Today I caught the last moments of a Terry Gross interview on NPR. In it, she was speaking with Jack Miles, general editor of The Norton Anthology Of World Religions and professor of English and religious studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is also the author of God: A Biography, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996. What I heard was of great interest, but most interesting of all was a seeming throwaway line I might have missed had I not gone back to read an online transcript of the discussion and reflect on what had been said.
“I have no confidence that the world [awaiting] us — given global warming, given the threat to the human habitat — is a world of ever-increasing knowledge…,” says Miles. “We may be at a peak now from which we will decline. Who knows?”
I think I can honestly say it never occurred to me that human beings would stop evolving; in fact, I have often taken comfort in the belief that we could grow out of our smallnesses and stupidities to become the enlightened band of sisters and brothers we were meant to be. But one glance at the day’s headlines, and I have to wonder if we are, in fact, on a slow, steady slide downward.
I started this blog nearly three years ago, and, at the time, I had no expectations about what I should do or about how I should do it. I knew only that I wanted to write in a disciplined, thoughtful way because I saw that, for me, a careful, dogged approach to the craft and art of writing was the only path to developing myself.
Though I have done many things in my life — teaching writing among them — I always seemed to run from this slow, steady approach to my own work. Early on here, I began to write sections of a short story and to post them each week. This felt very risky, but your “likes,” “follows,” and comments gave me the confidence to keep on with it. I have since had the piece published — thanks in large part to your support. I now find myself very caught up in writing poetry, which has been a wonderful surprise for me, and I am once again grateful for your responsiveness to this work. I thought you might all want to jump ship if I stopped posting short pieces of nonfiction regularly, but so far only one person has jumped, and perhaps for other reasons.
I often have felt quite sad during the holiday season because the essence of its holiness seems lost on many of us — as does a true sense of wonder and gratitude for the life we each have been given, with every day a chance for renewal and for giving and receiving loving kindness. By staying with me over these years, you have shown me much loving kindness, and I am very grateful to you. During this season, may you all find and keep the peace and love you so deserve.
love is a lunatic aunt
come down from the Bronx to
rant about her maybe baby
and prophesy calamity
he some dark eyed
and need him
on the side
with they aye papi way
he gonna kill me
dead that one
and snuff these holy flame
gonna do miss mujerzuela
so as give him nena pain
lo siento sobrina but
you don’t got no chance
I just thrown the lovers’ tarot
and seen trouble with romance
first I pull the tower then
the devil after that so I think
you better go mami
before you too much fat
* llamas gemelas = “twin flames”
Some years ago, I taught a literature course in which, among other works, we read Montana 1948, a powerful novel by Larry Watson. The book sparked interesting class discussions over a period of several weeks, though none more intriguing — to me at least — than the one that took place after I found myself reminding students we were talking about a work of fiction, which meant the story, though written in the first person, was not true.
One student, a very quiet young man who always sat in the way back, seemed not to have understood that the book was entirely spun out of sugar and air until he heard my jolting reminder. When my words registered with him, he looked as though I had punched him low and hard. Because he had all along believed the story to be true, he said he felt betrayed — so much so that he told us he would never again read another novel. Other students said they also felt bamboozled, though no one else vowed to give up on fiction for good.
Even when I was a very young and inexperienced writer of fiction and poetry, I often got twisted around this idea of truth-telling and wondered what it actually meant for me to be an honest writer of made-up stories and poems. Over time, I have come to think that truth-telling is any writer’s true north and that sensitive readers will know an honest piece of writing, no matter the genre, by the way it makes them feel. Judging by the student responses in my class, I’d say Larry Watson’s compass needle was stuck on “N” all the while he was writing Montana 1948.
For many years I have been fascinated by the use of a technique in poetry known as the “dramatic monologue.” Though he certainly wasn’t the first to use this technique (or form), Victorian poet Robert Browning perfected it in such poems as “Porphyria’s Lover” (a favorite) and “My Last Duchess.” Later, T.S. Eliot used the form in his famous poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (another favorite), and John Berryman used it in his “Dream Songs.” Poems that incorporate dramatic monologue — also known as persona poems — typically make use of one “character” through whom the poem is spoken or delivered. Because a poem using this technique is often in the first person, it is tempting to conclude that the poem’s narrator and the poet are one and the same. But don’t be fooled! Writing this type of poem allows the writer to adopt the “voice” of the character and to inhabit him or her from the inside out (as an actor might). And, because there is no overt commentary about or analysis of the character given within the poem itself, it is left to the reader to decide the poem’s meaning and power by paying close attention to what the often “unreliable narrator” says — or doesn’t say.
Rose ave. is a collaboration between Alecia Moore (aka Pink) and Dallas Green (of City and Colour), and it is one of the most beautiful, and haunting, collections of songs I have ever heard. Singing of love and loss, Moore and Green — who call themselves you+me — showcase delicate, complex harmonies and an extraordinary vocal range. I especially like “Love Gone Wrong” for its simple but catchy “baby…baby” lyrics and for its use of point/counterpoint. And, hard as it might be to believe, they go Sade one better in their harrowing version of her “No Ordinary Love.” If you’d like to hear the full album, click here.
I’m a big fan of Joss Stone, the 27-year-old English singer/songwriter whose music more than tips a hat to the likes of Aretha, Dusty, and Janis but whose bluesy soulfulness is uniquely her own. I’m mesmerized by her sound, which recalls the music of my childhood, and by the barefooted, flower-in-the-hair performances that take me back to my hippie youth, such as it was.
For a while, though, I didn’t even know Joss Stone was a singer because I first saw her in Showtime’s The Tudors, where, during seasons three and four, she was cast as Anne of Cleaves, the fourth wife of King Henry VIII — who cruelly contrived to get rid of her because he found her unattractive. (“I like her not!” bellows actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s King Henry to anyone who will listen.) Hers was such a poignant, understated performance that I couldn’t have imagined such a sexy singer would be hiding beneath the dull, thick costumes.
Sexy, indeed! “But not slutty,” as one man pointed out in a comment he posted on YouTube — a comment that has me thinking about what it means for a woman to be just enough sexy. It’s that Virgin Mary/Mary Magdalene thing, the angel/whore split that dogs our collective unconscious and confuses even the best of men.
Something I read today on Facebook from Jeff Brown:
“Sometimes people walk away from love because it is so beautiful that it terrifies them. Sometimes they leave because the connection shines a bright light on their dark places and they are not ready to work them through. Sometimes they run away because they are not developmentally prepared to merge with another — they have more individuation work to do first. Sometimes they take off because love is not a priority in their lives — they have another path and purpose to walk first. Sometimes they end it because they prefer a relationship that is more practical than conscious, one that does not threaten the ways that they organize reality. Because so many of us carry shame, we have a tendency to personalize love’s leavings, triggered by the rejection and feelings of abandonment. But this is not always true. Sometimes it has nothing to do with us. Sometimes the one who leaves is just not ready to hold it safe. Sometimes they know something we don’t — they know their limits at that moment in time. Real love is no easy path — readiness is everything. May we grieve loss without personalizing it. May we learn to love ourselves in the absence of the lover.”
Like that old photograph I found
at the bottom of her sea-green lunch pail,
where his tanned arm, white shirt sleeve rolled to
just below the elbow,
rests on the dark steering wheel of their old Impala,
with her leaning in,
left knee on the passenger seat.
Or like that old movie I saw,
where the mermaid bride longs for her sailor lover,
he in his blue and white striped t-shirt, both sleeves rolled to the shoulders,
and resting one hand at the small of her slender back.
“Bésame,” she begs.
Or like that old TV show I watched,
where barefoot and only half smiling
he walks slowly to the water’s edge, wet trousers rolled to the shins,
and says to a woman we can’t quite see,
And she almost does,
but the best encounter
I’ve ever had
the best one
I was tracking a jaguar
in the jungle
which I usually don’t do
I saw these big male tracks of a jaguar
I’d never seen before and
I just took off thinking okay
I’ll track it a little while but
I shouldn’t be alone but
I ended up tracking it for hours and
it was getting dark and
I didn’t have a flashlight and
I can’t be alone in the jungle without a flashlight so
I turn around and
there’s the jaguar
in back of me
(Excerpt from an 8.18.14 interview between NPR’s Diane Rehm and zoologist/wildlife ecologist Alan Rabinowitz )