Sunday, December 31, 2006

Our Internal Lives


I’m taking afternoon naps with Natalie Goldberg’s book, Thunder and Lightning. I mean to read it, but I am a scant ten pages into it. Part of not reading it is the desire to take two hour naps on the weekend, which I love. It feels so luscious and luxurious and like it is in some ways doing exactly what Goldberg advocates: engaging the wild mind of dreams. The other part of not reading it though is that she is writing about understanding and delving into one’s internal life. I love that process, both in myself and in other people. I love hearing about and seeing how other people experience the world and make meaning in it. I’m fascinated in myself the ways that I experience my internal life and translate it to the world so that it is experienced and understood in the range of “normal,” which is to say that I understand that that experience of translation and that construction of normal is a process in which we engage in this life. The past few days, however, with my sister visiting have been a process of being with someone whose internal life is not translating to the external world in the range of normal. It has been painful and disconcerting. Part of the pain is the difficulty of reconciling normal ranges of being. I profoundly resist that as a queer feminist. I want the range of normal to be large and expansive to allow for the greatest amount of joy and satisfaction in this lifetime. Yet I realize that the joy and satisfaction come from having a body and mind that are healthy or aiming toward healthy. My sister is aiming that way, but sometimes, or as in the past trip, often she bubbles up into angry or anxious or paranoid or other emotions in that range. She describes herself as wanting to live a “real and authentic” life and yet she is unable to hear conflicting information and consider the possibilities that the greatest help to her may be a medical intervention. It was a profoundly disturbing thirty-six hours. It makes me recoil from Goldberg and her analysis of her internal life and her exhortation that I should do the same. I don’t want to dwell in my internal life after watching someone else’s internal life seemingly fall apart before me. I know I’ll feel differently in a few days. Change is the constant of the internal life. For now, I’m reading small books of poetry and bits of a memoir and trying to recover my own self which was of necessity so protected and guarded during the visit.


Friday, December 29, 2006

To every thing


This portion from Ecclesiastes always intrigues and delights me. I think because it is such a hard lesson for me. The lesson that I read from it being that there is a time for everything and that time is somehow set in motion not by me but by a greater force - the seasons, the heavens, or some other cosmic power. I just don’t like that. I want things to be on my timetable. This is the one thing I don’t like about reading, and perhaps the only thing I don’t like about reading: it is sequential and time-bound. It cannot be expedited. It cannot be bypassed. To read, I must just sit and read the words sequentially one after another. On one hand, that is deeply satisfying, on another, sometimes I want the information immediately and without the laborious process. I feel the same way about the time and the things that this passage reminds me of. There is a time for particular things and my job is not to master the time, not to make things happen on my own timetable, but to engage in the process. It’s an important lesson that I learn again and again and again. Each time resisting, but learning a little bit more. To every thing. . . .

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away
a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bibs and Bobs


This summer I was on a Donald Hall reading jag. It was great. It’s really the first time that I truly appreciated Hall’s work as a writer. The book that was most profound for me was Life Work, which I just absorbed and frankly cherish. Hall talks about his writing practice in that book and reflects that on average he publishes one thing a week. Being the sort of obsessive goal oriented person that I am, I decided up on reading Hall’s benchmark that I would make it my own. I’m pleased to report in the last six months of 2006, after I had embraced this goal, I published 29 “things”: poems, reviews, columns, and essays. So I exceeded that goal. In total for 2006, I published 47 “things” which means I was only shy five times for the year. I love that. This is not to say, of course, that my writing is at the level of Donald Hall’s in terms of quality, but I’m plugging away at it and am recommitting myself to the same goal for 2007. Fifty-two “things” published for the year. Some of the pipeline is already in place.

Speaking of the pipeline, I keep track of everything that I publish over on my personal webpage at www.JulieREnszer.com. I just redeigned it to make navigating it easier. Check out the new buttons, new page, and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Five Things You May Not Know About Me


The wonderful Ellen Moody has tagged me for this meme. I’ve been thinking about it for a number of days now. It is not that I have written so much on this blog that there is little to say. Nor is it that so many people are reading this blog that there is much to discover about me. Still, the challenge of the meme for me has been to excavate things that may not be known about me that are interesting and illuminating to me right now. So here are the five things that you may not know about me:

1. When I was fourteen I worked on the Vice Presidential campaign to elect Geraldine Ferraro. It was the first of many losing electoral campaigns in my lifetime. I really loved the notion of a woman being at the highest levels of elective office. I had no knowledge or awareness of the different strains of feminism at that time and so to me the ultimate feminist stance was to want a woman to be in the highest levels of the executive branch of government. Today I see other possibilities for feminist action, but still I must confess, the fourteen-year-old liberal feminist inside of me wants there to be a woman vice president or president.
2. It was around this time that I first encountered the wonderful work of May Sarton. I’m still a little mystified as to why May Sarton does not have a bigger reputation in American literature. I found her journals and her novels and her poetry so simply enchanting when I was fourteen and fifteen. I think that she was one of the first glimpses at the sort of life that I wanted to have. I understood her life to be autonomous and focused on reading and writing. That was as appealing to me at fifteen as it is to me today.
3. I’m obsessed with the history of the nuclear age from a narrowly defined feminist perspective. Part of the narrowness is that while I am interested in the entire history of the nuclear age, it inevitably leads to the history of the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union and the Cold War and that feels like a body of literature that I can’t tackle in any way so I limit my interest, my obsession about this into the realm of science and then US activism in the post World War II era. I’m working on a book on this topic and am knee deep in reading and synthesizing the history and the analysis of women’s role in the discovery of the nuclear age and the opposition to the nuclear age.
4. I collect fountain pens. I love them. I received a new one for Christmas and am right this moment covered in ink from loading it and transferring ink into an inkwell. Ever since seeing The Hours I call myself Virginia when my fingers are ink-stained. I like that.
5. It is a tie between two movies for what movie I have seen the most in my lifetime. This is not flattering to me, nor particularly intellectual or literary, but here they are: St. Elmo’s Fire and Flashdance. Yes, I have the sound tracks from both on my ipod as well.

I tag the following people for this meme:

Nicki Hastie from Out On a Dike
Ren Powell from Sidestepping Real
Laura from Wooflian Feminist Queries
Steffan, who is in HK right now and I don’t have his blog, but I know that he will send it to me when he finishes the meme.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bettina Aptheker's New Memoir


I just finished Bettina Aptheker’s new memoir, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel. It is a fantastic book. A review from AlterNet is available here. There are many things I loved about this book, but the things that stand out for me include the ways in which she talks about her abuse as a child and how her relationship with her father, the man who molested her as a child, unfolded as she was an adult and through his death. It is an incredibly sharp in its feminist analysis as well as compassionate. I’ve not read anything quite like it about child abuse. Her recount of the trial of Angela Davis was also fascinating to me. It makes me want to go back and read Angela’s biography again -- probably a good move in light of the upcoming election in the U.S. It will recommit me to voting for her! There are things that I missed in this book: more analysis of the Communist Party in the United States during the 1970s as well as her sense of a contemporary political agenda for feminists. It is not a polemic, however, it is an intimate personal history. I won’t say much more about it because Aptheker is going to be in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in the spring. I’m going to try to set up a few bookstore readings for her when she is in town and hope to do a more in-depth interview with her for off our backs. Meanwhile, it’s a great book - get it now and make plans to see her while she is in town.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

List, list, list, lisp


This time of year is a season of lists, many retrospective and ordered to highlight the best, or worst, things of the year. I have little to contribute to this annual phenomenon. For one reason, I have migrated my annual reflections from the end of the calendar year to the lunar year corresponding with Rosh Hashanah. It has been a great change because now at this time of year, I feel little reflective pressure. In the spirit of things, however, because indeed the spirit is pervasive, I offer this list of things that I have done within the past week:

1. Made over 60 holiday cookies - chocolate chip; ginger snaps, and rolled sugar cookies.
2. Made Reindeer Poo as well as Chex Mix - probably in excess of 12 cups of each.
3. Spent three hours with a five year old. (Yeah, I was exhausted).
4. Took one of our dogs to the vet.
5. Ate Indian food (delicious).
6. Finished one book.
7. Am immersed in three other books and loving the ability to read wantonly with no regard for other’s deadlines.
8. Shipped 20 boxes to Michigan and other places around the country and the world.
9. Handmade and mailed 75 holiday cards.
10. Completed my first official semester of graduate school, including writing two long papers.



Sunday, December 17, 2006

Natalie Goldberg's The Great Failure


Three days from the completion of my semester and I’ve been struggling with a cold. An odd cold, no less. My throat is sore, though today that is getting better, and when I am sleeping it seems to seize up, waking me struggling with a cough as though to clear it, but getting no relief. As I said though, today, I am feeling better - I woke up and showered and finished my first non-school book of the break.

I was actually reading Mary Rose O’Reilley’s book, The Love of Impermanent Things, which is really lovely, but I paused from it because I need to write a review of this book and her book of poetry, Half-Wild, when I finish it and I am not yet read to take up writing book reviews (and I really for deadline purposes have to look at Mary Daly’s new book). So I picked up The Great Failure by Natalie Goldberg. I ordered this book on a lark. My writing buddy, Sally, was reading Thunder and Lightning, and was inspired wildly by Goldberg as we writers tend to be. She makes writing seem so possible and exhilarating and not at all challenging and painful and terrifying, which I think it is (that is to say writing is more often on the negative side of the emotional realm than the positive). So I went to Alibris.com and ordered Thunder and Lightning wanting that boost when my semester ended. I added The Great Failure to my list only because it was cheap and I hadn’t heard about it. Yesterday, sick and rooting through stacks of books, I picked up The Great Failure because it was available and easy to find. Thunder and Lightning is somewhere as yet unknown. The Great Failure was neither exciting nor exhilarating. It is, however, clearly a book that I needed to read. In it, Goldberg writes about the death of her Zen teacher and the death of her father, and most importantly about learning things about them either during their life or after their death that were painful and challenging to her, her relationships with each of them and her understanding of herself in the world. It is in the Natalie Goldberg way and accessible and easy to understand read. It is a book that I needed, not for myself, immediately as I think I have a pretty nuanced understanding of the imperfections of people in the world and in my life, but for my sister, who continues to be angry and alienated from my father based on information that she has gained that challenges her and her relationship with him and her sense of herself in the world. I needed to read this book so that I could give it to her and hope that it will help her. The family of my birth needs some of the magic that Goldberg uncovers in her unexpected path to truth. We’ll see if it works.

Meanwhile, I’m going to look for Thunder and Lightning and try to get some of the exhilaration that it gave to Sally.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Poem


Well, the two papers are nearly done. One is completely done with just a few administrative matters to take up; the other is 95% done with a final proof-read tomorrow and then submission. It will be great to have these two done and this wonderful first semester in the MFA program completed. Yesterday I was feeling really bluesy about the end of the semester. Ending projects, especially big writing projects makes me sad. I worry that I’ll never write something good again and that the things I have just written were horrible, but I have new projects that I’ll take up this weekend and move forward. As my friend Sally says, I need to turn the blues to purple.

Meanwhile, a new poem of mine has been published at Poemeleon. The poem is “After a Photograph by Frederic Brenner.” It is one of my favorites.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Knee Deep in Writing Papers


I love the two papers that I am writing and I’m working on a new poem - Ashes. When it rains. . . .Here are two quick items for today:

I'm the first mention on Queerty.

• If there's one thing November's election taught us, it's that sexual panic's alive and well. What, however, does that mean for gay people? Julie Enszer investigates. [SOVO]

http://www.queerty.com/queer/happy-endings/happy-endings-20061211.php

However, I do wish the column had involved more investigation - on a personal sexual level.


The World is Too Much with Us
William Wordsworth
 
The world is too much with us; late and soon,  
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:  
    Little we see in Nature that is ours; 
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! 
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
    The winds that will be howling at all hours  
    And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers, 
For this, for everything, we are out of tune; 
It moves us not. -- Great God! I'd rather be  
    A pagan suckled in a creed outworn, --
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,  
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; 
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;  
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.

I love this poem. Most of all, I remember loving this poem when I was seventeen years old. Sometimes, I think that I loved poems more then.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Provocateur


There are many things I’d like to be called. Provocateur is one of them. If last weeks commentary in the Baltimore Sun could be described in one word it would be normalizing. This weeks commentary in the Washington Blade in one word? Provocative. I’ve excerpted the beginning below or you can click here and jump to the full column.

Stop using sex as a weapon (Gay)Spinning gay ‘sex panic’ scandals to our political advantage will eventually backfire.
By JULIE ENSZERFriday, December 08, 2006

LAST MONTH’S ELECTION results were filled with victories large and small for gay rights supporters, but those results were achieved in part by using sex panic, a political strategy that always damages our community.
One of the keys to the Democratic victory was the exposure of former Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) inappropriate messages to congressional pages.
The Foley incident was a contemporary sex panic, similar to the controversy that surrounded Gerry Studds, the late Democratic congressman from Massachusetts.
Certainly 20-plus years altered the rhetoric from Democrats and Republicans, as both feared being labeled homophobic, but sex panic still works, and it still works in hackneyed and hurtful ways. In Foley’s case, the sex panic unfolded like this: a closeted Republican’s homosexuality is exposed in conjunction with lurid references to his potential as a child abuser. The Republican Party is shamed by a homosexual in its midst, termed, at best, abusive of his power, or, at worst, a child-molesting pervert. The silence of the Democrats and the gay and lesbian leadership allowed the issue to linger, leading to victory for the Democrats. It’s a reliable formula: link someone to homosexuality, perverse sex, extend it to their associates and watch them fall.
Read the full column here.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Jack with the Curly Tail

My friend Michelle Brown has written a book, Jack with the Curly Tail: A Home for Jack. It looks delightful. Some information is below and you can order it at MichelleBBooks.com. A great gift for children in your life!

About the Book
Life is full of ups and downs especially if you are a puppy in need of a name and in search of a home. Although it can sometimes be a scary world, Jack learns the importance of caring, sharing and friendship and that home really is where the heart is. With lots of love and the help of new friends Jack discovers that even a puppy has strength and talents and being himself is the best thing in the world.
Often the real world has questions and situations that are more frightening than any movie. Who am I? Where do I belong? Who are my friends? Why do bad things happen to good people? are questions every child asks and sometimes are the most difficult to answer. "Jack with The Curly Tail" addresses  these situations and more, in a thoughtful, non-threatening  and charming way designed to foster comunication between parent and child.

Three Angry Poems by an Eighteenth Century Feminist


Ellen Moody posted the following--in her words--scathing poems to the Wompo list. I very much admire Ellen’s contributions to the Wompo list and on the list that she moderates, Women Writer’s Through the Ages. Ellen is always teaching me something; I appreciate that. She also is a fierce feminist, which I also appreciate.

The Emulation

Say, Tyrant Custom, why must we obey
The impositions of thy haughty Sway;
From the first dawn of Life, unto the Grave,
Poor Womankind's in every State, a Slave.
The Nurse, the Mistress, Parent and the Swain,
For Love she must, there's none escape that Pain;
Then comes the last, the fatal Slavery,
The Husband with insulting Tyranny
Can have ill Manners justify'd by Law;
For Men all join to keep the Wife in awe.
Moses who first our Freedom did rebuke,
Was Marry'd when he writ the Pentateuch;
They're Wise to keep us Slaves, for well they know,
If we were loose, we soon should make them so.
We yield like vanquish'd Kings whom Fetters bind,
When chance of War is to Usurpers kind;
Submit in Form; but they'd our Thoughts control,
And lay restraints on the impassive Soul:
They fear we should excel their sluggish parts,
Should we attempt the Sciences and Arts;
Pretend they were design'd for them alone,
So keep us Fools to raise their own Renown;
Thus Priests of old their Grandeur to maintain,
Cry'd vulgar Eyes would sacred Laws Profane.
So kept the Mysteries behind a Screen,
There Homage and the Name were lost had they been seen:
But in this blessed Age, such Freedom's given,
That every Man explains the Will of Heaven;
And shall we Women now sit tamely by,
Make no excursions in Philosophy,
Or grace our Thoughts in tuneful Poetry?
We will our Rights in Learning's World maintain,
Wit's Empire, now, shall know a Female Reign,
Come all ye Fair, the great Attempt improve,
Divinely imitate the Realms above:
There's ten celestial Females govern Wit,
And but two Gods that dare pretend to it;
And shall these finite Males reverse their Rules,
No, we'll be Wits, and then Men must be Fools.
(1703)

Another, this time on the hypocrisy social norms elicits from some women:

To Marina

Plague to thy husband, scandal to thy sex,
Whose wearying tongue does every ear perplex;
False to thy own false soul, thou dost declare
How lust and pride do reign and revel there,
Tell the world too how nicely chaste you are.
This dull, compulsive virtue's owned: for who,
With one so odious, would have aught to do?
But this misfortune you too oft condole,
Whilst loosest thoughts debauch your willing soul.
Thy best discourse is but mere ribaldry,
Telling how fond all that e'er see thee be,
And, loving all thyself, think'st all in love with thee.
With pious heart thou studies! vanity,
And talk'st obscene by rules of modesty.
Thus sins nick-named speak the infernal saint,
Whose shining robes are tawdry clothes and paint:
Extravagance and cheats you mark for wit,
Thou abstract of contention, fraud and spite.
If Socrates could have made choice of thee,
Thou wouldst have baffled his philosophy,
And turned his patience to a lunacy.
The restless waters of the raging sea
Are a serene and halcyon stream to thee:
They keep their banks and sometimes can be still,
Thou art all tempest, know'st no bounds in ill.
Pride, lust, contention reign and yet repine:
Vesuvius' noise and flame has less of hell than thine.
(1703)

And lastly, she triumphs:

To Philaster
        
        Go perjur'd Youth and court what Nymph you please,
Your Passion now is but a dull disease;
With worn-out Sighs decieve some list'ning Ear,
Who longs to know how 'tis and what Men swear;
She'll think they're new from you; 'cause so to her.
Poor cousin'd Fool, she ne'er can know the Charms
Of being first encircled in thy Arms,
When all Love's Joys were innocent and gay,
As fresh and blooming as the new-born day.
Your Charms did then with native Sweetness flow;
The forc'd-kind Complaisance you now bestow,
Is but a false agreeable Design,
But you had Innocence when you were mine,
And all your Words, and Smiles, and Looks divine.
How proud, methinks, thy Mistress does appear
In sully'd Clothes, which I'd no longer wear ;
Her Bosom too with wither'd Flowers drest,
Which lost their Sweets in my first chosen Breast ;
Perjur'd imposing Youth, cheat who you will,
Supply defect of Truth with amorous Skill :
Yet thy Address must needs insipid be,
For the first Ardour of thy Soul was all possess'd by me.
(1703)
*********

The above poems come from the Net and also Roger Lonsdale's _Eighteenth-Century Women
Poets_.

Although other of Sarah Fyge Field Egerton's bitter poems appear in Germaine Greer's _Kissing
the Rod_ (an anthology of 17th century poems by women), in poetry Egerton kissed no rods --
whatever she was coerced into doing outside poetry. Egerton is famous for writing a long verse
response at age 14 to a leeringly misogynistic poem (not atypical of the era) called Robert Gould's
"A Late Satyr Against the Pride, Lust and Inconstancy, &c of Woman."

Sarah Fyge was born in 1670, London, her father a physician and city councilman. At around the
age she wrote her reply to Gould, her father sent his "disobedient" daughter into the country and
married her off, unwillingly, to Edward Field, an attorney. Field died in the mid-1690s, leaving her
childless and well-to-do. Sarah remarried not long afterwards to a much older man, a second
cousin (probably once again coerced as this pattern of marrying much older men you are related
to was common in this era -- to aggrandize and keep the money in the family); his name was
Thomas Egerton. In 1710 she sued Egerton for divorce on grounds of cruelty, and he sued her
and her father in chancery for the estate left her by Field. Egerton accused Sarah of adultery and
going to London with a married man, Henry Pierce. (We know something about this because
Mary Delarieve Manley included the story of this divorce in a popular scandal chronicle where
Manley is unsympathetic to Egerton, describing her as hideously ugly [she may not have been]
and quoting her husband as saying, "Deliver me from a poetical wife.") The divorce suit was
unsuccessful on both sides, and they remained tied to one another legally until 1720. He then
died. She died in 1723, leaving a tiny legacy to the "poor" of her parish, but we are told this
money was lost through the abuses of her executors. Greer says her monument depicts her a
victim of her era and fate, an "image she often elaborated in her poetry", e.g.,

        In vain I strive to be with quiet blest
        Various sorrows wreck't my destin'd brest,
        And I could only in the grave find rest.

POSTED TO WOMPO BY ELLEN MOODY



Friday, December 01, 2006

Op-ed in the Baltimore Sun


I’m thrilled to have an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun today. It is titled, Gay couples hope holidays bring gift of marriage rights, and you can read it here.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I did a radio interview with C. S. Soong of Against the Grain on KPFA regarding my article, The End of Marriage. They podcast so if you are interested, you can download and listen from this website.