beg for it

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Now
Nick Flynn

Tomorrow,
or the day after, I’ll press my

mouth to your scar & run
my tongue along it

so I can taste how you were once
opened, so I can know where

you never closed. Each

scar’s a door, we know
that—I want to whisper into

yours, I want my hands

to hover over it, I want you
to whisper please

I want you (please please please)
to beg for it.

coda

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Coda
Daniel Simko
All night you have been tearing maps in your sleep.
Your autobiography.

The crows rowing overhead are too silent to be crows.
The sky shows its overbite.

It must be raining.
There is no place to go but home.

Photo by Kasturi Roy on Unsplash

invisible horse

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My Invisible Horse and the Speed of Human Decency
Matthew Olzmann

People always tell me, “Don’t put the cart
before the horse,” which is curious
because I don’t have a horse.
Is this some new advancement in public shaming—
repeatedly drawing one’s attention
to that which one is currently not, and never
has been, in possession of?
If ever, I happen to obtain a Clydesdale,
then I’ll align, absolutely, it to its proper position
in relation to the cart, but I can’t
do that because all I have is the cart. 
One solitary cart—a little grief wagon that goes
precisely nowhere—along with, apparently, one
invisible horse, which does not pull,
does not haul, does not in any fashion
budge, impel or tow my disaster buggy
up the hill or down the road.
I’m not asking for much.  A more tender world
with less hatred strutting the streets.
Perhaps a downtick in state-sanctioned violence
against civilians.  Wind through the trees.
Water under the bridge. Kindness.
LOL, says the world. These things take time, says
the Office of Disappointment. Change cannot
be rushed, says the roundtable of my smartest friends.
Then, together, they say, The cart!
They say, The horse!
They say, Haven’t we told you already?
So my invisible horse remains
standing where it previously stood:
between hotdog stands and hallelujahs,
between the Nasdaq and the moon’s adumbral visage,
between the status quo and The Great Filter,
and I can see that it’s not his fault—being
invisible and not existing—
how he’s the product of both my imagination
and society’s failure of imagination.
Watch how I press my hand against his translucent flank.
How I hold two sugar cubes to his hypothetical mouth.
How I say I want to believe in him,
speaking softly into his missing ear.

Image – E Wolfe, 2018

effervescent unarticulated

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Newly Married
David Whyte
Awake at midnight
in the darkened
house,
I look up
at the full, bright
white circle
of the moon
and walk aglow
in the pale light,
the frost outside
a perfect reflected
snow of whiteness
edging
my lifted hands,
against the spreading
night, my pointed finger
following, through
a window pane,
a single glittering
star adrift
in a vault
of the black sky,
while around me
the moonlight
paints every single wall
a shade
of silvered white,
outlining
the dark, moving center
of the silhouette
I call a self.

In a life defined
by difficult
passages
I am that
rare tidal
hardly ever
experienced thing,
a walking
glowing, undefined
lamp of anticipatory
happiness, looking
over the roof tops
of an unsuspecting world,
a disturbing
effervescent unarticulated
someone who has
promised something
he has promised
to reflect on
and live through
and come to understand.

Beneath the covers
I hear her
silent breathing
like an unspoken
vow to the luminous
circle of all the seasons,
to the coming and going
of breath and memory,
to the spring before
we knew each other,
to the end of the moist
Irish summer
when we first had met,
and then to that
Italian October
still living in our cells,
when we walked
in Florence
among the
falling leaves.

One thing
I have learned.

How difficult
it is to die
from my disbelief
and kneel
down
to the truer
underlying
font of happiness
waiting to break
the enclosing surface,
to believe
in my body that
I deserve
the full spacious
sense of
not being
thirsty anymore,
of living
a present
contentment.

But this spacious
season,
this cold winter night,
following a mid-winter
wedding,
under the pale white
moon
or the frosted sun,
I am strangely
in the midst
of this happiness,
full of memories
of past happiness,
as if I could hold
each epoch
in my
hands again.

I am full
of clear forgiveness
to what clouded
that happiness
and I am careful
and alert to what
is needed to
keep our present
joy.

I am a groom
to the possibility
my vows expressed
and my hands
and my arms
and my speech
and my thoughts
are shaped
to the care
of that possibility.

She sleeps
and I walk
under the moon
close to her
breath and her body,
not wanting
to wake her,
wanting to wake
and reach for
her sleeping hand
under the covers
to feel that slowly
curling palm
in mine telling me
this happiness is
unutterably ancient,
living at a rested
eternal center
where I have allowed
myself
to come to ground,
and fall,
all at the same time,
which is after all
not only
a foundation
and a falling toward
the other,
but toward
a shared future
never experienced
before,
to become real
on both the inside
and the outside
in the company of another
and I realize
as I take her hand
under the moonlight,
that I have been
newly
married all my life,
courting the
morning
hours since
childhood,
down on my knees
to the possibilities
of the day,
alert, in the ferry line
off the island,
to every
pilgrim possibility
of travel,
committed fully
to the next view
along the road,
to the beckoning
horizon
of everything
that appears
and disappears,
like the
miracle touch
of this palm in mine,
so physical,
so real,
this frosted
silver
evanescent night
amidst
all the
grievous
vanishing.

I want to open
the doors
to the garden
and stride out
into the quiet
neighborhood,
knocking on doors
and waking everyone
from their own quiet
romance with sleep,
shouting,
I am a man
in
love with
possibility,
and most
especially,
most intimately
most surprisingly,
as they stand
there in their
pyjamed
surprised,
wondering
at their
previously sane
neighbor
now pointing
at the
frosted upstairs
windows
of our nearby house,
with that one particular
form of possibility
sleeping so quietly,
so unsuspectingly,
so companionably,
so warmly
beneath
the moonlit sheets.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Said and read – November 2019

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Think of the way that stories change each time they’re told, the way our brains are literally rewriting our experiences in the moment of recounting them, not calling them up from some established place in our cerebral cortex. It turns out that memory is not a digital file at all, not fixed in form but progressively mutable, evolving in time. Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of MemoryElizabeth Rosner

I picked up the pace a wee bit for November, mostly because I had a bit of time off. That said, I had a succession of big deadlines for the latest degree program and was helping someone else with his uni deadlines, so there was a lot of prescribed reading. As a respite from the required stuff (for example, the entire APA Handbook of Psychology, Religion and Spirituality, which incidentally was one of the best things I read all month), I escaped into quite a bit of poetry. But this is nothing new.

I’ve felt the pull of escapism a lot this month, which sends me in two different directions – one is back to my old television and film addictions and the other is to dive into more projects (online courses, new degree programs, learning more languages – did you know Duolingo finally offers basic Scottish Gaelic?).

Screen Shot 2019-11-29 at 01.50.17

Come on – just look at this wee guy!

I also have a terrible habit of getting sucked into these actor/actress/director/writer roundtable sessions that end up on YouTube around this time of year (awards consideration and nomination season). Oh, also, some bizarre pairings of actors interviewing other actors. I am always surprised – the ones I think will be interesting turn out to be self-centered idiots who start every single statement they make with the words, “For me…”, and those in whom I have no interest at all (e.g., Eddie Murphy) end up being surprising. I end up watching even those in which I have no interest because… well, once I start I can’t stop. And this seems to be the way I operate. All or nothing.

Even gripped by an escapism that makes me want to avoid human contact for days on end, I still want to engage in these stories — or create stories about people, which has driven me to start drafting non-work-related stories and to take part in some online screenwriting and creative writing courses just to refresh my memory. I’ve been too long pent up in the B2B SaaS technical marketing writing world, I guess.

Thanks to a minor injury (oh, merciless early winter ice), I have mostly been able to just stay home, just as I longed for in October. Naturally this lends itself to more reading, at last.

Here’s what you missed in the last year-plus: 2019 – October, September, May, April, March, February, January. 2018 – NovemberOctober, SeptemberAugust, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

Thoughts on reading for November:

As I pull my thoughts together on November reading, it’s actually Thanksgiving… and another year when I could not pull myself together enough to host a dinner. I say this in such a self-flogging manner, as though I have simply been an unmitigated mess. But the truth is, I have (merely) been selfish. I could have hosted a dinner — I wanted to prioritize my own stuff in addition to being an antisocial hermit. I’m only a cat or two away from being a true cat-lady hermit spinster.

Highly recommended

How does atrocity defy memory and simultaneously demand to be remembered? How do we collectively mark it and honor it—while addressing its inevitably convoluted aftermath? As we examine the inheritance of trauma within the mosaic of human history, is it ever possible to move beyond it?” –Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of MemoryElizabeth Rosner

*Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of MemoryElizabeth Rosner

I’d write more about this book except it makes more sense to encourage you to read it. Writing about intergenerational trauma (trauma being passed down through several generations) and epigenetics, Rosner asks thought-provoking questions through the lens of her own experience with Holocaust-survivor parents, expanding the field of inquiry to include genocide more broadly as well as the role of memory – individual, institutional and historical.

It’s so much more than what I’m writing here, but as usual, the book presents it all with such clarity and is a moving work on its own – and by far the best thing I read this month.

Can you effectively make someone remember what he or she prefers to forget? If memory is a kind of spectrum, how do we delineate the threshold between voluntary and involuntary recollection? How to discern between deliberate denial and inadvertent amnesia? How to proceed with multigenerational café-style conversations in the near future, and beyond? Who will sit at these tables?

*The APA Handbook of Psychology, Religion and Spirituality

I greatly enjoyed reading the aforementioned APA Handbook of Psychology and Religion.  Does that mean I would recommend it to others? No, not necessarily. Not unless you’re interested in religion and spirituality from multifarious psychological perspectives. Sure, I know plenty of people who would love this – but I would not say it’s a page-turner that everyone should go find. Oh, and of course, none of my university-related reading seems to exist or make sense without reference to the Milgram experiment and Zimbardo’s prison experiment… which I wrote about last month because these references pop up constantly across disciplines and in various forms entertainment.

*The Tiny JournalistNaomi Shihab Nye

Poetry. Naomi. Need I say more?

*Dark. Sweet.: New and Selected PoemsLinda Hogan

Not that Linda Hogan. And not that sort of Linda Hogan. Hogan’s poetry speaks for itself:

The Way In
Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,
and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth, be plant
desiring sunlight, believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food.

Good – or better than expected

*The Sociology of ReligionGrace Davie

As with all books that are mostly academic – and theoretical – in origin, this wasn’t exactly scintillating reading for the average leisure reader. But Davie presents fascinating viewpoints on secularization theory and counterarguments to what was once perhaps an accepted, inevitable postulation that modernization would lead to a decline in the prevalence of religion.

Most interesting as an angle on this question is Davie’s discussion on “vicarious religion” and the separation of belief from belonging:

Both constituencies, however, might gain from the concept of vicarious religion and the innovative sources of data that can be used to deploy this concept in sociological enquiry. By vicarious, I mean the notion of religion performed by an active minority but on behalf of a much larger number, who implicitly at least not only understand but quite clearly approve of what the minority is doing. That is the crucial point. In terms of my own thinking, the notion of vicarious religion marks a step forward from my earlier distinction between belief and belonging (Davie, 1994).

Most striking is Davie’s assertions about Nordic participation in the church – it’s more belonging than belief that keeps them affiliated. Actual, active participation varies; I’ve reflected on this quite often, particularly when “confirmation” season rolls around each spring. Everyone with appropriately aged children invests significant time and money into giving their child a lavish confirmation – and this important rite of passage is done largely because it’s what’s done and it is crucial to a sense of belonging. But has very little to do with religious faith or active participation in the church.

The separating out of belief from belonging has undoubtedly offered fruitful ways in which to understand and to organize the material about religion in modern Europe. Ongoing reflection about the current situation, however, has encouraged me to reflect more deeply about the relationship between the two, utilizing, amongst other ideas, the notion of vicarious religion. My thinking in this respect has been prompted by the situation in the Nordic countries. A number of Nordic scholars have responded to the notion of believing without belonging by reversing the formula: in this part of Europe the characteristic stance in terms of religion is to belong without believing.5 Such scholars are entirely right in these observations. Nordic populations, for the most part, remain members of their Lutheran churches; they use them extensively for the occasional offices and regard membership as part of national just as much as religious identity (more so than in Britain). More pertinently for the churches themselves, Nordic people continue to pay appreciable amounts of tax to their churches – resulting amongst other things in large numbers of religious professionals (not least musicians) and beautifully maintained buildings in even the tiniest village. The cultural aspects of religion are well cared for. This does not mean, of course, that Nordic populations attend their churches with any frequency, nor do they necessarily believe in the tenets of Lutheranism. Indeed, they appear on every comparative scale to be among the least believing and least practising populations in the world.6 So how should we understand their continuing membership of and support for their churches? How, in other words, is it possible to get beneath the surface of a Nordic, or indeed any other, society in order to investigate the reflexes of a population that for the most part remain hidden? An answer can be found on pp. 128–30. By paying attention to the place of the institutional churches at the time of personal or collective crises, it is possible to see more clearly the role that religious organizations continue to play in the lives of both individuals and communities. Or, to develop the definition of ‘vicarious’ already offered, it is possible to see how an active religious minority can operate on behalf of a much larger number, who implicitly at least not only understand but quite clearly approve of what the minority is doing. Under pressure, what is implicit becomes explicit.

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can DoDaniel T. Willingham

We think of reading as a silent activity—consider a hushed library—but sound in fact lies at its core. Print is mostly a code for sound.

As part of an ongoing project I’m attached to, I do a lot of research into literacy and what will activate, or excite, kids – or people in general – to read more. What are the barriers to reading? I enjoyed this book because it got into the psychology and some of the linguistic questions that surround how we think about reading, and possibly more importantly, how we learn to read. And from there, what fuels further reading?

Willingham writes about a kind of “tripod” on which a reading habit can stand: the three legs of which are the ability to decode easily, to comprehend what is read, and to be motivated to read. Each is a separate and quite different challenge – and without the decoding ability, which must come first, the other legs become useless. Decoding – being able to put together letters to make sounds, then words, then meanings – is fundamental to reading and a bridge to the level of comprehension required to read fluently and to enjoy it. 

Comprehension requires acquiring a broad knowledge about a lot of different things, which of course only comes with experience – and in many cases – more reading. How does one gain this knowledge? This, coupled with the conundrum of needing to grow a vocabulary, can be barriers. The education system isn’t necessarily built around these educational needs. Instead, they are geared toward scoring on a ‘reading comprehension’ test – but this is tricky.

Reading tests purport to measure a student’s ability to read, and “ability to read” sounds like a general skill. Once I know your ability to read, I ought to be able (roughly) to predict your comprehension of any text I hand you. But I’ve just said that reading comprehension depends heavily on how much you happen to know about the topic of the text, because that determines your ability to make up for the information the writer felt free to omit. Perhaps, then, reading comprehension tests are really knowledge tests in disguise.

Willingham brings up a great number of questions about developing a passion for reading and what is required to get there – well worth the time spent.

Coincidences

I can’t say that there are actual coincidences – once again – so maybe I should discard this ‘category’ (strange how we create categories when they make sense but have such trouble breaking free of them when they no longer serve a purpose).

Biggest disappointment (or disliked)

*Face ItDebbie Harry

Musicians’ memoirs don’t do much for me, and Debbie Harry’s is no exception. It’s almost like we’re better off seeing these musical icons from afar without knowing about the things they go through and think about. The ‘mystique’ or mask is ripped away, and they’re just people. Which we know, of course. But the magic of what their music gives us becomes… just that bit less magical once the curtain is pulled back. I adored Blondie from earliest childhood, and somehow reading about them, and specifically Debbie Harry, in this very personal way was interesting but felt like a scab I shouldn’t be picking at. Apart from the entire book going on a bit too long, it didn’t provide anything I felt I needed to know. Some curiosity could stand to be left alone. I’m also irked that Leibovitz was misspelled as Liebowitz.