Showing posts with label Fisher King Press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fisher King Press. Show all posts

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Catholic Muse?

in the city where the music began
i hear the song of my life in your voice
yours is the clamorous “te deum” of the bellsyours the fingers of the early morning suntouching my face and the crown of my head  
—Lowinsky, “to the lost nurse of a childhood in Florence”
in red clay is talking p. 30

A Secret Catholic Soul

For a Jew, I have a very intense relationship with Catholicism. I find myself mesmerized by news of Pope Francis, the new Pontiff who castigates the church for being obsessed with people’s sexual behavior, forgetting love, mercy and social justice. Why should this make me feel so glad and hopeful? Why should I get all weepy and emotional? 

Maybe it’s because my childhood was steeped in Catholic church music. My father, a musicologist, focused on the music of the church in the Renaissance. My young sense of the sacred was shaped by Gregorian Chant and the Stabat Mater of Josquin des Prez, Pergolesi, Palestrina and Scarlatti. I experience the holy in churches, mostly when in Italy. When there I light candles for my beloved dead, and for friends and family who are suffering. Dan and I have just returned from a trip to Italy. My favorite church on this trip was the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, in Rome. This medieval church embodies, in image and architecture, my experience of inwardness and interiority.

The Basilica feels deeply feminine to me and I love the animal presence. It’s strange to feel so at home in Italian churches. There is a family story behind this. I wrote about it in The Sister from Below:
The Lady of Florence is in the sound of the church bells. She is in every glimpse of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore, as I turn the dark corner of some narrow street and see her radiance anew.…She draws my eyes to Brunelleschi’s great red Duomo and suddenly I feel alive, full of inexplicable joy, as though I’ve come home after a long journey. Do I hear a voice say: “You can never get lost, as long as you keep sight of the Duomo.”
The Duomo, Santa Maria di Fiore, Florence
The Lady of Florence appears to me like the virgin of the annunciation in the painting by Fra Angelica, surprised out of some deep place, and at once disoriented by the news the angel has to tell her, and strangely calm…
Annunciation by Fra Angelico
The Lady of Florence is a graceful Italian woman, walking down an old cobbled street in a pair of elegant shoes, or buzzing about on her Vespa, trailing a lovely scarf…I feel quintessentially myself when I am here. Familiar. Beloved. Yet who is the one who loves me only in Florence. Who is it I seek whom I cannot quite touch?…
In the family stories there was a nursemaid, or was she a neighbor, Lydia…How can one touch the one who formed you when you can’t see her face, can’t understand her language?…Perhaps I should invoke the Lady…It seems too simple. And yet, when I sit down alone on my poetry porch, wrap myself in my red and purple shawl, and focus inward, she appears. I feel as though I am a child again. Her eyes are green and she looks at me as though I am the world’s most beloved child…I say, You are here. You remember me. 
Of course, because you remember me. I told you I would always be with you. You were so young, I thought you wouldn’t understand. But you did. You’ve come back.
We had a special bond, you and I…There you were, so delicate and small, so burdened with your mother’s heavy load. You looked more like me than you did your own mother. People thought you were mine as we wandered the piazzas and you dashed into flocks of pigeons, proclaiming your magical powers. Your Italian ass so good you could have been mine…I liked to dress you up. You loved this…I liked to take you out to see the saints, the Madonna, to pray in the churches…I understood you better than your own parents did. You were so relaxed with me, so playful. Around them you turned into a little grown up. I couldn’t bear the fact you had not been baptized, that you’d not go to heaven. Here in the city of Dante, I wanted you to be baptized so we could be reunited in Paradise. You were all excited about it. You loved the ritual, the Latin prayer, the priest. You told your father, how could you not? You were his child. 
He flew into a fury. How could I do such a thing? It was a violation! A desecration! How absurd! I was consecrating you forever. And in any case your father spent more time in churches and knew more about Gregorian Chant and the mass than do most Catholics. I suspected he had a hidden yearning, a secretly Catholic soul. But, as you know, there was no talking to your father.

A Secret Jewish Soul

Fast forward a number of years, from that active imagination which brought me the voice of my lost lady. It is 2013, the International Association of Analytical Psychology Conference in Copenhagen. Fisher King Press (FKP), a Jungian press, has a big presence among the book tables. Publishers Mel Mathews and Patty Cabanas, who have published five of my books in the past four years, are present. I feel flooded with my gratitude to them and with amazement at what they have accomplished. They now have 41 psychology titles, 8 poetry titles, 15 fiction titles plus books on creativity, astrology and ecopsychology.

I had shopped The Sister from Below around for seven years with no luck. Even Jungian publishers seemed squeamish about taking on a book that was essentially a series of acts of imagination. Synchronicity and my friendship with the Israeli analyst, Erel Shalit, whom I met at an Expressive Arts Conference in Bulgaria, led me to Fisher King. Erel has published many titles with FKP.

At the book launching party for three new Fisher King titles, Mel Mathews told his origin story—the short version. He’d been a tractor salesman. He had a big dream, got into analysis, and understood he needed to write novels. Then he couldn’t find a publisher. In the way of synchronicity he happened to rent a home from a man who knew the book business inside out. So Mel started a publishing house. He was drawn to Jungian writing and ideas and decided to make that his focus. As I listened to him I thought that his story followed the archetypal pattern of the “Jungian Way—” big dream, synchronicity, listening to the inner voice that tells one to change one’s life.

In the way of synchronicity I learned that Mel too had a love affair with Florence. In fact, he was in Florence when working on the cover of The Sister from Below.

The three titles that were being launched that day, to a pleasingly large crowd, were The Dream and its Amplification, edited by Erel Shalit and Nancy Furlotti, which I wrote a blog about last month, Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way, a book I edited with Patricia Damery and have written about frequently on this blog site, and a play, On the Doorstep of the Castle, by Elizabeth Clark–Stern. Both Elizabeth and I, in speaking of our books, expressed out gratitude for (at long last) finding a publisher open to the creative imagination. FKP is a haven and a godsend to many of us Jungians who write out of our subjective experiences, dreams, conversations with inner figures and wanderings in the irrational. Strange to say in the Jungian world, but it’s taken an “outsider” with his own compelling “story of the Jungian Way” to open up the publishing world to us.

Elizabeth and her colleague, the wonderful dancer Lindsey Rosen, performed the play one evening. In the way of synchronicity I found myself weeping, not only because the play is extraordinarily moving, and Elizabeth and Lindsey are fine actors and movers, but because it hit on of so many of my obsessions:
The Jews in Medieval Spain
The Inquisition
Conversos who are secret Jews
Kabbalah and the Feminine Face of God
Active Imagination and its earlier incarnation as mystical prayer
The conceit of the play is fabulous. A young converso, Alma de Leon (Lindsey), who is a descendant of the famous Kabbalistic rabbi Moses de Leon, applies to become a novice under the tutelage of Teresa of Avila (Elizabeth), a Carmelite nun said to be “the most awake woman in Spain,” “a woman who receives raptures from God.” Alma is suffering from an “aridity of soul.” She wants to learn how to receive the divine. She also clearly needs a sanctuary from the dread hands of the Inquisition.

Teresa, as she is played convincingly by Elizabeth, is able to convey to the audience the experience of being answered by an inner voice, by an other who has a different point of view, a larger wisdom. I identified with Teresa, though my inner figures are very different. That look of listening, on the face of a Saint deep in prayer—hearing the voice of the divine—or on the face of the poet in reverie—suddenly hearing the voice of the poem begin to sing—or the face of one engaged in active imagination, when the figure in a dream begins to speak—voicing a wisdom unknown to the conscious mind—that feeling of wonder, delight, awe—is one I know well. This mystic, this saint, who, it turns out, is a converso herself, gives me a sense of lineage both as a Jew and a Jungian.

In the way of synchronicity, wandering through museums in Italy on our later trip, I saw that expression on the faces of many saints. Here's an image by Rubens of Teresa of Avila.

Teresa prays to her God for counsel about whether to take in this young converso who knows Teresa’s secret and could betray her to the Inquisition. Should she take this risk? We watch her face light up, listening:” You want me to fight for her…You know what it is to be an outcast Jew?”

With Alma’s encouragement Teresa has the courage to write down her encounters with the divine, risking the fires of the Inquisition. With Teresa’s guidance Alma finds her way into her own Kabbalistic vision of the feminine face of God. The two women struggle with each other, support each other, go out into the world to touch the lives of the poor. By the end of the play the whole audience was in tears, and Elizabeth and Lindsey got a much–deserved standing ovation.

Elizabeth has the courage, the creative freedom, to bring together a historical figure, Teresa of Avila, and a fictional figure, a creation of her own imagination, Alma de Leon. She says:
I was aware of the twentieth-century Jewish philosopher, Edith Stein, who chanced to read Teresa’s autobiography and realized it was what she had been searching for all her life. She converted to the Carmelite order, yet could not curb her criticism of the Pope, who turned the other way while the Jews were being led to the death camps from Italy. Her public denunciation eventually resulted in the Gestapo escorting Edith and her sister, Rosa, to Auschwitz, where they were exterminated in 1942. 
I was so moved by this story I began to imagine a young Jewish woman, living in 16th century Spain, who, like Edith Stein, was searching for something to feed the longing of her soul. “What if Teresa and Edith met?” I thought, with a sense of great excitement. I did not transpose Edith directly to the 16th century, but began to research the story of the Jews at that time. The character of Alma, Spanish for soul, emerged in vivid dreams and images from the dusty plains of central Spain.
She describes her creative process, very much like active imagination, requiring inward listening, allowing her characters to lead:
I tossed out my preconceptions and ideas about the story, and just let the characters guide me. Alma had Edith’s courage, but was not a philosopher. She was a woman of the senses, the earth, the arts.
The figure behind the play, Edith Stein, struggled and died in the breach between her Jewishness and her Catholicism. In the way of synchronicity, I hear from Elizabeth that she and Lindsey will be performing the play in their home town of Seattle, in a church which houses a Jewish congregation in the basement. The minister and the rabbi are excited, because they have been looking for a way to bring their communities together. Elizabeth and Lindsey have created a bridge between the Jew and Catholic, the mystical and the quotidian. I felt my soul and my imagination reflected throughout their performance.

Later, in the Italian part of our journey, Dan and I walked across our beloved Ponte Vecchio, in Florence. We had not been here since the late ‘90s—the trip I wrote about in The Sister from Below. I thought about the new Pope, that the word Pontiff means bridge-builders. I remembered what the Sister had said to me about the bridge:
Look at the Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge over the Arno that survived the Nazi bombings in 1944, with its elegant jewelry shops and its arches. You can see that it is actually two bridges, especially at night. There is the flesh and blood bridge, full of tourists…There is the other, deeper bridge, insubstantial, with its reflected arches and yellow shops on the dark waters of the river. They touch each other, these two bridges, reflect on each other, can’t be without each other, and yet are inhabitants, like you and I are, of different realms.

Dan took this photo:

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Muse of the Jungian Way

The Muse of the Jungian Way

What possesses people to leave collective consciousness—the comfort and security of the mainstream—and follow an arcane path in which they cultivate their dreams and visions, follow synchronicities, talk to inner figures, use ancient divining tools such as the I Ching, study myth and fairy tales, wrestle with their shadows and generally wander far away from the familiar worlds of family and friends?

There are as many stories of how this happens, as there are Jungians. In Marked by Fire you can read 13 soulful and gripping versions of the story. Here is a part of my version, which I didn’t have space to tell in Marked by Fire.

My story begins many years ago when my children were little. I was a lost young woman, severed from my deep Self. I had a frightening dream:
My baby daughter’s head was severed from her body. My mother’s voice said: “You’ll never get her together again.”
The dream spooked me. I thought something bad was about to happen to my child.

In a synchronistic event that changed my life my girl friend’s mother—who was seeing a Jungian in therapy—invited her daughter and me to a Jungian Conference called The Forgotten Feminine. I knew nothing of Jung and had no idea what the conference title meant, except that it tugged at me. I wanted to go.

The Handless Maiden (by Lucy Campbell)

At the conference I heard mature, wise, potent women—Jungian analysts—unlike any women I knew in my life—describe their work with their patients. This was the late 1960s. They told stories of women who were lost in their lives, who had forgotten their creative gifts, forgotten their souls, who had given themselves away to their men and their children, buried their deep natures and their wildness, severed their heads from their bodies. I learned that in the sanctuary of their Jungian analyses they found their souls, reclaimed their writing or painting or dancing, connected their heads and their bodies, found their deep selves. It was suddenly clear to me that my frightening dream was not about my daughter, it was about me. I was in trouble. I turned to my friend’s mother and asked her about that Jungian she was seeing.

That is how I tumbled into a Jungian analysis. It saved my life. I wrote a poem about it:

letter to a first analyst

I caught the dream
and rose dreaming
you sat with me in the early years when it was all
coming apart my too young marriage that business of the donkey
in the basement the father whose eyes entered
me took what they would

you sat with me and I opened like a window
in a suffocating room whose drapes have been drawn for too long
now blinds snapped up smell of hot tomatoes
strawberries in the sun

i had been living in my body
as though it were an unmade bed for years the smell of decomposing
dreams under the bedside table crumpled kleenex bad blood spotting
the sheets the children were so little they wandered in
wanting their breakfast and me just waking from a dream of spitting out my teeth on the road or dream of using a contact lens for contraception it splintered
inside me what spirit led me to you after the terrible dream—my daughter’s head was severed from her body— my mother’s voice said: “you’ll never get her together again”

i write to tell you that i danced at that daughter’s wedding on a hillside in berkeley
not far from your house she was beautiful and i was glad
for all the years of catching the morning dream the hours you sat
with me through sandstone storms and backdoor me even death’s most yellow incarnation made a pass at my bed but you
who opened windows closed that door i remember

once you told me the story of a prince and a hairy wild man fresh out of the forest
they wrestled for a long time fought until each knew
the other’s body and mind until they were inseparable friends
(published in crimes of the dreamer)

Gilgamesh and Enkidu

Years later one of the women who stood on the stage of that conference on The Forgotten Feminine—Elizabeth Osterman—would greet me when I was a new candidate at the Jung Institute. She’d been watching me, she said. “You are a poet. You must follow your nature.” Though she was never my analyst or consultant, she was a powerful figure for me; I felt her support for my deep nature. When she died I wrote a poem called “Dirge” in which I looped back to my first experience of her. Here is that section of the poem:

You stood
on a university platform
in Wheeler Auditorium
where I had heard
many famous professors
but no one had ever told me

that a woman
writing down her dreams
can spiral inward
to her dark center
and come back out with flaming colors
and her own wild tongue!
(published in red clay is talking)

My story is not unusual in the Jungian world. In Marked by Fire, the collection of memoirs edited by Patricia Damery and me, there are many such stories. Sometimes it is a dream that opens up a person’s psyche, sometimes a longing, a difficult conflict, a terrible event like the death of a mother or a serious illness. The Jungian way involves noticing the small voice within you—your muse, your soul—that speaks from another realm; it requires attention to the world of dreams and synchronicities, an openness to the irrational and the awesome, an ability to see life’s pain and suffering as a meaningful aspect of one’s path.

These personal stories by Jungian analysts are about the direct experience of the unconscious—the fiery process of becoming ourselves. They are food for the soul.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Motherline Muse

Motherline stories evoke a worldview in which all beings and times are interconnected…They are as common as the repetitive loops made in weaving, crocheting and knitting. They are as powerful as touching a grandmother’s face in childhood, or seeing a daughter suckle her newborn child.
Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, The Motherline p, 23

I’ve been reading Patricia Damery’s novel “Snakes” whose narrator is the breast–feeding mother of a plump baby girl. My body remembers the suck of my own babies’ mouths, the sweet breast feeding reverie, the intoxicating smells of baby skin and my own milk. I remember the pleasure and I remember the overwhelm.

The muse would come to me in those days—baby at my breast, on my hip, in the stroller. She’d say: “Why aren’t you writing about this? A mother’s experience is the foundation of everyone’s life? It’s so powerful. Where are the poems, the novels, the essays about this demanding, amazing and transformative experience?”

“When do I have time to write?” I’d lament. I knew the muse was on to something. I felt deprived by the lack of literature about this most profound human experience. This made me edgy and defensive. “The baby is hungry. The baby needs changing. There’s dishes to do, and laundry. There’s dinner to cook. My body belongs to the baby. So does my head. How could I even focus?”

All that has changed in my lifetime, I’m delighted to say. Many women, myself included, have written about the mysteries, joys and sorrows of mothering. I wrote a poem recently, about my problem.

Your Problem

In a peanut butter and jelly haze
in play dough and lego worlds
amidst unmade beds and Mrs. Dalloway
lost in a pile of laundry, all the edges

of your days unraveling, between baby cries
and dinner, between the earth spirit
who has opened you up, and the call
of that angel before you fall…

If there are rainbows
you don’t see them. If songs are singing
they don’t sing to you. If poems are forming
deep in the dangerous woods, you can’t hear them—

Poems are wild things, they’ll eat you up
just like the wolf, your grandmother has warned you—
but somewhere in a grotto, the witch
who has known you all your life, is busy
fermenting her brew…
(first published in Ibbetson Street)

If I could give my confused and disoriented younger self, just one book to read, it would be “Snakes.” Why “Snakes?” Because it would give her courage and hope. She would understand that her way of being and seeing has value and beauty.

Angela, the first person narrator and central character in “Snakes” does not suffer from the problem of my younger self. She is both mother and artist— a weaver. Weaving is her medium and her way of perceiving. Her voice weaves a rich tapestry of many threads: the bodily sensations of her milk letting down when her baby cries, the healthy smell of breastfed baby shit, the emotional trials of parenting two prepubescent boys, her ambivalent feelings toward her visiting, recently widowed mother, her spirited conversations with her dead father, her marital issues and lusty love for her husband, her memories of the small family farm she grew up on and her grief about the loss of that way of life, her meditations on her ancestors, her fear of snakes, her fascination with snakes and the myth she tells her sons about a shape-shifting serpent and his human bride.

“You mean you don’t have to write paragraphs that focus on one thing at a time?” my younger self marvels, remembering red marks all over her creative attempts in college. “You mean you can write about a woman’s gaze, her bodily response to a man’s nakedness? Listen to this:

“Let’s swim,” Jake said, pulling off his clothes. I stood spellbound. His body was lean and forbidden, yet I looked at every muscle, the tautness of his belly, the bulging of his thighs…I watched the curve of his buttocks as he hung midair and then ever so slowly, slipped into deep waters.
p. 85

“You mean you can leap from memory to myth to talking with a ghost to funny family conversations in which big brother calls baby sister “the Leech” to philosophizing about the loneliness and grief of ancestral farmers in the Midwest while writing in plain speech that is accessible and poetic?” My younger self is amazed. “You can loop back and forth in the generations, remembering yourself as a child as you deal with your children and your mother’s response to your mothering? You can weave a Zuni myth about a beautiful maiden who marries the sea serpent Kolowissi into a dialogue with an eleven year old boy?”

“Lived with a snake” Trent used to say. “She married a snake?”
“Kolowissi is a god” I’d explain. “He can take any form. But his favorite is that of a serpent.”
p. 33

“Just like that she weaves the ordinary and the marvelous into one fabric.” My younger self is impressed. She has suffered under the fallacy of categories. I wish she could have known what Angela knows: that all the realms are interwoven. That is how her mind worked. Still does. But back then she thought there was something wrong with her mind, that modalities were supposed to stay in their separate categories like university departments, or milk and meat, according to Jewish Kosher law. This muzzled her, hobbled her, kept her in a mental strait jacket, denied the flow of her thoughts. I wish she could have known what Angela knows—that magic is always present, as surprising and as ordinary as a snake slipping through yellow grasses on a California hillside.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Mother’s Day Gift of Memory

My mother, past 90, is losing her memories. The other day on the phone she couldn’t remember where I was born. Was it Cuba? Was it California? She couldn’t remember how she and her family got out of Europe, in those terrible days before World War II.

My mother has given me the gift of her stories. I remember the story she told about losing two pregnancies early in her marriage. My father thought it was from walking on the beach. One more try, he told his young wife, who longed for children. I was the result of that try, born in California. I cleared the way for three more— all brothers.

All through my childhood I heard stories of how she and her German Jewish family got out of Europe. Those stories inspired my book, The Motherline, and have spilled into poems, many of them collected in my most recent collection, Adagio & Lamentation.

When I was working on the Motherline, my mother was the age I am now. She was vibrant, adventurous, traveled all over the world on her own.

She is my inspiration for growing old with grace and joy. Will I live to be the age she is now? Will I too lose my memories?

Mother, I said on the phone the other day, open your copy of the Motherline. You’ll find some of your stories there. Oh yes, she said, you did write about all that. I hope she will turn to page 169, and read about the time she, my husband Dan and I went to Germany, to see where she had lived as a child, before the family fled. The large, gracious home she remembers, in a beautiful suburb of Kassel, was gone. It had been bombed in the war, and now there was a new modern house. This is what I wrote:

The landscape of her childhood descends upon my mother and she exclaims, sighs, laughs and points. The reserve of her adult persona fades, and I can see the exuberant little girl in her. “Ach!” she exclaims, here was the school she loved. Here they walked after school. Here is where her friend, Ursula, still lives, and their dog played with the dog who lived round the corner.

“Here is the wall around the house!” She shows us a stone and iron wall. “This is the original wall! Here we hung over the edge with our bowl of cherries, spitting the pits directly into the open windows of the passing bus. I was good at it too!”

My mother (in the center), age three, with two of her sisters

The Motherline is full of women’s stories, women’s mysteries, women’s memories. Since it was published in the 90s it has inspired many women to gather their family stories, track their Motherlines, honor the lives of their mothers and grandmothers. It has recently been reissued by Fisher King Press with a beautiful new cover—a painting by Sara Spaulding Phillips. It makes a great mother’s day gift.