Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How to Unhear

I have been struggling lately with how to unhear the words of fools. The words of fools taunt us from almost every direction these days, becoming auditory parasites. We can't laugh them off, because the words themselves are so hateful and inhumane that they feel personal. Even the innocuous ones attach to memory and block out some of the joy and freedom and light that language used to offer. Laughter used to help, but less and less is funny these days, except in a satirical, ironic way, which isn't funny so much as bitter.

Only the occasional immersion in paradox seems to offer relief. Standing in a place where I can see a river standing still. Being invisible myself, so that a fish feeds at my feet. Providing welcome relief in the form of the shade of my hatbrim to a hundred or so gnats on a hot August day. The moment is just that—a moment—but in recognizing and naming a paradox, I have managed to unhear the words of fools. Even now, it has a lingering benefit: as I try to name the paradox, the auditory parasites go silent.

Yeats's speaker in "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" discovered this technique. "There midnight's all aglimmer...." Voila. Peace.

Emily Dickinson was especially sensitive to the words of fools, each one like a little death to someone who knew she had precious little time to waste. So she found her own paradox in each moment, perhaps as a way to immediately drown out the words of fools. "I heard a fly buzz, when I died." "Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me."

It takes mental agility, discipline, the will to transform reaction into action in the form of one's own thoughts. It isn't easy, but self-preservation demands of us that we practice this technique. I'm not talking about forgetting—the words of fools should be catalogued and studied and held up as examples of how to recognize future fools. But we do not each need the constant burden of these auditory parasites sucking the joy of language and life from us. To unhear for a moment, use that moment to see.

becomes a sunrise
this meadow
at sunrise

becomes a meadow
this sunrise
over meadow

Saturday, August 12, 2017

What Do These Things Mean [period]

A quick "scrap-sketch" collage has me thinking the phrase, "What do these things mean," not as a question but as a statement meant to exercise my consciousness into articulating the reason(s) for art. Collage provides a of stream-of-consciousness or "scrap association" creativity, and I often find myself drawing parallels between collage and poetry, or at least the processes of collage and poetry.

So what do these things mean.

Beauty for its own sake, resonating in an unspoken and deeply personal place, means everything. Means life.

Connections, whether planned or serendipitous, multiply meaning into belonging.

We are all in there somehow. These things mean us.

A little map. A little text. A little Leonardo. A little face. A little hand. A little flora.

An image here. Then this one.

We are lost. We are found.

What we mean. What I mean.

What do these things matter.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Reed, Pool[e], River[s]...

"My eyes were covered and closed: eddying darkness seemed to swim round me, and reflection came in as black and confused a flow.  Self-abandoned, relaxed, and effortless, I seemed to have laid me down in the dried-up bed of a great river; I heard a flood loosened in remote mountains, and felt the torrent come: to rise I had no will, to flee I had no strength.  I lay faint, longing to be dead.  [...] It was near: and as I had lifted no petition to Heaven to avert it—as I had neither joined my hands, nor bent my knees, nor moved my lips—it came: in full heavy swing the torrent poured over me.  The whole consciousness of my life lorn, my love lost, my hope quenched, my faith death-struck, swayed full and mighty above me in one sullen mass.  That bitter hour cannot be described: in truth, 'the waters came into my soul; I sank in deep mire: I felt no standing; I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me.'"
This was my third careful re-reading of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. In graduate school, our discussions of the imagery focused on the reds and scarlets in the seemingly all gray and misty narrative landscape. But this time, on my own, it was the water imagery—and especially rivers—that captivated my mind's eye. I found myself having a conversation with Charlotte about how she deliberately placed the idea of "rivers" into the reader's mind. I did some flipping back and forth between passages and saw all the rivers leading up to her collapse on the doorstep of...St. John Rivers.
How many times does Jane nearly drown, figuratively speaking? How many times is there actual, literal water at hand, and how does it prefigure the metaphorical inundations Jane experiences? The culmination of this water imagery in her relationship with St. John Rivers takes one's breath away.
And yes, we could be having this same discussion about burns and fire, but seriously, St. John Rivers: Has a creepier literary character (who isn't an outright villain) ever been created? Deceptiveness cloaked in Christian charity, though he admits he is cold (soulless, is what he is). He lacks the charm and sex appeal (okay, and fortune) of Newland Archer (the greatest name in all of literature) from Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, but Rivers and Archer are two of a kind, indulging in self-sacrifice until their own lives and the lives of those closest to them are wasted.

Does Jane escape this River[s] that threatens to pull her under, as she had escaped the Reed and the Pool[e]? Reader—The only thing better than reading Jane Eyre is rereading Jane Eyre.

Thank you, Charlotte Bronte, you trickster you.