As long as we can believe anything
we believe in measure
we do it with the first breath we take
and the first sound we make
it is in each word we learn
and in each of them it means
what will come again and when
it is there in meal and in moon
and in meaning it is the meaning
it is the firmament and the furrow
turning at the end of the field
and the verse turning with its breath
it is in memory that keeps telling us
some of the old story about us
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
As long as we can believe anything
Doris Kearns Goodwin identified ten traits that made Abraham Lincoln a great leader. They are not only appropriate qualities to look for in today’s leaders, but for followers to cultivate, as well.
- Capacity to listen to different points of view
- Ability to learn on the job
- Ready willingness to share credit for success
- Ready willingness to share blame for failure
- Awareness of own weaknesses
- Ability to control emotions
- Know how to relax and replenish
- Go out into the field and manage directly
- Strength to adhere to fundamental goals
- Ability to communicate goals and vision
Posted by Daron at 4:14 PM
I walk into the bakery next door
To my apartment. They are about
To pull some sort of toast with cheese
From the oven. When I ask:
What's that smell? I am being
A poet, I am asking
What everyone else in the shop
Wanted to ask, but somehow couldn't;
I am speaking on behalf of two other
Customers who wanted to buy the
Name of it. I ask the woman
Behind the counter for a percentage
Of her sale. Am I flirting?
Am I happy because the days
Are longer? Here's what
She does: She takes her time
Choosing the slices. "I am picking
Out the good ones," she tells me. It's
April 14th. Spring, with five to ten
Degrees to go. Some days, I feel my duty;
Some days, I love my work.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Matt White was born on this day in Rockford, Illinois (1967). He has performed in the Nutcracker, earned gold medals diving for Columbia, searched for rare flowers in the desert, traveled the world, ridden in a parade limo with Ralph Malph of Happy Days fame, made lunch for Ralph Nader, nearly burned down his apartment, laughed with glee while watching countless people fall down on America’s Funniest Videos, learned to make Osso Bucco after I read about it in a poem, and become a national expert on quantifying the problem of homelessness and efforts to decrease it.
Here are the vows I read to him during our civil union ceremony in Stowe, Vermont on February 7, 2003. We held our private ceremony in the home of Justice of the Peace Elizabeth Campbell who was baking cookies when we arrived.
Being born into this world is a mystery. There is no way for us to take credit for even one of the infinite number of steps that lead to the initial spark of our lives. Our lives are gifts to us and I want to be wide awake for mine. I want to live it fully and honestly.
I did not go searching for you. You were a complete surprise. If I had known that such a phenomenon as Matt White existed, I would have set out to find you. You were like a pond hidden in the mountains of New Mexico that I accidently happened upon—your surface completely still, your water crystal clear, the sun shining in the clear blue sky above you. Breathtaking. I continue to be amazed by the endless discoveries I’ve made in you.
How lucky are those who have been given a glimpse of the brightly colored fish living inside you. But I am the luckiest of all, having learned that contained in your depths is a treasure chest overflowing with riches and magic beyond my wildest dreams. I will never tire of swimming in you as long as I live.
Considering what stood between where we were when we first met and where we are these ten years later, I am profoundly humbled by the impossibility of our union which I know as sacred and which is now being recognized as civil.
It is in awe of these miracles of life and love which are so easily taken for granted that I enter into this vow of commitment to you by the choices I make every day. By practicing paying attention to the holiness hidden inside each moment—in private and in public, in pleasure and in suffering, alone and together—may our love continue its slow, unrepeatable blooming.
* * * * *
For What Binds Us
by Jane Hirschfield
There are names for what binds us: strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them: the skin that forms in a half-
empty cup, nails rusting into the places they join, joints
dovetailed on their own weight, the way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—and gravity, scientists say, is
And see how the flesh grows back across a wound, with a great
vehemence, more strong than the simple, untested surface
There’s a name for it on horses, when it comes back darker and
raised: proud flesh, as all flesh is proud of its wounds, wears
them as honors given out after battle, small triumphs pinned to
And when two people have loved each other see how it is like a
scar between their bodies, stronger, darker, proud; how the
black cord makes of them a single fabric that nothing can tear or
- Gordon and Bertica sent “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved” by Nakim Hikmet
Monday, December 29, 2008
What animates these beautiful machines,
all these sleepwalkers,
with a shared sense of being at the center
combined with a desire not to exist at all?
What digs in its heels against
children crying, children laughing,
dirty dishes, clean laundry, long fingernails,
visitors arriving and leaving,
yet yearns to live forever
and even resolves to wake up?
What makes us pull the car over
to drag a fallen tree from the road on Christmas Eve?
What makes us keep driving, accidently hitting the one
who stopped in the dark to prevent a tragedy?
What makes us weigh the suffering of the driver,
the dead, and both of their loved ones,
as if attempting to solve such a puzzle
ever comforted anyone?
Sunday, December 28, 2008
A priest, Father Flynn, in his early thirties,
in green and gold vestments, gives a sermon.
He is working class, from the Northeast.
FLYNN. What do you do when you’re not sure? That’s the topic of my sermon today. You look for God’s direction and can’t find it. Last year when President Kennedy was assassinated, who among us did not experience the most profound disorientation. Despair. “What now? Which way? What do I say to my kids? What do I tell myself?” It was a time of people sitting together, bound together by a common feeling of hopelessness. But think of that! Your bond with your fellow beings was your despair. It was a public experience, shared by everyone in our society. It was awful, but we were in it together! How much worse is it then for the lone man, the lone woman, stricken by a private calamity? “No one knows I’m sick. No one knows I’ve lost my last real friend. No one knows I’ve done something wrong.” Imagine the isolation. You see the world as through a window. On the one side of the glass: happy, untroubled people. On the other side: you. Something has happened, you have to carry it, and it’s incommunicable. For those so afflicted, only God knows their pain. Their secret. The secret of their alienating sorrow. And when such a person, as they must, howls to the sky, to God: “Help me!” What if no answer comes? Silence. I want to tell you a story. A cargo ship sank, and all her crew was drowned. Only this one sailor survived. He made a raft of some spars and, being of a nautical discipline, turned his eyes to the Heavens and read the stars. He set a course for his home and, exhausted, fell asleep. Clouds rolled in and blanketed the sky. For the next twenty nights, as he floated on the vast ocean, he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course, but there was no way to be certain. As the days rolled on, and he wasted away with fevers, thirst and starvation, he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right? Was he still going on toward his home? Or was he horribly lost and doomed to a terrible death? No way to know. The message of the constellations—had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstance? Or had he seen Truth once and now had to hold on to it without apparent end. There are those of you in church today who know exactly the crisis of faith I describe. I want to say to you. Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. (He exits.)
The Pali word for craving is tanha, which means “thirst.” The Buddha identified three distinct kinds of tanha that you repeatedly experience; they are often unnoticed, because they arise and then are quickly preempted by yet another and then another.
First if your craving for the six kinds of sense desires, or kama tanha: craving for certain food tastes or for pleasing sounds or for silence; craving for sexual, affectionate, or comforting touch or simple physical comfort in your body; craving for attractive, pleasant, comforting, inspiring sights as well as for pleasant, refreshing smells; and finally, craving for thoughts that are confirming, useful, stimulating, and reassuring to you. Just think of how many different sense desires you have in any given moment!
The second type of craving is the desire for existence and for becoming what you are not. In Pali this is called bhava tanha. You may want to be wealthy, or more athletic, or sexually desirable, or a better musician. The craving to “become” can be wholesome—to be a good parent or a better friend to others, or to be more generous, healthier, or more disciplined—yet still cause suffering…
The third type of tanha arises when you are disillusioned with something in your life and want to get rid of it or want it to cease with such intensity that you crave nonexistence. This state of mind is called vibhava tanha. For instance, you may be so overwhelmed by chronic back pain or a difficult emotion that you are flooded with aversion to life itself. Or you have such antipathy toward your physical appearance, aging, or disease that life seems unbearable. In each of these instances, your nervous system is overcome by the energy generated by the craving, and it seems as if your whole being is rejecting existence. Vibhava tanha is annihilation. If you have ever felt suicidal, even briefly, then you have had flashes of vibhava tanha in the extreme. In its milder manifestations, vibhava tanha is part of everyday life. For example, you can feel so humiliated when you make a big mistake in front of others that for a brief moment your mind is filled with this craving.
I don’t know how my resumé found out
we were staying in town for Christmas,
but he pulled up as soon as the girl left
to visit her mother’s side of the family.
He’s still driving the hail-damaged Corolla
with the broken muffler.
I accepted the foil-wrapped plate of assorted cookies
and invited him in for a bowl of soup.
We exchanged the details of our holiday plans
like presidents of small countries
offering economic updates and projected budgets,
implying confidence for growth in the coming year.
He still favors films outside the mainstream
in spite of the isolation that tends to cultivate,
and he was especially enthusiastic about poets
he had recently discovered.
We could tell he’s as curious and idealistic as ever,
and his assets remain primarily intangible.
He’s still second guessing his choices, lacking in confidence,
and haunted by a persistent aversion to boredom and risk.
He sight-read a few carols.
We didn’t point out the shakiness of his Brahms
and he didn’t tell us that our piano
had drifted imperceptibly out of tune.
He seemed underwhelmed by our gifts to each other
and we yawned when he solved my new Rubik’s cube.
When he finally left, we hurried out to see the new
Meryl Streep movie which promised not to resolve at the end.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
“There is only one real deprivation…and that is not to be able to give one’s gifts to those one loves most…The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up.”
~ May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
Friday, December 26, 2008
You Reading This, Be Ready
by William Stafford
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The Snow Man
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
ALEATORY means pertaining to luck, and derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice. Aleatoric, indeterminate, or chance art is that which exploits the principle of randomness.
- Leonardo da Vinci recommended looking at blotches on walls as a means of initiating artistic ideas.
- Jean Arp made collages by dropping small pieces of paper onto a larger piece, then adhering them where they landed.
- André Masson and Joan Miró allowed their pens to wander over sheets of paper in the belief that they would discover in those doodles the ghosts of their repressed imaginations.
- Tristan Tzara created poetry by selecting sentences from newspapers entirely by chance.
- In music, the major exponent of aleatory was John Cage, who sometimes composed by using dice, and also with a randomizing computer program." — ArtLex
APOPHASIS refers, in general, to mentioning by not mentioning.
- "Mr. Ayers. I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist. But as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship [with 1960s radical Bill Ayers]. . . Senator Obama chooses to associate with a guy who in 2001 said that he wished he had have bombed more, and he had a long association with him.” – Senator John McCain, Presidential Debate, October 16, 2008
- "[Hilary Clinton] made an unfortunate remark about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson. I haven't remarked on it. And she offended some folks who thought she diminished the role about King and the civil rights movement. The notion that this is our doing is ludicrous." – Senator Barack Obama, January 13, 2008
APOPHENIA is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the unmotivated seeing of connections accompanied by a specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness.
- Pareidolia is a type of apophenia involving the finding of images or sounds in random stimuli. For example, hearing a ringing phone whilst taking a shower. The noise produced by the running water gives a random background from which the patterned sound of a ringing phone might be produced.
- “In statistics, apophenia is called a Type I error, seeing patterns where none, in fact, exist. It is highly probable that the apparent significance of many unusual experiences and phenomena are due to apophenia, e.g., ghosts and hauntings, EVP, numerology, the Bible code, anomalous cognition, ganzfeld hits, most forms of divination, the prophecies of Nostradamus, remote viewing, and a host of other paranormal and supernatural experiences and phenomena." – Robert Todd Carroll
From Nietzsche’s prologue to On the Genealogy of Morals:
We don't know ourselves, we knowledgeable people—we are personally ignorant about ourselves. And there’s good reason for that. We've never tried to find out who we are. How could it ever happen that one day we'd discover our own selves? With justice it’s been said that “Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” Our treasure lies where the beehives of our knowledge stand. We are always busy with our knowledge, as if we were born winged creatures—collectors of intellectual honey. In our hearts we are basically concerned with only one thing, to “bring something home.” As far as the rest of life is concerned, what people call “experience”—which of us is serious enough for that? Who has enough time? In these matters, I fear, we've been “missing the point.”
Our hearts have not even been engaged—nor, for that matter, have our ears! We've been much more like someone divinely distracted and self-absorbed into whose ear the clock has just pealed the twelve strokes of noon with all its force and who all at once wakes up and asks himself “What exactly did that clock strike?”—so we rub ourselves behind the ears afterwards and ask, totally surprised and embarrassed “What have we really just experienced? And more: “Who are we really?” Then, as I've mentioned, we count—after the fact—all the twelve trembling strokes of the clock of our experience, our lives, our being—alas! in the process we keep losing the count. So we remain necessarily strangers to ourselves, we do not understand ourselves, we have to keep ourselves confused. For us this law holds for all eternity: “Each man is furthest from himself.” Where we ourselves are concerned, we are not “knowledgeable people.”
Un Conte de Noël
(A Christmas Tale)
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
We’ve been enjoying this delicious soup since discovering the recipe in Jane Brody’s Good Food Book several eating trends (years) ago. She found it in a newsletter produced by Environmental Nutrition. Don’t be afraid to add the whole cup of peanut butter. We’ve experimented with using different vegetables and adding some cayenne pepper to give it a little Thai kick.
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups diced, cooked chicken meat
- 1 cup peeled and cubed potatoes
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 1 cup diced zucchini
- 1 cup broccoli florets
- 1 cup canned tomatoes (fresh or canned), chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup peanut butter, preferably natural smooth
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- salt, if desired, to taste
- In a large stock pot, combine the broth, chicken, potatoes, and carrots. Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium. Cook until the vegetables are nearly tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add the zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, celery, onion, green pepper, and garlic. Simmer for about 8 minutes.
- Add the peanut butter, parsley, pepper, and salt, stirring until peanut butter is fully blended. Simmer for 3 minutes longer.
“What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is often overlooked. The search is what everyone would take if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To be aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”
Sunday, December 21, 2008
"It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day....The problem of painting night scenes and effects on the spot and actually by night interests me enormously."
“The Starry Night, done [in1889], has long ranked as the most popular painting at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). This inspired the museum, in collaboration with Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, to mount the exhibition Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night (through January 5, 2009). It will then travel to the Van Gogh Museum (February 13-June 7, 2009).”
~ From “Van Gogh’s Night Visions,” by Paul Trachtman, Smithsonian Magazine, January 2009
“I wouldn’t ever say whether the priest is innocent or guilty because I saw ‘Doubt’ as being about something larger…What’s so essential about this movie is our desire to be certain about something and say, This is what I believe is right, wrong, black, white. That’s it. To feel confident that you can wake up and live your day and be proud instead of living in what’s really true, which is the whole mess that the world is. The world is hard, and John is saying that being a human on this earth is a complicated, messy thing…And I, personally, am uncomfortable with that messiness, just as I acknowledge its absolute necessity. I find the need to play a part like Father Flynn inescapable, and I only want to do things I’m that passionate about. I know there are actors out there that present themselves as cool cats, but you better take your cool-cat suit off if you want to act. You can’t otherwise.”
~ Philip Seymour Hoffman, from “A Higher Calling,” by Lynn Hirschberg, New York Times Sunday Magazine (12.21.08)
“…I've always been really, deeply interested, because I think I can understand the solace that's available in the whole construct of religion. But I really don't believe in the power of prayer, or things would have been avoided that have happened, that are awful. So it's a horrible position as an intelligent, emotional, yearning human being to sit outside of the available comfort there. But I just can't go there…I have a belief, I guess, in the power of the aggregate human attempt – the best of ourselves. In love and hope and optimism – you know, the magic things that seem inexplicable. Why we are the way we are. I do have a sense of trying to make things better. Where does that come from? And why do some people just seem to want to make other people miserable?”
~ Meryl Streep, from “Meryl Streep: Mother Superior,” by Mick Brown, Daily Telegraph (12.2008)
Friday, December 19, 2008
“Sufism is not a sect, like Shiism or Sunnism, but rather the mystical side of Islam—a personal, experiential approach to Allah, which contrasts with the prescriptive, doctrinal approach of fundamentalists like the Taliban. It exists throughout the Muslim world (perhaps most visibly in Turkey, where whirling dervishes represent a strain of Sufism), and its millions of followers generally embrace Islam as a religious experience, not a social or political one. Sufis represent the strongest indigenous force against Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Western countries have tended to underestimate their importance even as the West has spent, since 2001, millions of dollars on interfaith dialogues, public diplomacy campaigns and other initiatives to counter extremism. Sufis are particularly significant in Pakistan, where Taliban-inspired gangs threaten the prevailing social, political and religious order.”
~ From “Pakistan's Sufis Preach Faith and Ecstasy,” by Nicholas Schmidle, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2008
“We choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work. We choose who we will be the next moment, in a very real sense, and these choices are left embossed in physical form on our material selves.”
“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
"The art of letting thing happen, action through non-action, letting go of oneself, as taught by Meister Eckhart, became for me the key to opening the door to the way. We must be able to let things happen in the psyche. For us, this actually is an art of which few people know anything. Consciousness is forever interfering, helping, correcting, and negating and never leaving the simple growth of the psychic processes in peace."
Thursday, December 18, 2008
"The word Santa means holy. And Santa Claus is one of the true figures of imagination that we have left that children can really relate to. Adults can, too, but maybe not with the same sense of reality as children obviously. But I don't know if there are any other figures of imagination that have so much reality...I do think he embodies the real spirit of Christmas. And I'm speaking as someone who has really studied theology for a long time. I don't think we should give Christmas over to the theologians to discuss the intricacies of theology. I think that it's about a figure who understands what it means to give, to relate to children, to have a good spirit, create friendliness in the world, and bring the world together. He travels the whole world on Christmas Eve, it's not just one country. There's an awful lot in Santa Claus that I really love."
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the
Indian in a white poncho lies dead
by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night
with plans and the simple breath
that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
by Elizabeth Alexander
Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said
“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?
* * * * *
Poet Elizabeth Alexander will read at the swearing in of Barack Obama next month. In response to the news, she said, “This incoming president of ours has shown in every act that words matter, that words carry meaning, that words carry power, that words are the medium with which we communicate across difference, and that words have tremendous possibilities and those possibilities are not empty."
"Love enters the picture through reflection on what it is to care about something or someone, which is related to but not identical with desiring something, finding it valuable, or finding it important. And we are led to reflection on what we care about through confronting the most basic questions about how we should live, or what Frankfurt calls ‘authoritative reasoning about what to do.’ Nothing can answer that question for us without appealing to what we can, or do, or should care about. Caring about something is not the same as wanting it, since we may desire many things that we do not really care about at all. We can also be in no doubt about the intrinsic value of something without caring about it or giving it any importance in our lives. When we care about something, we may well find it valuable, but the caring itself is not a response to its value. In this way, caring is not grounded in reasons; but at the same time caring about something is productive of reasons, for caring about something necessarily involves taking its interests as reasons for acting. The reasons we have are dependent on what we care about, rather than the other way around."
This black sedan lies on its top
on the kitchen window sill, its wheels
in the air, its battery drained,
the oil trickling into the cylinders.
It must have happened during the night
when no one was around to see,
and it looks like someone has been here
early this morning to pop the trunk
and crawl in under it to take out
something. But I am only barely
curious, continuing on as I am,
doing my few breakfast dishes,
fussy to get all the egg from the tines
of my fork, and then from the spatula
and the weary old skillet that has seen
so much, and me with the morning
picking up speed, the days streaming past,
hot suds all sparkly on my hands.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The question for Josh had always been: how much blindness does a happy life require? Josh had grown up watching the Mr. Magoo show, in which a wealthy man took on the difficulty of failed eyesight by sallying into the world as if everything were fine: he walked off the edge of a girder (the hardhats pointing, yelling, panicking). But right as he stepped into space, some crane swung an I-beam up under his shoes. Or he would saunter into an animal pen, mistaking it for a doctor’s office, and caress a tiger in the belief that he was petting a kitten—and the jungle beast would purr and nuzzle. If Josh could just mosey through his days like Magoo through a room, narrowly avoiding the furniture of human faults, wasn’t there a chance the world might be flattered, and agree with him, and transform itself into a series of blessings? But if that worked, it led to another question, one he hadn’t thought about before: What sort of life did that become?
Sunday, December 14, 2008
When we first arrived in the United States
from Franco's Spain, everything we encountered
or bought had "free" written on it.
The boxes of cereal spoke of a free mystery
surprise, the junk mail came bundled,
and somehow that word sang to us.
My father and I got wise—the word
became cheap, untrustworthy, hollow.
Having been fooled before, we knew what "free"
really meant. We learned lessons the hard way;
nothing free ever came so easily, but my mother—
who had heard stories of people throwing
out television sets, sofas, washing machines,
perfectly good chairs—believed in this land
of plenty where people discarded simply
because things were old or someone
had grown tired of them. She believed
in all that was cast to the curb. A cousin
who cruised the neighborhood streets
for these free goods told her of his finds
over the telephone. On the weekends,
she sent my father and me out to hunt,
to find these throwaways, but we always
came back empty-handed. We never
really looked. We stopped for donuts
or to watch a baseball game at the park.
Now, years later, my father dead, my mother
gets the mail, the catalogs, and she sends
it all up to me in Tallahassee, and she's circled
the word "free" and asks me what the deal is.
Most Sundays I try to convince her once
and for all that there are no deals, that nothing
is free, then there's silence over the line,
and I can hear her thinking otherwise.
She is a woman who wants to cling to something
as simple as a two-for-one deal, the extra, the much
more, lo gratis: these simple things she knows
have kept us going all these exiled years.
[Thanks Garrison Keillor!]
Saturday, December 13, 2008
"A human being is part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all of nature."
Friday, December 12, 2008
It is so difficult to see this flower*
because the countless others
we’ve seen before
cloud the view,
along with how we expect it to look
and how it might be improved.
Even the faces of the ones we love deeply
hide like buried treasure
behind histories of expression.
In order to see
what is right in front of our eyes,
we first have to recognize
we have gradually
and then begin
the slow work of forgetting.
* Substitute with any noun: beach, stone, bird, soap bubble, house, grandmother, beef stew, homeless person, celebrity, potato, dollar bill, construction worker, politician, drug addict, child, teacher, report card, mail order catalogue, boss, swimming pool, dog, towel, onion, computer, neighbor, planet, pine cone, cigarette, airplane, spam subject, fork, mountain, etc.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
by Marvin Levine, from Look Down From Clouds
Escher got it right.
Men step down and yet rise up,
the hand is drawn by the had it draws,
and a woman is poised on her very own shoulders.
Without you and me this universe is simple,
run with the regularity of a prison.
Galaxies spin along stipulated arcs,
stars collapse at the specified hour,
crows u-turn south and monkeys rut on schedule.
But we, whom the Cosmos shaped for a billion years
to fit this place, we know it failed.
For we can reshape,
reach an arm through the bars
and, Escher-like, pull ourselves out.
And while whales feeding on mackerel
are confined forever in the sea,
we climb the waves,
look down from clouds.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
"The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."
~ William Faulkner, from his acceptance speech for winning the Nobel Prize in literature on this day in 1950. Read about the gritty back-story details leading up to this speech at The Writer’s Almanac.
“…when you are a child who is unwanted or unwelcome, and the essence of what you are seems to be unacceptable, you look for an identity that will be acceptable. Usually this identity is found in faces you are talking to. You make a habit of studying people, finding out the way they talk, the answers that they give and their points of view; then, in a form of self-defense, you reflect what’s on their faces and how they act because most people like to see reflections of themselves.”
~ Marlon Brando, talking about how his childhood insecurities provided emotional material which he used as an actor, from Songs My Mother Taught Me. This quote was part of a review by Michiko Kakutani of Somebody: the reckless life and remarkable career of Marlon Brando, a new biography of the actor written by Stefan Kanfer.
Auggie and I have known each other for close to eleven years now. He works behind the counter of a cigar store on Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, and since it's the only store that carries the little Dutch cigars I like to smoke, I go in there fairly often. For a long time, I didn't give much thought to Auggie Wren. He was the strange little man who wore a hooded blue sweatshirt and sold me cigars and magazines, the impish, wisecracking character who always had something funny to say about the weather, the Mets or the politicians in Washington, and that was the extent of it.
But then one day several years ago he happened to be looking through a magazine in the store, and he stumbled across a review of one of my books. He knew it was me because a photograph accompanied the review, and after that things changed between us. I was no longer just another customer to Auggie, I had become a distinguished person. Most people couldn't care less about books and writers, but it turned out that Auggie considered himself an artist. Now that he had cracked the secret of who I was, he embraced me as an ally, a confidant, a brother-in-arms. To tell the truth, I found it rather embarrassing. Then, almost inevitably, a moment came when he asked if I would be willing to look at his photographs. Given his enthusiasm and goodwill, there didn't seem any way I could turn him down.
Clips from Smoke:
[Link to this story found on Jonathan Carroll’s blog]
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
“I love to read a book which, not only I enjoy, but suddenly they say something about my life that I already knew but I’d either forgotten it or I’d never framed it that way. As a friend of mine calls it, it’s the Oh factor. You feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach. That’s right or I never thought of it that way or whatever it is. So when I’m writing, a lot of the time I’m writing not necessarily to elicit the Oh, but to say to the reader, Have you ever thought about it this way? I don’t know if this is the right way or this is going to lead to the right way, but have you ever thought about it this way? And if that leads to the Oh, then I’m happy.”
“We first meet the Angel of Death in a local cafe as he takes a meal with ghostly Ling. But Death plays only a peripheral role in all this. As he explains to Ling, Ben's fate ‘is out of our hands. Plus, we're fascinated to see what will happen to him now ...’ You'll be fascinated too, if you're alive to the experience of immersing yourself in the most seriously entertaining writing of the day…Whatever the genre, Carroll creates novels so fascinating and intelligent and seriously delightful that no other writer in English can touch him.”
~ Alan Cheuse, from “Death’s Absence, Writ Large and Small,” All Things Considered (12.09.09)
Monday, December 08, 2008
“It’s an important part of my personality that I continually adjudicate, but I never reach a verdict…You can’t know exactly what’s going on in your neighbor’s house or in his head or his heart. You can make suppositions, you can make assumptions, but you always have to factor in that you can’t know.”
Sunday, December 07, 2008
If this were the last day of my life, I wouldn't complain about the shower curtain rod in the wrong place, even though it's drilled into the tiles. Nor would I fret over water marks on the apricot satin finish paint, half sick that I should have used semigloss. No. I'd stand in the doorway watching sun glint off the chrome faucet, breathing in the silicone smell. I'd wonder at the plumber, as he adjusted the hot and cold water knobs. I'd stare at the creases behind his ears and the gray flecks in his stubble. I'd have to hold myself back from touching him. Or maybe I wouldn't. Maybe I'd stroke his cheek and study his eyes the amber of cellos, his rumpled brow, the tiny garnet threads of capillaries, his lips resting together, quiet as old friends— I'd gaze at him as though his were the first face I'd ever seen.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
“Your happiness depends not just on your choices and actions, but also on the choices and actions of people you don’t even know who are one, two and three degrees removed from you. There’s kind of an emotional quiet riot that occurs and takes on a life of its own, that people themselves may be unaware of. Emotions have a collective existence — they are not just an individual phenomenon.”
~ Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a physician and social scientist at Harvard Medical School, speaking with the New York Times about his article, “Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study,” which was published Thursday (12/04/08) in the British Medical Journal.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Excerpts from “The History of the Personal and The Personal in History: The Poetry of Patrick Phillips,” by Billy Reynolds, storySouth (2005):
I think the mysteries in Chattahoochee arise less from a conscious decision to withhold “the facts,” and more from my uncertainty: my sense that there is no unalloyed truth about my childhood, or any childhood, and about the family conflict at the heart of the book. I am always wary of deciding for the reader, or for myself, what those memories mean and what they are about. Instead I wanted to return to memories that I didn’t understand, but at the same time could not seem to escape. The common thread of the stories told in the book—a boy accidentally shooting a pregnant deer, a brother setting his face on fire, a drunken baptism at a poker game—is that I don’t know what any of them mean, but I’ve always known they were important. Such memories feel like oracles in the epics, in that the hero knows they mean something, but he always gets it wrong. I guess I still find the world bewildering, and what interests me about childhood is that at that point we have not yet learned to pretend it all makes sense. Children watch and witness. I guess I’m saying that if one secret of poetry is knowing more than you reveal, another is revealing how little you know.
There is nothing that gives me more delight in poetry than surprise. I think of Rilke’s “you must change your life.” Of Bishop: “And I let it go.” Of Herbert: “Me thought I heard one calling, Child / and I replied, My Lord.” And if surprise is one of my great pleasures in poetry, it requires first an expectation, and the suspense of waiting for it to be fulfilled. I love the narrative movement of sonata form, when a symphony establishes a phrase, elaborates it almost beyond recognition, and then finally returns to the tonic key that we had almost, but not quite, forgotten. It is journey that ends in a homecoming. And that is, I think, the ideal relationship between decorum and surprise: a poem that is both surprising and inevitable in its closing lines, as the formal contract with the reader is upheld, but not in the way that we expected.
I'd like to ask my mother
why I'm here, straddling
one thigh of her bell-bottom jeans,
listening to her whisper look
look sweetie in my ear.
But I can't stop staring
at our fat cat Walina,
ancestor of every cat
that ever roamed that house,
as she blinks back at me,
licks between her claws,
then turns again to eating
the clear, vein-laced skin
stretched over the faces
of her babies squirming
in a pulled-out dresser drawer.
I'd like to ask—but this is back
before anything means anything, when it all just is,
and even the squinting kittens
are like a game my mother made up
to pass the drizzly afternoon.
Back in the cold, dark evening
of childhood, where I'm always
alone: watching Walina
close her mouth around the runt—
the sleepy one, the one too weak
to butt its head against her,
that meows and meows
though no sound comes out,
when she drops it outside the drawer.
This is in the oldest room
of the house behind my eyelids,
where the world began:
where a light bulb pops and flickers
over everything, and no one
ever comes to stop the kitten
from dragging its sack of blood
all over the white linoleum.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
"Rumi teaches the opening heart. Rumi says that whatever was said to the rose was said to me here in my chest. The implication being that for something to open into its own beauty and handsomeness, it has to be talked to. And so that idea of a human being as a dialogue—maybe an inaudible dialogue—is part of his model for what a human being is. He says we are a conversation between the one who takes bodily form and something else that is flowing through that was never born and doesn't die. So that intersection, that conversation is what a human being is. I just love that, because it's like we're both parts of the synapse."
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
"These barriers we erect to protect ourselves from the fear of feeling pain are really what cause us to suffer. It isn't the pain itself, it's these barriers we erect and then we are left with this enormous sense of separation and isolation. My favorite definition of ego is the illusion of separateness. It is an illusion, but it's the illusion we all carry around with us that I'm here and you're there. And when pain comes, that separateness gets very, very strong. Just notice. There's this sense of your self that gets much stronger. Then there's this sense of resistance. Or just a sense of No, I don't want it to be like this! That's the barriers. They just come up. Usually they come up in the form of blaming other people or blaming ourselves or there's a lot of talking that goes on, but the basic thing is that we feel this as so painful. So all the teachings agree at this one point: it's all about how to dissolve the barriers."
From "Standing in Someone Else’s Shoes, Almost for Real," by Benedict Carey, New York Times (12.1.08):
Marriage counselors have couples role-play, each one taking the other spouse’s part. Psychologists have rapists and other criminals describe their crime from the point of view of the victim. Like novelists or moviemakers, their purpose is to transport people, mentally, into the mind of another.
Now, neuroscientists have shown that they can make this experience physical, creating a “body swapping” illusion that could have a profound effect on a range of therapeutic techniques. At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience last month, Swedish researchers presented evidence that the brain, when tricked by optical and sensory illusions, can quickly adopt any other human form, no matter how different, as its own.
The technique is simple. A subject stands or sits opposite the scientist, as if engaged in an interview. Both are wearing headsets, with special goggles, the scientist’s containing small film cameras. The goggles are rigged so the subject sees what the scientist sees: to the right and left are the scientist’s arms, and below is the scientist’s body.
To add a physical element, the researchers have each person squeeze the other’s hand, as if in a handshake. Now the subject can see and “feel” the new body. In a matter of seconds, the illusion is complete. In a series of studies, using mannequins and stroking both bodies’ bellies simultaneously, the Karolinska researchers have found that men and women say they not only feel they have taken on the new body, but also unconsciously cringe when it is poked or threatened.
Touched by your goodness, I am like
that grand piano we found one night on Willoughby
that someone had smashed and somehow
heaved through an open window.
And you might think by this I mean I'm broken
or abandoned, or unloved. Truth is, I don't
know exactly what I am, any more
than the wreckage in the alley knows
it's a piano, filling with trash and yellow leaves.
Maybe I'm all that's left of what I was.
But touching me, I know, you are the good
breeze blowing across its rusted strings.
What would you call that feeling when the wood,
even with its cracked harp, starts to sing?
[Thanks Mr. Keillor!]
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Excerpts from an interview with Truthdig columnist and author Chris Hedges in The Sun Magazine (Dec. 2008), “Moral Combat: Chris Hedges on War, Faith, and Fundamentalism."
Fundamentalism can be found within either a secular or a religious framework. It’s a binary worldview that divides the world into us and them, good and evil, right and wrong. It’s a belief that you and those who subscribe to your ideology have found the absolute truth, which must be accepted by everyone, and those who won’t accept it must be silenced or eradicated. Fundamentalism is an abdication of our moral responsibility to make difficult decisions, because within a fundamentalist movement people are told what to do. They don’t believe in a plurality of truths or ways of being. Fundamentalism is anti-intellectual, because it discourages investigation of other cultures, histories, and belief systems.
...Fundamentalism is a form of tribalism. There’s a great comfort in it, because it discourages self-criticism and self-reflection. Retreating into tribal groups is a way to revert to a childlike state of security, rather than live as an adult and struggle with ambiguity.
...I think that those who remain open to other realities must always cope with anxiety. That is the pain of being fully human. The only other choice is to live in an authoritarian system — either religious or secular — where moral choice is made for you, because you are told what is moral and what is immoral.
...Communism, fascism, religious fanaticism, neocon utopianism in Iraq — there are all sorts of ideologies that can motivate people to kill. Religion is just one. Like political ideologies, theological systems are a human creation. God is a human concept, a flawed attempt by human beings to acknowledge, cope with, and explain the infinite, which is the only reality.
...Like art, [religion] is an attempt at wisdom, which doesn’t come from knowledge. You can memorize as many sutras, verses, and prayers as you want, but it will never make you wise. Religion and art are both ways of grappling with those non-rational forces of love, beauty, truth, grief, and meaning that make one a whole individual. The problem is not religion. The problem is the human heart. And the new atheists don’t get that. People will always find reasons to act inhumanely, whether it’s religion, or nationalism, or “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” or the workers’ paradise.
and the onset of disease too. You’re sudden,
terrible screaming. Some problems require
we go for help. When we knock on a stranger’s
door, you sent us. Nobody answers. It’s
you! When work feels necessary, you
are the way workers move in rhythm.
You are what is: the field, the players,
the ball, those watching. Someone claims to
have evidence that you do not exist.
You’re the one who brings the evidence in,
and the evidence itself! You are inside
the soul’s great fear, every natural
pleasure, every vicious cruelty. Someone
loves something, someone else hates
the same. There you are. Whatever anyone
wants or not: political power, injustice,
material possessions, those are your script,
the handwriting we study. Body, soul,
shadow. Whether reckless or careful,
you are what we do. It’s absurd to ask
your pardon. You’re inside repentance,
and sin! The wonder of various jewels,
agate, emerald. How we are during the day,
then at night, you are those moods and
the pure compassion we feel for each
other. Every encampment has a tent
where the leader is, and also the wide
truth of your imperial tent overall.
A night full of talking that hurts,
my worst held-back secrets: everything
has to do with loving and not loving.
This night will pass.
Then we have work to do.
There’s a shredding that’s really a healing,
that makes you more alive!
A lion holds you in his arms.
Fingers rake the fretbridge for music.
Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance, in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
All I know of spirit
is this love.
Poems by Galway Kinnell:
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven't they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don't go too early.
You're tired. But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
St. Francis And The Sow
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.