Monday, April 23, 2012

News from the Muse: The Muse of Los Angeles

There are moments, if one is lucky, when the whole circuitous, confusing, maze of a life’s meander reveals its essential shape—Indra’s net is illuminated—everything is connected.  I had such a moment on a recent Sunday in April, at the beautiful book launching for Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way, sponsored by the Los Angeles Jung Institute.  My co-editor Patricia Damery and I were overwhelmed and deeply moved by the party Chie Lee, the President of the L.A Institute, had thrown for our group the night before, by the presence of almost all the books’ contributors (two by Skype) at the reading, by the generosity of the L.A, Institute which had gotten us a large hall and put out the word and ordered books and provided food. Patricia has written a beautiful blog about all this.  Check it out.

I stood at the podium, introducing each contributor, and felt the strands of kinship libido—the memories and associations that connect me to all those who had written essays out of the vital stuff of their lives—their soul stories, their inner landscapes—the fiery process of becoming themselves. Listening to the voices of these friends and colleagues, my heart resonated with their eloquent expression of so many themes that move me: the power of dreams and synchronicities, the dark confused and painful times out of which new life emerges, the twists and turns of fate, luck, grace and individuation that brought us all here together on this bright Sunday afternoon in the Social Hall of Temple Isaiah across the street from the Jung Institute.
[from the left: Chie Lee, Sharon Heath, Jackie Gerson, Naomi Lowinsky,
Karlyn Ward, Patricia Damery, Dennis Slattery, Jean Kirsch,
Robert Romanyshyn, Claire Douglas, Gilda Franz]

The City of Angels
In the midst of all this I found myself musing about my relationship to L.A. There is something about L.A. I had been trying to find words to explain it to my friends from the North. Is it the light? The colors? Is it the beach runners, walkers, skaters, cyclists, the casual but trendy dress—sensual and a touch wild?

Suddenly it hit me. Los Angeles is the City of Angels. A procession of angels have visited me in this town. Almost twenty years ago, back in the day when Northern and Southern California analysts worked together in the initiatory process to become an analyst, I was certified at the L.A. Institute. It is such a vulnerable thing to bring one’s inner life and one’s sacred work with an analysand to the eyes of the members of a committee. To be seen and understood is a blessing—a visitation by an angel. 

 Around that time Charlene Sieg, the managing editor of Psychological Perspectives—a fine journal published by the Los Angeles Institute, which describes itself as a “journal of global consciousness integrating psyche, soul and nature”— called me up and wondered if I wanted to be poetry editor. I thought: this woman whom I don’t know has just handed me my place in the community! I have lived there gratefully ever since, at the intersection of Poetry and Jungian Analysis. Charlene is one of my angels.

Dan and I have traveled to Los Angeles twice a year for the board meetings of Psychological Perspectives. We had family in the area for much of that time, and enjoyed our time with them. We made deep friendships and began the threads of connection which eventually led to Marked by Fire and to this event. Psychological Perspectives has itself has been an angel to me, nurturing and supporting my writing over many years, connecting me with a community of writers interested in expressing the direct experience of the unconscious. Robin Robertson, the General Editor, a wonderful writer on science, psyche and the arts, whose most recent book on alchemy and chaos theory is called Indra’s Net, mentored me through many years of wandering in the wilderness, seeking a publisher. He always said it would happen. He, too, is an angel. So is Gilda Frantz, co-editor of the journal and contributor of a marvelous essay in Marked by Fire, who has always given me the courage of my own idiosyncratic vision.

On the Nature of Angels
Speaking of idiosyncratic vision, you may wonder about all this talk of angels when I’m blogging on the muse. Are angels muses? Angels, according to someone named Walter Rigg, writing in Harper’s Bazaar in 1962, “are powers which transcend the logic of our existence.” I found this quote in Gustav Davidson’s Dictionary of Angels, an essential reference for anyone into angelology. Yes, indeed, you are walking along the known path of your life and suddenly an angel enters the scene and shifts everything. You’re invited to be Poetry Editor and it changes your life, transcending the old logic of your existence.

My take on angels draws from the Jewish tradition, which, like Islam and Christianity is chock full of angels—perhaps compensatory for all that monotheistic singularity. Just look up angels in the index of Tree of Souls, a marvelous reference on the mythology of Judaism, and you’ll see what I mean. For me, personal angels are powers connected with our souls from before we were born.  They remember who we really are when we have forgotten. They tell us, as Robin Robertson often told me, that it’s not my way to write the conventional Jungian teaching book—I needed to write as a poet.  The Sister from Below is the result of that wise counsel.

In my life angels often take human form. They are ordinary people who connect with something of your eternal nature, which seen, fills you with the light of your own essence. Sometimes they are beings of the imaginal world who show up in vision, dream or active imagination. They have our backs, stand behind us, pointing the way. Sometimes they show up with flaming torches and burn down the world as we know it. Sometimes they see where we’re going years before we do. And yes, sometimes an angel can be a muse.  

The Angel/Muse of Watts Towers 
Such an angel came to me in L.A. years before I’d even thought of being a Jungian—this was the angel and muse of Watts Towers. That angel/muse flew me to L.A. for the first time in my life, and into a larger vision of who I could be. I was a young mother, hemmed in by family demands, shaped by babies and kitchen and laundry. This angel whispered in my ear: “You’ve got to get out of here. Leave the kids with your husband and get away for a weekend. Remember who you are.”  “And go where?” I wondered. “Visit your friends in L.A.” the angel advised. And so it was I found myself in the home of dear friends whom I’d known when we were all in India together, associated with Peace Corps.

I had never been away from husband and kids for an entire weekend. It felt wicked. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. My hip felt empty without my baby girl. I don’t remember how that angel/muse spirited me to Watts Towers but there I was—a memory imprinted in my soul for life—contemplating the sacred space Simon Rodia, a poor immigrant from Italy, had created out of steel rods, cement and junk. I imagined him, wandering around in his life, picking up small pieces of broken glass and crockery, using them to create a mosaic in cement—his Sanctuario. Had he known about the Taj Mahal? I had been to the Taj; those small bits of glowing color creating intricate and glorious designs seemed to me to be part of the same artistic lineage.
I remember reflecting that if I could just be like Simon Rodia, picking up small pieces of glittering, broken fragments from my every day wanderings and gathering them into sacred shapes, I would be happy. It would be years before I could dedicate myself to that practice as a poet, years before I would write a poem about that visitation, but the angel/muse of Watts Towers had shown me my path.

how Simon Rodia showed me my craft

before I’d launched a single soul
or heard the cat call in my voice
some sanity insisted that I see
the joy leaps of your towers
                Simon Rodia

in flat exhausted Watts
where no tree grew
                afraid of my life
                looked up at your craft

                a maze of spires
                cathedral of steel rods
                a  window washer’s labyrinth of tile

what wind had ripped you loose
of the gray grind?
motorcycles growled revenge
Spanish mothers prayed
their baby Jesus would survive

cement  and broken dishes
your creation:  the ark
still pushes at the backyard fence
baptismal font awaits
the new born
and here a bench for sitting

in your Italian Sanctuario
inlaid with jewels from the garbage
are all the treasures of a boy:  blue of broken tile                  
green fire of soda pop
seashells from the bottom of your pocket                             
                of broken wine decanter  

and in my northern neighborhood
when no wind blew
and nothing happened in the house
I would imagine I had a craft
like yours              
                Simon Rodia

and every broken bit of color
that life washed up
would have a place in my design

the city fathers
tried to pull
your towers from their roots
                Simon Rodia
not even swinging cement balls
could shake your work
                I saw you
                riding your joy leaps over their upturned faces
                your laughter
                ripped me loose!

(This poem is published in Adagio & Lamentation)