The Thought of Something Else

“Field of Yellow Flowers” (1889, oil on canvas)
Vincent Van Gogh

                    

The Thought of Something Else

1. 

A spring wind blowing
the smell of the ground
through the intersection of traffic,
the mind turns, seeks a new
nativity—another place,
simpler less weighted
by what has already been.

Another place!
it’s enough to grieve me—
that old dream of going,
of becoming a better man
just by getting up and going
to a better place.

2.

The mystery.  The old
unaccountable unfolding.
The iron trees in the park
suddenly remember forests
It becomes possible to think of going.

3.

—a place where thought
can take its shape
as quietly in the mind
as water in a pitcher,
or a man can be
safely without thought
—see the day begin
and lean back,
a simple wakefulness filling
perfectly
the spaces among the leaves.

~ Wendell Berry

                   

Music by Morgan Taylor Reid, “Where Do I Even Start”

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“Winter garden, the moon thinned to a thread, insects singing.” ~ Matsuo Basho (trans. by Robert Haas)

  

Toei-Zan Temple from “Twelve Scenes of the Eastern Capital” by Utagawa Hiroshige (no date) 

“Winter solitude
In a world of one color
The sound of wind.” ~ Matsuo Basho

Drum Bridge at Meguro by Hiroshige

Thanks to those of you who have visited my Collecting Dust page and perused my verse. I had always thought that my first book would be a book of poetry, but as the years have passed, I have realized that while I can occasionally write an inspired verse, my creative non-fiction seems much stronger than my poetry, at least in my opinion. But then what do I know? I have written for years and years for myself and have never bothered to try to get anything published, with the exception of one essay. All of my other publications were on the professional side, which is great except that it wasn’t for me.  

The poems that I have included on the Collecting Dust page are mostly ones that I have featured in earlier posts. I actually have lots more verse that is sitting in computer folders doing a whole lot of nothing.  

With that in mind, I’ve decided that 2010 will be the year that I will try to find an agent. I say this with great casualness, as if finding an agent were akin to checking out the local grocery store and finding a good canteloupe. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth  (yes further, as farther is reserved for physical distance). I realize that literary agents are a commodity, and that finding one to give you a bit of time is well nigh impossible, but I’ve made this my one writing goal for the year.  

If at the end of this quest I am still empty-handed, then I shall have to regroup and rethink . . . well at least it sounds good for now. and if I am to be truthful, which I try to be on this blog, I really don’t know if I can muster the courage needed to try to find an agent.   

Is all of this just more of my personal setting myself up for failure state of mind? Who knows. Certainly, not I.  

Moving along . . .  

“The first soft snow!
Enough to bend the leaves
Of the jonquil low.” ~ Matsuo Basho

Had a very strange dream last night about one of my cousins from Great Bridge. I was writing a paper for him on this computer that was shaped like a toy cash register. I was having a hard time figuring out how to work this computer as there was no apparent save button  anywhere, and the keyboard fell off at inconvenient times. Very strange.  

I remember something about race cars going on in the background, and the movie Hidalgo, with my LOTR idol, Viggo Mortensen, making an appearance. Bizarre in the extreme. Have absolutely no idea what any of that was about, especially Hidalgo.  

"The Bridge of the Brocade Sash at Iwakuni, Hiroshige (1859)

So it’s February already, and not a peep from the guy from Vane Brothers Shipping. I am trying mightily hard not to devolve into full-blown panic mode as it would only rub off on Corey, who doesn’t need yet another thing over which to worry. But I mean, geez, February, the second month of 2010 (as if you were unaware of that fact), and still no call to duty, as it were.  

Corey spent over an hour on the phone with his dad the other night, talking about this and that, mostly his dad’s lawn care business in Ohio. Corey started that business when he was just out of high school, and it’s still going strong. I do envy him his long conversations with his parents. That just wasn’t something that ever happened in my house. Even though my mother lives less than two miles from our house, the last time we had any kind of conversation over anything of substance was years and years ago when my marriage to my ex broke down irreparably.  

I’m glad for Corey that he can get on the phone and talk forever to either one of his parents about just about anything. That’s enviable, especially coming from a home in which deep subjects were never pondered, politics was not a topic of discussion, and emotions were always kept in check unless someone was yelling. Don’t misunderstand: I did not come from an abusive home. Hardly. But I came from a home in which my parents were always pitched on some kind of battle ground, and I was forced into a forward position, like it or not.  

I vividly remember one time when I was a teenager, and I was horribly depressed, weeping depressed, and my mother and I were out running errands. I picked up the book Holocaust to buy, and my mother made me put it back. Her reasoning was that I should read happy things to feel better. That was her treatment for my depression. Over the years I have come to realize that my mother was wholly incapable of dealing with things such as clinical depression as she was so much a child of her generation in which any kind of mental illness was a taboo, something people hid from the neighbors. So think happy thoughts was pretty much it as far as treatment.  

Of course I did not know it then, but my father was suffering from his own personal demons while I was growing up, depression being one of them. I just used to think of him as being quiet, but it was a comfortable silence most of the time, until it wasn’t. It’s hardly surprising that my country-born mother and my Filipino father never seemed able to be there for one another. That they lasted for so many years probably has more to do with generational ideology than anything else.  

Not really sure what made me go there. Just sort of popped into my head.  

“The winter leeks
Have been washed white—
How cold it is!” ~ Matsuo Basho
 

Night Snow: Kambara, Hiroshige

It’s raining today, and I heard some forecaster calling for a rain/snow mix later in the week. Now that snow has come to the area, it will continue to pop into the forecast until March, undoubtedly.  

I do seem to have acquired another cold as my head is full of fluff and pressure, and my throat has gunk. Delightful. What can I say? I just have a flair with description.  

I decided that today would be a good day to feature some images by Utagawa Hiroshige (also known as Ando Hiroshige), a famous Japanese artist who produced over 1,000 prints in his lifetime (1797-1858). Hiroshige produced several well-known series (12 total), including “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” and “Famous Views of the Fifty-Three Stations,” which featured images on the theme of the Tōkaidō, the road running from Edo to Kyoto. Personally, I love the snow scenes, mostly because of the contradiction that I always feel when seeing snow on Japanese landscapes, which in my mind, should be covered with cherry blossoms.  

Hiroshige, a near contemporary of Hokusai (another of my favorites), was a renowned ukiyo-e landscape artist of the late Edo period who produced woodblock prints in the oban format, which was the most common print size of approximately 15×10 inches; tate-e refers to the print being vertically-aligned (portrait), and yoko-e means horizontal alignment (landscape). Ukiyo-e translates as “pictures of the floating world,” and the term refers to the woodblock prints produced in this school. Hiroshige’s landscapes, which featured, snow, mountains, rain, and the moon, were popular with European Impressionists such as Monet, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.  

The term japonisme arises from the 1870s, after the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867, which featured a Japanese stand that included art. The public became enamored with all things Japanese, and the Impressionists were particularly taken with the Japanese artists’ use of broad spaces of color. In particular, Horishige employed the use of perspective, primarily a Western technique, something heretofore not employed in the ukoyo-e prints, which were largely two-dimensional.  

Van Gogh was so taken with Hiroshige’s work that he painted copies of two Hiroshige prints: “Plum Tree in Bloom” and “The Bridge in the Rain.” Van Gogh described his interest in Japanese painting in saying that “I envy the Japanese artists for the incredible neat clarity which all their works have. It is never boring and you never get the impression that they work in a hurry. It is as simple as breathing; they draw a figure with a couple of strokes with such an unfailing easiness as if it were as easy as buttoning one’s waist-coat.”  

"Plum Tree in Bloom" (left by Hiroshige; right by Van Gogh)

Hiroshige was a member of the Utagawa School, a famous group of 19th Century Japanese woodblock print artists. The school was one of the more successful schools, and many of the ukiyo-e prints that have survived are from the Utagawa School. Today, many of these prints can be found on greeting cards, fans, posters, even book illustrations.  

Just thought I’d share more of the minutiae that rolls through my brain and makes an appearance on occasion.  

Haiku by Basho.  

More later. Peace.  

“Silk Road” by Kitaro. Simply lovely.  

   

Let us give thanks . . .

 

Shadows and Reflections

 “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.

 

“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small and the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all.” ~ Grace Slick, “Go Ask Alice”

Spitzer Rosette Nebula

Spitzer Rosette Nebula* (Images from space look very similar to brain scans . . . Cue Twilight Zone music)

“We can describe the thoughts of Hamlet, but we cannot describe a Migraine.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“There is much pain that is quite noiseless; and vibrations that make human agonies are often a mere whisper in the roar of hurrying existence.” ~ George Eliot

Hubble Pistol Nebula
Hubble Pistol Nebula

This is day five of this migraine. I am in the midst of a lull, which I hope is a signal that this migraine is finally abating. Or it could be the vicodin . . .kidding, only kidding. Geez.

After consulting with my migraine doctors, I’ve decided to stop trying the preventive medications for now. I’ve had so many horrible side effects with the last three that I’ve tried that I just don’t think that the preventive medication is working out for me. And the reality is that I’m getting just as many migraines on the preventive medicine as I am without. The main difference has been duration, as in, does the headache last a few days or a few weeks.

Those of you who have never had a migraine probably cannot imagine having a headache for weeks, but believe me, it is a reality. And it’s not just a headache—it’s a migraine, and there is a significant difference between the two.

“At first every small apprehension is magnified. Every anxiety a pounding terror. Then the pain comes and I concentrate only on that.” ~ Joan Didion

With a migraine, which is a neurological syndrome, several things can happen, but they do not always happen. Sometimes, it’s just one or two; other times you get the whole bag. There are actually four possible phases to the migraine: the prodrome, the aura, the pain phase, and the postdrome.

In the prodrome, or the phase leading up to the migraine, the sufferer can experience several things: euphoria (never had that one), irritability (yep), fatigue, yawning, food cravings, stiff muscles (yep, yep, yep). The prodrome can occur anywhere from a day up to hours before onset. The aura can appear 5 to 20 minutes before pain onset, and can last for up to 60 minutes. The pain phase, well, that’s self-explanatory. And the postdrome can be manifested as euphoria (what is it with euphoria?), malaise, weakness, loss of appetite, stomach problems, and cognitive function impairment. Some sufferers liken it to a hangover. I prefer to call it the limp dishrag syndrome.

Hubble Eskimo Nebula
Hubble Eskimo Nebula (resembles auras I have had)

Most of the time, I get an aura before the onset of the pain. This aura can be blurred vision, spots in my eyes, or waves, accompanied by tingling in the limbs. The aura is usually a signal that the pain is about to errupt in the brain. This pain can be a band around the head, sort of like someone tightening a metal band around the circumference of your head until you feel that you skull is going to crack open.

The pain can be focused in one or both eyes. I tend to get the eye pain. The only way to describe this is as if someone is taking an ice pick and sticking it in the corner of your eye. Or, if the pain is behind the eyes, it feels as if someone is trying to push your eyeballs out of your head from the inside.

Too graphic? Now you know why I have a thing about my eyes, as in, I cannot stand the thought of anyone approaching my eyes with a laser, or anything sharp. Strike the laser eye surgery.

The pain is often accompanied by other wonderful symptoms: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, clumsiness, a sensitivity to sound (hyperacusis), sensitivity to light (photophobia), inability to bend over. There have even been occasions when I have had a migraine, and I have had a temporary blinding light behind my eyes, which in essense, makes me blind for a few seconds.

My postdrome phase is almost always the same: I feel very weak, achy, and have a dull headache for at least several hours after. Often I am nauseous.

“When there is pain, there are no words. Everything is the same.” ~ Toni Morrison

According to an article from ABC News, many doctors believe that migraines are the result of “a genetic disorder that makes one person’s brain more sensitive to certain stressors that other people would barely notice—like missing a meal or a rainy day.

More than 26 million [up to 32 by some estimates] Americans suffer from the neurologic disorder,” according to the American Medical Association (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/PainManagement/story?id=4170218&page=1).

Hubble Massive Galaxy Cluster
Hubble Massive Galaxy Cluster

I think at this point, I should count as at least two people in that statistic.

In essence, people who suffer from migraines do not deal well with change (I’m not talking about my emotional dislike for change). Migraines can be triggered by changes as innocuous as not getting enough sleep. According to Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute, “Any change of the norm, any stress to your system, and your body will produce a headache.”

Triggers for migraines (outside and inside factors) include many different things: bright or flashing lights, certain smells, chocolate, caffeine, bananas, cigarette smoke, fresh paint, hormonal changes, climate changes (e.g., rapid drop in barometric pressure), lack of sleep, too much sleep (http://www.relieve-migraine-headache.com/migraine-trigger).

 In other words—life.

“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.” ~ Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Spitzer Towering Infernos from Hubble
Spitzer Towering Infernos

Triggers vary from person to person. I am sensitive to certain colognes and bright lights. Caffeine, which can be a trigger, can also alleviate a migraine, so I have not given up my Pepsi or coffee. I do know that certain foods can trigger my migraines, but I don’t think that a banana has ever set off my pain. 

One of my big triggers is MSG, or monosodium glutamate, which is a flavor enhancer that used to be a major ingredient in spices and packaged foods. Individuals who are sensitive to MSG, as I am, routinely scan the list of ingredients for this additive. Corey is particularly diligent in checking labels of any new foods that we may be trying for the first time.

Unfortunately, some of my favorite snack foods contain MSG: cheese puffs, Cheetos, Ranch-flavored Doritos. Even fast foods contain MSG: McDonald’s used to use MSG to enhance the flavor of their french fries. Chinese food used to contain MSG routinely; however, most Chinese restaurants have become aware of the large number of people who are allergic to MSG.

Adverse reactions are not limited to migraines or headaches. People who are allergic to MSG can have asthma attacks, nausea, vomiting, arrhythmia, rash, facial pressure, tingling and warming  in the face, arms and upper body, to name but a few of the possible reactions.

MSG is actually an excitotoxin, which means that it effects the brain by exciting it. Excitotoxins include MSG, aspartate (which is found in Nutrasweet), and hydrolized protein (http://www.ezhealthydiet.com/excitotoxins).

Another compound found in food that can cause migraines is tyramine, which is produced from the natural breakdown of the amino acid, tyrasine. Tyramine, which can cause blood vessel dilation is usually found in aged or preserved foods. For example, beef jerky. How do you go hiking without beef jerky? Other foods containing tyramine include olives, alcoholic beverages, aged cheeses, and soy sauce.

Okay. I’ll give up a lot of things, but I simply cannot give up soy sauce. I’m Filipina. My blood is probably 5 percent soy sauce. I was raised on soy sauce. I like soy sauce on cauliflower (weird, I know, but try it). Obviously, I’ve built up an immunity to soy sauce because I don’t have migraines every day of my life, and chances are pretty good that I’ll have soy sauce 6 out of 7 days a week.

Soy sauce? Is nothing sacred?

“Everything hurts.” ~ Michelangelo

Hubble M17 Omega Nebula
Hubble M17 Omega Nebula

I was reading an online article from Science News that contends that people who suffer from migraines have brain scarring, specifically on the cerebellum, which controls motor function and cognition. The odds of scarring for migraine sufferers who have accompanying auras are nearly 14 times higher than people who just have regular headaches.

Headache expert Dr. Richard Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City contends that “It’s pretty clear that migraine sufferer have more brain lesions [than people without the attacks] . . . That strengthens the view that migraine is a neurologic disease, a disease of the brain.”  (http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/41052/-migraines_leave_trail_of_scars_across_the_brain).

Great. My cerebellum has infarctions or dead spots, and my brain is scarred—I don’t think that this is the kind of scarring that you can fix with dutiful applications of aloe vera.

“Pain is real when you get other people to believe in it. If no one believes in it but you, your pain is madness or hysteria.” ~ Naomi Wolf

Hubble Eagle Nebula M16
Hubble Eagle Nebula M16

If you are a migraine sufferer (migraineur), you probably know that having migraines is not always looked upon kindly. In the workplace, there is often a stigma attached to migraine sufferers who call in sick, the reaction being, “I’ve worked with a headache before. Why can’t she?”

The Migraine Awareness Site had one of the best passages regarding this situation that I have ever read:

“. . .oftentimes people think that those with Migraines just can’t handle life or are drug addicts or alcoholics. Such perception can be formed when, for example, people see a Migraineur wearing sun glasses indoors due to sensitivity to light, lying in a dark and silent room due to sensitivity to light and sound, making frequent trips to the rest room due to nausea and vomiting, leaving work early, slurring their speech, or engaging in otherwise erratic behavior. According to Dr. Sheftell, “Historically, patients with the most intractable Migraines experience a downward spiral in terms of income and contributions to society at large.” (http://www.migraines.org/disability/impawork.htm).

I know that I had to attend a marketing meeting once when I was suffering from a horrible migraine, and I wore my prescription sunglasses during the meeting. Everyone knew that I had a migraine, but something was still said about it. I had one boss who was very annoyed when I informed him that if I had to share an office with someone, they would need to be able to use natural light and lamps.

We were relocating into a new building, and I had had a private office in the old building. I was not trying to be difficult, as I knew that there were two other migraine sufferers in his employ; I was merely asking for accommodations for my illness. In the end, I did share the office with another individual who didn’t like overhead light either, but my boss’s reaction exemplifies how uninformed people who do not suffer from migraines can be.

 “Life’s sharpest rapture is surcease of pain.” ~ Emma Lazarus

ESO Horsehead Nebula
ESO Horsehead Nebula

Even though a significant percentage of the population suffer from migraines, it is still one of the most stigmatized disorders in society. Small comfort is the fact that migraines have been around for centuries, actually longer. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, wrote in 460 BC about shining light that was typically seen in one eye and followed by severe pain that started in temples and worked its way to encompass the rest of the head and down into the neck.

Ancient cures included applying an electric fish (related to a ray) to the forehead (Greek). Albucasis, an ancient Arabian doctor (936-1013 A.D.) advised applying a hot iron to the afflicted head, and if that failed, he recommended cutting a hole above the temple and inserting a garlic clove (what?) into the hole for 15 hours. Russian folk medicine recommends placing large cabbage leaves on your head and neck.

I can smell like garlic or like cabbage. Great.

Well, at least I know that I’m in good company:  Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Virginia Woolf, Charles Darwin, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Cervantes, Tschaikovsky,  Lewis Carroll, Mary Todd Lincoln, Elvis Presley, and President John F. Kennedy just to name a few migraineurs in history.

And the good news is that they don’t cut holes in your head any more.

More later sooner. Promise. Peace.

*All images are from NASA’s Spitzer or Hubble space telescopes, which are part of NASA’s Great Observatory Program.
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