Sunday, February 28, 2010

It Won’t Be Long

by Robert Creeley, from Life & Death

Now I recognize
it was always me
like a camera
set to expose

itself to a picture
or a pipe
through which the water
might run

or a chicken
dead for dinner
or a plan
inside the head

of a dead man.
Nothing so wrong
when one considered
how it all began.

It was Zukofsky's
"Born very young into a world
already very old..."
The century was well along

when I came in
and now that it's ending,
I realize it won't
be long.

But couldn't it all have been
a little nicer,
as my mother'd say. Did it
have to kill everything in sight,

did right always have to be so wrong?
I know this body is impatient.
I know I constitute only a meager voice and mind.
Yet I loved, I love.

I want no sentimentality.
I want no more than home.

The Breath of Awareness

From the opening pages of Intimate Stranger by Breyten Breytenbach:

Intimate Stranger: A Writing Book Listen, this process called poetry is an exercise in imagining memory, and then having that memory snare and cherish imagination. Yet, every poem is and will be a capsule of territory in the perpetual present tense, a vessel taking on the ever-changing colors of the sea.

Poetry is the breath of awareness and the breathing thereof. I even mean this literally, for underlying the flow and the fall of verses are ‘natural units’ of consciousness sculpted by rhythm, by recall, by movement reaching for the edges of meaning and of darkness. One could illustrate by averring that the poem is a membrane, rippling, thrumming; reminding us that we are breathing organisms continually translating the space around us, continually translating ourselves into spaces of the known and thus drawing circumferences around locations of the unknown. From this one could extrapolate that the practice and process of remembering /evoking /awakening events and our selves lead quite naturally to questioning the polarities of other and I, to writing (and un-writing) the self, and toward rewriting the world. The boat changes the water.

Poetry is also the wind of time and thus the movement and singing of being…For when you hold a poem to your ear you hear the deep-sound, the movements we are part of, conveying not so much a literal meaning as an existential sense. It constitutes the spinal chord of remembering. And it reminds us that remembering is movement.

Wolves of the Forest

Vilkas miške - wolf in the forest

“However much you feed a wolf, it always looks to the forest. We are all wolves of the dense forest of Eternity.”

~ Marina Tsvetaeva

There’s No One Way to Be


“A lot of people think that how you behave is a given or that behavior is character. When you move around a lot, you learn that behavior is mutable. I would change, depending on where I was. I would go to one school and everyone would dance one way and, then, at a new school, you’d notice that no one picked up their feet when they danced. You’re like, O.K. — I’ll shuffle my feet like them. You learn that there’s no one way to dance or be. For some reason, a lot of actors come from these peripatetic backgrounds — army kids, missionary kids, kids of salesmen. It teaches you to watch, to reinvent, that character can change.”

~ Julianne Moore, from “Julianne of the Spirits,” by Lynn Hirschberg, New York Times T Magazine (February 28, 2010)

*     *     *

frecklefacex-large Julie Anne Smith

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Willing to Think Little

Excerpt from Think Little by Wendell Berry from A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural (1972):

Wendell Berry For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. I have come to believe that a better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work. Thinking Big has led us to the two biggest and cheapest political dodges of our time: plan-making and law-making. The lotus-eaters of this era are in Washington, D.C., Thinking Big. Somebody comes up with a problem, and somebody in the government comes up with a plan or a law. The result, mostly, has been the persistence of the problem, and the enlargement and enrichment of the government.

But the discipline of thought is not generalization; it is detail, and it is personal behavior. While the government is "studying" and funding and organizing its Big Thought, nothing is being done. But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem. A man who is trying to live as a neighbor to his neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of the work of peace and brotherhood, and let there be no mistake about it — he is doing that work. A couple who make a good marriage, and raise healthy, morally competent children, are serving the world's future more directly and surely than any political leader, though they never utter a public word. A good farmer who is dealing with the problem of soil erosion on an acre of ground has a sounder grasp of that problem and cares more about it and is probably doing more to solve it than any bureaucrat who is talking about it in general. A man who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.

One of Many Hoops

Black Elk with wife and daughter, circa 1890-1910. “Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all , and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”

~ Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, as told to John Neihardt

Why Should It Be Easy?

I’ve become convinced that all the world’s religions have a
single organizing principle. Can you guess what it is? Love! Love! Simple...



I didn’t come for more recrimination. Despite good cause for alienation between us, I have never stopped loving you.

Of course...

God knows you don’t make it easy.

Why should it be easy? I’m the work of your life. You’re the work of mine. It’s what love is.

From The Last Station, based on the novel by Jan Parini, screenplay by Michael Hoffman.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Being Alive and Being Together

From “Mindfulness in 2 Minutes,” by Chade-Meng Tan, Huffington Post (February 24, 2010):

Most evenings, before we sleep, my young daughter and I sit in Mindfulness together for two minutes. I like to joke that two minutes is optimal for us because that is the attention span of a child and an engineer. For two minutes a day, we quietly enjoy being alive and being together. More fundamentally, for two minutes a day, we enjoy being. Just being. To "just be" is simultaneously the most ordinary and the most precious experience in life.

As usual, I let my experience with a child inform how I teach adults. This daily two-minutes experience is the basis of how I introduce the practice of Mindfulness in an introductory class for adults.


Overwhelming the Prefrontal Cortex

Jonah Lehrer discussing his book, How We Decide, which is now out in paperback, “The Paralysis Of Analysis,” Fresh Air (January 22, 2010):

First chapter and New York Times review. One of the studies I talk about in the book concerns a study done by Stanford psychologists. They had two groups of people. One group they had memorize a two-digit number. The other group they had memorize a seven-digit number. Then they marched these two groups down the hall and gave them a choice between two snacks.

One snack was a rich, gooey slice of chocolate cake. The other snack was a responsible fruit salad. The people who memorized a two-digit number were twice as likely to choose the fruit salad as the people who memorized the seven-digit number, who were twice as likely to choose the chocolate cake. And the reason is that those extra five digits — doesn't seem like very much information at all, just five extra numbers — so overwhelmed the prefrontal cortex that there wasn't enough processing power left over to exert self-control.

So that gives us a sense of just how limited in capacity our brain actually is and, I think, points to the fact that we should absolutely be aware of these limitations.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Never Be Ashamed of Kindergarten

Instructions to the Artist
by Billy Collins, from Questions About Angels

I wish my head to appear perfectly round
and since the canvas should be of epic dimensions,
please trace the circle with a dinner plate
rather than a button or a dime

My face should be painted with
an ant-like sense of detail;
pretend you are executing a street map
of Rome and that all citizens
can lift thirty times their own weight

The result should be a strained
but self-satisfied expression,
as if I am lifting a Volkswagen with one foot.

The body is no great matter;
just draw some straight lines
with a pencil and ruler.
I will not be around to hear the voice
of posterity calling me Stickman.

The background I leave up to you
but if there is to be a house,
lines of smoke rising from the chimney
should be mandatory.
Never be ashamed of kindergarten--
it is the alphabet's only temple.

Also, have several kangaroos grazing
and hopping around in the distance,
an allusion to my world travels.

Some final recommendations:
I should like to appear hatless.
Kindly limit your palette to a single
primary color, any one but red or blue.
Sign the painting on my upper lip
so your name will always be my mustache.

Discovering the Fully Authentic Self in the Endless Wilderness of the Mind

Durs Grünbein explores unpopular answers to popular poetry Q&A questions in “Why Live Without Writing,” Poetry Foundation (February 1, 2010):

Durs Grünbein In the first place, I would say, you write to escape your dread of the sheer present. You fill page after page, as Nietzsche once put it, with angry yearning, not to cozy up to your nearest, but out of love of those farthest away from you, and because the contemporary and the day-to-day will be all the more precious to you when you return to them in a wide arc over unknown terrain. Hence many people’s habit of getting drunk in company: at close quarters only a maximum of inner distance can create moments of ease and relaxation. Hence the silent conversations everyone has with themselves, or locking yourself up in the bathroom to read undisturbed, or the distancing look in the mirror as soon as you know you’re unobserved. Hence too the recurring need of lovers to go to the cinema and stare together at the magic screen, which for a precious hour and a half will make them forget their bodies. In writing, it is one’s innermost being that tries to assert itself, paradoxically, by self-exposure. But publicity, as will soon become apparent, is nothing but a particularly tough protective shield.

And the second reason is a dilemma that concerns each individual psyche. You write, I believe, because you can’t quite shake the suspicion that as a mere contemporary and biological cell mate, hopelessly trammeled up in your own limited lifespan, you would always remain incomplete, half a man, so to speak. Someone must have put you onto the idea that only your most individual expression gives you the least chance of one day being seen in any way other than in your mortal sheath—say, as a kind of ghost. Ever since that tormenting voice (whoever it may be) first challenged you in the name of metaphysics, you’ve been trying by all the laws of glass-blowing, aka poetry, to fix a little window in your own diminishing time, in the hope that tomorrow, or whenever, you may be seen through that little peephole. If you happen to succeed in making your sweetheart, or one or two of your friends, or yourself in your peculiarity visible—the way Vermeer, say, showed his pregnant letter-reader—then it will have been worth the effort. Writing, the voice whispers to you, is the least circumstantial method of breaking out of the given and the immediate. Its only requirement is a mastery of the alphabet, which, thanks to universal education, may generally be relied on, at least hereabouts. You don’t have to be able to draw or set down notes like Bach, and yet, once you’ve passed your spelling exam, you’ve mastered the only method by which consciousness can be recorded.

From which it follows, thirdly and lastly: you write because the brain is an endless wilderness, whose roughest terrain can only be traveled with a pencil. As soon as we are in the innermost dreamy connections, all other art forms are dependent on verbal synthesis. The dream, as you discover when you write, is the fully authentic self. You will never have amounted to more. The world will not appear any more variegated. Which means the notion of what really exists can, with writing, be comfortably extended by a dimension or two.

[Thanks Jeanne!]

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How Things Are and Which Things Matter

Excerpt from Everybody’s Story: Wising Up to the Epic of Evolution by Loyal Rue:

The most fundamental sources of self-understanding are found at the level of story. To put the thesis even more directly: if we are to respond effectively to the global problematique then we must attend to our stories, for in the story of a culture we find its most profound expression of wisdom.

Perhaps this thesis exaggerates the case. Is it possible that stories can make a decisive difference in the viability of our species? Is story that fundamental to human existence? It is difficult to believe otherwise once we stop to consider the many ways in which our lives are shaped by stories.

We legitimate institutions and values in their name, we wage wars in their defense, we judge ourselves and others by their standards, we take pains that our children will learn them well, we draw inspiration from their examples, we construct our hopes and fears under their influence, and so on. It would not be extreme to say that we negotiate our way through life by the guidance of our stories.

We humans are the only species to tell stories, and so far as anyone knows every recognizable human community has fostered storytelling traditions. Thus we appear to be in the presence of a trait that is both universally and exclusively human, suggesting that what humans are has something to do with their stories.

If these ideas hold up – that is, if storytelling is an essential human activity bestowing substance and form on the lives we have – then it follow that changes at this level of human thought will be among the most profound and far-reaching we can imagine. Thus we have good reason to believe that appropriate changes at the level of story might hold the power of reorientation needed for enhancing human solidarity and cooperation…

…I want to suggest that the profound sense of story bears a deep relation to the basic functions of the central nervous system. I am saying that if we can picture what the brain does for an individual organism then we shall have a way to think about what story does for a cultural tradition.

All brains (human or otherwise) do essentially the same thing, that is, they take some measure of how things are in the external environment and then use this information to devise behaviors that will be more or less conducive to the interests of the organism. Brains that have become specialized for symbolic interaction do not suddenly depart from this basic function, they just continue it in a new domain, the domain of culture.

Indeed, human culture just is the result of assessing and addressing the environment with the aid of symbols. In every particular human culture, therefore, we may expect to find (and do find) two basic types of ideas: ideas about how things are in the world, and ideas about which things matter for human existence.

This principle may be extended by the assertion that a culture exists as a coherent entity to the extent that its members share common ideas about how things are and which things matter. A further implication is that the important difference between cultures may be measured in terms of incompatible ideas about reality and value.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Season of Lint

by Gary Metras, from American Life in Poetry: Column 257

It doesn’t bother me to have
lint in the bottoms of pant pockets;
it gives the hands something to do,
especially since I no longer hold
shovel, hod, or hammer
in the daylight hours of labor
and haven’t, in fact, done so
in twenty-five years. A long time
to be picking lint from pockets.
Perhaps even long enough to have
gathered sacks full of lint
that could have been put
to good use, maybe spun into yarn
to knit a sweater for my wife’s
Christmas present, or strong thread
whirled and woven into a tweedy jacket.
Imagine entering my classroom
in a jacket made from lint.
Who would believe it?
Yet there are stranger things—
the son of a bricklayer with hands
so smooth they’re only fit
for picking lint.

Hunger for Reality

“Every single one of these [successful games] has succeeded off a clever psychological angle. But there’s more than that. There’s something else these things have in common, not just these psychological tricks. What these all have in common is they are all busting through to reality. We’re used to, in the old days of gaming, it being all about fantasy. It’s all about fantasy and Ben Gordon used to say, ‘We don’t care about realism in games because people come to our games to escape from reality.’ And so we have this strong belief that fantasy is the thing. But every single one of these is breaking through into reality in some interesting way. And we don’t feel good about reality as game designers. We’re a little uncomfortable about reality…

…But it’s not just us that were kind of snuck up on by this reality thing. And it’s not just just happening to us. Go look at TV. The people in TV, their heads are spinning. Everything’s turned into reality TV. Go to the grocery store. It’s not just groceries anymore. It’s organic groceries. The more genuine, the more real groceries. You go to McDonald’s and to get a Big Mac and – you could get a Big Mac or you could get the real burger, the angus burger made with real this and that or whatever. Everything is suddenly about reality.

Now what’s going on? Is this just how it’s always been? Well, I found this really interesting book. It’s called Authenticity. It’s by the guys who wrote The Experience EconomyGilbert and Pine put forth this most interesting concept: the most valuable thing in products is are the real, are they authentic. Which is a bold hypothesis. And then they go further and they say, Why is it? Why now? It didn’t always used to be this way. Certainly that’s not what sold stuff in the eighties…They’re arguing that all this virtual stuff that’s been creeping up on us over the last twenty years has really cut us off from nature. We’re cut off from self-sufficiency. We couldn’t be self-sufficient if we wanted to. We don’t know how to do it. We live in a bubble of fake bullshit and we have this hunger for to get to anything that’s real. Even if the best we can do is a Starbucks mocha with real Swiss chocolate — we’ll take it. Oh, look how real that seems to me relative to what I’m used to. And so there’s this idea that maybe there’s this hunger for reality. ”

~ Jesse Schell, from his talk at DICE Summit 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Slow-Motion Coalescence

To come together so as to form one whole; unite.

[Latin coalēscere: co-, co- + alēscere, to grow, inchoative of alere, to nourish.]

A water drop filmed in ultra-slow-motion at 2000 frames per second.

To Map Out the World

Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly discussing The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s Bookworm (February 4, 2010).

Francoise Mouly: Kids aren’t necessarily — the way we imagine they might be — looking for escape and fantasy. Actually, the seven year old, the eight year old, is eager for a way to map out information — to map out the world. And that’s part of the reason why comics appeal to them. Because they are a very instinctive way to structure information…As Art has often referred to it, it’s a story made manifest spatially. You have a very instinctive way to understand narratives and to understand character’s emotion…It gives you cues. It is in and of itself a medium that kids can use to understand all other kinds of visual information – much more than watching television or playing video games…They can go back to the same story and read it over and over again. And also because it’s done by one person — it’s drawn by hand — it inspires them to want to make comics.

Art Spiegelman: What makes this a real treasury rather than just a bunch of product put together in four hundred pages of offering [is that] so much of this is written and drawn by the same person…And here when we’re looking at Walt Kelly and Sheldon Mayer and, to a degree, John Stanley and certainly Carl Barks, they were really able to enter and make a whole world themselves. Really act it out, draw it, and write it. So you’re really throbbing inside one person’s brain. And to have that many brains presenting fully realized worlds, you feel it when you’re looking through these stories. They have a kind of urgency in their own way…These characters are a lot more complex than Spider Man. Little Lulu is so much more richer than Peter Parker.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sweet Dreams

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty was directed by Nicky Phelan, produced by Brown Bag Films, and written/voiced by Kathleen O'Rourke. Nominated for Best Animated Short Film 2010.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Making Sense with Our Bodies

Excerpt from “Abstract Thoughts? The Body Takes Them Literally,” by Natalie Angier, New York Times (February 1, 2010):

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that when people were asked to engage in a bit of mental time travel, and to recall past events or imagine future ones, participants’ bodies subliminally acted out the metaphors embedded in how we commonly conceptualized the flow of time.

As they thought about years gone by, participants leaned slightly backward, while in fantasizing about the future, they listed to the fore. The deviations were not exactly Tower of Pisa leanings, amounting to some two or three millimeters’ shift one way or the other. Nevertheless, the directionality was clear and consistent.

“When we talk about time, we often use spatial metaphors like ‘I’m looking forward to seeing you’ or ‘I’m reflecting back on the past,’ ” said Lynden K. Miles, who conducted the study with his colleagues Louise K. Nind and C. Neil Macrae. “It was pleasing to us that we could take an abstract concept such as time and show that it was manifested in body movements.”

Anterior-posterior position of participants in the past-imagery and future-imagery conditions as a function of time. Also shown are regression lines. Error bars represent ±1 SEM.

The new study, published in January in the journal Psychological Science, is part of the immensely popular field called embodied cognition, the idea that the brain is not the only part of us with a mind of its own.

“How we process information is related not just to our brains but to our entire body,” said Nils B. Jostmann of the University of Amsterdam. “We use every system available to us to come to a conclusion and make sense of what’s going on.”

Research in embodied cognition has revealed that the body takes language to heart and can be awfully literal-minded.

You say you’re looking forward to the future? Here, Ma, watch me pitch forward!

You say a person is warm and likable, as opposed to cold and standoffish? In one recent study at Yale, researchers divided 41 college students into two groups and casually asked the members of Group A to hold a cup of hot coffee, those in Group B to hold iced coffee. The students were then ushered into a testing room and asked to evaluate the personality of an imaginary individual based on a packet of information.

Students who had recently been cradling the warm beverage were far likelier to judge the fictitious character as warm and friendly than were those who had held the iced coffee.

Read more…

[Thanks Dōshin!]

Interconnected in Surprising Ways

Excerpt from “Botox Treatment Slows Perception of Negative Emotions” by Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D., Psychology Today (January 31, 2010):

Our default assumption is that our eyes and our brains are the organs dedicated to processing emotional information. New work led by David Havas of the University of Wisconsin, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, provides a fascinating demonstration that our facial muscles share in this job.

botox The new study reported on 40 people who were treated with Botox. Tiny applications of the nerve poison were used to deactivate muscles in the forehead that cause frowning (the corrugator muscles).

Before and after the Botox treatment, patients were asked to read written statements that carried an emotional tenor, including statements that were angry ("The pushy telemarketer won't let you return to your dinner"); sad ("You open your email in-box on your birthday to find no new emails"); or happy ("The water park is refreshing on the hot summer day.")

The authors used reading time as a proxy for processing speed.

The results showed no change in the time needed to understand the happy sentences. But in a fascinating result, after Botox treatment, the subjects needed more time to read the angry and sad sentences…

Perhaps the most interesting implication of the study is scientific. It shows yet again that our systems for communicating and perceiving emotion are interconnected, often in surprising ways.

A Refuge

Excerpt from Turning the Wheel: Essays on Buddhism and Writing by Charles R. Johnson:

Turning the Wheel These cultural questions, so eloquently expressed by Du Bois and King (and many others), which pose the ancient, pre-Socratic problem of how shall we live, consumed my imagination and intellectual interests from adolescence into adulthood. They kept me up late at night. They colored my perceptions of all I saw and heard in the 1960s and 1970s. They were behind my first practicing meditation when I was fourteen, falling in love with philosophy when I was eighteen, and equally behind my turn to writing novels at twenty-two. This historic devotion to freedom by black America’s finest leaders also prepared me in my depths for embracing the Buddhist Dharma as the most revolutionary and civilized of possible human choices, as the logical extension of King’s dream of the “beloved community,” and Du Bois’s “vision of what the world could be if it was really a beautiful world.”

Were it not for the Buddhadharma, I’m convinced that, as a black American and an artist, I would not have been able to successfully negotiate my last half century of life in this country. Or at least not with a high level of creative productivity, working in a spirit of metta toward all sentient beings, and selfless service to others as a creator, teacher, husband, father, son, colleague, student, lecturer, editor, neighbor, friend, and citizen, which, in my teens, were ideals I decided I valued more than anything else. The obstacles, traps, and racial minefields faced by black men in a society that has long demonized them as violent, criminal, stupid, bestial, lazy, and irresponsible are well-documented…

Charles R. Johnson For me, Buddhism has always been a refuge, as it was intended to be: a place to continually refresh my spirit, stay centered and at peace, which enabled me to work joyfully and without attachment even in the midst of turmoil swirling round me on all sides, through “good” times and “bad.” So I am thankful for the perennial wisdom in its two-millennia-old sutras; the phenomenological insights of Shakyamuni himself into the nature of suffering, craving, and dualism; the astonishing beauty of Sanskrit, which I’ve been privileged to study now for five years; and the methods of different forms of meditational practice, the benefits of which fill whole libraries.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Standard for All Kinds of Things

Mr. Lee's 5th & 6th grade class, Sunnyside Elementary, Wichita, Kansas, 1976/77.

“Children—and humans, everybody—all need both windows and mirrors in their lives: mirrors through which you can see yourself and windows through which you can see the world. And minority children have not had mirrors.

That has placed them at a disadvantage. If you want to call white children majority children—[they] have had only mirrors. That has placed them at a disadvantage also…Because they live on a planet that is more window than mirror. And they have tended to believe that the planet is a planet like them or people who wish to be like them. And it’s not necessarily so.

It’s a mistake to believe oneself one’s only valid participator in life, that that is the standard, the standard for human is white. I tell children the standard for flowers is many-colored; the standard for all kinds of things is many-colored. That is also the standard for humans, though they have not been taught that.”

~ Lucille Clifton, from “She Could Tell You Stories,” interview by Hilary Holladay, Poetry Foundation (April 11, 1998)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Endless is this Whiteness

Buddha Weeping in Winter
by E. Ethelbert Miller, from Buddha Weeping in Winter

snow falling on prayers
covering the path
made by your footprints

I wait for spring
and the return of love

how endless
is this whiteness
like letters
without envelopes

LIsten to E. Ethelbert Miller reading from more of his work at “Black & Universal,” Speaking of Faith, February 11, 2010

In the Light of this New Idea

Excerpt from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller:

Helen Keller with Anne Sullivan vacationing at Cape Cod in July 1888. I remember the morning that I first asked the meaning of the word, "love." This was before I knew many words. I had found a few early violets in the garden and brought them to my teacher. She tried to kiss me; but at that time I did not like to have any one kiss me except my mother. Miss Sullivan put her arm gently round me and spelled into my hand, "I love Helen."

"What is love?" I asked.

She drew me closer to her and said, "It is here," pointing to my heart, whose beats I was conscious of for the first time. Her words puzzled me very much because I did not then understand anything unless I touched it.

I smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words, half in signs, a question which meant, "Is love the sweetness of flowers?"

"No," said my teacher.

Again I thought. The warm sun was shining onus.

"Is this not love?" I asked, pointing in the direction—from which the heat came, "Is this not love?"

It seemed to me that there could be nothing more beautiful than the sun, whose warmth makes all things grow. But Miss Sullivan shook her head, and I was greatly puzzled and disappointed. I thought it strange that my teacher could not show me love.

A day or two afterward I was stringing beads of different sizes in symmetrical groups—two large beads, three small ones, and so on. I had made many mistakes, and Miss Sullivan had pointed them out again and again with gentle patience. Finally I noticed a very obvious error in the sequence and for an instant I concentrated my attention on the lesson and tried to think how I should have arranged the beads. Miss Sullivan touched my forehead and spelled with decided emphasis, "Think."

In a flash I knew that the word was the name of the process that was going on in my head. This was my first conscious perception of an abstract idea.

For a long time I was still—I was not thinking of the beads in my lap, but trying to find a meaning for "love" in the light of this new idea. The sun had been under a cloud all day, and there had been brief showers; but suddenly the sun broke forth in all its southern splendour.

Again I asked my teacher, "Is this not love ?"

"Love is something like the clouds that were in the sky before the sun came out," she replied. Then in simpler words than these, which at that time I could not have understood, she explained: "You cannot touch the clouds, you know; but you feel the rain and know how glad the flowers and the thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You cannot touch love either; but you feel the sweetness that it pours into everything. Without love you would not be happy or want to play."

The beautiful truth burst upon my mind—I felt that there were invisible lines stretched between my spirit and the spirits of others.

Facsimile of the braille manuscript of The Story of My Life

Evidence of Things Unseen

Ruach dances in the backyard.
It blows without swaying
the trees, still
the snow-sifted air reveals
contours of swirling forms,
unique as fingerprints,
transparent arabesques brought to light.
The insubstantial proof, certain as
the scattered footprints
on an ash-dusted temple floor,
of earthly visitation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Developing Our Human Qualities

Excerpt from “Matthieu Ricard: Meditate Yourself Better,” by Curtis Abraham, New Scientist (Feb. 3, 2010)

Matthieu Ricard (Photo: Angeles Nassar) “Experiments have indicated that the region of the brain associated with emotions such as compassion shows considerably higher activity in those with long-term meditative experience. These discoveries suggest that basic human qualities can be deliberately cultivated through mental training. The study of the influence of mental states on health, which was once considered fanciful, is now an increasing part of the scientific research agenda.

Twenty minutes of daily practice can contribute significantly to a reduction of anxiety and stress, the tendency to become angry and the risk of relapse in cases of severe depression. Thirty minutes a day over the course of eight weeks results in a considerable strengthening of the immune system and of one's capacity for concentration. It also speeds up the healing of psoriasis and decreases arterial tension in people suffering from hypertension.

Why should we bother to meditate? The answer is that we all have the potential for positive change, which largely remains untapped. That's a great pity, because we know the virtue of training and learning. We spend years going to school and training in things like sports, but for some strange reason we don't think that the same need applies to developing and optimizing our human qualities.”

[Thanks Alex!]

To Find Another Way

From “Kindle Armageddon: How the Publishing Industry Is Slitting Its Own Throat,” by Dan Agin, Huffington Post (Feb. 14, 2009):

“Once upon a time, the only books that existed were books copied by hand by monks and scribes and sold to the very rich for the equivalent of $5000 or $6000 a book. Then along came the printing press, and all the monks and scribes had to find another way to earn their bread.

Once upon a time the only books that existed were books on paper made by printing presses and sold to the rich and not so rich and not rich at all for enough money to make publishing houses worth hundreds of millions of dollars, enough money to pay high salaries to publishing executives. Then along came the digital book, and many thousands of people in and around publishing had to find another way to earn their bread.

The subtext of the story is the impact of technology on culture and commerce, and the unfailing collapse of any industry that allows itself to be blinded by sloth, short term greed, and general mediocrity of attitudes.”


[Thanks Kit!]

Undermining the Institution of Marriage

Monday, February 15, 2010

What I Have Shaped into a Kind of Life

won't you celebrate with me

by Lucille Clifton, from The Book of Light

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

From Baltimore Sun’s blog, Read Street today: Former state poet laureate and National Book Award winner Lucille Clifton died Saturday at age 73, after a long battle with cancer and other illnesses. Her obituary in the Baltimore Sun noted that the long-time Columbia resident was known for a mix of profundity, earthiness and humor in her 11 books of poetry…At you can read some of her poems, including "blessing the boats," and hear her provocative voice reading "homage to my hips."

My Whole Life a Bell

"Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw a backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I'm still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck."

~ Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

[Thanks Steph!]

A Textbook Example

Excerpt from ''How Christian Were the Founders?” by Russell Shorto, New York Times (February 11, 2009):

brown-bear“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” It’s not an especially subversive-sounding title, but the author of this 1967 children’s picture book, Bill Martin Jr., lost his place in the Texas social-studies guidelines at last month’s board meeting due to what was thought to be un-American activity — to be precise, “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system.” Martin, the creator of 300 children’s books, was removed from the list of cultural figures approved for study by third graders in the blizzard of amendments offered by board members…

…The [Texas school] board has the power to accept, reject or rewrite the [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills], and over the past few years, in language arts, science and now social studies, the members have done all of the above. Yet few of these elected overseers are trained in the fields they are reviewing. “In general, the board members don’t know anything at all about content,” Tom Barber, the textbook executive, says. Kathy Miller, the watchdog, who has been monitoring the board for 15 years, says, referring to Don McLeroy and another board member: “It is the most crazy-making thing to sit there and watch a dentist and an insurance salesman rewrite curriculum standards in science and history. Last year, Don McLeroy believed he was smarter than the National Academy of Sciences, and he now believes he’s smarter than professors of American history.”

In this case, one board member sent an e-mail message with a reference to “Ethical Marxism,” by Bill Martin, to another board member, who suggested that anyone who wrote a book with such a title did not belong in the TEKS. As it turned out, Bill Martin and Bill Martin Jr. are two different people. But by that time, the author of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” was out. “That’s a perfect example of these people’s lack of knowledge,” Miller says. “They’re coming forward with hundreds of amendments at the last minute. Don McLeroy had a four-inch stack of amendments, and they all just voted on them, whether or not they actually knew the content. What we witnessed in January was a textbook example of how not to develop textbook standards.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Your Crooked Heart

From Flagstaff Snow Days by Dōshin Owen.

As I Walked Out One Evening
by W.H. Auden

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
'Love has no ending.

'I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

'I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

'The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.

'In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

'In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

'Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver's brilliant bow.

'O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you've missed.

'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

'Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

'O look, look in the mirror?
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

Mighty in Contradiction

"We cannot avoid using power,
Cannot escape the compulsion
To afflict the world.
So let us, cautious in diction
And mighty in contradiction,
Love powerfully."

~ Martin Buber

The Highest Form of Intimacy

Excerpts from “A Monotheistic Model of Love,” by Gilla Nissan, Parabola (Spring 2010):

parabola-35-1 In B’re-sheet, Genesis, during the process of the creation of the world, it is said that God separated the water into two: sha-ma-yim, the water of above, and ma-yim, the water below. The Zohar: The Book of Splendor, a collection of works ascribed to Simon Bar Yochai of the second century CE, goes on to say that the lower waters missed and longed for the higher waters and so cried out to unite back with them. The Hebrew words reflect this deep relationship: mayim, meaning water, and shamayim, meaning sky.

God tried several times to create the world. He used equal measures of compassion, che-sed, and judgment, din. More than once the world collapsed until He incorporated an extra measure of ra-cha-mim, another word for compassion. Without love the world cannot exist, yet we humans were given freedom to love or not to love. God so wants to be known and be loved out of free will; forced love is no love at all.

*     *     *

The Hebrew language has gender; we refer to God in the  masculine; although, in His true nature He is William Gesenius's Hebrew punctuation (i.e., Yahweh)without gender. In the Tetragrammaton, Yud Hey Vav Heh, the unutterable name of God, the letters vav and heh represent the male and female forces of providence. The male force is that which acts upon the world, while the female force is that which allows the world to be receptive to God’s power. We refer to God as Him because we want Him to act upon the world through the male force of providence. The Hebrew word for Divine Presence, on the other hand, is She-chi-nah, a feminine noun.

*     *     *

Rodin's Le Baiser (The Kiss) in the Tuileries Garden in Paris According to the Zohar, love begins with a physical attraction, then communication and speech. A kiss is the merging of one breath with another. As closeness occurs, the lovers stop speaking and are merely aware of each other’s breath. Finally, they come even closer, to the point of physical contact, and their communication becomes a kiss. Here they are aware of each other’s life force. Kissing, explains the modern mystic Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, is a natural consequence of increased intimacy in speech. Two mouths come closer and closer, and progress from speech to breath to the kiss. The kiss, then, is the highest form of intimacy.

The Zohar describes four levels in the intimacy of love: physical attraction, speech, breath, and the kiss. These same four levels exist in the relationship of a person with the Divine. These levels are to this day reflected in the structure of the daily services in the synagogue and private prayer, moving the worshipper from one level of intimacy to another. The impact is deeply profound when one’s ka-va-nah, intention, is aligned with the words.

Missing Something Personal

Excerpt from “Post-Minimal to the Max,” by Roberta Smith, New York Times (Feb. 14, 2010):

David Bates's "Lower End Boat Dock II"  (Photo: DC Moore Gallery, New York)

After 40 years in which we’ve come to understand that dominant styles like Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Pop are at best gross simplifications of their periods, it often feels as though an agreed-upon master narrative is back in place.

What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. A lot but not all of this kind of work is painting, which seems to be becoming the art medium that dare not speak its name where museums are concerned….

…Museum curators need to think less about an artist’s career, its breakthroughs and its place in the big picture and more in terms of an artist’s life’s work pursued over time with increasing concentration and singularity.

They have a responsibility to their public and to history to be more ecumenical, to do things that seem to come from left field. They owe it to the public to present a balanced menu that involves painting as well as video and photography and sculpture. They need to think outside the hive-mind, both distancing themselves from their personal feelings to consider what’s being wrongly omitted and tapping into their own subjectivity to show us what they really love.

These things should be understood by now: The present is diverse beyond knowing, history is never completely on anyone’s side, and what we ignore today will be excavated later and held against us the way we hold previous oversights against past generations.

Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes


JOEL: Wait.

CLEMENTINE: (impatiently) What, Joel? What do you want?

JOEL: (at a loss) I don’t know. (pause) Just wait. I want you to wait for a while.

They lock eyes for a long moment: Clementine stone-faced, Joel with a worried, knit brow. Clementine cracks up.


JOEL: Really?

CLEMENTINE: I’m not a concept, Joel. I’m just a fucked-up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. I’m not perfect.

JOEL: I can’t think of anything I don’t like about you right now.

CLEMENTINE: But you will. You will think of things. And I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me.

JOEL: Okay.



Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wild Joy

Gregory Orr “One consequence of traumatic violence is that it isolates its victims. It can cut us off from other people, cutting us off from their own emotional lives until we go numb and move through the world as if only half alive. As a young person, I found something to set against my growing sense of isolation and numbness: the making of poems.

When I write a poem, I process experience. I take what's inside me — the raw, chaotic material of feeling or memory — and translate it into words and then shape those words into the rhythmical language we call a poem. This process brings me a kind of wild joy. Before I was powerless and passive in the face of my confusion, but now I am active: the powerful shaper of my experience. I am transforming it into a lucid meaning.”

~ Gregory Orr, from “The Making of Poems,” This I Believe, February 20, 2006

Three poems from How Beautiful the Beloved by Gregory Orr:

Reading the world
As if it were a book
Written before words —

That sparrow perched
On the withered stalk
In the garden — isn’t
The bird itself
A song to the beloved

Even before it sings?

*     *     *

Praising all creation, praising the world:
That’s our job — to keep
The sweet machine of it
Running as smoothly as it can.

With words repairing, where is wears out,
Where it breaks down.

With songs and poems keeping it going.
With whispered endearments greasing its gears.

*     *     *

Human heart —
That tender engine.

Love revs it;
Loss stalls it.

What can make it
poem = word / temple (Copper Canyon Press logo)Go again?

The poem, the poem.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Open Your Heart


From The Music Mix Blog (Feb. 2, 2010):

“About 10 months ago, Michel Gondry met West Coast singer-songwriter Mia Doi Todd at a party. “I really fell in love with her music,” he says. “It’s incredibly fragile, personal, and very elevated.” They became friends, and soon Todd penned a new tune, Open Your Heart, that Gondry thought would work perfectly with the color-coordinated choreography he’d been wanting to use.

After signing on to direct the video for Open Your Heart, Gondry went with Todd to scout locations in east Los Angeles. ‘Basically, L.A. is not made for humans. It’s a lot of concrete and cars passing by. It’s very blank, which is a great background to put all these people with colors.’ Next, they cast their stars. ‘I needed a group of people who could move together, but it would have been too affected if they were professional dancers. We found this marching band from Riverside Community College.’ Over three sunny days, Todd and 100 or so marching band members-turned-dancers brought Gondry’s vision to life.”

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths opened March 14, 1896 with a $1 million price tag — an extravagant public bathhouse envisioned and developed by the eccentric one-time mayor of San Francisco, Adolph Sutro. After working its way through its many lives, it burned down while being demolished on June 26, 1966.”


Sutro Baths Ruins • San Francisco from barton bishoff on Vimeo.

Barton Bishoff

Monday, February 08, 2010

Waiting Motionless

The Room I Work In
by Adam Zagajewski, from Mysticism for Beginners

     — To Derek Walcott

The room I work in is as foursquare
as half a pair of dice.
It holds a wooden table
with a stubborn peasant’s profile,
a sluggish armchair, and a teapot’s
pouting Hapsburg lip.
From the window I see a few skinny trees,
wispy clouds, and toddlers,
always happy and loud.
Sometimes a windshield glints in the distance
or, higher up, an airplane’s silver husk.
Clearly others aren’t wasting time
while I work, seeking adventures
on earth or in the air.
The room I work in is a camera obscura.
And what is my work—
waiting motionless,
flipping pages, patient meditation,
passivities not pleasing
to that judge with the greedy gaze.
I write as slowly as if I’ll live two hundred years.
I seek images that don’t exist,
and if they do they’re crumpled and concealed
like summer clothes in winter,
when frost stings the mouth.
I dream of perfect concentration; if I found it
I’d surely stop breathing.
Maybe after all, I hear the first snow hissing,
the frail melody of daylight,
and the city’s gloomy rumble.
I drink from a small spring,
my thirst exceeds the ocean.

A Very Organic Process

"There are all kinds of stories and myths that have arisen about this. Most of them are nonsense.  And it became ever more apparent to me, as I worked my way up through this system, that I was not becoming a superman and I wasn’t becoming a saint and my morality was not becoming perfected.  And what was happening here was a very organic process that I’ve more recently come to think of as what I call a physio-energetic process.  There is some energy that arises in the body and can be developed in stages.  And that’s what’s happening.  All of the stuff, all of the stories that we layer on to that, that if you reach this stage, you’re going to act a certain way or you’re going to be incapable of committing various immoral acts, that’s just fantasy island...I’ve completely given up on the notion that you’re going to develop to the point of being incapable of lying, for example, or of being incapable of anger or lust."

~ Kenneth Folk, in conversation with Vince Horn, "Ordinary People Can Get Enlightened," Buddhist Geeks Podcast (Episode 156)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Big Game: Art, Sports, and Masculinity

I'll See Your Lorrain and Raise You a Turner (Studio 360)

“The directors of the New Orleans and the Indianapolis art museums have a lot more riding on this weekend's Super Bowl than a couple of bucks in the office pool. After arts blogger [Tyler Green] posed a challenge, they've each put up a treasured painting from their collections. The director of the losing city's museum will have to lend his masterpiece to the winner.”


J.M.W. Turner, The Fifth Plague of Egypt
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art


Claude Lorrain, Ideal View of Tivoli
Courtesy of the New Orleans Museum of Art

Sports and Masculinity Explored in Art

“The multimedia exhibition Hard Targets, on view January 30–April 11, 2010 at the Wexner Center, surveys provocative artworks produced over the last 25 years that take masculinity and sports as their central themes. Ranging broadly in interest and focus from biology to commodity and locker room to stadium, Hard Targets endeavors to complicate and revise the time-honored archetype of the male athlete as an aggressive, heterosexual, hyper-competitive, emotionally remote subject. Instead, the artists in the show offer opposing views of masculinity and sport, and of the entire theater of athletic play, including the rituals and accoutrements that surround this intimate, and often still male-dominated, world. The more than 70 works—in a wide variety of media, including video, photography, mixed-media sculpture, painting, and installation—range from funny and irreverent to self-effacing and incisive.”

Still from St. Henry Composition

Joe Sola, still from St. Henry Composition
The Wexner Center for the Arts

“The 21 artists in the show are Doug Aitken, Matthew Barney, Mark Bradford, Harun Farocki, Andreas Gursky, Douglas Gordon, David Hammons, Brian Jungen, Byron Kim, Jeff Koons, Cary Leibowitz, Glenn Ligon, Kori Newkirk, Catherine Opie (including a new suite of photographs of high school football players produced in Columbus), Philippe Parreno, Paul Pfeiffer (whose 11 exhibited pieces offer a mini-survey of this artist’s work), Collier Schorr, Sam Taylor-Wood, Hank Willis Thomas, and Jonas Wood. In addition, a video work by Joe Sola video will be presented in The Box video space during the first month of the show.”


Brian Jungen, Prototype for New Understanding #23

“Each artist examines the way masculinity is characterized and ‘performed’ in a sporting context, and each suggests that the ways we view and consume sports stars and athletic events are structured by more complex systems of desire and identification than most spectators realize. The works in the exhibition open up alternative, and possibly more democratic, interpretations and inflections of sports and sports fandom than the authorized, often frankly commercial, images that most frequently and forcefully convey the cultural identity of male athletes and athleticism.”

opie_josh Catherine Opie, Josh, 2007