January 17, 2023

Living Forward Understanding Backwards

Dear readers, seekers, and imaginers,

Greetings and good wishes for the New Year. According to the Chinese zodiac, we have left the Year of the Tiger and entered the Year of the Rabbit, symbolically a transition from the fierce, active Yang energy of the tiger to the gentle, contemplative, and tender Yin energy of the rabbit. One astrologer forecasts that after a year of ups and downs, we will benefit from the “quiet constancy” of Rabbit energy. May it be so!

2023! When I was a child I could never have imagined being alive at such a preposterous-sounding date. Twenty twenty-three would have been a stretch of imagination even beyond 1984, the title of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, a futuristic depiction of tyranny almost inconceivable to my then child-self. As it turns out, thankfully, I am here welcoming in 2023, and Orwell was sadly prescient, just as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was an early warning against the push for scientific advancement without conscience, and contemporary authors George Saunders and Margaret Atwood write fiction with visionary power.

Atwood’s fantasy novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985 and released as TV series in 2017, calls out the horrors of a society refashioned by brutal patriarchal domination and end-stage misogyny, a subject chillingly relevant in our post-Roe world. The essayist Eva Hoffman said, “We live forward, but we understand backwards.” I like to think I stand with writers who consider how the past shapes the future, personally, collectively, and that my imagination and the stories I have yet to tell outdistance the apocalyptic.

On a cheerier note, 2022 felt slightly less crazy than 2021, but not normal, a word we’ve now come to suspect is meaningless. Still, there is a mature and experienced person in the White House, and our rule of law remains the stable foundation of democracy.

On the other side, cohabiting with a global pandemic and the ongoing afflictions of authoritarianism, war, and climate change has ushered in a shape-shifting world order that stirs up dread. How difficult it is to conjure a friendly vision of the future. The image that comes to mind for this precarious state is the comedian Harold Lloyd in the silent film Safety Last!, dangling from the arm of a  giant clockface above a busy street. His dazed expression is my own: how did I get here and how do I get out of this scary predicament?

One of my New Year’s insights is that it’s no longer possible to ignore the interconnection between my lifespan, the lifespan of the planet, and the lifespan of democracy. The three are interwoven and depend on the health of Earth. How can we throw off the doom of helplessness and aid in the restoration of our planet? How do any of us push past the lethargy and dire forecasts to face the monsters we, in part, have created?

Time and change: time shrinks as I age and change accelerates at a forward-leaning pace. Thank goodness there are other ways to experience time: geologic time, astrological time, dreamtime, reverie, creative time. When I’m writing, the rush of time ebbs; minutes take on the spaciousness of eternity. Timelessness becomes as restorative and intimate as sleep.

I am a very slow writer, and this is where I find myself now—working with new material in the ongoing process of revising a novel. (And yes, new poems, too!) Impatience is not my friend. Determination, zitzfleisch (stick-to-itiveness) help, but what comes through the ether on any given day is not under my command. I can only be willing and receptive.

Much on my mind currently is Tolstoy’s famous quote from Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As I’m writing about family patterns over several generations, and how the past shapes future generations, I wonder what it is that enables a family member to reject the inherited pattern and choose a different way. I have explored family dynamics in several posts on Psychology Today (see “Family Deeds: Constellation Therapy & Generations of Trauma” and “Belonging: The Quest for Your Inner Home”). Psychologists sometimes use a tool called a genogram to map out the relationship between family members over many generations.

Writers of fiction like myself are family psychiatrists for our characters. Part of our job is to know what lies hidden in their unconscious, what remains secret to them but not to us, the writer and reader. This is a formidable task; characters are continually revealing new material and part of my job is to organize the mass of material into a coherent story.

I’ll be working on this material next month in sunny New Mexico. If you’re in the area of Santa Fe, I’ll be giving a joint reading at Teatro Paraguas on Sunday, February 19th. More details will soon be available on my website and Facebook page. Please do come and say hello. Also, I’m hugely honored that esteemed Jungian analyst Ken James has written an elegant review of my poetry book, M. It will appear in the winter edition (February) of Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche. A review of is also forthcoming in Wisconsin People & Ideas, the magazine published by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, & Letters. If you have the book and would welcome new insights about the poems, please do check out these reviews. If you do not have or The Conditions of Love, you can purchase them at A Room of One’s OwnMystery to Me3: A Taos PressAmazon, or via the links on my website. You may also enjoy this lovely piece about M in Raven’s Perch by poet and filmmaker Laurie Kuntz.

In closing, please know I value our ongoing connection and welcome your questions, thoughts, and comments at any time. Heartfelt thanks for your readership, support, and patience waiting for my next novel.

Fondly, and with care,


Top image: Three Rabbits (detail) – Chinese hanging scroll by unidentified artist, formerly attributed to Gong Ji. Qing dynasty (1644–1911) (Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection/Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain)