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A Quiet Passion, a Film almost about Emily Dickinson

I so wanted to love this film! There were lovely things about it. The color and composition, for instance. The actress who plays Lavinia actually looks a lot like Lavinia and the actress who plays Emily as a girl is lively and charming. I liked her better than Cynthia Nixon in the role. Keith Carradine is good as the father, but oh, the movie is Slow!

I can’t figure out why the writer and director made such choices! The Emily that emerges is bitter, disappointed in love and angry. At times, she almost looks demonic! This is not and never was Emily. Almost 2,000 poems refute this image. The movie would have us believe that Emily, rebuffed by Wadsworth, spirals into deeper depression, mirroring her shut-in mother’s. But her mother was not always a shut-in. She took to her bed after her husband’s death and suffered through a long illness, then died. In the movie, she’s actively dying the moment we first see her!

The business with Wadsworth almost certainly never happened. Emily saw him preach once. They exchanged correspondence. Emily was not shattered by the married Wadsworth’s eventual move to San Francisco. I don’t think she was madly in love with him.

Even worse is Emily’s “best friend” in the movie, especially in the first half. Clearly, the writer and director fell in love with this character. She has all the best lines early on! It’s a shame she’s a fabrication. The character existed, yes, but she was younger than Emily and there is little evidence that they ever actually met, let alone became best friends!

The movie shows us that Emily and Lavinia meet Sue after she marries Austin. In fact, Sue was Emily’s best friend! They knew each other well for six years before the marriage. Why didn’t the director focus on this friendship?

Also missing are the parties! The Dickinson girls were vivacious. They were sought after companions. One young man proposed to Emily! No sign of any of this. Lavinia was a terrific mimic and comedian, but we’d never know it from this film. Why?

Also eliminated are the last ten-to-fifteen years of Emily’s life! Where is Judge Lord? Where is the scene, well documented, in which Lavinia walks into the kitchen and finds Emily in the judge’s arms, the two kissing? Lord doesn’t even appear in the movie! Neither does Thomas Wentworth Higginson, one of the great men of letters of the era. He visited her twice, at least, and saw her face-to-face at least once. We know this because he describes her in his journal. He gives us the great description of her in her coffin, too, just before the lid is closed. But in the film, he doesn’t exist.

Austin and Sue’s children, Ned, Gilbert, Martha, never appear or are mentioned. Little Gilbert’s sudden death was the last of twin blows from which Emily never recovered (Judge Lord’s death in 1884 was the first—he died after proposing to her).

other annoying inaccuracies…There is no record that Emily was ever furious about Austin’s relationship with Mabel Loomis Todd. The two were deeply in love and when they met in the parlor, they locked the door. Unlikely that Emily ever walked in on them and read them the riot act. In fact, there is no historical evidence that Emily objected to the affair, which lasted until Austin’s death.

At Emily’s funeral…why oh why didn’t the director put her in a white casket? What an oversight! Also, the casket was not loaded into a horse-drawn hearse and driven to the cemetery. As per her request, six of the workmen employed by the Dickinsons carried her through the gardens to the cemetery. And yes, in the film she is buried in the wrong cemetery! There are two in Amherst. The real Emily lies in the other one. Sheez!

So the film gives us a mature Emily who is spurned in love, bitter, priggish, angry and judgmental—all things Emily was not. That’s disappointing. The movie reinforces a popular image of a depressed, reclusive spinster who eccentrically wrote poems and tied them into bundles. It’s maddening, really.

The movie even misses out on a great closing scene—when Lavinia discovers 1,800 poems in Emily’s room and decides she must find a way to get them published.

This film pricked me until I bled. At first, I imagined Emily being quite cross about it all, but later she visited and let me know she was laughing at the thought that she had eluded everyone once again.

Virginia Woolf’s Birthday

“Now then is my chance to find out what is of great importance, and I must be careful, and tell no lies.” –Virginia Woolf

Yet, it was not always easy for Virginia to tell no lies. Relentlessly honest, intellectually demanding, still she loved jokes and, to some extent, gossip. Family members knew that if you wanted to keep a secret, you did not tell Virginia, though you wanted to tell her! On occasion, she enjoyed stirring pots among her friends. She would often astonish friends and strangers alike by ‘going off’ at a party or at tea, settling on someone for her attention, then launching into a brilliant biography of the person, which she invented on the spot. Vita Sackville-West caught this complex, wonderful character when, musing on her perfect name shortly after Virginia’s death, she observed that her given name was virginal, while her married name had a hint of the fang.

Virginia was coyote, a trickster. She loved games, confidences, jokes. “Exquisite self-containment.” That was her goal, and it could also be a description of the woman and artist she knew herself to be. Aflame, she lived at a pitch of ecstasy that only a genius knows.

While still in her teens, Virginia created the process by which she diligently worked at her craft, navigating through the immense canyons of bi-polar disorder to produce five great novels (To the Lighthouse, The Waves, Mrs. Dalloway, The Years, Between the Acts), a brilliant satire that is also the longest love letter in English literature (Orlando), the best criticism I’ve ever read (the two Common Readers), five volumes of astonishing Diaries, terrific Letters and the inspiring, feminist call-to-action, A Room of One’s Own.

That Virginia deliciously haunts my waking and dream hours is an added benefit I could not have anticipated when I first met her. Intellectually, spiritually and romantically, she lifts me up. I commune and converse with her. Her unbridled, almost hooting laugh is daily music to me.
There is a wonderful way to get to know Virginia better, and that is to listen to her. I listen to her novels read aloud over and over, and I have a hot tip for you. If you can, get a recording of To the Lighthouse narrated by Virginia Leishman. Here is a link for you:

https://www.amazon.com/Lighthouse-Virginia-Woolf/dp/1419367323

Leishman is superb, beautifully modulating her voice from character to character and sounding so much like Virginia Woolf herself that it’s almost eerie.

*

About ten years after her death, Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold, kept company on the terrace at their home (Sissinghurst). It was a fine, soft day and Vita looked up, asking her husband, “Of all the people you’ve ever known, who would you most like to see coming up to the house from the road?” Without hesitation, Harold said, “Virginia”. “Me, too,” said Vita, “me, too.”

Me, too.

Guns, Guns, Guns; Again, and Again, and Again

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Read a Friend’s Heart

Guns, Guns, Guns; Again, and Again, and Again

The fatal shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, just 100 miles north on Interstate 5 from my home base in Ashland, becomes the 45th school shooting in the United States in 2015. Like many Americans and people worldwide, I’m sickened and heartbroken by the ongoing carnage, by the inevitable, histrionic defense of the NRA and their political puppets.

As a national community, we’ll do well displaying our collective grief in the next couple of days, but we’ll remain impotent when it comes to the task of changing laws and minds that would reduce and perhaps eliminate these nightmares. Tightening gun laws worked in Australia, in Europe, but the NRA and our politicians forbid that we try something similar here. As citizens, we have ceded so much power in the last fifty years! Thomas Jefferson once prophetically said, “Govern or be governed.” We are allowing ourselves to be governed.

As I always do, I seek solace and inspiration in the fellowship of poetry. Here are two poems I love, one by Christopher Buckley, another by William Stafford.

Why I’m In Favor of a Nuclear Freeze

Because we were 18 and still wonderful in our bodies,
because Harry’s father owned a ranch and we had
nothing better to do one Saturday, we went hunting
doves among the high oaks and almost wholly quiet air . . .
Traipsing the hills and deer paths for an hour,
we were ready when the first ones swooped—
and we took them down in smoke much like the planes
in the war films of our regimented youth. Some were dead
and some knocked cold, and because he knew how
and I just couldn’t, Harry went to each of them and,
with thumb and forefinger, almost tenderly, squeezed
the last air out of their slight necks. Our jackets grew
heavy with birds and for a while we sat in the shade
thinking we were someone, talking a bit of girls—
who would “go,” who wouldn’t, how love would probably
always be beyond our reach . . . We even talking of the nuns
who terrified us with God and damnation. We both recalled
that first prize in art, the one pinned to the cork board
in front of class, was a sweet blond girl’s drawing
of the fires and coals, the tortured souls of Purgatory.
Harry said he feared eternity until he was 17, and,
if he ever had kids, the last place they would go would be
a parochial school.
On our way to the car, having forgotten
which way the safety was off or on, I accidentally discharged
my borrowed gauge, twice actually—one would have been Harry’s
head if he were behind me, the other my foot, inches to the right.
We were almost back when something moved in the raw, dry grass,
and without thinking, and on the first twitch of two tall ears,
we together blew the ever-loving-Jesus out of a jack rabbit
until we couldn’t tell fur from dust from blood . . .Harry has
a family, two children as lovely as any will ever be—
he hasn’t hunted in years . . . and that once was enough for me.
Anymore, a good day offers a moment’s praise for the lizards
daring the road I run along, or it offers a dusk in which
yellow meadowlarks scrounge fields in the gray autumn light . . .
Harry and I are friends now almost 30 years, and the last time
we had dinner, I thought about that rabbit, not the doves
which we swore we would cook and eat, but that rabbit—
why the hell had we killed it so cold-heartedly? And I saw
that it was simply because he had the guns, because we could.

~ Christopher Buckley

*

Meditation (1983)

Animals full of light
walk through the forest
toward someone aiming a gun
loaded with darkness.

That’s the world: God
holding still
letting it happen again
and again and again.

–William Stafford

Read A Friend’s Heart: Blog Post

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November 17th, 2014
Leonard and Virginia Woolf
What are men to do?

In 1920, Virginia Woolf published a brilliant story, A Society, which concludes that war and brutality are distinctly male in origin, and that the world will never know peace until men have babies and so acquire through experience reverence for all life.

My puny masculinity and gender-enlightened, awakening self agree, yet Woolf’s declaration and my agreement beg the question: what are men to do?

There is no solution in having babies. I’ve had three, or rather, I was a spectator/participant at the birth of three, and though I saved my wife’s life during the third delivery, I’ve never had any doubt that she always performed the heroic, transformative journey, not I.

Having babies, even once removed, has made me more dovish than hawkish; I do revere life more than I did before. Yet, I’m keenly and poignantly aware that I lack what Woolf required of me—a visceral, experiential connection, through giving birth, to life itself.

There is in all men a precious fragility that perversely seeks to crush what is fragile in others. Call it a motor impulse that makes an aggressive male driver suddenly yank the wheel of his Cadillac to the left so that he can squash a pelican that has wandered onto the blacktop of Highway 1 near Monterey. It’s the impulse that coaches and teachers use to shame young men for their perceived weaknesses. It’s the madness that drives the rapist and passive-aggressive abuser of children, women and men. Call it the make-war impulse. Men possess it, or are, perhaps more accurately, possessed by it, than women.

So, I ask you: what are men, and women, to do about this? I welcome your thoughts, your wisdom, your anger, your insight.

Book recommendation:
Washing the Bones: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Transformation by Katherine Ingram http://www.amazon.com/Washing-Bones-Memoir-Love-Transformation
*
Consider these books for your library, reading pleasure and gifts. Share them with friends, colleagues and loved ones!

Poetry as Spiritual Practice: Reading, Writing, and Using Poetry in Your Daily Rituals, Aspirations, and Intentions and The More We Get Together: The Sexual and Spiritual Language of Love and other collections are available at my website www.robertmcdowell.net, and at www.IndieBound.org, www.amazon.com, and www.b&n.com or by request at your local bookstore.

Flower Essences & the Two Worlds

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I have been thinking a lot lately about flower essences. I like to sit on my deck late at night and write, or talk to my long-distance Beloved on the phone.

Last night, near midnight as we were talking, something entered my peripheral vision. I turned my head, and there on the rim of a large planter, three feet away, perched a lovely gray, brown, white and yellow finch. The bird just stood there looking at me; I returned the gaze. Calmly, without fear, the bird hopped onto a small fountain next to the planter and sipped water. We sat together for twenty minutes, then the bird vanished into the comforting darkness.

I shared this visitation with my Darling Dear, who said she got chills hearing it. She told me about a movie she’d watched the night before that followed a couple’s random, fated meetings. Throughout, there were scenes of a finch flying in and out of windows and doors, visiting, visiting.

The movie bird, real bird and my phone companion refocused my thoughts on the wisdom of the natural world and shadow world. A flower essence is a balm of both worlds. It’s a healer, a mutable energy that restores one’s equanimity and power. A flower essence is an awareness elixir; it’s a kindness and a present to each of us from the world next to this one.

Here is a link to the finest, most elegant and beneficial flower essences site I know: Power of Flower Essences.

Avail yourself of the abundant opportunities to be found there, and if so moved, gift a friend, colleague or loved one with its bounty.

Be a co-creator. Work and rest and work some more. Discover joy in your life.

Unwavering Strength

September 2014 | Read a Friend’s Heart

Chrysalis Butterfly

Today launches of Unwavering Strength: Stories To Inspire You through Challenging Times. See below to receive free bonuses and join the fun!

Discover the inner strength and courage to overcome grief, loss, phobias, and trauma

Unwavering Strength: Stories To Inspire You through Challenging Times is the first in a series of highly inspiring books by Judy O’Beirn and friends. It is a moving collection of inspirational stories from 32 gifted authors that include, Daniel Parmeggiani, Jeanne Henning, Dr. Terry A Gordon, and yes, yours truly. The book begins with a moving foreword by New York Times bestseller author Peggy McColl that beautifully establishes the tone for the stories that follow. Unwavering Strength shares real-life experiences that will help you find strength and comfort in the journeys others have taken through grief, loss, trauma and heartache. As you read this book, you’ll realize we are defined by our ability to rise up from our lowest points and reach into our hidden potential for incredible growth, love and compassion. A percentage of the proceeds from Unwavering Strength book sales are being donated to cancer recovery programs. Click here for more information about the book, bonus gifts and ordering!

Participate

Please visit my website and look around the new site, which I envision as a hub for our global, gender-enlightened community.

I ask your help to spread the word. Please share with your friends and contacts. If you enjoy the videos, please Like them at Youtube. I’m grateful! I look forward to serving and collaborating with you.

—Robert

Read & Share

Please consider reading these books. If you like them, perhaps you can share with friends and loved ones. They make appropriate gifts.

Poetry as Spiritual PracticeThe More We Get Together: The Sexual and Spiritual Language of Love, and other collections are available at my websiteIndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and by request at your local bookstore.

Newsletter #139

September 2014 | Read a Friend’s Heart

Hopeless and Homeless

As I write this, four South African women will be killed by their partners. Along the interstate in Anywhere, USA, cars will pull over and release bewildered dogs in fields, then drive off. Untold incidents of elder abuse will occur. In Turkey’s refugee camps, thousands will struggle through the day, wondering if and when they’ll ever see home … or find new ones. In America’s disposable culture, women and men will exit the relationships they’re in, believing the grass is always greener somewhere else.

What can one do in a world like this?

Abide. Persevere. Meditate. Go on.

“What is there to do?” asks the spiritual supplicant. Perhaps embrace Lord Buddha’s teaching that every moment of our lives we are loved and accepted by beings seen and unseen.

Trust your purpose, that you are here for a reason, that it includes making your mark with integrity and compassion. Do your inner and outer work, then rest in stillness.

When doubt wells up in your chattering mind, lean into a tree and listen. Speak your truth to it, your dreams, your aspirations. The tree will listen and speak to you. Resume. Bring love and gratitude to everything you do, especially to those areas of your life that require forgiveness. Enter surefooted the dream of your sacred life and live.

Where is my daughter? Where is my love?

Can I ever again enter the ruin of my house?

What do the trees know? More than you.

Lean into and be lost in the psithurism

Of their language of branches, wind and leaves.

Go back to your labors. Your answers are in you.

Answer the predator with love.

Examine your heart with precision

And make right that which you’ve done wrong.

Step up. Encounter the world. Love.

Book Recommendation

Washing the Bones Book CoverWashing the Bones: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation, by Katherine Ingram

Participate

Please visit my website and look around the new site, which I envision as a hub for our global, gender-enlightened community.

I ask your help to spread the word. Please share with your friends and contacts. If you enjoy the videos, please Like them at Youtube. I’m grateful! I look forward to serving and collaborating with you.

—Robert

Read & Share

Please consider reading these books. If you like them, perhaps you can share with friends and loved ones. They make appropriate gifts.

Poetry as Spiritual PracticeThe More We Get Together: The Sexual and Spiritual Language of Love, and other collections are available at my websiteIndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and by request at your local bookstore.

Newsletter #138

August 2014 | Read a Friend’s Heart

Newsletter 137: Goddess from Catalhoyuk in Turkey

Above is a photograph of the Goddess from Catalhoyuk in Turkey. She dates approximately to the seventh century B.C., and she looks nothing like our contemporary vision of goddesses. Yet her image was remade and copied by the thousands in the Neolithic Age.

This Goddess is big, but she seems somehow weight-appropriate. As I contemplated her full figure, or that, say, of the Venus of Malta statue, something subtle changed in my anima projections. I wasn’t even aware of it at first, but over time I found myself appreciating the beauty of stout goddesses where before I’d experienced nothing but shades of loathing. Surprised, I realized I even connected with the erotic qualities of these goddesses and the real women on which they were likely modeled.

During my recent travels and while walking around Ashland, Oregon, I’ve found myself really seeing plus-size women as if for the first time. They resemble the Goddess below, and their beauty is undeniable. Is it strange to imagine the men of Catalhoyuk worshipping this image, this fertility Goddess of birth and death? Did they see the beauty and qualities of women despite physical appearances?

If they did, then those Neolithic ancestors of ours were more gender-enlightened than we are in the West. We’re bombarded by media images of feminine beauty, and so many animas are regressive as a result. Who wants the model, the one with the perfect breasts? I do, the anima cries. I do. I deserve it!

Is it mysterious to see this for what it is? We have much work to do in gender relationships, and much work to do in anima maturity. Can men convene with women to discuss this issue of image? Can it be done with love and empathy rather than anger and resentment? It takes courage, lots of it, from women and men, and I believe it can be done.

Let’s begin. The elders among us need to stand up and guide initiation rites for boys—and yes, for men who never had them. Only then will the anima have a chance to hold richly diverse images of women as they truly are. Yes, let’s.

Please explore my new website, which I envision as a hub for our global, gender-enlightened community.

I ask your help to spread the word. Please share with your friends and contacts. If you enjoy the videos, please Like them at Youtube. I’m grateful! I look forward to serving you more effectively from here on.

—Robert

Read & Share

Please consider reading the books below. If you like them, perhaps you can share them with friends and loved ones.

Poetry as Spiritual Practice and The More We Get Together: The Sexual and Spiritual Language of Love and other collections are available at my website, and at IndieBound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or by request at your local bookstore.

250 Words about Poetry As Spiritual Practice

Robert McDowell Speaking

Overview

Poetry As Spiritual Practice Book CoverPoetry and spirituality, two of the Top Ten most googled words, create when combined the most potent spiritual practice you will ever perform. All of us—Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Animist, Atheist—seek a meaning beyond ourselves and a path that leads to peace and greater comprehension of the uncertain world we live in. By reading and writing poems and making them an essential part of daily rituals of aspirations and intentions, Poetry as Spiritual Practice guides readers on their quest to find peace, meaning and success in their lives. Though abundant materials exist on poetry and spirituality, very little actually exists that remembers how poetry is the language of devotion, the richest expression of spiritual practice. Poetry is the reverberating note, the pure sound and shape of spirit as it makes sense to us at last. Poetry in spiritual practice creates clarity; it deepens and expands one’s ongoing inquiry into the most profound mysteries.  benefits all seekers, generating greater wisdom, compassion, self-confidence, patience and love.

The Book

Poetry as Spiritual Practice includes an Introduction and four opening chapters on mentor/apprentice relationships, poetry as contemplation and communication, misconceptions about poetry, and the difference between poetry and prose. The book’s middle chapters, 5-8, introduce poetry’s building blocks (words, figurative language, rhyme and meter, stanzas). In chapters 9-17, nine traditional poetry forms are introduced and examined. The forms include haiku, sonnet, villanelle, sestina, elegy, limerick & epigram, ghazal, pantoum, and the prose poem. Chapters 18 and 19 are devoted to free verse and narrative in poetry. Each chapter includes engaging, enjoyable examples of poems and writing exercises that will help the reader create her own poems in each form. Throughout the text, readers will be guided and encouraged to include poems in their on spiritual practice. Poetry as Spiritual Practice concludes with a brief section, In Closing, an Index listing guided exercises by chapter, and a list of poems used as illustrations.

At Your Door: The Divine Feminine

Dr. Rama Mani, Voice of Witness

Only the Divine Feminine—in women, in men—can restore to health our wounded planet. Yet this goal cannot reach its full blossoming as long as women and men follow separate paths or work at cross-purposes to one another.

At the center of this global crisis lies an immense opportunity to birth a new paradigm distinguished by evolved, gender-enlightened relationships between men and women. This work, already begun, must ramp up.

How? What must be done? It begins with women and men embracing and transforming their shadows.

Men of the new paradigm must support and celebrate women. They’ll do so by unlearning conscious and unconscious patterns of behavior—cultural and familial hooks set in early childhood—that are intolerable and inappropriate. Gender-enlightened, they’ll do so by partnering with women in more balanced, creative ways. They’ll do so by recognizing and accepting the truth that this process of waking up and growing up will be often guided by women.

Join our growing community as we venture together into the new paradigm.