Friday, July 27, 2007

Cool Me Off!

This video, in part, is about how two middle aged people cope with a couple of active Boston Terriers. I love watching animals, and it's good to see Buddha and Sweet Pea so happy and healthy. The video is also about loving to see our animals on top of their game and enjoying them while we can. We lost a cat in the Spring. He was old and one day he just disappeared. I knew. I told Allen if he found any trace of him I wanted to know. Yesterday, he found a cat's skull in the field, and I feel sure it's Bubba's.

When you're an author and you have animals, those animals inevitably find their way into your work. Bubba was in one of my short stories that was published in THE SUN. We got him from the animal shelter in 1999, and he was old then. He was declawed, and yet among our cats he was King of the Road, Top Cat. He would try to knead his claws, still. It was sort of heartbreaking to watch that. It was the crippled nature of his paws that drew me to Bubba as a story element. His amputation matched the protagonist's amputated spirit.

I miss him.

Later today Allen and I are going to Toledo to see the movie RESCUE DAWN. It's directed by Werner Herzog. I like his work. We'll try to catch the early show. Until then, I'm going to work on a short story. The story has been sitting a few days, long enough that I can see how to shape it better.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Seeking

This is a repost from my old AOL Journal which I left after AOL put Ads on the journals of its paying members. That's why, by the way, this blog is called "exile edition."

Cynthia recently posted something about having a "calling" and I thought I remembered doing an entry at the AOL Journal about "the call." I wanted to repost it for her. But I couldn't find it. However, I did find this one. I wrote it back in 2004, not long after I started the journal. It seems to me to be relevant to a good number of things in my life right now:
________________________________
The word "seek" is etymologically related, not to "see," as might appear to be the case, but to "sagacious." What is needed is not simply seeing but a quality of discernment regarding what is seen, a piercing insight that looks deeper than mere surface appearances. --Natalie Baan

Being a writer also means being a seeker. This means finding the clear path to my creativity, which is the same as finding a clear path to my "self."

Life's troubles, like the devil, can waylay you as you try to walk the path. The path is the way, in other words, freedom. The Chinese call this concept tao. They were well aware how easy it is to lose one's path. Lao-tzu wrote, "Heaven and earth are ruthless. To them the ten thousand things are but strawdogs. Life imposes its troubles on us and is indifferent to our longings and fears."

As a writer I want to aspire to be a sage, one who understands the tao of things and is not unduly disturbed. I don't want to become entangled with everything I meet and become untrue to myself. Chuang-tzu says of people who are untrue to themselves: "Day after day they use their minds in strife. Their little fears are mean and trembly; their great fears are stunned and overwhelming."

I want to become a person true to myself, my path. "The 'True Person'of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu lives fully in the world without being overwhelmed by its frenzy and muddle. He is impervious to the social pressures bearing down on him. 'He can commit an error and not regret it, meet with success and not make a show.'"

Lao-tzu says the way of the sage is like water, which "benefits the ten thousand creatures; yet itself does not scramble, but is content with the places that all men disdain."

Can the way of the writer, then, be like water? A flowing and nourishing act? That is how I would like writing to be for me.

Everything is a pitfall for the unwary and the faithless. And nothing is a pitfall for the courageous seeker who just shakes it off like a bear. --Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari

Ideas about tao taken from Stephen Batchelor's "The Devil in the Way."

Apology, by Richard Wilbur

The poem "Apology" by Richard Wilbur is on my top 25 list of songs or poems listened to by me in the last year. Here is the poem:

Apology
A word sticks in the wind’s throat;
A wind-launch drifts in the swells of rye;
Sometimes, in broad silence,
The hanging apples distill their darkness.
You, in a green dress, calling, and with brown hair,
Who come by the field-path now, whose name I say
Softly, forgive me love if also I call you
Wind’s word, apple-heart, haven of grasses.
--Richard Wilbur (1956)

So simple and elegant, an ode to ephemeral beauty, to nature's continuity, to Eros: this poem nearly brings me to tears each time I hear Wilbur's recitation of it. Wilbur's voice is both strong and gentle; it gives a sense of both agelessness and time passing.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ezra Pound 5

This is not my video; it was done by a talented young man who posted it to YouTube and I found it there...

Here, Pound is at the end of his life, having been imprisoned during the War for making radio broadcasts deemed "anti-American" and then kept for several years in an insane asylum, where he wrote some of his greatest work.
---------------
This is not an Entry for Judi Heartsong's Artsy Essay Contest, but her topic did start me thinking. This is a poem from Ezra Pound that our class will be studying in the Fall, and I think it expresses my thoughts on possessions. I think we can't know what our dearest possession is until we are brought to nil, until we have come close to or have lost everything we thought our lives were built on. For most of us, this happens not just once but perhaps many times. Each loss (or near-loss) is an opportunity to rebuild ourselves and deepen our lives. What we love best "remains," says Pound, and the rest is "dross." Nothing that is man-made can "remain," for these posessions are mere "vanity." Only the spirit, the soul, the capacity to endure is worth keeping: the rest is "dross."
--------------
What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity,
Paquin pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance.

‘Master thyself, that others shall thee beare’
Pull down thy vanity
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail
A swallen magpie in a fitful sun,
Half black half white
Nor knowst ’ou wing from tail
Pull down thy vanity
How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity,
I say pull down.

But to have done instead of not doing
this is not vanity
To have, with decency, knocked
That a Blunt should open
To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.
Here error is all in the not done,
all in the diffidence that faltered.

Ezra Pound. Canto 81.

Politics

You won't often find me discussing politics here. But I took this quiz and behold, I do very much like both of these candidates. An Aquarian, I like idealism and I think it's an important part of being a LEADER. Not surprisingly, one of the biggest criticisms of me through the years is that I'm not "realistic" enough. Perhaps I turned to writing because there I could create my own worlds.




You're Kucinich-Edwards!


As Dennis Kucinich, you are perceived as being just a bit outside. Despite not fitting in,
well, anywhere, you maintain a vocal presence and try not to let anyone get away with ignoring
you. This would make you the classically annoying kid on the fringe of a group if you weren't
proven right so darn often. Since you are, you end up being more like a really tactless prophet.
No one can say your name five times fast.

You select John Edwards as your running mate after he charmed you into picking him.



Take the 2008 Presidential Ticket Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

The Sound and the Fury

Ha, ha, ha!

I took the quiz that I saw on Cynthia's blog. The quiz tells you what "book" you are. According to the quiz, I am The Sound and the Fury.

I'm not sure about it, though. Do I really signify nothing? Ha, ha, ha!



I do love Faulkner, however. My friend and colleague Julie tells me she thinks my writing owes much to Faulkner's dark, southern, tormented epics.







You're The Sound and the Fury!

by William Faulkner

Strong-willed but deeply confused, you are trying to come to grips
with a major crisis in your life. You can see many different perspectives on the issue,
but you're mostly overwhelmed with despair at what you've lost. People often have a hard
time understanding you, but they have some vague sense that you must be brilliant
anyway. Ultimately, you signify nothing.



Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

What day is this, anyway?

It's almost 2:30 in the morning, and I'm trying to grasp what day this is. I went to bed just after my last blog post and have just now gotten up again. I slept all of Sunday!

I'm not sure if I had some kind of illness or if I was just exhausted from so much writing. If it's the latter, then that isn't good. I've tried making bargains with myself before that I wouldn't do that.

I started feeling poorly on Friday. Allen and I were at the Ann Arbor Art Festival. I'd felt pretty well going up, and we'd had a spirited discussion about my story that is soon to be published. Not long after looking at artwork, however, I began to feel nauseus and dizzy. Allen collected me in the car and brought me home. I went to bed and slept a long time. Saturday, Allen made me a teriffic lunch, and I ate everything and went back to bed. I got up briefly to do the blog entry Sunday Morning. I ate some leftovers from Allen's terrific meal, and then I went back to bed. That was at about 4:30 Sunday a.m. Now it's 2:30 Monday a.m.!

When I get to writing, I lose track of everything, time, animals, meals. It's a wonderful feeling for the writing to be going so well, but it's disorienting and you do leave yourself open to harm when you do that. It's a trade off.

There's so much fear that if you stop, the muse will abandon you.

I routinely did this when I was young, going to school, and bringing up babies. Night was the only time I had silence to work. So I worked and didn't sleep. I don't know how I got through it except to say that I depended on my young body to get me through it. I'm 51 now, though, and my body is much less cooperative than it once was.

I've read so much about authors who have written themselves to exhaustion. Carson McCullers did when she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. John Berryman did that several times. In the wonderful series Faith and Reason with Bill Moyers, Pema Chodron counsels against such a practice. She explains how she stops writing, even as the writing is going well, in order to meditate or to rest. She says it's a willful action to keep writing just because you can. That your body and soul need rest. She is right, of course. And I've talked to my students about the obsessiveness of writing until you drop.

Now here I sit with an empty stomach and an awful headache.

What day is it again? :-)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Theresa's Top 25

Ever since I got iTunes and my iPod, I've been quite obsessive about keeping up with the number of times I play my songs or poems. I saved my top 25 list last year because I wanted to compare that list with this year's. Here are my top 25 for July 2007. I think a person's playlist says a lot about how she thinks and changes (or how her needs change). It's like a mini-biography of that person.

*I currently have 5019 songs or poems in my music library.

This year's Poems (red)
The top songs/poems for 2006 are in blue.

1. Mad World / Michael Andrews (from the movie Donnie Darko)
1. Mad World / Michael Andrews (from the movie Donnie Darko)
2. Once I Was / Tim Buckley
2. Epistle to be Left in the Earth / Archibald Macleish
3. Paradise / Bruce Springsteen
3. Something in the Way / Nirvana
4. In a Sentimental Mood / John Coltrane
4. Ghosts in the Maze / Richard Thompson (from the movie Grizzly Man)
5. The Earth is Broken / Tim Buckley
5. Devils and Dust / Bruce Springsteen
6. Epistle to be Left in the Earth / Archibald MacLeish
6. What to Do (poem) / Hayden Carruth
7. Pleasant Street / Tim Buckley
7. Mad World (shorter version) / Michael Andrews (from the movie Donnie Darko)
8. Phantasmagoria in Two / Tim Buckley
8. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road / Elton John
9. Ghosts in the Maze / Richard Thompson (from the movie Grizzly Man)
9. Ecstasy (poem) / Hayden Carruth
10. The River of Bees / W. S. Merwin
10. Layla / Eric Clapton
11. The Prayer Cycle: Movement I-Mercy / Jonathan Elias
11. Horn / Nick Drake
12. The Waking / Theodore Roethke
12. Know / Nick Drake
13. Jezebel / Iron and Wine
13. Goodbye Blue Sky / Pink Floyd
14. The First Cut is the Deepest / Cat Stevens
14. The River of Bees (poem) / W. S. Merwin
15. Know / Nick Drake
15. How Many Nights (poem) / Galway Kinnell
16. Something in the Way / Nirvana
16. Fruit Tree / Nick Drake
17. Apology / Richard Wilbur
17. Once I Was / Tim Buckley
18. Take Me to the River / Al Green
18. Wanted Dead or Alive / Chris Daughtry
19. Starwalker / Buffy Sainte-Marie
19. At the Ancient Pond (poem) / Davis Daniel
20. Dream Song 4 / John Berryman
20. Good Riddance / Green Day
21. If You Could Read My Mind / Johnny Cash
21. The Last Poem in the World (poem) / Hayden Carruth
22. Fruit Tree / Nick Drake
22. Somewhere Over the Rainbow / Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
23. And It Stoned Me / Van Morrison
23. The Tangent Universe / Michael Andrews (from the movie Donnie Darko)
24. Maybe There's a World / Yusuf (Cat Stevens)
24. Black Eyed Dog / Nick Drake
25. Love's Been Good to Me / Johnny Cash
25. One Perfect Rose (poem) / Dorothy Parker

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Inspirational

How wonderful it is to be recognized by one's peers. Judi Heartsong has bestowed the "Inspirational Blogger Award" on this blog. These awards originate from Writer's Reviews . The idea is that now I get to recommend five blogs for this award. The bloggers I name may also recommend five bloggers each, if they wish.

Here are my recommendations:

See How We Almost Fly by Alison Luterman. I met Alison in 2005 at Esalen in Big Sur, California. We both taught workshops. Alison is an award winning poet and playwright. At her blog, you can get a good idea of the ups and downs of the writing life. Her blog is inspiring because it shows her endurance.

Schizophrenia: A Carer's Journal by Mike is a frank portrayal of the difficulty of having a son with schizophrenia. I especially appreciate Mike's honesty about the emotions involved, as well as the difficulties of dealing with "the system." Mike's blog is inspiring because it shows genuine hope in the face of so much heartache and trouble.

Talking to Myself by Judi. Such wonderful humor; she shows us now not to take life so seriously. But her blog is a good balance between humor and seriousness. This blog is an exceptionally good read. Judi's family has recently experienced a tragedy, so if you've not been there in a while, be sure to do so and wish her well. Judi's blog is inspiring because she has so much life and loves being her age (57).

In a Dark Time by Loren Webster. The title is taken from one of Theodore Roethke's poems. Loren explores poetry, history, and photography, among many other things. Here you can get criticism on poets you may have never heard of or a history lesson about the Indian Wars! Loren's blog is inspiring because he's retired from teaching but not from learning, not from life.

Erin's Everyday Thoughts. Erin is a student of mine from the late nineties at BGSU. It does happen sometimes that students become your friends. I'm lucky to count Erin among my small number of genuine friends. Erin's blog is inspiring because she shows how she tries to juggle her career with her writing aspirations.

Thank you Judi Heartsong for recognizing my blog.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dance All Night

Although I told myself I wouldn't, I've worked myself in a writing-all-night, sleeping-all-day schedule again. I've been getting a lot of writing done, but it's been exhausting. Tonight I felt empty, just empty, as well as sleepy and tired. I opened up the computer and told myself I was just going to look at my latest chapter/story, but I ended up working on it all night. I'm glad I did, because I discovered something that took the story into a completely different--better--direction. This new discovery actually ended up being the pivotal thing, the whole meaning of the story, the missing part. This is a piece I've been wanting to write for so long. It feels good to finally have it drafted. I think it's very close to being finished. Good morning and good night!

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Point About The Bridge

I am finally arriving to the point I wanted initially to make about the documentary The Bridge. Initially, I couldn't, because I was so overwhelmed by the emotion of it all; plus, The Bridge is a sort of eulogy for the documentary subjects and I needed to respect that before making an academic point about writing.



During the time that I've kept a blog, I've written several times about the act of writing itself, what it entails. I've written more than once about how love factors into the process for me. But I've said little about the somewhat brutal task that is before all artists, and that task involves making choices.



There are different choice-making processes. A few weeks ago, I did some entries on my yard. I wrote of how I pulled weeds so that my perennials could thrive. Artists, too, have to make hard choices: do I keep this or leave it out? for instance. I think that it can be said that these choices involve also a certain amount of love. You have to make the choice so that your artistic vision can live and thrive.



What I want to write about here is a kind of intelligence that is involved in the composition phase of the work. I saw an example of this intelligence in The Bridge. A photographer describes taking pictures of a woman who makes ready to jump from the bridge. He explains that as long as he was taking the pictures, he was unable to stop her from jumping, because a different brain faculty was in play. He was thinking about composition, light, shadow, drama--those things. In other words, he was using the same faculty that a photo journalist uses when she must frame and shoot tragic or painful subjects. Love, compassion, social responsibility: these concepts take a back seat to the task at hand. It is a laser-beam concentration that synthesizes with all the artist knows about her equipment and her art.



What I'm talking about goes beyond the idea of craft, right to the heart of imagination itself. Many artists have said the imagination is divine, that it is like a bolt of lightening out of the blue or like god telling you things. This seems to describe the kind of associative leap so many artists have.



But I think what I'm talking about here is different from those associative leaps that are so pleasant and exciting to have. It is more cold, more aloof, more rational. It's more than what happens when an editor takes up her pencil.



What I'm talking about strikes at the heart of imagination itself. The imagination is often associated with complete freedom, with wildness, with drunkenness, even. There is automatic writing or free-writing. This form of writing is supposed to release the mind from the constraints of the left-brain, from the internal censor. One writer called this censor "the grandmother on your shoulder." For a long while, it has been believed there are two modes of composition, the "free" writer and the editor, who then comes in and exerts control over the composition.

But is this true? Now I'm thinking that the automatic or free-writer is able to override the censor because she is detaching herself from the material. I'm not talking about that initial phase in the free-writing when the writer pens things like: i hate you, i hate my life, my life is a living hell...

When free- or automatic writing really works is when detachment happens.

Because there is a part of the artist that flies above life, sees it as it "really" is (apart from the emotion that colors it) and so is able to depict events with perfect, compelling, and, yes, emotional accuracy.

It is a paradox, surely. How does one portray emotion by becoming detached from it? I don't know, but I think this is what teachers mean when they tell a student she is too close to her story. I think it's what Tim O'Brien meant in The Things They Carried when he said his writing helped him because he was able to objectify the bad things in his past through the act of storytelling.

Bad poetry may come as a result of unrestrained emotion, Angst. I need to think about all of this more, but what I'm saying here feels true to me. It feels true for now, at least.

So when I say I write out of love, that is true. But when the real writing begins, I'm like the young photographer in The Bridge, a cool, calm portrayer of something (even horror). This detachment is something I've felt more and more as I've given myself over to writing. I struggled for a long time about what I should call it. I'm not finished thinking about this, but for now I'm calling it detachment. I think detachment isn't the perfect word for it, because detachment connotes "uncaring" and this is far from the truth. When I am writing, I feel it in my body.

In other words, I have a warm body but a cool head.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The "L" Word

Photo: Bernie Mac

I really enjoy Tavis Smiley. It comes on late at night on PBS. The other night Tavis had Bernie Mac on his show. Tavis told Bernie that Bernie was the only entertainer who'd ever spoken of his work as being inspired by love. Bernie told the story of being a little boy and sitting on his mother's lap. His mother was dying, of cancer, I think. Bernie asked his mother why she was crying. Then, Bernie said, Bill Cosby came on The Ed Sullivan Show. As Cosby did his act, Bernie's mother began to laugh. Her laughter and her tears mixed together. Bernie said he told his mother then that he wanted to be a comedian because he wanted to find a way to stop his mother's tears.


I wanted to write this story down before I forgot it because, it seems to me, that writers have similar stories about why they write. I remember doing newsletters to entertain my friends. I wrote countless notes and letters to family and friends. I had pen-pals from France, India, Hong Kong, and South Africa. I enjoyed doing presentations in school, especially after I had my whole sixth grade class in stitches after telling a joke and then pretending to be afraid. My teacher had tears streaming down her face, she laughed so hard. It was a wonderful feeling to bring the class together in laughter. There were so many differences among us, race (schools had just been desegregated the year before) and physical maturity (some of us were still children while others were becoming adolescents).


The thought of giving pleasure to people through my writing was what drove me to create all the way through junior high school. I think the same is true now, although my reasons for writing are varied and complex. But, yes, love is definitely a big factor.


I feel that people are reluctant to reveal that their art comes out of love. The "L" word isn't very scholarly. And it's hard to write an argumentative essay about love. The "L" word is kind of a dirty word in academia because it doesn't fit into any theory of art whatsoever. Yet e.e. cummings, quoting Rilke in his famous "Non Lectures," said art comes from love.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

About Suffering They Were Right, The Old Masters II

The Glass City Sky Bridge in Toledo. (The tall bridge). Five construction workers lost their lives in separate incidents during the five year building period.
Riverfront restaurants which play music well into the night.

On the night of the 4th, Allen and I took Blue Girl out on the Maumee River in Toledo to watch the fireworks. I'm not really a fireworks sort of person, but I enjoy being an observer and particularly enjoy the lull that happens when the fireworks are over. This is the second year in a row we've taken the boat out to watch the fireworks.


We like to stay late into the night putting up and down the river, watching stray fireworks and listening to the music coming from the waterfront restaurants. Last night we laughed that after a certain hour the oldies music gave way to the "Chucka, chucka, chucka" of rap and similar youth oriented sounds. Ah to have the young blood that can party all night. I wouldn't use it to party, though, but to read and write. I've never been a party girl, nor a fireworks girl, but I do miss being able to pull those all night study and writing sessions without the kind of ramifications I face now.


The best, though, is gliding out of town on the black water. Last night the water was so calm it was like glass. That's not the most creative simile I could have used, but none other seems closer to the truth.


It was a chilly evening, and, like last year, I longingly watched a camp-like fire flaring on shore. I like the feeling of moving in and out of the bounds of "civilization." You can't call it wilderness, but it is away from the crowds. We didn't take the boat out of the water until nearly 3 a.m.


Of course, I took my thoughts about the documentary The Bridge with me, and I felt a little more melancholy than usual. I snapped a photo of the Glass City Sky Bridge which was just recently completed. Five construction workers died during the building of that bridge. On a river, bridges are everywhere and death is everywhere.


I am trying to piece together why this documentary has affected me so. Of the two of us, Allen is usually the one most greatly affected by tragedy in films. Sometimes he even has to stop watching a film all together. I attribute this to the fact that he's seen a great deal of tragedy close up, such as when he was hospitalized on Okinawa and saw many severely wounded American soldiers from the Vietnam battlefields. So Allen prefers happy movies. I'm the one who's always been drawn to the dark subjects.


I think the effect The Bridge has had on me has something to do with how I react to the threshold between life and death. It is a place of great tension for me, of great mystery. I'm less interested in what happens after death than in that moment between. Now there is life. The person has thoughts, memories. The person loves. The person has animation, a personality, a soul. Now life is gone. Where did all that go?


One of my favorite Walt Whitman poems is "The Last Invocation":


At the last, tenderly,
From the walls of the powerful, fortress'd house,
From the clasp of the knitted locks,
From the keep of the well closed doors,
Let me be wafted.
Let me glide noiselessly forth;
With the key of softness unlock the locks, with a whisper,
Set ope the doors, O Soul!
Tenderly! be not impatient!
(Strong is your hold, O mortal flesh!
Strong is your hold, O Love.)


I love the image of the body as a house. Death comes not as a terrifying presence but "with the key of softness." Death is pleasantly anticipated, greeted openly, as in this, another of Whitman's works ("The Unknown Region"):


Darest thou now O soul,
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?
No map there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.
I know it not O soul;
Nor dost thou, all is a blank before us,
All waits undream'd of in that region, that inaccessible land.
Till when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal,
Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bound us.
Then we burst forth, we float,
In Time and Space O soul, prepared for them,
Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil O soul.


Here, death equips the soul to enjoy unlimited freedom. And, finally, in his poem "To All, To Each" Whitman sees death as simply a new birth:


Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate death.
Prais'd be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious;
And for love, sweet love - But praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.
Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee - I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.
Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so - when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.
From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee - adornments and feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.
The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know; And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil'd Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.
Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves - over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack'd cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways, I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!


I'm sorry that I can't show you on Blogger exactly how the lines are supposed to be. I love the way Whitman breaks his lines. This is perhaps the most complete poem of Whitman's regarding his thoughts on death.

Look at the last three lines: they positively "send" me: "Over the rising and sinking waves--over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide;/ Over the dense-pack'd cities, all, and the teeming wharves and ways, I float this carol with joy, / with joy to thee, O death!"


It's a bit like Allen and I in our boat, floating away from the heart of Toledo, into the quiet where we could enjoy our own thoughts, experiencing the death of our social selves and a renewal of our deeper selves. This experience is indeed a "carol" that we move towards "with joy."


Any reader can see by now where I'm going with this. Those people standing on that bridge, thinking of jumping, watching the "rising and sinking waves." Is this what they were thinking?
That death was a gentle and welcoming place, release from all burdens and troubles?


If so, why does the young survivor in The Bridge say that his one thought on the way down to the water was that he wanted to live?
Whitman wrote, "Strong is your hold, O mortal flesh!" And this is what moves me about Whitman's poems and about The Bridge. The struggle between the flesh and the soul. That threshold, that place.


But Whitman's poems are not suicide poems.


And here I've got to stop because I can't process any more of this right now. I've got to think more about this, and yes, all the while remain haunted by The Bridge.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

About Suffering They Were Right, The Old Masters

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus by Pieter Brueghel
Icarus's legs are just barely showing. They are in the bottom half of the painting, sticking up out of the water .
The Golden Gate Bridge


On the evening of July 2, I watched a powerful film, The Bridge. It is a documentary about the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and its allure to people contemplating suicide. The film, made by Eric Steel, was inspired by a 2003 New Yorker article called "Jumpers" by Tad Friend.

The most disturbing , and the most controversial, aspect of the film is that you witness actual suicides as they take place. Steel was able to capture nearly all the suicides that took place in 2004 by setting up cameras and letting them run. Steel then interviewed friends and family members of people who jumped. What emerges is a story about intense pain and desperation, people who felt they were somehow on the outside of life. What also emerges is a story about the rest of us who really don't want to know about such things because they bring us pain.


I haven't been able to shake the memory of the film and several ideas keep rising to the surface as being important to me. One idea concerns the creative process, a topic I've written about on the blog before. But as I sit here, trying to write this entry, I find that I can't yet be dispassionate enough to write what I want and need to write about creativity. I'm still haunted by the images in the film, the people, many of them young, who jumped from that bridge. I can't shake the thought that I witnessed their last act. One of them was a young man named Gene. I keep seeing him in my mind's eye, walking up and down the railing, his long black hair flying in the wind, waiting, searching, for the right moment to jump.


This, of course, is Eric Steel's intent: I'm not supposed to be able to shake the images. I'm supposed to be disturbed.


Watching, I thought of W.H. Auden's poem:


Musee des Beaux Arts W.H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,

The Old Masters; how well, they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening

a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

1940


Of course Steel wants me to think of Auden's poem. The imagery is all there. The suggestion is there several times that suffering takes place all around us. Yet we don't notice because we have "somewhere to get to." We sail "calmly on."


After watching the film, I ran across this comment online by Graham Leggat: The heartrending truths in Auden and Brueghel's works—that people suffer largely unnoticed while the rest of the world goes about its business—are brought literally and painfully home in Eric Steel's The Bridge, a documentary exploration of the mythic beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, the most popular suicide destination in the world, and the unfortunate souls drawn by its siren call.


So, it is very clear, Auden's poem is at the heart of The Bridge.


I just can't yet write about this film in the way I would like. I like the film very much, but there's much to digest, so I'll be thinking on it a while.

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken

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Fave Painting: Eden

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The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

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