Sunday, August 30, 2009

Not Good at This

Well, I have to confess. I'm not doing very well at my Ramadan fasting this year. Ramadan is observed by fasting while the sun is up. You can get up early and eat breakfast before the sun comes up, and you can eat dinner after the sun goes down. I set my alarm so I can eat breakfast.

Yesterday, when my alarm tweedled, I shut it off and meant to lie there a few minutes so my son would fall back to sleep. I fell back asleep myself. I jumped up at 6:40, after the sun had come up. I tried not eating when this happened the first year. It was too hard. It meant that my focus all day was on my hunger, instead of all the things I had to do.

If I've eaten in the morning, I still notice not eating, and I remember that I'm doing this so I'll think (and talk and write) about the wars the U.S. government is waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that awareness can come and go, and can fit in with all my other responsibilities.

So. I decided the sensible thing to do was to eat a quick breakfast, and then fast for the rest of the day. OK once (for me, not for Muslims). But then today... I couldn't sleep last night and got up at 4am. I'm browsing on the internet, and when my alarm tweedles I'm surprised it's already 6am. I finish typing a sentence, and then... What?! How did I forget to get out of this chair?! It's 6:40 once again. I made myself breakfast again, and will do what I did yesterday.

But I can hardly say I'm fasting for Ramadan if I keep eating my breakfast after the sun has come up.

I can tell you I've never been good at following rules. Not even my own. But I did this fast for each of the past 3 years, and never messed up two mornings in a row. What's different? The first thing is that my days have less structure. I'm on sabbatical, working from home. That also means I see and talk with adults less. The other difference is our president. Do I feel less urgency because I like the man who is ultimately in charge? U.S. soldiers are still killing innocent people. Why would I feel any less urgency?

How can I make sure I really wake up when I need to tomorrow morning? I guess setting a second alarm would help. OK, done.

I feel like I still need to think about this. Guess I'll call my friend Sandy. I think better in conversation than alone.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

First day of Ramadan

Yesterday, when I posted on why I fast for Ramadan, I wrote:
Sun comes up at 6:31 tomorrow. I'll set the alarm for 6am, so I can eat some breakfast.

What I didn't say is, I never set an alarm the rest of the year, except when I have an early flight. I go to bed early with my son, and I wake up early. I woke up at 5:30 today. It was nice to be up before the alarm had a chance to jangle me.

I had oatmeal with blueberries and raisins, and a glass of orange juice with soda water. I appreciate food so much more during Ramadan! The sun is up now. (I like it that I notice when the sun comes up. Tomorrow maybe I can get off the computer and actually watch it come up.) No food until... she goes to look it up... 7:53pm.

What else changes? Most of the time I'm pretty wrapped up in my own not-so-little world. Parenting, teaching, writing, playing with math, trying to stay on top of keeping my house from falling apart. I don't notice the bigger world much. This month, I'll be noticing more.

Over the summer I read Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. He's building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That's the most informative and respectful book I've read on Islam since I've started doing this. I'll post about some other books I've looked at, soon.

Back to preparing to host the Richmond Math Salon...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ramadan: I'm Fasting in Solidarity

Muslims celebrate the month of Ramadan by fasting during daylight. 3 years ago, I had 6 Muslim women in one class, and when I overheard them discussing Ramadan, I began to think about fasting in solidarity. It seemed like a way to stand up for people who have been discriminated against pretty severely lately.

I hoped last year was my last year of fasting, but I promised I'd fast as long as the U.S. was at war against any Muslim countries. I'm proud of our intelligent, apparently sincere president, but so far, he seems to think waging war in Afghanistan is a good idea, even though plenty of women and children are being killed. [I don't watch or read the news. If I'm at all wrong on this, please do correct me.]

I start fasting tomorrow. My biggest problem with it is usually just managing to remember not to stick food in my mouth. I'm having 20 people over to my house in the daylight. [I've decided that if I forget 3 times tomorrow, I'll give it up for just the one day, and start on Sunday (and do an extra day at the end).] After I get started, I'm ok. Muslims don't even drink water during the day, but I've given myself that. Sun comes up at 6:31 tomorrow. I'll set the alarm for 6am, so I can eat some breakfast.

When I started 3 years ago, I naively thought lots of people would join me. So far, no one has. I should have contacted Code Pink a few months ago - they might be able to get people going on this... Some day my life will move more slowly...

So I'll be reading more foreign affairs posts online during the next month, and posting about the situation. No time to do that properly tonight. I've gotta fold paper, get ready for my origami session tomorrow.

May we all strive for peace.


Monday, August 17, 2009

My Heroes: Starhawk, modern-day Good Witch

The word witch carries a lot of negative baggage. But there are many people, Starhawk among them, who have turned that all around, and are witches, using what power they have to make the world a better place.

I don't call myself a witch, because I think of witches as something like shamans. I can't do magic (yet?), so I'm not a witch, yet. I am pagan, which means that I consider the earth sacred, that I honor the changing of the seasons and the cycle of the year, that I consider the earth and her creatures alive. Being pagan means different things to different people; there are no holy books, no gurus, no rules written in stone. Only stories. Halloween comes at the time when 'the veil between the worlds is thinnest'. And, it is said of the Goddess that 'all acts of love and pleasure are her worship.'

Starhawk was my introduction to pagan thought. Much of what's written in that realm is too woo woo, too self-indulgent, or just not deep enough. Two of Starhawk's books stand out as a way to really understand pagan thought philosophically, historically, and politically. Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics came first. It weaves feminism, therapy, non-violent activism, and politics into a big bundle, and throws magic into the mix. Magic - we've been trained to think it's all about tricks, that it's just pretend. More on that in a moment...

I like Starhawk's ability to weave together a scientific worldview with a pagan perspective. At a workshop I attended, she described gravity as Mother Earth hugging us all, and in Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery, she describes DNA like this:
the sliding of snakes
coupling and uncoupling
at the cell's core
This passage is part of one of the epic poems that alternate with the chapters of text in her rich book. Seven of those poems form the story of the descent of Inanna, which so many feminists have retold. The power of the story enchants us. (Inanna's stories come down to us through time on clay tablets from Sumeria. The most historically faithful retelling is found in Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Kramer.) Truth or Dare is full of history, philosophy, and practical ideas. It provides the grounding that started me on my journey to a different worldview.

What makes Sathawk one of my heroes isn't just her philosophy, it's the actions she takes in the world, from protesting nuclear power, to the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle that she documents in Webs of Power, to her current work, both with permaculture and in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Much of her writing can be found on her blog, Dirt Worship, and through her website. (My blog reading list is gettting awfully long...)

Redefining Magic
Most people in the U.S. dismiss magic as pretend. And, in fact, the dictionary definitions usually start there: "The pretended art of influencing the course of events, and of producing marvelous physical phenomena..." (OED) But if magic means pretend, then where is the word that means something similar that's not pretended? The definition we have constrains the ways we can think. When language slices things in a way that makes certain alternatives unthinkable, it forces our thinking along some channels and not others. The language itself frames our worldview.

So what is magic, if it's not pretend? Starhawk explains it better in her books than I can. But I can offer 3 stories that describe the sorts of things magic might do, unusual but not impossible. Two come from what I've read, one I experienced.

Catching Fish (from Utne Reader, I think)
The author was at a witch camp in Colorado. He had been told, along with a group of people, to go to a river that was going to dry up, as it does every summer. The group was to catch the fish, who would be dying soon anyway, and fill the bed of a pickup truck with them to bring back to camp for use as fertilizer. They weren’t given any tools, though. They felt like the task was impossible. A few of them tried to grab the fish, but there was no way. Finally their teacher came and told them to think like bears. He slapped his hands together in the water, and popped a fish up onto the shore. They filled the truck in a short time.

Becoming Invisible
I believe Starhawk talks in one of her books about being in prison with a few hundred other women, for protesting a nuclear weapons site, and wanting to have a meeting to plan their responses to the prison officials. (I've searched but can't find this passage. I'll try to verify.) Meetings were prohibited, and they were feeling stuck - this meeting seemed vital. They met, raised power, and created a circle of invisibility. They conducted their meeting, and the guards, one nearby, did not stop them.

Now, the standard definition of invisible involves seeing right through something. But think of it more as something we just don't notice. Imagine the guards just not noticing the meeting. I have students who are excellent at becoming invisible when I decide to call on someone; I'm sure it's a skill they've developed.

Friendly Mice?
I wrote this in story form, but it's not fiction. It happened in late 1989 or early 1990, on UCSD’s campus. The only part I made up was Gail’s name. I don’t remember her real name, and she needs one for the story to flow.

One night, when the moon was full, I walked to the eucalyptus groves north of campus with my friend Sandy and her friend Gail. We were that night a coven of three, aware of each other’s powerful presences, intending to honor the goddess with our small circle in the woods.

We walked familiar paths. Changed in the moonlight, they seemed to be longer and more winding. We arrived at a spot far enough from campus, hidden from the bigger trails, where the moon shone to the ground. We settled ourselves in, and began.

Sandy called in the spirits of the four directions. I don’t remember now what my participation was. Gail began a chanted meditation. We all sat, eyes closed, two listening, one speaking. I wasn’t connecting with Gail’s words, and I drifted. I opened my eyes to the beauty around me, the moonlit forest, leaves dappled with that soft light and the darkness, fluttering in faint breezes. I thought about what a blessing this serenity was in a world full of cities. Then I noticed that there were some kind of forest mice all around us, some within our circle, sort of checking us out. They seemed entranced by Gail’s voice. There were about two dozen of them.

I didn’t want to scare away our visitors, usually so shy, so I tried to repress my excitement, to keep the feel of our circle as it had been. I listened more carefully to what Gail was saying, letting her soothing, droning chant calm me. Meanwhile of course, I was eagerly watching our visitors out of the corner of my eyes. They scampered around, clearly interested, seemingly listening to Gail’s voicel, and checking us out.

Then one of them scampered over Sandy’s hand, and she jumped a bit. They all ran away. I quietly said, “They’ve been here for a while, listening.” We all kept our eyes open and Gail tried to go back to her chanting. We were too excited to return to quite the same calm, self-contained circle we had been. But Gail’s soothing voice did bring them partway back. None came inside the circle this time, but at least half a dozen had returned, and watched us for a while longer. They left before we ended our circle, and we walked home, feeling blessed by having had some very special unexpected participants join us that night.

I don't know if these 3 stories are enough to convince anyone that magic happens. But the next time you see that on a bumper sticker, at least you'll have a glimmer of where we're coming from.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Community Building in NC: TechShop

Durham, NC has a community business called TechShop, and they have a blog. Looks interesting. I'd like to play there. The closest things to this locally are Berkeley's tool lending library, and a place whose name I'm forgetting. (I've googled forge, and looked in the thesaurus. They have welding classes, and one theater person I know loves the place.)

I was also looking around to see if there were some sort of community blog or wiki for Richmond. (I just checked Berkeley, too, but my search terms bring in too much, none of it what I want.) I'd love a place online that collects good community-building ideas, geared toward local communities. Is there something like that already, and I'm missing it?


Friday, August 14, 2009

My Heroes: Speaking Truth to Power

One of my very first posts in this blog was just a stub pointing to a collection of portraits of Americans Who Tell the Truth, by Robert Shetterly. (I couldn't find the book for sale there, and just bought it here.)

It's a good collection, but it's missing some of my heroes. Emma Goldman is in it, but Starhawk and Alice Walker are missing. I'll ask Shetterly if he wants to add them to his traveling exhibit. My own list of people who haven (powerfully) spoken truth to power is international. I was moved to write this by some posts I just read online about my favorite educator, Paulo Freire, a Brazilian who I'll say more about later.

Shetterly's title reminded me of the phrase 'speak truth to power'. Googling it led me to a Quaker document on pacifism (written in 1955), with this explanation of the phrase:

Our title, Speak Truth to Power, taken from a charge given to Eighteenth Century Friends, suggests the effort that is made to speak from the deepest insight of the Quaker faith, as this faith is understood by those who prepared this study. We speak to power in three senses:

  • To those who hold high places in our national life and bear the terrible responsibility of making decisions for war or peace.
  • To the American people who are the final reservoir of power in this country and whose values and expectations set the limits for those who exercise authority.
  • To the idea of Power itself, and its impact on Twentieth Century life.
Our truth is an ancient one: that love endures and overcomes; that hatred destroys; that what is obtained by love is retained, but what is obtained by hatred proves a burden. This truth, fundamental to the position which rejects reliance on the method of war, is ultimately a religious perception, a belief that stands outside of history.
The list of those who speak truth to power is long. So begins another series in this blog: portraits of my heroes. (If you're enjoying the bibliographies, don't worry, I've still got lots of those coming.) I debated using the word heroes, because I don't want to put them on such a pedestal that they seem unreachable. But we can all be heroes. Remember June Jordan's (and Alice Walker's and Barak Obama's) words: "We are the ones we've been waiting for." My heroes are my inspiration to do the most powerful work I can.


Here's who I'd like to write about eventually (this list will lengthen over time):

Paulo Freire (here's the site that started me writing today)
Rebeca Wild
Deborah Meier

Emma Goldman
Starhawk (activism page on her website, and her Newsweek (!) column)

Alice Walker
Adrienne Rich
Barbara Kingsolver