-in-chief of Lunch Ticket, a well-known and well-loved literary and art journal. The new issue, Winter/Spring 2016, was published last week, and then I passed the baton to the new editor. Do check out that issue - I am proud of the whole staff that pulled it together and love every piece that we published. Here, also, is my final Word From the Editor.
Wishing you love and light throughout the holiday season,