A Poet’s “Sense Sublime” – Part III, “Some Tragic Falling Off”

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Andreas_Achenbach_-_Clearing_Up—Coast_of_Sicily_-_Walters_37116 wikicommonsLanguage is that which gives rise to difference, to the desire for difference, and, at the same time, the desire to dissolve those differences.

We saw that in Part II of this series with Lacan’s explanation of the infant’s development in the “Mirror Stage,” and its “quest for wholeness.” Our psychic journey from the womb to maturity is a kind of “becoming” where our quest to return to the undivided bliss of infancy leads us through a world of difference, loss, and desire, to a point of ecstatic expectancy of “something more.”

This “process of becoming” and the desire for “something more” is the turf of poets as well as psychoanalysts. And no poet writes more upon this subject or with such longing, perhaps, than William Wordsworth, who explores our journey from unknowing childhood innocence to the development of the philosophic, or poetic, mind.

John_Dobbin_-_Tintern_Abbey_(1876) wikicommons

This journey from unconscious bliss to the conscious sublime can be traced in “Tintern Abbey,” “The Ode to Immortality,” and “The Prelude.”

In “Tintern Abbey,” Wordsworth recalls his childhood experience of undifferentiated bliss when Nature “was all in all.” He describes the “aching joys” and “dizzy raptures” as:

An appetite, a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied

Yet as he grows into a man, his journey into language and difference has given him “abundant recompense.” He has “learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth,” but from within the thoughtfulness of the mature philosophic mind.

By recollecting the original experience of undifferentiated wholeness from within a state of differentiation, he has felt:

A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And tolls through all things.

Here we see a clear distinction between the thoughtlessness of the original experience and the thoughtfulness of the second recollected experience. The memory of the undifferentiated wholeness recollected from within a state of differentiation (words, language, thought, and poetry) transcends the original state. It reaches a state of sublimity which far surpasses the original state.

494px-The_Rocky_Mountains,_Lander's_Peak_(Albert_Bierstadt),_1863_(oil_on_linen_-_scan)Yet this sublimity, this joy, is mixed with the “still, sad music of humanity”—a futile desire for the unmixed bliss which can be “recollected” but may never be regained.

Wordsworth continues exploring this problem in his “Ode to Immortality.” He states that although “our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” of our original home in God, yet we come from that state of wholeness “trailing clouds of glory,” memories of that bliss.

The “prison-house” which closes upon the growing child, dividing him from God (wholeness, undifferentiated bliss), cannot squelch his memory of, nor quench his thirst for, that which once was.

Yet it is not for this, for what was lost, that Wordsworth raises his “song of thanks and praise”:

But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings:
Blank misgivings . . . .

In other words, he gives thanks for those futile and fleeting things, the desire that accompanies loss, the desire to recollect and recreate. In this he finds “strength in what remains behind.” This is the desire which does not disdain difference and loss, “human suffering” and ”death” but looks through them toward “faith” and the “philosophic mind,” rather than past them toward any final fulfillment.

This is the insatiable desire with finds in the “meanest flower / thoughts too deep for tears.” It is desire expressed as poetry. It is the desire of which Wallace Stevens later writes in “Of Modern Poetry,” desire which:

Like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With mediation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear . . . (italics mine)

It is desire speaking poetry and poetry speaking desire. Perhaps it is not so strange that Wordsworth, the poet for whom “the mind of man” was the main “haunt” and “region” of his “song” should be the first to write “the poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice” (Stevens)

717px-'Italianate_Landscape_with_an_Artist_Sketching_from_Nature',_oil_on_canvas_painting_by_Jan_Both,_c__1645-50,_Cincinnati_Art_MuseumFor Wordsworth, the fleeting bliss hat he fails to sustain as a child in experience, he re-experiences at a more elevated level as a man and poet in the act of recollection—in the imagination.

He explains in “The Prelude” how this new bliss, or sense of sublimity, in which he “recognizes grandeur in the beatings of the heart,” does not shy away from difference, from “pain and fear”, but is founded in “such discipline.”

This sublimity is not a return to unity, an end of desire, but desire which recreates itself as poetry. It is a sense of intense identification with nature which does not erase difference, but thrives on it.

The central problem he explores in all his poetry is:

How does one get back to a sense of unity and undifferentiated bliss in spite of the fact that difference, pain and loss, remain?

The answer he provides is:

One does not return to what was, but moves through what is, on the way to something else, something higher (poetry, the imagination, the sense sublime).

One doesn’t get there in spite of difference, but because of it. The desire which feeds upon difference never quite reaches its destination because there is always, already, that something more, beyond representation, to hope for.

Wordsworth tells us in “Tintern Abbey”:

Our destiny, our nature, and our home
Is with infinitude, and only there:
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
and something evermore about to be.

A_capriccio_of_architectural_ruins_with_a_seascape_beyond,_oil_on_canvas_painting_by_Leonardo_CoccoranteFor Wordsworth, as well as Lacan, desire attenuated into a state of ecstatic expectancy is “a sense sublime.”

It is a state of intense identification with the Other—not as it was or is, but as it becomes within the act of interpenetration, or re-interpretation within the act of creation.

What Wordsworth experiences is a becoming—a transitory and fleeting thing which, nonetheless, becomes the essence of his poetry. This “something evermore about to be” is sublime expectation.

It is Emily Dickenson writing: “Not what the stars have done, but what they are to do, is what detains the sky.”

It is Wallace Stevens’ “black water breaking into reality.”

This elemental theme of difference, loss, desire, and “something more” to come, is also explored in Milton’s great work on the fall and redemption of humanity, “Paradise Lost.”

I’ll explore more of that in my next post in this series. If you missed the first two posts in this series, you can read them here:

“Some Tragic Falling Off” Into Difference and Desire

Our Quest for Wholeness – Part II, “Some Tragic Falling Off”

Humor, It’s Serious Stuff

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Venne_Woman_and_a_jester public domainRecently I’ve come across several blogs that use humor (the ironic, tongue-in-cheek, tending toward the ludic, the whimsical, the carnivalesque) to great effect. And I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them. But it’s made me realize how serious my blog has come to sound, and to question that.

I’m not sure I want to change it. But perhaps I need to diffuse it now and again. For I fully realize all this seriousness is seriously undercut by the great jest played on all of us: we really don’t know what the hell we’re doing and if any of this (me, you, life, blogging, etc.) matters at all.

Still, Serious is my milieu. I feel more comfortable swimming there. With Serious I joyously jump head first into the deep end. I do backflips from the high dive. With Humor I test the pool with my toe. I find the steps and go down slowly. I keep my head above the water.

Perhaps that’s why people who know me well comment on my “gentle sense of humor”. I used to take that as a compliment, meaning “not unkind” or “unassuming.” Not loud or obvious.

But it could just as well mean “unassertive,” or even just plain “wimpy.”

Given my pool metaphor, this could be true. I am shy. I don’t tend to flaunt or assert myself in crowds or public conversations. You would never call me the life of the party. I don’t leave people in stitches or elicit belly laughs. I stand in the shadows. I observe. I take note. And occasionally I let loose a zinger or a well-placed (gentle) barb.

80Three_Young_Women_Making_Music_with_a_Jester public domainI tease. I poke. I play. At the edges.

It’s the way I diffuse all the seriousness that comes more naturally to me. Playing with things—-people, ideas, words, life.

Humor, after all, is the great diffuser. It reminds us not to take ourselves, or each other, or life itself so seriously all the time.

It lightens, softens, disperses, deflects the serious side of life that can, quite literally, crush us under its weight if we’re not careful.

That is humor’s great gift, why it is so needed, and so welcomed. Everyone loves humor. Serious, not so much.

Humor makes you feel good. It lights up your endorphins. It puts a smile on your face and a giggle in your heart. It can even make cancer cells go into remission, or so they say.

Serious is not so warmly welcomed. It’s viewed as suspect and makes you wary. You frown and say things like “Say what?” and “Get outa here.” It gives you heartburn and indigestion. Your head starts spinning, your eyes glaze over. You start looking for the door.

An Allegory of Folly Quentin_Massys_030 public domainBut mostly, for those who are serious, it’s just plain risky.

Serious is like streaking down your old high school hallways naked. Humor is safer. It wears a helmet and shoulder pads and carries a hockey stick. People back away. They let you pass.

Being Serious is like burying yourself in sand with only your head sticking up. Anyone can ride by with a large stick or sharp sword and lop it off. Humor often carries that sword.

Which brings us to the dark side of humor and its soft underbelly. Humor can be a weapon. And it can hurt.

But more often what humor, the great diffuser, is diffusing or deflecting, is our own insecurities and uncertainties, our fear of the unknown and unanswerable. Humor is a way to keep people at arm length, unsure how to take us, afraid to challenge us. It can help us avoid the serious stuff and make others less likely to talk seriously to us.

Humor also can be a cop-out. It allows us to say, if challenged: But I was only kidding!

If people don’t know whether to take us seriously or not, they might tend to back down, back off, pull their punches, reserve judgment. And they may do so because they want to avoid that zinger or well-placed and not-so-gentle barb we are prone to fling when challenged. They don’t want to become the brunt of our jokes.

Van_Mieris_I,_Frans_van_-_Woman_before_the_Mirror_(detail)_-_c__1670The best humor though, is serious stuff.

It isn’t used to harm others or to protect ourselves, but to expose ourselves to critical examination.

Humor holds up a mirror so we can see ourselves more clearly, including all our faults and foibles. It makes us laugh at ourselves, our families, our society, our leaders, our politics, our lives, in a way that’s helpful and healing.

It reveals the hypocrisy and vanity, the pettiness and meanness, in a fun way. We feel the sharpness when it strikes too close to home, but we laugh anyway.

And by laughing at our faults, we are more likely, perhaps, to find ways to be and do better.

That’s what I love about humor. Being able to laugh at myself. It’s so freeing!

Being buried in the sand up to your ears is no picnic!

I keep thinking about that head-lopping image I used earlier. That poor helpless fool, buried up to her ears in all that serious sand she finds so important, and WOP! There goes her head bouncing down the beach.

That’s me! My head bouncing down that beach, blood squirting everywhere, and I’m thinking, “My God, What did I do? Why did I stick my head out like that? Why the f— did I take myself so seriously?”

But then I have to laugh. Because I realize: This is just a metaphor!

Right about then, another head comes rolling along, the head-lopper’s head.

“What happened to you!” I ask.

“Seems I was taking myself way too seriously too!” he replies.

Then we both have a good, serious laugh, rolling down the beach together.

Our Quest for Wholeness – Part II of “Some Tragic Falling Off”

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artist Gustave Klimt“Duality, difference, and desire presuppose “some tragic falling off” from an original (mythical or otherwise) world of undivided wholeness.”

So I wrote in my last post. Here I explore that further, looking at how narrative fiction mirrors the psychic quest for wholeness, for becoming fully human.

Writers of fiction know that to create a compelling story that keeps readers turning pages we must:

    1. Create a protagonist with an overarching need or desire (derived from some sense of loss, of being wounded, or incomplete)
    2. beset by constant conflict that intensifies and delays achievement of that desire (to gain what was lost, find healing or wholeness)
    3. until that need or desire is eventually realized (or not), but either way,
    4. leaving the protagonist in a better place (happier, wiser, more whole) than where she had been before the story began, having learned something important or significant about herself, the world she lives in, or what it means to be human.

What drives the story and develops the character is a quest to return to wholeness, to regain what was lost. But what is regained is never simply what was lost, but “something more.” Some new realization– wisdom chiseled from the hard knocks and setbacks of a difficult journey, insights into human nature that will light her path moving forward.

Perhaps we find these stories so compelling because they parallel our own psychic development from the womb to maturity and beyond.

Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan describes the earliest part of this development as the Mirror Stage. This is where an infant first becomes aware of itself as a self, and where the division between I and Other, subject and object, consciousness and the unconscious takes place.

Lacan explains how an infant cannot differentiate itself from the world around it. Lying on a blanket beneath the trees, it waves its hands and sees no difference between its waving hands and the trees blowing in the wind and its mother’s face as she bends over the child and takes it into her arms. The infant is one with its world, which it experiences as undivided bliss and wholeness.

But this cannot last. As the child grows it becomes more and more aware of difference. It has control over some parts of itself (its hands and feet) while it has limited control over its mother and none whatsoever over the trees. Eventually, the child comes to identify itself with its body and to distinguish itself from other parts of its world, and the individual is born.

Lacan sees this development as a succession of splits or gaps, a sense of separation between I and Other, the knower and what is known. The child experiences this growing awareness and individuation, however, as a sense of anxiety–of separation and loss–and desire, to reclaim what was lost.

This is what the Robert Hass referred to in his poem as “some tragic falling off from a first world of undivided light.” But out of that differentiation between I from Other, painful as it may be, comes a growing awareness of the Other, experienced in all its exquisite particularity.

Out of that “world of undivided light” appears “the clown-faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk.” Without difference, the split between I and Other, the infinite variety and particular beauties that we now experience with such pleasure would be unknown.

Here’s what’s interesting though: We cannot “know” something without first acknowledging its difference from the knower. Yet, paradoxically, to “know” something, to become aware of its difference, is to “take it in” and make it one’s own–a part of one’s experience or store of knowledge, for instance.

Having suffered the painful split of separation from a world of undivided wholeness, we are now filled with a desire to reunite with what was lost, and the only way we can do this is by “taking in the whole world”—by naming it and knowing it through language, by exploring the world around us, and the world of ideas, and by seeking ever new experiences, insights, and knowledge.

For Lacan, this turning back toward “reunion” is ever present and woven into the fabric of the psychic existence. The gap between I and Other, subject and object, the conscious and unconscious creates, of its own necessity, out of its own “vacuum,” the desire to close the gap.

While this effort to reunite with what was originally lost appears futile in and of itself, it does create some interesting correlations. For “I” defines itself not in itself but through its relationship with Others and the desire to satisfy Others’ desires. There is a kind of overlapping or embrication of identities, which constitutes an intersubjectivity. A sense of “doubleness,” if you will–standing always within ourselves and outside ourselves at the same time.

This sense of “doubleness” can be seen when we examine our consciousness in relation to the unconscious. What exists prior to individuality or consciousness is the unconscious. The entrance of the subject into a conscious state immediately renders it double. The unconscious both surrounds and grounds the conscious self, but never comes fully within the locus of being—that is, being fully identified.

The content of the unconscious remains, perhaps, a kind of “becoming,” Lacan writes, in that it can potentially become, but once solidified consciously into an identity, ceases to be what it was: unconscious.

Lacan tells us that “the unconscious is structured like a language.” Like language, its function is “not to inform but to evoke responses in the other,” in consciousness. It does this through language, but always inadequately, for language can never fully represent unconscious desire. Always it says both less than what it wants to say and more than what we can understand.

How well this parallels the human dilemma: We are at almost every point less than what we want to be and more than what we can understand. Hence our desire for, our striving toward, that “something more” which we do not fully understand, and cannot articulate.  It is something we first glimpsed in our distant past which is no more, and which we seek in a future which has yet to be.  We ourselves stand in that gap of now, which is itself a kind of becoming.

Lacan explains the difficulty of our dilemma this way:

“I identify myself in language, but only by losing myself in it like an object. What is realised in my history is not the past definite of what was, since it is no more, or even the present perfect of what has been in what I am, but the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming.”

This “process of becoming” is the turf of poets as well as psychoanalysts. And no poet writes more upon this subject or with such longing, perhaps, than William Wordsworth, who wrote in “Tintern Abby”:

Our destiny, our nature, and our home
Is with infinitude, and only there:
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be.

More from the poets on this topic in my next post.

You can read Part I of this series here:

“Some Tragic Falling Off” Into Difference and Desire

“Some Tragic Falling Off” into Difference and Desire

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800px-John_William_Waterhouse_-_Echo_and_Narcissus_-_Google_Art_ProjectI’ve been thinking a lot about desire and loss lately and remembering a paper I wrote exploring this topic. It began with a quotation from Robert Hass’s poem “Meditation at Lagunitas” which I posted here last week. The poem begins this way:

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light.

All the old thinking and new thinking is not only about loss, but also about desire, about returning to that “first world of undivided light.” About regaining what was lost.

The quotation above is followed by this one:

“We are all inescapable dualists—for Lacanian, not Cartesian, reasons.” – Charles Alteri

It strikes me that these are the great themes that are explored over and over again in all great poetry, literature, art, religion, science, psychology, philosophy—is it not? Groping for “something more,” something just out of reach. Feeling a sense of loss, of incompleteness, and seeking what will make us whole.

My paper starts off this way:

If duality arises from difference, difference from separation, and separation is accompanied by a sense of loss and desire, then it could be said that duality, difference, and desire presuppose “some tragic falling off” from an original–mythical or otherwise–world of undivided wholeness.

Milton’s Paradise Lost, Wordsworth’s Prelude, and Jacques Lacan’s lectures on psychoanalysis all repeat at various levels this elemental theme of difference, loss and desire. What Milton treats at a cosmic and theological level, Wordsworth treats at a temporal and personal level, and Lacan treats linguistically and psychologically. In each, however, language is instrumental not only in the initiation of difference, but in the formulation of a desire which may turn it back toward a redemptive reunion.

The paper was written for academics, but the ideas explored are relevant for all of us, for writers in particular, and for anyone grasping at the meaning of life, or seeking a sense of wholeness.

I’ll be exploring this topic in the next few posts, and I hope you will join me. It’s a huge topic, with so many implications. I’d love to hear your ideas and insights.

Meditation at Lagunitas by Robert Hass

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800px-James_Clarke_Hook_-_Blackberry_Picking Public domainMeditation at Lagunitas

By Robert Hass

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

Sea, Sky, Earth, Fire–My Daughter on Her Wedding Day

deborahbrasket:

My daughter’s first wedding anniversary is today. In celebration, I’m reblogging this post written a year ago.

Originally posted on Living on the Edge of the Wild:

Wedding PartyShe was married beneath a cliff on the edge of the sea standing barefoot on the rocky beach.  Barking seals sunning on rocks and crashing waves nearly drowned out the simple ceremony.

Hunchbacked boulders rose from the sea behind her like giant guardian sentinels. A single guitarist played flamenco music to match the red rose in her hair while the late afternoon sun glimmered across the waves.

Newly WeddedSea.  Sky.  Earth.  Fire.  All four essential elements holding the world together blended beautifully together that day.

It’s not surprising she would choose such a setting for her wedding day, with all the things that she loves, that helped shape her into the strong, fearless, independent and beautiful woman she is today, in full display.  Sea, sky, earth, fire.

She grew up on a cruising sailboat, after all.  The rhythm of the sea and sky moves through her body.  She was rocked to sleep…

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“Taste and see – I am spare”

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sohan-qadri-yogi-poet-and-painter-18That age-old question “who am I?” haunts us from birth. We sense we are more than what we seem to be, more than the sum of our parts, more than this thread of life that spans so short a distance.

Sometimes a felt-sense of that “something more” emerges in consciousness with a ring of clarity–then fades just as quickly. Sometimes if we are quick or lucky or persistent, we capture what we sensed in a word or image, a poem or song.

What we capture is always an echo of what we’re trying to get at, a finger pointing to the moon, not the thing itself.

The following poem is trying to capture that “something more.” I titled it “entelechy” which is a philosophical term that denotes both the perfect essence of an object or person, and that which propels it toward self-fulfillment. This is the closest I could come in finding a word to capture what I was after.

Entelechy

I am spare

I am clean uncluttered space

I am a fine line curving inward and out

I am a high sweet note wrung from the still air

I am a cup of cool water drawn from the clear stream

I am bone bleached and bare, tossed upon a windswept shore

Taste and see

I am spare

In some ways, this poem is like a prayer. When I am confused, or out of sorts, or besides myself, I turn to it to remind me of that something more or something deeper that I am at heart. Meditating upon these images brings me home to myself.

I am not sure if the poem will mean anything to anyone but me, but I wanted to share it here.

The artwork by Sohan Qadri that precedes these words captures for me, so beautifully, that same essence. I wrote another post about his artwork and what it means to me here.

The Art of Sohan Qadri

Cultivating “a mind of winter”

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Cc photo by Larry 1732 flickr-6991649439-originalI fell in love with Wallace Stevens’ poetry when I first read “The Idea of Order at Key West” in a freshman literature class so long ago. I think that’s when I knew for certain I was a writer, whether I ever wrote a word or not, because I was, we all are, that woman:

She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. . . .
. . .there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

What we experience in the world, the world as we know it, is always to some degree a creation of our own imaginations, the objective world (reality) filtered through our subjective experience of it. And there’s beauty and mystery and grace it that.

And yet, and yet . . . . There is too that “mind of winter” that Stevens also writes about. The sense that we can get at the thing in itself, without the cloud of imagination, the subjective, standing between it and us, as he writes about here in “The Snow Man”:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

There’s a sense that if we cultivate “a mind of winter,” a mind stripped down, bare and essential; pristine, without artifice; the mind that is and is not at the same time; that can hold equally two opposing thoughts at the same time and rest in the still center; that “beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is,” then we may see things as they truly are and not as we create them to be.

But to do that, you have to become it. Become the snow man, literally, no-mind, no-thought. Leave “I” behind and become the frosted junipers. Become the night sky. Become the sea. To truly behold things as they are, we have to “behold” it—-be it and hold it at the same time.

That’s what I’m trying to do, in my life and in my writing, in whatever meager way I can. Cultivate a mind of winter, be what I behold. Be it and hold it—-all at once. And by doing that, coming to know it, for the first time.

Help Me Celebrate a Writing Milestone

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PartieCarree_Tissot wikipedia commonsI just finished writing an 85,000 word novel that I’ve been working on the past couple of years.  It feels good to have completed something of this magnitude, even though I still have a lot of work to do to get it ready to send out to agents.

I’m hoping you can help me do that by “liking” my author page on Facebook, or following me on Twitter.  A strong “platform” could give me the edge I need in a competitive market.  You can do so by clicking the links in the sidebar, or going to the pages at the links below.

https://www.facebook.com/DeborahJBrasket

https://twitter.com/DeborahBrasket

Reading 1881_Kramskoi_Frauenportraet_anagoriaI’m also looking for a new set of readers, people who will commit to read the novel and provide feedback on several levels:  how well it holds your attention, where it sings, where it sags; if there are any holes or gaps in the content (dangling threads, illogical time warps, etc.); anything that comes to mind that could make the novel stronger.  If you think you’d like to help out this way, please let me know.

“From the Far Ends of the Earth” is about what happens when the one person who has been holding together a difficult family mysteriously disappears. Will those left behind have the strength and love, or even the will, to keep from falling apart?

The novel is told from the perspective of the three family members left behind.

Kay is a “cranky” grad student studying archeology.   While distrusting men in general, and her father and brother in particular, she has been extremely close to her mother, who now leaves mysterious messages on Kay’s answering machine.  Mourning her loss, Kay sifts through the shards and debris of childhood memories trying to understand the past and learn how to trust again.

Cal has spent most of his life on the street strung out on heroin, but he’s living at home when his mother disappears. He is deeply hurt and angry at her disappearance, and mystified by the strange photographs she mails him.  When his father suddenly leaves, he is left on his own with a house to care for and no clue how to do it. Eventually he discovers his own artistic outlet welding sculpture from scrap metal. Then he takes in a boarder whose tattooed body reveals a past even more tragic than his own.

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Walter awaits his wife’s return by paying her credit card bills and tracking her journey through Central and South America.  Then he decides to take his own long-delayed trip to Alaska, where a new life, new love, and new tragedy await him. When his wife’s credit card bills stop coming, he travels to Machu Picchu in the mountains of Peru to find her.

I wrote more about the novel in a blog post, which includes a link to a short story “When Things Go Missing” adapted from one of Cal’s chapters.

I have a second short story adaptation in the works from one of Kay’s chapters set Mexico at an archeological dig.  It’s called “The Fragrance of Rocks.”  While I’m finishing up the final revisions on the novel, I’ll be working on it and some of my other short stories.

800px-Cocktail_by_candle_light_1The writing life, I’m finding, is one never-ending process.  Which is why it’s so important to share and celebrate the milestones with others.  I hope you will join me!

“Friday I tasted life. It was a vast morsel.” – Emily Dickinson

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”  – Anaïs Nin

“Perfect Love” – An Antidote for All that Ails Us

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La-Bella-Mano spiritual and earthly loveThe highest common denominator for all spiritual practices and religious teachings, as I’ve come to understand, is Love. That is, Love with a capital L, meaning that which transcends a personal or ego-based sense of love. Love that embraces all and everything. Love that is the ground, or source, of all being.

It’s a “perfect” love, a powerful love, a love that can change lives, and nations, even as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King have shown.

“Perfect Love casts out fear” is from the Bible, but it is one of those highest teachings and practices found across cultural and religious divides.

If these teachings cannot be made practical in our ordinary, flawed, imperfect lives, they are of no use to us. But as a mother who has struggled with an almost debilitating sense of fear at times, an understanding of what this verse means has saved me many times.

_La_Voile_jaune_The_Yellow_Sail spiritual realmsFear is at the heart of manner of darkness. “All that ails us” is some mutation of this life-crippling, joy-killing, action-paralyzing, energy-sapping, emotion. I have found myself in its grip many times. And the only way I’ve found to peel back the strangling fingers of fear is to let a more perfect sense of Love rise within me.

It is understanding that without Love, I am nothing. That love truly is the ground of my being, the source of all being. That love is what makes life worth living. And that when the time comes to depart from this life, all that will have mattered is how much we have loved; not how much we have fallen at the feet of fear. How much we have given, not how much we have taken; how much we have expressed the best in us, and sought to see the best in each other.

“Perfect Love” means to love others more perfectly. This doesn’t mean to love others in spite of their flaws or failings.

Matthias_Stom_-_Holy_Family_-_Google_Art_ProjectIt means to love them unconditionally because we know that they are not their flaws and failings. And to know that so clearly and so fervently, that we can keep that love pure, even while doing whatever we can to help them let go of their own fears, and all the failings that go with those fears.

We are not our fears. We are not our failings. We are not our hate, or greed, or selfishness, or addiction, or anger, or violence. These are all manifestations of our fears. And the only thing worth saving or savoring in each other is what we love, and what expresses that love.

Love your enemies” is the same as saying you have no enemies, a wise woman once said. For those who would appear as our enemies are those so overcome by their own fears that they have failed to see what they love in another. And if we hate them, we have fallen into the same trap.

Isn’t that what the great moral and inspirational figures of our age have taught us? Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela? That love conquers all, even the most insidious, unjust, hateful systems of government that would try to separate, enslave, and dehumanize us?

We are not our prejudices, we are not the cruel things we say or do, the cruel systems that we create and justify. We can’t condone these things, or ignore them.  We don’t give them a pass.

780px-Bonifacio_de'_Pitati_-_The_Holy_Family_with_Tobias_and_the_Angel,_Saint_Dorothy,_Giovannino,_and_the_Miracle_of_the_Corn_be____-_Google_Art_ProjectBut we understand that, to some degree, the most hateful and cruel among us, are us, in other circumstances. That there, but for the grace of God, go I.

That even the most loving and kind and wise among us, when governed by fear, rather than love, would be the same.

We have no enemy because we see ourselves in him, and the only way to un-make an enemy is to see his humanity, to see us in them.

That’s how Mandela was able to overcome Apartheid and lead to reconciliation.

That’s how Gandhi was able to face the oppressors and free his county.

That’s how Martin Luther King was able to peacefully resist an oppressive system and usher in the Civil Rights Act.

It’s fear for ourselves, our children, our families, our community, our country, our way of life, that leads to resentment and anger and blame and shame and discouragement or despair. That eventually leads to resignation and indifference and apathy and depression and joylessness.

And it’s learning to love ourselves and each other more perfectly that casts out those fears, and frees us from all its crippling mutations.

“Perfect Love” – a powerful antidote for all that ails us.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, peace and love, to every one of you, and all.Public Domain Ferdinand_Theodor_Hildebrandt_001_original

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