December 29, 2019

You work, and you work, and you work, and then you get a glimmer of understanding.

© Illustration by Ana Galvan for The New Yorker

The Myth and Magic of Generating New Ideas
By Dan Rockmore

"The origin stories of big ideas, whether in math or any other field, generally highlight the eureka moments. You can’t really blame the storytellers. It’s not so exciting to read “and then she studied some more.” But this arduous, mundane work is a key part of the process; without it, the story is just a myth. There’s no way to skip the worrying phase. You work, and you work, and you work, and then you get a glimmer of understanding."

December 24, 2019

There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
By Bryan Stevenson

Thankful for Bryan Stevenson's social justice work and for his documenting so much of his experience in this moving memoir.

I had recently finished Just Mercy when news was spreading of the young woman fatally stabbed in Morningside Park by three teenagers—at least one as young as 13—and felt devastated for them all. The victim and the offenders. This passage illuminates why.

"It took a while for me to sort it out, but I realized something sitting there while Jimmy Dill was being killed at Holman prison. After working for more than twenty-five years, I understood that I don't do what I do because it's required or necessary or important. I don't do it because I have no choice.

I do what I do because I'm broken, too.

My years of struggling against inequality, abusive power, poverty, oppression, and injustice had finally revealed something to me about myself. Being close to suffering, death, executions, and cruel punishments didn't just illuminate the brokenness of others; in a moment of anguish and heartbreak, it also exposed my own brokenness. You can't effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression or injustice and not be broken by it.
We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent. I desperately wanted mercy for Jimmy Dill and would have done anything to create justice for him, but I couldn't pretend that his struggle was disconnected from my own. The ways in which I have been hurt—and have hurt others—are different from the ways Jimmy Dill suffered and caused suffering. But our shared brokenness connected us.
Paul Farmer, the renowned physician who has spent his life trying to cure the world's sickest and poorest people, once quoted me something that the writer Thomas Merton said: "We are bodies of broken bones." I guess I'd always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we're fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we're shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.
We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and as a result, deny our own humanity.

I thought of the guards strapping Jimmy Dill to the gurney that very hour. I thought of the people who would cheer his death and see it as some kind of victory. I realized they were broken people, too, even if they would never admit it. So many of us have become afraid and angry. We've become so fearful and vengeful that we've thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and weak—not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us seem tough, less broken. I thought of the victims of violent crime and the survivors of murdered loved ones, and how we've pressured them to recycle their pain and anguish and give it back to the offenders we prosecute. I thought of the many ways we've legalized vengeful and cruel punishment, how we've allowed our victimization to justify the victimization of others. We've submitted to harsh instinct to crush those among us whose brokenness is most visible.
But simply punishing the broken —walking away from them or hiding them from sight—only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity."
(pp. 288-90)

December 07, 2019

Look to the real that you yourself live. The kinds of tales found there can never come from books.

Women Who Run With the Wolves
By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

This book is a gift. Have I said that already? It's not a coincidence this found its way to me, this year of all years.

2020: the year I tell my stories.

Last words.

"I tell people to do their own mining of stories from their own lives, and insist upon it with those I teach, especially the stories from their own heritages, for if at the least, one turns always to the tales directly from the translators of Grimms, for instance, then the tales of their personal heritage—as soon as their old ones die of—shall be lost to them forever. I am a strong supporter of those who bring back the stories of their heritages, preserving them, saving them from death by neglect. Of course, it is the old people who are the bones of the entire healing and spiritual structures everywhere on the face of the earth.
Look to your people, your life. It is not by accident that this advice is the same among great healers and great writers as well. Look to the real that you yourself live. The kinds of tales found there can never come from books. They come from eyewitness accounts.
The authentic mining of stories from one's own life and the lives of one's own people, and the modern world as it relates to one's own life as well, means that there will be discomfort and trials. You know you are on the right path if you have experienced these: the scraped knuckles, the sleeping on cold ground—not once, but over and over again—the groping in the dark, the walking in circles in the night, the bone-chilling revelations, and the hair-raising adventures on the way—these are worth everything. There must be a little, and in many cases, a good deal of blood spilled on every story, on every aspect of your own life, if it is to carry the numen, if a person is to carry a true medicine.
I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories from your life—your life—not someone else's life—water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom. That is the work. That is the only work."
(p. 511)

December 06, 2019

Whatever the secret is, we understand that it is now part of our work for life.

Women Who Run With the Wolves
By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Battle Scars: Membership in the Scar Clan

"In small and confidential groups of women, I bring about this exchange by asking the women to gather together and to bring photographs of their mothers, aunts, sisters, mates, grandmothers, and other women who are significant to them. We line up all the pictures. Some are cracked, some peeling, some damaged by water or coffee cup rings; some have been torn in two and taped back together; some are wrapped in glassine tissue. Many have beautiful archaic writing on the back saying "Oh, you kid!" or "Love forever" or "This is me with Joe at Atlantic City" or "Here I am with my groovy roommate" or "These are the girls from the factory."
I suggest each woman begin by saying "These are the women of my bloodline" or "These are the women from whom I inherited." Women look at these pictures of their female family and friends, and with a deep compassion, begin to tell the stories and secrets of each as they know them: the big joy, the big hurt, the big travail, the big triumph in each woman's life. Throughout the time we spend together, there are many moments when we can go no further, for many, many tears lift many, many boats out of dry dock and off we all sail away together for a while."
(p. 414)

"Whatever the secret is, we understand that it is now part of our work for life. Redemption heals a once-open wound. But there will be a scar nevertheless. With changes of weather the scar can and will ache again. That is the nature of a true grief."
(p. 415)

La Selva Subterranea: Initiation in the Underground Forest

"There are times in a woman's life when she cries and cries and cries, and even though she has the succor and support of her loved ones, still and yet she cries. Something in this crying keeps the predator away, keeps away unhealthy desire or gain that will ruin her. Tears are part of the mending of rips in the psyche where energy has leaked and leaked away. The matter is serious, but the worst does not occur—our light is not stolen—for tears make us conscious. There is no chance to go back to sleep when one is weeping. Whatever sleep comes then is only rest for the physical body.
Sometimes a woman says, "I am sick of crying, I am tired of it, I want it to stop." But it is her soul that is making tears, and they are her protection. So she must keep on till the time of need is over. Some women marvel at all the water their bodies can produce when they weep. This will not last forever, only till the soul is done with its wise expression."
(p. 437)

December 01, 2019

Forgiveness is an act of creation.

Women Who Run With the Wolves
By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

This chapter changed my rating for Women Who Run from four stars to five.

No wisdom has been more profound this year than my revelation that I can break the cycle. That my best, happiest, most fulfilled and loving life begins on the other side of the rage—and I am powerful enough to see it, feel it, and release it for myself and on behalf of everyone else who came before me.

Marking Territory: The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness

"Even raw and messy emotions can be understood as a form of light, crackling and bursting with energy. We can use the light of rage in a positive way, in order to see into places we cannot usually see. A negative use of rage concentrates destructively in one tiny spot until, like acid creating an ulcer, it burns a black hole right through all the delicate layers of the psyche.
But there is another way. All emotion, even rage, carries knowledge, insight, what some call enlightenment. Our rage can, for a time, become teacher...a thing not to be rid of so fast, but rather something to climb the mountain for, something to personify via various images in order to learn from, deal with internally, then shape into something useful in the world as a result, or else let it go back down to dust. In a cohesive life, rage is not a stand-alone item. It is a substance waiting for our transformative efforts. The cycle of rage is like any other cycle; it rises, falls, dies, and is released as new energy. Attention to the matter of rage begins the process of transformation."
(pp. 381-2)

"We want to use anger as a creative force. We want to use it to change, develop, and protect. So, whether a woman is dealing with the aggravation of the moment with an offspring, or some sort of a searing lengthy burn, the perspective of the healer is the same: When there is calm, there can be learning, there can be creative solutions, but where there is firestorm, inside or out, it burns hot and leaves nothing but ash. We want to be able to look back on our actions with honor. We want something useful to show for feeling angry."
(p. 384)

"On the mountain we find additional clues about how to transform the hurt, negativism, and grudge-holding aspects of rage, all usually felt and often warranted initially. One is the phrase "Arigato zaisho," which the woman sings to thank the trees and the mountains for allowing her to pass. Figuratively translated, the phrase means "Thank you, Illusion." In Japanese, zaisho, means a clear way of looking at matters that interfere with deeper understandings of ourselves and the world."
(p. 385)

"So, we have seen that we wish to make rage into a fire that cooks things rather than into a fire of conflagration. We have seen that the work on rage cannot be completed without the ritual of forgiveness. We have spoken about women's rage often deriving from the situation in her family of origin, from the surrounding culture, and sometimes from adult trauma. But regardless of the source of the rage, something has to happen to recognize it, bless it, contain it, and release it...
In that respect a woman who has lived a torturous life and delved deeply into it definitely has inestimable depth. Though she came to it through pain, if she has done the hard work of clinging to consciousness, she will have a deep and thriving soul-life and a fierce belief in herself regardless of occasional ego-waverings...
A body who has lived a long time accumulates debris. It cannot be avoided. But if a woman will return to the instinctual nature instead of sinking into bitterness, she will be revivified, reborn."
(pp. 394-5)

"To make descansos means taking a look at your life and marking where the small deaths, las muertes chiquitas, and the big deaths, las muertes grandotas, have taken place...
We mark where there were roads not taken, paths that were cut off, ambushes, betrayals, and deaths. I put a little cross along the time-line at the places that should have been mourned, or still need to be mourned. And then I write in the background "forgotten" for those things that the woman senses but which have not yet surfaced. I also write "forgiven" over those things the woman has for the most part released...
Be gentle with yourself and make the descansos, the resting places for the aspects of yourself that were on their way to somewhere, but never arrived. Descansos mark the death sites, the dark times, but they are also love notes to your suffering. They are transformative. There is a lot to be said for pinning things to the earth so they don't follow us around. There is a lot to be said for laying them to rest."
(pp. 396-7)

"A woman who can work up a good 95 percent of forgiveness of someone or something tragic and damaging almost qualifies for beatification, if not sainthood. If she is 75 percent forgiving and 25 percent "I don't know if I ever can forgive fully, and I don't even know if I want to," that is more the norm. But 60 percent forgiveness accompanied by 40 percent "I don't know, and I'm not sure, and I'm still working on it," is definitely fine. A level of 50 percent or less forgiveness qualifies for work-in-progress status. Less than 10 percent? You've either just begun or you're not really trying yet."
(p. 400)

"To truly heal, however, we must say our truth, and not only our regret and pain but also what harm was caused, what anger, what disgust, and also what desire for self-punishment or vengeance was evoked in us. The old healer of the psyche understands human nature with all its foibles and gives pardon based on the telling of the naked truth. She not only gives second chances, she most often gives many chances."
(p. 400)

"Forgiveness is the culmination of all foregoing, forebearing, and forgetting. It does not mean giving up one's protection, but one's coldness."
(p. 403)

"Forgiveness is an act of creation. You can choose from many time-honored ways to do it. You can forgive for now, forgive till then, forgive till the next time, forgive but give no more chances—it's a whole new game if there's another incident. You can give one more chance, give several more chances, give many chances, give chances only if. You can forgive part, all, or half of an offense. You can devise a blanket forgiveness. You decide.
How does one know if she has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to remember to say about it at all. You understand the suffering that drove the offense to begin with. You prefer to remain outside the milieu. You are not waiting for anything. You are not wanting anything. There is no lariat snare around your ankle stretching from way back there to here. You are free to go. It may not have turned out to be happily ever after, but most certainly there is now a fresh Once upon a time waiting for you from this day forward."
(p. 403)

November 19, 2019

In that sense, sexuality can be fashioned as a medicine for the spirit and is therefore sacred.

Women Who Run With the Wolves
By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I love sex and I love this perspective viewing sexuality as sacred. And joyful!

Heat: Retrieving a Sacred Sexuality

I lay under the chaise stifling my laughter. It was the silliest story I had ever heard. It was a wonderful story, a thrilling story. But intuitively, I also knew it was contraband, so I kept it to myself for years and years. And sometimes in the midst of hard times, during tense times, and even before taking tests in college, I would think of the women from Rwanda covering their faces with their skirts, and no doubt laughing into them. And I would laugh and feel centered, strong, and down-to-earth.
This no doubt is the other gift of women's jokings and shared laughter. It all becomes a medicine for the tough times, a strengthener for later. It is good, clean, dirty fun. Can we imagine the sexual and the irreverent as sacred? Yes, especially when they are medicinal, leading to a wholeness and mending of heart. Jung noted that if someone came to his office complaining of a sexual issue, the real issue was more often a problem of spirit and soul. When a person told of a spiritual problem, often it was really a problem about the sexual nature.
In that sense, sexuality can be fashioned as a medicine for the spirit and is therefore sacred. When sexual laughter is un remedio, medicine, it is sacred laughter. And whatever causes healing laughter is sacred as well. When laughter helps without doing harm, when laughter lightens, realigns, reorders, reasserts power and strength, this is the laughter that causes health. When the laughter makes people glad they are alive, happy to be here, more conscious of love, heightened with eros, when it lifts their sadness and severs them from anger, that is sacred. When they are made bigger, made better, more generous, more sensitive, that is sacred."
(pp. 373-4)

November 17, 2019

Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.

Women Who Run With the Wolves
By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Clear Water: Nourishing the Creative Life

"I've seen women work long, long hours at jobs they despise in order to buy very expensive items for their houses, mates, or children. They put their considerable talents on the back burner. I've seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write...and you know it's a funny thing about house never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman.
A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she "should" be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only."
(p. 333)

I feel attacked!!! How many hours have I lost during weekends where I insisted this or that must be cleaned, and while true, used it as an excuse to not sit down and do the work? Insisting if I could just get whichever chore out of the way I'd be able to focus—a thought followed by the full force of frustration when I run out of time. Blaming the inability to outsource the task as the fault when I really needed more discipline. 

"And yet, a woman may do this to herself by talking away her ideas until all the arousal is gone from them, or by not putting her foot down about people creeping off with her creative tools and materials, or by the simple oversight of not buying the right equipment to execute the creative work properly,  or by stopping and starting so many times, by allowing everyone and their cat to interrupt her at will, that the project falls into shambles."
(p. 334)

"To create one must be able to respond. Creativity is the ability to respond to all that goes on around us, to choose from the hundreds of the possibilities of thought, feeling, action, and reaction that arise within us, and to put these together in a unique response, expression, or message that carries moment, passion, and meaning. In this sense, loss of our creative milieu means finding ourselves limited to only one choice, divested of, suppressing, or censoring feelings and thoughts, not acting, not saying, doing, or being."
(p. 343)

"When women are out in the cold, they tend to live on fantasies instead of action. Fantasy of this sort is the great anesthetizer of women. I know women who have been gifted with beautiful voices. I know women who are natural storytellers; almost everything out of their mouths is freshly formed and finely wrought. But they are isolated, or feel disenfranchised in some way. They are shy, which is often a cover for a starving animus. They have difficulty gaining a sense that they are supported from within, or by friends, family, community."
(p. 348)

November 16, 2019

Stop running the milk train. Do the work of turning toward home.

Women Who Run With the Wolves
By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I lost my first copy of Women who Run on the way back from Montreal; I suspect I left it on the plane even though I don't remember taking it out of my bag. I like to think it found its way into the hands of someone who needed it. The only loss: my notes on favorite passages between chapters three and nine.

Here's nine.

Homing: Returning to OneSelf

"There is human time and there is wild time. When I was a child in the north woods, before I learned there were four seasons to a year, I thought there were dozens: the time of night-time thunderstorms, heal lightning time, bonfires-in-the-woods time, blood-on-the-snow time, the times of ice trees, bowing trees, crying trees, shimmering trees, bearded trees, waving-at-the-tops-only trees, and trees-drop-their-babies time. I loved the seasons of diamond snow, steaming snow, squeaking snow, and even dirty snow and stone snow, for these meant the time of flower blossoms on the river was coming.
These season were like important and holy visitors and each sent its harbingers: pine cones open, pine cones closed, the smell of leaf rot, the smell of rain coming, crackling hair, lank hair, bushy har, doors  loose, doors tight, doors that won't shut at all, windowpanes covered with ice-hair, windowpanes covered with wet petals, windowpanes covered with yellow pollen, windowpanes pecked with sap gum. And our own skin had its cycles too: parched, sweaty, gritty, sunburned, soft.
The psyches and souls of women also have their own cycles and seasons of doing and solitude, running and staying, being involved and being removed, questing and resting, creating and incubating, being of the world and returning to the soul-place. When we are children and young girls, the instinctive nature notices all these phases and cycles. It hovers quite near us and we are aware and active at various intervals as we see fit.
Children are the wildest nature, and without being told to, they prepare for the coming of these times, greeting them, living with them, and keeping from those times recuerdos, mementos, for remembering: the crimson leaf in the dictionary; the angel-wing necklaces from the seeds of the silver maples; snowballs in the meat locker; the special stone, bone, stick, or pod; the peculiar shell; the ribbon from the bird burial; a diary of smells from that time; the calm heart; the excited blood; and all the pictures in their minds.
Once, we lived by these cycles and seasons year after year, and they lived in us. They calmed us, danced us, shook us, reassured us, made us learn creaturally. They were part of our soul-skins—a pelt that enveloped us and the wild and natural world—at least until we were told that there really were only four seasons to a year, and that women themselves really only had three seasons—girlhood, adulthood, and old womanhood. And that was supposed to be that.
But we cannot allow ourselves to sleepwalk wrapped in this flimsy and unobservant fabrication, for it causes women to deviate from their natural and soulful cycles and therefore to suffer from dryness, tiredness, and homesickness. It is far better for us to return to our own unique and soulful cycles regularly, all of them, any of them."
(pp. 276-7)

"The pelt in this story is not so much an article as the representation of a feeling state and a state of being—one that is cohesive, soulful, and of the wildish female nature. When a woman is in this state, she feels entirely in and of herself instead of out of herself and wondering if she is doing right, acting right, thinking well. Though this state of being "in one's self" is one she occasionally loses touch with, the time she has previously spent there sustains her while she is about her work in the world. The return to the wildish state periodically is what replenishes  her psychic reserves for her projects, family, relationships, and creative life in the topside world."
(p. 286)

"Every creature on earth returns to home. It is ironic that we have made wildlife refuges for ibis, pelican, egret, wolf, crane, deer, mouse, moose, and bear, but not for ourselves in the places where we live day after day. We understand that the loss of habitat is the most disastrous event that can occur to a free creature. We fervently point out how other creatures' natural territories have become surrounded by cities, ranches, highways, noise, and other dissonance, as though we are not surrounded by the same, as though we are not affected also. We know that for creatures to live on, they must at least from time to time have a home place, a place where they feel both protected and free."
(p. 287)

"The aggravated theft of the sealskin also occurs far more subtly through the theft of a woman's resources and of her time. The world is lonely for comfort, and for the hips and breasts of women. It calls out in a thousand-handed, million-voiced way, waving to us, plucking and pulling at us, asking for our attention. Sometimes it seems that everywhere we turn there is someone or a something of the world that needs, wants, wishes. Some of the people, issues, and things of the world are appealing and charming; others may be demanding and angry; and yet others seem so heartrendingly helpless that, against our wills, our empathy overflows, our milk runs down our bellies. But unless it is a life-and-death matter, take the time, make the time, to "put on the brass brassiere." Stop running the milk train. Do the work of turning toward home.
Though we see that the skin can be lost through a devastating and wrong love, it may also be lost in a right and deepest love. It is not exactly the rightness of a person or thing or its wrongness that causes the theft of our sealskins, it is the cost of these things to us."
(p. 288)

yes to all of these things. Ocean spume!
"Although there are many physical places one can go to "feel" her way back to this special home, the physical place itself is not home; it is only the vehicle that rocks the ego to sleep so that we can go the rest of the way by ourselves. The vehicles through and by which women reach home are many: music, art, forest, ocean spume, sunrise, solitude. These take us home to a nutritive inner world that has ideas, order, and sustenance all of its own."
(p. 307)

Just before this, she references Adrienne Rich's Diving into the Wreck.
"The most important thing I can tell you about the timing of the home cycle is this: When it's time, it's time. Even if you're not ready, even if things are undone, even if today your ship is coming in. When it's time, it's time. The seal woman returns to the sea, not because she just feels like it, not because today is a good day to go, not because her life is all nice and tidy—there is no nice and tidy time for anyone, She goes because it's time, and therefore she must."
(p. 308)

"In order to converse with the wild feminine, a woman must temporarily leave the world and inhabit a state of aloneness in the oldest sense of the word. Long ago the word alone was treated as two words, all one. To be all one meant to be wholly one, to be in oneness, either essentially or temporarily. That is precisely the goal of solitude, to be all one."
(p. 316)

"For myself, solitude is rather like a folded-up forest that I carry with me everywhere and unfurl around myself when I have need. I sit at the feet of the great old trees of my childhood. From that vantage point, I ask my questions, receive my answers, then coalesce my woodland back down to the size of a love note till next time. The experience is immediate, brief, informative."
(p. 317)

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)

This is where I lose it.
"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?

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)

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 place 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.

©Image Club/Getty Images

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.

© Image Club/Getty Images

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)