Tag Archives: Writing

Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward

Forward progress revealed

Forward progress revealed

I captured this photo on a November hike, arrested by the hieroglyphic quality of the insect trail on the tree trunk.  Perhaps this is the dead trunk of an ash tree, and the grooves were made by emerald ash borer larvae, deposited as eggs beneath the trunk and munching to maturity while slowly killing the tree.  These little bastards have left thousands of dead trees in their wake across Michigan, just in the last few years.

In trying to put myself in the head of a bug that made these channels, it strikes me that they came into awareness in a dark location suitable for their growth, and started living their purpose, chewing blindly forward, ever forward, until something told them they were done and it was time to move on.  They came and left with only the narrowest conception of the tree, their host, as just the flat earth they wandered while they lived.  I can step back and take measure of the tree’s geometry from my perspective, the intricate three-dimensionality of it, the size and the volume of space it occupies.  Then mentally subtract the tree, and what’s left is a delicate cylindrical negative of the bugs’ road.  The destructive little bastards left us some art to attest to their one-dimensional grindage.

loop run

Straight ahead

This weekend I went for a run in a nearby forest, a few times around a 2-mile loop in the snowy woods.  Hills and tough footing made it slow going.  After all that struggle and conversion of oxygen into forward motion, I finished right back where I started.  But nothing was the same, including me.  As an aside, an hour of solitude in the woods offers solutions to many things.

Time pushes us forward, usually not unidirectionally, instead on a tortuous path around, over, under, between and in spite of.  Even Brownian motion must still be forward, driven by the arrow of time.  We go backward in our memories while we move forward in time, forward on our path – whether it’s linear, forked, bifurcated, doubles or triples back on itself, we still have to move forward.

Blindly we make our path and trace our wild pattern in the dark substrate, unaware of so much, and never really appreciating the beauty and complexity of our winding course or the medium on which it’s traced.  And we’ll never have the vantage to see revealed in full the path we trace – but might someone else?

Forward is time working upon us, us working within time.  You’ll never read that last sentence again, for the first time.  You’ll never have this exact now again.  You’ve moved forward.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Big

“The sublime is rendered by prodigious power or by enormous space: when you reach a mountaintop, for instance, and the world breaks open: a motif that is used in Buddhist art a great deal, and the reason temples are put on the top of hills.  In Kyoto, there are gardens where you are screened from the expanding view while climbing, and suddenly – bing! – the whole vista opens up before you.  That’s sublimity.  So, power and space are two renditions of sublimity, and in both cases, the ego is diminished.  It’s strange: the less there is of you, the more you experience the sublime.”

Reading this, it seems true by examination.  We’ve all had these kinds of experiences.  On the mountaintop, or looking out over a seemingly infinite body of water, or finding yourself on a dark lake on a clear night with the full moon on the water or the Milky Way arcing overhead, the awesome awareness of our own powerlessness and insignificance is the source of a sublime feeling of expansive connectedness.  I witnessed the birth of my girls and am forever struck by the mystery of such infinite complexity, driven so repeatably; everyday miracles of stunning scale, countless times a every day, everywhere on Earth.

How easily, though, we slip back into the ego-centric.  Once back down from the mountain, back in the Real World, we’re self-concerned again.  Back to work on Monday, with the demands, deadlines, and personalities that we engage and entangle with.  That was a cool experience, but this is the Real World and I have to feed my family, after all.

Art and meditation and contemplation allow access to that ego-reduced experience of the profound, for those of us who can’t go on vacation and climb a mountain every day.  A shared moment with a family member or friend, a painting or a piece of music, a well-written metaphor, quiet minutes looking at a tree or looking inward with eyes closed.

“It’s strange: the less there is of you, the more you experience the sublime.”

Quotation from ‘Reflections on the Art of Living, A Joseph Campbell Companion,’ page 136.

Saturday morning muse

First Saturday morning of the school year, basking in the togetherness and at-homeness of it all.

There’s much to be done today – in fact it’s one of those days where there’s a huge Lazy Susan of ideas, opportunities and necessities spinning in my head, and I can’t quite bring myself to stop it and pick the one thing to be done next.

One thing’s certain, that I’m continually haunted and pursued by the need to dedicate time and effort to a writing practice.  I find myself wishing for foul weather, which would force downward my available options and I could feel good about retreating to the new office I’m creating downstairs.  I tell myself we need to follow through on plans to create living-room space in the adjoining big room downstairs so I can still be near the ladies while I pound away at this new lifestyle.  Wait, I know! – I need a whiteboard in that office so I can really get going, mind-mapping stuff, plotting and planning.

“Just shut up and write”, they tell me, so I turn and tell that to myself.

OK – right after I work on this bike.

Old school roadie on the stand – extreme makeover Saturday

An evening on the writer’s block

Down on the writer’s block, there was a character living out the summer in a second floor studio.

2nd floor studio, writer’s block

His neighbor next door had the one-bedroom apartment, equipped with a window air unit.  He knew this from observation of the building from the street, but had taken care to avoid any interaction with his neighbor.  His studio had just the single window and no air.  The second floor drew the spent, stale, warm air from the antique furniture shop below. Some of it passed through when he opened the window, smelling of dust and old homes, but he never felt perceptible flow or fresh air without putting his head outside.  He’d lain awake many nights that hot summer, listening to the window unit kick on to cool the bedroom in the apartment next door.  It was hot again tonight, but the summer had been dry, so bugs weren’t a problem. The noises from the park across the way helped him remember what drove him here and what he needed to resolve before moving on.

Refocusing from the park, down on the street below he noticed a tourist with a camera.  The tourist took aim at his building for a few seconds, looked at the LCD on the back of his camera, and aimed again. He moved urgently, deftly back into the shadows to avoid being exposed to his lens.   The tourist checked his LCD a second time, and then wandered with some dim purpose toward the park – apparently another shiftless amateur photographer trying out his new toy.

Nevertheless, he hoped he hadn’t been spotted in the window.

Clarity wanted – apply within

Sitting beside a body of water at sunset has a way of putting things in perfect perspective. Doing so with kids around magnifies that by 10x or so.

Sometimes we adults think we have it together.  We’ve got it all figured out.  Planning, projecting, we control our destinies, we OWN our careers.  We make things happen.

Then come those times when we realize – no, make that remember, because it’s buried there in each of us – in a crystalline instant, that it’s all about the joy of the present moment – even if that clarity is fleeting, the memory of it remains, to be applied within.

Suspension in the moment

Orion’s scout

I snuck out and caught you this morning, Betelgeuse.

Yes, I was drawn out by brilliant Venus, backed up by regal Jupiter in the early twilight. But I saw your orange shimmer down close to the horizon, about to be veiled in the rising sun’s radiance, like you were peering through the crack of an open door.

Every mid-August I look forward to the appearance of Orion in the morning sky. He brings the promise of cool fall weather and I think ahead to him riding high above in the dome of a crystalline winter night sky.

For now it’s still July, and at 6am the new daylight streaks across the east and north; it will be warm again today and summer still dominates our attention but look closely – our days are noticeably shorter, evidence that the grand wheel spins. Betelgeuse sneaks into the early morning sky affirming that change is afoot, letting Orion know that the coast will be clear in another fortnight.

Glorious, how we roll.

Next person who says ‘austerity’ …

Austerity’s Big Winners Prove To Be Wall Street And The Wealthy.

Shocking, I know.  GOP and Democratic corporatists and the broader conservative movement have been bleating a unified austerity message, emphasizing deficit and debt reduction, even at the expense of a focus on job creation.  Now to find that austerity policies benefit the financial sector and the extremely wealthy – that must just be coincidence, there’s no way the austerity message could be driven by anything other than statesmanship, patriotism and love of country, right?!

And when did this drive for austerity and fiscal correctness begin?  Oh, roughly about 2009.  Coincidentally, with the onset of a Democratic administration faced with trying to bring the nation’s economy back from the crash of 2007-2008.  Dick Cheney famously said circa 2002 (paraphrasing) ‘we’ve shown that deficits don’t matter’.  The debt ceiling battle from summer 2011 cost all of us an estimated $1.3 billion – in the name of fiscal responsibility…

You’ll note that I said above ‘at the expense of job creation’.  Conservative dogma for at least the last 30 years has maintained that those in the top tax bracket are the job creators.  But we’re still waiting for the trickle down effect to take place.  Neither I nor anyone I know owes their job to someone like Mitt Romney.  It’s a myth, pure and simple, propagated as a talking point because it works – because it’s rooted in peoples’ fear for their livelihoods.  In fact, note that every Republican talking point on jobs involves the element of fear, not hope – deregulate businesses so they’ll add (i.e. won’t have to eliminate your) jobs – keep taxes low (15% effective tax rate?!) on the highest earners, or else they might not create more jobs – have to re-up the license for that old nuclear plant because that’s mo’ jobs.

We’d better watch out or John Galt might just pick up his toys and go home.

It’s time to unplug from this – get Big Money out of politics via publicly-funded elections – enact a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the principle of corporate personhood so that speech is an exclusively human right again – and reorient our economy and political system to serving people instead of corporations.

Why He Wrote (…and why I should write more)

Why I Write: George Orwell on an Authors 4 Main Motives – Maria Popova – The Atlantic.

I find this fascinating, not least because of the source.  Orwell these days is such a monolith that it’s intriguing to find him here describing the very human motivations for his work.

The item on his list that strikes me here is political purpose, writing out of a desire to ‘alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.’  Politics in our time leaves me with such a feeling of bitterness.  Debates are constrained within bounds deemed reasonable by the big underwriters of our governments.  We don’t have serious conversations on what should be huge topics of our time; war, the role of government in ensuring the best life for all of its citizens, financialization, assault weapon libertarianism, and so on.  Because the terms of debate have already been fixed, only a narrow range of opinions are considered acceptable by the clique.

Of, by and for the people seems to have left the building some time ago.

I look forward to picking up a copy of Orwell’s ‘Why I Write’ – I guess I might have something to say too.

I, cricket

It’s hot in the house.  We’re in the middle of the great midwestern drought of 2012 – here on July 12 we’ve had approximately 0.1″ of rain since the beginning of May.  I’m learning now that the absence of moisture in the region’s soils allows the daily temperatures to rise unmoderated, so our daily highs are more easily reaching the 90s even though the nights descend to delicious low 60s.

We’re about 3 weeks past the summer solstice, but living here on the western fringe of the Eastern time zone, our July twilights extend well into the 9 o’clock hour and beyond.  Now, approaching 10 o’clock, the cool sets in with the brilliant blue/black of receding day and gradually the averted eye catches planets and then stars in the sky (always interesting to note that averted vision is more sensitive to faint light that direct vision…maybe that’s true in some metaphorical sense as well?).

Through the screens and open windows (resisting turning on the air conditioning), the insects in the woods make their high, continuous whine; then, listening closer, I hear the spectrum of frequencies and overlapping signals – that which I first thought was a one-dimensional stream is a three- and four-dimensional orchestral arrangement for an unseen audience.  Who else is listening and who responds?  Listening closely to these noises and imagining lives lived, I recognize how little I understand what goes on in my backyard.

Same with our daughters.  There are so many signals we want to make sure they receive amongst all the others available to them; some are basic instructions met with frustration when not followed, others could be life lessons if the connection is made.  Among other things, I want Mack to come out with me for a ride around the lake on the tandem or on the lake in the canoe – time outside with me, the sun, water and wind.  But for now, she resists, refusing to align with my ideal of what a great time that will be.  Maybe in a day or a week if I don’t push too hard, she’ll come with me.  And I want the same for Alex, continue to show her facets of the world she might not have known otherwise – such is the infinite potential of parenting that I too-rarely slow down enough to act on.

And their time with us is like this one night, so I’m out here in the woods, desperately calling, happily willing to call all night, hoping they hear and respond before the sun comes up in the morning.