"We have to rewrite the world."
- Ursula Le Guin
While Harvey Weinstein is the latest poster child for the systemic, misogynistic abuse of women, his story unfortunately, is neither exceptional nor unique. The story of men who use their power to coerce, intimidate and sexually assault women is a story that extends back to the beginnings of civilization. What is exceptional with regards to Weinstein is the number of women who are refusing to stay silent. The #metoo social media phenomena is giving all of us, men and women, the opportunity of seeing a world that has been hidden in plain sight for centuries.
Social scientists have documented the ways in which social myths support systemic power structures. If you want to topple misogyny, you must start with the mythologies that reinforce it. Thousands of women who are coming forward from every domain and discipline to share their stories of harassment and abuse are taking an ax to a social myth that has been a pillar of patriarchal cultures around the world. This is a social myth that promotes the belief that the sexual harassment and assault of women and girls is an exception, something that happens to a small percentage of the female population. What women and girls have always known is that sexual harassment and assault are an everyday part of the lived reality of being a woman. It is not the exception. It is the rule.
In Quantum physics there is something called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that states that what is not measured does not need to exist. While we have statistics from the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and hundreds of NGO's around the world relative to gendered violence and rape, there are few if any global studies that measure the systemic harassment and sexually assaultive behaviors that girls and women tolerate everyday. It is critical to understand that what is dismissed as "locker room talk" is part of the same psychological root system that feeds rape culture. Yet this reality has not been measured. It has not been named, until now.
The Weinstein scandal is not limited to Harvey Weinstein or to the Hollywood star making industry. The #metoo movement is providing irrefutable evidence that there is an archetypal artery of feminine oppression and sexually assaultive behavior that has been silenced and normalized for centuries. It exists as a cultural complex. It exists as an internal oppressor. It will continue to exist unless and until we name it, we measure it and we begin to write a new story.
Women cannot heal themselves from the wounds of patriarchy with psychologies, theologies and mythologies rooted in the prejudice of patriarchy. Centuries of patriarchal cultures have not given all of us the soil for healthy ego development. To claim that they have indicates either an incredible lack of awareness for the lived reality of women and girls, or an intentional strategy to promote the systemic oppression of half of humanity.
Regardless of what happens to Harvey Weinstein, there is no quick fix for this. It will take more than a court sentence or even federal legislation to deal with centuries of oppression that are now a part of our individual and collective unconscious. A view of women as "less than" exists as part of the neuropsychological templates that each of us, men and women, see the world through. The less we are aware of it, the more we are engaged with it.
The radical hope lies in the degree to which each of us has the courage to see it, to name it, first and foremost in ourselves. The next step is to engage with the creative unconscious in identifying what psyche and soul are wanting to bring forward. It is this autonomous psychic energy that gives us a more expansive lens to see ourselves and our world. It is the creative unconscious that has enough momentum to shift our alignment to archetypal realities that have historically been seen through a patriarchal perspective.
The stories we tell, the pictures we paint, the dances we dance create worlds. This is the time for women and men to give creative expression to a new archetypal reality that no longer situates femininity and power as dualities. When half the world is crying #metoo it is time to rewrite the world.
I remember a class in Theological School in the early 90’s. We were studying Liberal Pastoral Care, an orientation to the soul rooted in liberal theologies of relationship, mutuality, and creative engagement with the other. It was a radical approach echoed in Parker Palmer’s assertion that a soul is not a problem to fixed, but a mystery to be embraced. He wrote that the soul is shy, like an animal in the wild, and while tough, resilient and savvy, we cannot approach it by crashing through the woods, shouting for it to come out. Rather, he suggests that “we walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree. Then, perhaps, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.” (Palmer, Let your Life Speak, pp. 8-9)
This came back to me the other day. I was talking to a man possessed by the despair of the political situation in the United States and its global implications. He was educated, well-travelled, and well-respected. He was in pain. Everything he had worked for was now in question, his hopelessness and powerlessness was palpable. It was hard to listen to him, difficult to sit with his spiraling into darkness. But he had a good point. Everywhere he turned, twitter, facebook, CNN, you name it, the news was bad: Gag rules, walls, Muslim registers, shutting down information, cleaving to alternative facts, the incredulity of a world turned upside down in such a short time followed him. A person could get lost in this.
He almost did. As so many do when gripped by a collective, his ability to see options, possibilities, choices, was narrowed and occluded. All he could see was horror and it was taking him down. The definition of a complex is that it is a quanta of energy organized around a particular theme. It can swamp an ego or it can fund the energy needed to move through life. While I could see that his ego was caught by the complex, it was more poignant than that. I was witnessing a soul immobilized, like a wild animal caught in a trap. To run in and attempt a rescue would only cause more agitation.
So I sat. Slowly, the conversation wound round and round. Did I know that Lincoln was despised as a president? Did I know that history shows that those who are innovators are systematically marginalized and unrewarded? Did I know that … the litany of despair unfolded. And I sat. I resisted the pull to nihilism. After some time, I said, “Actually, I’m curiously hopeful.”
“Tell me how you got there, I want to be there. What did you do? I can’t go on like this.”
I told him. I went back to dance. Yes, at my age. And I went back to my stones, carving hearts for the women I love best. I refused to allow any images to enter my psyche that would contaminate this feeling that life is worth living. I would keep informed, but limit my exposure. I would write checks as possible and sign petitions. But mostly, I would dance.
I remembered my Hebrew Scriptures class then. This is not something new. What did Miriam do when the people went from the narrow place of oppression into the unknown and sure to be dangerous world? She gathered the women, told them to take out their timbrels and dance! She bid them sing. Before setting off into the desert, before anything else: She danced and she sang in the community of women.
That is stunning. Yes. But even more stunning than that image, is to know the story. As the Hebrews were getting ready to leave Egypt, land of slavery, God commanded the women to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold and silver, all that was of value. The Hebrews were to take only what they needed to survive their sojourn, to bake bread on their backs. Where did the timbrels come from? Why take something so supposedly unessential? That is the beauty of this story. Miriam knew that of greater value than silver and gold is the ability to dance, to sing, to celebrate, to gather together and amass energy in wild abandon. That energy would fund the treacherous journey. It’s not that all would be well, but that by dancing and singing they touched something numinous that would help them survive the long haul, the many obstacles to liberation.
That is where I got my hope. Not a pie in the sky denial of the fearsome reality we face, nor a let’s dance it all away cause the dance will magically make it disappear hope. It is a firm hope rooted in the knowledge that millennia of oppressive regimes have existed, and so has the thrumming dance of life that will not be quenched. A hope grounded in the creative expression of life, whether in dance, stone, paper, paint, food, family, community, or anything else that gets the juices moving, the blood quickened. That wildness we are seeking needs our quiet attention and then our rousing response. Soul cannot live without this dance.
Art carries us into the world of the archetypal where time is collapsed and words disappear. In this world there is only the moment, this moment, that encapsulates us in the image, the feeling, the prophecy of what is yet to be revealed. The only language spoken is a symbolic expression that invites us to explore the mystery of what we have yet to “know.” In this world we know in our bones, what we cannot yet put into words.
Watching Beyonce’s performance at the 2017 Grammy Awards show, I was ushered into that world. At first, shocked by the image of her beautiful, almost bare, and very pregnant body on the tv screen as she stared unabashedly into my living room and then drawn in by the imagery, the music and the poetry, I found it difficult to watch but didn’t understand why. Her closing words, a quote from the poet, Warsan-Shire, still echo in my mind: “If we’re going to heal, let it be glorious.”
Even now, days after that performance, the images, the poetry of what she so creatively communicated continues to stay alive in my psyche – waiting for me to unwrap the wisdom in the symbols. Beyonce gave us so much more than entertainment, so much more than activism. She gave us art. She gave us a creative celebration of the gloriousness of the feminine. Unabashed. Unashamed. Uncovered. No apologies. She was not resisting. She was being. She was embracing. She was embodying centuries of archetypal feminine glory.
Her courage and creativity challenge me. I wrestle with the questions of all the ways in which I have been afraid to look, to see the gloriousness that is woman, all the ways in which I have worked to stay covered, to stay small, to whisper, to stay in the harbor rather than sail for the horizon, all the ways in which I apologize for the inherent glory of being woman.
So today, even as tiny men, in tiny courtrooms discuss my body as if it were a piece of property to be parceled and divided and legislated, I am challenged to own the glory that is mine to own. Today, as I read psychologies that seek to obliterate the word feminine and woman, to fetishize androgyny, I am challenged to own my femininity, my unique expression of womanhood. Today, as I am reminded of the ways in which a patriarchal culture has left its scars on my soul, I am creatively challenged to heal and to allow that healing to be glorious.
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Before I went to Zurich and trained to become a Jungian analyst, I was a Guidance Counsellor in a large urban secondary school. My case load was the English as a Second Language (ESL) students. As such, it was my privilege and duty to register adolescent students from countries all over the world. If you wanted to know the hot spots on the globe, you only needed to look at my case load. Each September, my office was the threshold for these students. Newly landed immigrants. Refugees. Never illegals. Canada has prided itself and rightly so, for being a refuge for the poor huddled masses. We don’t have a statue in the Halifax harbour, but we do have a long standing commitment to immigration. Our diversity is our strength. Our Prime Minster, Justin Trudeau, just this week. reaffirmed this humanitarian commitment in light of recent orders from Washington.
My office in the 90s was a small slice of this commitment. There was the year of the Chinese. The year of the Russians. The year of the Somalians. The year of the Kurds. The year of the Syrians. I loved my job. I loved being a beacon of humanity in an often inhumane world. While the first order of business was usually the registration and appropriate placement, the more important business, I believed, was receiving the stories. More often than not the stories were traumatic. Especially for the girls. Always, especially for the girls! With or without interpreters, I managed to welcome, receive, and settle these new Canadians. I was good at my job. It was the perfect training to answer the call to the analyst way some years later. So many stories. So much trauma. So much resilience. Such gratitude for small kindnesses.
I remember swallowing my surprise when I discovered that the 17 and 18 year old Somalian students were illiterate. They could not read and write in their own language, let alone in English. They had been unschooled. Their formative years were spent in determent or refugee camps. But, such pride they carried. Such resilience. They had endured much and their dreams matched in depth and breadth what their traumas carved out of their young lives. It was a fine balance to preserve the pride, foster the big dreams, and awaken them to the realities of this new land. I still have contact with the three Somalian sisters I registered on that first hot September day: Eden, Maila, and Faduma. These beautiful black girls with silken braids and brightly coloured clothing taught me as much as I dared to believe I taught them. “You are so white!” they exclaimed.
Oh, and there was Maria and her family. What a story. They walked from Iran to Iraq to Turkey and finally to Greece. Through the snow covered mountains. A journey that took more than a year. A mother, a father, and 9 small children. Maria was the oldest of the children. She is the keeper of the stories. In my English as a Second Language classroom, assembled primarily because there was no where else to put them, I taught these new Canadians enough English to begin to tell the stories. We were a small United Nations. Reading fairytales. Listening to music. Cooking meals. Sharing stories with gestures and drama and dance and drums, and paint and pen. I utilized whatever was available to bring us to a shared understanding. Those were sacred times. I remember that first year when we gifted Maria and her family with grocery store vouchers at Christmas. The teachers in this affluent high school held a silent auction each year to raise funds for our Needy Students Fund. It was a win win endeavour. The teachers were encouraged and invited to share their gifts with one another in the staff room at lunchtime.
Tables upon tables of art. Unexpected giftedness. The math teacher who crafted fine wooden pens. The gym teacher who was a master knitter. The English teacher who baked the best butter tarts in the land. The administrator who painted pet portraits. All the items were donated by the creators. The money that was raised was given back to the students who needed it most. It was such a community building endeavour and by far, my favourite extracurricular responsibility. It was not a hard sell. The teacher artists donated willingly and generously and the other teachers paid well for the one of a kind artisan gifts. It was a way to see and be seen.
All the while knowing they were contributing in a real way to the homeless tempest tossed of the world, of our country, of our school. I didn’t know it then, but art and trauma brought together builds bridges. I won an award from my Federation for this initiative. I was humbled by the recognition and used the cash prize to host a conference organized by these young people. It was called Stuff Happens. We wanted to call it Shit Happens, but as supportive as my principal was, the edit did not dampen the success of the multicultural conference. It was a conference that celebrated art and used it as a medium for expression. I understand it still runs in the county.
Because of my case load, I was the one commissioned by my colleagues to discretely offer the gifts to the students whom I identified as needy. Maria and her family topped my list. I remember calling her into my office and giving her the grocery store vouchers. I explained that it was a gift from her teachers to her family. I was careful not to step on her fierce pride. “Perhaps you can buy some special treats for the little ones” I offered. She shyly accepted the gift. She thanked me profusely. She told me again and again how good Canada was. In my simple English and her broken mix of Kurdish, Greek and Turkish, she wished me and my family a happy holiday. My heart was full.
What I did not expect, was the invitation that arrived the next day. A beautifully hand crafted invitation, signed by each of the family, Including the scribbles of the little ones, invited me and my family to dinner. She was asking my family to come to dinner and share in the abundance gifted to her family by her teachers. Why is it that those with so little offer so much? How could I refuse? I checked in with my principal about boundaries and protocol, but when he read the hand crafted invitation, he agreed that if I was willing, I had his permission to attend.What an evening! Me, my husband, and our youngest son were the guests of honour bar none.
Maria’s father explained what an honour it was to his family that a teacher would come to his home. He explained how it honoured him and gave him honour in his community. In a tenement a few blocks from the school, in the middle of Southwestern Ontario, we were welcomed into the Kurdish community like we were celebrities. And perhaps we were. Sitting crossed legged on the floor before a Persian rug of steaming and fragrant delights, I have never felt so welcomed. They even bought and roasted a turkey because they understood that is what Canadians ate at Christmas. A golden door indeed. That’s the secret. When we open the golden door, the treasures are mutual.
Every couple of years, my husband and I go to Maria’s home for a Persian feast. She is now married to a beautiful Somalian man and the proud mama of two beautiful daughters. She still calls me Mrs McMahon despite my insistence that she call me Muriel. The last time we were there, she surprised me and Eden, Maila, and Faduma were there too. It has been some twenty years since we shared the high school guidance office or the ESL classroom. So much has come and gone for each of us. This night, as we women sat apart from the men and shared tea and stories, I was reminded of the resilience and strength of women. Our laughter was so honest. Our stories so full. Our love for each other so genuine. No competition. No holding back. Each seeing and being seen. Each one of us a shining star in a black firmament. Eden is now a registered nurse. Malia is a clothes designer. Faduma is an illustrator for a major magazine. Maria is a community matriarch.
During this last visit, Maria read my tea leaves.She told me many things. She told me about myself, about my family, about my work, and about the world. So, when I turn to my keyboard, or my privileged platform of education and affluence, I remember these stories. I remember these women. I remember the Lady of the Exiled who still stands in the New York harbour. And I pray, like I have never prayed before, that the lamp of liberty will never be extinguished. Not by any man
I admit it. I’m a knitting flunky, a drop-out. Somewhere in the universe there is a single, lonely mitten to prove it. A relic from my girlhood when my grandmother, an accomplished knitter, crocheter, apple pie baker, attempted to teach me to knit. I remember my anticipation as I chose a skein of variegated, multi-colored yarn out of her yarn basket and waited impatiently as she prepared the pink knitting needles for me to work with. I relished the feeling of being with my grandmother, the woodstove burning in the backroom and a pie in the oven scenting the house with apples and cinnamon. This was the archetypal world of Hestia.
However, Hestia was not smiling on me as I struggled trying to knit mittens. I think it was having to count stitches. My creative mind just could not stay focused and I’d have to undo entire rows of knitting because the count was off and then start over again.
Eventually, I was the proud creator of a mitten. One blue, purple, pink and green variegated mitten. I think my grandmother had managed to knit almost an entire afghan in the time it took me to finish that single mitten. That’s when I made the decision. I was done. Finished. No more mittens. This mitten would remain mateless. A lone and lonely sentinel to my attempt at entering this world of Hestia that was my grandmother’s domain. Knitting was not for me. I am not a knitter.
I am, however, a dancer. Dance is the world where my soul breathes and comes to life. In order to make a dance I have to go to a place that is frighteningly authentic, the deepest part of me that cannot be expressed with words. Words have always come easily and quickly, oftentimes too quickly. Over the years, I have borne the wounds of my own words recklessly flung out into the air, coming back like a boomerang to leave their mark on me.
But dance comes neither quickly nor easily. It is born in a place where the waters of my most closely guarded feelings run deep and silent. At times raging with the whitewater of anger and injustice, at times running still and unbroken with a contemplative peace and contentment, these are waters that cannot be contained in language. These are waters that call to me to give them expression, that beckon me to lift the floodgates holding them in, that challenge me to get out of my own head and listen to the sound of their running, strong and swift or of their silent calm and surety.
As I read my newsfeed, filled with the atrocities directed against women and girls every day, I want to deny they exist and in this denial exempt myself from having to make any attempt to do something about them. Dance gives me a way to grieve, to “mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.” The embodied grace of dance allows me to wrap the trauma with a transgressive beauty that gives me the courage to keep breathing, to keep moving forward, to refuse to give up on humanity. To dance is to find a way to express the universal cries that make us human, that keep us wrapped in a blanket of shared triumphs and tragedies, loves and longings, hopes and dreams.
It may not be a coincidence that from the beginning of time, armies were led into battle not by weaponry and generals, but by musicians, and dancers, who were placed out in front of the regimented formations of soldiers. From the Old Testament Hebrew armies, to the Incas, the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans to the American Indian and the Civil War; music, bands, musicians and dancers were an integral part of preparing for and entering into battle.
From as early as 3000 B.C., stone reliefs depict Assyrian and Babylonian musicians leading armies marching in procession. Here we see a marching metaphor: that of the artists, musicians and dancers, as precursors to the chaos, upheaval and seismic shift of power and influence that war inevitably brings. Perhaps the ancients understood something which contemporary society has collectively “forgotten:” the power of the creative to usher in profound transformation.
Philosopher, Albert Camus, writes: “In the face of so much suffering, if art insists on being a luxury, it will also be a lie.” Today, as my newsfeed is flooded with articles about President Trump’s plans to defund the NEA, and the grant programs supporting organizations working to end violence against women, as I listen to podcasts shared by evangelicals, decrying the 3 million women marching around the world as being driven by a “Jezebel spirit” and witchcraft, I am heading back into the dance studio. I am marching back into the dance studio.
There was a time I was told not to dance and I did what I was told…for a season…and I lived in a half world of grayness and shadows, of conformity and compromise. I kept the truest part of myself padlocked away, hoping it would eventually cease to be….until the day I found the courage to unlock the door, to throw open the windows, to breathe deeply…to enter a world of color and promise and unexplored possibility and yet to be discovered beauty…to (finally) give myself permission to dance.
As I watched the oceans of pink knitted hats flooding the streets of Washington, D.C. and cities across the country and around the world, I was reminded of my grandmother and of how we are all knit together by our lived reality of being women in a patriarchal culture. There is much that can divide us. We need to find a way to stand together on the common ground of our collective experience while acknowledging our nuanced differences of beliefs and opinions. Some of us are knitters. Some of us are marchers. Some of us are dancers. All of us are women and it is time to rise together and change the world.
I’m reading van Gogh’s Ear. I got it as a Christmas gift. I so love my annual Christmas read. I read a lot all year, but my Christmas read is so different from all the other reads. It is even better if the new book is a gift. The sheer delight that someone so gets you that they choose the perfect read for you. Delight in every page. The Christmas read is luxurious and extravagant. This year is no exception. Bernadette Murphy’s book reads like a biography, an autobiography, and a detective novel. It is her first book. I love reading a writer’s first book. It gives me bragging rights. I can say, “I knew her when…”.
Like new author, Bernadette Murphy, I have been fascinated with the painter, the art, and the mythos of van Gogh for many many years. His sunflowers. His olive groves. His lavender fields. His self portraits. His anguish. His vision. Was he mad? Was he a genius? Are the two synonymous? Or is that simply part of the mythos? At one time I was going to write my graduate school dissertation on the mythos of Vincent van Gogh. I did the research, formulated my thesis, but my soul was not completely in it. As much as I love my study of van Gogh, he stands second in line to my fascination with Emily Carr. I have been haunted by Emily Carr for some thirty years. She was the subject of my most recent writing: “Enearthed: The Archetypal Roots of Feminine Oppression as Seen Through the Art of Emily Carr”. Emily’s ghost is quite animated in my psyche these days. Maybe I have to lend her an ear before I can listen to van Gogh. Pun intended!
The Law of Dreams was another Christmas read. Christmas 2006. It was also another first book. It is an historical fiction novel about the Irish potato famine by Canadian author Peter Behrens. A story of the great Irish diaspora. In an interview, Behrens said that this was not the book he set out to write. Rather it was the book that insisted on being written before he could pen the novel he wanted to write. O’Briens was his second book. It is a biographical fiction novel. He had to know where he came from before he could tell the story of who he is. Maybe my first book will belong to Emily. Is she my muse or my madness? Maybe she is trying to tell me where I come from.
This morning I spoke with a friend about her fascination with Frida Kahlo. Following the conversation, I remembered a book comparing the sense of space and place of Emily Carr, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Frida Kahlo. An exhibit at the Canadian McMichael Galley coined these artists, “The women of the Americas”. The women artists of the Americas: Canada, the United States, and Mexico. These maverick women of the 20th century dared to duel oppression with a brush and a pen. One article I read called these three, “The Women Who Rode Away”.
I once had a teacher who said that the problem with our current age is that we have confused cultural syndrome with culture. “We, in the West, are not a culture”, he decried. Although I grew to dislike the teacher and his misogynist agenda for his own brand of cultural redemption, some of what he taught stuck. Particularly with respect to the feminine and culture. In the West, we are a deformity of what culture is and should be. There are in fact academics who still argue, in 2016, that culture itself is a Page 3 of 5 Ears to Hear by Muriel McMahon masculine enterprise. They purport that the feminine is unconscious and by default, there is no such thing as women’s culture or women’s society. This is the misogyny that Anne Cameron takes on in her first book, The Daughters of Copper Woman. My Christmas read of 1981.
And now, it is 2017. Turbulent times. Cultural uncertainity. Global dystopia. We have surely lost our connection to source. This is the great feminine diaspora. A cultural famine that, in our collective hunger for the true feminine, we have culturally cobbled together a monstrosity without roots or wings. Worse still, we have been duped by our own creation. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was prophetic after all. Frankenstein was her first novel. My Christmas read of 1975. The monster that haunts us is the collective cultural syndrome that holds us fast. Like the red ribbon that replaces the iron chain on the foot of the tethered Elephant, we no longer strain against our oppression. We internalize it. We normalize it. We elect it. We even inaugurate it.
Robert Langs, the American psychoanalyst who gave us both the words and the ears to listen for Death Anxiety, like his forefather Freud, believed that culture was a defence against this death anxiety. As such, Eros is often reduced to an antidote for Thanatos. Creation strains against destruction. Creativity eclipses or contributes to madness. What does this all mean when a culture is dying? While a lauded Jungian analyst claims that 2500 years of patriarchy have given us the development of a strong ego, he conveniently ignores the trans-generational and systemic oppression of at least 1/2 of the human race. Our very psychologies oppress, traumatize, and misrepresent women.
We have to listen harder. Listen deeper. Listen broader. If we are to endure, survive, thrive, we have to broaden our understanding of culture to include women’s culture. We must challenge our psychologies. Our theologies. Our mythologies. We must reclaim our denied identities. While culture in part wards off the terror of annihilation and the unbearable truth of mortality, culture is so much more than that. We are so much more than that.
Culture at its best is beauty making. It is and it is more than a generative response to trauma. It is and it is more than a defence against death. True culture serves the future and is rooted in the past. It is inclusive. It is revolutionary. It is subversive. Culture, in contradistinction to our current cultural syndrome, helps us bear turbulence with grace. Culture does not go pop at the whim of the corporate Oz working the levers behind the curtain on Black Friday. Culture does not tweet vitriol when its feeling are hurt. Culture in not gilded in gold nor self serving. Culture serves. Women’s culture is glimpsed in the dedication of Emily Carr to record the decaying totems and vivify the fecund forests of Canada. Women’s culture is the apologia in paint by Georgia O'Keeffe to transcend and reject reductive Freudian interpretations of her barren deserts and vulvic blooms. Women’s culture is embodied in the sacrificial dismemberment of Frida Kahlo’s body and our previously unquestioned body politic.
Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear and presented it as a macabre gift to his ‘Rachel’. His ‘Rachel’ was a prostitute. And not unlike the biblical Rachel, she too is weeping for her lost children. With or without ears to hear, She is weeping. With or without voices to be heard, we are weeping. Weeping for the little girls sold into sexual slavery. Weeping for the prepubescence girls married off to old men or genitally mutilated. Weeping for the adolescent women caught up in the gears of campus rape culture. Weeping for the women who resigned their vote or voted in fear and forgot the mothers and grandmothers who took to the streets to earn them the right to cast a ballot.
I am 1/2 way through my Christmas read. I do not yet know which exclusive revelations about what happened that night on December 23, 1888 when Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear will be exposed. I am purposely reading slowly. Savouring the mystery. Revelling in the storytelling. Perhaps Bernadette Murphy will answer the question about whether the artist was mad. Perhaps she will separate truth from legend. Perhaps she will tell a good enough story to lay a ghost to rest. That is what good writers can do. We so need this in 2017. Maybe more now than ever before. We need writers, and artists, and dancers, and sculptures, and musicians, and journalists, and filmmakers, and teachers, and analysts, and activists, and mavericks, and everywoman to listen, to hear, and to make beauty. We need women’s culture.
“Bring me a rose in the winter time, when it’s hard to find.”
“Well, dear Father,” she said, “as you insist upon it, I
beg that you will bring me a rose. I have not seen one
since we came here, and I love them so much.”
Beauty and the Beast: De Villeneuve
It’s snowing in the Pacific Northwest. Just a light dusting actually, enough to evoke the nostalgia of childhood when all seemed well with the world. I would like to be there again, but the post-election reality of a world turned upside down, fear and despair nipping at the heels of holiday preparations won’t let me go down memory lane. At least not in childhood memories. More is needed to nurture a response that is not contaminated by fear, a hope that is not based on clichés. We need to dig deeper into the archetypal world, the world of imagery that can offer us a radical -to the roots- reality of how to transform individually and collectively. So, give me rose in the wintertime.
I love the song by Ernie Sheldon and found myself humming it this weekend as I struggled to stay positive about the future of our country and our world. I participated in a colloquium with colleagues from around the world on Stillpointspaces, an international platform for analysts, therapists and counselors. We spoke of the loss of the container, the loss of certainty and vision that is sweeping the world. Brexit, Italy’s refusal of reforms, the collapsing of the distance between the far left and the far right. Trump. The revelation that the split between the conscious and the unconscious can no longer be ignored. So, yes, I hummed give me hope when it is hard to find, give me peace when it is hard to find, remind me that something can emerge from these dark times. Austria rejects the right-wing candidate, the Dakota pipeline will not go through tribal lands. Yes, give me a rose in the wintertime!
For two years, five women from the Assisi Institute community met to discuss to the foundational fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, based on Marie Louise van Franz’s Interpretation of Fairy Tales. A curse is put on someone. Why? We don’t know. A father loses everything twice and allows his daughter to take his place when he steals a rose from the Beast’s garden. There is no mother. A daughter is willing to enter the lair of the Beast to save her father. Love conquers all in the end, Beauty, finally sees the human behind the cursed Beast and chooses him over the demands of her family. The holy coniuintio is achieved. In Cocteau’s 1947 movie, the resplendent Beauty and the Beast ascend to a heavenly realm - prince and princess live happily ever after.
In our group though, we saw this fairy tale as more than a ‘coming of age’ story more than a template for human development, anima and animus both. We wanted to know who put the thought of asking for a rose into Beauty’s head? What deep knowing and wisdom knew that the asking for the impossible and miraculous, would be the catalyst for the story? While Beauty does not know that her innocent request will take her father to the Beast’s castle in a winter storm, something deep in the Psyche did. We heard the voice of the Feminine whisper to her: hold out for the impossible, see beyond the temporal to the eternal, ask for the rose.
She says: Hold out for the possibility of life emerging when it ‘ought’ not, when the conditions are harsh, the ground cold and unyielding, the sun low and unwarm. She says: ask for the impossible, and then follow the story as you confront your fears, your inner voices, the way good girls ought to be. Be brave, see clearly, hold on to the tension between the opposites, winter – rose. And then choose. Choice is the active expression of an ego who knows the costs of consciousness and is willing to pay the price. It is the one who engages in the fight against the forces that would keep it in thrall to the collective values and give in, give up. She says: Ask for the rose and then go to the castle.
We do not go into the castle as naïve young women, regardless of our ages. We go into the castle to see beyond the surface of things into the reality of this world and our part of it. We will do what is in front of us to do and what is inside of us to transform. We will meet one another at Seeing Red, where the ground may be softened, where we bring warmth, and hold on to the vision of a rose emerging from the snow. As Stephen Mitchell writes in Parables and Portraits about the camel who dove through the eye of the needle: “It is not just that such things are possible,” the camel thinks, smiling. “But that such things are possible for me.” Give me rose in the wintertime. Every time.
"Quick! Hide! They're coming!" I couldn't keep the smile off my face as my two young adult children acted like much younger children, scrambling through the kitchen and living room, giggling and squealing and looking for a place to hide in order to jump out and surprise their brother and his wife who were arriving for the Thanksgiving holiday. All of us joined in the conspiracy as the newly married couple walked through the front door. "Hello? Anybody home?" they shouted into the silence. Then, just as they stepped into the kitchen, the conspirators jumped into the open with shouts of "Surprise!" and squeals and laughter erupted as all of us exchanged hugs and celebrated this holiday focused around homecoming and gratitude and food.
Admittedly, going into this particular Thanksgiving, following on the heels of the recent presidential election, I was struggling to shake myself out of a pervading sense of despair and despondency even as I cleaned and put up holiday decorations. However, as our tribe began arriving via planes, trains and automobiles, coming through our front door loaded with suitcases and their favorite pies as contributions to the feast, the voices of loved ones ushered me into the archetypal world of Hestia. The despair and dread that seemed to have hung like a thick cloud in the air after the election, slowly started lifting even as smells of homemade ravioli and champagne basted turkey permeated our home.
As the Thanksgiving weekend wound to a close and I packed tupperware containers full of leftover turkey, stuffing and desserts to send home with our kids, I put a smile on my face to hide the bittersweet goodbyes of seeing them off to their respective parts of the country. While it was difficult to see them go, I knew there was something waiting for me to unpack even as I helped them pack their overstuffed suitcases. Later, that evening as I drank a cup of tea by the woodstove and tried to reacclimate to a home now, strangely silent, I was able to get still enough to listen to what was knocking at the door. I opened my e-mail and read the poignant words of women from all around the country traumatized by this election and asking what can we do, where do we start?
We start by feeding ourselves, the deepest part of ourselves. We start by making time to do what feeds our souls. Whatever that may be. Putting on our favorite pair of PJs or threadbare sweatpants. Going for walks in the mountains or by the ocean. Curling up in a chair by the fireplace. Letting ourselves grieve and mourn and at the same time, digging deep, deeply enough to hear her. That deepest part of ourselves that connects us to something greater than ourselves. She is still here. She is not silent and she can not be voted out of office.
She is calling us to radical hope as defined by Jonathan Lear when he writes:
"What makes this hope radical is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is. Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it." Here is where Lear echoes what Rebecca Solnit writes so eloquently about in her book, Hope in the Dark: "Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act."
This is not an ephemeral hope based on fluff. It is not a manic defense. This is a hope that mandates courage because it is a hope that calls us to act, to engage with the messiness of humanity, to be honest with all the ways in which we "other" others and to have the fortitude to see those places where we "other" ourselves. Radical hope lives in the margins, on the fringes, outside of the easily travelled highways of popular opinion. It is radical because it dares to imagine possibilities not yet seen let alone embraced. It calls for courage because it will ask things of us we have not yet brought to the table.
This radical hope lives in the creative unconscious. To the degree that I am able to pay attention to the imagistic language of my creative unconscious, I will be connected to a psychic reality that is able to disrupt the despair and despondency of this post-election climate with new possibilities and new pathways forward. These are times of challenge and uncertainty and as Rebecca Solnit reminds us: "in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act." The answer to the question so many of us are asking: "What can I do?" will not come from outside ourselves. The answer is waiting for us to make space for her. She is here. She is waiting for us to open the door and make room at the table.