“There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world […] We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”
~ Will McAvoy on the question “What makes America the greatest country in the world?” from The Newsroom S01E01
This is my attempt to recreate the post that was eaten by my computer last night . . .
“The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.” ~ Gustave Flaubert
Things I accomplished yesterday:
Finished addressing Christmas cards, ready to go to the post office today
Finally packaged my friend Mari’s birthday present along with her Christmas card in a mailer, also ready to go to post office
Did not eat an entire one-pound bag of peanut M&M’s whilst doing the above
Cleaned off most of my desk in an attempt to find the Christmas stamps for the cards; did not find stamps on desk as I had put them in a very safe place (always risky)
Also managed to find paperwork that I had put in a very safe place, just not the same very safe place as Christmas stamps
Did not put fist through computer monitor when I lost blog post that was almost finished
Realized that I am not supposed to try to accomplish two major tasks in one day as one of them most certainly will become an epic fail
Felt rather pleased with myself right up to the moment when I went to save my post, was redirected to the WordPress sign in page (for some unknown reason), and then returned to blog post only to find that nothing, absolutely nothing that I had written was there save for the quotes.
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ~ Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
I’ve been having very vivid dreams lately. One that was particularly disturbing dealt with my mother dying. My Aunt Ronnie, who died earlier this year, was walking me through my mother’s house, pointing out things. I remember feeling very comforted that she was there with me. Woke up crying after that one.
But two dreams in particular have stuck with me, and both of these dreams dealt with words and my relationship to words.
The first dream:
This dream was very long and detailed. I was back in college as an undergraduate. I sat down in the common area of the Arts & Letters building, and the person next to me turned and spoke to me. I hadn’t realized that I had sat down next to one of my creative writing professors (it was him, but he looked different in the dream). He asked me if I was going to show up for his class that night. I replied that I had only missed two classes because of my illness, not dropped out, and reminded him that I had submitted the work that was due.
He said that the work was substandard, which really surprised me. Then he told me that the final exam was that very night. I panicked and began to hyperventilate. I told him that I couldn’t possibly take the exam because I wasn’t prepared. I begged him to let me take the final later, but he refused. I went to the department chair’s office and explained the situation. I reminded him that I had doctors’ letters explaining my health issues, and I asked him to give me some leeway since I was a member of the department.
The chair spoke to my professor who asserted that I wasn’t sick; I was on acid. I argued that I wasn’t on acid, that in fact I had never in my life taken acid. My professor again said that I was a drug addict and that he wasn’t going to do anything for me.
I sat down in the common area and put my head in my hands. Two female professors from the department walked by and said loudly enough for me to hear that they thought that my writing professor was only doing this because he hated women (not true in real life). I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who were enrolled in the class with me; several of them were holding papers—newspapers, pages torn from magazines, cards. One person said that I had to do something extraordinary to prove to my professor that he was wrong about me.
I asked him what I should do. He said that I needed to take the pages that they had all collected for me and create something. I began to look through the pages, and words started to stand out. I began ripping words from the pages and arranging them on the floor. I was creating a poem from the words. Someone gave me scissors, so I began to cut out more words.
My writing professor walked up and observed what I was doing, but he said that he wasn’t impressed, but by that point, I no longer cared about him or his class. I was creating for myself. I couldn’t collect the words quickly enough. The poem soon grew to be about five feet long and just as wide. It was massive, and I wasn’t finished. I needed more words.
I looked up and realized that below where I was working on the floor was a gap and that trains were moving through the gap, but instead of coal in the cars there were small colored rocks, larger than sand, but much smaller than coal—vivid blues, bright yellows, greens. I realized that I needed to get to the other side of the gap to collect more words, so I jumped down onto the first car, which contained blue rocks, My feet began to sink into the rocks, and the blue began to swirl about my legs. I jumped from one car to the next until I was on the other side. When I reached the other side, I suddenly realized what Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” really meant: It was his poem about life, only with paint. I smiled to myself and went in search of more words.
The dream ended there.
“The smell of ink is intoxicating to me—others may have wine, but I have poetry.” ~ Abbe Yeux-verdi
I was working in the newsroom again, but this time, I was a clerk responsible for typing and filing. I was speaking with a reporter with whom I had a good relationship, telling him how glad I was to be back in the newsroom again, even if it meant that I had to do grunt work.
I remember the hum of the actual newsroom in which I worked while I was an undergraduate. An undercurrent of creative energy was always suffused in the air. I felt that in my dream. I looked about me at all of the reporters and editors, and commented that I wished that I could be out there in that pool of people and not stuck in a clerical position.
The person with whom I was speaking asked me why I didn’t apply for a position. I told him that I didn’t think that I was good enough, but I remember thinking to myself in the dream that that was not a true statement, that it wasn’t a matter of being good enough but rather, a matter of being afraid. He told me that I should apply.
Many people who I had actually worked with walked through this dream. Some stopped to chat, others just walked by and nodded. I inquired about the City Editor who had been in charge when I worked there, and my friend told me that he had died. Soon after, I awakened, feeling very calm and reflective.
There is a saying that people who work for newspapers have ink in their blood. I know this to be true. The slow death of printed newspapers saddens me in a way that cuts to my very heart as I wrote my first pieces for publication for the local paper.
“Unclose your mind. You are not a prisoner. You are a bird in flight, searching the skies for dreams.” ~ Haruki Murakami
I have rerun in my mind both of these dreams several times, and what strikes me is that my psyche is sending me a message: I need to return to my writing full time, or rather, on a daily basis, which is full time for me. Obviously, I have words within me that need to be released, to be massaged into something concrete, and I have not been doing that of late. I must recapture the passion with which I first began writing this blog, and I must return to the discipline with which I so carefully honed my writing method: working at it for at least two hours each day.
The brain is but another part of the body that requires regular exercise lest it atrophy. By not working on my craft, I have regressed to my former state of writing only when the creativity hit me, rather than forcing myself to cull to the surface the creativity which resides within me.
In fact, I have been very lackadaisical when it comes to writing daily, and I know this to be true however painful it is to admit. But something inside of me is quietly rebelling at the passive approach to writing that I have been taking. Something—my inner muse, inner self— is sending me signals that there are words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs all waiting to be created, and that if I ignore these signals, then I am doing myself a disservice.
My birthday is next month. I will be yet another year older and no closer to achieving my dream of having a book published. I have no one to blame for this but myself as no one else controls my mind, my thoughts, my muse.
My love affair with words goes back to my childhood, to the time that I composed my first poem when I was five. Believe it or not, that poem had rhyme and meter: a quatrain with six beats per line. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to do something in my life that involved words, just as some people know innately that they want to work with numbers.
As any of my regular readers know, I have a passion for quotes; I have always had this passion. I have collected quotes for as long as I can remember, mostly because they inspire me. I used to use one quote repeatedly in cards that I sent to new graduates: “Only the dreamer can change the dream,” which is actually the title of a book of poems by John Logan. I don’t know when I picked up this quote, but it has always been very special to me.
My dreams about words were a reminder that only I can make possible what I want to achieve, that I am responsible for my path, that I must do all that I can do to make my dream become a reality.
I know that you have probably seen this video, but I love it, that and the fact that any videos of TSO in concert are bootleg, and the quality isn’t great. I did find a concert on Good Morning America in 2005, but it’s not the same in a small venue, and the light show really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated; otherwise, it’s just blobs of light in some parts. I give you the Trans-Siberian Orchestra: “Wizards in Winter”
“Once you have tasted the sky, you will forever look up.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
I’ve written several posts on the subject of being thankful, including the Grace in Small Things series. Today, I thought that I would focus on things, events, and people that I have encountered in my life that have helped to shape me into the person I am.
Having the opportunity to see original masterpieces by Renoir, Monet, Glackens, Bernini, Van Gogh, Klimt, Morisot, Wyeth, Hopper, Sargent, Kadinsky, Pollock, Caravaggio, Tiffany, Manet, Leighton, Rembrant, Tissot, Matisse, Veronese, Rothko, as well as ancient Ethiopian art, tribal masks dating back to the 12th century, real Samurai armor and weapons, and photography by Brady, Stieglitz, Bourke-White, Mann, Strand.
Walking through a tropical rain forest in Africa and seeing shades of green that I never knew existed. Crossing a hanging rope bridge that was situated high in the air above a stream.
Sitting in the dark and listening to live performances by Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Seeing Nureyev and Margot Fontaine perform.
Hiding in the trunk of a car to get into a drive-in movie for free and then not watching the movie because it was too scary.
Going snorkeling in the Caribbean
Walking among the ruins of Tulum amid the huge iguanas and then eating fresh guacamole with cold Sol atop a small mountain.
Seeing the volcano in Baguio, Philippines
Riding up a mountain to get to Baguio in a bus very much like the ones you see in the movies, which was filled with villagers, chickens, a pig, old women, and my very American mother.
Reading some of the best literature ever written: all of Shakespeare, Michael Ondaatje, Marlow, and far too many others to mention.
Meeting some of my favorite poets and writers in person at literary festivals, including Chris Buckley, Mary Oliver, Tim O’Brien, Barry Lopez, Caroline Forché, Bruce Weigl, and many others
Working in a newsroom right at the crest of computers. Watching the paper be printed, smelling the ink.
Attending three wonderful universities: The George Washington, Virginia Tech, and Old Dominion.
Doing on-camera interviews for the museum, which sometimes meant being at the studio at 5 a.m, but still fun.
Performing for the Queen Mother in London in a Dances of Asia program.
Starring as Rizzo in Grease.
Participating in a drum-making ceremony with a drum master.
Working in a donut shop for a few months during high school and getting to bring home the leftovers.
Dancing on the runway at a go go bar for a story on the Norfolk nightlife.
Hanging out over the water in a trapeze while sailing on a catamaran in the Chesapeake Bay
Going cave tubing and not feeling the least bit claustrophobic
Hiking on the trails at Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway
Getting my four-cylinder Pontiac Sunbird up to 80 mph while driving home from Blacksburg one Sunday night
Attending grade school in London
Going to a military tattoo in Scotland and sitting in the outdoor stadium wrapped up in blankets because it was so cold.
Seeing huge statues in the mountains of Spain as we drove through the country.
Seeing live concerts by The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Sarah McLachlan, The Beach Boys, The Doobie Brothers, Sugarland, Norah Jones, and a bunch of other people I can’t remember.
Playing Chopin and Mozart on a grand piano at a recital in front of 100 people.
These are just a few of the highlights. I deliberately did not include anything personal about my children, husband, family, or friends as that is an entirely different list. But putting these things down in words makes me realize how very many opportunities I have had in my life to travel, to embrace other cultures, to see stunning natural and man-made beauty.
I have done things that I never thought that I would do, and I have seen in person things that I had only dreamt of.
I have not led a life of privilege, but I have been privileged to have had these experiences. There is nothing on this list that is earth-shattering, nor is there anything that changed humanity. But individually and collectively, these moments in time have changed me in ways seen and unseen. They have moved me to tears and made me cry with delight. Trite as it may sound, I have had a wonderful life.
More later. Peace.
Itzhak Perlman performing Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” a song that I performed in recital at Virginia Wesleyan College.