(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Owl Eyes

"Poetry is the kind of thing you have to see from the corner of your eye," said the poet William Stafford. "You can be too well prepared for poetry. A conscientious interest in it is worse than no interest at all... It's like a very faint star. If you look straight at it you can't see it, but if you look a little to one side it is there."

I came across part of this quote on the Free Will Astrology blog. It reminded me of a practice I learned about this summer called Owl Eyes. It's an awareness game from the Wilderness Awareness School that builds on the experiences of naturalists and indigenous peoples from the world over. Using Owl Eyes means expanding your vision, utilizing your peripherals broadening your view rather than having a sharp focus. It's contrasted with Eagle Eyes or predatory vision.

You know that tingling feeling when you know someone is watching you? That's the Eagle Eyes. Owl Eyes are a softer kind of vision. Rather than needle-like focus on any one object, you're absorbing the bigger picture.

I'm drawing this analogy from Stafford's quote because in many respects poetry is like that. If you get too caught up in details you can miss the meaning. At the same time, I challenge this quote. As a literary critic, to not take a conscientious look at a text and truly interact with it is tantamount to ignoring it.

Let me return for a moment to the outdoors. Another game I've learned through students of the WAS is the art of Fox Walking. To Fox Walk is to move silently. Instead of each step sliding over the ground (imagine one of those scenes from a Charlie Brown Christmas Special where everyone is dancing), each movement is precisely up and down. Each step is controlled and balanced so that you can stop at any time. You place your foot with care, ghosting into crinkly leaves and crackly twigs without a sound. You center your weight over each foot before moving the next.

Now imagine trying to practice this Fox Walking while looking at the world with Owl Eyes. It's hard to do. If you're focused on broadening your vision, you can't pay as close attention to where you're stepping. And you focus on each step you take, it's difficult to keep a broader awareness of what you're seeing around you. It takes a lot of practice to do these at the same time, so lacking that, what is a budding naturalist to do?

Divide, conquer and imitate the animals.

Every few steps stop, just for a second, and look around. Open your ears and listen. Smell and taste the air. Feel your entire physical being with all your senses.

The same goes with poetry. If all you do is look slant at the words on the page, you miss the stories that aren't hiding. If you only take things at face value, you miss the nuance of metaphor. Feel the poem. What kind of visceral, gut reaction does it invoke?

Learning to look at something out of the corner of your eye is learning to pay a new kind of attention. To direct your focus without actually having to focus directly.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sex, Marriage, & Fairytales: A Response

So I've seen this floating around a bit through social media, and I must say great video. Well, worded, articulate, inclusive, clearly influenced by feminist values in that it seeks to move away from the traditional patriarchal values that have led us to the current state of affairs [pun intended] when it comes to marriage.


That said, this video is predicated on a Christeo-normative assumption that disallows for any other kind of successful marriage. The only way is through a foundation in Jesus Christ. And for those of you reading this who believe in the Christian god, great. Awesome, even. I hope you take home the fundamental message that there is sanctity in marriage. If we as a society are going to argue over other people's right to that expression of love and happiness we need to look in our own homes first.

But this video makes me uncomfortable. Because I'm not Christian. I don't ever see myself being Christian. I don't particularly want to be Christian. This may change and I reserve the right to make that change if I feel so called. And I'm sure I could find plenty of people (religious and not) who would say the same.

Given the viral nature of this video, then, I think it's worth calling out that Christeo-normativity that makes me uncomfortable. I'm naming it as something to note. Assuming anyone listening to you is Christian (the definition of Christeo-normativity if you didn't catch that) is wrong because if there's one thing I've learned about people, it's that not all of them are Christian. I recognize that when it comes to belief and religion, the conversation is fundamentally at odds with the postmodern plurality I'm working with. 

Most religions by definition are mutually exclusive. You're supposed to spread the word and accept others into the practice that will save you. Only through this god will you make it to heaven [or whatever afterlife they teach]. You can't really be more than one at the same time. In a Christian context, this is commonly referred to as evangelism.

This is counter to the idea of plurality, that each religion is the result of a specific cultural and social causality and each has its own merits and reason for existence. They all have a right to exist and be treated equally. I can't tell you to follow my religion any more than you can tell me to follow yours unless we both mutually agree that we want to change our minds.

I think part of what differentiates between these two ideologies is faith. Or maybe Faith.

I struggle because I want to balance my foundation in plurality, in the knowledge and acceptance that there are many options, with the Faith that so many people have. If I were to make an essentialist statement about my identity, it would be that I thrive in liminality. I'm a human of in-betweens and I chafe under most dominant paradigms that enforce or too strongly advocate a way of thinking or doing things.

So the question that this post poses then is what is the goal of this video? Are we meant to turn to Christ? Are we meant to fix marriage?

"My hope in this poem is to highlight the most frequent and problematic issues marriages face today while also pointing to Jesus as the ultimate healer, redeemer, and restorer of every marriage. Whether single or married, my intention would be that this poem would allow you to look more deeply to Jesus to either better your current marriage, or prepare for your future marriage." -bball1989
The  video description (and video itself) seems to imply both. 

I'm left at a loss, and it seems the only judgement I can make is something akin to:

I'm glad that someone is taking time to address this issues for Christians, but this isn't for me by any means.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." -JFK

Great leadership to me means constant gratitude. For the path you've taken, for those who helped us get there. For anyone and anything that does something for this world. For a leader is never alone.

There's an idiom that says never to ask someone to do something you yourself wouldn't do.

The gratitude of a leader is to recognize and exemplify when someone does something you've asked them (or volunteers themselves for it).

So don't just express your appreciation: Live it. Show it.

And to everyone in my life, keep being amazing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

All day I've had this silly little grin curling at the corners of my mouth. So I said friend, time to let it all hang out. And I've been smiling ever since.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Culture Shock

As some of you may or may not know, I am not just an English major. In declaring, I diversified and multiplied my options. I'm also a kinesiology major.

This is my first quarter at Western taking mostly kinesiology classes. Previously, I've mostly worked on English classes and science prerequisites, and though it's only been one day, entering the world of kinesiology and the PEHR (Physical Education, Health and Recreation) has been a bit of a culture shock.

The differences in syllabi alone is worth mentioning. Compared to syllabi from my English classes, these have been downright scientific. I've never seen footnotes on a syllabus before. Granted a lot of the information is so detailed it almost feels like the professors think themselves talking to dullards.

In class, the contrast between English and Kinesiology is as stark as a football coach next to a science fiction writer. In some cases, I wouldn't be surprised if that were actually the case. This isn't to deride my Kines profs, from what little interaction we've had it's apparent they're quite intelligent. But it's so... targeted: physics and bodies and athletics. Even in my survey course when suggesting possible research projects, it was all optimized movement of legs during running and analyzing arm reach during the swing of a baseball bat. Okay, I made those up, and it's not like the English department (or other humanities for that matter) is all that different in their specialization with their overlap of literature, philosophy and history.

I suppose it's mostly a culture shock. The personalities of the type of people drawn to both my majors just seem so wildly different.

Among the English majors you can tell that the majority of them do so many other things. They're in sports and active and have interests outside books. Kinesiology majors I've seen are focused much more, oh how do I describe this? Physically. On bodies and sports and the like, but it's even hard to imagine them crossing the line in the other direction and talking about books or poetry and meaning. Which isn't to say English majors are better. No, it's just a different kind of intellect, a different side of the brain. And this is going to take a few weeks to habituate to.

Which means again, we find Danny bitching and moaning about straddling the fence between two disparate worlds. Though it's not an uncomfortable place being between. Liminality may be dusky, but there's always light.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

BBC Skins

[Spoiler Warning, do not read if you have not seen season one] So I borrowed season one of BBC's Skins from my friend Chelsea. I've been raved at about it for I don't know how long. My friend Nathan even said if he were living in Paris, France, and I called him up saying I wanted to watch the pilot episode he would (assuming he had the disposable income and free time) fly out to me and watch it with me. Needless to say, that wasn't necessary.

I ploughed through most of the first season in a one night marathon, though given the lives of the characters on the show, perhaps a one night stand would be a better description.

I hated it up until about the last ten minutes of the first episode when they accidentally rolled a hijacked car into the harbor (with all the main characters in it). If there were an American version, and I'm completely ignoring the fact that there actually was a shitty attempt at an American version (or so I'm told), it would be full of rich white people problems with one or two tokenized diverse characters who never really get fleshed out or treated to the complexities of their sexuality or race. Much like the OC, Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, and the host of other programs that consumerist America has gobbled up because of the pretty faces and glamor.

This isn't to say that Skins does much better. I lost count of how many cell phones, laptops, televisions, apartments, etc were completely destroyed with no consequences and seemingly no financial hardship at all. The reviews gush that Skins is so authentic and real to the adolescent experience, but I have to wonder what fetishized ideal of adolescence these media groups are playing into. I would poll the majority of my friends to ask how many of them regularly attended ragers where half the party ended up sleeping naked on the floor by the end of the night, but I'm not sure I want to know that about my friends.

But, this is certainly no Glee and I'm willing to forgive some of the social blindness for the sheer intelligence with which the characters are handled.

They play into stereotypes, especially in the first few episodes, yes, but the main cast of eight or nine are really fleshed out throughout the season. Even the treatment of Muslim Anwar and gay Maxxie's relationship is more about how Anwar's religious hypocrisy plays into Maxxie's sexuality than it is the classic TV standard of gay boy falls in love with best friend and drama ensues. That's brilliant is what that is.

See, what seduced me into this show were the Stonem family (and oddball, Cassie, but I'll talk about her later). Our opening protagonist, Tony and his younger sister, Effy. They're easily recognized as supposing to be the most hateable and the most beautiful (and therefore most lovable) characters. They're intelligent and cold and manipulative, the top of their respective social hierarchies, frustrating because you want them and want nothing to do with them at the same time. Their actions come about from boredom because they've never been truly challenged and they're used to getting their way.

A quick Wikipedia search told me that Effy doesn't really gain foreground until the third and fourth seasons when most of the older characters leave, but the setup and fall and reawakening of Tony, which story-arcs the first two seasons goes pretty much as expected. He's a horrible person who causes all sorts of trouble, he's just about to change his ways when something traumatic happens,

He got hit by a bus, how very:

suffers through recovery, changes his ways (with a relapse here and there for tension and to keep things interesting) and gets the girl.

It's satisfying to see him taken down. We want to see the high and mighty whom we hate so much fall so it humanizes them, so we can love them again. And then we can allow them to have what they want so long as they've suffered for it even if they're just as bad as they always were.

Cassie, like her namesake from mythology, Cassandra, is slightly off from the world. Anorexic in the first few episodes, she speaks in riddles and obscurities, it's that very absurdity that drew this character to me, and somewhere in that randomness is a purity of truth. Wisdom from the mouth of babes, but like her namesake she's cursed to be an outcast, people don't believe her.

It's the play on those kinds of tropes that makes Skins so addictive.

Still, I think I'm going to take a break after I finish season two. I can only tolerate so many annoying teenagers having sex and doing drugs and generally being stupid and dramatic for so long, and if they got caught at the end of the episode and promised not to do it again all after-school-special, well then this would be Degrassi, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Yesterday, I wrote a letter that I'm never going to send. I think the act of writing it was all I really needed to help me move forward.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Have HeART

I've spent my winter break creating, making thoughtful, personal gifts for people in my life. I don't bring this up as a way of bragging, tooting my own horn and saying how awesome I am, especially considering the majority of people got/will get clone gift bags with homemade candy and a condom (free courtesy of the Sexual Awareness Center office where I work).

No, I bring up this act of creation because, as I was reminded in reading a letter from my friend Emerson, this is a form of heARTwork for me. HeARTwork so far as I know it is activism that comes from the heart and utilizes all the gifts we have to offer the world. It's speaking truth to power. It's genuine. It seeks to make a difference. And for the last few weeks for me, it's catharsis.

I feel hurt and heartbroken in a way I haven't for a few years now. I've had moments sitting in my apartment with only my roommate's cat for company, reading, where a word or a song played on shuffle on the other side of the room catches me off guard and next thing I know, I'm crying. In a sad way, it's kind of a beautiful thing, honestly. So beautiful.

And you probably wouldn't know it looking at me, I'm very good at projecting happiness. No, not projecting, projecting implies a level of falsity. It implies a covering up when this is a parallel. You probably wouldn't know it looking at me, because at the same time, I'm happy. Emotions are complicated, there isn't any kind of crazy paradoxical contradiction going on here.

There are days when I feel so big I could rival Walt Whitman. I am both the happiest and the saddest you will ever see. I am large, I contain multitudes: in this digital culture, I am multiplex, I exist on multiple planes and levels. I can project and be so many things simultaneously.

But I digress.

In the last few years I've been learning this practice of heART. It's a way of moving in the world that integrates art and action and love. You see it in spoken word poets at performing at rallies. You see it in youth workers pouring themselves into their service. Today I'm using this as a gift for my friends.

Much like the warriorship practice I wrote about yesterday, this is a matter of intention. HeART is a flourishing, is a fostering, is a cultivation.

Cultivate v. to improve and render fertile.

It is a service greater than ourselves gifted in something beautiful. A distinction that I might make is that it is additive, always seeking the greatest growth and joy. At times it might leave you feeling bare and reduced, insignificant and marginalized, but always with the seeds of power planted and ready to grow. To me, that's true heART.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Finding Shambhala

Shambhala, I have a hard time with you. Again and again, my home, the West misinterprets, misappropriates, capitalizes on you, and this makes me uncomfortable. I do not understand you, dear Shambhala, though I have heard your story.

According to certain Buddhist teachings there is a mythical kingdom, an enlightened society called Shambhala somewhere near Tibet. In 1984, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa used the name Shambhala for a book: Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.

It's a secular book focusing more on the lifestyle of what Trungpa calls warriorship more than any spirituality, though it draws on many principles of meditation and spirituality from religious practices across the world.
I first came across this book a few years ago. I was at a Power of Hope camp, I think my first year as a full-staff volunteer. One of the youth had come across a copy in the small library of Tierra Learning Center, or someone let him borrow it, I don't know. I learned a story that says in a time of darkness in the world the Kingdom of Shambhala will walk the world. These Shambhala warriors essentially will be harbingers of peace and goodness stepping out and teaching that there is another path. It's an allegory because these "warriors" aren't some mythical people streaming out of a kingdom, but the angels, the ordinary people who walk among us awakening to their own potential.

At some point in the last few months I acquired a copy of this little book. I started carrying it with me, reading a page here, a paragraph there, even practicing some of the teachings.

The end of this quarter has made me feel haggard despite my preference for Wilson Library on campus. But then I have started to take steps back and examine my life through this lens of warriorship.

I would find myself asking, where are my thoughts right now? What am I feeling? And I've been learning to appreciate these thoughts for what they are: thoughts. Stress is not a bad thing or a good thing. It's a natural reaction to our environment and thoughts.

My life has been, is stressful. I spread myself pretty thin sometimes being involved and active in my commUnities on multiple levels. To some friends, it's exhausting even thinking about all the stuff I do, let alone actually doing it (and doing it well). Add on top of this the fact that I'd been pursuing a relationship with a gentleman of my acquaintance and grown rather fond of his company, but when we finally “talked” we agreed that we had to be friends first. Which is to say he told me it isn't going to happen like that and though I will admit I cried and I'm still somewhat disappointed and hurt, I respect him enough to recognize I will not change his mind by forcing him to like me. And so moving forward as friends first.

Leading two clubs, working on campus, classes, living on my own, boys, the laundry list never ends and I'm sure for some people it's longer and for others it's shorter but no less difficult. I bring this up not to compare, but to contextualize that for my circumstances I have every reason to feel stressed and often do, but the key here is that I'm learning to question whether or not such stress should stop me from being happy.

It's a lesson I've been learning for years, and I think we're all learning it every day.

And since I've started this practice of warriorship, I've noticed a kind of vulnerability in myself that has come with this learning. Having the luxury of time to myself the last few weeks, I've been working on my meditation and my heART work (a topic I will post about tomorrow) and I've found myself prone to both random fits of sadness and random fits of joy, often at the same time. A certain song will come on or I will read a sentence in my book and as I continue in what I am doing, I will notice I'm crying. I then take a moment to myself and I experience it.

I experience the hell out of those tears. What I've found is that yes, there's sadness. Right now especially there's a deep loneliness that has yet to find solace. But there's also joy; joy so brilliantly bright it hurts. Sometimes there's anger. Sometimes there's laughter so innocent and pure. It's overwhelming; in ways it's exhausting. It's beautiful.

And that's my gift to myself, because in letting myself experience this and in letting myself be overwhelmed, I'm accepting my strength. If that's what I can experience internally in just one short moment by myself, then imagine what kind of glory the world holds! I'm blessed to be here.

Though my language may sound preachy, my place is not necessarily to evangelize. Because as I've said before, I'm at your service. I'm sharing this experience of warriorship, of growth and learning just as much for my mental well-being in coping with this as I am to help foster similar growth within the people around me, regardless which path you take.

I think that's what Shambhala has come to mean to me. In all senses of the word it is in part practice. Practice at life. And to me at least, life is happiness.