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Blood Moon/Moon Blood

I loved watching the eclipse last night. The slow shadow, the deep light, the magnetic pull. As that russet tinge stole over the moon, I couldn’t help but think of other moons, other blood.

For me, the two are deeply connected. Moon and blood.  Blood and moon. As a doula, I’ve taken many a late night drive, accompanied by a full moon, to take my place as witness and helper to a woman bearing her child. It’s not a myth, you know. More women go into labor at the full moon than at any other time of the month.

I’ll never forget driving across town in the middle of a moonfull night, many years ago, to attend my friend, Renee, as she birthed her fourth child. Her little boy was born as she sat on my lap. I was baptized that night in water and blood. (I seriously didn’t want to wash my jeans after that magic night, but that would have been just…you know…a little gross.)

At birth, there is always blood. Birth blood has a particular look, a particular smell. It’s deep and rich and full of life.

All women’s blood, our moon blood, is deep and rich and full of life. When our cycle turns and we bleed, we bleed the blood of life.

And the moon helps keep us all connected in this. The moon pulls us into rhythm with it and with each other.

I’ve been working on a show with a phenomenal group of women and, as so often happens when women spend a lot of time together, our cycles began to coincide. As the full moon approached we found ourselves sharing similar monthly complaints. Even my menopausal body felt the magnetic power of the moon and responded.

Last night’s eclipse just reminded me, again, that we’re all connected. Women and men all over the world were watching that event. The moon is ours, all of ours. And we are each other’s.

What’s next?

It’s become clear recently that our household could really use a little more income.  I mean, we’re keeping a roof over our heads, and food on the table, but darn it, college is expensive and we’re feeling the pinch.

So, I’ve been thinking of ways I could do more to contribute financially, since it looks like my piecemeal adjunct work either isn’t cutting it, or needs to be kicked up a notch.  Although I enjoy it very much, adjunct work is anything but lucrative.

As I contemplate my options, I’m seeing, for the first time, the negative consequences of choosing to spend the bulk of my middle years raising and educating my own children.  At fifty, and holding an advanced degree, my chances of getting a job back in the public classroom seems pretty slim (and I’m not sure that’s where I’d like to be anyway).  Also, finding a college or university level salaried position, with an M.A. rather than a Ph. D., is not very likely.

Still, I have a kick-ass C.V.  I’ve done some amazing things with my time over the last 20 years. I just haven’t followed a conventional career path.  The wayward path I have taken has led me to this point, contemplating a new fork in the road.

Which brings me to this past weekend.  I spent a few days with some of the most amazing women I know in a maelstrom of singing, conversation, wine, and inspiration.  It was the annual meeting of the Sacred Emerging singing circle with musician and activist Carolyn McDade.  Carolyn, herself, is an inspiration.  At 78, she still travels the continent, singing with circles of women all over Canada and the U.S., still sings, writes, and records.  She always teaches us something new.

This year, she talked about what we, as older women, can do in the world.  Yes, we can sit back and relax, enjoy our retirement, take naps.  But we can also use our passion and wisdom to make a difference in the world.

I contemplated which qualities I want my future work to have.  I need to do something that I’m passionate about…something that uses my gifts….something that makes a difference in the world….and something that, at the same time, allows me to earn some money.

I’m still not sure what that something will be, but after having some eye-opening and enlivening talks with my dear friend, Kathy (who joined the circle for the first time this year…yay!!!), I do know that whatever I end up doing, it will probably involve teaching, writing, public speaking, and/or acting.  And it’s my hope that my future will involve some kind of collaboration.  I’ve re-learned recently that I absolutely work best in the company of others.

I know that I need to love what I do.  At this point in my life, I’m not willing to spend any significant amount of my time doing something that I’m not passionate about.  Now, I’m fully aware that this is a product of my privilege…I know that many people don’t have this luxury…but I also believe that if more of us spent our time doing what we love, the world would be a better place.

So, I’m ready to take the next steps on this crooked path, and I really have no idea what’s around the next corner, but I’m sure looking forward to finding out.

Let me know if you have any suggestions!

 

The gorgeous women of Sacred Emerging:

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So, it’s been a busy time, lately.

I’m working a lot, doing many fun theater things, and preparing for some awesome family life events.

My dear niece, Kayla, is getting married, and I had the honor of hosting one of her bridal showers. This meant a lot of sprucing up of the back yard. Projects I’d been planning on for years, but had never gotten to, now became a priority. Time I would have spent at work, or doing other things was now spent in preparing for this very fun day. I don’t regret a second of that time or effort. We had a wonderful day and it made me feel great to see my back yard full of smiling, loving women.

One woman that couldn’t make it to the shower, though, was my nephew’s wife, Gloria, because she was very close to having her second child, a gorgeous little boy! She’s such an incredible mom. Their little family have been the trailblazers of their generation into the frightening world of adulthood.

The fact that my sisters are grandmas continually amuses and awes me.

On the same day as the wedding, my own amazing girl is graduating from Idyllwild Arts. (I know, it seems like just a second ago I was writing about her going there!) Luckily, the timing will work out so we can do both, but I’ve still got gatherings to plan, travel arrangements to make, shoes to buy.

Oh, and we also had Claire’s 18th birthday to celebrate! Unfortunately, that didn’t consist of much more than a skype call, but I did manage to get to the post office to send a care package!

Two weeks after the graduation/wedding day, my son will graduate from UC Irvine. While I think we’re all feeling a bit more laid back about this event, it’s still a pretty big deal for me. I’m so deeply proud of all he’s accomplished and so excited for his future.

And the excitement doesn’t stop in June! We’ve got traveling plans, big moves for each of the kids, and who knows what else coming up on the horizon.

And as thrilled as I am for all of these wonderful, life-affirming, family events, it honestly makes me pretty tired sometimes to think about it all.

And it’s not just the physical energy all of this takes. Even more, for me, is the emotional toll these times can exact. Being faced almost daily with the reality of major life changes for my kids and others I love, along with the realization of how those changes will influence my own life, can just plain wear me out! More than once I’ve thought it would be nice to go back to the days when the biggest event of our life was a visit to the dentist before going to the park to hang out with our friends.

Then, memories of my mom’s last days pop into my head and I have to take a second to re-learn one of the last lessons she taught me.

As my mom sat, for days on end, in a depressing hospital room, knowing she was going to die soon, we talked about lots of different things: the book I was reading to her…what my kids were doing…what she might want to eat that day…how stories were shared between ancient peoples. What she didn’t talk much about was the fact of her death, that she knew it was a matter of months, or less, and she would be gone.

One of the few times she brought the subject up, and the only time she cried with me about the fact that her life was ending, was one afternoon when my nephew had just brought his new girlfriend to meet her. They’d spent some time visiting and, knowing these three, I’m sure laughter was involved in the conversation. After Spenser and Amanda left, Mom looked at me with tears in her eyes.

In a choked voice she said, “This is the worst part. Every time I’m with the kids, all I can think is ‘I’m going to miss it!!’ I’m going to miss the big things in their lives that I was so looking forward to. I’m going to miss it all.”

This conversation came back to me as I watched Kayla, at her shower, open her gift from her mom: a charm for her bracelet, the one Gramma Barbara had given her so many years ago. Now, each time Kayla wears it, she’ll have another reminder of her Gramma, who loved her so much, and who didn’t want to miss this moment, who might have given this very gift…her own engagement ring, now charm-sized.

And I am reminded to deeply cherish each of these moments, and to be so grateful that I am here to experience them.

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Since earning my MA in Educational Psychology, more than 20 years ago, I’ve taught in many different contexts and I’ve spent a good portion of my time thinking about how people think and learn. The last several years of my career have been spent primarily in the on-line classroom. Like many other college level instructors, I’ve been feeling my way…trying to figure out how best to translate a face-to-face learning experience into a digital one.

Until recently, I’ve learned more about what doesn’t work, than what does. For example, trying to plug one format into the other, without taking into consideration the true differences in communication and community (among other things) only makes for an unwieldy and frustrating experience for both student and teacher. I’ve spent a lot of my work time thinking of myself as a glorified grader and living for the semesters when I was offered face-to-face or hybrid courses, so I could have some “real” educational time with my students. For the first time ever, I was unhappy in my teaching.

This unhappiness is not something I’m used to. I’ve always loved what I do. It honestly never occurred to me that there would come a day when I didn’t. I realized that I needed to do one of two things. I either needed to quit my on-line work and find a new job teaching only face-to-face, or I needed to figure out a way to feel like a true teacher in the on-line format.

One thing I firmly believe is that education is a relational endeavor. We learn best when we’re exploring our own questions, with the help and guidance of our peers and those who are a little (or a lot) farther down the road than we are. This is something that was lacking in my on-line work. I provided the resources for my students to explore, but there was little sense of community or mutual exploration. I needed to figure out how to create this in my on-line classroom.

I’ve been exploring the use of Web 2.0 tools, playing with services like Skype, Prezi, Glogster, and Youtube. I’ve taken whatever training I could to learn more about on-line pedagogy (though there’s not much research out there yet) and I’ve explored the web for videos and articles that might help me.

This is how I stumbled upon Coursera, one of several programs which offer on-line learning opportunities called MOOCs (Massive Open On-line Course). Coursera teams up with top universities to present a wide range of courses for free. I figured it would be a good idea to try one of these courses out and see if I could learn anything new for my own teaching.

Perusing their offerings, I came across Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (affectionately termed ModPo), taught by Al Filreis, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. This was one of Coursera’s first offerings in the humanities and it was going to be an interesting experiment in what is often seen as a highly subjective field…one that doesn’t lend itself to the cut and dried objectives and assessments often found in science and math.

It’s now more than ten weeks later and I don’t think it’s possible to fully sum up what I’ve learned…that language is alive and growing, being used in gorgeous ways to create the deep connect…and, at least as important to the healing of my soul, I’m learning some meaningful lessons about education…what it is and what it should be…and what I want my role in it to be.

I’ve learned that real community is not only possible but often gloriously, joyously abundant, in the digital world. I’ve learned that teachers and students can walk along side each other in the exploration of ideas, even when the ratio is 11 or 12 to over 30,000 (yes, I said 30,000). I’ve learned that deep connection can be made when we’re willing to trust that there are real people on the other side of that screen who care about what we think and say and want to know.

I’ve been trying to implement some of the ideas I’m learning into my own work, and, honestly, I’m having mixed results. Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between a group of students taking a course for credit, to fulfill a degree requirement, and a group of students who are in a course simply for the love of the learning. I do have hope, though, and I have vision and desire that I didn’t have before.

There’s a lot of conversation out there about how offering high quality courses for free to anyone will change the way our system of higher education works and I honestly don’t have an answer for that.

What I do know is that courses like these provide something vitally important for groups of people all across the world who can’t, for financial, social, or physical reasons, attend college in a brick and mortar institution.  If education is a human right, then this might be the way to support that right, across the world.

I can’t decide if free on-line education is a completely new and revolutionary way to learn, or if it’s a return to a more pure and elemental kind of learning, where people gather in a public forum to speak and to listen. Either way, it’s here to stay, and I plan to be part of it…no longer grudgingly, with dragging feet and low expectations, but with anticipation and with joy.

Oh, and I’m signed up for three more classes in the Spring!

Tai Chi Epiphany

Early this summer, my wonderful daughter, Claire, encouraged me to get a family pass to the YMCA, so we could all work on “getting fit.” I knew there were some classes offered that I was interested in, so off we went.

Unfortunately, the dancercise class that I loved has been cancelled, and yoga classes are hit and miss, often changing times and rooms from week to week. That doesn’t worry me too much, though, because every Monday and Friday, like clockwork, Cathy shows up to teach Tai Chi.

I’ve always wanted to try this ancient martial art, now used for exercise and balance, but this has been my first chance to regularly practice.

We do an adapted Sun form, developed for those with arthritis (gentle on the joints while maintaining the health benefits Tai Chi provides). Classes are usually spent warming up and learning and reviewing various parts of the form.

For me, Tai Chi is at least as much an exercise of the mind as it is the body. The moves can be very complicated and the order confusing. At least once every class, Cathy has us move through the form from start to finish, with no talking or stopping to review. This is my favorite thing.

This week, I had a moment in class that, schmaltzy as it sounds, I can only call transcendent.

At the time, there were five of us in class: Cathy, our instructor, always peaceful and strong; Sandy, in her early seventies, with beautiful hands and pretty earrings; Barbara, a statuesque women in her eighties, clearly totally comfortable with who she is; Susan, a petite, self-deprecating woman who is never afraid to ask a question; and me, the most recent to join the group, but so happy to be there.

Right now, we are about to finish our first practice of the form. No talking, just quiet music and the sound of our feet as they brush the floor.

I turn to my right, the women are ranged in front of me. I see mostly their backs, held straight, but not rigid, and their hands as they complete the moves called “leisurely tying the coat” then swing toward the front to finish the form with a deep breath in the qigong open and close movement.

Each woman is perfectly in sync with the others, their movements slow and graceful. The intention and life in the space between us is palpable. We are connected. A grove of swaying aspens.

These women are strong in this moment. They know who they are.
Being connected with them in this instant helps me to know who I am, too.

We bring our hands to rest at our sides. There are tears in my eyes.

I am inspired and in awe at being part of something that is clearly larger than the sum of each of us as individuals.

From now on, whenever I wonder what older women can do, I will remember this moment, and I will know.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t the most difficult thing about getting older, but it’s pretty darn irritating.
And now that I think about it, I don’t remember my mom having to deal with this, so that just makes it seem even more unfair.

Yes, I’m talking about unwanted facial hair…and not just the occasional stray wispy thing…I’m talking about honest to God hard, stubbly whiskers. Geez!!!

Now, it’s not like I have to shave every day to keep up with them, or like they’re all over my face, but still. I have a little patch on the right side of my chin that seems determined to grow back no matter how often I pluck.

And I’m afraid I’m a little obsessed with these pokey things. I find myself running my index finger over my chin every now and then, feeling for any sign of something scratchy. I’ve noticed other women making the same gesture over the years and wondered…

But now I know. I’ve joined the ranks of middle aged, hairy, women and I’ve inherited all the insecurities that go along with this condition. Am I less of a woman? Will they just grow in darker if I pluck them out? Should I consider shaving, and should I ask my husband for advice on that? How awkward!

I met a woman several years ago, at a poetry reading at Beyond Baroque in Venice Beach. I can’t remember her name, although I saw her obituary not long ago. She was probably in her seventies when we met, and I remember thinking how I wanted to be like her. Not that I wanted to sport a whiskery chin, like she did, blatantly flaunting all the rules of what it means to look like a woman, but that I wanted to be so unapologetically myself. She was clearly completely comfortable in her own skin, beard and all. I found that so compelling. That’s how I want to be.

Does this mean I’ll let the whiskers grow. I don’t think so. But I will choose not to be embarrassed by them, or to feel that I am less of anything because of them.

Now if you’ll excuse me…I have to go find my tweezers.

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