On Today’s Walk: Arachnid Sighting

Marbled orb weaver

It’s an unusually warm and idyllic day for November, and I have to work. The silver lining is that I get an hour for lunch and live close enough to walk home. I encountered one of nature’s wonders casually crossing the street. The iNaturalist “Seek” app on my phone informed me this critter is a marbled orb weaver spider. I almost said “guy” instead of “critter” because further research revealed that the females tend to stay hidden in piles of leaves, except when retrieving food from their webs. However, even more research tells me the size of this one indicates it’s a female. I’m going with “I don’t know.”

According to the Insect Identification site, these spiders are common in wooded areas near water.Aha! The road I was on runs alongside a park, and the park has a creek running through it. Common or not, it didn’t look familiar to me. Maybe because they’re usually hanging around in the brush and not out on the asphalt. It sure is eye catching, isn’t it? And nothing to worry about. They are neither aggressive nor venomous.

This one was trucking right along and seemed to have an agenda. Whatever its destination, I hope it arrives safely.

On Today’s Walk: Civic Minded Edition

I voted sticker
Got my sticker!

~~

Today’s walk took me to my polling place, exactly one mile from my house. It was sunny and 48 degrees, perfect voting weather. We have one issue on the ballot — whether to renew a tax that funds some parks and rec projects. My town has a pretty good trail system, but it needs to be expanded into a couple of underserved neighborhoods. Passage would help fund that, in part, as well as possibly reopening a couple of local playgrounds. As is obvious to anyone who reads my blog, I love walking/biking trails and make frequent use of them.

On my way home, I met a new friend. I felt it was another civic duty to engage with them:

~~

Speaking of civic mindedness, I’m blessed to live in a neighborhood abundant in little free libraries. Here’s one I hadn’t noticed before today:

Little free library

~~

Short Story: Posthumous Divorce

…it’s time to move on, and I believe a divorce might convince James of that, too.

With Halloween upon us, it seems like a good time to share a ghost story I wrote. Posthumous Divorce originally appeared three years ago in Boundless: an Anthology of Prose.


Photo by Aidan Roof on Pexels.com

Posthumous Divorce

I’d waited a respectful two weeks after James Weldon’s funeral to move into his office. In a town slow to accept change, I wanted to avoid the stereotype of attorney as vulture. I was also daunted by the shoes I had to fill. Five months on, I was about to face the real test of how well I’d taken ownership.  

James’s widow, Kathleen, would be arriving any minute. She’d declined to say what she needed, telling me she’d explain in person. I’d sent the secretary on errands, so I could greet Kathleen personally. 

When she entered the reception area, she looked impeccably groomed, but a little more creased and worn than she had been. We exchanged pleasantries and I poured us both cups of coffee before escorting her into my office.

“What can I do for you?” I asked.

“I’ve been thinking for days about how to tell you, Andrew,” she said. “I believe I have to settle with blurting it out. I’d like you to help me obtain a divorce.”

I nearly choked on my coffee, but tried to keep any hint of shock from my voice. “I’m sorry, I was unaware you had remarried.”

“I didn’t. I’d like a divorce from James, posthumously.”

It became clear in an instant. Kathleen must had found something in her husband’s personal effects — evidence of an affair, possibly — that had shaken her.

“It’s an unusual request,” I said

“It’s an unusual situation,” she responded. “I know how this is going to sound, but please have an open mind. I loved James. I certainly didn’t wish for him to die when he did. But it’s time to move on, and I believe a divorce might convince James of that, too.”

“I’m not following you,” 

She put her cup on the desk and folded her hands in her lap, gazing down at them. “James insists on continuing to live…er, dwell…at our house. He says when he elected to stay, he had to choose a location. I don’t really understand, but apparently there are rules of some sort. He selected our home, and he is bound there as long as he remains on earth.”

An alarm sounded in my mind. “Are you saying James’s ghost is…” 

She looked up. “Yes.”

“I see.” She needed a good mental health professional, not an attorney. I’m sure my thoughts were clear on my face.

“I never believed in ghosts,” Kathleen said. “In your place, I would have trouble believing me. But I hope I can call on our friendship to ask this favor.  Will you hear me out, then come speak to James? He wants to see you. He respects you. I’ve tried talking to him about it, but he always changes the subject before I can ask him to leave. He might listen to you.”

“You want me to come to your home?” 

“If you could be so kind.” Kathleen searched my face for a second. “To be fair, I should explain the situation. I said James wanted to see you, but I was the one who planted the idea. He’s repeatedly asked me to visit you here and report back to him on how you were handling the practice. Finally, I suggested he speak to you, himself.”

I saw no other way out than through, so I settled in to hear her story. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around what you’re saying, but I’m willing to listen.”

Her posture lost its rigidity. “Thank you. I haven’t been able to tell anyone. I can’t continue to live as I have been the last few months.”

“When did you first see James? I mean, after his demise.”

“When I went home from the funeral. My sister stayed with me the first night. As soon as I had seen her out the door the next morning, I turned around to find James standing in the foyer.”

“Has anyone else seen him?” I tried to keep my tone gentle.

“No. I’ve had friends over a couple of times for cards, and the Friends of the Library held a board meeting at my house. But I’ve convinced James to remain in the bedroom. I feel guilty about it, but I can’t…have him…”

“No, of course not,” I patted her hand awkwardly.

“He listens in, though,” Kathleen continued. “and gives me what he considers helpful advice. It’s a side of him I never had to deal with, much. He was always too busy with work. I value my autonomy. As you know, I’ve been dedicated to my volunteer activities for years. James had his sphere of influence and I had mine. Now he’s at my elbow every moment, second-guessing my decisions, trying to…”

“Meddle?” I suggested.

“Yes. I’m his only conduit to the world. I’m uncomfortable having guests any more. Yet, I can never leave without James asking for an account of how I spent my time while I was away. If I stay up late reading, he says I should get more sleep. But how can I sleep? I feel like that fellow in the George Orwell book, watched all the time, worrying about every movement. The best thing for both of us would be for him to move on.”

I could picture James behaving as described. A part of me almost believed her version of events. Almost. I would agree to Kathleen’s request, I decided. But I wanted time to think over how to tell her James wasn’t really there. 

“Will you take my side – case, I mean?” Kathleen asked. 

“I’ll come see if I can speak to James,” I offered. “Let me check my calendar.”

“Of course.” She sounded relieved.

I consulted my phone, thinking James would not have approved my abandonment of a paper appointment book. “How about Thursday evening, around 7:30?” 

“Perfect. I’ll let James know. Thank you.”

**

Kathleen opened the door the moment I rang the bell. The circles under her eyes were darker than they had been earlier in the week, but she managed a half-smile. “Come in and have a seat.”

As she led me into the living room, I thought about how difficult it had been for me, moving into James’s office, how unnatural it had felt to be there on my own. How much more intense would Kathleen’s feelings be about the home she had shared with her husband? It would be easy for anyone to imagine a departed spouse still present, especially when the late loved one possessed such a forceful personality.

As I settled myself into a wingback chair, Kathleen said, “I’ll get us some coffee, and let James know you’re here.”

When she left the room, I eyed my briefcase, trying to decide when to present her with the information I’d gathered on bereavement counseling. How long should I wait before confronting her with the truth of her husband’s absence? James Weldon had taught me that evidence wasn’t enough; the manner and timing of its introduction were paramount. 

“You take your coffee black, right?” Kathleen’s voice drew me out of my meditation.

“Yes, thanks.” 

As she set the cup on the table next to me, the lights in the hall flickered. Kathleen moved to the sofa, and the lamp on the other side of her flickered as well. I hoped she didn’t have problems with her wiring.

I focused my attention on the lamp to see if it happened again, and saw the light playing tricks with the shadows around the other chair. A voice said, “Hello, Andrew. It’s good to see you.” The shadows lightened and changed, filling themselves in with details that comprised the form of James Weldon, in the suit he’d worn the day of his heart attack.

I jumped from my chair, banging my knee into the coffee table and sloshing the contents of my cup. “James!” my voice wouldn’t raise above an urgent whisper. “I…I…you’re…”

Kathleen stood and patted my arm, the way I’d patted hers in my office. “I knew you wouldn’t believe it until you’d seen him yourself. Please have a seat again so we can chat.”

I fell back into the chair, cutting my gaze back and forth between the two Weldons, the living one and the post-living one. Was I imagining him? 

“Whatever your beliefs about the afterlife have been,” James said. “the overwhelming evidence shows I am still here, though in a limited fashion. That being the case, let’s get down to business.” Marching straight into action. It was James, all right.

“Suh-Sorry about the coffee,” I said.

“No worries.” Kathleen wiped the table with some tissues. “James is right, we should discuss why you’re here.” She gave me a pointed look, but I was focused on trying to stop my hands from shaking. 

“I’ve been following the news,” James said. “I saw you managed a successful resolution for the Ramirez family. But there are some other cases I’d like to hear about, ones I left hanging.”

I felt a slight clutch in my chest, worried he was about to bring up Mrs. Winthrop. Her case had been in the news, too. I had encouraged her to settle much sooner, for a lower amount than James would have considered. I felt the emotional toll it had saved her would be worth it. But how to get James to see it this way? I became aware he was still talking, and wasn’t sure what I’d missed.

“…you could drop by weekly to fill me in on our current cases,” he said. His attention shifted to his wife, and he added, “We’d have to find a convenient time for Kathleen, of course. Perhaps for now you could give us some privacy, dear?”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. Kathleen, making no move to leave, said, “We have something to discuss, the three of us.” 

“Right,” I managed to say, “Kathleen has asked me to represent her in a matter.” I wished I had prepared for this, in any way at all. 

“I see. We can discuss my wife’s concerns first. What is it? The liability issues I brought to her attention regarding the Friends of the Library fundraising activities?” James asked.

“Nothing like that,” I replied. “It’s of a more personal nature.”

James raised his ethereal eyebrows. “Personal?”

“Very personal.” Kathleen’s voice trembled. “It has to do with the two of us.”

“I don’t see what personal matters we’d need to involve Andrew in. There should be no probate issues. I wrote a clear will and the law is straightforward in this kind of situation.”

I felt I’d better speak up while I still had a chance to gain control of the conversation. “Your wife has asked me to be here – “

“Because I requested it,” James interrupted.

“Not exactly,” I told him. “I’m here on Kathleen’s behalf, not yours.”

“In what capacity?” His voice sounded more sharp than ghostly. Death had made him cranky, apparently.

Kathleen said, “Andrew is here as a friend and advisor. I have something difficult to say. I’ve tried to broach the matter before, but please hear me out this time.”

“Go ahead,” James told her.

“You know I love you, James. We made a good life together. But there is a time for everything, and the time has come for you to move on.”

“Move on?” he echoed, and now his voice did sound a bit ghostly.

“I believe we’d both be happier if you were out of the house.”

“As I’ve explained, I’m tied to one place. There are rules.”

I entered the discussion again. “But the rules don’t require you to stay here indefinitely? You can…go?”

“Yes, but I wouldn’t be able to come back. If I leave, it’s permanent.”

After a moment’s uncomfortable silence, James said, “You understand I’d be gone forever? But there are matters for which I’m still needed. I’m willing to discuss how to make this arrangement work better, but we’ll have plenty of time for that. While you’re here, Andrew, there are some other things I need talk over with you. Why don’t we get those out of the way first?”

“I’m sure Kathleen understands your leave-taking would be permanent,” I told him. “It’s not a request she’s making without serious deliberation. Do you understand what you’re requesting, Kathleen?”

“I do. I’m sorry, but you need to go,” she said in a quiet voice.

“You’re asking me to leave?” He could no longer pretend not to understand.

“It’s not that I won’t miss you or that I didn’t – don’t – love you.”

“I can see how it’s an imposition, but you haven’t thought this through,” James said to her, before turning his attention to me. “I’m glad you’re here to mediate. I’m sure we can work out some sort of agreement that will be less burdensome for my wife.”

Okay, he could keep pretending not to understand.

“Your widow, you mean.” I surprised myself by saying this.

“Technically…” he began.

Kathleen spoke. “James, sweetheart, I’m sorry, you can’t — “

James held up a hand. “Let’s have a rational discussion. This home belongs to both of us. I have as much right to be here as you do. Then there’s the matter of our wedding vows. I took them seriously, and believed you did, too. Can you disregard them so easily?”

I responded, instead of Kathleen. “Assuming you had traditional vows, the words are ‘until death do us part.’ You can’t deny you have died, releasing Kathleen from her obligations to you.”

“But death did not part us,” James countered. “I can’t believe my wife really wants a complete separation. She needs a little more space, but we can work out something amenable to both of us.”

Kathleen took a deep breath, before asking. “Do you remember when we first moved here and I was so miserable?”

“You were?” James sounded surprised.

“I didn’t know anyone. We planned to start a family right away, so I didn’t take a job. I assumed I’d meet people through mothers’ groups and the PTA. But the months went on, and… I had nothing, except you.”

“We’ve made a good life together. You said so only a few moments ago,” he replied.

“Yes, but only after I realized I couldn’t live through you. When you couldn’t be everything I needed, I resented it. I was unhappy and I was making you unhappy, whether you remember or not. Things needed to change; I couldn’t sit here waiting for you to bring the world to me. I was attached to my vision of the life I wanted, but had to face the fact that I needed to move on from it.”

“This is my home, and I’m within my rights to stay,” James responded, with a petulance I had never before heard from him.

“Then I may have to leave.” Kathleen wiped away a tear.

These personal revelations made me uncomfortable, but my years of experience dealing with this kind of family matter – minus the ghost part — served me well, I think. Kathleen had anticipated James’s reaction and thought through her alternatives. Under different circumstances I’d consider her the ideal client. I didn’t want to imagine her being forced to uproot herself at this point in life.

“Legally, this is not your home, James,” I said. “Let’s revisit your own words. You wrote a clear will and the law is straightforward. The house belongs to Kathleen alone as your only surviving family member.”

My words felt brutal, directed toward my old mentor. Then again, I remembered what James could be like in the courtroom. I knew I couldn’t back off an inch.

“I’m still here,” James said. “The law does not cover this eventuality.”

“But you’re dead,” I countered. “And the law does cover that eventuality.”

He cocked his head. “There are gray areas, as we’re discovering.” 

“Do you believe a judge would see gray areas?” 

“How would a human judge become involved in my decision?”

“As I said, your wife is acting from sad necessity. If you refuse her request, she is prepared to seek a divorce. Am I correct, Kathleen?”

“I don’t want it to come to that,” she answered. “I hated having to involve you, Andrew. I certainly don’t want to drag others into it, but if it’s the only way-“

“There is no legal precedent,” James objected. 

“It would become the precedent, ” I answered.

“No judge would hear the case.”

“It’s possible Judge Ferson would agree to come to the house. She’s open-minded. You always taught me to look at things from the judge’s point of view. How do you think she would rule?” 

James looked to his wife. “Surely you don’t want that kind of attention to our personal lives.”

“If I could have what I want, I’d have you alive. It’s a matter of what’s best in the circumstances.” Kathleen was openly weeping now. 

James moved to her side and attempted to put his arm around her shoulders, but his hand only passed through her.

“You see, don’t you?’ I said. “You can be an observer here, but not a man of action, not the man you were.”

“I’m glad I’m here,” I continued. “It gives me a chance to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. You taught me most of what I know, including the futility of trying to deny what must be faced. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, but as hard as it is, it’s time to say goodbye.”

After a moment’s silence, James put on his decisive face. “I did teach you well. Will you continue to look after my wife’s interests?”

“Of course.”

“Goodbye,” Kathleen choked out. “I’ll always love you.”

James nodded and the lights flickered. As I looked at the place where he had been a moment before, I thought I heard a whispered “Goodbye.”

It could have been the wind rustling the leaves outside the window.     

~~     

Copyright, Ida Bettis Fogle

Attention, Gamers

Pretty exciting news from my family today. My son’s (and his colleague’s) first video game has launched.

I’ve been watching from the sidelines as it’s gone through development, noting a number of times that the job looked similar to the task of writing a novel. My son and I have engaged in several conversations about creative process, in fact, as we both work on our various projects — game development for him and creative writing for me.

It’s likely my imagination, but I thought I got the skeptical side eye a from a couple of folks over the past year and a half. They’d ask me, “What’s your son up to these days?”

When I said he was working as an indie game developer…in his bedroom…in our house…I caught a whiff of oh, suuuuurrrre, just slacking and playing games on your dime, more like. Maybe I worried this is what people were thinking because I have a history of saying, “Yep, I am in fact still writing that same novel.” (But I really am!)

Anyway, I know everyone is dying for the reveal. So here’s the real product he’s really been working to produce and is now really available for purchase.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1663410/Happenlance/

If you’re a gamer, go check it out.

On Today’s Bike Ride: What’s the Problem?

Bicycle
Freida enjoying the outdoors

It took a while, but I got back in the saddle this morning for the first time since my surgery in late August. Just a short jaunt with Freida to get my legs used to it again. I’ve been walking a lot, but not pedaling. Despite the need to rebuild my leg stamina, Freida and I enjoyed the perfect high fifties temperatures as we went to one of my favorite shelter houses overlooking a wetlands area.

If problem number one was my legs being out of shape, here was problem number two. We had a massive rainfall the night before last. Most of the trail was fine, but this part passing through a tunnel required me to get off and walk Freida through. No biggie. Our city Parks and Rec department usually clears up things like this pretty quickly and I’m sure it will be back in shape within a couple of days.

When I took those photos, I thought I was documenting the biggest problem I would encounter. But here’s an environmental one, though I didn’t realize it as I was snapping the picture.

Teasel

After I got home, I was able to identify the plant in the foreground as common teasel, discovering it’s an invasive species in Missouri. Much bigger problem than rocks on the trail.

There was still a lot to enjoy in the view and I’m glad I made the effort. Look at that sky!

Wetlands

~~~

Readings for the International Day of Peace

Peace is not just the mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.” 

― Dalai Lama XIV

flowers

Today, September 21, is the International Day of Peace.

Following are a few readings relevant to the day. The point of the list isn’t to tell anyone they should absolutely agree with every word of every one of these writings, but just to prompt folks to spend some time examining different viewpoints and really thinking about what peace is and how we might work toward it. Feel free to add your own suggestions for titles in the comments.

The Racial Healing Handbook by Annaliese Singh. The theme for 2021 is “recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world.” This book seems like a good fit. The subtitle is “Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing.”

Bone to Pick: of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge by Ellis Cose. Is forgiveness possible for genocide? How do warring factions reconcile once the battles are over? Does revenge serve a purpose? Deep questions pondered here.

Nonviolent Communication: a Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg and Arun Gandhi. I have found this book helpful in my personal and professional life, especially as I have a job that requires a lot of interaction with the public.

War No More: Three Centuries of American Antiwar and Peace Writing edited by Lawrence Rosenwald. Provides a broad historical overview of peace advocacy in the U.S. It’s always good to hear a variety of voices.

Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words. In 1953, a woman began a decades-long journey on foot throughout the United States and Canada, carrying a message of peace to everyone she met. This is her memoir. Talk about walking the walk.

The War Prayer by Mark Twain, who was a consistent critic of U.S. military action in the Philippines. This had a huge influence on me when I read it as a teen. In the story, a church assembly prays for victory in battle for their soldiers. Immediately, an unknown man in a long robe appears, promising the request will be fulfilled, but only if the congregation still wants it after hearing the full consequences of what they are asking.

~~

On Today’s Bike Ride: This Guy

~~

Man looking at lake

It’s thanks to this guy that I got out on my bicycle at all this morning.


When I crawled back into bed after getting up to use the bathroom, my husband reminded me of my stated intentions from last night. “It’s not too late to take a ride before the day gets hot.”

He even accompanied me to the lake that is my favorite cycling destination, about four miles from our house. And he humored me by letting me set the pace rather than taking off and leaving me in the dust. This is a person who has ridden his bike virtually every day for decades.

It might be awhile before my next ride. I have a minor medical procedure schedule later this week and will probably not be saddle-ready for at least a couple of weeks after that. But the lure of the bicycle will give me something to look forward to as motivation to follow all recovery instructions and take care of myself.

See you all on the other side.

~~

Today’s Bike Ride: After Bicycle Surgery

I haven’t been taking Freida out much lately due to some of my own minor health issues, combined with bad weather luck and other factors. Plus my first road trip in forever. I thought about it a lot. But when I finally had my act together enough for a ride, she received an unexpected diagnosis.

Trek Bikes sent me a letter saying she was in danger of losing her pedals. It’s happened to other bikes of the same type. So today I had to take her in for a pedal transplant.

I’m happy to say they were able to handle it on an out patient basis. I waited while they performed the procedure and then took her home right after.

Fresh out of the recovery room

Unfortunately, it was drizzling when we came home, so we couldn’t go out together right away. I had to go do some other errands, too. But we went for a spin after dinner. Of course, by then, it was so late, I had to race the sunset to get in even a brief ride. I didn’t stop to take any photos.

We had a shorter, but more intense trip than we’re used to. A quick three miles at what would be average speed for my husband or son, and was Indy 500 level for me. No coasting. All went well, with no pedal loss, even with me pumping them furiously.

Looking at the shiny new parts made me realize how much Freida needs a wash. Sorry I’ve neglected you, girl. I have to work tomorrow, but I will try to give the bike a good scrub on Sunday.

Here’s hoping Freida and I both stay healthy enough for more frequent rides.

Final note: Here’s more info on the recall for anyone who thinks their bike might be affected. The pedals in question are from Bontrager.

On This Week’s Walks: Surprises

I’ve been walking, just not making the time to post. So instead of “On Today’s Walk,” I’m doing a small compilation from the past few days. Even when you walk the same routes over and over for years, you’ll still find surprises.

What exactly is happening on this retaining wall? Is this the aftermath of a battle, with the victor standing triumphant? Or is it an act of compassion, with a friend rushing to aid a fallen companion?


Hmmm..what are those two things in the middle of the grass, visible from thirty feet away?

Field
Mystery objects

Maybe a closer investigation is in order:

Two shrooms

Aha! Wow, those are big! How big?

Big fungus
That’s a size 8 1/2 (US) women’s shoe.

And finally: always expected, yet still a surprise with their sudden appearance every year. My first surprise lily sighting of 2021.

Surprise lilies

~~~

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, 17th Century Scholar and Feminist Poet

Attribution: José Luis Filpo Cabana, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I first read about Juana Ines de la Cruz and her 17th century feminist poetry in Isabel Allende’s memoir, “The Soul of a Woman.” I immediately knew I needed to learn more, and the universe provided. The next day, her name came up in a textbook I was reading for an online class — just a brief mention of the fact that she amassed one of the largest personal libraries in North America while living in a convent as a nun. Obviously, I had to find out all I could.

Who was this feminist poet librarian nun? Only one of the most brilliant, accomplished women I never learned about in school. In a time when universities and learning were for solely for men, she managed to outshine many renowned scholars through a lifetime of self-directed education.

Juana Ramirez de Asbaje (her birth name) was born in 1648 in the Vice Royalty of New Spain, now known as Mexico. Her mother and father were not married, and Juana was raised in the homes of her mother’s relatives. From an early age, she displayed an almost unquenchable thirst for learning and knowledge, spending hours reading the books in her grandfather’s personal library. 

She began writing poetry at age eight, and had an in-depth knowledge of Greek logic and of the Latin language by her teen years, even teaching Latin to younger children. She asked her family to allow her to disguise herself as a male so she could attend university classes, but they refused. She was forced to continue as the creator of her own education.

Later, she became a lady in waiting to the wife of the Viceroy Antonio Sebastian de Toledo, marquis de Mancera. Juana’s keen mind and accomplishments were apparent to everyone, and the viceroy invited a group of noted scholars to test her knowledge. They were so impressed they granted her the equivalent of a university degree, with no need to disguise herself.

A couple of years later, she chose the one path open to her as a woman that would allow her to continue pursuing her studies. She became a nun at the Convent of St. Paula, where she also taught girls in the subjects of drama and music. There she also wrote plays and poetry, amassed her personal library, and collected musical and scientific instruments.

Many of her writings tackled the sexist double standards of society, most notably “Foolish Men,” which criticizes men for displaying the very same illogical behavior they ascribe to women. Here’s one stanza:

“Whether you’re favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you’re turned away,
you sneer if you’ve been gratified.”

Her poem “First Dream” delves into what it means to have a life-long passion for learning and knowledge. Well, it’s a pretty long poem and that’s a simplistic summary of it. But here’s one fragment:

“In Homer’s opinion, then,
the pyramids were mere material versions,
outward manifestations only
of inner dimensions instancing
the human spirit’s attitude:
for just as the ambitious fiery flame
assumes pyramidal shape when mounting
heavenward, so the human mind
assumes this very shape
in ever aspiring to the one First Cause,
the center toward which the straight line tends,
if not indeed the circumference
containing every essence ad infinitum.”

Not everyone approved of Sor Juana’s achievements. In 1690, the bishop of Pueblo published a critique she had made of a priest’s sermon. The bishop used a false name, Sister Philothea, pretending to be a nun, and accompanied the piece with criticisms of Sor Juana, saying she should stop writing anything secular and instead concentrate on her religious studies.

In response, Sor Juana wrote and published a defense of the right of women to attain knowledge, “Reply to Sister Philothea of the Cross.” In it, she recounted the obstacles she had faced. “I went on with the studious pursuit (in which I found relaxation during all the free time remaining from my obligations) of reading and more reading, study and more study, with no other teacher than books themselves.” Later in the missive, she speaks of a period of time during which she had been forbidden to read. She said that she used that time to study the natural world instead. And this is where I find her truly inspiring. When someone put up a roadblock, she said, in effect, “Okay, I’ll make my own road.”

In 1694, her detractors within the church finally either persuaded or forced her to sell her library for alms and to give up writing. She died April 17, 1695 when a plague swept through her convent. But her influence continues to resonate generations later. I’m glad I found her.

~~

Sources:

Merrim, Stephanie. “Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Apr. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sor-Juana-Ines-de-la-Cruz

https://poets.org/poet/sor-juana-ines-de-la-cruz