Friday, November 30, 2012

To Renew (step 3): Learning to Dance

Skyscrapers, please forgive me.
I didn't mean a word I said.
Skyscrapers, I was just tangled up in my own head.
And somehow in all the madness,
I thought that I was seeing straight.
It ain't always pretty, but it seemed there was no other way.
And I guess all I ever loved was standing right before my eyes, and I was blind.
So skyscrapers, please forgive me.
I stand here a penitent man.
Skyscrapers, I'll never look down again.
'Cause I guess all I ever loved was standing right before my eyes.
Yeah, I guess all I ever loved was standing here all the time, and I was blind.
You were right here all the time and I was blind. 

Music Video for the song "Skyscrapers" by OK Go
Director: Trish Sie
Producers: Trish Sie & Paula Salhany
Cinematography and editing: Paula Salhany
Dancers: Moti Bunchboot & Trish Sie

Always I danced when I was young.  And stayed up late with foam curlers in my hair to watch the ballets on PBS -- Giselle, Swan Lake.  Tap and ballet at my tiny angry teacher's house whose shiny wooden floor squeaked beneath our feet.  Many hours clicked away to "The Sunny Side of the Street."  Tap gave me a headache.  But ballet -- "She's very good," another mother said with a surprised voice.  "But tall," said my even taller mother.  Because, as she explained at home, ballet girls need to be short and small so the boys could toss them up in the air, could hold them up and spin them around.  Nothing else in the world did she ever say I couldn't be -- lawyer (I would be so good), doctor (her own sister was one), businesswoman (her aunt), professor (I would be a natural).  "But in ballet they're looking for all the same.  Like a set of girls all alike.  Only primas are taller. And you have to be very very very good to be a prima."  I could tell she didn't think it was a life worthy of tall women like we were always going to be.  So I made up my own dances, like nothing I had ever seen.  Twists and leaps and spins, sideways, backwards, rolling, reaching.  Uncle Dex said he knew people who danced like that.  He even knew one whose name was exactly the same as mine.  "He would," my mother said.

"Do you do ballet?"  I would be asked in surprised voices, at odd moments.  When I picked up a piece of paper off the ground.  When I was just walking and slipped and recovered myself.  "When I was younger,"  I would shrug.  And when no one was around at home through high school, in my college dorm, in the middle of a field, in an empty parking lot, I danced.  I turned up the music, any music, and danced my strange dance.  Will I ever stop dancing?  I wrote once in my breathless journal.  Will I ever grow old?

I married a man who doesn't dance. Much.  He will dance with me.  He tries.

But I myself have not danced for years now.

This month isn't really, isn't only about dancing.

This is the threshold of the month I've been building up for with some trepidation (as if forgiving lots of little things will made the other bigger seem easier, though maybe it will turn out more like Frodo and the ring, but the dancing as a sweetener, as a nonverbal enactment that may slide me around, a way of laying claim to a portion of grace).

This is the hardest step so far, but the step (after decent sleep/work rhythms) that I need most before I can go on with the rest of my life:

Learning to Dance (Dec)
  1. Learn to hula (1+/ wk)
  2. Practice sign language (1+/ wk)
  3. Yoga (2+/ wk)
  4. Forgive something daily
  5. Do exercises in Forgiving Ourselves
  6. Dance every day
  7. Keep to the rhythms of Binding Up Lost Pages (Nov) and Keeping Time (Oct)
the texts: The Dancing Bear by Peter Dickinson,  Forgiving Ourselves: getting back up when we let ourselves down by Wendy Ulrich, The Art of Growing Old: aging with grace by Marie de Hennezel

Thursday, November 29, 2012

haunted by the biscuits of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I had a friend who loved Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea.  She, my friend, made all of us read it.  Okay, she didn't tie us to kitchen chairs and hold a gun to our heads.  But she campaigned for it and talked it up until it would have been awkward to refuse. I had my doubts already.  "Wise" it said on the back cover which means facile as far as I can tell, with a little bit of cliche sprinkled in.  "Wise" is almost as sure a marker for vapidity as "brave" which obviously means in blurbdom "pandering shamelessly to the hottest cause du jour."  

I hated it. To be brief.

Even reminding myself that Lindbergh's silvery simplicities were hard-earned through personal tragedy, I couldn't get myself past the shallow leaps into happy resolution.  I think she must have had a maid.  No one who had to do their own laundry could be so trusting of her own ability to live in grace.

Especially I remember hating one passage where she equates writing her poetry to making biscuits.  They are both, to her, creative acts.  Equally satisfying in different ways. Which makes me think her biscuits must be out of this world and her poetry not worth hunting down.

I hate that poetry=biscuit with slightly different ingredients idea.

That anything but writing can substitute for writing.  Almost as bad as that other idea that writing can be substituted for anything else. Like people who say, "My books, mother, are my babies."  (From another "wise" and "brave" book.  Maybe I'm just not the right audience for this kind of horatory navel-gazing.)

So I'll just say, as far as I'm concerned:  Children are not anything but children.

Dogs are not children, cats are not children, pet parakeets are not. (Sorry -- no matter how many times you burble "Mommy's home, Felix"  -- you're not his mommy.)  Raising orchids is not raising children.  Climbing mountains is not.  Books are not, racing motorcycles is not, sewing up injured owls is not, hospitals built in Haiti are not.  Each of these are more or less (some less than more) wonderful on their own.

They all take time, money, commitment.  Many may be mutually exclusive.  But the book or the cure or the computer code is not really your baby which will grow up and talk back at you and expect to borrow your keys and then wipe dribble off your chin in your old age.  (With other stops along the way, of course: I'm summarizing.)

You don't raise children, then you miss out on that experience.

Just like if you don't climb mountains, you can't claim "raising Joey was my Everest."  Well, you can, because that's what figurative language is for.  But it's stupid if you believe what you're saying has any kind of parity with "Last summer I climbed K2."  Because everyone else knows you didn't really do something all that much like mountaineering.  You're just saying it's a big deal, raising Joey, and it took a lot of time and was pretty hard, too.

And vice versa. 

And it goes for writing, too.  Writing is not anything but writing.  Well, maybe film-making is also writing.  But nothing else.

Taking pictures, for example.  That's not writing. 

But sometimes it feels a little bit like writing.  But it also feels a little bit like cheating.  Because (1) it takes a lot less time, (2) it's very easy, (3) I don't know why, it just does.

Maybe it's because my grandfather and my uncle were both photographers who won competitions and sold photographs to magazines.  Both of them developed their own films through alchemical mysteries in rooms bathed in mysterious red light.  They had immense cameras that weighed as much as small refrigerators and many buttons that they had to fiddle over forever.  It was all very satisfyingly arcane.

Me, I carry a little pocket thing -- in my pocket.  While I walk.  While I bike. While I cook.  While I'm doing other things.  I see something.  I stand there.  I look at it through the lens until I can really see it and then I push a button.  Sometimes I kneel down.  I look at it from upside down.  I see how it's different with the sunlight from this side or that side. I don't really know how to take pictures except to know enough that I'm not taking real pictures.  I'm just showing what I saw.  What I liked that I saw.

And I have a fatal weakness for the pretty.  I like edges of things and light seen through things.  Which is not unlike what I do in the writing, too.  Which makes me think the reason I hate Lindbergh's writing so much is because she is my semblable, ma soeur.  And I am her hypocrite reader.

But it makes me very happy to take pictures while often it makes me miserable to write.

Is that a good sign or a bad sign?  Does that mean the writing I do is more serious than the picture-taking?

I write like I have some kind of mental illness.  No matter how unrewarding it is to write, I keep writing.  How pointless the actions I put myself through.  How asocial the writing process requires me to become.  I keep giving up writing and then finding ways to keep writing under a different rubric.  A different name.

But with picture-taking, the action is itself as much fun as fingerpainting.  And more social because most of my family and friends don't mind looking at my pictures and some of them even hang out with me when I stop to look at stuff.

But the picture-taking is also more fun because I'm not aiming for some Platonic ideal of a photo.  I'm not aiming for some kind of excellence and wouldn't know what that excellence would be made of.  It's not really the picture that matters.  It's the getting to stop and stand very still and look really closely.  It's the seeing.  And it's nice if afterwards someone else can see what I saw too.

But then I think, Isn't that also what I'm trying to do when I write?  This picture for example, when I stopped to take it my older son said,

"I like it when you make me stop so you can take pictures.  You make me see that things are really pretty that I would never have even looked at."

And isn't that what I want everything I write to do, too?  So picture-taking is a kind of writing.

I don't like that.

Picture-taking allows more hiding.  It's just more comfortable for my psyche, more protected-feeling.  It's just a picture of thistle heads, I can say.  But there are reasons, political, historical, faith-centered, and very personal why I think this kind of picture, taken from this angle, at this time of day, is worth recording.  Is worth demanding your attention for.

And moreover I was a little dishonest in what I said earlier about not knowing what excellence would be made of.  I think I have some inklings.  I don't like every picture I take.  So I must have some sense of what makes a picture worth looking at.

And sometimes I think I have a clearer idea of that than of what would make something worth reading.

Are biscuits that far off as a contender for creative space?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

a place for saying good-bye

Every good-bye holds within it every other good-bye that's come before.  And maybe the good-byes yet to be.  I don't know.  But the idea is comforting -- grief enclosed in a matryoshka doll of connection. 

I've just driven to the airport holding hands with my Middlest.  We have talked ourselves out.  Her two brothers in the backseat look out the windows. 

Afterwards, driving back along the river, this landscape is even lovelier than it was on our way in.  The Feed & Seed store sign is poignant with nostalgia.  The rusty bumper of the truck parked along the highway -  beneath the orange autumn leaves  - above the shorn fields  - against the milky mountains swathed in snow and fog -- it all works together.  Plangent symphony of season's end. All oboes and viola.  We three coming back where we had been four before,  not bereft, but attuned to every note of good-bye in the landscape around us.  Vibrating to that frequency.

"I'm not crying this time," says Young.  "I thought I would be."

"You think you've learned something?" I ask him.

"Yeah."  And falls silent.

"That she can go and she can come back again?" which is what I think I'm learning.

"Maybe," he says.

Maybe we're not learning anything.  Maybe we're just driving back home.

Just a few months ago, when it was September and not November, we flew back home after leaving her behind at her new university.  The first morning home, I felt left behind. She had left laundry in the dryer.  I folded it, burying my face in it, tee-shirt by tee-shirt, breathing the lingering physical memory of her in, before anyone else had gotten out of bed.

All last summer she and I had been chipper and cheerful, a team together working to keep the boys on an even keel, with no time for thinking about saying good bye. With Fritz helping as he could when he was home, the two of us had kept our household through the hardest weeks after the adoption.  I had no emotions of my own that summer, too busy holding weeping faces tucked into my shoulder.  I rocked and sang, ran and joked, while our newly Youngest adjusted to life Among Us, adjusted to the coming and going and coming and going of these fun-making young women who were suddenly his sisters.  While our suddenly tall Young Son adjusted to being no longer the youngest, adjusted to the prospect of no sisters at home any more laughing over him like aspens, like apple trees generous and sweet.  Sisters at distance, still a grace in all our lives, but no present harvest.

I've been so lucky in the kindness these daughters have cast around themselves like dappled shade.  Beyond what I ever thought probable. 

In September, that first morning back after dropping Middlest off at her university, breathing the scent of her clothes left behind, the whole summer fell in on me, all the things I hadn't given time to feel, the loss of all it has meant to me to be the mother of daughters at home.  I sent myself to the shower and could hear from the kitchen, "Dad, I think Mom is in trouble.  Dad?  Is Mom okay?"

"Are you?"  he asked a few minutes later.

I gulped into Fritz' embrace, "I feel.  Gutted."  Because she who has been the center of so many of our orbits had gone away.

All the rest of September we kept singing
God be with you 'til we meet again  
May His counsels guide uphold you  
With His sheep securely fold you . . .
and when we sang, it would carry me back to the morning we left her, the last moment we actually stood together, all still in the same place, arms around each other in a small tight circle in the center of  her quiet campus, our voices lifting in the soft early air, singing just those words into each other's faces.

But now, driving home again, at the end of November, I am not broken.  In fact, I feel whole and full, present to the beauty of this place, awake to the sweetness of connection.   
 For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,
Our Newest-and-Youngest will ask me to sing this song later tonight when I tuck him into bed.  "That song," he will call it, not remembering its name, "that you sang before Middlest left this morning."   
For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child.  
Friends on earth and friends above. the drive home now this afternoon, Young and Youngest look out the windows.  We will be almost home before Mid's plane leaves earth.

We drive into the town just south of where we live.  The four-story candle is standing where it has stood since we first drove here years ago looking for a place to live.   

Wind had blown the candle down last week.  Stubborn human insistence had hauled it back up again.

Young (no longer Youngest) Son spots the nearly full moon pale in the still-bright sky.  A flock of geese languidly wing below it.  We agree it would make a perfect autumn picture if you could somehow line them all up -- set them in space to stay -- but they keep moving as we drive past -- the snowy mountains pushing their heads up into frosty blue sky through the fog, the stubble fields flickering past, the autumn trees shifting, the almost full moon's ghostly face, the flock winging away.

A week ago when both girls, both Eldest and Mid, were still at home, we had meant to paint the windows for Christmas.  But time slipped away.

Time always slips away.

Last weekend when it was Eldest who slipped away before the sun was up, I rose to a sense of heaviness.  Not any emotion with an easy name, just weight.  Gravity having its full effect.

I think maybe there are electrons, or smaller invisible particles, that belong to my atoms but have become quantumly entangled with her atoms.  That are accidentally carried along she goes, when they go, when anyone I love goes away.  The ache of parting is the stretch those particles have to endure, reaching from here to an ever-widening there.

Middlest helped her brothers paint the windows after Eldest left.  They left some windows clear for Eldest to paint when she returns. Because there *will* be a time when everyone will be back together again in a few short weeks for Christmas, possibly our last Christmas all together.

Middlest helped me this morning chart out our next week on the hallway chalkboard.  "15 Days!"  she wrote on next Saturday, "Till Sisters come Home!"

I think there will be a part of me always driving home along this stretch of road.

As I drive, I drive through the first time we drove this road along the river when Eldest and Middlest were just two little girls asleep on each other's shoulders.  I drive through my own even earlier return to school at this same time of year in a colder valley, leaving my parents behind.  I drive through all the times I've driven away afterward, on roads all over the continent.  The last time I saw my best friend in Ohio, the ride home from my grandfather's funeral through the arid St. George valley he loved best in all the world.

I love it that my Middlest loves this stretch of sad towns along the river with a fierce tenderness I recognize.  Of all my children, she is the one who understands my feeling for this place.  We've debated if this attachment to this place comes from just knowing it so well. The cross-country hours she's spent running almost everywhere around here, on all these roads, have taught her all the hidden corners.  The smell of leaves at this corner, the unexpected view on this unexpected rise.  When I explore by bike, she's the only one who recognizes where I've been.

So driving through these woods today is like driving through our time together.  The roads we've known. 

The place we've made between us. A place of leave-taking and love to which, I think, we will always return.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

stooped stuff

My life is full of stooped stuff.

You may  have read that as stupid stuff.  It's a common error.  A mistake I make myself all the time.

It seems lately like I'm always bent down listening, biding my time, biting my tongue.  Allowing my days to be spent on minutiae.

Like last weekend when, instead of writing, instead of an important meeting, instead of participating in a humanitarian relief effort, Son and I went to an orchid show.  I kept asking myself, Why am I doing this? 

I don't really know. He likes orchids. I like him and orchids are pretty.

So we went.

I can't say we accomplished much worthwhile.

He had homework he should have done. 

It's not like he's fascinated with orchids in the same way he was with rocks or dinosaurs when he studied up all the Latin names and could sort them by types.  He doesn't really care what the names of the orchids are.

Neither do I.

Most of the orchid growers were sad-looking men with gray teeth.  All that time and money spent.

The flowers were exquisite.

Another thing Son and I did last weekend was hunt out purple cauliflower at the farmer's market.  It took us more than an hour.

But then we found it.

Along the way we also found romanesco broccoli. And some kind of exotic Romanian rutabaga. And fresh walnuts.

And almond brioche.  Especially almond brioche.  It was raining and so we tried to keep the brioche dry in its little paper bag and ran back to the car to eat it.

It was delicious.

So was the purple cauliflower.  I haven't cooked the fancy rutabaga yet.  I'll get to it.

Sometime.  When I'm not spending half an hour with my arms around an angry nine-year-old, sitting on the side of his bed:  "You're probably just trying to keep me from being with everyone else!"

"I am? That doesn't sound like me.  What might be some other reason I'm sitting here with you?"

"You want me to learn my lesson."

"Hmm.  I don't know what lesson you might be learning, do you?  Maybe.  But is there some other reason you can think of?"

"You want me to calm down."

"Mmm, yeah.  If I let you go out and try to hang out with them right now, would any of you have a good time?"

"You don't want me to have a fight with them."

"That sounds more like it.  I do really want you to have good experiences together. So do you want the covers on while you take a rest now?"

"Okay.  Will you wake me up before they paint the windows?"


All this stooped stuff.  All this time-thirsty standing still, bending down, walking around, looking at things, holding people on my lap, getting nothing really done.

Except what matters most.

Monday, November 12, 2012

writing The Window

  . . . and fitting old words with new words in a brighter way:

The Window

I shall observe it with my whole heart

Ecstasy, the real kind, that’s what I’m on the lookout for.  Not the street-style cooked-up chemical variety.  I’ve seen too much what that can do.  I don’t do that shit – sorry – I realize that’s a slam against good manure.  A year of shoveling chicken poop into the compost, a year of spreading it once it's mellowed into magic along the plant rows has given me a healthy regard for  what shit really is and I wouldn’t want to offend the force of fertility that makes it all possible by taking one of its names in vain.

Because, like I said, I’m on the hunt for moments of ecstasy, real bliss, peak experiences.  I collect them.  Other people’s mostly, though I’m not against stumbling into the blazing pillar of light in my own right.  Problematic, though,  your own joy.  The moment you begin to realize it’s come upon you,  the bright colors are already dying away like a trout’s back. 

Not a metaphor, I want you to know, that trout fading away from brilliance, but actually one of my own blessed moments out of time.  It came upon me the last year of high school, fishing up on the Mackenzie one rare weekend when Dad took a break from cooking for the tourists in his place in Macallister, Idaho.  What was more exciting,  the frantic flashing silvery muscle that was the fish, the blaze in my father’s eyes, my own thrill, which the moment I became aware died off fading already like the fish settling down, turning dull and edible.

It’s the moment right before I’m after.  The moment before time steps in through the window.  I want to have a string of these to comfort myself when I turn old.  The plump lady in short-sleeved eyelet in her retooled butter yellow convertible on one of our rare sunny days.  The gas station owner down in New Mexico, so dignified, his crisp shirt, so obviously ironed, his obvious anachronistic pride in ownership of this small gas station out on the desert.  The little girl next door squashing bugs.  Observation of another’s bliss is a purer pleasure.  No history to complicate the moment.  No future revisions that recolor the moment.

I carry no camera.  The camera, that vehicle of self-awareness which is at odds with unencumbered ecstasy.  The apparatus gets in the way.

Scary to realize this is a philosophy that comes straight from my mom.  She would call it ironic – that’s the English teacher in her — my saying it, my claiming her comment about the obtrusive and obscuring apparatus.  It’s the argument she uses against what she calls my “facial hardware” and “body art.”  And she thinks I never listen. 

. . .
 Today I'm loving the whole process. 

 13420 words down |  36580 words to go

Saturday, November 10, 2012

known by heart

The other day I was hanging out on Mars' Hill.  Actually,  maybe it was Walmart -- I mean, Washington Mall, and the lady next to me piped up, "You mean Washington Square Mall?  Have they got their Christmas decorations up yet?"

And I said, "Actually, I was thinking that big stretch of pavement between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument."

"I suppose either one would do," she says, this woman in the crowd, who might -- now that I get a good look at her -- be my alter ego, the one who always takes the topic off-topic, her.

Anyway, right then this guy starts talking.  He was built like a wrestler, short with a stubborn jaw.  He says, "Hey guys!"  or maybe it was, "Ye men of Athens!"  And the woman and I look at each other, because we know all about gender-inclusive language and we raise our eyebrows, shrug, but we have a feeling he might be talking to us.

He says, looking at us like we got that one right, "I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious."

"Who are you calling superstitious!" roared the loudmouth who lives in every crowd.

I'm not saying the bully was a boy or girl, because gender aside, you know exactly the type I'm talking about.  And maybe this loudmouth didn't say it exactly like that.  I studied this was the Id, after all, and we all know what the Id says. Anyway, they were spitting and pounding and making a case and it sounded something like "Superstition? We finished that in the 40s, or the middle ages, or only scraps of it hang out now in third world countries, or the inner cities, or hick towns, or at the other end of the political spectrum.  Not here in Athens.  Not us.  Now we know things.  We don't put trust in fairy tales.  We know how to fly to the moon.  We know. . . "

"Well, some of us do,"  said one self-satisfied customer.

"Some of us know better," said another.  "God knows we know better."

"Than to go dragging God-talk into everything," finished the first.

These two were practically indistinguishable and must have been some kind of identical twins.  The same cross-eyed irritation, the same dog-dirt-on-the-shoe lipcurl.  They kept looking at each other, but only out of the side of their eyes with a skewed glance.

Loudmouth just kept talking over both of them, even louder, "We're not superstitious.  We know what's what.  We know just what will happen next with all our projections and our computer models.  We know just what needs to be done to fix the economy and our kids and those crazies on the next block, the next continent over.  We know --"

"Well, we may not know ourselves," interrupted another, all earnest Adam's apple, "But we know people who know.  And we can quote them chapter and verse, I mean, we can give all their statistics.  And what they say we know that's so.  Because they know.  That's why we call them experts, I mean, celebrities . . . or preachers, I mean, scientists or . . . you know.  And I think you can agree, we know so much nowadays that what we don't know  -- "

"It's not worth knowing," finished the loudmouth in the crowd.

"Yeah, I noticed that," said the short guy, a little shortly, "As I passed by and beheld your devotions."  At the tone of his voice, I think we all glanced up from our various devices.  Over which we had been so bent.  Letting the cursor blink, the fine fabrics slip from our fingers back to the counter of the stall in the bazaar, the coins clink back.  Somewhere off in the crowd there was a ping of another message coming through but we all tried to ignore it.  "I found an altar," said the guy in a clear voice, "With this inscription:


Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship." 

And before any of us could ruffle ourselves up to a full umbrage, he went on, "Him declare I unto you."

And at this point I felt a huge yearning, Who is this Unknown God? Because that's the One I'm most interested in. 

And I must have said it out loud because the lady next to me said, "I know exactly what you mean.   I get a little tired how people -- not to be blasphemous but it really is a blasphemy how sometimes they, or maybe I mean we and if I've done it, I'm sorry -- make God into a Jesus-puppet on our own hand.  You know, how anybody makes God say only what they say."

And another from the crowd, a woman with a tired face, said, "That's not God. Not the platitudes and political slogans that people pound into clubs to pound down their neighbors.  Not the preachers pounding their pulpits.  Not the activists acting almighty."   And the two twin-faced sneerers scuffed the ground and looked ashamed.

Then a child spoke up,  "God is who we know by reaching.  In the dark probably.  In our hearts."

"Which are dark enough," said the old, old woman holding the child's hand.

I looked around the crowd, which may have just been my divided self, or maybe it was my country, or my town, and I wondered . . . 

 . . . how it can be that we are all one blood. All coming from the Unknown, all made in Truth.  Which seems so far away.

But the short guy with a wrestler's stubborn stance shook his head, "Not far from any one of us."

He looked at us all, full in the face and in all our fifty-two eyes at once (that being the number of weeks in the year and of the weak, wild things that we are) and he said, "Everything is given.  And the reason why?  That they should seek the Lord, if by chance they might feel after him and find him, though he be not far from every one of us . . .

Right here,  I think I may have whispered it aloud.  Closer than the next breath.

" . . . for in him we live and move and have our being."

And this is what happens when I start learning words by heart.  They start to take on independent life within me.

Or maybe I in them.


8948 words down |  41052 words to go

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

as clear as day

as clear as 1-2-3  . . . 

Daylight savings time explained, the title promises.  And in even less time than it takes to read that . . . 

. . . there it is, showing how Daylight Savings tries to keep sunrise happening as near to the same time as possible all year long. This is from one of my favorite sites:  I like having it pop up in my Facebook feed: interesting and often useful facts presented with clarity and without rancor.  Makes for a pleasant contrast. 

Instead of bombastic comment threads constantly tangled by trolls, the posts on usually elicit a shiny snail trail of commenters who look like could be part of my private tribe: they ride bikes, they hold babies, they adore and worry about the kinds of things I adore and worry about:

This is outstanding. All my frustrations about daylight savings/standard time in one, handy graphic.

I love that you have frustrations about daylight savings time
I love that someone else in the world is bugged by this messing about with time.

Myself, I hated it, the way the sun kept rising to its zenith after noon had come and gone, during those long, hot summers when I worked as a groundskeeper (driving my tractor, refueling my tractor, cleaning again the air filter of my tractor from all the dandelion gone to seed and thistle down, pushing lawnmower, painting benches and walls, beheading thistles) for the Walworth County lands (old folks home on one side of the county highway, halfway house on the other).

I hate even now the unnatural jump ahead when an hour is stolen in the spring and never feel recompensed to fall back with an extra hour in the fall.  I'd like to live by solar time - where winter hours are shorter and summer hours are longer - not standard time that measures out a clicking tick-tock inflexibly and by legislative fiat.

Factory time.  Casino time.  Time made into a tool with designs against humanity.


On the other hand, I do love the idea of design in the service of humanity.  Which I find encapsulated in infographics.  And in symbols.  I like the whole project of presenting information as a sudden totality of realization. Which is why I believe in vision.  This kind of sudden recognition of how things fit is not quite the "total book"  Borges'  librarians search their whole lives for: "on some shelf in some hexagon, it was argued, there must exist a book that is the cipher and perfect compendium of all other books." More like the pattern the Libarian imagines:
"I will be bold enough to suggest this solution to the ancient problem:  The Library is unlimited but periodic.  If an eternal traveler should journey in any direction, he would find after untold centuries that the same volumes are repeated in the same disorder -- which, repeated, becomes order:  the Order.  My solitude is cheered by that elegant hope."
A picture, a poem, a pattern that can tell the truth more concisely than exponential notation.


I also love it that my favorite childhood heroine drew one of the first and best and most-effective-for-real-change-in-the-world truth-telling graphics, getting a difficult and complicated truth finally across with an elegant image.  Here's Florence Nightingale's visual poem, "Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East":

 © Copyright: All Rights Reserved by the author. Check original source for more information

I want to write something as clear and as useful.


But reading again Donne's Meditation 17 and Borges' "Library of Babel" -- I see how deep my roots are in the verbose and the duplicitous.  Where one word would do, I want to put two. Or four.

And so often, when I speak, I do.

6816 words down |  43184 words to go

Monday, November 5, 2012

the sun when it rises

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? 
saying, matter, discords, rounds, figure

Well, me for one.  I was spinning.  Or maybe I was showering. The sun rose when I wasn't looking, when I wasn't looking for it, because I don't need its light to get on with my day.  To tell the truth, the sun then set alone some hours later  -- again without my notice.

Sadly, Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? is a rhetorical that has lost its kick since John Donne asked it in 1623.  More apt to ask -- Who will even lift an eye to notice the sun at all?  Here in my town, on the fogged-over edge of the world, we are all so much more lighthearted when the sun shines that you'd think we'd stand each morning ready to herald the sun's first surge, that we'd lean shoulder-to-shoulder in a moment of silence as it slipped away for the night.  But we don't.  Electric light, TV screens, computer monitors, handheld devices of all kinds, all these light our faces long after the sun has set.  The sun rolls across the sky on a path we hardly ever trace.

We're endlessly distracted. Which is from the Latin distractus "drawn asunder or apart, turned aside", from dis "away" + trahere "to draw."  It means we've let ourselves be led away and apart.

When Donne asked, Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises?, he meant it differently than we can now even imagine. Donne's world was lit by candlelight and firelight and starlight.  Dimly lit.  Night was dark.  Darkly dark.  Day came like a revelation.

Now sunrise seems a little faded.  And sunset muted.

Does it matter really that most of us now live days and days without noticing when the sun has set or risen?  I think it does.  The first item on my list when I sat down to plot out my year of Renewal was this need I have -- this need I think our culture has -- to reconnect with real time.

I'm saying it does matter, that it's not healthy the way we figure we can ignore the sun rolling through her rounds above our regularly scheduled political discords.

Which is from the Latin discordia "disagreeing, disagreement", from dis "apart" +  cor (genitive cordia) "heart". It means our hearts are very far.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

attending sunset

How troublesome words are.

If I'd been content to merely "witness"  sunset as I've been witnessing the sunrise this past month, a quick acknowledgement of its appearance (or non-) would have seemed enough.  But "attend" seems to require something a little more deliberate.

Speaking of which.  How accidental are accidents? Or are they all secretly deliberate?

Before my youngest son joined us this past summer, what was I really thinking-- that morning before I even knew for certain he was going to come? What intention gathered beyond my knowing as I fingered again the little white raspberry on top of the butter dish dome, silently congratulating myself once again, on my clever cleverness at that long-ago estate sale when I scooped it up for next to nothing -- noting again how breakable my doted-on Dansk Blanc butter dish was. How easy for small and unaccustomed fingers to let it slip and fall.  How I would hate to see it broken, my lovely raspberry-lidded butter dish.  How of course people are more important than things.  How I would just have to resign myself to that eventuality. 

Within the week, my butter dish, plate and cover had slipped one hasty morning, slipping from my own not-small and well-accustomed fingers, even the little berry on top shattering into as many pieces as was necessary to take care at least of that worry before my son-to-be, my son-who-now-is moved in.

But it was an accident.

    Too rich for my taste to replace.

Just like my erasing all the pictures from the last tense and dutiful weeks of August as we packed up my irreplaceable Middlest and delivered her up to her new life. Weeks I wanted to be focused on her, but weeks I knew doting case workers were expecting to see in full-color pictures at our next monthly check-in, expecting to gather up and email on to every therapist and fosterer and grandparent our youngest son had brought in his wake.  Too many emotions and cross-currents and none I wanted to keep recording. The grimaces and awkward hugs, the brief sweet moments between pouts and tantrums.  When there was peace and ease I wanted to live in it, not be photographing it.  Everywhere I went I felt I carried their double-agent, my camera, no longer a friend with patient eyes, but an obtuse intruder keeping tabs on my family.

And then I misplaced my camera USB cord.  And then I accidentally erased all the pictures from August before I could copy them over.  There was a pang of loss, of course.  To have lost all those last pictures of my daughter.  A few sweet bursts of laughter between my sons.  But I would be lying to say I wasn't first swept with naked relief that now I wouldn't ever have to sort through the mass of those mostly unharmonious snapped shots.  Relief to have an unexceptionable excuse for the small smattering of canned smiles I could pass along to official entities.  And keep all the rest only in my memory.

Accidental?  And what about washing my phone dead and then drying it deader, so no one could get hold of me any more, at the height of my frustration with constant phone calls?  How it took me two months to find enough time to replace it?  It was such a pain to have to conduct all my business by email or landline.  Some busy-ness just dropped off because I was too hard to get hold of.  Was all that accidental?  I think it was. I'll claim it was.

Surely it was not deliberate.

And now, scarcely have I begun to unwind my story of the snail, that mute braggart of deliberation, scarcely have I begun to uncoil my inner guard's inner spiral than I find my Self evicted from her longtime lodging -- or did she break out on her own?

I didn't think I was ready to break out of the shell so soon. But I smashed this shell in a moment of inattention.  This shell kept safe for years.  Years and years.  I had fingered it day after day without ever breaking it.  And now when I wanted to really look into it, there is no in to look into.  Sunlight shines right through the broken chambers.

I want to make a new symbol of this already.

But my symbol-maker is tired.  Sunset comes earlier and earlier.

My body yearns more and more to get to bed earlier and earlier, too.  Someday, I keep promising myself, I will sleep from sunset to sunrise all the year around.  When I tell other people this ambition they are suitably unimpressed.

The things I do make time for are so inexcusably slight.  The things I never accidentally forget.

I love my daily diagram.

I love my private photographs of things no one is expecting to see.

Says my older son one sunset when he walks with me and I stop to take pictures of thistle gone to seed in the last light,  You make me see that things are really pretty that I would never have even looked at.  I love that.

I love writing 1000 words a day no matter what.

I love my spinning class.  As in bicycle, not yarn.  I love the sweat and especially I love endorphin bliss I carry around all day afterward.

And yes, I love having a requirement where I must -- sorry, the light's going, I've got to go right now -- slip outside and up to the top of the street where I can see the sunset properly.  Attend it.

That regular festivity. That meeting.  That farewell concert in the skies.

Today's 5 words were randomly plucked from 
Sweet and Sour: Tales from China Retold: 
  1. scarcely
  2. lodging
  3. guard's
  4. braggart
  5. or
Did you notice when they showed up?

    Saturday, November 3, 2012

    commingling promiscuously with routine

    "We adore chaos because we love to produce order." by M.C. Escher, quoted in The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel

    Take any five words, says Stanley Fish.  How many sentences can you make from them?  This is a game.


    That was the first word, or rather it was two words:  tal vez.  But for English it counts as one. Maybe. (If you prefer the alternative translation.)
    1. tal vez
    2. pozos
    3. barandas
    4. cualquier
    5. caras 
    These are the first five words, not randomly chosen, but the first five I can't immediately translate during my first day's reading of La biblioteca de Babel.  
    1. perhaps (maybe)
    2. wells
    3. railings
    4. any
    5. faces
    And what's strange is that it's only now I realize how strangely fitting to have culled my first five words for this experiment on Fish's words from Borges' "Library of Babel."  More exactly, from Borges' "La biblioteca de Babel," because I'm un-fluently reading it en espaƱol, a story that begins with an English epigraph from the 17th century Art of Melancholia by Robert Burton:  
    By this art you may contemplate the variation of the 23 letters . . . 
    I contemplate the variations of 5 words only, because the variations of even a reduced alphabet (23 letters are all those Latin hombres had) are unimaginably numerous, as Burton continues to explain " . . . which may be so infinitely varied, that the words complicated and deduced thence will not be contained within the compass of the firmament; ten words may be varied 40,320 several ways"

    So what can be made of my first five words?
    1. Perhaps any other faces, swollen with the railings of rage, in which the mournful eye wells up too readily with tears, would be at most bathetic. 
    2. At any time, their faces would appear, perhaps too startlingly, above the railings around the poisoned wells.   
    3. Perhaps wells without any railings are nothing compared to what she already faces.
    This is an exercise in chasing revelation by way of routine.  Part of the 1000 words a day.  Word games.  Comminglings.  Transcendence, if we are lucky.  

    "We who look at religion from the outside think of transcendence as something that occurs at special moments in bursts of illumination but people raised in homes where ritual occurs over breakfast and at dinner and in school and throughout weekends know that revelation commingles promiscuously with routine"  from The Sabbath World by Judith Shulevitz.

    I have lived this past month with Judith Shulevitz' The Sabbath World.  A playful work of erudition and autobiography and economic history.  Witty and spirited, ambivalently spiritual and ambidextrously wise.  Like some delightful house guest whose gracious appreciation for what you had thought mundane and merely required reveals the extraordinary in all the daily routine.  I'm not ready to say good-bye to her good company.

    Though it may get crowded soon, now that we have Donne declaiming in the shower in the mornings: "No man is an island"  and Borges feverishly pulling books out of the bookshelves: "I know districts in which the young people prostrate themselves before books and like savages kiss their pages, though they cannot read a letter . . . "

    "La luz que emiten es insuficiente, incesante."  La biblioteca de Babel by Jorge Luis Borges                                        "The light which they emit is insufficient and unceasing."      

    And already on the second day, my 1000 words had to be recorded by voice into my phone as I drove two hours from the Ft. Clatsop coast where I spent the day teaching hides & furs at Lewis & Clark's winter camp to a peppy, crowded women's convention in Portland with dancing in the aisles.  The five random words that day came from the road:

    1. material
    2. surveyor
    3. fuller
    4. yield
    5. stop
     Which can be made to say
    1. To yield a fuller material report, the surveyor must stop and take time actually to see.
    2. Material want led the surveyor to yield up a fuller account of field output in order to stop corruption.
    Which sounds like so much legalese that I think it can get me nowhere.  Too much chaos, too heavy-handed the order.

    Today, W.S. Merwin's Selected Poems gives me
    1. over
    2. same
    3. yet
    4. behind
    5. thistles
    Simple words unlocking bigger doors.
    1.  Summer is over and yet the mountains are the same behind the thistle.
    2. The thistle behind the fence is the same, yet not the same, as the other over the road.
    3.  Perhaps thistles, each a stubborn surveyor of material reality, are glad they must stop where they stand,must stand the same as always behind the reflector-flecked railings of the road, over hidden wells of water, standing there to yield up their airy fluff of seed across the fuller field as they witness winter's unrolling, facing yet without any faces.
    Or something like that.

    3937 words down |  46063 words to go

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