Sunday, January 23, 2011

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."

Robert Louis Stevenson

frozen river

fat cardinal

january moon

First things first: let's just send out a


to the universe today.

[shouting with hands cupped around mouth]

We MISS YOU !!! (Auden's Funeral Blues come to mind just now, how were we to know "she was my north, my south"?)

And just because she had such a wonderful, bone dry sense of humor and a devilishly contagious chuckle, and would prefer we all light up and party rather than grieve, here's a laugh to start your Sunday from that sublime nutcase of a writer over at Hyperboleandandahalf. Oh- my- God -Wet- your- pants- laughing funniness...

Ok, now secondly I wanna say thanks to the tiny circle of friends who read my blog and have insisted I NOT stop simply because I am temporarily "at rest" by the St. George River (i.e., not technically "on the road"), frozen in place , as it were, like some ancient mariner in the middle of a Maine deep freeze (6 degrees, that's Farenheit, out there today). I don't really mind as I need some time to collect my thoughts, tending as they do to scatter mercilessly like startled roaches, try and find an agent, a promise I have yet to fulfill and which strikes me as priority number one, and get ready to head south, probably -of the Border, and I do not mean the Maine border, to start the next novel and do some long postponed research in the state whose very motto is Friendship.

So it's Sunday, a day I generally like to put to some spiritually uplifting use. (Those old Catholic habits die hard. But if there's one commandment I like it's the one about the Lord's day, one of rest, and "keeping it holy", which may or may not include glazed donut "holes" from Dunkin.)

So what'll it be? Sopranos reruns on A&E? No, not quite "the thing", is it?

And it's wonderful. God, such amazing minds, talking to moi right here on my laptop from across the pond! (do turn your volume up, love.) Technology to the rescue. It is most certainly a godsend when you're out here in the boonies. My little imaginary circle of thinkers, my friends. My stimuli. Like books, they are. Friends just sitting there on the shelf, keeping you company, whispering interesting things among themselves, waiting for you to turn to them for consultation.

So what does it mean to be mindful, and why should we care?

Here's a sampling:

"The worst things that human beings do to each other really come out of a mind that doesn't know itself... and is therefore driven by, you know, greed, hatred, delusion [oh, surely not!], and all sorts of energies like that. And when the mind does know itself then you have what happens in symphony orchestras... in the Louvre... and this comes from a mind that is willing to befriend itself... and that's what awareness is all about.

The quality of our life is no better than our quality of awareness."

".. it's the genetic repertoire of our species... that we have disregarded in favor of thinking [rather than awareness of the thought]... mindfulness harkens back to the best of the Samurai tradition."

What is it to be "task and interruption driven"? What do they mean by the "full catastrophe of the human condition". What is wakefulness, self-compassion? (did you know every cell in your body has 30,000 genes? I mean, thirty thousand!?)

These little chats are only 15 or 20 minutes long, so have a time out of whatever muddle you're engaged in at the moment and choose instead to go somewhere else, somewhere uplifting. The planet will thank you.

And if you like, carry on down the list of BBC Fora (is that not the plural of forum? someone correct me please) to this one on Creativity (as I am about to embark on that inner journey again) and, lo! More good stuff! What is creativity? Can it be seen? "Great artists are instinctive neuroscientists"? Huh? One of the guys in this discussion sounds like Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, a little creepy. Still, I was all ears.

"Music is time made aesthetically perceptible" (Hermann Hesse). Just wrap your brain around that one for a few. Here's more:

What is the role of memory in creation? How often are creators satisfied with what they create? Dante said all artists must fail. Why? So research shows us that beauty is experienced in the pleasure centers of the brain. (Alcohol, a depressant, can preempt such appreciation, btw, while mindfulness can enhance it.) But these "appreciator" brain cells respond more to the expectation of pleasure than the actual experience of it! Let's hear it for anticipation, which seems to be the best part of pleasure. Is delayed gratification therefore good? What role does 'concept' play in creativity, if any?

The poet Charles Simic, one of the folks in the discussion, talked about how he has no "concept" when he starts a poem. That a few words just seem to end up on the page, and then over time, days maybe, "begin to make love". I LOVED that. A perfect description of the best part of creativity. Sometimes you're just the witness to what comes out of you.

Finally, what is "schizophonia"? There's a sound analyst in Canada who coined the term to explain what you experience when what you hear and what you see are "dislocated". Like when people around you are talking animatedly on cellphones. The appearance is one of conviviality, of folks interacting on phones, next to you talking, but you're not part of it. You're just there.

And so I am "traveling hopefully" as Stevenson suggested. At the moment I am still, or trying to be, traveling inwardly. Trying to remain faithful to myself, my best self, the one who practices self-compassion. Sometimes that person is very hard to find. So many "interruptions", many self- inflicted. Easy to see how the idea of devils proliferated throughout human history. We are always "bedeviled" by one thing or another, mindless fear and worry that destroys our deep appreciation of the small moments that make up the totality of our life. To travel (through life) "hopefully" one must practice mindfulness, to be aware of fear when it tries to invade your thoughts, and thus your body. It is most assuredly not easy, but well worth the effort.

Beyond everything else, we must believe that the world is good. That if we end up with nada that can be measured in material terms, alone and lying in a Medicaid bed in some low budget nursing home in a seedy part of town in the middle of nowhere, that there will be someone there to care, to see into our soul. Someone we don't even know will be kind. One thing's for sure, a fat bank account will never spare you the fear of loneliness. Only the sense of having lived a full life, a life of loving compassion, one that was true to who you were born to be, that will give you peace in the end.

I just wanna get right with that.


  1. Thought provoking at always, my dear friend.

  2. I've been missing our dear sister all truth,I feel her here with me each and every day
    and it brings me a great deal of comfort. Tonight I hope she's "swingin'on a star, bringin' moonbeams home in a jar" ( perhaps tippin' a few with ol'Marvin Gaye and lightin' up a few go girl!)
    I loved your blog today and to quote annenwood, it was/is very" thought always"!Your 2nd paragraph from the bottom,must have been written for me..(ha!)It sure struck a cord!I shall try to practice
    "self-compassion" It sounds so wonderfuly kind,and nurturing! Now..the line you wrote about your "thoughts scattering like startled roaches"..absolutely cracked me up! It's not only funny,it's very,very true . I loved it!!! tee

  3. Hi Cat -
    Thanks for steering me toward your blog. It's a great antidote to the cabin fever we are all suffering during this unbelievably snowy, frigid, mind soul and body-numbing winter. As Dorothy Parker once noted "I'm as trapped as a trap in a trap." We will do anything and everything to stay sane!