Thursday, December 30, 2010

A time machine

If you suddenly heard yourself speak -- yourself nearly 60 years ago, would you recognize yourself? Would you even admit that could be our voice, your words? Time travel is a popular sci-fi plot, it's not something most of us experience. I felt as if I experienced it yesterday.

When I moved to NYC in 1981, I had a trunk full of writings. Soon thereafter I saw a notice in a NY Review of Books saying the Schlesinger Library at Radcliff wanted diaries kept by adolescent and teen girls in the '40s and '50s. In my trunk were diaries from about 19950 to 1960 ... and more. I contributed them to the library, happy to lighten the trunk. I forgot about them. A couple of years ago I learned that a Ph.D. student was using the diaries [and that another had also dipped into them.] The thesis is written and going to be published and he woman needed my permission so we have emailed in the last few days. She sent me the chapter in which I was quoted. Her subject is the education of women during the '40s and '50s. I read through quite a lot of information, partly familiar and partly new, a variety of quotes from young women's diaries of the period, largely women from the Seven Sisters colleges. I believe there was one woman from Iowa and a black woman from somewhere other than the Eastern seaboard.

Then I came to myself, characterized as a farm girl with a mother who graduated from high school, a father who only went to the 5th grade, a working class girl whose family gained a little prosperity just after the war. [In fact, built a house on a bigger farm and acquired indoor plumbing for the first time.] A girl who was an emotional misfit in high school and at last found social success and intellectual stimulation in college ... in Indiana, far from the East Coast. These things were all true, although they sounded like random facts -- indeed they were fished from a murky well of angst ridden teen prose. My diaries were far from literary, I couldn't bear to read them before sending them off.] Most telling was a quote from a diary written probably the second or third Christmas after I started college saying what a miserable day it was, ranting about the narrow-mindedness of my family.

That was the voice I heard, sad and angry. I don't remember that Christmas or what made me write the line although I feel as if somewhere in the depths of memory I heard a tiny ping! Yes, I'm sure those are my words. I don't think I like that judgmental young woman but she was me. And it was true. I've never felt happy about Christmas. Back then I wanted away from that place. I did not hate my parents, I do not now/ They set excellent examples of honesty, diligence, frugality and good sense. But those are adult assessments. My mother inspired my desire for a different way of life; not by word or complaints of her dissatisfaction, but by making it possible for me to know another world existed. She tried to give me skills above and beyond those some other parents gave their children: piano lessons, opportunities to learn to speak in public, inspiration to write essays and send material to the local newspapers.

I've been thinking about the long years since that diary entry. Not only middle class women benefited from college educations, in the rest of the country many women of working class and middle class had intellectual opportunities their parents didn't have. I spoke with a woman from Tennessee who became a Spanish teacher to whom I said, "I didn't know we were very poor until much late." "Me either she said." She too had been the first in her family to go to college. The old slogan "you've come a long way, Babe,"was true for many of my generation. I will not go on now about my fears that the current generation won't have our opportunities.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Books and More Books

Three books, that couldn't be more different from one another, are currently in a sort of race with the clock before it strikes in the new year. I always read at least two books concurrently, often three and sometimes more. At year's end I'm usually in competition with myself since I have been keeping a record of every book I read since the year I graduated from college. [No, I'm not going to admit when that was but it would be easily estimated].

That year I made a resolution that I have kept all this time: to read as many books as possible each year -- with the goal of 100 or more -- so as to not let my college education be the end of education for me. It hasn't been, not by any means. I believe I reached 100 only once. I think the low point was 45 back in the throes of my 30s. For the last 20 or 25 years I've averaged in the 60s. For the most part these have been good books. I do not read genre fiction of any sort and very rarely read anything that might be called self-help. They are literary books: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama. Along with them I read lots of magazines, some just for the eye candy [Architecture Digest, Vogue]. Most for information.

At the moment the three vying to be finished are a fat Collected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska which I'm loving but not allowing myself to zip through, but am savoring. The Druids, a slow academic book with too many references by Peter Berresford Ellis from which I am learning a great deal I did not know about Druids and Celts and the 1000 year periods of European history on either side of the Roman empire. Finally, and the one that will probably be finished, Death of a Hornet by one of Cape Cod's best known -- and most accomplished -- nature writers, Robert Finch. This is a collection of essays, some only a couple of pages and others longer. All three books are giving me a great deal of pleasure, each in a very distinctively different way. My reading is nothing if not eclectic. So what's the total this year to which probably only one will be added? 76. This is the most in about 12 years. Being retired suits my reading habits very well.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Defying Demographics


I caught this portion of the family in one of the very few quiet, contemplative moments - simply waiting for Cory and baby to come into the room for photos. Very little of the day was so quiet. After dinner we became truly boisterous. Other families also play board games [but I think not very many]. We played the new games that came into our lives -- like a new twist on our old favorite, Scrabble, which Rachel and Cory are contemplating in the lower photo. And another new game, Alibi, which we spent most of the playing time getting acquainted with.

Then after dinner we found our new favorite, Times Up. It's funny, in a way, that it was great fun, partly because it expected us to have stores of pop culture knowledge that we do not have. We are a family that live happily without televisions -- not because of principles but because of habit. So we have knowledge of television shows more second hand than first and many of the clues in the game were TV shows. Also we don't see all the guessing one, and then a miming one. Being ignorant of the contents of many of the shows and songs, although relatively familiar with titles because one cannot live in this society without hearing them talked about, we were thrown on our ability to express titles simply as words and phrases. There was a challenge to mime and also to read the meaning of actions, or to think up gestures that are broadly recognizable.

We enjoyed the game so much we played through it three times with great laughter. Our brains were used in a way that we don't use them ordinarily which was the greatest fun. This is a kind of pleasure one doesn't get from watching TV or going to a movie, or reading a book. It's got to be valuable in some way to stretch the imagination and memory, as well as use facial expression and body language. I was the only one in the senior category but such activities would surely be both fun and beneficial for anyone with a more mature body and brain. Once many families entertained themselves when they got together. They played music [which we did also] and danced, and I think there was a game playing period back in the early 20th century when mass production of games like Parcheesi and Monopoly became popular. Of course there were also card games, a lot of them plus chess, dominoes and checkers and backgammon. I hope there are other families who do some of theses activities, not just eat and settle like stuffed baked potatoes in front of a TV. Also, we know that laughter has many health benefits. We ate heartily and well but not excessively. So today, with the laughter we should all be feeling healthy and perky.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Decisions, decisions ....

Sitting around a seminar table, looking at many heads of gray and white hair, listening to people helping me understand some of the best poets writing in America today -- this I couldn't have dreamed two years ago I would have enjoyed so enormously as I did this fall. On other days I enjoyed sitting with others with my hair coloring, watching DVDs of operas, watching some of the most hard hitting documentaries of the past few years and listening to discussions that seemed they could go on until midnight, helping others learn to write more vividly and honestly. This all happened at the Academy for Lifelong Learning at Cape Cod Community College, a branch of that college with over senior citizen 700 students, choosing from over 50 courses.

Today the spring semester class offering booklet arrived in the mail. Yes, my Writing With the Whole Brain class is listed and a few students have said, "I'll be there again." And there will be new people. But the decisions are what classes I want to take and how I can take more, really, than the two that are free to a coordinator. I've read through the listing twice already and that's only start. I definitely want to take the opera and documentary film, I have loved watching both. And now that I know the coordinators I know that they'll let me in even if the class is officially "full" -- because the rooms are never filled beyond the college rules [for fire department compliance]. So I can chose at least one other class and ask to be an extra, as I had to do this fall with the opera class.

The problem remains. There's at least six classes I'd love to take. Even if they were not conflicting times, I actually do not want to be a full time student although as I read the listing I feel very greedy for what I know will be good discussions. Short stories? Women muses, starting with Alice Lydell? Poetry writing? An in depth study of War and Peace? Oh, dear, oh, dear. Many classes filled up rapidly last fall and it's likely to be true this winter -- although given the sociology of Cape Cod some students are current in Florida.

It's not just the possibilities for learning, but the pleasure of being among by peers and contemporaries who have much to teach me. I've never experienced this so vividly. Yes, it was true long ago in college to an extent -- but the wisdom seemed entirely in the professors and the contemporaries were a social set. Here I admire the thoughts and insights of everyone in the room, including in my classroom -- I've learned from my students too. Which classes to take? It's a nice problem to have.

Monday, December 20, 2010

In synch?

Lately I've noted several times when things seem to come synchronistically. I've experienced this often and I think it's not some magical attraction but a matter of paying attention and sometimes of a partially subconscious accumulation of reading, ideas, thoughts around certain subjects. Today's example is that I have just finished two books that are complimentary. One is Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder. This is a fat, extremely well written book with fascinating biographical detail about a handful of Englishmen who began what became "the sciences" in England, in the 1700s, the pre-Victorian era.

It begins with a wonderful description of Sir Joseph Banks in Tahiti and then goes on to show his important role in the whole movement of scientific discovery. This includes an equally fascinating biography of Sir. William Herschel and his sister Caroline who, together, expanded astronomy enormously. The description of Caroline is especially welcome as she's too often been a footnote to William's discoveries. He was a remarkable brother, more by default, it seems than intention. But he was honest and generous in giving her credit for her discoveries which were mainly comets - several hundred! The book describes many other in the sciences in England at the time and also in France, especially when it came to balloon flight. It's a big book and only got a bit ponderous toward the end where people and event piled up so Holemes didn't have time or space for further fascinating biographies.

What's synchronous? The very next book I picked up from my shelf was a novel which I finished last night. This was not happenstance, really, for I was aware it was about the same period of history. Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright, clearly included William Blake as a character and I knew he was contemporaneous with all the scientists Herschel was writing about. So I moved from the factual events in an intellectually rarified London of the 1700s, the an intimate family story set approximately 1770-5 which showed what working class and lower class London was like. Chevalier writes historical novels which are very well researched. I felt I could rely on her descriptions of both Dorsetshire and Lambeth on the south side of London. She is very adept at characterization and plot. William Blake and wife live next door to the protagonists; they are secondary characters. I admire Chevalier's craft, but I can't help seeing the craft and wishing for the intensity and unexpected depths of literary work.

So I think I am done with this period for the time being. I have a great many other books to read, including poetry that are very different. And of course the holidays are upon us ... as is a snow storm of a fairly gentle sort here today.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Summary

The musk ox, which lives only in the Arctic regions, is not an ox at all. It is more closely related to sheep and goats. It is marvelously adapted to bitter cold with it's thick coat and heavy hooves that can dig through snow to forage. As a species it has out lived many of it's evolutionary contemporaries like the woolly mammoth and the saber toothed tiger. Scientist really can't explain how they've survived.

I didn't write a summary last Saturday because I had read only very depressing things, like the fact that the Unites States has had soldiers at war for the last 30 years! Yes! 30 years. Three recent books describe what's been going on and it's not pretty. I've lost the note I made of the titles and authors. But, in the meanwhile I've found a few more positive bits of information.

The worldwide gap in literacy rates between men and women has decreased since 1997; the percentage of difference in favor of men [as if I need to say that] has dropped from 12% to 9%.

A glass of red wine a day has been shown to contribute to a longer life -- happily, it's now known that champagne has the same effect! Just in time for the holidays too!

Some very good things are happening in New York City. Fast food places must display the calories in their offerings and the amount of trans fat as well. Also the city has made a deal with the cable companies that if a repair man misses an appointment the customer gets a refund. Other cities might take heed.

In the I'll believe it when I see it category; the Terrafugia Transition is the name of a flying car that is scheduled to be available sometime next year. Does anybody else remember those drawing about the wonderful future that school kids were shown back in the '50s? I'm still waiting for the flying car!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Inside Joh

Inside Job, the documentary about the culpability of the big banks for the current recession, made by Charles Ferguson, a less confrontational documentarian than, say, Michael Moore, is a thoughtful movie exposing the power of the old boys' network of greed and willful ignorance, the utter amorality of the guys who made and are still making enormous amounts of money from the unregulated activities of the big banks, investment brokers and insurance companies. This is not a movie that will appeal to most Americans as it exposes a social level they cannot in any way relate to.

The pervasiveness of the economic buccaneering was exposed. I knew about the greed but I didn't know that it went into the universities where major economics professors do not have to reveal their conflicts of interest in their papers -- that they are paid to write glowing reports [perhaps of the economic stabilidty of Iceland -- ha! -- by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce] whereas if a research M.D. fails to mention that he is on the review board of a drug company and is touting their latest drug, he is seen as a very low worm indeed. [Although his $50,000 retainer is a pittance beside the Board of Directors' payments given to many university professors who do not reveal their conflicts of interest in their papers.

The movie did not spend much time on the smarmy side, the prostitution, drugs, huge houses, corporate jets, enjoyed by the Big Guys. Elliot Spitzer was often quoted in his prosecutoreal role and his own moral shortcomings only referred to in one ironic note. I found a "guys will be guys" attitude but can't blame Ferguson for choosing to concentrate on the move toward deregulation through the last 15 years. I was horrified as the movie came up to date and revealed that Obama is relying on the same Band of Brothers in financial crime who have been running the banks for years. I had thought he surely was a little more insightful. Has the chain of bribery gone that far? It's profoundly unsettling.

No, the average American will not see this documentary. Those who bought ridiculously expensive homes with almost no credit have been shafted by the big guys, but they were also greedy, eager to move into their McMansions despite their lowly incomes. As Yeats wrote "the center will not hold..." he wasn't thinking about bankers and money but finally it's money that drives most people. And they really don't know what they're doing and tend to trust blindly whatever they read.

I had a neighbor who, during the Internet bubble used to call me and say, "guess how much money I made today?" And I would say, "I don't want to know. I just think you should cash in and put the money under your mattress." He didn't of course. He listened to the pundits on TV -- and then one day he said, "I've lost ..." And the next day ... and all the time I had said he might as well be at Las Vegas playing roulette and that the house always wins. Greed. It hit the little guys like my neighbor. The big guys, at this point have won; the little guys have lost. Was it ever any different?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More syncrhonicity?

After I saw the Hamlet in which I thought Claudius was modeled on Vladimir Putin I saw a You Tube clip that seems to be making the rounds. Vladimir Putin did the karaoke bit -- which seems to have been planned with the live band, at an expensive charity dinner. He played the piano one-handedly, and then took the mike and sang "Blueberry Hill" in English, with some Russian "r" trillings on "thrill". He was stiff as one would expect [as Al Gore would be one imagines] but seemed to want to be doing it. Just a regular guy, like, say Bill Clinton playing the sax, Harry Truman playing the piano?

Not only was I amazed to see robotic VP trying to be human, I was astonished that the song is still known. I opted out of all pop music back about the time I was a teen ager and my farmer father especially enjoyed listening to me play "Blueberry Hill" on the piano. That was over 50 years ago. How could that inane little ditty still be known and sung at a Moscow social function? I guess it's been repopularized by someone in the meantime. Can't imagine why. I would expect "Mule Train" would be more popular. But what do I know? Obviously next to nothing.

At times I get the impression You Tube is a treasure trove second only to Google. I've been hearing people speak of hearing poets read and opera singers sing on You Tube, as well as on Google. Having become a moderate user of the Internet, I am now often surprised when I find others of my contemporaries who don't think of it as resource. I may not see a need for a cell phone, but I'm not a total Luddite.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Still Walking

You don't have to be an "older person" to make excuses not to go out and exercise in chilly weather. But I promised myself six weeks ago that when the sun is out and the wind laying low, I will bundle up and walk on the beach. And so I did. I tired and chilled about three-quarters of the way along the "inside passage" -- the apparently protected, inlet side. But in fact that was the difficult walk today. The afternoon sun was nearly blinding despite my sun glasses and the wind, which wasn't a lot but a little more than enough, was in my face.

So I went up and over the low dunes through the dried grasses to the ocean side and walked with my back to the wind and sun. The edges of the water were well populated with black and white ducks and with gulls, They were my only companions; not another human was in sight. I owned the place! I could tell from prints in the sand a few dogs and their people had been and left.

A week or so ago on another low wind afternoon, I went down and found the tide higher than I had ever seen it there. I couldn't walk on the inlet side at all but had to tramp through the dried marsh grass. I suppose it was a weekend day for there were quite a few people with their dogs around. I have been learning the many moods of the seashore. It's fiercer moods I will not experience, I'll stay home warm and dry. But for now, I think the quiet seashore which has no hunters wandering around with rifles or mussel loaders -- in fact, no fishermen either -- is a safer place to walk. And truly, I feel very good for having done it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Good day for a walk in the wood?

After a week of temperatures in the 20s today seem balmy with the mercury over 45 so Rachel and I thought we'd like to take a walk, perhaps someplace we don't usually walk. Of course Molly, the dog, would come with us. First we drove to a relatively new Audobon site but it was very clearly marked, more than once, forbidding any pets. Okay, so we went to another place we had walked about a year ago. Good. Nearly bare trees, a mattress of leaves beneath our feet, lots of places on the path with boards laid over marshy spots, nice old stone fences going to ruin. We walked along, chatting and Molly happily wagging her tail but checking on us often since this was unknown territory to her - she wanted to know we were proper sheep following her lead.

We found we had walked in a loop and arrived back at our starting place so set off on another path. In just a few minutes we met a young man with a rifle, bright orange jacket and cap. He told us it was the last next to last day of rifle season and said it was too bad we didn't have orange caps. -- I did have a bright red jacket. -- He said next week the mussel loading season begins and lasts for two weeks and then there would be no more hunting. We walked thoughtfully for a short while mulling the danger and decided that, although the road was only 1000 feet away, we didn't want to wander any deeper into the woods if there were men about eager to get a deer this next to last chance. So much for a good walk. We thought there should be notices posted at the parking areas telling when hunting season was so that walkers like ourselves would be forewarned.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hamlet, at National Theatre

I just saw a four-hour simulcast from the National Theatre in London of Hamlet. Done in modern dress -- when I see a classic done in modern dress, I know it's a director's play, a think piece [beyond whatever it is in and of itself]. Rory Kinneart was Hamlet, an ordinary looking young man, a very good actors, not physically magnetic as some previous Hamlets. The director of the National Theatre, and of this production is Nicholas Hytner. He was appropriately modest in an interview before the curtain went up. Modesty and theatrical director are opposites in concept.

This production was about a police state. There were spies lurking all the time, figures in neat FBI-ish suits at the edge of the scenes, there were files on everyone and everything. Claudius [Patrick Malahide] had a resemblance to Putin or a spy-movie mastermind. Gertrude was always in form fitting suits, very much a middle aged woman but never clearly defined. Poor Ophelia was stripped of her blouse and wandered about in her bra quite a long time -- a thin young thing, this chauvinistic attempt at titilation was clearly exploitation. The cast was satisfyingly mixed race which was fine in this setting. While it looked most like Russia, the many functionaries in their tightly buttoned suits could equally have been the President's counselors or a bunch of FBI officials.

And what of Rory Kineard as Hamlet? Yes, he's a fine actor but he is not magnetic, he was frenetic in his insanity at times, a directorial choice, I suspect not an actor's. Intrusions of jet plane noises, atonal music and such were in keeping but to me they were intrusions. The production is billed as "a Hamlet for our time." And it might be. I don't see Washington in the political commentary but our increasing public surveillance [cameras in all the major cities] is not an overt suggestion but comes to me. We missed 1984-ish Big Brother but we're getting there now. This may well be a statement on "our time" British, American, Russian, Chinese and many other places.

One Hamlet a decade really is enough.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fidelio, Beehotvan Opera


Synchronicity happens. A lot in my life. Today my opera class showed Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera. I had never seen it although I'd heard it on Met broadcasts. The DVD was an excellent perfromance from the Vienna Statoper with Leonard Bernstein conducting. The set was cleanly powerful and the singing was excellent. The story has some of grand opera's extremes and a few overlong arias. But the opera itself expresses Beethoven's concern for political freedom.

Fidelio is the pseudonym used by the wife of a political prisoner as she apprenticed herself to the jailer in order to get to her husband in the deepest dungeon. The tyrant he tried to expose and who has imprisoned him is about to murder him but Fidelio saves him and indeed at the last minute the tyrant's rule ends with the appearance of a representative of the king. The music and the restrained production give a sense of the horror of political imprisonment and of the enormous joy when evil is routed and freedom reigns. It's basically a fairy tale but has plenty of real life parallels not only in the past but in the present day with many a Floristan unjustly imprisoned and tortured. Few are reprieved.

What about synchronicity? I read this morning in the NYTimes that the California prison system is the most crowded in the US having stuffed twice as many people in the prisons as they were built to hold. That the treatment is so bad that approximately one prisoner dies every day for lack of medical services -- and this is not major medical but such things as not being given antibiotics for simple infections that should no longer kill people in the US. A judge has demanded that at least a quarter of the prisoners be released. Needless to say there is an outcry of people fearing an influx in their cities and towns of felons and a rise in crime rate.

The situation has now been ever more politicized than it was before. America has a far greater percentage of its population in prison than does any other country in the world. These are predominantly black and non-white males, predominantly young. We are warehousing men who scare us, men without adequate educations and without adequate possibility of employment. We are not attempting to educate these young men when they are adolescents and we are certainly not attempting to rehabilitate them in any way while they are in prison. No, they aren't in dungeons without light as in the opera but everything one reads about the conditions are equally inhumane.

Beethoven cared deeply about freedom and finished his last magnificent symphony with an ode to the joy of freedom and brotherhood. And Fidelio ends on the same theme. It is a dream that has yet to be realized in most countries.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saturday Summary {on Sunday]

Sir William Herschel was a musician before he became an astronomer, he composed and taught music. A contemporary of Handel, his music is still heard -- it was heard by me this week on the local classical music radio station. He gave it up and became one of the greatest astronomers. He had a philosophical and wide ranging mind, perhaps the first "modern" mind in astronomy. He was the first to realize that we might be able to see light of stars that have been dead for millions of years. th Caroline, Hershel's little sister [she was barely 5 feet due to childhood illness and a ill treatment], was his able assistant after giving up a possible singing career. She too discovered many new astral wonders, especially comets. She was a celebrity in her own right.

This week I read that of all the known universes we can now see and name [thousands of which the Herschels were the first to see] possibly three times as many exist beyond our ability to see them. The wonder of the galaxies is truly beyond imagination.

But down to earth, salt has come to my attention. Salt is used in almost all prepared foods, it serves to enhance taste, to preserve food, and to mask tastes we don't like [e.g., bitterness] which is why I put salt on grapefruit. We Americans eat too much salt. Mayor Blumberg of NYC wants to make people aware of how much they're eating. [Already on the fat and calorie front, he's passed a law that fast food places must display the calorie count of their items -- and believe me, I think twice at Starbucks when choosing a muffin or scone]. He is trying to make people equally aware of the salt in fast foods.

It's known that salt affects blood pressure and diuretics have been prescribed with high blood pressure medications for many years. It's less well known that salt's flavor can change the perceived "mouth feel" of foods some people think are icky, thus making, say tapioca pudding pleasanter and helping those who must eat pureed food because of swallowing problems get some pleasure out of their diet.

We know how important taste is and sometimes we don't think much about scent. But marketers are thinking about it a lot. They not only use those scent strips to advertise perfume [which all smell alike to me] and the scratch off dots to advertise various kinds of deodorizers, but they are thinking of ways to "odorize" billboards, say for a steak house, fill the air near by with the scent of charcoal and pepper. Note: almost all the chemicals used to produce artificial scents are allergenic and possibly carcinogenic. Might we say that some allergies and cancers are a by-product of advertising?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Curiosity


The #reverb10 prompt for today is: What did you do during the year to increase your curiosity? Actually that's not the exact wording because instead of increase they used some more New Agey word that I disliked enough to have forgotten. The soft-fuzzy, very self-indulgent and sometimes cutesy or gooey language of New Age sets my teeth on edge. It suggest wallowing in emotion and distrust of rationality and no interest in history.

I don't have to do anything to rev up my curiosity and haven't done, it's a deeply ingrained part of me. However, I choose to write about it on this blog, and not in the strictly personal and private 750 Words site that I've been doing each day, because older people often don't think about curiosity and some seem to have lost their curiosity -- some, but by no means all. The dull ones, the mentally arthritic whose main curiosity seems to be how much they can make or lose during the next visit to a casino. Or curiosity about what some celebrity whose lifestyle they abhor and envy is doing in her love life.

By curiosity, I mean, a sincere interest in the world around, the physical world, not just the home and the immediate family. The natural world is the most rewarding object of curiosity; of course, other people are endlessly fascinating. And then there's the whole world of all the arts and intellectual pursuits. I was lucky to learn curiosity as a trait from my mother who was certainly no intellectual but she read and wondered about things and formed her own opinions. I'm aware that many people didn't have that blessing early in life. Many lived in dull homes with narrow focuses -- but many escaped those homes and mindsets and have discovered the endless delight of discovery and that the areas offering discovery are almost boundless. Curiosity is not only for cats or children. Curiosity is for a fascinating and delightful life and for keeping the mind active and in good running order.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 2, #reverb10 reflections

Today's prompt is: what do you do that keeps you from writing and can you change it? I write other things than the "serious" stuff, like two blogs, the reverb thing itself, and I've been writing 750 words each morning on another site and the One Minute Writer on another with prompts -- which do not always click. I write a lot -- letters and short stories from prompts too, occasionally poems. This week I'm helping proof read prose and poetry for a publication from the Academy of Lifelong Learning and realizing that what people learned in about the 6th grade about commas and other punctuation and about sentence and paragraph structure has largely been forgotten by the time they are over 50 and eligible for this program. Typos are fairly rare, misspellings are even rarer, thanks to the wonders of computers that signal when a word is misspelled.

Self-editing should happen in rewriting. I think a fair percentage of people do not rewrite before submitting something to this particular publication, they probably make a stab at self-editing but have forgotten most of the rules about punctuation, and possibly trust that someone else will fix it.

Both self-editing and rewriting are difficult even when you know the rules and have been conscientiously punctuating writing all your life. Both, I think are a part of writing and so are the letters, blogs and even the emails. When words are addressed to others in a non-verbal way, it's writing, it's grist for the mill and sometimes practice like playing scales on the piano. Grist is most of what we do, especially the contemplative periods. However the most active periods are likely to become even more important -- that after all is the part of living that feeds all the rest. That is why we older people actually have more to say than the younger people.

In the last few days I have received by email two pieces of writing from young women. Both were genre writing, one about witchcraft, the other a "thriller" but with an overlayer of the esoteric. It seemed to me neither writer had a firm grounding in real life, possibly they rejected character development or "real" story as too uninteresting to write about -- and perhaps it has been, as they perceive it at this point in their lives. I feel both frustrated that young women retreat into an unreal world and a sense of gratitude that I don't think I was ever in that mental state and certainly feel grounded when I write anything today.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

#reverb10


#reverb10 is a site that gives prompts every day of December to inspire a backward look at the year just passing and a forward look at the year ahead. There is a side bar button that I have not figured out how to load -- I am basically a computer-klutz and it takes a long time to get such things in my head. Anyway, I should receive a prompt a day throughout December and write about it here or react to it in some way.

Today's prompt is One Word -- one to summarize 2010 so far and one to wish for 2011. It doesn't have to be a word, necessarily, it can be a picture so I'm going to post a picture, which you see above. This is a sunrise, a winter sunrise [taken a little over a year ago after a snow] In the winter I get up about 6:00 just before the sun comes up, as I have breakfast I look toward the southeast where the sky is turning pink or orange or yellow, or simply getting lighter if it's a cloudy day -- but often it's a very lovely spread of orange or pink and I take photos which is a little silly because, although each is different because of the cloud formations, they are also all alike, a daily phenomenon. One cannot tell from the photo really whether it is sunrise or sunset. So I'd chose the word sunrise/set for both this year and next because every day is good and full and every evening is a satisfaction and so it has been all year and so I hope and expect it will be next year. There are surprises every day, and the satisfactions are usually quiet ones. Boredom is not a part of this even though there is a usual-ness and an expected rhythm.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Can You Believe?

Olga Kotelko is 91 years old! She is an amazing athlete, she runs, does long jump, throws the discus and javalin. A long article about her in the NYTimes Magazine yesterday has me stunned at her accomplishments. She is not a life-long athelte. She spent the middle part of her life as a single mother raising two children, teaching school and struggling to make ends meet. She had enjoyed sports as a girl and turned to very serious sports training only after she retired.

No, I will not say, "if she can do it so can anyone". That's very clearly not true. Much of the article talks about physiological matters explaining why some older people are physically so much more able than others. Much has to do with working at physical fitness during the 50s and onward. But doctors really don't know how to explain the few people who are like Olga, super fit and with muscle fibers that work as efficiently as a very much younger person.

An article like this isn't being published to tell everyone "get out there and do it," but to say that, indeed, there are considerable physiologic differences but that constant physical endeavors help maintain fitness when most people have become couch potatoes. On a personal level I was relieved to learn that often [perhaps most of the time] our muscle fibers stop being efficient sometime between 45 and 65 and we lose fitness which makes us feel that exercise routines are tiresome and largely useless. I've been a long, long time practitioner of yoga but have found it very hard to maintain my routines in the 4 or so years since I broke my hip and had to avoid strain for a couple of months. I still feel, in my head and gut and muscles, that getting back into the routine would be an extremely good idea. I know elasticity can be regained.

This article talks about studies Olga Ketelko underwent in Finland. And just last week I read an article saying other fitness studies in Finland showed that some people -- usually people in their 30s or so, simply do not benefit for exercise routines while the majority do benefit. The point being that not everyone has the same muscular ability to get stronger or limberer or to increase their cardiovascular ability. But I also remember reading more than once that when it comes to medical studies, the Finns perform them as strictly and well as other people but frequently come up with results that are simply not replicable in any other study. Who knows why? However, I look at this picture of Olga Ketelko and I think "This is what 91 looks like!"

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chaucer's hopefulness

I was reading a poet writing about writing - something I do very little of on this blog, but I do a lot of thinking about it. The poet quoted Chaucer who wrote at the end of Troillus and Cressida, "go, litel bok, go". I have been haunted to these four words for a couple of days now and even started a poem. I suddenly felt so a great closeness to dear Jeff [fancifully shown in the picture on his way to Canterbury]. Doesn't every writer finish a piece of work and want to release it to the world like a bird one has nurtured from it's hatching but wants to free to live the life that it deserves in the wild? And isn't that a fitting metaphor for a story, poem, play, whatever piece of writing and for the writer's desire to have fashioned an entity that can exist on its own?

In Chaucer's time story tellers were admired but they probably had little hope of their work outlasting them. Not many people were literate and books were rare except in rich men's homes. He couldn't have guessed that his poetry and his simple tales about a bunch of fairly ordinary people on a pilgrimage "that April" would still be read and enjoyed well over 500 years later. Today we have too many books and publishers are miserly gatekeepers. Few of us can hope that when we finish our work and say, "go, little book, go" that it will reach any audience beyond our friends and family -- and most of us have learned that both friends and family are unreliable readers. Of course the same is true of blogs -- of the thousands and thousands, only a handful have many readers. And yet, when I hit the "publish post" I am saying, "go, little blog, go" and hoping someone will read it. Certainly I am not alone, but in this case company is part of the problem -- how will anyone have time for me or I for the many who are saying interesting things?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Summary

Not surprisingly, I've been reading a lot about food this week. I was also given a few "sent from Florida" grapefruits but I don't know yet if they are the white or red variety. I prefer the red and I just found out that I'm smart to do so. Red grapefruit have 25 times the vitamin C of white grapefruit. Plus they have as much lyocpene as fresh tomatoes -- why's that good? Because it's been shown that lycopene prevents osteoporosis far more effectively than calcium -- for those post-menopausal women who are most at risk. Better to eat grapefruit or tomato salad than drink all the milk.

And about dates: The date palm grows naturally in arid, sandy soil but near a source of water which in North Africa where the majority are grown, means oases. In the US we mainly see brown dried dates but they only turn brown when they're dried [preferably in the sun], they are red, yellow and shades of color in between when ripe on the trees. 90% of the dates produced in the world are produced in northern Africa, from Egypt right across to Morocco.

Olive oil usage has increased more than 50% in the last twenty years as Americans, not just those of Mediterranean background, discover that it is the healthiest cooking oil. Extra virgin olive oil [which has never been subjected to heat processing] is the only oil that can be kept at room temperature and will not go rancid.

Still in the plant world, teasel, the herb that resembles thistles, is often used in fall floral arrangements. But it's many sharp pointed bracts, when dried were long used in the woolen industry to "tease" up the nap of fabric after it was woven.

No, there can't be a week when I don't read about something negative and generally stupid: this week it was that while dentists are generally careful to shield patients when their teeth are X-rayed, and it is well known that young children are more negatively affected by radiation than older people, the majority of orthodontists use radiation that is much stronger than used in adults and use it more frequently on their young patients.

Gee, I'm sorry my daughters were subjected to orthodonture, although I'm glad they have attractive adult smiles.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Airport security - TSA invasion of privacy

On any given day in the United States hundreds of thousands of people board airplanes ... and not one of them is a terrorist. Yet everyone submits meekly to increasing acute invasion of their privacy by often ill trained, sometimes loutish, sometimes perverse security "guards". Why are these people acting like sheep? Can't anyone realize that something is very wrong here? Why are toddlers forced to take off their shoes? Why are people with medical conditions, colostomy bags, titanium hip or knee joints subjected to treatment as if they are criminals? Why is a bottle of water of a normal size container of shampoo a matter of suspicion?

Oh, I've read know about Bin Laden's threats and about the bombs sent in cargo planes and the few nut cases who got on board planes -- despite warnings, in one case even by the would-be-terrorist's father that were ignored by our so called Homeland Security. The fear rampant in this country is almost beyond belief. Characters in Orwell's 1984 were not so terrorized by Big Brother as we are by the TSA. Can't anyone count the numbers of people who are harassed and manhandled at airports against the number of people who have boarded airplanes with intent to do harm and wonder how the pictures got so badly skewed? Who is pulling our strings?
It seems the only thing the government is doing to ease the joblessness situation is hire more TSA employees and then do a lousy job of training them in anything like human decency. It looks sadly like Bin Laden and any other terrorist groups really have already won -- America is a land of the terrorized, afraid to board airplanes, even for commuter flights within own country. Surly I am not the only person who is appalled by this state of affairs. As people crowd the airports to join their families for Thanksgiving, I wonder if they'll be in any mood to enjoy what is supposed to be a peaceful and grateful event.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saturday Summary {on Sunday]

Jellyfish are fascinating to look at and to read about which I've been doing. I've also seen their blobby bodies on the sand now and then, sometimes looking quite fresh. So here are some facts: they have been in the seas for 500 million years which is known because very complete fossils have been found in Utah's mountains which were once part of a shallow sea. Fish have only been around for 370 million years. We don't yet know how many kinds of jellyfish that exist but they are being studied. Overfished areas and polluted areas of the sea attract jellyfish which are sometimes found in vast numbers. The equivalent of 50 dump trucks full of jellyfish caused a rolling black out on the island of Luzon, Philippines in 1996 when they were sucked into a power generator. Others have forced a company to stop diamond mining in the seabed off Namibia because they slime the equipment. I read much more about how their stingers work -- you don't really want to know, but it's good to have a bottle of vinegar in your beach bag, that's about the only thing that relieves the pain of a sting.

We tend to think that every kind of flora and fauna on earth must have been discovered by now but, not true of kinds of jellyfish and not true of any other life form. Just since 2000 300 new kinds of mammals have been discovered, one of the most appealing being a very furry brown monkey found in the highlands of Kenya. The native knew about it but our academics did not. Most mammals and plants not yet "discovered" are being discovered because of deforestation and roads in areas that were not easily accessible previously. Very large numbers of insects and kinds of bacteria are being discovered all the time. There's a lot to learn out there.

I did read a few other things: on the education front, many college professors use "clickers", little handheld electronic devices, in the classroom which allow students to answer questions, take tests and even make their presence [or wakefulnes/ sleepiness] known to the professor. Another plus is that since the students never know when the professor is going to ask a question that requires a click, it's hard for them to text during class.

Only in 1994 did it become legal in the USA for Native Americans to practice their native religions. Whenever you get into a freedom of speech and religion conversation, bring up that fact.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A winter wind


I promised myself I would be brave even though summer's sun is gone and the beach is no longer a warm and welcoming place to walk. Bundle up and walk anyway, I decided. Autumn had blown in on a nasty, wet and blustery wind but we've had hiatuses. Two nice days last weekend I did the whole walk on both sides of the spit called Long Beach. These wave marks were more pronounced that I saw over the summer. The winds and waves had crimped the sand like early permanent waves used to crimp flapper's hair styles. The tide was out, obviously, the sand was formally pleated.
Yesterday, midday the sun came out it was warm and balmy, the air had the soft moistness that, in April, brings out the forsythia. It was very breezy but I thought that would be fine. So off I went to walk on the beach. I immediately found that it was more than breezy -- it was gale force windy. I actually could almost make no headway against the wind on the ocean side of the spit of land. All the sandy beach was smooth a a dance floor. The wind was a great broom that had swept the sand flat, burying shells and seaweed. None of those lovely crimps at all. The waves crashed furiously. After about 50 feet I walked up and over the lowish dunes to the inlet side which was somewhat protected. I walked about half the distance to the point where I had reached a wider marshy area beyond the part with scattered shrubs and low trees. The bezach had a personality that was new to me. I'm glad I went. Back home, a mile inland, once again the weather was lovely.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Very Long Engagement

No photo for this post because the only photos I find are from the DVD of this French movie which I saw today and they are the very romantic opening shot of the lovers in bed. it's modest enough and, of course, as the title suggests, this might be called a romance. But it's not -- or wasn't to me. It was about French soldiers in World War I. The romance was a girl who refused to believe her young lover was dead and indeed finally, after well over two hours of movie, finds him in a psychiatric hospital with amnesia. Half the movie, I think, takes place on battle fields. All war is hell but WWI was especially brutal and certainly seems so in this movie. The movie was artistically done mostly in tones of sepia with a lot of black and white for the battle scenes -- the blending of colors -- some full color scenes after the war too -- was so well done it was never jarring.

I might not have gone if I had realized that there would be so many battle field scenes and that the story was a fairly simple, but relentless, search for information. I've just been reading a couple of blogs that remarked on Veteran's Day and also on the numbers of people killed just in WWII without adding the millions from WWI ... and then the world had all those other wars -- I should make that a present tense. For we HAVE indeed wars at this very minute with people dying.

I met with a couple of writers this noon, one of whom is a German woman who was, as teen, a prisoner of war when the Russians advanced toward Berlin at the end of WWII, taking over her home in Pomerania. Her experiences are something no Americans had to endure. To hear her continual terror that she would be raped is only a small part of the story. The movie had none of the usual glorification of heroic figures in most such movies and listening to this writer's experiences and her struggles to tell her story in a clear and direct way, no heroics although, indeed, she was very brave, carry me into a world I feel I need to recognize but am grateful I have never experienced.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aung Sun Sui Kyi Released!


Just two hours ago [it is 8:45 EST- USA] Aung Sun Sui Kyi was released in Rangoon. One joyous step in Myanmar.

I am delighted for this brave and pervailing woman.

I am also remembering other political prisoners including Liu Xioubo the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been sentenced to 11 years in jail in China. Those are the famous ones. And then there is the Dalai Lama exiled but certainly not imprisoned, although the young Pachen Lama is as much under "house arrest" as was Sui Kyi. Here in our own country Leonard Peltier is one among others in jail unjustly.

The world is just a tiny bit more right tonight.

Saturday Summary

Forget about the old cliche, "all the gold in Fort Knox." America's biggest stash of gold is in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Liberty Street, 2164 ounces of the shiny stuff valued at $93 billion.

From the sublime to the often embarrassing: Some hospital patients will go high fashion and no longer inappropriately exposed. Cleveland Clinic, one of America's most well known cancer hospitals has commissioned designer Diane Von Furstenberg design new hospital gowns for patients.

And good news for all we computer users. When Russian police announced they were investigating a man known as "the spam king" worldwide spam messages dropped by 50 billion a day. I wondered what happened to those ads for Russian-made Viagara.

Speaking of Spam, in this case the trademarked "food" that many think has disappeared -- but it hasn't! When that large cruise ship was disabled because of an engine room fire this week and refrigeration was cut off, helicopters dropped cases of Span so the passengers would have something to eat while they waited to be towed to shore. Not exactly the usual Captain's Table fare.

Seen only by invitation and then under hush-hush conditions, an abandoned subway stop somewhere in NYC [there are quite a few such stations underground] has been turned into a huge art gallery with mosaics covering the walls. Being there is illegal as is "defacing" such city property but it's said to be a very wonderful work of art.

Equally unseen except by those with special abilities, but apparently a real on another dimension, astrology physicists say two vast bubbles of energy have emerged [sometime in the last few billion years] from the center of the Milky Way galaxy. All the physicists are quite sure about is that they are not black holes of dark matter. This energy, we are told, is the equivalent of 100,000 supernova. It will take more than a week of contemplation for me to wrap my imagination around that piece of information.

Since a Supreme Court decision sometime int e 1940s, corporations have had the legal status of "persons" and all the freedoms guaranteed to persons in the Constitution. It was only a small tweek in the definition that resulted in a more recent definition of corporations as "individuals" resulting in their freedom to make political donations anonymously, and that includes making many of those "infomercials" about political candidates that polluted our airways and eardrums up until election day last week. We had no way of knowing who was telling us what to think about who and which proposal. Were you an "informed voter?"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One MInute Writer Weekly Winner


One-Minute Writing of the Week:
Writer: June Calender (Monday's winner)

Prompt: Discovery. Write about a good discovery you've made (big or small!)

The discovery that discoveries never need to cease, especially the small ones that make life sparkle and fill in the unrecognized pockets of ignorance. I live in an ecology that is new to me; I constantly discover new things, especially about the sea. But the most wonderful discovery is that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is a lot of hooey -- I learn new things on many levels constantly.

The One Minute Writer link is in the list on the right. Anyone interested in spending one minute a day writing should have a look at this site. I've been visiting it for some months, the prompts don't always speak to me but some do, the one about discovery certainly did. I could, of course, write a great deal more about discovery continuing throughout life but I said just about all that's really important in one minute. If you never think you know everything, you'll probably learn more today than you knew yesterday.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dersu Izala, Kurasawa


It's hard to believe the treasure I've unlocked by becoming involved with the community college and it's continuing ed. I've know for well over a year that there is a free Tuesday afternoon film series. Today was the first time I attended a showing. The film was Kurasawa's 1975 collaboration with Russia filmmakers, Dersu Izula. Set in far eastern Siberia in 1902-07 Based, I read, on an actual native hunter, Dersu who acted as a guide for a group of Russians soldiers mapping a part of Siberia. I've been reading about Siberia for a long time and was eager to see a film shot there. I was not disappointed.

This is a 140 minute film in which nothing happens except that we see man and nature and a man who lives in harmony with nature who teaches those much more literate than he survival in wilderness, against the elements. Dersu was played by a Chinese actor perfectly, the Russian Captain was also a stereotype. Nothing mattered really except the setting, the elements and Dersu's harmony and simplicity. The photography was magnificent. I heard people complain that it was "long" as they left -- Siberia is bigger than merely "long" -- eight time zones! A movie that cannot be forgotten, not because of story but because of simplicity. I never saw the Kurasawa epics, somehow I just didn't get to the showings. What a wonderful introduction!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Real Cheesy

Upper right headline in today's NYTimes" While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales Agriculture Department plays Conflicting Roles as Marketer and Nutrition Adviser I think the wording of this headline gives us a clue where my favorite paper stands on the situation. While Michelle Obama is on a campaign to help Americans becomes less obese, and health officials everywhere tell us that obesity is the costliest preventable health risk, the government itself in the form of an organization called Dairy Management has funded Domino's pizza's latest ad for a cheesier pizza [one slice has 2/3s a daily maximum recommended fat content and they seem to be shy about telling us the calorie count. Is there something askew with this pictures?

Yes, dairy farmers need to sell their products but somehow I doubt they are the ones profiting from pushing Domino's [or any other] pizza, it seems there are too many grabby hands of middlemen in between. With people the world over starving every day, and a portion of them actually in the U.S., why is the government helping those who buy pizza contribute to their weight, their likelihood of having diabetes, their potentially clogged arteries? Is this how government is supposed to help the people it serves? We rave about the cost of healthcare while making people sicker and sicker.
No doubt those pizzas taste great, I'm feeling a little mouth-water-y thinking about them. But ...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New York Marathon


This is New York Marathon weekend. Rather than random facts, one fact that amazes me: Edison Pena, a Chilean minor who was trapped underground for over a month will be running in the Marathon -- although most people in the race will have spent months running miles a day in preparation, Edison ran what he could in the confinement of the mine. He is amazing, as are all the other survivors of that ordeal that is to me unimaginably terrible [I'm claustrophic about underground places, I do admit]

Here is a poem I wrote about the marathon a couple of years ago.

Marathon

They run
By the thousands
Through the canyons
Over the bridges,
Through the park.
News cameras look down from helicopters.
People look out tall windows
Lean over high balconies
Line the crowded streets.

They run
Like once the bison ran over the Badlands
The wildebeast still run through the savannahs
Fabled lemmings run over cliffs into the sea,
Heroes ran the mountains in ancient Attica.

As they run
Many thousand feet pound softly
Their breathing is a mass sigh in a city
Accustomed to sirens’ screams.
The crowds’ cheers drift softly to the sky.
Newscasters’ chatter circles the globe.

They have been running
Alone, or in packs of two or three or a few
For months, years. They leave
Behind home, wife, husband, children.
Silence is enough for many,
Some search for “the zone.”

They run
To win, or beat a record, or follow heroes,
To prove something, “because it’s there,”
“To do it once.”
To be, this one day, lost in the herd,
Part of something big and beautiful,
Massive and magnificent
Independent individuals
Who trained and paid and stayed the course.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

Always chilly and usually gray, or so it seems I remember many days in November over the years when I walked to a voting place, muttering to myself about winter coming on. And many times, not unlike today, I've thought that American politics, like the weather most election days, is a dreary matter.

Once I was young and idealistic and ignorant ... but not for long. As a college freshman I declared a major in political science. After a course that year called Introduction of Indiana Politics, or some such name, I lost both idealism and ignorance and changed my major to English lit. Time itself took care of the business of being young. I am pessimistic this evening and dread listening to the results tomorrow morning [I have no TV and will only listen to the classical music radio station which does not do news -- blessings on their Mozart addled brains!] They are a respite and a refuge. I could pick nits about their programming but not in terms of their lack of news. After today, glory hallelujah!, the paid political ads will no longer foul the minutes between segments of symphonies.

I recently found this quote; “We'd all like t'vote for th' best man, but he's never a candidate.” - Kin Hubbard. That about sums up what I have to say tonight except I might sometimes change "he" to "she."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday Summary


I read this week -- and I find it somewhat hard to believe -- that only 7% of the world has the climate and the tree species to enjoy the kind of autumn foliage that I have been gazing at the past few days. The article said only the northern US and southern Canada enjoys these days of glorious red-orange-gold above our heads. Surely part of Europe does also and so on around the world and then there's the southern hemisphere, South America, Australia and New Zealand, maybe they don't have the oaks and maples and beeches and so on. True or false, it's been a magnificent week and I haven't had my camera but I'm going to take it today and snap a few pictures.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Don't you sometimes wonder what kind of people become judges? A judge this week refused to dismiss a suit that named a four-year old little girl who was riding her bike on training wheels on a sidewalk in New York and unfortunately ran into an elderly woman with a walker who fell and broke her hip. In fact a little boy who was riding beside her was also sued and his lawyer didn't ask for dismissal. Both mothers were present and are also names, which seems appropriate enough though still petty and money-grubbing of the plaintiff. Maybe the children shouldn't have been riding there but is every accident a reason to go to court? It is not against the law for children to ride trikes, bikes, scooters, or skateboards on the sidewalks in NYC.

Talking about little people and also New Zealand as above, filming of The Hobbit was in question because of an actors' union's demands for representation. Defenders of "Wellywood" [named for Wellington] marched in the streets protesting. Finally the legislature passed a ruling that local actors could work as independent contractors and did not have to join the union. So, hurray! Bilbo Baggins will fight Schmog, the dragon, in the same landscape where his nephew, Frodo, saved Middle Earth. Lord of the Rings is one of my all time favorite movies and books and I love The Hobbit too, almost as much as Winnie the Pooh. [That is true but I added it for the rhyme.]

Middle Earth is fictional but our real earth continues to reveal more and more of its wonders and wealth and leaves scientists and thinkers with new questions. Primate bones found in Libya have raised the question of just where life actually started, calling into question the presently accepted idea of central Africa being the original Garden of Eden. A bit less profound but interesting: in India a finding of much amber has revealed many previously unknown species of insects as well as bit of unknown plants embalmed in the hardened resins.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Middle of the night


Billiant light penetrates through closed, sleeping eyes and then a cymbal crash of thunder assaults the ears. Awake! A necessary primitive fight-or-flight startle. But we're safely in a house, warm under the covers. Maybe we get up to let the cat in or close the windows, maybe we lie awake listening to continued storm noises, or maybe we fall back asleep quickly and easily. I have for years slept through storms and sometimes am astonished at the puddles or even the damaged trees, the ferocity that I have missed.

Other times, like last night, some unexpected internal lightening and thunder -- not a nightmare [or at least not a remembered one or even remnants of one] -- startled me awake. Not drowsily awake as happens when I've had sufficient sleep and am restless but relaxed. Rather a clear headed awakeness. I could have got up and read a book. But I felt something was asking to e considered although no big outstanding questions needed resolution, expect possibly writing a story that has been waiting to be written for a few years. I think the time has come to write it and determined -- between 12:55 and approximately 4:00 while I was awake -- to do just that.

I also puzzled, without resolution or additional insight about Jane Hirschfield's poem "Button". It had been discussed in a class in which one member who has done more research than I mentioned that she is a practitioner of zen meditation. I had found the first part of the poem clearly a zen state of mind, an ease with the is-ness of circumstance and condition. Her expression was serene and beautiful. But the last six lines took a turn, brought in hope -- which is desire, which is the root of all human unhappiness and the thing that the meditation is meant to banish. It seemed to be banished in the earlier part of the poem. Often I feel when I read poetry that I am following the writer's logic, that something may surprise me [I LIKE those surprises] but the surprising mental turns made sense, the poem becomes a revelation. So I lay in the dark, letting the bedside clock radio play for an hour, interweaving Brahms and Mendelsohn with my wide awake, questioning mental state.

It's axiomatic that older people often sleep badly. Most complain about it and worry about their wakefulness in the wee hours. My state of mind did not fit into that cliche. I was not bothered about being awake for I knew I could spend the day doing what I needed to do with out sleep. I felt, perhaps in a somewhat zen way, that it was okay, it was, for some reason necessary for me to be so wide awake and consumed with literary pondering. This seems to be a part of who I am at this stage -- I think those hours were a little like the hours when one might listen to an all night storm splashing against the windows and a wind howling around the corners of the house. Tomorrow, because today was busy with other things, I will begin writing that story. There was a thought whether it would be part of a novel, a bigger story. That remains to be seen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Touching My Father's Soul, Jamling Tenzin Norgay

Although more Sherpas have climbed Everest than people of other nationalities, this is only the second book written from a Sherpa's point of view -- a very, very different view than that of others who have climbed Everest. Everyone seems to know that Edmund Hillary was the first man to climb Everest. That is half the truth. Hillary was accompanied, as an equal member of a two-man team, by Tenzing Norgay. Jamling is Tenzing's son and the only other book written by a Sherpa who climbed Everest is Tenzing's autobiography.

Traveling is a magnificent thing. I have some of Everest inside my head. I flew over it four times, I trekked to Thengboche monastery some 20 miles from Everest base camp and spent two days there with Everest and her sisters in view. I could not imagine the effort such a climb would take nor, really, what the point is. But for Jamling the point was, as the title says, touching his father's soul. This is a profoundly personal, very religious book that shows the Sherpa people, as I found them to be, highly professional, gentle, kind, admirable -- also superstitious. Jamling was recruited [partly, one assumes, for publicity purposes] to be a part of the IMAX expedition when they shot the movie shown in IMAX theatres in the late 1990s. The expedition was on the mountain during the tragic 1996 climbing season when record numbers of climbers died - 10 died in the days before the IMAX team climbed and more died later in the season. Many articles and books have been written about the three day of storm when so many died and others were seriously injured, when some people [mostly Sherpas] were magnificently heroic, and when others were callous, others simply beyond their physical capacity to help anyone including themselves. I read a good many of the articles at the time.

Jamling is a remarkable man. The book reads so smoothly it's clear to me he had excellent editorial help. It never becomes sensational, it tells his father's story parallel to his own and it shows us Sherpa family life, morals and religious respect for the mountains which is combined with superstitions as well, an animism blended with Buddhism which is practiced by the lamas as well as the climbing Sherpas.

I have had the book for possibly five years and did not read it fearing it would be awkwardly written and maybe new age-y. It is neither. Jamling is a man I am happy to "know" through his work -- no, more than happy -- grateful to know -- as I was grateful to know the Sherpas on the treks I did -- they thoughtfully sited our tents in the meadow below Thengboche [where we went to watch a two-day festival] so that our first site in the morning was the sun rising on Everest. Jamling shows us how to live mindfully with love for family, respect toward his colleagues and connection to the physical world that is rare and beautiful.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday Summary

This is new news such as I rarely include but this looks pretty amazing. The newest bridge in the US, and now the longest concrete span in the Western Hemisphere, is over the Colorado River, and 900 feet above it, just south of the Hoover Dam -- a spectacular setting for the bridge: mountains, river, dam, lake -- wow!

From the new to the old: on average worldwide, one large ship is sunk every three days. Many of these are old ships from which most usable metal has been removed for resale but the ships still contain many pollutants. Of course, some of the sinkings are ships actively carrying cargo, but by no means are those the majority. Seems a human logical failure to think "out of sight, out of mind."

An ancient user of ships, Cleopatra, needs some rethinking in the minds of most of us who see a vision of Elizabeth Taylor when the name pops up. The real Cleo was not even Egyptian but Greek, and from the coins with her likeness, she wasn't a beauty although she was supposed to have been very witty and unusually wise [or maybe astute is the word] when it came to ruling her country. She even learned to speak Egyptian which none of her Ptolomy predecessors who ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great conquored it had bothered to speak the local language.

Not too far away from Egypt, but in the present, a peculiar sport is played in Yemen: camel jumping. 1,2, 3, maybe 4 camels are made to lie down side by side and then a broad jumper takes off to see how many camels he can leap over. The sport is generations old, played only by men, of course -- in fact women are rarely allowed to even watch.

But back to the US and a bit of history: In 1539 Hernando de Soto on his swing through the South introduced pigs to the continent. Of course a few managed to get free before they became bar-b-cue for the explorers. Today 38 states have problems with feral pigs, some 4 million of the estimated 8 million roaming woods and marshes, are in Texas where they are hunted both from the air and on ground. They do approximately $800 million in property damage a year. This of course has nothing to do with the many millions of domestic pigs grown for food on huge and tiny farms.

Finally a pre-Halloween story from the recent news. A woman in Costa Mesa, CA allowed a homeless woman to sleep in her car. The homeless woman died but the car owner did not report it to the police and continued to drive the car for some 3 or 4 months leaving the corpse in the passenger's' seat under a blanket -- creating a very foul smell and mummifying as time went by. The body was discovered when the woman left the car parked blocking another's driveway and the police were called about the car. People do the damnedest things!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Recommendation

Pure Land Mountain -- see side bar -- is a blog I've been reading regularly for a couple or three years. When Bob Bradley, an American living in Japan, has a lyrical moment his descriptions are better than a great deal of the poetry I find on the blogs of working/publishing poets. I recommend the current post. I envy his facility for description, not too long, not too short, always with an extra layer of meaning.

The photo? Just because I like it and don't like to publish "naked" words.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Even as autumn settles on us, hearty flowers remain, beautiful and cheering. Besides this wonderful patch, I see a very abundant rose garden, hearty old fashioned roses -- some manage to last until Thanksgiving. These flowers can easily be a metaphor for those of us who are in an autumn of life. I see many hearty, active people older than I and I enjoy being in there company.

I have a correspondent who writes that she knows she should walk walk, should lose weight, but inertia has trapped her. Inertia is our enemy. The older we get, the more we have to truly fight inertia, the mutters that the weather is not good enough to go for a walk, the thought,why not have another cookie? It is difficult for those of us with a high threshold for pain to empathize with those who are bothered by every twinge -- we just ignore those twinges. Inertia really is the enemy. The older we become the more we must care, the oftener we have to chant the mantra, "Use it or lose it." That grows truer and truer as the years add up. I don't advocate taking up marathon running in ones 60s; but taking up one of the gentler forms of yoga -- yes! or tai chi -- both exercise the mind as they exercise the body. And about the mind we REALLY mus remember "use it or lose it". I think about these things very, very often. I plan to keep on walking beside the ocean as the weather gets colder -- I have warm clothing. I have ended up near to the ocean at this point in my life and continue to want to know it in all seasons, all temperaments. It was very different today than yesterday, like a person with a touch of the manic/depressive in his personality, calm and lapping yesterday,roiled and slapping today. My legs tell me they are glad I'm using them. My eyes and ears are still full of today's Ocean Voice.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Aging World


Yesterday's NYTimes Magazine had an article about the aging of the world. The article was heavy on statistics from an economist's point of view. For instance, in the US at present there are as many people over 65 as there are people under 28. A similar balance between you and old [the article said "old" not me] is rapidly happening in China and has happened in Europe. The author seems to think this is a bad thing in terms of a work force. He attributes it to lower birth rates once women become educated and longer life now that most the industrialized world shares the same medical knowledge which is helping people live longer. Call me blind or badly educated, but I cannot see that as a problem. It surely calls for rethinking how we live, a new balance of how we view both young and older people. The article seems to be saying that productivity is the purpose of life, industrial productivity, GNP as if making more stuff -- all kinds of stuff -- were a positive good. He doesn't seem to imagine that perhaps a redefinition of just what is needed for a good life might need some rethinking in light of what we are doing to our environment through industrialization.

The author is Ted C. Fishman who has written a book called “Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World’s Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival and Nation Against Nation,” The article is adapted from that book which will be published later this month. Why, I wonder, do certain thinkers always couch their considerations as a war, an either/or situation? Maybe it's the publisher who suggested that jaw dropping subtitle, they want to sell books. I find the title entirely appalling, I find such a mind-set appalling. The very best thing about the article, finally, was that it was illustrated with many, many head shots of seniors, none of whom looked dangerous to me [although, of course, they're my contemporaries].

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Somethiing Else Saturday

Busy week and I didn't make notes about the curious things I discovered. So Something Else Saturday, this week. Yesterday I saw a documentary called Fuel, by Josh Tickell. It is a new [2010] film about, as you can guess from the photos, biofeuls. First he made an overlong case about oil as a nonrenewable fuel that will be used up by the middle of century. Various familiar facts that everyone except the oil companies and the US government seem to know. Then he made a very good case for why the US government [unlike the governments of Germany and the Scandinavian countries] can't seem to understand the problems facing us: very early in Bush II's tenure, with much assistance from Cheney, secret meetings were held with the heads all the major oil companies. When a Congressional committee raised questions they were not even allowed to go into an official record and it was arranged that the oil company heads who testified to Congress never had to do so under oath, so when asked if any oil problem was on the horizon they could all say "no," although every single one understood that we would have to invade Iraq to get at a continuing supply. So we had the horrors of the Bush years which still make me almost too angry and ashamed of this country to talk or write coherently.
So, on to diesel fuel -- a lot of information about it that I only partly knew. Biodeisel fuel was beginning to be widely accepted in the US when, a few years ago, a sudden wide-spread fear mongering media campaign hit the American airwaves and newspapers, saying it wasn't really safe, it would use up corn and soybeans needed for people, etc., etc. I expected the film to show that this campaign was masterminded by oil company PR teams -- it didn't. I tend to believe, for lack of solid enough evidence and fear of law suits the film makers can't afford. Probably better to show the film and let people reach their own conclusions about that. I'm not conspiracy seeker, but after the hookwinking of the American people about WMD and Saddam Hussein being the devil incarnate [a title I would give to Dick Cheney], how can we not blame the oil companies.

It's an over-long, rather harranging film but it has many facts about biodeisel people need to know. Even Richard Branson is behind biodeisel and has already prove that he can fly airplanes on it [with much less atomospheric pollution] The DVD is for sale, just Google it: Fuel by Josh Tickell. It's worth the price.