November 10, 2019

With few claims on her time and none on her soul, she turns back outside, into the woods, the green negation of all careers.

© Albert Bierstadt / Art Resource


The Overstory
By Richard Powers

I read Patricia Westerford's chapter a few months ago and was so moved. Nearly wept. I have thought about it often since. I packed the book for my train ride to Montreal last month, in hopes of advancing with the story during the 11-hour trip. Instead, I re-read her chapter and it produced the same effect. Love.

"She becomes her father's star and only pupil for the simple reason that she alone, of all the family, sees what he knows: plants are willful and crafty and after something, just like people. He tells her, on their drives, about all the oblique miracles that green can devise. People have no corner on curious behavior. Other creatures—bigger, slower, older, more durable—call the shots, make the weather, feed creation, and create the very air.
"It's a great idea, trees. So great that evolution keeps inventing it, again and again."
(p. 114)

"Watching the man, hard-of-hearing, hard-of-speech Patty learns that real joy consists of knowing that human wisdom counts less than the shimmer of beeches in a breeze. As certain as weather coming from the west, the things people know for sure will change. There is no knowing for a fact. The only dependable things are humility and looking."
(p. 115)

"Sophomore year, Patty gets a job in the campus greenhouses—two hours stolen every morning before classes. Genetics, plant physiology, and organic chemistry take her through evening. She studies every night at her carrel until the library closes. Then she reads for pleasure until she falls asleep. She does try the books her friends are reading: Siddhartha, Naked Lunch, On the Road. But nothing else moves her more than Peattie's Natural Histories, books from her father's shelves. Now they're her endless refreshment. The phrases branch and turn to catch the sun."
(p. 120)

"With few claims on her time and none on her soul, she turns back outside, into the woods, the green negation of all careers. She no longer theorizes or speculates. Just watches, notes, and sketches into a stack of notebooks, her only persistent possessions aside from clothes. Her eyes go near and narrow. She camps out many nights with Muir, under the spruce and fir, completely lost, turned wildly around by the smell of inland oceans, sleeping on beds of thick lichen, sixteen inches of brown needle pillow, the living earth beneath her bag, its fluid influence rising up into the fiber of her and all the towering trunks that surround and watch over. The particle of her private self rejoins everything it has been split off from—the plan of runaway green. I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
(p. 129)

"Her public reputation, like Demeter's daughter, crawls back up from the underworld. A scattering of scientific papers vindicates her original work in airborne semaphores. Young researchers find supporting evidence, in species after species. Acacias alert other acacias to prowling giraffes. Willows, poplars, alders: all are caught warning each other of insect invasion across the open air. It makes no difference, her rehabilitation. She doesn't much care what happens, outside this forest. All the world she needs is here, under this canopy—the densest biomass anywhere on Earth."
(p. 141)

"But I'd want to sign the papers." He peers out into an opening in the western firs, where the sun has undeniably started to set. "Because then, when I die, you could get the pension."
(p. 144)

October 13, 2019

Who makes the world?



Watchmen
By Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I re-read Watchmen in honor of HBO's homage debuting later this month.

It was exciting to re-experience its magic and to make new observations that deepened my appreciation for Moore and Gibbons' great, clever, deeply human storytelling.

If I had more time I'd elaborate—but for now will say: still stunning.

© Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons

September 16, 2019

Allow for the possibility that the best of you is still inside you, waiting to emerge.


© Random House


By Lin-Manuel Miranda
Illustrated by Jonny Sun

Wrapping this book for a friend. I'd gift it ten more times. My copy lives on my nightstand—its words having been savored, treasured by me over mornings and nights for months. Just pure, precious, and uplifting poetry. Thankful this exists and excited to pay it forward!

I just remembered I found myself standing next to Lin-Manuel in an elevator in July. I became so shy, I couldn't even look at him, let alone speak.*** It wouldn't have been out of line to say hello, as we were both in the building for the same reason...and he was standing with my colleague. There was no easy, non-clichéd, quick, and bold way to tell him his words have had such great impact: providing hope, power, support, and antidote to loneliness.

This is coming from someone who hasn't had the opportunity yet to see Hamilton or In The Heights. (deep sigh x2.) Just someone who has benefited from his Twitter pep talks. (Truly.)

All of them are great. Here's one. This is the page that's currently bookmarked in my copy. (p. 168)





***(Also, now recalling my Patti Smith story as well—what the hell. I need to get better at meeting my idols.)


September 11, 2019

Yet, when one sees and senses thusly, then one has to work to do something about what one sees. To possess good intuition, goodly power, causes work.



Women Who Run With the Wolves
By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Nosing Out the Facts: The Retrieval of Intuition as Initiation

"In this way the doll represents the inner spirit of us as women; the voice of inner reason, inner knowing, and inner consciousness. The doll is like the little bird in fairy tales who appears and whispers in the heroine's ear, the one who reveals the hidden enemy and what to do about it all. This is the wisdom of the homunculus, the small being within. It is our helper which is not seeable, per se, but which is always accessible.
There is no greater blessing a mother can give her daughter than a reliable sense of the veracity of her own intuition. Intuition is handed from parent to child in the simplest ways: "You have good judgment. What do you think lies hidden behind all this?" Rather than defining intuition as some unreasoned faulty quirk, it is defined as truly the soul-voice speaking. Intuition senses the directions to go in for most benefit. It is self-preserving, has a grasp of underlying motive and intention, and it chooses what will cause the least amount of fragmenting in the psyche."
(p. 85)

"Many women are in recovery from their "Nice-Nice" complexes, wherein, no matter how they felt, no matter who assailed them, they responded so sweetly as to be practically fattening. Though they might have smiled kindly during the day, at night they gnashed their teeth like brutes—the Yaga in their psyches was fighting for expression."
(pp. 88-9)

"Each woman who retrieves her intuition and Yaga-like powers reaches a point where she is tempted to throw them away, for what is the use of seeing and knowing all these things? This skull-light is not forgiving. In its light, the old are elderly; the beautiful, lush; the silly, foolish; the drunk are drunken; the unfaithful are infidels; things which are incredible are noted as miracles. Skull-light sees what it sees; it is an eternal light, and right out front, shining ahead of a woman, like a presence which goes a little bit before her and reports back to her what it has found ahead. It is her perpetual reconnaissance.
Yet, when one sees and senses thusly, then one has to work to do something about what one sees. To possess good intuition, goodly power, causes work. It causes work firstly in the watching and comprehending of negative forces and imbalances both inward and outward. Secondly, it causes striving in the gathering up of will in order to do something about what one sees, be it for good, or balance, or to allow something to live or die.
It is true, I will not lie to you; it is easier to throw away the light and go back to sleep. It is true, it is hard to hold the skull-light out before us sometimes. For with it, we clearly see all sides of ourselves and others, both the disfigured and the divine and all conditions in between.
Yet, with this light the miracles of deep beauty in the world and in humans come to consciousness. With this penetrating light one can see past the bad action to the good heart, one can espy the sweet spirit crushed beneath hatred, one can understand much instead of being perplexed only. This light can differentiate layers of personality, intention, and motives in others. It can determine consciousness and unconsciousness in self and others. It is the wand of knowing. It is the mirror in which all things are sensed and seen. It is the deep wild nature."
(p. 104)

"Another way to strengthen connection to intuition is to refuse to allow anyone to repress your vivid energies...that means your opinions, your thoughts, your ideas, your values, your morals, your ideals. There is very little right/wrong or good/bad in this world. There is, however, useful and not useful. There are also things that are sometimes destructive, as well as things which are engendering. There are actions that are properly integrated and intentioned and those that are not. But as you well know, a garden has to be turned in the fall in order to prepare it for the spring. It cannot bloom all of the time. But let your own innate cycles dictate the upsurges and the downward cycles of your life, not other forces or persons outside yourself, nor negative complexes from within."
(p. 108)

"One of the most remarkable things about using intuition and the instinctive nature is that it causes a surefooted spontaneity to erupt. Spontaneity doesn't mean being unwise. It is not a "pounce-and-blurt" attribute. Good boundaries are still important. Scheherazade, for instance, had pretty good boundaries. She used her cleverness to please while at the same time positioning herself to be valued. Being real doesn't mean being reckless, it means allowing La voz mitologica, The Mythological Voice, to speak. One does this by shutting off the ego for a while and letting that which wishes to speak, speak."
(pp. 108-9)

"So, here at the end of the resetting of initiation into the feminine psyche, we have a young woman with formidable experiences who has learnt to follow her knowing. She has endured through all the tasks to a full initiation. The crown is hers. Perhaps recognizing intuition is the easier of the tasks, but holding it in consciousness and letting live what can live, and letting die what must die, is by far the more strenuous, yet so satisfying aim."
(p. 110)

September 10, 2019

So often a woman feels then that she lives in an empty place where there is maybe just one cactus with one brilliant red flower on it, and then in every direction, 500 miles of nothing. But for the woman who will go 501 miles, there is something more.



Women Who Run With the Wolves
By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

So much to say about this collection's impact on me so far. How over the past three years it's whispered its way into my life through the voices of various women I admire and respect. But its landed at the perfect time; its moment for me is right now. 🙏

"A sense of her also comes through the vision; through sights of great beauty. I have felt her when I see what we call in the woodlands a Jesus-God sunset. I have felt her move in me from seeing the fishermen come up from the lake at dusk with lanterns lit, and also from seeing my newborn baby's toes all lined up like a row of sweet corn. We see her where we see her, which is everywhere.
She comes to us through sound as well; through music which vibrates the sternum, excites the heart; it comes through the drum, the whistle, the call, and the cry. It comes through the written and the spoken word; sometimes a word, a sentence or a poem or a story, is so resonant, so right, it causes us to remember, at least for an instant, what substance we are really made from, and where is our true home.
These transient "tastes of the wild" come during the mystique of inspiration—ah, there it is; oh, now it has gone. The longing for her comes when one happens across someone who has secured this wild-ish relationship. The longing comes when one realizes one has given scant time to the mystic cookfire or to the dreamtime, too little time to one's own creative life, one's life work or one's true loves.
(p. 5)

"Stories are medicine. I have been taken with stories since I heard my first. They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything—we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic drive are contained in stories. Stories engender the excitement, sadness, questions, longings, and understandings that spontaneously bring the archetype, in this case Wild Woman, back to the surface."
(p. 14)

"This is a book of women's stories, held out as markers along the path. They are for you to read and contemplate in order to assist you toward your own natural-won freedom, your caring for self, animals, earth, children, sisters, lovers, and men. I'll tell you right now, 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."
(p. 19)

"A woman's psyche may have found its way to the desert out of resonance, or because of past cruelties or because she was not allowed a larger life above ground. So often a woman feels then that she lives in an empty place where there is maybe just one cactus with one brilliant red flower on it, and then in every direction, 500 miles of nothing. But for the woman who will go 501 miles, there is something more. A small brave house. An old one. She has been waiting for you."
("The Howl: Resurrection of the Wild Woman," p. 33)

"It comes back to life through the young woman and her sisters, who ultimately are able to break the old patterns of ignorance, by being able to behold a horror and not look away. They are able to see, and to stand what they see."
("Stalking the Intruder: The Beginning Initiation," p. 54)

"Perhaps most elementally, the Bluebeard story raises to consciousness the psychic key, the ability to ask any and all questions about oneself, about one's family, one's endeavors, and about life all around. Then, like the wildish being who sniffs things out, snuffles into and under and around to discover what a thing is, a woman is free to find true answers to her deepest and darkest questions. She is free to wrest the powers from the thing which has assailed her and to turn those powers which were once used against her to her own well-suited and excellent uses. That, is a wildish woman."
("Stalking the Intruder: The Beginning Initiation," p. 61)



September 07, 2019

If the brain is to stay healthy, it must remain active, wondering, playing, exploring, and experimenting right to the end.

© Bill Hayes / Oliver Sacks Foundation

Everything In Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales
By Oliver Sacks

Admired Oliver Sacks' compassion towards his patients and his devotion to science, especially neurology. He also had such vast curiosity and enthusiasm about life. From his love of swimming, reading, and nature, to his descriptions of awe-filled, strange, lovely experiences including attending an annual herring festival in NYC, meeting an orangutan for the first time, and more—I loved reading about his adventures and perspectives. He lived life openly, intelligently, fully.

"Mr. Q was another patient, less demented than Dr. M., who resided in a nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor where I often worked. He had been employed for many years as the janitor at a boarding school and now found himself in a somewhat similar place: an institutional building with institutional furniture and a great many people coming and going, especially in the daytime, some in authority, and dressed accordingly, others under their guidance; there was also a strict curriculum, with fixed mealtimes and fixed times for getting up and going to bed. So perhaps it was not entirely unexpected that Mr. Q should imagine that he was still a janitor, still at a school (albeit a school that had undergone some puzzling changes). But if the pupils were sometimes bedridden or elderly, and the staff wore the white habits of a religious order, these were mere details—he never bothered with administrative matters.
He had his job: checking the windows and doors to make sure they were securely locked at night, inspecting the laundry and boiler room to make sure all was functioning smoothly. The sisters who ran the home, though perceiving his confusion and delusion, respected and even reinforced the identity of this somewhat demented resident, who, they felt, might fall apart if it were taken away. So they encouraged him in his janitorial role, giving him keys to certain closets and encouraging him to lock up at night before he retired. He wore a bunch of keys jangling at his waist—the insignia of his office, his official identity. He would check the kitchen to make sure all of the gas rings and stoves were turned off and no perishable food had been left unrefrigerated. And though he slowly became more and more demented over the years, he seemed to be organized and held together in a remarkable way by his role, the varied tasks of checking, cleaning, and maintenance that he performed throughout the day. When Mr. Q died of a sudden heart attack, he did so without perhaps ever realizing that he had been anything but a janitor with a lifetime of loyal work behind him.
Should we have told Mr. Q that he was no longer a janitor but a declining and demented patient in a nursing home? Should we have taken away his accustomed and well-rehearsed identity and replaced it with a "reality" that, though real to us, would have been meaningless to him? It seemed not only pointless but cruel to do so—and might well have hastened his decline."
("Telling," pp. 142-3)

"If the brain is to stay healthy, it must remain active, wondering, playing, exploring, and experimenting right to the end. Such activities or dispositions may not show up on a functional brain imaging or, for that matter, on neuropsychological tests, but they are of the essence in defining the health of the brain and in allowing its development throughout life."
("The Aging Brain," pp. 153)

"The two preeminent evolutionary changes in the early history of life on Earth—from prokaryote to eukaryote, from anaerobe to aerobe—took the better part of two billion years. And then another thousand million years had to pass before life rose above the microscopic and the first multicellular organisms appeared. So if the Earth's history is anything to go by, one should not expect to find any higher life on a planet that is still young. Even if life has appeared and all goes well, it could take billions of years for evolutionary processes to move it along to the multicellular stage."
("Anybody Out There?," pp. 206-7)

"For myself, since I cannot wait, I turn to science fiction on occasion—and, not least, back to my favorite Wells. Although it was written a hundred years ago, "A Lunar Morning"* has the freshness of a new dawn, and it remains for me, as when I first read it, the most poetic evocation of how it may be when, finally, we encounter alien life."
("Anybody Out There?," p. 210)

"Reading is a hugely complex task, one that calls upon many parts of the brain, but it is not a skill humans have acquired through evolution (unlike speech, which is largely hardwired). Reading is a relatively recent development, arising perhaps five thousand years ago, and it depends on a tiny area of the brain's visual cortex. What we now call the visual word form area is part of a cortical region near the back of the left side of the brain that evolved to recognize basic shapes in nature but can be redeployed for the recognition of letters or words. This elementary shape or letter recognition is only the first step.
From this visual word form area, two-way connections must be made to many other parts of the brain, including those responsible for grammar, memories, association, and feelings, so that letters and words acquire their particular meanings for us. We each form unique neural pathways associated with reading, and we each bring to the act of reading a unique combination not only of memory and experience, but of sensory modalities, too. Some people may "hear" the sounds of the words as they read (I do, but only if I am reading for pleasure, not when I am reading for information); others may visualize them, consciously or not. Some may be acutely aware of the acoustic rhythms or emphases of a sentence; others are more aware of its look or its shape."
("Reading the Fine Print," pp. 230-1)


*"Imagine it; Imagine that dawn!"
-From H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon, chapter 8, A Lunar Morning


September 05, 2019

At the library I felt free—free to look at the thousands, tens of thousands, of books; free to roam and to enjoy the special atmosphere and the quiet companionship of other readers, all like myself, on quests of their own.



© Bill Hayes / Oliver Sacks Foundation


Everything In Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales
By Oliver Sacks

"Swimming became a dominant passion at Oxford, and after this there was no going back. When I came to New York, in the mid-1960s, I started to swim at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, and would sometimes make the circuit of City Island—a swim that took me several hours. This, indeed, is how I found the house I lived in for twenty years: I had stopped about halfway around to look at a charming gazebo by the water's edge, got out and strolled up the street, saw a little red house for sale, was shown round it (still dripping) by the puzzled owners, walked along to the real estate agent and convinced her of my interest (she was not used to customers in swim trunks), reentered the water on the other side of the island, and swam back to Orchard Beach, having acquired a house in midswim."
("Water Babies," p. 5)

"I do not think my experience is unique. Many scientists, no less than poets or artists, have a living relation to the past, not just an abstract sense of history and tradition but a feeling of companions and predecessors, ancestors with whom they enjoy a sort of implicit dialogue. Science sometimes sees itself as impersonal, as "pure thought," independent of its historical and human origins. It is often taught as if this were the case. But science is a human enterprise through and through, an organic, evolving, human growth, with sudden spurts and arrests, and strange deviations, too. It grows out of its past but never outgrows it, any more than we outgrow our childhoods."
("Humphry Davy: Poet of Chemistry," p. 39)

"The oak-paneled library was the quietest and most beautiful room in the house, to my eyes, and it vied with my little chemistry lab as my favorite place to be. I would curl up in a chair and become so absorbed in what I was reading that all sense of time would be lost. Whenever I was late for lunch or dinner I could be found, completely enthralled by a book, in the library. I learned to read early, at three our four, and books, and our library, are among my first memories.
But the ur-library, for me, was our local public library, the Willesden library. There I spent many of the happiest hours of my growing-up years—our house was a five-minute walk from the library—and it was there I received my education.
On the whole, I disliked school, sitting in class, receiving instruction; information seemed to go in one ear and out the other. I could not be passive—I had to be active, learn for myself, learn what I wanted, and in the way that suited me best. I was not a good pupil, but I was a good learner, and in the Willesden library—and all the libraries that came later—I roamed the shelves and stacks, had the freedom to select whatever I wanted, to follow paths that fascinated me, to become myself. At the library I felt free—free to look at the thousands, tens of thousands, of books; free to roam and to enjoy the special atmosphere and the quiet companionship of other readers, all like myself, on quests of their own."
("Libraries," p. 41)