Voting Is My Super Power

J and I voted early at City Hall over a week ago, navigating a confusing array of sidewalk construction on our way into the building. As we waited in line to deposit our ballots, we overheard a poll worker mention that she has voted in every election since becoming a citizen.

Penultimate pile of #PostcardsToVoters

“Where are you from,” J asked, and the worker described the circuitous journey that brought her to America via New Zealand and China, where her parents had fled from Russian pogroms. “I don’t take for granted what I have here,” she said as she handed us our “I voted” stickers.

That was the day before the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, and I’ve occasionally thought of that poll worker and her roundabout flight from the oppression that drove her parents out of Russia. Today during my office hours, I scrolled through my social media feeds to see photo after photo of friends who didn’t take their vote for granted, and in my afternoon classes I was cheered to see more than a few students wearing “I voted” stickers, too.

Final batch of #PostcardsToVoters for this election cycle

Seeing young people excited about voting reminds me of Election Day 2018, when I voted for Barack Obama alongside long lines of first-time voters. It felt good to be a part of history then, and I had hoped to be part of history in 2016, too. Back then, J and I chilled champagne in advance of what he’d hoped to be Hillary Clinton’s victory. This year, we don’t have any champagne on hand, just anxious hopes for a blue wave.

Waiting for the elevator

Today during a long-procrastinated checkup, my gynecologist confirmed what I already suspected: I’ve entered perimenopause, my body starting to shut down its inner fire of fertility. And as my doctor recited the symptoms that are normal for bodies like mine and the ones that should be cause for alarm, I could see over her shoulder a reddening line of distant hills as the landscape undergoes a cyclic change of her own.

Front yard

Once a year, usually in November, the Japanese maple in our front yard turns bright red. The leaves on this tree are reddish year-round, but once a year, J and I are reminded of the huge difference between merely “reddish” and truly “red.”

Maple and maple

Some years, it’s rainy or foggy when our Japanese maple ignites. But today, after days of drizzle, the sun showed up and the entire landscape gleamed. On bright November days, the sunlight doesn’t shine from any particular direction; instead, the air itself seems illuminated, as if the earth itself were a light bulb and each of us a glowing filament.

Bathroom view

This morning while I showered, there was a red glow on the bathroom wall from the maple outside, and when J and I walked to and from lunch, the streets and sidewalks glinted with the golden glow of Norway maples. Soon enough, these tree tapestries will be stripped bare, but for now, an afternoon when both the sun and the trees shine together is a red-letter day.

Orange and gold

On rainy mornings, Toivo and I have the neighborhood to ourselves. I don’t mind dog-walking in the rain, especially when the rain is light enough I don’t need an umbrella. This morning a hooded windbreaker, waterproof pants, and rain shoes kept me dry enough, and Toivo and I walked briskly, settling into a long, smooth stride that felt as effortless as my heartbeat.

Maple on maple

Today’s been a windy day, so the streets and sidewalks are plastered with wet, still-colorful leaves, like confetti after a parade. These days the Norway maples glow golden, complemented by fiery red and orange Japanese maples. The oaks, which are always the first to leaf and the last to lose, have begun to burnish bronze. These are the colors of late autumn, and they glean even brighter on rainy days, without the mitigation of sunlight.

As above, so below

November days are golden, and it’s true that nothing gold can stay. I’ve lived in New England long enough to know in my bones how gray and dismal the winter will be, so I fuel my inner fires with autumn light, a remembered warmth I’ll sorely need in future months.

Creepy

If I had to pick a favorite month, November would be my choice. Fall is my favorite season, and late fall is my favorite time. After the bright and blustery days of October, November descends as a kind of muted gloom. Many trees have lost their leaves, and in places the ground below is more colorful than the branches above. Early autumn draws the eye upward toward changing foliage, and in late fall we look down toward earth again.

Skeleton with pet cat

November is dying time. Leaning deep toward winter, trees suck their juices into their roots, leaving their leaves to wither and branches to dry. November is when nature closes up shop, putting a sudden stop to the fervent fecundity of summer. When Herman Melville wanted to describe the morbid urge that sent Ishmael to sea, he described the damp, drizzly November of his soul. All rivers wend toward an ocean end, and Christians remind themselves of this with a pair of November holidays that commemorate the dead: All Saints Day yesterday, and All Souls Day today.

Mr. October

During the month of October, our religiously diverse neighborhood goes all out decorating for Halloween: Christmas lights are rare here, but in October there are plenty of ghouls and skeletons hanging around. The inevitability of death, it turns out, is something that Christians, Jews, Muslims, and certainly Buddhists can agree upon. Whatever the shade of your skin or the posture of your prayer, in the end our bones will all molder the same.

Just a skeleton on a porch with his dog

Earlier this week while listening to news coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, I heard how community members have spent shifts at the coroner’s office, praying with the deceased rather than leaving them there alone. I’m not Jewish, but I my immediate response to this story was recognition: yes, of course we need to keep company with the dead, praying however we are accustomed. And with that thought, I began to weep, not only for the named ones who died in Pittsburgh but for any and all who have died alone, too soon, or with unfinished business: the only kind of soul, legend tells us, in danger of becoming a ghost.

Three pumpkins

Buddhists have no illusions about the afterlife: I’m comforted by the bright blankets of November because I recognize that as the leaves and seasons pass, so too are we each destined to die. In November, all souls sit with the dying landscape, keeping her company as she passes from one season to the next. At this time of year and during this week of senseless slaughter, I’m reminded of a line from the Dhammapada: All beings tremble before their death. Knowing this, how can you quarrel?

Caught

It’s already November, past the midpoint of a season that still feels new. Already the maples have lost their leaves and the oaks their acorns. Already autumn is rounding toward its end, and the light like the year has begun to wane.

It’s been 15 years since Rachel Barenblat started blogging as The Velveteen Rabbi, and recently Rachel suggested that several of our long-time writing friends create a post to mark the occasion. The result was a rambling Google Doc conversation with Rachel, Beth Adams of The Cassandra Pages, Dave Bonta of Via Negativa, Dale Favier of Mole, Natalie d’Arbeloff of Blaugustine, and me: six writers reflecting on 15 years of blogging and the friendships that grew out of it. Below is an excerpt from that conversation.

Buried Temple, by Natalie D’Arbeloff. Acrylic on paper, 37cm x 37 cm.

Rachel: Writing is one of the fundamental ways I experience and explore the world, both the external world and my own internal world. I think it was EM Forster who wrote, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Blogging as I’ve come to understand it is living one’s life in the open, with spiritual authenticity and intellectual curiosity, ideally in conversation or relationship with others who are doing the same.

Dave: At some level, it’s easier to keep blogging at Via Negativa, the Morning Porch, and Moving Poems than it is to stop. Basically I’m an addict. Writing poetry is fun for me — entering that meditative head-space required for immersion in writing. As for the social aspect, I’ve been in, or on the periphery of, several distinct blogging communities over the years, and at one time, we all commented on each other’s sites, but with the rise of social media, most blog commenting went away — and I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. Writing and responding to comments did take up a lot of my time ten years ago, and now that I can scratch that conversational itch on Twitter, or in real life with my partner, I’m OK with most interactions on my blogs being limited to pings. But I must immediately qualify that and admit that Via Negativa is a special case, because for well over half its existence now I’ve enjoyed the virtual companionship of a co-blogger, the brilliant and prolific poet Luisa Igloria, and a small number of occasional guest bloggers as well. I wouldn’t say I’m competitive, but Luisa’s commitment to a daily poetry practice has definitely forced me to up my game. Then there’s Mr. Pepys. My Pepys Diary erasure project grew directly from sociability: my partner and I wanted to read the online version of the diary together, and I worried I might eventually get bored with it if I weren’t mining it for blog fodder.

Lorianne: I am not attached to the medium, but I am attached to the message, and the process of creating/sharing that message. There has been a lot of hand-wringing among bloggers over the “death of the blog,” with long-time (and former) bloggers worried about attention divides between blogs and social media. Where do “I” live if I post in multiple places: on blog, in a paper notebook, on social media? For those of us who do all three, the result can be confusing, distracting, and frazzling…or it can be creative, collaborative, and synergistic.

Dale: I didn’t really expect ever to have readers, so in a way, having readership dwindle is a return to the early days… I’ve outlived some of my personas — I’m no longer recognizeably very Buddhist, and my politics have morphed in some odd ways. I don’t think I’m as salable an item as I used to be 🙂 But the inertia, as Dave said. When I do have something to say and my censor doesn’t step in, the blog is still where I go. It’s been home for fifteen years: my strand of the web… The community that was established way back when is still important to me, and still a large part of my life. And there’s still a lot of value in having a public space. The act of making something public changes it, changes how I look at. I become the viewers and the potential viewers. It helps me get out of myself. It helps me work through my favorite game of “what if I’m wrong about all these things?”

Natalie: Why the hell still blogging? Not sure I am still blogging. I put something up on Facebook whenever I feel like saying hey, listen, or hey, look at this. Then I copy/paste the post to Blogger where I keep Blaugustine going, mainly out of a sense of imaginary duty. The idea that there are some real people out there who may be actually interested in some of my thoughts and/or artwork is undoubtedly attractive, even necessary. I live a mostly hermit life and don’t get much feedback of any kind. But my interior life is very active, all the time, and having a tiny public platform online where I can put stuff is really helpful. To be perfectly honest I think that’s about it for me and blogging at present. I don’t do any other social media, it would all take too much time which I’d rather devote to artwork.

Beth: I think a lot of it has to do with a sense of place. My blog is like a garden or a living room that I’ve put energy and thought and care into as a place that’s a reflection of myself and is hopefully welcoming for others.. The discipline of gathering work and talking about it coherently has been extremely good for me and for my art practice. And I’ve also really appreciated and been inspired by other people who do the same, whatever their means of expression. There’s something deeply meaningful about following someone’s body of work, and their struggles, over not just months but years. In today’s climate of too-muchness and attention-seeking and short attention spans, I feel so encouraged and supported by the quiet, serious doggedness of other people like me!