Leave a comment

The Open-Hearted Book Club

Last weekend, I watched disheartened as people dressed up their arguments about (primarily against) #takeaknee in the bodies of dead troops, attempting to speak for them and say what they would or would not have condoned or wanted, what is the proper way to honor them. Most of us have absolutely no idea what the average veteran’s experience is like and we tend to trot them out only when it suits our purposes.

We do not acknowledge that we have been a nation at war for nearly sixteen years.

We do not call our elected officials every day to ask for better care for returning veterans.

We often don’t even check in with our veterans to see how we, as a populace, can serve those who are serving us.

Instead, we revel in the days off for Veterans and Memorial Days, we shop at sales, and we wrap our bums in flag bikinis on the Fourth of July (I think this is probably one of the biggest ways in which we disrespect the flag). Many of us are remarkably removed from and willfully ignorant of what our service members are experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last weekend made it more evidence than ever that if we intend to honor our veterans, that lack of knowledge needs to change. An eagle on your shirt and a sticker on your car doesn’t actually do anything for our troops. Concentrated action to directly benefit them does.

I’m reading People of the Whale by Linda Hogan now and came across this passage, which further underscored the idea of our actual distance from what our troops are involved in these days:

“Like all women left behind in wars, she was young but old, both at the same time. Wars amputate the minds and souls of waiting women in different ways than they do the armless, legless bodies in khaki and olive drab or the children stepping on land mines. But it is an amputation all the same. Watching the bullets, the men surviving fire, the dying children, what the women saw on television gave them some truth and from them on American wars were not on the television because people would rise up against their own government if they saw what they had done.”

This brings me to the point of this post. A while back I had an idea for the Open-Hearted Book Club. The video explains it all, but the gist is that books have been scientifically shown to enhance and improve our compassion and empathy. I had planned to start with a light-hearted book, which I intend to do next time, and then I read Phil Klay’s Redeployment. I have not been the same since. It seared my eyebrows off. So I decided to start with that one.

I couldn’t get the words right in a post and I recorded a video, but I’ve historically not been a fan of hearing my own voice, so I held off on editing it (the editing is minimal because I’m still learning and it is a Saturday and I have young kids. Same goes for this post). After last weekend, though, I realized that it’s too necessary a book to not share due to vanity.

So, without further ado, welcome to the first installment of the Open-Hearted Book Club featuring Redeployment.

Open-Hearted Book Club 1



Learning from my love bird captive

In a mindless moment, I did one of those Facebook quizzes. You know the kind, it purports to “analyze” your profile to tell you something deep about your soul, while leeching personal information. I needed a moment to let something important for work percolate and this quiz did not force me select the least evil from an unattractive palette of colors or choose between bourbon and champagne (while that is a regular choice for me, I prefer not to limit my options before 5 p.m.). It could hardly be called a quiz at all since all I had to do was click a button and wait while it popped up with answer as to which bird my soul most resembled.

It pronounced love bird as my bird-soul match, with this description: “You’re a lovely person. You’re warm and full of affection and love for all of the people who deserve your love. You’re a bundling ball of positivity.” I laughed. Out loud. Not because I’m not warm and loving. Most days I am, though “bundling ball of positivity” is only one of the two extremes I inhabit. I laughed because I once had a love bird and it was the meanest bird I have ever met.

I no longer remember the bird’s name, but I remember well its reign of terror. It started on Super Bowl Sunday 1985. My dad and some friends were watching the game, a ridiculous shame considering we lived next to the ocean in Hawaii and our term there was halfway over. Like I would prove to be every Super Bowl Sunday since then, I was bored. And mopey. My friends were at parties, my parents occupied, my brother not sure he wanted to be friends that day. So, I opened the door to go explore and standing on the pathway was a love bird.

By way of background, I rescued every stray animal I could find during these days. At one point, we were up to four cats who were forced to remain outdoors (we already had an indoor cat) and an abandoned baby bird, who unfortunately died the first day of school the September before the love bird came onto the scene. We’d surrendered the cats and I felt an empty rescuer hole that ached to be filled. Enter the unsuspecting love bird.

I had not seen a wild love bird before and I suspected it was someone’s pet. I immediately called for reinforcements, i.e., my brother and a butterfly net. Perhaps a neighbor kid, too. (It’s been 30+ years, so I apologize if I exclude crediting anyone in this debacle who truly deserves to be named.) We managed to catch it, quite easily, and promptly put it in a cage, which we’d just happened to have handy since we had another avian captive in the house (this one a cockatiel and procured from a local pet shop).

Like we did with Bill, the cockatiel, we would let the love bird out. Only, unlike Bill, who was docile and acquiescing, the love bird would not want to go back in to the cage. The love bird didn’t preen our hair like Bill did. It didn’t imitate my laugh. No, that sucker bit us every chance it got. It drew blood multiple times from multiple people. I remember one particular time wherein my brother, two neighbors and I had donned ourselves in various protective garments (such as my dad’s flight jacket and helmet) and armed ourselves with nets and tennis rackets in an attempt to get the bird back in the cage (I do not recall why he’d been let out, but at that point it was considered in our house akin to letting Hannibal Lecter roam freely. There would be casualties).

I took it as a personal rejection by the bird. Couldn’t it see that I had rescued it? Rescued from what, though? From a horrific life of abundant food in a land of abundant sunshine and glorious trees? Couldn’t it see that a caged, safe life was infinitely preferable to whatever heights it might reach on its own, or possible death?

As an adult, I can see the true failing was not the bird’s lack of appreciation for its gilded cell, but rather my own need to “save” a creature from its innate desires and preferred trajectory simply because I could not see any other way. My imagination had failed in the shadow of my towering good intentions. I knew what was best for it. And I was wrong.

If I were that bird, having once tasted freedom, I, too, would have scratched, bitten, and made a race for the door. I might have also given my fellow captive a giant bird middle finger, or whatever their equivalent of it would be. Bill received a lot of love and he’d never known any other life, but a bird is made to fly, not to sit and preen a little girl’s hair, as adorable as that may be to said little girl.

I think about this love bird situation now in many ways, one of which is in terms of what it means to be a good ally. So many of us well-meaning white, middle- to upper-class, straight, cis, non-disabled people called to work in social justice are not only filled with righteous indignation of behalf of those oppressed, we are also filled with solutions as to how to fix said oppression. These solutions necessarily come from a wellspring directly connected to the privileged lives we’ve led. The solutions we propose directly correlate to the lives we’ve known and the norms we’ve accepted. We want to offer a gilded cage because it is what we know, but we fail to acknowledge that self-determination, while it may be fraught with perceived pitfalls and danger (in our humble opinions), is the only true justice.

We all hold some area of expertise, maybe more than one. Too often, I see it wielded as a weapon against those who don’t share that knowledge. Facebook is riddled with posts that effectively say, “If this person/you wasn’t/weren’t such a dumbass, you would know X and act accordingly and then your life wouldn’t be so miserable.” This sentiment seems amplified when the recipient of said knowledge has a mental illness or lacks the financial resources of the “knowledgeable” person, or simply isn’t presenting the demand for justice in a way the hearer finds palatable.

What we can forget, myself included, is that our knowledge isn’t whole or perfect. It’s the sliver we’ve gained through our personal experience and exposure to a particularized background. There are other lenses through which we can view a situation. For example, going back the bird, I saw myself at the time as a rescuer of a distressed animal and the actions I took were those that any true animal lover would (how my parents tolerated my often misguided righteousness, I’ll never know). The animal lover in me now would never keep a bird. Same underlying emotion and motivation – love and concern – vastly different outcome based on a new perspective and knowledge gained.

Now, any time I have that fiery impulse to rescue, I stop. I ask myself what the perceived harm is, whether my perception might be lacking some key nugget of information, and what solution I’m proposing. If that solution has me front and center as a white knight, I get off my steed and ask more questions: what skills I really have to bring to the table, how might I reasonably be able to help, and, most importantly, who I can listen to so that I can learn more?

There are times when my particularized knowledge and experience can legitimately help someone. There are times when my privilege proves useful to another. I find it helpful in those moments to ask myself why I am sharing whatever I am called upon to share in that moment. There is a lot I don’t know in this world and I find that whenever someone is teaching me something, if they do so from a place of superiority, I won’t learn it. I will learn to dislike said person, though, and distrust them. They don’t even have to say anything overt. The energy of their motivation flows through and it’s either clear or murky as sewer water.

Each time we judge ourselves as knowing more than another, we’re offering up a sweet taste of our own personal sludge. We do the same each time we judge another because their idea of what is true doesn’t match our own. We live in such a magnificently rich world, it seems entirely within the realm of possibility that more than one perspective can be true.* That someone doesn’t want to live in our version of the best life possible doesn’t make that person wrong. What we offer might seem like a cage. If we want to get to a place of unity, we need to accept that the concept requires a coming together of different pieces. We are only a piece of the knowledge, a piece of the solution. We are not the solution ourselves (not to mention that a solution to society’s problems often takes a different way of thinking than that used to create the problem in the first place).

I will remember my love bird, then, not as vicious, bloodthirsty menace who refused to graciously accept the help (read: captivity) I offered. Instead, I will remember that time in my life as a challenge to do better by listening more and stretching myself to accept more possibilities about what is in the good of all than only those immediately visible to me.

*Caveat: Having finally seen Star Wars Episode 7 yesterday and, therefore, having acutely thought about the imbalance in favor of pure evil depicted, I find it incumbent upon myself to state the obvious: if someone is planning on massacring any number of people (be it one or millions), that is clearly wrong. I have yet to evolve to a place where I can see another side to that story and I would do everything I could to stop such action (or so I believe). This commentary stems from seeing a number of well-meaning people who have the power to do so act on behalf of a group in a way that expressly deviates from action that group has stated would be to its benefit, or seeing people criticize movements such as Black Lives Matter not for the message they present but rather how they do so.


Hey, Mr. DJ. Time to make some space on stage

Every morning I do drop-off with my three-year-old daughter goes the same way. Except this morning. Most days, we’ve just left her brother’s school and she wants to listen to music on the short drive. I turn on the radio and she asks, “Is that lady music?” by which she means, “Is that a woman singing?”

We have SiriusXM, so I have access to a bajillion channels. It’s like the cable of the radio world – more channels than you know what to do with, and never the right thing on. I flip through channel after channel desperately hoping for a woman – any woman – to be singing.  I don’t know how many times I’ve prayed for Bette Midler, sure she’s a long shot, but she seems to show up when you least expect her.

It’s only a ten-minute drive and we spend most of it channel flipping. Or I get tired and lie to her and try to convince her that some high falsetto is actually a woman. I don’t think she’s buys it.

Today she didn’t ask for “lady music”. She did, however, veto every song with a man in it, so it was the channel flipping scenario it is most mornings. Except, I sensed a fatigue, and not just one brought on by not enough sleep and too much sugar for breakfast. It was a weariness with our song selections and our frenzied radio ritual. I felt it too. I opted for some Neko Case on my iPhone and that at least stopped the incessant switching.

The whole incident left me frustrated in a hard-to-pin-down-way. There is plenty of arguably good music on the radio (plenty not-so-good as well). So, why, then, this feeling of malaise of not being able to find any “lady music” during a 10-minute window in the morning. And then I realized it might have had something to do with the other part of the ritual. The part wherein I say, “No, that’s Bruce Springsteen. He’s a man. Elvis Presley is a dude. Jimmy Buffett, too. Oh, wait, here’s the ‘Venus’ channel. Oh, but that’s a man singing. Why don’t we try opera?”

I checked SiriusXM’s line-up and they have 24 channels dedicated to male singers/performers or a particular male host*. They have ONE channel described as airing female hosts, SiriusXMStars, which features Ellen DeGeneres, Jenny McCarthy, and Dr. Laura. So, these ladies don’t even get their own channel. They have to share. And I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the Venus channel has to do with women. It does air some songs by women, but just as often, it’s got solely dudes or duets.

Is this really the biggest issue in the world? Maybe not. Climate change sure scares the sh*t out of me. But, when I came into work, a friend had shared this article in praise of women giving more f*cks and taking some needed action. And just yesterday, I was treated to news of success in a movement to get Black Widow merchandise based on a petition and tweets. So, I’ve decided to start a petition as well. (Please sign it.)

I did a little research this morning and was not particularly surprised, though quite pissed off, to see how some of the popular female performers compare with their male counterparts who are featured on SiriusXM. Channel 4 is Pitbull’s Globalization channel featuring world beats. He’s earned a respectable combined 3 Billboard/Latin Billboard awards. I’ve earned precisely zero.

And while Shakira is more pop-focused, she actually is from another country, which might be helpful for a World Beats channel. Moreover, she’s earned 30 Billboard/Latin Billboard awards and a combined 12 Grammy/Latin Grammy awards. But, yeah, by all means, lets give it to Pitbull.

And, sure, Pearl Jam, Jimmy Buffett, the Grateful Dead, and Bruce Springsteen are all great. But do they all need their own channels? What about Beyonce, who has 20 Grammy awards, just as many Bruce (and more than a few of those others mentioned)? How about Alison Kraus who ranks at #2 in number of total Grammys earned (shared with Quincy Jones) and who also holds the #2 space for total number of Grammys by a group (with Union Station)? What about the Dixie Chicks, who have 13 Grammys, or Alicia Keys, who has 15? Aretha Franklin who has 18? Is that enough? What about Adele or Lady Gaga or, I hate to say it, Taylor Swift? Dolly Parton, anyone?

When you look at the “comedy” offerings, you’ve got Howard Stern, Jamie Foxx, George Carlin, and Jeff Foxworthy/Larry the Cable Guy. A little humor for every kind of bro. But I don’t see any of these guys being asked to host the Emmys. Why not Tina Fey and Amy Poehler? Or Amy Schumer, who is everywhere these days?

This says nothing of the playlist choices made on any given station not devoted to a particular artist.

There isn’t a dearth of female talent out there. It’s EVERYWHERE. Just like women. What exactly does it take for us to rank?

I am tired of spending those precious ten minutes with my daughter in the morning feeling demoralized and marginalized and, frankly, like we don’t have something of value to offer the world aside from cute knitted crafts on Etsy, or a few tears and love in the lab if Tim Hunt is to be believed. As the highest wage earner in my household, you can better believe I’ll have something to say about whether or not we renew our subscriptions.

So, SiriusXM, how about making a little space on stage for some lady music?

*I decided not to even include the EXPANSIVE number of sports stations and their male hosts.


Burying the Dead

Several nights ago, I had a dream that won’t leave me. I sat at the bar in a restaurant lit solely by candles. It had maybe eight tables and my friend served as host and waiter. Aside from the bartender, we were the only two there. Then four soldiers arrived. I knew they were veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, though their camouflage was better suited for the jungle. Each had at least three gas masks hanging off the sides and backs of her or his head. The masks were all clearly gas masks, though they were in different shapes and sizes, some quite colorful. These strangers and what they carried with them were both frightening and intriguing. My friend went to seat them and I asked about the masks. “They are for those we’ve lost.”

Even in my sleep, the direct-action lover in me thought about how powerful a gesture that would be – for veterans to show up carrying their dead. We might understand a little better the risks they face, the losses they incur when we send them to fight so far away. Another part of me, though, knew that wasn’t what this dream was about. Not exactly, anyway. That’s just not how dreams work.

As I sit preparing for the longest, darkest night of the year, I realize that what it’s about is the ghosts I carry with me and burying my own dead. The soldiers in my dream have brought a new solstice ritual my way – the gift of the funeral and the wake.

Yule started last night and in that tradition, it is recognized that this is the time the dead are most active; when our ancestors are closest to us and when draugar (think zombies*) rise and walk the land. It’s not surprising that at this time of year old patterns surface to remind of us of what lies untended.

We all walk around with our dead and not-yet-born (those ideas, fantasies, revenge plots that lie just beyond the horizon). Each time our attention is seized and we are wrenched out of the present moment to re-live something, our dead are calling to us, asking us to learn our lessons and bury them. Ghosts want the same thing we do: freedom. Yet, this time of year, we’re rushing headlong into the new – new gifts under the tree, new resolutions so that we can be a better version of ourselves, new drunken mistakes at the holiday party. We can feel the dead pulling on our sleeves, tugging at our pant legs, begging for a moment or two with us. Yet, we tend to keep walking, straight into the light of the shiny new year and all of its promise.

Many cultures have or have had a tradition of sitting up at night to watch over their dead until they can be laid to rest. I wonder whether and what revelations are shared between the living and their charges. Even when a deceased loved one is shipped straight off to a funeral home, we still spend time mentally communing with them, collecting the years we’ve had with them, releasing the anger and reveling in the joys. That is what our ghosts ask of us now. They ask that we sit with them by candlelight with the same tender care for ourselves and them as we would a lost loved one, to honor the time we’ve had together and the wisdom gained, and then to put them to rest. Once we have done that, we have fertile ground for exploring the new. But if we don’t, we will be haunted throughout the next year and the one after that.

This has been a year of Everest highs and Grand Canyon lows for me. In fact, the last third of the year has seen such dramatic changes that I never could have anticipated. To set goals for the new year now does me a huge disservice. I need some time with what I’ve been able to accomplish, with where I’ve failed, with who I have become. And even though there is a novel to finish by December 31, gifts to wrap, and sweets to make, I will take tonight out to have a tissue-wringing funeral and a whiskey-indulging wake.

When I think of those gas masks my dream soldiers carried, I think of lessons not incorporated. I think of the oxygen and energy those ghosts take from me. I think of all I would be able to do if I was present and not focused on the hot pink contraption hanging off the back of my head.

I pulled a tarot card today asking what would be good to keep in mind as I bury my dead and I got the Seven of Earth. (I used Joanna Powell Colbert’s Gaian Tarot.) The image shows a woman planting a baby cedar by a river and it seemed the perfect representation to me. Once we clear out the old, we have made way for successful new growth. The conditions have to be right for a tree to rise up and it is worth it to clear the way. Cedars provide excellent wood for building houses, boats, and other fundamental structures that support our lives. To create truly lasting change, change that builds us up, we need to take care of the earth in which we plant our seedlings. Burying our dead allows us to clear the path. Incorporating the lessons fertilizes the soil.


May you lay to rest your ghosts tonight and may the year to come be fruitful and beautiful.

*Please note that I have oversimplified here for the purposes of brevity. Draugar are fascinating and worthy of your own research.

1 Comment

Homeland Tarot: Saul Berenson – the Hierophant

I have a deep love for Mandy Patinkin. Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride, stole my heart as the loyal grammarian (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”) set out to avenge his father’s death. (I never did prefer blonds.) The clincher for me came at the end of the film when he said, “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.” I was young when the movie came out, but I remember that line moving me more than anything else, the sadness and the emptiness of it. Turns out, that same line moved Mandy Pantinkin when he saw it years later: “I love that line, and I love it for all of us because the purpose of revenge, in my personal opinion, is completely worthless and pointless. And the purpose of existence is to embrace our fellow human being(s). Not be revengeful, and turn our darkness into light.”

Turning darkness into light seems to be a thread for Patinkin, or at least for the characters I have come to know and love. Rube Sofer in Dead Like Me had a sharp tongue, but a large and soft heart. Living on the other side of life, he knew too well the ways we whittle it away with the inconsequential. He often guided George and the other reapers in seeing the higher good or in their role or the universal truths that governed. For example, when George refuses to reap, Rube says to her, “You don’t mess with fate, Peanut. People die when they are meant to die. There’s no discussion. There’s no negotiation. When life’s done, it’s done. You of all people should know that.”

Unlike Rube, Saul Berenson is still very much alive. He too, though, has a sense of how we miss the mark in life. He is the voice of wisdom on Homeland, the voice of judgment and yet also compassion (still with a bit of a sense of humor).


Saul is the figure who most stands for justice on the show, albeit a personalized and slightly twisted version of justice. That said, the card I would pick for him would not be Justice. It would be the Hierophant*.


The Hierophant, being a picture of the medieval Pope, is often linked to a religious or spiritual leader. In Homeland, the characters approach the CIA as though it were a religion, a dogma that dictates every action, every perspective in their lives. They are, for lack of a better phrase, true believers in their mission. There is a certain degree to which the show depicts them as akin to members of a cult, albeit a cult with extraordinarily far-reaching consequences, in that it’s able to infiltrate terrorist groups and carry out international executions.

In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (see image above), the Hierophant is shown with one arm raised, two fingers up in a peace-like gesture. An interpretation of this is that he is able to bring down higher knowledge and share it with the masses. He mediates between the earthly world and the celestial, like the Pope depicted on the card. (Note that in medieval times, the Pope was not just a religious figure, but also controlled armies and politics.)

Saul is the one true leader on Homeland. With the occasional exception of Quinn, he seems to be the only one who regularly can step back and call on a higher sense of justice and order. It’s interesting, because in Hebrew, the name Saul means “Asked for; inquired of God.” And his perspective carries with it a feeling of holiness, or at least the recognition that there is something sacred in all life. He doesn’t enjoy the life-taking part of his job. Though he seems to believe that when done with the right intention and for the right goal, it is always in the highest good.

The downside to the Hierophant is that this mediation of worlds, the sharing of a greater message, is always done within the confines of an organization. Wisdom is filtered through the lens of the social structure over which the Heirophant figure presides. And this is precisely Saul’s major downfall. He is the voice of reason and justice, but he is also a true believer in the CIA. His version of justice, his higher knowledge is skewed to make sense within the framework of the institution.

This season, Saul has exemplified just that. He outwardly defied his current bosses on moral grounds in the first episode (which would be more a Hierophant reversed, I think). Yet, when confronted with the fact he would need to conform to the expectations of the organization, he fell in line. Hierophants are deeply invested in the organization. Their power comes not from their ability to stand between worlds, but from the position they hold within the hierarchy. In Saul’s case, though, I actually think his ability to make change is the wisdom he’s able to channel and the fact he’s occasionally willing to make a stand for his position.

Last week, he showed another side of the Hierophant by tending to his acolyte; providing guidance, wisdom, and a few minor miracles along the way. He is Carrie’s guru, which is one of the things the card can symbolize. Their conversations are as close as she allows herself to a spiritual view on the world.

Another issue with the Hierophant is that he (traditionally, this card represents a male) can misuse the authority he holds over others. Think Jim Jones or the guy who led the Heaven’s Gate group. There was a glimpse of this possibility at the start of last season when it looked like Saul was hanging Carrie in the press to save the CIA. It turned out, as the case has been so far, that he had a bigger game plan, one that would net a much higher good. Since he is one of my favorite characters, I hope he doesn’t turn out to be shepherd leading the flock astray. Without Saul to serve as the moral compass for the group, the possibilities are alarming.

*Note: Each card has a variety of elements, meanings and interpretations. These brief profiles only discuss a few and, obviously, only the most salient points. This is just one way of viewing the card in the context of a particular person and is by no means the way to either view the card or the character. 🙂

Leave a comment

Homeland Tarot: Carrie Mathison – wielding swords while blindfolded

It’s officially Sunday morning and I’m up after too much coffee at dinner, followed by a minor fiasco wherein I thought my car had been towed in downtown San Francisco, but it turned out I only parked a block away. No matter. It all gave me a chance to think strategy. And strategy on a Sunday always leads me to Homeland.

I’m somewhat of an unlikely show devotee and defender. A few friends, none of whom have seen the show, have accused it of being blind war propaganda and an insidious way to support the war on terror. I see their point. However, being a writer and having seen the show (every episode, actually), I think the show is much more than a vehicle for any possible message about the dangers of terrorists. It’s often about the dangers of those tracking the terrorists, and by extension, the dangers that lurk within each of us. It is about the darkness within that we refuse to see and the ways that can deeply damage even the most noble actions by acting without seeing the entire picture or knowing the true motivation for our choices. And there are few characters that better exemplify this than Carrie Mathison.

*If you have not seen the first episode of season 4, please be aware that there are spoiler alerts below*

It wasn’t until a few days after the show had aired that I realized just how brilliant the first episode of season 4 was. When I first watched it, in the moment I could see that Carrie was still, heartbreakingly, very Carrie. She’s married to the job, to the ideals she’s holding up, and she makes poor choices as a result. But it goes much deeper than that.


This is the two of Swords from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. This is also Carrie Mathison. One of the primary meanings of the card is that the person is unwilling to look at the situation and blocking oneself off from emotions and refusing to feel them. The symmetry of S4E1 with the first season really drove home for me how much Carrie has deliberately blinded herself to what is going on around her. The tension in the episode overtly builds around her complete abandonment of her daughter in favor of going back to Pakistan to serve as Station Chief. What underlies that surface, though, is much more powerful and has yet to be teased out fully. (Don’t get me wrong, child abandonment is a powerful thing.)

In the first season, Carrie was a terrorist hunter. She tracked Brody and trapped him. By getting close, she learned that he had been turned because of a drone strike that killed innocents, in particular children. In S4E1, she acts on incomplete information, information she openly questions, only to order a drone strike that does much the same – it blows up a wedding. She refused to fully question that gut instinct that told her there was something crucial missing. In the process of doing so, she turned from terrorist hunter to terrorist maker, in one basic order. She did later try to justify the bombing on the grounds that the terrorist sought had indeed died and that those with him knew what kind of man he was and what risk they were taking, but it seemed evident she didn’t buy her own rationalization.

In the Two of Swords card, the person there holds two swords, one in either hand, with arms crossed over the heart and a blindfold over the eyes. This strikes me as particularly fitting because by cutting off the heart, there is a conscious decision to cut off any knowing that comes from a source other than the mind. It was that gut instinct that told Carrie that Brody was a terrorist. Whether or not he turned into a great love for her and the father of her child, she was still dead on about his intentions when he returned home. It was that other knowing, the knowing that came before thought, that made her an excellent agent. Now she’s found herself with more responsibility, both professionally and personally, and she’s closed off a major source of intelligence. Moreover, she’s wielding great weapons without clear vision and harming people in every sphere of her life.

It does make sense that she would shut down emotionally. She watched someone she was in love with be executed, she had his child, and the only place she has ever felt confident is at work. She was never good with handling her emotions, which I think is too easily chalked up to her Bi-Polar Disorder. That is certainly a component of it but, like with most things on the show, is not the entire story.

The Swords cards tend to be all about the rational mind. They are about thinking and logic, processing with the brain and not the heart. What is interesting, though, is that it’s Carrie’s blocking off of this other center of intelligence that makes her unable to adequately see what is before her and use her logical mind to its best abilities. She has willfully blindfolded herself by cutting off her intuition. The only way for her to see clearly is to lay down the swords and remove the blindfold, which would mean opening up her heart.

This isn’t a situation faced by Carrie alone. She is so easy to identify with despite her unlikeable characteristics because she’s on the same archetypal journey many of us are on. Too often, when someone has a knowing that is inexplicable, an intuition, s/he is questioned on what tactile, tangible proof supports it. That’s how it was for Carrie in the first season. She was so rejected by society that she turned to electroshock therapy, only to be vindicated after she underwent the procedure. How often do we do a less medically extreme version of this to ourselves? How often, when questioned, do we back down and accept someone else’s truth as our own? How often do we close our hearts and, in the process, blindfold ourselves because we’re no longer receiving the whole picture? Carrie’s case is always an extreme one, but it’s in that extremity that we can find the safety to see our own shadows, to see the way we cut ourselves off not only from those around us, but from our inner self.

This image of the Two of Swords from Deviant Moon Tarot can take it even further:



When I see this one, it makes me think of the terrorist eradicator meeting the terrorist maker. As you can see, the two warriors share a lower body and each has an element of light and dark (the leg on each side is the reverse of the upper body). To me this speaks of the classic Jungian idea of integrating one’s shadow. Carrie will have to reckon these two sides of herself and I suspect it won’t be an easy task for her. It’s certainly not for anyone who attempts to do so. This is a battle most of us will have to face to some degree in our lives, should we choose to really look at ourselves and our motivations for acting. Where inside us in the one who makes terror for ourselves or others? How can we bring that element into the light?

It will be interesting to see where this journey takes her, at what point she decides to truly see, and, more importantly, what it all costs her.

Leave a comment

When Women Were Birds

So beautiful. So true.

Heaven and Earth by Catrin Welz-Stein via RedBubble Heaven and Earth by Catrin Welz-Stein via RedBubble

“Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.” – Terry Tempest Williams from “When Women Were Birds”

Singing at dawn; Singing at Dusk

The rain that started night before last, continues. The desert is thirsty for all this water, so despite my challenges with the drear, I am glad to see us get a good soaking.

However, I miss the birds. I miss them swooping into the yard to discover the bowl of water under my orange tree. I miss their clatter as they drink and bathe. They’ve holed up wherever it is that they hide when it storms. Instead of hearing bird chatter…

View original post 726 more words

Leave a comment

On choosing life as a radical act of defiance

“If you have come to help, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lila Watson

The moment my feet hit the trail, I offer up the same prayer, “Let me feel a part of the web of life. Let me feel and know this connection.” Every day, I am greeted with some surprise: a fawn, a baby coyote, a snake, an intricate bird’s nest. Every day I am offered a chance to forge that connection I seek. It’s not just a matter of noticing the gopher snake slithering off the path. It’s also acknowledging that we shared that same space for a moment, that my footsteps (or the dog’s) prompted a reaction in it, that we each depend on this beautiful planet for survival and that because of my relative power of destruction, the snake depends on me to choose wisely.

These visits into nature center and ground me as I head back to my desk to face the consequences of our destructive society. Yesterday, I was greeted both by a case of a young man who went the way of too many and entered a gang, shot up a party, and now will never see the light out day outside the prison yard, and the shooting in Portland. Both situations involve a senseless waste of life. Both invoke a feeling of utter powerlessness in me to do anything to resolve the situation. Neither received as much public outcry, grief, or rage as I had expected. We are a tired nation, tired of seeing our youth either shot down or wielding a gun, tired of feeling that our voices never even penetrate the doors to the political buildings in Washington, D.C. We are tired of our fear, and tired of our grief and moral outrage. We’ve lain down and we just take it.

As all of this horrible brew started to bubble up in my belly and spill over into tears and fist-pounding, I told myself that to feel better, I must choose life. I must do something life-affirming. I must take #notonemore and make it mean something in my life. But how, right? Isn’t that the question we are all asking ourselves? How do we stop this?

Well, I don’t have an answer for that. Not yet, anyway. But at the moment I asked, I saw a post asking if anyone could transport a baby hummingbird from where I live to a neighboring town for rescue rehabilitation. I hesitated. I had a lot of work to do. And then I decided to accept the offering from the divine to make a difference and I texted the rehab woman and coordinated.

I then got to share some time and space with this little guy for 30 minutes:


He peeped at me regularly. I peeped back. It seemed a simple thing to do. It seemed to reassure him. Or me. Or maybe the two of us. Maybe we both needed to know the other was there, just for the duration of the ride. He’s gone on to his new home and I’m told he’s doing very well, which warms me.

On the ride back, I was listening to THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER and heard the following line, “There’s more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind.” In the wake of hearing that, I knew it. I was connected to the web of life. I wasn’t a simple observer, noting the deer on the path and then undergoing the intellectual gymnastics about what it all means. I was simply there, using my power in a way that helped save a baby bird (plus, I got to say, “I’m the transporter,” with an air of authority and I kind of liked it).

Sure, it’s just a baby hummingbird. It’s not a kid. It’s not a gun out of a kid’s hand. But, I wonder how many opportunities we miss to choose life, to choose to belong to this intricate, beautiful web of which we are undoubtedly a huge part, because we are so trapped in our heads. Solutions need to look a particular way and if they don’t, well, what’s the point of even trying, right?

One of the great scientists was supposedly asked by his dad at the end of every day, “Did you ask yourself any great questions today?” It didn’t matter if he’d failed, just if he’d asked good questions. Maybe this is our problem. Maybe we are asking the wrong questions. Maybe we’re making them bigger than they need to be for right now. Every building has a foundation. Where do we start? What is the first step we take to get where we need to go? How do we forge connections in such a disconnected world? What opportunities are we overlooking because they just aren’t big enough? And what blessings we might reap if we seized those opportunities?

It may not seem like much, but each morning, I am going to ask myself, “What can I do to choose life today?” Today’s opportunity has yet to present itself, but I’m on the hunt. Maybe I’ll rescue a spider or maybe I’ll help my neighbors buy their groceries since I know they need the assistance. Whatever it is, it’s a tendril, a little shoot of stretching my hand out to connect with the web around me, to engage with all of this life brimming up as a way to hold back this tide of violence and anguish.

I would love to hear your ideas, too. How will you choose life? Or what great questions have you asked yourself about how to make build a foundation and make a step forward?



Don’t kiss the snakes

Just now I was inappropriately joking with a friend about drunk frat boys kissing rattlesnakes and how my hope as a parent is to raise two children who don’t kiss any rattlesnakes. Then it occurred to me, this is in fact my greatest wish as a parent. I’m not talking literal rattlesnakes, of course (though that should go without saying). I’m talking the metaphorical ones.

I’ve spent a lifetime kissing rattlesnakes. I’ve been trained that that’s just what a proper girl does. She opens wide and lets herself get poisoned time after time. Her job – my job – is to just keep doing it. It doesn’t matter if it hurts, if it kills you. “You’ll build up a resistance, dear,” they say. “You’ll get to like the taste of venom on your tongue,” they promise. “You might even turn into snake, if you’re lucky,” they coo. But I never did. I never did like the sensation of being bit, I never did get used to being stung, even when I could see it coming a mile away. And, despite my efforts to conform, my desperate attempts to please, I never did shapeshift. Well, not into a snake anyway.

It’s funny, in a way, because the past few months have been all about the snake for me. I live in the southwest, in a dry, coastal scrubland. We have more than our fair share of the reptiles here. I saw one when we first moved down and then nothing for a couple of years. I suppose I should count myself blessed. Then, three months ago, they started showing up: a huge, dead rattler in the jaws of my dog; a tiny gopher snake on the trail; another dead rattler in a neighbor’s driveway; snakes in dreams, on cards, on signs. I know enough of them to know they signify death and rebirth, radical or spiritual transformation, and even, in some cultures, wisdom and healing (caduceus anyone?). I love this symbology of the snake and that’s what’s come to mind each time one has appeared lately. And yet, there’s that other image of them too.

The deadly snakes I’ve kissed have been the ones that told me not only to be something I’m not, but that I never was what I truly knew myself to be. The ones who whispered that that’s not what good girls do. The ones who made me think only of financial security and not of passions or joy. They are the ones who told me I needed to be more masculine to be successful in my profession, less whatever it is that I am. They are the ones who seek to gag me, to numb me, to transform me into some smaller, more manageable version of themselves.

I’ve read more parenting blogs, articles, and books than I care to note. Many of them advise NOT to tell your children to follow their hearts, their bliss, their passions, whatever you want to call it, because, hey, they’ll be living in your basement for the rest of their lives not earning a damn dime. They had brilliant, wonderful suggestions and advice up to that point. But then their forked tongues came out and they bit, hard. Only, I’m immune to the venom now.

You can believe that is exactly what I will tell my children to do. Concerns about “financial security” have landed us in a soulless, heartless world that completely ignores the fact our planet is on fire and gasping for breath. It ignores the fact we are putting ourselves squarely in the crosshairs of extinction for the sole purpose of a dollar. Or a dollar menu. I want more people living this life with heart, according to their heart. I want people who are going to use all of that heat in them to turn this shit around. I want people who aren’t out to numb and control everyone around them under the guise of it being what the good folks do. I am so tired of the good life. I want my kids to have the great, impassioned, fired-up life. And so I’m going to advise them to skip the snake-kissing. It will be a whole lot less painful in the long run.

1 Comment

A dose of courage for the cowardly lion

MerryNell has her fingers deep into my soft, yet rigid, abdomen, coaxing my constricted psoas to release. My face contorts and I wince. I would really like for this to end. I can handle pain, a lot of pain actually, especially if I know it will lead to greater relief in the long run. Physical pain, anyway. The emotional kind makes me run face-first into a pantry. I wouldn’t call this experience painful. It’s more a deep, deep discomfort. 

“The word that keeps coming to me is ‘courage’,” she says as she pushes in a little deeper and I see stars. I can’t help but laugh and the action of that pops her fingers up and my psoas cries in relief. Crossing the threshold into true pain wasn’t funny. Courage was. 

MaryNell is not just my Hellerworker; she seems to be my spiritual therapist. Each of my struggles manifests somewhere in the soft tissue of my body. “Your body never lies to you,” she tells me, and I am grateful to know that there are ways in which I cannot deceive myself, even when I most want to. Prior to attacking my psoas, we had been discussing my next step and my profound desire to not follow my inner guidance.

My safe, stable government job ends in November. I have not found other work, despite a couple of interviews. My husband proposed that I liquidate my retirement account and write for a few months. Just take some time off. Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it? It took me months to accept the offer. We have two small children, a house, and it felt so, so selfish. Our lives would change dramatically without my income. And it wouldn’t be a permanent break. Just for a while, until the money runs out, I guess. 

The week I accepted, at least in my own heart, I saw Sue Monk Kidd on Super Soul Sunday. She said that in college, her choice to major in nursing was a failure of courage. My heart both sang and sank. I knew that choice. I was living that failure. I wanted to get a Masters of Fine Arts. I wanted to write. And to say “want” here does it a disservice. Writing for me is the same as breathing and eating. It is a necessary, vital function to sustain my life. As Sue Monk Kidd said, writing is prayer for me. 

When I was reminded of my failure of courage, I told myself I was going to accept this opportunity to make good on my past mistake. I was going to take whatever time I was given to write, to give myself over to this calling. 

Only it’s not as simple as that. There was a time, too, when as a kid I wanted to be a lawyer. My grandfather was a lawyer and I loved hearing stories about how law could help people. As much as I have always wanted to write, I have also always wanted to be of service. I was the child who collected all of the stray animals to take care of them. I later collected and cared for human strays. I held masses for the birds in Hawaii. I worked for Greenpeace after high school and volunteered for Amnesty International after college. Had I not met my husband, I was bound for the Peace Corps and wherever it would take me. (Instead, I took a chance on a boy, who turned out to be the one I was supposed to take a chance on.) It was my volunteer work with Chicago Legal Aid for Incarcerated Mothers that made me realize I could be an activist and be paid for it. So, on a whim, in the middle of a cloudy evening as we sat in front of a campfire in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I declared to my husband my intent to go to law school.

In law school and after, I worked with prisoners, the seriously mental ill, people with disabilities, and documented human rights abuses. I was so hell-bent on saving the world that a few of my classmates joked that within five years I’d have sold out and started working for Chevron. That didn’t happen. But five years out, the fire had certainly dimmed and I moved over to the courts, seeking a respite from the ego and drain of the work I’d been doing. Law is a sharp tool, but a highly dysfunctional field.

That deep need to help, that motivating force to serve others, the one that keeps me up at night and keeps me awake after the kids have gone off in the morning is still there. I firmly believe writers serve and help the world. But it’s a different kind of calling for me. The two haven’t intertwined, except to the extent that the pain I see in my work informs my stories, not the specifics of it, but the general universal truths that underlie it.

I am no John Grisham, so I don’t weave the two together by writing legal thrillers. Grisham does a fine job of making our profession sound much more riveting than it actually is. Perhaps some distance would do me good.

Yet, this idea keeps calling to me. It’s an idea about starting my own legal practice. It’s like a boy in high school who keeps asking you to go out. He’s cute enough to kiss with the lights on, but you don’t feel that immediate whoosh. Or maybe you do, but there are a million and one reasons not to go out with him. Yet, every day, he’s there to walk to you to school and he walks you home. He offers to carry your books. And you’re finding that all of your reasons to say no might be contrived because you’re just so afraid of going down this path because you were so dead-set on going down that other one. 

I told MeryNell about this idea, about the emails that keep coming to me about veterans (whom the practice would serve), and venture capitalists starting to invest in legal services, about all of the people who’ve lit up when I’ve shared the idea and said, “I want to help!” And about the idea’s general persistence.

Like me, she believes in signs and guidance. “Didn’t you ask for a sign? Seems to me they’re popping up everywhere. What’s the harm in following the thread of the idea for a bit?” Oh, she makes so much sense. And then she busts out with the “courage” and she becomes one of my signs.

Three years ago, I had a coaching session with Lissa Rankin. She’s just amazing. She’s a doctor, but also a spiritual teacher and she does an amazing job combining the two. I told her I wanted to leave law then, but my job was too great, so I’d wait until it ended and then get out. She asked me if I had a deep-rooted need to serve others (most doctors and lawyers do). I said yes, of course. And then she asked me if writing alone could fulfill that. I told her I didn’t know. I still don’t.

I have been asking my inner guidance for what the next best step would be. I want the sexy, write-all-day in your pajamas and don’t worry about a single damn thing other than that to be my next best step. But every morning, there’s this boy on my doorstep asking if he can spend a little time with me. It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition like the Peace Corps and marriage to a graduate student does it? I can take a walk with the boy and see where it goes, right?

It’s occurred to me in all of this that part of my internal struggle is one of identification. What am I? Am I writer in a lawyer’s body? Or am I die-hard lawyer committed to using those tools to help others? This is where my dichotomy stems from. How do I explain who I am to others? And what about my writer friends who bleed ink? Will they understand the choice?

Wherever this boy and I go, it takes courage for me just to step off the porch with him, a kind of courage I didn’t think I’d need. It shows me I’m still worried about external appearances, despite all of my work to move past that. It also shows me how much I need to start integrating the areas of my life that drive me. I cannot keep living separate lives in different spheres. I am not one or the other. I am both and more.

The truth is, I see lawyers as healers. Well, not all, but that’s a post for another day. We are shepherds through a very scary and difficult arena of life. We are coaches and cheerleaders. We are advocates and servants. Not surprisingly, these are the overriding characteristics of the characters in my fiction work. 

I have a multitude of gifts and talents and to not use one feels in a way like saying, “I’m just going to go ahead and amputate that. No way I’ll need it later.” My work on this earth is to heal, to bring people together, to a more complete space. Sometimes, that will be through legal efforts, sometimes through writing. And through it all, I will need courage to accept the work I feel called to do and to reject the rest, regardless of the lack of sense it appears to make to others and myself. I suppose I could make courage my other word for 2014. 

Because I love it so much, and because I’ve already quoted Sue Monk Kidd, I wanted to share this poem of hers from SOUL WEAVINGS:

To be fully human, fully myself,

To accept all that I am, all that you envision,

This is my prayer.

Walk with me out to the rim of life,

Beyond security.

Take me to the exquisite edge of courage

And release me to become.


I joke about being the Cowardly Lion because I’m not the brashest Leo out there. But this poem really hit home for me when I read it and I continue to read it. The fact is, I think my cowardice is trying to stay within lines that I think others have drawn for me. I must be this or I must be that. I must choose one label because society requires you to appropriately label yourself. And then you must act in accordance with it. I have no idea what to label myself as and I think that’s the releasing to become that Sue Monk Kidd talks about. I’m just going to step on out to that place where I don’t have to explain myself to anyone and see what’s there. That is the real courage.

May you find the courage for whatever calls you today.