Sunday, November 29, 2009

Glibbly ironic or ironically glib?

A few days ago I posted some musings on this blog asking if three sentences consitutes a story. From one-line poems, to three-line stories, to one-line essays--brevity, it seems, is difinitely "in"!

In case you haven't seen it, here's Dinty Moore's brief "essay" recently published in Mississippi Review Online

"I have a tendency toward glibness."

That's it--that's the entire "essay".

Moore is the editor of Brevity, which for more than a decade has been publishing "well-known and emerging writers working in the extremely brief (750 words or less) essay form," and whose site averages 6,000 visits per month.

I'm not the only reader scratching my head and wondering, in effect, "eh?" Mike Scalise also expressed confusion, and asked if others out there in bloggerland were also perplexed. Commenters' attempt at explaining and analyzing Moore's "essay" were as intriguing and amusing as the question which prompted the exchange in the first place, sometimes answering the question--with another question:

"My immediate gut-level reaction is .. that it's a definition of the essay."
"Is glibness what the 'essay' is conveying, or is it irony?"
"It TELLS glibness but SHOWS irony."

"It seems like Moore could’ve re-written his 'essay' to be even more brief, if brevity is the point. 'Tendency toward glibness' would seem even more glib of a statement, implying that the narrator is so glib that he has stopped bothering with (believing in) complete sentences... I don’t make an immediate connection between glibness and brevity."

The phrase "tendency toward glibness" is not unique to Dinty Moore. Joseph Epstein, in his book A Line Out for a Walk (1998), on page 85, states:

"Often behind what I have called 'the happy knack'-—my old tendency toward glibness is still intact, I see--is a great deal of effort; and careful writing is, after all, the best evidence going for having ... a lucid mind."


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Another Literary Print Journal Shutting Down

Wolf Moon Journal in Maine announced this week that it is reluctantly ceasing production of its print journal, due to decreasing subscriptions and rising costs, and that it will now be going electronic.

It seems to be a rising trend.

Returned Peace Corp volunteer John Givens discusses the decline of literary journal print publishing, worth checking out (click here) for the many invaluable links he provides, including the Top Fifty Literary Magazines and International List of Online Journals.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I am thankful
to be alive.

For good health
(knock on wood).

For my mother
for giving me her sense of humor
and love of reading.

For my father
for his initiative and ingenuity
and love of dancing.

For their love.

For my sisters,
always there for me
no matter what.

For all the family
aunts and uncles,
passed on
and still here.

For our pets,
for their companonship.

For my wonderful mate,
friend and lover,
sharer of my dreams,
the kindest person I have
ever known.

For my children,
forever in my mind and heart,
even beyond forever.

For the grandbubs,
who stole my heart
the minute I met them.

For the friends no longer here,
leaving memories to cherish

and those near and far
for their friendship.

For the unexpected insights
that changed my life.

For the hard times,
that helped me grow,
and learn.

For music, that lifts me up
that makes me remember,
that soothes my soul.

For dancing, that lifelong urge
so impossible to contain.

For mountains to roam in,
and waters to swim in
afloat, alone
with silence and sky.

For the strength to keep going
when I sometimes don't want to.

For words and books and poems.

For the gift of imagination
from the universe.

For espresso
and ice cream
and ... chocolate.

For snow!!!

For it all --

I give thanks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Tour of les Forges

Sunday afternoon we took a drive out to the Forges. It's about 13 kilometers, or roughly 8 miles, from Trois Rivières. Apart from being an interesting national landmark, it's a wonderful place to spend the day:  kite-flying, picnicking or walking the winding trails through the forest along the Saint Maurice River.

Trois-Rivières was founded as a trading post in 1634 in what then came to be known as "New France."  Almost a century later, in 1730,  Les Forges du Saint-Maurice was built, which marked the start of Canada's iron industry.  It also led to the creation of the country's first industrial community.

Hundreds of workers lived and worked here at the blast furnace and two forges, turning out iron for shipyards, cannons and cannon balls for the military, building railways and producing goods for the domestic market, such as iron stoves and axes. The whole thing shut down in 1883, after more than 150 years of operation.  Today it's a popular walking place because of its spacious grounds and wooded hills along the Saint Maurice River.

 The road leading to les Forges is flanked by 
the ever-gracious birch, sentinals of welcome

The Ironmaster's House.  This grande maison has been
 completely rebuilt and is now a Welcoming Center.

Go behind the house and
you can begin a walking tour ...

These steps take you down to a path that winds
 through the forest and eventually comes out at
the Saint Maurice River.

This is what it looks like from the bottom, looking up.
It's always easier going down, than coming back up again!

You quickly become surrounded by trees.   Occasionally,
 you'll find a sign, warning you to be on the lookout for
bears. We found raspberry bushes, ancient trunks of felled
trees, and  squirrels, and birds.   But no bears.  I think the
bears are busy hunkering down for the winter.

A view from a walking path down to the river. It's
 quite steep in some places; you can take a shortcut
straight down, but it is not advised.

If you stop and look straight up, this is what you'll see.
Sunlight filters through the branches, and scatters itself
on the trails below.

The Saint Maurice River.

All that's left of the original ironworkers' settlement.

Blast furnaces, house foundations from centuries ago.

En route to the river.

 At the river's shore

Le fontaine du diable--the "Devil's Fountain"--a pocket
 of ground where natural gas escapes, producing an eternal flame.

Another boardwalk portion of the trail,
leading  into the forest

This would be fun on roller skates


 At the top of the stairs--the Ironmaster's house again

Site of the waterwheel, and small museum

Click here for a large photo of the original worksite, and here to see the forges' waterwheel, as well as to find information about visiting Les Forges should you ever be in the Mauricie region of Québec.

An elderly couple, walking the grounds.
Still holding hands, after all these years.

Monday, November 23, 2009



He's gone. A haunting silence whispers his absence. No more early morning playtime, waking us up with the sound of tiny feet chasing a yarn ball across the kitchen floor.

What happens when you start feeding one homeless cat--she tells all her friends. Soon after, they begin arriving, in shifts, one by one,  morning and night, like clockwork.  They start hanging out in the yard, sit near the garden, watching, while you pull weeds, or they climb up on the bench in the morning, taking the sun.  Sometimes they bring their offspring, and leave them.

 "Pepé" (the day we found him; he's one of ours now)

It is illegal here to have more than four domestic animals living in one household. We’ve reached our limit.

How many have come and gone over the years. Pluffy: from his first days this tough little gray mastered surviving the frigid, bitter cold and frequent winter storms outside. Too skitterish to be approached, too independent to domesticate, too elusive to catch; we watched him grow from infancy to adulthood.  Two years ago someone shot him with a BB gun; was it man or animal that then gashed his skin in symmetrical swipes producing a gaping wound where his insides showed. Even then he would not let us help, knew what was happening, and scampered off somewhere to die. Blackie, the neighborhood casanova--never missing a meal, not once in three years--one day mysteriously disappeared. The abandoned white female with the pretty face, another long-time visitor, suddenly disappeared as well, in the same week. The two yellows, occasional visitors, abruptly stopped coming.

Perhaps someone is catching, collecting or killing them. Or they may have simply moved on to another supportive neighbor gravy-train. One leaves, two more arrive.  Where are they all coming from?!!

We built a shelter under the cedar trees, of straw and wood and tarp, for when the snowbank reaches five feet in the back;  and shovel paths down over the wooded hill so they don't get stuck when the blinding drifts make passage treacherous.  Every year you say:   Enough. No more. And then one or two little ones arrive again, without their mother. Fit in the palm of your hand, fix you with those big, innocent eyes. You’re smitten.

It costs about $65 to spay a cat here. If we could catch the mother and “fix” her, or find a home for her, that would help.  But she has been outside too long, distrusts humans; no one would take her.  Or try to catch and neuter the father. We know who he is--the last two litters all looked remarkably like him, same color and type fur, same face, same eyes.

Yesterday afternoon we took wee Jack and his little twin to the SPCA, who will put them up for adoption.  Leaving off a beloved pet when you can no longer care for it is difficult enough. Rescuing and dropping off random orphan kittens is no less easy.  We opted not to take a tour of the cages in the back, housing unwanted, abandoned and/or abused animals.  It's enough to make you cry.  It is a very big problem, though--Everywhere--there are just too many of them. 

Many of the animals have been there for months, still waiting to be placed.  Luckily this SPCA has enough room to house them all.  They post their pictures on their website, with little blurbs of introduction:  "I am a shy cat but can adapt myself well to your family. I am curious, affectionate and calm," says one. "I am nervous and will need a period of adjustment," says another. They make known their preferences.  Not everyone likes being held.  "I prefer to be on the ground," says one named Jake, "than in the arms." 

Meanwhile what to do about Li and Lou (Jack's older brothers, who are about five months old and roughly about the same size now as Li-Lou, their mother).

I'm really a dog person.  I never much liked cats (except for tiny kittens) and was actually allergic to them.  I would love to have a dog, but things don't always turn out how you imagine.  I have overcome the allergies and learned to appreciate the feline personality, and now know far more about these delightful creatures than I ever did before.  My mate (you guessed it!) is a cat person.  Our cats are all ones that we found abandoned and on their own, or in need of rescuing.  The photo above shows four of a gang of five that we sheltered for a time and adopted out two years ago.  They lived for a month in our garden shed.  I joked the other day that we should be living on a farm somewhere out in the country--it would be so much easier!

But we don't.  And there you have it.  What is one to do.

Kittens, anyone? Anyone???      

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hanging Out in the Sun

It appears that in some places, it's against the law to hang your clothes on a line to dry outside, "in public." A woman in Southeast Pennsylvania received a telephone call from a town official asking her to stop drying her clothes in the sun.  Her neighbors left anonymous notes complaining that they didn't want to "see her underwear flapping about", likening the sight of such "unmentionables" to trailer trash. 

Almost all the houses around here have clotheslines and people use them, even if they have dryers, from early Spring to late October but there are some who continue to hang their clothes outside all winter long.  I tried that once one November. The sun was out, the air was brisk and since the neighbor over on rue St. Jean-Baptiste had her clothes hanging out, I figured heck, why not.  Everything froze, of course.  At the end of the afternoon I unclipped them, stacked them up, stiff as a board, and brought them inside.  It took two days to dry, but only because they needed thawing out first. 

Why would anyone use a clothesline when they have a dryer?  Habit, for one thing.  Trying to conserve energy and use less electricity, for another--or a combination of both.  I actually like hanging clothes.  When I lived in Boston I had an upstairs neighbor from Ethiopia.  Though there were coin-operated laundry machines in the basement, my neighbor washed her clothes by hand and hung them draped over the iron balcony.  Sometimes an article of clothing blew away or dislodged and landed in the courtyard below.  No one ever approached her about discontinuing this practice.

No quirky poems about neglected summer clothespins,  no long boring blah-blahs today--am just playing with colored pencils doing little sketches on the kitchen table.  On a scale of one to ten, it's right up there with hot French roast coffee and a buttery croissant at 6 a.m. before the day begins.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Less is More

Nearly everyone is familiar with Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Do six words constitute a story, though?

Robert Swartwood asked that very question in a posting last Spring on Flash Fiction Chronicles.  And "what about those really, really, really, really, REALLY short stories?" he wondered.  "The, you know, six-word stories.  Are they considered flash fiction?  If not, what should we call them?"

Swartwood decided to coin a term for those "very, very, very, VERY short stories":  They should be called Hint Fiction, he says "because that’s all the reader is ever given.  Just a hint.  Not a scene, or a setting, or even a character sketch.  They are given a hint, nothing more, and are asked — nay, forced — to fill in the blanks"  And having defined it, he proceeded to establish the word limit:  "It cannot be anything more than 25 words."

Swartwood started a Hint Fiction Contest and over the course of the month of August received 2,463 submissions.  Here's a sample of one that received honorable mention:

by Camille Esses

He was allergic.
She pretended not to know.

The fever has apparently caught on.  Commenters on Swartwood's posting at Flash Fiction Chronicles in April announcing the birth of Hint Fiction immediately chimed in with their abbreviated "stories":

by Joseph Grant

One day, I met my future self. He had a gun. I shot him first. Wonder what I did to piss myself off so much.

I don't know about you but when I sit down to read a story, I kind of want more than just a "hint".  Literary teasers, okay.  Everyone loves a mystery, myself included.  But presenting the writing itself as something of actual substance seems, well ... a tad fraudulent.  I feel cheated.  "Where's the beef?!" as they say.  It sounds more like a vague idea for a story that one doesn't apparently have the time nor inclination to flesh out and actually write.  The reader's just going to have to figure it out from the hints given.  In other words, Hint Fiction merely provides an outline.  You have to write the story for yourself from there.

It sounds cool and trendy but Hint Fiction seems to me more like a bunch of orphaned blurbs out there looking for a blurbologist, to get proper placement--less "hinties" in search of a story than writers in search of   inspiration.  But what a concept!  Think how you could impress people, saying you've read a hundred stories this week ("hint" stories, that is); and then meet friends' incredulous gasp of disbelief with the disclaimer:  "Some of them were only one line long!"

That got me thinking, for some reason about one-liners--poems, specifically, that consist of a single line.   How many one-line poems are there out there?  This one came immediately to mind--Joe Hutchison's "Artichoke" (Windflower Press, 1979), which I've seen quoted a number of times.


O heart weighed down by so many wings.

What if you break that into separate lines?  Make it a three-line haiku, for instance? Placement of words, spacing, punctuation, all allow for a range of interpretations for the reader to arrive at a different meaning from that which the poet intended. Which brings me to consider how much form matters sometimes, both in how we determine to present a thing and the degree of  comprehension or appreciation we experience as a reader based on that presentation.  

What's even more interesting, though, is that the words themselves sometimes manage to shake off these often arbitrary restrictions and float directly to the consciousness regardless of their packaging.  I think the words in Hutchison's poem do that.  (And I'm not just saying that 'cause I adore eating artichokes--that slow, delightful process one has to go through, one delicious pluck at a time, to get to the pièce de résistance, its exquisite core.  To those who have never indulged in this pleasure, put off by what seems more like barnacles than 'wings', all I can say is, You don't know what you're missing!)

In general, are writers slowly migrating from one form of writing to another, their writings becoming increasingly shorter?  Steve Almond in Boston told Doug Holder recently that he recycled many "failed poems" into 500-words-or-less short short stories. Steve chose to publish his latest book, This Won't Take but a Minute, Honey, using Harvard Book Store's Espresso Book Machine. Audience members at his upcoming reading on December 2nd will be able to buy their own special editions of the book—to be printed up during the reading.  How's that for convenience!  So it seems not only is writing being 'downsized' but it's being churned out faster than ever before.

Is it really that far-fetched to imagine that we may one day soon have, on sidewalks everywhere, card-operated literary vending machines where you insert your card, and out drops a piece of fiction or poem. Just select a category:  Flash Fiction.  Hint Fiction. Flarf. CellStories, Prose Poems. Haiku. Long Novel. Short Novel. Essay.  Aphorisms.... They come in all flavors because the texts are edible.  (Otherwise the vending machine people would see little profit.) 

Reducing writing to its absolute minimum: are there any poems out there consisting of a single word, I wondered.

The answer is Yes.

"Picture the word 'tundra' slightly below center in an otherwise completely blank page, as it was presented in Cor van den Heuvel's book the window-washer's pail (New York: Chantpress, 1963). The poem also appears, similarly, in the first edition of his Haiku Anthology, 1974, p. 163.".[1]

Condensed, compacted, reduced-to-the-mimum writing is both easy and hard to execute.  It's easy to spew out a quirky mini-synopsis of a never-to-be-written, potentially longer story, and call it Hint Fiction; it's damn hard to write really good haiku.  Creative writing takes hard work.  The insight can be instantaneous, the intended imagery brilliant, the idea or concept innovative.  Now comes the hard part:  how to put all that into words.  And not just any 'ol words.  The choice of a single word can be the key to accessing the meaning--or the ruination of any desire to continue reading because of that little dose of suspected mediocrity.

The act of writing a poem and the act of reading it are two different animals.  And then there's ... the words themselves, swimming around in a nether world apart from both writer and reader, defying categorization-- though they are endlessly categorized, described, analyzed, taken apart and restructured, elevated, spit upon, stretched to their breaking point, vomited out unassembled, or paintstakingly condensed to a single syllable.

First there was Flash Fiction.  Then came CellStories. And now we have Hint Fiction.  Here's my Hint Fiction endeavor for the day.  Two poems.  (The rule says it can't be more than 25 words; it didn't say "no less than X words"). I'm going into extreme-writing-mode now and condensing, not to a one-liner, but to a one-worder (first poem) and--you know it's eventually going to come to this, don't you--creative writing stripped down to a single letter (second poem).  Okay here goes:





* this is not a Roman numeral 



"Hey, Fred!  Check out my new wallet-sized book: 1000 Hint Stories for the Chronically Rushed, selections of which will be coming out in keychain size in time for the Christmas shopping season."

--Apologies to Hint Fction writers everywhere.  It just isn't everyone's, er, cup of teaspecks.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Does Poetry Matter Anymore?

What is the significance of poetry today?

I wondered that very thing when I stumbled on a poetic review website this morning, only to find the sad announcement, dated from Summer 2008, that it was closing down "due to overwhelming lack of interest."  I assume the reviewer was referring to his readers and not himself here.

I continued on with another morning task and lo and behold, discovered a surprising instance of quite the opposite—not only has poetry engendered in some a growing, passionate interest but a lifelong devotion, as, for example, evidenced in the overwhelming response to being asked: “What’s your favourite poem and why?

An astounding number of people offered to share their answers—-18,000, to be exact--Americans from ages 5 to 97.   A glassblower from Seattle, a songwriter in the Bronx, a bakery owner in Connecticut, a bookkeeper in California, an office worker in Georgia, a research analyst in D.C., a salesman, financial consultant, retired anthropologist, nun, anesthesiologist, teacher, student, novelist, poet, military officer, ex-president of the U.S., an eleven-year-old girl--all had been profoundly affected by a single poem, and agreed to share their story.

The My Favorite Poem Project has collected 27 videos of people from all walks of life talking about and reading their favourite poem. An Armenian, opera-singing professor of cognitive science talks about how a single poem by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova spoke directly to her. (A brother returns home from Vietnam, changed forever, "dead inside", unable to find his way again--it was as if Akhmatov knew what this woman and her brother were going through emotionally.)

I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again—

An emigrant librarian in New Jersey reads a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, in the language of Bengali, explaining how it helped  her in her quest for identity.

Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit...

 Listening to which poems are people’s favourites-—and why—-can be very instructive for poets and writers in general. Certain sentiments kept being repeated:

“It [the poem] resonated with me.”
“I felt like I had something in common with the poet—there was a connection.”
“I felt a connection.”
“It had a personal meaning for me.”
“I felt she [the poet] understood what it [my own personal experience] was like.”
"There were certain lines that caught me ..."

A 34-year-old construction worker for a gas company in Massachusetts acknowleges that "poetry was definitely intimidating initially."  To him "it just looked like a lot of words that were out of order and out of place and did not belong together."  Nevertheless he continued reading, and found, in the last lines of "Song of Myself", that "Walt Whitman tells you what you're thinking."  His connection to Walt Whitman was not due to the fact that the poet talks about physical labor and working outside, he says--there's something else, something more universal, that roped him in:  he enjoyed it for its "upliftingness", its ability to "inspire" him and "see things in life and in everyday existence that I hadn't noticed before."

In one case, the favourite poem was one discovered over 30 years ago—the 45-year-old lawyer still carries its words around in his pocket, still reads them to anyone who'll listen.

So, is there a disconnect, I wondered, between the appalling lack of interest today among people in many quarters re:  the very subject of poetry, and the lifelong attachment by scores of other people in scattered corners of everywhere, to a particular poem, or to poetry in general?

I think it’s like going somewhere to a place you have never been before, where you know absolutely no one, trying to establish a new  life for yourself. There could be, say, a hundred people in your locale with whom you don’t particularly identify personally, politically, professionally or spiritually, and only 20 or so with whom you might, if you could find them, feel any sort of real connection. Like attracts like—or so they say. Nine times out of ten, within a short time, you will run into someone from that group of 20 (and by extension, get to know the others)--or they will find you.

Of particular interest to me was how people first came to poetry.  Was it at school?  Did they stumble on it accidentally?  Kiyoshi Houston of San Diego says it's because when he was a baby, his mother read tanka to him--in fact, she started before he was even born, while he was still in her womb. 

Is poetry still relevant today?  Out of a hundred people perhaps only five will even ever bother to look into it.  A majority may find it of no particular use or interest. But there are a few who will pass a poem along to someone who will pass it along to someone else, or be intrigued enough to search out other poems.

It'll be like a spider web painstakingly being developed, rendered jagged or partially dismantled from time to time by accident or intent--but its threads survive, the invisible effort of countless acts of creative construction, innovative applications, intent on survival, rarely noticed except when exposed in sunlight, glistening forth like a jewel of intricate dimension, from which you are absolutely unable to withdraw your gaze.  If you have ever watched a spider weave a web, up close, for fifteen minutes, you will know what I mean.

I imagine it must be like that for some, when the words of that one poem reach into their very core, to remain lodged for all time. 

The main message I got from watching some of these “Favorite Poem” videos this morning was this:  that

Poetry still matters.

 *Photo by awyn, taken along St. Lawrence River, Québec in October, 2009.  People come here to walk along the river path, practice Tai Chi, picnic, fly kites, sit on benches and read, or like this gentleman, simply sit on the stones and watch the swooping seagulls, barges and huge boats coming from the Atlantic heading down to the port at Trois-Rivières.  It is a favorite place to go, just to, as they say here, "prendre l'air" (take the air).  It is sometimes, however, impassable in winter (depending on the height of your boots and your general stamina).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mauricie, c'est ça

It was a year ago
or was it two
an afternoon at the Moulin.
I tried to reach the sky

The woolspinner wasn't home
"By appointment only"
So we visited next door

Mirror, mirror let me fall
into the depths of you
and see

Pond walk strewn with leaves
Quiet hovers

Eye of Birch

Kaleidescopic mirage
A not hereness

*Photos by awyn, taken in Pointe-du-Lac and Sainte-Geneviève-de-Batiscan (region of Mauricie, Québec) during an afternoon outing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What is Poetry? I'll tell you for $47.80

"Write a paper, due next week, answering the question "What is Poetry?"

Suppose you're a college student  and the deadline's approaching and you don't have a clue on where to start.  You could go to the library but you don't have time, so you surf the net for information.  You google "What is Poetry" and it spits back answers such as:

"Poetry is many things to many people..."
"Poetry really has no one set definition..."
"Poetry, when it is really such, is truth; and fiction also, if it is good for anything, is truth: but they are different truths."[1]

Panic sets in.  All these different definitions, viewpoints, sources that have to be mined to provide examples!  You become desperate and look for an online term-paper mill to help you out.  These are sites from which you can buy an already-written term paper, "to use as reference material only."  Right.  There are a slew of them out there and they all contain that disclaimer:  "For reference only."

A lot of people associate the term "term-paper mill" with the word "plagiarism."  So the term-paper-mill people are quick to point out (completely missing the point) that the paper you are about to buy is "plagiarism-free"--i.e., it is an original text written by someone they hired to do so.  If you want to go ahead and hand it in to your professor and pretend it was written by you (i.e., plagiarize it), well, what you do with the content is your responsibility, they are not accountable.

Let's see what they have to offer on the topic of "What is Poetry?" Ah, here's one with that exact same title!

Term Paper #12688
4 pages.

This describes the essence and development of poetry. This paper presents considerations in regards to poetic themes, styles, and similar development that is present in this vastly diverse literary format. The writer stresses the concise nature of poetic structures and presents two poets, Emily Dickinson and Ogden Nash, as examples of individuals who both successfully display ‘poetic brevity.' Bibliography lists several sources."

Well okay then!  But will this particular paper meet your professor's expectations?  Not to worry.  Not only will the term-paper mill sell you a paper that's already been written, they will write one specifically for you. 

In case you did not find what you are looking for at our database, we can provide you with a custom term paper to perfectly suite [sic] your needs. Just send us your request and we'll write a new term paper for you. We are working with the best and most gifted writers on the internet. We can write any term paper, on almost any subject. Our gifted writers will provide you with premier quality paper.[sic]

As in, 100% cotton rag, 20 lb. white stock, suitable for copying.  Oh wait.  Were they talking about the content of the paper here?  It wasn't clear. (I can loan them an "a" if they want to insert it in there between the words "with" and "premier" so that it reads "Our gifted writers will provide you with a premier quality paper."  Will that help?)  Just so we're clear, this is not about paper stock.  

They guarantee "a plagiarism free test test", whatever that is. (It's a test test, right?  You know, when you have a test to test the test.)  Oh.

They charge $47.80 for four pages for an English-assignment paper, but only $20 for an 89-page paper under the category "Theses/Dissertations",  which is a kind of longer type of term paper:

Term Paper #898598954

Published in 2006,  for a Linguistics course, discusses “the Japanese technique which makes of gorgeous and relaxed trees shrank and depressed miniatures, all from a linguistic perspective.” (Come again?)

Soundness of the phonetic translation and a protest against the Japanese technique of Bonsai.

In this paper, we define the meaning of PHONETICS SOUNDNESS by similarity to the mathematical soundness. We wish to state that there is some sort of possible relationship in an abstract way once we have proven they are very different in scope and it is impossible to place what is complementary to the World of Maths in terms of Language inside of its scope in it.  However, soundness is a higher-order concept and, as such, belongs to the scope of Philosophy, which ultimately could be suitable to Language if it falls still inside of that territory in common between Philosophy and Language.  But the main point is really writing against the Japanese Bonsai technique and defending the main Bible's principle (in our opinion): do not do to other beings what you do not wish done to yourself!


BOM SAI could easily be a Brazilian Portuguese allurement to Bonsai, that is, phonetically sound in Portuguese. If phonetically soundness ever counts in translation, there it is a really good one. BOM SAI, in Portuguese, could easily mean `Good is gone', `Bom sai'. Interesting enough, it is the only Language of the World which seems to grasp the meaning of it. 

It is an actual truth that the Good is gone out of the plant once someone makes of it a Bonsai. With all respect of the World for the Japanese culture, this is definitely not a good thing for the plant.If we do devote any sort of respect to other beings at all as we should devote to our own species, bonsai is definitely something to be banned from human activities. Let's save the other beings any sort of extra unnecessary cruelty, please.

There is much to chew on here.  "Soundness" as a higher-order concept, in that strange, indescribable territory in the no-man's land between Philosophy and Language, where the Portuguese language "allures" to bonsai,  etc.  But seriously, this is what they call a "quality paper?!!"

Out of curiosity I checked another of their listed categories:  "Women Issues" [sic].  How many papers do they have in stock for women issues, I wonder?  The answer is 562.

I once knew a fellow, always short on cash, who wrote term papers for a fellow student.  He saw nothing wrong in this.  He knew the subject well; the other student didn't.  It helped the other student get good grades and graduate--which was all that was important to him. (The ironic thing was, both were students from another country; English was not their first language.)

Now imagine that student, graduated and out in the workplace, having been hired on the assumption that his diploma meant something. Sometimes, apparently, it does--and sometimes, it doesn't.  How many people bluff their way through life, pretending to be who they aren't.  And get away with it.

Curious to see what other of these term-paper-writing-mills were offering, I checked out one which offers "a term paper completey [sic] Plagiarism free - Custom written for every customer."

"Completey"?   Gee, you'd think they'd use a spellcheck on their main page at least!   This group will give you "thesis and dissertations with a complete pease [sic] of mind and money back guarantee"  and they offer  unlimited revisions--"until you aren't [sic] satisfied with your term papers."  (I think you mean "are" here, no?)  They encourage you to "avail our services", "insuring optimum utility of your money", and claim to be Trust worty [sic].  I wonder if they can afford avail a proofreader for their web page.  Nah.  No one'll notice.

So many paper mills, all so eager to offer their services.  Here's one that provides a sample of a history paper they can sell you, under the topic "A Nation is Born", which cites a Hollywood actor as one of its literary sources:

At the beginning of the 19th century, the United States was looking for it’s [sic] own identity now that they had their own nation.  People started to move westward, causing the removal of Indians from their lands. ( Sources cited:  “A People’s History, Howard Zinn, Chapter 7 and Coster, Kevin, Producer and Host, 500 Nations video"). [2]
Kevin Coster--oh yeah, wasn't he the actor in that movie "Dances with Wolves"?  I thought he spelled his name Costner, though--Coster with an "n" in it.   I googled it just in case, and sure enough, they're talking about the same guy.  But hold on--a couple Google items down on the same page--whaddya know, there's that exact same history paper, word for word, on another site's term-paper mill posting.  (Does the same person own both sites?  Or are these "plagiarism-free" essays being recycled among multiple marketers?  Inquiring minds want to know.)

Another term-paper mill offers a  13-page paper on Wallace Stevens' poetry for a mere $97.95, and for those in a real crunch, yet another offers to write you an essay in 8 hours, at $31.57 per page.

Enter  the Fram Squad Detectors  (random people who spend countless hours unearthing scams and fraud on the Internet).  They check the business phone number on Reverse Lookup and come up with "No information.  This is an unlisted, private number."  One diligent fram-squadder claimed to have found proof of connections among three different term-paper mill sites all linked back to a fellow from Karachi, Pakistan. A few trips into Google and I came upon similar information.  How prevalent is this practice?  There was mention in one of the online forums of a Ukrainian fraudster who owned 185 internet domains! 

Tracking down just who these people are, however, is not easy.  Dilligent fram-squadders can ID a suspected site's IP to get the domain's owner's listed address (and phone), only to discover it's also being used by dozens of other small web-hosted businesses, who pay to be listed under a fake address and phone just to ward off unwanted spam (or anyone wanting to know who they really are.)  This is a boon for scam artists, as they hide behind the same fake address as legitimate businesses do.

How can you tell if a paper that's been handed in has come from a term-paper mill?  Professors can check with Turnitin ("Turn it in").  

They  have the ability to crawl and archive over 12 billion web pages, 100 million student papers, 80,000 major newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals, as well as thousands of books, including literary classics, to give you a side-by-side comparison. Students can also check their own original papers, for instances of "accidental" plagiarism.  (And they can go to a site where they can get tips on prevention of plagiarism, as well.)

Anyway, that was my fun trip for the day, so to speak--checking out the "quality writing" from various term-paper mills.  (I neglected to mention that these people not only sell ready-made essays and term papers, they also actively solicit writers to produce new ones.  (ad on one site:  "I made $600 this month writing term-papers!")

Back to our original question:  "What is Poetry?"  To quote one of the term paper samples above, it's a "diverse literary format."   Poetry is a format.  In the style of "It's a bird!  It's a plane! It's ... it's ....  SUPERMAN!!", I give you my two original--only marginally plagiarized--poems for the day:

Poetry is truth!
Poetry is fiction!
It's ... it's ... a FORMAT!!!

In the World of Maths,
immune to its different-scoped

bonsai allurement,
Emily and Ogden, 

in  biblical karmic peasefullness
exchange brief moments of soundness.

(That'll be $2.35 cents, please. We accept PayPal.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Random Acts of Poetry, a project of the Victoria READ Society, began its sixth year of poeming this past October 5-11. They’re a non-profit literary organization funded by the Canadian Council for the Arts. During that week, 31 acclaimed poets across Canada, from Victoria, British Columbia read poetry to strangers and gave them their books.

This is the first time I’ve ever come across the word “poeming”. 

What exactly is “poeming”? In the context of the above project it would seem to mean randomly approaching people and reading poetry to them, as poemer Domenico Capilongo is doing here, where he’s apparently got the captive attention of a window washer, who has even apparently agreed to be photographed holding up a sign documenting the event.

I wasn't sure all of the poemings were entirely random, however. Standing on a sidewalk and poeming at  passersby is ‘random’.  (How often, though, does one randomly run into the mayor or  an officer of the RCMP, for example?)   But random doesn't just mean having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective.  It can also mean "not expected."  These poemers had a purpose:  to invite people to celebrate and to nourish literacy and to treat anyone who cared to listen, to an unexpected reading of poetry.  Having a poet suddenly appear and read poetry to you can be a surprising gift and is indeed, a rare treat. 

Of course, as in all noteworthy projects—and make no mistake, this is a very worthwhile one--humor inserts itself.   Not only did these poemers read in donut shops and to the homeless under bridges, they even went out to the countryside to poem to farmers where the captive audience also consisted of some sheep and a miniature horse!.

Never mind the how’s and the where’s—the point is, these poets have found a very effective way of getting the word out, so to speak, in promoting the reading of poetry. Kudos to the Victoria READ Society for making poeming an annual event.

The folks at this literary organization use the word "poeming" to mean reading poetry out loud to random local listeners.  Others on the internet use it to mean the writing of poetry ("I started poeming this because ....", etc.).  People have aslo used it as an adjective ("The poeming class will meet tomorrow."). 

So, I learned some new words today--or rather, one new word with a myriad of possible amusing derivatives.

Poeming (n.):the act of a poemer who goes out poeming pedestrians and other people to introduce them to poetizations by published poetizers, inviting all to partake of the poemifying elixir of poetic poeminessence.  [This definition is an extreme example of pompous pollut-alliteration].

Exercise for the day: Create an imaginary scenario incorporating the various possible permutations of the word “poeming” in the context of a parody of the world of modern advertising, and include some reference to why poetry still matters.  Ouff!

Here goes:

Conversation between a Marketing Agent and a Potential Client (Poetry).

Poetry (the client) comes in and says, “Not enough people are investing in me. After all these centuries I’m still neither widely known nor fully appreciated, except by people in the field, and even then, there’s disagreement as to my quality and/or usefulness. How can I get more people to buy into me?”

“Well,” says the ad agent, “you could begin by dispensing a few freebies. The way Proctor & Gamble used to do years ago when they were introducing a new laundry product—you'd find a sample packet of detergent delivered to your door so you could try it out before buying it.  If your product is of superior quality, it should sell itself.  ANYone will try something if it’s for free.”

Poetry scratches its head. “I dunno…. In these uncertain economic times … it sounds kind of expensive. Besides, there're lots of samples already out there, all you need do is look.  Most people, alas, don't.

“Well then,” the marketer counters, “how about we conduct a vigorous campaign of poeming? Poem the people stuck in traffic, poem window washers on their coffee breaks, poem students, politicians, musicians, plumbers, shoe salesmen. Go poeming on the freeway, the subway, at the mall, at restaurants, tennis courts and pubs; poem everybody everywhere. It’s called saturation. Be like Pepsi or Coke. Make yourself a household word.”

Poetry isn’t sure this will work, however. "Mass poeming strategies aside," he pontificates, "people are fickle: they only stick with a thing if it's a real necessity--if they feel they cannot live without it.  What would entice someone to stay with me, in spite of the ups and downs brought about by my many warring factions with their endless obsessional internal squabbles, the constant change in my form and style, and the embarassing lack of quality in the work of some of my practitioners?"

"No problemo," chirps the ad guy.  "The answer is image.  You gotta change your image.  We're adept here at marketing images.  We can make you trendy, 'cool' even."

"No, no," protests Poetry petulantly.  "You miss the point. Never mind the gimmicky come-on's—that’s fairly easy. You can rope people in with any number of clever attention grabbers. It’s keeping them after the trend has passed, it's getting them to invest in me long-term--that’s the problem.

“So what you're saying," frowns the ad guy, cocking an eyebrow, " is, that we gotta find out why some people devote their life to you, while others only occasionally dabble. Okay, okay, let's go with that.  [He paces back and forth, restlessly ruminating.]  Okay, what is it about you that makes you irresistible?  In other words, what would convince people that you’re--what's the word--necessary?"

Poetry attempts to answer: “Because without me, life would be …” [insert long pause.]

The ad agent, unused to verbal renderings not condensed to 30-second sound-bites, completes the sentence for his potential client: “would be boring.”

"I beg your pardon?" says Poetry.

"Life without Poetry would be boring!" says the ad guy, though he doesn't really believe that.  He personally finds Poetry insufferable, and has done so since he was first exposed to it in the third grade.  "You must alter yourself to fit readers' expectations.  We have to make you not boring," he beams, as if uttering an epiphany.   His eyes light up as he flits about the room, pulling ideas out of his now jump-started mental cloud.  "Yes, yes, that's it!!  Boring is bad.  Entertaining, good.  You have to be more entertaining, Poetry."

But it is Poetry who is now bored by the whole ridiculous exchange. The ad agent has never obviously sampled its wares though they are available in abundance in every conceivable variety. Wait, Poetry thinks.  My existence is not at stake. My place in history is well established and there will never be a lack of practitioners. Ever.  There's obviously something inherent in me that somehow guarantees that that will continue to be the case--that there'll always be an audience for what I have to say. [Poetry acknowledges a certain bias in this assumption.]

"So what if I'm distorted from time to time," Poetry says to the fly on the wall. "So what if I remain, for some partakers, completely unintelligible. So what if five hundred million people now and in the future may never be exposed to me. I will still be capable of reaching receptive eyes and ears.   There will always be persons who will intentionally seek me out.  I’ll be discussed and deciphered, explained and kept and cherished and shared for eons to come." [The invisible choir immediately behind Poetry, poemingly united, concurs.]

So Poetry abandons the idea of the poemification of its poemignacity, ignores the pernicious postulations of those who howl about its irrelevancy, and goes about doing what it has always done (and always will do) with respect to its inherent poemingness:  inspire new poemings.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Words are so interesting. They’re like potato chips. Someone puts a bowl in front of you, and you can’t just take one.  You want to scoop up them all!    More, I say.  Gimme more!   First thing you know, it's a habit.


*Do you think there's a special room in Limbo reserved for those who spend more time writing about poetry--what it is and what it isn't, about who's winning prizes and who's copping out and what the latest movement is; spending more time on reviewing and critiquing, praising and grumbling, and playing with words as distracton--making of procrastination an art as fine as the art of Poetry itself, which one delays practicing because one takes such delight in these absurdly addictive little side trips?  Just wondering ...  

As to this poeming post today:  The other two members of Word Addicts Anonymous are pretending not to know me...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Quagmire Pudding

Last Thursday, Oct. 29, a U.S. think tank (RAND) sponsored a discussion in a senate office building, about what to do about Afghanistan.  Zbigniew Brzezinski was chosen to keynote the proceedings, in which he disclosed that he had advised the Bush/Cheney administration to invade Afghanistan in 2001. His recommendation at last Thursday's meeting: Withdrawal is "not in the range of policy options."[1]

Some believe that Obama's not going to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan because he fears a revolt from the military. It's Vietnam all over again. "Victory is not possible and President Obama knows it," says Daniel Ellsberg. "But he will go against his own instincts as to what's best for the country and do what's best for him ... in the short run facing elections, and cave in to General McCrystal's request for 40,000 more troops to prevent the military from accusing him of being weak, unmanly, indecisive and weak on terrorism."[2]

Er, what about all those Afghan troops we've been training now for eight years?  "Eight more years, 80 more years, will not provide the motivation to fight offensively against their own countrymen ... for a foreign power. And we are a foreign power in Afghanistan," says Ellsberg.[3]

Ellsberg--wasn't he the one who leaked the Pentagon Papers back in '65?  Gosh he's aged. And still out there trying to stir up the pot, still The Most Dangerous Man Alive.

Never mind Ellsberg, what about the U.S.-backed current President of Afghanistan, Harmid Karzai? The one we're funding to get things going again in that war-pocked country--Karzai, who just got, er, circumstantially self elected, again.  How's he doing bringing Afghanistan into the 21st century?

Well, last March he signed off on the Shiite Personal Status Law, which legalizes marital rape "by authorizing a husband to withhold food from a wife who fails to provide sexual service at least once every four days."

It also denies or severely limits women's rights to inherit, divorce or have guardianship of their own children; legalizes marriage to and rape of minors and gives men control of all their female relatives; denies women the right to leave home except for 'legitimate purposes' and in effect gives men the power to deny women access to work, education, healthcare, and voting; and treats women as property. 

"Such barbaric laws were supposed to have been relegated to the past with the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, yet Karzai has revived them and given them his official stamp of approval," according to observations by a Human Rights Watch director.  No American official said a word.[4]

But we're okay with that, I guess. The fact that Afghani girls as young as 13 are being forced to marry men four  times their age whose other wives or family beat or starve them, and who later set themselves on fire as the only means to escape their dire circumstances ... well but it's their culture; who are we to impose our Western morality?

President Karzai's brother [allegedly on the payroll of the CIA] told activist Zarghuna Kakar, a member of the Kandahar Provincial Council forced to leave Afghanistan after she and her family were attacked and her husband killed, that she "should have thought about what may happen" before she stood for election. [5]

We're okay with that, too, I guess.  "If you can't stand the heat--stay out of the kitchen." 

Perhaps, in addition to the ever-louder push for increased 'boots on the ground', the powers that be might benefit from hearing from more people who actually lived and worked there, who have seen things first-hand, who speak the language.  Like Ann Jones?  But wait, she's a woman, and she criticizes the government. (This reviewer of her book Kabul in Winter dismisses Jones's well researched, carefully presented accounts as a "furious polemic", likening them to the overly emotional spoutings of an angry, screeching banchee, calling it "a diatribe, a barely coherent rant directed at President Bush and a host of other actors, both domestic and international."  Wow.

The reviewer feels it necessary to warn the prospective reader:   "Ms. Jones views the United States as an imperialist power bent on shaping the world to its narrow interests, and with malice aforethought, imposing free-market economics on the oppressed peoples of the world.  She considers the hunt for Mr. Bin Laden a foolish adventure and, although she does not say so outright, seems to regard his criticisms of American foreign policy as quite sensible."  (Do they actually mention, much less actively look for Bin Laden anymore?).  The reviewer ends by patronising her:  But look, she [Ms. Jones] has "compassion for the plight of Afghan women" and seeks to make their voice known. (Pay no mind to what she says about American foreign policy, though--she's just ... "ranting" there.)

I read Winter in Kabul  last year and did not find Jones's observations and comments 'rantful' (if there is such a word).  Concerned, yes; upset, definitely; and yes, angry--about what she saw taking place in Afghanistan, on all sides.  Who wouldn't be, documenting some of the abuse and horrors to which she bore witness?  But "ranting?"  (Definition of "ranting":   To utter or express with violence ... (ex. a dictator who ranted his vitriol); high-sounding language, without importance or dignity of thought; boisterous, empty declamation; bombast; as, the rant of fanatics.) [emphasis mine] 

Maybe Ann Jones is merely saying what many people are thinking but might not care, for whatever reason, to articulate. An equal number of people on the other side of the Us/Them divide will react to her criticisms, whether implied or baldly stated (even if later proven to be true) by mounting an immediate ad hominem attackNothing to see here, folks.  She's obviously ranting.  Ah, labels.  Whatever would we do without them.

That poor country--Afghanistan--has been at war for what seems like Forever.  But in the 1960s and '70s, as Ann Jones reminds us, before the Soviet invasion:  "Half the country's doctors, more than half the civil servants and three-quarters of the teachers were women."  Compare that with today.  "What changed all that was not only the violence of war but the accession to power of the most backward men in the country: first the Taliban, now the mullahs and mujahedeen of the fraudulent, corrupt, Western-designed government that stands in opposition to 'normal life' as it is lived in the developed world and was once lived in their own country." 

As to sending in more troops and more money for training:

Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point. These impoverished men in a country without work have joined the Afghan National Army for what they can get out of it (and keep or sell) -- and that doesn't include democracy or glory.[6]

How big is the Afgan army again?  By rough estimate there's about 70,000 U.S. troops over there right now (100,000 if you count NATO and allies).  If  40,000 more are sent, it will bring the total to 140,000.  Add to that the 90,000 Afghan troops already there--let's see, that would make 230,000 'military' in place, all out actively fighting the Taliban--and the Taliban's still winning. 

Ann Jones wonders what there is to show for "all our remarkably expensive training:

Although in Washington they may talk about the 90,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army, no one has reported actually seeing such an army anywhere in Afghanistan. When 4,000 U.S. Marines were sent into Helmand Province in July to take on the Taliban in what is considered one of its strongholds, accompanying them were only about 600 Afghan security forces, some of whom were police.  Why, you might ask, didn't the ANA, 90,000 strong after eight years of training and mentoring, handle Helmand on its own? No explanation has been offered. American and NATO officers often complain that Afghan army units are simply not ready to "operate independently," but no one ever speaks to the simple question: Where are they?[7]

She does not believe such an army even exists.  Granted, many Afghan men may gone through the basic warrior training "90,000 times or more".  But when she lived in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006 she knew men who repeatedly went through training just to get a Kalashnikov and get paid.  They'd go home for a while "and return some weeks later to enlist again under a different name."  How many commanders were (are?) collecting pay for 'phantom' soldiers: one's who have deserted or been killed?  Who is keeping track of that?

Jones cites circumstances on the ground from more than three years ago.  Is that still the case?  Is it true that 60% of the Afghan police force are on drugs?  That "no amount of American training, mentoring, or cash will determine what Afghans will fight for, if indeed they fight at all"?  Where are the voices of more investigative reporters?  We have only the word of the generals, who are are not always consistent or unbiased, some of whom are being paid handsomely by TV stations for expressing their opinions.

Sober reading, and my apologies for quoting at such great length.  It's been my experience that casual readers seldom click on footnotes to access an original source.  Who has the time?  Or interest, even, in an obscure personal blog presenting questions or expressing a viewpoint--other than a few friends or colleagues.  So consider me talking to myself here.  But what Ann Jones says makes sense.  At least to me.  No one likes to admit failure.  Or be reminded of Vietnam.  My brother in law is still struggling with flashbacks.  Wars that keep on giving ...  Trying to "do it right this time" shouldn't include following the exact same game plan, expecting different results.  It didn't work then; it won't work now.  (Don't these people study history?!!)

 Quagmire Pudding

I liken the quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq to a recipe for a pudding.  Everybody wants it to come out, not only the chef (for his or her reputation is at stake), but the people who are going to be eating it.  Will they be able to digest it?  It's already unpalatable.  It leaves partakers with a bad taste in their mouth.  Too many toxic ingredients are mucking up the process.  What to do?  Adding more of the same  won't make it better.  Chucking the whole project and starting all over from scratch won't either because the bakers insist on following the exact same recipe.(i.e., re-baking the Vietnam Pudding, which you remember was a complete disaster).

The thing's been tried and retried so many times we've all got indigestion now.  Some of us are seriously ill, to be quite frank.  Not to mention the people who don't necessarily even like pudding in the first place being forced to ingest it against their will, and in some cases without being forewarned  (white phosporus, anyone?). 

I wonder which way Obama will go.

I wonder into which century these war-as-longterm-investments because of a country's strategic location or its enviable natural resources will continue, under the guise of bringing democracy.

I came across some interesting wording on a Tibetan prayer flag recently.  The little rain-faded ones flying over my garden shed contain the standard mantras and invocations to bring happiness, long life and prosperity, but I've never seen one addressed specifically on the subject of war:

"May the terrible weapons of modern warfare--nuclear weapons, biological weapons, and so forth--that threaten to destroy the Earth--and all our ill fortune leading to great wars and armed conflict, be utterly pacified, and may the world enjoy happiness similar to that of the golden age." -- Kamala Radza Dvipa.

Peace, harmony, stability and prosperity.  Add "health" and "happiness" and it sounds like something you'd find on a New Year's greeting card. Just my personal opinion but, I think there are too many cooks in the kitchen, all trying to direct how the pudding comes out.   People should have a say as to whether they get to eat experimental pudding or, say, uncontaminated veggies.  They should have a choice.  Maybe pudding, in the long run, will prove detrimental to their health. And it shouldn't be about the reputation of the cook, or the grumblings of those who think their recipe is more authentic, can be more forcefully executed, or would be more widely accepted. Chefs come and go. The damage to the kitchen when fires start erupting daily, when equipment is lost or stolen or rendered inoperable, or when too much smoke and cacophony interferes with the chef's ability to make decisions, clouding his/her management of the kitchen--cannot be alleviated by sending in 50 more eager but inexperienced young potato peelers or expert grill specialists.  (Are you listening, Obama?).

Stretching this metaphor to the breaking point.  Snnnnnaaaaaaaaaaaappppppppppppppp!

They probably won't listen to Ann Jones-- 'cause she's a woman.  (She "rants".)  What do women know about war?  Only a military strategist, like the retired generals they trot out from time to time on CNN, can enlighten us to what's happening "over there", except more often than not it consists mostly of pep talks and platitudes, devoid of substance. The public isn't privileged to hear the real information.  Meanwhile, back at the homefront ... more of our young lads are being recruited up for the mission.  (Remind me again:  What IS the mission?)

Rant rant.  Rant.  rant.... rant ....  rant...    

I wonder what it's like to live in a so-called "Golden Age".  But what are you gonna do--we live in the now.  It is what it is.  Doesn't mean we have to buy the pudding, though, just 'cause it's the flavor of the year (or in this case, decade).

I'm just saying ...


*I learned this afternoon about the mass shooting at the base at Fort Hood, TX.  The shooter, a mental health professional, was about to be sent for duty overseas.  My condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

I said yes this time ...

Not all paths require climbing up. There are frequently easier ways to arrive at where you want to go.

Some paths, though, invite you--and though at the time you might hesitate (the climb is too steep, it was not in "the plan", it's probably a waste of time, and it may not, in the end, be worth it)--when you do accept, as I did last week, on my walk through Sanctuary park testing out my new digital camera--important pieces of the puzzle sometimes fall into place that might otherwise have taken hours or days or weeks or even decades to assemble, in that mosaic we try to construct to understand, well, "life".

The treasures I found!!!  My eyes were immediately drawn to Down instead of Up, as I ascended the stone stairs, though the view all around was much more compelling.  Surprisingly more enjoyable than reaching my particular destination was the journey itself, slowly, step by step, one tiny visual connection at a time. 

My camera didn't just capture a cascade of leaf-littered stairs up a steep grass embankment--it recorded  images made by water, on granite, that I saw as ghosts of beings or scenes of life:  a man fishing on a boat as a whale watches;  a farmer with his scythe, clearing his land; the ruins of a bombed out city; a citadel announcing its importance to the surrounding mountains; a traveler walking in the evening, under a stormy sky; an impertinent duck chuckling at the antics of a fox; a wolf watching over its cubs at play--reminding me, like those once-brilliant, scattered autumn leaves--that all things pass, but that they come back again ...and again and again ... and again ... different but the same, resurrected and reborn throughout the life cycle, in more ways than we can imagine.

"It's just a bunch of steps!" for crying out loud.  [my inner voice]

And yet ... if you look ... there are a dozen poems hiding in those crevices; a hundred hidden stories; a thousand memories of the universe, waiting to be untapped.  If only someone stopped and looked.

Of course, as with Rorschach ink blots, not everyone sees the same things--in a watermark, or the pattern of fallen leaves, for example.  But whatever it is you see, or think you see--it has specific relevance to you.  And paying attention to what it means to you, however absurd or mysterious it may seem to others, is a recognition, it seems to me, of one of the ways the universe responds to our sometimes exasperated questionings.  The answer comes, not as we expect, as an answer.  Sometimes it's just a picture, an image--or a word--but we are somehow able to make the connection.

Not all those who wander are lost.  [Who said that?]  Not every decision is always made based on logic.  And for those times we postpone "getting there" to stop and enjoy the now, those times we deviate from 'the plan' as a temporary reprieve from the urgency of getting to the substance of a thing--sometimes there's a hidden bonus:  we advance more rapidly than we ever might have imagined, not to where we thought was most important--but to somewhere ... better.

I would love to be able to say this in a story, or a poem.  Or a photograph.

That is the problem:  How to say a thing, that maybe can't be said. Without sounding phony--or worse, "preachy". 

"I see a butterfly."
"I see a rat."
"I see a bunch of random, blobby watermarks.  It says nothing to me.  What are you babbling about?!!"

About those stone steps ... you would have had to have been there.