Sunday, March 23, 2008

On Beauty...

And a poet said, 'Speak to us of Beauty.'

And he answered:

Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide? And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?

The aggrieved and the injured say, 'Beauty is kind and gentle. Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us.'

And the passionate say, 'Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread. Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.'

The tired and the weary say, 'beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit. Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.'

But the restless say, 'We have heard her shouting among the mountains, And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions.'

At night the watchmen of the city say, 'Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east.'

And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, 'we have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset.'

In winter say the snow-bound, 'She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills.'

And in the summer heat the reapers say, 'We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.'

All these things have you said of beauty. Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied, And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.

It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth, But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.

It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear, But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.

It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw, But rather a garden forever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.

People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.

Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, March 22, 2008


My favorite new word is one I learned while investigating a favorite professor's recommendation that I learn something about autoethnography. This is a fun recommendation that came out of a wine-tipsy discussion lastnight about how to start writing; I've been playing with the idea of writing about what I know the most about culturally -- the cultural experience of being raised in a white Midwestern Protestant context. Pop reference: in some ways, the Coen brothers' Fargo is something of an autoethnographic work. This kind of approach to chronicling culture focuses on a writer's investigation of a culture in which he or she identifies, or is a part of.

So: verisimiltude is the word of the week! From the Latin verum (truth) and similis (similar), verisimiltude has to do with the appearance of being true or real; or the resemblance of truth, reality or a fact's probability. This was recognized as an important part of a reader or audience's experience when presented with a work of art in the old times of peeps like Aristotle and Plato. They said that for an audience to identify with a piece of art, they must recognize its grounding in reality. Apparently now the post-modernists say that before a reader or audience can analyze whether or not they identify the content of art as truthful or based in reality, it must make sense to them as a logically sensible statement of artistic expression. This allows art to precede reality... much like my visits to the Hirschorn museum!! "Wow, man, that's so... artful" is a much more probable comment from me while staring at an installation of fluorescent lights above a baby cradle decoupaged in magazine clippings of waif models than "Wow, man, that's so...true!"

I'd really rather be a writer who appeals to a reader's sense of reality than leaving the reader thinking I'm just artful. I like saying the word verisimiltude. I think it's a true statement that verisimiltude is a fun thing to say.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

No Free Speech Isn't Stopping the Monks

When Tibetan Buddhist monks organize peaceful protests against the Chinese occupation their country and a hundred Tibetans end up shot dead as a result, with the rest of the Tibetan people under imminent threat of severe punishments "according to law" for harboring protesters ("criminals"), I just don't know how to react.

I feel proud and faithful for those who are standing up peacefully for the freedom of their nation; I feel dizzy at the thought of how easily the Chinese army can invade monasteries and open fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters; I feel disdain for the attempt of the Chinese government and the Olympic Committee to wave the clearly rhetorically crap flag of Chinese pride and unity as the Olympic torch is dramatically run through Tibet on its way to the summit of Mt. Everest; I feel panic at not knowing how to "help" (can I even really help?); I feel hope knowing that the Dalai Lama can surely not be defeated by guns; and peace knowing that where there is peace, peace will flourish.

Of course on hearing the news of the crisis in Tibet, I followed links to the website for Students for a Free Tibet

Certainly the Chinese government would take little notice of and registered to send a letter to the Olympic Committee to divert the running of the torch from Tibet to avoid inflammation of the situation, as well as a clear big-handed spittling upon the country by its occupants. But then I felt... dissatisfied. There are other choices listed, like "Send a letter to your Congressional Representative!" and even one to the Chinese government, expressing how much we hate their occupation of Tibet. And I didn't feel compelled to send those letters. Is it because my energy can be better used?
my advice, so I doubt I'll trot over to China to have a chat about Tibet over tea and photographers. I have a decreasing sense of faith that letters to my Congressional Representative achieve much in terms of foreign relations; another can of worms to be opened at a less urgent time. I suppose I can stop purchasing things manufactured in China; I already had problems with this approach as it related to the poor regulation of product safety (if the U.S. did a better job regulating what it imported, or if the U.S. wouldn't insist on importing the cheapest possible items from as far away as possible, we wouldn't have had this problem), and I'm still skeptical that my financial clout will have any impact on China's mega-zega-economy whatsoever. I'm slightly less skeptical that the potential of world governments to impact the mega-zega-economy is indeed large; skeptical again that the entire Western market, virtually peeing itself of excitement over its investments in the Chinese economy, will allow capitalist governments to interfere with China economically.

I used to be skeptical of prayer. And I still wouldn't necessarily call the way I send and receive energy between myself and the Greater (for another post) as "prayer;" but maybe the best I can do here is focus on cultivating peace and sending mine to strengthen the pulse of Grace off of which our collective existence subsists.

If that sounds helpless and/or passive, I also have great confidence in the disservice that China will do to itself when it trots through Tibet with the torch to a world full of rolling eyes, hosting an Olympics already riddled with controversy upon the backdrop of homicidal response to the expression of the human right to free speech. It's hard to let things go and trust that they will turn out the right way on the will of political forces out of my own control, but this time I think there will be more than politics at work here. The world at large can not continue to witness this kind of blatant oppression, violence and lying and pretend like it's no big deal. I have enough faith in people to hope a groan is released around the world while China boasts how much its people love living under its hard-handed rule, and appropriate reaction to follow. There is justice to be gained.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sundance 2009

In my nocturnal adventure in the earlier hours of this morning (I'm no longer calling myself an insomniac, since that implies I can't sleep; I suppose nocturnal approaching vampiric is increasingly more appropriate), I was taken by a strikingly fantastic idea: I want to go to the Sundance Film Festival, January 2009!

Why did I not realize this is in Utah? Because of Cannes Film Festival, why did I assume all independent film festivals are held in crazy Bohemian locations around Europe?

Well. I am making this happen. All I need is a car and a few willing friends to join me along the way; I think two weeks: road trip via Austin and Albuquerque, attend the festival, do some epic skiing, and camp the canyon country of the southwest states on the way home. It sounds like a wildest dream come true.

To fuel my inspiration I watched some
amusing shorts on the Sundance site. I found "Learning to Skateboard" to be the most poignant in its humor. It's like a mini-politicized "Office Space," except rather than just plain boredom with the status quo, this guy blames 'the man' and 'the bourgeoise' finding liberation and freedom in being a 30 year old kid refusing to acknolwedge the world around him; of course his bliss is only his ignorance. Nonetheless it's funny. It's funny cause it's true.

This morning as I walked into work, the air smelled of something sweet. It's forecasted to storm later this afternoon, but it wasn't just the pre-rain damp air smell. I stopped and looked around me, and under my feet I found thick luscious dark green grass! Freshly cut! How did they do that? Must be some hyper fertilizer. Nonetheless it's wonderful. It's wonderful cause it's spring time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Immigrant Blues

My life's latest (though tiny) pleasure has involved listening to NPR's podcasts of "Poetry Off The Shelf"on small breaks from the pointedly unpoetical reading and writing I've been living and breathing for the past two years. Last night I listened to an interview and readings from Li-Young Lee, a Chinese American poet who was born in exile in Indonesia, emigrating to the United States during the Vietnam War. Lee read his poem "Immigrant Blues," describing his struggle with learning to love and be loved after experiencing so much violence and racism in his childhood. The interviewer drew observed the tendency of post-modernistic poetry to avoid overly-romantic language about love, hearts, souls, and other apparently out-of-fashion expressions of human emotion, drawing contrast and exception to Lee's work. He commented that "this whole poem makes me nervous!" after being asked whether he feels nervous about using words other modern poets might consider cliche. Listening to him read is pure pleasure: The soft bass of his voice reverberates humility while it strings complex tales of his childhood to weave a picture of his internal experiences as an adult. I have no doubt the rest of his work is just as beautiful. You can listen to him read this poem and others (as well as other poet's readings) on the generous and fantastic website of Blue Flower Arts.

I'm trying hard to not have any more crushes on unattainable middle-aged men from various countries on the other side of the world, so I'll just satiate my desires with a gift to myself in the form of his latest book and audio cd, "Behind My Eyes."

"Immigrant Blues"
Li-Young Lee

People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue.

It’s an old story from the previous century
about my father and me.

The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.

It’s called “Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation.”

It’s called “Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons,”

called, “The Child Who’d Rather Play than Study.”

Practice until you feel
the language inside you, says the man.

But what does he know about inside and outside,
my father who was spared nothing
in spite of the languages he used?

And me, confused about the flesh and the soul,
who asked once into a telephone,
Am I inside you?

You’re always inside me, a woman answered,
at peace with the body’s finitude,
at peace with the soul’s disregard
of space and time.

Am I inside you? I asked once
lying between her legs, confused
about the body and the heart.

If you don’t believe you’re inside me, you’re not,
she answered, at peace with the body’s greed,
at peace with the heart’s bewilderment.

It’s an ancient story from yesterday evening

called “Patterns of Love in Peoples of Diaspora,”

called “Loss of the Homeplace
and the Defilement of the Beloved,”

called “I Want to Sing but I Don’t Know Any Songs.”