The (insert name here) Women

Last week I wrote about a day spent in my kitchen with my mother and the Angel Baby.  That afternoon, a friend dropped by for tea and later sent an email saying how she’d enjoyed her time with three generations of Glaser women.  That set me thinking about names – their importance and their meaninglessness.

For us to be “Glaser women” is to define us by virtue of my mother’s marriage to my father.  As far as we know, that name reaches back to a Heinrich Karl Glaser from Ulm, Germany sometime in the mid 19th century.  Seeing as my mother is French and Irish, all by way of Canada, this name describes nothing of her origins; it just sums up the last 35 years she has spent married into my dad’s clan.

Plus, by virtue of my own marriage three years ago, Glaser has been swallowed up to be just a middle initial for me.  Both Moira and I are known to the world as Goudy and so we align ourselves with a bunch of strangers whose histories I cannot know.

After all of the discussions about what we would name our daughter, it seemed that there was nothing more important than the word that would proceed her into the world.  To make her “Moira” was to honor all of the Maries and Marys in the families, but it was also to make her a unique creature.  We were offering the first word in a long and yet unwritten life.

What a paradox – to have one name so carefully chosen and another to be an accident of history.

No matter how far I can reach back, each successive grandmother is identified by the man her own mother married.  These men were key, of course, from their initial microscopic contributions to the ways that they supported and loved the web of women before us.  The men who are in our lives now, who gave us these names that start with G, they are incredibly vital to the people we are, but when we are a tiny community of women in the kitchen, we need a new name.

It seem that patriarchal titles look back, always with one foot lagging in generations of sires we have never met.  To sit with my mother and spend a day marveling over the brand new life in our midst makes me realize that there is a way in which matriarchal time always looks forward.  We take strength from the women who came before us, but we look at the world with fresh eyes with the birth of each baby.  What unifies us all is not a shared name, but a shared creation.  In this case, a little girl named Moira Jacqueline.  So for now, until the next babe enters the world, we are all Moira’s Women.

Even if you are not a mother or even a woman, how does this change your life, to tell time and find a name by looking into the future rather than pulling around someone else’s past?  What if the keys to identity were not already written but were always being born fresh into the world?

Advertisements

No More Secrets, Mom

Photo by cornish.pixie07,  http://everystockphoto.com

To: Mothers from the Baby Boom Generation

From: Your Daughters of Childbearing Age

Dear Moms,

We know that you have a lot on your mind, what with your decimated retirement savings and wondering whether our Dads (or the men who have replaced them) have had “that talk” with their doctors that the commercials they play during Monday Night Football say are essential, but we have something to discuss with you.

It’s probably not fair to dredge up the past.  Life is all too full of regrets and, now that many of us are mothers ourselves, we understand that guilt and “I should’ves” are all part of motherhood from the moment of conception.  But, you take the bad with the good.

That’s what we really have to talk about.  The good.

HOW COME YOU NEVER TOLD US?

You raised us to believe in ourselves.  You raised us to believe we could do anything.  It wasn’t your fault we ended up with eating disorders or fraught relationships with food.  Those ballet classes were intended to make us love and trust our bodies.  And all that encouragement to study hard and the stellar job you did at getting us to raise our hands just as much as – if not more than – the boys?  That was an excellent parental accomplishment.  You helped pay for college and you cheered us on when we pursued those advanced degrees.  Heck, you were the ones who broke the glass ceiling that made so many of our academic and professional achievements possible.

But, in the midst of all that, how could you forget to tell us?

Did you want to save all the magic for yourself?  Did our “do more, make more, compete more” society really convince you that keeping up with the guys at the office was more important than what you had done with your lives?  So many of you pulled off the 9-5 gig and raised us, but you only really groomed us to take on that not-always-glamorous work world.

Moms, you taught us so much.  We learned just about everything from watching you.  But you kept your secrets, didn’t you?  Perhaps it was the insatiable American desire to make sure that each successive generation has more than the last that made you mum (pardon the pun).

So, here we are in our twenties and thirties.  Some of us have discovered the secret on our own, but many are still fumbling round in the shadows.  Most of us have to get up awfully early to make the commute, you see.  We have started sharing the  the secret with our sisters, but a lot of us are still in the dark.

Those of us who are in the know do not want to cast blame.  We just need help from you, the veterans.

You see, you never told us that motherhood was this incredible. You never mentioned what magic was sparked when you first looked into our infant eyes.  You never described it as the greatest love story never told.

We are still traipsing around, many of us, thinking that pregnancy is something to be avoided at all costs.  We spent our women’s studies classes becoming impassioned about our rights to go Planned Parenthood, but never about our rights to have midwives attend our homebirths.  We have looked at those women with strollers and diaper bags as poor souls, cut off from the tribe of modern chick-dom, unable to pursue the dreams to do more, be more, achieve more that were instilled in us since girlhood.

You’ve loved us well, you’ve shared your beauty and strength with us, but you never really mentioned all that you must have received in return when we were curled up in your arms, dependent on you for every aspect of life.

Please, moms, no more secrets.  Tell us the stories of our births and our babyhoods.  Tell us that motherhood is an odyssey like no other.  Tell us that it is just as valuable as all the stuff we have studied for and trained for.  Tell us how we can be more like you, the mothers to us all.  All of us are not destined to follow in your footsteps, but the world will be a better place if girls and women were raised knowing what bliss might be possible.

Love,

The Mothers and Potential Future Mothers of Your Grandchildren

On Witnessing a Righteous Mama

Seeing Ani DiFranco last night for the first time in years was like going home to a cherished vision of my emerging self, the one that realized I was woman with a passion for justice and a voice that had to be heard. At the same time, listening to a thirty-eight year old mother singing brand new songs allowed me to stand firmly rooted in the being I have become.

In the space of nineteen songs, she reminded me how to be twenty-one all over again, but she also taught me to be twenty-nine and thirty-eight and I think, if listened carefully enough, I could find the secret to agelessness in her sound and her stature. To witness this woman create and express and take action, to inform and inflame and inspire… what more do you need to your fill heart and soul with the courage to be fully alive?

One of the first times I saw Ani was in the lead up to the 2000 election when she called all of us in the true blue states to throw our votes in Nader’s direction to show our support for the Greens and third party politics. I saw her at least once a year through the early days of the Bush administration, and the anger at the political disaster that was our national state of being was boiling righteously. Then life changed and my partners in crime who would scream at the first chords of “Gravel” with me melted away, and I didn’t seen her for four long years. I half-heartedly agreed with friends who just felt they were beyond all that ranting chick stuff and songs about abortion clinics and date rape and capitalism gone deeply awry.

Last night was different though… The entire world shifted when our little folk singer was able to sing a brand new tune about Obama’s victory that had to have other people besides me wiping away tears of joy. “Thank you, America” she sang “for more than I expected.” Isn’t that how we all feel in this fresh blush of pride for being the country that grew up a little by allowing itself to follow youth and a new beginning? What an amazing rebirth: to stand in a concert hall full of progressives and scream until our fillings rattled not because we raged at the anti-choicers and the war mongers and the biggots, but because there was a woman standing on the stage before us who was talking about a man who now stood on the world stage. Ani gave us the soundtrack that will support us in our quest for change that we all dreamed about while we struggled under the thumb of those old regimes.

Though the audience filled the theater with whistles and shouts of “We love you Ani!”, nearly everyone sat until the encore. Was it that her fans had become elderly, or were we all just full of the sort of reverence that had us hanging on her every word rather than dancing in the aisles?

I think it is ok that we have all grown up a little. For all that we still need to hear that “everyone is fucking Napolean,” we all need to just be in this more steady place of bliss and brilliance. We can believe that the world really has changed and that we are lucky enough to be around to listen to it. Even better, we can find the inspiration to record our own histories of how all this good stuff began to find its place in reality.

Tearing the Dress Off the Divine

To talk about Wise Woman Working is a bold thing. It’s about unifying the stuff that we know we ought to know and the daily, lived practice of putting such ideas into action. It’s about living with a sense of discipline that keeps us from sliding back into pettiness, despair, and ego driven defensiveness. At the same time, it is about living with a profound sense of compassion for our own frailties and those of the ones we love, and so often, the ones that we believe it impossible to love. Nothing I am talking about is a great departure from what we have all heard before in church or from a bag of Yogi Tea or a book by Caroline Myss or Eckhart Tolle.

Poised at the beginning this enterprise, I do not want to fall victim to losing track of Wisdom before I even have a chance to dip a foot into her still pool. I definitely do not think that wisdom is strictly a woman’s realm, and even if the face of the Divine that I am most likely to understand is marked by great goddesses and soft bellies and nurturing breasts I recognize that I should widen my stock of metaphors to encompass the masculine as well.

I call it Wise Woman Working for many reasons: my need to shroud language in as much poetry as possible (Wise Person Working sounds awkward); my sense of being human is completely influenced by my having two X chromosomes; and my renewed sense of respect for the Divine Feminine as a particular aspect of the One. My need to find “The Goddess” as I fled from the Catholicism of my childhood lead me to identify exclusively with the feminine expression of the creator. In addition to missing some essential parts of spiritual experience, this left me in a place of confused narcissism as I found myself in the thrall of people who peddled self-help pablum that equated woman with goddess and left out all of the vital bits about humility and service and cultivating awareness.

When I was finally able to tear the dress off the Divine I was able to reenter a relationship with Catholicism and Christianity. I can begin to welcome visions of Mary because I can separate her from my objections to patriarchal oppression. Now, I can find empowerment in specifically womanish images, but I believe that much of their potency comes from the play of opposites between feminine and masculine.

The claws of my college feminism have dulled and I am a much less fervent guardian of some mythical woman club. I hope that as I have redefined the nature of the feminine in matters of the spirit, the feminine can be re-envisioned in the pursuit of being awake to this world. Call this path what you will, I can only dream that it can resonate for all people, regardless of gender.

My Expanding Vision of “Believing in Everything”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevefe/18931518/Last week while I was reading the Bhagavad Gita I listened to Christine Kane‘s album Rain & Mud & Wild & Green even as I went through the part about “one-pointedness” that described how background music keeps one from being fully aware what she is studying. The iPod was necessary to block the rest of the sounds from a busy Sunday afternoon at our house; plus, splitting my attention lead me to realize the way the lyrics of “One Once More” spoke directly to me, especially a past, cherished version of myself.

The song starts:

Saints and Valkyries
Runes and rosaries
I believe in everything I guess

As I sift through various traditions and sacred writings, I feel I am someone who can find something beautiful and worthy in countless corners because I am not worried about finding the One in a single book or building.

An old friend’s comment on my blog today reminded me of the person he first got to know when I was on my year abroad in Galway during the junior year of college. The twenty year old that I was railed against governments and religions over endless pints of imported lager, shocking as many people as possible with her feminism and her convenient radicalism and her ecstatic pagan ways. Now, my political views are more informed and less strident, but mean more to me; my feminism is a softer, lived-in ethic rather than a jubilant in-your-face volley of girl power. At this point, my radicalism is stewing more quietly, but with a great deal more potential as I actually feel poised to be the change I wish to see in world, opposed to just arguing in the pubs about what ought to be done. These days I’ll drink a bit of Guinness and become still as I tell you that I think I’ve finally discovered what I am meant to do in this world, that this spiritual quest may just be it.

A few years ago, the symbols in Christine’s song would have been what captured my imagination, esoteric collector of sacred talismans that I was. I was an indiscriminate and undisciplined believer, just looking for a few traces of magic in a world that seemed all too cruel and mundane.

As I feel what it might be to mature into my relationship with the world and the sacred, and I look beyond the spiritual souvenirs to the truth behind the rituals, I can reevaluate the habit of believing in “everything.” Now, I can begin to understand what it is to look at all paths to the Divine with an open heart, even the one with the weight of two thousand tumultuous years of Western World defining history behind it. The major religions today are tied to terrorism and sexism and homophobia and countless other prejudices. Due to these social concerns, I do not have to subscribe to any of them completely, perhaps, but I cannot assume that my modern political consciousness makes me wiser than millennia of saints and mystics and prophets. The beauty of their thoughts may not nullify the contemporary manifestations of their respective faiths, but it makes their religions worthy of much more than a second glance.

I introduced Grandpa to yoga. He gave me a bible. Pt. 1

My sister laughed hysterically when I told her that, but that’s what happened last Sunday.

My grandfather is a brilliant man who spent his life in the business world, living on four continents and realizing countless facets of the American dream. Though I know that his Catholic faith has always been an essential part of his being (the family jokes that we’re lucky he didn’t become a Jesuit since none of us would exist), since his retirement, and, also, sadly, I believe, my grandmother’s passing, he has truly been able to dedicate himself to religious study. The divergence between his devotion to the Church and my refusal to devote myself to anything in particular (remember, I was spiritual so I could stay safely outside of any traditions that made any demands on me at all) seemed destined to remain a strictly off-limits topic. I quietly stuck What Makes Us Catholic onto the dustiest of my bookshelves and chose to ignore how difficult it must have been for him to see me married by a female interfaith minister.

At Omega’s Being Fearless conference in New York this past April, several speakers, including Al Gore, talked about the philosophy of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I nudged my mother as we realized this conference, which seemed so removed from the classical Roman perspective that we associated Grandpa, was constantly reminding us of his great hero. The Catholicism that was meant to remain a forgotten aspect of my history like having braces and the belief that I would marry my high school boyfriend continued to resurface throughout the weekend. I attended a day-long session about Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle with Caroline Myss and began to realize that these great voices of Christianity were speaking the same language as the Buddha and the Sufi poets I was learning about in other seminars. When I got home a few days later I awoke well before dawn to write Grandpa a ten page letter about my first in what would be a long string of epiphanies.

Since then we have embarked upon an amazing spiritual friendship that is at once beautifully anachronistic and of a time not yet realized. Suddenly I use the U.S. Postal System to send my grandfather articles and handwritten correspondence in a way that makes me feel like a Jane Austen heroine. I feel as if we are on the edges of living the vision of all beings perceiving that unification of consciousness that is Teilhard’s “Omega Point.” I still have not started The Phenomenon of Man, which Grandpa gave me for my birthday in June (and so sweetly renamed The Phenomenon of (Wo)Man, acknowledging that my feminism is alive and well even as I begin to embrace aspects of the patriarchal Church that I once dismissed entirely). My knowledge of Teilhard’s work is largely limited to a brief mention in Rosemary Radford Reuther’s Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing, which I just completed this afternoon, so I beg forgiveness if comparing our conversations with his theory is terribly ignorant or irreverent. There is so much to learn!