America the Beautiful

O beautiful polluted skies
Genetically modified grain
For purple mountains mined for ore
Above the pesticide plains!
America! America!
We dump our waste on thee
And tear down the woods to grow our food
From sea to oil drenched sea!

I wrote this on a whim while putting together a presentation on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010) for work.

15 Writers’ Bedrooms

I love glimpsing into other peoples’ lives, especially those to whom I already feel I have a connection. I absolutely love the simple elegance of Dickinson’s room. It is reminiscent of her poems. My room is much closer to William S. Burroughs’ but mine has a softer feel due to the dark wooden floors and lack of wires and pipes.

Literary Style: 15 Writers’ Bedrooms

Simple Elegance of Emily Dickinson

Immortal Impressions

“Emily Bronte was a cunt!” he shouted.
As he babbled to himself; unapologetic.

For he was once a king of kings
His scepter wielded; a broken cane.
A crown obscured by dirt and grime
Shone through the syphilitic pain.
Replaced by a cheap metallic whore,
His stately daguerreotype fell from grace.
Seduced by a swooning maiden’s tale,
The deadly vapors swirled and paced.

“Coleridge and Blake were faggots!” he screamed.
Stumbling down the street; unapologetic.

How Simon’s Book Affected Me

A few thoughts on Simon Van Booy’s The Secret Lives of People in Love

This book is a collection of short stories all relating in one way or another to different aspects of love. Not simply passionate or romantic love, but deep, caring love. The stories take place in various towns around the world and are unbearably real, but the writing is beautifully poetic. Van Booy’s themes are sad and dark, but each has a jewel of compassion or a glimpse at love through pain, sorrow or loneliness. I was moved to tears several times, but the story that touched my soul was Where They Hide is a Mystery. It’s about a young boy whose mother dies. He becomes distant from his father and they do not speak. He starts sneaking out to wander through a park that he had walked through with his mother. They had a special spot where they would stop and look at “Peter Pan roses” (tea-roses). On the anniversary of her death, he visits their spot but discovers an Indian in a turban sitting there. They begin talking and he tells the man that his mother is dead. The man laughs and says that no one dies. He says the boy’s mother is still there and his tears are falling on her hands. She is the bed of roses. She is what her son loves… what makes him think of her in his heart. The man then says, “My own wife is the blend of light in late summer that pushes through the smoky trees…” The man tells the boy that he needs to help his father and the story ends with; “The sea between Edgar and his father began to drain, and in the distance burned the fire of a man waiting to be rescued by a small boy he once knew.” When you have experienced loss, a story like this – that makes you remember the person almost as if she were with you – is sad and beautiful. Rain momentarily turns to snow. My mother died of cancer when I was in my 20’s. We were very close and I thought I would be crushed by the weight of the sadness. Over time, I have lost the details of many memories of her. But when I read this story, I felt like she was with me. I felt like I could remember her again.

sometimes we all need help

Another treasure from the book is the chapter Little Birds. “Poems are little birds which sing to you in a moment of darkness.” I always turn to poetry when I am tormented. Sometimes it feeds the pain. But maybe the pain needs to be nurtured to grow large enough for me to face and overcome it. I think this is a theme in my life. When I am faced with an obstacle or challenge, I initially feel crushed or overwhelmed by an inability to escape it. But I always do, eventually. I think this makes me stronger.. I don’t know why I do this. I watch other people, like my sisters, deal with difficult situations. Either they hide it better than I can, or they can deal with emotions more rationally. I have always felt deeply. Sometimes I wish I didn’t. Sometimes I wish I were a Vulcan… all reason and logic with no interference from emotion. I think life might be easier, but it would certainly not be as beautiful. “I suppose the key to a good life is to gently overlook the truth and hope that at any moment we can all be reborn” (chapter, Little Birds). I don’t know how one goes about gently overlooking the truth. Truth is raw, sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet. But it is there and refuses denial. I do wish, however, that I could be reborn. There is too much to see and do for one life! I think that is another problem I face. I have too many interests and too many desires. I want to experience as much as I can and do as many things as I can before I die. But, I am often too tired. Emotions are exhausting.

I will write more about my experiences with The Secret Lives of People in Love. It is an intensely deep book, but a very easy read. Expect more to come…

Imagine a Demon

Imagine a peaceful life; full of beauty and hope
I was told I should try

But, I cannot find my way; the path is overgrown
A demon blinds my eye

John could always see his way; he radiated love
And lived his life in peace

But Poe’s verse also sings to me, of a passion drawn from
A somewhat different stream

You could say that I’m a dreamer, maybe a bit macabre and
All I’ve loved has been alone

But Lennon he was lightness; and Edgar he was not
I am both love and sorrow
I am both light and dark

An Intellectually Romantic Exchange

Between authors Simon Van Booy and Siri Hustvedt for an article in BOMB Magazine (Summer 2011)

I read the exchange between Siri Hustvedt and Simon Van Booy from BOMB Magazine. It touched me deeply and reminds me of a philosophical discussion I had (by written letters) between myself and an old beau who lived in New Zealand many years ago. He asked me if I would rather be happy or content. I still debate the idea frequently. My thought on it is that happiness is a fleeting emotion. One cannot be happy all the time without psychosis. Siri touches on this in her letters when she said “My goal in life is not to walk around in a permanent state of euphoria. This would be as pathological as falling into a lasting depression.” Contentment, however, is an ideal attainment in which one is satisfied (whether happy or sad) with his or her life. However, I think people can fall into the trap of settling and mistake it for contentment. I think that is one of my greatest fears because when you settle, you give up. You are no longer trying to improve, learn or discover. You accept things as they are without question or believe that you cannot change. I think I fell into that trap at this time in my life. A recent trip to Europe (Czech Republic and Austria) made me aware of this like a sharp, stinging slap to the face.

But this brings up stoicism. I have not been able to find stoicism yet. It is out of my reach, as many things seem to be these days. In her letter, Siri says, “Stoic philosophers make a fundamental distinction between what human beings can and cannot control in their lives. There is much we don’t have any power over, and the stoic response to what can’t be helped is to say: Away with it. I will not concern myself with it.” However, she says in a later letter that she is “convinced that what we think of the self is grounded in emotion”. That one is “guided by emotions”. To be guided by emotions, I think, makes stoicism impossible, or difficult at best. I relate to Simon when he says that he lives with ongoing and incessant confusion and that happiness is a way of seeing. I am almost always confused and my struggle has been to maintain a methodology of seeing such that happiness is consistently attainable. But, this implies that happiness is within everyone’s reach. Siri thinks this is a “corrosive delusion”, but I think happiness can be attained… To be maintained, however, is problematic. The definition of happiness also escapes me. Sometimes I see something, such as a very old couple showing a tender moment of love, and I am both happy and moved to tears. It is a mix of happiness and profound sadness. I have these moments a lot and they are strengthened by art, music, nature and contemplation. Stoicism is something I have yet to grasp, but desperately want to achieve. My emotions run too deep and can be overbearing. It would be nice to be able to rein them in. Writing helps.

On a different note, Simon mentioned something in his letter that I found very interesting. He believes that “the idea that loving one person is impossible, unless one is prepared to love everyone. Otherwise love is circumstantial. . .” I completely agree. How is it possible to only love one person in a lifetime? I’m not arguing against faithfulness or commitment. But, it seems to me that not everyone is made for an idealized, life-long true love. Some are. My sister is one. But I am not. This is not coming from a place of bitterness, but from my own personal ability to love many. I have had several loves in my life; including my current. I still love all of them and I’m sure that I always will. Upon reflection, however, I’m not sure that I actually understand love. I am fascinated by many people and have a propensity to an infatuation of intellect and talent. But, few encounters stir my soul. When that happens, I feel mad with emotion and desires. It reminds me of the line from On the Road. “The only people for me are the mad ones . . .” I love that line because I feel mad most of the time and I’m attracted to people who do not fit society’s mold.  So then, what is madness? What is love? What is happiness? These are too subjective and I do not think can be trapped into a definition.

I heartily thank Simon and Siri for reflecting on such intimate and interesting topics in their exchange. It certainly opened my heart and mind to new thoughts, and for that I am grateful. It also introduced me to Simon’s book The Secret Lives of People in Love… an absolutely beautiful book. I will talk more about that later.