I Zig, Life Zags

We rarely go the same direction, Reality and I. And when the day is long and complicated and my brain can’t quite keep up with it, I wander ever further from the appointed path of sanity and logic. It is decidedly my nature to diverge from what’s natural.

And I’m okay with that. You may as well be, too, because I’ve gone all abstract on you and must needs go to bed. I may or may not be wiser and clearer tomorrow, but I suspect I’ll still be very much myself and enjoy it. Cheerio!Digital illo: Life Goes Its Own Way

Powerless

There are so many ways that we crave and try to wield power, we mortal beings. We think we’re in charge of our own lives, if nothing else. We are wrong.

Our short trip to Portland from Thursday through this morning provided me with a fine refresher course in this form of necessary humility. While our house is in utter disarray during our move to an apartment and our lives in mild chaos during a busy fall season of school, concerts, travel, and conferences, I am about as far from in control of my own little existence as I am from running the world. I did my very worst job of packing, for Portland, that I think I’ve done since somewhere around the age of four. If my parents were dumb enough to let me help pack my luggage then.

So I arrived in Oregon without several of my simplest toiletries, one pair of socks short of the full trip’s worth, and sans laptop power cord. Hence, my first series of several days without daily blog posts in nearly four and a half years. And I must tell you that I was plenty irritated with myself, and mightily disappointed to break the string of consecutive posts so unwittingly, if not witlessly. But you know, the earth did not cease to rotate on its axis. The rain and sun still did their little minuets, people still talked to me as if they genuinely liked doing so, and music still sounded magnificent and more than a little miraculous.

Because it’s not my power cord that connects me to the universe, and it’s most certainly not my power that connects the rest of the universe together. I can’t fix what’s wrong in the world, not by a million miles, but I am not the source of any of its strengths or its life force, let alone its myriad joys. I’m just the lucky participant and recipient, who (when the power is plugged in) gets to report on my view of it all. I’m happy to be back online, but I am reminded that the very best of what I enjoy in my remarkably blessed existence is not born of my own merit or power, and not even remotely connected to whether I’m plugged in or not, figuratively or literally. I’m just plain glad to be here.

Photo: Out of Gas

Yep, I ran out of gas. But I reminded myself, however inadvertently, that it takes letting go of my driven need for power, sometimes, to refuel my spirit.

Let Me be So Attuned

For those of you who would like to Tune In suitably, the concert that was being prepared when I wrote today’s post will be performed tonight by the University of North Texas A Cappella Choir, conducted by my esteemed spouse Richard Sparks. Click on this link, and it’ll take you to the live-streamed concert at 8 pm Central Standard Time. Or, if you can, come on over to UNT’s Murchison Performing Arts Center and enjoy the concert (with me and a host of other fans) in the lovely Winspear hall.

Digital illo from a photo: A Cappella HarmonyI am listening to a superb vocal sextet as the singers demonstrate the purity of tone and the achingly clear, clean dissonances and harmonies that their conductor has just been coaching the listening university choir to attempt. When they two sets of singers all join forces and achieve this without putting undue stress on their breathing and without letting anyone’s vibrato widen far enough to fall off its assigned note, the whole room, no matter how large or small, dry or reverberant, empty or crowded, becomes electric. The power of even the faintest pianissimo, when perfectly tuned to the chord of the moment, scintillates in such perfect proportion, one note to another, that involuntary shivers of pleasure run up and down my spine.

The conductor admonishes the singers to embrace the more tender expressive qualities of the passage they’re singing; instead of attack-and-cutoff beginnings and endings to notes and phrases, they attempt to let the notes open and close naturally with the breath. Attack becomes the almost imperceptible awakening sensation of even, steady onset, and cutoff loses its hard artifice in favor of the easeful grace of release. I think that this, too, makes a fine representation of what it should be to live in tune with my fellow beings, to breathe in consonance with them whether we are making pretty and perhaps predictably agreeable chords or exact and shivering dissonances.

This is the gorgeous, staggeringly intense experience of listening to genuinely sensitive music-making, of powerfully accurate tuning. A wonderfully skilled musician will no doubt say that the experience is even deeper for the singers themselves, as the physical sensation can only be intensified when one is physically part of the sounding instrument in this fundamental way. But I have been in those rooms, at times, where the perfectly timed phrasing of notes and passages and the confluence of vibrations are so perfectly aligned that I feel I am no longer a solid object, distinct from all other things, but have become an integrated element of the glittering cosmos. This, I think, is what it means to gain true harmony.Digital illo from a photo: Score

Please Don’t Misapprehend My Apprehension

Photo: ApprehensionOne of my greatest worries is, and always has been, the fear of being misunderstood. Not in the sense of “poor me, I’m an unappreciated genius,” but as in dreading that anyone would think I was saying a bad or mean or insensitive thing when I think I’m doing quite the opposite. This is not an unfounded or inexperienced kind of fear, either. For all that I am so verbal-cum-verbose and try hard to craft my thoughts into words fittingly, I find that the things that matter most to me, especially in moments of intense feeling, become far more difficult to express exactly as I’d wish, and I grow either dumb with the weight of my fine intentions or simply scrambled in what I blurt out in the moment.

Even when I believe I’m at my most cogent and persuasive, I often find I’ve stepped firmly on the tender feelings of those whom I would least wish to offend, and while I am heartily sorry for that and try to be honestly mild and penitent in my responses if they tell me I’ve put my foot wrong, I can’t always undo the hard feelings I’ve inadvertently engendered. Sometimes it’s because I’m left in the dark: even those with whom we’re close can be too wounded or unsure of how to respond and will never tell us we’ve struck a nerve; they might go off silently, nursing their hurt without letting us make amends. Some, too, will bite back at what they consider an affront, but then disappear in a dust-cloud of hasty retreat before I can rephrase to say what I had really meant, apologize, or, in the rare cases when we cannot see eye to eye no matter what, say with due respect that I don’t harbor any ill-will but beg to differ. That, at least, assumes neither of us is a villain or an ignoramus but that our sincere efforts have led us to quite different conclusions. Silence cannot explain, clarify, forgive, or ask for forgiveness, and it certainly cannot open the ears that have been stopped up by anyone’s fixed assumption of my guilt.

And most of all, it can’t allow me to learn from my mistakes, when I fail to convey what I’ve tried so hard to convey. That’s what keeps me awake too late and too long, fussing over the wording of what should, perhaps, have been an easily stated idea or even a passing thought, because I convinced myself, whether through experience or through overwrought and paranoid worrying, it was going to give somebody—anybody—the wrong idea about me.

And there is where I finally spot the heart of the real problem: it’s not all about me, much as I josh about being the center of the universe or pretend that I’m so important. Every other person in the world will never be on the same wavelength I am, not in the things we believe, in the ways we think about them, or perhaps especially, in the ways we express them—or try to do it. And every other person in the world is not going to agree that what I think respectful or complimentary seems that way to them. To expect that kind of universal acceptance is folly; to wish for it is vain; to stay up past my bedtime trying to achieve it is merely asking for trouble.

Surrendering to the plain fact that my imperfection is bound to meet up with others’ occasional misapprehension of my meaning is not total capitulation. But as it might mean I get a better night’s sleep, I do think it worth a try.Photo: Misapprehension

A Lone Bird

Photo: A Lone BirdSolitude is not always lonesome; it can be a deeply joyful place of peace and calm. It can be an inward-looking, melancholic sweetness tinged with nostalgia or the cosmic silence in which every breath becomes a prayer. To be alone in the worldly sense never denies the possibility of a welcome, comforting Other presence, or the awesome sweep of knowing that reassures, despite all challenges, that one has a place in the universe, however small.

Formless in the mist, obliterated by dark and storm, or shut from sight by suffering or fear, the things that ordinarily create a sense of normalcy or rootedness may not be gone, but in the state of being all alone, anyone can become convinced she is alone, and that solitude is a burden or a punishment. But in the stillness, too, is the possibility of deeper thought, of slipping into a state where the good and the powerful and the blessed things that fill the spirit—when there are fewer distractions of person-place-or-thing to prevent it—well up and are renewed.

World War Whatever-it-is

"*The* World War." Would that it were so. So many dead that if there's room in the cemetery for an individual marker, it might have only initials, if any identification at all. And more bones on the pile every day, in every corner of the world.

“*The* World War.” Would that it were so. So many dead that if there’s room in the cemetery for an individual marker, it might have only initials, if any identification at all. And more bones on the pile every day, in every corner of the world.

My meanderings in old cemeteries offer frequent reminders that poverty and hunger, natural dangers, and lack of medical advances or resources were far from the only causes of early and numerous deaths among our forebears. Chief among the causes is—and I fear, will always be—ignorance. All one has to do is spy a few headstones marking the graves of persons killed in The War, the World War, or even the so-called Great War to realize that despite terrible, lengthy, massive battles and wars in ages past, our more recent ancestors still believed that one war would ‘end all wars’ and that it was an anomaly. We should be so astute and peace-loving. Instead, we always find new ways to mistreat and murder our fellow beings, and the rate of discovery for cures and self-improvements never quite keeps up with the pace of our ills, let alone outruns them.

Photo: "World War"

“World War.” The End. If only.

The Emperor’s Newest Costume

An Empire never gave good reason why

It ought to rule instead of native sons

And daughters, who, if they survive the guns

And carpet-bombing, still might long to die,

For terrible and bitter is the rule

Of anyone who dares to steal the throne

Of any land or country not his own,

Who often trades a despot for a fool,

Or worse, fool for a despot, and the land

And all its people suffer at the change,

No better, oft enough, and ever strange,

Without the hope and strength to countermand

The awful miseries imposed by those

Who choose to rule as wolves in ovine clothes.

Photo: Flag-waving

Let this be a lesson to us all. Seems to me that flags are better planted in our own hearts and front gardens than on others’ turf.

When the Dust Settles

Digital illo: Doom is So Depressing!People of all kinds of philosophical leanings readily resort to apocalyptic talk nowadays. We like hyperbole, to be sure. If it isn’t some version of some religion or other’s end times, it’s anything from worldwide economic collapse to irreparable ecological disaster. And, of course, any and every one of the dire predictions could prove true.

But focusing on that sort of stuff, let alone organizing one’s life around it, is my idea of a lousy substitute for real living. The largely Pollyanna flavor of my credo doesn’t preclude my being at least passably realistic about the world and its tribulations, and there are some things about which I am as pessimistic and removed from sanguine comforts as can be, but since I can’t change them, I know that they either will or won’t end at least my world, my life; if that’s the case, it won’t matter one iota to me, now, will it? And if I survive, well then, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

That’s the concern I think worth entertaining: What comes after the End of All Things? If I exist after what I thought was going to end all of my joys and riches, my struggles and concerns, either by destroying every atom of them or by killing me, then that would seem to be the plan, the attitude worth cultivating. I may have little to offer my fellow survivors beyond a sheepish high-five of shared amazement at our not being wiped out along with all other matter, but perhaps if there is more than one of us still standing after the firestorm or implosion or celestial sneezing fit that has massacred everything and everyone else, we can pool our resources and find other surprising pleasantries besides that we just plain aren’t dead yet. I’m betting on that particular scenario, given the relative utility of such thinking in comparison with stocking up plots and devices for scrabbling to continue to exist in a smoking hole of what was once a world. That one I’ll happily leave to darker and less benevolent thinkers, as I can only imagine living among them would kill me quickly enough anyhow. And I do think you know what I mean.

See you on the other side!Digital illo: After the Apocalypse, I'll be an Artist

Braggadocio

Digital illo: Clever Bird!Crowing

Let me never be so craven as to be hubristic, crass,

Boastful as my cousin Raven, who (though he’s a silly ass)

Calls himself the Wise, the Clever, poses as a sage and wit—

I should hope that I would never be so wildly full of it—

All my fellows know my talents and my intellect and skill

Well enough that, on the balance, bragging would be overkill.

I prefer a steady diet of humility and style,

Being modest, cool, and quiet, and yet brilliant all the while.

Nah! Just kidding! I’m as happy as ol’ Raven is to brag;

I’m as boisterous a chappie, yelling out from crag to crag,

Tree to tree, tunnel to tower; I’ll announce my greatness, too;

Any reason, any hour, tell you I’m better than you!

Don’t assume because I’m smaller I’m less dazzling or less proud—

I’ll be glad to give a holler, shout my excellence out loud!

Speeding Along

Here I am, moving along at speed again. Feels kind of like we’ve all been sucked into the vortex of time and will get spat out who-knows-when and who-knows-where, and in the meantime it’s one heck of a wild ride. But you know, it isn’t boring! I’m just glad I have such good company for the journey among my friends and loved ones. If you do happen to know where I’m headed, please just give me a little nudge in the right direction so my lack of a compass doesn’t get me in too much trouble. Thanks!

Photo: Life Rushes Onward

Life rushes onward. Am I on the bus or in front of it?

Well, Aged

I am not in the least opposed to growing older. Or even growing really, really old. I’d just like to do so with a smidgen of style and a jot of class, if I can lay hold of either of these by then. In the meantime, I’m pretty happy that most people don’t think of me as exceedingly geezer-ish—or at least don’t have the temerity to say so to my softly collapsing face. Grey hair and wrinkles, along with all of my more singular scars and bruises acquired along the way, are merely outward expressions of my having lived a life, perfect or not, as opposed to having merely existed on the planet, taking up space without filling it.Drawing + text: Time Flies

I may not be a glorious vintage of anything, but if I’m not exactly well aged, I’m at least, well, aged. And that pleases me quite enough.

Drawing + text: Finding Contentment