Monthly Archives: April 2013
It’s almost May. My Facebook is filled with photos of my Pagan friends in flower crowns. Many of them celebrated Beltane (the May Day festival – see last year’s post) over the weekend. Somehow I’m still a month behind. I’m about ready for dyed eggs and daylight savings time. I suspect our crazy weather has something to do with that.
Seasonal celebrations are always a conundrum in this climate. It’s not THAT unusual to still have bits of snow on the ground (in the shade) at this time of year. Usually though we’ve at least had a week’s worth of HINTS that spring is coming. The latest ice out date (before this year) on the Twin Cities lakes was April 28 in 1965. This year it has just been cold and snowy.
Then suddenly we finally have had almost a week of warm weather. Unseasonably warm. Almost like we skipped spring altogether and moved straight into summer. A few weeks back you got a post with last year’s daffodils, up in late March early April. This year I’m grateful to see buds on the Hyacinths this morning.
Beltane is a celebration of the blooming flowers, the burgeoning spring. Those flower crowns are supposed to be made of wildflowers plucked at dawn in the morning dew. Our last frost is usually somewhere between May 1-10. In spite of our summery weekend, this year promises at least one more of those “iffy” nights. So we greet the May, which in Minnesota is the month of planting.
The rule of thumb I grew up with “Tomatoes don’t go into the ground until Memorial Day weekend.” The most optimistic of us will plant a few things early “just in case”. We might get lucky and then we’ll have a bounty. I don’t have anything, even peas, in the ground yet. We had a foot of snow on the ground a week ago. The yard is muddy and there are puddles of standing water because the earth underneath isn’t warm enough yet to take on that much moisture.
The way that we can be sure it’s May is that this coming weekend is the May Day Parade. The extravaganza is put on every year by the neighborhood around Powderhorn Park and In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. There is usually some kind of geo-political theme (in honor of the political associations with May Day). Often it’s something like what’s happening with our water, or genocide in Africa, or global warming. These are far reaching themes and ultimately are eco-centric.
The Pagan elements of the day are also honored. The parade marches into the park and ends with a performance where all seems lost. Then the crowd is roused into calling forth the sun. The sun rises on an island in the middle of the lake and is ferried across in a canoe flotilla where it is welcomed and celebrated. Usually the flotilla is led by the family of ducks who make there home on the lake. Often the sun pops out from behind a cloud at the same moment the sun is raised on the island. It’s truly a magical celebration of spring.
Month behind or not, I’m ready to welcome spring. I’m almost eager to wait for Orion’s bus outside in the mornings. I’m itchy to dig in the dirt, even if all I manage is outdoor pots. I’m ready to see the flowers in bloom. Welcome the Sun!
I have a love hate relationship with deadlines. I have to acknowledge that they can motivate me toward an action I’ve been inclined to avoid. They add a pressure to knuckle down and get the work out of the way. They function like a goal line, marking the path to a clear victory. They can also sneak up on you and bite you in the ass!
That pressure can feel like the sword of Damocles hanging over my head. Ultimate doom. Tax day deadline is like that for a lot of people. Often deadlines we know we’re not going to make take on this quality. Those are hard deadlines. We also have soft deadlines, the kind that exist but don’t really have any consequences attached if we miss them.
I’ve always thought soft deadlines were a little silly. Really, what’s the point? On the other hand I’ve had occasions to be very grateful when a deadline I wasn’t going to make got bumped back a little. Those extra few days sometimes make all the difference in the world.
What amazes me about deadlines is the way they like to cluster together. It’s never just one thing that’s due, it’s three, or five. Even better is when deadlines cluster around other commitments. The things you can’t just put off in order to get the work done to meet the deadline. Like when the big presentation at work gets scheduled for the day after your big anniversary dinner.
I have worked very hard to eliminate this kind of pressure from my daily life. For the most part I’ve been successful. Still, as a writer and speaker there are deadlines. If I want to participate in a conference there’s a deadline to submit a proposal. When I commit to present, of course the presentation has to be ready by that date. I have a very understanding publisher, but the contract is clear about how much time I have to respond to the editors comments and requests for changes in my work.
Even when I’m confronted with a crazy busy week I try to take time and make those spiritual connections. Often that’s when I find it’s most important to take a moment and breathe. When the deadlines and activities are a reflection of my spiritual practice it’s easy to confuse the doing with the being. Worrying about meeting deadlines is the opposite of being in the moment. A sense of humor, a little smile, a deep breath are all helpful to stay on track.
This is a heavy deadline week. I’m doing a class on Sunday at Eye of Horus. Two of my great nephews (if I’m their great-aunt they’re great nephews, right?) have a joint birthday party on Saturday. I have a date with my daughter for Dine Out for Life on Thursday. Orion has a major doctors appointment, orthopedics take forever, on Wednesday. I have my dinner/housecleaning exchange on Tuesday. I need to be ready for the workshop, get another workshop proposal (Women and Spirituality Conference) in the mail, put in some serious time on my next book, oh and write my Monday blog.
At least I can check one thing off the list!
Since I don’t have pictures I’ll give you a little humor and this youtube link instead:
When we think about spring the images that come to mind are bright and fresh. Tulips and crocuses and daffodils come in a range of happy colors. New shoots of grass, fresh buds on the trees, robins with their red breasts all evoke a feelings of hope and joy. Even in the worst of our spring images April showers bring may flowers.
Nowhere in the lexicon of spring imagery is the reality of grey ugly snow that refuses to melt. Those April showers in our imagination look more like a warm summer rain than like sleet beating against the roof. Gentle spring breezes of the mind are rarely underlined with cold northern gusts that carry the cold damp through all the layers. Winter hangs on tightly with icy fingers.
I do understand that all of this is the nature of where I live. There are areas of the country where planting is underway. Real planting, not starting seedlings indoors. I know there are places where snow is a rare thing that never overstays its welcome. I recognize that this weather we’ve all been complaining about is actually pretty normal for us this time of year.
I look back fondly on Groundhogs Day. Where I come from it really doesn’t matter what Punxsutawney Phil does. We are getting at least six more weeks of winter. When six weeks starts stretching into eleven it’s easy to become a little frustrated and impatient. Cabin fever and spring fever get all bundled up together in a grey haze and we don’t know what to do with ourselves.
To combat the malaise I’m making small efforts. Spring cleaning happens in fits and starts, even though it’s too cold to open up the windows. Hot house tulips bought at the grocery store are stuffed in vases. I’ll even splurge on asparagus, trucked in from who knows where.
I’ll light a fire in the fireplace and dream of campfires. I’ll make soup out of the asparagus ends and throw snow peas in the salad. I’ll tend those indoor seedlings and sharpen my gardening tools.
Or maybe, like the groundhog I’ll go back to bed. I’ll stick my head under the covers and stay warm until the sun decides to come out. Maybe in May? I have my fingers crossed.
Arts and crafts are not my thing. I have a great talent in the kitchen. I can wield a knife to chop, dice, julienne or even slice fresh bread. I get asked to cut cakes at weddings to serve the guests. I can take apart a roasted chicken practically with my eyes shut. Put a scissors in my hand and I’m hopeless.
I have a degree in theater arts with a focus in stage management. Pretty much that means you need to learn how to do everything. I took classes on costume design. I learned how to make a pattern. I turned in a project for costume design for a play including fabric swatches and design sketches. I was supposed to spend a certain number of hours working in the costume shop.
College theaters are staffed by professors and upper level students. Most of the labor is provided by volunteers and to ensure an adequate number of volunteers most theater classes require signing up to put in hours. These shops get students with all range of talent and experience. They generally require that you prove dependability and competence before you are given anything too complicated to work on. They also supervise closely the new volunteers.
The problem was that I had avoided the costume shop for most of the time I was working on the degree. It may have been the first time I was required to put hours specifically in costumes but most of the staff knew me from working on other things. Maybe I didn’t get quite the attention I should have? I was given an easy task. It was sewing a simple seam on the sewing machine. The machines were already threaded and ready to go. The fabric was pinned. This is pretty basic stuff for the costume department.
20 minutes later, having jammed up three sewing machines in a row I was kicked out of the costume shop and told I could do my costuming hours down in the props department. Seriously. I did end up putting in a few hours with costuming helping with hand sewing here and there over the course of the next year, but not that quarter. I really was that bad.
I know a lot of people who sew. I enjoy spending time with people working on projects. I find myself invited to tag along when a “major sewing event” occurs. Events like ‘let’s make everyone a swimsuit for the season’. Sometimes there is a great new pattern that everyone wants, like (shudder) Zumba pants. SHAZAM! An excuse for a mad sewing extravaganza. I have literally had the scissors taken out of my hand and been asked to find something in the kitchen to do to keep myself busy!
The really tricky part is that when there is a sewing event and I’m on the list of people who need the garment (in this case ritual robes) I don’t fit the pattern. I’m too large, too tall, too long in the waist and arms, too broad in the shoulders to fit a standard women’s pattern. Things need to be adjusted. I need to get invited, even though everyone knows I’m really not much help.
This weekend I got to spend some time (not) sewing. It’s good to spend time with friends. It was great helping out in the kitchen. I got prodded and pinned and fussed over as the pattern was dramatically adjusted to fit. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my sewing friends. How lucky am I to have people in my life who are willing to work so hard just to be sure I’m included.
Thank you Rachael, Michelle, Vonnie, and Judy – the actually workhorses behind this extravaganza. Thanks also to the men in the group who also don’t sew but who don’t feel nearly as guilty about letting the women do it for them. (Sexism and male privilege at it’s best.) At least I wasn’t alone.
The idea of the fool is an old one. In modern times the word implies a lot of things, most frequently including a lack of common sense. But the concept of the fool is an old one. The court jesters and mythic tricksters were also considered to be fools.
Very often these characters were foolish simply to disguise their intelligence. The court jesters were also often spys as people would say things in front of them assuming someone so “foolish” was also to stupid to understand the conversation. This misperception was enhanced by the fact that many courtly fools also had some manner of disability or disfigurement that added to their “outsider” lack of status.
The other role of the courtly fool was to play up the absurdity of the actions of the nobility. Satire and wit were their weapons. Our most notable modern day fool is probably Stephen Colbert. He plays a likable character who embodies the viewpoint he most frequently pokes fun at. His sense of wit, timing and both self aggrandizement and self depreciation make him seem harmless and somewhat “foolish”. But there are indications that most young people get their news, not from the news stations but from Comedy Central’s Daily Show and from the Colbert Report.
There is a turn of phrase in English “too smart for your own good.” This phrase is the epitome of the mythic trickster. Reynard the fox in European mythology has associations both for intelligence and foolishness. The Tlingit Raven embodies similar qualities. Coyote, the most familiar trickster in the Americas, is very smart, but not very wise. Still the tricksters, like Stephen Colbert, are often teachers.
The bumbling professor is another modern archetype of the fool. Fred MacMurray in The Absentminded Professor is the classic example of this. In recent times Dumbledore of the Harry Potter series appears to cultivate that silly absent-mindedness and he is underestimated because of it. He is seen as a fool in spite of his fame and historical feats in the wizardly world.
There is a great deal of discussion in the Pagan blogosphere about the term BNP (big name Pagan). It seems that several folks who are coming into the title are pushing back against the idea of their own popularity or fame within the community. (Peter Dybing “Killing Big Name Pagans”, Crystal Blanton “Sensationalizing Pagan Leaders: The damaging social structure behind BNP status”)
Crystal and Peter make some good points. Being labeled as a BNP decreases their ability to be “one of the people.” This impacts their effectiveness at serving a community since they all share a viewpoint that everyone’s contribution is valuable and necessary.
On the other hand, having some notoriety allows someone to share their knowledge more broadly. Bloggers have something to share and they look for more readers. Likewise authors aren’t always as interested in sales for profit as they are for sharing their work broadly. Becoming a big name often requires a serious effort of underlying self promotion.
Dumbledore isn’t the head of Hogwarts because of the way he hides his abilities. Stephen Colbert isn’t as popular as he is because he doesn’t have anything worth listening to. Raven, Coyote, and Reynard the fox often get their fellow mythological creatures invested in their grand schemes because, on some level, they make sense. They are also accessible.
Bill Nye the Science Guy, and classic fool, is easier to understand and accept than the pompous academic scientist who uses jargon and expects the students to keep up. Part of Alton Brown‘s charm is his foolishness, but his culinary science and depth of knowledge isn’t foolish at all, just accessible. Ultimately, true fools are teachers. Teachers need an audience and that, especially in the modern world, requires some level of fame. It’s a conundrum. It’s a balancing act between credibility and accessibility.
In courtly circles, and in modern times, a physical disability often provides the balance. Someone with Cerebral Palsy, or Tourette’s, or dwarfism doesn’t need to work to hide their intelligence. The disability does a sufficient job of that. Those people work hard to get past the imposed perception of foolishness to be taken seriously. Another balancing factor that people fight hard against is age. There comes a point where age both demands we be heard and also allows us to be dismissed as “foolish”.
We revere our successful fools and celebrate them this day. But wouldn’t it be nice to be simply accepted. All of us have our foolishness. All of us have our faults and failings to be made fun of or to remind us we are human. All of us have something to offer, to teach.
How do we as leaders, as teachers, as writers reach our audience without becoming a “big name”? I don’t know that we can. I do think we can remember the balance. We can allow ourselves to be foolish and therefore not revered quite as highly. By embracing our foolishness we remain human, members of our community, and therefore even more effective communicators and teachers.