October 13, 2019

Who makes the world?

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 being completely engrossed and to also 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, that in July, I found myself standing next to Lin-Manuel in an elevator. I became so shy, I couldn't even look at him, let alone speak.*** Like he was my schoolgirl crush! It wouldn't have been out of line to say hello, as we were both there 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)

August 11, 2019

In truth, a library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage.

The Library Book
By Susan Orlean

This book lacked so much focus and editing that it's hard to embrace it 100%.* But it also enriched my knowledge of library history and captured the essence of the public library as a reliable sanctuary for everyone in a community. I have fond childhood memories of visiting my own local library, located a few blocks away from home. We didn't have a lot of money to spend on books, so the library was godsend and I remember the excitement of circling the small space searching for the maximum number of books (25) to check out at once. In later years, the same library employed my teenaged brother.  (Still thankful for this.) Today, I continue to view the library as a reliable sanctuary and often utilize it as such.

"In truth, a library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage."
(p. 59)

Painful to think of all the text that has been lost over the years as a result of human cruelty and ego. Let's please not forget this history.
"In the saga of humankind, most things are done for money—arson especially—but there is no money to be made by burning libraries. Instead, libraries are usually burned because they contain ideas that someone finds problematic. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the pope ordered Jewish books to be collected and "cremated" (the choice of terms at the time) because he believed they spread anti-Catholic thought. The Spanish Inquisition introduced the idea of book-burning festivals, which were community gatherings around bonfires made of "heretical" books, including any written in Hebrew, especially the Torah.
The Spanish continued their book burning abroad. In the mid-1500's, Hernan Cortes and his soldiers burned scores of Aztec manuscripts on the grounds that they contained black magic. After Cortes's victory, a priest named Diego de Landa was assigned to inflict Catholicism on the Mayan people. De Landa was fascinated by Mayan culture, yet he oversaw the torture and murder of scores of Mayans, and he burned every Mayan book and image he found. Only a few codices are known to have survived De Landa's purge, and those are among the only remaining documents of the Mayan civilization."
(p. 97)

"You could fill a book with the list of lost libraries of the world, and in fact, there have been many books written about them, including one with the haunting title Libricide, written by a professor of library science. Early in history, when there were fewer books, and printing copies were expensive and time-consuming, the loss of a library could be terminal. UNESCO released studies in 1949 and in 1996 listing all the libraries that have been demolished throughout modern history. The number of books destroyed, by UNESCO's count, is so enormous—in the billions—that I sometimes find it hard to believe there are any books left in the world.
War is the greatest slayer of libraries. Some of the loss is incidental. Because libraries are usually in the center of cities, they are often damaged when cities are attacked. Other times, though, libraries are specific targets. World War II destroyed more books and libraries than any event in human history. The Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books during their twelve years in power. Book burning was, as author George Orwell remarked, "the most characteristic [Nazi] activity.""
(pp. 97-8)

"The grinding destruction of the war crushed the libraries of Europe. Some were merely unlucky and got caught in fire bombings and aerial attacks meant for more strategic targets. But the German army singled out books for destruction. Special book-burning squads known as "Brenn-Kommandos" were sent out to burn libraries and synagogues. The squads were effective. Enumerating the losses of libraries in the war, both incidental and purposeful, is dizzying. Twenty major libraries containing two million books were destroyed in Italy. France lost millions more, including 300,000 in Strasbourg, 42,000 in Beauvais, 23,000 in Chartres, and 110,000 in Douai. The Library of the National Assembly in Paris burned down, taking with it countless historic arts and science books. In Metz, officials hid the library's most valuable books in an unmarked warehouse for safekeeping. A German soldier found the warehouse and threw an incendiary device into it. Most of the books, including rare eleventh- and thirteenth-century manuscripts were destroyed. During the Blitz, twenty million books in Great Britain burned or were wrecked by the water used to extinguish the fires. The Central Lending Library in Liverpool was completely ruined. (The rest of the city's libraries stayed open throughout the Blitz, maintaining regular hours and levying the usual overdue fines.)
After the 1938 Munich Conference , every book in the Czech language that dealt with geography, biography, or history was confiscated and either burned or mashed into pulp. In Vilnius, Lithuania, the library in the Jewish ghetto was set on fire. A few months later, the residents of the ghetto were shipped to concentration camps and gassed, illustrating the truth in German poet Heinrich Heine's warning: "There were one burns books, one in the end burns men." In Budapest, all small libraries and at least part of every major one was destroyed. Belgium's huge Library of the University of Louvain suffered more than almost any library in Europe. In World War I, the German army had burned it down. After the Armistice, a consortium of European nations rebuilt the library, and it reopened to great celebration. In 1940, the library was hit by German artillery fire, and all of the books in its stack were lost, including Old Masters prints and almost one thousand books published before 1500. In Poland, eighty percent of all books in the country were destroyed. In Kiev, German soldiers paved the streets with reference books from the city's library to provide footing for their armored vehicles in the mud. The troops then set the city's libraries on fire, burning four million books. As they made their way across Russia, the troops burned an estimated ninety-six million more.
The Allies' bombing of city centers in Japan and Germany inevitably hit libraries. Theodore Welch, who studies libraries in Japan, has written that by the time the American army arrived in 1945, three quarters of all the books in the country's libraries had been burned or damaged. The losses in Germany were astonishing. Most of the library books in cities including Bremen, Aachen, Stuttgart, Leipzig, Dresden, Munich Hanover, Munster, and Hamburg were incinerated. Three quarters of a million were destroyed in Darmstadt; more than a million in Frankfurt; two million in Berlin. By the end of the war, more than one third of all the books in Germany were gone."
(pp. 99-101)

August 05, 2019

But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense.

© Image Club/Getty Images

Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches
By Audre Lorde

Uses of the Erotic

"As women, we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge."
(p. 53)

"It is never easy to demand the most of ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.
This internal requirement toward excellence which we learn from the erotic must not be misconstrued as demanding the impossible from ourselves nor from others. Such a demand incapacitates everyone in the process. For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness.
The aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a conscious decision—a longed-for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.
(pp. 54-5)

"The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects—born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives."
(p. 55)

"We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But, once recognized, those which do not enhance our future lose their power and can be altered. The fear of our desires keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our oppression as women.
When we live outside ourselves, and by that I mean on external directives only rather than from our internal knowledge and needs, when we live away from those erotic guides from within ourselves, then our lives are limited by external and alien forms, and we conform to the needs of a structure that is not based on human need, let alone an individual's. But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense. For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within."
(pp. 56-7)

August 04, 2019

Your silence will not protect you.

© Image Club/Getty Images

Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches
By Audre Lorde

The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action

"In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else's words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into perspective gave me great strength.
I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you."
(p. 41)

August 03, 2019

We learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge, and therefore, lasting action comes.

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Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches
By Audre Lorde

Poetry Is Not a Luxury

"But as we come more into touch with our own ancient, non-European consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with, we learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge, and therefore, lasting action comes."
(p. 37)

"We can train ourselves to respect our feelings and to transpose them into a language so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundation for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before."
(p. 37)

"The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us - the poet - whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom."
(p. 38)

July 31, 2019

And it's not that there are no individuals who are nationalists, or racists, but that the taking of a state position against nationalism, against racism is what makes it possible for a society like this to function.

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Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
By Audre Lorde

From "Trip to Russia." I don't know that any of these observations, from 1976, hold. But what I found most interesting is how pleasant, relative to the U.S., her experience in Russia was as a black, woman, lesbian, feminist writer. She was regarded with respect, and not contempt.

"In Russia you carry your own bags in airports and hotels. This, at first, struck me as oppressive because, of course, carrying a laden bag up seven flights of stairs when the elevator isn't working is not fun. But the longer I stayed there the fairer it seemed, because in this country it appears that everything is seen in terms of food. That is, the labor of one's hands is measured by how much food you can produce, and then you take that and compare its importance to the worth of the other work that you do. Some men and women spend their whole lives, for instance, learning and doing the infinitely slow and patient handwork of retouching Persian Blue tiles down in Samarkand to restore the ancient mausoleums. It is considered very precious work. But antiquities have a particular value, whereas carrying someone else's bag does not have a very high priority because it is not very productive either of beauty or worth."
(p. 15)

"The people here in Tashkent, which is quite close to the Iranian border, are very diverse, and I am impressed by their apparent unity, by the ways in which the Russian and the Asian people seem to be able to function in a multinational atmosphere that requires of them that they get along, whether or not they are each other's favorite people. And it's not that there are no individuals who are nationalists, or racists, but that the taking of a state position against nationalism, against racism is what makes it possible for a society like this to function."
(p. 23)

"The peoples of the Soviet Union, in many respects, impress me as people who can not yet afford to be honest. When they can be they will either blossom into a marvel or sink into decay. What gets me about the United States is that it pretends to be honest and therefore has so little room to move toward hope. I think that in America there are certain kinds of problems and in Russia there are certain kinds of problems, but basically, when you find people who start from a position where human beings are at the core, as opposed to a position where profit is at the core, the solutions can be very different. I wonder how similar human problems will be solved. But I am not always convinced that human beings are at the core here, either, although there is more lip service done to that idea than in the U.S."
(p. 28)

July 30, 2019

That's when I knew she was forever caught in her own undercurrent, bouncing from one deep swell to the next.

© Gustavo Rimada
Sabrina & Corina
Kali Fajardo-Anstine

I added this collection of short stories to my reading list after I came across this Instagram post by Latinas Poderosas, highlighting Kali's following quote: "I think our ancestors were shamed for speaking Spanish, and now I feel shame for not speaking Spanish." I felt that deeply, and my shame & frustration of not being able to speak my language fluently—despite it being my first, native language—is constant. It's hard because it feels natural to blame myself, or my parents, and each produces guilt or a feeling of inferiority, or both. It's not anyone's fault. Instead, I'm trying to face that I've internalized shame over the years, passed down from generations. Lately, I've been trying to enter more spaces that are celebratory of my Latinx heritage, and to fully embrace it shamelessly, even if I don't always feel like I "belong." A few years ago, I enrolled in an intermediate Spanish conversation class and quickly noticed a difference, so I may do that again soon.

A powerful meditation on friendship, mothers and daughters, and the deep-rooted truths of our homelands...Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home

The storytelling here was moving; the writing surprising and great—infused with magic and hard truths. The stories represent powerful resistance to negative patterns and the yearning to represent and be more than your past. Appreciative for how a thing can find its way to you when you need it.

"I thought of all the women my family had lost, the horrible things they'd witnessed, the acts they simply endured. Sabrina had become another face in a line of tragedies that stretched back generations. And soon, when the mood hit my grandmother just right, she'd sit at her kitchen table, a Styrofoam cup of lemonade in her warped hand, and she'd tell the story of Sabrina Cordova—how men loved her too much, how little she loved herself, how in the end it killed her. The stories always ended the same, only different girls died, and I didn't want to hear them anymore."
(from title story, "Sabrina and Cordova," p. 44)

"Her stance was wobbly and unrefined, as though she had given someone else permission to wear her skin. That's when I knew she was forever caught in her own undercurrent, bouncing from one deep swell to the next. She would never lift me out of that sea. She would never pause to fill her lungs with air. Soon the world would yank her chain of sadness against every shore, every rock, every glass-filled beach, leaving nothing but the broken hull of a drowned woman. I turned away from my mother then, heading toward the carriage house, whispering no so many times that I sounded like a cooing dove. My mother asked for more than once for me to stop. The further I walked, the further her voice moved from giddy to shrill, rising above the hibiscus and palm trees, booming off the front house and carriage house doors."
("Any Further West," p. 179)

July 08, 2019

Humans carry around legacy behaviors and biases, jerry-rigged holdovers from earlier stages of evolution that follow their own obsolete rules.

© Albert Bierstadt / Art Resource

The Overstory
By Richard Powers

"Adam can't stop reading. Again and again, the book shows how so-called Homo sapiens fail at even the simplest logic problems. But they're fast and fantastic at figuring out who's in and who's out, who's up and who's down, who should be heaped with praise and who must be punished without mercy. Ability to execute simple acts of reason? Feeble. Skill at herding each other? Utterly, endlessly brilliant. Whole new rooms open up in Adam's brain, ready to be furnished. He looks up from the book to see a library closing down and throwing him out...
The book is so elegant that Adam kicks himself for not having seen the truth long before. Humans carry around legacy behaviors and biases, jerry-rigged holdovers from earlier stages of evolution that follow their own obsolete rules. What seem like erratic, irrational choices are, in fact, strategies created long ago for solving other kinds of problems. We're all trapped in the bodies of sly, social-climbing opportunists shaped to survive the savanna by policing each other."
("Adam Appich," p. 61)

"Miles below and three centuries earlier, a pollen-coated wasp crawled down the hole at the tip of a certain green fig and laid eggs all over the involute garden of flowers hidden inside. Each of the world's seven hundred and fifty species of Ficus has its own unique wasp tailored to fertilize it. And this one wasp somehow found the precise fig species of her destiny. The foundress laid her eggs and died. The fruit that she fertilized became her tomb.
Hatched, the parasite larvae fed on the insides of this inflorescence. But they stopped short of laying waste to the thing that fed them. The males mated with their sisters, then died inside their plush fruit prison. The females emerged from the fig and flew of, coated in pollen, to take the endless game elsewhere. The fig they left behind produced a red bean smaller than the freckle on the tip of Douglas Pavlicek's nose. That fig was eaten by a bulbul. The bean passed through the bird's gut dropped from the sky in a dollop of rich shit that landed in the crook of another tree, where sun and rain nursed the resulting seedling past the million ways of death. It grew; its roots slipped down and encased its host. Decades passed. Centuries. War on the backs of elephants gave way to televised moon landings and hydrogen bombs.
The bole of the fig put forth branches, and branches built their drip-tipped leaves. Elbows bent from the larger limbs, which lowered themselves to earth and thickened into new trunks. In time, the single central stem became a stand. The fig spread outward into an oval grove of three hundred main trunks and two thousands minor ones. And yet it was all still a single fig. One banyan."
("Douglas Pavlicek," p. 81)

May 31, 2019

Capturing the moment, these small slices of life, these small gusts of happiness, move me more deeply than all the rest.

© Still taken from the film 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
By Jean-Dominique Bauby

a stunning achievement.

"But for now, I would be the happiest of men if I could just swallow the overflow of saliva that endlessly floods my mouth. Even before first light, I am already practicing sliding my tongue toward the rear of my palate in order to provoke a swallowing reaction. What is more, I have dedicated to my larynx the little packets of incense hanging on the wall, amulets brought back from Japan by pious globe-trotting friends. Just one of the stones in the thanksgiving monument erected by my circle of friends during their wanderings. In every corner of the world, the most diverse deities have been solicited in my name. I try to organize all of this spiritual energy. If they tell me that candles have been burned for my sake in a Breton chapel, or that a mantra has been chanted in a Nepalese temple, I at once give each of the spirits invoked a precise task. A woman I know enlisted a Cameroon holy man to procure me the goodwill of Africa's gods: I have assigned him my right eye. For my hearing problems I rely on the relationship between my devout mother-in-law and the monks of a Bordeaux brotherhood. They regularly dedicate their prayers to me, and I occasionally steal into their abbey to hear their chants fly heavenward. So far the results have been unremarkable. But when seven brothers of the same order had their throats cut by Islamic fanatics, my ears hurt for several days. Yet all these lofty protections are merely clay ramparts, walls of sand, Maginot lines, compared to the small prayer my daughter, Celeste, sends up to her Lord every evening before she closes her eyes. Since we fall asleep at roughly the same hour, I set out for the kingdom of slumber with this wonderful talisman, which shields me from all harm."
(Prayer, pp. 12-13)

"Speech therapy is an art that deserves to be more widely known. You cannot imagine the acrobatics your tongue mechanically performs in order to produce all the sounds of a language. Just now I am struggling with the letter l, a pitiful admission for an editor in chief who cannot even pronounce the name of his own magazine! On good days, between coughing fits, I muster enough energy and wind to be able to puff out one or two phonemes. On my birthday, Sandrine managed to get me to pronounce the whole alphabet more or less intelligibly. I could not have had a better present. It was as if those twenty-six letters had been wrenched from the void; my own hoarse voice seemed to emanate from a far-off country. The exhausting exercise left me feeling like a caveman discovering language for the first time. Sometimes the phone interrupts our work, and I take advantage of Sandrine's presence to be in touch with loved ones, to intercept and catch passing fragments of life, the way you catch a butterfly. My daughter, Celeste, tells me of her adventures with her pony. In five months she will be nine. My father tells me how hard it is to stay on his feet. He is fighting undaunted through his ninety-third year. These two are the outer links of the chain of love that surrounds and protects me."
(Guardian Angel, pp. 40-41)

"I receive remarkable letters. They are opened for me, unfolded, and spread out before my eyes in a daily ritual that gives the arrival of the mail the character of a hushed and holy ceremony. I carefully read each letter myself. Some of them are serious in tone, discussing the meaning of life, invoking the supremacy of the soul, the mystery of every existence. And by a curious reversal, the people who focus most closely on these fundamental questions tend to be people I had known only superficially. Their small talk had masked hidden depths. Had I been blind and deaf, or does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person's true nature?
Other letters simply relate the small events that punctuate the passage of time: roses picked at dusk, the laziness of a rainy Sunday, a child crying himself to sleep. Capturing the moment, these small slices of life, these small gusts of happiness, move me more deeply than all the rest. A couple of lines or eight pages, a Middle Eastern stamp or a suburban postmark...I hoard all these letters like treasure. One day I hope to fasten them end to end in a half-mile streamer, to float in the wind like a banner raised to the glory of friendship.
It will keep the vultures at bay.
(The Vegetable, pp. 83-4)

"But I never tire of the smell of french fries."
(Outing, p. 88)

April 10, 2019

Before being concerned with what others think of me, I want to follow through with my own being.

© ATRIA Books

The Courage to Be Disliked
By Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

In my time spent being still this winter, I've been deeply reflecting on my beliefs, habits, flaws, traumas. I've been working on courage, and on unlearning some of the internalized beliefs about myself and my capabilities that have prevented me from being more courageous in my life. I've done really well for myself and yet my instinct to appease, avoid confrontation, and be liked have been pretty limiting in ways that may not be obvious from the outside. Now that I'm aware of these patterns, sometimes I find I'm a little too close to the other end of the spectrum so I'm being mindful about finding the balance, and remaining compassionate and patient towards others in the process.

It's not easy but I feel the urgency of mastering self-love, self-forgiveness, and independence of others' expectations and needs.

Reminder: one can't be good for the world (community feeling), unless one can be good to oneself—and that requires setting boundaries, speaking up, limiting comparison, and being brave.

"Philosopher: But if you change your lifestyle—the way of giving meaning to the world and yourself—then both your way of interacting with the world and your behavior will have to change as well. Do not forget this point: One will have to change. You, just as you are, have to choose your lifestyle." (p. 38)

"Philosopher: Admitting is a good attitude. But don't forget, it's basically impossible to not get hurt in your relations with other people. When you enter into interpersonal relationships, it is inevitable that to a greater or lesser extent you will get hurt, and you will hurt someone, too. Adler says, "To get rid of one's problems, all one can do is live in the universe all alone." But one can't do such a thing." (p. 51)

"Philosopher: Think about it this way. When we refer to the pursuit of superiority, there's a tendency to think of it as the desire to try to be superior to other people; to climb higher, even if it means kicking others down—you know, the image of ascending a stairway and pushing people out of the way to get to the top. Adler does not uphold such attitudes, of course. Rather, he's saying that on the same level playing field, there are people who are moving forward, and there are people who are moving forward behind them. Keep that image in mind. Though the distance covered and the speed of walking differ, everyone is walking equally in the same flat place. The pursuit of superiority is the mind-set of taking a single step forward on one's own feet, not the mind-set of competition of the sort that necessitates aiming to be greater than other people." (pp. 72-3)

"Philosopher: Does one choose recognition from others, or does one choose a path of freedom without recognition? It's an important question—let's think about it together. To live one's life trying to gauge other people's feelings and being worried about how they look at you. To live in such a way that others' wishes are granted. There may indeed be signposts to guide you this way, but it is a very unfree way to live. Now, why are you choosing such an unfree way to live? You are using the term "desire for recognition," but what you are really saying is that you don't want to be disliked by anyone." (p. 140)

"Philosopher: One neither prepares to be self-righteous nor becomes defiant. One just separates tasks. There may be a person who does not think well of you, but that is not your task. And again, thinking things like He should like me or I've done all this, so it's strange that he doesn't like me, is the reward-oriented way of thinking of having intervened in another person's tasks. One moves forward without fearing the possibility of being disliked. One does not live as if one were rolling downhill, but instead climbs the slope that lies ahead. That is freedom for a human being. Suppose that I had two choices in front of me—a life in which all people like me, and a life in which there are people who dislike me—and I was told to choose one. I would choose the latter without a second thought. Before being concerned with what others think of me, I want to follow through with my own being. That is to say, I want to live in freedom." (p. 145)

"Philosopher: When we speak of interpersonal relationships, it always seems to be two-person relationships and one's relationship to a large group that come to mind, but first it is oneself. When one is tied to the desire for recognition, the interpersonal relationship cards will always stay in the hands of other people. Does one entrust the cards of life to another person, or hold onto them oneself?" (p. 150)

January 20, 2019

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Wild Geese
By Mary Oliver

Just because. It is a gift to feel at home with yourself. Requires hard-earned, trying, self-consuming work. Over and over. Strongly believe having read (and heard) these words along the way made a difference.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

January 17, 2019

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver, Dec. 2018 in Market Square Park (Houston)
The Summer Day
By Mary Oliver

Stumbled upon "The Summer Day" on the ground in downtown Houston last month, only a few feet from a moving memorial for a woman who died on 9/11. I was so surprised to see the barely legible poem, delighted even; it was so easy to miss. It delivered a hopeful message for the somber moment. A month before, during an empowering women's summit hosted by Glamour Magazine, Ann Dowd followed her speech about success and self-worth by reciting "Wild Geese" to the audience. Another moment of pleasant surprise. Reading Mary's words in recent years have provided comfort, understanding, and perspective in times of of both joy and sadness. And when overcome by nature's beauty and unable to find the words, I refer to hers. I've only read Upstream, and intended to seek more of her works, so maybe I'll do that this long weekend: treat myself to quiet time and Mary's poetry and prose.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?