“I have a sense of melancholy isolation, life rapidly vanishing, all the usual things. It’s very strange how often strong feelings don’t seem to carry any message of action.” ~ Philip Larkin

Arrowtown Mist
by Veronica McLaughlin (Titirangi Storyteller)

                   

“How do I start this day,
I who am unsure
of how my life has happened
or how to proceed
amid this warm and steady sweetness?” ~ Albert Garcia, from “August Morning

Friday, late afternoon. Sunny and cool, no humidity, 71°.

I’ve been sitting here for a while trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to say. I just don’t know. Part of me wants to write nonsense, cover subjects that require little thought, and truthfully, little active participation on the part of my little grey cells. But another part of me is quite introspective today, but I’m not entirely sure that I can go there.

Blackbird’s Nest in the Folded Hands of a Graveyard Statue
Berlin, Germany (National Archives, 1932)

Two choices. Two paths. The one less traveled by, and all of that, but I don’t know if I want to go down either. I feel a bit like Alice asking the Cheshire Cat which path to take. He doesn’t really answer her, just tells her that she’ll arrive somewhere.

Today when I was outside with Tillie I found a fallen bird’s nest, and it made me inexplicably sad. I mean, I looked it over, and the craftsmanship was impeccable. I had to hope that the nestlings were already long gone, that the feral cats that live in the bushes in the park next door didn’t find the nest and its inhabitants.  Yes, it’s in a cat’s true nature to hunt, but that doesn’t mean that I like it.

Each year a bird builds a nest in our mailbox. The mail carrier and I have a tacit agreement: I don’t remove the nest, and he puts the mail off to the side away from the nest. But one year we had a substitute carrier, and when I went out to get the mail, I found the nest removed from the mailbox.

“What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?” ~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

My love of songbirds comes from Mari, from whom I learned which birds like which seeds. In the house that she used to share with her ex-husband there was a picture of Mari standing in a rubber rain coat and galoshes in a downpour. She was filling her bird feeders. Nothing deterred her from this daily routine.

Bird Feeder by Trebz (FCC)

Because her house was situated a bit off the beaten path and near water, she had phenomenal luck with hummingbirds. I put up hummingbird feeders but was only successful in creating a habitat for fire ants. I’ve never been able to attract any hummers to my yard; although now that I have so much more shade, perhaps I’d have better luck in growing hardy fuchsia plants, which are like beacons for hummingbirds. They don’t like really hot, humid weather, and every year I would hang several baskets only to have them wilt and die by mid summer.

I used to do so much more in the yard when Mari was around. Her love of gardening and birding was infectious, and we would spend hours roaming around garden centers buying pants and feeders.  Even though I had planned to fill my planters this year with colorful annuals, I never got around to doing so.

My relationship with Mari enriched my life in countless ways. I miss that kind of friendship.

“Today in my heart
a vague trembling of stars
and all roses are
as white as my pain.” ~ Federico García Lorca

You know what else I miss terribly? Teaching literature. It’s been so very long since I stood in front of a class filled with people who were eager to discuss a new poem, a new short story. I feel as if my mind is atrophying from a lack of outside stimulation. The creative mind is emboldened, nurtured by like minds. I remember one student in a section of American literature who began the class very quietly. Within a few weeks, he was volunteering to read poems aloud, and I could always count on him to add something meaningful to the discussion. In my mind, I can still see his face over a decade later.

Conductor Frrederik Magle by magle.dk (FCC)

Should I go back to school? I know. You’re wondering where that came from? To be honest, it has never left. It is always there, right next to the haunting knowledge that I will never have another child. The two things have carved out niches of emptiness in my soul that will never be filled. I can subsume them, and very often I can make it through a few days without thinking of one or the other or both, but never for very long.

It’s my ongoing inability to separate, to forsake that which is no longer a part of my life. I do not carry my heart on my sleeve—I carry my entire soul there, the esse that is me, omnipresent, looming just within reach, a tether that will never be long enough for complete separation.

“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

I warned you from the outset that this post could go either way, and now it’s obvious as to which path I chose.

In a symphony, the whole truly is the sum of its parts. A viola chord slightly off, or a cymbal a millisecond to soon—this things bear weight. Nothing is innocuous. Consider Mozart or Beethoven, who heard the sounds of these individual instruments within their minds, who heard the collective and the individual, who translated these imaginings into sounds of such pure beauty.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony Sheet Music
(source: wikiversity.org)

Now, consider Clarence Clemons and his impeccable saxophone solo in Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungle Land.” The sound is raw and deep and it cuts straight to the soul.

The sounds are antithetical, yet not. Clemons’s rendering when he played was filled with the same kind of passion that is often associated with Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy” from his 9th Symphony. So, too, the individual. We are capable of such beauty, and we are capable of such destruction. We can be rough and raw in our dealings with others, and completely tender in our interactions with a small child. Both the darkness and the light exist, and both carry weight.

“When I think I see clearly and, therefore, think about thinking about,
let me be in the dark, measure and strain . . .
And when I think it’s okay to sleep
or that memory’s a comfort less malicious than
happiness, give me the courage
to deal these cards to the wind
and keep walking.” ~ Ralph Angel, from “At the Seams”

Most of us exist somewhere in the middle, and still fewer dwell at either extreme, but some of us move back and forth like a child’s teeter-totter.

I can only tell you this: If I do not speak about these things, I will break. No, I am not a prodigy like Mozart who heard fully realized pieces of such immense splendor that they needed little rearrangement. But I do bear within myself a constant stream of thoughts and words, and sometimes the weight of these things threatens to drown me.

Tree Still Life in Black & White by dok1 (FCC)

It’s as if somewhere an instrument is slightly out of tune, and I can sense this discord, and when this happens, the melody is simply impossible to realize, but time and life are fickle, always conspiring to steal bits and pieces from our lives unless we grasp what matters most firmly and refuse to relent.

As I sit here with the waning rays of the late afternoon sun bathing my face, I will leave you with this final metaphor, as this post has been rife with bad ones, so why not one more? Wood, specifically a newly felled tree. At first glance something of such mass would appear to bear so much weight that sinking beneath the water seems the only possible action. But when these logs are pushed into the water, they float. They are filled with air pockets. Borne by the current, they travel to their destination. Water, wood, and air come together in a perfect symbiosis.

Yes? See? Well, of course that’s ignoring that the log used to be a tree hanging out with a bunch of other trees before someone with a chainsaw decided its fate. And that bird’s nest used to sit in a tree before a predator knocked it to the ground.

More later. Peace.

Music by Matthew Perryman Jones, “Amelia,” just beautiful


                   

I Like the Wind

We are at or near that approximate line
where a stiff breeze becomes
or lapses from a considerable wind,
and I like it here, the chimney smokes
right-angled from west to east but still
for brief intact stretches
the plush animal tails of their fires.
I like how the stiffness rouses the birds
right up until what’s considerable sends them
to shelter. I like how the morning’s rain,
having wakened the soil’s raw materials, sends
a root smell into the air around us,
which the pine trees sway stately within.
I like how the sun strains not
to go down, how the horizon tugs gently at it,
and how the distant grain elevator’s shadow
ripples over the stubble of the field.
I like the bird feeder’s slant
and the dribble of its seeds. I like the cat’s
sleepiness as the breeze then the wind
then the breeze keeps combing her fur.
I like the body of the mouse at her feet.
I like the way the apple core I tossed away
has browned so quickly. It is much to be admired,
as is the way the doe extends her elegant neck
in its direction, and the workings of her
black nostrils, too.
I like the sound of the southbound truck
blowing by headed east. I like the fact
that the dog is not barking. I like the ark
of the house afloat on the sea of March,
and the swells of the crop hills bedizened
with cedillas of old snow. I like old snow.
I like my lungs and their conversions
to the gospel of spring. I like the wing
of the magpie outheld as he probes beneath it
for fleas or lice. That’s especially nice,
the last sun pinkening his underfeathers
as it also pinks the dark when I close my eyes,
which I like to do, in the face of it,
this stiff breeze that was,
when I closed them, a considerable wind.

~ Robert Wrigley

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“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

georgia-okeeffe-petunia-1925

Petunia by Georgia O’Keeffe (1925)

 

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev

“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché 

georgia-okeeffe-white-rose-w-lakspur-no-2
"White Rose With Larkspur No. 2" by Georgia O'Keeffe

I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.

I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.

Confusing?

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda

georgia-okeeffe-from-the-lake-i
"From the Lake" by Georgia O'Keeffe

In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.

But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:

Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.

Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf

georgia-okeeffe-black-hollyhock-blue-larkspur-1930
"Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1930)

These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.

“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke

georgia-okeeffe-calla-lily-turned-away-1923
"Calla Lily Turned Away" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1923)

To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point  stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.

Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.

I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.

“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia OKeeffe White Sweet Peas 1926
"White Sweet Peas" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1926)

I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.

So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.

But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.

Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.

“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman

Georgia OKeeffe Jack in the Pulpit No IV
"Jack in the Pulpit No. IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.

Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.

Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled Darkness Visible,  a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Georgia OKeeffe Black Place No 3
"Black Place No. 3" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.

On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:

“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”

More later. Peace.

“Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge” ~ Albert Einstein

“The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” – A. Einstein

“The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.” – A. Einstein

leonardo-da-vinci-golden-rectangle
Mona Lisa as Golden Ratio

I have always wished that I could appreciate the beauty of pure mathematics in the same way that brilliant mathematicians and physicists do. Truly. I was reminded of this last night when I watched a special on one of my lifelong heroes, Albert Einstein.

For people like Einstein, mathematics is art. Numbers on a page are akin to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” In fact, the “Mona Lisa,” was painted based on a mathematical premise known as the Golden Ratio:

The Golden Ratio, also known as the Golden Number or the Golden Section, is defined as the ratio of the lengths of the two sides of any Golden Rectangle. That is, if you take a Golden Rectangle and divide the length by the height, you will have the Golden Ratio. Traditionally, mathematicians have denoted the Golden Ratio by the Greek letter phi (φ). (http://library.thinkquest.org/27890/goldenRatio2.html)

Leonardo da Vinci is regarded as a Renaissance man because of his integration of art and science. He is not only famous for his paintings and sculpture, but also for his drawings, such as “The Vitruvian Man,” as well as his sketches of a flying machine, a hang glider, and numerous studies of human anatomy, all based on mathematical and physical principles of angles, lines, arcs, and relational gravity.

Of course, da Vinci was predated by the Greek Archimedes, whose studies in mathematics and physics are thought to be the origins of pi as well as the principles of the lever. Archimedes was working around 250 B.C. in Sicily. Then, of course, following da Vinci, was Galileo, who was perhaps the first to posit that the laws of nature were dictated by math. In The Assayer, Galileo stated that “Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe … It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei).

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – A. Einstein

vitruvian-man
Yitruvian Man

But getting back to Einstein, this man spent almost a decade on his General Theory of Relativity (not to be confused with his theory of relativity), which he presented in 1916. This was the subject of the show that I watched last night. What I found the most amazing about the entire show was how this man with the beginnings of his wild hair would fill pages and pages with these long equations and know, just know that they were incorrect. But then I tried to relate his equations to words, and in a way it made sense to me. His numbers were a writer’s words. His numbers had their own elegance and truth for him. They were truth.

He could look at a page of numbers and see something larger. I can stare at a page of numbers, equations, and see absolutely nothing, I mean, absolutely nothing. That has always made me feel stupid: the way in which numbers come alive for some people. I know that it is a brain function thing: some people work with one side of their brain; other people work with the other side of their brain. And then there are some people, like da Vinci, who manage to tap into both sides of their brain and encompass all of it. That is what I have always been so jealous of: I want to tap into both sides of my brain. I want to work with words, and I want to see the beauty of numbers so that I can look at space and see not just the beauty of the stars, but also the beauty of reaching the stars.

“Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.” – A. Einstein

I have read countless articles on how human beings only use a very small portion of their brain function, that scientists are always looking for ways to open up that untapped potential. It’s the stuff of sci-fi horror movies—The Manchurian Candidate and others, depositing information into that unused portion of the brain only to have it come alive at some later time, usually inconvenient to real life, but great for the plot line. But you know that there are individuals who have tapped into part of that potential. We have seen and heard about them all throughout time, and they have come from all walks of life: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Alexander the Great, Dante, Beethoven, Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright, Dorothea Lange, Le Corbusier, Bill Gates, Mozart, etc.

They are people who have achieved greatness in different fields for different reasons. I have only named a minute few. They have contributed in great ways and in horrible ways to our history because they have had the ability to see beyond the here and now. They have had the ability to tap into just that small part of their brains that most people use. They have melded the words with the numbers to put it into the crudest possible sense. In other words, they have touched greatness and changed the world and changed history.

Granted, Einstein was myopic when it came to his work. He had very little time for his family. He did, however pay attention to events around him. He was a pacifist, and he hated the events of WWI and the participation of colleagues of whom he had once greatly sought respect and admiration. He was very certain that his ideas were correct, so certain in fact, that he bartered for a divorce from his first wife on the condition that when he won the Nobel Prize, she could have the money if she would grant him a divorce. His biggest concern was getting what he wanted when he wanted it and being allowed to do as he wished. But no one who worked with him doubted his dedication or his genius.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – A. Einstein

worm-holeWhich takes us back to general relativity and one of my favorite concepts: an event horizon. Somehow, and don’t stick me on the particulars because I won’t even pretend to understand it all, when an object becomes sufficiently compact, general relativity predicts the formation of a black hole, a region of nothingness in space. In general relativity no material body can catch up with or overtake a light pulse. The study of spacetime is called global geometry.

Now, as I understand it, using global geometry, some boundaries can be identified, and these boundaries are called horizons, and a black hole is one of these horizons because it is cut off from the rest of space time (bear with me here, I think that I’m almost there). There are other types of horizons in the universe because the universe expands. Horizons from the past are called particle horizons and cannot be observed. Horizons from the future cannot be influenced and are called Event Horizons! I finally understand the term. I really do. How cool is that?

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” – A. Einstein

So while I look at a painting such as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and I may not see the Golden Mean, and I cannot appreciate the culture of pi and the fact that people spend time trying to carry it out beyond a trillion digits or why this is important, I don’t discount the art involved in this pursuit. As to myself, I am gloriously appreciative of the fact that somehow I have come just a little bit closer to understanding the mathematical definition of what an Event Horizon is, although I know that in actuality, I probably haven’t.

I do know that space and time are on another dimension, one that I cannot comprehend, just as I cannot truly comprehend the space between quarks. The closest that I have ever come was how it was explained in the movie “The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension,” which made complete sense to me” . . . perhaps because it was visual and utterly nonsensical.

Ah well.  Just remember, “no matter where you go, there you are.” More later. Peace.