Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dealing with Drought

Lab 2.0. April 21, 2015 by Susan Weinberg

We began our lab on water with a discussion of its absence, drought. With California in its fourth year of drought, it is by no means a hypothetical topic. Diane Pecoraro introduced our topic by playing an excerpt from Tom Paxton's song Whose Garden is It which aptly addresses the loss of the natural world we so often take for granted.

Bonnie Heller then referenced the way in which the Torah addresses water within Deuteronomy 11:13-21 where rain is offered in exchange for faithfulness to God's commandments. This important passage is echoed in the daily prayer book. We discussed the concept of retribution implicit in this passage, a search for cause and effect by a people reliant upon agriculture and water. 

Rabbi Mychal Copeland offers a thoughtful response to this passage when she says, "When we stop being grateful for every sip of water, when we forget how blessed we are in whatever degree of bounty we receive, we are in danger of overuse and exploitation." A number of our group had lived in Israel at one point and spoke to how conditioned they became to not be wasteful of water. There were prayers for dew and prayers for rain that began to make sense in a climate that often lacked enough water. In fact drought can arise from greed and can be the natural consequence of failing to manage a limited and precious resource.

Bonnie introduced the story of Choni, the circle maker which intrigued many of us. The story is that when the people needed rain, they called on Choni who was the most righteous of people. He drew a circle around him and and petitioned God for rain. First he received a trickle and asked for more, only to receive a deluge. He protested once more and received the desired amount, neither too much nor too little. There is yet another story of Choni who fell asleep for 70 years. As he was falling asleep he saw a man planting a carob tree only to awake seventy years later to the man's grandson picking its fruit.

Bonnie shared a quote with us from President Lyndon Johnson when he signed the Wilderness Act of 1964. "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it." It seemed as if it could easily have been said today over 50 years later. 

Diane then led us in a word exercise where we were asked to identify words or images associated with drought, both the lack of water and the drought of creativity that many of us can face as artists. We offered such words as bone dry, barren, parched, arid, dry spell, dessicated, dust cloud and cracked.

We turned our attention to several poems that touched on drought and saw many of the words we had identified. Diane took the topic deeper by reading two excerpts from her journal, one from a period of creative drought and the other from a later time when creativity flowed anew. It was noted that two words within her passages captured the difference going from "withered" to "juiced".

We were posed a number of questions. What does creative drought feel like? What causes it?
Many of us experienced it when we allowed ourselves to feel the weight of expectations, our own or the perception of others. To create we need room to fail and we need the freedom to play and experiment. When we let panic take over it shuts down the very playfulness we need to extricate ourselves from our drought.

What starts the juices going again? Some spoke of needing to leave room for periods of fertile emptiness before "the fields will come back". Often we find it when we aren't looking.

While Bonnie was in California recently she collected many newspapers that spoke of drought. She turned us loose with them to create a collage or poem of words that spoke to this topic. I quite like what we came up with.

We were left with a number of poems that address both creative drought and drought in the more literal sense. Some of their links are found below:

The Greening of Imagination by Rural Poet
The Drought by Gary Soto
Drought by Joan Colby
Bop After Hip Op by Sharon Olds

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