Conversations About Faith Part Three: Shabbat Shalom

Ezra answered the Miriam’s Well question about how he wants people to ideally read his writing with this response: “I assume that everyone puts on their glasses (even if they don’t have them) and then they sit down to read my blog with astute thought. I’ve always wanted my blog to be interactive, so I always consider the thoughts that people will have after reading.”
Enjoy more thoughts on religion…

Opening Pandora's Box

Welcome back everyone, sorry for the delay on this post, but here it is, the next iteration in our ongoing conversation about faith. This week I was able to sit down with Ilan Schwartz who is a rabbi at OSU Hillel. We have known each other for a few years and he is a great guy and one who is always excited to discuss Judaism.


Ezra- To start us off today, what do you believe as a Jew? Or what makes you Jewish?

Ilan- I believe that there is one god. Although I don’t believe that god is a single entity, or an old man with a beard. It’s more akin to the Force in Star Wars, it’s always around and it leads us, but it isn’t something that you can understand. I also believe that there are certain obligations for this life that help to make someone a…

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Eclipse of The Sun: Totality

there is no
for an eclipse
in Hebrew

although there are blessings
for a large crowd
first blossoms
a comet

putting on new clothes
the passage of time
a rainbow

Above us, the disk of the moon covers the sun. You can look right at it without dark glasses for 90 seconds. It burns like an eye in space. Birds fly into the trees. We can see Venus, much higher than usual, and a star or two-—Sirius? We’re at a rest stop in Lusk, Wyoming, having sleep in Nebraska. At the edge of short grass prairie.
Driving back into town, we encounter our first and last eclipse traffic of the trip. It takes a half hour to go a mile. At Agate State Monument there are sunflowers and prairie roses and stinging nettles and fossils from millions of years ago.
A colander and a vegetable steamer from home cast sharply defined shadows of dozens of partial eclipses.

All week I’d been having intense eclipse dreams:

and in the underworld of sleep
you can visit
all the shadows
of your different selves

an ancient white-haired woman
sits glowing
without hands
in a room
too bright
to look at directly

a dark man
torments some young crows
(in yet another dream)

I’ve been writing a 24 section poem on suminagashied index cards called “Woman, Sleeping” which is about the eclipse, statues and monuments, and more. I’ll post additionally when it is finished.

Devon Miller-Duggan Takes A Fond Look At Her Readers

I’ve been thinking about who/where I imagine my readers to be. Maybe it’s a problem that I can’t come up with a clear picture. Maybe it’s not. I have zero opinion (a rarity) on where or how folks read my stuff. I suspect that some people who liked my first book might be a bit shaken by my second, which is very differently voiced, I think, and in that sense I find myself occasionally wanting to apologize to the folks who bought the second book thinking it’d be like the first one, which is a little silly. So far, I have managed not to do that. Mostly I just hope I have readers, and they’re welcome to read the poems however and wherever they choose. I remember reading an interview with John Grisham years ago in which he was asked how he felt about the various film adaptations of his books and whether he had a hard time seeing someone else’s take on his work. He said he liked the checks and otherwise figured they were out of his hands and not his problem beyond that. Minus the big, fat, lovely checks, I think that’s sort of how I feel. Once the poems are out there, I would very much like them to be read, but beyond that, they’re in other folks’ hands and hearts and heads and not really mine in some sense. Of course, I also assume that all my readers are smart as all get out, thoughtful, playful, and gorgeous, but that goes without saying, right? This whole question is interesting to think about in terms of Robert Frost, who famously fought against certain readings of some of his poems and carefully cultivated a public persona that was geared toward creating a very broad and affectionate reading public (this being back in the day when there were more than 2 poets in the country who could actually make something like a living as poets), but while he did not like the darker readings of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” I wonder how he’d feel about the consistent mis-reading, mis-teaching, and mis-understanding of “The Road Not Taken” as a simplistic, Kipling-at-his-worst, “buck-up sermon. Maybe he’d have been fine with it as long as it got the poem enshrined in the cultural consciousness and brought in royalties, maybe he’d be repulsed, maybe a bit of both. I doubt I’ll ever have that sort of problem. It’d be nice in some ways. But mostly, I’m just very fond of my readers, whoever they are, wherever they are.

Ozymandias’s Socks

I’ve been enjoying all the snarky and sarcastic comments on the internet about how we’d never have history if it weren’t for statues. It’s a funny attack on Trump’s statements, but it also points to some deeper truths. Statues have never accurately represented history. They are the perfect example of the truism that history is “written” by the victors.
Monuments are also deeply connected to the dead, and to a desire to mark the landscape and infuse it with a particular set of meanings. Chaco and Gettysburgh alike reflect this need. And so, unsurprisingly, what statues are is really art, not history. Good or bad art, but art nonetheless.
The Latin poet Horace boasted that he had “erected a monument more enduring than bronze”–that is, his poetry. But both Buddhism and common sense teach us that everything changes, and yes, most things are eventually lost.
Which brings us straight to…Ozymandias!

“Just off the highway heading south on I-27 out of Amarillo, two gigantic legs in athletic socks can be seen. You wouldn’t know it, but they are in fact the shattered likeness of an Egyptian king.”Ozymandias” is the Greek name for Ramesses II and was the inspiration and name of a famous poem written in 1818 by Romantic poet Percy Shelly after a visit to the ruins.

The pedestal near the monument also asserts that the visage of the king was destroyed by Lubbock football players after losing a game to Amarillo, which while plausible, is of course false.

The sculpture was built by local artist by self-taught artist Lightnin’ McDuff, who specializes in altering found objects to make new pieces of art. The sculpture has been vandalized numerous times, most notably with the addition of socks to the legs. Occasionally the sock vandalism is sandblasted off of the sculpture, but always seems to reappear. The locals appear to prefer the king’s legs be kept warm.

A plaque near the gigantic legs reads:
“In 1819, while on their horseback trek over the Great Plains of New Spain, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), came across these ruins. Here Shelley penned his immortal lines.” ”

This of course is a series of charming hoaxes. I”m pretty sure when I last saw it the legs were missing socks, but here is what they look like added:

Info from the marvelous Atlas Obscura, without which my life would be much poorer:

And these lines from Shelley, who endures in my poetic pantheon.

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Customize Your Life or My Daughter’s Chickens

“You’re just a Santa Fe hippie.”
I’ve heard that a bunch over the years from some of my east coast family. But as Tolstoy famously said about how the least ugly person in a group is the family beauty, this is a statement more about contrast than reality. My mother was haute-bougeoise in her tastes, activities, and aspirations. So, compared to her I really am a Santa Fe hippie—despite my newish Subaru, my well stocked closet and larder, and my pretty container garden.
But what am I really? And what are you?
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how we customize a life, taking certain values and styles and mixing and matching them. It’s a tremendous freedom, and a Jeffersonian pursuit of happiness.
To whit, I’ve recently observed

A long divorced couple who gets on so seamlessly that both of them continue to benefit socially and even economically from their unconventional alliance.

More than one disabled artist creating exquisite work despite—or maybe “with” is a better word—physical limitations.

A writer whose creativity and career are taking leaps forward during a stressful, seemingly incompatible, sandwich generation time.

And…my daughter’s chickens.

Let’s look at first few examples. When you realize you don’t actually have to do something—such as divorce—any particular way—you feel free to customize the experience. You might receive criticism, but probably that is from people who prioritize discord over harmony, and you don’t want to be like that anyway.

The same is true of disability. I wouldn’t wish the chronic pain or limitations I have on anyone, and I don’t regard it as a “gift.” (The kind of gift you’d want to return!). However, it seems more than possible to flourish emotionally, creatively, spiritually if you will in even a very dysfunctional body. Able bodied folks don’t seem to necessarily be happy or productive. And disability is no deal breaker when it comes to authenticity of self.

Caretaking can be exhausting and stressful. It can also, in the case of kids, babies, dogs, kitties, llamas, and goldfish, be a lot of fun. Each caretaker has to decide what will keep the situation from destroying inner joy. Here, the ability to handle ambiguity is a huge help. More than one thing is happening at once. Someone is sick or dying, the peonies are blooming—these things co-exist rather than canceling each other out.

I have to add that all of the approaches above can help when it is society that is in turmoil. I avoid the 24/7 news cycle like the plague—because it makes me feel that I’m about to break out in boils, not unlike the Black Death itself. There is no one right way to be a citizen, you get to figure it out for yourself. What is the correct mix of outrage, activism, self-protection, and equanimity? That is up to you to decide. Just don’t let cultural stress turn you into its victim.

Now, to the chickens. When my daughter started her rainbow flock, my mom was not happy. Granted, my mother was almost 90, and fading into dementia. She still didn’t like it. “Chickens are like the shtetl,” she whispered to me.
My daughter comes out of several cultural influences—diy, backyard homesteading, self-sufficiency, New Mexico, country living, and a love of animals. Maybe deep in the background there is also the shtetl, and the Jewish love of a nicely cooked chicken, with bones for soup. Eggs are a Slavic symbol of rebirth, also found at our seder. Plus, the fresh eggs are delicious.

So—I’m not claiming to be a Santa Fe hippie—just the parts of that which suit me. The counterculture and its influence is found throughout each of my days, as is the upper middle-class suburban way I was raised, the Romantic notions of a poet’s life, the politics of my Menshevik fore bearers, and the shtetl’s appreciation of chickens.

When Bad Things Happen To Bad Statues

“It’s about more than the statues,” a wise friend says. However, funerary and memorial monuments are smack dab in the middle of my artistic obsessions.
The mayor of Baltimore simply removed Confederate statues yesterday:

And if you ever wondered what happened to the Lenins of the Ukraine, there were a variety of responses–

Closer to home, the saga of the Ludlow Massacre monument. A statue marked the spot where women and children were slaughtered by Pinkertons during a mining strike in Colorado:

A few years ago, the statues were decapitated and defaced, then restored, culprits unknown. I hope to visit later this week, en route to Nebraska to see the eclipse.