Monday, November 30, 2009

It’s Less the Device than the Devices

From “Over 60, and Proud to Join the Digerati,” by James R. Gaines, New York Times, November 28, 2009:

Yes, the world of print publishing is going through a fundamental disruption brought about by the Internet. People are being laid off left and right, newspapers and magazines are folding, the book business is floundering.

In the digital world, though, social networks are now bigger than most national populations, more people are consuming more news and information than ever before, and an archive of all the world’s knowledge is being built and streamed to your favorite device. This new world brings with it as much promise as pain. It’s like youth that way.

Media will change as radically as technology allows, and right now the Internet is moving over the media landscape like a tsunami. But the job I learned to love when young was to tell stories, and the story has lost nothing in this transition. It is as elemental and as riveting as ever.

Everybody’s worried about the device. Could Microsoft’s Courier be the answer, or the iTablet? Good question, but not the most important one. It’s less the device than the devices — the crafts and the art of storytelling — that need updating most urgently for the digital world.

The young people I work with now will be the settlers of that frontier, and I can’t think of anything I would rather do than help them get there.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

The House of Small Cubes

La Maison En Petites Cubes from Anton Cherednichenko on Vimeo.

Life Moved More Slowly

From Buddhist Geeks Podcast Episode 148: “Work, Sex, Money, Dharma,” a conversation with Martin Aylward:

There's a quote by Lao Tzu, who was an exact contemporary of the Buddha. So living two and a half thousand years ago in rural China.  And when he was an old Lao Tzuman, he wrote: "When I was younger, life moved more slowly. People had time for each other. Nowadays, everything moves so quickly. Everything's so complicated, people don't have time for each other." And you know, that's two and a half thousand years ago in China.

So one has to ask well, has life been constantly getting more and more crazy and complicated, and people having less and less time for each other over those two and a half thousand years? Or is it that there's that tendency of mind as we get older, to look back and idealize something from our own memory as being simpler, and then kind of apply that to the outside world. And so that can happen in any generation, and it can happen around anything.

It can certainly happen around the Internet, taking us away from ourselves rather than just being the latest tool.

Everywhere, but Nowhere

“All the airports kind of feel and look the same now. Some are more beautiful, some are less beautiful, but for the most part you’re going to find a Starbucks in every airport. You’re going to get your coffee and the USA Today or New York Times in every airport. All the things that you want are there, so you can land anywhere, and you feel at home. You’re given the sense that you’re everywhere, but you’re nowhere; that you are constantly with your community, yet you have no community. There’s kind of a terrific irony to that.”

~ Jason Reitman, from “A Director Who Gives Business the Business,” by David Carr, New York Times, November 25, 2009


Up in the Air, by Walter Kirn

Friday, November 27, 2009

Uniting Against an Outside Enemy

From The Writer’s Almanac today:

Pope Urban II preaches the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont. It was on this day in 1095 that Pope Urban II, while on a speaking tour in France, called for the first Crusade to recapture Jerusalem from the Turks. There was no imminent threat. Muslims had occupied Jerusalem for hundreds of years. But Urban II had noticed that Europe was becoming an increasingly violent place, with low-level knights killing each other over their land rights, and he thought that he could bring peace to the Christian world by directing all that violence against an outside enemy. So he made up stories of how Turks in Jerusalem were torturing and killing Christians, and anyone who was willing to join the fight against them would go to heaven.

About 100,000 men from France, Germany, and Italy answered the call, formed into several large groups, and marched across Asia Minor to the Middle East. Nearly half of them died from exhaustion and sickness before they ever reached their destination. They began sacking cities along the way, and they fought among each other for the spoils of each battle. When they reached the trading city of Antioch, they killed almost everyone, including the Christians who lived there. By the time they got to Jerusalem, it had recently fallen into the hands of Egyptians, who were friendly with the Vatican. But the crusaders attacked anyway, killing every Muslim they could find. The Jews in the city gathered in the temple, and the crusaders set it on fire.

Pope Urban II died two weeks later, never hearing the news.

It’s Harder to Agree to Grief and Loss

From “Some Place Not Yet Known: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield,” The Atlantic, September 18, 1997: 

The Lives of the Heart Part of poetry's core activity, both within an individual and within a culture, is to attend to and make visible what Jung called the shadow life. Whatever it is that isn't being sufficiently attended to, poetry will be magnetically drawn toward. Perhaps these poems came to me because I hadn't been looking thoroughly enough at the activity of my own heart — I had fallen asleep in a way, or had been looking overly outward. And certainly the heart is denigrated by our culture, which values the intellect and neglects the emotional, or cheapens it to the dulled formulas of mass media. Perhaps I was looking in those poems for a container of concentration and words with which to try to do better, to counteract that dulling, both inward and outward.

It's also true that for some years a central task in my life has been to try to affirm the difficult parts of my experience; that attempt is what many of the heart poems address. It's easy to say yes to being happy, but it's harder to agree to grief and loss and transience and to the fact that desire is fathomless and ultimately unfillable. At some point I realized that you don't get a full human life if you try to cut off one end of it, that you need to agree to the entire experience, to the full spectrum of what happens.

People talk about poetry's having a diminished life in the current culture, or else they talk about its current renaissance, but I think that in good times or bad times for poetry as a whole, people will always have periods in their lives when they turn to poetry. Dealing with grief or falling in love, people will look for a poem or perhaps write one in the attempt to sort through and understand their most powerful experiences. Or, for the occasions of large transition — a marriage or a funeral — they will ask someone to read a poem that marks and holds the feeling. One of the jobs of poets is to keep making those holding words available, so that when other people need them they will be there.

I was deeply moved when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's lover Maurice Tempelsman read Cavafy's poem "Ithaka" at her funeral — and when it was then reprinted in every major newspaper in the country. "Ithaka" is an important and astonishing poem that holds enormous wisdom about what actually takes place in the scope of a life, and his bringing it forward on the occasion of her death made it available for everyone. The poem served the public purpose of shared grief and could then stay in the mind for private understanding. I think for poetry to have that kind of life in a culture is enough. It would be wonderful if more people wanted to read poetry every day, but it's more important that the poems be there when people need them.

[Thanks Linda!]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

There is Grandeur, If You Look

More Funny Ideas About Grandeur
by Ruth Padel, from Darwin: A Life in Poems

'To Emma, in case of my sudden death.
      I have just finished this sketch
of my species theory. If true, as I believe,
      it will be a considerable step
in science. My most solemn last request
      is that you devote 400 pounds
to its publication.'

'There is grandeur, if you look
      at every organic being
as the lineal successor of some other form,
      now buried under thousands of feet of rock.
Or else as a co-descendant, with that buried form,
      from some other inhabitant of this world
more ancient still, now lost.

Out of famine, death and struggle for existence,
      comes the most exalted end
we're capable of conceiving: creation
      of the higher animals!
Our first impulse is to disbelieve — 
      how could any secondary law
produce organic beings, infinitely numerous,

characterized by most exquisite
      workmanship and adaptation?
Easier to say, a Creator designed each.
      But there is a simple grandeur in this view —
that life, with its power to grow, to reach, feel,
      reproduce, diverge, was breathed
into matter in a few forms first

and maybe only one. To say that while this planet
      has gone cycling on
according to fixed laws of gravity,
      from so simple an origin, through selection
of infinitesimal varieties, endless forms
      most beautiful and wonderful
have been, and are being, evolved.'

Charlie Darwin

by Low Anthem, from Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

Set the sails I feel the winds a'stirring
Toward the bright horizon set the way
Cast your wreckless dreams upon our Mayflower
Haven from the world and her decay

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
Fighting for a system built to fail
Spooning water from their broken vessels
As far as I can see there is no land

Oh my god, the water's all around us
Oh my god, it's all around

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
The lords of war just profit from decay
And trade their children's promise for the jingle
The way we trade our hard earned time for pay

Oh my god, the water's cold and shapeless
Oh my god, it's all around
Oh my god, life is cold and formless
Oh my god, it's all around

Explore Studio 360’s November 20, 2009 episode on Evolution.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What It Is To Be Human

Iambic pentameter is the rhythm of our English language and of our bodies -- a  line of that poetry has the same rhythm as our heartbeat. A line of iambic pentameter fills the human lung perfectly, so it’s the rhythm of speech. One could say that it’s a very human sounding rhythm and Shakespeare used it to explore what it is to be human.”

~ Ben Crystal, author of Shakespeare on Toast

Sonnet 116
by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Giving Happiness, Receiving Happiness

Cognitive develpmental neuroscientist Adele Diamond, speaking with Krista Tippett from “Learning, Doing, Being: A New Science of Education,” Speaking of Faith, November 19, 2009:

My husband who came with me to Dharamsala said, "If you're going to give [the Dalai Lama] a present, I want to give him a present, too." He wanted to give him a kite because he didn't think the Dalai Lama got to spend enough time playing.

And so then he found online that he could get a package of ten plain, undecorated kites very inexpensively. Vancouver kids with kitesHe asked me if I could find classes of school children to decorate them. I contacted a colleague, Kim Schonert-Reichl, and she helped me find a class of children with developmental disorders, many of them ADHD, who were either not on medication or on reduced medication because they were doing mindfulness.

They had heard of the Dalai Lama, and they were very excited to be decorating these kites. And there were two children per kite. On one side, they did self portraits, so it looked like a Picasso because half of the kite is one child's face and half of the kite is the other child's face.

My husband brings all these to Dharamsala and we get a private audience with His Holiness Adele Diamond, her husband, and Dalai Lama with kite pictureand we had the wisdom not to bring all the kites with us to the audience because the Dalai Lama said thank you but it was very clear he wasn't going to fly any kites; he's was going to put them in a drawer.

After that we went to visit Matthieu Ricard at Katmandu, where he has a Tibetan monastery. And he has many humanitarian projects in connection with that and one of them are schools for poor children. Any background, doesn't matter, religious or ethnic. They call it Bamboo Schools because the buildings are all made out of bamboo. So we went to these bamboo schools and we brought the rest of the kites and we gave them to the children there.

They had never flown kites before, and they were so happy to be flying these kites. And Matthieu was so happy to see the children so happy. And we took photos and videos and I brought them back to the class in Vancouver to the children who had been studying mindfulness and I showed them the pictures and they were so happy to see how happy they had made the other children.

Previous posts related to other topics from this interview:

Don’t Quit

Excerpt from “Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious,” by Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, November 22, 2009:

“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” says Michael Hopkins, a graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion. “It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can get this translation from the realm of purely physical stresses to the realm of psychological stressors.”

The stress-reducing changes wrought by exercise on the brain don’t happen overnight, however, as virtually every researcher agrees. In the University of Colorado experiments, for instance, rats that ran for only three weeks did not show much reduction in stress-induced anxiety, but those that ran for at least six weeks did.

“Something happened between three and six weeks,” says Benjamin Greenwood, a research associate in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, who helped conduct the experiments. Dr. Greenwood added that it was “not clear how that translates” into an exercise prescription for humans. We may require more weeks of working out, or maybe less. And no one has yet studied how intense the exercise needs to be.

But the lesson, Dr. Greenwood says, is “don’t quit.” Keep running or cycling or swimming. (Animal experiments have focused exclusively on aerobic, endurance-type activities.) You may not feel a magical reduction of stress after your first jog, if you haven’t been exercising. But the molecular biochemical changes will begin, Dr. Greenwood says. And eventually, he says, they become “profound.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Everything We Need

tabloids"This is where we wait together, regardless of age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods. A slowly moving line, satisfying, giving us time to glance at the tabloids in the racks. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead."

~ Don DeLillo, from White Noise

It’s a Search

Nadine Gordimer photo by Dan Porges "People make the mistake of regarding commitment as something solely political. A writer is committed to trying to make sense of life. It's a search. So there is that commitment first of all: the commitment to the honesty and determination to go as deeply into things as possible, and to dredge up what little bit of truth you with your talent can then express."

~ Nadine Gordimer

[Thanks Garrison Keillor!]

Life Changes

Excerpt from We Are Not Temples by Matthew Dickman, from All-American Poem:

My friend, a Buddhist, tells me
that life is constantly changing
and that my struggle against it
is the cause of all my suffering. That and wanting
what I do not have, being less than excited about what I do,
and the shaky delusions
of an invented reality in which I probably live
most of my days. She’s right.
Life changes. The sacred becomes, after many years, secular
and then turns back around as if it has forgotten its keys,
becoming sacred all over again.

Turn the car around by Misserion

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The First Mouth that Drops Open in Surprise

From “The Writer as Illusionist,” by William Maxwell, from A William Maxwell Portrait:

A William Maxwell Portrait: Memories and Appreciations The writer has everything in common with the vaudeville magician except this: The writer must be taken in by his own tricks. Otherwise the audience will begin to yawn and snicker. Having practiced more or less incessantly for five, ten, or twenty years, knowing that the trunk has a false bottom and the opera hat a false top, with the white doves in a cage ready to be handed to him from the wings and his clothing full of unusual, deep pockets containing odd playing cards and colored scarves knotted together and not knotted together and the American flag, he must begin by pleasing himself. His mouth must be the first mouth that drops open in surprise, in wonder, as (presto chango!) this character’s heartache is dragged squirming from his inside coat pocket, and that character’s future has become his past while he was not looking.

With his cuffs turned back, to show that there is no possibility of deception being practiced on the reader, the writer invokes a time…invokes a place…He uses words to invoke his version of hat-wand the Forest of Arden. If he is a good novelist, you can lean against his trees; they will not give way. If he is a bad novelist, you probably shouldn’t. Ideally, you ought to be able to shake them until an apple falls on your head. (The apple of understanding.)

We Are Dust and Dreams

Diffugere Nives
by A. E. Housman, from The Collected Poems of A. E. Housman 

Horace, Odes, iv, 7

The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws
     And grasses in the mead renew their birth,
The river to the river-bed withdraws,
     And altered is the fashion of the earth.

The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear
     And unapparelled in the woodland play.
The swift hour and the brief prime of the year
     Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye.

Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring
     Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers
Comes autumn with his apples scattering;
     Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

But oh, whate'er the sky-led seasons mar,
     Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams;
Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are
     And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.

Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add
     The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?
Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had
     The fingers of no heir will ever hold.

When thou descendest once the shades among,
     The stern assize and equal judgment o'er,
Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,
     No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.

Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,
     Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;
And Theseus leaves Pirithous in the chain
     The love of comrades cannot take away.

From the You Tube page of the Favorite Poem Project.

A Continual State of Surprise

Backyard (November 19, 2009)

“So strange, life is. Why people do not go around in a continual state of surprise is beyond me.”

~ William Maxwell

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


by Marie Sheppard Williams, from American Life in Poetry

I stood at a bus corner
one afternoon, waiting
for the #2. An old
guy stood waiting too.
I stared at him. He
caught my stare, grinned,
gap-toothed. Will you
sign my coat? he said.
Held out a pen. He wore
a dirty canvas coat that
had signatures all over
it, hundreds, maybe
           I’m trying
to get everybody, he
           I signed. On a
little space on a pocket.
Sometimes I remember:
I am one of everybody.

Blooming, Buzzing, Confusion

“The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing, confusion.”

~ William James, The Principles of Psychology

Monday, November 16, 2009

Making Music with the Mind

subConchThe subConch looks like a creation that Björk might have have bred by mating an iPod with a biofeedback device. I would love to give it a spin. It’s played by manipulating mental activity. 

“The instrument, a conch shaped metal sculpture, is hung from the ceiling in three steel wires. Along with the conch comes a headset that the performer wears. The headset reads the players mind using EEG technology and transmits his conscious and unconscious thoughts to the conch. The conch in turn interprets these and synthesizes sound.”

“The subConch is an interactive installation currently in development by Mats J. Sivertsen. The installation will be exhibited in art galleries and used in musical performances.”

The subConch: mind control musical instrument from Mats J. Sivertsen on Vimeo.

@stuartdavis and @ryanoelke

A Mission

“Once you have a mission you can't go back to a job.”

~ Shai Agassi

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Before we were born…

…our parents were awesome.

My Parents Were AwesomePaul

Submitted by Chris

The Ghost Within Every Experience

Excerpts from an essay titled “On Becoming a Poet,” by Mark Strand, from The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms:

The Making of a Poem It is hard for me to separate my development as a reader of poems from my career as a poet. If my readings have any acuity or sensitivity, it is probably because I have paid close attention to how my own poems worked, and to which ways and to what extent I might improve them. This mutual dependency is always reflected in the work. A poem will make continual reference to an experience while at the same time call attention to itself as a vehicle for meaning.

good poems have a lyric identity that goes beyond whatever their subject happens to be. They have a voice and the formation of that voice, the gathering up of imagined sound into utterance, may be the true occasion for their existence. A poem may be the residue of an inner urgency, one through which the self wishes to register itself, write itself into being, and, finally, to charm another self, the reader, into belief. It may also be something equally elusive—the ghost within every experience that wishes it could be seen or felt, acknowledged as a kind of meaning.

It could be a truth so forgiving that it offers up a humanness in which we are able to imagine ourselves. A poem is a place where the conditions of beyondness and withinness are made palpable, where to imagine is to feel what it is like to be. It allows us to have the life we are denied because we are too busy living. Even more paradoxically, a poem permits us to live in ourselves as if we were just out of reach of ourselves.

Resources to Deal with the Ups and Downs

Matthieu Ricard “I think we should clearly see what are the inner conditions that foster a genuine sense of flourishing, of fulfillment, that the quality of every instant of your life has a certain quality that you appreciate fully. So, you see, it's very different from imagining that constant happiness will be a kind of euphoria or endless succession of pleasant experiences. That's more like a recipe for exhaustion than happiness...

Pleasure depends very much on circumstances, on what triggers it. Then it's a sensation in a way. So, sensation changes from pleasurable to neutral and to can experience pleasure at the cost of other's suffering. So it's very vulnerable to the change of other circumstances. It doesn't help you to face the other circumstances better.

[But we can] think of happiness as a way of being that gives you the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life, that pervades all the emotional states, including sadness.”

~ Matthieu Ricard, from “The ‘Happiest’ Man in the World,” Speaking of Faith, November 12, 2009

A Tibetan dancer from Shechen Monastery in Nepal during a sacred dance performance in France. 2004.

Photographs by Matthieu Ricard

Neither Young Nor Old

November, Trees  by John HuberSabbaths 2005

I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don’t think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforeseen debilities. Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse. And the clouds
—no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new—who has known it
before?—and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man. And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.

~ From Leavings by Wendell Berry

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gathering Together

Enormous flocks of European starlings gathering over Milwaukee…


…and Denmark.

Fully Occupied

"To be a poet you must be crazy about language; and you must believe in the uniqueness of every person, and therefore in your own. To find your voice you must forget about finding it, and trust that if you pay sufficient attention to life you will be found to have something to say which no one else can say. And if at the same time your love of language leads you to develop your vocabulary, your ear, and your form-sense, and if you are scrupulously honest, you will arrive at writing what you apprehend in a way which embodies that vision which is yours alone. And that will be your voice, unsought, singing out from you of itself." 

~ Denise Levertov

Arts Castle (Winter 2009)

The Métier of Blossoming    
by Denise Levertov 

Fully occupied with growing—that's
the amaryllis. Growing especially
at night: it would take
only a bit more patience than I've got
to sit keeping watch with it till daylight;
the naked eye could register every hour's
increase in height. Like a child against a barn door,
proudly topping each year's achievement,
steadily up
goes each green stem, smooth, matte,
traces of reddish purple at the base, and almost
imperceptible vertical ridges
running the length of them:
Two robust stems from each bulb,
sometimes with sturdy leaves for company,
elegant sweeps of blade with rounded points.
Aloft, the gravid buds, shiny with fullness.

One morning—and so soon!—the first flower
has opened when you wake. Or you catch it poised
in a single, brief
moment of hesitation.
Next day, another,
shy at first like a foal,
even a third, a fourth,
carried triumphantly at the summit
of those strong columns, and each
a Juno, calm in brilliance,
a maiden giantess in modest splendor.
If humans could be
that intensely whole, undistracted, unhurried,
swift from sheer
unswerving impetus! If we could blossom
out of ourselves, giving
nothing imperfect, withholding nothing!

Friday, November 13, 2009


Half Grapefruuit with Cherry by Terry Trambauer Norris

by Ted McMahon, from The Uses of Imperfection

My grandfather got up early to section grapefruit.
I know because I got up quietly to watch.
He was tall. His hairless shins stuck out
below his bathrobe, down to leather slippers.
The house was quiet, sun just up, ticking of
the grandfather clock tall in the corner.

The grapefruit were always sectioned just so,
nestled in clear nubbled bowls used
for nothing else, with half a maraschino
centered bleeding slowly into
soft pale triangles of fruit.
It was special grapefruit, Indian River,
not to be had back home.

Doves cooed outside and the last night-breeze
rustled the palms against the eaves.
He turned to see me, pale light flashing
off his glasses
and smiled.

I remember as I work my knife along the
membrane separating sections.
It's dawn. The doves and palms are far away.
I don't use cherries anymore.
The clock is digital
and no one is watching.

[More by Ted McMahon from The Writer’s Almanac.]

What Was There All Along

From Sailing Home: Using Homer's Odyssey to Navigate Life's Perils and Pitfalls by Norman Fischer:

Ulysses deriding Polyphemus - Homer's Odyssey

Life as an arduous journey is an ancient metaphor. The Greek word metapherein, from which our English metaphor comes, is made up of the words meta, meaning “over, or across,” implying a change of state or location, and pherein, meaning “to bear, or carry.” In modern as in ancient Greek, the word metapherein commonly means “to transport, or transfer.”

Though we think of metaphor as a mere figure of speech, something poetic and decorative, in fact metaphors abound in our lives, underlying many concepts that we take for granted. And metaphors condition, far more than we realize, the way we think about ourselves and our world, and therefore the way we are and act. So to consider a metaphor seriously, bringing it to consciousness, turning it over in our minds and hearts, is to allow ourselves to be carried across toward some subtle yet profound inner change.

Metaphors can engage our imagination and spirit, transporting us beyond the literality of what seems to be in front of us toward what’s deeper, more lively, and dynamic. Objects in the world can be defined, measured, and manipulated according to our specifications. But the heart can’t be. Its requirements are more subtle, more vague. Metaphors are inexact and suggestive; they take an image or a concept and map it onto another image or concept that may seem quite disparate, as if to say “this is like that; understand this and you will understand that.”

In this way metaphor can help us to feel our way into the unspeakable, unchartable aspects of our lives. Seeing your life as a “spiritual odyssey” is a metaphorical truth. Contemplating your life as a spiritual odyssey can help you to enter hidden parts of your life…

Perhaps we are living in a post-heroic age. Maybe the human race, so full of promise, bright ideas, and hubris, is finally weary of the toxic idealisms and thoughtless excesses of power that have been so destructive and so exhausting for so long. We have seen and done too much, and it has left us dazed and confused.

Maybe, like Odysseus, we are finally ready simply to return home to what we are, to our beauty and strength as well as our limitations. Maybe we are ready to see that what’s wanted and needed is what was there all along, Papyrus fragment with lines from Homer's Odyssey, Early Hellenistic, 285–250 b.c.our animal life, our love and our presence. Maybe we’re ready finally to become the creatures that our deepest stories and metaphors have always described: half heavenly, half stupidly earthbound, full of wonder and awe, powerful and vulnerable.

Maybe the point of our life’s journey, our spiritual odyssey, is not conquest or perfection, whether spiritual or worldly, but rather the simple transformation into what we have been all along: flesh-and-blood people in a flesh-and-blood world, feeling what people feel and doing what people do. Returning home to what we are.

Could this be enough?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Place to Step in and Change Things

supermanThe Hero's Luck
by Lawrence Raab, from The History of Forgetting 

When something bad happens
we play it back in our minds,
looking for a place to step in
and change things. We should go outside
right now, you might have said. Or:
Let's not drive anywhere today.

The sea rises, the mountain collapses.
A car swerves toward the crowd
you've just led your family into.
We all look for reasons. Luck
isn't the word you want to hear.
What happened had to,

or it didn't. Maybe
the exceptional man can change direction
in midair, thread the needle's eye,
and come out whole. But even the hero
who stands up to chance has to feel
how far the world will bend

until it breaks him. He can see
that day: the unappeasable ocean,
the cascades of stone. A crowd
gathers around his body. He sees that too.
someone is saying: His luck just ran out.
It happens to us all.

Creating a Portrait on the Cheap

From Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words by John Marciano:

Étienne de Silhouette sil·hou·ette n. A shape distinctly outlined by background.

While living in London, Étienne de Silhouette stumbled onto the black-magic secrets of Anglo-Saxon capitalism and fiscal responsibility. He returned to Paris spreading the dark gospel, no more popular on the Champs-Élysées in the mid-1700s than now. Silhouette, however, had the ear of the royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour, through whose devices he was elevated to be Contrôleur général des finances.

To pay down the crushing debt being incurred from the ongoing Seven Years’ War, Silhouette suggested what amounted to an import of the British Window Tax, although he wanted to tax doors too, and just about everything else he could think of. Silhouette also proposed slashing the pay of bureaucrats—again, never a way into the Gallic heart—and even ordered the king to melt down the royal plate.

The most amazing thing about Silhouette’s departure after nine months in the office was that he lasted so long. Parisian ridicule of the finance minister didn’t stop with his fall from grace, and anything made on the cheap was said to be done à la silhouette, including the then-popular method of producing a portrait without having to draw, in which the “artist” traced the subject’s shadow onto a piece of black paper, cut it out, and stuck it in a frame.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Few Words

I See You’ve Learned
by Olav H. Hauge, from The Dream We Carry 

The Dream We Carry I like
how you
few words,
few words and
short sentences
that drift
in a fine rain
down the page
with light and air
I see you've learned
to make
a woodpile in the forest,
good to stack it
so it can dry;
build one too long and low,
the wood will just sit there and rot.

Experiencing Light

Excerpt from Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions by Lex Hixon:

Imagine you are wandering through a vast cathedral. Countless stain-glass windows, radiant in the darkness, represent the modes of worship and ways of understanding that humanity has evolved throughout its history. Some windows picture divine presence through personal forms or attributes, and seekers worship these windows with devotion. Other seekers, preferring the way of wisdom, contemplate stained-glass windows that present nothing personal, simply esoteric patterns evoking primal harmony and unity. Devotion and wisdom are alternate ways to enlightenment. Some sacred traditions interweave both ways.

St. John of the Divine What occurs as we contemplate these cathedral windows? We are really experiencing light, diffused through complicated contexts that have been created, individually and communally, by visionary artisans. And we cannot step outside this cathedral, which is human thinking, because we must depend on some personal and cultural medium. We cannot articulate any experience, even to ourselves, without some process of thinking. This is not imprisonment but simply the nature of light or reality, which expresses itself as experience only through some particular medium.

Each window of devotion or wisdom translates the same radiance of ultimate consciousness by means of personal figures or symbolic patterns unique to itself. Through dedicated contemplation of even a single window, we can attune to light, or reality, and eventually realize that our intrinsic nature is the light. Once realizing the universal cathedral to be flooded with the conscious light of our true nature, once enlightenment has dawned, we are at home everywhere. We have been freed from the competition between worldviews, by understanding the essential equality of all windows of contemplation and the harmony between the ways of wisdom and of devotion. Everywhere in this vast cathedral, through all possible languages and images, we now recognize the light, or consciousness, which we are, which all beings are, which Being is.

Rose Window of The Cathedral Of St. John The Divine Contemplative thinking is not confined to certain fields such as religion, art, or philosophy but flourishes subtly throughout every culture, often obscurely among small circles or secretly within the inner life of individuals who may or may not be aware of any mystical tradition. This ever-deepening way of contemplation, which follows devotion and wisdom to their source, is perhaps the most precious human possibility. The holy person, or shaman, in every culture—poet, musician, saint, warrior—is revered for the powerful touch that awakens and sustains deep thinking and its sense of discovery, freedom, and harmony. The figure of the shaman is a sacrament through which all members of the culture without exception can enter the mood of contemplation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Silence is All

"BLACK" by Alex Bee

Oddjob, a Bull Terrier
by Derek Walcott, from Selected Poems 

You prepare for one sorrow,
but another comes.
It is not like the weather,
you cannot brace yourself,
the unreadiness is all.
Your companion, the woman,
the friend next to you,
the child at your side,
and the dog,
we tremble for them,
we look seaward and muse
it will rain.
We shall get ready for rain;
you do not connect
the sunlight altering
the darkening oleanders
in the sea-garden,
the gold going out of the palms.
You do not connect this,
the fleck of the drizzle
on your flesh,
with the dog's whimper,
the thunder doesn't frighten,
the readiness is all;
what follows at your feet
is trying to tell you
the silence is all:
it is deeper than the readiness,
it is sea-deep,

The silence is stronger than thunder,
we are stricken dumb and deep
as the animals who never utter love
as we do, except
it becomes unutterable
and must be said,
in a whimper,
in tears,
in the drizzle that comes to our eyes
not uttering the loved thing's name,
the silence of the dead,
the silence of the deepest buried love is
the one silence,
and whether we bear it for beast,
for child, for woman, or friend,
it is the one love, it is the same,
and it is blest
deepest by loss
it is blest, it is blest.

Why Wonder Why

Monday, November 09, 2009

Seeing Through the Story

Edward Norton in Fight ClubJoseph Campbell has that great idea about mythologies, that a myth functions best when it’s transparent, when people see through the story to themselves. When something gets to the point where it becomes the vehicle for people sorting out their own themes, I think you’ve achieved a kind of holy grail. Maybe the best you can say is that you’ve managed to do something true to your own sensations. But at the same time you realize that this has nothing to do with you.”

~ Edward Norton, from “‘Fight Club’ Fight Goes On,” by Dennis Lim, New York Times, November 6, 2009

Most of Our Time

“I had this very particular feeling about the three levels of ordinary life. Most of your life is taken up by mundane things like getting to an appointment on time, or whether you look too fat. Meanwhile, all over the world, people are being tortured and murdered. And at the same time there’s this six-billion-year-old mystery of the world that we’re a part of. And yet we spend most of our time dealing with losing our car keys. [The Starry Messenger] is about being more concerned with your car keys than about, say, what caused the formation of galaxies.”

~ Kenneth Lonergan, from “Playwright and Director in a Single Hair Shirt,” by Patrick Healy, New York Times, November 4, 2009

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Transforming Abstract Space into a Place

From “Global Impositioning Systems,” by Alex Hutchinson, The Walrus (November 2009):

Like any other human trait, navigational skill varies widely — some people crow about their abilities, while others lament their ineptitude…

We’re now on the cusp of an even more dramatic change, as we enter the age of the Global Positioning System, which is well on its way to being a standard feature in every car and on every cellphone.

At the same time, neuroscientists are starting to uncover a two-way street: our brains determine how we navigate, but our navigational efforts also shape our brains. The experts are picking up some worrying signs about the changes that will occur as we grow accustomed to the brain-free navigation of the GPS era…

To many, the beauty of the devices is precisely that we no longer have any need to painstakingly assemble those cognitive maps. But Cornell University human-computer interaction researcher Gilly Leshed argues that knowledge of an area means more than just finding your way around.

Navigation underlies the transformation of an abstract “space” to a “place” that has meaning and value to an individual. For the GPS users Leshed and her colleagues observed in an ethnographic study, the virtual world on the screens of their devices seemed to blur and sometimes take over from the real world that whizzed by outside. “Instead of experiencing physical locations, you end up with a more abstract representation of the world,” she says…

[Some researchers fear] that overreliance on GPS…will result in our using the spatial capabilities of the hippocampus less, and that it will in turn get smaller. Other studies have tied atrophy of the hippocampus to increased risk of dementia…

[Millions of people] now pay to join health clubs where they can spin their legs on treadmills and exercise bikes to make up the miles they no longer travel in their daily lives. Many others choose to forsake “efficiency” by biking to work or walking to the supermarket, because they’ve realized that letting technology do too much leaves their bodies worse off. We may soon take the same approach with our brains.

Test Your Sense of Direction

Trying to Find a Location

Pitcher of Colored Light,2007

"Like the roots of a plant reaching down into the ground, filming remains hidden within a complex act, neither to be observed by the spectator nor even completely seen by the filmmaker. It is an act that begins in the filmmaker's eyes and is formed by his gestures in relation to the camera…

The filming is a search for correct contours, and is activated by a physical sense that is similar to trying to find a location that has been seen only once. Memory searches for the right direction. Drawing together details and hints, this sense is nearest to touch in its awareness of proportion. It is this quality in the filming that I compare to the roots of a plant.”

~ Robert Beavers, “La Terra Nuova,” The Searching Measure (University of California, Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, 2004)

Friday, November 06, 2009


"I think the process of looking is a joyful thing."

~ David Hockney

Drawings by David Hockney, made with the Brushes application on his iPhone, 2009.

Cultivating Ourselves

Excerpt from “Apples, Apples, Apples,” by Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times, November 5, 2009:

One good way to think about modern agriculture is to think about apples. applesFor part of our history, culminating around the end of the 19th century, there was something about us — about our appetite, our farms, our economy — that loved diversity in apples. One standard reference, from 1905, lists more than 6,500 distinct varieties. There are apples for keeping, cooking, eating and the making of ciders, with names as colorful as they are various: Scollop Gillyflower, Red Winter Pearmain, Kansas Keeper.

Modern agriculture, as well as our carefully created preference for processed over fresh food, has pushed us in the opposite direction, toward uniformity...According to one estimate, only 11 varieties make up 90 percent of all the apples sold in this country, and Red Delicious alone counts for nearly half of that...

We live now in the world of the generic apple, in large part because our taste buds have gone generic. Cultivating ourselves is the first step toward rediversifying the fields and orchards around us.

[Thanks Kit!]

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Painting Has Its Own Inadequacy

The Secretary of State, Luc Tuymans (2005) “What you can do with painting is make a more understated type of imagery that approaches an idea from a different angle. It's another medium, in another timescale. And that produces a cognitive image which is sort of branded in the brain. It has something to do with the idea of remembering the imagery but it's also to do with reconstructing the memory, because memory is something that is completely inadequate. That is where painting also comes in because it has its own inadequacy in that it is never complete.”

~ Luc Tuymans, “Q & A,” CNN, October 18, 2006

Anything Else

“No biopics, no prequels, no sequels, no hero movies, no antihero movies, and definitely no superhero movies. Anything else I can handle.”

~ Pedro Almodóvar, from “Cinematic Soul Mates,” by Mark Harris, New York Times, Oct. 29, 2009