Sunday, May 31, 2020

In The Context Of The Courage In Which We All Forever Live

Strange Fruit

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” 
(Nelson Mandela)

“Like so many of you, I’m pained by these recent tragedies. And I’m exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop. Right now it’s George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. Before that it was Eric, Sandra, and Michael. It just goes on, and on, and on. Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us—Black, white, everyone—no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets. I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us.” 
(Michelle Obama)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

"... How many deaths will it take 'til he knows that too many people have died? ..." / Summer Solstice 2020 / The Parable of the Sower

Although the early morning sun is still visible from my porch, it won't be long before it will be hidden behind the dense grove of cottonwood trees to the northeast.  Summer solstice is not that far away.  On that day, the official sunrise will be at 5:07 a.m. and sunset at 9:19 p.m., but the first light and the last light are much earlier and much later than that.  When I get up at 4 a.m. on the morning of the Summer Solstice there will be light in the sky.  The birds will be awake.  Summer Solstice in the time of COVID-19.

My 18th birthday happened during the first few days of my freshman year, 1967, at University of California, Irvine, but I didn't tell anyone.  Someone found out, and an informal un-birthday party was arranged for me a week or so later.  All anyone knew about me was that I was an art major.  Someone went to the University Bookstore and bought a print of Vincent van Gogh's "The Sower" and wrapped it up as a birthday gift.  For the past 53 years, it's been on one wall or another wherever I have lived.  Recently I moved it to a place where it can be seen when I walk through my front doorway.  This morning when I looked at the print, the idea suddenly came to me to put one of my older mandalas where the sun is, in the spirit of collage.

Sometime in the 1980s, I made a collage along the same lines, combining another painting from Van Gogh's Sower series with a self-portrait by Rembrandt and "The Luncheon of the Boating Party," by Renoir.

When I Googled "the sower," I discovered this:

"... But the road to freedom is long, arduous and dangerous. "They run into this fire that they know they can't control and then an earthquake happens. Lauren makes a choice. She cannot control the earthquake or the fire. But she can control the path she and her people take."

Many thanks to 37paddington for introducing me to the writing of Octavia E. Butler.

For some time now, I've been saving a quote which just happens to affirm everything I hoped to say in this post.

"May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears."
(Nelson Mandela)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Some but not all of the things I think about when I am walking in the woods wearing a mask

A friend who has been learning to speak Spanish for some time and making good progress sent me a link to Lydia Machova's TED talk about people who have the ability to learn multiple languages.  For the first time in my life, I am trying to learn Spanish with my heart instead of my mind.  I even said to another friend a few months ago, "What's different this time is that I am having fun!  There is no teacher, no pressure.  I am not being graded."  I am not paying anyone any money.  I'm fascinated by the idea that each polyglot she spoke with learned in their own unique way, but all of them approached a new language with a sense of delight and curiosity and playfulness.  They learned multiple languages on their own quirky terms.

It has occurred to me that what she says about learning language can apply to learning anything.  I've been making progress in playing my autoharp, too.  Something has shifted.  Something has changed.  Something has opened up.

While I was out walking, I picked up two books from a free book-sharing stand.

I've read Lucy Grealy's book before but was struck by the book cover in this time of masks and feel compelled to read it again.  Alan Lew was mentioned by Stephen Levine in a book I just re-read, Unattended Sorrow.  Flipping through One God Clapping as I walked along, I was started to see that Alan Lew lived in Gualala, California, the unincorporated town where my parents lived overlooking the ocean near the Gualala River from 1974 until my mother's death in 1994. 

While I walk, I often think about what I would like to post on my blog.  Lately, I haven't been able to find a focus.  There is so much I want to say, but I can't find a way to make my thoughts hold together.

This song by Bob Dylan came to mind and I thought about my complicated mother who died in 1994.  I realized that, this week, while out walking in the woods I have stopped to talk with three women I know who are my age and who don't have children.

Lines from Bob Dylan songs are always playing in my mind as I walk, "... Lies that life is black and white, spoke through my skull ..." (from "My Back Pages")

Approaching Big Rock Garden, I had heard the sound of what I thought might be an owl.  I hear it calling almost every time I walk in that part of the woods.  Up ahead was a couple with binoculars looking up.  It turned out that they were seeing an owlet.

In the next tree was an adult Barred Owl, vocalizing every so often.  A mother and her three young sons stopped to see the owl.  We all kept our distance from each other and gazed upward and talked a little bit.

I continued on to just beyond the eastern edge of the woods, coming to an elementary school surrounded by a hurricane fence.  A rabbit was leaving the school grounds.

Before going back into the woods, I walked down a short trail that features a wooden bench with a fine view of Lake Whatcom.  When I was married, I lived just down the street from the bench.  The old house had a magnificent view of Lake Whatcom.  There was nothing but woods for several miles behind our house.  That was a long time ago. 

I was ready for the last part of my 2-hour loop walk, ready to visit Big Rock Garden and was thinking about a rock in Big Rock Garden with a piece that fell out of it.  See the center of the photo.

I had placed the piece from the rock in the center of a concrete slab nearby a few days ago.  Someone used the piece to make a stack of rocks.  I picked up some cones and made a hexagram, with the intention of going home to see which hexagram I had formed.

It was Hexagram 8 -- Holding Together:

What is required is that we unite with others, in order that all may complement and aid one another through holding together.  But such holding together calls for a central figure around whom other persons may unite.  To become a center of influence holding people together is a grave matter and fraught with great responsibility.  It requires greatness of spirit, consistency and strength. (p. 36 of the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching)

Not far from this someone had created:

The six sticks make Hexagram 1 -- The Creative:

When an individual draws this oracle, it means that success will come to him from the primal depths of the universe and that everything depends upon his seeking his happiness and that of others in one way only, that is, by perseverance in what is right (p. 4)

I remember this song:

"... Peace will come With tranquility and splendor on the wheels of fire ..."
(Bob Dylan, lyrics from the 1978 album titled "Street Legal")

Saturday, May 16, 2020

"... the great duty that falls to everyone ..."

Growing and subsiding, filling and emptying, ending and beginning again, this is the cycle of the world.  This is how we must understand the great duty that falls to everyone, and the universal order that governs all things -- Chuang Tzu

"... Oh, the French girl, she's in paradise and a drunken man is at the wheel
Hunger pays a heavy prize to the falling gods of speed and steel
Oh, time is short and the days are sweet and passion rules the arrow that flies
A million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes." (Bob Dylan, lyrics from "Dark Eyes")

Friday, May 8, 2020

Good Morning, Moon / And something else from Lao Tzummerman / Social Distancing in Vietnam

This morning when I went outside at around 5:30 into the early morning light, I was not expecting to see the moon.  It was only when I turned to go back home that I saw it before it set.  Not having my camera with me, I hurried home to get it.

The words of truth are always paradoxical.
Truthful words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not truthful.
Good words are not persuasive; persuasive words are not good.
-- Lao-Tzu

(photo of kindergarten children in Vietnam from PeaceTrees Vietnam)

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

We shall be released / Waking up just in time

Yesterday I was drowsy in the late afternoon and took a long nap.  The sound of hard rain woke me up in the early evening.  I felt like going back to sleep, but instead I got up and was rewarded with an extraordinary sky show that began with a fragment of a rainbow.

Thinking the sky show was over, I came in from my porch and turned to my laptop for my Spanish lesson of the day.  The next time I looked out the window, I saw the nearly full moon appearing and disappearing again and again behind the fast moving clouds:

Monday, May 4, 2020

"Bird Songs Of The Pacific States" by Thomas G. Sander / Multitudes / Ocean Vuong / Mandala #48: Illuminations from Childhood

The two CDs that comprise "Bird Songs Of The Pacific States" are music to my ears during this time of uncertainty and sorrow.

Several mornings ago when I went outside in the darkness, I heard an American Robin singing its spring song from the peak of the roof of the community building for our condominium complex:

Later that morning, almost home from walking up the hill and back, I heard a single Canada Goose calling.  I looked around to see where the sound was coming from and saw a Canada Goose on the roof of the building where I live.  I wondered if it could be the same one that had been on the trail the day before.  I began to wonder if something had happened to its mate.

The day before, while looking out my window overlooking Scudder Pond,  I had observed a Canada Goose guarding a section of trail over a period of several hours:

I remembered a poem I wrote in 2000, inspired by another solitary Canada Goose and thought about this year's return of the tree swallows and the red-winged blackbirds singing with all the other birds I can hear even when my windows are closed.  The American goldfinch is Washington's state bird, but I rarely see them.  Yesterday I saw an osprey high in the sky, scouting for fish in Lake Whatcom.

I remembered a few days before that when a 2-year-old boy, the son of friends of mine, looked up at me as I was walking by on the street overlooking their house.  He smiled and put his arms around himself in a hug and said, "Love you!"  With the same body language, I said, "Love you!" in return.

There is something beyond uncertainty and sorrow.


Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
-- Walt Whitman

When I listened to a very young Sinéad O'Connor singing at Sabine's blog on the first of May, it occurred to me that Sinéad's life, like the lives of so many people I respect, has shown that she "contains multitudes."  This song of hers is dear to my heart:

At the beginning of the stay-at-home order in Washington State, I began revisiting my entire cassette and CD collection of music by Bob Dylan from 1962 to 2016.  The last vinyl Bob Dylan album I bought was in 1988.  I no longer have a turntable, but I still have the complete collection of his vinyl albums from 1962 to 1988.  My cassette and CD collection is not complete but is close, with nothing missing after 1979.

My perception is that when I say that I like Bob Dylan music, it is assumed I am referring to his music from the 1960s and early 1970s.  My favorite Bob Dylan album is "Love and Theft" which was released on September 11, 2001.  There are plenty of Bob Dylan songs that I can do without, but throughout his career are songs that together carry the full range of human experience and have been lifelines for me, assuring me that I am never alone.  I love listening to covers of Bob Dylan songs on YouTube by young people who are just discovering him.

That Bob Dylan "contains multitudes" is what I have seen so far in revisiting his first 30 years of songs.  In 1991, he released Volume 3 of the bootleg series.  After the songs on "Love and Theft," those 3 CDs are next on my list of songs that are well worth revisiting.  I'm listening to songs now that I first heard when I was in my early 40s.

Call me any name you like, I will never deny it
But farewell, Angelina, the sky is erupting, I must go where it's quiet
(lyrics by Bob Dylan from "Farewell Angelina")


From Ocean Vuong:

I grew up right in the shadow of 9/11. It created something very interesting, because we were essentially the last generation to play outside thoroughly. Things like tag and manhunt, those things were gone overnight. I saw it with my own eyes. Our nation became a nation that dictated fear through colors: today is red; tomorrow is orange; yellow alert.


I think so. But I think all religions have this — outside of all of the orthodoxy and the rigor of ceremonies, at the center of it is trying to remind us that we will die; and how do we live a life worthwhile of our breath? And I think, thinking about death and thinking about what we do towards it, around it, helps me center myself in such a chaotic space. And I do think it’s part of my own nurturing of my own mental health.


“The poem, like the fire escape, as feeble and thin as it is, has become my most concentrated architecture of resistance. A place where I can be as honest as I need to — because the fire has already begun in my home, swallowing my most valuable possessions — and even my loved ones. My uncle is gone. I will never know exactly why. But I still have my body and with it these words, hammered into a structure just wide enough to hold the weight of my living. I want to use it to talk about my obsessions and fears, my odd and idiosyncratic joys. I want to leave the party through the window and find my uncle standing on a piece of iron shaped into visible desperation, which must also be (how can it not?) the beginning of visible hope. I want to stay there until the building burns down. I want to love more than death can harm. And I want to tell you this often: That despite being so human and so terrified, here, standing on this unfinished staircase to nowhere and everywhere, surrounded by the cold and starless night — we can live. And we will.”