Thursday, January 31, 2013

Art Is What Remains


"Art is what remains when the pot is broken."               
—Chinese proverb  

I know we are bound to the earth,
and the cracked heart, old terra cotta,
surrenders to vine.                                           

                  Listen—I've seen
wind stir the hair of the dead at Belsen,
growing like art from the lacing grass; 

what is terrible, even, rises.
The ruined pot dreams of ignition,
each molecule coddles its flame. 

Enough alphabet for a torah
sits on the tongue.  And all shards
from the winds' end gather again. 

I know we are bound to the earth
by desire's green thread
or the milk snake's slippery pass. 

Hepatica splits now from its leaf-wing.
Out of the vessel's wreck,
inwardness forms on the air 

and that ghost tenderly enters
the soul of some mortal thing.

—Mary Rose O’Reilley
This poem by my newly discovered writer friend (if I’m not being too presumptuous, feeling such an affinity with her) makes me think of Sue Bender’s wonderful book, Everyday Sacred, and the begging bowls she writes about, her description of a “strikingly handsome Japanese tea bowl that had been broken and pieced together. The image of that bowl made a lasting impression. Instead of trying to hide the flaws, the cracks were emphasized—filled with silver. The bowl was even more precious after it had been mended.”

I am thinking of flawed things today, lives with cracks in them, or clean bowls splashed with blue, and feeling against cold logic that the flaws and cracks and splashes only improve them, over time.  That is my optimism for the new month, for the year of the snake (slipping so easily between all cracks).

Ethiopian flowerpot, A. Davey
bowl with blue splashes, Haa900

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Today's Requirements

Somehow it’s a day on which I need a wire fox terrier.

And then, maybe, some more Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered coconut mango bites.

images:  Felix

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Lure of the Extraneous

I am playing ideas for my next Mallorcan mystery story, and considering the various colorful threads of Carthaginian archaeology (connected with the myth of Dido and Aeneas), pranic or reiki healing, the Mallorcan “cloth of tongues,” school bullying, a letter carrier, family names and the Inquisition, a sunken freighter, amateur astronomy, the wife of a Senegalese drummer.  It would be so much easier if I could think in simple plots instead of intriguing objects and intellectual pursuits—things like “x loves y but so does z, so x throws z into an old stone well and then tries to cover her tracks.”  Not that the two are incompatible, but I suspect I’d get a lot more written if I’d just come at things from the other side, instead of getting fascinated by the details of the extraneous matter—especially when I know nothing about any of that, and need to research endlessly.  I should just set a story in an office cubicle in northern California at the end of January, and have done with it!  (Ah, but where would the mystery be in that?)

image: tela de lenguas, Paul Coleshill

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Feast of Being

I always love finding a kindred spirit; kindred in words, in viewing the world.  My happy discovery of the week is Mary Rose O’Reilley, who I would be honored to spend some quiet time with out in the garden, on such a day as this, contemplating and honoring nature.
It's an ugly woods, I was saying to myself, padding along a trail where other walkers had broken ground before me.  And then I found an extraordinary bouquet.  Someone had bound an offering of dry seed pods, yew, lyme grass, red berries, and brown fern and laid it on the path: "nothing special," as Buddhists say, meaning "everything."  Gathered to formality, each dry stalk proclaimed a slant, an attitude, infinite shades of neutral.

All contemplative acts, silences, poems, honor the world this way.  Brought together by the eye of love, a milkweed pod, a twig, allow us to see how things have been all along.  A feast of being.

—Mary Rose O’Reilley, The Barn at the End of the World:  The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Thought for the Weekend: Wishing

“Wishing, like sipping a glass of punch, or pulling aside a bearskin rug in order to access a hidden trapdoor in the floor, is merely a quiet way to spend one's time before the candles are extinguished on one's birthday cake.”

—Lemony Snicket, Horseradish:  Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid

image:  Birthday, Sophie Riches

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Places We Carry in Our Heads

“All of us, I believe, carry about in our heads places and landscapes we shall never forget because we have experienced such intensity of life there:  places where, like the child that 'feels its life in every limb' in Wordsworth's poem 'We are seven,’ our eyes have opened wider, and all our senses have somehow heightened.  By way of returning the compliment, we accord these places that have given us such joy a special place in our memories and imaginations.  They live on in us, wherever we may be, however far from them.”
—Roger Deakin, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm

So many places are like that for me—from Santa Fe (and Española with its cherry tree and murky swimming pool with little frog) to Lake Como to the Writing Mills on Mallorca to the high monastery on the St. Bernard Pass; and all those others that live on in me unnamed.

image:  Gustav Klimt, Farmhouse at Krammer

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

We Are All Bodies of Water

We are all bodies of water, guarding the mystery of our depths . . . 
—Deborah Smith, Alice at Heart
So am I lake, river, ocean? Or perhaps a fountain, in a curving basin?
What depths are in me, what mysteries there?

I’d like to be the water at the feet of our Saint Francis, standing patiently at the back of the garden, where towhees splash with great avian joy.

I’d like to be the long trough of spring water in that hilltown in Crete, with many spouting lion’s mouths, where village women come to drink, to fill pitchers.

I’d like to be the dappled swimming hole in a green creek under willows, water birch, or other lissome trees, where summer days are passed and life is carefully holding its breath, not sure where it will come out, come fall.

I’d like to be a Lake like Como, with hazy blue distances in me; or Maggiore, which the characters of a famous old novel row up to escape their fate.

I’d like to be a sea with a blue sheen on its surface and ancient shipwrecks in its depths, where all of human history can be read by those willing to inquire.  Where coins with heads of goddesses and owls, and resin-sealed amphorae wait through murky centuries to be discovered one fortunate day after a breakfast of yogurt and walnuts and honey scented with mountain thyme.

I’d like to be a tin cupful of water, even half a cup, given to the thirsty.

image:  Thyme and Again

Monday, January 21, 2013

And They Will Be Simple

Some random images, on this day off, sorting through my collection of indelible moments and things that make me smile:

. a book of recipes for making fruit and herb liqueurs
. a cloth sachet fragrant with Parma violets
. Brodsky’s little book on Venice
. my cousin’s daughter’s sea glass hanging on a silver chain
. lavender salt
. a cockapoo
. the Rodin caryatids being washed with sponge and bucket
. the sound of the unseen goats
. the beads I keep meaning to string

And then this quote from Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums:
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” 
Simple as those sea glass marbles, a handful of lovely washed-up orbs.

image:  Sea glass marbles, Natural Seaglass

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In the Dark Green Center

English Country House

I pass under the arched entrance to my hedge-maze
and move into its argument of corridors,
running a hand  along the leafy walls, perfectly trimmed.
I love to move like a mouse inside this puzzle for the body, balancing the wish to be lost with the need to be found. 

I continue into the secret patterns of its side-lanes,
savoring the conundrum of every manicured corner and turn.
At the end of a cul-de-sac I sit down on a white bench,
a place to rest and bask in one's befuddlement.

Then I walk on trying to forget the guests I abandoned.
I should be with them now wilting in a lawn chair
and talking over tea and lemon slices instead of watching
clouds pass over this crazy bower, this sweet labyrinth.

But people are not captivating as they were a decade ago
when the famous would come here to follow their diversions,
Stubbs agitating over a sketchbook of Thoroughbreds,
Muybridge outdoors taking photographs of a naked boxer.

I remember Johann Malzel inventing the metronome
in an upper room.  In this soft afternoon light
I remember Roget walking up from the meadow,
his basket full of synonyms, the dogs barking at his clothes.
I remember them all as I stand here in the dark green center.

—Billy Collins

A poem of mazes and amazement, with the kind of whimsy in detail and language that I adore.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Kenilworth

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Art of Gracious Acceptance

“Giving of any kind . . . taking an action . . . begins the process of change, and moves us to remember that we are part of a much greater universe.”
― Mbali Creazzo 

In an idea borrowed from a friend’s Facebook post:

The first three people to comment on this post will receive from me, sometime in this calendar year, a random gift—perhaps a baked good, a fun treat, or a surprise.  There will be no warning and it will happen when the mood strikes me.

“Gracious acceptance is an art—an art which most never bother to cultivate. We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving.”

—Alexander McCall Smith

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Holy Bible, King James version

“For so many centuries, the exchange of gifts has held us together. It has made it possible to bridge the abyss where language struggles.”

—Barry Lopez, About This Life:  Journeys on the Threshold of Memory

Let me hear from you, strangers and friends— unheralded angels!

image:  the unstinting gift of nature, Thyme and Again

Thursday, January 17, 2013

some things that make me happy

rare white tea flavored with blueberries

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto

Matisse’s Jazz series

the Pueblo man’s name “Songlike”

Welsh terriers

image:  Henri Matisse, Le Cheval, l'Ecuyère et le Clown (pl. 5; from Jazz)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Being Other Than Ourselves

This painting is unusual for a Degas.  It does have some of his earmarks, when you study it closely, but I wouldn’t have guessed he was the artist.

Isn’t it fun sometimes to go against the grain, to try out a new persona, wear different clothes, try foods you don’t usually eat, picture yourself in someone else’s skin? 

I suppose that’s what Halloween costumes are all about—something I’ve never got into.  And acting, which  I wasn’t ever any good at.  And writing, living the characters you invent—though I might argue that most of mine are recognizable as figments of my imagination; related to me by some quirk or gesture or familiar turn of phrase.

Today, to be different, what would I be, and do?  A weaver of earth-tone Navajo blankets in Chimayo, New Mexico; a bird seller in Paris; a maker of hot pastrami sandwiches on dark rye bread in Manhattan; an ambassador in Malta?  Someone walking the length of the way of Santiago de Compostela, for penance, or casting a knotted fishing net on the big island of Hawai’i?  Or maybe tracking distant galaxies through a high-powered telescope in some chill lab somewhere?  There are so many people I am not; so much that is Other.  Outside, but inside too.  Not ours, not us, and yet somehow of us. 

I’ve always loved this quote of John Dewey’s, in Art as Experience:

The epidermis is only in the most superficial way an indication of where an organism ends and its environment begins.  There are things inside the body that are foreign to it, and there are things outside of it that belong to it de jure, if not de facto; that must, that is, be taken possession of if life is to continue.

image:  Edgar Degas (French, Post-Impressionism, 1834–1917): At the Café des Ambassadeurs, 1885. Pastel. Private Collection, I Require Art

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Color of Winter

"The color of springtime is in the flowers, 
the color of winter is in the imagination." 
—Ward Elliot Hour

A glimpse of a back garden in the early afternoon, behind a neighborhood Victorian, made me long to be sitting there, cat on lap, tea in thermos, notebook at the ready, watching for winter birds, drinking the sun in, ignoring the chill in the air, not having to go back to work.

images:  Pierre Bonnard, Austin garden, rusted fence 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Stuff of Dreams

I wonder if having a new pillow will reshape my dreams, the way certain spices eaten for supper color them, making them exotic, warm, or agitated?  The way Marley’s ghost was nothing more than “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato”?  I’ve found that when I fall asleep listening to an audiobook on my iPod, the words of the writer, the voice of the reader, both weave themselves into my dreams.  Or music, too, lends them its mood or tone.

Like bits of twig and hair and colored thread formed into bird nests, this all is such stuff as dreams are made on.

image:  Odilon Redon, Flower Clouds

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bittersweet Chocolate Day and a Horoscope

Hope you’ve been enjoying Bittersweet Chocolate Day!

While savoring my organic chocolate with crystallized orange peel, I’ve been enjoying this light-hearted horoscope for the week of January 10, and the description of various means of divination about which I had no inkling.  In turn I’ve been trying to use them to divine those secrets I’ve allegedly been concealing from myself.  (And, in turn, of course, from my faithful readers . . . )

"Studying the movements of the planets is my main way of discerning the hidden currents of fate. I sometimes supplement my investigations by reading Tarot cards and the Chinese "Book of Changes," also known as the I Ching. To arrive at your horoscope this week, I used all of the above as well as the following forms of prognostication: catoptromancy, which is divination by gazing into a mirror underwater; cyclomancy, or divination by watching a wheel that's turning; geloscopy, divination by listening to random laughter; and margaritomancy, divination by observing bouncing pearls. Here's what I found, Gemini: You now have the power to discern previously unfathomable patterns in a puzzling mystery you've been monitoring. You also have the ability to correctly surmise the covert agendas of allies and adversaries alike. Maybe best of all, you can discover certain secrets you've been concealing from yourself."

image:  Visconti tarot cards, Talia Felix

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What's Keeping Me from Having Space to Write

what’s keeping me from having space to write:

. a recipe for cheese, olive, and buttermilk herb bread
. a fine Italian wood frame, pistachio green
. a tube of icy glitter
. a pirate duck
. paper and fabric scraps for hundreds of collages
. purple glass seed beads

. three Malaysian stamps
. the calico chicken that used to stop my mother’s bedroom door
. iron filings
. Italian receipts
. a quail rubber stamp
. a photo of my father in his 20s in a cold northern river
. a pamphlet on vins de terroir
. handsomely spotted feathers, a bit rumpled
. piles of books on clearing clutter, clearing time

images:   Artist’s Table, The Urban Hippy
--> Open Spaces Feng Shui tips

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In the Hope of Buds

It’s too early to look for buds, but I live always in the hope of buds.  And just a week or two ago there were buds on a bare fruit tree in Santa Cruz, poking their tender noses bravely out into the winter air.  How can we live except in hope, we creatures born of optimism, with spring a tribal memory in us?

I think it’s no mistake that taste buds are called that.  Therein begins a world of wonder.  The world of cinnamon described so well in Michael Ondaatje’s poem, the world of oregano I wrote in such ecstatic detail, the world of clay pot chicken or Moroccan tagine or cherry clafoutis.  Apple brandy.  Lavender buds on buttery pound cake.  The taste of the earth on a stone from the garden, to a child.

Magic is there, incipient.  And faith.  And life.  The ability to bud despite the frozen earth, the sheer improbability of warmth ever returning, of hardness giving, quickens us.  After a start that almost isn’t, forms the world.
“Who would deduce the dragonfly from the larva, the iris from the bud, the lawyer from the infant? ...We are all shape-shifters and magical reinventors. Life is really a plural noun, a caravan of selves.”—Diane Ackerman

image:  Sempervivum buds, Pfly

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Thought for the Day

“You can't study the darkness by flooding it with light.”
—Edward Abbey

My tendency, perhaps?

image:  Spruce Knob Night Sky 8, ForestWander

Saturday, January 5, 2013

After a Visit to the Art Store

After a visit to the art store I am fully happy, returning home in the half-hour before dark when trees and sky can still be distinguished, one from the other, with rolled sheets of wonderful papers from the big drawers (having learned recently that rice paper isn’t made of rice, any more than lobster sauce in Chinese cooking isn’t made from lobsters, although oyster sauce is made from oysters, that delicious smoky sauce that flavors beef and onions sizzled quickly in a wok, best at the long-ago hole-in-the-wall café in downtown Oakland with my parents and some college friends)
. a red paper with moments of newsprint pressed into it
. a lovely deep purple paper (and one, silver and purple, I resisted)
. paper with flower petals
. an elegant teal paper with a design, like flocked wallpaper in a tall Victorian house in a rambling yard.

I have been tempted by the gooey oil paints, the tubes of viscous color, that I would love to glob onto rough canvases, feeling the sensual smooth ooze of them under a big boar’s bristle brush.  Maybe one day soon I’ll give in to that urge.

But in the meantime, I move on to the health food grocery in the next block, and come out with
. Doctor Kracker seeded spelt crispbread
. chèvre with roasted green chili
. cranberry ginger oatmeal
. black bean and roasted vegetable burritos and a saffron Indian wrap
. sweet almond oil for giving moisture to winter skin
. a cherry-red Chico bag

And tomorrow a friend has promised homemade tamales, plump in their cornhusk wrappers, ready to steam.

I am so hungry, for all these things, hungry with all my senses, wanting and having at the same time.  Greedy for abundant life.  Even the lamplight makes me happy, in this mood.  Its buttery yellow, that brings back older rooms, the people who lit them.  The pile of books beside my bed, the Thomas Hardy I intend to read again (remembered and pulled off the shelf this past Bonfire Night), the mysteries from Bookstore Santa Cruz, the little philosophical sheep book.

And there is always more, to feed my sensual hunger.  Oh, that’s what’s wonderful—there’s always more.

image:  Oil paints, Sarah Jane Studios

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Becoming a Lake

I love this story and its message, which came to me today—

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then drink it.
     “How does it taste?” the master asked.
     “Bitter,” said the apprentice.
The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said,

     “Now drink from the lake.”
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked,

     “How does it taste?”
     “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.
     “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.
     “No,” said the young man. At this the master sat beside this serious young man, and explained softly,
     “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

(from Tao and Zen)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Lake Louise