Mary Beth Writes

I just finished reading “Red Dust – A Path Through China” by Ma Jain.  It is a remarkable book that asks more questions than it answers.

Ma Jain was born in the 50’s and grew up grew up very poor in a small Chinese city. He remembers when his mother would simmer stones for dinner so that the neighbors would see her cooking and not realize how poor they were.  (A whole different take on the children’s tale “Stone Soup.") The violent and terrifying Cultural Revolution that Chinese citizens lived through is over but memories of it are in everyone’s minds.

As a young adult Ma Jian lived in Beijing as a writer and graphic artist in a government industry. When not at his job he’s also a poet, story writer, and painter. He has a cadre of artist friends. He also has a failed marriage, a failing relationship, and he seems to be losing joint custody of his child.

He is sensitive, intellectual, courageous, and reckless. He wants to create art. He wants to find a place or people that he could claim as his place and his people. He decides to honor his restlessness by exploring his own country. He has some but not enough money. He gets letters of introductions from some of his friends, fakes other letters when he needs them. One is not supposed to aimlessly wander around China, so he has to always have his wits about him. His journey will be by train, bus, hitchhiking, and a lot of walking. He will brush up against death several times.

This book, like the Peter Hessler books about China I read earlier this year, are more than “interesting travelogues”. They are written by smart, modern people trying to figure out how to interconnect their interior lives with a meaningful place in society. They are living under a government that belittles and threatens their freedom and expression. They try to support themselves and their families. They try to respond to the suffering they witness around them.

But we wouldn’t know anything about that, would we…

Kathleen sent me this poem from one of her favorite poets, Lucille Clifton. Clifton seems to be saying what Ma Jian is saying. You will need to look for the light and spirit that you need to live. If you don’t - the emptiness where the light and spirit should be – will come knocking at the door of your being - and it will not be convenient.

the light that came to lucille clifton

came in a shift of knowing
when even her fondest sureties
faded away. it was the summer
she understood that she had not understood
and was not mistress even
of her own off eye, then
the man escaped throwing away his tie and
the children grew legs and started walking and
she could see the peril of an
unexamined life.
she closed her eyes, afraid to look for her
authenticity
but the light insists on itself in the world;
a voice from the nondead past started talking,
she closed her ears and it spelled out in her hand
"you might as well answer the door, my child,
the truth is furiously knocking."

When life is uneasy, questions might be more relevant than answers.

Questions such as:

What do you do when you know what you want to have, but you can’t get it?

How do you keep on when you know where you want to go, but you can’t go there?

What do you do when you know what you want to eat but you can’t go to that restaurant, or you can’t afford that food, or you don’t know how to cook it?

If your child wants something you cannot get for them, what do you do?

When you seek spiritual peace, but that peace seems to be staying over at someone else’s house, what do you do?

When you can visualize the generous and fair world that you want to see out your front window, but that isn’t the world that is there, what do you do?

Comments

I don't know, my friend. I continue on the quest. "peace seems to be at someone else's house" lately. I aim to get it back. Not sure how. Patricia

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Quarantine Diary #308 1/15/2021

My life is pretty fine, and I bet yours is, too. Warm place to live. Food to eat. Friends to share and laugh with - even if we have to do it via Zoom.

At the same time, who isn’t feeling anxiety and dread? Will the white supremacist insurrectionist knobs attack the inaugural? Will they screw up state capitols and infrastructure? One lone guy blew up Nashville a mere three weeks ago. What the hell is going on?

Quarantine Diary #307 Brain Names

Remember when there was no autism? Sure, there were kids in our schools who were weirdly able to remember stuff, or were hard to control, or whose emotions triggered at the oddest time. We generally ignored those kids. Those of us who were kind did, anyways. Others bullied. 

Remember the mopey kids in high school who knew too much about depressing art and angsty music and sometimes killed themselves?

Quarantine Diary #306 Hunched Over & Paying Attention

I am going to write some Quarantine Diary entries again. There’s a lot going on and sometimes it helps to hear a small voice as well as the big voices of journalists, pundits, networks, the other public media we follow.

I have had a small headache off and on for days. I worried that I might have contracted Covid, except dang it, I haven’t gone anywhere! And then, thinking about it, I realized I am hunched over my phone much more than usual. These mild on-again, off-again headaches are from eyestrain and weird posture.

Rime and Treason

These photos were taken by Len on Monday in that other time and world that existed before the Trump gorgons mobbed the Capitol. (Gorgons existed in Greek literature. Gorgons are the poisonous siblings with hair of living snakes. Those who beheld them face-to-face turned to stone. Or were killed by being beaten by a fire extinguisher.)

I have been trying to write about that but it is too hard. There is so much that is clear and is informative. You are reading it as much as I am. Blessed be the journalists, right? 

Quarantine Diary #292 New Year's Eve

Many of us feel as if we are in limbo until Biden takes office. I don’t think you need me to say a lot about how long and hard this year has been; we’ve been in this dentist’s chair together.

But...

Did you see how many days quarantine has lasted? 292 days.

So far.

This week I read a remarkable essay. On Natural Landscapes, Metaphorical Living, and Warlpiri Identity, by Barry Lopez. https://lithub.com/. Life is weird. The day after I read it, Mr. Lopez died.

Advent Light Post 12/24/2020

Judy Saunders. Photo of a Rose.

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung,
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As folks of old have sung.
It came a flower bright
Amid the cold of winter
When half-spent was the night.

...

Len and I were delivering presents to Chicago yesterday. Social distancing, with masks, but we did it and we saw our kids’ faces and there’s your Christmas, Ma’am.

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