So the Darkness Shall be the Light, and the Stillness the Dancing.

The title is a quote from T.S. Eliot, East Coker, The Four Quartets.   The stillness has been my dancing lately.  I’ve stories I’m working on that have been going well.  I’ve a piece of knitting by my computer that I knit a row or two on while I’m rereading or thinking about what comes next.

I’ve accumulated a list of tasks to do when I reach critical mess*: Two loads of washing — my dirty clothes hamper is almost too full again and the bed is due for changing, plus another load or two of blankets and lap robes that need to be washed and put in storage for winter, now that summer is half over.  There is my yarn stash to be sorted through and organized, and the new additional** storage bins to be put in place and WIPs to sort into finish-its  or frog-its.

With a drawer and a basket full of WIPs, of course I’ve started a new shawl out of Malabrigo sock yarn, color “Teal Feather.”  One of those easy, mindless garter stitch shawls growing out of a two-row repeat with fiddly bits at each end, asymmetrical with a crescent curve and a nice little detail for each edge.  Something light for autumn.  It’s currently living by my computer, handy for story work.  From all my years as a transcriptionist, I tend to think with my hands. It’s such a hard-wired circuit, from brain to fingers.  Knitting when I’m not typing, to keep the fingers busy and the thoughts flowing.

This was why there was a plate beside my keyboard, a roast beef and Münster cheese sandwich on a piece of pita bread cut in half, and a package of apple slices.  I had some of those breaded shrimp the other day, the kind you buy frozen and bake in the oven.  Of course, I had Tartar sauce with, and I always save the left over Tartar sauce for roast beef sandwiches later, to spread on the side of the bread the roast beef goes on, with mayo on the cheese side.  The pickle bits in the Tartar sauce always go so well with the beef.  I have these little sauce dishes I got from Pier One, blue and white to match my dishes, although not the same pattern.  They’re made for the various dipping sauces you get with Japanese food, but they work just as well for Tartar sauce for shrimp, or ketchup, or individual dollops of margarine to set on the bread plate at each place when I have dinner parties.  Anyway, I just slip dish and all inside a baggie and put it in the refrigerator.

Next Tuesday I get to go to the dentist for the next step in the jaw-tooth implant.  This will be the  setting of the post, which will also entail bone grafting, and which is why I’ve been wearing this (tea-stained) thing on my lower teeth, at first all the time (except when actually eating), and now just at night.  Still fighting the legacy of large teeth and small jaws — I had to have 4 wisdom teeth plus 4 perfectly healthy bicuspids pulled just to make room for the teeth I had.  But because my front teeth are so long, I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough to get the guide into my mouth that is required in order to place the post for the implant to replace that way-at-the-back molar. So my dentist made this mouth guard for me to wear to lengthen (and relax) my jaw muscles enough so that hopefully I could open my mouth wide enough for him to get all the gear in that he needed to finish the implant.  Anyway, it worked and all that happens Tuesday.   Then there will be more months of waiting while the bone graft heals before we can proceed to the final step, which is placing the crown.

My mom’s new phone came in today so tomorrow I will go over and do the change out.  As I said, hopefully I can save her phone book to the new SIM card so I won’t have to re-enter all those phone numbers for her.  Again.  I’m going to go early enough in the afternoon so that I can stop by the nail place on the way home and get a manicure.  My nails are bad about getting those little slivers at the edge of the nail that peel up into the quick, and a professional manicurist can nip those in the bud.  And anyway, we’re supposed to stimulate the economy, right?

T.S.Elliot can be a bit impenetrable, but now and again, a gleam of something sparkly. It’s 9 p.m. and I want to get on to other things.  I’ll end as I began with another quote from the same poem.

“The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.”

*"critical mess" is like "critical mass" (the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction. in atom bombs), only it's the minimum amount of clutter, disorder or dishevelment required to trigger the "I can't stand it another minute" response that provokes you to do something about it.

**skeins of yarn, like cats, accumulate.

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing”

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.

Poem

Influences

One of the stock interview questions authors, actors, film makers, and artists of other ilk get asked when they are interviewed about their creations is: What were your early influences?  What captured your imagination in your formative years?  In a way, it’s like asking someone who’s made a particularly delectable item of food, “What ingredients did you use in this dish?” It’s one of the many variations on one of the most important of human questions, “How did you do that?”

The Crescent Moon Painting by Montague Dawson***

I couldn’t tell you any more how I ended up thinking about influences just now, because I’ve breathed since then, but I can tell you that it set off one of those free association things in my head that can be such fun.  One thought pinballing off into my head and I get to see what bumpers light up and go ding!  (I’ve ended up in some pretty interesting headspaces (2) that way.)

Anyway, one of the dings of this particular instance (or dongs, I forget which) was an album by Jefferson Airplane called, “After Bathing at Baxter’s.” The cover art was by visual artist Ron Cobb who has a very distinctive style.   I’d already chiseled  The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  into the bedrock of my memory by the time I encountered it.

Somewhat later, when I had more in the way of discretionary funds*,  I ran across the Airplane’s first album “Surrealistic Pillow” with  the iconic Grace Slick singing the iconic “White Rabbit” and had liked it.  I didn’t get to Baxter’s until a year or two after it came out because before I could get to it, I was blindsided by Crosby, Stills and Nash‘s first album and its positively orgasmic vocal harmonies (Sorry.  I don’t care what anybody says, Young was a mistake.  His voice doesn’t work with the fitted-together-like-Inca-stonework  triad of voices that was David Crosby, Steven Stills and Graham Nash in their prime.  Not sorry.).  If you want vocal harmony that is to die for, that album gets it in one.  Ironically, my favorite song on the whole album, the horse dance song, would still be my favorite if you stripped out the vocal tracks.  The guitar work on that song is just perfect.  (It led me to a magical place where the horses dance and the blue fish sing.  It was a peaceful, gentle place.  I haven’t been there in quite a while.  One day I might answer a Mag Challenge and take you there. . .)   (One more time, three great voices so tight, so right. Sigh.)

But back to Baxter’s.  It’s kind of one of those you had to have been there.  There is a fair amount of acid-trippy signal noise on the album,  — it came out of 1969 San Francisco, after all.   But The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil with some of its lyrics borrowed from the poetry** of A. A. Milne (I was turned on to Winnie the Pooh, not by having it read to me or by Disney,  but by Jefferson Airplane — try that one on your head.) and the gentle “Martha” stand out.  But, again, because this album, and the band, came out of 1969 San Francisco, you’ve got Slick crooning quotes from James Joyce‘s Ulysses (ReJoyce), and the aural hash that is “A Small Package of Value Will Come to You Shortly” which ends with somebody yelling “No man is an island!  No man is an island!  He’s a peninsula.” and a giggle. (I must have listened to that giggle a bazillion times, and it still makes me smile.  It’s a truly great giggle — right up there with Anderson Cooper’s.)  And some of it is just plain weird.  One of life’s many little opportunities to sift through the dross and discover the pearls.

There was a period in my life when I used to doodle (a lot) a tulip shaped bulb with convoluted roots and a daisy like flower blooming straight out of the bulb’s point, and on the bulb, in psychedelic lettering, was the phrase “Understanding is a virtue hard to come by.”  Which is a lyric from “Last Wall of the Castle” from Baxter’s.  If I had a dollar for every time I doodled that doodle, I could buy quite a nice armload of books . . .

Also out of that time came a song, “Wooden Ships” which was written aboard David Crosby’s schooner Maya by him, Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane.  It was recorded by CSN on their first album (mentioned above) and by Jefferson Airplane.   Somewhere between the poles of the two versions of this song was, once upon a time,  a small, strange burrowing bird living in the flatlands, learning to fly. . .

 

 

*discretionary funds -- "extra" money, that can be spent on what I like to call "targets of opportunity." 
**If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You'd lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You'd say to the wind when it took you away:
"That's where I wanted to go today!"

From "Spring Morning" in When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne.

***This picture has no relation to anything in the post.  I just like looking at it.

. . . The Wild Geese, High in the Clean Blue Air, Are Heading Home Again.

Mary Oliver

(September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019)

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

“I happened to be Standing” © by Mary Oliver

The title of this post is from one of her more well-known poems, “Wild Geese.”  She has left us, set out on the next stage of her journey, but, oh, what wonderful footprints she has left behind.

If My Words Were In My Hands And Not My Mouth

I.
If my words were in my hands and not my mouth,
If my sentences were framed by hand,
If agile fingers were my eloquence,
How would I whisper secrets in the shushing darkness?
How could you hear me on the moonless nights?

II.
If my words were in my hands and not my mouth,
And it was eyes that hung on every word,
Would flirtation be a tango for four hands?
Would anger
Jazz and swash like Martha Graham?
Would fingers knot and tangle in frustration?
Would praise unfold like flowers?
Would joy arise like a lark in the clear air?
Would being incommunicado involve rope and blindfolds?
Would girl talk
Swirl and flutter through the fingers like a restless flock of sparrows that
Without warning
Burst into a flight of giggles?
Could I talk to myself without a mirror?

III.
Oh,
If my words were in my hands and not my mouth,
. . . And I were not so palsied with self-consciousness . . .
I would let my hands dance out my heart.
But, oh,
I would have to say it to your face.
And, oh,
Whenever you are looking at me,
I am suddenly all awkwardness and elbows.
Your gaze tongue-ties my hands,
And my words come out all thumbs.
My shyness puts my speech in mittens
When what I want to do most
Is let my fingertips
Whisper soft “I love you’s” on your cheeks
Over and over.

 

I woke up in the middle of the night last night, decided to read for a while, was well into His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (which is shaping up to be a really good read, BTW), when I suddenly had a squirrel moment and my little magpie mind went ricocheting off of oooh-shiny into a mental tangent about sign language and people having to talk with their hands, and how that would play out in language and imagery. I was reading on my tablet, which has a WordPress app on it, so I stopped and wrote a small stone about it because they were interesting thoughts and I wanted to put them someplace where I could find them again.  Because you can't insert images on that jive (8),"medium-slow*" Android WordPress app, I had to go back today on my desktop PC and put the stone image in, and of course re-read it now that it was good and cold, and give it a tweak or two, and snatch a copy off it like a new toy and run outside and play with it on this blog. . . 


* half-fast

Saturday Afternoon

I’m listening to Dark Ambient Radio through Winamp* on my computer as I sit at my desk and knit, and read, and write.  This dark piece comes on, didn’t catch the name or artist, but at the end of it, this woman’s voice starts reciting poetry.  The poem is really good stuff, sounds vaguely Elizabethan, and she recites it very well.  I quickly open Firefox and type the last line into Google. (I am the Google Queen! — I read about it in Discovery Magazine in 1999, and started using it as a reference for medical equipment brand names and drug brand names when most people didn’t know from search engines, never mind Google.) Bingo.  Sonnet XC by — you guessed it — good ol’ Bill Shaksper Shakspere  Shakspeare. (He never seems to have spelled his surname with three “e’s,” so why do we?)

Sonnet XC

THen hate me when thou wilt, if euer,now, 
 Now while the world is bent my deeds to croſſe, 
 Ioyne with the ſpight of fortune,make me bow, 
 And doe not drop in for an after loſſe: 
 Ah doe not,when my heart hath ſcapte this ſorrow, 
 Come in the rereward of a conquerd woe, 
 Giue not a windy night a rainie morrow, 
 To linger out a purpoſd ouer-throw. 
 If thou wilt leaue me, do not leaue me laſt, 
 When other pettie griefes haue done their ſpight, 
 But in the onſet come,ſo ſtall I taſte 
 At firſt the very worſt of fortunes might. 
    And other ſtraines of woe, which now ſeeme woe, 
    Compar'd with loſſe of thee,will not ſeeme ſo.

For thoſe who are conuinced that the clown who typeſet the aboue in 1609 was three folioſ to the wind, here it is ſpelled and typeſet “correctly.”

Sonnet XC

Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah! do not, when my heart hath ‘scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquered woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come: so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune’s might;
        And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
        Compared with loss of thee, will not seem so.

Never mind that it’s a little Diana Damrau of a sonnet, that all the rhymes are effortless, and that all the little iambs are hard-wired into the pentameter so that reading it aloud is like pulling a silk scarf through a gold ring (I wish I knew who the lady was who was reciting it, because she nailed it); the guy just hauls off and quills stuff like “Give not a windy night a rainy morrow” and freights this humongous metaphor into your head on just seven freaking words. . . .

People say Shakspeare is hard.  No.  Shakspeare is easy.  This sonnet.  There’s not a hard word in it.  Not a word that any reasonably literate person wouldn’t know the meaning of.  Some of the grammatical forms are a little arcane, but within reach.  Some of his syntax is a little closer to Latin and French than we’re used to, and he uses some of the words in ways we’re not accustomed to having them used, but there’s nothing so hard in the language of this sonnet that you don’t know exactly what he’s talking about by the second read through.

What makes Shakspeare hard is that in the 400 odd years between us and him, technology, and the vocabulary that goes with it, has changed so much that most of us don’t even know what half the stuff in his world is anymore, never mind what the jargon means that goes with it. True, the pelt on the critter is a little strange, but once you’ve skinned it, the bones of the language haven’t changed so much that you can’t make heads nor tails of it; and his subject matter, human beings, hasn’t changed at all.  We may not have much in the way of a hereditary aristocracy left these days, but we understand all too well the kind of people who want wealth and power and are willing to stop at nothing to get it. Politics in the halls of government?  Yep.  Still got that, too.  Manipulate people by making them doubt themselves or others?  Yep.  Only we call it gaslighting now.  Or, take this sonnet — add beer and a pickup truck and you’ve essentially got the lyrics of about half the country and western songs ever written.

  • Yes, most internet radio stations have in-browser players, but I don't always want to be having to open my browser to hear music, especially when I'm using it for something else and I have six or eight other tabs open and/or I've got four or five windows open across two monitors.