"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake in the middle of the night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."—The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White
Friday, November 30, 2012
Yesterday’s picture of the ant transporting a large glass globe along the asphalt reminded me of Wart, King Arthur, in The Once and Future King, being changed into different creatures, from an ant to a fish to a hawk to a badger, to learn important lessons from different viewpoints within the natural world.
Lessons. Learning. That’s what I need in gloomy times like these, when the rain (aided by coworkers) makes my spirits as soggy and as featureless as papier-mâché. I need to be shaped by the hand of the magician-teacher into something new and vibrantly alive.
image: Half Mask, Ultimate Paper Mache
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Being stopped by these fine English sheep would cheer me immensely. Quite a different experience from the usual snarls of my mornings and evenings, with a combination of dawdling Hondas hesitating at green lights ahead and ruthless SUVs roaring up impatiently behind. Traffic is the perfect demonstration of how most people don't want to live in the moment.
Jam is "to press tightly" or "become wedged," (thank you Online Etymology Dictionary); my favorite apricot, olallieberry, and sour cherry jams, while not obviously connected to that, probably come from "to press fruit into a preserve." So maybe traffic jams have the same happy result, and we will all end up flavorful and good with buttered toast! I'll consider that next time I'm stopped by surly cars and feeling unduly wedged.
image: Countryside is Great Britain
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”—Jack Kerouac, On the Road
image: Twilight, Commander John Bortniak
Sunday, November 25, 2012
In my voice was the hope that clings to every heartbeat.
In my words were the powers I inherited from my forefathers.
In my cupped hands lay a spruce seed, the link to creation.
In my eyes sparkled love.
And the song floated on the sun's rays from tree to tree.
—Chief Dan George
image: Christie B. Cochrell, Red Maple
Saturday, November 24, 2012
I am thankful for my childhood, in what is now a foreign land, a far country, for my adventuring parents who came to a place on the map where neither had ever been. I am thankful for the memories I was given of the first river (though scarcely a trickle, until snowmelt gave it substance for a week or two), the first light.
All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,picking up fragments of New World slowly,not knowing how to put them together nor how to joinimage with image, now I know how it was with you, an old mapmade long before I was born shows ancientrights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desirefor the world's great splendors, a child who traced voyagesindelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far countryremembers the first river, the firstfield, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,that new smell, and remembersthe walls of the garden, the first light.—from “A Map Of The Western Part Of The County Of Essex In England,” Denise Levertov
image: 1513 World Map
Friday, November 23, 2012
Thursday, November 22, 2012
I've been trying to distill everything I'm thankful for into a single phrase, or list, a kind of "favorite treasures" box kept underneath my bed or tucked behind a loosened brick in the pantry as in old English country-house stories. But I'm feeling unable to choose, distinguish. I'm grateful in such enormous ways for so much, so many—everyone and everything I love. For life itself, simply irreducible.
Happiest Thanksgiving to all.
image: The Dinner Party, Jules-Alexandre Grün
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I am thankful for colors—like those of these Japanese Maple leaves, touched with the rain that came and went in the night.
“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.”
(Wassily Kandinsky, "Concerning the Spiritual In Art"—1910)
image: Christie B. Cochrell, Maple
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Monday, November 19, 2012
There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude . . . a quiet joy.
—Ralph H. Blum
I am grateful for the memory of Venice, for the week we spent there in September, for the universal pleasure it gives, for its labyrinthine ways, its churches, its beauty, its advanced age, its turbot baked whole in the oven with potatoes, the quiet lapping of its waters against resilient stone.
I am grateful too for Joseph Brodsky’s meditation on the city, which I picked up in a bookshop there, and for its profound, poetic passages.
The boat’s slow progress through the night was like the passage of a coherent thought through the subconscious. On both sides, knee-deep in pitch-black water, stood the enormous carved chests of dark palazzi filled with unfathomable treasures—most likely gold, judging from the low-intensity yellow electric glow emerging now and then from cracks in the shutters. The overall feeling was mythological, cyclopic, to be precise: I’d entered that infinity I beheld on the steps of the stazione and now was moving among its inhabitants . . .
—Joseph Brodsky, Watermark
image: Venice Rent Apartments
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Thursday, November 15, 2012
What could be calmer?
I've been having rough seas myself this week, and find my spirit greatly agitated. I would love to be sitting in a blue boat, and learning—as I dreamed recently—to row.
Once I did know how to row, very inexpertly. My father took me out on Wisconsin's Bone Lake when we were staying there one summer vacation, with my grandmother, in a wooden cottage where skunks lived under the porch.
This, then, instead of being in a boat, from "Poetry" by Billy Collins:
We are busy doing nothing—
and all we need for that is an afternoon,
a rowboat under a blue sky,
and maybe a man fishing from a stone bridge,
or, better still, nobody on that bridge at all.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Sitting in my nearly-sunny writing room, I'm feeling as if the words are as tangled as this—not coming clear.
My mind is still feeling dyslexic, or dysgeometrical, after working on a series of collages set on the diagonal—having to figure out how to cut the pieces to fit into odd-shaped spaces.
And then last night it was thrown for another loop when we were asked in class to make a sheet of music look like it was not music. I have decorative borders made from treble clefs, and from flats; disjointed notes sprinkled across the white space like poppy seeds on Danish tebirkes. (Or like a page of cut-up music, imperfectly disguised.) Somehow the whole thing was upsetting. I prefer my music as it was meant to be.
And the letters forming some recognizable words, syllables. Incoherence leaves me not myself.
But I am cooking a chicken with Greek herbs in the slow cooker, and drinking Earl Grey tea from my Italian mug; and sometime soon my mind will settle. The tangled words will clear. Will read me out as I, without these cognitive upsets, was meant to be. My music whole again.
image: Christie B. Cochrell, Word Sculpture, Treviso
Sunday, November 11, 2012
To mark Veteran's Day, this passage from my father's war novel—with love and gratitude to him, and to all veterans.
Then in front of one house he saw a small boy with big solemn eyes and short black bangs of hair. The boy stood alone beneath a wooden frame in which tiny silver fish hung to dry. He had raised one finger beside his face in salute to the troops, and the sight of him made Willy’s throat ache. Dimly he remembered another small boy saluting a passing convoy. It seemed a lifetime ago and a world away. It had been in San Diego when a replacement outfit left on a voyage coded Epic 83-A. Had this been truly an epic, beginning and ending with a child’s salute? What were little boys made of that they should feel sympathy for men of arms? Why did little boys develop an urge to use real rifles and cannons and Atom Bombs? Why had young Andrew Willy run away from his brother’s farm in Hanford, Washington, to end up years later in Nagasaki where a crop of plutonium from that selfsame Hanford, so the radio said, had helped demonstrate a process called atomic fission?
You never knew what you were getting into when you started. If there was a scheme to things it got more and more obscure as you went along.
—Boyd Cochrell, The Barren Beaches of Hell
image: Remembrance Day ceremonies, Australia, Getty Images, Craig Golding
Friday, November 9, 2012
Despite the record in the sand, the seabirds who left their tracks were calm, graceful, at ease in the landscape.
Their work was to leave tracks on the quiet beach; as my work, described so beautifully by Mary Oliver in “Messenger,” is not to fret, not to let my mind tug me away into the realm of busy worry, but to stand still, and learn to be astonished.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
image: Christie B. Cochrell, Tracks
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
After all that fire, I need the coolness and the calm of autumn woods (though the color is a kind of conflagration too). I would walk all afternoon, lingeringly, away from the aggravations of the workplace and the polling booth, like Jane Austen’s happy walker here:
The pleasure of her walk arose from viewing the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered edges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness. —Jane Austen (Persuasion)
And yes, preferably with a dog to keep me silent company.
images: Drum Castle Woods in Autumn, Richard Slessor
Wendover Woods in Autumn, Robert Firth
Monday, November 5, 2012
. . . the fifth of November. The burning of the effigy of Guy Fawkes, which reminds me of the burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe in the fall, the burning of Old Man Gloom, the burning of one's sorrows and gripes for another year.
There's something in our collective psyche which requires such a burning.
I'm reminded of Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native, which ends on Guy Fawkes—or Bonfire— Night.
The function of Bonfire Night in the text is to mark the "death" of summer and defy the gradual darkening of the season. As Thomas Hardy observes, the holiday “indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death.”
images: Guy Fawkes Effigy, William Warby
Zozobra Burning, 2005, Jeff Weiss
Sunday, November 4, 2012
I do love the “troop of pigs,” the castle, the serpentine river, the blue mountains.
And in my own day, the yellow ginko leaves, the grilled tuna with tapenade, the Renoir strawberries, the sacred Mozart song, the lovely lingering sunlight.
image: November, Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Let's hear it for the saints, since the goblins always get all the press.
In the Christian calendar, November 1 is the Feast of All Saints, a day honoring not only those who are known and recognized as enlightened souls, but more especially the unknowns, saints who walk beside us unrecognized down the millennia. In Buddhism, we honor the bodhisattvas - saints - who refuse enlightenment and return willingly to the wheel of karma to help other beings. Similarly, in Judaism, anonymous holy men pray the world from its well-merited destruction. We never know who is walking beside us, who is our spiritual teacher. That one - who annoys you so - pretends for a day that he's the one, your personal Obi Wan Kenobi. The first of November is a splendid, subversive holiday.
Imagine a hectic procession of revelers - the half-mad bag lady; a mumbling, scarred janitor whose ravaged face made the children turn away; the austere, unsmiling mother superior who seemed with great focus and clarity to do harm; a haunted music teacher, survivor of Auschwitz. I bring them before my mind's eye, these old friends of my soul, awakening to dance their day. Crazy saints; but who knows what was home in the heart? This is the feast of those who tried to take the path, so clumsily that no one knew or noticed, the feast, indeed, of most of us.—Mary Rose O’Reilley, The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd
image: All Saints'Day at a cemetery in Sanok - flowers and light candles to honor the memory of deceased relatives. Poland, 1 November 2011