All posts by Wendy

an autumn greeting

SONY DSC

I’m learning to use image editing software (taught by the skillful Frauke, whose website is here) and this was what I came up with for the first exercise – obviously pretty simple, some text and a photo I took last week.

I think it turned out rather nice and in the spirit of “beautiful and bountiful” here’s an unsigned version for your use.

Just right-click on the image, download it (or “save as”) and then use it as an e-card, send it as an attachment, or post it on your facebook page.

Honestly, who couldn’t use a little more beauty in their day?

SONY DSC

 

** if you’re south of the equator I also send my best spring wishes your way 🙂 **

wayward words, where have you gone?

dry hills

 

“You only dreamed you wrote it,” said my ever pragmatic oldest daughter in response to my frustrated sigh. I’d spent a good part of the morning rifling through stacks of papers, flipping through the spiral notebook that I’ve been slowly filling with essay drafts and fiction snippets. But there was no sign of the story I could have sworn was right there among the other ink-filled pages – other than an initial, mind-mapped rush of images that had led me into a world, a scene, a brief moment of my characters’ lives. The story itself, that I clearly remembered having written, was gone.

“Write it again,” said my academic husband who could probably re-sculpt a lost paper out of his notes and citations. “That’s not the way it works,” I said, feeling the few remaining shreds of the story float through my mind, cloud-like and a little wispy. It had been one of those things that just appeared. In the basement, actually, on my way up from putting the laundry in the washer. I’d floundered about a little that morning (not an unusual state for me) and had finally remembered to just up and ask my Muse-mind what he was interested in.

“Lonely houses,” he returned. Lonely houses? Hmmm, interesting, I’d thought. And then he gave me the rest in a flash, literally in images and sensations. The unrepeatability lies in the perception – an all-senses go! moment, barely contained in instances like this, until I write the “thing” down. I promise, I wrote it down. I have no idea if it was any good because though I think I re-read it once, it went the way of everything I’ve written lately, which is to just sit and wait for me to do something with it. In the notebook.

I wish remembering it here would bring it back but all it’ll do is sound second-hand, like a half-heard joke minus the punchline. The point was the experience of the flash, the writing it in that sometimes-entered “I’m in the thick of it” almost-trance, and then, the written thing itself. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be in the notebook and I feel a little lost without it.

Maybe that’s the essence of lonely houses, too. Once alive, full of life even, situated in a particular place. When they lose their people and their purpose all that’s left is a feeling of what was. Accessible only to the one or few who knew them and recognize the rest of what’s left behind as remnants.

Here, as memorial to this lost, lonely house, is the remaining foundation of its story, found only on the mind-map on which is sketched some plumbing work under gutted cabinets, the walls and all the broken windows (beware of nails and fragments, loose wires and run-on sentences):

  • “my lonely house,” he says…it is, in its own way, beautiful though dying and doing so without grace, just dilapidation
  • not the ones in towns but the ones forgotten by most, off in the hills in the summer
  • the whine of cicadas – scream, buzz, shrill, drilling summer through your ears. Then they stop.
  • still, late afternoon air, hours before an evening breeze can remind you that at least it makes its way toward the coast
  • the live oaks do not move, do not whisper. Their shade, lined with prickled leaf-litter, does not comfort, it crackles.
  • little girl comes out from the side, stays in the shade. Does not sigh, merely squats near a stone, picks it up idly, rolls it from palm to palm, puts it down and looks off into the distance. Mama is sick again.
  • nothing, of course, is watered in the yard. The faucet does not work. Anyway, there is no garden so what would be the point of water? It would only benefit the star-thistles which scratch the calves of girls who venture past the house shadow in their sundresses. Better not to wear a sundress in the sun anyway: sunburned shoulders and a little poison oak blister where she carelessly let the daughter of the mother-of-all-poison-oak bushes touch her where it reaches across the foot-path edge on the way round the west ridge – away from the dirt road – out where the view of the valley unfolds.
  • behind their old car a silver sedan from town clicks and pings and its engine fan shuts off with a finality not heard in the conversation in the house until her father says, “we can’t pay for that, and anyway, she’ll be fine in a day or two – always is and she doesn’t need to go to the hospital.”
  • an airplane bores its way through the pale blue sky and is gone
  • she goes up the cement steps to the unshaded hollow-core front door, opens it and slips in before the murmured voices can rise above the stillness outside. She closes the door so nothing can escape.
  • far off in the distance, unseen by the girl or her mother, clouds gather themselves and somewhere – somewhere else, it rains, out of season.

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image source: Michael W. Murphy on flickr (creative commons license)

the season’s by-heart-poem

Learning poetry by heart is seeing a bit of a renaissance these days. It seems it’s being touted as a palliative to educational woes, a harkening  to earlier times when the canon of what children were taught was much more narrow and less defined by notions of performance, but it’s also being put forth as a good personal practice, as a way to improve one’s general lot in life, not least through encouraging brain health.  It’s true, too, that there are a lot of detractors to memorization, in vocal numbers online, usually stating that it’s a waste of time, that it’s too difficult and unrelated, really, to life.

I’ve found just the opposite.

I simply approached it because it sounded right. The situation in which the notion came to me is a topic for another day. Today, I just wanted to introduce the subject quickly so as to get to the point, which is the poem I’ve most recently learned. I’d come across it last year, wrote it out on an index card and carried it around for a little while. Then, this year, in August when the light shifted from one day’s full-summer sun into the start of autumn, I knew it was time for this:

End of Summer

An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.

Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.

–by Stanley Kunitz (via The Poetry Foundation)

 

I, where I turned, felt the enchantment

“The experience of centering was one I particularly sought because I thought of myself as dispersed, interested in too many things. I envied people who were “single-minded,” who had one powerful talent and who knew when they got up in the morning what it was they had to do. Whereas I, where I turned, felt the enchantment: to the window for the sweetness of the air; to the door for the passing figures; to the teapot, the typewriter, the knitting needles, the pets, the pottery, the newspaper, the telephone. Wherever I looked, I could have lived.

 It took me half my life to come to believe I was OK even if I did love experience in a loose and undiscriminating way and did not know for sure the difference between good and bad. My struggles to accept my nature were the struggles of centering. I found myself at odds with the propaganda of our times. One is supposed to be either an artist or a homemaker, by one popular superstition. Either a teacher or a poet, by a theory which says that poetry must not sermonize. Either a craftsman or an intellectual, by a snobbism — which claims either the hand or head as the seat of true power. One is supposed to concentrate and not to spread oneself thin, as the jargon goes. And this is a jargon spoken by a cultural leadership from which it takes time to win one’s freedom, if one is not lucky enough to have been born free. Finally, I hit upon an image: a seed-sower. Not to worry about which seeds sprout. But to give them as my gift in good faith.

      – M.C. Richards in Centering: In Pottery, Poetry and the Person

 

***
related, in case you haven’t seen it, to this post.

Wandering. Aimless or Inspired?

Superficial Dimensionality - by Dan Kuzmenka

As a tracker of my mind’s wanderings, I’ve long carried the assumption that I’m a flighty sort, easily distracted but harboring the idea that I ought to buckle down to something; that doing so would be better. Though better WHAT, I’ve not been able to answer. This thought has teased me incessantly – that in order to feel fulfilled I must accomplish something.

In part because we’re taught early on that we can grow up to be anything (translate: you must grow up to be something), I always thought there was something unmanageable about my utter disregard for following one path to its logical end.

The logical end, of course is The End, and as that’s the case, perhaps it’s better to make the most of the trip. If it’s going to include a lot of odd side-trips, then so be it. But this devil-may-care attitude about my tendency to be “distracted” isn’t my de facto state. In fact I waffle a lot on whether or not I’m just unfocused and kind of lost.

Usually I harbor a kind of worry at the back of my mind that I’m not paying the right attention to whatever it is I’m SUPPOSED to be paying attention to. That I’m diffused and aimless and won’t amount to “much.”

In an effort to sort out judgments from characteristics, excuses from attempts to be optimally functional, I spend far too much time obsessing about what exactly is going on in my head.

Part of the process involves some map making, finding out that there are certain landmarks to the terrain of paying attention.

For example, there are moment-to-moment “distractions,” the kinds of things that make my mind wander away from something  I’m doing right as I’m doing it – something Robert at The Solitary Walker talked about the other day. There are day-to-day ones, the kind that derail a day’s plans with other urgent matters – or that postpone dinner because the mail was delivered; and ones that force-quit the projects of months with a new direction that seems more relevant to the trajectory that has taken priority.

I’m learning to take this in stride, as something my mind might require for happy functioning, though I’m trying to balance that notion with an awareness that it’s also possible to be easily waylaid by stalling. Accepting that I am attentive to many things and require maintenance of a high degree of mental stimulation (which equates with a limited tolerance of self-defined boredom) has a benefit of simply removing “one more thing to stress about” from my mental space.

Is it better to accept one’s “flaky” nature and benefit by no longer stressing about it? Is it even flaky to be an explorer?

Consider Curtis Hillman’s take on it. “He once explained his penchant for reinventing himself in an interview. “I originally went to school for creative writing and film,” he said. “I then spent 10 years pursuing music, and, after failing at that, I did various random jobs. I got into design out of desperation — I didn’t want to wait tables or pound nails.””

Does trying new things, following one’s interests encourage unfinished business?  Isn’t that one of the fundamentals of trying to understand one’s life while engaged in the midst of it?  A lack of perspective makes it hard to view the trajectory.

One image that I thought was appropriate in this case is of an object in space that orbits more than one central point.

In similar fashion I tend to gravitate to subjects and projects that are within the pull of certain connected topics. This explains why I got caught up in the notion of an object with multiple orbits and tried to find a nice graphic to accompany the image, read up on the physics of orbits and browsed physics and astronomy sites to find one.

I didn’t have any luck and I’m not sure if that means I just didn’t look in the right places or if that’s an unrealistic metaphor. But it sent me off on a wild-image chase BECAUSE cosmology/astronomy is one of the central bodies I periodically swing past on my way to and from others. Anyway, the notion of strange orbits and the many models of orbit patterns I found are certainly tasty, and the irony that eccentricity is an orbital element isn’t lost on me.

Some orbits result in pretty things! 

How about you? Do you oscillate between topics and interests? Careen madly through space? Are you absolutely mentally loyal to your work-in-progress and incapable of straying? How do you manage when your preferred working method is challenged?

I’m relieved at having discovered in the last year or two that I fit comfortably in the spectrum of people with many interests who are sometimes called scanners (Barbara Sher’s term), polymaths, people with “too many aptitudes,” multi-potentialites, etc.  It’s liberating to know I’m not really a flake though the challenge is figuring out how to work with it.

***
Image sources.  Fractal art (Superficial Dimensionality and The Fabric of Space) by Dan Kuzmenka who posts on DeviantArt where some of his work is available for download.  The GIF (or at least it’s supposed to be a GIF, I’m still tweaking) is from UC Santa Cruz professor emeritus, Michael Nauenberg.

“The language has a way of gesturing toward it.”

There’s a lovely 75 minute documentary video about Seamus Heaney, called Seamus Heaney: Out of the Marvellous, available here for the next two weeks.

I’d never had the occasion to hear Heaney read his own poems and this video combines moments of that with an extended conversation about his writing and personal life. It’s threaded throughout with a lovely soundtrack by Stephen McKeon.

In the course of the interviews one gains a sense of the man whom mourners called “irreplaceable” and “an exemplary human being,” and about whom they said, “there are very few human beings like that.” The Irish News published a lovely tribute  upon Bellaghy’s receiving his body for burial, and the Belfast Telegraph wrote of his legacy as well.

I can’t help but think I would have liked to have learned from the man, to just simply have known him, not least because he was someone who understood, from having experienced it himself, how to blow a heart open. The poem below is being quoted everywhere, its last lines having been read at his funeral mass. I include it here because it seems just about right.

Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

From THE SPIRIT LEVEL (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996)

 

self: scientist, publicist…person

This is a post from 2012, and as I work to re-post-ulate this blog, I find it’s still relevant.

 

It has come to my attention (self-reflectively as is appropriate to post-modern solipsism) that I have nothing to add to the internet’s cache of information. I don’t know if that indicates my lack of social utility, a failure of creativity, an utter retro-square mindset (the opposite of which would be a rush to expose, through all electronic social networks just the things I wouldn’t share with my real life ones) or if it’s just wishy-washy dilly-dallying on my part, a fear to commit what it takes to stake my space, forge my “Brand.”  That and the overwhelming sense one can get by spending even a small amount of time online: it’s all already been said, why bother?

But I am bothered. I have things I want to share, conversations I’d like to be part of and they all get waylaid by all that’s involved with putting more words online.

In some ways starting this blog was like undertaking an advertising campaign without a product to market.  No invention, no novel idea (well, there is an idea for a novel, but I digress), no empirical data or dogmatic conviction. Just a life, just some thoughts, just a notion that blogging could be a viable way to connect with others.

It isn’t – or at least not in any life-changing, honest-to-goodness way. It’s illusory – I go away for months, nobody notices. A regular reader goes away for months, nobody notices. We can’t, we’re off to the next best greatest new thing to relieve us from the agony of boredom. We’re looking for the day’s True Truth, revealed in Twitter feeds, that will grant us momentary status in the nebulously networked, self-referencing universe of “oh, look at me!”

I wonder where this is heading, what’s the inevitable outcome of the requirement that we spin our lives to collect “friends,” that we push ourselves to be cutting edge, ahead of the curve. What are we sacrificing (what does the cutting edge cut away)?

Though they often leave me woozy, I like big questions and the possibilities they bring to our awareness. Mostly I don’t understand the universe – there’s consciousness (I think!), there’s matter, there’s energy, there’s emptiness and perception – all jumbled together with enough regularity to make us think we can get a grip on it and with enough anomaly that we sometimes get our convictions served back to us on a platter.

I was entertained (oh, is that the best we can get these days?) by a piece in The New Yorker (2010) in which the author reported on what he called “the decline effect.” By now Jonah Lehrer’s… shall we say, journalistic indiscretions, have become well known (see here and here if they’re not well known to you). But at the time, and being a slightly nerdy skeptic of “absolute” knowledge (as in, I like/benefit from but am untrained in science and I also accept other epistemologies), I fell for Lehrer’s notion that the universe might be throwing the “rules” of the game just ’cause it can, in all its way-out-there vastness. But just because an idea sounds good doesn’t make it valid. No brainer, right? Yet isn’t that a fundamental problem for humans?  All it takes is one glance at the varieties of philosophical ideas that have been promoted by one person or another through the millenia, all the styles of governing proposed, soteriological prescriptions offered, utopias envisioned to see that we love to take an idea and show all the ways the world proves it correct.*

Ironically, Lehrer made that same point in that same article, “Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true.” I quote him here not to push home some sort of weird relativistic notion of truthfulness and provability (and that quote rightfully garnered a huge backlash); with remarkable accuracy we can explain and predict how matter behaves in this world because of information we have gathered with scientific inquiry – the scientific method is not really being challenged as Lehrer suggested.  Non-material reality, though, is of course, not so easy to pin down or interpret – and this is both because of the “problems” of subjectivity and wrapped around what subjectivity actually is.

This is a symptom of deep cultural uncertainty that leaves many scrambling for explanations or ways to cope.  For many, though, it’s been a springboard to a thriving career path that leads to

the dubious promised land of the convention hall, where the book, blog, TED talk, and article are merely delivery systems for a core commodity, the Insight.

New York Magazine’s Boris Kachka wrote a little over two weeks ago in an article on Lehrer’s downfall and the culture that created it, that “[t]he Insight”

is less of an idea than a conceit, a bit of alchemy that transforms minor studies into news, data into magic. Once the Insight is in place—Blink, Nudge, Free, The World Is Flat—the data becomes scaffolding. It can go in the book, along with any caveats, but it’s secondary. The purpose is not to substantiate but to enchant.

Lehrer, far from alone in his travels

was scrambling up the slippery slope to the TED-talk elite: authors and scientists for whom the book or the experiment is just part of a multimedia branding strategy.

Kachka posits that “he was less interested in wisdom than in seeming convincingly wise,” compelled and compounded in part by a culture in which writers (particularly staff writers for magazines which focus on the intersections of technology and science with social sciences and consciousness studies) “function as boldfaced brand experts in everything from economics to medicine to creativity.” [all emphasis mine]

blah.

I think that my self-fueled dilemma about blogging arises because the nature of the media is predicated on the existence of audience. I hope I’m not playing the role of the wallflower who claims that “dances are so stupid!” just because nobody asks her to dance, but that I’m honestly not sure how having an audience observe the inner workings of my mind affects said workings. Can I dance freely when I know others are or will be watching?  Do I really have to retire to a cave?

Oh, did I ever mention I overthink?

It’s hard not to when cases like John Locke (the contemporary writer who gained a following after receiving lots of positive book reviews, which he paid for) and Jonah Lehrer show up with some regularity, when ‘surface’ is the soup of the day and ‘substance’ is dropped from the menu.

Maybe I just have to have the attitude of a three year old – you know, if I close my eyes, nobody else is here.  Dear audience, forgive me. I know you exist (well, I take it on faith maybe), I just want to be careful… I don’t want to dance because somebody’s watching.

Meanwhile I’m off to update my SEO stuff.**

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*cynicism on this front brought to you today by the 2012 US presidential election campaigns.

** I take full responsibility for the irony of this conclusion.