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American literature conflict creativity English literature French literature friendship generosity retirement social media wisdom

how not to despair, or dialog with a tech guy

An exchange of letters between a CIO of a large agency and a lit professor, both recently retired, who are wondering what the world is becoming as their two worlds collide with consequences no one can predict.

1/23/2023

Dear Julia,

I am reaching out to see if you might be willing to continue our brief conversation since some of what we discussed touched on a problem I have been trying to work through.

While serving as the information officer for an agency with about 1,500 employees, it was necessary to struggle with the introduction and then overwhelming increase in digital information assets.

I am using some of the time available with retirement to question the general presumption that information technology specialists are the sole authority for solving the mysteries of how best to adjust our information ecology – which was developed during what might be characterized as the age of written memory.

I have looked for clues in the transitions from mimetic communication to spoken language, and also from spoken to written language. Given the critical role of literature in all of them, it strikes me that specialists in literature (is the proper term philology?) need to be included in the conversation.

Would you have any interest in chatting with me about this?

Dan

1/24/2023

Dear Dan,

Your email has stayed with me all night and generated the following thoughts which I am putting into writing so I can get on with my day!  It is a fascinating inquiry and a question for which I have no big answer, only an extremely modest proposal for local action.  Ideally, a local kind of action which would allow people like your former colleagues to interact with people like my former colleagues and students, and children everywhere, eventually!

Meetings—better yet, true communion enacted over time through lasting, deep friendships created during these meetings–between people engrossed in creating new technologies and people involved in sustaining the written word, or the spoken/written/taught universe of literature and language, seems increasingly crucial for the wellbeing of our planet.

The two books that have been swirling around in my mind are Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain and Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris (aka “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”), especially the chapter entitled “Ceci tuera cela” (This Will Kill That, in other words, the printed word—unleashed by the printing press which was newly invented in the fifteenth century, the world depicted in his novel[1]–would kill the stained glass windows of Catholic cathedrals and their  monopoly on public story-telling and provision of visible narratives that give meaning to human life).

Here are my morning thoughts:

Now that humankind has (or is in the process of) switched from reading paper to interacting with screens, what is lost?  How to retain our humanity in this new environment? Of course, the issue is not identical to the one raised by Hugo in his 1831 book.  Stained glass windows only represented the Christian perspective, one set of stories, and you could only see them in a church. The printing press unleashed all kinds of perspectives and a potentially infinite range of stories.

But the new printed world excluded the illiterate or made their lives worse, by magnifying the divide between written and oral information systems. At the same time, moveable print made possible the deep learning and idea generating that led to the enormous “progress” in technology, medicine, and the democratization of knowledge which describes the past few centuries since the Renaissance.

In one way, digital technologies return us to a preliterate age, via the growing use of images—emojis, symbols, cartoon faces—instead of words, and the appeal of photographs. Yet forgeries are harder to spot. Photos may be prettified or altered from the real sources. Computers can now generate texts that seem to born from a human imagination. Now it is not only one church whose influence is fading; we may be witnessing the rise of a new superpower that humans no longer control: computers. Especially since computer science is dominated (or seems to be) by a certain kind of people: the new priests of the 21st century, who dictate the inner workings of those vast circuits, and seem to ignore what the consequences may be. Well, we are all ignorant of that.

But so far, the signs are worrisome. Shorter attention spans. Increased forgetfulness. Indifference to other peoples’ feelings, or unawareness that they even exist. Atomization, loneliness, despair.   

And at the same time, vast potential. Instant data retrieval, communication in real time with people far, far away. Alas, much of that communication is “spied on” (or could be) by humans with algorithms, so that predators can maximize details of their interest by selling analytics to advertisers, or compiling data banks to exploit for selling or influencing people. Still no one is “in charge.”

And we can all feel the burned-out sensation of too much screen exposure. Is it analogous to similar concerns over too much reading, from earlier times? Think of The Female Quixote[2] or Don Quixote himself: those novels were meant to depict a danger arising from too much of one kind of reading (novels). Too much imagination can lead one to hold unreal views and harbor expectations ungrounded in reality: disappointment, social ridicule, ostracism may ensue. Love remains out of sight, sadness and loneliness may befall the uncritical novel reader.

Too much screen time, esp. with violent video games, may do a similar trick on the mind but with a difference: instead of seeking and not finding love, one may seek to annihilate people perceived as “enemies” to the self. Even without such violent exposure, one attuned to screens may reduce people to targets or transactions, so that the self continues to feel strong and powerful, as it does on screen.

Spatial relations fade when the experience of walking, doing sports, or navigating a new place with a map are no longer common. Our world becomes an image on a screen with a dot for “you are here” which may be magnetized 1,000% or minimized into insignificance, instantly, with a flick of the thumb.

Communion through idea sharing, mutual experiences, sharing reactions to powerful writing, music, or art—therein lies our humanity, our greatness and our joy. What is the point of thinking, if all your thoughts are private property to be shared inside your head alone? Or posted online and forgotten seconds later by you and never read by anybody during your life?

Writing is still the most profound way to communicate and focused reading remains the best mode of activating thought.

Events that are local, in real time, with small groups of highly literate people (or children/teens/adults who are open to becoming such): that is the kind of event that I have discovered as a college teacher and which I now seek to propagate around me in West Seattle. That kind of event works, is remembered, and is cherished by humans. It is in a way a medieval model, except with no Church to coerce us or for us to serve. It is not “scalable” except in multiplying the model in locales worldwide.

Then what?

Therein lies the mystery.

Does it matter?

But I will seek ways to help create communion as long as I am here. Give hope, encourage, commiserate.

Thanks for asking!

Julia

p.s. Below I’ve pasted a flyer for one of my latest efforts. Pass the word to any kids you know!

“Write YOUR Story” now enrolling for Spring 2023!

Free Writing Workshop for people ages 8-12

Meets on Thursdays, February 2 – May 4, 2023*

4:30pm to 5:30pm,

High Point Community Center: 6920 34th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98126

Taught by two West Seattle writer/professors                               

TO ENROLL:  Contact the High Point Comm. Center (206) 684-7422

Website:  http://jdouthwa.wixsite.com/writeyourstory1                

*(no class on 4/13 and 4/20)


[1] In Germany, around 1440, goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press, which started the Printing Revolution.  Wikipedia.

[2] The Female Quixote; or, The Adventures of Arabella is a novel written by Charlotte Lennox, pub. 1752, imitating and parodying the ideas of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605-1615).

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what success looks like

to me

with enthusiasm,

J

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American literature art children creativity French literature humor music nature quilts

Only a real idiot can have this much fun! (homage to Julio Cortázar)

Reading Julio Cortázar’s essay, “Only a Real Idiot” yesterday, I felt such a joyfully liberating surge of life energy, for he captured how I feel, on seeing a hummingbird scratch his neck with his tiny foot like a dog, or a cornflower in glorious blue abandon alongside gritty Rainier Avenue, or José González in concert. Or my classmates doing Aikido at sunset, a Chinese busker twanging strange melodies at Hing Hay Park, or Toots and the Maytalls when they were here, so long ago in the pre-pandemic past…

“I am entertained, deeply moved; the dialogues or the dancers’ motions seem like supernatural visions to me. I applaud wildly, and sometimes the tears well up in my eyes or I laugh until I have to pee; in any event, I am glad to be alive and to have had this opportunity to go to the theater or to the movies or to an exhibition, anywhere extraordinary people make or show things never before imagined, where they invent a place of revelation or communication, something that washes away the moments when nothing is happening, nothing but what always happens.” (“Only a Real Idiot” in Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, p. 62)

It’s all about enthusiasm.

My latest creation–to be unveiled next week at West Seattle’s Summerfest!–is the Luxury Troll Boudoir. (If ever there were a folly, this is it!)

Luxury Troll Boudoirs in progress, HGBG workshop, West Seattle (7/5/22)

— Set in a picturesque cigar box, each features a troll doll with its own quilt, snuggled into a little bed made of vintage satin
— Comes with a booklet, Beautiful Thoughts for the Boudoir, with quotes and portraits by five inspiring French and American women writers
— Suitable for children or nostalgia lovers of any age

Coming soon to the HGBG shop on etsy!

Author portrait courtesy of https://aldianews.com/en/culture/books-and-authors/cortazar-movies

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French literature humor wisdom

Trivia Quiz for “Père Goriot” (1835) by Honoré de Balzac

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 6/26/22

With answers below

A. The Complicated Unfolding: Characters and Relationships.

1. Secrets revealed. People’s secrets come to light in many ways—gradual and abrupt—in the pages of Père Goriot. Which of the following is not a secret revealed?

a. Anastasie, Comtesse de Restaud, is actually Goriot’s eldest daughter.

b. Delphine, Baronne de Nucingen, is actually Goriot’s second daughter.

c. Monsieur Vautrin is actually a famous criminal nicknamed Trompe-la-mort or Death Dodger.

d. Mme Vauquer’s generosity actually does help the people of Borrioboola-Gha.

2. Mysteries remain. Despite the many dénouements in the second half, significant doubts nag at the reader. Which of the following enigmas is resolved?

a. Will Eugène de Rastignac remain loyal to his lady-love, Delphine de Nucingen?

b. Will Mme Vauquer find new boarders for her rooming house?

c. Will Vautrin escape from prison with the help of his confederates?

d. Will the Vicomtesse de Beauséant ever be seen in Paris again?

e. All of the above remain tinged by mystery, in one way or another.

B. Irony, heavy at times.  The Balzacian narrator, and the novel’s characters, do not hesitate to pass judgment on people, often with funny/cringe-inducing results. Match the comment to the person being described. The characters:  a. Père Goriot; b. Eugène de Rastignac ; c. Mme Vauquer ; d. Mlle Victorine Taillefer  

3. “As happens with great souls, he wanted nothing he had not deserved.”

4.  “Like all narrow-minded people, X habitually looked no farther than the sequence taken by events, without analyzing their causes. She liked to blame others for her own mistakes.”

5. “X blended in with the general atmosphere of wretchedness… She resembled a shrub whose leaves have yellowed from being freshly planted in the wrong sort of soil.”

6. “There was no more room for doubt. X was an old rake … the disgusting color of his hair was the result of his excesses and the drugs he took in order to continue them.”

C. 7. Education. Père Goriot, like David Copperfield, is considered a Bildungsroman or novel of education. Which one of the following precepts does the hero Eugène not learn in the course of his time in Paris?

a. “Believe me, young man, practice shooting. … It’s no good being honest.”

b. “Strike without pity and people will fear you.”

c. “Take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think in this country.”

d. “If you want to succeed, start by not showing your feelings so plainly.”

e. “There are only two options open: dumb obedience or revolt.”

8. Which one of the following attributes is not mentioned to explain Eugène’s popularity among ladies?

a. his expressions of undying loyalty

b. his studiousness and work ethic

c. his southern impetuosity

d. his good looks

9. Marriage in Paris: a special kind of hell. Circle the quote that is not by Balzac.

a. “Poor old thing, I suppose she likes him, but, I must say, if he was one’s dog one would have him put down.”

b. “Young men from the provinces know nothing of the pleasures of a triangular relationship.”

c. “Our marriages have become a mere farce.”

d. “Chains of gold are the heaviest to bear.”

10. Money worries. There is one place in Père Goriot where several people go in secret, to solve worries about money. What place is called “that depressing and discreet friend of the young”?

a. a gambling den

b. a pawn shop

c. a brothel

11. Although Père Goriot seems to act in mysterious ways to his fellow boarders, Vautrin is the ultimate mystery in their midst. Which of the following does not designate his character?

a. “Let me tell you a secret: he doesn’t like women.”

b. “The very fact of his conviction brought him the most enormous honor among his own sort.”

c. “He has been fortunate enough to escape with his life from all the extremely risky exploits he has carried out.”

d. “that great lump of an Alsatian? / He is quite capable of absconding with all the capital and leaving us behind, the scoundrel!”

ANSWERS

  1. d.
  2. e.
  3. b.
  4. c.
  5. d.
  6. a.
  7. c. (That quote is from Bram Stoker, Dracula.)
  8. b.
  9. a. (That quote is from The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.)
  10. b.
  11. d. (That quote describes the Baron de Nucingen, Delphine’s husband.)

Fantastic movie poster; love the symbols of greed and sorrow, rage and lust. That about sums up this cynical masterpiece… which can evoke tears or great merriment, depending on your mood when you read it.

P.S. For our next meeting, July 31, we’re going to read Jane Eyre!

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American literature art creativity English literature French literature wisdom

Trivia quiz on Virginia Woolf, “To the Lighthouse” and “A Room of One’s Own”

Trivia Quiz for To the Lighthouse (1927) and A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf

with the answers below

For WSEA “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 5/22/22

I. To the Lighthouse

A. On Frustrated Yearning     

1. The book begins with a scene of a young boy’s yearning, which opens the reader’s horizon to a long-awaited sea voyage. In a few lines, however, the dream of travel is dashed. Who is the first person to announce the trip’s impossibility, and why?

a. the protagonist’s nurse, because the boy is sickly and too weak for travel at present.

b. the child’s mother, who reminds him that he has schoolwork to do.

c. the child’s father, who announces that the weather “won’t be fine.”

d. a houseguest, who feels a west wind blowing.

2. On Comfort.

Among other things, words provide comfort to the child and it is usually his mother who speaks comforting words. Which of the following refrains is not spoken by the mother, Mrs. Ramsey?

a. “But it may be fine—I expect it will be fine.”          

b. “Let’s find another picture to cut out.”                   

c. “Oh, how beautiful!”

d. “Well then, we will cover it up.”                 

e. “Think of a kitchen table, when you’re not there.”

3. Ordinary Misogyny. Quotes that we may find objectionable run through the narrative. Which is not from To the Lighthouse?

a. “They did nothing but talk, talk, talk, eat, eat, eat. It was the women’s fault. Women made civilisation impossible with all their ‘charm,’ all their silliness.”

b. “Treat ‘em like chickens, son. Throw ‘em a little corn and they’ll run after you, but don’t give ‘em too much. If you do, they’ll stop layin’ and expect you to wait on ‘em.”

c. “She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings.”

d. “There was Mr. X whispering in her ear, ‘Women can’t paint, women can’t write…’”

e. “She guessed what he was thinking—he would have written better books if he had not married.”

4. Extraordinary Restraint. Women react to men’s comments in ways that feel uncomfortably familiar—with silence, resentment, and smoldering rage. Which is not in To the Lighthouse?

a. “She had done the usual trick—been nice.”  

b. “’Odious little man,’ thought Mrs. Ramsey, ‘why go on saying that?’”

c. “She would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties or slur over duties.”

d. “She bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked. There was nothing to be said.”

e. “If she had said half of what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now.”

f. All are in To the Lighthouse.

5. How long does it take before the Ramseys take the trip mentioned on page one?

a. two months             

b. ten years                 

c. twenty years            

d. one week

II. A Room of One’s Own and themes found in both books

6. Why does Woolf declare that “the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction” must remain unsolved in her work?  Which reason is not in the book?

a. because there are too many great women novelists to synthesize into one conclusion

b. because until the 17th century, most women were too poor and uneducated to write anything

c. because throughout history, women have lacked the time, money and solitude necessary to discover their genius

7. Acc. to Woolf, what emotion dominates the books (by men) explaining women and their works?

a. delight                     

b. anger                       

c. awe              

d. jealousy  

8. Creativity: How to explain it? Woolf attempts variously to describe what it feels like to conceive ideas and create things. Which quote is not by Virginia Woolf in these two books?

a. “It is fatal for anyone who writes to ignore their sex. The mind must be focused on one’s sexual identity, for its limitations and biological demands matter more than anything.”

b. “She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight … that made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as down a dark passage for a child.”

c. “Thought … had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute by minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it, until—you know the little tug—the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked.”

d. “The androgynous mind is resonant and porous … it transmits emotion without impediment … it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.”

9. Woolf’s reality. Which of the following is not in A Room?

a. “If she begins to tell the truth, the [man’s] figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished.”

b. “It is remarkable … what a change of temper a fixed income will bring about. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me.”

c. “The Suffrage campaign has done the unthinkable! Finally, it has roused in men an extraordinary desire to help women achieve their potential.”

d.  “Imaginatively, she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.”

e. “Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at.”

10. What’s wrong with women’s writing of the nineteenth century? Which reason is not cited?

a. Ignorance and emotion. “Anger was tampering with the integrity of Charlotte Brontë the novelist. … Her imagination swerved from indignation and we feel it swerve.”

b. Lack of natural ability. “No woman has ever written as well as Dickens or Proust.”

c.  Pressure of convention. “She was thinking of something other than the thing itself. … She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others.”

d. Lack of female community and heritage. “They had no tradition behind them, or one so short and partial that it was of little help. For we think back through our mothers … it is useless to go to the great men writers for help.”

11. What advice does Woolf not proffer to young women? 

a. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

b. There must be a lock on that door, the door to your room.

c.  “Adopt the name of a man for your writing; anonymity runs in our blood.”

d. “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn.”

ANSWERS

1. c.

2. e. (Son Andrew makes that observation, describing his father’s philosophical writings.)

3. b.  That quote is from Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes.

4. f. All are in To the Lighthouse.

5. b.

6. a.

7. b.

8. a.

9. c.

10. b.

11. c.

To all women: please write! write simply, write sadly, write with your heart or your anger…

Write about your lives, about your thoughts, about your past, present, or future, but write, and let the world know you were here!

For what it is worth, I’ve pasted below a photo of the books I’ve created during my time on this earth, inspired partly at least by my reading of Woolf’s essay during my time as an undergraduate….

Woolf makes me proud to be a writer. To exist. To forgive us all, and to hope… for more great writers will come! Please write!

And, of course, thank you for reading.

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American literature French literature nature

day 77, just getting by, with Mallarmé

Hi anybody,

So much turmoil and fear everywhere. Anxiety courses through my veins and it is only 9:02 am. No wisdom to share today.  Just “same as day 73, and every day since.” If I can help you, please contact me. If not, know I’m feeling the pain too. It’s a mute solidarity of misery and fear. But we can still hope for a better tomorrow. Or even a better 9:15am!  On that note, I’m going to go for a walk.  Here is a bit of poetry from Mallarmé–an excellent companion for bleak moments–to capture the angst and desire to flee from one’s own mind:

La chair est triste, hélas ! et j’ai lu tous les livres.
Fuir ! là-bas fuir! Je sens que des oiseaux sont ivres
D’être parmi l’écume inconnue et les cieux !

“Brise marine” by Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898)

And the gorgeous translation by my friend Henry Weinfield:

Sea Breeze

The flesh is sad, alas, and there’s nothing but words!

To take flight, far off! I sense that somewhere the birds

Are drunk to be amid strange spray and skies.

— Stéphane Mallarmé, Collected Poems, trans. by Henry Weinfield (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1994, 2011), p. 21.

Yesterday’s production of face masks:

Face masks made on June 3 2020

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art creativity death dogs French literature nature storms wisdom

Day 72: ignite the finite (homage to Diderot)

Our lives are finite. We can only stand so much. Honey Girl’s actions during today’s thunderstorm prove it.

First, she was hiding in the bathroom because the lightning and thunder scare her. During a lull in the storm, I opened the door and she came out. A little. Then the thunder boomed and she went back in to the smallest place in the house: a tiny bathroom under the stairs. Her world is as small as she can make it. We can’t help it that sounds scare us, but being of a philosophical mind, we can find interest in the concept of being “finite.” And happily, it doesn’t have to scare us.

“Our lives are finite” feels grim; a death sentence. But if you examine the actual word and concept, it feels different. It feels a lot like peace.

finite, adjective and noun (from Latin finitus, pa pple of finire FINISH verb)

a. adjective. 1. Having bounds, ends, or limits; not infinite or infinitesimal.

b. Having an existence subject to limitations and conditions.

2. Fixed, determined, definite.

[Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 962. Three other definitions follow, in math, grammar, and music.]

What I love about this definition is the concept of: “Not infinite or infinitesimal.” In other words, we do exist, we have the ability to act, we are not insignificant. Instead of despairing about our lives’ limitations, why not turn it around? Why not think of our bodies and minds as conduits through which we can make things happen. It’s the real potential at hand. Ignite the finite!

(For my part, I’ve already launched one long-term collaborative project with a distant friend today and I’ve got dozens of masks to sew, so my time feel’s short. I like it that way.)

As Denis Diderot once said, « J’aime mieux une belle chimère qui fait tenter de grandes choses qu’une réalité stérile, une prétendue sagesse qui jette et retient l’homme rare dans une stupide inertie. »

–Lettre à Falconet, in Esprit de Diderot : choix de citations, p. 61.

« I prefer beautiful fantasies that inspire men of genius to grandiose actions, rather than a sterile reality, supposedly the seat of wisdom, which enslaves their spirits to inertia.”

***

 

Yesterday’s face mask production, fyi

Face masks made on May 29 2020

 

*with thanks to Laurent Loty’s beautiful book (with Éric Vanzieleghem), Esprit de Diderot: choix de citations (Paris: Hermann, 2013) and the bookmarks commemorating events at Université Paris Diderot, in honor of French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784), editor of the Encyclopédie and many other works of Enlightenment genius.

Categories
art creativity French literature memory

day 57, how a mysterious necklace led to Baudelaire

Hello!

My morning walk took me on an unexpectedly southeastern route today, when I arrived at a corner, saw the sun, and turned abruptly to follow it. The warmth felt so good! That led across a bridge where I glimpsed this metaphor of change—a boat passing by—then to a park, site of the street art I captured a while back. It’s gone! All that is left are a few scraps of black paper. (We’ll have to just keep trusting the flux by ourselves, I guess.)

 

Shortly afterwards, it was while passing by a grocery store that I saw it: a mysterious black velvet necklace, elaborately jeweled in gold beads and embroidery.

mysterious necklace May 15 2020

Like a sunglass-wearing magpie, I stood transfixed, walked all around it, and poked it with my toe. In any other time, I would have picked it up, at least. (I might even have taken it home, washed it, taken out the seams, and stitched it into a new wall-hanging!) The temptation was great.

But no…

Instead I took a picture, and left it behind. But my mind took flight… into memories of Baudelaire. For you and me both, here are a few lines to share the pleasure, from “La Chevelure.” They show how an ordinary thing—hair—inspired the poet to conjure up the mysterious beauties of womanhood …  (English translation below)

“La Chevelure”

O toison, moutonnant jusque sur l’encolure !

O boucles ! O parfum chargé de nonchaloir !

Extase ! Pour peupler ce soir l’alcôve obscure

Des souvenirs dormant dans cette chevelure,

Je la veux agiter dans l’air comme un mouchoir !

 

La langoureuse Asie et la brûlante Afrique,

Tout un monde lointain, absent, presque défunt,

Vit dans tes profondeurs, forêt aromatique !

Comme d’autres esprits voguent sur la musique,

Le mien, ô mon amour ! nage sur ton parfum.

 

…  Fortes tresses, soyez la houle qui m’enlève !

 

“The Head of Hair”

 

Ecstatic fleece that ripples to your nape

And reeks of negligence in every curl!

To people my dim cubicle tonight

With memories shrouded in that head of hair,

I’d have it flutter like a handkerchief!

 

For torpid Asia, torrid Africa

–the wilderness I thought a world away—

Survive at the heart of this dark continent…

As other souls set sail to music, mine,

O my love! Embarks on your redolent hair.

 

Take me, tousled current…

Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil / Les Fleurs du mal, trans. Richard Howard, (Boston: David R. Godine, 1982), 30, 208.

from the sublime to the banal, here is yesterday’s mask production:

Face masks made on May 14 2020

Categories
art creativity design English literature French literature nature work

day 44: just a bird?

This morning as I was getting ready to step into the shower, I looked through the skylight and saw a most amazing big yellow bird with a red head! It seemed to be calm and powerful, as it gazed through the thick boughs of cedar and hopped from branch to branch. I watched for a while (wishing I had my phone), and he remained present during my shower and afterwards. But when I was dressed and dashed downstairs to get my phone and came back upstairs again, he was gone.

Looking out from the shower at the cedar tree May 2 2020

Now I did take a minute to search “yellow bird with red head” and quickly got the answer: it was a Western Tanager, not uncommon in these parts, apparently.

But more importantly, I now think about him still and the vision makes me feel like something just happened. The dazzling vision—of bright yellow with black and white wings, flashing a red head with black eyes, looking through the graceful green boughs—seems like a sign. It is a sign that a bird feels safe in my cedar tree—the tree of wisdom, according to the native peoples of this region—which means to me that this place is sacred. From there it is but a hop to conclude that my work–in a room looking over this tree–could be sacred too. As a lovely poem by Pascale Petit goes:

“They say we are just embroiderers

but when we are working well, our tower turns

into burnished fire and the mantle flows

from our fingers, tumbling through the air

in loops of delight.”*

 

So this message goes out to my brothers and sisters, the seamstresses, tailors, sewers, stitchers of all ages and nations: take heart! Your work matters, and you matter too. What we are sewing now will become part of this time’s collective memory, so make it beautiful! Or, as my motto goes:

La vie est trop courte pour se protéger tristement.

(Life is too short to wear a sad mask.)

 

Also, alongside yesterday’s face mask production, is a picture of our new T-Shirt!

Exclusive!  Honey Girl t-shirts, now available for just $10 each (cash or check)  in West Seattle (on my porch) or by mail order (w/SASE upon request).

Sizes:  Youth Medium; Adult Small; Adult Medium; Adult Large; Adult Extra-Large.  Email quickly to reserve yours, juliawsea@gmail.com !

(While my face masks take lots of time, these t-shirts are already done, and allow you to spread the good feelings with our winsome puppy logo.)

 

* from Pascale Petit, “Creation of the Himalayas,” cited in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, p. 180. Poem inspired by painting Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle by Remedios Varo (1961, featured below, with thanks to https://www.wikiart.org/en/remedios-varo/embroidering-the-earth-s-mantle-1961

embroidering-the-earth-s-mantle-1961.jpg!Large

 

Categories
American literature death French literature humor wisdom

day 9, on “killing” time. Please don’t!

Good morning!

Well, after an hour or so spent poring over the New York Times, and yesterday’s Seattle Times (which is silently delivered to our doorstep by a neighbor for recycling), I feel quite lucky and rather guilty for having the luxury to stay home instead of going to work at a hospital, grocery store, or Amazon warehouse. I’d readily volunteer to go out there and help in some way, but then again, the Governor wants us to stay home. Round and round we go….

Nevertheless, I am not the only “lucky” one who is stuck at home with time, lots and lots of “free time,” to fill. So, with a hearty “THANK YOU” to all the service workers, medical personnel, and other essential people who are going to work, we non-essential folks turn to the elephant in our rooms: how to pass all this time?  And why do we speak of “killing” such an intangible, fleeting entity?  For answers, I turn first  to the dictionary and then to a great novel.

A. The dictionary.    Kill, verb. (Prob. from Germanic word rel. to QUELL verb).*

Definitions nos. 1-3 pertain to ME [Middle English], so I’ll skip directly to more modern meanings. Confused about transitive & intransitive verbs? see below **

4. verb trans. Deprive (an organism, a substance, a process, etc.) of vitality, activity, effect, etc. Now also, destroy, break, or ruin (a thing).

5. verb trans.  a. Cause severe pain or suffering to; overexert (esp. oneself, doing). b. Overwhelm (a person) by a strong impression, as of admiration, anger, delight, grief, etc.; impress, thrill; convulse with laughter, refl laugh heartily.

6. verb trans.  Prevent the passing of (a bill) in Parliament.

7. verb trans. Spend (time) engaged in some activity, esp. while waiting for a specific event.

8. verb trans. Consume; eat or drink; spec. consume the entire contents of (a bottle of liquor). colloq.

9. verb trans. Cancel or delete (text etc.) from a book, journal, etc. before publication, or from a computer file. In Journalism, suppress or deny (a story etc.)

10. verb trans. Extinguish, turn off (a light, an engine, etc.), put out (a cigarette etc.) colloq.

From these definitions, one gathers the following analogies: killing is involved in depriving, destroying, preventing progress, waiting for an unspecified event, consuming (too much of something), cancelling, suppressing, or extinguishing things. It is altogether a bad bunch of thoughts.  So why do we persist in wanting to kill something as precious as time, that is, our already short lives?

Interesting, in French, they speak not of killing time but of losing time (perdre le temps): this points to all kinds of fascinating cultural differences…  Can you imagine a book called In Search of Killed Time?!  Haha, couldn’t resist  🙂

B. The Novel.  Since I have no answer to those questions, I offer a funny passage  instead. From Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence: the passage concerns the rather dull, yet respectable Welland family, whose daughter May has just married the hero, Newland Archer. Much to his chagrin, he is now realizing not only what a bore she is, but that his whole life is turning into a yawn:

“It was a principle in the Welland family that people’s days and hours should be what Mrs. Welland called ‘provided for.’ The melancholy possibility of having to ‘kill time’ (especially for those who did not care for whist or solitaire) was a vision that haunted her …

It was a cause of constant distress to Mrs. Welland that her son-in-law showed so little foresight in planning his days. Often already, during the fortnight that he had passed under her roof, when she inquired how he meant to spend his afternoon, he had answered paradoxically: ‘Oh, I think for a change I’ll just save it instead of spending it—‘ and once, when she and May had had to go on a long-postponed round of afternoon calls, he had confessed to having lain all the afternoon under a rock on the beach below the house.

‘Newland never seems to look ahead,’ Mrs. Welland once ventured to complain to her daughter; and May answered serenely: ‘No; but you see it doesn’t matter, because when there’s nothing particular to do he reads a book.’

‘Ah, yes–like his father!’ Mrs. Welland agreed, as if allowing for an inherited oddity; and after that the question of Newland’s unemployment was tacitly dropped.”***

 

The conclusion:  Stop the kill! Back to pleasure!  Embrace your oddities!  No ideas? See post no. 6, on the many ways to spend and even enjoy rather than kill your precious days.

Bye for now. I’ll be back tomorrow.

 

*The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), Vol. 1, p. 1495.

** What is the difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb?
A transitive verb (verb trans.) is a verb that requires a direct object, which is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that follows the verb and completes the sentence’s meaning by indicating the person or thing that receives the action of the verb. The direct object typically answers the question what? or whom?  as in “The kids like pickles.”

An intransitive verb is not used with a direct object. If something comes after an intransitive verb, that is, in the position usually inhabited by the direct object, it doesn’t answer what? or whom?; instead it answers a question like where?, when?, how?, or how long?, as in “Her car died suddenly last week.”

With thanks to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transitive

*** Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, 1st ed. 1920, ed. Maureen Howard (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2004), pp. 188-189.