January 31, 2012 § 2 Comments
We are so civilized today that our senses do not get the same workout they used to when we were wearing loin cloths and carrying spears. A case in point is our sense of smell. When was the last time you heard anyone bragging that they could smell you fifty feet away?
This now underutilized sense has a long, long history. In fact, they say smell was the first sense to develop. While we were scarcely out of our amoeba and paramecium rompers, our wiggly feelers were following aromas to food and sex. Not much has changed in that department.
But compared to other mammals, man’s sense of smell is weak. For example, a dog’s nose is a hundred thousand to a million times more perceptive than a human’s. If you happen to be escaping from a chain gang that bloodhound on your trail has a nose a hundred million times keener. But most of us have day jobs that do not require a lot of sniffing.
Today the nose has other responsibilities. It is the weather vane, if I may be so bold in my comparison, of our mental and emotional states. For example, wasn’t that whiff of expensive perfume the tip off to old George’s perfidy? And didn’t you turn up your nose to his protestations of innocence?
And how about the time you just knew something was rotten in Denmark. You may claim it was intuition that led to the double set of accounting books. I say it was your nose. After all isn’t the seat of the nose near the forehead and isn’t the pineal gland located just behind the third eye, and you know what Lobsang Rampa has to say about that. I rest my case.
At cocktail parties when we want to get away from boring people talking about themselves, we say we’re going to powder our nose. When we’re overworked we have our nose to the grindstone which in some cases might improve the profile. If the nose is the first to arrive at your destination it may be profitable in a horse race but not at a dance
Then there is that gruesome picture of revenge and reprisal that is a result of cutting off our nose to spite our face. Does this have anything to do with the rise of rhinoplasty?
So the next time you look in the mirror and notice the old proboscis, don’t pay attention to that big pimple or those hairs sticking out. Don’t duck and cringe when somebody says, “oink, oink.” Get a mirror and admire that profile. It’s the face on the coin of your personal kingdom.
Today our nose is less a direction finder and more of a memory trigger. For example, when I smell the scent of Sweet Allysum I travel back in time to when I was four years old sitting in my sand box next to my mother’s flower garden. This association naturally leads me to consider other memorable aromas stored in my proboscian archives, the ones instantly recognizable that call up names and faces, times and places, the bouquet of my memories.
- coffee perking on the stove in my grandmother’s kitchen
- sitting under a blossoming grapefruit tree in southern California
- baby powder on new bathed skin
- sitting on a log in the snow smoking a cigarette as the sun rises
- new mown grass on the day the carnival came to town when I was 9
- opening the cedar chest to take out the winter clothes stored in moth balls
- bread baking in my mother’s oven
- the smell of earth and worms in March as I dug new flower beds
- clouds of incense filling the church during high mass on Sunday morning
- the sharp metallic tang of mercurochrome when I skinned my knees
What are your favorites? What scents and aromas take you back to an earlier you?
January 30, 2012 § Leave a Comment
We are having an exceptionally mild winter here in Northern California, almost like Arizona with its bright blue sky days and cool, comfortable nights. I go to the nearby park around lunch time most days just to sit on a bench in the sunshine and watch the world go by.
Part of this world is a scattering of squirrels, which is like a flock only zanier. These little creatures are in a constant state of agitation, high on adrenaline for the least hint of a threat from leashed dogs walking down pathways to small children running recklessly across the grass.
I push out the thought that squirrels are part of the rodent family and instead enjoy their darting and climbing and sniffing. Even when their bodies are frozen in attention, their fluffy tails are in constant motion, signaling like semaphores to each other and the world at large.
The other day I picked up a bag of peanuts at the grocery store and now as I sit on the bench, I make chirpy noises to attract their attention. First, I toss out a few peanuts for their delectation. They circle warily but finally succumb to the nutty aroma. Slowly, I lure them closer and closer.
Today one is brave enough to come and take the peanut out of my hand. His tiny paw is so thin, his long nails like little dark needles. While the other squirrels frantically dart back and forth in indecision, he places his paw ever so lightly on my finger, then delicately takes the nut in his mouth – then runs away.
The exchange reminded me of the passage in “The Little Prince” when the fox explains to the Prince how to tame him and when I came home I dug out my book to refresh my memory.
“You have to be very patient,” the fox answered. “First you’ll have to sit down a little ways away from me, over there, in the grass. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye, and you won’t say anything…. But day by day, you’ll be able to sit a little closer… If you come (every day) at four in the afternoon, I’ll begin to be happy by three. The closer it gets to four, the happier I’ll feel. By four I’ll be all excited and worried; I’ll discover what it costs to be happy! But if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when I should prepare my heart….”
Even after all these years that part always brings a tear to my eye. Isn’t there a part of all of us that wants to be tamed, that wants to trust, to transcend the fear that living can bring. Remember that old saying, the first cut is the deepest. All of us at some point – maybe in our childhood, maybe in our teens – first experience the reality of life. We discover the cost of happiness.
Perhaps it is the betrayal by a close friend, the loss of a parent or a loved one, the injustice of an accusation. All future pain finds its way back to that original one for that is when we lost our innocence. Until then we were the golden child and naively believed we would never be hurt.
Because we didn’t want to be surprised or disappointed by life again, many of us withdrew a little from it, put up a shell so that arrows would not go in so deep. We loved but not completely, we trusted but had a back-up plan, just in case. Like the fearful squirrels at the park we edged into life, then retreated, edged forward, snatched, retreated.
In our insecurity we sought to be the tamer rather than the tamed. We wanted others to trust us, to love us, to make us feel safe. We wanted to be the one who could leave rather than risk being the one who was left. But being the tamer has its own price. “Men have forgotten this truth, said the fox. But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
The people we ask to love us, the children we bear, the confidences we invite, the promises we make, the gifts we accept, the trust we encourage … all of these actions which make us happy require repayment in the form of responsibility. We must be trust worthy.
Now that I have started to feed the squirrels it is only a matter of time before I tame them. I will follow the advice of the fox and come everyday at the same time so that they will look forward to my presence. When they see someone sitting on the bench they will be reminded of me.
“Wheat fields say nothing to me which is sad. But you have hair the color of gold. So it will be wonderful, once you’ve tamed me! The wheat, which is golden, will remind me of you. And I’ll love the sound of the wind in the wheat…”
Picture from The Little Prince
January 28, 2012 § 3 Comments
There used to be a time when I would search out big, fat books; books that would take a week or even more to read; books that would admit me to their world and quietly draw the curtains around it while I lived within its dream. But now, as I am older, I find most big books tedious and seek out the small, short, thinner volumes for these I know will most likely come to the point, say what needs to be said and depart like a friend who knows when it’s time to go home.
I search out these smaller books on the library shelves. Before I used to go to the fiction or non-fiction or mystery books sections and look for favorite authors or intriguing titles. Now my eyes scan the shelves for the little ‘cousins’ and ‘maiden aunts’ hidden between the upright, study spines of more responsible and weighty family members.
These smaller books are like haiku. More than a short story but less than a novel; more than a sonnet and less than an epic, they glide with grace over thoughts and emotions, dipping deeply enough to evoke a response but lightly enough not to be tragically morose or extravagantly dramatic.
I have also eschewed novels about passion and desire; about struggle and revenge. This, I’m sure, is a direct result of my aging. Those emotions and motives do not have the allure they once did, either as an instructional treatise or as entertainment. I do not care to read or experience second hand the emotions of love lost or found; or desire thwarted or fulfilled, for I have come to realize that neither state is preferable which has certainly removed envy and concupiscence from my emotional vocabulary. Was it Oscar Wilde who said that the only thing worse that not getting what you wanted was getting it?
The smaller book does not have the time or space or energy to deal with these big emotions and big problems but instead focuses more on the mundane and everyday; the people one meets and lives with, the small problems whose solving does not cause sleeplessness at night; the emotions that touch poignantly not drain energy.
These smaller books also seem to pay more attention to typeface and format. Their covers are less vulgar and attention-getting and more delicate and fine. And since the books are smaller, they fit nicely in the hands. My fingers and wrists do not grow tired holding them up or balancing them on my stomach when I read in bed.
When I read about the characters in a story, I find I would like to know them; in fact, I sometimes feel I already do. Rather than characters to be adored or feared they are friends to be met and with luck, cherished. The emotions they draw forth are manageable and familiar. They remind one of childhood or good times or even sad times but without the tragedy.
One such story I recently read was titled, “Quite a Year for Plums,” by Bailey White. One chapter relates the approaching death of an old horse named Squeaky. Roger, the horse’s owner, erects a very large Styrofoam shed out in the field where the horse waits for the end.
“Then, suddenly … she realized why Roger had made Squeaky’s house so big. It was so that when the old horse finally pitched over, there would be room for him to fall without crashing into the flimsy walls of the house, and his last thought in this world would not be one of panic as the Styrofoam panels and poles of the dying house collapsed on top on him.”
A “Gone With the Wind” or the “Fall of the Roman Empire” or a “Harry Potter” could not contain such an observation because those pages would be too big and too dramatic for such a delicate observation. So my forays among the stacks at the local library for now will focus on the small, dusty and overlooked; in return I shall be charmed.
January 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
Ah! What’s that! My tongue flicked out and probed the corner of my mouth and upper lip. A tingling prickle. My finger left the keyboard and began an exploratory mission. Hmmm. Nothing. It must have been my imagination. I returned to work.
But a mere moment later an unthinking but stealthy lick of the lips again alerted my ever attentive tongue to an intruder. This time both thumb and index finger pinched and plucked. Damn! The tongue never lies. It was the tickling prickle of a wild whisker in the corner of my mouth.
Where had it come from? There certainly wasn’t anything there last night, or this morning, or even an hour ago! I rushed to the bathroom, pulled out the magnifying mirror that shows me things no woman should ever look at – crow’s feet, enlarged pores, sagging chins and a wild hair.
Yes, there it was … lurking in the corner of my mouth, curled up along the crease some euphemistically call the laugh line only nobody’s laughing. Long, black and mean-looking like Lee Van Cleef without the cigar. My tongue probed it again. It bit back. “Exterminate! Exterminate!” resounded the Dalek mantra in my mind.
I rummaged through the drawer, pulled out my trusty tweezers and turned the make-up lights to their highest wattage. When I focused through my bifocals I was too far away. When I took them off I was too close. Nevertheless I plunged in. Ouch! I flashed the mirror at different angles to discover a more effective approach.
Grrrr! My eyes steely and my resolve unflagging I pounced again. Ouch! Success! I held the tweezers up to the light and viewed the now submissive whisker. A dark and menacing energy seem to emanate from its glistening length. My God! That sucker was at least an inch long! How did it grow so fast? Is it the steroids I’m taking for the arthritis?
Alarmed by this unsightly spectacle, I launched an intensive investigation. I pursed my lips, pulled my cheeks this way and that, then checked both double chins. All clear for now. Somewhat chastened, which is like woebegone only sorrier, I returned to my desk. My cat Sweetie Pie looked on in sympathetic understanding as I pondered.
What’s up with hair as you get older? Once the essence of come hither, hair has become elusive, unreliable, undisciplined and, in particular, migratory. It disappears from where it is supposed to be and has been for sixty plus years, and then turns up unexpectedly where it should not be and never was before!
Eyebrows that once would have made Frida Kahlo envious now have to be drawn on with grubby pencil named Maybelline. The once downy cheek is periodically sprinkled with unsightly stubble. I now have to use more eyeliner and less mascara. And the less said about hair brushes the better.
“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered,” said St. Matthew. Ask yourself if this is not a covert finger pointing to older women and the Red Hat Society. Consider hats and then ponder what they may or may not be covering. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure why older women also wear so much purple. It’s obviously a maneuver to draw attention from said toppers. Think about it.
So, where does all this disappearing hair go? Why to chins and upper lips and cheeks and noses. You have to be vigilant because these wild and crazy hairs pop out overnight like mushrooms and grow one – two – three inches while you’re still have your morning coffee.
Perhaps a study should be underwritten to study this phenomenon. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was tied into the phases of the moon like earthquakes are or are more noticeable in months without an ‘r.’ Is there is a Ripley’s Believe It or Not category addressing this kind of hair behavior? If not, perhaps there should be.
If only the energy involved in this rampant hair growth could be harnessed. For those surgically inclined, those impetuous and undisciplined wild hairs could be transplanted to the top of the head where they are really needed. Or, perhaps there is a way to reseed, so to speak, those hairs already lost. A careful and selective use of crazy glue comes to mind.
As a final thought consider the implications and etymological similarities between whisker, whisper, whistle and whiskey. It seems to me there is a lot of puckering involved. Can this really be natural?
How can I control my life when I can’t control my hair? Anonymous
January 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
I received an email this morning from my friend Susan telling me that a woman we both knew had died last Friday. Over the years Susan had kept me apprised of the highlights of this woman’s journey – the surgeries, the moves back and forth to her family, her struggle for independence. Although I had not known her well I was sad to learn she had died at just 66, not that old by today’s standards.
I remember both my mother and my Aunt Lucy telling me they never expected to live as long as they did – my mother to 93 and my aunt still going strong at 97. They had far surpassed the statistical norms of their generation. In 1911, for instance, the year my mother was born, the average life span for a woman was 50 years and 54 for men. Think about it – most women never lived long enough to go through menopause or see their grandchildren grow up. Most men never retired.
When I was born in 1945 women had an average life span of 63; for a man, 68. I beat the bookies although there are many from my graduating class who are already gone. Like my mother, I may be surprised by living longer than I expect.
Life is uncertain and the fear of dying is the most basic of all, the hydra head from which all other fears twist and twine. Our western culture does not like to acknowledge the possibility, nay, inevitability of death and our best efforts are bent towards postponing rather than preparing for it.
Our religions promise us various forms and states of immortality and call upon the assertions of long dead saints to support their claims. But our current reliance upon the rational and material undermines belief in these possibilities. The gods of our fathers have been replaced by the gods of science and technology.
Since we no longer believe in life after death, we must prolong life as long as possible. The same science that brings us stem cell research, genetic manipulation and a sheep named Dolly also tells us that no energy is ever destroyed only transformed. And what is life if not energy? Only view a recently deceased person and you will immediately see the body is a mere inanimate shell. The animating presence, the energy, has left.
And what is that energy? Is it the individual essence that is you or me? Perhaps death is a mere blink of Brahma’s eye that triggers the star stuff inside and transports us to a new dimension. Is the God of Abraham and Krishna the same God that resides within Plank’s Constant and Schrodinger’s equation? If so, why is math so hard?
Heraclitus, a philosopher who lived 2,500 years ago and is best known for saying that the only constant is change, also said, “That which always was, and is, and will be everlasting fire, the same for all, the cosmos, made neither by god nor man, replenishes in measure as it burns away.” (translation by Brooks Haxton).
A fire that replenishes as it burns. No beginning, no end, no disappearance into a Great Abyss. Life is an ever-constant shape-shifting between thing and no thing in the cosmic furnace in which we are the fire and not the fuel.
It was this fire I felt when I read that the great Russian author, Anton Chekov, who, even as he was dying of tuberculosis, had a new home under construction. My heart responded to this victory of his spirit over the reality of matter. He was not denying the inevitability of death but asserting that death held no dominion over life. I applaud his spirit.
While on one level I may fear death I also admit to a certain curiosity when I contemplate the uncertainty of the journey that lay ahead, that plunge back into the great cosmic furnace that some have called the Sacred Heart.
ASIDE: 500 BC was an extraordinary era. Contemporaries of Heraclitus (535 to 457 BC) included Pythagoras, Buddha, Confucius and Lao Tse.
January 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Who is not looking for God.
Everyone is trudging along
With as much dignity, courage
And style as they possibly can.
I discovered Hafiz, a 14th century Persian poet, a few years ago and was astonished by both the beauty and timelessness of his poetry. He was a Sufi mystic and much of his work expressed his longing for union with God. The short segment quoted above is part of a poem titled “I Follow Barefoot.”
I was struck by the ‘modernity’ of the lines – that under the circumstances, we are all of us doing the best that we can. As I look around the world in which we live those circumstances can seem quite dire. We now not only have the power to destroy each other but to destroy the very planet and its creatures.
How many millions of years have passed since man developed his intellect; how many great civilizations has man founded and then destroyed. The power and greed evident in history is the same thirst I see today. Do we never learn?
But in pondering that ever-returning cycle of advancement and destruction I realized that I was perhaps measuring our progress with too short of a stick. If we look at mankind not as an infinite number of individuals or races or civilizations but as an evolving species a different picture can emerge.
Over the millennia we have created beautiful, elegant bodies, developed inquisitive, powerful intellects and formed emotions capable bonding. It is our spiritual dimension that is now under construction and it is the spiritual canon we are now learning.
When we choose power and greed over love and cooperation, we must suffer the consequences of our unwise actions – again and again. In many ways we are still children who know the rules but are too immature or too stubborn to play by them.
I see now that I have been naïve in thinking that the 21st century will be different from the past simply because it is further down the temporal line. I have been naïve to think that the horrors of war of the 20th century would automatically enlighten us. Our sophisticated technology and knowledge base is not enough to make a difference unless our spiritual intelligence keeps pace.
While an individual lifetime may be long enough to transform a man or woman, it is not long enough to accommodate the evolution of a species. Socrates, or was it Plato, said that man always chooses what he thinks will make him happy. It’s easy in hindsight to say we should have done this or done that. But we always do the best that we can at the time.
And mankind today, as a whole, is also doing the best it can – in spite of those immature and selfish individuals who have the power to mislead. The only intelligent response to mankind’s floundering is forgiveness and patience. Meanwhile, it is our personal responsibility to live our own lives as consciously and as conscientiously as we can.
This planet is a living, breathing organism from which all creatures have come. We are the children of Earth just as the rocks and streams and trees and tigers are her children. In fact, all that is Earth is in some way our kin and we are still learning how to be a family.
- While Hafiz was in Iran writing his songs to God in the 14th century, Europe was just emerging from the 900 year period that Petrarch, the founder of humanism, named the Dark Ages.
- During the 14th Century, the Great Famine (1315-1317) and the Black Death (1347- 1351) killed 30% of the European population.
- In the field of statecraft, Charles V was King of France and Robert the Bruce of Scotland won the First Scottish War for Independence. The Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 marked the beginning of the end of feudalism in England. Edward III of England started the 100 Years War with France in which Joan of Arc played a starring role.
- Osman the 1st founded Ottoman Empire; Mongol rule ended in China and the Ming Dynasty began; the Aztecs founded Tenochtitlan in the valley of Mexico.
- Hafiz’s contemporaries included Dante who was composing The Divine Comedy, Boccaccio who was writing The Decameron and Chaucer who was penning The Canterbury Tales.
January 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
Some of my most favorite books are children’s books – stories like The Little Prince, The Giving Tree, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Secret Garden, Dr. Seuss, Heidi…. I love children’s literature for its simplicity, its truth and the lessons it offers on how to live – and sometimes its sheer silliness.
I started writing children’s stories myself in the early 1990’s and off and on for the next 10+ years contacted agents and publishers trying to get something in print. But being a published author is 50% writing and 50% marketing and I just didn’t have the extra time to do that as well as work as a self-employed marketing consultant. It’s the old ‘you either have the time or you have the money’ conundrum.
Meanwhile, the advent of new technology, the internet, digital publishing, i-books and the like has plunged the traditional publishing industry into a revolution. Although I now have the time to market, the competition is fiercer than ever. There are fewer agents now making less money, publishing houses closing their doors, and chains like Borders going out of business.
On the other hand, I no longer have to wait for someone in a three-piece pinstripe and a royalty contract to give me the high five. Thanks to the internet I can be a writer, editor, designer and publisher on my own. I may not make money from my writing but I will have the satisfaction of having it read. And, although I am aware of internet piracy and intellectual property theft, I chose not to let that stop me.
Therefore, I am announcing the founding of a new publishing house, Laughing Horse Press, that will. in addition to children’s stories, feature poetry, essays and non-fiction. Books will initially be posted in episodes or chapters and then be available in PDF book format for a small charge. Laughing Horse Press will have a separate word press website and a ribbon cutting in the near future. I’ve been looking for a great project and now I’ve found it!
January 20, 2012 § 3 Comments
I came across a wonderful website the other day that was so good I wished I had thought of it. It still has me pondering. It was started by Lauren Gillette, an artist in Maine and it is an open call to people on the internet to list the 5 things they have done over the course of their lives. Each list functions as a portrait of the person who supplied it.
The entries, which now are probably over a hundred, are compelling. Once I started reading it was hard to stop. Here are two examples:
An early entry is by a woman named Alaina, age 59.
- Had a baby at 18, gave it up for adoption
- Married a musician at 31.
- Traveled to Italy and Mexico.
- Received a Master degree at 58.
- Continued to regret giving my baby away.
A little farther down the line was Sarah, age 29, who said,
- Dropped out of HS and got my GED
- I was addicted to crack and heroin
- I had a baby when I was 19
- I went to college and dropped out
- I healed.
There is a wide range of people who participated. I noticed more women than men responding, and it was interesting to compare the kinds of things that people in their 20’s listed versus those 40 or older. Some lists were action-packed – I climbed mountains, traveled around the world and the like; while others were value-packed – I stayed with my mother as she died, I fell in love, etc.
Anyway, it got me to thinking about my five things, and the more seriously I thought, the harder the list became to compile. Here’s the latest version.
- I bore two children and buried one
- I had one husband and four affairs but never made it past six years
- I found my ‘voice’ and my art after 50
- I learned that happiness is a choice
- I took chances, made mistakes, kept going, made more mistakes, kept going, made more mistakes …
I encourage you to visit www.thingsididproject.blogspot.com and look at some self- portraits – and maybe add yours to the list.
January 15, 2012 § 3 Comments
I watched an Anti-Aging Program on PBS last weekend. The author was a big crusader for juicing and high vegetable intake. His diet and lifestyle had not only reforested his balding head but had turned said hair back from gray to brown. I knew I had to learn more of his secrets.
I immediately went to the bookstore and plunked down $26.95 for his 452-page book. Now books on health are like the recipes I sometimes cut out of magazines – they look good on paper but I rarely bhave the time to make them or don’t have all the ingredients.
I quickly perused the book and read that the author was one of those people who doesn’t smoke or drink, exercises at least an hour a day, swallows about 300 vitamins and throws everything from the crisper drawer into the juicer. I must admit a chill settled into my bones as I read on.
I saw he discouraged, nay, condemned, white flour, sugar, chocolate and coffee – four of the basic food groups in my current health regimen. While there was much merit in what I read it would take a lot of time to implement this new lifestyle. Perhaps I could take some baby steps in the vegetable department and expand my horizons. To whit, I would buy some of the more exotic vegetables and fruits, the ones I don’t know how to open or what to do with them after I get them home.
I am embarrassed to admit how unsophisticated I am in these areas. I mean, an eggplant or kiwi is exotic to me and I am completely baffled by rutabagas. So this week, I instituted my new Vegetables from A to Z program. I started with an Artichoke. Not only was this vegetable puzzling – how do you cook something that looks like a hand grenade – but how do you know when it’s done? Does it tick or explode?
As I pondered over the produce the words Jerusalem Artichoke suddenly popped into my head. Hmmm. Was this green globe with the pokey ends a regular artichoke or was it Jewish? How could I tell the difference? If from Jerusalem, what would happen if a Gentile ate it? Might I have a shift of faith, an epiphany that would rock my Catholic upbringing? Would I develop a taste for kosher dills or lox and bagels? Or, even worse start watching old Jerry Lewis movies?
As these and other thoughts rushed through my mind, I must admit to a certain hesitation and my hand did tremble slightly over said plant. But never let it be said that Marie Taylor hesitated when faced with the unknown. I plunged in, plucked a plump one and scurried home with my booty to do some research.
As I clicked in to Google, I though “today, artichokes, next week Brussels Sprouts” – and then the whole Jewish question will be set aside for a Flemish conundrum.
(This post from my Archives @ 1998)