Tag Archives: feminism

200 pages down.

I’m 2/3s of the way done with Pearl’s book. I’ve been on a first name basis with her since I began this journey.

parchment-23662_640Reading it makes me wonder how much wisdom gets lost because women don’t share their most intimate thoughts? Either aloud or in writing? Many of us live our lives, and simply figure out the hard shit as we go along.

Some read the self-help gurus say, and I’m sure there’s plenty of insight to be gained by doing so. Others bond and grow through occasional talks with a close friend.

But how many of us engage in a systematic effort to document (your real) life and the lessons it teaches you? Either for your own reflection and edification or for the express purpose of passing it on? If we are not the keepers of our stories, who should be? When our stories fade, our wit and wisdom fade also.

I’ve written before about questions I’d love to ask but can’t. There’s also this about the importance of family narrative. There’s so much learning to be gained in the living of life, yes, and eve more so in the telling and retelling of it.

Do you document your life? Why or why not? How do you or how would you if you started today?

Truth or dare

From Joshunda’s interview with Pearl Cleage:

A dual history of bias and internalized oppression has kept most black women from publishing their memoirs or journals, Cleage adds, for fear of emotional and economic reprisals. “After slavery ended, black women continued to put forward the idea that we were good, sexually responsible women, going up against the racist stereotypes that came out of the madness of slavery,” Cleage says. “But there was still the fear of being too honest around white people. I don’t feel that’s a legitimate feeling for me. I’m going to tell the truth to whoever is in the room.”

When I read truth, I feel courageous and emboldened. Powerful. Magical. Writing the truth, however, is altogether different. But when I do, that’s when folks nod. Say, I felt that. I needed that. I never knew that. Amen.

From Joshunda: Cleage says she drew her inspiration for the book from the diaries of Anaïs Nin, which she found liberating and inspirational, much like the work of Walker and Shange. 

Sounds familiar.  Truth is hard to come by in the pages of books, although I must admit I wasn’t exactly searching for it as a younger woman. Discovering it, though, was quite a revelation. Filling. There was that magic, that power I didn’t know I sought. Reading it encouraged me to write it, yet in the beginning I found it hard to lay truths on the page. They were there, but buried. Hidden in metaphor and verse. Rarely plainspoken and clear.

It’s less hard now. But this doesn’t mean easy.

It’s also slow at times, truth-telling is. Because there’s this contextualizing you have to do. Background building. Setting the stage and what have you.

And then there’s the crafting. Are you conveying what you really mean to say? Who might be hurt? Who might feel misrepresented? Are you true to you?

I did not want to be the traitor,  the teller of family secrets – and yet I wanted to be a writer. ~bell hooks

Once you’ve framed it and crafted it, then there’s the time set aside for doubting. Is it too much? Who are you to give voice to this experience? And on it goes.

Until finally you shout, or whisper, “Me, dammit! It’s my truth. I’m telling it!” And you press send or publish as the case may be, and try to move on to the next thing without agonizing so much on the last thing.

And perhaps over time it gets easier. I dunno.

I do know it’s always a digging in. A meditation. A labor of love. Truth-telling is.

It’s freeing for truth and for the one who told it.

It’s difficult. But perhaps no more difficult than any other act of love.

The Drum at the Gate of Thunder and other gosho to women

One of my projects-in-progress is a review of Nichiren Daishonin’s gosho to women. Nichiren was a Buddhist monk who came of age in 13th century Japan, and a gosho is an honorable writing (go is an honorific prefix and sho means writings).

Nichiren wrote many letters and treatises in his lifetime, and the extant among them were translated and published with background about the recipient when it was known. English versions of his writings are in two volumes published by the Soka Gakkai International: Writings of Nichiren Daishonin Vol 1 and Vol 2.

lotus-150693_640Over the course of several years, I read all of the writings in volume 1 in chronological order. I thought it would be an interesting project to reread them in a new way, through a different lens. For instance, I know some people who have undertaken the study of all writings to Shijo Kingo, a samurai and physician, and arguably one of Nichiren’s greatest disciples.

What can you learn about the practice of Buddhism and finding happiness in this world viewed through Nichiren’s encouragement to this one man? He received quite a few letters, and through them we learn about mastering your anger (Kingo has a famous temper); doing your best at work, even when your co-workers gossip about you (Kingo served Lord Ema and almost lost his estate due to this very thing); the importance of perseverance, and other timeless lessons.

A woman who embraces the lion king of the Lotus Sutra never fears any of the beasts of hell or of the realms of hungry spirits and animals.  ~Nichiren, The Drum at the Gate of Thunder

At a time and place when women were considered inferior to men, and indeed, were sometimes thought incapable of attaining enlightenment at all without first being reborn as men, Nichiren was decidedly more feminist. Basing his teachings on the Lotus Sutra, which celebrates the limitless potential inherent in all living beings, Nichiren praised women for their steadfast faith, and encouraged them with the same life-affirming wisdom he shared with men of the time.

All of the offenses committed by a woman in her lifetime are like dry grass, and the single character myo of the Lotus Sutra is like a small spark. When a small spark is set to a large expanse of grass, not only the grass but also the big trees and large stones will all be consumed. Such is the power of fire of wisdom in the single character myo. Not only will all offenses vanish but they will become sources of benefit. ~Nichiren, The Drum at the Gate of Thunder

Today I read The Drum at the Gate of Thunder, written to the lay nun Sennichi. This gosho is one of 46 written to women included in volume 1. Some women received multiple letters – Sennichi received five as did Shijo Kingo’s wife, Nichigen-nyo. I may share some of my notes as I work through the gosho.

Someday let us meet at Eagle Peak, where Shakyamuni Buddha dwells. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. With my deep respect, Nichiren. ~Nichiren, The Drum at the Gate of Thunder

 

The magic of “and”

People are binary thinkers. They revel in the use of or.

  • You can be smart or you can be popular.
  • You can be a tall woman or you can be pretty.
  • You can be masculine or you can be a good parent.

It’s ridiculous to consider these things mutually exclusive, although some people do. And if we think about it, we can easily access counterexamples which prove “and” is possible in these instances.

I enjoyed this article by Katy Brand. In it, she addresses sexism and the people who sometimes unwittingly perpetuate it (including a man she once dated). She opens with a vignette about a wedding toast, and closes with a nod to Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the main subject of the piece:

Much has been made of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s fantastic response to opposition leader Tony Abbott when he rather ironically accused her of defending sexism in the government. If you haven’t read it, please do.

She brought up good points, but I think she undermined them when she wrote, albeit tongue-in-cheek:

So I say balls to femininity – I want to grow a pair as big as Gillard’s.

I don’t think it helps the cause of feminism (the movement to end sexist oppression) to affix male-centered traits to a woman resisting sexism and misogyny.  In her piece, Brand explains the challenges of femininity,  but it would’ve been more in line with her point to say women can be feminine and {insert amazing things often excluded from the feminine label}.

The PM can have a “magnificent rant” and we can applaud her without noting the “balls” it took to do it.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks her mind with authority!
Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks her mind with authority!

I’ve seen the rant. (You want to see it, too). It truly is magnificent. And because she’s standing face to face with the very leader she rebukes, while a room full of people look on, one might also call her gutsy or brave.

Because she remains undaunted while Abbot smirks and laughs in response, you might say she was steadfast.

The PM backed up her assertions with direct quotes from Abbot’s record, so her rant was well-reasoned and  clear-minded.

She minced no words. She pulled no punches. She was fierce and direct.

Really she was awesome, and I was inspired that she fought back.

I did not see balls. I did see a feminine woman AND I saw bravery and rationality and a badass speech.

The magic of “and.”