Friday, February 20, 2009

A Box of Wind: Nature writing, spirituality, and science

I sat in on this panel at AWP which Kathleen Dean Moore closed out with a bang. We were given a chance to ask questions afterward so I raised my hand and asked if we get a copy of Kathleen's talk. She graciously posted it in full on her website.

Though I might argue the idea of "secular sacred" only gets you halfway to paradise, creation does a spectacular job of inducing awe.

An excerpt, but please take in the whole thing:

"So I get the analogy between spirituality and love. The ‘spiritual values of wild places’ are whatever it is in the world that speaks powerfully to the imagining and feeling part of the human mind, what lifts and enlivens the human spirit. Spirituality in a person is (as Scott Russell Sanders said) the impulse in ourselves that rises to meet the energy and glory in creation.

If this is so, then you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual. And you don’t have to believe in God to believe that the world is sacred. In my work, I call the world the “secular sacred.” I believe that the most reverent thing you can say is “Look, just look.” And the most reverent stance is not on your knees or prostrate on the ground, or kneeling at the edge of your bed with your eyes closed, but standing outside with your head thrown back, looking into the night. Look, look at the darkness, this moonlight on the water, this wash of stars, as if you were seeing them for the very first time. Then the astonishing fact of the world is revealed to us, that there is something rather than nothing, and that it is so beautiful.

That said, my husband is a scientist, a self-described hard scientist. You should see us try to paddle a canoe. Philosopher in the bow, scientist in the stern. I’m rejoicing in the sounds of the night and Frank? Frank is explaining the biomechanics of frog song."

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Somewhere to send your sadness

"Because of its association with the grandparent who died or the lover who left or the puppy that never came home, we have been too quick to dismiss this thing we call “Sadness.” But to limit Sadness to the above would be like limiting the definition of America to baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. Sadness is Nostalgia, Sadness is Reflection, Sadness is what Yeat’s called Tragic Joy. Sadness is what makes Joy so enjoyable, and Wonder so wonderful."
From "Sadness" at Buckbee, A Writer, Museum of Sadness

One of the more memorable things I encountered at AWP in Chicago last week was the Sadness Museum. Amidst a sea of tables laden with books, journals and promotional items ranging from cool to kitschy to cool kitschy (my favorite was Alison Stine's mini handcuff keychain promoting her book of poetry titled Ohio Violence) rose a small tent housing the little museum from which I snapped the photo above. It's a traveling exhibit of items that have sparked sadness, such as the action figure found on the floor of a Motel Six after some little boy's departure. This type of loss--the inadvertent leaving behind of the treasured thing-- has always deeply saddened my husband and he for one would certainly appreciate the impulse to rescue and herald the abandoned toy. Whether putting the sadness provoking thing on exhibit and sharing its woeful tale mitigates or compounds sadness is a question one might ask before daring entry into a world of others' sorrows.

The museum is taking submissions but so far I haven't figured out how to package and ship that which makes me, um, sad: an old, bent figure shuffling alone down a street, even if she's smiling and happier than I am; a "For sale" sign in front of a home, any home, even if the move is to greener pastures; a phone booth without a phone; florescent lights; the remnants of a chimney or a foundation; a sagging barn; a single earring. Ok, I guess I could send an earring.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Gimme a piece of that pie

I got my first job at age 15, at McDonald's, after fudging my age by a year on the application form. And I have worked every year of my life since then except for one summer when, after having fled one city and its complications for another and then realized on arrival I had no idea what to do with the rest of my life, I quit my dismal job, hauled my meager belongings into storage and took off for the wild west, accompanied at the last minute by a very good friend from college who had recently moved to NY and was going through some big transitions of her own.

We set out in my new, used Acura Integra, the back of which became our chuckwagon as we traveled from place to place, blissfully agenda-free, throwing our tent up wherever it struck us to do so from White Sands to Yosemite. A month and a half later, funds running low, we found ourselves headed back, ALL the way back, right back to exactly where we started. I returned, however, with some valuable direction: I went back to school, started freelancing to be my own boss and left some well worn baggage behind in the desert. That summer still ranks up there with the best times of my life. We were a year ahead of Thelma and Louise and a summer behind Dances with Wolves, the two films bookend that summer in my romanticized memory of it.

I don't when or if I'll ever get to take off on a wild chase like that again so it's been a vicarious pleasure over the last couple of weeks to watch The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down: the adventures of Ewan McGregor and his pal Charlie Boorham as they take 5 months to ride their motorbikes (that's Scottish for "motorcycle") around the world from London to NYC. Why do THEY get to do this? Because Ewan is a movie star and everything conceivable for such an undertaking: their BMW motorbikes, extensive and expensive tools, camping gear, office space, training, clothing, food, vehicles, crew including a medic, etc. was given to them for free on the premise they'd shoot the trip as a documentary. Night after night we have watched them wrestle their bikes through deep mud, sand, and floodwaters on every kind of road and off road as they continued their journey across border after border, seeing fantastic vistas and meeting every kind of folk along the way. They enjoyed their trip so much they decided to take 4 more months and do another: from Scotland to Cape Town (hence "Long Way Down." Now we are out of episodes and I feel almost as bad as I did, now going on 20 years ago, when we hit the coast of California and knew every mile from then on was one mile closer to home.

What has that got to do with Kevin Costner? I hadn't yet forgiven Ewan his trips: he's already had all the fun that comes with being a famous movie star and on top of that he gets to take these kick-ass trips of a lifetime! And then Monday night, up on stage at the Blue Note, is Dances with Wolves himself, playing Guitar Hero with a full band. Why? Because he's a movie star! It's starting to get to me.

I think we should seriously consider the redistribution of fun. When I grow up, I'm going to be a movie star. A male movie star. I'm going to have cake AND eat it! While my wife is at home with our kids.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

This is a famous earlobe

Any guesses? Story coming soon...