Monday, February 27, 2006

Tree of Life At The Brooklyn Museum Of Art

On Sunday I went to the Brooklyn Museum of Art to see an exhibit called Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire. Its on view until June 4.

Apparently on February 17, 1883, French army captain Ernest de Prudhomme had soldiers under his command in Hammam Lif, Tunisia, prepare his backyard for a garden. To their suprise instead of just dirt and rocks they found the remnants of an ancient synagogue floor.

According to an inscription in the center of mosaic, the floor was a gift from a woman named Julia Naro. ("Your servant, Julia Naro, at her own expense, paved the sanctuary floor for her salvation.") Central themes of the mosaic include the creation, the tree of life and the tree of paradise. Images of birds and fish adorn the vine-themed panels.

Now, this exhibit astonished me. For some reason I thought: 1) women weren't allowed to have any role in the synagogue in ancient times, or that 2) women could own their own money let alone publically announce to the religious world how they were spending it.

And I was absolutely blown away when I read this: "Archeological and inscription evidence... shows that the synagogue provided a place where women could participate fully in religious life, often acting beyond rabbinic prescription. More than a quarter of the known donors to ancient synagogues were women."


Over the weekend I also read an article about Asherah. Asherah is the often-maligned Queen of Heaven in the Bible and, according to several archeological digs, Yahweh's consort. (There's some controvesy here: the inscription either reads reads Yahweh and his Asherah or Yahweh and Asherah.) Asherah was often represented by and worshipped as a tree. (This is a common theme in goddess mythologies the world over.) The author--can't recall her name right now, but I'll post it in the AM--puts forth the idea that Asherah worship wasn't really obliterated but subsumed into make-dominated Judaism. How? In the form of the eight branched tree present in every Jew's home, the menorah, and in the Kabbalah Shekinah.

And of course in those roman mosaics at the Brooklyn Art Museum the menorah is a repeated theme. A plaque next to one of the exhibits claims that at the Jerusaleum temple the menorah had seven branches, not the contemporary eight. Seven. Also the number of gates Inanna, another queen of heaven, has to pass through to reach the underworld.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Annie Finch Tonight @ West Side YMCA

Thought I'd let everybody know that Annie Finch (author of “Calendars,” “The Body of Poetry,” “Eve”) is going to reading tonight on the Upper West Side at the West Side YMCA's Writer's Voice Series:


Thursday, February 23, 2006 at 8:00 PM
West Side YMCA-- The George Washington Lounge
5 West 63rd Street (between Central Park West & Broadway)

~Admission Free and Open to the Public~

67Wine will provide beverages for the reading.

Copies of Annie’s books will be available for sale at this reading. Books provided by BookCourt from Brooklyn. (They're actually right around the corner from my on Court St. Great store.)
Paul Auster's Wife

I've been reading Siri Hustvedt's book A Plea For Eros and the last essay in the collection, "Extracts From A Story Of The Wounded Self," has been rattling around in my brain for days.

She says:

"Around the age of eleven, I suffered from commanding inner voices and rhythms that terrified me with their insistence. They always came when I was alone, and they seemed to want to impose their own will on me, to press my body into their marching orders. The danger of madness seemed very real to me then, and I'm lucky they vanished. When I was twenty, I was struck with my first migraine, which lasted for eight months and then lifted. In the years that followed, it became obvious that my nervous system was unstable. I lived with auras that ranged from the very mild--a few black spots and brilliant white lights--to the more dramatic, such as a sudden seizure that hurled me against a wall. Once, I was subject to the very curious phenomena known as "Lilliputian hallucinations," during which I saw a small pink man and his little pink ox on the floor of my bedroom and believed they were actually there. I have also had several euphoric episodes before getting sick, and despite the inevitable aftermath, I recall those moments with pleasure. My vision takes on a sudden heightened clarity that makes me imagine I am seeing what I normally can't, and then, just as I remark to myself on the fantastic quality of my eyesight, I feel an overwhelming joy."

Fascinating stuff, no?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Anna Rabinowitz: Poetry & Opera

I'm going to the Upper East Side to meet with the poet Anna Rabinowitz today.

She's the author of Darkling and the forthcoming Wanton Sublime.

The America Opera Projects has turned Darkling into an experimental opera--hence the interview.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Poetry Daily

I don't know how many of you are aware of poetry daily, but this small Charlottesville-based nonprofit posts a poem daily culled from the legions of literary mags produced in this country and abroad.

Here's a poem from a few days ago. It reminds me of that middle ground between the tension of yearning for home and anxiousness to leave--that particular ache that defined my very early twenties.

(At poetry daily you can sign up to receive the daily poem in your in-box.)


And at the picnic table under the ancient elms,
one of my parents turned to me and said:
"We hope you end up here,"
where the shade relieves the light, where we sit
in some beneficence — and I felt the shape of the finite
after my ether life: the ratio, in all dappling,
of dark to bright; and yet how brief my stay would be
under the trees, because the voice I'd heard
could not cradle me, could no longer keep me
in greenery; and I would have to say good-bye
again, make my way across the white
California sand and back: or am I now creating
the helplessness I heard those words express,
the psalm torn like a map in my hands?

Christina Pugh
Volume CLXXXVII, Number 5
February 2006

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Books: Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine by David Kinsley

This is a fairly scholarly and dense book that explores the ten Mahavidyas, or hindu goddesses. These goddesses exist as individual goddesses and, since the early medieval period, as a group. Its important to note, however, that while they're listed and discussed as distinct divinities, they're also just manifestations of the godhead, the Mahadevi or great goddess. Written by David Kinsley, professor of Religion at Canada's McMaster University until his death in 2000, the book attempts to reconcile the grotesque and violent nature with their role as vehicles for awakening.

The ten goddesses are:

Kali, The Black Goddess
Tara: The Goddess Who Guides Through Troubles
Tripura-sundari, She Who Is Lovely In Three Worlds
Bhuvanesvari, She Whose Body Is The World
Chinnamasta, The Self-Decapitated Goddess
Bhairavi, The Fierce One
Dhumavati, The Widow Goddess
Bagalamukhi, The Paralyzer

I've dipped into and out of this book so many times since I first came across it in early 2000. At first I was only interested in Kali--the one in whom womb and tomb are joined. Most are either familiar with Kali-Ma: that dark goddess with hundreds of breasts, a necklace of skulls, dancing on the prone body of a wimpy male. She's your inner beast come to life... Truth is, during the first draft of my novel I was obsessed with Kali and included her as a sort of minor character. (In that draft, Kali is the focus of Jasmine's aunt's ongoing hallucinations. In the second draft I excised Kali and created my own violent goddess figure and wove her mythologies into the pretty traditional literary suspense narrative.) But I spent a good 6 months reading everything about Kali that I could. At that time I was a morbidly shy and serious writer. I struggled with a sort of passive depression and spent way too many nights drinking red wine, smoking both cigarettes and marijuana in turn. I think, looking back on it, that the violence Kali enacted on the world mirrored the violence I enacted on myself daily.

But that's a discussion for another day.

Six years (or three drafts) later, I don't smoke cigarettes, only rarely share a joint with a friend and have sworn off alcohol. I spend more time at the gym and yoga studio than I do watching TV and if you find me at a bar I'll be drinking either hot tea or seltzer, depending on the season.

My life has changed and so have the forms of mahadevi that I'm attracted to.

So Lately I've been thinking more about Tara. Well, specifically about Kuan Yi & Tibetan Tara and connecting/contrasting them with Mrs. Ramsey in Woolf's To The Lighthouse and Mrs. Stevens from May Sarton's Mrs. Stevens Hears The Mermaid Singing.

So I started rereading Kinsley's book when I work my 6:00 AM shift at the Yoga studio Tuesdays and Thursdays. (So quiet there--and after I light the incense and pour my tea, I sit down and read a paragraph or two.)

And so I came across this phrase that I've been thinking about on and off for the last few days: "The theological idea is that ulitmate reality, which is female in essence and form, displays herself in a great variety of ways for different purposes."

This is a huge statement: not just that ultimate reality contains male and female elements/energies/divinities or whichever word you'd feel most comfortable, but that reality is feminine at core.
Featured Poses: Goddess & Wheel

Since I neglected to post a pose-of-the-month in January, I'm posting two for February.

The first pose is reclining Goddess Pose, also called the reclining bound angle pose. Basically, you lie on your back and place your feet flat against eachother so that your knees flop open, forming a beautiful diamond shape with your legs.

At first this pose seems so simple. But the longer you sit there, your knees falling open to the ground, the more gravity itself pulls on you, stretching your thigh muscles and opening your hips.

This is ususally the pose I end up doing when I'on the rag and everyone else is doing a hand stand or some such inversion. (You're not supposed to do inversions when you're menstruating...)

So that was my choice for January's pose.

February's pose is the Wheel, or Urdhva Dhanurasana. This is by far my favorite pose because it opens up the triangular area between my shoulder blades and the nape of my neck. I'm a writer and so I spend a good deal of my time hunched over a computer. I try to remember to sit up straight, but to be honest, when I get going on an idea the last thing that enters my mind is my posture. For that reason and probably for others that I'm not really aware of, I've always carried all my tension and anxiety right there in that little triangle. The wheel unbinds me.

The pose is a simple back bend. You lie on your back with your knees bent, heels pushed against your butt and hands by your ears, palms flat and fingers pointing away from your head. Then you simply push up: breath in and out for five or so counts, gazing at the place on your mat between your palms.

The odd thing is after you come down there's a little rush of euphoria that expands along your back and neck.

A good chest-opener for February.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Inanna Visits Her Sister In Hell

Of course the most famous myth about Inanna is the story of her descent to the underworld to visit her sister (or, as she’s been called, sister-self) Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. (By the way, all of this comes from the definitive text on Inanna, Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer’s Inanna queen of heaven and earth: Her stories and hymns from Sumer.)

Now, I’m not sure why Inanna decided to do this—a trip to the underworld doesn’t seem like something one would just casually do on an idle afternoon, but the second Inanna hears her sister moaning her mind is made up. Inanna’s crafty, though: she tells her faithful servant that if she doesn’t return in three days he’s to come after her.

And so she puts on her queenly adornments and armor and begins to descend. As she approaches each of the seven gates guarding the underworld, she is told she has to remove another article of clothing. First her crown, then her lapis beads, her sparkling earrings, her breastplate, her gold rings, her lapis measuring rod and, finally, her royal robe.

She enters the realm of the dead, the realm of her sister-self, naked and disarmed.

This business of the seven gates and of the gradual disrobing only to arrive at her own, albeit darker, self has fascinated me. I borrowed this structure for my novel, The Jar-Born Sage. The book is divided into seven gates, or chapters: each gate is subdivided into the four voices of the narrative. Once she passes through the final gate the main character, Jasmine, finds herself spiritually naked—unsure of even the basic reality she once took for granted—before the female members of her own family. In the book,

Ereshekiegal takes one look at her and Inanna is turned into “a rotting corpse.” I have no idea why she does this, except that perhaps this is just her nature. I’m also surprised at the term “rotting corpse”—just so oddly graphic, but there it is. This rotting corpse is hung on a hook near Ereshkeigal’s throne and there it stays for three night and three days.

After these three days passed and Inanna didn’t emerge her servant went looking for help, as he’d been instructed to do. He approaches Enlil, God of Air, and Nanna, God of the Moon,neither of whom can help: the underworld, after all, doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction. Enki, God of Wisdom and Water, does agree to help: he makes two genderless beings from the dirt under his fingernails and gives them the food and water of life to carry to Inanna below.

Once they arrive at the throne room they find Ereshkegal moaning and crying. They cry with her, taking on her pain as their own and reflecting it back to her. In return she lets them take Inanna. They feed her the water and food of life and she revives. Together they return to the upper world.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Blogger Shame

So, no: I haven't published anything in more than a month.

I don't really have any justifiable excuse--winter blahs, an attack of lack of self confidence and work tasks getting in the way of my "real" writer life--except for my usual lazy self.

But there is some news:

As part of MoMA's Documentary Fortnight, conceptual video artist Phyllis Baldino screened and spoke about her "ParaUniVersesVersesVerses," a single channel version of her installation exploring parallel universes on February 11th at 4:00 PM.

You can read my interview with her at Fringe Underground.

I've also resumed the search for an agent for my novel, The Jar-Born Sage.

For those of you who haven't heard about this project yet:

The Jar-Born Sage is a cross genre (literary suspense/magical realism) novel about a woman’s search for a missing relative that leads her deep into the world of a female bio-terrorist faction bent on cloning their patron saint.

Jasmine Rucker and her husband Mark live an idyllic artists’ life in rural Virginia. But when Jasmine begins to have visions of a medieval saint named Simone de la Cote, a life she thought long-dead comes back to haunt her. Simone is a familiar figure to both Jasmine and her family. Her cousin, Hyacinth, is an expert on Simone’s hagiography, The Book Of Women, and a member of an elite team of scholars working on a new translation after a French reporter claims he’s discovered an ancient version of the same text. Her Aunt Eva, who disappeared five years ago, also has ties to this saint and has lived in an elaborate web of delusion and hallucination, all centered on Simone, since the early ‘80s. So when Eva sends Jasmine a letter invoking Simone’s name, Jasmine begins to suspect that there are no such things as coincidences and sets out on a journey to track her aunt down and make sense of this mythic figure who has plagued her family tree for as long as she can remember.

Four distinct but interweaving narratives trace a linear plot through the book: Jasmine’s search for Eva; Eva’s involvement with a mysterious female terrorist group bent on cloning Simone; the story of Simone’s life according to the newly-discovered ancient text; and a collage sequence that weaves all voices and viewpoints together to shed light on this mystery through the eyes of collective perception.

And I'm working on a new project (either a short story or a novella, haven't decided which) called "Stalking Paul Auster."

I still haven't chosen Feb.'s goddess-of-the-month: if you've got a suggestion, send it on!