A Moment, a Place, a Story, a World

'Ghost Card,' by Ross Griff on Flickr

[Image: “Ghost Card,” by Ross Griff (user “rossaroni”); found it on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license. For more about the image, see the note at the foot of this post.

From whiskey river:

August

August rushes by like desert rainfall;
A flood of frenzied upheaval,
Expected,
But still catching me unprepared.
Like a matchflame,
Bursting on the scene,
Heat and haze of crimson sunsets.
Like a dream
Of moon and dark barely recalled,
A moment,
Shadows caught in a blink.
Like a quick kiss;
One wishes for more
But it suddenly turns to leave,
Dragging summer away.

(Elizabeth Maua Taylor [source])

and:

I wanted to ask you about your vision of perfection in an imperfect world, or what side of the earth calls out to you when you touch a physical globe, or maybe about your greatest heartache and how you still go on as your world continues turning, or what you do with a memory once lodged inside your bones that’s still breathing, and burning.

But you’re still a stranger, and I’m overly polite, so I’ll ask all about your day when I’d rather know about your life.

(Victoria Erickson [source])

and:

Cavalleria Rusticana

All the fireflies in the world
are gathered in our yard tonight,
flickering in the shrubs
like an ostentatious display
of Christmas lights out of season.
But the music in the air
is the music of heat, of August—
cicadas scraping out
their thin, harsh treble
like country fiddlers settling in
for a long night. I feel at home
with their relentless tune
minimalist, like the eighties.

Events repeat themselves,
but with a difference that makes all
the difference. As a child,
one summer night in Verona
at my first opera,
I watched a swarm of matches
light up the Roman arena
until we were silent. It was as if
music were a night-blooming flower
that would not open
until we held our breath.
Then the full-blown sound,
the single-minded combat
of passion: voices sharpening
their glittering blades on one another,
electing to live or die.
It was that simple. The story was
of no importance, the motive lost
in the sufficient, breathing dark.
If there was a moon I don’t remember.

(Lisel Mueller [source])

Like the quotations above? All credit, then, to the anonymous (and unknown to me) whiskey river blogger — who served them up this past week, and who has been inspiring me for over ten years. Below, some relevant (?) discoveries of my own, along the same lines. (More info here.)

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The Oh at the Heart of You

'black square sun hype?Really eclipsed through layers of social housing blocks,' by user hinkelstone on Flickr

[Image: “black square sun hypeRReally eclipsed through layers of social housing blocks,” by user “hinkelstone” (Karl-Ludwig Poggemann) on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license. (The first capital R in the image name is supposed to display as a Cyrillic “backwards R,” which doesn’t seem to work for me.) Explaining how this image was accomplished, the photographer says, “The black square sun immersing into eastern-bloc-style housing estate facades were meant for a HDRI — but instead Photomatrix 2.4.1 synthesized a kind of hyperreal sunscape from a pair of location shots that were taken at 18:29:07 and 18:29:44 [local times]: During those 37 seconds the red sun disc had been shifting further downwards and into the northern (‘HyperBorean‘) wind direction.” This explanation may very well be more comprehensible to you than to me.]

From whiskey river:

To Be Human Is To Sing Your Own Song

Everything I can think of that my parents
thought or did I don’t think and I don’t do.
I opened windows, they shut them. I pulled
open the curtains, they shut them. If you
get my drift. Of course there were some
similarities—they wanted to be happy
and they weren’t. I wanted to be Shelley and I
wasn’t. I don’t mean I didn’t have to avoid
imitation, the gloom was pretty heavy. But
then, for me, there was the forest, where
they didn’t exist. And the fields. Where I
learned about birds and other sweet tidbits
of existence. The song sparrow, for example.

In the song sparrow’s nest the nestlings,
those who would sing eventually, must listen
carefully to the father bird as he sings
and make their own song in imitation of his.
I don’t know if any other bird does this (in
nature’s way has to do this). But I know a
child doesn’t have to. Doesn’t have to.
Doesn’t have to. And I didn’t.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.

(Fyodor Dostoevsky [source])

and (italicized lines):

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

(Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

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Right Here (or There), Right Now (or Then)

Opening title from 'Now and Then, Here and There'

[Image: opening narration/subtitle from the 1999-2000 anime series Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku (Now and Then, Here and There), critically and commercially very successful — but also but very dark . One site which I consulted about the series highly recommended watching it, but added that you won’t want to watch it a second time.]

From whiskey river:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

(Natalie Babbitt [source])

and (italicized lines):

Night and the River

I have seen the great feet
leaping
into the river

and I have seen moonlight
milky
along the long muzzle

and I have seen the body
of something
scaled and wonderful

slumped in the sudden fire of its mouth,
and I could not tell
which fit me

more comfortably, the power,
or the powerlessness;
neither would have me

entirely; I was divided,
consumed,
by sympathy,

pity, admiration.
After a while
it was done,

the fish had vanished, the bear
lumped away
to the green shore

and into the trees. And then there was only
this story.
It followed me home

and entered my house—
a difficult guest
with a single tune

which it hums all day and through the night—
slowly or briskly,
it doesn’t matter,

it sounds like a river leaping and falling;
it sounds like a body
falling apart.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

One of the saddest realities is most people never know when their lives have reached the summit. Only after it is over and we have some kind of perspective do we realize how good we had it a day, a month, five years ago. The walk together in the December snow, the phone call that changed everything, and that lovely evening in the bar by the Aegean. Back then you thought “this is so nice.” Only later did you realize it was the rarest bliss.

(Jonathan Carroll [unknown source, but quoted all over])

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What Comes First

'What a Chick Feels Before Hatching,' by Becca Peterson on Flickr

[Image: “What a Chick Feels Before Hatching,” by Becca Peterson. Found it on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river (but just excerpted here):

Your original, fundamental position is prior to consciousness. This “prior to consciousness” identity that you are cannot be named at all. From this unnameable, non-conceptual source, which is your original, innate nature, arises the sense of conscious presence. This is also the sense of being, the experience that “I am,” or the bare fact of knowing that you are. This is the first appearance or experience upon your original state. Within this consciousness state emerges the mind, the body and the entire world of appearances. Little can be said about your original state because it is clearly beyond all concepts and even prior to consciousness. Some pointers that have been used are: non-conceptual awareness, awareness unaware of itself, pure being (beyond being and non-being), the absolute, the unmanifest, noumenon, cognizing emptiness, no thing — to name only a few.

This non-conceptual awareness or being is what you are. It is pure non-duality or unicity in which both subject and object are merged. Just as the sun does not know light because it is light, so you do not know your original nature (as an object) because you are that. It is forever beyond the grasp of concepts and subject-object knowledge. Yet it is entirely evident and inescapable as that in you (which is you) that allows you to say with utter certitude “I am” and “I know that I am.” Even when those words subside, you are. Even when the consciousness that knows those words subsides, you are. Consciousness is the light of creation. But you, as the unnameable source, are the primordial awareness, being or no thing (call it what you will) in which consciousness comes and goes.

(John Wheeler [source (in somewhat different words)])

and:

The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

Like the quotations above? All credit, then, to the anonymous (and unknown to me) whiskey river blogger — who shared them this past week, and who has been inspiring me for over ten years. Below, some relevant (?) discoveries of my own, along the same lines. (More info here.)

[Read more…]

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The Knowing of Things Had, and the Knowing of Things Not-Had

'Holding Hands,' by Valerie Evertt on Flickr

[Image: “Holding Hands,” by Valerie Everett; found it on Flickr, and using it here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Fruit

(for Czeslaw Milosz)

How unattainable life is, it only reveals
its features in memory,
in nonexistence. How unattainable
afternoons, ripe, tumultuous, leaves
bursting with sap; swollen fruit, the rustling
silks of women who pass on the other
side of the street, and the shouts of the boys
leaving school. Unattainable. The simplest
apple inscrutable, round.
The crowns of trees shake in warm
currents of air. Unattainable distant mountains.
Intangible rainbows. Huge cliffs of clouds
flowing slowly through the sky. The sumptuous,
unattainable afternoon. My life,
swirling, unattainable, free.

(Adam Zagajewski [source])

and:

When we live superficially, we are always outside ourselves, never quite “with” ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions — we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives.

(Thomas Merton [source])

and:

Lights

In summer, waiting for night, we’d pose against the afterglow on corners, watching traffic cruise through the neighborhood. Sometimes, a car would go by without its headlights on and we’d all yell, “Lights!”

“Lights!” we’d keep on yelling until the beams flashed on. It was usually immediate — the driver honking back thanks, or flinching embarrassed behind the steering wheel, or gunning past, and we’d see his red taillights blink on.

But there were times — who knows why? — when drunk or high, stubborn, or simply lost in that glide to somewhere else, the driver just kept driving in the dark, and all down the block we’d hear yelling from doorways and storefronts, front steps, and other corners, voices winking on like fireflies: “Lights! Your lights! Hey, lights!”

(Stuart Dybek [source])

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Book Review: Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Book cover: 'Aurora,' by Kim Stanley RobinsonRecognize that book cover? No, I’m not referring to the whole thing — just to the idea: remind you of another science-fiction image of recent vintage?

I’ll tell you what it made me think of: this classic movie-poster shot, from Gravity. I’ve used a wallpaper-sized variant of that image as a computer desktop for several years now, which sharpens the point of the message: When you’re in space, you are really, really alone.

The main cast who populate the pages of Aurora aren’t quite as aware of their utter aloneness in space as viewers of that book cover are. True, they know they live in an interstellar spaceship, their mission’s purpose to populate a world beyond the solar system. They know the distance to their new home is vast — nearly eight light years — and the duration of their journey there likewise almost unimaginably long.

Oh, sure: how could they not know it, at least at an intellectual level? After all, when we first encounter these people, we’re seeing not the original passengers and crew, but their descendants six and seven generations removed: people who’ve never set foot on — or even seen — Earth. Their starship left the orbit of Saturn about one hundred sixty years ago. It takes only a single spacesuited trip out of an airlock — just a glance through a telescope — to tell them how isolated they are.

But the book-cover image of that starship deceives: the ship is big. I mean, forget Starship Enterprise-class big: really big. It consists of these main components:

  • The spine — that single central stem surrounded by the rings — is itself ten kilometers (six and a quarter miles) long.
  • The two outer rings: each torus-shaped outer ring (designated Ring A and Ring B) contains twelve “biomes” (about which, more shortly) — cylinders, each a kilometer in diameter and four kilometers long.
  • Six spokes connecting the spine to each ring: although their dimensions are is never specified, a seat-of-the-pants estimate would make the total diameter about eighteen to twenty kilometers. Thus, each spoke would be about nine to ten kilometers long (depending on various factors).
  • Two inner rings: these are purely structural in nature, serving to “lock” the outer rings to the spine.

Like I said: really big. And it’s populated not just by a couple hundred people, but by a couple thousand. On top of which are all the animals: Earth species which in some cases, yes, are raised as livestock, but in others are simply left feral. This ship is not just a starship; it’s an ark…

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Weekend Music Break: Limestone Chorus, “Woods & Water”

Limestone ChorusLet us consider, first, the name “Limestone Chorus.”

Limestone sounds rugged to me, rugged and roughcut. It suggests quarrying, of course, and it suggests caverns carved by underground rivers. It’s a sedimentary rock, so it crumbles and dissolves rather easily on its own — unlike (say) granite, basalt, and other igneous and metamorphic rocks… and it is everywhere. Wikipedia tells me that it makes up 10% of the volume of all sedimentary rocks. While it is inarguably rock, unlike (say) sandstone, limestone is curiously organic: “Most limestone is composed of skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, forams and molluscs.”

Think about that a moment: limestone is a “living” rock — a common building and construction material comprising the remnants of a gazillion creatures. (Think about that the next time you’re inside a building of concrete: you might as well be undersea.)

So here we’ve got a band pursuing one of the longer threads — a sub-genre: folk, soul, and Americana — of (yes) rock history, a band named for this curiously-organic inorganic material. If the name had instead been constructed from the word “granite” or “quartzite,” the effect would have been totally different — calling to mind not the flowing of water and the whisper of grains, but hammers and chisels and bang-bang-bang.

And then there’s chorus: voices twined together, harmonizing…

Yeah. Now you’re getting the idea.

The name “Limestone Chorus” apparently represents a recent name change; the group (in a slightly reduced configuration) had previously been called “Shore Thing.” Okay, the latter was clever(ish), with the pun. But it was also easy, glib, and really wasted an entire word — thing — which communicated nothing at all. I have no idea how much thought and anxiety went into the name change, how much conscious vs. unconscious decision-making came into play, but as a band name, “Limestone Chorus” is leagues beyond “Shore Thing.”

So then there’s this song. Again, look first to the name: “Woods & Water.” When you hear a song title like that, do you imagine you’ll find headbanging within? Will the musicians assault their instruments and their amplifiers — and the audience’s ears — with an avalanche of sound? Will the lyrics preach, insult, rebuke?

When I opened the email announcing the upcoming debut of Limestone Chorus’s album Deer Friends*, and of “Woods & Water” in particular, I had no expectation of noise, electronica, trance. Indeed, I found almost exactly what I expected: luscious three-part harmonies overlaying and interleaved with acoustic instruments.

(With the obvious exception that Gordon Lightfoot sang solo, of course, the overall effect to me strongly recalls his “Did She Mention My Name.” Not a bad forerunner at all — again, no matter how conscious or unconscious the choice!)

The band is on record asserting that the song “describes the search for familiarity: the rediscovery of people and places who make us feel whole, safe and grounded. The song is driven through memory and nostalgia, pulling on emotional connections that shape a person.” This all comes through in the video, too, which I found oddly moving… Even though it’s not a “static” video, with a fixed image, pretty much nothing at all happens. And yet there is stuff happening, after all: the words (and their meanings and connotations) run over and through the music, and all of it runs over the visual, just like — well, just like water over and through limestone.

[Lyrics]

__________________

* Yes: Deer Friends. The album cover art even depicts the hallucinogenically colored head-and-shoulders of an antlered buck. Maybe they’re not quite over the punning impulse under which they first organized as “Shore Thing.”

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Seeing (and Knowing It)

'I Know I See You, I Just Don't Know When,' by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

[Image: “I Know I See You, I Just Don’t Know When,” by Thomas Hawk; found on Flickr.com, used here under a Creative Commons license. The photograph shows one view of the Stata building at MIT, designed by Frank Gehry. The building houses various facilities in support of research into computers, information science, intelligence, robotics, and related topics. More in the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

There is, in sanest hours, a consciousness, a thought that rises, independent, lifted out from all else, calm, like the stars, shining eternal. This is the thought of identity—yours for you, whoever you are, as mine for me. Miracle of miracles, beyond statement, most spiritual and vaguest of earth’s dreams, yet hardest basic fact, and only entrance to all facts. In such devout hours, in the midst of the significant wonders of heaven and earth, (significant only because of the Me in the centre) creeds, conventions, fall away and become of no account before this simple idea. Under the luminousness of real vision, it alone takes possession, takes value. Like the shadowy dwarf in the fable, once liberated and look’d upon, it expands over the whole earth, and spreads to the roof of heaven.

(Walt Whitman [source])

and:

It would be an endless battle if it were all up to ego
because it does not destroy and is not destroyed by itself
It is like a wave
it makes itself up; it rushes forward getting nowhere really
it crashes, withdraws and makes itself up again
pulls itself together with pride
towers with pride
rushes forward into imaginary conquest
crashes in frustration
withdraws with remorse and repentance
pulls itself together with new resolution.

(Agnes Martin [source])

and:

To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us. Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen.

(Linda Hogan [source])

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Sky and I, Sharing

'Dream,' by Mikko Lagerstedt

[Image: “Dream,” by Finnish photographer Mikko Lagerstedt (Facebook/Instagram); one of several in his “Edge” collection.]

From whiskey river:

The Mockingbird

All summer
the mockingbird
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed wings

flies
from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it’s neither
lilting nor lovely,

for he is the thief of other sounds—
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood

mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humor and bravado,
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life

to come through. He begins
by giving up all his usual flutter
and settling down on the pine’s forelock
then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and, copying nothing, begins

easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as rollicking,
as though his subject now

was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret
as anyone else’s,
and it was too hard—

perhaps you understand—
to speak or to sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

Peridot

I awoke in an ecstasy.
The sky was the color of a cut lime
that had sat in the refrigerator
in a plastic container
for thirty-two days.
Fact-checkers, check.
I am happy.
Notice I speak in complete sentences.
Something I have not done since birth.
And the sky responds.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

and:

Many people used to believe that angels moved the stars. It now appears that they do not. As a result of this and like revelations, many people do not now believe in angels. Many people used to believe that the ‘seat’ of the soul was somewhere in the brain. Since brains began to be opened up frequently, no one has seen ‘the soul’. As a result of this and like revelations, many people do not now believe in the soul. Who could suppose that angels move the stars, or be so superstitious as to suppose that because one cannot see one’s soul at the end of a microscope it does not exist?

(R. D. Laing [source])

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Real-Life Dialogue: Men Are from Illinois, Women Are from Manhattan Edition

[The setting: a Saturday morning at a suburban home in North Florida, USA. He has been experiencing back pain for a few days; she approaches him in the kitchen, question marks in her eyes.]

She: How’s your back?

He: Still not normal.

She: Where is it? What sort of pain is it?

[He has been expecting and preparing mentally for this line of questioning, but hasn’t quite nailed down his metaphors yet.]

He: I don’t know — it’s hard to describe…

She: Try anyway.

He: It feels, well, wobbly. It’s like when you take a… a dozen Lincoln Logs, say, and they’re stacked end-to-end in a, like, a tower, and you’re trying not to let ’em topple but—

[She holds up the palm of her hand, stopping him.]

She: Wait.

He: But—

She: Wait. You need to use terms I can understand.

He: Such as—?

She: Well, say my martini glass is too full, up to the brim, and you’re carrying it to me while holding the base of the stem…

[A momentary pause, giving him time to recognize his confusion as such.]

He: [rolling his eyes] Yes. It’s exactly like that.

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