My Book of Life by Angel

Young adult author Martine Leavitt found a way to take a story so besmeared no one wants to hear it, and to tell it in such a compelling manner that readers wrench hands away from our ears to hear it. Leavitt found a way to let in the pain of the story, all of it, and not die. She found a way to stay compassionate, stay alive. How did she go that deep? How did she stand the immersion process of research and writing? How did she tell ugliness in poetry?

I wish I could say. What I see is that she made her narrator, Angel, both ethereal and excruciatingly real by embracing the whole of Angel. What I hear is a voice, in Angel’s diary in verse, which has the spareness, the authenticity, and the reverberations of great poetry. What I see is that Leavitt brilliantly framed the story and juxtaposed with Angel’s harsh life, quotations from Milton’s Paradise Lost, thus linking forever in the reader’s mind the sordid with the sublime.

She wrote a book that is a container of passion, a volcano that can somehow fit between book covers, yet burst its fire in the reader’s soul and create cascading lava of ramifications. As author, Leavitt had to hold within the container of herself, first, the whole story of the disappeared girls from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Then she created Angel, had to become Angel. Leavitt felt her way in to the macro story from the micro story of one girl’s experience – one girl’s fierce mind piecing together the true story of a misogynist killer, one girl with a name, laboring to wean herself off drugs and get out of the life. Leavitt told the story from the inside, out.

As a writer, I marvel at Leavitt’s accomplishment. To me it seems that authorship operates something like a pre-incarnating Self who sees a whole lifetime spread as a story, but then at conception on the earthplane, forgets. The writer then gropes her slow way to reveal the story to herself, piecemeal, hour by agonizing hour at the page— until finally, with the best of authors, with a book like My Book of Life by Angel, the story bursts into seamless, scalding clarity; even, joy. Thank you, Martine.

One Billion Rising V-Day

 Today is V-Day, founded by Eve Ensler to stop violence against women. This year V-Day is called One Billion Rising to say, in honor of the one in three women on the planet who during their lives are beaten or raped, ENOUGH! “One billion women violated is an atrocity. One billion women DANCING is a revolution!”

Listen to poet Alice Walker urging all of us to rise, strike, dance! and please, find an event to attend where you live. I will be at the YWCA in Asheville North Carolina where the One Billion Rising event features poetry (by the incomparable Annelinde Metzner) and dance!

According to a new book by American professor Valerie Hudson, Sex and World Peace:  If a country focuses on reducing its rates of violence against girls and women, it also lowers its own propensity for engaging in military conflict. The author finds a close relationship between rape, domestic violence and all social issues on one side, and the so-called manly national security issues on the other. As war is a manifestation of a state’s sense of insecurity vis-à-vis the “other” — the enemy —, violence against women is the manifestation of a man’s insecurity vis-à-vis the “other”, that is, the woman. It is this perception of the gender equation that demands a change!

Sisters and Brothers, it’s time for the true meaning of security to emerge.





Alchemy by Margaret Mahy

Alchemy book cover


Billed as magic versus willpower, the real thrill of this young adult fantasy fiction from story master Mahy is how much seventeen-year-old Roland changes over its course. He starts off as a high school dominator, taking it as his due to get the best marks in school, sit on the best outside seats during lunch hour with the other high rankers in his gang including most popular girlfriend, being liked by the teachers,  and generally having his way. By the end, his casual judgements of others and his sense of arrogant deservingness have been replaced by a sensitivity and a compassion that make him much more likable.

Mahy makes it credible by bringing these qualities out so gradually that the reader understands Roland had it in him all along. Roland slowly discovers things about himself and his family that make him understand other people in a new way, too. The plot of alchemy between Roland and Jess, the girl he is assigned to investigate, parallels the subtle developmental arc, the true alchemy, that of Roland’s character. This is the kind of reading I love.

New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2003

Singing the Body

Today as I look forward to rehearsing with  Sahara Peace Choir for an upcoming concert, I recall the teachings of sound healer Gina Sala. Awhile back, Gina led Kirtan devotional chanting at the Yoga Sky Temple, high above the bay in Yelapa a fishing village south of Puerto Vallarta.  She mentioned that when she feels herself being judge-y about someone, she sings about the person in order to bring herself back to heart. Gina’s practice of singing about a person encourages me to call on that mysterious part of me that can bring me to larger heart.  Gina went on to speak of the Oneness, but in a manner juicier than I had ever heard before in the description of a spiritual path. Her love of God is happiness, she said. It is power! It gives her a refreshment, in the way sleep gives refreshment! Her  happiness overflowed into her voice like a waterfall. I left the Sky Temple longing to be as juicily devoted to the Great Mother as this young teacher/healer was.

Next day, at a voice healing session, she shared a hands-on practice called Greeting the Body, a practice she never omits, even when she might omit every other practice. In Greeting the Body, certain syllables are sung to certain parts of the body; one’s eyes are open, one’s hands are on that body part, stroking, patting —  saying good morning! Gina described the practice as an act of love and affection, an offering to the self. The point is a daily sincere greeting of oneself as Divine.

My recollection of these may not be completely accurate, but here they are as I now sing them:

Hamah, top of head;

Meme, face; (pronounced may-may)

Hahamah, neck; (accent first syllable)

Yaya, heart;

Rera, ribs;

Vava, pelvic bowl;

Lala, tailbone area and legs.

Though Gina grew up in an ashram, her path to the Divine by taking pleasure in body buzz is beautifully Pagan. Let’s all sing. We don’t need to join a choir. Let’s sing our longings and confusions, our offerings and petitions. Let’s sing to keep ourselves aware of the Divine during each passing day of our short lives. Let’s sing to the Beloved within us as we wake, as we walk down the street. We can sing so softly no one else can tell we’re singing. Let’s use this stunning human capacity to craft our lives into a juicy song of love.