Like the moment this butterfly landed just outside the arena as I watched my daughter ride her horse. I’m no photographer, but I didn’t have to be to capture the glory of this gorgeous creature.
Can the ecstasy define–
Half a transport–half a trouble–
With which flowers humble men:
Anybody find the fountain
From which floods so contra flow–
I will give him all the Daisies
Which upon the hillside blow.
Too much pathos in their faces
For a simple breast like mine–
Butterflies from St. Domingo
Cruising round the purple line–
Have a system of aesthetics–
Far superior to mine.
I learned to use the Oxford comma during my elementary and high school days. Years later, I wrote for a local women’s quarterly magazine, and one of the first things my editor did when I submitted copy of my new column was to shout at me (via MS Word Track Changes) about my use of it.
During the years I wrote for her, I didn’t dare use the dreaded thing, and I suffered for it, believe me. I felt a little bit sick every time I saw a space where the little squiggle “should” go. I started this website around that time and if you go through my archives, you might see how ambivalent I’ve been about whether or not to use it.
Frankly, I’ve been a comma chameleon.
I found this video of The New Yorker’s Comma Queen kindly reminding the world why the Oxford comma is our friend. I hope you enjoy it, even if you don’t agree.
On April 26, 1986 reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in northern Ukraine exploded, throwing up enough radioactive material to contaminate much of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. Thousands of people were evacuated from the 30 km Exclusion Zone, abandoning homes, schools, entire villages, and a way of life.
Inside and outside the Exclusion Zone, the reduction of human activity has led to the rebound of plants and animals, particularly large mammals, since the initial loss of life. The area is regularly evaluated by government workers and researchers from around the world; it is explored, illegally, by risk-taking adventurers in what seems to be this millennium’s new frontier—abandoned cities more phantasmagorical, with their crumbling infrastructure and skeletonized machinery, than a wild west ghost town. The Exclusion Zone has also become the home of old women who defied orders to remain in Kiev after resettlement, or who refused to leave in the first place…
I don’t get a lot of time to myself, so when I do I try to make good use of it. As a time-oriented, structure-loving person striving to nurture her creativity, I need to spend a few hours in a row of full immersion in abstract, intuitive, random musings for the creative me to get going.
Today was a good day.
And when my time alone was nearly done, I took my dogs for a walk. My creative juices would have one more chance to stew.
Chip and China are my rescue dogs. They’re doing well but they get overly excited when it’s time for a walk, and they need to exit the house in an orderly, disciplined fashion…or all hell breaks loose.
We left the house and when I turned to lock the door, my keys had gotten tangled so that the house key was jammed inside one of the metal rings. I smiled, believing I was calm after my hours of meditation and creativity. I jangled the keys lightly, expecting them to miraculously untangle themselves, in keeping with the general mood.
I shook the keys again; my dogs lost their patience and began to strain at their leashes.
“Sit,” I said, with the calm assertiveness the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, so expertly advocates. They sat. I jangled the keys with more force. Several times. They didn’t untangle.
China barked at a passing leaf, one of autumn’s left-overs. This got Chip barking, too. I tugged at their leashes and shushed them.
When the dogs were back in control, it occurred to me: This is a test. After a morning of unbridled creativity and at-oneness with everything, this is a test.
The thought popped into my head that I should try to lock the door with the house key as is, that there might be enough of it poking through the ring, enough for it to slide into the lock. And it did!
Another thought popped into my head. There’s a reason the keys got tangled and I should try to relax during the walk and allow the message to get through.
We hadn’t been walking for more than ten minutes when I realized something awesome: I could use the key even though I hadn’t untangled it. I took this to mean that I can move forward, make progress, create despite disorder. That I shouldn’t try to control the creative process with my ego intentions.
I was feeling mighty proud of myself until my critical mind butted in with the notion that my interpretation was superficial. But then I began to focus on the dogs, the puddles, and the potential for being splashed by passing cars. And then I bagged some dog poop.
I wasn’t aware that I was picking up dog poop from a place on the path where it forked, until I stood and began walking several feet in the wrong direction. I always take the dogs to the right. I began to head back so we could take our usual route.
But isn’t this day about doing things, seeing things, differently?
I didn’t want to take the left path because it went past a location where my children danced for many years and where I used to work. We had good times but it’s full of noisy emotional memories. Also, if the dogs and I kept going, we would eventually pass the home of a woman who is no longer in my life, an unstable person who put her need for creativity ahead of the safety of others, in my opinion.
And then it hit me. The woman I turned my back on represents something I fear: that by giving reign to my creative self I’ll be at the mercy of unconscious forces similar to the histrionic, abusive ways of my mentally ill mother.
There, I said it. Today, because of the tangled keys, I took the left path and faced one of my worst fears.
I’ve worked hard to live an ordered life. I took a degree in mathematics instead of literature or wildlife biology because I craved an ordered world after a childhood of chaos. I deferred to logos, over mythos, for most of my life. Now, it’s time to go in a different direction.
When the dogs and I returned home, I jangled the keys and found they were still tangled. Nevertheless, I unlocked the door.
The dogs had a bath.
And I had another hour of solitude ahead of me. I made good use of it, I’m proud to say.
And this criatura is always a creator-hag, or a death Goddess, or a maiden in descent, or any number of other personifications. She is both friend and mother to all who have lost their way, all those who need a learning, all those who have a riddle to solve, all those out in the forest or the desert wandering and searching. —Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves
In 2010, I wrote a blog post for this website that I called “Teddy Bear Country,” in which I attempted to answer my daughter’s question: “Why are bears like babies?” She meant, why are bears so often portrayed in an infantile fashion, as in modern versions of “The Three Bears,” and the ubiquitous teddy bear?
As soon as she asked, I became obsessed with the notion.
Eleven thousand years ago, the North American short face bear became extinct, along with the rest of the continent’s megafauna. It was a deadly predator, perhaps one of the deadliest mammals ever, and some people believe its existence may have delayed the dominance of humans in North America by several hundred years.
Yet, 11,000 years later, the short face bear’s local kin–grizzlies, black bears, and polar bears–are as wild as ever, but they are often mistaken for someone who wants a cuddle. Read more at Luna Station Quarterly…