Feeling good

After my last post, and especially at the dawn of a new a year, it seems fitting to hit the reset button and start at a different starting point.

Musings to come in a subsequent post; for now, a three-part pairing of music, prose, and photography.

Music courtesy of Nina Simone, singing “Feeling Good.”

Prose courtesy of Herman Hesse, writing about trees.
(My favorite excerpts in bold)

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them,whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

And see here for more on Hesse and trees and notes on wandering and belonging.

Photography courtesy of yours truly, taken during yesterday’s mid-afternoon walk.

20140116_153005Happy New Year!

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When the inner crazy peeks out

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

It’s one thing for your internal, often NSFW (no, not in that way) proclivities to have made a safe and comfortable home inside the recesses of your mind. I am referring here to those bits of yourself you save only for yourself and, on occasion, “lucky” family members, ie communicating while hungry (read: impatient and unabashed snapping tendencies); disliking an idea without a good, sound reason (read: there’s no way I’m working with __________) — and I’ll stop here, lest all my secrets be revealed…!

But it’s an altogether other and problematic thing when these once-hidden proclivities (read: just plain bad behavior) begin to make an appearance in the form of verbal and physical expressions that others in your orbit do not associate with their sense of you, nor you with your own sense of self.

So, the dilemma: When does preservation of one’s sanity, in which some of the crazy peeks out, trump maintenance of one’s known persona?
(and the real question: Why and how is it that some people are endlessly able to get away with behavior so egregious, it borders on pathological?)

In popular culture terms:

  • Twerk queen Miley Cyrus — sure, she’s gotten a good amount of flack, but her “youth” seems to buy her free pass after free pass, in large part because covering her flaws keeps many people employed.
  • Anne Hathaway is mercilessly eschewed in the mainstream press for being too aloof (and perhaps for not twerking enough…). Her great transgression: a reputation as a bit of a diva and not giving the press too much attention. Egad! {eye-roll}

At the precipice of the aforementioned storm is where I find myself, and the tumble downward into a frenzy of activity seems daunting and unavoidable; my natural inclination is to avoid all such madness at all costs, but I do not have that luxury at the moment. And so for the next fortnight, I will ride what I will imagine in my mind’s eye as a benevolent incarnation of Hokusai’s Great Wave — if I make it out alive, I’ll report back from other side.

Proof it Sometimes Pays to Do Nothing — a very short story

Tuesday, 7:33 or so in the pm; if one tried, the barest hints of the passing day were still visible (or maybe that was just wishful thinking).

Groceries slung over my shoulders, nestled safely inside my unintentionally socially conscious canvas bag, I stare into the headlights of oncoming traffic and assess that I have at least a few minutes before the M11 approaches ready to take me to my destination.

I take out my mobile phone, lean against the glass wall of the bus stop, and search for a nearby Verizon store; reception is a foreign to my device. Perhaps, I hoped speculatively, they might suggest something that would put an end to the pirouettes and yoga poses I must perform in order to have a conversation inside my apartment.

And in a flash, my mobile device — the one I had just been admonishing for its lackluster performance of late — is lying on the asphalt a few feet in front of me. A fellow passenger, rushing to catch the slowly departing M7, knocks my balance and my phone and we both are temporarily startled. The screen on my misbehavin’ phone is shattered (and no, not metaphorically); thankfully, I fare better.

And then momentary panic: never have I had a broken phone and the idea of paying for a replacement was loathsome to me.

I enter the Verizon store today with trepidation, bracing myself for the dollar signs output in my future. Do you have insurance, the young man at the front entrance asks me. I’m not sure, I answer, fully convinced that I most definitely do not.

20 minutes, 3 customers, 1 paranoid toddler (who was convinced that his mother had brought him to the doctor’s office) later, I learn the following: I do have insurance on my phone; the deductible is minimal; my new phone will arrive tomorrow.

The moral of the story: apparently I forgot to either opt in or opt out of something, and for once it worked in my favor. Thank you Zeus or Hera or whichever Greek mythological figure is responsible for forgetfulness.

May everyone forget just enough for his or her own good today.

View from the top

Birth order, mental health experts claim, is not insignificant in its effect on personality and sense of self. Much attention is given to “middle child syndrome,” made popular in the States with three simple words: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

Thankfully, a more resilient portrait of the middle child was offered in Kate’s post from earlier this year: The Littlest PA: A Story Of A Middle Child

Youngest children, it may seem, have it the easiest. Parents are tired, have too much else to focus on, thus creating many cracks for the youngest to slip between. Our so I would surmise.

I’m neither the youngest nor the middle. No, I am the eldest of three and by a good number of years. Far less, it seems, has been written and pondered about the eldest of a brood. What little I have read has focused on our ability to just soldier through and get stuff done.

But no depiction of being the eldest sibling had rung truer to me than this list posted to the Buzzfeed yesterday.

21 Photos Proving That Eldest Siblings Have The Toughest Job In The World

(#s 8 & 12 ring especially true…)

‘Tis true… we eldests so have it tough. The only thing I would add to the list is the truly challenging task of breaking in our parents. We are proverbial path clearers. It’s why we take just a little bit of credit for everything awesome thing our younger siblings accomplish — and in my case, that list is quite long.

You’re welcome, little sibs.

‘Spacious’ living

When I emailed my aunt and uncle to let them know that I was once again back in Londontown, my aunt cheekily asked whether I had returned to the ‘spacious’ flat where I had stayed for several months last year. They had visited the flat once — and brought along some incredibly delicious alphonso mangoes, which M and I politely enjoyed while we all had tea together, and which we both simply devoured when left to our own devices — and, like me, marveled at the efficiency of the one room abode. Theirs is a modest home in the outskirts of the city, ample for a couple with one child and the occasional guest, whose centerpiece is really the garden that is carefully and thoughtfully attended to by my aunt with the incredibly green thumb (and garden gloves to match!).

As it turns out, given the odd amount of time we’re staying this time (3 weeks) and the time of year (Wimbledon), and the fact that the original ‘spacious’ flat was already occupied, this UK visit is split between two main London locations, with a bit of conference travel thrown in for good measure. In my reply to my aunt’s question then I said the following of our two-flat stay:

“this first one is even more ‘spacious’ than the last…”

Let it never be said that the Brits do not know how to economize space. New Yorkers, and NY tv programs, love to highlight what someone can do with a few hundred square feet of space. But what would they say of the equivalent of a small hotel room equipped with kitchenette? Because that is where we find ourselves. Truth be told, however, it’s really perfect on all the measures that matter: location, amenities (including electric kettle & wifi), and cleanliness.

According to the American census, the average square footage of a Northeast US home in 2010 was 2613 sq feet. That number seems unreal to me, having spent all of my adult life in city dwellings that equal a fraction of that space. I first think, “I can barely keep my few hundred square feet in order, what would I do with twice/thrice that much?!” and then I also, almost immediately, appreciate the times when I’ve visited friends’ homes that more truly spacious (no quotes necessary) than all of mine combined, and yet retain a feeling of coziness and while eschewing ostentatiousness.

With more people, pets, and possessions arises the need for more space, but how much do we really need? I ask this with the fullest appreciation for having grown up with an ample yard surrounding our house in which to play, explore, run around, and gather with friends. But what was once idyllic memory can become an instrument of oppression if allowed to become immovable blueprint rather than aesthetic guide.

For now, I will enjoy my latest ‘spacious’ sublet quarters (quotes necessary) which gives me access to a place that continues to feel like home…

Below, a few pics from the first 24 hours, which has already included a nice 5.7 mile walk…. ahhh…..

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A monument I had never seen before, on Whitehall St. walking in the direction of Trafalgar Square
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Familiar view, from Blackfriars Bridge
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View from our ‘spacious’ flat

To learn is to…

It is relatively common knowledge that Socrates liked to ask questions, to ponder, to unsettle more than arrive at conclusions our resolutions. (Ironically, the Socratic seminar, as it is sometimes practiced in educational settings, bares no resemblance to the person for whom it is named.)

I’ve been thinking about Socrates a lot recently, and taking refuge in a way within the quote attributed him: “I know that I know nothing.” To my ears, there is tremendous freedom and power in these words. How wonderful to remember to enact humility as human beings at the realization that even when we arrive at a conclusion, questions lurk in plain sight.

Or, put more artfully by Emerson: “Every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”

It’s that last bit that I especially love and that is simultaneously the source of much angst — wherein it is still a shock to my system to encounter people for whom these words hold no meaning… those for whom bottom line refers to a dollar amount and excel spreadsheet and not the last line of a poetic stanza.

Who bends & sways, only to be interpreted as inchoate, and thus left alone to wither?

Whose rigidity, read as conviction, is rewarded?

Is it disappointment that has settled in me (perhaps the sentient experience hardest to make sense of)? It is for this reason I have long resisted identifying heroes, yet am not immune apparently to expectations; tis a burden (even as it is a gift) to be human.

So the best we can do in response to disappointment is to take a learning posture.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” — Lao Tzu

Ok.