Rilke exposure

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If the neverending New Age books brought me nothing else (but in truth, they did bring me more than this), they connected me to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, whose works I had glimpsed only only through his correspondence with Marina Tsvetaeva and Boris Pasternak (writers much more in my milieu for so much of my life).

Most beautiful, the Duino elegies (Duineser Elegien).All thought-provoking, but on this particular occasion, it was the eighth that struck me:

“We are, above all, eternal spectators
looking upon, never from,
the place itself. We are the
essence of it. We construct it.
It falls apart. We reconstruct it
and fall apart ourselves.

Who formed us thus:
that always, despite
our aspirations, we wave
as though departing?
Like one lingering to look,
from a high final hill,
out over the valley he
intends to leave forever,
we spend our lives saying
goodbye.”

But it renews my objections to and troubles with translation. I read several translations of the elegies – all are quite different, and create quite different impressions. I could easily immerse myself in these differences for days, for weeks, as I once did with Akhmatova translations.

 

Cold data

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Our computers become such security blankets of sorts. Last night everything was going along fine when I left the room, only to return to my Mac blinking at me – white screen with just a file-folder icon blinking away. I tried to repair this but think it’s an internal cable causing the HD to be undetectable/unreadable (at times). Clearly not something I could fix in the middle of the night. Later when I tried to turn it on again, it worked – at least long enough to retrieve all the data I so assiduously promise myself I will back up religiously (every time some near-debacle like this occurs), and then don’t.

As I told someone earlier today – how can I be so fastidious and exacting about so many other things – always following through – but be so sloppy with things like backing up data, especially when this data means so much to me (personally and professionally)?

Perhaps now I must remedy this sheer stupidity, as I have been meaning to do but have not done for so many years. This year I feel like I have finally entered a different space, somehow, where follow-through and perseverance are balanced with more thought and creativity. I have been numb (or semi-numb), going through the motions on so many fronts for such a long time. You would not think that would extend to things like data backups, but in fact it does.

Fade away and radiate

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Fade away and radiate

If I had known my mother was right about the transitory, fickle nature of adolescent friendship, I might not have invested so much. In fact, this truth still applies. It’s this slow-motion dissolution of a connection between two people, at different moments striving, trying desperately to remain relevant to one another. Romance/love is exactly the same, where at different times one partner is more in love with the other. And what remains is one of the few conduits to a close but different interpretation of a shared past that comes back – almost taunting, if not haunting – the lost friendship or love, the missed opportunities, forgotten depths and secrets. Where does all that initial – and sometimes even sustained, if temporary – awe go? How does it get buried underneath layers of time, superficial concern and change?

Writing this I feel very much as though I have already written something like this many times. Perhaps because these same feelings and questions churn mercilessly through the brain – and even the heart – too frequently.

Photo (c) Paul Costanich (RIP)

Stellar

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As much as I long for the city sometimes, country nights like tonight fill me with awe. Cold – frozen in fact – but so clear, all the stars visible. I spent an hour in the darkness sitting on the deck upstairs just staring into the sky, view obscured occasionally by my breath visibly floating through the air.

A few years ago, ML “gave” me an app for identifying constellations, so for basically the first time in all those years, I used it, halfheartedly. I am always a bit awestruck by the cosmos and my tiny place in this universe. Particularly when it’s so cold, I feel so small and insignificant. The awesome nature of being enveloped by this endless expanse of stars renders all of life’s trivialities insignificant as well; you know, when you’re trapped in your own head, listing off all the things you need to do, all the things you don’t want to deal with, think about, feel – it all retreats to some other place in the brain – a place far from immediate thought and anxiety.

A poem for post-star-gazing contemplation:

TactEdwin Arlington Robinson

Observant of the way she told
So much of what was true,
No vanity could long withhold
Regard that was her due:
She spared him the familiar guile,
So easily achieved,
That only made a man to smile
And left him undeceived.

Aware that all imagining
Of more than what she meant
Would urge an end of everything,
He stayed; and when he went,
They parted with a merry word
That was to him as light
As any that was ever heard
Upon a starry night.

She smiled a little, knowing well
That he would not remark
The ruins of a day that fell
Around her in the dark:
He saw no ruins anywhere,
Nor fancied there were scars
On anyone who lingered there,
Alone below the stars.

Perhaps I have been brainwashed by my descent into the nature-oriented New Agey books I just completed (hallelujah), which seemed to emphasize the importance of a relationship with nature and the universe as key to our ability to mature as adults. Maybe there’s something to it. But I know I’ve always felt this way when walking or sitting in the dark on clear, cold, starry nights. Infinitesimal but brimming with excitement, wonder and hope.

Photo (c) 2014 Tom Hall.

Off the chain – no training wheels

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Time for Japan

Yes, as usual, the Japanese have their priorities straight. Standardizing toilet controls and weaving and dyeing denim properly while the country more or less dies out … sounds like a plan.

Is this the same philosophy that drives Mexicans to make beautiful, time-consuming piñatas only to destroy them by beating the shit out of them? Because this is life: beautiful and so full of promise – but it too beats the shit out of you?

You enjoy beauty or love or quality only because they are so ephemeral? (Quality may imply that something is built to last, but the worn quality of something, its imperfection, may be part of its beauty. Is this the Japanese thinking, as was recently proposed to me?)

As an aside, I have lived and acquired weight in my soul and body, I have scars all over me from the things I have lived through. These imperfections too should tell a story that no one tells.

‘Love, like fire, can only reveal its brightness
on the failure and the beauty of burnt wood.’

« Comme le feu, l’amour n’établit sa clarté
que sur la faute et la beauté des bois en cendres… »

Philippe Jaccottet, ‘L’ignorant’

It’s time to plan a trip to Japan, as I have not been for almost 20 years.

Everything is imperfect and constantly in flux, changing: Japan, love, me.

Photo (c) Stephen Donaghy

Limit the options and dull the minds

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“It’s not easy because your heart is closed off, but yes, you must move into the future.”

Random bits – the bits that piqued my interest and kept me reading anyway – from the sort of New Age book as I finally close it up and move on to something else…

“Arrested personal growth serves industrial ‘growth’. By suppressing the nature dimension of human development (through educational systems, social values, advertising, nature-eclipsing vocations and pastimes, city and suburb design, denatured medical and psychological practices, and other means), industrial growth society engenders an immature citizenry unable to imagine a life beyond consumerism and soul-suppressing jobs.”

 

“…there are two important questions in life, and it is essential not to get them in the wrong order. The first is “Where am I going?” and the second is “Who will go with me?”

 

“They have not learned what Alan Watts called ‘the wisdom of insecurity’– that life is a hazardous adventure (which is what makes it interesting and joyous), that an artificially secure life is a dull one, and that significant security is impossible because change is unavoidable, illness and injury are common, and death inevitable.”

 

“For over one hundred years, mainstream American education has been systematically tuned to produce, on the one hand, blue-collar workers, and soldiers, and on the other, white-collar scientists, technologists, military officer, business managers, and career professionals. The idea has been to ‘keep America strong’, which means more successful than other nations in competing for Earth’s limited resources, on which all human economies are grounded. This has been accomplished in the United States and other Western societies by creating a large workforce of wage slaves and soldiers and a sizable cadre of sharp and ambitious minds capable of managing that workforce and creating technological advances for the mark of military-economic ‘progress’. Consequently, we have a bifurcated educational system successfully designed to limit the options and dull the minds and aspirations of the first group while both sharpening and narrowing the minds of the second. The education emphasis for the professional class is on thinking, but thinking in rather shallow and constricted modes. Independent, critical thinking and any kind of feeling, imagining, and sensing are minimized, marginalized, or discouraged because they are deemed irrelevant or detrimental to industrial development or personal fulfillment. Another reason these innate human capacities are suppressed in Western societies (and must be) is because they easily expose the egocentric idea of ‘progress’ for the self-destructive and world-devastating fantasy that it is.”

 

“In our society, the late teens and early twenties are often thought of as our one chance in life to sow wild oats. This way of thinking belies an unconscious co-optation of our innate wildness — our true, abiding, and sustainable vitality. Something in us is truly wild and wants to stay that way through our entire life. It is the source of our deepest creativity and freedom. When we say about youth, ‘Let them have their day, their wildness, their fun; soon enough they’ll settle down like we all do,’ we’re betraying the fact that we’ve made our human world too small for soul. We’ve abdicated a critically important part of our human nature.

Even the phrase ‘sow wild oats’ suggests that, like oats, our wildness is doomed to domestication. Egocentric society believes these human oats (and their sowers) are not meant to remain wild. Young people might briefly be allowed their ‘freedom’, but it’s rare that they are encouraged to uncover, celebrate and claim their full wildness for a lifetime.”

All quotes in blocks from Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World by Bill Plotkin, 2008.

 

Settle the horses

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You know the anger and frustration you feel when you lose a document you’ve written but not saved? I just had the same experience only much more crushing. I had been reading this book aloud and recording it but had only paused the recording – not saved – when I was about two hours into what would have been four hours of reading (to complete one long – very long – chapter). The computer restarted. I lost everything. Now I have to go back and repeat this stuff again, and it feels very painful to think about.

Like so many things today (inauguration day in America). Avoid avoid avoid.

Almost daily now, especially needing the calm and the avoidance, I come back to “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver.

The lines: “You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert,
repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your
body
love what it loves.”

I really disliked this poem when I was younger, when teachers would force it on us, year after year, and it never really had the chance to sink in. That is to say, I never gave it a chance to sink in. Now older, more reflective, I think of this letting “the soft animal of your body love what it loves”, and it has deeper resonance and meaning. How simple sounding but so hard to actually do.

Settle the horses that so eagerly and anxiously want to bolt thunderously away. Advice from all sides, every day, every source: Give it time.