Ampersand Gazette #14
Welcome to the Ampersand Gazette, a metaphysical take on the news of the day. If you know others like us, who want to create a world that includes and works for everyone, please feel free to share this newsletter. The sign-up is here. And now, on with the latest …
“She [her grandmother] was my first mentor for building inner resources and developing integrity. She urged me to ‘be the person you want to live with every day of your life.’”
“Only with heightened coping skills will we be able to rise above our shell shock and be who we want to be. All of us have the capacity to do this, and when we do, we will increase our own happiness and be of greater service to those around us.”
from an Opinion Guest Essay “Finding Light in Darkness” by Dr. Mary Pipher
in the New York Times
June 28, 2022
I love that she talks about her grandmother as mentor. It made me think of mine — haughty, uber-WASPY, hypercritical, she had a tone of voice that could make me feel two inches tall even when saying things like, “Pass the salt,” and I adored her. She was definitely a mentor to me but not of the kind Mary Pipher references. She was a mentor all about what not to become. And, if you’ll think about that, you’ll know, as I did instinctually from a very young age, that this sort of mentor is also useful.
What a great piece of advice Ms. Pipher’s gave her! Be the person you want to live with every day of your life. I say a variation on it all the time: You’re the only one who has to look at your face in the mirror every day.
I especially liked that Ms. Pipher considered it “developing integrity,” which is, of course, why I clipped this in the first place. Integrity is a key word for me in this life, but not integrity in the way we usually use it — as if it signifies a moral superhero. That’s not what I mean when I talk about integrity.
What I mean is wholeness, and you have it, whether you know it or not. You are an integrity unto yourself. I am an integrity unto myself. Earth is an integrity unto itself. By the nature of Being, we are each and every one of us whole.
So then why are we constantly looking for and pointing out our flaws, hmmm? And telling stories about them. Well, I’m this way because this happened, or I’m that way because that happened. Maybe this or that did happen, but is it happening now? Usually, it isn’t.
Richard Bach of Jonathan Livingston Seagull fame wrote a second book called Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.” It’s one of my favorites. In it, there is a magic handbook that you can open to find out what’s really going on at any given moment. One of its entries reads: “Argue for your problems, and sure enough, they’re yours.”
And this, Beloved, is what we’re doing when we explain our flaws. Oh, I’m this because that happened. Happened, past tense, not still happening, but as we rehearse it, go over and over it, tell it to all and sundry, every single telling makes those neural pathways deeper, and argues in the face of our integrity.
There’s only one thing integrity asks of us: that we recognize and acknowledge it. That’s it. This is why, sometimes, it’s so very empowering to tell those Because stories in a different way till we stop telling them at all.
Try it. Tell your favorite Because story as though it happened in the far distant past, like it’s over, done with, complete, finis, and see what happens. There might be a touch of grief for a bit, sure, but look again. Your integrity will be beaming at you. Promise.
“To the Editor: After the devastatingly cruel overturning of Roe v. Wade, I asked a woman friend what could be done, knowing that the typical American has a lamentably short attention span.
“Her answer was simple and direct. Until women’s reproductive rights are restored, ‘Every woman and girl should take a knee when the national anthem is played — whenever they hear it, and wherever they are.’
“I agree, and I’ll be taking a knee beside my wife and daughters.
“John R. Scannell
from a Letter to the Editor in The New York Times
June 28, 2022
This is one of those news items that just can’t be ignored, like it isn’t or didn’t happen, it did happen, and recently, and for a whole lot of the folx I know, it hurt the day it happened, and it’s still hurting today. Between us, it seems unreal, but it isn’t. So here is a man in Washington state asking a woman what he can do.
Her answer took my breath away, but not for the reason you’re probably thinking. First, there are plenty of doings that we can all do. Call our congresspersons. Write to the president. Write to our senators. Give money to agencies and activists who are in the trenches. Help people who need and choose abortion to do what they have self-determined they need to do.
All those are helpful actions, but they’re, if you will, mind actions. Brain actions. We can also pray, as you will see later in this issue, but that’s a spirit action.
What I so connected to in this Letter to the Editor is that what his friend recommended was … first, a full-body action; second, a ritual action; third, a protest action; fourth, a peaceful action; fifth, a recognizable action.
So many of us — often we whose parts included uteri — want and need to shake someone or something, to do something physical to ‘voice’ our objections to our bodily autonomy being infringed upon, to take action as an actual act. We feel too intensely about it not to use our whole beings — including our much-maligned bodies — to say how we feel.
I got to thinking seriously about this piece of advice, and you know what? It doesn’t only have to be in public gatherings when the national anthem “happens” to be played. No, you can download the national anthem for free onto your own phone, and play it whenever the hell you want.
In the mall, at the beauty salon, at a Little League game, in the frozen food aisle in the grocery store, at Mickey D’s, really, anywhere. If you do it, people will notice. People will ask you why, and those of us who agree with you are more than likely to join you.
Who knows? We could start a trend, a movement, a wave of change. #TakeAKnee
“I have come to fully, religiously believe that if this country is to be saved, it will be women who do the saving.
“It simply feels in this moment that women, more than men, have a clarity about the danger we face and the courage demanded to fight it.”
from an Opinion Essay by Charles M. Blow “Women Will Save Us”
in The New York Times
Here are the names of the women he mentions in the article — just the names alone gave me a spark of hope. Cassidy Hutchinson, Christine Blasey Ford, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush.
You don’t have to like even one of those women he named to acknowledge that they are women who are working and have worked at changing things for the better. Even if you don’t like how they’re doing it or what they’re doing, they’re still doing, not sitting around and wringing their hands like melodrama heroines.
I too believe that if this country, and more, if this planet, are to be saved, it will be women who do the saving. Mr. Blow is right about women being clear about the present danger, we are. We also have the courage to fight it — because we have to.
Women have more to lose than men in this tug-of-war of power polarization. We have, uh, more skin in the game. I think it’s because, whether we’ve actually had bio-children or not, women carry a visceral knowing about lineage that men just don’t have. Not that men don’t participate, they do. (I know how babies are made.) But women have lineage experiences up close and personal — because our very personhoods are involved — that men just don’t.
I think that’s partly why there are two especially egregious bits to all these legal shenanigans we’re witnessing in the U.S. First, there are an awful lot of men who have very strong opinions about what women’s bodies must do. I can’t help but think that if their bodies were involved that the outcome would be vastly different. Second, I find it particularly hard to swallow the women who fall in line with those men. It doesn’t feel like there’s much sisterhood there to me.
And what to do? Mr. Blow talks about the “courage demanded to fight it.” What about the courage — a quality of heart, see the French word for heart coeur at its core — what about the courage to let it be what it is right now? The courage, not to fight it, but to, as the Nazarene Rabbi so deftly recommends, “agree quickly with thine adversary.”
I see an interim step between Mr. Blow’s clarity, which we surely do have, and his courage to fight. That step is receiving how things are right now. And before you get your panties in a twist, receiving doesn’t mean accepting, Beloved. It means seeing, recognizing where we are, and beginning right from that place.
The infamous RWE (Ralph Waldo Emerson) is quoted in metaphysical circles all the time: “What you resist, persists.” True that. Here’s my less-famous corollary to it: “What you perceive, you receive.”
We must receive in our hearts all of our brothers and sisters, and all of their positions on the spectrum, before we will have the real power of courage. Because the real power behind courage is Truth, Beloved. And, despite all appearances to the contrary, we will get there.
“There is a saying: ‘The king is dead. Long live the king.’ So, the theater died. Long live the theater.”
LIUDMYLA KOLOSOVYCH, the acting director of the Mariupol’s Academic Regional Drama Theater, which was destroyed by a Russian airstrike in March. The theater company is planning for a new play to open at another location this month.
Quotation of the Day: ‘Long Live the Theater’ in Mariupol, Now Gone
July 2, 2022
There was no way I could scroll past the words ‘Long Live the Theater.’ That’s how I’ve felt about it since I first discovered it, believe it or not, in utero. My dad took my very pregnant mother to see My Fair Lady on Broadway. When, years later, she played the album for me (which I supposedly had never heard) I could sing every word.
It turned out that he’d bought her the original cast album — yes, the one with the marionette Hirshfeld on the cover — and she’d worn it out awaiting my arrival.
I suppose there could have been no more poignant statement on Ukraine to me than this one. The theatre serves a vital purpose for humanity, one difference from books, movies, television, and youtube. The theatre forever and always shows us ourselves in all our goodness, our madness, our deliciousness, and our foibles. It is and has always been a mirror of humankind.
And humankind, lately, has been so busy pointing fingers and looking away from our mirrors that this sentence put our faces right back into our own mirrors. Ukraine says to each of us and to all of us, “Look at what we are doing to one another. Look. See. No matter how hard. Look. See. No matter how far away. Look. See. This is happening.”
I’ve heard all kinds of arguments about how we’re not doing enough for Ukraine and we’re doing too much for Ukraine. All I can think is: what if that was us? It isn’t. It’s them. This time. But it could be us. Any time.
Mirrors are meant to show us ourselves. The theatre is a living version of that mirror — we can never dismiss what we see as CGI or green screen. We are alive. The theatre is alive. We must pay attention to its living message.
“In 1968, he [Peter Brook] published a series of influential lectures under the title “The Empty Space.” Here he made his celebrated distinction between four varieties of theater: “deadly,” signifying hackneyed or ossified; and “holy,” “rough” and “immediate.” At his Paris center, the aim was to synthesize the last three: to use simple, or rough, means to bring to immediate life theatrical work that combined an earthy, even comic, feeling for human reality with a holy search for the elusive, hidden and mysterious. As he wrote in The Times in 1974: ‘There can be no separating an act of theater into the political, the spiritual, the joyful. There is only one complete act, which, in its truth, contains all elements.’
“For Mr. Brook, theater was ‘a whole mirror of human existence, visible and invisible,’ which should challenge both performers and audiences to reassess the world and their lives.”
from an obituary for renowned theatre director Peter Brook
in The New York Times July 4, 2022
Theatre director Peter Brook died this week. His book The Empty Space was formative for me as a theatre student. He, like I, believed that theatre was “a whole mirror of human existence, visible and invisible.” He suggested that we use it as a tool to reassess the world and our lives.
His happiest criteria were holy, rough, and immediate. They work for me. But as one. It might be expressed as another word entirely. How about now? Now’s good. Now’s necessary. Now’s also holy.
We mustn’t ever forget that the traveling show was birthed upon the steps of the great cathedrals of the world because the masses never learned to read. The priests acted out the bible stories. Eventually, those turned into troupes of traveling players. And now, the industry we know in the professional theatre as “the road.”
Sometimes I think the theatre is really a professional school for humans — to teach us how to be and how not to be the best of ourselves. No matter, it is always a message worth getting still enough to hear and to heed.
This is why I write mysteries based on musicals. I use the musical books and lyrics as ciphers to tell a bigger story.
Speaking of which, would you join your prayers to mine about the ninth Mex Mystery? It’s based on the musical Rent and it’s been ready to go for more than two years. It’s a long story, but let’s do it this way: I need the lyric reprint rights to publish the book. I’ve written for them, and now I just need an answer. Let’s have a whoop reminder to Tragedy and Comedy that we need our next Mex fix, shall we?
Just as you are an integrity, Beloved, so is the theatre. In Mr. Brooks’ words, “There is only one complete act, which, in its truth, contains all elements.” Yeah, that’s the theatre in one sentence. Or, it’s you — in one sentence. Or, both.
“We are fighting furiously for women’s rights and the planet, and we mean business. We believers march, rally and agitate, putting feet to our prayers. And in our private lives, we pray.
“Isn’t praying a bit Teletubbies as we face off with the urgent darkness?
“Prayer means talking to God, or to the great universal spirit, a.k.a. Gus, or to Not Me. Prayer connects us umbilically to a spirit both outside and within us, who hears and answers. Is it like the comedian Flip Wilson saying, “I’m gonna pray now; anyone want anything?”
From her Guest Essay in The New York Times “I Don’t Want to See a High School Football Coach Praying at the 50-Yard Line”
July 8, 2022
So Anne Lamott is a church-going Christian, an unlikely one, but sobriety nabbed her bigtime and along with that came her faith sneaking in through the window like Peter Pan and his shadow.
This means that Anne Lamott, like I do, prays. She prays irreverently and seriously. I do, too. That she quoted Flip Wilson in her essay made me howl. “I’m gonna pray now, anyone want anything?” Tears down my face.
Her answer is “Kind of.” Mine is “Hell, yes.” What do we want? Oh, a billion things. And nothing. And anything, anything different from what we got. And … and … and … and … ad infinitum. And, what we want most right now, I think, is a resting place. For each of us and all of us.
A place to stop fighting, to rest, to rejuvenate, to live in an ampersand world, a place where there’s a place for all of us. We can have that if we’ll agree to create it, and it’ll be a little different for each one of us, but nonetheless, it’ll be, and that’s what we’re all really craving. A place … to be … safe … for all of us. Because until all of us are safe, none of us is.
And in publishing news …
Woot! Woot! Hear ye, hear ye! Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
Jezebel Rising, Book One of The Subversive Lovelies is up for PRE-ORDER on Amazon.com!!! Here is the blurb for the series:
Everyone knows that long before trends are established enough to be noticed,
someone always goes first.
Four sisters — variations on Eleanor Roosevelt, Sarah Bernhardt, Jane Addams, and Oscar Wilde — they’re teachers, sponsors, fairy godmothers, referees, nannies, midwives, coaches, besties, double-darers, and the aunties every single one of us wished we’d always had.
The Subversive Lovelies seed change, passion, healing, and power wherever they go.
The Subversive Lovelies are historical fiction with a speculative twist.
Here is the blurb for the book itself:
Jezebel Rising —
someone always goes first
Four sisters. Four buildings. Four visions of what women can — and need — to be, do, and have.
Jezebel is the youngest of the Bailey sisters. Yes, that Bailey of Barnum & — fame. Heiresses to multimillions of their father’s nouveau riche wealth, the four have been raised in direct antithesis to the fainting flowers of womanhood to be found in the notoriously fickle, corrupt Gilded Age Society in which they live.
These women think for themselves, dream big, speak up, and take no prisoners. Four towering yellow-brick buildings on Chelsea’s 23rd Street across from turn-of-the-century Manhattan’s Millionaire’s Row inspire Jezebel to propose that the four go eyes-wide-open into the business of vice to mask their real purposes, their true callings, their nefarious agendas, their mystical imaginings — to answer and fulfill the four real greatest needs of women in their generation.
Their journey takes them deep into The Tenderloin, that vice-iest of downtown neighborhoods. There they navigate the machinations of Tammany Hall, the dreaded slums of Five Points, the gangsters of the Lower West Side, the relentless tide of ongoing, daily despair in their charges, and a greater emergency than they’ve ever faced in their lives as they pull together to dream, create, inspire, and train their team to profit from who they’re really meant to be.
Will Jezebel’s faith in herself, her sisters, and their visions be justified or will all four and their team be vanquished by the social forces ranged against them because of who they are?
And here is a little peek into the underbelly of publishing …
You’re not the first person who’s asking: Why a pre-order? Why isn’t it up NOW?
Two reasons. First, I still have beta readers’ feedback to accumulate and integrate, but second, (and MORE) pre-orders change the ranking of a book on Amazon more than any other single determinant! I picked my birthday as the pub date — October 12 — so that I can ask for pre-orders so that the book might debut at a higher rank.
So, if you love subversive women who (nevertheless) persistently refuse to do what they’re told, pre-order.
Or if you love cross-dressing oldest sisters who were raised as first-born sons, pre-order.
Or if you love the Gilded Age in all its splendors and excesses at both ends, pre-order.
Or if you love rags-to-riches stories wherein people who don’t expect to rise in the world do, pre-order.
Or if you love turn-of-the-century New York stories, pre-order.
Or if you love the heroine’s journey à la the brilliance of Gail Carriger, pre-order.
Or if you love really delicious, long, long, long (852 pages) saga-type novels, pre-order.
Or if you love my writing just because, then by all means pre-order, darling. Below.
My surprise for the Gazette got pushed to next issue. July 25.
Until then, be the blessing, be ampersand,