Thursday, September 09, 2010

Marge Piercy - To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Grace

And in my angst, here is the quote that found me:

"[W]hen you are following ... [a] plan in community you'll never be an expert, just a person who can notice grace in earthy places."

--Lillian Daniel, from This Odd and Wondrous Calling

A Commandment

The Oracle at Delphi said: Know thyself.

And even if you give yourself the wiggle room to say that this is an ongoing approach to life (a continual process) and not an afternoon's activity or a "You are here" X on a map you carry around, it seems a lot to ask.

I mean, so much has happened -- and more every day.

And in a bigger sense, what has really happened? It certainly makes no sense. There is no spine, no scaffolding, no progression. There is a series of days that happen to line up backward for years. So how can this explain now? Or me, now or then? Or help me recognize the me of tomorrow?

Is this why people go into therapy? Or is this why people have friends? To help remind you who you are, where you've been, what you love.

Is it just me, or is this self-knowledge quest getting harder to do in today's warp-speed world?

The Distance to Success

Quiet tiptoes
in the space
confidence
should fill.

Disoriented,
my ambition
hesitates
at unfamiliar crossroads
indistinguishable
from the decision points
that got me here.

Xeno’s paradox
in reverse
means every step
marries me
to a destiny
I do not choose
and can never recognize,
since there is no “there”
to which to arrive.

In another time
faith would frame
the space
where confidence
dwells.

Hard-won knowledge
would scaffold my belief,
and the success of surviving each day
would catapult me
headlong into the next.

Instead
I lean into
the solidity
of sunshine,
pace forward
with the dread
of anticipated regret
for all that I am not doing
to get to where I don’t know
I want to be.

Authenticity

What does it mean to feel authentic these days?

In a society where you have to have a license to drive, a degree to do pretty much anything, but no qualification whatsoever to be a parent, why is it that so many women still feel they're faking it?

Even when I'm good at what I do at work, I'm half waiting for someone to question my right to be there. "You don't really know how to do this," they'll accuse. And they'll be right. I don't. And somehow if I were a guy or a different kind of a girl, that would be okay. Or more okay than it is with me.

I have a running debate with many of my grad. school friends about who's more qualified for employment - them or me. It seems the grass is always more qualified on the other side of the fence!

I have a fantasy about being hired just because I'm smart, competent, and hard-working. I can't be hired for any other reason, because I swear to you I don't know anything about anything!

I started my college career wanting to know everything about everything. Somehow along the way, I learned only about context, not content. A postmodern dilemma, perhaps. Postmodern education to blame, probably. A postmodern lack of capacity for retaining information. My generation likes the shape of knowledge, not its heft. We understand the landscape of a theory - its genesis, the range of its applicability, its broad outlines. This mapped, we turn from it to the next big idea that we can sketch out and abandon.

And so my generation knows software - what technology can do, not what it should do. We acquire religious understanding voraciously but believe very little. We are full of empty boundaries.

Hermes was the messenger god in the Greek pantheon. He was also the god of crossroads, of borders, of humor (because what is humor but the intersection of 2 incongruous ideas?). He was a trickster, hard if not impossible to pin down. Hermes could get you out of a scrape with his ingenuity, the wings on his feet, yet few would pray to such an immutable, insubstantial, whimsical god. In this way, my generation is the Hermes generation. We map, we trade, we barter. We exist on the edges, eschew the possibility of center.

Maybe this bodes well for a war-free world in the future. Who would lose their life for an idea only loosely held, loosely sketched, easily abandoned? Who would find offense in someone else casting off such an idea when another seems to work better in their own circumstance?

Generational studies tell us that the new generation, the so-called millenials, are not paralyzed by prejudice in the way past generations have been. They have always lived in a world where diversity is celebrated, if not always achieved, where tolerance is demanded if not always granted. In some ways, this might make them more dangerous, more prone to repeating the atrocities of a history they don't seem connected to or inspired to learn.

And for me, it means angst about a career path shrouded in fog. Who will pay for my gifts? Is it enough to offer the skill of context, outlines, meaning without belief, without knowledge, without expertise?