Monday, May 31, 2010

Which is the Real One?

"There are times when I look over the various parts of my character with perplexity. I recognize that I am made up of several persons and that the person that at the moment has the upper hand will inevitably give place to another. But which is the real one? All of them or none?”

~ W. Somerset Maugham

Neil Jenman has the largest private collection of Somerset Maugham books and memorabilia in the world.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Self is Really a Story

Into the Silent Land "I would suggest that the notion that there is this immaterial soul—which some people might believe departs the body at death and some people might believe takes on another body in a future life—that’s an illusion, I think. Other people take a different line on this. Other people do believe there is self-stuff or soul-stuff somewhere. But the question is, Where is it? How would you when you found it? What would you be looking for? I have no idea what you’d expect to find…I have the same body, more or less, from day-to-day. I look in the mirror and it’s me. But essentially what I tell you, if you were to ask me about myself, I tell you a story…The extended self, which is what we normally think of when we think about ourselves, is really a story. It's the story of what's happened to a body over time."

~ Paul Broks, author of Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology, from “Who am I?Radiolab (January 15, 2006)

Misery is Easy

…happiness you have to work at.

Hating and Loving Death

Die Schrecken des Krieges: Frauenraub (Antonio Bellucci) "Life, of course, never gets anyone’s entire attention. Death always remains interesting, pulls us, draws us. As sleep is necessary to our physiology, so depression seems necessary to our psychic economy. In some secret way, Thanatos nourishes Eros as well as opposes it. The two principles work in covert concert: though in most of us Eros dominates, in none of us is Thanatos completely subdued. However—and this is the paradox of suicide—to take one’s life is to behave in a more active, assertive, “erotic” way than to helplessly watch as one’s life is taken away from one by inevitable mortality. Suicide thus engages both the death-hating and the death-loving parts of us: on some level, perhaps we may envy the suicide even as we pity him."

~ Janet Malcolm, in The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Playing the Role of the Illusionist

Excerpt from Seeing Red by Nicholas Humphrey:


I dare say belief in mind-body duality may not be “accidental” in the least.

In the wider world, there are two sorts of “illusion”—accidental and contrived. There are cases where we get things wrong as the result of bad luck, and cases where we are the victims of deliberate trickery. When, for example, we see a stick in water as being bent, or when we think we are moving as the train beside us pulls away, it is a matter of bad luck. We are applying rules of inference in situations where our information is inaccurate or incomplete. But no one is trying to delude us.

When, however, we see a stage magician bending a metal spoon without touching it, or when we feel the table at a spiritualist seance lifting off the ground, it is a matter of intentional trickery. We may, again, be applying rules of inference in situations where our information is inaccurate or incomplete. But this time there is an illusionist who wants us to get it wrong.

Now, with belief in mind-body duality, which kind of illusion is it? The general view among materialist philosophers has always been that it is an illusion of the first kind, an honest—if regrettable—error. But how about if it is an illusion of the second kind, a deliberate trick!

Could it be? Only of course if there were to be an active agency behind it, playing the role of the illusionist. But who or what could possibly be doing this? And what interest could they have in encouraging individual humans to believe in a non-physical world?

The immediate, but unhelpful answer, might be that, since it is a case of self-delusion, the illusionist must lie within the subject’s own brain. The more interesting answer might be that, insofar as the brain is designed by genes, the illusionist is the subject’s own genes. But in that case, the ultimate answer must surely be that the illusionist is Nature herself, working through natural selection.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Steadily Better

“There’s no rule that says you get steadily better.”

~ Margaret Atwood, from Bad Writing


George Saunders, from the documentary: My sense is that it has a lot more to do with the ways that someone is naturally charming. You know, so if you fall in love with somebody and they’re leaving town and you have two days to somehow change their mind, in that kind of life or death situation you bring forth certain traits of your personality. In my case, I would be telling jokes and I would be talking fast and I would be trying real hard to anticipate her reason for leaving and undercut them in a real energetic way. Those are all things that I would do in prose as well. I would definitely try to anticipate the reader’s objection to the story and build in a defense. I would try to be funny; I would try to be fast. So for me, the big breakthrough moment for me, was when I said to myself, ‘The reader is a person who you need to charm. You better bring your good shit. Because they don’t have time to wait around for you to work through your Hemingway phase.’

Monday, May 24, 2010

Doing Nothing

“We come to meditation to learn how not to act out the habitual tendencies we generally live by, those actions that create suffering for ourselves and others, and get us into so much trouble. Doing nothing does not mean going to sleep, but it does mean resting—resting the mind by being present to whatever is happening in the moment, without adding on the effort of attempting to control it. Doing nothing means unplugging from the compulsion to always keep ourselves busy, the habit of shielding ourselves from certain feelings, the tension of trying to manipulate our experience before we even fully acknowledge what that experience is.”

~ Sharon Salzberg, from “How Doing Nothing Can Help You Truly Live,” Huffington Post, May 24, 2010

A Strange and Hidden Relationship


“In mathematics, the parabola is a conic section, the intersection of a right circular conical surface and a plane to a generating straight line of that surface. Given a point (the focus) and a corresponding line (the directrix) on the plane, the locus of points in that plane that are equidistant from them is a parabola. The parabola has many important applications, from automobile headlight reflectors to the design of ballistic missiles.”

Seeing Double


“Could not the age-old rift between spirit/mind and matter, soul and body, freedom and necessity, etc. be an expression of no more than a basic dualism which seems to be universally present in the structure of human language, i.e. the separation of noun and verb (or subject and predicate) in which the description of a unified natural process or phenomenon entails its verbal division into static and process aspects respectively? The manner in which this descriptive procedure may make us see double as it were, becomes more apparent with sentences such as ‘The wind is blowing’ or ‘The fire is burning,’ where it is easy to see that the blowing is the wind, and that the burning is the fire. Is it not possible that the epiphenomenon of mind may have arisen in a way similar to the ‘wind’ and ‘fire,’ to stand above thoughts, feelings, memories, actions and experiences? If so this linguistic illusion has had the profoundest consequences for [mankind] and for the history of this planet.”

~ Ronald Wong, from a letter to the editor of New Scientist in response to “The Shadow of the Mind,” by John Taylor, September 30, 1971

Friday, May 21, 2010

All Living Things Have Shoulders

Chapter from Nick Flynn’s extraordinarily authentic and poetic memoir, The Ticking Is the Bomb:

For those few years when I worked in New York City public schools as an itinerant poet—Crown Heights, Harlem, the South Bronx—I’d lug a satchel heavy with books on the train every morning. Much of what I taught was directed toward finding out what the students saw every day. It was a way to honor their lives, which isn’t generally taught in public schools.

The beginning exercises were very simple: Tell me one thing you saw on the way into school this morning. Tell me one thing you saw last night when you got home. Describe something you see every day, describe something you saw only once and wondered about from then on. Tell me a dream, tell me a story someone told you, tell me something you’ve never told anyone else before. No one, in school at least, had ever asked them what their lives were like, no one had asked them to tell about their days. In this sense it felt like a radical act. I tried to imagine what might happen if each of them knew how important their lives were.

In the schools I’d visit, I’d sometimes pick up a discarded sheet of paper from the hallway floor, something a student had written in his notebook and then torn out. Sometimes, I could tell that he’d been given an assignment, and that he’d tried to fulfill it, and by tearing it out it was clear that he felt he had somehow failed.

Out of all the ephemera I’ve bent down to collect from black and green elementary school linoleum floors over the years, one has stayed with me. Likely it was part of a research paper, likely for biology. It started with a general statement, which was, I imagine, meant to be followed by supporting facts. The sentence, neatly printed on the first line, was this: All shoulder-gray327living things have shoulders—after this there was nothing, not even a period, as if even as he was writing it he realized something was wrong, that he would never be able to support what he was only beginning to say, that no facts would ever justify it.

All living things have shoulders—the first word is pure energy, the sweeping “All,” followed by the heartbeat of “living”—who wouldn’t be filled with hope having found this beginning? Then the drift begins, into uncertainty—”things”—a small misstep, not so grave that it couldn’t be righted, but it won’t be easy. Now something has to be said, some conclusion, I can almost hear the teacher, I can almost see what she has written on the blackboard—”Go from the general to the specific”—and what could be more general than “All living things,” and what could be more specific than “shoulders”? He reads it over once and knows it can never be reconciled, and so it is banished from his notebook.

All living things have shoulders—this one line, I have carried it with me since, I have tried to write a poem from it over and over, and failed, over and over. I have now come to believe that it already is a poem.

All living things have shoulders. Period. The end. A poem.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

To Be Able to Sing

An excerpt from a Radiolab conversation between Jad Abumrad and musician Juana Molina (May 4, 2009):

Juana: I usually feel that the sounds tell me what to do with them. Every sound has its own behavior. I’m just feeling like a driver of those sounds. Little by little, my ridiculously small universe becomes huge. Anything that has a note or a rhythm, you can make music with.

Jad: Are you inspired more by a thought, like I want to say something?

Juana: No. Never! There’s absolutely nothing that I really want to say.

Jad: Really?

Juana: Really.

Jad: Well, you have lyrics sometimes.

Juana: Most of the times.

Jad: So when the song pops into your head and you develop it, you’re not thinking of  a story per se.

Juana: No. Never.

Jad: But you put the story on afterwards, why?

Juana: In order to be able to sing.

Un Día

Un día voy a cantar las canciones sin letra y cada uno podrá imaginar si hablo de amor, de desilusión, banalidades o sobre platón.

One day I will sing the songs with no lyrics and everyone can imagine for themselves if it's about love, disappointment, banalities or about Plato.

Seeing the Other Side of Things


René Magritte wrote, "To equate my painting with symbolism, conscious or unconscious, is to ignore its true nature. People are quite willing to use objects without looking for any symbolic intention in them, but when they look at paintings, they can't find any use for them. So they hunt around for a meaning to get themselves out of the quandary, and because they don't understand what they are supposed to think when they confront the painting. They want something to lean on, so they can be comfortable. They want something secure to hang on to, so they can save themselves from the void. People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking ‘what does this mean?’ they express a wish that everything be understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things."

"To the extent that my pictures have any value," [Magritte] once said, lobbing a grenade at the experts and explainers, "they do not lend themselves to analysis." He quoted Victor Hugo, "We never see but one side of things." And to this he added, "it's precisely this 'other side' that I'm trying to express."

From "The Artist Who Was Master of the Double Take," by Bennett Schiff, Smithsonian Magazine (September 1992)



“Biologist Doug Altshuler has turned his lab into a kind of hummingbird training center, where he can test the limits of their aerial agility. The key, he says, is hovering.”

From the Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air episode of PBS Nature

[Thanks Dōshin!]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What it Feels Like

Fish Pedicure

“You know how your foot tingles when it falls asleep? I think that's what it feels like to be alive. We just tune it out most of the time.”

Robin Sloan

Unsarcastic Advice

From Steve Hannah,  C.E.O. of The Onion, from “If Plan B Fails, Go Through The Alphabet,” an interview with Adam Bryant, New York Times (May 14, 2010):

Steve Hannah, photo by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times “…never, ever do anything to deprive a human being of their dignity in work, in life. Always praise in public and criticize in private. You might be tempted, for example, when you’re letting someone go, to say something that would diminish the value of their work. Don’t ever do that.

…when you’re faced with something that’s really difficult and you think you’re at the end of your tether, there’s always one more thing you can do to influence the outcome of this situation. And then after that there’s one more thing. The number or possible options is only limited by your imagination…

Find what you really love to do and then go after it — relentlessly. And don’t fret about the money. Because what you love to do is quite likely what you’re good at. And what you’re good at will likely bring you financial reward eventually.

I’ve seen too many people who have plotted a career, and often what’s at the heart of all that plotting is nothing other than a stack of dollar bills. You need to be happy in order to be good, and you need to be good in order to succeed. And when you succeed, there’s a good chance you’ll get paid.

And while you’re at it, read. A lot. Start with Plato. He was a very practical man.”

Read the rest of this interview…

Only Rising and Falling

Orion on Film, Matthew Spinelli

The World as It is
by Carolyn Miller

No ladders, no descending angels, no voice
out of the whirlwind, no rending
of the veil, or chariot in the sky—only
water rising and falling in breathing springs
and seeping up through limestone, aquifers filling
and flowing over, russet stands of prairie grass
and dark pupils of black-eyed Susans. Only
the fixed and wandering stars: Orion rising sideways,
Jupiter traversing the southwest like a great firefly,
Venus trembling and faceted in the west—and the moon,
appearing suddenly over your shoulder, brimming
and ovoid, ripe with light, lifting slowly, deliberately,
wobbling slightly, while far below, the faithful sea
rises up and follows.

From American Life in Poetry: Column 269

Monday, May 17, 2010

What’s a Flower?


by Dar Williams

I threw your keys in the water, I looked back,
They’d frozen halfway down in the ice.
They froze up so quickly, the keys and their owners,
Even after the anger, it all turned silent, and
The everyday turned solitary,
So we came to February.

First we forgot where we’d planted those bulbs last year,
Then we forgot that we’d planted at all,
Then we forgot what plants are altogether,
and I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting and
The nights were long and cold and scary,
Can we live through February?

You know I think Christmas was a long red glare,
Shot up like a warning, we gave presents without cards,
And then the snow,
And then the snow came, we were always out shoveling,
And we’d drop to sleep exhausted,
Then we’d wake up, and its snowing.

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, "That’s a crocus,"
And I said, "What’s a crocus?" and you said, "Its a flower,"
I tried to remember, but I said, "What’s a flower?"
You said, "I still love you."

The leaves were turning as we drove to the hardware store,
My new lover made me keys to the house,
And when we got home, well we just started chopping wood,
Because you never know how next year will be,
And well gather all our arms can carry,
I have lost to February.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Way You Are

“You know how unhappy you would be if you thought that the way you are is not okay? I started out my life like that. I don’t want to end up my life like that.”

~ Bill Withers, from Still Bill

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Attention to the Mundane

"I think the easiest way to talk about the movie is to say it's a character study set in New York City. You are looking at the world through the lens of one girl during one week of her life. The movie focuses on the small gestures, like the silent ­moments when two people's hands almost touch. These small gestures and the attention to the mundane create a huge tension. I wouldn't necessarily say it's a love story as much as a story about being young and asking, 'How do I react to the world? How do I deal with myself?'"

~ Zoe Kazan, from an interview with Jacob Osterhout for (March 13, 2010)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stone Soup

lost-books-of-the-odyssey “It never struck me that writing was something anyone could teach you—or if anyone could, it was the great masters, which meant going to the library and reading with great care the authors I most loved and admired. It struck me that an MFA program could be not just helpful but actually harmful.

There’s an orthodoxy of style at MFA programs, and it’s a style that turns me off. It’s the stone soup parable. Lots of people who don’t really know what they’re doing tear your work to shreds. No matter how robust you are, it has to be a painful experience and change your work, and probably not in a good way. I’m all in favor of grad school for surgeons and car mechanics, but less so as we get towards art, where I don’t think it does much good.”

~ Zachary Mason, computer scientist and author of The Lost Books of the Odyssey, from “Trojan Horse in Silicon Valley,” by Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today, May/June 2010

Which One is It?

Alan Wallace, from "Equanimity: Breaking the 'I-It' Relationship with Ourselves," Live from Phuket!, April 24, 2010:

"If I feel really bad about myself, if I don't like myself, how many people are there in here? Which one is it that doesn't like the other one? Isn't there a sense of superiority? When I say, I'm such a schmuck, isn't the person who's thinking that a little bit better than the schmuck that he just judged? So how many people are there in there? It looks like at least two. When I think, Oh, I'm such a jerk, selfish person, hot-tempered person—whatever derogative comment we make about ourselves—it seems to me that it is a classic instance of it-ifying oneself. Just turning oneself into an unpleasant object from a superior vantage point and then looking down on oneself as that's the one I don't like.

But it happens not only for self-loathing, low self-esteem, lack of self-worth and so forth, but on some occasions some people feel pretty good about themselves: self-infatuation. Looking into the mirror and saying, Looking good! I am really something. And now there's one more it and this is a pleasant it. We're applauding the it as if we're watching a show. So we can it-ify, objectify, in an agreeable fashion, in which case we become objects of attachment for ourselves. We can be also objects of aversion for ourselves. And on other occasions, we can simply say, Man, you're a boring person. I don't really care much about you one way or another. So one more it-ifying.”


“When we try to make sense of other people's faults, whatever comes to mind as we paint the person, we're painting from the palette of our own minds. And so if somebody engages in evil that we can't even comprehend, when we try to imagine it, all we'll be able to do is approximate based upon our own experience. So quite literally, we bring to mind other people's faults, they are faults that we've projected based upon our own experience. They are, in fact, our own faults. It's not to say that nobody else has those faults, but whenever we think of those other people, we are in fact painting in the substrate of our own minds."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Stop?

William Stafford quotes from On William Stafford: The Worth of Local Things:

“Poems don’t just happen. They are luckily or stealthily related to a readiness within ourselves. When we read or hear them, we react. We aren’t just supposed to react—any poem that asks for a dutiful response is masquerading as a poem, not being one. A good rule is—don’t respond unless you have to. But when you find you do have a response—trust it. It has a meaning.”

[When asked during an interview, “When did you first realize that you wanted to become a poet?”]

“My question is, ‘When did other people give up the idea of being a poet?’ You know, when we are kids we make up things, we write, and for me the puzzle is not that some people are still writing, the real question is why did other people stop?”

“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir; instead, he engages in an activity that brings to him  a whole succession of unforeseen stories, poems, essays, plays, laws, philosophies, religions.”


Poetry Everywhere

Proud Flesh


For What Binds Us
by Jane Hirshfield, from Of Gravity & Angels

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

Make Room

The Old West, Chandler Mike

Incant Against Suicide
by Mary Karr, from Viper Rum

Buy neither gun nor blue-edged blade.
Avoid green rope, high windows, rat
poison, cobra pits, and the long vanishing point
of train tracks that draw you to horizon's razor.

Only this way will another day refine you.  (Natural death's
no oxymoron) Your head's a bad neighborhood:
Don't go there alone, even if you have to stop
strangers to ask the way, and even if

spiders fall from your open mouth.
This talk's their only exit.  How else
would their scramble from your skull

escape?  You must make room first
that the holy spirits might enter.  Empty
yourself of self, then kneel down to listen.

Somebody and Nobody

No Man’s Land,” is an installation by Christian Boltanski which open this Friday at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan. The work was titled “Personnes” when it was staged at the Grand Palais in Paris at the beginning of the year.

Personnes,” the artist says, “is a very strange word because it means, at the same time, somebody and nobody…The idea was to make something about the finger of God and about chance.”

From “Exploring Mortality With Clothes and a Claw,” Dorothy Spears, New York Times, May 9, 2010):

“Every few minutes, in an act meant to resonate with the arbitrariness of death and survival, the crane’s giant claw will pluck a random assortment of shirts, pants and dresses from the mound then release them to flap back down haphazardly. Visitors can watch the action — set to a ceaseless, reverberating soundtrack of thousands of human heartbeats — from ground level, standing amid dozens of 15-by-23-foot plots of discarded jackets that extend in all directions from the mound and that may evoke refugee or death camps. Behind the visitors, a 66-foot-long, 12-foot-high wall made from 3,000 stacked cookie tins will cut off views of the exit.”

Christian Boltanski:

“We are all so complicated, and then we die. We are a subject one day, with our vanities, our loves, our worries, and then one day, abruptly, we become nothing but an object, an absolutely disgusting pile of shit. We pass very quickly from one stage to the next. It's very bizarre. It will happen to all of us, and fairly soon too. We become an object you can handle like a stone, but a stone that was someone.”

Sunday, May 09, 2010



“Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. We're usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliably measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.”

~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from “The Creative Personality,” Psychology Today, July 1, 1996



“Avoid judging yourself by whether or not you succeed in making a change. Let the act of changing be the reward, and do not count on the outcome, for it may well be far different than you ever imagined.”

~ Phillip Moffitt

Friday, May 07, 2010

Essence of the Circle

Tibetan Sand Mandalas

“The Tibetan art form of sand painting is an ancient and sacred practice intended to uplift and benefit not only every person who sees it, but also to bless the environment. It is referred to as a mandala of colored powders. The Sanskrit term mandala is the name for this circular representation of spiritual truths. The Tibetan name is kyil-khor meaning essence of the circle.”

From the web page of Losang Samten, who created this center panel of the Kalachakra Mandala in the new Ohio Union of the Ohio State Campus this week.

Losang Samten

We all helped dismantle the panel this afternoon…

…and scattered the sand into Mirror Lake to bless the campus.


Here is a time-lapse video of an entire Kalachakra Mandala.

Kalachakra mandala created by Losang Samten

Here’s another example.

5 Dhyani Buddhas from peacefeather imagery on Vimeo.

Description of the above design from Mandalas: Sacred Art and Geometry

Buckeyes Break In New Ohio Union

Students and staff break out into a dance in the great hall of the new Ohio Union on Monday, May 3, 2010


[Thanks Suzanne!]

Every Moment

Coming Ashore, Evening, oil on canvas, Warren Sheppard

'Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: "on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death"—that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare forward.
                      O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgment of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.'
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
                                  Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.

~ T.S. Eliot, from "The Dry Salvages," the third poem of his Four Quartets

Commentary by Phillip Moffitt from Dancing with Life:

Eliot is saying that there is only this moment in your life, and each moment is a death and a rebirth. You only exist as a string of moments and you are new and different in each moment. It is only when you are present in a moment that you are capable of affecting your life or another's. You fail to notice this truth because life is constantly changing and because of the power of memory and association.

When Eliot cautions not to think of the fruit of your actions, he is echoing the Buddha's teaching of nonattachment. To be nonattached is "to care" and "to not care" simultaneously, which can only be realized as an insight, not as a concept. Through meditation and practice of the Twelve Insights [of the four noble truths which is the theme of his book] in daily life, you slowly come to understand this paradoxical wisdom, which is the way to dance with life.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Immaterial Wealth

Life Is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment “The support, the privilege, really comes from having two parents that said and believed that I could do anything. That support didn't come in the form of a check. That support came in the form of love and nurturing and respect for us finding our way, falling down, figuring out how to get up ourselves…I learned more in those [difficult] times about myself and my resiliency than I ever would have if I'd had a pile of money and I could have glided through life. I honestly feel that it is an act of love to say, 'I believe in you as my child, and you don't need my help.' "

~ Peter Buffett, discussing his book, Life is What You Make It, on Morning Edition, NPR (May 6, 2010)

Wide Awake

"For me, the main thing that I found after my three-year quest was meditation. Meditation was a real major revelation for me, not only for my life but for my sleep. It really helped calm me down. So I think if you can do any type of relaxation exercises, if you can practice breathing, I think that if you can do it, it's far more beneficial than going the pharmaceutical route.”

~ Patricia Morrisroe, author of Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia, from Talk of the Nation (May 4, 2010)

[Thanks Suzanne!]

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Greater than Just Romantic Love

“Part of what this poem meant for me was the idea that somehow I would be in love and that someone would love me back was a profound revelation…I think the very first library book I ever checked out was a collection of poems by E.E. Cummings which included this poem…But being in your body, giving love through your body, getting love back through your body, is something that I think is greater than just romantic love relationships.”

~ Quang Bao

i like my body when it is with your
by E.E. Cummings

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh....And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you so quite new from

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Under Water

Nashville Red Cross
Hands On Nashville

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

An excerpt from The Ticking Is the Bomb: A Memoir by Nick Flynn:

ticking Here’s a secret: Everyone, if they live long enough, will lose their way at some point. You will lose your way, you will wake up one morning and find yourself lost. This is a hard, simple truth. If it hasn’t happened to you yet consider yourself lucky. When it does, when one day you look around and nothing is recognizable, when you find yourself alone in a dark wood having lost the way, you may find it easier to blame someone else—an errant lover, a missing father, a bad childhood. Or it may be easier to blame the map you were given—folded too many times, out of date, tiny print. You can shake your fist at the sky, call it fate, karma, bad luck, and sometimes it is. But, for the most part, if you are honest, you will only be able to blame yourself. Life can, of course, blindside you, yet often as not we choose to be blind—agency, some call it. If you’re lucky you’ll remember a story you heard as a child, the trick of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, the idea being that after whatever it is that is going to happen in those woods has happened, you can then retrace your steps, find your way back out. But no one said you wouldn’t be changed, by the hours, the years, spent wandering those woods.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Simple Principles that Guide a System

Excerpt from “Complexity Used to Be So Simple. It Meant Progress,” by David Segal, New York Times, April 30, 2010:

Preparing for the launch of Apollo 11. (NASA)What we need, suggests Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at Schulich School of Business in Ontario, is a distinction between the complicated and the complex. It’s complicated, she says, to send a rocket to the moon — it requires blueprints, math and a lot of carefully calibrated hardware and expertly written software. Raising a child, on the  other hand, is complex. It is an enormous challenge, but math and blueprints  won’t help. Alex's first day of school. Performing hip replacement surgery, she says, is complicated. It takes well-trained personnel, precision and carefully calibrated equipment. Running a health care system, on the other hand, is complex. It’s filled with thousands of parts and players, all of whom must act within a fluid, unpredictable environment. To run a system that is complex, it’s not enough to get the right people and the ideal equipment. It takes a set of simple principles that guide and shape the system. For instance: Teach everyone the best practices of doctors who are really good at hip replacement surgery.

“We get seduced by the complicated in Western society,” Ms. Zimmerman says. “We’re in awe of it and we pull away from the duty to ask simple questions, which we do whenever we deal with matters that are complex.”

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Finding Words

Mai's Quiet Zone, 2004

Dr. Alan Dienstag from “Alzhiemer’s, Memory, and Meaning,” in conversation with Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith, March 26, 2009:

I was working with a woman who actually first brought her sister to see me. Her name was Ann, and she wanted, her sister to join one of the writing groups [for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s], but her sister wasn't right for it. About two years later, she came back, and she [herself] had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And so I started to work with her, and she joined one of my support groups.

She was in the group for a long time, and then it just became impossible for her to participate. The conversation was moving too fast. She just didn't have the language. She couldn't string together more than a sentence or two, and it just wasn't working. And so she had to leave the group.

Her husband, who was just extraordinarily devoted to her, really wanted her to maintain her connection with me. It was very helpful that I had known her before. And she would bring photo albums in. She would do a little tchotchke tour of my office. You know, when it wasn't really possible to talk about things, she would kind of walk around and we would look at objects. She was very taken by the birds outside the window. I mean, that was the kind of time that we spent together.

And then even that became difficult. She was one of those people who started to kind of retreat into almost a mask-like blankness. It was harder and harder to access her. And so we were reaching the end of that time, and I was talking to her husband, telling him that I just didn't think that it was a really fruitful way for her to spend her time and so on.

So it was around that time, and I was going on vacation, and she loved the beach and I loved the beach and this was something that we used to connect about.

As I was leaving I said, "Ann, I'm going to the beach. I'm going to be away for a while." And she smiled and her face kind of lit up.

I said, "What do you love about the beach?"

She kind of drifted away, as she did, and she got very quiet. And again I waited and I thought, well, you know, she can't really answer that question.

And she turned to me and she said, "There's some kind of music that lives there."

Time Makes a Family

“It’s about how much time you’ve spent together. That’s what makes a family, not biology, not sexual or political persuasion. It’s just that: time.”

~ Julianne Moore, from “Erotic Sparks Fly, and Lines Are Crossed,” by Dennis Lim, New York Times, April 30, 2010

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Like a Picture That’s Fading

Excerpt from Lessons from the Lifelines Writing Group for People in the Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease: Forgetting That We Don't Remember by Alan Dienstag:

The challenge of putting Don DeLillo's observation about writing and memory to work for people in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease brought to light aspects of memory and the psychology of people experiencing memory loss that I knew about but had failed to put to any therapeutic use. I would summarize the most important of these aspects as follows: Writing is a form of memory. As a form of memory, its characteristics create some unique therapeutic possibilities for people with Alzheimer's disease. Because it presents another way of remembering, it provides an individual with additional experiences of being a remembering person and access to different kinds of memories. Perhaps most important, it returns to those whose memories are failing the opportunity to experience and share the memories they have. In this respect, the writing group transformed a weakness into a strength.

What was true of the writing was also true of the reading. In reading the written work, the insecurity of unprompted verbal recall (a factor that over time tends to discourage talking in this population) was replaced with something that is not only tangible and therefore more secure but also lasting. The group format seemed to extend and intensify these effects as well as to provide therapeutic benefit in more traditional ways. In a remark that beautifully encapsulated the acceptance, recognition, and sense of belonging found in the group, one of our members put it this way: "We may not remember everything, but we remember each other and I'm a part of everyone here."

A patient of mine in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease once said, "I feel like a picture that's fading; every time I look, there is less of me here. I almost don't recognize myself." Watching the group members in their struggle to remember, write, and read their work is a moving experience on many levels. One of these is surely our awareness that the picture is fading along with the sparks of recognition. This awareness lends a poignancy and triumph to the work with which one can identify. In this identification there is also a healing of the breach that separates us from people with Alzheimer's. We all know what fading is like, and we all know that our fate is not so different from theirs. The triumph is temporary; it is of this moment, but it is the triumph of life over death. If we do need stories to live, then these are truly lifelines, acts of writing that are life preserving.

Listen to “Alzhiemer’s, Memory, and Meaning,” Dr. Dienstag’s conversation with Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith, March 26, 2009]

Narcissi in process is a series of self-portraits by Colombian artist Oscar Munoz in which he explores "the graphic and poetic possibilities of water." (Philagrafika)