AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

24 June 2017

Heroically.


Let us not be satisfied with recounting a fable of the heart; let us create its myth. Is not love, with art, our only licence to overreach the human condition, to be greater, more generous, more sorrowful if need be, than is the common lot? Let us be so heroically.

Rainer Maria Rilke

23 June 2017

The Cars, ¨Nightlife/Dangerous Type¨

Happy Friday!

Dvořák, Bohemian Forest, Op. 68

Yo-Yo Ma performs ¨Silent Woods,¨ with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony ...

Back.

Curtis, Dance of the Gods, Apache, 1906


I'll bring them back. Can you hear the drums? I can hear them, and it's my grandfather and grandmother singing. Can you hear them?

I dance one step and my sister rises from the ash. I dance another and a buffalo crashes down from the sky onto a log cabin in Nebraska. With every step, an Indian rises. With every other step, a buffalo falls.


I'm growing, too. My blisters heal, my muscles stretch, expand. My tribe dances behind me. At first they are no bigger than children. Then they begin to grow, larger than me, larger than the trees around us. The buffalo come to join us and their hooves shake the earth, knock all the white people from their beds, send their plates crashing to the floor.

We dance in circles growing larger and larger until we are standing on the shore, watching all the ships returning to Europe. All the white hands are waving good-bye and we continue to dance, dance until the ships fall off the horizon, dance until we are so tall and strong that the sun is nearly jealous. We dance that way.

Sherman Alexie

Mapped.

Boullée, The Kingś Library, 1785


No one stepping for the first time into a room made of books can know instinctively how to behave, what is expected, what is promised, what is allowed. One may be overcome by horror--at the cluster or the vastness, the stillness, the mocking reminder of everything one doesn't know, the surveillance--and some of that overwhelming feeling may cling on, even after the rituals and conventions are learned, the geography mapped, and the natives found friendly.

Alberto Manguel

Excellence.

The complete collection The Guy Under the Seats ...



Was it not up to the usual standards of excellence of this show? 

Thanks, Tom.

22 June 2017

Poems.

Even right outside my front door I continually see fresh motifs. The light and atmosphere are so extraordinarily varied that familiar objects are constantly refreshed and the possibilities for new poems seem limitless. 

Russell Chatham, from Winter Above Deep Creek: The Making of a Lithograph ...

Silent.

Chatham, Twilight in the Badlands, 1999


EVENING

How tranquilly the evening’s darkening,
dusk deepening beneath the trees.
Consult the long alleyways of the skies
for the gift of this evening
and the cause of your ease.

But the waste! the pain and stress –
those reachings into secrets of the dark –
quarrying endlessness,
plummeting bottomlessness,
quizzing every question mark.

Why this rummaging into whence and why?
Empty let’s be. Open and free.
Let secrets come, or let them fly
away, diffuse like cloudscapes
or whisperings through a tree.

Eyes must glow as your spirits peer
through a wakeful cranny in where you are.
Only the silent have ears to hear.
When the doorstep feels the touch of a toe
only the vigilant’s door is ajar.

Aaro Hellaakoski

The Beach Boys, ¨In My Room¨

Live.


The MANUAL

squeeze 20 grapes in your cheeks
bit down
spit watermelon seeds
I bet you five pieces you can't spit 'em further than me
kick a can
chase trains
wave at strangers
drive an imaginary submarine
make one out of a box
sleep on a floor with a blanket and a lantern
draw birds
live forever
plant a tree
write your fist on a wall
run for no reason down the middle of the block
laugh at something funny
smile at sweetness
hold your fingers around it so it doesn't fall
find a dark row in a movie theater
and make out with me
your kisses are a game of horseshoes
I wish I were playing beneath the stars
fat and wet with light
high in the full black sky
so big and silent
it can carry us through this crazy thing
dance under it
listen for the sounds
the fields make the tongues the trees are speaking in
the love the leaves are making with the wind
swallow it down
this is church
your teeth tiny doors

Anis Mojgani

R.E.M., ¨Get Up¨

New.


Many a man has dated a new era in his life to the reading of a book.

Henry David Thoreau

Shoulders.


I had fallen victim to the fallacy of the ¨growing edge,¨ the belief that only the very frontier of scientific advance counted; that everything that had been left behind by that advance was faded and dead.

But is that true? Because a tree in spring buds and comes greenly into leaf, are those leaves therefore the tree? If the newborn twigs and their leaves were all that existed, they would form a vague halo of green suspended in mid-air, but surely that is not the tree. The leaves, by themselves, are no more than trivial fluttering decoration. It is the trunk and limbs that give the tree its grandeur and the leaves themselves their meaning.

There is not a discovery in science, however revolutionary, however sparkling with insight, that does not arise out of what went before. ¨If I have seen further than other men,¨ said Isaac Newton, ¨it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.¨

Isaac Asimov

Brahms, Intermezzo in A, Op. 118

Emmanuel Ax performs ...

21 June 2017

Instant.

Heaslip, Always, n/d


EYE

I’m an eye of the unseen.

In a flick of a moment
the eye woke to awareness –
beelike it gathered in
a superabundance
of earth, high sky
and all water’s wetness!

Eagerly, deeper still
it pierced – and divined
an insight of the eye
beyond the cosmos.
For an instant of bliss
it turned eternal. Guess
the joy that was!

Aaro Hellaakoski

Happy birthday, Kent.

Kent, Almost, 1929



Rockwell Kent was born in this day in 1882.

All things look good from far away and it is man's eternally persistent childlike faith in the reality of that illusion that has made him the triumphant restless being he is.

Rockwell Kent

Colin Hay, "Hold Me"

David lee Roth, "Ice Cream Man"

Shine.

Bosio, La Nymphe Salmacis, 1830



The RISING SUN
          Busy old fool, unruly sun,
              Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
              Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
              Late school boys and sour prentices,
        Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
        Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

              Thy beams, so reverend and strong
              Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
              If her eyes have not blinded thine,
              Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
        Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
        Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

              She's all states, and all princes, I,
              Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
              Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
              In that the world's contracted thus.
        Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
        To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;

This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.
John Donne

Summer.


The introduction to Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury

JUST THIS SIDE OF BYZANTIUM: an introduction

This book, like most of my books and stories, was a surprise. I began to learn the nature of such surprises, thank God, when I was fairly young as a writer. Before that, like every beginner, I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence. Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies.

It was with great relief, then, that in my early twenties I floundered into a word-association process in which I simply got out of bed each morning, walked to my desk, and put down any word or series of words that happened along in my head.

I would then take arms against the word, or for it, and bring on an assortment of characters to weigh the word and show me its meaning in my own life. An hour or two hours later, to my amazement, a new story would be finished and done. The surprise was total and lovely. I soon found that I would have to work this way for the rest of my life.

First I rummaged my mind for words that could describe my personal nightmares, fears of night and time from my childhood, and shaped stories from these.

Then I took a long look at the green apple trees and the old house I was born in and the house next door where lived my grandparents, and all the lawns of the summers I grew up in, and I began to try words for all that.

What you have here in this book then is a gathering of dandelions from all those years. The wine metaphor which appears again and again in these pages is wonderfully apt. I was gathering images all of my life, storing them away, and forgetting them. Somehow I had to send myself back, with words as catalysts, to open the memories out and see what they had to offer.

So from the age of twenty-four to thirty-six hardly a day passed when I didn’t stroll myself across a recollection of my grandparents’ northern Illinois grass, hoping to come across some old half-burnt firecracker, a rusted toy, or a fragment of letter written to myself in some young year hoping to contact the older person I became to remind him of his past, his life, his people, his joys, and his drenching sorrows.

It became a game that I took to with immense gusto: to see how much I could remember about dandelions themselves, or picking wild grapes with my father and brother, rediscovering the mosquito-breeding ground rain barrel by the side bay window, or searching out the smell of the gold-fuzzed bees that hung around our back porch grape arbor. Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.

An then I wanted to call back what the ravine was like, especially on those nights when walking home late across town, after seeing Lon Chaney’s delicious fright The Phantom of the Opera, my brother Skip would run ahead and hide under the ravine-creek bridge like the Lonely One and leap out and grab me, shrieking, so I ran, fell, and ran again, gibbering all the way home. That was great stuff.

Along the way I came upon and collided, through word-association, with old and true friendships. I borrowed my friend John Huff from my childhood in Arizona and shipped him East to Green Town so that I could say good-bye to him properly.
Along the way I sat me down to breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with the long dead and much loved. For I was a boy who did indeed love his parents and grandparents and his brother, even when that brother “ditched” him.

Along the way, I found myself in the basement working the wine-press for my father, or on the front porch Independence night helping my Uncle Bion load and fire his home-made brass cannon.

Thus I fell into surprise. No one told me to surprise myself, I might add. I came on the old and best ways of writing through ignorance and experiment and was startled when truths leaped out of bushes like quail before gunshot. I blunwas somehow true.

So I turned myself into a boy running to bring a dipper of clear rainwater out of that barrel by the side of the house. And, of course, the more water you dip out the more flows in. The flow has never ceased. Once I learned to keep going back
and back again to those times, I had plenty of memories and sense impressions to play with, not work with, no, play with. Dandelion Wine is nothing if it is not the boy-hid-in-the-man playing in the fields of the Lord on the green grass of other Augusts in the midst of starting to grow up, grow old, and sense darkness waiting under the trees to seed the blood.

I was amused and somewhat astonished at a critic a few years back who wrote an article analyzing Dandelion Wine plus the more realistic work of Sinclair Lewis, wondering how I could have been born and raised in Waukegan, which I renamed Green Town for my novel, and not noticed how ugly the harbor was and how depressing the coal docks and railyards down below the town.

But, of course, I had noticed them and, genetic enchanter that I was, was fascinated by their beauty. Trains and boxcars and the smell of coal and fire are not ugly to children. Ugliness is a concept that we happen on later and become self-conscious about. Counting boxcars is a prime activity of boys. Their elders fret and fume and jeer at the train that holds them up, but boys happily count and cry the names of the cars as they pass from far places.

And again, that supposedly ugly railyard was where carnivals and circuses arrived with elephants who washed the brick pavements with mighty streaming acid waters at five in the dark morning.

As for the coal from the docks, I went down in my basement every autumn to await the arrival of the truck and its metal chute, which clanged down and released a ton of beauteous meteors that fell out of far space into my cellar and threatened to bury me beneath dark treasures.

In other words, if your boy is a poet, horse manure can only mean flowers to him; which is, of course, what horse manure has always been about.

Perhaps a new poem of mine will explain more than this introduction about the germination of all the summers of my life into one book.

Here’s the start of the poem:

Byzantium, I come not from,
But from another time and place
Whose race was simple, tried and true;
As boy
I dropped me forth in Illinois.
A name with neither love nor grace
Was Waukegan, there I came from
And not, good friends, Byzantium.
The poem continues, describing my lifelong relationship to my birthplace:
And yet in looking back I see
From topmost part of farthest tree
A land as bright, beloved and blue
As any Yeats found to be true.
Waukegan, visited by me often since, is neither homelier nor more beautiful than any other small Midwestern town. Much of it is green. The trees do touch in the middle of streets. The street in front of my old home is still paved with red bricks. In what way then was the town special? Why, I was born there. It was my life. I had to write of it as I saw fit:
So we grew up with mythic dead
To spoon upon midwestern bread
And spread old gods’ bright marmalade
To slake in peanut-butter shade,
Pretending there beneath our sky
That it was Aphrodite’s thigh…
While by the porch-rail calm and bold
His words pure wisdom, stare pure gold
My grandfather, a myth indeed,
Did all of Plato supercede
While Grandmama in rockingchair
Sewed up the raveled sleeve of care
Crocheted cool snowflakes rare and bright
To winter us on summer night.
And uncles, gathered with their smokes
Emitted wisdoms masked as jokes,
And aunts as wise as Delphic maids
Dispensed prophetic lemonades
To boys knelt there as acolytes
To Grecian porch on summer nights;
Then went to bed, there to repent
The evils of the innocent;
The gnat-sins sizzling in their ears
Said, through the nights and through the years
Not Illinois nor Waukegan
But blither sky and blither sun.
Though mediocre all our Fates
And Mayor not as bright as Yeats
Yet still we knew ourselves. The sum?
Byzantium.
Byzantuim.

Waukegan/ Green Town/ Byzantium.
Green Town did exist, then?
Yes, and again, yes.

Was there a real boy named John Huff? There was. And that was truly his name. But he didn’t go away from me, I went away from him. But, happy ending, he is still alive, forty-two years later, and remembers our love.

Was there a Lonely One? There was, and that was his name. And he moved around at night in my home town when I was six years old and he frightened everyone and was never captured.

Most importantly, did the big house itself, with Grandpa and Grandma and the boarders and uncles and aunts in it exist? I have answered that.

Is the ravine real and deep and dark at night? It was, it is. I took my daughters there a few years back, fearful that the ravine might have gone shallow with time. I am relieved and happy to report that the ravine is deeper, darker, and more mysterious than ever. I would not, even now, go home through there after seeing The Phantom of the Opera.

So there you have it. Waukegan was Green Town was Byzantium, with all the happiness that that means, with all the sadness that these names imply. The people there were gods and midgets and knew themselves mortal and so the midgets walked tall so as not to embarrass the gods and the gods crouched so as to make the small ones feel at home. And, after all, isn’t that what life is all about, the ability to go around back and come up inside other people’s heads to look out at the damned fool miracle and say: oh, so that’s how you see it!? Well, now, I must remember that.

Here is my celebration, then, of death as well as life, dark as well as light, old as well as young, smart and dumb combined, sheer joy as well as complete terror written by a boy who once hung upside down in trees, dressed in his bat costume with candy fangs in his mouth, who finally fell out of the trees when he was twelve and went and found a toy-dial typewriter and wrote his first “novel.”

A final memory.

Fire balloons.

You rarely see them these days, though in some countries, I hear, they are still filled with warm breath from a small straw fire hung beneath.

But in 1925 Illinois, we still had them, and one of the last memories I have of my grandfather is the last hour of a Fourth of July night forty-eight years ago when Grandpa and I walked out on the lawn and lit a small fire and filled the pear-shaped red-white-and-blue-striped paper balloon with hot air, and held the flickering bright-angel presence in our hands a final moment in front of a porch lined with uncles and aunts and cousins and mothers and fathers, and then, very softly, let the
thing that was life and light and mystery go out of our fingers up on the summer night air and away over the beginning-to-sleep houses, among the stars, as fragile, as wondrous, as vulnerable, as lovely as life itself.

I see my grandfather there looking up at that strange drifting light, thinking his own still thoughts. I see me, my eyes filled with tears, because it was all over, the night was done, I knew there would never be another night like this.

No one said anything. We all just looked up at the sky and we breathed out and in and we all thought the same things, but nobody said. Someone finally had to say, though, didn’t they? And that one is me.

The wine still waits in the cellars below.

My beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark.

The fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer.

Why and how?

Because I say it is so.


Ray Bradbury
Summer, 1974

Your hymnal is here.

Fire ballons afloft in Thailand.



Basic fire balloon how-to is here.

20 June 2017

Choose.


A moon was rising over the Lake Superior horizon and the pulsing red and white lights of the Marquette Lower Harbor breakwall.

“Jonathan, come here.” Harrison took hold of my shirt and pulled me down beside his chair to see from his perspective.  “Look at that!  The French call that glacée.”

I’ve recently learned the word means ice.

How perfect! The summer moonrise, like ice on the water.

In the dozen or so years that followed that first meeting, my friendship with Harrison became a great source of instruction in many ways of seeing. And of living.  Not only had my fear of meeting him been unfounded, indeed, his company, just like his writing, taught me to more fully occupy my existence.

Now that he is gone, I have been remembering those lessons.

He reminded me that we must be playful. It saddens me to think my phone will never again display Jim Harrison for an incoming call, promising one of those goofy conversation openers of his. Once my wife Amy answered and he told her that he was going to open a gas station and wear a jumpsuit. He asked if she wanted to take over the writing.

Harrison also instructed me in generosity.  He often asked what I was working on.  A memoir, I answered once, about Amy and me building a cabin in the mountains and losing our first child there to a premature stillbirth.  He asked to see the manuscript, and a few weeks later, I received a letter from him with another incredibly kind blurb of the sort that sells books.  But even more helpful was what he wrote at the end of the letter.  He told me of a belief among certain far northern Native Americans that the souls of babies who die like ours become birds.  “I have always chosen to believe this,” he wrote.

Chosen to believe.

The instruction in those words has served me well as I’ve searched for my own spiritual truths and comforts in the natural world.  We can choose to believe.

Setting.

Bach, Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, BWV 606

The Flanders Recorder Quartet performs ...

Necessity.

Piotrowski, Inside the Flames, 1907


My friend, it is the poet’s work Dreams to interpret and to mark. Believe me that man’s true conceit In a dream becomes complete: All poetry we ever read Is but true dreams interpreted.

The fair illusion of the dream sphere, in the production of which every man proves himself an accomplished artist, is a precondition not only of all plastic art, but even, as we shall see presently, of a wide range of poetry. Here we enjoy an immediate apprehension of form, all shapes speak to us directly, nothing seems indifferent or redundant. Despite the high intensity with which these dream realities exist for us, we still have a residual sensation that they are illusions; at least such has been my experience—and the frequency, not to say normality, of the experience is borne out in many passages of the poets. Men of philosophical disposition are known for their constant premonition that our everyday reality, too, is an illusion, hiding another, totally different kind of reality. It was Schopenhauer who considered the ability to view at certain times all men and things as mere phantoms or dream images to be the true mark of philosophic talent. The person who is responsive to the stimuli of art behaves toward the reality of dream much the way the philosopher behaves toward the reality of existence: he observes exactly and enjoys his observations, for it is by these images that he interprets life, by these processes that he rehearses it. Nor is it by pleasant images only that such plausible connections are made: the whole divine comedy of life, including its somber aspects, its sudden balkings, impish accidents, anxious expectations, moves past him, not quite like a shadow play—for it is he himself, after all, who lives and suffers through these scenes—yet never without giving a fleeting sense of illusion; and I imagine that many persons have reassured themselves amidst the perils of dream by calling out, “It is a dream! I want it to go on.” I have even heard of people spinning out the causality of one and the same dream over three or more successive nights. All these facts clearly bear witness that our innermost being, the common substratum of humanity, experiences dreams with deep delight and a sense of real necessity.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, from The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music 

McEnroe.

Work.


The growth of the exploiters' revolution on this continent has been accompanied by the growth of the idea that work is beneath human dignity, particularly any form of hand work. We have made it our overriding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from. We have debased the products of work and have been, in turn, debased by them.

Admire.

Sisley, Avenue of Chestnut Trees near La Celle Saint Cloud, 1867


HEAVY


That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hands in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it -
books, bricks, grief -
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled -
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love

to which there is no reply?

Mary Oliver