Saturday, February 28, 2009

Truth and Untruth

Last night's post finally helped me go to sleep -- as I hope this one will. And I hope this is not the beginning of a habit! I had to go back today to see what I wrote. Two things came to mind. One is that the mental process I described. how I write [some kinds of things] was described in an article in The New Yorker not long ago. I read all the medical/mental articles. This one was about how ideas are formed. Researchers just love MIRs for seeing what's happening in the brain, they watch areas, big but ever smaller it seems, light up when mental activities are in process. They can see that literally the logical side of the brain shuts down and blink! the illogical side takes over when a new idea pops up. They admit there is more to know ... there always will be. At least I hope there will be. I want to think the human mind is too complex and various and wonderful to ever be entirely mapped -- after all it's not like the once mysterious "New world" that is now so entirely known.

So what I'm saying is my internal assessment of what happens IS what happens, in the broadest of terms. I've never found another person so interested in their own brain's function as I am but I know they exist. That's the truth part of the title.

The untruth part is that when I write memoir pieces like the one mentioned, I am usually aware of occasions when I embellish, distort, omit or otherwise play fast and loose with facts. I did it with that piece, just slightly for the sake of literary balance and because some bits weren't clear in my memory. I do it with most memory pieces. I don't know if all writers of memoir [or tiny bits and pieces which is all I write] consciously distort as I do. Probably most do. And others probably misremember. I know historians love going to the "source" to get the "real story" of what happened when, say a President met with an advisor. Always question. Always, always question everyone's version of history. No two people will remember the same incident the same way -- as lawyers and judges and psychiatrists all know. I'll say mea culpa. Lots of people won't.

Disturbances of the Passing -- I hope -- Kind

It is 3:18 in the a.m. and I am drinking chamomile tea and reading blog -- ones I often read and a few I've found through links. In the last hour I've been in Mongolia celebrating the new year with a monk and the master horse-head fiddle player of the country, I've been to Japan with a man growing winter potatoes [who knew, he didn't either], and I've been in the quilting circles that spiral from Down The Well [see link in my other blog -- at 3:21, I'm incapable of adding links, apologies. She's in the UK an some of her links took me to Australia and New Zealand as well as, imagine that!, the USofA.

Sleep has been fitful for quite some time. That's how it is. Pema Chodrun, a Canadian Buddhist nun I read for peace of mind and balance, advises one live with it, ever moment of life is yours to live. So I'm awake and reading hasn't worked to make me sleepy and I don't think surfing the blogs has either. What I seem to need is to feel in touch with other people who need to write about what they are doing. For me it's always been the way to know what I'm thinking. Writing is also a way to live in different depths. Sometime very superficial, sometimes really thinking hard. I'm somewhere in between tonight.

Yesterday morning I sat here with the Mac on my lap and wrote a memory of an evening at a beach party. I had promised write something about "sky, ocean, food" I wasn't sure what I would write about, let alone how I would write it, until I started. I think after so many, many years I have a spot in the gray matter that activates on demand -- tho' not without the priming of some previous mulling in a cud-chewing, almost mechanistic way. At the necessary point the stody part of the brain sits down to rest and the creative part is out the gate and pounding down the track. So I began writing and I liked the pictures I found myself painting, the details I recalled, the similes and metaphors that came to my mind. I won't claim it was fine prose but it's a nice piece to add to the little "memoir" folder -- digital and hard copy. I hope I'll do more occasional writing like this. This is a long trek away from Buddhist meditation but I think it may be a kind of meditation I need to do.

Meanwhile writing this blog is in that same category. Yes, as the picture shows, I walked holding a lion by the tail; that's a metaphor that gives me satisfaction this middle of the middle of the night, wakeful time. So the lion was tame? In truth my life is pretty tame in the continuum of what could be. Change is exciting and to be embraced but it's not easy, it's scary. It's part of nearly everyone's life. And it comes with the Big 7-0.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

First Day

The '70s were a time of slogans. Those tritely true little bits of what seemed to be folk wisdom -- and sometimes were -- sometimes also were advertising driven. Whichever, many have stayed with me like the scars from incidental cut and falls accumulated over a lifetime. The one in mind today is "This the first day of the rest of your life." Well, duh, as we say now. Of course.

Some days, however are first days and this is. I quit a job yesterday that I have been doing for some 25 years or so. The atmosphere and demands had become not only untenable but simply hateful in tone. The only times I've quit jobs [twice] in the past have been for exactly the same reason. I had a brief ah-ha moment that said, I don't have to be in this situation. So, as of today, I am retired.

For quite some time I've been contemplating when, what will I do, where will I go? Too many possibilities flooded my mind, too many questions and concerns, hows and what ifs. But some of those seem to have almost immediate answers which I will explore in the next few weeks. I will make decisions and take action. Meanwhile I have time and freedom to tie up ends, finish up projects, and even allow myself the quiet pleasure of knowing I can simply walk out the door at anytime the sun is shining [or not] and take an hour-long walk. Hurray!

I've long said to myself that what I was thinking of as the 3rd section of my life was drawing to an end and a 4th section was due to begin. It has begun. Each section of my life so far: The growing up/educational years, the married with kids/community involvement years, the playwright with day job in NYC years, has brought surprises and learnings and areas of growth and satisfaction I couldn't have imagined. Certainly this fourth area will too. Of course it is the final section, one has to be honest and think of that. Keeping that in mind, it could be the hardest and it could be the richest in experience. But to return to another slogan, another "Duh" thought that is also ancient wisdom: The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. I love walking long distances, especially in unknown territory, even in wilderness, and in high places where the trails are rough and the air is thin. I learned that in the third section -- to my surprise.

[Picture is a big sky in an African plain. Any big sky seems appropriate]

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser

I had never heard of Ted Kooser when he was named Poet Laureate in 2004, but my Nebraskan friend, Gary, assured me he was a wonderful poet. Kooser is a Nebraskan and we on the East Coast have our provincial ways. Mostly the Midwest seems a land of tornadoes and wheat and little else. I think of Lincoln, Nebraska and think of the quilt museum there and outstanding courses at the University on the quilt. Even this seems a little strange. Years ago when I visited Kansas City I went looking for quilt related shops and found that the tradition was very new there compared to the East Coast with it's rich New England, Pennsylvania Amish and Baltimore traditions. Yes, like most people here, Nebraska seems to me a great flat land where the most interesting thing is the annual congregation of sand hill cranes.

No more. Finally I've come upon Ted Kooser and was delighted and refreshed to read this book about writing poetry with generous examples -- but not enough of his own to allay my appetite for his work. Kooser emphasizes how to make poetry accessible to the reader while employing the various elements of the poet's craft. The Poetry Home Repair Manual is straight forward, useful to a beginner and to any poet who has not been hopelessly ruined by college professors expecting grand rhetoric and vast ambitions, admiring obscurity and acrobatic language.

The most recent NY Times Book Review had a long article asking if great poetry has died. Where, the writer moaned, are the grandly ambitious, far ranging poets? Who will take up where Ashberry has left off? Well, we've heard about the death of many kinds of art, verbal, visual, musical, etc. Poetry will survive and future critics will look back and find greatness, perhaps where contemporaries had disdain. I don't know if Kooser's poetry will be called "great". I find it accessible and enriching. There are several other poets about whom I feel the same way, and even more individual poems that I come across in chapbooks, in magazines, that people send me.

In those moments when I find I am writing a poem, usually with no intention of sharing it with anyone else, I will think of Kooser's advice, and perhaps return to this book to think about how to say what is on my mind in the clearest and most interesting and most poetic way. I think that's what Kooser's intention was for the book. Not to create "great" poets, but to help those who value poetry, some of whom, may becomes good, fine, or even great poets in the course of practicing the craft seriously for a lifetime, as Kooser has.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Thought

"I feel 71 years old. I do. I'm really aware of the miles that have been logged and of the life that has gone under the bridge and how it has made me grow. I'm someone who has always tried to think about what it has all meant. I'm a quester. So I feel my age. I feel grown up." A recent quote from Jane Fonda who will star in a new drama on Broadway next month.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


[Note: I have so many pictures from my African trip I will include them for a while even though they have nothing specifically to do with the subject I'm writing about.]

I woke up about 4:00 this morning, which is not unusual. I realized I was hungry, this is not unusual either since I've been fairly seriously dieting and often eat a light supper. Yesterday it was vegetarian, probably about 450 calories, definitely sufficient. Previously during the day I had about 800 calories. But I was hungry and, as on other occasions, told myself to go back to sleep because millions of people in the world are hungry in the middle of the night -- and maybe most of their waking hours too. A little hunger is not a bad thing. I went back to sleep until the clock alarm began playing music.

That hunger is one of the constants in the life of humanity on earth is not a consolation. So much food is produced that hunger is almost an obscene fact of life in the 21st century. Many stupid political and economic barriers stand in the way of distribution of food to those who need it. I was in Zimbabwe and the world news was telling us about actual starvation in that once very prosperous country. I did not see it [we tourists would have been shielded in any case] but we visited a town near Hwange Park. People were all slim -- as were most people in the streets of Indian cities hat I visited. But that town was luckier than most others in the country; many of their people worked in the park, they had a market where tourists were brought 2 or 3 times a week to shop. The town, because of where it was located, had regular infusions of American money that most towns do not have. The only hint of starvation were two dogs that wandered about, their ribs clearly visible, their gait slow, their heads hanging listlessly. No one feeds them, I thought. No one has food to spare.

Here in NYC hunger is increasing; the soup kitchens are busier than ever and donations are fewer. I think this is true in most American cities as the economy becomes worse and worse. Few Americans think much about hunger, few have actually experienced it except voluntarily as I am doing. There have been nights when I gave in, got up and ate a granola bar or made a piece of toast -- I always know there is food to be had. Why think about this kind of problem when I can do so little about it? I give a dollar to the guy on the street asking for money for food; if I give him the apple or granola bar I'm carrying I sometimes think he doesn't really want it, he'd rather have money that could be used for drugs. But I could be wrong. Certainly he [or she] is more desperate than I've ever been and giving is the least I can do.

As to these photos: Above is a baobab tree, the fattest, usually largest tree in the African forests. It is not a tree, actually, it is a succulent, related to cactus. And below are baboon skulls at the entrance to Hwange Park. Most parks had collections of skulls and antelope horns.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Prediction via computer

It's the time of year when financial advisers discussk IRAs and other savings to determine a client's needs, wants and risk tolerance. I had such a talk last week and subsequently got a form-like print-out of projections based on our talk. Nothing new on it except a little line that said something like "projected need to age 100." That stopped me. I've never heard anyone say that I should base my future calculations on living to be 100. Not that I haven't thought I'd like to live to 100.

But suddenly a computer algorithm is set to calculate that far out, it suddenly seems
"officially" in the realm of the possible. Oh, I know, it's just what some guy programmed into the software. But substantial numbers of people are living to 100 and it's not inconceivable, even from a practical, rather than pie-in-the-sky wish point of view. Cheered me up. At least until I thought -- so how is that affordable? Sometimes one hits a wall and decides, cross that bridge IF I come to it.

Note: Top picture is a sunset cruise on the Kwando River in Namibia, in the delta area. The bottom picture is just a little section of the mighty Victoria Falls - and "mighty" was never a more appropriate word. It is HUGE, stunning, amazing and MIGHTY!

Friday, February 13, 2009


DON'T FORGET YOU CAN CLICK THE PHOTO AND IT WILL ENLARGE TO FULL SCREEN -- if you click the baboons from yesterday's post you'll see some darling babies farther down the road. And I've posted birds here that will be much more interesting if you click and enlarge.


Above is a lilac breasted roller, a middle sized bird that we saw often, always with delight. As you'll see in enlargement it has a lovely breast, but when it flies the wings and back feathers are more colorful. Yes, we older dogs can learn appreciation for new things, yes, indeed!

Below are ostriches in an huge open field with many other kinds of animals around [but not in photo]. I had forgotten until told that when the small plane taking us into the bush had aborted a landing because "there were ostriches on the runway" -- but, yes, they are native to South Africa.
a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}"

Just a few of the congregation of Marabou storks seem on an animal reserve near Victoria Falls, I didn't snap in time to get a dead tree in which at least 20 were perched. There were several other kinds of stork as well -- wintering from Europe.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Going to Africa"

For the most part Americans know very little geography; many don't even know the locations of many states, let alone their capitals. As we learned last summmer Sarah Pallin thought Africa was a country, not a continent with over 50 countries in it. When an American thinks, "going to Africa" he thinks safari. This is thanks to movies, TV nature programs and our very chauvinistic, parochial school system. If pushed a fair percentage of Americans will realize that Egypt is actually in Africa and it's not where safari's happen Likewise most can call up from the recesses of their education the fact that the Sahara is in Africa too.

For many travelers a safari vacation is a "trip of a lifetime." The romance of the big animals has been at the edge of their minds for a long time. Roger, a Minnesotan in our group said just that. Others felt it. My roommate, Juanita had been to Kenya and Tanzania ten years earlier; she knew where the various countries were. Feriadoon had been in 26 different countries, on business, "but only in the cities," he said and his wife wanted to see the animals.

I read Hemingway and without liking his writing I was fascinated by his descriptions, although not his hunting. Yes, the animals were always a draw, but I've been interested in how people live, in the mystery and magic and wonder of the Himalayan regions of Asia, and had, earlier in life, satisfied most of my curiosity about Europe. I had been to Africa, that is, Egypt and Morocco but not safari-Africa. Once there I realized how deeply my reading and the films and tv had sunk into my memory. I found it both familiar and wonderfully exciting to see elephants in the wild, impala by the hundreds, zebra and giraffe and Cape buffalo grazing or standing at a water hole, to see wart hogs scamper and watch baboons have a territorial squabble. Mine is definitely not some romantic primodial memory; it is literary and visual.

Should I ever go back to Africa I would look for something different, probably the exoti civilization of Ethiopia. I've traveled a lot, now I want to experience what I have not experienced before. There certainly are plenty of places to go to do that, I will run out of time and money long before the world has nothing new to offer.

[photos; Cape buffalo and baboons]

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don't Judge Too Quickly

I've been writing about my safari adventures in my other blog [Calenderpages] and won't repeat here. I try to use this for more thoughtful or serious or at least different subject matter. I've been thinking about an anecdote that affected me unexpectedly. But before I launch into it -- the lion in the picture above is REAL, I swear, I petted his powerful back. Yes, he was tame, on a reserve that has a "walk with lions" for a price and the proceeds go, they say and I hope, to their main work which is rescuing orphaned animals, lions and others and when they're old enough introducing them to the wild - or at least the wilderness of a sizable reserve. It was a privilege to touch a real lion and have a double portrait.

The anecdote: The youngest oouple on this trip were the bane of our days, gauche, ill mannered, ill informed, and nearly juvenile in comments and actions, lousy table manner, asking stupid questions. This is unusual on these trips where most people are well traveled and well mannered and well informed. I tried to avoid sitting near them at meals so as not to have to engage in any kind of half baked conversation. I think some others were a bit more tolerant than I

At the end of the stay at each of the four wilderness camps the staff did an "Africa night" when we ate around a camp fire and they did singing or dancing or drumming or skits. I didn't really like these nights because it was like summer camp for teens. The man of the couple was often quick to join dances when we were invited; such juvenilia seemed perfect for this couple. At the last camp the staff did some incredible drumming and dancing, for the first time it seemed genuinely enthusiastic and "real". Quite a few of our group joined the dancing because the drumming was so very good and so was the dancing by the staff.

As they were winding down, one of the driver/guides read a patriotic poem he had written [a good one, not dogerel] and then they asked if any of us could/would share a song or poem with them. In a second I ran through my mind for a poem I could recite and came up blank and felt a ashamed. After a long moment the woman of the couple got up and stepped near the fire and said to the staff members, "I have a song. It is not in English. It is from our Native Americans." She sang "Hanta Yo" in Sioux [I presume], a plain but sincere voice, rather sweet and kind. I was very moved. It seemed so perfect to share.

The moral of the story has to do with cultural sharing and with the overly sophisticated habits of the rest of us who did not have the generosity to share something of our culture -- maybe others had nothing as I didn't. [I had briefly thought, we should all sing "America" but my own voice is so inadequate I knew I couldn't start it. I wished someone else would.] Certainly we were in no way superior to the people, Zimbabweians in this case, who had shared with us, in fact we were very much inferior in our lack of both pride, cultural identity and generosity. I felt very humbled by that young woman's openness and choice.

The man below is the driver/guide/poet, Lewis -- in couple of days I felt great respect for his competence and was surprised and admiring when he turned out to be a out to be a poet as well. Poets live among us and we often do not know.