Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Over all the hilltops
Among all the treetops
You feel hardly
A breath moving.
The birds fall silent in the woods.
Simply wait! Soon
You too will be silent.

- Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Monday, December 25, 2006

How It Is with Want

"However he had managed it, the crisis was over. Our larder was full again, and we no longer stood up from meals craving more, no longer moaned about our gurgling bellies. You'd think this turnaround would have earned our undying gratitude, but the fact was that we quickly learned to take it for granted. Within ten days, it seemed perfectly normal that we should be eating well, and by the end of the month it was hard to remember the days when we hadn't. That's how it is with want. As long as you lack something, you yearn for it without cease. If only I could have that one thing, you tell yourself, all my problems would be solved. But once you get it, once the object of your desires is thrust into your hands, it begins to lose its charm. Other wants assert themselves, other desires make themselves felt, and bit by bit you discover that you're right back where you started."

- Paul Auster, Mr. Vertigo

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Modern Navel Gazing

My daughter and I wandered around an athletic shoe store last night as we finished up our Christmas shopping. Of the thousands of shoes on display, the one or two she was interested in were not available in her size. Even the pair she settled on fell into a puzzling gray area between too small and too large. Two young women continued their discussion of the various scheduling and employee discount policies of other stores in the mall as we approached the cash register. Neither of them ever made eye contact with us.

As the younger woman rang us up, she called out to a male employee who had just come around the counter. “Hey, how does this look?”

She lifted up the front of her shirt to reveal her bright pink belly button jewelry with several parts all mysteriously held in place and dangling from the canvas of her skin.

“Looks good,” the guy told her. “Where’d you get it?”

“Hot Topic,” she said, suggesting that she worked it in over her break. “I used to have a martini glass, but I lost my olive.”

A previous generation aspired to play out what they’d seen on movie screens, my generation remains alert for opportunities to use the smart ass humor we grew up with watching sitcoms, while the current generation is busy acting out millions of personal reality shows. Innuendo and sugar-coated romance have retired to a gated community in Florida, sarcasm is still fighting to make a painfully honest living, and the navels we gaze at now belong to strangers.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

To Study the Self is to Forget the Self

Quotes from Eihei Dogen, one of the founders of the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism:

Although we say that mountains belong to the country, actually, they belong to those who love them.

When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you grasp things directly. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illumined the other side is dark.

To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mind the Gap

"You know marriage and kids, it’s wonderful, but it doesn’t give you meaning. I mean it gives you an imperative, but it doesn’t help you. My father always used to say -- you know in the tube -- ‘Mind the gap.’ I don’t know, it’s just the distance between life as you dream it and life as it is."

- Cate Blanchett as Sheba Hart in Notes on a Scandal

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies

From Jonathan Carroll's blog today (it reminds me of the Secret Santa I read about yesterday, the poem Jorie Graham read on KCRW, and - much less poetically - an article on the etiquette of regifting I read this morning):

"Every year at this time a friend goes a little crazy and bakes hundreds of Christmas cookies which she then gives away to friends and co-workers. Each person gets a box of them that must weigh four pounds. Even if you're a Christmas cookie fanatic, it takes weeks to eat all of them. I got my stash earlier today. Carrying it home under my arm, I bumped into a really raggedy street person who looked like he hadn't had a merry Christmas in one hell of a long time. He asked for money. Instead I spontaneously offered him the box of cookies. He snatched it out of my hands and looked it over suspiciously, as if it were a joke or a ticking bomb ready to go off in his face. Satisfied that it was okay, the man asked shyly if he could open it. Then he asked what was inside. Before I could answer, he saw the mound of cookies in there and his face transformed. Cookies! he said, almost groaning. Cookies, cookies, cookies. He wouldn't stop saying that word as he reached in, grabbed a handful and ate them all at once."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Secret Santa

"I see the smiles and looks of hopelessness turn to looks of hope in an instant," he says. "After all, isn't that what we were put here on Earth for — to help one another?"

- Larry Stewart, a Missouri businessman who has given about $1.3 million over the year, usually by handing cash to random strangers.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Father and Daughter

"Father and Daughter is a film about longing, the kind of longing which quietly, yet totally, affects our lives." - Michael Dudok de Wit (Script, Design and Animation)

Michael Dudok de Wit was born in 1953 and educated in Holland. In 1978, he graduated from the West Surrey College of Art in England with his first film The Interview. After working for a year in Barcelona, he settled in London where he directs and animates award-winning commercials for television and cinema. In 1992, he created the short film Tom Sweep, followed by The Monk and the Fish (1994), which was made in France with the studio Folimage. This film was nominated for an Oscar and has won numerous prizes including a César and the Cartoon d'Or. Michael also illustrates books and teaches animation at art colleges in England and abroad.

Fifteen minute film on UK Teacher TV program of Michael Dudok de Wit discussing the work that went into The Monk and the Fish.

Filmography: Tom Sweep (1992); The Monk and the Fish (1994); Father and Daughter (2000)

Running Time: 8 minutes 30 seconds
Year of Release: 2000
Production: Cloudrunner Ltd, UK, and CineTe Filmproductie bv, Holland
Techniques: Pencil, charcoal and software application ANIMO
Other Contributors: Normand Roger (Composer), Claire Jennings and Willem Thijssen (Producers), Arjan Wilschut (Main Co-Animator), Jean-Baptiste Roger (Sound), and Alistair Becket and Nic Gill (Technical Directors)
Awards include: Independent Film Award, Ottawa International Animation Festival, 2000; Grand Prize, Cinanima Animation Festival, 2000; Grand Prix Narrative Films, Holland Animation Film Festival, 2000; and Best International Animated Film, Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, 2001

The Carpet-Laying Theory

“I’m not a structured writer. I have the carpet-laying theory which is you put it out there until there is a lump and you keep pushing the lump across the floor until the whole thing just lies flat. Every time you write there is going to be a bulge, something doesn’t work and you have to find your way to get it to the other end.”

Bruce Joel Rubin

"...whether there is anything inside me that I have not yet unpacked."

I found this delicious little biography of Quentin Crisp, as well as the quotes, on a site called Byzant Mystical.

Quentin Crisp (1908-1999) was a writer, actor and individualist, born Denis Pratt on Christmas Day 1908 in Carshalton, Surrey, England. He was educated at a boarding school in Derbyshire that he described as 'a cross between a monastery and a prison'. He went to live in London in the 1920's, changed his name and found work as a book designer and art-school model. His openly effeminate appearance and manner during a time when homosexuality was still illegal led to frequent abuse and beatings, and this life was described in his 1968 autobiography, 'The Naked Civil Servant'. It sold only 3500 copies, but a 1976 television film based on the book and starring John Hurt brought instant celebrity to Crisp, then 68. Acting on stage and film followed, along with further best-selling books, including his New York diaries, 'Resident Alien'. He was renowned for his wit, flamboyance and eccentricity, describing himself as 'one of the great stately homos of England', and in 1982 he moved to a cluttered bedsit on Manhattan's Lower East Side where he lived 'in the profession of being'. He died at 90 in, incongruously, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, England on 21 November 1999, before the start of a one-man tour. When he was once asked what he would like in his obituary, he replied, "Mr. Crisp thanks the world for letting him stay so long."

  • I neither look forward, where there is doubt, nor backward, where there is regret; I look inward and ask myself not if there is anything out in the world that I want and had better grab quickly before nightfall, but whether there is anything inside me that I have not yet unpacked. I want to be certain that, before I fold my hands and step into my coffin, what little I can do and say and be is completed.

  • It's no good running a pig farm badly for 30 years while saying, 'Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer.' By then, pigs will be your style.

  • No one is boring who will tell the truth about himself.

  • Politics are not an instrument for effecting social change; they are the art of making the inevitable appear to be a matter of wise human choice.

  • What many men feel convention is preventing them from expressing may not be some hideous piratical urge to rape or homicide, but the feminine side of their natures.

  • On a day like today, I don't go out at all, and then I can remain wrapped in a filthy dressing gown, doing absolutely nothing. And someone said, "I don't think you should say that. Couldn't you say you meditate?" So I meditate.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

We Can be Absent

Michael Silverblatt talked in March 2006 with Jorie Graham about her work on KCRW's Bookworm. I was startled by her articulate and logical yet passionate way of describing the challenge of attempting to remaining awake to the present.

This is what is wrong: we, only we, the humans, can retreat from ourselves and
not be
altogether here.
We can be part full, only part, and not die. We can be in and out of here, now,
at once, and not die. The little song, the little river, has banks. We can pull up
and sit on the banks. We can pull back
from the being of our bodies, we can live in a
portion of them, we can be absent, no one can tell.

- Jorie Graham, "Other," from Overlord (HarperCollins, 2005)

Oblivious to the Present

"Children are often envied for their supposed imaginations, but the truth is that adults imagine things far more often than children do. Most adults...wander the world deliberately blind, living only inside their heads, in their fantasies, in their memories and worries, oblivious to the present, only aware of the past or future...Imagination can be a beautiful thing, but it's also a trap. The wisest people are those who use their imaginations when they are children, and then learn to see the actual as adults."

Marc Chagall, Study for "Over Vitebsk", 1914, oil on canvas.
Photo: Private collection, St. Petersburg. © 2001

"It is a great injustice that those who die are often people we know, while those who are born are people we don't know at all. We name children after the dead in the dim hope that they will resemble them, pretending to blunt the loss of the person we knew while struggling to make the person we don't know into less of a stranger. It's compelling, this idea that the new person is so tightly bound to the old, but most of us are afraid to believe it. But what if we are right? Not that the new person is the reincarnation of the old, but rather, more subtly, that they know each other, that the already-weres and the not-yets of our world, the mortals and the natals, are bound together somewhere just past where we can see, in a knot of eternal life."

- Dara Horn, The World to Come

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Steady Loss of Sharpness

“Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life -- its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness -- conjoin to dull our sensory faculties.”

Susan Sontag

Damien Rice in Concert

Damien Rice performing from WXPN and World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on Dec. 15, 2006.

"Rice grew up in Ireland, where he was inspired by music and painting from an early age. Once a member of the moderately successful Irish indie-rock group Juniper, Rice left the band to wander around Europe for a year before returning to Ireland to pursue a solo career. He scraped together a demo, which was discovered by David Arnold, a producer for the likes of Björk and Paul Oakenfold." - NPR's Live Fridays

"His two immaculately produced albums, 2004's magnificent O and the new 9, sound plenty grandiose, but it's artistic rather than commercial ambition that seems to drive their dense and sometimes difficult songs." - NPR's Song of the Day

Thursday, December 14, 2006

We Must Love Them Both

“We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth and both have helped us in the finding of it.”

Thomas Aquinas

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside

In this small collection of essays, Doris Lessing considers the challenges involved in thinking and acting independently amid and the powerful pressures to fit into groups—friends, family, work, church, clubs, neighborhoods, political parties, national governments, etcetera.

"We are group animals still, and there is nothing wrong with that. But what is dangerous is not the belonging to a group, or groups, but not understanding the social laws that govern groups and govern us."

I never get tired of reading about and discussing the concept of groupthink, or group mind, as this author calls it. I see it as one of the most important issues in our lives: negotiating the balance between personal freedom and the common good. This requires objectivity which is challenging enough for us as individuals and daunting for large, complex groups.

"I think when people look back at our time, they will be amazed at one thing more than any other. It is this—that we do know more about ourselves now than people did in the past, but that very little of this knowledge has been put into effect."

It also takes objectivity to see that our situation is not hopeless.

"This is a time when it is frightening to be alive, when it is hard to think of human beings as rational creatures. Everywhere we look we see brutality, stupidity, until it seems that there is nothing else to be seen but that—a descent into barbarism, everywhere, which we are unable to check. But I think that while it is true there is a general worsening, it is precisely because things are so frightening we become hypnotized, and do not notice—or if we notice, belittle—equally strong forces on the other side, the forces, in short of reason, sanity and civilization."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Wisdom of No Escape

"There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what the world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we're committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we're going to run; we'll never know what's beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing."

- Pema Chödrön, from The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness

Monday, December 11, 2006

Audubon on Viagra

Walton Ford was born in 1960 in Larchmont, New York. Ford graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with the intention of becoming a filmmaker, but later adapted his talents as a storyteller to his unique style of large-scale watercolor. Blending depictions of natural history with political commentary, Ford’s meticulous paintings satirize the history of colonialism and the continuing impact of slavery and other forms of political oppression on today’s social and environmental landscape. Each painting is as much a tutorial in flora and fauna as it is as a scathing indictment of the wrongs committed by nineteenth-century industrialists or, locating the work in the present, contemporary American consumer society. An enthusiast of the watercolors of John James Audubon, Ford celebrates the myth surrounding the renowned naturalist-painter while simultaneously repositioning him as an infamous anti-hero who, in reality, killed more animals than he ever painted.” - art:21

From the description of Sensations of an Infant Heart, Brooklyn Museum:

When John James Audubon was a young boy, his stepmother’s pet monkey strangled Audubon’s favorite pet parrot. The monkey was kept chained after the incident. Later Audubon would write that the “sensations of my infant heart at this cruel sight were agony to me” and that the painful memory may have been one of the reasons he painted birds.


Friday, December 08, 2006

We're So Comfortable that We're Miserable

I think Western culture has things backwards. We equate comfort with happiness, and now we’re so comfortable that we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our life, no sense of adventure. I’ve found that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain and I’m struggling for high achievement. In that struggle, I think there’s a magic.

Unless you’re pushing yourself, you’re not living to the fullest. You can’t be afraid to fail, but unless you fail, you haven’t pushed hard enough. If you look at successful people and happy people, they fail a lot, because they’re constantly trying to go further and expand.

- Dean Karnazes, 44-year-old ultrarunner and six-time winner of the 199-mile Saturn Relay Ultra (and the first and only person to run a marathon to the South Pole in running shoes) writing in Outside January 2007.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Underwhelmed by It All

Results from this poll indicates that perennial boredom among teenagers persists in spite of the overabundance of options they have for amusing themselves:

A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, the first in a series of annual entertainment surveys, finds that a large majority of the 12- to 24-year-olds surveyed are bored with their entertainment choices some or most of the time, and a substantial minority think that even in a kajillion-channel universe, they don't have nearly enough options. "I feel bored like all the time, 'cause there is like nothing to do," said Shannon Carlson, 13, of Warren, Ohio, a respondent who has an array of gadgets, equipment and entertainment options at her disposal but can't ward off ennui.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Readers are Dead

From the BOOKFORUM interview with Gore Vidal:

BF: You write in Point to Point Navigation that you were once a "famous novelist," by which you don't mean you've stopped writing novels. You say, "To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker or speedboat designer."

GV: Yes. There's no such thing as a famous novelist.

BF: But what about a writer like Salman Rushdie?

GV: He's moderately well known, but he's not read by a large public. He's very good, but "famous" has nothing to do with being good or bad.

BF: A few critics have declared the American novel dead.

GV: I don't think the novel is dead. I think the readers are dead. The novel doesn't interest anybody, and that's largely because there are no famous novelists. Fame means that you are touching everybody or potentially touching everybody with what you've done—that they like to think about it and talk about it and exchange views on it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Technology vs. Nature

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates between 4 and 50 million bird deaths are caused each year by the country's 105,000 communication (cell phone, television) towers.

"During bad weather, birds can mistake tower lights for the stars they use to navigate. They will circle a tower as if in a trance, often until they crash into the structure, its guy wires or other birds. Sometimes disoriented birds simply plummet to the ground from exhaustion. The fatally hypnotic effect of warning beacons on birds is not a new phenomenon; early lighthouses attracted swarms of birds. But as towers proliferate to accommodate an ever-growing number of mobile phones and other devices, conservationists say bird deaths are climbing."

- Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 27, 2006


"People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, December 01, 2006

Poetry in the Forecast

The weather is all over the map in Columbus today. It began with a cold drizzle and by mid-morning the clouds started to break up setting the stage for a bright afternoon. But the clouds regrouped and now the backdrop is completely gray. The temperature is dropping. I watched the wind marshal battalions of leaves into the streets. It seemed to defy the laws of nature that the same wind could animate every other line into charging in opposite directions. The bare trees looked down helplessly and struggled to keep their balance.

In search of some meaning, I turned to the forecast which only offered poetry for the coming days: a few showers from time to time, winds could occasionally gust, clouds and sun mixed in the morning, generally clear skies with a few passing clouds. My favorite line, for Sunday: times of sun and clouds. It all sounds so gentle, but through the window it looks so stark. The wind that is blowing is the kind that makes your bones cold.

This is nothing compared to what the Internet says is happening in other Midwestern cities: sleet, snow, freezing rain, thousands of people without power.