Archive for the ‘Literature and writing’ Category

The Curious Case of the Dog Toy In the Afternoon

Well.  Here we are at another Monday.  It started off like a plane ride I took in the Yucatan once:  Lightening strikes all around, hitting the plane wings, children and babies screaming.  The cabin crew, through sheer brilliance or simply being used to plane wings looking like they were in flames, immediately dispensed mandatory beer and soft drinks all round, people started chatting in a mordantly flirtatious way.  More lightening, more bumpy ride.  Friendly wagers were made for who was buying if we ever got back on terra firma again. Eventually we landed, with a good bit of spark and flash of course,  and the entire plane erupted in cheers.

So that was this morning.  At this point I think I can at least see today’s landing strip.

Over the weekend, however, there were some features of interest.  It was simply too hot to do anything.  Doing nothing is fine with me as it turns out.  I lugged my texts out for study, then read some of my backlogged books.  Among them were A TESTAMENT OF HOPE, selected writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.   I was reading his pieces on non-violent action, the kind of universal love rooted in the commonality of all our beings that funds that action, and the fact that such non-violent action is based not on passively accepting the bad, but on always working to engage the opposers in a dialogue that can open into awareness and understanding.  Which ultimately leads to a solution that works for all since it is truly based on common good.  Another book I was working through is COSMOS AND PSYCHE by Richard Tarnas, which is a terrific book about  history and humanity in light of influences and energies from nature and the cosmos.  He was discussing Jung and synchronicity, and how Jung had experiences where he was set in one way of thinking, then a seemingly random occurrence would reveal the larger elements at play in the situation and move his thinking in the direction of greater clarity and awareness.

Late yesterday afternoon The Partner and I were sitting in the backyard, when suddenly there was a rustle on top of the fence.  Our resident squirrel was passing through.  The Partner’s eyes got round, there was a sharp intake of breath, and he said, That squirrel’s got a DOG TOY.  And sure enough, our little friend was making his way carrying a red rubber squeak dog bone  toy in his mouth.  He was heading toward the tree he lives in, which happens to be in the yard where the Dachshund Sisters live.  Lately they’ve been barking their heads and tails off every morning, and I don’t mind telling you it is getting VERY OLD.

Suddenly inspiration struck Partner as follows.  Squirrel lives in tree above dogs.  Squirrel has no earthly use for dog toys, not even as a sofa in already comfortable leafy condominium.   (We see this squirrel dash up the tree and get into his house, where he will often stretch out with chin on paws gazing out at the sky.)  Dogs are ratters and badger hunters, thus squirrel pushes the bark, harass and hunt button.  Squirrel needs to get down from tree and forage in yard in a peaceable and non-threatening to dogs manner: In short, establish Detente with the Dogs.  

I submit to you, Gentle Reader, that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy.  This squirrel brought this dog toy, which he apparently quietly  liberated from another dog’s possession in another yard up the street, to the Dachshund Sisters as a gesture of peace and goodwill.  As in, look, here’s a toy for you.  I mean you no harm.  We can be friends.  You don’t need to eat me, I don’t need to eat anything you’ve got.   We can live together.  I’ll just leave this here for you, and you’ll know it’s from me ’cause of the squirrel scent.

This morning there were only a few, of course mandatory, sun salutation barks.  And a little squeaking.  

There you have it: The power of love Dr. King wrote about.  And for me, synchronicity: A reminder that things do work for the good, no matter how much the wings look like they’re catching on fire.

What The Heck Happened Here?

Yes, Gentle Reader.  I made it, once again.  Somehow it always seems like quite the achievement, even though this week has left me a bit…wordless.  The head hurts, as it so often does, it’s raining, and then there’s the question of what’s for dinner.

Tonight, that will be answered by Pizza.  I always (natch) make my own from a recipe in a shredded Gourmet magazine, circa 1986.  Whether I have the moral fortitude to go into the Closet of Danger (pantry) and see if there’s any pineapple will determine whether we’re goin’ Hawaiian tonight or sticking to the Italianate Pesto version.  Olives? Ham?  Decisions decisions……

And, wonderment.  I wonder if any of us ever see ourselves as we really are? As the people who like us see us?  Or is it more the other way:  We remember that sixth grade teacher who told us were were idiots, or overheard snickered remarks behind someone’s hands, and we take that as fact and description of ourselves.  When you think about it, it’s kind of crazy.  VERY kind of crazy.   We all want to know about ourselves, but we’re afraid to ask and to listen to the answers, especially if they’re good.  The “Shadow Self” can be composed of just as many  “good” qualities as “bad” ones, and sometimes it almost seems that humans are just as afraid of opening to love and beauty as they are of anything.  Adding that to the mix of what goes on in life, it can get to be pretty rough at times.  If our own gyroscope is off, functioning is going to be a challenge.  I can speak on this with Great Authority because I’ve only just lately found my gyroscope, even though it seems that it was there all the time.     Lots of time spent wandering in the woods, yes indeed.

This week I had opportunities to experience enormous joy, deep sadness, as well as a sense of futility at being unable to help.  But I remained (well, mostly, ok?) in balance, kept the mind and heart engaged, and ultimately was able to feel a peace in each situation (except the super happy joy one- I’m as impatient as a little kid to get to the next point in that story).  Having walked through fires until I was burnt to a crisp, I can turn around and see a much bigger landscape of life than I could before.  I wonder if this experience of …the Awful? in our lives is a pre-requisite for becoming more fully human.  Philip Gourevitch wrote in this week’s New Yorker about present-day Rwanda.  I was struck by how the people had really in huge measure changed the content of their thinking and behavior.  Rwanda now has the most women elected to representative government in the world- think of that!  As one result, things are improving because the focus is on the right items: How we live together, what the social contract needs in order to cohere, such as schools and roads and traffic laws and medicine and newspapers.  The President of the country has been through fires upon fires, and seems to have a higher focus perhaps because of it?   Not to say that things are wonderful but the shift is dramatic and striking, even though the knowledge is ever present that back sliding could occur and darkness could once more prevail.

Then I was thinking about the enormous impact the whole “cat and mouse” paradigm has on international relations; how governments and intelligence services are almost playing a deadly game all the time.  A game that sometimes seems to be perhaps divergent from solving the real problems.   The darkness is a heartbeat away.    What saves us from that darkness?  Basic things, I think.   The love between people.  The beauty of the every day world.  Actually communicating with another person.  It made me speculate about  whether, when inter-country meetings are described as “productive”,  that doesn’t simply mean that everyone at the table recognized something: Their common humanity. We can do this every day ourselves- although admittedly while driving it is touch and go.  Still, the feelings can be acknowledged, we really don’t have to do anything to the car cutting us off or taking our parking place or going 30 miles an hour on the freeway, and that is a good place to start.  That, and for now, Pizza.  The pizza will at least make sense.

I Am Clouseau. Apparently

Now we may see how this ridiculous thing called my mind Actually Functions.  It’s very much like a dog I saw once, chasing a bug in the grass with his nose.

Today I was forcibly reminded of a couple of things.  We were watching a Pink Panther movie, the Partner and I, one night.  The one where Clouseau is supposed to be dead, but he isn’t, and the Herbert Lom character sees him while delivering his eulogy.  Shorts out, collapses.  I was laughing and the Partner says, in that pre-weapons grade zinger way of his, kindly of course: You really like these don’t you? I snuffled and nodded.  You relate to the Commissioner, don’t you? Again, a snuffled chortle and nod from me.  Have you,  he said, ever thought that you are REALLY like Clouseau?  I was so stunned I got hiccups.  But there is proof positive every day and I have had to learn to live with it.  Today, for example.  I brought the laundry in, and having folded and stacked it haphazardly and.well, my clean socks fell into the kitchen garbage.  Here honey, said the Partner, I’ll carry it into the bedroom.  No! No! I said…I still have to…and then of course there was a huge crash as the garage door opener flew off the laundry carrier and the whole thing tipped over and..there were coffee beans involved…He looked at me.  I looked at the floor and said: I think I’m done here.  Later on, in the shower, I felt quite proud of the fact that although I did drop the shaving cream can, it did not explode as it has other times.  Partner, by now exhausted, skids into the bathroom, says: NOTHING IS EVER QUIET WITH YOU IS IT?  This is just to point out what the backdrop to my thought process is.

Later on, instead of doing what I Should Have Been Doing, I was watching a movie featuring Hillary Swank.  In this film, she portrays a teacher in Long Beach, California, who by paying attention to her students allows them to flower and succeed.  I saw all my old teachers in this movie: The ones who told me I’d never amount to anything, I’d never fit in, never be anything or anybody.  I also saw the ones who paid attention and who, basically, saved me.  So in between all the Noise and stuff, I returned to my pondering of novels and artists and people who are in service to others, and that sort of thing.  It is tremendously challenging to persist in the face of what are really almost insurmountable difficulties.  But people do it every day.  They learn to read, and write, and think for themselves.  They see that we are here to help each other.  Fear really does keep us all apart.  As you may expect, I often see that fear as being fostered and fomented by a system that wants to keep itself in place: A top down arrangement where the only thing that trickles down isn’t very nice.  However.  The effort it takes to really look at another being and see them , just the same as you are, it opens up almost unimaginable vistas of possibility.  The two novelists I mentioned yesterday, Okri (The Famished Road) and wa Thiongo (The Wizard of Crow) do this work of opening those vistas.  I think at times people can say, well that doesn’t have anything to do with me, when they hear or read about someone in a (seemingly) different situation.  But it always has everything to do with all of us .  What we have to do is the work of translating that vista into our own lives, not hiding things about who we are and what we do, or have done.  Understanding that others are not all that different from us (however..er…Clouseau like we may be). Being true to ourselves and honest with our guts, and having compassion.  Compassion doesn’t mean making excuses or pretending to be something we’re not.  It is realizing, as a nurse said to a woman on a gurney in an Emergency Room I worked in, that we are all in pain here.  But it is beautiful anyway.

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Pressing matters in other parts of the kingdom have been requiring our attention of late, so, lest you, Gentle Reader, think we’ve gone tits up in a ditch, no, we haven’t. Not yet, anyway.  

We seemed to have hit a new low; or, as a financial news commentator called the economic situation, a MULTI-DECADE LOW.  Baking bread helped, as usual: crust speckled with fermentation bubbles, yes.  Irregular holes in interior: lace-like almost this time, yes.   Still.  I am continuing to be quite struck with the Difficulties of Communication.

 I think I’m saying something, simple usually, and it turns out  the other person simply isn’t listening.  Then when it becomes necessary to research the interaction, the memory of the person who wasn’t listening is the one that sticks.  Whoever sticks to hearing whatever it is they want to hear, instead of what was really said, is generally the winner in such events.  The model for this was firmly entrenched during the past eight years, of course, leaving me  at least with an ongoing residual sense of somehow being totally lost.   Words really matter to me; I love and admire them, and when they appear to have no meaning I get confused.  REALLY confused.  And this lack of meaning? Seems quite often to be covering up something that doesn’t smell right at all.  It is as though everything was built on a non-existent foundation and quick as a flash, it’s all gone.  Except that those who live in this world are still here amidst the rubble, whether or not they believed in WMDs, Santa Claus, affordable housing, having schools for children, or a consistent income and a trustworthy place to put it.  

I listened to President Obama’s speech last night and as usual was impressed by his thought process and command of the language.  He seems to be someone whose words actually mean what..well, what those words mean when you look them up in a dictionary.  It’s refreshing indeed.  However when I listen to the parts about sacrifice and responsibility, I feel very tired.  I have already sacrificed and fought for what I believe in through all the channels this society provides.   I have assumed responsibility for my consumption, my “carbon footprint”, my attitude, and all the rest of it.  I guess I am waiting for others to truly step up and join in the work and begin to cooperate.  There are some heartening signs in this direction but also many in the opposite direction.  This is where the Words come in.  Lots of people really don’t seem to understand them at all anymore.   This, I find frightening.

It connects, somehow, to another thing that has occupied a portion of my mind that hasn’t been busy keeping dragons from torching the far ends of the kingdom, and that is an article in the New Yorker, relatively recently, on the writer Chinua Achebe.  I have  read and loved African writers, having had the good fortune in college to have a friend who read and shared them with me.   It is true that there is a phantasmagorical quality to some of the writing, but in my view it is also completely real: the words of Ben Okri or Ngugi wa Thiongo describe things as they ARE.  The words mean what they mean.  In the aforementioned article, discussion was devoted to the issue of what language an African novelist “should” write in. English or the native tongue?  This really made me stop and think.  English being the language of the colonizer, the oppressor, the foreigner: However eloquent a language it is, it is still not the language that an African writer learns life in as a child.  Yet in this case writing in one’s own language limits, at times quite drastically, the numbers of people who will read that writing.  What a horrible dilemma, I thought.  Then, I thought: What an incredible expansion it provides in a way for a writer.  One has to learn the language of someone who, for good or ill, has vanquished one’s society.  This means taking in the understanding of the world and the psychology of that language as well.  Then, to weave it into a whole that expresses one’s own reality and response to all that has gone on before. This is an extraordinary achievement and  it seems that may be what needs to be done now: relearn our “mother tongue” so that it no longer seems like a foreign language to us, and  then truly understand what we are saying.