Monday, April 20, 2015

Word of the Week - 59

Word of the Week:  IMPERFECT

My maternal grandmother had an expression, "It isn't Boston but it IS Massachusetts."  I have used it hundreds of times to describe why what may seem second best is not so far from being just right.

Consider this: if perfection existed, we'd never have learned how to make-do.  Aren't you just a little bit pleased with all the problems you've solved, all the crises you've mended, by finding the second, third or fifteenth good-as-perfect way to make things come out?

Life is filled with circumstances guaranteed to make the sane turn crazy and cause the crazy to combust spontaneously.  The more relaxed, the less invested, we can be about the means and the end, the happier we are likely to remain.

The fact that we prefer a thing to be a certain way does not mean ours is the only answer.  Absolutes do not appear often in matters of, say,  arranging spices on the kitchen shelves.  Collectively, we confuse "preferred" with "right," i.e. perfect.  Nay, I say.

In much younger and massively less enlightened days, I thought to myself of my then-husband, "If you loved me, you'd take out the trash NOW."  Good luck with that, we see how IT turned out.

It is not just about making peace with what is, though that is part of the equation.  This existence is not the GOOD WILL HUNTING math problem with one, only one, solution.  (I use a movie reference for my own math experience stopped long before reaching such a plateau.)  There are so many ways of being right, or at least of being adequate, workable, acceptable and okay.

Imperfect is an opportunity to find another answer.  As we celebrate so many things we love in April, poetry, letter writing, libraries, why not add imperfection to the list.  It isn't going to go away.  It truly is the thing that wouldn't leave.  Let's try to pretend that we love it until we really can.
P.S. Mr. Schulz.  They will try, they will not succeed.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Word of the Week - 58

Art by Lynda Barry.
Word of the Week:  MULL

"How is a thought like an iceberg?"  Ponder, contemplate, consider, weigh, think.  Good thing I'm not a zealot for quantifying.  I don't want to know how much of any day I spend asking myself rhetorical questions, posing conundrums, seeking answers where perhaps none exist.  It is not time wasted, however.  If we don't wonder about things, we are marooned.  Mulling gives us bearings or at least tells us where we are not.

"My apologies to great questions for small answers."  From her poem "Under One Small Star" by Wislawa Szymborska.
Painting by Quint Buchholz.
The moon often appears, or plays a leading role, in the art of Quint Buchholz.  The moon is an attractive object for mullers.  Mystery is attractive to mullers, or more accurately, is essential.  If we knew the secrets we would have no need to ask the questions.

To mull is not to deconstruct (shudder).  If I arrive at any truths, ever, it is by widening the screen, not narrowing my focus.  It seems to be a process of allowing rather than intention, clearing space on a shelf then leaving the room to see what comes to settle in the empty spot.  Mulling, contemplation generally, is similar to my approach to writing fiction.  I stand at the curb waiting for a car to pull up, then watch to see who gets out.

Rilke told us to love and to live the questions.  Do not forget that being comfortable with not knowing isn't the same as not asking.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Robert recalls bits of the dance, not quite sure of his reality

Thank you, Sizzler, for cheesy toast triangles.

Robert couldn't remember the author who had said of growing older that he felt like a young man who had something wrong with him.  The name would come to him before lunch.  "Or so help me," he muttered.

Another morning of golden cheesy-toast benevolence beaming down.  Limbs that sang, "Younger Than Springtime," with an off-stage whisper of, "Older than dust."  Pent-up anticipation could make joints twinge, nerves jump, muscles ache.  So could dancing until the sun was due, eating seven kinds of dessert after midnight and what felt like four hours of dreams for which one could not swear to being either asleep or awake.   The thought that he had conquered lucid dreaming gave him a sense of accomplishment.  Perhaps conquered was too strong a word,   At best he had stepped from one reality into another and back again.  Not quite enough to add to his CV but not nothing.  He began to noodle with suppositions about a job that held lucid dreaming high on its requirements list.

But I digress, he told himself.  The dance.  Yes, the dance.  And Gloria.  Would she fall back into his arms when he reached the kitchen,  missing his closeness as much as he missed hers?  Would they waltz through the tearoom, delighting themselves, possibly amusing others, or would they experience that initial distance that says, "You imagined the whole thing," until each remembered they had not, in fact, imagined any of the good parts and they were all good parts.

He didn't need to decide it right that moment but Robert was considering never again washing the shirt he'd worn, never wanting to lose the scent of her, of sugar and strawberries and a summer night.  It had its own fragrance, that he knew, and feared he could never catch it again if he washed it away.  Then he reminded himself that fairy magic, while seeming fragile and fleeting, was really the kudzu vine that wove lives together.  Meanwhile, the shirt in question could make friends with other denizens of the laundry basket.  Or perhaps he would just fold it and slide it under his pillow.  I am twelve years old, he thought. Lucky me.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Word of the Week - 57

Words of the Week:  WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF

Meaning

The temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.

Origin

samuel taylor coleridgeThis term was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 with the publication of his Biographia literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions:
"In this idea originated the plan of the 'Lyrical Ballads'; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."
The state is arguably an essential element when experiencing any drama or work of fiction. We may know very well that we are watching an actor or looking at marks on paper, but we wilfully accept them as real in order to fully experience what the artist is attempting to convey.
Poetic faith.  A good story is a good story.  Over the weekend we watched INTERSTELLAR (directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan) which I've since learned opened to very mixed reviews.  I loved it, was so deeply in its thrall that my frequently twitching legs were still for nearly three hours.  My mind never wandered, my eyes never left the screen.  When the last credit had rolled by, my son said he wished he'd seen it in IMAX format, though our home tv did not disappoint in any way.

I have no intention of deconstructing the movie to, if it were possible, discover why my poetic faith was so intense.  That fact that the science involved was so far beyond my ability to comprehend I could not possibly scoff at any theories put forth could be responsible in part. Mostly, it was the humanity of the characters that held my attention and belief.  They expressed a version of humanity sometimes missing in science fiction, which is no deterrent to my enjoyment of the genre.  It made identifying with them in their extreme circumstances so much easier.

Staying away from chat rooms in which rancor seems to be the over-riding tone is near the top of my list for how to remain relatively sane.  My son, younger and more resilient, will visit them, read so much utter drivel that he begins to rant and thus has information about what bizarre opinions are expressed on any and every topic.  I have very old-fashioned views about what ought to be allowed into the collective dialogue and what should not.  I feel strongly that we get to enjoy, even to love, what pleases us, without explanation or challenge.  That my feelings are not universally shared is fine, it's expected.  All I ask is to be left in peace with my choices.  Whether from cranks or experts, I prefer not to hear about all that is wrong with a story that has touched me.  We choose to suspend disbelief in our own ways.  Without spoiling the plot of INTERSTELLAR, I will just say that to the best of my knowledge no human has experienced a black hole.  We can only theorize, as in guess, how they behave.

Some reviewers called the movie cold.  It felt anything but cold to me.  For science fiction, it seemed quite warm-blooded.  The real issue, though, is that a writer gets to tell his or her story.  We either buy into it or we don't.  I have a number of sci-fi movie favorites, including BLADE RUNNER, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, ALIENS, STAR WARS (or is that even considered science fiction?) and many others in print form.  I grew up on Ray Bradbury.

What I enjoy is being transported, taken from ordinary reality and everyday concerns to a place where the circumstances are far removed yet not unfamiliar.  There are multiple sites where you can read either reviews of INTERSTELLAR or a synopsis of its plot.  If you decide to watch, you will likely know before too many minutes have passed whether or not you can accept the premise, the characters and their plight as real or not.  Fiction, film or print, gives us vicarious lives to live for short spans, though the memories of those adventures can remain with us for decades.  The measure of a great story is our ability to inhabit it fully, whether in this world or another.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Word of the Week - 56

 Wislawa Szymborska

Word of the Week:  POSSIBILITIES

Here, giving the broadest possible definition for this week's word, is the poem by Polish poet and translator Wislawa Szymborska (July 2, 1923–February 1, 2012). In 1996, Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” Upon announcing the prize, the Nobel commission noted her reputation as “the Mozart of poetry” but aptly added that there is also “something of the fury of Beethoven in her creative work.”

"To me, she is nothing short of Bach, that great cosmologist of the human spirit."  (this quote from Maria Popova, creator of BRAIN PICKINGS where writer and musician Amanda Palmer may be heard reading POSSIBILITIES.)


POSSIBILITIES
I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sing-a-long with First Aid Kit

The soundtrack for 1968 doesn't have an equal that comes easily to mind.  I, whose adventures seem to have been always inadvertent rather than intentional, spent a part of that iconic year in Washington, D.C., a volunteer typist for what they called then "the New Left" and, additionally, employed by the Washington Post.  I did find and sign on for the underground press gig.  Adventure would describe it.  I wish, though, that I could claim a fearless nature and pioneering spirit, both growing stronger with age.  Alas, it is not so.  I did not go off to search for America but find, especially as sung by the sisters of First Aid kit, the song brings me to tears.  Whether it is the tsunami of memories from that year, my roommate and I driving to find the rural crossing where we watched the train carrying Bobby Kennedy's body back to D.C. or the National Guard camped at the end of Church Street after Dr. King's assassination, or the immediate wondering, so many decades later, if today's 22 or 23-year-olds feel the song as I and my contemporaries still do.

"America" is from Simon and Garfunkle's album, BOOKENDS.  Even though we listened to the same music in each others' apartments or funky row house co-op, everyone with a record player owned the same albums.  My life was too transient for that, yet radio was what we thought radio would always be, nothing but our favorite music.  Otis Redding, "Scarborough Fair," Dylan and more Dylan and the Doors.  I think I've officially become part of a dwindling generation that knows its own ghost-filled past better than it knows the present.  There is a place for us in those long-ago rooms.  It is not nostalgia but another reality.  First Aid Kit sings it as though they'd been there, too.















Monday, March 23, 2015

Word of the Week - 55

"I once sent a dozen of my friends a telegram saying 'flee at once - all is discovered.' They all left town immediately."
--Mark Twain
also attributed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Note sent by Ty Cobb.

Word of the Week: MISSIVE

I'm sticking with the pre-computer definition of missive as a frequently handwritten note or bit of communication, not an email or text.  As wildly passionate as I am about typewriters, I suppose it is my own narrow thinking that seeks penmanship.  We can leave the debate open on that.  Dictionaries differ on the content of a missive - some say lengthy , others say brief, urgent - and remain, shall we say, flexible about the handwritten requirement.

Picture the cardboard rectangle that arrives with a bouquet of flowers or a tiny folded card with room for just a few meaningful words.  These are mementos to be saved, perhaps even glued into a baby book.

 


On the occasion of her birthday this past week, an artist friend shared a handwritten note from her father, telling her of his feelings on the day she was born.  Reading it made me wish, as do many things, that I'd saved every loving, cheering missive I'd ever received.  To have not just the good wishes or sincere feelings of those we've loved but their distinctive handwriting as well, what a treasure.

Asking myself why, with such a fondness for pens and papers, I send so few pieces of real snail mail, I have only one answer.  Inertia.  I am a reasonable email correspondent or sender of Facebook messages.  A letter IS a letter.  Electronics do not render it invalid or inferior.  Still.

As proof that I am not the only one presently concerned with missives and their importance in our lives, here are some projects and/or products that are able defense witnesses.

At Letters of Note editor Shaun Usher is at work on Volume II of collected correspondence.   Among the "most fascinating" letters on the blog is this, excerpted, from John Steinbeck to his eldest son:

"If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Love,

Fa"

And at Letters In The Mail, you can subscribe to receive two letters a month from authors.  Read more at the link.  A plus, "Think of it as the letters you used to get from your creative friends, before this whole internet/email thing. Most of the letters will include return addresses (at the author’s discretion) in case you want to write the author back." 

Headline: "Letters In The Mail" Turns Your Favorite Author Into Your Pen Pal.

Now go to the Post Office or usps.com and find colorful postage to speed your missives on their way.