March 28, 2021

Finally, in my early 30s I stepped into my girl on fire energy. I moved back towards my essence.


More Myself
By Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys' music is a staple of my early years. But I don't think I became fully conscious to her spirit until recently. I remember viewing the Red Table (Piano) Talk episode with Alicia and feeling so completely seen and empowered as she described herself as a recovering peacemaker and people pleaser who'd awakened to her needs and her power, learning to give herself tenderness along the way. Listening to her read these passages from her memoir stirred something in me. 

"Oprah sat quietly for a moment before answering. 'For many years,' she said, 'I looked for someone outside of myself to dream up and create what only I could. I eventually realized that no one else could see your big picture. Only you know the journey you're on. Others can contribute, and you should definitely surround yourself with smart people who lift you higher and share in your vision, but the truth is, even with wise counsel only you know what your next step should be.' 
All of my best decisions in life have come when I tuned into what felt like the best moves for me. I'd spent much of my life looking at others for answers, allowing their opinions to drown out my instincts. My default was to substitute others' desires for my own. In fact, I'd done that so much that it became a habit, one I'm still unlearning. I've needed a lot of practice at putting my own ideas and intuition at the forefront and Oprah was encouraging me to, again, rehearse. As I sat there across from her, taking in her wisdom, I realized where my anxiety was coming from. I was expecting someone else to fill a space that only I could stand in. I've read a lot about what it means to listen to your inner voice, that whisper in your gut that is always speaking. 
On paper, I understood the idea, but in reality I was clearly still struggling. That afternoon Oprah articulated the lesson to me in a way that turned on the lights. 'You know what a resounding yes feels like,' she said. 'It's undeniable. Nothing's going to stop you from doing it, you're excited, you don't have to convince yourself to move forward. You simply know this is the right thing and that is what I live by.' 
I've made a lot of decisions from my head, I've chosen to go in this direction or that one based on finances, or because something seems like a great opportunity, or because I don't want to hurt people's feelings or disappoint them, or because someone is pushing me towards an agenda that serves them. But when I've listened to my heart, when I've trusted what my spirit is telling me, that yes has always steered me right."

"Rather than basking in the glow of those miracles, I shrank. At certain moments, I even dumbed myself down or chose not to talk about the many blessings I received. I figured that if I shared my experience in its entirety, if I took the lid off my joy, it would push others away or make them feel small. As my career progressed, that tendency took another form in my interactions around the industry. 'I don't need much, nothing has to be too grand, I'm cool with my little piano, my bench and a cup of water.' In a sense, that was true. I'd never been an over-the-top kind of girl, but what's also true is this: some part of my spirit was always signing up for less because that is what I believed I deserved. For so many years I thought I was just being modest. I never wanted to come across as self-absorbed or as someone with a big head. It's how we women are brought up: don't ask for more, don't take credit, don't outshine others. 
But there on the couch it hit me that my alleged modesty was just a disguise, a mask for a lack of self worth. It was a huge revelation. For me, that seed of worthlessness was planted in childhood. As well-intentioned as Craig was, and as much as he was dealing with in his own life, his absence impacted me in ways I'm still uncovering. It left a hole in me. When a child's parent is not there, even if the reasons are completely legitimate, that child interprets the absence exactly as I did. 'I don't matter enough for you to show up for me. I'm not important.' And in those early years, when I was forming my identity, I took on a belief parallel to that interpretation. 'If you don't value me, I must not be valuable.' A big part of my journey has been about changing that view, as well as getting clear on the other beliefs passed on to me by my parents. 
"There are only two people you ever have to deal with," a life coach recently told me. "Your mother and father." As I deal with the man who gave me life, and as we work to create a new story, what I've discovered is this: neither Craig nor my beloved mom is responsible for where I go from here. I am. The price of admission for self-ownership is total responsibility and I can move forward only if I'm willing to ask myself the hard questions and examine my beliefs. 
In life, we don't get what we ask for, we get what we believe. And what we believe about ourselves shows up in our energy. It's how we walk into a room, it's how we communicate through body language. 'I don't deserve to be here.' It's whether we sit up straight or hide out in the back of a meeting. At times, my own energy has been saying 'I'm cool with the bare minimum, don't give me more.' Without knowing it, I stunted my growth because I was scared to be magnificent and doubtful that I was. If you asked me at age 22 whether I thought I was worthy, I would've answered loud and proud "YES!" But it's possible to declare a woman's worth and yet not fully know your own. It's possible to say you want a grand life but then continue to play small. In many ways, I have played big. I've embraced experiences I never dreamed I'd have and I've risen to some enormous moments, but there's still more I can do, other ways for me to grow. 
And as I keep relearning, it's okay to own a desire for more. In fact, it's how we honor those who have paved the way for our place at the table. 'You don't want modesty,' Maya Angelou once said. 'You want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me, and I'm here because I've been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I'm paying for someone else who has yet to come.' When we dim our light, we don't do anyone a favor. It's a disservice because when you're in the presence of someone who knows his or her worth, like the extraordinary Maya did, you want to shine brighter. Self-honoring energy is contagious. 
At the start of my career I thought I was such a novice, but at 19 I knew the one thing that is most important to know. I understood who I was at my center, I was closer to my truth than I'd become during my twenties. It's not that I wasn't authentic to some degree at every stage, it's just that out of a desire to please others or to squeeze into a mold, I made the outside world my point of reference. 'Will they like me if I dress or speak or walk or talk this way?' Finally, in my early 30s I stepped into my girl on fire energy. I moved back towards my essence."

Aforementioned Red Piano Talk. Alicia performs "Girl on Fire" at the end. 


Also all of this, starting with a performance of "Show Me Love." 

March 21, 2021

When we see love as the will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same.

 

all about love: new visions
by bell hooks

Full circle revelations and a mind expanded. These only scratch the surface of all I highlighted!

"Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice. Without it our other efforts to love fail." 
(p. 67)

"There is no better place to learn the art of loving than in community." 
(p. 129)

"When we see love as the will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same."
(p. 136)

"Generous sharing of all resources is one concrete way to express love. These resources can be time, attention, material objects, skills, money etc...Once we embark on love's path we see how easy it is to give. A useful gift all love's practitioners can give is the offering of forgiveness. It not only allows us to move away from blame, from seeing others as the cause of our sustained lovelessness, but it enables us to experience agency, to know we can be responsible for giving and finding love. We need not blame others for feelings of lack, for we know how to attend to them. We know how to give ourselves love and to recognize the love that is all around us. Much of the anger and rage we feel about emotional lack is released when we forgive ourselves and others. Forgiveness opens us up and prepares us to receive love. It prepares the way for us to give wholeheartedly."
(p. 163) 

"When one knows a true love, the transformative force of that love lasts even when we no longer have the company of the person with whom we experienced profound mutual care and growth. Thomas Merton writes: "We discover our true selves in love." Many of us are not ready to accept and embrace our true selves, particularly when living with integrity alienates us from our familiar worlds. Often, when we undergo a process of self-recovery, for a time we may find ourselves more alone. Writing about choosing solitude over company that does not nurture one's soul, Maya Angelou reminds us that "it is never lonesome in Babylon." Fear of facing true love may actually lead some individuals to remain in situations of lack and unfulfillment. There they are not alone, they are not at risk. To love fully and deeply puts us at risk."
(p. 187)

"Understanding that death is always with us can serve as the faithful reminder that the time to do what we feel called to do is always now and not in some distant and unimagined future."
(p. 203)

"Contrary to what we may have been taught to think, unnecessary and unchosen suffering wounds us but need not scar us for life. It does mark us. What we allow the mark of our suffering to become is in our own hands. In his collection of essays The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin writes about suffering in the healing process, stating: "I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering—but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are." Growing up is, at heart, the process of learning to take responsibility for whatever happens in your life. To choose growth is to embrace a love that heals."
(pp. 210-1)

"Forgiveness not only enables us to overcome estrangement, it intensifies our capacity for affirming one another. Without conscious forgiveness there can be no genuine reconciliation. Making amends both to ourselves and to others is the gift compassion and forgiveness offers us. It is a process of emptying out wherein we let go all the waste so that there is a clear place within where we can see the other as ourselves."
(pp. 217-8)

March 14, 2021

Living simply makes loving simple.


all about love: new visions
by bell hooks

I'm super into love right now. 

I seek it everywhere—especially in the stories I consume and in the music I listen to. (Maybe someone/anyone could put me on to some good modern love songs, because the current love songs playlist I've had on repeat is a favorite but super vintage.)

I am reconsidering how I can improve in love and better receive it in all of my relationships, and so am feeling a deep appreciation for this thoughtfully researched & healing meditation.

"Imagine how much easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition. The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb. I spent years searching for a meaningful definition of the world "love," and was deeply relieved when I found one in psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's classic self-help book The Road Less Traveled, first published in 1978. Echoing the work of Erich Fromm, he defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Explaining further, he continues: "Love is as love does. Love is an act of will—namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love." Since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually."
(pp. 4-5)

"Raised in a family in which aggressive shaming and verbal humiliation coexisted with lots of affection and care, I had difficulty embracing the term "dysfunctional." Since I felt and still feel attached to my parents and siblings, proud of all the positive dimensions of our family life, I did not want to describe us by using a term that implied our life together had been all negative or bad. I did not want my parents to think I was disparaging them; I was appreciative of all the good things that they had given in the family. With therapeutic help I was able to see the term "dysfunctional" as a useful description and not as an absolute negative judgement. My family of origin provided, throughout my childhood, a dysfunctional setting and it remains one. This does not mean that its s not also a setting in which affection, delight, and care are present."
(pp. 6-7)

"Living simply is the primary way everyone can resist greed every day. All over the world people are becoming more aware of the importance of living simply and sharing resources. While communism has suffered political defeat globally, the politics of communalism continue to matter. We can all resist the temptation of greed. We can work to change public policy, electing leaders who are honest and progressive. We can turn off the television set. We can show respect for love. To save our planet we can stop thoughtless waste. We can recycle and support ecologically advanced survival strategies. We can celebrate and honor communalism and interdependency by sharing resources. All these gestures show a respect and gratitude for life. When we value the delaying of gratification and take responsibility for our actions, we simplify our emotional universe. Living simply makes loving simple. The voice to live simply necessarily enhances our capacity to love. It is the way we learn to practice compassion, daily affirming our connection to a world community." 
(p. 125)

March 07, 2021

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.

 


Daring Greatly: How The Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love Parent, and Lead
By Brené Brown

Instead of written annotations, I have a note on my phone filled with takeaways I typed while listening to Daring Greatly. Over the past few years I've watched her TED talk (below), Netflix special, and other conversations and presentations, so the themes are familiar but they feel more poignant as I get older. Her conclusions on vulnerability, shame, perfectionism, joy, connection and belonging are life-altering. I carry her lessons with me and try to remember to refer to them as often as possible while I move and heal through life.

Here's her take on wholehearted living. I'm halfway there.

"Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging. This definition is based on these fundamental ideals:
1. Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We're hardwired for connection—it's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.
2. If you roughly divide the men and women I've interviewed into two groups—those who feel a deep sense of love and belonging, and those who struggle for it—there's only one variable that separates the groups: Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They don't have better or easier lives, they don't have fewer struggles with addiction or depression, and they haven't survived fewer traumas or bankruptcies or divorces, but in the midst of all of these struggles, they have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy.
3. A strong belief in our worthiness doesn't just happen—it's cultivated when we understand the guideposts as choices and daily practices.
4. The main concern of Wholehearted men and women is living a life defined by courage, compassion, and conviction.
5. The Wholehearted identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection. In fact, the willingness to be vulnerable emerged as the single clearest value shared by all of the women and men whom I would describe as Wholehearted. They attribute everything—from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments—to their ability to be vulnerable."


February 28, 2021

They had already made each other's acquaintance in the delirium of their noon dreams.


Sula
By Toni Morrison

My first Toni Morrison. I can't wait to dive into more of her works. One wild ride, this Sula

"Which was only fitting, for it was in dreams that the two girls had first met. Long before Edna Finch's Mellow House opened, even before they marched through the chocolate halls of Garfield Primary School out onto the playground and stood facing each other through the ropes of the one vacant swing ("Go on." "No. You go."), they had already made each other's acquaintance in the delirium of their noon dreams. They were solitary little girls whose loneliness was so profound it intoxicated them and sent them stumbling into Technicolored visions that always included a presence, a someone, who, quite like the dreamer, shared the delight of the dream. When Nel, an only child, sat on the steps of her back porch surrounded by the high silence of her mother's incredibly orderly house, feeling the neatness pointing at her back, she studied the poplars and fell easily into a picture of herself lying on a flowered bed, tangled in her own hair, waiting for some fiery prince. He approached but never quite arrived. But always, watching the dream along with her, were some smiling sympathetic eyes. Someone as interested as she herself in the flow of her imagined hair, the thickness of the mattress of flowers, the voile sleeves that closed below her elbows in gold-threaded cuffs. 
Similarly, Sula, also an only child, but wedged into a household of throbbing disorder constantly awry with things, people, voices and the slamming of doors, spent hours in the attic behind a roll of linoleum galloping through her own mind on a gray-and-white horse tasting sugar and smelling roses in full view of a someone who shared both the taste and the speed. 
So when they met, first in those chocolate halls and next through the ropes of the swing, they felt the ease and comfort of old friends. Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be. Their meeting was fortunate, for it let them use each other to grow on. Daughters of distant mothers and incomprehensible fathers (Sula's because he was dead; Nel's because he wasn't), they found in each other's eyes the intimacy they were looking for."
(p. 52)

February 21, 2021

If you do your best in the search for personal freedom, in the search for self-love, you will discover that it's just a matter of time before you find what you are looking for.




The Four Agreements
By Don Miguel Ruiz

Will gratefully fill my cup with these words of affirmation. 

Two years ago, Don Miguel Ruiz recorded a soothing guest episode for WORDAFUL, titled "PERFECT." I knew then I'd need to read The Four Agreements someday.

I'm reminded that over the past year I had this revelation while reading old journal entries that I was perfect just as I was 5/10/15 years ago, and I wished I'd seen it then instead of desiring to always be different than I was. So with that wisdom in mind, when I'm feeling down I've started to tell myself I'm perfect as I am to save future me from that regret.

Domestication and the Dream of the Planet
"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive—the risk to be alive and express what we really are. Just being ourselves is the biggest fear of humans. We have learned to live our lives trying to satisfy other people's demands. We have learned to live by other people's points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else."
(p. 17)

"If we can see it is our agreements that rule our own life, and we don't like the dream of our life, we need to change the agreements."
(p. 22)

The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word
"Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything. Regardless of what language you speak, your intent manifests through the word. What you dream, what you feel, and what you really are, will all be manifested through the word."
(p. 26)

"When you are impeccable, you take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself...Sin begins with rejection of yourself. Self-rejection is the biggest sin that you commit."
(p. 31)

The Second Agreement: Don't Take Anything Personally
"If you keep this agreement, you can travel around the world with your heart completely open and no one can hurt you. You can say, "I love you," without fear of being ridiculed or rejected. You can ask for what you need. You can say yes, or you can say no—whatever you choose—without guilt or self-judgment. You can choose to follow your heart always."
(pp. 60-61)

The Third Agreement: Don't Make Assumptions
"If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don't understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions."
(p. 68)

"We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse. This is the biggest assumption that humans make. And this is why we have a fear or being ourselves around others. Because we think everyone will judge us, victimize us, abuse us, and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. That is the way the human mind works."
(p. 69)

"The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don't understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be, and even then do not assume you know all there is to know about a given situation. Once you hear the answer, you will not have to make assumptions because you will know the truth. 
Also, find your voice to ask for what you want. Everybody has the right to tell you no or yes, but you always have the right to ask. Likewise, everybody has the right to ask you, and you have the right to say yes or no."
(p. 72)

The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
"Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the television every day for years because you are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what you are. Expressing what you are is taking action. You can have many great ideas in your head, but what makes the difference is the action. Without action upon an idea, there will be no manifestation, no results, and no reward."
(p. 82) 

"Whatever life takes away from you, let it go."
(p. 83)

"If you do your best in the search for personal freedom, in the search for self-love, you will discover that it's just a matter of time before you find what you are looking for."
(p. 86)

The New Dream: Heaven on Earth
"Imagine that you love yourself just the way you are. You love your body just the way it is, and you love your emotions just the way they are. You know that you are perfect just as you are. The reason I ask you to imagine these things is because they are all entirely possible! You can live in the state of grace, the state of bliss, the dream of heaven."
(p. 126)



February 14, 2021

"Thing is, we're a community, and we got each other's back."


Intimations
By Zadie Smith 

Zadie Smith read Marcus Aurelius' Meditations early in the pandemic for practical assistance (her words). A few months later: the publication of Intimations, a series of essays inspired by his musings. In addition to "The American Exception," which was published in The New Yorker last April, her book includes "A Woman with a Little Dog," which she read aloud during a fantastic conversation with Ashley C. Ford. It is so specific, humorous, and a moving reminder of what we've lost and would miss so much: the seemingly insignificant exchanges that made up our lives before everything went down. Ashley describes it as foreboding. I loved it.

"There she sat on that last day—I was passing with my little dog; a final chance for Maud to pee before we put her in the rental car—and I could see Barbara was preparing to bark one of her ambivalent declamations at me, about the weather or a piece of prose, or some new outrage committed by the leader of a country which, in Barbara's mind, only theoretically includes her own city. Already missing New York, I was keen to hear it. Instead she sucked hard on her cigarette and said, in a voice far quieter than I'd ever hear her use: "Thing is, we're a community, and we got each other's back. You'll be there for me, and I'll be there for you, and we'll all be there for each other, the whole building. Nothing to be afraid of—we'll get through this, all of us, together." 
"Yes, we will," I whispered, hardly audible, even to myself, and walked on, maintaining a six-foot distance, whether to conform with the new regulations or to avoid Beck biting me in some vulnerable spot I couldn't tell."
(p. 51)

She starts reading "A Woman with a Little Dog" at 24:55—oh and just before then she describes her relationship with writing. ("I do need it. I'm not particularly proud of the ways I need it, but I need to organize my ideas, I need to set things down, I need to feel like life has meaning. And so that's why I do it. I do need those things.")

Their talk filled me up and it's well worth the watch. 


February 07, 2021

Well, there is time left—fields everywhere invite you into them.



Devotions
By Mary Oliver

One of my favorite things to do - lately - after a long day of excessive screen time at my desk, is retreat to my rocking chair, grab Devotions, and turn to a random page for a dose of poem.

This one made me a little teary. I had an inspiring conversation with a mentor on Thursday morning. That discussion and these tender words in the evening were perfect, complementary bookends to the day.

Have You Ever Tried To Enter The Long Black Branches

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches 
of other lives—
tried to imagine what the crisp fingers, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early summer,
feel like?

Do you think this world is only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot 
    in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
    continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
    with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left—
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
    from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one's foot into the door of the grass, which is
    the mystery, which is the death as well as life, and
    not be afraid!

To set one's foot in the door of death, and be overcome
    with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
    god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,

nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
    present hour,

to the song falling out of the mockingbird's pink mouth,

to the triplets of the honeysuckle, that have opened in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
    to the wild roses:
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge red, 
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters, 
caution and prudence?

Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what's coming next
    is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
    upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn't ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean's edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

January 31, 2021

They blink on and off, a lime glow to the summer night air, as if to say: I am still here, you are still here, I am still here, you are still here, I am, you are, over and over again.



World of Wonders
By Aimee Nezhukumatatkil

This is a book with gorgeous intent, and it regenerated my yearning for the natural world, a place I love so much but engage with so little. It laid new magic words in my lap (senescence, crepuscular!) and was a reminder and a motivation to be in the world more often, to know our fellow species more intimately, and receive their nourishing and sustaining lessons.

Completely inspired by Nezhukumatatkil's technique, I found myself thinking about the tiny personal stories I could tell—I think of the firefly (photinus pyralid), honeysuckle (lonicera), earthworm (lumbricina), to name a few—and falling into a bit of nostalgia recalling a trove of childhood memories I had forgotten...

Fireflies remind me of spending summer evenings with my family in the Bronx and holding my mom's hand on our late-night bus rides back to Queens. The first time I tasted honeysuckle, I remember the feeling of sweet surprise that something floral could give back to me in that way. Once my neighbor friend and I dug our hands into soil and encountered earthworms and felt gentle, awed and unafraid. And on.

I miss fireflies and what they remind me of: timeless youth, which I now know is at complete opposition to what their light means for their lives. It hadn't occurred to me that most children today will have a different experience of them, or none at all.
"For a beetle, fireflies live long and full lives—around two years—though most of it is spent underground, gloriously eating and sleeping to their hearts' content. When we see these beacons flashing their lights, they usually only have one or two weeks left to live. Learning this as a child—I could often be found walking slowly around untrimmed lawns, stalling and not quite ready to go inside for dinner—made me melancholy, even in the face of their brilliance. I couldn't believe something so full of light would be gone so soon.
I know I will search for fireflies all the rest of my days, even though they dwindle a little bit more each year. I can't help it. They blink on and off, a lime glow to the summer night air, as if to say: I am still here, you are still here, I am still here, you are still here, I am, you are, over and over again. Perhaps I can will it to be true. Perhaps I can keep those summer nights with my family inside an empty jam jar, with holes poked in the lid, a twig and a few strands of grass tucked inside. And for those unimaginable nights in the future, when I know I'll miss my mother the most, I will let that jar's sweet glow serve as a night-light to cool and cut the air for me."
("Firefly," photons pyralis, p. 12)

"Why all the fuss and euphoria over some greenery? Well, I still coo over its delightful pinnation, the double-leaf pattern feathering outward then inward from both sides of a single stem, and its spherical lavender-pink flowers, which bloom only in summer, and look as if someone crossed a My Little Pony doll with a tiny firework. But its best and most notable feature is that when you piano your fingers over the leaves of this plant, they give a shudder and a shake and quickly fold shut, like someone doesn't want to spill a secret."
("Touch-Me-Nots, mimosa pudica, p. 25)

"Bonnet macaques reminded me how good it felt to laugh, to keep laughing in love. To make my love laugh. To let my laughter be from a place of love."
("Bonnet Macaque," Macaca radiata, p. 74)

"I'm certain it's not any magic in my mouth, no special twist of tongue that only I have unlocked. But I think it's the quiet way you settle into the crook of a tree trunk, the still and slowdown of your heart in a world that wants to be quick and to move onto the next thing. The secret in talking to birds is in the steadiness of each limb as you make your way into their territory, in the deliberateness of each movement and bend of tree branch and grass blade. And just like the pot, who is rewarded for her stillness by having her lunch practically fly right to her mouth—perhaps you could try a little tranquility, find a little tenderness in your quiet. Who knows what feathered gifts await?"
("Potoo," Nyctibius griseus, p. 97)

Reading about an animal's slow death delivers a specific kind of heartbreak, and I always notice it. I don't *like* it at all, but I'm drawn to it, maybe because the description taps into the most empathetic, deep feeling sides of me. (See Cheryl Strayed on a bird's death, Chris Jones on a massacre at a zoo, W.C. Heinz on the death of a racehorse.) Here is Nezhukumatatkil on her experience with a dying octopus, which is 100x sadder after she explains how smart and sensitive they are.
"Instead I focused on its golden eye, how it fixed upon my shape. How its arms wrapped and drooped around my wrist and up my forearm while it took me in, tasted me. In those moments I held it, how many things it might have felt or known about me. Could it sense the love and exhilaration I felt for it or my sheer despair once I realized it was dying in my hands? I only know that I had never been looked at, consumed, or questioned so carefully by another being."
("Octopus," Octopus vulgaris, p. 107)

"On those weeks in Mississippi when the air outside is like a napping dragon's exhalations, there's no sweeter cocktail to lull us out of a sleepy, slow summer evening. If you do catch a sunburn, you can mash up a bit of the dragon fruit flesh and apply it to the tender pink of your skin to help soothe it like an aloe. The dragon can be both the wildness we call out when we see this pink egg, and it can also be the balm. This is the fruit for a time of year when the sun and all its gallop don't merely feel as though they have nudged us from a static winter, but into a fully alive, roaring season—when everything you touch feels like it could give you a blister and a bit of wild burn."
("Dragon Fruit," Hylocereus undatus, p. 115)


January 24, 2021

On soft Spring nights I'll stand in the yard under the stars -- Something good will come out of all things yet And it will be golden and eternal just like that -- There's no need to say another word.

there are so many interesting covers of this one

By Jack Kerouac, narrated by Ethan Hawke

I started this blog with Jack Kerouac, read The Dharma Bums in 2013, and then left Kerouac alone for a while—at times seeking inspiration from his haikus with blues, but otherwise favoring other writers.

Then in October, the New York Times mentioned a new audio release of Big Sur, narrated by Ethan Hawke (!). With my love for him not having faded in the least—absolutely expanding, in fact—this felt like a good way to re-engage with Kerouac.

There's a raspy—sometimes weary + wistful, sometimes charged + energetic—characteristic to Ethan's voice that serves as the perfect conduit for Kerouac's spontaneous prose, and for this heartrending autobiographical novel in particular. Ethan's telling carried me through this reading. There are such moments, especially, where the slightest shift in his tone during a sentence, or a word even, made all the difference to the language and deepened its punch. 

“Ah, life is a gate, a way, a path to Paradise anyway, why not live for fun and joy and love or some sort of girl by a fireside, why not go to your desire and LAUGH . . . but I ran away from that seashore and never came back again without that secret knowledge: that it didn't want me there, that I was a fool to sit there in the first place, the sea has its waves, the man has his fireside, period.”
(Chapter 9)

"But in the morning (and I'm no Milarepa who could also sit naked in the snow and was seen flying on one occasion) here comes Ron Blake back with Pat McLear and Pat's wife the beautiful one, and by God their little sweet five year old girl who is such a pleasant sight to see as she goes jongling and jiggling through the fields to look for flowers, everything to her is perfectly new beautiful primordial Garden of Eden morning here in this tortured human canyon -- And a rather beautiful morning develops -- There's fog so we close the blinds and light the fire and the lamp, me and Pat, and sit there drinking from the jug he brought talking about literature and poetry while his wife listens and occasionally gets up to heat more coffee and tea or goes out to play with Ron and the little girl -- Pat and I are in a serious talkative mood and I feel that lonely shiver in my chest which always warns me: you actually love people and you're glad Pat is here."
(Chapter 23)

"But that's my relationship with Evelyn, we're real pals and we can kid about anything even the first night I met her in Denver in 1947 when we danced and Cody watched anxiously, a kind of romantic pair in fact and I shudder sometimes to think of all that stellar mystery of how she IS going to get me in a future lifetime, wow -- And I seriously do believe that will be my salvation, too. A long way to go."
(Chapter 24)

"...It's blue dusk all up and down the California world -- Frisco glitters up ahead -- Our radio plays rhythm and blues as we pass the joint back and forth in jutjawed silence both looking ahead with big private thoughts now so vast we cant communicate them any more and if we tried it would take a million years and a billion books -- Too late, too late, the history of everything we've seen together and separately has become a library in itselt -- me shelves pile higher -- They're full of misty documents or documents of the Mist -- The mind has convoluted in every tuckaway every-whichaway tuckered hole till there's no more the expressing of our latest thoughts let alone old -- Mighty genius of the mind Cody whom I announce as the greatest writer the world will ever know if he ever gets down to writing again like he did earlier -- It's so enormous we both sit here sighing in fact -- "No the only writing I done, " he says, "a few letters to Willamine, in fact quite a few, she's got em all wrapped in ribbons there, I figgered if I tried to write a book or sumptin or prose or sumptin they'd just take it away from me when I left so I wrote her "bout three letters a week for two years -- and the trouble of course and as I say and you've heard a million times is the mind flows the mind rises and nobody can by any possible c- oh hell, I dont wanta talk about it" -- Besides I can see from glancing at him that becoming a writer holds no interest for him because life is so holy for him there's no need to do anything but live it, writing's just an afterthought or a scratch anyway at the surface -- But if he could! if he would! there I am riding in California miles away from home where my poor cat's buried and my mother grieves and that's what I'm thinking. It always makes me proud to love the world somehow -- Hate's so easy compared -- But here I go flattering myself helling headbent to the silliest hate I ever had."
(Chapter 25)

"...Monsanto will say "That's all there is to it, take it easy, everything's okay, don't take things too serious, it's bad enough as it is without you going the deep end over imaginary conceptions just like you always said yourself -- I'll get my ticket and say goodbye on a flower day and leave all San Francisco behind and go back home across autumn America and it'll all be like it was in the beginning -- Simple golden eternity blessing all -- Nothing ever happened -- Not even this -- St Carolyn by the Sea will go on being golden one way or the other... The little boy will grow up and be a great man... There'll be farewells and smiles -- My mother'll be waiting for me glad -- The corner of the yard where Tyke is buried will be a new and fragrant shrine making my home more homelike somehow -- On soft Spring nights I'll stand in the yard under the stars -- Something good will come out of all things yet And it will be golden and eternal just like that -- There's no need to say another word." 
(Chapter 38) 

*Looks like someone posted the novel online & I hope it's OK to link it here! Keeps my transcriptions accurate, too.

January 02, 2021

And if you take care to live only what can truly be called life, that is, the present moment, you will be able to spend the time that remains until death undisturbed, with kindness and obedience to the divine spirit within.

 


The Essential Marcus Aurelius
Translated & Introduced by Jacob Needleman & John P. Piazza 

"The sun seems to pour itself down, and pours itself in every direction, but it is not emptied. For this pouring is an extension, and its rays are so named because of their extension. You can observe this if you watch sunlight shining through some narrow crack in a dark room. It extends itself in a straight line until it encounters some solid body which stops its extension. There the light rests, and it does not move or fall off.
This is how the pouring and diffusion of the mind must be, for it is not a pouring out, but rather an extension of itself; and it should not make a violent or angry impact upon whatever stands in its way; nor should it simply fall away, but rather it should stand firm and illuminate whatever receives it. Whatever does not accept it and help it on its way only deprives itself of the light."
(Book 8, 8.59, p. 66)

"Many of the superfluous things which trouble you are products of your own judgment, and you have the power to strip them away and be free of them. If you do this, immediately you will create a vast expanse for yourself, grasping with your mind the whole Cosmos, contemplating both the endless movement of time and the rapidly changing nature of all that exists. How brief the interval between birth and death; how wide the expanse of time before birth, as infinite as that after death."
(Book 9, 9.32, p. 71)

"You are composed of three parts: body, vital spirit, and mind. The first two belong to you only insofar as you are obliged to take care of them, but only the third, mind, is truly yours. Therefore, if you can separate yourself (your mind, that is) from all that others do or say and all that you yourself would have done or said, all that worries you about the future, all that belongs to the encompassing body which is attached to you without your consent, and all that the external rotation of the heavens causes to whirl around and around, so that the power of mind within you, freed from its fate, can live for itself without pollution or stain, all the while doing what is just, wishing for nothing more than what happens, and speaking the truth. If, I say, you can separate this ruling part from all that is attached to it through the senses, and all that will happen and has already happened, you will make yourself like the sphere of Empedocles: "Completely whole, rejoicing in its solitude." And if you take care to live only what can truly be called life, that is, the present moment, you will be able to spend the time that remains until death undisturbed, with kindness and obedience to the divine spirit within."
(Book Twelve, 12.3, p. 90)

January 01, 2021

So pass this brief amount of time in accordance with Nature and dissolve graciously, just as a ripe olive falls to the ground praising both the earth which gave it life and the tree which nourished it.


 
The Essential Marcus Aurelius
Translated & Introduced by Jacob Needleman & John P. Piazza
 
Some more New Year's wisdom from Marcus Aurelius.

"It has been said, "If you want to be content, occupy yourself with few things." But it is perhaps better to say "Do what is necessary, and what Reason requires of a creature who is made for society—do whatever it demands." For this brings the contentment which comes from doing things well, and doing only a few things. Since most of what we say and do is entirely unnecessary, if a person could get rid of these, he would have more leisure and be in less of a state of confusion. Therefore we all must remember to ask ourselves: "Is this one of the truly necessary things?" But we must leave aside not only unnecessary activities but even unnecessary thoughts, so that unnecessary activities do not follow from them."
(Book Four, 4.24, p. 32)

"Keep constantly in your mind how many doctors die after a lifetime of wrinkling their brows in thought over the sick; and how many astrologers die after predicting with much ceremony the death of others; and how many philosophers die after exhausting their minds with countless discourses concerning death and immortality; and how many great military men die after killing so many people; and how many tyrants die after exercising their power over the lives of others with an insolent snort, as if they themselves were immortal. And how many entire cities—Helice, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and countless others—have been destroyed. So always keep in mind how short-lived and insignificant human things really are: yesterday a glob of mucous, tomorrow a corpse or a pile of ashes. So pass this brief amount of time in accordance with Nature and dissolve graciously, just as a ripe olive falls to the ground praising both the earth which gave it life and the tree which nourished it." 
(Book Four, 4.48, pp. 35-6)

"Every tool, instrument, or vessel is good if it performs well that function for which it was made; and yet, in such cases, the maker is external to it. But for those creatures who are made by Nature, the power that made them is within and remains there. Because of this, you must honor that power all the more and understand that if you conduct yourself and live your life in accordance with Nature's will, then everything will be in accordance with your Intelligence."
(Book 6, 6.44, pp. 53-4)

"Whatever should happen to you, love that alone, for it has been spun for you by the Fates themselves. Could anything be more fitting?"
(Book 7, 7.58, p. 58)

"Turn your attention within, for the fountain of all that is good lies within, and it is always ready to pour forth, if you continually delve in."
(Book 7, 7.59 p. 58)