Monday, October 24, 2016

Word of the Week - 138

From "Letters to a Young Poet," by Rainer Maria Rilke. Translated by Joan M. Burnham. New World Library: 2000.
Word of the Week:  FERVENT

Yes, "completely baked" as spoken by Benjamin in THE GRADUATE would qualify as fervent.  Definitely feverish.

Fervent is never half-baked, never tepid, never neither-this-nor-that.  It is passionate, fiery hot,  may appear obsessive.  Heartfelt.

What is the point of showing up with indifference?  Let them talk.  "She seemed, well, awfully intense.  I'm not sure that is considered good manners."  Probably not.  This is life we're talking about.  As Mary Oliver says, "your one wild and precious life."  Be a shame to get over-excited about that and all the wonders it contains.  Perhaps I need to sit back down with a cool cloth to my forehead.

As I write this, we are having oddly balmy winds, none of the chance of showers forecast as late as this morning, and the neighborhood Amazon parrots are shrieking through the skies as though warning us of something.  They do a lot of jabbering so we don't take them seriously.  The point is that I sit at my table on the second floor, amid the trees where I can see no cars nor dwellings.  An hour ago a crow with a wingspan of several feet found delicacies in the palm tree just beyond my window.  His departure sounded like an old window shade that had been yanked down, then let go to flap and shudder.

Rilke knew that our ordinary moments are filled with texture, brilliance, joy, sorrow, sights and events to make our hearts leap or thud.  Best to take nothing for granted, to see it all as miraculous for the everyday is our most intimate universe, the room in which we spend the most time, the place it all happens.  Even peak events are cushioned by the everyday.  It is that with which we most surely need to fall in love, if we have not.  I had a stamp made that says, "Fall in love with everything," then I realized there are some situations in which that is difficult, many in fact, but as a goal, an aspiration, it seems a not bad fit.  I use the word love more and more, realizing that I do love so much.  I do, in loud and giddy and probably unladylike ways.  The list is longer every day.

I occasionally visit the Jet Pens website, perhaps to look at bottled inks.  Some of the colors, with names like Apache Sunset, Heart of Darkness or Dragon Catfish Pink, make me think of fervent correspondence.  Is there really any other kind?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Word of the Week - 137

Painting, "Araigami" (After Washing Her Hair), by Ito Shinshui.

Word(s) of the Week:  ORDINARY SACREDNESS

There is no way I could say it better, not even close, than poet Ellen Bass.


Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekinah, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.

Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshiping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.

If you're hungry, pray. If you're tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.

When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else's legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail,
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, twirling pizzas --

With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your Visa card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.

Ellen Bass

Monday, October 10, 2016

Word of the Week - 136

With thanks to Plaisanter's Flickriver site.
Word of the Week:  MUCILAGE

These are days, it seems, to think about what exactly IS the glue that holds us together, either to maintain a congruity with self or a plural binding of one to another.  There is something, beyond gravity, centripetal force, magnets, chewing gum or baling wire, that stops us from dissolving into fragments.  Its forms are as numerous as are we who rely on its existence.

At its most exalted it is sticky and honey-sweet, with names like optimism, kindness, beauty and love.  It is scent, known to transport us in memory to other realms and times, or words, as used by poets to translate, impossibly, the ineffable into language.  It is color or form that jars the heart.  It is magic, mostly unintentional, the product of man or nature simply bringing forth what must be brought.

It is experiences shared, even if known in solitude.  It is recognition of me in you.  It is music, sounds raised in thanksgiving or lament.  Perhaps beyond all else it is music.

If I understand anything of the universe, it is this:  we are not meant to be divided nor to seek or invent ways that make us unalike.  We survive with each other, it is how we will thrive.  Our hands reach out to comfort.  With vocabulary we soothe and support.  In the rock-hard moments we remind one another that there are softer times.

We are the glue, aided by the wonders amid which we sometimes flounder, wonders which lift our spirits, replenish our hope.  There is no wonder too small or obscure to be considered medicinally adhesive.  It only requires - demands - the ability to illuminate what has been dimmed.  Circumstances have been known to abandon us in dark caves and haunted houses of the mind.  For me, the image of a rose, bodies of water from a puddle to a fountain, canal, river or ocean, the thought and, one hopes, the taste of dark chocolate, works of art, a hummingbird outside the window, the voice of a loved one or even sight of their name reconnect me to frightened and lost parts of myself.  They secure me to a greater circle where light prevails.

This is a gummy business and we serve as human fly paper to one another.  As we abide, fastened, we joke, we sing, we listen, we doze.  Our thoughts may wander but we, it is hoped, do not.  We are tethered for the long ride.  That is what's real.  Anything else is the illusion.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Word of the Week - 135

Wrestling a demon, one of many.
Word of the Week:  CONSISTENCY

My two great adversaries are gravity and consistency.  To turn an act into a habit is the product of focus, determination and time.  Landing on the same square, as it were, with each daily leap.  Letting not rain nor dark of night be a reason to slide, to neglect, to procrastinate or to be half-assed.  As to gravity, I tend to drop things a lot or they leap from my grasp, plus the earth seems constantly to pull me closer.  I used to be considered tall.

Somewhere, once, I read that it takes 30 days to create a habit.  Oh, if only.  Maybe if one is under the age of, say, 35.  When one is more than twice that number, well, do the math.  All I know to do is begin, and continue.  I've reached a point, much as I thought it would never come to this, when the day contains too few hours for all my intentions.  Certainly if what I intend is to do a thing well.  And who wants a sub-par habit?  I'm sure I have quite enough of those already.

The vow to self of returning to art as a daily product, not a for-sale sort of product, but a thing brought into existence in whatever form, whatever medium, is a current priority.  I have not yet committed to a specific amount of time every day.  I'd already be in trouble if I had.  As long as it is something that I can call art, I feel successful.  I have not betrayed myself.  Whew.  As I have said many times before, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

So a day becomes parcels, liked packed lunches.
Bento boxes.
On different days, the portions of each habit-in-the-making vary in size.  Too much consistency goes against my basic nature.  Perhaps it needs to be a dual word week - consistency and balance, with each day allowed to bring its own set of circumstances, to set its own schedule.  The fact that the world seems to see rigid consistency as more virtuous than flexible consistency is one of those slippery places.  I don't do rigid well.  I don't do rigid at all.  And thus, the challenge.

On the other hand, a day full of bento boxes would not be the worst thing.  I could reclaim time spent cooking and use it for art or serenity or stretching.  Meanwhile, we, as they say, start where we are with what we have and do what we can.  One can do no more. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Word of the Week - 134

Lynda Barry's art and thought here.
Word of the Week:  ALLOW

"...when we forget that any kind of dancing is better than no dancing at all."  Lynda Barry

Enlightenment, in my world, refers to the process that takes me, by leaps or shuffles, from being  unknowing on any particular topic to be a bit less unknowing.  Example: I may twitch for a while if I stop eating dark chocolate in the quantity I prefer but I won't die.

We who have survived and emerged from places of trauma, terror, damage and examples of the bad behavior of others may have moments of doubt about our skills, our competence, our okayness.  We come to consciousness with too little knowledge about nuance, grey areas, moderation.  We are likely unfamiliar with allowing ourselves to be however we are in any moment.  Or, if not unfamiliar, still uncomfortable.  Unexpectedly, Lynda Barry's book, SYLLABUS is helping me experiment with the discomfort of being.  Lynda Barry, generally, is an appropriate direction in which to turn when discomfort shows up.  Hiding out with her characters as they speak her words, one is less likely to feel alone.  We discover smart people have covered this ground before and lived to tell the tale.

From Lynda Barry's WHAT IT IS.
Allow implies patience, a certain fullness of spirit, benevolence, compassion.  In allowing ourselves to be who and how we are, we make it possible to become whatever is next.  One way we learn to allow is to break old rules and habits, forbid behavior that leads us straight into the sort of trouble that fosters shame.  Ms. Barry has much clearer examples of how we may get out of our own creative way and, better still, how we may stop thinking about being anything but of service to our goals, desires and intentions.  As I remind myself when it seems a lengthy process, it it were easy, everyone would be doing it already.  We, you and I, are worth the time, the effort, the trouble. 
From Lynda Barry's SYLLABUS.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Word of the Week - 133

Illustration by Gabriel Pacheco.
Word of the Week: UNCOMMON

Let us not be content with the ordinary, the too-familiar, the comfortably common.  Let us venture a bit further afield, either in our minds or our steps, to places not-quite-known.  Let us befriend the strange.

Firstly, I believe on some level that it is ALL a mystery.  What do we really know?  How little of what does or may exist have we actually encountered and how much remains beyond the edge of our acquaintance?  Most, that is the answer.

Even within ourselves are caverns, craters of immeasurable depths.  We ourselves are as the ocean, of which less than 5% has been explored.  Think of it!  On a day when we feel at the high end of Smarty Pants-osity, we are actually rather short of the mark, not because we are lacking but because there is so much that remains, for now, unknowable or unseen, unimagined or, at the very least, rare.  Which is, you ought not to be surprised, the good news.  So much to discover.  The time of explorers is not behind us, don't let the history books fool you.  Just this month researchers learned there are four species of giraffes, not only one as had been assumed.  What other secrets are hiding in plain sight?

Mr. Kesey (of the quote above) was not one to accept much at face value, certainly not to accept it as promoted by the establishment.  I hope this doesn't tilt your planet too severely, but they don't always tell us the truth and they don't always know the answer.  In addition to existing mysteries, we have the power to fashion our own, to weave stories and paint pictures in which unknowns comfortably lurk.

All the most choice bits are not necessarily sitting under spotlights in display cases or showroom windows.  They may have burrowed in at the bottom of the Mariana Trench or could be skulking and incognito just about anywhere.  They hide within human hearts and keep life fresh with their occasional, often startling revelations.  Attend well.  Allow the world to surprise you, baffle you, and ultimately charm you.  It is waiting to do just that. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Shirley (not her real name) and the nearly-unbearable radiance

Art by Anna Silivonchik.
"I am my own lowering sky," thought Shirley.  "I am my own foreteller of misfortune.  I am Eeyore without the humor of irony."

With a mind that leaned, from years of habit and indoctrination, toward a fondness for putting on the white glove and setting out in search of grime, of which there was ever an abundance, Shirley knew the bum's rush was the only right action.  Don't let it get a toe across the threshold.  It not only reached above the door frames for schmootz, it gasped in alarm at any muscle twinge or skin irritation, racing, shrieking, down the inevitable highway toward agony and very bad news.

"I am Chicken Little and the sky is almost always falling," she said to herself.

And yet.  This was not an unceasing state of mind, for Shirley was actually not confused about much of anything.  She was not a pessimist but had been trained in the ways of vicious self-criticism, the unlearning of which, she knew absolutely, would take her the rest of her life.  And beyond.  The visual that came to her was a hapless child who had somehow, alone on a teeter-totter, slid down to one end and needed to get back to the middle where balance existed.  It was a tough, splintery scooch along that ancient board, slow going and painful.  She supposed unlearning a thing must take at least as long as the learning of it.  "Crap sandwich," she said, thinking if that were true there would be  decades needed for this particular educational curve.

What she believed, in a manner that might be described as "set in stone," was that each creature, each being of any and all species contained a unique brilliance, that each of those brilliances was essential for the well-being of the whole and that the loss of any was a loss indeed, measurable, just not by any instruments yet devised.  In her best, least white-glove-plagued moments, she knew it was true of her, though she might not have been able to assign it words.  She could feel the warmth of her inner flame, knew when traces of it showed up in thoughts or conversations, in simple intuition-inspired acts, in the prompting of kindness, in language that came to her, or rather through her, like channeling a greater wisdom.  And no matter how cloaked, how dampened and covered, how walled in and plastered over a flame had been, it persisted in each life form for as long as life continued.

It was not the sort of thing chatted about idly.  When the knowledge found Shirley, she imagined it was akin to being struck by lightning.  She was positive singeing had occurred, accompanied by a whiff of smoke.  To think, to even entertain the possibility that this was, as she assumed a Truth with a capital T, humbled her as nothing ever had.  And the responsibility, the task of bringing that nearly extinguished candle into the world to add its glow, "No," was her first reaction.  "Not me.  I can barely maintain on more days than I can count, the thought of just showing up for the most ordinary things overwhelms and depletes me.  Now this?  No."  Yet she knew the answer wasn't no but yes. 

Yes, Shirley, yes.  It is a process.  Give it time.

To be continued