COLUMN: The Triple Goddess Trials
Kali’s Ancient Love Song
“Compared to romantic love, active love is something severe and terrifying.”
— The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Blue are the life giving waters taken for granted/ They quietly understand/ Once happy turquoise armies stand opposite ready/ but wonder why the fight is on/ But they’re all bold as love.”
— Bold as Love, Jimi Hendrix
When she was three years old, my daughter Isabel kissed trees goodnight. She also wondered whether grass felt lonely when everyone went to sleep. And when she exclaimed with wide glowing eyes, “Mommy, la luna, the moon, the moon, the moon!” in the tone we usually reserve for spotting a long lost friend, I admit to my knee-buckling waves of adoration.
On such occasions I also had to restrain my overwhelming urge to scoop her up in my arms and repeatedly kiss the top of her head. For embraces were no longer unreservedly welcome in the way they were only months ago (OUCH.) But I was slowly learning that restraint along with careful attention to the thrill of her discoveries was just another form of affection.
Of course, I didn’t always permit my daughter the time to comment upon trees, grass, and the moon, especially when I was in a rush, overwhelmed, or tired (re: most of the time). And I might as well confess here right up front: There were other sentiments my daughter expressed (loudly) that made me want to pull all my-and her-hair out.
For instance “I WANT” in all shapes and sizes was countered flatly by, “How do you say it when you want something, darling?” in falsetto tones channeled through me from some 1950s TV show.
It wasn’t serving Isabel hand and foot that troubled me (since she was three I didn’t as yet expect her to land a job in Manhattan or even pour herself a glass of milk), it was the glass-breaking tone of her voice that sent hot shivers through my kidneys, wormed its way to my liver, and rose in my throat when suddenly (but not without warning) a she-devil otherwise known as me, wrung her hands and stepped up to the mommy soap box…
“For God’s sake Isabel, stop whining!” I would erupt.
But not long thereafter I caught myself red-handed — lecturing one minute, and then bargaining (like an idiot) with a three year old who could win an Oscar for her imitation of the Roman emperor, Nero (or some irrational, arm-waving dictator, anyway) — the kind of mind that transformed a denied cookie into the ultimate act of betrayal.
KALI’S SACRED SONG
Once, in a land of vermillion sunsets, the goddess Kali stretched her arms to the sky and began to sing. In her voice, the ocean met tall desert cliffs, stars tumbled down like stones, and tiny sea barnacles clung to wet depths. And it seemed like time stood still.
Can you imagine yourself there?
Her blue-black arms sway like smoke. You want to embrace the immensity of her shape, smell the waves of her hair, for everyone sees her with the same blind raw infant love… And her voice. Her voice opens and fills the night air with sounds — low, deep — trickling through tree trunks, grass, and pebbles like a winding river — one that washes through every dry crack of thirst. She sings and sings until the strongest men and women are left with longing, smooth and liquid in their mouths.
But, when she finally turns to face you, her arms hold daggers and her breath is fire.
Your shock and disappointment mean nothing to her. Her gaze will tear the truth out of your chest, her words, a thousand mirrors, reflect your purest self, your finest deed. But also every demon you harbor, every disparity between what you just did and what you say you believe. Ripped from the comforting pillows of blame and self-pity, you will witness each and every way you are the worst offender.
Few have the courage to meet her.
For she is true love.
My dear readers, you will be forgiven for scratching your heads over this last supposition. One might ask, isn’t Kali already well known, not as the goddess of true love, but instead as the goddess of destruction!? And you might correctly remind me that Kali was a fierce warrior (one who could demolish entire worlds and time itself!) with her black tongue and that well, ahem, she danced on the heads of her victims! Just what, you might ask, is her wild, unpredictable frame doing appeasing spiritual thirst and feeding into the divine love of a mother for her child?
DR. PHIL AND THE CAR-SEAT WRESTLING MATCH
First, let me tell you a little story about karmic testing. It involved an innocent child (HA!), a furious mother, and an extreme battle of the wills. Central to its theme is exasperation, nagging, and ultimately failure.
On a sunny day when other mothers and daughters were frolicking and holding hands in parks filled with butterflies and golden retrievers, I arrived home with my daughter and asked her to get out of the car. She refused to budge. A common situation, easily solved, right?
You have NOT met my daughter.
Did I laugh or smile patiently when my dearest love spanned entire octaves with the one syllable word I had grown to hate? “NO!” as she would have said. I don’t want to. I want to. NO. I don’t want to. I want to.
ME: Isabel, you need to come inside from the car.
ISABEL: No, I don’t want to. MOmmmmeeee. No.
ME: It’s time to come inside.
ME: I guess we can’t go to the park later today then.
ISABEL: I want to. I want to. I want to. (Loud shrieking cries)
ME: Please come out of the car now then.
ISABEL: No. I don’t want to. (More loud shrieking cries)
ME: What’s wrong?
ISABEL: Go awayyyyyyyyyy, Momma.
ME: Isabel, come on; let’s go inside.
ISABEL: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. (Very loud angry roar)
Fifteen more minutes of this and I walked away (against the advice of every parenting manual I had at the time skeptically and desperately perused in bookstores!) and left her in the car. I didn’t care. I was trying to breathe. Guilt-ridden, half expecting to be surrounded by police for leaving my child alone for sixty seconds, I rushed back to the car door.
Suddenly, I imagined Dr. Phil’s smug face, one hand on his hip, raised eyebrows, voice disturbingly “mellow” and felt a rush of lava-like rage climb through my body. “Who’s in control here?”I imagined the know-it-all Phil would say. He’d probably be smirking too.
That was it.
With a burst of adrenalin, I grabbed my protesting child and wrapped her around my hip so as not to get bruises. Her legs were going, her fists were seeking my flesh. Her screams could have been heard on a busy airplane runway strip. With a breath of relief, I put her down as soon as we got inside the door, where she immediately started up again. And you see, at that moment, I don’t even remember what laughter feels like. And that’s my warning bell. That’s when I knew I’d lost.
A few hours later, of course, I was chasing her and tickling her like we were the best of friends, but my heart felt like a brick in my chest. How would I ever show my daughter the way to overcome adversity, I thought.
Sitting on the bad-parent bench, other questions (for which there are no real answers) inevitably bounced through my head like, “Can I (sometimes most impatient of mothers) eventually teach my child patience?” And the hangdog parent’s favorite, “Why can’t I be more like… ?” loud and heavy as bowling balls landing in the gutter.
If romantic love is a gift, active love is always earned.
I liken romantic love to that automatic balloon of euphoria that sent me swooning minutes after my daughter was born. A few days later, when I was pacing in circles rocking ten pounds of screaming tears in my arms (when I really wanted to eat my dinner) it hit me hard that a new, unpredictable (sometimes deeply unhappy) boss had permanently moved into our household. Sharp pangs of disappointment, terror of the unknown, and a wholly unpleasant humility merged undiscernibly with fascination and awe.
So, I’m going to suggest that something at least as sublime as milky-eyed “I love yous” and smitten embraces can be harvested where we least expect to find them — in our most excruciating (and ongoing) cycles of learning. Hidden in painful feelings of remorse, shame, anger, and insecurity and perhaps the most challenging act of all — forgiveness (of ourselves and others). Especially when Kali stamps all over our cherished notions of ourselves and we start to see things as they really are.
In this vast ever-changing place of revelation, it is hard not to weep before Kali’s timeless song. Where we once might have rolled our eyes in judgment, or stiffened our backs and taken offense, or pushed theoretical (but useless) advice, we might now feel a profound urge to simply bow our heads in deeper understanding.
And that’s where active love begins…
When my ex-husband and I were first married, I teased him mercilessly about listening to CDs in order to memorize birdsong — because as he leaned closer to the stereo deciphering whistles and buzzings and trills, he concentrated as though he were cramming for an exam. He also withstood wisecracks from me for seeking to assess the wingspan of hawks from the driver’s seat (not safe!), and suffered long annoyed stares on walks whenever he corrected me because I guessed (wrongly) the species of a sudden frog — most magical of animals — upon our path.
At the time, perhaps a little defensive of my own ignorance, I chided him for all this fuss and worry over the tiniest of anatomical details, I mean, wasn’t he missing the point? Did we need to know the exact name of every creature, or whether their spots were mottled gray or whether their song ended as though with a question mark in order to fully appreciate their essence? My argument stemmed from a theoretical persuasion that in naming and measuring the wings of sacred creatures, we seek to tame and control (and the irony is not lost on me that when I became a mother, those exact aspirations erupted like a cloudy storm in my psyche!) rather than feel and understand.
But in a humble bow to specificity, I’ll have to admit that in this very effort toward nomenclature, we engage a secret part of ourselves otherwise left dormant and vague.
I wonder if there is any better way to know someone, than to behold a certain shade of awe in their eyes as they gasp at the moonlight… Or to take in the scent of their birth as you hold them in your arms… Or even to identify from a crowded room the delight in a child’s signature laughter…
For as many shades of blue (the deepest reflection of light) saturate the wings of Indigo buntings, as many flutelike notes deepen the winter air and rush through Spring mornings teeming with Song Sparrows and Purple Finches… there are an equal number of ways to see and hear. And within the limitations and opportunities of our seasons (complete with irritable mornings and rushed afternoons) there are also endless ways in which we can know and love.
And therefore, it is not incongruous to place the exasperation and subsequent self-loathing elicited by resistant three year olds — whose barked orders and sulking tantrums smack of a certain mad emperor’s — within the melody of one long, urgent love song.
In 2006, Kimberly Nagy founded Wild River Review with Joy E. Stocke; and in 2009, they founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC. With more than twenty years in the field of publishing, Nagy specializes in market outreach and digital media strategies as well as crafting timeless articles and interviews. She edits many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
Kimberly Nagy is a poet, professional writer, and dedicated reader who has interviewed a number of leading thinkers, including Academy-Award winning filmmaker, Pamela Tanner Boll, MacArthur Genius Award-winning Edwidge Danticat, historian James McPherson, playwright Emily Mann, biologist and novelist, Sunetra Gupta and philosopher Alain de Botton.
Nagy is an author, editor and professional storyteller. She received her BA in history at Rider University where she was influenced by professors who stressed works of literature alongside dates and historical facts–as well as the importance of including the perspectives of women and minorities in the historical record. During a period in which she fell in love with writing and research, Nagy wrote an award-winning paper about the suppression of free speech during World War I, and which featured early 20th century feminist and civil rights leader, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
Nagy continued her graduate studies at University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she studied with Dr. Karen Kupperman, an expert in early contact between Native Americans and the first European settlers. Nagy wrote her Masters thesis, focusing on the work of the first woman to be accepted into the Connecticut Historical Society as well as literary descriptions of Native Americans in Connecticut during the 19th century. Nagy has extensive background and interest in anthropological, oral history and cultural research.
After graduate school, Nagy applied her academic expertise to a career in publishing, in which she worked for two of the world’s foremost publishers—Princeton University Press and W.W. Norton—as well as at Thomson, Institutional Investor Magazine, Routledge UK, and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.
Kimberly Nagy in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
ARTS – FILM REVIEWS
ARTS – MUSIC
ARTS – PHOTOGRAPHY
The Triple Goddess Trials: Fire in the Head: Brigit’s Mysterious Spark
The Triple Goddess Trials: Introduction
The Triple Goddess Trials – Meeting Virginia Woolf at the Strand
The Triple Goddess Trials: Me and Medusa
The Triple Goddess Trials: Aphrodite and the Lightbulb Factory
The Triple Goddess Trials: Goddess of Milk and Honey
The Triple Goddess Trials: Kali’s Ancient Love Song
ASHLEY – Renee Ashley: A Voice Answering a Voice
BELLI – Giocanda Belli – The Page is My Home
BOLL – Pamela Tanner Boll: Dangerous Women: An Interview with Academy Award Winner Pamela Tanner Boll
DANTICAT – Create Dangerously- A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat
CHARBONNEAU – A Cruise Along the Inside Track: With Le Mobile’s Sound Recording Legend Guy Charbonneau
de BOTTON – The Art of Connection: A Conversation with Alain de Botton
GUPTA – Suneptra Gupta – The Elements of Style: The Novelist and Biologist Discusses Metaphor and Science
HANDAL – Nathalie Handal – Love and Strange Horses
KHWAJA – Waqas Khwaja: What a Difference a Word Makes
MAURO: New World Monkeys: An Interview with Nancy Mauro
MORGANSing, Live, & Love Like You Mean It: An Interview with Bertha Morgan
MOSS – Practical Mystic–Robert Moss: On Book Families, Jung and How Dreams Can Save Your Soul
OGLINE – BEN FRANKLIN.COM: Author & Illustrator Tim Ogline explains why Ben Franklin would be a technology evangelist today
OLSEN – Greg Olsen – Reaching for the Stars: Scientist, Entrepreneur and Space Traveler
PALYA – Beata Palya – The Secret World of Songs
SCHIMMEL – Moonlight Science: A Conversation with Molecular Biologist and Entrepreneur, Paul Schimmel
SHORS – Journey into the Male & Female Brain: An Interview with Tracey Shors
von MOLTKE and SIMMS – Dorothy von Moltke and Cliff Simms: Why Independent Bookstores Matter, Part I
WARD – On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part One, and
On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part Two
WILKES – Labor of Love: An Interview With Architect Kevin Wilkes
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library at 100: From the Stacks to the Streets
Paul Holdengraber: The Afterlife of Conversation
That Email Changed My Life: Rolex Arts Initiative. Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Tracy K. Smith Celebrates Rolex Arts Initiative
First Editions / Second Thoughts — Defending Writers: PEN and Christie’s Raise One Million Dollars to Support Freedom of Expression
ON AFRICA: May 4 to May 10 — Behind the Scenes with Director Jakab Orsos: Co-curated by Award-Winning Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Page is My Home: Giaconda Belli – Nicaraguan Poet, Writer and Public Intellectual
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
The Power of Conversation: David Grossman and Nadine Gordimer – The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture
NEW FROM WILD RIVER BOOKS – Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library
Wild River Books Announces the Stoutsburg Cemetery Project: The Untold Stories of an African American Burial Ground in New Jersey
Wild River Books: Surprise Encounters by Scott McVay
Wild River Review and Minerva’s Bed & Breakfast Presents – “BITTER” Writing in a Weekend: How to Write About the Things We Can’t Change
ALLEN – Quarks, Parks, and Science in Everyday Life: Filmmaker Chris Allen’s Documentary Where Art Meets Science in a Vacant Lot
HOLT – Rush Holt: An Interview with Rush Holt
MANN – Boundless Theater: An Interview with Emily Mann
Keeping Time: A Conversation with Historian James McPherson