Monday, March 17, 2014

Surrender, Dorothy!

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of the movie, The Wizard of Oz. The movie has been among my top five favorites since before I could even talk. Not only do I know all the songs, but if pressed, I could probably recite all the lines along with the film. I read through all of L. Frank Baum’s books at an early age. All this is to say that I can’t remember a time when I didn't identify with Dorothy Gale. I can’t remember a time when she wasn't at the top of my list of literary and film heroines.

For all the times I've watched it, there’s something I did not notice until I watched the movie (for the 837th or so time) just a couple of weeks ago. The Wicked Witch was right. You heard me. The Wicked Witch was right when, in a fit of pique, she wrote across the sky, “Surrender, Dorothy!” Sure, she had the wrong idea about the terms of Dorothy's surrender, but she was on point with the surrendering part. And, given all of Dorothy’s co-dependence on others, a good-sized surrender was imminent.

Think about it. Back on the farm, Dorothy relied on Uncle Henry and Aunt Em to deal with the ever dyspeptic Miss Gulch. She relied on farmhands Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke not just for entertainment, but to rescue her from the pigs - a predicament she got herself into. When she ran away from home, she looked to Professor Marvel for a solution. Then, when she was whisked far away and over the rainbow, just as she dreamed and wished, she still wasn't happy. All she could think about was getting back home, and she was willing to rely on any number of characters to help her. (“Helping the little lady along, are we, my fine gentlemen?”)

Dorothy ran headlong into that age-old classic truism: wherever you go, there you are.

Of course, wanting to get back home was an altruistic, albeit rather guilt-laden decision. Dorothy felt badly for how she’d treated Aunt Em by running off. She wanted to go back and make amends, be more helpful, take less for granted, in short, be a better niece. She was tenacious in her quest and undaunted by setbacks. The only time she showed any real fear was when she thought she might not be able to get back to Kansas so that she could set things right with her aunt. Also to her credit, and one of the things I love most about Dorothy, was that she wasn't put off by differences in those she knew or met. Looks or abilities or disabilities meant little to her; she accepted everyone as they were.

Even with all her good attributes, Dorothy was due a reckoning. She put all her hopes in others, left her expectations in their hands. Doing that rarely ends well - at the very least it doesn't end the way we’d like it to. Her friends helped her get to the wizard. The wizard did nothing for them but point out that they were not as flawed as they thought themselves to be. (Nothing like a little external validation to give you confidence in your abilities, huh?) He had no solid way to tell Dorothy that, and being flawed and not just a little co-dependent himself, he catered to her co-dependency by offering her a ride.  Dorothy would have learned little in the end if Toto hadn't leaped from her arms, causing a Rube Goldberg effect that sent the wizard floating off without her.

That was when Dorothy gave up, completely and without any exception. She surrendered. Glinda saw that moment and seized it as an opportunity to enlighten Dorothy. “You've always had the power.” Dorothy's eyes widen in recognition of the truth (it’s subtle, but such a brilliant acting moment by Judy Garland). When pushed to reveal what she had learned, Dorothy says, “… if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

We like to talk a good game about finding our desires, our passions, our joie de vivre. Yay! We found them - as if they're Easter eggs hidden from us by some Universal bunny. The truth is, they were never lost. They were never not there. We need only surrender. We need to stop looking so hard in every direction, expecting them to magically appear. We need to stop relying on every person who crosses our path to supply them. We need only surrender.

Surrender. You've had the power within you all along.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Wild Woman and a Really Big Circle

Some of the circles and loops in our lives are tiny, so tiny they'd barely make it as pinkie rings. Other circles and loops are vast, spanning years, decades even, and the myriad people encompassed therein. In the past couple of weeks, I've found myself wandering rather gleefully in one of those great big circles. And friends, this particular circle comes with a campfire that is redolent with the sweetest wood smoke, and it is warm, and everything I expected. There is singing around that fire. Oh, baby, is there ever singing. It's loud. And there's dancing. It's wild. It's freakin' ineffable.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to May 3, 1998, Rockville, MD. I was having one of my monthly Sunday breakfasts with my dear friend Jessie. It was actually our second one in less than two weeks, but we knew it was probably our last. Two weeks prior, I had blurted out to Jesse that I was leaving my husband and moving to the west coast at the end of May. She was the first person I told. In fact, she was really the only person I told. To everyone else I simply said that I was moving and let them figure out the logistics for themselves. It wasn't that she was my only friend, but at the time, Jessie was my only friend who, I felt, I could tell anything to and still be loved in return.

So, she knew. And there we were two weeks later, having breakfast, when she reached into her bag and said, "I have something for you. This book changed my life. I bought you a copy, because I think you're headed toward something big and you need to read it." With that, she handed me a brand new copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD. Jessie had written on the dedication page, "Dear Barb, This book comes with lots and lots of love and the hope and assurance that you'll soar to your dreams each and every moment of each and every day. I love you - Jess." Stuck between that page and the following were two crisp one hundred dollar bills.

Tears sprang to my eyes. I said, "Oh, Jess... you didn't have to... this is... I... " Jessie just looked at me and said, "Go find your life and don't look back." I did just that. Two weeks later, with a couple of suitcases and my sewing machine in tow, I boarded a Greyhound. As I very slowly made my way West, I devoured Estés's book. Everything I'd ever felt and known deep down, all my crazy ideas and unknown longings for... what? All of it was in her book and her explanations and suggestions made so much sense. Besides all that, it was a ridiculously good read. Just to give you a small forkful to taste, here is the Foreword: We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire. We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.

Here I am, nearly 16 years later, living my dreams, now able to hear the sound of feet and the chuff of breath and smell the musky sex of the Wild Woman within. I pick up the book and read from it now and then. As you can see from the picture, it is well loved - it has done some wandering with me, the pages are dog-eared and yellowing and the binding is beginning to crack. There's a word for how I feel about this book, and that word is reverence.

Now then, about those circles and loops I mentioned earlier. I've been part of a writing group for a few months and a couple of weeks ago, one of my fellow writers turned me on to The Wild Woman Community, saying that they were looking for writers. I sent them an email, they were interested, I jumped through hoops, they liked me, I liked them, they said please join us, I said yes, and the bonfire was set ablaze. So it is that I am to be a Wild Woman Writer and, as well, I will be collaborating with them on some artsy stuff to sell in the marketplace. I hold this in great honor.

Like all things in life, because circles, especially big ones, like to gather in all manner of stuff, it is an honor with a bittersweet edge to it.

Just two weeks after I made my way West, my beautiful friend Jessie died very suddenly. It was one of those things in life that made everything in me feel like it was made of glass. Jessie's death left me fragile and weeping for the loss of my friend as I clutched my treasured book with her handwriting in it. To this day, I can't touch the book without feeling Jessie's hands. I can't read the chapters without seeing her eyes. And I know, in all my creative undertakings, she's keeping watch and nudging me on as one of my Muses. But, with the advent of this new endeavor? Why, can't you see her? She's dancing around the fire, hair flying as she whirls, smiling that big smile of hers and laughing just for the joy in it.

That is why, nearly sixteen years later, I once again raise my mug full of coffee, smile through tears, and say, "Here's to you, Jessie Herman. I love you, my friend."

Loop... chuff... circle... sound of footsteps... whirl... scent of musk... pop of a bonfire log... and a new circle begins.