Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT August 26th 2020

21 people attended today’s session, from Turkey, London, Pennsylvania, New York, California and other locales. After reading “Plum,” the excerpt from the novel “How Much of These Hills is Gold” by C Pam Zhang, we considered these opening questions, “Who do we see, who do we hear operating in this piece?” The discussion initially centered around beings and relationships: the narrator (age unknown), the mother and child (“Five, full of destruction”), another relative, some important pork, and a dead snake that captured everyone’s attention.

Participants noted how the child’s (Lucy) spirit and enthusiasm fills a home space already brimming with humidity, odors, textures and other sensations that made us wonder not only where home is, but what home is — the text seemed to reframe our very notion of home as we entered the characters’ kitchen to learn about how maternal rules govern the snake’s final home.

The title of the excerpt, “Plum,” inspired dialogue around the juicy fruit with edible skin, desirable and possibly symbolic of other biblical connections to a garden of temptation, a snake, and flooding. As the author referenced unfurling as a revelation, our layered discussion too led us to a paradoxical place, where one participant asserted that “Ma’s rules haven’t bound this child; they encourage liberty.” And as one participant described the snake as an ouroboros circling back onto itself eternally, our conversation returned to the snake and its meaning/associations:  a symbol of healing? Caduceus? A mysterious death? What is its future purpose?

The prompt “Write about the one who makes the rules” elicited a range of rule-making subjects from oneself, to family members, to the spirit. One respondent felt that making choices along their  life path requires  a conversation between a gentler kinder inner being and a “voice in the heavens.”  Each human being  is multidimensional in listening to and following rules. Another wrote “rules are meant to be broken” yet confessed to being reluctant to break rules, to cause trouble, to get caught. The same writer proposed, “I admire those who break the rules for a ‘greater right.’” A listener responded, “I am a rule breaker, and I encourage you to be one.”  Sometimes, wrote another participant, the spirit sets the rules and takes us on a wild ride.  Still another wrote in a rebellious spirit about a brother’s rule for his teenaged sister: girls don’t call boys.  Another writer observed what happens when a child is allowed to make the rules.  First there is hesitancy, then unbridled freedom, then some reactionary rule setting, “worlds within worlds,” and finally a “shrieking as they are visible and naked.” 

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday, August 31st at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


Plum

          It was Ma who laid down rules for burying the dead.

            Lucy’s first dead thing was a snake. Five and full of destruction, she stomped puddles just to see the world flood. She leapt, landed. When the waves quit their crashing she stood in a ditch emptied of water. Coiled at its bottom, a drowned black snake.

            The ground steamed pungent wet. The buds on the trees were splitting, showing their paler insides. Lucy ran home with scales between her palms, aware that the world unfurled its hidden side.

            Ma smiled to see her. Kept smiling as Lucy opened her hands.

            Later, too late, Lucy would think on how another mother might have screamed, scolded, lied. How Ba, if Ba were there, might have said the snake was sleeping, and spun a tale to chase the hush of death right out the window.

            Ma only hefted her pan of pork and tied her apron tighter. Said, Lucy girl, burial zhi shi another recipe.

            Lucy prepared the snake alongside the meat.

            First rule, silver. To weigh down the spirit, Ma said as she peeled a caul of fat from the pork. She sent Lucy to her trunk. Beneath the heavy lid and its peculiar smell, between layers of fabric and dried herbs, Lucy found a silver thimble just large enough to fit over the snake’s head.

            Second, running water. To purify the spirit, Ma said as she washed the meat in a bucket. Her long fingers picked maggots free. Beside her, Lucy submerged the snake’s body.

            Third, a home. The most important rule of all, Ma said as her knife hacked through gristle. Silver and water could seal a spirit for a time, keep it from tarnish. But it was home that kept the spirit safe-settled. Home that kept it from wandering back, restless, returning time and again like some migrant bird. Lucy? Ma asked, knife paused. You know where?

            Lucy’s faced warmed, as if Ma quizzed her on sums she hadn’t studied. Home, Ma said again, and Lucy said it back, chewing her lip. Finally Ma cupped Lucy’s face with a hand warm and slick and redolent of flesh.

            Fang xin, Ma Said. Told Lucy to loosen her heart. It’s not hard. A snake belongs in its burrow. You see? Ma told Lucy to leave the burying. Told her to run off and play.

From  How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

17 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT August 26th 2020

  1. Patricia D

    Age 15
    Who made the rule that girls cannot call boys?
    No way! Why wait? If I like a boy I’m going to dial his number and ask him to go to the Friday night dance with me.
    NO! My big brother, Dennis said.
    Why not? I asked.
    Because…hrr.. because what they think of girls who do that.
    Not fair! my young self said.
    From then on I made my own rules about boys and how I wanted to live my life.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. antoinette56

    Have you ever played a game with a child, maybe 5 or 8 years old, and let them make the rules? At first there’s silence, not quite believing what might be allowed. Then exploration: out of bounds? Free space? How to no longer be “it”? The rules mushroom, pile one on the next as the child warms to the permission, creates world within world of imaginary players tied to the grid, then escaping and netted again, shrieking as they are visible and naked for a moment, then away again, into a web of do’s and dont’s and you’re not allowed and that’s not fair. There’s a wonder that comes suddenly to the child’s face if you don’t ever say No you can’t make that rule.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Antoinette,
      I loved the playfulness of this narrative, despite the frustration I felt when you read it. We had our 7 and 5 yr old godchildren here in July and the older is quite the rule maker. There is no winning. The rules are quite creative and account for every contingency as they present. She is much smarter than me. Your narrative was liberating to me and cautioned me not to squelch the imagination and creativity of a young mind. despite my worry that her friends won’t want to play games with her if they have no chance of winning. Still smiling, Andre

      Like

  3. The one who sets the rules~~~

    How do I live my life,
    what pathway do I follow?
    I am puzzled at times.
    Am I traveling in the right direction?
    There is so much confusion in this world,
    the yes’s— the no’s.
    How do I decide?

    I listen to the inner being lying deep within me,
    the piece of me in the center of my heart.
    The gentler, kinder part of me,
    it truly knows the way.

    And so I listen carefully and quietly.
    I can hear the voice far above in the heavens telling me
    “you know the choice you should make.”
    Listening to that voice, I know.
    It is my guidepost to my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Yewande Okuleye

      I really love the gentle reflection, vulnerability, humility and honestry of this piece. We do not have guidebooks. Even if we had they would be just as confusing. Hence, we must listen to our innervoice and let that guide us. It our precision spiritual compass , like persoanlised medicine I guess. We listen and learn. Thanks for sharing.

      Like

      • Dr Yewande Okuleye

        really love the gentle reflection, vulnerability, humility and honesty of this piece. We do not have guidebooks. Even if we had they would be just as confusing. Hence, we must listen to our inner voice and let that guide us. It our precision spiritual compass, like personalised medicine, I guess. We listen and learn. Thanks for sharing.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Michele,
      Not everyone’s center is kinder and gentler and I am glad yours is and that you can trust it. Even the voice about in the heavens trusts it. What a blessing.
      I like how you posed the difficult question and set about to answer it. I found it interesting that you note confusion and I disorientation in sorting out the rules, and we both find a central compass that guides us. Andre

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Janine M Mariscotti

    I don’t know who sets the rules
    I do know that in third grade when Miss Deborah punished the entire class for misbehaving
    And wrote six blackboard panels worth of homework as punishment
    I went home crying to Mother who looked at the seemingly endless assignments in my notebook
    And promptly slashed the work into a reasonable amount for an eight-year old
    And then sent me back to school the next morning
    Quivering, quivering, quivering
    “May I please be excused to go to the bathroom?”
    “No, be seated.”
    I might just pee my pants as Miss Deborah
    walks slowing down the aisle toward me
    stops at my desk
    looks down into my frightened face
    And quietly, almost gently and with a bit of kind resignation says
    “I’ll speak with your mother after school.”

    I don’t know who sets the rules
    I do know that it was in third grade that I learned this:
    Rules are made to be broken.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr Yewande Okuleye

      Miss Deborah, the quintessential teacher to be found in every class all over the world.
      I guess schools are the first social space where we feel the enforcement of rules and internalise our relationship with rules. We carry this through life and never have much time or space to think about rules. They are omnipresent and rule our lives in obvious and subtle ways. Just like the narrator discovered rules can be unnecessarily harsh. So, is it about the rule or is it more about the pleasure of exercising power and inflicting punishment?

      Like

  5. Dr Yewande Okuleye

    Rubrics masquerade ballgown

    rules are supposed to be broken
    breaking rules is setting rules
    the one who breaks the rules
    is the one who steps away
    from the boundaries

    steps away from the letter of the R U LE S
    stays within the rule of law
    to find the spirit of the rules

    rule breakers
    fly over the rules
    crawl under the rules
    glide through rules
    In search of the essence
    a whiff a nano meaning of the rules

    to remind us how rules feel smell and sit with us
    till over time we agree to abide by the rules
    sometimes
    all the time
    never

    because we have set the rules
    in good taste we follow conventions
    place the knives to the right
    place the forks to the left
    place the spoons – just so
    near the knives or forks
    plate set in the middle

    enjoy the buffer
    why do rules serve the same people?
    time and time again
    how do we stomach these rules?
    why do some rules make us sick?
    can we find freedom in the under belly
    of the rules?
    sum solace

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yewande,
      I would love to be able to follow the creative “rule” you did to write this. I love, “till over time we agree to abide by the rules
      sometimes, all the time, never”. These are our choices and the choice isn’t always clear nor always the same, changeable.
      Andre

      Like

  6. Sometimes it’s the Spirit
    and that can be disorienting.
    You can’t see it.
    You can hear it and feel it,
    But you do not know where it comes from
    or where it will take you.

    So, hold on. (You better hold on.)

    You may not get many rules like…
    first, then second, then third…
    but the Spirit will rule
    or at least prevail
    and you can embrace it
    or let it embrace you.

    There’s no telling where
    the jouney of the Spirit will take you…
    maybe to the the limit of the sky.

    Andre

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Write about the one who sets the rules:

    The rule of thumb was measured by a white husband’s hand.
    Comparing the length of her stride to a yard stick.
    If she outpaced him, it was justified by biology: the graded beaker glass of containment.
    Her tone x shades too dark…
    Her hips y inches too wide…
    Her pleasure: self-possessed.

    Like

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