Book Review

Neither Wolf Nor Dog…Or When a Calling Comes

This is less of a review and more of a story about how I came to learn of the book Neither Wolf Nor Dog, and then my process through attempts to understand its full, often uncomfortable meaning.

WolfNorDog

About this time a year ago I received an invitation, really it was delivered as a demand, from a Lakota elder that I come to South Dakota to receive teachings. It came at a time I was continually traveling, barely home but longing to be. When I thanked him and attempted to arrange a time that made it easier for me, he became insistent. We finally settled on a time. For me, it meant giving up the only travel-free week I’d had in some time. I wasn’t sure what this was all about, and didn’t know the elder. The prior contact we’d had was relatively brief, a long phone call. I finally decided it was something I was being called to do.

I would like to say it was a meaningful journey and a great sharing passed between us. Instead, our time ended abruptly. I left with even more confusion than I’d periodically felt over those days and a high level of frustration, angry at myself that I’d been talked into coming. Clearly, there was much he kept tightly wrapped. Although, it sometimes emerged in ways I wasn’t used to dealing with, much less how to respond adequately. But I was going directly to another commitment, one that mattered a lot to me. So I tucked the strong emotions away and chalked the whole thing up to a mystery of the Universe.

Before I made that trip to South Dakota, I’d mentioned it to a friend. She said there was a book she thought would be good for me to read. I dutifully ordered Neither Wolf Nor Dog but didn’t have time to read it before I left. It found its place on my bookshelf where it languished. I hadn’t known it was made into a movie. Some months later it was being shown where I live, and I followed the strong urge to see it.

The film hadn’t progressed very far when I began to get the eerie feeling of dejá vu. An author from Minnesota, Kent Nerburn, received a cryptic phone call out of the blue from a woman saying her Lakota grandfather wanted to see him. No reason given but delivered with a sense of urgency. Some months later, Nerburn—as he came to be called—finally was able to free up some time to make the long trip to the isolated place the elder Dan called home.  There were few explanations given to Nerburn, punctuated with a lot of silences. Quickly, Dan’s younger Lakota friend Grover was introduced into the story, a caustic individual with barely contained anger frequently directed toward Nerburn in clipped tones and looks. Frankly, I wondered why Nerburn stayed around. I think he did, too. He wrestled with his own responses and ultimately decided to let things play out. Plus, he had the nice guy syndrome going.

I experienced repeated slaps in the face watching all this. It was visceral. When Dan and Grover threw Nerburn in the car and took off on a little explained, exhaustive trip across the Dakotas, my forearms puckered into chicken skin that didn’t go away until the film ended. There were just too many parallels. The places they went, the flavor of the discourse. Showing rather than telling. When Dan broke silences to hold forth on what he wanted Nerburn to learn of the Lakota people…what he wanted Nerburn to put out there in writing… Well, I don’t have words for what I felt.

Clearly, I was not going to be allowed to tuck away my still strong emotions and bewilderment about the journey I took to the Dakotas. I can only believe unseen forces were taking me by the hand to engage with all of it.

So I started to read the book. It was not easy going for me. I could only read a few pages at a time. Then I’d have to digest the contents. Most of the things covered in Neither Wolf Nor Dog I knew about in some form: the atrocities done to Native peoples by whites, cultural differences in beliefs and values…and then there’s appropriation of Native traditions by white people searching to find spiritual grounding…or those who seek to do good but hold a hidden agenda. But I hadn’t found anything to the depth or in the frame presented by Dan, and even Grover, in this writing. The book naturally goes much deeper than the movie ever could.

It took me over two months to read Neither Wolf Nor Dog. I stepped back numerous times to examine the level of my own assumptions and awareness, as well as my motivations behind the work I’ve devoted twenty years of my life. It was a necessary, intensive process. I can’t say it’s over. Instead, it’s all percolating some place inside. I don’t know what will finally emerge.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog is book one of a trilogy that recounts the story of an Indian elder, the surrounding Lakota community, and the white man who somehow has been called to be part of the Truth-naming. The Wolf at Twilight is about Dan’s search for his long-lost sister Yellow Bird who, kidnapped from her home some eighty years before, never returned from the Indian boarding school. The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo brings back the things many have forgotten: the meaning of dreams, the abilities to engage with nature and speak with animals. Sadly, it uncovers the existence of a secret asylum and events that took place there.

Kent Nerburn says these books are fictional accounts of actual events. The truths are in each sentence and have global application. This isn’t merely history. It’s today.

The books are available on Amazon or elsewhere. The movie may still be making the rounds in theaters. Hopefully, it will be offered streaming soon.

***

With many thanks to Karen Marchetti who turned me on to Neither Wolf Nor Dog. Without this guidebook I may never integrate the odyssey I was strangely called to undertake.

Categories: Book Review, Film, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: The Mythic Writings of Tom Hirons

I cannot tell you how I came across the poetry and prose of Tom Hirons. Perhaps the Wild God he writes of led me there those years ago. But once I laid eyes on the words that came through him — because he himself thought they were a remembrance from elsewhere — I’ve been held captive, wanting more. This writer knows how to reach in and shake any dormant aspect of us from sleep. He writes not to the archetype, but the actual Hero we all carry at the core. This isn’t a fairy tale, and Hirons doesn’t deny the messy doings in bringing the Wild God-Hero to full light. In the process, he ushers us into the Dark Unknown where fear raises its hackles in all kinds of unimagined ways. Still, the Wild God will not deny us.

I dare you to listen to Sometimes a Wild God narrated by the poet himself.  Then read the words. How can you not be shaken to the core?

Now Tom Hirons has just released Nettle-Eater in which he speaks to us directly, garnering our attention in the first several lines.

You know the call.

All your books speak of it.

If I differ from you, it is only in this: When the call came, I heeded it. What the call commanded, I fulfilled.

The call said:

Go to the moor.

Live wild there.

Eat only nettles for one year.

 

This is what I did.

Then he proceeds to disclose the Dark Night, the footfalls and not-of-mind ramblings of the initiatory journey, and emergence of the soul. As a prophet once said, this is for those with ears to hear, eyes to see. Spend time with the nettle-eater. You’ll find all the unknowable secrets revealed. At the end, he presents The Invitation.

And you, sitting there?

Do you know these things?

Look at that world beyond your door.

Your life is on fire.

Run!

Dive in, though it surely means death. Taste the streams, the heather and the gorse and the broom. Hold the river stones. Sleep with the waterfall as your pillow. Braid yourself to the horse’s mane. Sing the great lament of your own lost life.

In time, scar yourself with fire and stone. Immerse yourself in such immovable darkness that the lightning cracks you in two.

You were never more lost than you are now, if you cannot reach out, touch the wild earth and weep.

Run!

It is not yet too late, but soon it will be.

Run!

Do not sit there, wondering.

I have told you the truth.

The author generously offers Nettle-Eater for you to freely read in its entirety. You can also go to the Hedgespoken Shop to purchase a signed, limited edition chapbook to hold in your hands. Sometimes a Wild God is available there in illustrated book and poster forms as well.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London

A flâneur, the masculine version of the French word designating one who wanders aimlessly for pleasure or to incorporate what is seen into artworks and writing, invariably a male of means, leaves out the possibility for a female to do the same. It first came into use in the 19th century. The feminine version flâneuse didn’t make an appearance for a very long time, the obvious reason that such behavior went against social mores. Working class women would have had access to the street but limited to certain areas—and never given to just meandering.

When my friend Linda Sohner mentioned she was reading Flâneuse, I thought—of course—women rarely ventured out of the confines of their homes back then except perhaps escorted by an “appropriate” companion, usually a older family member, husband or maid. Or, if strolling alone, were often harassed and saddled with a questionable reputation. A rare few would have had the freedom to walk solo in cities or travel alone to far-flung, often remote places. Only in the last fifty years is it more common. I don’t forget those who came before me…so I can have the freedom to flâner as I so enjoy.

This book features those explorers and adventurers. That’s what they must be called. What we may now take for granted was once uncharted waters. Such a timely reading in the midst of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and just after the Women’s March. Females were kept under wraps in so many ways that, when it began to shift, it was those, in that first flush, that took the initial steps, who must be applauded. Their courage or maybe the “arrogance” to show that they were just done with it all…those “things that just weren’t done.”

The book opens with how these women wanted to be seen or unseen in public spaces. Did they want to merge with the shadows or stand out in the crowd to make a statement? That question may still valid to any of us but typically unconscious. During those prior times, as suggested, it would have been at the forefront.

Against the backdrop of their time, city, political atmosphere and personal struggles, Laura Elkin features writers Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf and George Sand—my personal inspiration since my 20s—filmmakers Sophia Calle and Agnes Varda. Then she adds her own present-era experiences showing what is different and what of the past remains the same.

It also points out a trend: No matter the gender or socio-economic status, the art of walking with all it brings—and freedom of movement—is again becoming increasingly lost to us.

I found the book quite interesting and learned some things I didn’t know. One amusing example: In France, a law against cross-dressing was introduced in the early 1800s, to keep women in their place. George Sand was never arrested for her blatant disregard, and the law remains on the books.

Flâneuse was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2017. Available in print, ebook and audio at Amazon and elsewhere.

Categories: Arts, Book Review, Travel Experiences, Women’s Rights | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Café Oc

Are you one of those people who stumbles upon towns or regions that you simply must make your way back to over and over? Those places that reflect some kind of magic in the land? In the air? The people who live there retain it in their blood? It speaks to your very soul…and you can’t stay away? That’s me. I set up my life in such a way that ensures my returns to Chiapas, Cusco and Provence regularly. If I don’t heed the call, I mourn.

Cafe Oc imageBeebe Bahrami, a cultural anthropologist and travel writer, is one of those people, too. Through happenstance, she found herself in Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Dordogne region of southwestern France.  Her times there produced Café Oc ⎯an intimate love story rather than a travel book. She takes us on an unexpected spiritual journey, as she returns to Sarlat through the seasons, over a year’s time. What I spoke of in my life, she found in that medieval town and surrounding earth.

From her first winter, the reader is treated to the author’s initial impressions and evolves from there. Her lodging overlooks the historical area, giving a bird’s eye view of the bustle below, the market and its people. The deeper flavor of Sarlat is revealed as she begins to wander the town, frequents cafés, samples regional dishes and meets some locals. She feels something stirring and makes plans to return. Over the times that follow, she points the way to just what is inherent. The energy of subterranean waterways can be felt and emerge at certain points in town. Ancient peoples left their marks in caves that dot the region, and still have an effect  on the sensitivities of present-day residents. Then there are the sacred sites: natural and human-made.  She reveals what generates and permeates her longing to make this place home.

I became so enchanted with Beebe Bahrami’s soulful accounting of Sarlat that I’ve made arrangements to explore it next year myself. And⎯as happenstance would have it⎯I’m already going to be within two hours of that destination.

Available in print or e-book through Shanti Arts, Amazon and elsewhere.

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: A Chosen Exile

ChosenExileThere have been any number of books that exposed the horrors of slavery in America. But few have focused on a particular segment of slaves and descendants of slaves: those whose race is mixed to the degree it’s largely undetermined. In slavery times, these were the children produced from union by a black mother, usually not consensual, and a white slaveholder father. This is a history on racial “passing” into white society, how it was accomplished, the weight of that choice and any relevance today.

A Chosen Exile is full of examples of those who made the transition to living as white in white (usually urban) communities, those who were discovered and returned to slavery, and those who were mistaken as white but openly identified as black ⎯ and made a point of correction.  Importantly, it goes into the emotional sacrifice of turning away from a part of yourself and disconnecting from family. That’s the payment extracted in the hopes of gaining a leg up, to live with dignity, to feed a family, to do more than just survive. The choice didn’t stop with the end of slavery but continued well into the 20th century.

One story detailed the escape of slaves Ellen Craft and her husband William. William said he came up with the complex plan.

It occurred to me that, as my wife was nearly white, I might get her to disguise herself as an invalid, and assume to be my master, while I could attend as his slave, and that in this manner we might effect our escape.

But it was Ellen who made her transformation so successfully to white southern gentleman. It worked to the point that, on the way to Philadelphia, young southern women fell all over Ellen saying what a “most respectable looking gentleman.” News of their method soon trickled southward, became legend and was replicated to varying degrees.

The term “racial ambiguity” is frequently used in the book. First to identify those of mixed race, but finally pointing to a larger meaning: when “passing” is no longer even relevant.

Highly recommend this book. It goes into great depth on the meaning of race, identity, loss and the need to thrive. Even though political backlash and racial tragedies are the consistent news of this day, through the details presented in A Chosen Exile, still I witness our slow march to freedom for all people.

I found my copy at the public library. Otherwise available on Amazon and elsewhere books are sold.

 

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Horse Boy

Horse Boy imageThe Horse Boy came to my attention through one of the travelers on my Peru spiritual travel program. Françoise Moreels told me she was so inspired by the story, centered around autism and Mongolian shamanism, that she was compelled to journey to Mongolia herself. With an introduction like that, of course, I was drawn to read it to see what was so remarkable. And truly it is.

Imagine a young couple completely engaged in life. Rupert Isaacson was a journalist and activist for Indigenous land rights, particularly for the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. Kristin Neff was a professor in educational psychology at the University of Texas. Their young son Rowan just wasn’t developing the way other children did and displayed behaviors that led to a diagnosis of autism in 2004. The book is intimate in detailing all the heartbreak and frustration that comes with parenting a child with such a condition—the daily travails that are so difficult. My great respect certainly goes to these parents.

It became the father’s quest to find a way to heal Rowan. Rupert’s work being more flexible, he stayed home with Rowan much of the time. Unexpectedly, an incident occurred that eventually pointed to a path of healing. One day, Rowan broke away from his father and ran over to a horse named Betsy on a neighbor’s property, a mare known to be difficult. Strangely, Betsy was submissive to the child. And the child’s stemming and outbursts calmed. Rupert knew horses. He grew up with them in South Africa. He asked the neighbor if he and his son could ride the horse, and they did. Consistently.

It had such a positive effect on Rowan’s functioning that, after a time, Rupert had a brainstorm. Why not take Rowan to Mongolia, the place where horses were first domesticated and had become integral to the culture—and particularly their powerful form of shamanism? It took Rupert a few years to convince Kristin enough for her to reluctantly agree. But in 2007, the family began a physically and emotionally challenging odyssey across the remote steppes of Mongolia in hopes their son would be healed.

This is a story of strong intent played out against the backdrop of Mongolian shamanism. I highly recommend the book, also produced as a documentary. As a result of their experiences, Rupert Isaacson founded the Horse Boy Foundation working with autism and equine therapy. Kristin Neff founded Self-Compassion offering training in mindfulness and acceptance.

The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson is available on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

Categories: Book Review, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: A Tale for the Time Being

I think some stories are best read aloud. For me, this was one of them. I came to this conclusion before I knew that the author herself reads all her work aloud as she writes chapter to chapter. And she was the narrator here. Who better to know how to make her point? After the fact I also learned that author Ruth Ozeki is a Zen Buddhist priest. Then so much of the knowledge dropped in unexpectedly, almost casually, made sense if it has its place in the everyday underpinnings of someone’s life.

I count the coincidence lucky. I’ve just started listening to audio books. I wouldn’t have used the right inflection for the Japanese names or words in my mind. I might have glossed over them. But also because there were things inserted softly that caused me to stop and listen. There’s another layer here, I’d thought. I rewound and took it in again.

A Tale for the Time BeingThere was the clever double entendre: A Tale for the Time Being. We’re all Time Beings for the time being. And it’s a novel that involves time, how we experience it, the ways it warps. But you don’t realize it until you’re well into the novel. It’s subtle until firmly anchored.

A Japanese American novelist with writer’s block named Ruth walked the beach near her home, a little populated island off British Columbia, and found a carefully wrapped, albeit battered, package washed up on the shore. It wasn’t long after the 2011 tsunami and the resulting meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  It contained a Hello Kitty lunchbox, the diary of a conflicted Japanese American teenager living in Tokyo named Nao (Now?) and more. That is the launching point that draws us into the shame-suicide culture of Japan, the suffering of a “living ghost”, and the darker underbelly of Tokyo. If the book had only been these things, I probably would have quit after the first chapter or so⏤stopped short from finding out what it was really about.

I would have missed Jiko, Nao’s 104-year-old great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun  who peppered her conversations with koans drawn from The Shōbōgenzō written by Japanese Zen Master Dōgen. And how Ruth lost the experience of her own now, the more obsessed she became with Nao’s, and began to realize she was “playing origami with time.” Or the strange phenomenon she experienced of changing places with the young girl, populating her dreams, and finding them much the same. Or Ruth’s disclosure of another weird instance, which validated my own, when being so immersed in writing a story that, upon waking the next morning and opening the computer, she found herself wondering who had written the words…

This is a novel about living in the midst of contrast in this modern world, the time of our being and the choices we make, along with a real indoctrination to Japanese culture. I have to end with this because it’s such a great quote:

The ancient Greeks believed when you read out loud, it’s actually the dead borrowing your tongue in order to speak again.

Available in print, e-book and audiobook from the public library, Amazon and elsewhere.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Healing | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Serpent Box

Since finishing Serpent Box, a novel by Vincent Louis Carrella, a few hours ago I’ve not wanted to let it go. I’ve been letting the words and content wash through me trying to find a place for it to settle. I even went out and walked the land. Still it is yet to ground.

Serpent BoxThe novel takes place in the backcountry of Appalachia, in hidden pockets, during a time in the last century when the Ku Klux Klan held no fear for what they did. There’s a Tree of Life and Death, entrance to the Underworld, signs, visions, spirits and The Holy Ghost. There are plenty of Heroes, female and male. The central one being a Holiness Child following his daddy’s footsteps, a traveling preacher of a charismatic fundamentalist sect whose practices involve handling deadly snakes and drinking poison in praise of Jesus.

Serpent Box reads like a mythological story. It speaks of those things people carry deeply and hold true⏤no matter what⏤and a darker nature of humanity. It’s a Hero’s Journey of a different sort. And all the archetypal characters, forces and phases of the journey are present. Carrella uses words and visual imagery hypnotically. He leads the reader in…bit by bit…until suddenly you may find yourself entranced⏤as I was⏤equally as mesmerized by the content of the novel as were the characters caught up in the path they were drawn to follow.

I didn’t fully realize the book’s subject matter before being pulled from page to page. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered hearing of Pentecostal sects who handle snakes regularly in their worship. Although, the drinking of lye and strychnine was new to me. But I knew little. I would urge you not to do research prior to reading Serpent Box. Save that for later so it doesn’t get in the way of the story or some insight into the culture and its beliefs.

As far as I can tell, this debut novel published in 2009 is the only book Vincent Louis Carrella has authored. He says, “The book, which took me seven years to write, was inspired by a single photograph of a young boy holding a snake in a box. That photo changed my life, and serves as a reminder to me, not just on the power of photography and story-telling, but fragility and meaning of the human body.”

I’d vote he writes more novels.  In the meantime follow his blog where each post uses a photo as entry for  “essays, stories and poems that deal with nature of vision and human perception, the mystery and power of memory and the intersection of spirit with the realm of the physical world.”

Serpent Box is available in print and ebook via Amazon and elsewhere.

Categories: Book Review | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Book Review – Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe

GeorgiaI’ve read biographies on Georgia O’Keeffe. But this is different. You might think because this is a novel it’s a poof piece. It’s not. The author portrays the relationship between O’Keeffe and her patron-photographer-husband Alfred Stieglitz from the first enchantment to its lingering disintegration. It’s written from the painter’s perspective. While no one can ever get completely inside someone else’s head, it’s evident that Dawn Tripp has done the extensive research necessary that makes the book plausible. Believable. This is essentially a book about the precise care and manipulation Stieglitz gave to the creation of O’Keeffe’s public persona from the point she was moldable to when she was not. It’s a story laid against the backdrop of their great talents and marriage—the play between Steiglitz’s control and O’Keeffe’s internal conflict. It’s about the position women were historically placed and their treatment … and how this woman claimed her rightful recognition as one of the greatest American artists. Perhaps there’s an argument that O’Keeffe wouldn’t have made it there without Stieglitz. But I don’t find merit in it. She was a force all her own.

As an artist myself I appreciate the way the author wrote from an artist’s sensitivities on the form. That, too, made the book believable.

…It occurs to me now that art is exactly this: making what’s unseen but all around, visible. Having that sort of faith…

And it pained me to read what she wrote of O’Keeffe going blind. She enlists the gardener’s help:

…to lead my left hand onto the first sheet of paper… He leaves and I’m alone. I paint shapes—a wave, a circle—the circle slides like grace over the page. I make forms that echo those early abstract forms I made when I was no one, and it occurs to me that art is a separate country, outside the body, outside time, like death or desire, an element beyond our physical selves we are traveling toward…

 

Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

Categories: Book Review, Creativity Strategies, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Book Review: The Andean Cosmovision

AndeanCosmovision

This is a precious book on a number of levels. First, it is written by a Western man, a dedicated seeker on the Andean path through the teachings of Don Américo Yábar, who has consistently held intent to integrate his learnings back into life at home…and share what he’s discovered over more than twenty years. He touches on some of his struggles to do so coming from a Western intellectual perspective.  This honesty is important. It shows possibility toward core understanding beyond the mind and a way of incorporating it into daily living, an evolutionary process.

I can state these things with confidence having known Oakley Gordon over a very long time, witnessing his process as much as being a fellow traveler on the path. I know his heart. We were introduced to the Andean way through the same spiritual teacher, literally at the same time and place. He has also served on the board of Kenosis Spirit Keepers as Vice-President since our inception.

The book is a primer on Andean worldview. If you want more beyond the introduction, Oakley provides endnotes and anthropological resources. In this book though he writes to you as a friend would, not as an academic. It’s easy to take in and comprehend.

But ultimately it’s a guidebook, a how-to. It’s a compilation of meditations gleaned directly from Don Américo and exposure to other paq’os⎯a general Quechua term for healer, shaman or mystic⎯or created by the author from what he’s learned while in Peru. I don’t think another such book exists. This is important. From my own spiritual travel programs, people periodically express the fear of not being able to recreate the same state of being upon their return home. I share and show them how to do so. But The Andean Cosmovision provides it in print with many different examples to explore with step-by-step instruction.

Oakley states that, although much of the book is taken from the teachings of one specific teacher, he believes any paq’o would validate them. I’ll take it one step further. The tenets covered in this book are found at the core of all Indigenous traditions I’ve worked within: Maya, Hopi and Andean, as well as others where I’ve had exposure.

Highly recommend. Available in print and e-book through Amazon and on Oakley’s website.

♦︎♦︎♦︎

 Oakley will be covering the material in his book during a weekend workshop June 3-5, 2016 in Rockville, Utah to benefit the Heart Walk Foundation who work within the Japu Q’ero villages in the areas of education and agriculture. For more information, click this link to a pdf flyer: Andean Cosmovision Workshop

Categories: Book Review, Indigenous Wisdom, Meditation, Q'ero, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: