Oliver Sacks & Other Friends I have Never Met

Digital collage illo: RIP Oliver SacksRIP Oliver Sacks (1933-2015).

Many of you who have been visitors to my blog for some time know that Oliver Sacks has for many years been one of my heroes, a deeply admired person because of his almost superhuman intelligence, his incredible breadth and depth of interests in a miraculously polymath-painted life, and most of all his quietly humane character. He lived a life so full of remarkable adventures, of openness to thought and passion, and seemingly endless ability to express his unique insights and experiences in language that was both approachable and lyrical that it seems ridiculous to believe all of this was only part of the substance of one single person’s life.

He died yesterday after a life that he self-described most aptly as that of being a perpetual Explorer, and I think that he will always, even in death, in some ways remain unchanged from the otherworldly spirit that he was on the terrestrial plane. His interests, while so many of them were decidedly practical and rational in his approach to them, were at bottom more genuinely in the philosophical realm of How, Why, and What-if than strictly scientific, a matter all the more notable because of his stated distaste for the perceived veils and distractions of organized religion. He was, indeed, sometimes criticized by fellow scientists, particularly in neurology (his central area of study), for being more interested in writing about and even, supposedly, exploiting the experiences of his patients and subjects than in performing and documenting the hard science that might explain and even cure them, but that, to me, was precisely his greatest strength and gift: that by translating the coldly factual into story form and making a simplified narrative both more approachable by and engaging to a wide readership, he made all of these disparate character studies and discoveries—both his and others’—far more meaningful and important in the lives of a whole generation who would otherwise have no reason to concern ourselves with or even grow to love this strange inner world of neurology and what it means to our being human.

All of this is only a small part of what endeared Dr. Sacks to me, as it clearly did to the tens of thousands who wrote him letters, consulted him, and studied and lauded his manifold accomplishments during his colorful life. Most of all, because he more and more fearlessly allowed us into his own inner life, to see how he himself experienced this complex, lovely, infuriating, and mysterious existence of ours, we were allowed to see him as a peer and a flawed, eccentric, humorous, and daring person all at the same time. This kind of intimacy is rare, for most of us, even with our closest companions, so being given so freely, vividly, this relatively unvarnished view into his inner workings made me join those thousands in thinking him a unique brand of Friend. We will all bear this loss. Yet we will all continue to benefit from the wonderfully ethereal quality of our presumptive Friendship, as well; he will remain with us in his books, the documentation of interviews, film, and all sorts of other recorded parts of his life and work, and of course, in the intense spirit of exploration that he fostered in himself and admirers alike.

I say these things here not only because of the unparalleled character I think Oliver Sacks shared with so many of us in his life, nor merely because I always found him a rollicking, endearing, and thought-provoking Good Read. It’s because his life and his death, for me, underscore what I have found to be profoundly true and increasingly obvious in my own smaller sphere of living: that what is universal in us transcends simple explanations or first person contact and allows us to befriend and treasure others who may share in daily life very little strong commonalities but remain in this larger and more complicated universe unimaginably interconnected. I have friends through this very blog who, though I have not met you and may never have that privilege on this earth, feel as bound and happily related in our mortal way to me as those who keep my physical company and speak to me face-to-face each day. I understand these connexions, however slightly, better because of the work and words of Oliver Sacks. It seems to me that his peculiar genius, despite his own avowed struggle with emotional incoherence or remoteness at times, was to find through studying, learning, expressing, and teaching others about the supposedly quantifiable attributes of the brain’s workings, a sweet, lasting, truly human kind of love.Digital collage illo: Oliver's Rainbow

The Last Place on Earth

digital collageIn Profundum Maris

Deep in the ocean, fathoms far,

Beyond the reach of the brightest star,

In the abyss of the secret sea—

Seemingly past where life could be

Sustained—lies a billowing bed of kelp

That waves in the dark, where sleep, where help,

Where mystical mending music calls

As the tides turn back and the current falls,

As the storms above relent, abate,

Becalm, bring peace—it is not too late

To dive in the depths with delight, embark

On the garden path of the ocean’s dark,

Miraculous beauty, unseen, immense,

Suffusing the soul in every sense,

To lie in the rush as the seas roll by

And think it a joy too fine,

To die…digital collage

Color Me Surprised

digital illustration

Big News, Everybody! Read all about it!

I stopped by Michelle’s blog at The Green Study, because the other day I managed to find an unexpected four minutes glued together that weren’t jammed with must-do things and there’s nothing I like better than wandering around the inspiring nooks and crannies of my friends’ homes in the interwebs. I just went there for the great reading and brain-jolting goodness that seems to be forever hovering at Michelle’s fingertips, and as I went through the post at hand I was busy enjoying the anticipation she created in me to visit some other blogs she described along the way. That’s how I’ve found nearly as many good blogs to read and follow as I have through connecting with commenters on my own blog: looking at others’ suggestions and finding new ideas and interests and friendly ‘study groups’ and kaffeeklatsches of endless variety in so many unexpected lanes and forests and classrooms everywhere.

I certainly wasn’t expecting to meet myself there. But thanks to her open door policy, there I was in black and white. I hope I at least had my fly zipped and the lettuce brushed out of my teeth when I appeared in The Green Study. In any event, I am delighted to flounce further [farther? I’m unclear about whether the applications of these two cousin words differs from ‘earth’ grammar when met in the binary world…] around in cyberspace and explore yet more new worlds. You, on the other hand, if you haven’t already met Michelle, should pop by her place and have a look around as well. I never come away from there without some new and piquant angle from which to view my reality, and the fact that she can make me collect and inspect such intriguing items with such a perfect brew of intelligence, outrage, insight, hilarity and compassion means I can promise you won’t be sorry for going there either.

Meanwhile, she has encouraged me to shine a little light on a few other bloggers I’ve perhaps neglected to introduce to you here before or at least recently. Herewith, in no particular order—starting, appropriately enough, with Random Rose.

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Random Rose’s Blog: http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/17201311/ —This lovely Rose brings everything around her into bloom with intuitive artworks and magical prose and poetry. I sensed sisterhood the minute I stepped into her blog space, yet never find her the least bit predictable, so it’s always a joy to pop in and see what’s new in her garden.

Meticulous Mick: http://meticulousmick.wordpress.com —A day spent with John in Ireland is a holiday, no matter what he’s up to at the moment: chasing The Hound, his hilariously handsome companion, over hill and dale or exploring the everyday beauties of the nearby towns and parks or musing, gently, on what is important in life.

Dreams to Reality! http://afsheenanjum.wordpress.com —My instant-little-sister Afsheen blogs family affections, artful crafts, inspirational contemplation, and numerous other forms of happiness that prove her education, her Muslim roots and great upbringing give her a heartfelt appreciation for what binds all of us together in joy and love.

Belsbror: http://belsbror.wordpress.com —Another contemplative fellow, Bror Blogger has a heart for what inspires, a mind for contemplating what can make us better, and an eye for inviting imagery that makes me want to visit and linger at his place.

My Life as an Artist (2): http://jcrhumming.wordpress.com —Janet’s sumptuously dainty (yes, that’s possible; just go and see!) artwork is blended skillfully with tales of fact and fiction, and some fact, like the stories of her idyllic former home in Wales, almost too pretty and charming not to be fiction, too.

David Emeron: Sonnets: http://davidemeron.com —Don’t be deceived by the title and subject of this blog; David’s sonnets are full of more widely varied and deeply felt content than many less vehicle-focused authors ever dream up in their worldly wanderings. His beautifully realized sonnets each (and in their pairings) evoke endless musing.

Shivaay Delights: http://shivaaydelights.wordpress.com —Her blog is a marvelously warm place where the beautiful Dimple shares recipes and stories from her Indian heritage and family love, making me feel very welcome and very, very hungry every time.

The Ancient Eavesdropper: http://tylerpedersen02.wordpress.com —Besides being in awe of the enormous quantity of Tyler’s output in photographs, prose and poetry, I am always amazed to find that not only does he do all of that stuff well, he has apparently got several other parallel lives of work, love and play that are equally artful and impressive.

A Holistic Journey: http://holisticwayfarer.com —Diana’s deep compassion and endlessly patient dives into the central topics of our humanity and our ability to expand humanity’s horizons keep me coming back for more and lead me to think about things in ways I’d not yet explored about how I fit into the universe and whether there’s anything I can do to make that more meaningful.

The Vibes: http://thevibes.me —Far more than simply managing, as if this weren’t enough,  to be a top-shelf graphic artist and insightful traveler, Mark is also a music aficionado and expert, thoughtful critic, garden enthusiast, cat wrangler and all-around delightful guy.

Curls and Carrots: http://shannaward.com —If it isn’t enough to gaze upon her duo of exceedingly adorable children (and it is, trust me) or to learn some of the heartfelt history of modern Judaism at the elbow of a gifted sharer (and that’s true here, too), then go over for big helpings of fantastic cookery in Shanna’s inviting kitchen.

DreamPrayAct: http://dreamprayact.com —A Methodist minister who challenges us to shape our mortality with humane graces, Mark uses his gently persistent voice to advocate for justice, hope and peace, individually and between us all.

Blue Jelly Beans: http://bluejellybeans.wordpress.com —The beautiful Giovanna shares cultural and personal history, all cooked into magnificent recipes in both English and Spanish that make me want to eat them all day long, no matter what the language.

Photo Maestro: http://photomaestro.wordpress.com —Specializing in, but far from limited to, location photography, Rhys has a gift for capturing the ephemeral Moment that makes each place, each person and each subject in his work uniquely appealing.

Journey into Poetry: http://journeyintopoetry.wordpress.com—Sharing Christine’s journey isn’t merely poetic, though that is pleasurable and insightful enough indeed, but it’s also a journey alongside the gracious, thoughtful and good-humored Christine, who embraces a life-affirming and open-handed hospitality with great intentionality.

Vultureşti: http://atdoru.wordpress.com —Doru reminds me with every post how universal are some qualities of human existence. I am immersed in the stories implied in the human-interest photos, the sense of history contained in details of buildings and hidden alleyways, and the attractions of minute details of frost and bloom.

Hot, Cheap & Easy: http://hotcheapeasy.com —Like the gorgeous recipes she posts, Natalia is certainly Hot, but the cheap and easy aspects she adds on to her cookery make it particularly useful and appealing to study and imitate her ways in the kitchen. Add on a great sense of history and sense of humor, and you’re in a great place ‘over there’.

Earthquake Boy: http://earthquakeboy.wordpress.com —David has a seriously keen eye for fantastic subjects and the skills to make them into photographic art, but it’s often his clever titles that take them over the top to truly outstanding levels.

The London Flower Lover: http://thelondonflowerlover.wordpress.com/about/ —The deep-hearted Team at TLFL brings thoughtful grace to exploring the immense impact that something as seemingly simple and relatively small as a flower, or a bouquet of them, can have. Their musings and artful arrangements never fail to remind me to think about how something as seemingly simple and relatively small as an individual person can have immense impact by being equally thoughtful and kind.

Spiderpaw’s Blog: http://spiderpaw.wordpress.com —I’m particularly in awe of the way Lionel uses the character of light and patterns sharpened by contrasting values to create enormous depth and richness in his views of what might otherwise be missed in the local and personal landscape of home and hometown.

Veggiewhatnow: http://veggiewhatnow.wordpress.com —If you’re a vegetarian, great, you won’t have any excuse for being bored or limited by what you can make under the tutelage of this delightful blogger. But if you’re a meatatarian of any kind, go on over to discover that you don’t have any excuse for avoiding vegetable deliciousness either!

Amazing Pictures by Michael Taggart: http://amazingpicturesblog.com —Clearly I have a soft spot for fabulous photography. But Michael, along with the other photobloggers I admire, has a gift for bringing us far more than mere photos. Even when he’s showing us SOOC kinds of images he’s got a terrific eye, but I’m especially drawn to his inventively processed story images, which really are Amazing.

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And that, my dear reading friends, is what I love about blogging in general. Each of us, though we may share some personal roots or points of view, explores our existence in truly distinctive ways that become art and inspiration. And at the same time, these unique voices and ways of expressing ourselves show over and over how much we really have in common, and that fills me with both hope and happiness.

Thanks again, Michelle, for reminding me of it so often and so powerfully.

The Red and the Green

photoI can’t help but think of the holidays as an equal-opportunity treasury of over-the-top delights for those who want to dig in and enjoy them. Seems evident to me that no matter what the origins–religious, practical, philosophical, historical, cynically greedy or purely spiritual–many holidays ultimately become part of the cultures from whose centers they spring. From there it’s a small progression for the holidays to gradually suffuse and/or be avidly imitated by hordes of people who had no previous connection to said origins. Thus we have masses of westerners rejoicing in the marvels of the Chinese New Year, loads of gentiles gathering around feasts of latkes and brisket and rugelach, and a secular Christmas celebrated by tens of thousands of people who’ve never set foot in a church.photoHappy holidays, y’all. I don’t doubt that there are some holidays, just like many other elements of the belief systems they represent, that are sacrosanct and oughtn’t to be co-opted by even the most well-meaning people, but if it’s done with a good heart and not with offensive intentions, there’s something childlike in the desire to share in everyone’s celebrations that still cheers my heart.photoI’m not even remotely related to those who go all-in to the degree of decorating every square millimeter of their homes and gardens, cooking and baking for weeks on end and stuffing the freezer to bursting, throwing extravagant parties for dozens of my closest friends, and sending out massive missives full of hilarious and heartwarming news about my astounding accomplishments from the last year and poetic best wishes for your own holiday celebrations and year to come. My version is oh so very much humbler, as of course it ought to be.photoI’m quite happy to embrace the good in any holiday that comes my way, though, so there are a few essentials on which I’ve focused my attention. Yes, there are a small number of sparkly white lights lining our front porch roof and touches of the requisite scarlet and Kelly green here and there. The holiday greeting cards that others have thoughtfully sent to us are hung on a broad gold ribbon between the living and dining rooms so as to broadcast their goodwill around the house. I’ve stocked the larder with a few favorite treats for all of us (Mr. Spousal Person, his parents and me), not least of all the requisite quantities of chocolate. Not that that item is limited to holidays, admittedly.

The best present I can give myself in celebrating any holiday whatsoever is, naturally, to surround myself with the love and joy of good company, whether eating chocolate or not. So I am sending out my best wishes to all of you lovely people for peace and happiness, good food, glimmering decorations, swell parties, and lots of love and joy throughout the celebration of all the holidays. And throughout a Happy New Year.photo

The Song Rises above All Else

When the night is long and the day after it dawns dark and grim, sing.photoWhen winter is colder than the inmost heart of death and is finally supplanted by the least promising spring, empty of graces and starved for new, green life, sing again and sing out loudly as you can.

When age and infirmity and dangers of every kind are buffeting all the lovely youth and strength they can find in this sad world into terrible dust-devils of desiccated sorrow, sing with all your heart and soul and make the most tuneful, joyful, glorious prettiness that you can float into the air, and know that your song, no matter how wholly alone it may float up, is powerful enough to rise above it all. This is the only way that any of us will rise above it all. And that we will, so long as we sing.photo