Wednesday, January 12, 2011

summer dreams

Exactly 6 months ago today, I took the picture above of the red zinnia, surrounded by lush greenery.
I like to take photos, and summer offers endless opportunities. Although some subjects become a cliche, for example, flower macros. In fact, there is a Flickr group called "Another Boring Macro", which I joined. Recipe for successful macro: Start with flawless flower, one that belongs in a florist's shop. Next, blur the background. This is called bokeh, and bokeh pictures are what all the cool kids want. This may be enough for a star picture, depending on how eye-catching your flower is. If not eye-catching enough, work on light and shadows. Best quality light: Evening, when the sunlight has a warm yellow/orange glow. Difference between light and shadows should be noticeable. The picture above is partially edited according to these rules; I got rid of many little insect chew spots via photoshop Elements. However, the light is not the gentle but clearly noticeable sort which makes for Flickr ooohs and aaahs.
I didn't bother, I like it fine.

Sorry to digress a bit there.
Winter offers many opportunities for the photographer. Again, gentle lighting is essential. Also, snow or hoarfrost should be decorating any trees or other plants. And sunsets are a perennial. I've tried to do some different stuff; yet today, I couldn't bear the thought of another winter scene; and it's not even February.
Snow is beautiful, the long low rays of the sun in winter can add magic to a picture. Beauty is not enough. How is one to stay in touch with living things when they are snug, covered with snow and inaccessible, for the most part.
To illustrate the loveliness of winter, I illustrate with a photo taken yesterday:
Add Image

Notice the soft, filtered lighting. Maybe an orange filter would make it more "Interesting", as flickr calls it.
I'd think of more to say, except that I've spent a lot of time fiddling with the settings of this post. I'll continue to dream of summer and look hungrily at the seed catalogs.

One more picture from the world of green:
cheers, all

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Last night, my brother-in-law called to say that my mother-in law is dying. So tomorrow the 2 of us, accompanied by our faithful labrador retriever, will get in the car and drive 5 or so hours to spend some time with her and the family.

There are lots of issues here with family, but I'm mostly leaving those out. Everybody has issues. If you're interested in issues, watch Oprah or go buy a memoir at the bookstore. Let me explain with one of my favorite writers, Tolstoy. And in advance, I ask you with more accurate memories to forgive the paraphrase that's coming:
I think that Tolstoy had it wrong when he said that all happy families are alike, and the unhappy ones are all different. I reverse that: I think that unhappy families have more in common, hurt, alienation, triangulation and so forth than do the happy ones, because the happy ones are free to make more choices because of not being bound up by history.

Our family is average, in the sense of being a mixture of happiness and unhappiness. So, how to cope now, and be a support to my beloved spouse as we walk into a sad and complicated journey? I'm considering what books to pack. For me, that is a first line of coping.

Do I want to take Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which is a memoir of her grief? Or will that his too close to home, and be the last thing that I want to read?
Maybe more Tolkien, finish The Children of Hurin, and take some of the Lost Tales? Although those are fantasy, which might be a good escape, they also deal with death, fate and relationships. A combination of escapism and the relevant might be perfect. Or I might not give a shit about Middle Earth, the Valar and poor Hurin who seems determined to bend to no one's good counsel. I think his doom is not the curse, but thinking that he's always right. Okay, I put Tolkien on the Maybe List.

Maybe Suite Francaise, about which I have heard nothing but good? I dunno. I want to read it, but stories set in the Holocaust sometimes are too much for me, having grown up with stories about relatives who did and (mostly) didn't survive another genocide. Maybe it's too much to expect to cope with relatives, dying and a stunning memoir. I don't know, I haven't opened it. Note to self: read 5 pages, and decide.

Maybe I should take Douglas Adam's The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide. I could use humor. Will anything seem funny, though? Still, his irreverent British humor could be a real helping tool for the trip.

The only book which I have definitely decided upon is The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. I'd like to be as mindful as Hanh is when the seconds tick on laboriously.

Oh yeah, and I'd better figure out clothes to pack in case our stay stretches into something longer than a couple of days. Time to snap back to reality.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Authors, my imaginary friends

My intention in writing this blog came from cherishing conversations about books। Also, there are a lot of times I wanted to talk with the author of the book. Authors being fairly inaccessible, the only easy place to find them was in my imagination. I construct personas for authors and talk to them all the time. Uh, don’t tell my psychiatrist, okay?

Sometimes reality comes crashing in and does a Katrina on my private fictions। For example, there’s Michael Dorris. I love his books, particularly his memoir of adopting and parenting his son Abel/Adam, who had fetal alcohol syndrome. His quest to bake the Ultimate Birthday Cake for Abel’s preschool had me laughing until tears came. He had tenacity in caring for a special needs child, plus associated bureaucracies, at a time when people didn’t “get” fetal alcohol syndrome.

I wanted to meet this guy who took on the role of a single father with such toughness and tenderness. I loved that memoir and his other writing.Then real life and media broke the fantasy. Dorris suicided. I felt awful hearing this, but not stunned, because there were undertones of pain woven through his writing. Then the media had a field day with the fact that his wife, the writer Louise Erdrich, had filed for divorce, alleging that Dorris had abused their children. True? I dunno, I’ve seen a few divorce cases where one spouse alleged the other abused the kids when it wasn’t true. Sometimes the allegations are true. I have no way to know.

Shit। Suddenly, I knew I had no idea who this guy I’d been talking with in my head was. I had no idea who he was in real life. All of the sudden, Michael Dorris became the cipher that he had been all along. He became so unknowable to me that the Michael Dorris in my head died from severe cognitive dissonance.

Lately I’ve been trying to construct another conversation partner from some books, J.R.R. Tolkien. Notice that he is safely dead. I anticipate no major crash with reality. And a new book of his has been published,The Children of Hurin, a beautiful and tragic saga in the setting of the romantic Elder Days.

Beginning to read The Children of Hurin, I’m struck by the way Tolkien’s language echoes of the majesty and grandeur of the language of the King James Bible. Everything sounds so momentous, and sometimes glorious, even in tragedy. It is a saga told beautifully.

I want to talk with Tolkien about how he could go through the mud, blood, and the monotonous horror of mechanized death that was World War I and then write of war with such beautiful language. I don’t see anything noble in WWI except for individual acts of selflessness, love and comradeship. I want to ask, “If you could not stay away from writing about war, why write about wars with noble causes?” Did it make you feel better to write about an ancient war of epic quality? An ancient war that had good versus evil, and thus had meaning? Did you find meaning in your ugly war by writing about noble wars? Did writing this help you find meaning in your war? Or did you think WWI was a mass European homicidal frenzy in rat infested trenches?

I want to say, “Mr. Tolkien, talk to me, how can you who lived through all this horror, tell such incredible sagas in which your characters’ lives and deaths have so much meaning? Maybe I answered my own question. Maybe J.R.R. Tolkien would say that that is one reason he wrote, to create a world where wars and battles had meanings as part of the battle of good and evil. I wonder. I want Tolkien to sit and tell me his response to the line, “Death be not proud.” My imaginary Tolkien does not answer when I ask him this. I turn back to his books to dig for an answer.Anyone see some good places to search?


Dennis Lehane: prayers for rain
Trying to go from front to back:
The Iliad, translated by Robert Fitzgerald
The Children of Hurin, by Tolkien & son
Dreaming in Code, by Scott Rosenberg
The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide, by Douglas Adams (5 volumes in One Joyous Binding of Bounteousness)
The Quiet American, by Graham Green (because I just finished The Power and the Glory, and loved it)
To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

Reading in small servings
Poetry and spiritual stuff:
Caravan of Dreams, Idries Shah
Selected Poetry, W.B. Yeats
The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh
The Shorter OED, - I read a page at a time, from time to time. Then I can find a lovely word with the joy of a botanist finding a new species.

I’m tempted to look for patterns. First, there’s a lot more fiction than non-fiction. Next, a sprinkling of spirituality, shown in Shah and Hanh. Hey, imagine a law firm named Shah and Hanh-it’d be perfect for SoCal. Shah and Hanh, lawyers for the stars, celebrity lawyers who employ their colorful ethnic traditions of rhetoric and persuasion while wearing tailor made designer suits.

Oh, I guess I went off track. I’d be the Supreme Ruler of Tangents, except that I don’t have the focus to be Supreme Ruler of anything. I mean, the Grand Vizier could come up to me, the Supreme Ruler of Tangents, and say, “Hey, this book is great. Have you read it?”
I’d say “No”, and grab the book, and read in joyous oblivion to the present, and next thing you know there’d be a palace coup, so I’d be exiled. No executions, because one of my litmus tests for viziers and other officials is firm opposition to the death penalty. No matter, as long as there’s plenty to read in exile. I’ll stay the zigzag course, even if it looks like flip-flopping.

In exile, who knows? I might even read a book a friend gave me, entitled Delivered from Distraction. Then again, maybe not. I'm hoping for an enormous library in exile.
Do I need to be delivered from distraction?
If I was delivered from distraction, I might get my act together, return from exile and stage a palace re-coup, and that would be distressing to the new Supreme Ruler of Tangents, the ex-vizier.

I like having the question, “What next?” having the unknown as an answer in my life of books।

ब्य थे वय, सोमेहोव थिस ब्लोग इस देतेर्मिनेद तो प्रिंट इन हिंदी। ई वोंदेर हाउ ई दीद ठाट।
By the way, my blog is determined to print in Hindi. I have no idea why, but I left you a sample. It looks kind of interesting.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I was in the right book at the wrong time.

This is a procrastination post, because I don't, or didn't want to write it. Well, of course, you might say, who wants to write when they could be eating a banana nut muffin?

This is a different kind of not wanting to write. You see, I'm writing about a good book. A book that made me laugh. A book by one of my favorite authors.

So what's the problem? The problem is that the book isn't the book I wanted to read. I'll explain the specifics.

My story begins a couple of weeks ago when I went to visit a friend, who lives 4 1/2 hours east of here. We had a couple of days together, so, naturally, we went to visit a bookstore. And because J., my friend was a completely gracious hostess, I bought her one of my favorite books, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. I love Neverwhere, and happily, so did she.

The problem was that I wanted to read Neverwhere again for the first time. Reading it was wonderful, an entrance into a kingdom where I hoped the story would never end. And I entered fully into that richly detailed and peopled world that Gaiman created, and it was good. I was so enthralled by the world he created that I've read it 3 times.

So I bought the book for J., and then, seeking my reading Paradise like unto Neverwhere, I bought another Gaiman book, Anansi Boys. As I observed above, this book is funny and good. The Booklist blurb says,
"A romantic screwball comedy seasoned with murder, magic and ghosts....[Gaiman's] the folksy, witty, foolishly wise narrator to perfection, drawing us into a web he weaves as skillfully as any ....spider."

This is all true. And I give that writer an A+ from adjective class. Yet the book wasn't an intricate Neverwhere other-world. It had its own unique gripping power. My only gripe was the ending. Way too much John Grisham in the ending. I laughed when I read Anansi Boys, I was in suspense as to how the plot would turn out, I liked the characters, (except the loathsome ones), and so, I should quit whinging.

Because the problem was me. I entered a good book with the wrong set of expectations, and I couldn't put those expectations aside to enjoy the book for what it is. And now I wish I could roll back time and read Anansi Boys with a spotless mind. Sigh.

So I hope someone reads it, cherishing Anansi Boys for what it is, and not being disappointed for what it isn't.
By the way, if you do know of any books that parallel the Neverwhere experience, please post their titles. I'm hungry for another world.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Talking with Thic Nhat Hanh

I've been doing yoga, following a video instructor. Since I'm doing yoga in the Midwest, I'll simply say that it's pretty good.

In fact, I've stuck with it for nearly 3 months now (shhh! hold down the gasps of amazement). I've continued using the same video the same video yes the same video because it helps me unfrazzle. The exercises aren't hard. I look funny doing tree pose, balancing on one leg, because periodically I go "oof" and land on both feet, with luck. Calm tree-like repose is definitely not my specialty. This video emphasizes breathing exercises along with the stretching, toning, and balancing, and I am always successful at breathing.

Now, I'm not so sure that I'm succeeding at breathing, thanks to spot reading Thich Nhat Hanh's The Miracle of Mindfulness. Someone suggested the book to me after I talked about yoga. I remembered Hanh had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the book flap says that Martin Luther King nominated him in 1967. He didn't get the Nobel Prize. Henry Kissinger, loathsome Nixonian beast, got the Nobel Peace Prize another year. So it goes, as Vonnegut might have said.

Glancing through the book, I saw that he wrote:
"It is autumn here and the golden leaves falling one by one are truly beautiful. Taking a 10 minute walk in the woods, watching my breath and maintaining mindfulness, I feel refreshed and restored."

This caught my attention because 10 minutes is almost within the grasp of my attention span. Great, I thought. I'll go for a walk and practice breathing. He gives instructions on breathing, and I thought, this can work. Hanh even wrote: "But even if you do not feel tired, don't prolong the practice of long, equal breaths beyond short periods of time-10 to 20 breaths is enough."

So I went for a walk. I walked down a straight and level sidewalk. And I had a lot of trouble keeping count of my breaths. An inside the brain commentator might have reported: "There's one breath in, and one out. There's breath 2 in and look at that ugly fake volcanic rock those people put around their bushes. Um, did I exhale? Maybe I got to 2. No problem. I can start again. One breath in, one breath out, 2 breath in, 2 breath out, 3 breath in, damn that is one huge monster SUV going down the street, and I'll bet the only thing that driver does is park it at Wal-Mart and er, I lost track of the breathing again.

I thought I had set a modest goal. I hadn't. Okay, Thich, I want to talk with you about this. Obviously you can do something for which I need special education. I am ticked off at you and your benevolent and compassionate smile. I'm sure Thich would let my petty tantrum flow over him and accept it. Grrrrrr.

So I can quit, or I can go back to the beginning again. I'll go back to the beginning. There is a really hard exercise early in the book where he speaks of mindfulness while washing dishes. Fuhgeddaboud that one for a long time.
Unfortunately, I respect his wisdom about dish washing because he and another novice washed dishes during retreats for 100 monks with only ashes, rice husks, and coconut husks. That, at least he calls "hardly a pleasant task." (I churlishly thought, yeah, but did you have to walk to school in the snow and howling wind in Viet Nam? I don't think so.) No wonder washing the dishes in a kitchen equipped with hot water and soap can be an occasion for mindfulness. For him. I think I'm going to flunk remedial mindfulness before I get to cherishing the moments of dish washing.

Friday, April 27, 2007

How many books to read at once?

Right now, I am reading
1) Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman,
2) The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
3) The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Sometimes I stop and read a poem or just a few lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins. His language is such concentrated eloquence, I cannot absorb much without becoming breathless at his words.

A short post, but you may expect from me on the wonder of the world of words, texts and narratives. Last summer, a man who had a few months to live said to me, "You tell stories and jokes. People don't do that much any more." The lack of stories was a big thing he mourned as his life was ending.

Perhaps blogging is the new world of storytelling in an internet connected society. Perhaps that is a good of blogging. Yet I cherish what is face to face even more, conversations that ramble on a big porch, collages of stories that connect us to one another.

I am such a Luddite that I want to return to an oral culture, with stories told, repeated, and embellished; stories as living voices in the hearts of the living community.

So this is a venture to see where telling stories about stories in books leads me and you. Also, there will be lots of tangents. And all these books and stories, how do they become part of my life and yours?