RUIN AND BEAUTY

DEENA METZGER'S BLOG

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No Soy de Aqui, Ni Soy de Alla

I awaken to questions. That’s how writing begins – or ends. I awaken with the question that led to writing La< Negra y Blanca: Did I ever meet La Negra? Nine years later I am still puzzling the way a mysterious question, that enters one as if it were a scent, can manifest in a novel and call so much into being.

I awaken with the question of meeting La Negra still as vivid as it was when it first announced itself like a guest at the door who would never stop knocking. Then I learn that Facundo Cabral, the Argentinean singer, poet, guitarist was murdered in Guatemala and somehow the two become linked though I can not explain it, just that it is.

I’m trying to tell you about writing a novel and what it really means when I say that a novel is a little world. It is a life force. It is complete. It emerges out of a single image, sentence or idea, the way the world emerged from a point and all the wonders, that includes all life, materialized from the mystery of light becoming matter but not forgetting itself as light.

When I wrote Ferall, I resided in a sycamore and then a Brazilian pepper tree in my mind

When I wrote The Other Hand I had to learn astrophysics and I lived among the stars for ten years. The stars and the holocaust – infernos of beauty and rage. Writing and contemplating, I spoke a language I didn’t understand and yet it became the equivalent of my mamaloshen, my mother tongue. It became for me a language of creation. And even now, like a particle that was once linked to another particle and so experiences parallel changes even if over a vast distance, I find myself thrust again into that energy, that light, that field of knowing in which I was immersed for those years. One merely has to mention a name, Daniella Stonebrook Blue, Cardinal Lustiger, Peter Schmidt, or a place, Palomar or Auschwitz, and the world that was The Other Hand springs into being and I am in that country again. Not writing, therefore, is an unbearable exile for then I am living without a country under my feet.

Each novel is a universe and the writer becomes a citizen whether or not she or he has a public identity in the book. At least that is the way it has been for me. As a writer, I live in the book. Once the territory is established, and the flora and fauna take root and thrive on their own – even if I may be writing about the threat to their lives by the ways we are living – as soon as their indigenous nature is established, I can make my home there. No, it is more than that. I have no choice. I become of it as I write it. I am shaped by it. I am no longer myself – I am its progeny, a creature of its distinct field of being and knowing. Another species from another universe, though all the references are to planet earth and its terrain, the more specific, the better.

And for a time there is no other world except that one, although it may occur that it, like a whirling sun, may gather other energies, other fields, other suns to it, so that they all become one. Like the meeting between Facundo Cabral and La Negra.

They say that there are many parallel universes, or one may be tucked within another, we do not know, but each has a sealed boundary, Each has its own cosmic laws so that the substance of one cannot accord with the other – and they cannot cross the boundary without being destroyed or undergoing a complete transformation – the one becoming the other. And as each novel, like each world, wants to remain separate, that is, itself, then I am called to transform completely each time I enter one of those distinct spheres of being.

Do remember that I am speaking about La Negra y Blanca and I am trying to explain why the book is a field of energy, is a way of knowing, is its own domain. This concern is what awakened me and further reminded me of other questions I have been carrying about what I call the Literature of Restoration, a shamanic use of language to restore the world that we are murdering.

The novel began with a question: Did I ever meet La Negra? It or I was preoccupied with the question – but not the answer – for nine years. And here is the book wrapped in beautiful colors painted by the Chilean muralist, Francisco Letelier. We are making a weaving of the brilliant and desperate colors of the sun. The colors are all dipped in blood.

La Negra y Blanca begins in Mexico as Blanca is traveling to Cuba or to Chile. Francisco is the son of the assassinated diplomat Orlando Letelier. Letelier was killed by a car bomb explosion on September 21, 1976, in Washington DC along with his US assistant, Ronni Moffit. You remember, don’t you? Members of the Chilean secret police, the DINA, were implicated as was Augusto Pinochet who led the bloody coup against the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende. He was not called to stand trial for this murder. A few were convicted and others went free.

The novel includes a sojourn to Lake Atitlan with Morena Monteforte the daughter of a Tz’utujil woman, Doña Rosa Chavajay and the former Guatemalan Vice President and novelist, Mario Monteforte Toledo. Allende’s death is part of the novel. Mario Monteforte Toledo and Salavador Allende were friends in the way I was friends with Morena. We sat at the same table together. When you break bread together, your relationship is true.

The image of La Negra on the cover of the book is from Francisco’s mural in Whole Foods on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, California. Blanca believed that if she could return to the moment of meeting La Negra, if La Negra could become real and enter the world in the manner that befits such a being or spirit then everything might change. That was one of the novel’s goals. We can put this in the realm of Restoration.

Then I found her portrait in Venice California, painted by a Chilean muralist who lives nearby. I remember well when his father died, but I didn’t know Francisco then. I remember meeting his mother in North Carolina years after Orlando Letelier’s murder; I think I met her there and then. I could have met the two of them in Chile in 1972. Maybe I did when we were all marching on behalf of the Unidad Popular or dancing in the mud on the stormy night of the Dieciocho, the Chilean Independence Day.

I never met Facundo Cabral though he is playing now from over there where the dead live. But I did hear Angel Parra play in Chile in 1972 before Allende was murdered. Angel and others. Then I brought home their music: Angel’s, Isabel’s, their mother, Violetta’s, the one who began Cancion Protesta – Gracias a La Vida. Inti-Illimani, Daniel Viglietti, Victor Jara. I knew Victor’s music before he was killed, before they broke his hands in the stadium, before…. And then afterward, Angel was in my house, and Viglietti, Inti-Illimani, I think, as well. I could be imagining this, – that is how a novelist is – but it actually happened. The real and the imagined, the known and the unknown, came together in the field that was Chile: With Poems and Guns, a film I worked on in 1973, the first film about the brutal golpe in Chile. Now I call this field La Negra y Blanca and it expands to something else with the addition of Facundo Cabral. The field becomes a sphere. It resonates with the music. How can we not believe in possibility?

So many of my novels have come out of music. They wouldn’t have existed if not for the sax, guitar or flute through which they were written. But the music of this book did not exist except for birdsong. Then last night, Facundo Cabral was assassinated and his music began to seep into the words as if the pages could have been a bandage to staunch the flow of blood.

Is it rhetorical to say that no matter how tortured these lands have been from the beginning of the Conquest and including the ongoing hemorrhage of pain and violence into the present, there is also a luminous plait of all the latitudes and longitudes of hope?

Let me weave another story into this world. I met a man who came from a war torn country in Southeast Asia. He had been adopted as a war orphan by an American military family and being well trained, they tortured him. He ran away many times. He couldn’t always escape. When he did, he made his way to an old Black woman who taught him how to play the guitar. The story goes the way such stories go. The guitar saved him again and again. The way another friend of mine, a Vietnam veteran was saved by deer; now he attends each road kill, each hunted deer corpse with the reverence one learns to bring to the holy.

I met the former orphan days ago and learned his guitar had been stolen. There was nothing to do but buy him a guitar. Don’t you think? And so, as I write these words, he is on the knoll at the edge of this land where we once planted an olive tree on behalf of vision. He is playing his heart out. I asked him to play on behalf of Facundo Cabral’s soul. Can you hear his notes?

As I contemplated La Negra and who she really might have been – whether I had really met her or not – whether anyone really knew who she was – what essence and future possibilities she carried – I understood that she was looking for a way into the world on behalf of Restoration. Oh how she loved the green loros, parrots, who came to her window each morning – no matter where she lived – to tell her their dreams!

If the world erupts from a point, and that point is the meeting with La Negra, then Restoration is possible because La Negra is the green wholeness of possibility. This is what Blanca began to understand and why she went back into the past to the time when she might have met La Negra and hunkered down in La Negra’s living room, behind the yellow chair where the Writer, Mario Monteforte Toledo, always sat, to observe La Negra long enough to be able to testify on behalf of the reality of La Negra’s life.

I woke up this morning as I often do, filled with fear and with hope. How can one not fear for the world when everyone is going mad and beauty is being systematically murdered? But I was thinking about La Negra and so I was in the field so carefully woven of the strands of color that streamed, as if from the sun, from Mexico to Guatemala to Chile and back.

The field of La Negra y Blanca is altered and amplified by the death of Facundo Cabral in Guatemala. It is another book altogether even if you never heard the music of Facundo Cabral and never will. Even if you will be unable to hear it when you turn the pages because it wasn’t there before the book was published, but it is there now.

I read about the assassination last night. Then Glenn Lopez, our dear friend, the MD who established health clinics on the banana plantations in Guatemala to treat the poorest of the poor, and now practices medicine in a mobile unit that he parks anywhere in the neighborhood he can, has come to gather up Michael to attend services at Agape. We haven’t seen each other for months. He enters singing “No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla.” I am listening now as I write so this essay, too, is in the rhythm of Facundo Cabral.

You can tell, can’t you, that I am on the edge of beginning another novel? That I am on the edge of stepping across a singularity into an infinite realm that I have never known? It seems that I am going to be learning about weather, about storm, cyclone and hurricane. These made an appearance in La Negra y Blanca but now they want their own text, as does the desert. It seems I am to learn about the Elementals, those great gods who occupy the four directions. I will have to find a language for them. Their own mamaloshen.

It is said there is a Fifth world waiting for us at the edge of where we are but we cannot enter it unless we are transformed according to its laws and it does not let in murderers. It does not let in those who take arms against the earth and its beings. But sometimes I think that those who have committed murder, and recognize what they have done, and change, are exactly those who can enter that new world. As I’ve written before, I met a man who said, he couldn’t go with me into that world because he had carried a gun. I didn’t know then what I know now about those who put down the gun to become true guardians of peace and the natural world. It isn’t easy, to say the least, but it is possible and actually we depend upon it happening.

I know nineteen ways to the Fifth world, and you have to manage all of them. There are probably more but I haven’t learned them yet. Kabbalists say there are fifty gates of understanding and they are all ways of exodus from slavery. We are enslaved by our own violence. We have to extract ourselves entirely from the culture and the ways we are living. Nineteen or fifty paths, it doesn’t matter. We have to manage them all. And whether we were murderers or not, we have to change down to our cores. Every cell must change. And we will sing and weep alongside each other as we try. I don’t know if the nineteen ways or the fifty paths are to be in the new book, but I do believe the book will be about Restoration or will be within the field of a Literature of Restoration. Why else would I write at this time in history and in this time of my life?

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11/11 ELEVENTH HOUR REFLECTIONS

She wanted counsel and council on 11-11 at 11 am. I was ill but kept the appointment because we had set that time deliberately, though not revealing why. Reflecting on her life and the effects of war, she still suffered, she said, because her heart had been thrown on the floor and shattered into a thousand pieces by a man who couldn’t love her and couldn’t let her go.

I had just read a commentary on Veteran’s Day from the poet, Raphael Jesus Gonzalez: While WWI was officially over on June 28, 1919, it had ended in reality on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918.

Veteran’s Day is Remembrance Day in Canada. Her lover had been in Vietnam and had been so wounded in the war he couldn’t function in relationship. “It was war, not the man, who wounded you,” I said.

Our conversation allowed for the understanding that she is a victim of war. Accordingly, she recognized, she was being called to heal what had injured her so. She was to pick up the broken pieces and reconfigure them. Healing is like a kaleidoscope, I said, the fragments reconfigure and then, viewed in the light, reveal a new beauty in relationship to each other.

The anguished and lonely women keep saying, “The men are so wounded.” It sounds like compassion, but it is also often complaint, sometimes condemnation. We cannot continue to make the other gender the enemy or censure the person for what he (or she) has suffered. If we do, we are committed to having an enemy, and that is the foundation of war.

In my play, Milk Fever, the handyman confronts the landowner: “Who do you get to do your killing for you, Lady?”

The issue of war and healing has been with me for years. Tree, the journal I kept when I had breast cancer, was published in 1978 with The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them.”

In Tree, I wrote: “To return to health, I had to scrutinize my life, root out the destructive elements, be surgeon and seer to my own psyche, make the necessary changes which the life demanded. I had to see the disease as metaphor, interpret it and act accordingly.”

The disease is the disease and is a metaphor. The war is war and is an on-going disease.

“Collateral damage” from every war is universal. The phrase “collateral damage” is an abomination. It is another horrific act of war against each person’s identity and humanity.

If the woman seeking counsel is still carrying the wound, thirty-five years later, imagine the man who went to war, did what no human should be asked to witness or enact. Or imagine the fate of his victims who may not have been lucky enough to die after what they experienced or saw. Just the thought of the weaponry we have created, not what is unleashed through their use, but just the idea, their intent, is enough to destroy a mind and leave it unfit for life in community.

At the beginning of WWII we were horrified by Guernica, aerial bombing, attacks on civilian populations by the end we were asked to accommodate to the Camps and the Bomb. During the Vietnam war we accommodated further to Agent Orange and other atrocities. In the last years, we accommodate to genocide, DU, water boarding, torture, the violation of the Geneva Convention and drones. This is not normal behavior – if one can say – even for war. We are maddened creatures.

Roberto Bolaño’s brilliant novel, 2666, details the cause and continuity of the great world trauma that began in 1914. Every weapon we have invented is a betrayal of our souls. The ratios of those who have been damaged by war, directly or indirectly, are out of proportion to the healthy and vital minds that remain, if any, unscathed.

Add to this the pre-natal and post-natal damage we inflict that comes not from weaponry but also perhaps from the electromagnetic and chemically toxic fields we invent and inhabit, that increasingly emerges in so many tragic ways including autism, “impaired social interaction and communication,” or as one site describes it, these children “lack empathy.”

A dramatic rise in autism occurring at a time when our culture becomes increasingly impaired in social interactions and increasingly lacks empathy and compassion

There is more to our suffering and our children’s suffering. Every child that watches murder on television, or plays violent video games, becomes a victim of PTSD. Every such child is recruited, while watching, into being a child soldier. As adults, we are increasingly entertained by murder.

Elephants, like dolphins, among the kindest, most cooperative, compassionate of living beings, but who have been the victims of culls, who have witnessed their people killed, who have been chased by helicopters, as wolves and people are now being chased so, turn rogue, go against their innately kind nature, their profound instinctual and thoughtful concern for the social fabric of life; they become aggressive, commit acts of rape and violence against each other and other species.

So now, there are also the animals, the vast cauldron of pain they suffer, the distortion of their nature by our activities. Every animal on this planet is a victim of our madness.

Afterwards, becoming wounded, one can be completely unable to function on behalf of a sane and caring society but without knowing the harm that has been done to oneself, and without realizing one has become a perpetrator.

As we try to identify causes and lay blame, let us imagine that every criticism reveals an area or person that needs healing. Like or dislike, there is a great wound, as great as the wound to the EarthSeaMother in the Gulf. We each carry it. It has gone viral, and the wound wounds everyone. Shall we not, each of us, take on the task of healing?

There is no one to blame. We are not born with thoughts of inventing ways to destroy people, animals, the earth. All Our Relations is an indigenous understanding that is innate to every newborn and then, as the indigenous people suffer everywhere, it has been and is being conquered.

If we could only listen to the children before they can speak, we would know what a pure soul is and live accordingly

If WWI is one of the great unhealed planetary wounds, and before it, five hundred years of Conquest and Inquisition and, before that, Rome – and then if we consider the explosive consequences of everything after WWI – we have a great deal of healing to do and extend to each other and our ancestors, in a very short time, or the entire planet will perish very soon.

My husband and I marvel at the differences between us, our different values and assumptions, that arise because I was born into a worldview of hope as I was born in the U.S, before WWII and the Camps and he was born in the U.S. after the Bomb. My family found safety and sanity, they thought, in the U.S. After WWII, they thought insanity was mostly elsewhere. My husband grew up in New Mexico knowing there isn’t any safety or sanity here. Still, he writes about compassion and tries to teach it to those who are concerned as we are. Michael Ortiz Hill’s latest book is Conspiracy of Kindness: The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill.

Sometimes I think PTSD results not only from being forced to commit the unthinkable, but from burying fleeting moments of insight and compassion that precede their acts of horror. Healing, then, would also consist of re-viewing one’s instinctual recoil from inflicting pain and cruelty, from bearing one’s innate kindness.

I didn’t expect to write this, but the other night, I saw Tsotsi, written by Athol Fugard. The young man’s nickname or war name,” Thug”, came from his desperation, and that desperation, from his father’s desperation. Cruelty is not an innate condition. It is a curse upon the person who suffers it, the perpetrator and then the victim. It is contagious and is passed down. A terrible legacy. If too few remember, experience and adamantly hold kind and compassionate ways of being, if too few face their own complicity and heal themselves, cruelty will overwhelm us.

“Decency? Do you know what decency means?” one of the gang members asks after an entirely heartless murder was committed.

Yesterday, I read two sentences in Peter Matthiessen’s, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, (page 6) that will haunt me forever, even though I spent years studying the Holocaust day and night, and went on a pilgrimage to the Death Camps of Europe, then wrote The Other Hand:
“Spotted Tail, chief of the Brule band, … had led a great raid in 1864 on Julesburg, Colorado; this raid reflected the widespread outrage among Plains Indians caused by the slaughter at Sand Creek of an unsuspecting Cheyenne camp by an armed mob of Colorado irregulars with subsequent gross sexual mutilation of men, women and children. (“Cowards and dogs!” declared Kit Carson, whose own regular soldiers known to the “Navajo as “Long Knives” had sometimes played catch with the severed breasts of young Navajo women.)

This IS the history of the Americas and the Conquest.

Maybe people have always fought, but not this way. It is not that they didn’t have such weapons, it is that they wouldn’t invent them. It is not how people are because it is not how animals are.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it is said: Something is rotten in the State of Denmark.”

We are wounded. Our wounds wound. How shall we heal in order to protect others?

A general, who had committed the unspeakable, came to the Topanga Daré to be initiated as a peacebuilder. For years, we have been training as a community to receive those who want to heal from war. A basic premise is that we must know such transformation from within ourselves: We must recognize our own war wounds, how they were afflicted, and what we have done, are doing, to heal our warlike ways. We could receive the general with integrity because we acknowledged our commonality of pain and betrayal.

A veteran who had served in the first Gulf war, surrendered his own sword in the traditional way. Another woman symbolically surrendered her sword and for weeks later said she didn’t know who she is or how to respond without having a sword – “just in case.” Last week, another woman surrendered her sword, also in the traditional way, and now there are two swords on my altar.

In Liberia, the women fed up with war, sat and danced in protest in the streets, in grueling sun and pouring rain, and also took the weapons from their sons, brothers, uncles, fathers. And so the civil war ended.

A woman who came to Topanga last night, for a Music Daré, our “indigenous” healing form, had fled the war in Somalia as a child. She also set this date, 11/11 for her healing. Recently, she gathered and the money and resources to return to her country on her own. She put on a burqa and traveled alone for 4 months and 4 days. Often she couldn’t speak, afraid that an English word would escape her mouth and reveal her identity. If so, she might be raped, kidnapped and held for ransom. “So many women are willing to marry and have children at eleven or twelve to escape being raped. Still life goes on. Life goes on.”

She stayed for a while in the village of the tribe that had killed her father and was treated with kindness. What healing we were able to offer her was through our recognition that she is, herself, a profound healer of war.

I am writing this at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Who will you devote yourself to healing today? As we say in Daré, “Wash your dish and someone else’s.”

Heal yourself and give equal time to offering healing to others. If everyone on the planet would take responsibility for healing oneself and one other person of war ….

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