A Walk to Point San Simeon

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DSCN0119Recently my husband and I and friends took our dogs walking out to Point San Simeon, just below Hearst Castle off Highway One. We’ve lived on the central coast of California nearly all our adult lives, and visited this area often, yet it’s the first time we’ve walked to the point. It won’t be our last. It was one of those breathtakingly beautiful days, and the scenery was stunning. Well worth sharing a few photos with friends.

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We took Highway 46 over to the coast, the hillsides sprinkled with wild flowers.

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Along the way we catch glimpses of the ocean . . .

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. . . including Morro Rock.

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Here’s a view of San Simeon Bay, with the pier and a peek of Hearst Castle on the hillside.

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A closer view of the Castle.

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We start our walk on the beach looking out at the point.

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Here’s where the trail begins. Looking back at the beach and pier.

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Friends on the trail.

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Back-lit pines.

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Wild flowers and fallen oaks.

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Some of the largest and most spectacular Eucalyptus trees we’ve ever seen. . .

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beautifully sculpted . . .

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and inspiring . . .

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wayward philosophers . . .

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. . . explorers . . .

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. . . and poets.

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Finally we reach the point, complete with a lone fisherman and an elephant seal sleeping in the half-shade.

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In case you missed him in the last photo.

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Dazzling shades of blue around the sea-washed rocks on the point.

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One last backward glimpse of the pier and beach as we head back to the car.

DSCN0283We take the back roads home past Hammersky Vineyard and Inn . . .

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. . . past vineyards and grazing horses . . .

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. . . past live oaks and wild flowers . . .

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. . . to reach the tree at the bottom of our driveway (you can see our roof-line at the far right edge). I never fail to feel blessed by the beauty of the landscapes where we live.

Whitman – Where the Sensual & Soulful Merge

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Paradise_Lost_16Walt Whitman is indeed that poet who sings the body electric, who shows how the sensual and the soulful mirror and celebrate each other.  I’d almost forgotten how it’s done. This is what I was looking for in my last post, the kind of sensuality that sets the soul on fire.

From Song of Myself

I

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my Soul;
I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it;
I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

III

Urge and urge and urge,

Always the procreant urge of the world.

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex,

Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life . . . .

Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul . . . .

Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean,

Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest. 

V

I believe in you my soul, and the other I am must not abase itself to you,

And you must not be abased to the other. 

Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,

Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,

Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.

I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,

How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn’d over upon me,

And parted the shirt from my boson-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart,

And reach’d till you felt my beard, and reach’d till you held my feet.

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,

And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,

And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,

And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,

And that a kelson of the creation is love . . . .

XI

She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank;
She hides, handsome and richly drest, aft the blinds of the window.

Which of the young men does she like the best?
Ah, the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.

Where are you off to, lady? for I see you;
You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.

Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather;
The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.

The beards of the young men glisten’d with wet, it ran from their long hair:
Little streams pass’d all over their bodies.

An unseen hand also pass’d over their bodies;
It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.

The young men float on their backs—their white bellies bulge to the sun—they do not ask who seizes fast to them;
They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch;
They do not think whom they souse with spray.

XXI

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,

The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,

The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.

 

From I Sing the Body Electric

4

I have perceived to be with those I like is enough,

To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,

To be surrounded by the beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,

To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?

I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea . . . .

There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,

All things please the soul, and these please the soul well.

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The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,

The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,

The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,

The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,

The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones,

The exquisite realization of health;

O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,

O I say now these are the soul!

* * *

 I could have added many more lush lines, but I’ll stop here. If you haven’t read Leaves of Grass lately, I highly recommend.

 

Speaking of Erotica . . .

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320227916_e6d5fc518e_ocreative commons. . . have you read anything hot lately?

Perhaps it was the convergence of Valentine’s Day and the release of Fifty Shades of Gray (the movie), but I’ve been on the look-out for a really hot romance. Something literary. Not the so-called mommy-porn “Gray” aspires to. Nor the BDSM that seems so popular these days. But a straight, steamy love story that has depth and substance. I have yet to find what I’m seeking.

It hasn’t been from lack of trying though. I read “Gray” back when it first came out just to see what the hoopla was all about. But I couldn’t get past the first three chapters–the writing was so silly, the characters so unbelievable, and even the sexual tension between the two seemed tepid at best. Nothing to keep me turning pages.

Since then I’ve revisited some “steamy” romances I read in my youth, only to find them sadly lacking. I’ve surfed through pages of reviews of erotic romance and downloaded a few e-books onto my Kindle (thank God for Kindle—this is what it was created for!). While some were fun reads, and others hot enough to steam up my reading glasses, all left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied.

I am seeking something that stimulates and satisfies in a deeper way than what I’ve found so far. A story that explores, perhaps, at least to some degree, both the sensual and spiritual nature of desire, arousal, and consummation. After all, sexual and spiritual pleasure, power and transformation are parallel journeys on the road to fulfillment. Both are precipitated by strong human desires for union with the Other. Both, arguably, are what shape us as human beings.

Each journey involves deep longing for something beyond the individual self. Each requires trust and receptivity, surrender and self-sacrifice, tenderness and devotion. Each gives way to passion and delight, awe and wonder, ecstasy and bliss, love and transcendence.

Each seeks the Beloved.

I can’t help thinking that the first journey, that’s seeded in sexual desire for oneness, is what prepares us for the second, to step outside ourselves into something that subsumes us. And I can’t help believing that the two journeys can overlap or coincide. That the parallels between them have deep significance.

Maybe this kind of recognition is too much to ask for in an erotic romance. But I’m still looking.

How about you? Do you enjoy reading hot romances? Anything you’d recommend?

Happy Valentines Day – Celebrating Lasting Love

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“The Turning of the Tide” by Charles Dana Gibson

I’m reprinting a post I wrote two years ago, the first to be Freshly Pressed. Hope you enjoy it.

They say opposites attract. That was true when my husband and I first met. I found in him everything I felt missing in myself—he was strong and brave, adventurous, self-confident, practical, capable, a man of the world. I was shy, timid, uncertain of myself, a romantic, an idealist, inexperienced. I was a senior in High School. He was a marine returning home from two years in Viet Nam. I thought I had found my soul mate, we seemed to complement each other so well, like two halves of a whole, yin and yang.

The truth is, we were just what we needed at the time. This dark, moody often angry young man who could also be so sweet and loving fulfilled a romantic yearning in me to sooth the savaged soul—Beauty and the Beast, after all, had always been my favorite fairy tale. And he was sorely needing the sweetness and innocence he saw in me, after the things he had witnessed in war. We fit together perfectly in each other’s arms. We still do.

Virgin Islands27But now I no longer believe in soul mates. I discovered that all the things I was attracted to in him, that seemed to be missing pieces of me, were really undeveloped parts of myself, and a sense of “completion” could not come from outside me but from within. Once I realized that and began to discover that I too was strong and brave, adventurous, self-confident and capable, I no longer yearned for a soul mate. I could stand upright and free even while fully committed to our marriage. We did not need each other, but we chose to be together. We were committed to creating a life that we both could love and enjoy together.

I had always loved what Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet had written about marriage, and came to see the wisdom of his words:

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness. And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart. And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” ― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Virgin Islands19I also came to realize what Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From The Sea” wrote:

“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”

And finally, I whole-heartedly embraced what Madeleine L’Engle in “The Irrational Season” wrote:

“To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take . . . . If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation… It takes a lifetime to learn another person… When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.”

IMG_4093 (4)My husband and I celebrated our 43rd anniversary last week. Here’s what I’ve learned about lasting love:

That marriage is a journey, not a destination, and the way will be hard, and filled with obstacles and challenges and heartache. That real love is not “true love.” It’s not a given. It doesn’t come ready-made. You have to fight for it, you have to work for it, you have to shake it out from time to time, and mend it and keep adding stitch after stitch, row after row, if you want to make it big enough and strong enough to last a lifetime.

Our marriage quilt is a tattered thing, but beautiful in its homeliness, in the places where its obvious rips and tears have been mended over and over again, the places where it’s grown thin and threadbare and had to be reinforced, as well as the places where it’s warm and soft and scented with memories that bring deep pleasure.

Loveliest of all are the stitches we are still sowing day by day, moment by moment, hand in hand, together.

I will end this series of posts on love and marriage with the last love poem I wrote my husband, a few years after our marriage had almost ended.

It is a simple, playful poem, meant to please a man who is not a lover of poetry, but loves the woman who writes it.

To Dale, On Our Twelfth Wedding Anniversary

Sometimes you ask me if I really love you,
Like the answers hid behind a lock and key
You are my love and all the world must know it
For it’s scattered ‘cross the land and half the sea.

There are winds and waves much sweetened by our pleasure,
Rocks and sand well smoothed by hips and thighs,
Grass that grows much greener from our nearness,
And trees that rustle still with sated sighs.

If you climb a certain stream that flows near Big Sur
You’ll find a rock well made for lying on,
It knew our love before it was made sacred
And longs to feel our lover’s urge again.

While high along the rugged spine of Baja,
Where boney cliffs fall far to find the sea,
We saw the world stripped bare of all but beauty
And we alone like Adam and his Eve.

The moon once tipped the hills beyond Coyote
And laced Conception Bay with fluorescent light,
We swam out naked through those silken waters
Where you would me round your hips and held me tight.

And cupped within the palm of Virgin Gorda
Lies an island and a secret, sandy cove,
Where we waded from the sea like mating mermen
And stretched upon the sand to prove our love.

The wind once made an early morning visit
As we rolled upon a hook in Carib Bight,
While sweeping down the hatch it caught us naked
And added its cool breath to our delight.

Now wind and sea and rock and tree can tell you
The answer that you say you do not know,
You are my love and all the world’s a witness
For its sung wherever winds and waves do blow.

NOTE:  This ends a series of posts that originally were supposed to be part of a series of love poems to celebrate April as National Poetry Month. Eventually it morphed into something else–a memoir of our marriage, or an anatomy of love as it evolves over time. Below are the first four posts in the series, which seem to cover  married love in all of its manifestations:  Innocent love, erotic love, disappointed love, love lost, love renewed, and love that lasts. 

Silly Little Love Poems, Unloosed at Last

The Geometry, and Geography, of Love

Love’s Duplicity

Love Lost, and Renewed

Pinterest, My New Guilty Pleasure

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Yuko Hosaka

By Yuko Hosaka, a Japanese illustrator and printmaker

I’ve been on a Pinterest kick lately that’s taken me into the wee hours of the morning, searching for images to pin to my boards. I don’t know how to describe the pleasure it brings, searching through pages and pages of artwork and photographs to chance upon the perfect one that lights up my mind and makes me purr with delight.

Capturing these images to visit again and again on my boards feels like a real achievement. Like I’ve created these personal cupboards filled with rare scents I can sniff and swoon over to my heart’s delight.

I have 7 boards now. My first was Illustrations of Nursery Rhymes & Fairy Tales. I began collecting these when I was working on a blog post about childhood influences in literature and art.

mudwerks:    (via Golden Age Comic Book Stories)    Jessie Wilcox Smith - water-babies

Jessie Wilcox Smith – Water-Babies

✯ The Crimson Fairy Book by Andrew Lang :: Illustrations by H. J. Ford✯

✯ The Crimson Fairy Book by Andrew Lang :: Illustrations by H. J. Ford✯

from Grimms' Fairy Tales by Marija Jevtic - http://www.behance.net/gallery/Grimms-Fairy-Tales/5411205

Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Marija Jevtic – http://www.behance.net/gallery/Grimms-Fairy-Tales/5411205

Story Book Sundays - The Wind - Illustrated by Ruth Hallock

Story Book Sundays – The Wind – Illustrated by Ruth Hallock

More recently I started one called Blue & Gold because these are my favorite colors, and the two together does something to me that I cannot describe.

Maurice sapiro The Six Foot Sunset   48"x72"

Maurice Sapiro, The Six Foot Sunset 48″x72″

Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World

The Sea at Dusk, watercolor by Emile Nolde http://paintwatercolorcreate.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-vibrant-watercolors-of-emil-nolde.html

The Sea at Dusk, watercolor by Emile Nolde

Galle, Sri Lanka

Galle, Sri Lanka

That one led me to create a board dedicated to images of the Sea & Boats. Blues and golds are featured here as well, and my life-long love of the ocean and sailing. There’s something that strike me as deeply feminine and mystical about the sea and the boats that sail there.

"Alomg the Nile" - by Sergej Ovcharuk ~ Oil

“Along the Nile” – by Sergej Ovcharuk ~ Oil

Arte!: Konstantin Korovin, a Russian Impressionist Constantin Alexeevich Korovin - White Night in Nothern Norway - circa 1895

Konstantin Korovin, a Russian Impressionist Constantin Alexeevich Korovin – White Night in Nothern Norway – circa 1895

 

Howard Pyle: Attack on a Galleon, 1905 - oil on canvas (Delaware Art Museum)

Howard Pyle: Attack on a Galleon, 1905 – oil on canvas (Delaware Art Museum)

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh

A newer board is The Art of Zen. Here is where I collect images that speak to the spare and subtle “imperfect” perfection that lies at the heart of things.

Six Persimmons

Six Persimmons, Mu’ Chi, 13th century Zen monk

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) - "Blue-03", 1916

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) – “Blue-03″, 1916

吴冠中江南水乡绘画艺术桌面壁纸

吴冠中江南水乡绘画艺术桌面壁纸

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my cupboards of delight. You can see more here.

Do you collect things on Pinterest? What and why? I’d love to see them.

Walking in a Green-Winter Wonderland

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IMG_4904Here on the central coast of California, we look forward to a green, rather than white, Christmas. While we love our golden hills of summer, we crave green in the winter. During last year’s drought our summer hills turned dun. Even the golden grasses dried up and blew away, and this lasted through winter. But this year our green came early and I’ve been revelling in it.

Here are some recent photos of the green-wonderland behind our home.

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My husband and our dog Mitzy.

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Amazing oaks!

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A fallen giant.

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Shadows and moss.

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Sunlight breaking through.

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The Three Sisters.

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Home again.

Dawkins and the Wonder of It All

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Hubble Mist M43_HST

Hubble Mist M43_HST

It is true that the unknown is the largest need of the intellect, though for it no one thinks to thank God. –Emily Dickinson

If one of the greatest attributes of a book about science is its ability to incite readers to think, to argue with its premise, pick it apart, wrestle it down, and inspire new lines of inquiry, then the opening of Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow, which I critiqued and rewrote in my last post, succeeds. Exceedingly well.

After reading his opening, like Jacob wrestling with that angel, I could not let it go till it blessed me.

The problem with Dawkins’ musing on the wonder of birth, the near-miraculous odds that any one of us was born at all, is that he did not take his argument far enough. He stops with our death, as if that’s the end of it. But does the mind-boggling chance that I be born at all preclude the equally mind-boggling chance I be born again? Within an infinite set of possibilities, why couldn’t we, with another roll of the dice, each be born a second time?

I’m not so much interested in arguing that such a thing is possible, as I am wondering why it would be impossible. Improbably, yes. But impossible?

If there is some natural law prohibiting it, I’m sure a scientist will tell me. But she will be speaking from her own limited understanding of the universe as we now know it. There is no ultimate authority on this subject or any other. There are no final answers in an infinitely expanding and evolving universe, or in the science that explains it.

The most wondrous thing I can think of is how miniscule our knowing is, and how huge our unknowing. We’ve touched our toe on a beach of understanding that stretches beyond an endless horizon.

One thing I do commend Dawkins for is his eagerness to show us how a scientific understanding of the natural world, the “unweaving of the rainbow” as Keats put it, need not dampen our wonder and awe of creation. As children we looked up in wonder at those twinkling stars that seemed so magical, and we do so still. Our delight in them is not diminished, but heightened by our knowledge.

Wonder itself is a marvelous thing in the old-fashioned sense of the word (miraculous) and defies logic.

Perhaps humankind’s “need for god” that Dawkins and others so lament, is not so much, as they surmise, to create a super-powerful supernatural being to pin all our hopes and fears upon, but to give a name to our awe and wonder, to whatever wove this amazing phenomenon of creation into existence. The knowledge that our universe was spun out of nothing and is spinning still past anything we can ever hope to grasp only increases our sense of awe and wonder, as well as our need to name that which makes us to bow our heads in humility before it.

If stones can speak, dust shape itself into flesh, and atoms evolve a consciousness, as our current understanding of the universe has proved itself capable, then what not is possible?

Dawkins decries humanity’s need for mystery, as if it were the enemy of science. But I would argue that mystery is the handmaid of science, spurring us to understand what is, and to dream of what is yet to come.

Not what the stars have done, but what they are to do, is what detains the sky. –Emily Dickinson

Good Prose and Good Science — Quibbling with the Masters

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IMG_4897At first Steven Pinker was my new hero. Within the first few pages of reading his widely acclaimed “The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century,” he debunks the long-standing myths about the evils of passive voice and killing one’s darlings.

We now know that telling writers to avoid the passive is bad advice. Linguistic research has shown that the passive construction has a number of indispensable functions because of the way it engages a reader’s attention and memory. A skilled writer should . . . push back against copy editors who, under the influence of grammatically naive style guides, blue-pencil every passive construction they spot into an active one.

Finally! Someone is speaking my language.

And he doesn’t stop there.

The classic manuals . . . try to take all the fun out of writing, grimly adjuring the writer to avoid offbeat words, figures of speech, and playful alliteration. A famous piece of advice from this school crosses the line from the grim to the infanticide: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetuate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—wholeheartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” (Though commonly attributed to William Faulkner, the quotation comes from the English professor Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in his 1916 lectures On the Art of Writing.)

I was thrilled. My top two pet peeves on bad writing advice soundly tromped by the latest style guru.

Pinker goes on to say what most writers would readily agree with, that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader. What’s more, you should acquire “the habit of lingering over good writing wherever you find it and reflecting on what makes it good.”

That’s what he proposes to do in his book, to teach the principles of good style by “reverse-engineering examples of good prose.”

By now, I’m bubbling with enthusiasm, and eagerly turn to his first example, the opening lines of “Unweaving the Rainbow” by Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and popular science writer.

That’s when my giddy glide toward Pinker fandom comes to a screeching halt, because this paragraph is a ghastly example of good prose.

Shouldn’t, above all, good prose make sense? Failing that, what good is “style”?

But this example is so full of logical inconsistencies and pure nonsense, I’m amazed that a scientist (the supposed epitome of logical and rational thought!) would write it, let alone that a stylist would recommend it. Surely Pinker could have found a better example of good prose.

Don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself. It’s not so much the style I object to as its substance:

We are going to dies, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

Okay, he has an intriguing premise in his opening line. It makes you sit up and take notice. It makes you want to find out more. I’ll give him that.

But the next sentence is clearly nonsense, and rather than intrigue me, it makes me question the author’s intelligence: not a good sign of good prose. He says, “Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.” But if “most people” are not born, “they” are not people. His sentence makes no sense. He’s referring to something that doesn’t exist and calling it a person. His terminology is all screwed up. He goes on to call these non-people “potential people,” “unborn ghosts,” and “possible people,” when, in fact, “they” are nothing, non-entities.

What he’s really trying to say, in what he thinks is a clever way, is: “We’re lucky we’re alive.” Because in the bijillion possible ways our DNA could have been strung, it was strung in the way peculiar to us, thus making me “me,” and you “you,” and not someone else.

Fine. I get that. I’m lucky I’m going to die because I’m lucky I was ever born. I’m also lucky I was born a person and not an ant, or algae, or a cancer cell. I’m lucky my daddy’s sperm beat out all the other sperm to penetrate my mother’s egg, and that it was that particular egg, and not another, or I could have a sister I never knew existed because I never would have been born. I’m lucky in a bijillion ways that doesn’t include a specious argument comparing me with “potential people.” Which makes me wonder what caused him to choose that clumsy and rather irrational example?

But let’s move on. Next he claims those potential people (or potential ways of stranding DNA) “will never see the light of day.” Never? Really?

Who is to say that one of those potential people, as he calls them, or possible DNA strandings is not being born as we speak, or will not be born next week, next year, and next century? In fact, aren’t all people pulled from that pool of DNA possibility, including future generations, which will go on peopling our planet onward to eternity, or at least the end of the human race?

If you really think about it, based on his logic, it’s not so much that we “actual people” are luckier than those “potential people,” but that while we are lucky now, at this point in time, they will be lucky later on when our luck has run out.

So, that sentence about “the light of day” makes no sense either. But the next one is even sillier.

He says “certainly” the set of as yet unborn potential people includes poets and scientists greater than the set of already produced people. Certainly?

There’s two things wrong with this sentence.

First he’s presupposing that DNA alone is responsible for poetic and scientific greatness, when certainly our parentage, education, place of birth, economic status, and any number of other criteria is equally important. We could almost certainly say that people who had the potential to be greater than Keats and Newton have already been born, are alive this moment, but sadly for them and us, they were born to a Pygmy tribe in Africa, a female in Afghanistan, or a crack baby in the ghetto. None of which would have had the education or opportunity to reach her or his full potential as poets and scientists.

The second problem with this sentence is that it does not belong in this paragraph. It does not support his topic or strengthen his argument about how lucky we are to be alive. A good editor should have deleted it.

But his most stupefying statement is his last, remarking on the “stupefying odds” that “you and I, in our ordinariness” were ever born. How strange he would come to the conclusion of how “ordinary” we are, for it defies the very point he was making all along. In the terms of his own argument, the very point he is advancing, our very lucky and exceptional birth would qualify us as extraordinary; indeed, far surpassing all those innumerable unlucky, unexceptional, unborn ghosts.

Pinker claims that Dawkins’ purpose, as an “uncompromising atheist and tireless advocate of science,” is to explain how “his world view does not, as the romantic and religious fear, extinguish a sense of wonder or an appreciation of life.”

If that was his purpose, then he failed miserably. For all he did in that opening was to irritate this reader with all his non-logical arguments. The only “wonder” of it for me was how a scientist could write it, and how a stylist could praise him for it.

If I could rewrite his paragraph to remove the logical inconsistencies and yet retain what Pinker claims was Dawkins’ purpose–to move the reader to marvel at the wonder of existence–here is how I would do so:

We are lucky to be alive. That joyous fact should far outweigh any grief in the knowledge of our eventual death. We are lucky because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people containing you and me. Our birth is an exceptional and extraordinary accident. Out of all the innumerable sand grains among the sand dunes of time, the winds of chance happened to pick up the ones producing you and me and spun us into being. In the teeth of these stupefying odds, you and I, in all our uncommon glory, won the mother of all lotteries.

Lucky indeed.

Blogging A Trail of Bread Crumbs – 2014 Recap

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Hansel and Gretal Offterdinger_Hansel_und_Gretel_(1)Blog posts are like a trail of bread crumbs leading you back through a misty past. They tell you where you were, not where you’re going. I can’t say I’m unhappy to leave 2014 behind. And if a few of those bread crumbs get gobbled up by birds, so much the better.

Still, it’s instructive, looking back before you plow forward. Here are a few trends, challenges, and highlights from my last year of blogging.

Is Less More, or Just Less?

I wrote fewer posts on this blog in 2014 than in previous years. But I’ve always been a slow blogger. Even at the beginning in 2012 I was posting only twice a week. Eventually it turned into once a week, then every ten days of so. I’ve gone as long as two weeks between posts now. I seem to be racing toward some decline. But it worries me. I don’t want to stop blogging. I don’t want to lose you, the readers who have come to mean so much to me. I love blogging. I want less to be more. Is that possible?

Into the Pit and Out Again

One reason I’ve blogged less is because I’ve been challenged more–both personally and professionally. Early last year, I thought I lost my son to addiction for good. I’d given up hope. In desperation, I created a new, anonymous blog, just to vent all the rage and grief and craziness I was feeling. And it helped. It brought me back from the brink, and him as well. Now he has 8 months of recovery behind him and still going stronger than ever. Still, we take it one day at a time. There’s no other way.

Professionally, I was thrown down into the pit as well. I finished the last draft of my novel in December 2013.  2014 was supposed to be the year I sent this darling out to agents and publishers. I put it aside for a few weeks so I could re-read it fresh. That’s when it all came crashing down. I hated my novel!

I was devastated. After so many years of tender loving care, this baby too was lost to me. In a frantic, I reached out to a few writer friends and researched the web, searching for a life-line, hoping this was a normal reaction. Did all writers end up hating their novels? It turns out, most don’t, but some do. It’s not uncommon. I found a new beta reader and, working with her strong encouragement and deep insight, went through the draft one more time. (Thank you, Kerri!). Now I’m back on track again. I’ve finished what I hope will be my final draft, and set it aside for another read. I’m keeping my fingers crossed I won’t hate it this time.

I had one more personal crisis in 2014, but I’m saving that for another blog post. All this did slow me down and drain away some of the energy and inspiration for keeping this blog going. In retrospect, I’m surprised I wrote as much as I did. Maybe I’m more resilient than I thought.

Now for the 2014 highlights:

Most Viewed Posts: A Blast From the Past

According to my WordPress Annual Report, my most viewed posts in 2014 were written in 2013. Hmmm. What does that mean? Well, I could take it sunny-side up: My writing has staying power, or so WordPress euphemistically suggests.  Or it could mean my best blogging is behind me. Well, time will tell. Here’s my two most viewed posts:

Binge Blogging

Series are all the rage now, both in television viewing and reading. We love characters who linger, whose stories become our stories, who return to us day after day, week after week. Even season after season and book after book. We boast of our binges: mine was Downton Abbey last week. I re-watched all of Season 4 during the afternoon, then watched the premier of Season 5 that evening. I went to bed fully sated.

Binge blogging, sadly, is not quite the same. It’s done less for the pleasure of readers and more to accommodate long-winded writers. Like me. I take more pleasure in my series than my readers do. It’s a guilty indulgence.

The first one was a 4-part literary deconstruction, tying together the themes found in the writings of Milton, Wordsworth, and Lacan. (I know, ouch!) The first and last posts in the series are listed below.

The next 2-part series on Annie Dillard’s writing and my own was much more popular:

Hu-More, Not Less

Three personal favorite, which readers also seemed to enjoy, were attempts to lighten an otherwise overly heavy and oh-so-serious blog load. Not to mention, help me lift my head out of those pits I mentioned earlier, if for just a moment. It was quite refreshing. Maybe I need to hu-more in the future.

Freshly Pressed (Again!)

I’ve been freshly pressed three times now. Each time is a surprise and delight. Gifts that come from out of the blue. The last time was in June 2014. This one’s about marriage: drifting apart, pulling together, and finding that magic balance.

My First Guest Post!

I was also honored, and delighted, to be invited to write a guest post on poetry for the lovely Luanne’s blog, Writer Site. I posted it on my site as well.

Your Favorites and Mine

Surprisingly, and happily, some of my readers’ favorite posts were mine as well, and several featured my poetry. I can’t tell you how gratifying that is. I haven’t written much poetry in my life, but all of it is deeply personal. I think sometimes that to truly know me, who I am at heart, you would have to read my poetry. And you have. Without blogging–without my poetry being read–large, intimate parts of me would remain relatively unknown.

Three of your favorite posts featuring my poetry:

Two of my favorite posts featuring poetry from my favorite poet, Wallace Stevens:

Two of your non-poetry favorites this year was a photo-essay on fallen oak trees, and a list and lament about all the books I’ve abandoned this past year.

Hugs and Kisses

Thank you for bearing with me through this long post, and through this last challenging year of infrequent posts–those bread crumbs scattered along a dark trail with its few gleams of light, and rare laughter.

Your comments and encouragements have meant the world to me, and made all the difference. May you all have a truly marvelous 2015.

A Cranky Reader: What I Crave When I Read Poetry

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Reading CzakoAdolf-2I was invited to write a guest blog post about poetry on Luanne Castle’s Writer Site. The following was first published on her site in a slightly different version.

I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry lately, how some speaks to me and some not at all. While reading recent issues of prestigious literary journals, I was surprised to find that not one poem—not one—moved me. Amazing!

Most seemed like intellectual exercises or obtuse offerings of random thoughts and images. None engaged me intellectually, or stimulated my sensibilities, or even challenged me—let alone invited me—to a second reading. Instead they were studies in disappointment. I left them unfulfilled, still hungry and, admittedly, cranky.

Is it me? Is it them? (Sigh).

Just what is it I crave from poetry?

Wallace Stevens once famously said: “You can’t get the news from poems, but men die every day for lack of what is found there.”

That’s what I want: The thing we die from lack of. That’s why I read poetry. What I look for in other works of art too—in prose and painting and music that rise to the level of poetry.

I want what Emily Dickinson referred to when she says, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Something that tickles the hintermost parts of my brain, where I feel the synapses stretch and snap, reaching toward something just past my grasp.

I want what T.S. Elliot meant to when he writes that “poetry is a raid on the inarticulate.” Something dark and dormant, lying just below consciousness, rising into the light: a curved fin, a humped back, gliding momentarily along the surface of thought before dipping below again.

We have all felt that, I’m sure. Something deep and delicious, once known and now forgotten, woken momentarily. Something within us re-ignited, flashing briefly before dissolving into darkness again.

In “Ars Poetica,” Archibald MacLeish says: “A poem should be palpable and mute / As a globed fruit.”

He says: “A poem should be wordless / As the flight of birds.”

He says:

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

Reading his poem, I’m with him. I’m saying: Yes!

But then he almost ruins it with the last two lines:

A poem should not mean
But be.

Pointing to something static. Not in motion. Art for art’s sake. An artifact showcased in a museum.

Gwendolyn Brooks writes:

Does man love Art? Man visits Art, but squirms.
Art hurts. Art urges voyages–
And it is easier to stay at home,
The nice beer ready.

If it doesn’t make us squirm, if it doesn’t hurt, if it doesn’t urge voyages, is it art? Is it poetry?

Stevens calls modern poetry “the poem of the mind.” It’s “the act of finding what will suffice.”

He says:

It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage,
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one.

A poem must construct something that it inhabits, that speaks to the reader, in the “delicatest ear of the mind,” “exactly, that which it wants to hear,” what the reader, that invisible audience, wants to hear—which is not the play, not the poem, but “itself.” Itself “expressed / In an emotion as of two people, as of two emotions becoming one.”

It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.

Stevens is saying that a poem can no more “be” than “mean.” Rather, it must act. It must unite poet and reader in the act of finding what will suffice.

It is not static: It is “a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman combing.” It is always moving. It moves us to capture it in its passing. It moves us beyond ourselves, where the top of our head lifts away and there we go unbounded, grasping for a brief moment what lies always, already, just beyond our grasp.

That which suffices. That which the lack thereof we die of every day. That’s what I’m looking for when I read poetry.

I want to feel my synapses snapping.

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