"The aim of the poet and the poetry is finally to be of service, to ply the effort of the individual work into the larger work of the community as a whole."
Monday, March 31, 2008
Almost every breath contains some fragments of an escaping melody. If I shape my lips so as to whistle, my breath will take on a musical shape like sonic vapor. Words are much trickier. I would forgo words altogether if I didn’t love singing them so much. My choice of words and my voice betray so much and that’s what’s so terrifying and attractive about it.
I’m not the most forthcoming person — I only speak when I have something to say. What is becoming more challenging of late is dealing with so many fully formed melodies that are unwilling to change their shape for any word. So writing lyrics becomes like running multiple code-breaking programs in your head until just the right word with just the right number of syllables, tone of vowel and finally some semblance of meaning all snap into place.
I’m kind of the opposite of the confessional singer-songwriter who fills notebooks full of poetry and intones them over a bed of chords. Meaning or “the truth that’s in my heart” usually reveals itself well after the record is released. I’m often surprised that the things I care about actually end up in my songs. Until then I’m mostly concerned with shape, tone and texture. I’m really an instrumentalist who sings words...
Sunday, March 30, 2008
by William Carlos Williams
By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches
They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind
Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wild-carrot leaf
One by one objects are defined
It quickens: clarity, outline of a leaf
But now the stark dignity of
entrance Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken
Saturday, March 29, 2008
This is love: to fly upward
toward the endless heavens.
To rend a hundred veils at every moment.
At the first breath, to give up life;
At the final step, to go without feet.
To see the world as a dream
and not as it appears.
I said, O heart
What a blessing it is
To join the circle of lovers,
To see beyond sight,
To know the secrets within every breast.
I said, O soul
From where comes your life
And the power of your spirit?
Tell me, speak in the language of birds,
And I will understand.
My soul said to me:
They brought me to God's workshop
Where all things take form--and I flew.
Before this form of mine
Was even shaped--I flew and I flew.
And when I could fly no longer
They dragged me into this form,
and locked me into this house
of water and clay.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Just finished this enchanting little book by Maira Kalman which was originally her blog on the New York Times. It is so much fun. It's like effortlessly befriending someone who makes you want to look more closely at the color and drama happening right in front your eyes. How much time and energy do we waste holding ourselves back from falling in love with the mundane? Too much.
Look for her spin on Strunk & White's The Elements of Style from a few years back, too.
"I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really."
Thursday, March 27, 2008
A process in the weather of the heart
Turns damp to dry; the golden shot
Storms in the freezing tomb.
A weather in the quarter of the veins
Turns night to day; blood in their suns
Lights up the living worm.
A process in the eye forewarns
The bones of blindness; and the womb
Drives in a death as life leaks out.
A darkness in the weather of the eye
Is half its light; the fathomed sea
Breaks on unangled land.
The seed that makes a forest of the loin
Forks half its fruit; and half drops down,
Slow in a sleeping wind.
A weather in the flesh and bone
Is damp and dry; the quick and dead
Move like two ghosts before the eye.
A process in the weather of the world
Turns ghost to ghost; each mothered child
Sits in their double shade.
A process blows the moon into the sun,
Pulls down the shabby curtains of the skin;
And the heart gives up its dead.
Posted by Daron at 10:51 PM
If I were required to give a "quick and dirty" definition of meditation, it would be that meditation is the practice of escaping into life. It's escape in the sense that one does not feel limited by the mind/body process or the surrounding situation. But, the direction of escape is not from what's happening, but rather into it.
This is very challenging. It's challenging to understand, and it's challenging to do. The experience of escaping into something is totally different from merely being passionately involved in it. When we ingenuously try to describe this experience, it comes out sounding like we are playing with words, fabricating paradoxes to shock or impress people. Escaping into something simply means having a radically complete experience of it. A radically complete experience is rich and fulfilling, but it is also empty and transparent. I sometimes say that we Buddhists are our own worst public relations representatives because our vocabulary seems designed to turn people off. You know, we are always talking about emptiness, no self, void.
...But the nothingness of the mystic is a very special kind of nothingness. The nihil of Meister Eckhart is not the nihil of nihilism. The nada of St. John of the Cross is not "nada." Nothingness is a terminus technicus, a well-defined technical term in the vocabulary of world mysticism.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Taoism differ radically in their beliefs and customs. Yet, the mystics who represent the core of these traditions often speak of the Spiritual Source as a special kind of nothing. Historically, this can only partially be explained as the result of mutual influences. Despite what some New Age books would have you believe, these formulations arose independently in India, China, and the West before there was significant contact. So, we are faced with some fascinating questions. Why should they agree on such a counter-intuitive (if not downright offensive) description of God when they disagree in so many other areas? And furthermore, why does the mystic's description of the awesome creative power of nothingness sound so similar to contemporary theories of cosmology and quantum physics? Is it coincidence or convergence?
As a person of Jewish ancestry, I find it deeply satisfying that the description of God's creative activity as it appears in the Kabbalah is remarkably parallel to that of my present teacher Joshu Sasaki Roshi, contemporary Japanese Zen Master. The goal of Jewish meditation is to experience Briah yesh me ayn. In Hebrew: Briah (the creation) yesh (of things) me (from) ayn (nothing). Ayn is synonymous with Ha Makom, the Source, i.e., God. Moreover, in Kabbalah, creation is conceived as happening continuously. God literally loves us into existence each moment through the oscillating interplay of hesed (expansion) and gevurah (contraction).
Physicists speak of the creative power of quantum fluctuations of the void. This seems remarkably similar to the descriptions of mystics, especially Buddhist mystics. At the very least, it provides us with some wonderful metaphors. The enlightened people of the world can now stand up and say, "I know that what I'm trying to describe to you sounds weird and paradoxical, but it's not any weirder than these widely accepted theories of science, and as a matter of fact, it's rather similar to them."
...the concept of wave-particle complementarity is extremely useful in explaining certain aspects of meditative experience. The basic idea behind complementarity is that objects can be looked upon either as waves or particles. "Particle" does not necessarily imply "small." Any chunk of matter is a particle-a bowling ball, or the earth itself. Associated with every particle is its wave function.
When you think about it, it's absolutely astonishing, because particles and waves seem to be so fundamentally different. Particles are rigid and separate-two billiard balls recoil if they collide. Waves are bending and interactive-two water waves immediately merge upon contact. Particles have established boundaries and fixed centers. Waves expand and contract. A particle retains scratches and is vulnerable to shattering force. If you attempt to scratch or shatter a wave, it simply digests the energy of the attack into itself.
The practical implication of complementarity lies in the fact that some applications work better from the wave perspective, while other applications work better from the particle perspective. The issue boils down to knowing which perspective is appropriate, and the fact that the engineer always has the freedom to choose either one.
Spiritual freedom is very much like this. For some life applications, we must congeal the mind and body into a separate particular person-for example, when you need to figure stuff out or negotiate a contract. The problem is that most people are limited to the particulate perspective only. They are unable to immediately switch to the undulatory paradigm when they encounter situations that work better with the wave self. What situations are those? Well, let me give you just a few representative examples: enjoying a morsel of food, experiencing bereavement, making love, being embarrassed in public, and praying.
Once again, the issue here is freedom - freedom to adopt the most appropriate perspective. If you cannot dissolve into a wave, you are missing out on a lot of life. Naturally, death is frightening. Indeed, there are human experiences for which the wave self is not only appropriate, but absolutely essential. To attempt to pass through these experiences while maintaining a separate particulate self causes unspeakable suffering. Acute physical or emotional pain, chronic pain, and, of course, death itself, are in this category.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects brain regions that can make a person more empathetic to other peoples' mental states, say researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Published March 25 in the Public Library of Science One, the study was the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to indicate that positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The scans revealed that brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation.
The research suggests that individuals - from children who may engage in bullying to people prone to recurring depression - and society in general could benefit from such meditative practices, says study director Richard Davidson, professor of psychiatry and psychology at UW-Madison and an expert on imaging the effects of meditation.
Various techniques are used in compassion meditation, and the training can take years of practice. The controls in this study were asked first to concentrate on loved ones, wishing them well-being and freedom from suffering. After some training, they then were asked to generate such feelings toward all beings without thinking specifically about anyone.
Each of the 32 subjects was placed in the fMRI scanner at the UW-Madison Waisman Center for Brain Imaging, which Davidson directs, and was asked to either begin compassion meditation or refrain from it. During each state, subjects were exposed to negative and positive human vocalizations designed to evoke empathic responses as well as neutral vocalizations: sounds of a distressed woman, a baby laughing and background restaurant noise.
Figure 2. Meditation modulates right insula response to emotional sounds: Average response in (Insula) for experts (red) and novices (blue)
The scans revealed significant activity in the insula - a region near the frontal portion of the brain that plays a key role in bodily representations of emotion - when the long-term meditators were generating compassion and were exposed to emotional vocalizations. The strength of insula activation was also associated with the intensity of the meditation as assessed by the participants.
Areas showing a negative (dark blue, blue) or positive (orange, yellow) impulse response on average across 10 seconds in responses to all emotional sounds for the 15 novices and 15 experts at z=31 compared to baseline (figs. A–D) and z = 13 (figs. E–H)
"The insula is extremely important in detecting emotions in general and specifically in mapping bodily responses to emotion - such as heart rate and blood pressure - and making that information available to other parts of the brain," says Davidson, also co-director of the HealthEmotions Research Institute.
Activity also increased in the temporal parietal juncture, particularly the right hemisphere. Studies have implicated this area as important in processing empathy, especially in perceiving the mental and emotional state of others.
"Both of these areas have been linked to emotion sharing and empathy," Davidson says. "The combination of these two effects, which was much more noticeable in the expert meditators as opposed to the novices, was very powerful."
The findings support Davidson and Lutz's working assumption that through training, people can develop skills that promote happiness and compassion.
"People are not just stuck at their respective set points," he says. "We can take advantage of our brain's plasticity and train it to enhance these qualities."
Meditation instruction given to participants
As described in Dr. Matthieu Ricard's instructions for novices: “During the training session, the subject will think about someone he cares about, such as his parents, sibling or beloved, and will let his mind be invaded by a feeling of altruistic love (wishing well-being) or of compassion (wishing freedom from suffering) toward these persons. After some training the subject will generate such feeling toward all beings and without thinking specifically about someone. While in the scanner, the subject will try to generate this state of loving kindness and compassion.”
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
"Mouth Slightly Open"
The body a yellow brilliance and a head
Some orange color from a Chinese painting
Dipped in sunset by the summer gods
Who are also producing that twitchy shiver
In the cottonwoods, less wind than river,
Where the bird you thought you saw
Was, whether you believe what you thought
You saw or not, and then was not, had
Absconded, leaving behind the emptiness
That hums a little in you now, and is not bad
Or sad, and only just resembles awe or fear.
The bird is elsewhere now, and you are here
And here is a clip from the inaugural Poets Forum, presented by the Academy of American Poets on October 20, 2007, at Marymount College in New York City.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Who am I
to hold you accountable
for the risks you didn't take?
I assumed you were me.
It must have been
the lazy eye,
the persistent uncertainty,
the aching heart,
the sense of exclusion from the tribe.
We share the same sins of omission.
We could have been someone,
but you were afraid you might
die from embarrassment.
Remember when you had to ask
to be dropped from the diving board
into the paralyzing uncertainty
of the cobalt water?
Remember how you were always running to the library
to run you finger along the spines of
what had already been written about
something you just heard?
Remember the ease with which
you turned your back on Bach and Brahms
when someone you didn't know
explained her theory of
the curse of talent's impatience?
And look at us now.
Instead of being someone we might have been,
we fill this drafty house with
rough inventions and imperfect rhapsodies,
and the tables are cluttered with
books we mean to read.
Just last night,
your daughter rehearsed
her French presentation
in the bathroom
with the fan running,
and our old dog sandwiched
who you are now
against the warmth
of a love so unlikely and persistent
that you never could have dreamed it.
On the kitchen island,
an amaryllis whispered a lesson on waking up
while moonlight reflected on the glass dome
covering what remains of
a double layer cake.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
"Author and scholar Karen Armstrong talks about how the Abrahamic religions -- Islam, Judaism, Christianity -- have been diverted from the moral purpose they share to foster compassion. But Armstrong has seen a yearning to change this fact."
"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and study it."
My teacher Sasaki Roshi used to quite regularly hold Zen retreats at a Trappist Monastery where Father Thomas Keating used to be the abbot. He would go in and put on the Trappist robes and he'd make up Christian kōans for the monks.
The first kōan he gave them was What is your experience of God when you make the sign of the cross?
He would also describe Buddhism in terms of Christianity. He would ask them questions like What was Jesus's experience of God when he was on the cross?
He would say, "Resurrection is the heart of Buddhism. Unless you understand about resurrection, you cannot understand what Buddhism is about. Dying is the easy part. The resurrection is the hard part. Any religion that doesn't teach resurrection is a false religion." He was talking about his own experience which is why he would say it with such conviction.
Do you understand what he meant when he said resurrection is the heart of Buddhism? Well, it goes back to the experience of no self and full self. Allowing the self to dissolve is half of the enlightenment experience. Allowing the self to reform without interference, that's resurrection, isn't it?
Thomas Merton wrote, "All the paradoxes about the contemplative way are reduced to this one: being without desire means being lead by a desire so great that it is incomprehensible. It's too huge to be completely felt. It's a blind desire, which seems like a desire for nothing. Only because nothing can content it. And because it is able to rest in no thing, then it rests, relatively speaking, in emptiness. But not in emptiness as such, emptiness for it's own sake, actually there's no such entity as pure emptiness. And the merely negative emptiness of the false contemplative is a thing, not a nothing."
[It's very true. In other words, the negative emptiness, empty in the sense of your bank account is empty, that's not the emptiness that the meditator is talking about. That's actually a thing.]
"True emptiness is that which transcends all things and yet is imminent in all. For what seems to be emptiness in this case is pure being. But it's not this or that. Whatever you say of it, it is other than what you say. The character of emptiness, at least for a Christian contemplative, is pure love, pure freedom. Love that is free of everything, not determined by any thing or held down by any special relationship. It's love for love's sake. It's a sharing through the Holy Spirit in the infinite charity of God. And so when Jesus told his disciples to love, he told them to love as universally as the Father who sends rain alike on the just and the unjust. This purity, freedom, and indeterminateness of love is the very essence of Christianity."
"Letting go of our suffering is the hardest work we will ever do. It is also the most fruitful. To heal means to meet ourselves in a new way -- in the newness of each moment where all is possible and nothing is limited to the old."
In the realm of passing away
This is the realm of the passing away. All that
exists does not for long.
Whatever comes into this world never stops sliding
toward the edge of eternity.
Form arises from formlessness and passes back,
arising and dissolving in a few dance steps between
creation and destruction.
We are born passing away.
Seedlings and deadfall all face forward.
Earthworms eat what remains.
We sing not for that which dies but for that which
Saturday, March 22, 2008
"Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened -- as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding -- she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another."
"Right now I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are -- I am -- the life force power of the universe. I'm the life force power of the fifty trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow. Separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the we inside of me. Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading."
There is form arisen from chaos,
born prior to the universe;
silent and empty it stands alone without change:
this can be regarded as the mother of the world.
Though we do not yet know its name,
we can designate it as the dao;
forced to give it a name we can call it great.
"Great" means the "source,"
the "source" means "going far,"
"going far" means "returning."
The dao is great,
the heavens are great,
the earth is great,
and human beings are also great.
There are four things that are
great within the realm
and human beings count
as one of them.
Human beings emulate the earth,
the earth emulates the heavens,
the heavens emulate the dao,
and the dao emulates
what is naturally so.
-- Tao Te Ching
"I write to find where I'm going. But sometimes a scheme doesn't emerge very rapidly in the early part of writing, sometimes in the first five or ten thousand words. Sometimes I just blunder into a novel and start out thinking I'm doing one thing that I had asked myself to do in a note ten years before and end up doing another thing that I had asked myself in a not three years before. Sometimes I have to trick myself into doing things. But I do see writing, the actual physical matter of writing, as an act of imagination. And the best days, the best mornings are the ones in which forcing down a sentence might generate a surprise. A combination of ideas, or simply a noun meeting an adjective that suddenly gives me pleasure. Whole characters have sometimes emerged for me simply out of a sentence. Not out of the need to describe a character, but the need to make this kind of pattern on the page. And then I've gone on to build on that and found myself again pleased that something has come up, a little serendipity that's taken me in the direction."
"I like writers generally, and Nabokov is another who is supreme in this respect, who recognize that forty percent of the brain's processing is given over to the visual, and the visual region projects deep into other parts of the brain, of language and emotion. We are visual creatures and the novel, more than cinema, for me is ultimately a visual medium."
"But as for readers, readers are too diverse and the thing we all learn about contemporary literature is that there are no standards; there are no common standards of taste. You can get two perfectly intelligent, widely read people in the room who've read the same book, and one thinks it's a disgrace from one end to the other, and the other thinks it's a masterpiece. How is it that we don't have a common view of what even constitutes a good sentence? There's nothing, our feet can't touch the ground on this, and it's no good to try and sort it out by voting--these sorts of lists that you get in newspapers...Maybe the lists are our desperate plea for some certainty; given that we just don't know what a good book is or we can't agree on what a good book is...How is it we have not taught ourselves in university courses the elements of a good book?...it is impossible to constitute a reader in your head, except a strange, skeptical, critical, unimpressed one that I have who makes me take things out, generally. It's not about putting things in; it really makes me take things out."
Fifty years ago, people were saying, "Everything's speeding up." Twenty years ago, they were still saying, "Everything's speeding up." It always seems that way. And it seems even more so now. It's crazy. When you watch a lot of TV and read a lot of magazines, it can seem like the whole world is passing you by.
When I was making Eraserhead, which took five years to complete, I thought I was dead. I thought the world would be so different before it was over. I told myself, Here I am, locked in this thing. I can't finish it. The world is leaving me behind. I had stopped listening to music, and I never watched TV anyway. I didn't want to hear stories about what was going on, because hearing these things felt like dying.
At one time, I actually thought of building a small figure of the character Henry, maybe eight inches tall, and constructing a small set out of cardboard, and just stop-motioning him through and finishing it. That was the only way I could figure doing it, because I didn't have any money.
Then, one night, my younger brother and my father sat me down in a kind of dark living room. My brother is very responsible, as is my father. They had a little chat with me. It almost broke my heart, because they said I should get a job and forget Eraserhead. I had a little girl, and I should be responsible and get a job.
Well, I did get a job: I delivered the Wall Street Journal, and I made fifty dollars a week. I would save up enough to shoot a scene and I eventually finished the whole thing. And I started meditating. Jack Nance, the actor who played Henry, waited three years for me, holding this thought of Henry, keeping it alive. There's a scene in which Jack's character is on one side of a door, and it wasn't until a year and a half later that we filmed him coming through the other side of the door. I wondered, how could this happen? How could it hang together for so long? But Jack waited and held the character.
There's an expression: "Keep your eye on the doughnut, not on the hole." If you keep your eye on the doughnut and do your work, that's all you can control. You can't control any of what's out there, outside yourself. But you can get inside and do the best you can do.
The world isn't going to pass you by. There's no guarantee that meditation or delivering the Wall Street Journal is going to make you a success. But with focus and with meditation—although the events of your outer life may stay the same—the way you go through those events changes and gets so much better.
Friday, March 21, 2008
"Everyone tries to create a story in their heads to explain the things that baffle them. For the same reason we want to know how a magic trick works, or how mystery novel ends, we want to know how someone different, strange, or disfigured came to be as they are. Everyone does it. It's natural. It's curiosity.
"But before any of us can ponder or speculate - we react. We stare. Whether it is a glance or a neck twisting ogle, we look at that which does not seem to fit in our day to day lives. It is that one instant of unabashed curiosity - more reflex than conscious action - that makes us who we are and has been one of my goals to capture over the past year.
"It is after this instant that we try to hazard a guess as to why such an anomalous person exists. Was it disease? Was it a birth defect? Was it a landmine? These narratives all come from the context in which we live our lives. Illness, drugs, calamity, war - all of these might become potential stories depending upon what we are exposed to in connection with disability.
"In each photograph the subjects share a commonality, but what does their context say? Looking at each face, I saw humanity. Rolling through their streets, I found the unique cultures and customs that created an individual."
Posted by Daron at 6:46 AM
Thursday, March 20, 2008
by Billy Collins
I can see them standing politely on the wide pages
that I was still learning to turn,
Jane in a blue jumper, Dick with his crayon-brown hair,
playing with a ball or exploring the cosmos
of the backyard, unaware they are the first characters,
the boy and girl who begin fiction.
Beyond the simple illustrations of their neighborhood,
the other protagonists were waiting in a huddle:
frightening Heathcliff, frightened Pip, Nick Adams
carrying a fishing rod, Emma Bovary riding into Rouen.
But I would read about the perfect boy and his sister
even before I would read about Adam and Eve, garden and gate,
and before I heard the name Gutenberg, the type
of their simple talk was moving into my focusing eyes.
It was always Saturday and he and she
were always pointing at something and shouting,
“Look!” pointing at the dog, the bicycle, or at their father
as he pushed a hand mower over the lawn,
waving at aproned mother framed in the kitchen doorway,
pointing toward the sky, pointing at each other.
They wanted us to look but we had looked already
and seen the shaded lawn, the wagon, the postman.
We had seen the dog, walked, watered and fed the animal,
and now it was time to discover the infinite, clicking
permutations of the alphabet’s small and capital letters.
Alphabetical ourselves in the rows of classroom desks,
we were forgetting how to look, learning how to read.
From Questions About Angels: Poems, (1999)
Download free MP3s of Billy Collins reading his poems.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
(Jan. 6, 1954 - Mar. 18, 2008)
"It's essentially a love story which is affected by burglary. I tried to write this first of all after my first movie, Truly, Madly, Deeply. And I had this notion of a couple who had found that their house had been ransacked, and in the course of trying to work out what had been taken, they discover that things had been added. And what had been added were in some way illustrations of the problems of their marriage. I always had this interest that a break-in -- that a damaging event -- would fix something.
"...Scar tissue is much stronger than your regular tissue. And for some reason, this idea that a scar is stronger than the original flesh is in this movie. The idea that the damage done, when it's repaired, if it can be repaired, will make these people stronger with each other than they were before.
"I have this maybe inaccurate sense that audiences believe and commentators on fiction believe that authenticity means a kind of misanthropy or negativity, that if something is miserable, it's true, if something is pessimistic, it's true, and if something is optimistic or healing, then it's a gloss. That life isn't like that. But I don't believe that. I think that people are incredibly indomitable. They do put things back together again. They do fix themselves. They do fix each other. And that we have to believe that it's possible to fix things. We're in a world where not necessarily marriage is in trouble, but certainly harmony is in trouble in the sense that the marriages of culture that exist in cities, the observing of each other's right to believe and the right to think and right to feel is in a troubled and turbulent moment in history. We have to learn to make peace with each other and forgive each other.
"So this idea of conciliation goes way beyond simply forgiving a burglar or simply forgiving an aberrant husband. To me it's the required emotion and movement and dynamic for our future."
"There's a kind of tension created there that I was sort of after. It made some people very uncomfortable. The people who don't like the film, often that's what it's connected to. We're used to fantasies of unrelieved violence. We're used to that. I know I am. But we're seldom exposed to the unrelieved tension of compassion and kindness without sentimentality. And I think that creates a tension in a viewer. You're like, Okay, when is he going to cut the doll up and throw it in the lake? When is somebody going to murder somebody?"'
Monday, March 17, 2008
"At every moment there is in us an infinity of perceptions, unaccompanied by awareness or reflection; that is, in alterations in the soul itself, of which we are too unaware because the impressions are either too minute or too numerous."
Gottfried Leibniz (1646 – 1716)
Sunday, March 16, 2008
"Randy Pausch made a surprise return to Carnegie Mellon University to deliver an inspirational speech to the Class of 2008 at the Commencement ceremony on May 18, 2008."
Check out The Last Lecture.
Posted by Daron at 12:18 PM
"The real difference between God and human beings, he thought, was that God cannot stand continuance. No sooner has He created a season of a year, or a time of the day, than He wishes for something quite different, and sweeps it all away. No sooner was one a young man, and happy at that, than the nature of things would rush one into marriage, martyrdom, or old age. And human beings cleave to the existing state of things. All their lives they are striving to hold the moment fast, and are up against a force majeure. Their art itself is nothing but an attempt to catch by all means the one particular moment, one mood, one light, the momentary beauty of one woman or one flower, and make it everlasting. It is all wrong to imagine paradise as a never-changing state of bliss. It will probably, on the contrary, turn out to be, in the true spirit of God, an incessant up and down, a whirlpool of change. Only you may yourself, by that time, have become one with God, and have taken a liking to it."
Isak Dinesen, "The Monkey," Seven Gothic Tales
"The fact is simple enough. Through a lifetime, by ingesting food and water, we build cells, we grow, we become larger and more substantial. That which was not, is. The process is undetectable. It can be viewed only at intervals along the way. We know it is happening, but we don't know quite how or why.
"Similarly, in a lifetime, we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reactions to them. Into our subconscious goes not only factual data but reactive data, our movement toward or away from the sensed events.
"These are the stuffs, the foods, on which the Muse grows. This is the storehouse, the file, to which we must return every waking hour to check reality against memory, and in sleep to check memory against memory, which means ghost against ghost, in order to exorcise them, if necessary.
"What is the subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, the Muse. They are two names for one thing. But no matter what we call it, here is the core of the individual we pretend to extol, to whom we build shrines and hold lip services in our democratic society. For it is in the totality of experience reckoned with, filed and forgotten, that each man is truly different from all others in the world."
"Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don't use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand. And, above all, poetry is compacted metaphor or simile. Such metaphors, like Japanese paper flowers, may expand outward into gigantic shapes. Ideas lie everywhere through the poetry books, yet how rarely have I heard short-story teachers recommending them for browsing...
"What poetry? Any poetry that makes your hair stand up along your arms. Don't force yourself too hard. Take it easy. Over the years you may catch up to, move even with, and pass T.S. Eliot on your way to other pastures. You say you don't understand Dylan Thomas? Yes, but your ganglion does, and your secret wits, and all your unborn children. Read him, as you read a horse with your eyes, set free and charging over and endless green meadow on a windy day."
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
John Adams, 1765
"Humanity obliges us to be affected with the distresses and Miserys of our fellow creatures. Friendship is a band yet Stronger, which causes us to feel with greater tenderness the afflictions of our Friends."
-- Abigail Smith, August 11, 1763
"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival...It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."
-- John Adams, July 3, 1776
"It's the human side of all of these subjects that interests me. I have no interest as a writer or historian to do an analytical appraisal of The Progressive Era. That just isn't what I do. I'm interested in the people, what happened to them and why. When I have a subject that has left a full and revealing record through personal correspondence, then I can get inside those lives, I can get below the surface and that's the job of a writer, it seems to me, to get below the surface.
This was true of Truman, who wrote such fantastic letters, particularly in the years when he had no idea he was going to be a protagonist in history; and the letters between John Adams and his wife are some of the greatest we have from any Americans over a thousand letters between John and Abigail Adams. They're all wonderfully written and long, and they tell you more than anybody else of that era about their personal lives and feelings. That's what's so remarkable about the Adams papers."
Posted by Daron at 9:27 PM
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Dave Eggers, on the experience of suddenly losing both of his parents to cancer when he was twenty-one:
"On the one hand you are so completely bewildered that something so surreal and incomprehensible could happen. At the same time, suddenly the limitations or hesitations that you might have imposed on yourself fall away. There's a weird, optimistic recklessness that could easily be construed as nihilism but is really the opposite. You see that there is a beginning and an end and that you have only a certain amount of time to act. And you want to get started."
He dropped out of college to care for his eight-year-old brother and started his own magazine and then the literary quarterly McSweeney's. At the same time, he was working on his best selling memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. He also founded a nonprofit writing and tutoring workshop, 826 Valencia, aimed at helping 8-18 year olds "with their writing skills, in the realm of creative writing, expository writing, or English as a second language." There are currently six chapters of the project across the country, "supported by a large volunteer network, which includes authors, journalists, poets, teachers, and documentary filmmakers."
I went down the list
of all the many
carefully — did it
twice — but couldn't find
a plausible one.
That was when I knew
for the first time who
in fact I wasn't.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
"It took a while before I really understood the zone. Whether it's performing or writing songs, there's a place you can get to that has nothing to do with ego. I imagine it's what enlightenment feels like. My relationship with that place is what I work on most right now."
Monday, March 10, 2008
"Music is one of the only things that helps to rebuild neuropathways in your brain...Because of the damage to my spine, I have a nervous system disorder called an autonomic nervous system dysfunction...I'm sensitive to light and sound so I wear glasses and have hearing devices. Those help to bring my level of sensitivity down so that I'm able to do what I do. And it's sort of a Catch-22, because, to be honest with you, being on stage and performing is the 30, 40, 50 minutes of most pleasurable experience that I have, because it's during that time that I don't really feel any pain. I think it's transcendental and I also think its kind of like when you have a headache and someone punches you in the stomach, you forget all about your head. So with performing, I'm so focused and so intent that I forget about those things. So it's wonderful for me. I really look forward to it. But on the flip side, it's quite difficult...I don't know that I necessarily hear music differently so much as I appreciate a different style of music. I think I'm more open than I was before, as far as sonic capability is concerned, and also as far as my pace and general way of life. "
-- Melody Gardot who was seriously injured after being knocked off her bike by an SUV. The guitar lessons which her doctor recommended as therapy, lead to her career as a jazz musician. Listen to her conversation with Scott Simon and to tracks from her new album, Worrisome Heart (Weekend Edition Saturday, 3.8.08).
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Your attention please. Train number 7,
Leaves Blown By, bound for The Color of Thinking
and Renovated Time, is now departing.
All ticketed passengers may board
behind my eyes.
Your attention please. Train number 4, The Twentieth Century,
has joined The Wind Undisguised to become The Written Word.
Those who never heard their names
may inquire at the uneven margin of the story
or else consult the ivy
lying awake under our open window.
Your attention please, The Music,
arriving out of hidden ground
and endlessly beginning, is now the flower,
now the fruit, now our cup and cheer
under branches more ancient
than our grandmother’s hair.
Passengers with memories of the sea
may board leisurely at any unmarked gate.
Fateful members of the foam may proceed to azalea.
Your attention please.
Under falling petals, never think about home.
Seeing begins in the dark.
Listening stills us.
Yesterday has gone
ahead to meet you.
And the place in a book a man stops reading
is the place a girl escaped
through her mother’s garden.
And between paired notes of the owl,
a boy disappeared. Search for him
goes on in the growing shadow of the clock.
And the hands behind the clock’s hands
are not his mother’s hands.
All light-bearing tears may be exchanged
for the accomplished wine.
Your attention please. Train number 66,
Unbidden Song, soon to be
the full heart’s quiet, takes no passengers.
Please leave your baggage with the attendant
at the window marked Your Name Sprung from Hiding.
An intrepid perfume is waging our rescue.
You may board at either end of Childhood.
-- Li-Young Lee, from Behind My Eyes
"Poet's Intimate Stanzas Explore Grief and Salvation," by Tom Vitale, Weekend Edition Saturday (3.8.08)
Thursday, March 06, 2008
"When you think about language and you think about consciousness, it's just incredible to think that we can make any sounds that can reach over across to each other at all...I think the beauty of being human is that we're incredibly, intimately near each other. We know about each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it's like inside another person. And it's amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you're looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach. And that's the mystery of poetry, you know, is poetry tries to draw alongside the mystery as it's emerging and somehow bring it into presence and into birth."
"That's what I call spirituality, the art of homecoming. So it's St. Augustine's phrase, Deus intimior intimo meo — "God is more intimate to me than I am to myself." Then you go to Meister Eckhart, and you get the other side of it which you must always keep together with it, where in Middle High German, he says (in German) that means, "God becomes and God unbecomes," or translated it means that God is only our name for it and the closer we get to it the more it ceases to be God. So then you are on a real safari with the wildness and danger and otherness of God.
"And I think when you begin to get a sense of the depth that is there then your whole heart wakens up. You know, I mean, I love Irenaeus' thing from the second century, which said, the Glory of the human being — "The glory of God is the human being fully alive." And I think in our culture that one of the things that we are missing is that these thresholds where we can encounter this, and where we move into new change in our lives, there are no rituals to help us to recognize them or to cross them worthily."
My brother is in the news again. Last year he was one of seven people honored with an Unsung Hero award given by Communities in Schools, an organization working "to help young people successfully learn, stay in school, and prepare for life."
He told the local reporter, "I don't think they must have not had many nominees that year," and that he preferred to see his rewards inside the classroom.
In February, The Wichita Eagle ran a story about a program designed to make sure students have enough to eat over the weekend to better prepare them to stay engaged in learning.
People outside the schools have a hard time believing these stories, Larson said. But the Kansas Food Bank has found at least 3,510 such kids in Kansas schools -- nearly 1,100 of them in Wichita -- and is adding hundreds more kids to its backpack program every year. Larson has seen it all. He's talked to the kids' parents.
"Parents break down and cry here. They tell stories: 'I had a job -- I lost my job. I have these kids -- the kids need help. We have nowhere to turn -- we go whole weekends without food.' "
He says keeping kids fed keeps them in school. Some of what he's seen is hard to take, including "watching big, tough-guy fathers melt into tears when I tell them that we've found a way to send food home on weekends."
I'm very proud to be related to him.
"Fear, greed, and the desire for power are the psychological motivating forces not only behind warfare and violence between nations, tribes, religions, and ideologies, but also the cause of incessant conflict in personal relationships. They bring about a distortion in your perception of other people and yourself. Through them, you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless hole that can never be filled.
"It is important to realize, however, that fear, greed, and the desire for power are not the dysfunction that we are speaking of, but are themselves created by the dysfunction, which is a deep-seated collective delusion that lies within the mind of each human being. A number of spiritual teachings tell us to let go of fear and desire. But those spiritual practices are usually unsuccessful. They haven't gone to the root of the dysfunction. Fear, greed, and desire for power are not the ultimate causal factors. Trying to become a good or better human being sounds like a commendable and high-minded thing to do, yet it is an endeavor you cannot ultimately succeed in unless there is a shift in consciousness. This is because it is still part of the same dysfunction, a more subtle and rarified form of self-enhancement, of desire for more and a strengthening of one's conceptual identity, one's self-image. You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the good that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge. But it can only emerge if something fundamental changes in your state of consciousness."
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
"I had a high school French teacher named Mrs. Leike...this sort of dour appearing woman with her hair in a bun and glasses and a long, straight dress -- not particularly interesting, at least to us as teenagers.
"We were sitting at our little desks and she pulled out an LP and put it on the turntable and announced that she was going to expose us to something extremely wonderful. And began to play this really weird sounding woman singing. It was Edith Piaf. I distinctly remember that Mrs. Leike started crying. We thought that was the weirdest things we'd ever seen. So we rolled our eyes and hit each other under the desks and just had a laugh. That was it. I'd forgot all about it and never cared about Edith Piaf, that's for sure.
"Many years went by, and I had occasion to do some international travel. One evening I found myself in Brussels, Belgium looking for a drink of some sort and stumbled into this very strange, subterranean bar. It was dark. It took my eyes some time to adjust. Finally, I could see this place was full of stuff from World War II -- photos, flags, books, records, you name it. And there was this music in the air, coming out of these little tinny-sounding speakers and swirling around with the smoke and it was Piaf.
"It was aching and pleading and world-weary, but also kind of sassy. Like she had a finger in your face and a defiant, clenched fist. It just made me feel like I was in another time. And then I left and it was like, Whoa! I had to catch my breath. It was like I had been shaken and then hurled back out onto the street. It was amazing.
"Recently I saw the movie La Vie en Rose, and I've had also in my bookcase a little, thin paperback which is Piaf's own life story that she wrote. It's really short -- about heartbreak and very hard living. And for some reason, all the pieces just slotted into place and this memory of Mrs. Leike, my French teacher, came flooding back. And I thought, Well, so that's what she was about. That was the point.
"I react to Piaf on a gut level. Essentially, she's challenging the doubters with everything she sings. In spite of it all, I'm gonna strut, I'm gonna dance, I shall not be vanquished. She's like this weak little heart fighting to beat its way out of this crushing crowd and when she does there's no stopping her. You kind of just want to raise your fist and cheer. If you don't cry when you're listening to Piaf, you're actually not listening.
"Apparently Mrs. Leike is deceased, but I would say, Look. If you happened to notice me in the back of the class that day, rolling my eyes and attempting to ignore you, I apologize. And I appreciate what you were trying to do. Thank you."
Monday, March 03, 2008
"In a way I think it's better to come from a place that's not as vibrant or alive because you have to infuse your life with something rather than just absorbing it from the outside."
-- Thao Nguyen, who taught herself to play the guitar when she worked at her mother's laundromat. She talks about growing up in suburban Virginia and new CD, We Brave Bee Stings and All on Studio 360 (2.22.08).
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Liane Hansen: Did you have arrangements in mind before you got into the studio?
Shelby Lynne: Absolutely not. I can’t imagine doing that. I think that would have caused too much thinkin’ about it. If you think too much about something, you’re not feeling it. And that’s just the way I approach music, you know? And my band could tell you, I’d rather do anything than rehearse. So a sound check’s about all we get.
LH: You did this in five days?
SL: Mm, hmm. That’s enough time in studio. If you know what you need, and you know what you’re going after, and you have your list of songs – do it and get outta there. That’s my way.
LH: How did you decide which songs to do?
SL: I chose my favorites. And I chose the ones I really thought I could make my own…I had no idea before I stepped foot in studio, but when the songs started showing themselves I knew I had to be somewhat daring, because everybody’s heard these songs a million times. It had to be something a little bit crazy. And I’m not scared. I go and if it’s scary, it’s not scary enough, let’s keep going.
LH: Was there ever a time, though, that you doubted doing an album of cover songs?
SL: Oh my god. I drank more whiskey makin’ this record in the studio. My nerves – every now and then I’d breakdown and hit my flask and say, “You must be out of your mind. What are you doin’? Number one, you’re cuttin’ songs that everybody loves and adores the original records. Plus, Dusty Springfield – you idiot!” But then I’d drink a little more and it’d be okay.
Posted by Daron at 4:52 PM
Kurt Andersen: I looked back before this program to read a piece you wrote in the New York Times Magazine a few years ago about Bosnia and the Balkans that was an absolutely spot-on, it seemed to me, critique of European in action and kind of - a kind of taken for granted European anti-Americanism, and as part of your argument for the need for us to intervene militarily. Does it strike you not as a contradiction at all, your feelings about that war and what I presume are your feelings about this war that we're about to be involved in, but perhaps I'm presuming too far.
Susan Sontag: Well, I think unfortunately, we are going to wage this war. We didn't move - our government didn't move 100,000 troops and all that material to Iraq to back off. This is a tough question, and one I think about a lot, I'm not against the proper use of American power. I'm absolutely for the intervention in Bosnia, I wish it had happened a lot earlier and I wish it had amounted to something. I'm for and continue to be for the intervention in Kosovo, even though I deplore the way in which it was pursued, which incurred a lot of unnecessary civilian deaths from American bombing. I wish that the Americans had intervened in Rwanda, which I think is the most single horrible thing that's happened anywhere in the past decades. I am against the punitive pre-emptive war in Iraq because I think it's folly. I think it won't accomplish what it's designed to accomplish. I think it is the wrong way to deal with this monstrous dictator, whose overthrow I ardently look forward to.
KA: But why was it right in Slobodan Milosevic's case and not here?
SS: Because it was bound to do what it could do at a very minimal cost of life. And this is opening a can of worms, a Pandora's box that will destabilize the whole region, that involves an imperial ambition that I don't think we're prepared to carry through. We may be prepared to kill a lot of people, civilians in Baghdad, I'm not sure we're prepared to rule the Middle East yet.
KA: Although we don't want to kill civilians in Baghdad.
SS: No, but if we decide to pursue a war in which the presumption is we will take ideally no casualties, then we will have to bomb. And I think it's folly, I think it's mad, I think it's dangerous.
KA: So you don't think there's a high possibility, or any possibility that you will be proven wrong by how the war goes?
SS: I pray to be proven wrong, but I don't believe it. I think it's much more dangerous and much more reckless. I'm against it for practical and political reasons. I'm not against it because it's a use of American power.
KA: In this time of war and rumors of war and imminent war perhaps, are there works of art that we should go to for explanation, illumination, solace?
SS: Well, I talked before about art as a platform for moral consciousness. What finally matters to me about the arts, whether it's literature or film or other dramatic arts or music or dance, is the way it deepens us, the way it extends our feelings, and tenderness and compassion and the ability just to recognize everyone's humanity, because in the end, the most important thing is that we are all human beings, including the people that commit these wicked acts.
Posted by Daron at 2:19 PM