Archive for the 'books' Category

Southern novels

July 11, 2015

There’s a lot of discussion about the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, and people have been talking about what To Kill a Mockingbird has meant to them and/or to the country and American literature.  I have been scouring my memories for what To Kill a Mockingbird meant to me.

I think it upset me, and I think I was unable to sit through the entire movie made from it.

I think I read at roughly the same time Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, and I know that that book made a lasting impression on me.  My mother and I used to use its title to refer to similar situations we knew, and even in a more general way, to other situations of attempted enmeshment in other people’s personal relations.

I have been thinking that this renewed interest in Harper Lee’s books may actually get me to reread McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding yet again.

Where’s the point of symmetry?

November 16, 2014

So a guru coerces his best student into helping him write a book.  His tactics in gaining her help introduce a lot of negative energy into the relationship.  She goes along with what she thinks the deal is, fearing the alternatives will be worse, and she believes that over the course of helping the guru with his project a relationship has developed.

She has helped him with his dream, or goal, if one prefers, and after his book is done and disseminated, she asks for her turn, with help with her dream or goal.  She could write a book, but that isn’t what she feels called to do.  In fact, she hears pretty clearly that she shouldn’t.  And she believes that out of the relationship that has developed, if not also out of the original arrangement, he will help her with her dream or goal.

For her, the point of symmetry was the dream or goal, not the specific form that took for the other person.

He says no, pretty simply and clearly:  “No, please go away.”

He doesn’t even notice that what she is asking for are things he has similarly asked others for and were extended to him, whether the help was earned, charitable, or some combination of the two.  He doesn’t want to do it for her.

“No, please go away.”

So she’s got a choice: write a book she thinks should not be written, in a life that does not support such an activity, or just accept that for him the point of symmetry was a specific activity, not actually meeting the other person’s needs or desires.

I don’t think it matters which she chooses, I think for her it’s always only been a lesson in discerning perspective — how different people can perceive so differently, and what is her perception of a situation and what is someone else’s.  How any particular situation is resolved is secondary to that.

My support for that interpretation is her being a student of a guru.  That suggests to me that her life is about orienting herself to her relationship with the universe, and that her relationships with particular other people fall into place when she keeps her focus on that.

She has learned that a person who sees trees and not forests will relate to someone who is focused on forests in a way that does not result in balance between them.

Unfortunately, the introduction of negative energy from the initial coercion of the student by the guru produces its own fallout.  That’s kind of like the splash in a dive, or the noise around a signal, but it can obscure the main event.  In some versions of this story, it does, and the guru and the student succumb to round after round of negative exchanges.


August 24, 2014

While I was visiting my mother, I had to decide what day to leave.  I had come down a day later than planned, an idea that originated with my mother, due mostly to the weather, and I needed to decide whether to go back home on my originally planned day of departure or to extend the trip one day.

We had accomplished much of what we had planned — banking business; open house; sorting, shredding or keeping files that had been in the basement, sorting, folding, donating or keeping the contents of the linen closet …

I couldn’t tell whether we were done for this trip.  So I took a walk late one afternoon.  And what percolated up for me was to call my son to see how he was faring at home and to pack my car, to the extent possible at that point, with what I thought I needed to bring back with me, to see if it would fit (I drive a Ford Focus sedan).

And once I did those two things, it became clear to me to stay the extra day.  And when I did that, I found myself doing some work that hadn’t before occurred to me, including getting things off closet shelves, sorting them for donation, trash, or keeping — because I wasn’t sure who else would be able to get them down, given the limitations of the help my mother engages.  This project had not been apparent to me, but by clearing away the clutter in my mind about my decision (about when to leave), I was able to make that decision, and, subsequently, to see the next right thing I was being called to do.  Again, as in my previous post, this occurred in a mundane context, but I am here to say that my process works, at least for me.

I will add as a note here that my mother received three wonderful letters from the university that collected and received her donation of CDs, records, and books.  My mother read them to me over the phone last night.  Not only were we amazed by the number of CDs (over 4,000) and records and books (over 600 and 800, respectively), but we found it heartwarming that the writers were so appreciative of the collections.  I was also especially happy to hear that the writers mentioned that the CDs would be quite helpful in the teaching and preparation of music students.  That’s the sort of thing I had been hoping for — that the collections would go where they were appreciated for what they were and would be used in a way that allows them to reach their potential to help others.

Log jams

October 21, 2013

All the discussion in the media about the technological problems with the federal website for buying health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act got me thinking about other situations in which a system was overwhelmed by more users than it can handle.

In the spiritual context, this can involve trying to achieve enlightenment, or even just basic connection to God, in order to take in fresh spiritual oxygen, through someone else, or it can involve trying discharge our spiritual detritus through someone else, looking for a place to discharge our carbon dioxide or worse, as it were.

Systems are overwhelmed, conduits become clogged.

These things can be fixed.

But to do that in the spiritual realm, religions need to become more flexible than many of them are and make corrections as needed, in my opinion.  And I am leery of systems that rely on using conduits — spiritual development requires everyone to get up off the couch and learn how to do it for themselves if they possibly can.  Accommodations are available for the truly disabled, but most people are not truly spiritually disabled, they are more like I was when I had a speech impediment and was using the wrong part of my vocal apparatus to make sounds.  It’s about finding that part of the self that comes to the fore when we pull aside the part of ourselves we identify with most of the time.  That’s kind of like the getting pregnant part of the process — it’s not the entire shooting match, but it’s a huge and necessary part of developing a spiritual life, that is, finding the part of the self through which this can actually be done.  And it’s where philosophy and other secular systems seem to me to fall down, whether or not that is a necessary result of their axioms, and where even many religions do not, in my opinion, place enough emphasis.  And don’t get me started on books in the popular press that overlook this issue.


September 9, 2013

I have a friend who kayaks, drives her car with her kayak on top and stops off to put it in the water and paddle.  She asks me periodically if I want to come along kayaking with her, but I know it’s not for me and I always decline.

But I don’t try to write books about kayaking, either.  Even if I did my research and interviewed people with a feel for the sport, I would not myself acquire a feel for the sport, so what sort of a book would I be writing?  An observer’s guide to a participatory sport, perhaps.

As to a participant’s guide to a participatory sport, some such people would rather help the audience member acquire the equipment and teach them, in person and including by example, the fundamentals of using it, rather than write the book.

God, the imagination, and books

September 4, 2013

Some people are open and some people aren’t.  Some people even make an art of not being open.  They always hold something back, behind fear, behind, vanity, behind pride.

Being open allows us to see ourselves from multiple perspectives, not just the way we would like to think we are.  We allow ourselves to see the secondary consequences of our attitudes and behaviors on others and we adjust our attitudes and behavior  accordingly.  If we refuse to look at the negative impacts we have on others, we close ourselves off from not only them but from ourselves.

I suspect meditation helps get around that by being a way to put aside the carapace, albeit only temporarily.  Some people do, in contrast, make their entire life a living prayer — they are always open.

When we are open, we can perceive through other than our monkey minds.  What we perceive includes what some people label “God.”  It is not perceived through our imaginations, which are part of our monkey minds.

Willy was a very open person, whether or not he believed in God.  He was kind and generous.  He also had that quality I associate with men of being ready, willing, and able to defend his turf, however.  But he knew that sometimes the most helpful technique is to allow the other person’s energy to become their own undoing, that deflecting that energy can be key.  To me he demonstrated that a person can be a conduit (for the forces of the universe) without being conscious of it.

A close friend of his shared with me that he considered Willy a mystic.  I liked hearing that.  It gave me a way of understanding his sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table to eat, for example.  Or drinking directly from sink faucets.  He was so fastidious about other manners that these behaviors called out for interpretation.

We can teach intellectual ideas through others.  We can disseminate them in books.  These may provide touchstones for others as they try to gain a sense of themselves and of life, analogous to consulting with a village elder, but they also present a hazard, namely encouraging people to believe that the development of the person is, or can be, had through the intellect.  The intellect is a helpful interface between experience and communication, but the significant things a person needs to go through in order to develop into the person they have the potential to be will not be experienced through reading or through learning in a classroom.

Willy had that sense, too, I think.  He was continually frustrated by new hires who thought of life as a problem set and he had little patience for academia.  He fled college (with his degree) in three years and went into the Peace Corps.  He finished his dissertation while working full time, in large part because he much preferred working and solving real problems;  even with the added demands of working, working at a job gave him more energy for his dissertation than remaining a full-time graduate student would have.  In primary school he had experimented with focusing on the niceties necessary to gain complete approval in academia, and he reported to me that he had found the rewards hollow.

I think this blog is my compromise.  I’ve got people in my life who want me to write, and I what I really want to do is to walk.  I think writing is in some way inherently misleading, but the snippets that are blog posts perhaps come closest to those momentary understandings we become privy to through interfacing with the universe through prayer and meditation.

Shutting down

January 26, 2013

I’m a little familiar with how a person approaching death may stop eating and drinking as the body goes through a process of shutting down.  My dad is going through that now, and home hospice nursing is supposed to begin for him this weekend, now that he’s agreed to it.

For him I saw the shutting down process begin earlier.  I had sent him a couple of books for his (88th) birthday, including one about Senator Mitch McConnell.  (He’s a fan, he thinks the senator is smart and clever and he agrees with at least some of his positions.)  He didn’t have time to read it between hospitalizations.  I had thought I was saving him a trip to his local library, because he’s been a regular there to check out books, but he had too many things to do to read the book.  And by the time I got there last week and he came home again from the hospital, he wasn’t up to it.

But he did read the newspapers on Saturday and Sunday.  By Monday or Tuesday he wasn’t even able to do that, and I knew he was reaching a point of fairly rapid decline.

He didn’t want me to leave and I wished I had some other way of handling all my responsibilities.  I had lobbied my parents to move closer after Willy’s death, but we were no competition for the New York Metropolitan Opera.

To be fair, I think my father gets out of opera performances what others get out of religious services.  So he would have been leaving his source of sustenance.

But I couldn’t, and can’t, pick up that slack, eliminate that 210 mile distance.

I’ll go back soon, I don’t know whether he will still be alive.  He wanted to know when I’d be back and I told him I wasn’t sure, that I would play it by ear.

For now I’m trying to listen, and to do what I need to do here before I can leave again.

In some ways I found listening while I was down there easier.  Things fell into place more easily than they had any right to.  Except for the day we spent obtaining a pain medication prescription for my dad.  But another day I knew somehow to bring with me the papers that needed a notarized signature when I took my mom to register with a pharmacy that makes home deliveries, even though it was the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and so many places (like banks) were closed.  And there on the pharmacy door it said “notary public.”  Stuff like that.

So now I’m here, he’s shutting down there.

Right before I left, I asked him if I could kiss him on the head, and he said, “No,”  with his usual dismissiveness.  So I stroked his nose, which was something I did as a child when I sat in his lap.  (He had thought it was because I thought he had a big nose, but it wasn’t — I just liked his nose.)  So he put up with the intimacy of my stroking his nose this time, too — I think he knew there was an element of teasing but also love in the gesture.

I ended up sleeping on the floor the last night I was there.  (The live-in help I had helped arrange for was in the guest room I had been using previously.)  It felt like what I call “old karma.”  I just play it out, like reading a music score and singing it at sight.  This not being there now feels like old karma, too.  At least there’s nursing and household help at this point.

For me there is clearly a challenge in figuring out what to do, what I can do, what I can’t do even though I would like to.  It’s a lesson to learn that I can’t always mitigate the consequences of other people’s decisions.



Gray hair

November 24, 2012

My mother used to promise me that my hair would turn white and not gray.  She was extrapolating from the similarity of my hair in some obvious ways to the hair of her Aunt Judith and of her maternal grandmother.  Their hair did turn white.  Mine goes gray.  Oh well.

It may have something to do with original color.  My Great Aunt Judith and my Great Grandmother had lighter hair than I, I’m pretty sure.

The process of hair going white or gray I don’t completely understand, but I was told by a hairdresser that it has to do with the hair strand no longer having its usual core.

This state of affairs may be a useful analogy for thinking about what traditionally gets categorized as “good” and “evil.”  Because I think the energy of Source (I’m trying to stay away from theistic vocabulary) and the energy of its difficult, or “dark,” side is really like merely the difference between the hair strand with or without its core.  The  kind of hair strand deemed “other” is different but not monstrously so.  (Yes, I know, some people have a real issue over going gray, but I don’t think it’s perceived as an existential threat.)  I think God’s Dark Side, to be more portentous and theistic about it, is really only God with or without some of God’s usual aspect.  This presence or absence of this aspect we perceive in an unhelpful way if we bring to the party too much of our own human accretions.  We need to match what we’re perceiving, or else we will see ourselves as a reflection in a mirror at the place where we think we’re seeing something directly through a glass.  (At the extreme, people we categorize as narcissists do this all the time.)  We look at God’s difficult aspect and see something fearful but it is only our own crud reflected back to us.  (The monster at the end of the book was only Grover himself, if I remember that Sesame Street book correctly.)

What do we need to have put away before we encounter difficult energy (God’s Dark Side)?  We need complete surrender, no questions asked, no anger.  Fear and anxiety make for problems, too.  It’s best done unwittingly and with a child’s trustingness and lack of preconceptions.  It’s a form of total acceptance, which I think many religions characterize as God’s attitude towards us.  Maybe we accept God’s difficult stuff, too, and that allows it to pass through us without damage.

Time for me to take down the plants in the big garden.  “As a matter of convenience, We don’t speak of dying gardens” goes some lines (I’m quoting from memory so I may not be completely accurate) in a Dave Carter song Tracy Grammer sings on her Flower of Avalon album.  It’s the eighth track.  A lot there about seasons.  And stoicism.  And very sad.  If I speak of dying gardens, maybe they will not exercise such power over the imagination.

Book covers

September 23, 2012

I picked up a couple of used books when I ran an errand at the supermarket just now.  One is a paperback, essential works of the founding fathers, but two are hardbacks, neither of which I have much interest in reading, but I really like the cover art.  One was published in 1953, the other in 1956.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, but I felt they were worth the small donation.

I also wanted to buy the books and take them home so I could mull over a book metaphor I’ve known for a long time, that our souls are like the book, our outer human character like its cover, and we work at minimizing what obscures the book, in order to let our soul shine through.  Getting caught up in these book covers struck me as indicating something, but I’m not sure what yet.


August 5, 2012

I was reading a book called The Insomnia Answer this afternoon, since the person who gave it to me to read will probably be expecting it back when I see him in a couple of weeks, and I fell asleep reading it.  He gave it to me to read in the hopes in might help me help my son with his sleeping issues.  I don’t know, is that an endorsement of the book?