Tag Archives: History

I Have an Idea


If you don’t read anything else this weekend, you should read Sarah Anne Lawless. She makes so much sense and writes with such real grace about the passing of the wand that is now going on in American Witchcraft that, even on what promises to be one of the most spectacular weekends of the year for outside activity, you’d do well to read her post.

I wonder if we could come up with a set of standard interview questions that people at Pagan conferences, festivals, Pride Days, etc. could use as a basis to interview our elders before they’re all gone and that could then be sent in to some central collection point. I don’t even necessarily mean famous elders or those who founded something local. I mean everyone and anyone who came to Witchcraft in the pre-internet era. I’d really love to preserve a history of those who lived through the founding of this American religion.

My proposal springs partly from Ms. Lawless’ brilliant post and partly from a discussion that I was having with a friend this evening, over dinner on the porch, about how absent social service projects are from Pagan gatherings.

I’ve blogged before about how some of the conferences that my friend attends always include opportunities to do volunteer projects. She was telling me, too, tonight about how, when her company shows up for a monthly volunteer day at the local food bank, there’s always a group of twenty-somethings from some company or other. Those companies, she says, have figured out that, for this age cohort, doing volunteer work on company time is viewed as an important benefit. (She cited a study; I don’t remember the source.) So that’s the monthly experience, and then there’s the conference experience.

She noted that sometimes the conference’s volunteer opportunities take them out into the community where the conference is located, shoveling mulch onto park paths in Atlanta or cleaning out animal shelters in St. Louis. But sometimes the volunteer opportunities are located within the convention hotel; one time in LA, she and a group assembled bikes that had been donated for homeless children. The conference arranged a big hotel room, gave everyone a screwdriver and some directions, and people went to it.

So what if some historians or anthropologists were to develop a questionnaire, maybe something that could take 15 minutes to complete, but that could also lead to evening-long discussions between the generations, to collect information from Pagan elders? And what if Pagan conferences, festivals, Pride Day were to distribute these questionnaires and ask attendees to commit to gathering or providing the information? Each attendee could do important community service AND have an ice-breaker for social events. All that would be needed beyond that would be for some academic or some journal to collect the data and begin to — I hate this word — curate our history.

But our history matters. We’ve lost too much of it over the centuries as it is. We’ve been forced too often to follow Monique Wittig’s advice:

You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.

Perhaps now is the time to preserve what we may need to draw upon in the future.

Picture found here.

A Poem for a President

Poet Richard Blanco

Poet Richard Blanco

I’d be happy for presidents to leave all the praying and religious business out of their Inaugurations, but I do like the modern tradition of having a poet compose and read a poem at the Inauguration. The tradition began with President Kennedy, who asked Robert Frost for a poem. On the day, the bright January sun blinded Mr. Frost so that he could not read the typed page he held. Instead, Mr. Frost recited The Gift Outright by memory, which was, in the event, perfect.

President Obama’s choice for this year’s Inauguration is Richard Blanco, the first Latino and the first openly gay man to have this honor. In addition to writing poetry, Blanco is a working civil engineer, and I like the touch of having someone who works on infrastructure. Here’s the title poem from Blanco’s latest book, Looking for the Gulf Motel:

Looking for The Gulf Motel

Marco Island, Florida

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

The Gulf Motel with mermaid lampposts
and ship’s wheel in the lobby should still be
rising out of the sand like a cake decoration.
My brother and I should still be pretending
we don’t know our parents, embarrassing us
as they roll the luggage cart past the front desk
loaded with our scruffy suitcases, two-dozen
loaves of Cuban bread, brown bags bulging
with enough mangos to last the entire week,
our espresso pot, the pressure cooker—and
a pork roast reeking garlic through the lobby.
All because we can’t afford to eat out, not even
on vacation, only two hours from our home
in Miami, but far enough away to be thrilled
by whiter sands on the west coast of Florida,
where I should still be for the first time watching
the sun set instead of rise over the ocean.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

My mother should still be in the kitchenette
of The Gulf Motel, her daisy sandals from Kmart
squeaking across the linoleum, still gorgeous
in her teal swimsuit and amber earrings
stirring a pot of arroz-con-pollo, adding sprinkles
of onion powder and dollops of tomato sauce.
My father should still be in a terrycloth jacket
smoking, clinking a glass of amber whiskey
in the sunset at the Gulf Motel, watching us
dive into the pool, two boys he’ll never see
grow into men who will be proud of him.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

My brother and I should still be playing Parcheesi,
my father should still be alive, slow dancing
with my mother on the sliding-glass balcony
of The Gulf Motel. No music, only the waves
keeping time, a song only their minds hear
ten-thousand nights back to their life in Cuba.
My mother’s face should still be resting against
his bare chest like the moon resting on the sea,
the stars should still be turning around them.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

My brother should still be thirteen, sneaking
rum in the bathroom, sculpting naked women
from sand. I should still be eight years old
dazzled by seashells and how many seconds
I hold my breath underwater—but I’m not.
I am thirty-eight, driving up Collier Boulevard,
looking for The Gulf Motel, for everything
that should still be, but isn’t. I want to blame
the condos, their shadows for ruining the beach
and my past, I want to chase the snowbirds away
with their tacky mansions and yachts, I want
to turn the golf courses back into mangroves,
I want to find The Gulf Motel exactly as it was
and pretend for a moment, nothing lost is lost.

Like our Poet Laureate, Blanco often writes about his sense of place. I’d love to be a fly on the wall during a lunch for the two of them.

Picture found here.