To Be in the World, Yes — Just Not Quite of It

'Here and Now,' by Dako Huang on Flickr

[Image: “Here and Now,” by Dako Huang. Found it on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river (italicized passage):

I for one am resolved to mind or not mind only to the degree where my point of view is no larger than myself. I can thus have a great number of points of view, like fingers, and which I can treat as I treat the fingers of my hand, to hold my cup, to tap the table for me and fold themselves away when I do not wish to think. If I fold them away now, then I am sitting here, not because I am thinking. It is all indeed, I admit, rather horrible. But if I remain a person instead of becoming a point of view, I become a force and am brought into direct contact with horror, another force. As well set one plague of cats loose upon another and expect peace of it. As a force I have power, as a person virtue. All forces eventually commit suicide with their power, while virtue in a person merely gives him a small though constant pain from being continuously touched, looked at, mentally handled; a pain by which he learns to recognize himself. Poems, being more like persons, probably only squirm every time they are read and wrap themselves around more tightly. Pictures and pieces of music, being more like forces, are soon worn out by the power that holds themselves together. To me pictures and music are always like stories told backwards: or like this I read in the newspaper: ‘Up to the last she retained all her faculties and was able to sign cheques.’

(Laura Riding [source])


A Path In The Woods from A New Name

I don’t trust the truth of memories
because what leaves us
departs forever
There’s only one current of this sacred river
but I still want to remain faithful
to my first astonishments
to recognize as wisdom the child’s wonder
and to carry in myself until the end a path
in the woods of my childhood
dappled with patches of sunlight
to search for it everywhere
in museums in the shade of churches
this path on which I ran unaware
a six-year old
toward my primary mysterious aloneness

(Anna Kamienska [source])

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The Door Open, the Light Tentative, the Compass Uncertain

Chinstrap penguin colony, Mt. Michael, by Sebastiao Salgado

[Image: a colony of chinstrap penguins in the bowl of Mount Michael — an active volcano in Antarctica. Photo by Sebastião Salgado, from his spectacular book Genesis. “These landscapes are as alive as I am,” Salgado has said. “One day I was walking around rocks near a volcano that were one day old. They had just become solid.”]

From whiskey river:

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.

(Clarissa Pinkola Estes [source])


Mind Wanting More

Only a beige slat of sun
above the horizon, like a shade pulled
not quite down. Otherwise,
clouds. Sea rippled here and
there. Birds reluctant to fly.
The mind wants a shaft of sun to
stir the grey porridge of clouds,
an osprey to stitch sea to sky
with its barred wings, some dramatic
music: a symphony, perhaps
a Chinese gong.

But the mind always
wants more than it has —
one more bright day of sun,
one more clear night in bed
with the moon; one more hour
to get the words right; one
more chance for the heart in hiding
to emerge from its thicket
in dried grasses — as if this quiet day
with its tentative light weren’t enough,
as if joy weren’t strewn all around.

(Holly Hughes [source])


The wind of longing blows to your right, from the orange groves, and to your left, from the sea salt. A fog, approaching the chambers of your heart from the north, makes it difficult for memory to distinguish what is private from what is public. You fear for the present stifled by the hegemony of the past and fear for the past from the absurdity of the present. You do not know where to stand at this crossroads. Are you what you were, or what you are now? You fear you will forget tomorrow while mired in the question: In which time do I live?

(Mahmoud Darwish [source])

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You Are (Barely) Here

Sometimes when working on the Saturday Propagational Library serial I get a little overwhelmed thinking about the distances and time scales involved. While I try to keep things roughly “factual” — or factual-ish, anyhow — by referring as needed to one online source or another, it can really help to have a graphical tool available to bring it into perspective.

The Number Sleuth site has conveniently provided one such tool, with its “Magnifying the Universe” feature:

(For a more static but a little more easily digestible view, they also offer a plain old enormously long poster-style image.)

This perspective of relative sizes can change your perspective of everything: what’s important, what’s fair, what “change” means, what’s “old” and “young,” what’s worth remembering (and worth forgetting), what it means to age, what’s funny vs. deadly serious…

And I like the implied interrelationship between space and time, especially at the most gigantic scales. Let’s say you’ve got a way to measure the distances from yourself to greatly distant objects — some way which does not (obviously) require you yourself to travel that distance (using an odometer which clicks over every giga-parsec or so). Let’s say you take as a given the (still conventional) notion that nothing can move faster than light. One implication of this is that the universe is not just at least as far across (in radius) as the most distant object you can see; it’s that the universe is also at least that old. So if the most distant visible object in the heavens is a light-year away, the light from that object has taken a whole year to reach your eyes… and the universe is at least that old.

Therefore, if (as seems to be the case) the most distant visible object is around fourteen billion light-years away, then…

We can also infer the presence of objects even farther than we can actually see, from the effects of those yet-farther objects on what we can see. Imagine Aeolus, the God of Intergalactic Breezes, sitting on his throne way the hell out there beyond observable limits. We can’t see him but can guess he’s there, because of the way the most-distant-visible objects dance around every time Aeolus sighs (probably out of loneliness) in this direction.

If your head can stand even more interestingness, consider the theory that the universe is expanding, and indeed accelerating in its rate of expansion. According to this theory, although the speed of light still marks an upper limit, it does so locally, on a more or less “small” scale — implying that the space between objects may expand more rapidly than light speed. Thus, at that fourteen-billion-light-years horizon, things are constantly crossing over the line into invisibility and, ultimately, unknowability.

Consider the similarities between all this and (say) the way in which things, people, and experiences pass from our individual (or collective) memory.

Consider the grand themes of art, literature, and music, from the small and personal to the most sweepingly “universal.”

Consider sharing those themes with Aeolus and, if Aeolus creates art of his own, his sharing his themes with us


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[Video: zooming in from a Milky Way-wide view all the way to galactic cluster NGC 3324, dubbed the Gabriela Mistral Nebula for its resemblance to the profile of the Chilean Nobel Prize-winning poet. Music by John Dyson; original video at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) site.]

From whiskey river:

And as you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged on the shingly beach of a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.

(Stephen Graham [source])


Coincidence and chance and unsearchable causes will now and again make clouds that are undeniable fiery dragons, and potatoes that resemble eminent statesmen exactly and minutely in every feature, and rocks that are like eagles and lions. All this is nothing; it is when you get your set of odd shapes and find that they fit into one another, and at last that they are but parts of a large design; it is then that research grows interesting and indeed amazing, it is then that one queer form confirms the other, that the whole plan displayed justifies, corroborates, explains each separate piece.

(Arthur Machen [source])


The World Loved by Moonlight

You must try,
the voice said, to become colder.
I understood at once.
It is like the bodies of gods: cast in bronze,
braced in stone. Only something heartless
could bear the full weight.

[The above poem’s] source was a sentence written by Chekhov in a letter to a young writer: “If you want to move your reader, write more coldly.” The advice is chilling, true, and rich, I think, and leads in many different directions of thought. This poem follows one of those directions: that if one were to imagine a world in which there were mythic, conscious deities, then those beings would have to be very cold, very detached, in order to bear seeing what they must see in the course of any given day. So much suffering, so much foolishness, so much anger. To be able to watch that at all — and even more, to play some active role in its continuance — would demand total heartlessness. It’s the same lack of pity that Virgil demands of Dante as they tour the regions of Hell. Pity, the ghost-guide tells the poet, is forbidden. It is true for the contemporary writer as well, and for any seeker after truth. A certain detachment is needed to look the fullness of life eye to eye; yet that very detachment is what permits the viewer to feel things fully, to know them without blinking.

(Jane Hirshfield [sources: poem and commentary])

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