Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

FORGET THE STEEPLE, IT’S ALL THE PEOPLE

One of the most revolutionary concepts the Society of Friends has upheld is an understanding of “church” as a body of believers – not as the building (“the Methodist Church” beside the river) or the organization (“Presbyterian” or “Congregational”) or a hierarchy (“the Vatican” or even a nearby bishop I once heard quoted as saying, “I am the church.”) This sense of a gathering of the saints is the reason ours is a “meeting” of the church – of the believers – and why we gather in a meetinghouse, rather than calling the building itself the church. For that matter, early Friends typically referred to the gathering place of other denominations as a “steeplehouse,” thus emphasizing a distinction between the building and its users.

Keep your eyes and ears open, though, and you’ll observe the inevitable turns that try to fit us into those other concepts. Calling us, for instance, “the meetinghouse people” or our organization the Dover Friends Meetinghouse, rather than Meeting. While there is something quaint about referring to a “Quaker Church” down the road, it misses the point entirely. For us, a church does not burn to the ground – its martyrs may burn at the stake or we may burn with a passionate cause, but the church itself will be found everywhere, with many different individuals, and at odd moments. In fact, in this understanding, “church” even becomes a verb – something that can happen on a street corner or a field or our workplace as easily as in our historic meetinghouse. As I remember one couple saying, “We were unchurched and then we discovered Quakers.”

By extension, the Society of Friends was envisioned as being a people of God, modeled loosely on the Jewish people, with much of the teaching and practice coming down at home through generations of families. Whatever shortcomings Quakers have experienced in instilling the continued practice in their children, we remain a people of faith – one chosen freely, and experienced both personally and together. We meet, indeed, in many ways.

 

WITH THINGS COLLECTED

sitting in the loft space
(even before the stairs are installed

the sense, for the first time in my life
what it must feel like to design and build your own home
or business / space

a sense of potential, arrival, achievement

storage the way I want it, rather than stashed
wherever, as best we can

as I wash and disinfect
you can stand outside and detect the “animal debris” smell
as Rachel puts it
but it’s greatly reduced now

returning to the barn work debris
the first work is at the bottom of the pile

(all that crappy pressure-treated decking, splintering and rotting

also, a dead squirrel – all fur, no bones I can see

so much of my life has been out of balance

or just a canister of kites

poem copyright 2014 by Jnana Hodson
(remembering how I reclaimed the top of the Red Barn)

SLACK WATER

Kodak16 024Hard to believe at neap tide, but Dover was once an active seaport attracting tall-masted ships from around the world to its turnabout in the Cocheco River. Unlike Portsmouth Harbor downstream, Dover had both internationally famous calico mills and a major railroad connection.

Unfortunately, flooding and silting have filled in much of the cove. Even so, a working-museum version of the region’s large-sail gundalows still manages to work upstream and dock here for visits to the children’s museum.

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SECRET FLIGHTS OF FANCY

When you come close to finishing a novel, you wonder. Money? Subsistence? Fame? Continued oblivion?

~*~

“He’s a fine short story writer who just published his first novel,” as an imaginary review once surfaced. Or as another one began, “Forget Brautigan. Forget Tom Robbins. This Jnana is …”

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Over the years, I’ve admitted to myself there are sections of Subway Hitchhikers that just tear me up in their intensity. “They amaze me and pull gut strings,” as I noted then. There were also many other sections that went into the trash compactor.

You can surround yourself with notes of inspiration. I had Scott Fitzgerald’s dictum, that you start to create a character and wind up with a type, but if you start out to create a type you wind up with nothing. “So this story …” well, at times it’s been largely metafiction, not that I find that a bad category.

Some of my notes still leave me baffled: “And the storyteller reemerging, the final blending of Daedalus and storyteller. Some fine antecedents, some fine accidents, some lousy planning, so much to do.”

There’s something about bad plumbing, as well as the New York Times, dealers (cards and dope), fine old silver bought at the Salvation Army, the girl from Syracuse [?], and French “double doors.”

Everything falls into place, however slowly. You can always hope.

~*~

To learn more about my novel, go to my page at Smashwords.com.

Subway_Hitchhikers

NOT WHAT YOU THINK

I’ve always been a visual person. Had even considered a career in art before the writing took over. As further evidence, remembering a story or argument I’ve heard has always been more difficult to recall than one I’ve read. As for names, I’m hopeless unless there’s been a name tag.

Somehow, though, I can remember a musical line much more than I can any lyrics, including those we’ve been working on in chorus. So I’m not memory deaf, exactly.

As a visual person, I’ve found the point-and-shoot digital camera entries you’ve seen posted in my blogs to be a wonderful way of sharing the way I look at the world and many of the details that catch my attention.

But there’s another range of experiences I can’t begin to describe. Often, especially while watching people, my vision shifts from photo-realism to real-life cartoons. I hope I’m not staring, but the transformation is incredible. R. Crumb had nothing on me, other than technique. Sometimes they’re squiggling black-and-white line drawings. Sometimes, baroque etchings. Other times, wild blobs of color.

Even before they start moving.

SABBATICAL LESSONS

As I said at the time …

When I was 38, several developments occurred in a way that allowed me to give myself a year of unemployment, drawing largely on savings. Rather than travel the world or undertake some related activity, I hunkered down in a writing spree [that resulted in the novels now (finally) being published]. The sabbatical meant that for the first time in my life, I had a period of uninterrupted concentration on this work. The writing itself. Three fast novels, now to be revised, and thud! skidding to a crash or whatever. Enough to expand to a dozen, in the hours of revision after I went back to the paying work. Looking back, I know it had to be done. And done then.

Nevertheless, in my struggle between practicality and art, there’s been a longstanding sense of guilt in spending time on myself. To my surprise, a resolution came through a workshop on prayer, when we were divided into smaller groups and then asked to write out a prayer request. Not for what others might need or a social issue, but for something we needed individually. “Ask for something for yourself,” which the others would then pray for.

Of course, each of us works differently. I’m not one for the blank sheet writer’s block syndrome: I’m usually springing from notes jotted down earlier. (Pacing is another matter: just where is this going? And why?)

In contrast, I recall a poet friend who was also a public school teacher; he was quite prolific during the busy school year, yet during the summer, could produce little, though he could never quite figure out why. (He could also stare at a piece of paper for five hours and then turn out a sharply focused gem.) The other friend, having all the leisure in the world, could produce only disconnected flashes. Could it be some juggling or resistance is also essential to the practice?

MOCKINGBIRD, ESPECIALLY

The amount of wildlife in our yard continually impresses me, especially compared to my childhood home. The abundance of squirrels, of course, and (yuck!) the winter rats we occasionally see but also skunks, opossums, the groundhog (woodchuck) can be added in, plus garden snakes and a rainbow of insects. We must be doing something right, or just be in the right location. (Once, a fox trotted atop my ladder stored over snow, right here in the city.)

A first: amid a throng of blue jays chasing a crow, a mockingbird: was its nest raided or threatened?

But remember, never mock a mockingbird. Like the one singing lustily from our neighbors’ when I’d drive in from work at midnight. They’re quite remarkable musicians.

In a Heartbeat~*~

The influence of the animal kingdom shapes my newest collection of poems, In a Heartbeat, on tap at Barometric Pressures.

MOCKINGBIRD DING-A-LING

His slate gray is either the most
talented or most reckless
jaunty flying fist alive.

Mayday! Mayday!

five o’clock every morning

            Hey, you! Hey, you! Sleepyhead!

Whatever other birds screech
soon plays
on this loop du jour
car-theft alarm.

Sometimes even a telephone ring
becomes just one more birdsong
in his rankling jukebox.

Until I pick up the receiver
and there’s no answer.

poem copyright by Jnana Hodson
(originally appeared in Brutal Imagination)

IN A HEARTBEAT

Humans are remarkable animals, aware of their own existence and individual mortality as well as a corresponding, abiding loss. In the Garden of Eden’s articulation of this condition, freedom to act and personal knowledge impose a profound separation – from kinship with other creatures, from each other, and from unqualified divine blessing. Our relationships with each other and our social dealings are complex and often troubling, indeed – paralleling, it seems, our connections to other animals and the planet itself. Too often in practice, humans translate the subdue of Genesis 1:28 – “replenish the earth, and subdue it” – in a modern domination-based concept of “vanquish” or “conquer,” rather than in its ancient comprehension as “taming,” “softening,” and “bringing culture” (“enlightenment” as well as “learning”) to the land and all that dwell therein.

Many of my poems have explored encounters that cross over from a commonplace understanding of animal – “pertaining to the physical rather than the spiritual nature of man; carnal; sensual; animal appetites” – and move instead into meetings that at times even allow the other creatures to enlighten humans. Here, then, nature fits both the heart and essential quality of each sentient living organism. Observe the movement of animals closely, and one will acknowledge periods of play and even unrestrained exuberance, as well as caring. The word nature itself arises in the concept of “giving birth” or “being born,” and easily extends to the working of natural law as well. The brute – even the bestial human – may ultimately learn table manners for sharing in the feast of life.

Universally, people look to the larger animals – in some cases, not just as a food source but with a recognition of greatness as well. Even the names of professional sports franchises reflect this reality. Thus, it’s fitting to pay homage to whales and bears – giants of the ocean and forest – and the sense of awe they instill. In her book, Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore, Nancy Lord argues, from her own encounters, “The bear is like us yet is not us. Perhaps the bear is our connection back to something lost and still treasured, another way of knowing. The bear is nature and culture, together.” I believe the myths and tales of ancient peoples arise in this other way of knowing and soon lead us into an awareness of the abundant activity found in any healthy environment. My nature poems also present flashes from Amerindian, Biblical, and Buddhist voices – and hints that reach beyond my own observations in the American Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Eastern Seaboard, to touch Africa and Asia as well. Soon, even the smallest creatures we can see have a story, as do imaginary monsters, with their fabrication from living animals.

~*~

Sometimes we are affirmed and comforted by other creatures; at other times, vexed, as happens with household invaders. Some remind us of liberty and potential. Others produce essential food, hides, fabric, and more. Because each species requires specific and unique qualities for its environment, there’s no escaping an awareness of place, either. Particularities of water, air currents, soil and rock come into play, as do plants and fellow species. In other words, animal nature is always complex, and always holds more to discover. Too often, we humans forget our connection to these realities; consider, for instance, the Biblical perspectives of “Widow’s Portion” (Mark 12:42 and Luke 21:2; 12:59, here returning its meaning from a tiny unit of money to its origins as an arachnid), and “Parting Motion” (invoking both the Serpent of the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3, and the Reed Sea, or “Sea at the End of the World,” as newer translations of Exodus 13:18 indicate in place of “Red Sea”). Even animal humor arises in this kinship (“Mockingbird Ding-a-ling”).

In this alternative way of knowing, the dialogue turns from being simply about animals to our own interaction in their universe. Obviously, we have much to discover there, about ourselves as well as about them.

~*~

To obtain the entire set of In  a Heartbeat poems, go to Barometric Pressures. And remember, it’s  a free volume.

In a Heartbeat

BUFFALO NICKEL, LIBERTY DIME

To say money remembers
also suggests
it forgets.
The buffalo nickel, liberty dime,
Indian head penny, eagle gold dollar
supplanted, from 1909 onward
by American caesars, patriarchs, generals.
The Biblical injunction against graven images,
cast aside
like much of the substance of this land
and its labor.
The buffalo slaughter and broken promises,
a guilt of gilt.
The backside of coins and currency
now display temple buildings, erected in place
of open spaces
– the celebration of natural resources,
commonwealth, stewardship, the land
and its past
now turned toward militarist empire and might,
the corporate rise of industrial cities,
the masses under some leader.
The bland faith of autos and airplanes,
refrigerators and mercury-vapor lamps,
interstate highways, hydroelectric dams,
insurance and banking
– all jammed in a pocket.

Unlike the sun.
Unlike the wind.
Unlike the river.

The serious faces of dead chieftains
and their tombs
rather than any source and ground
of our being.
Niagara, Acadia, Everglades,
Yosemite, Great Smokies, Yellowstone
– cornfields and sheaves of wheat -
each one, deserving honor.
A bear, an ox, a pig, a chicken, a beaver.
Each one, with a knowledge to acknowledge.
I look north, taking refuge,
with a loon, a caribou,
the aurora borealis.
The winging caution:
Do not forget.
Tend roots and limbs.

Worship no other gods before Me.

poem copyright 2014 by Jnana Hodson

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