Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Things to Think

by Robert Bly

Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tell No One/Ne le dis a' personne

This past summer, after reading many enthusiastic reviews of the French movie 'Ne le dis a' personne', and being the kind of person who can’t resist a critic-pleasing foreign/independent movie, I went to see it. I was thoroughly happy with my decision, as I found the movie to be engaging and moving. The twists and turns of a well-wrought mystery told a stunning tale of a man’s deep grief and loss, and awesomely redeeming hope.

So when I discovered this weekend (I know, shame on me for not doing my research earlier) that the movie was in fact based on the American novel ‘Tell No One’ by Harlan Coben, and being a fan of mystery novels, I thought I would try giving it a read. I opened it Sunday late in the morning, and read the final sentence on page 370 that night around 9pm. I guess I must have liked it, or at least enjoyed reading it. For the most part the plot was exactly the same as that in the movie – in fact the movie kept a surprisingly high percentage of the original plot’s complexities. Yet the book told a very different story, and I don't mean the slightly different ending.

The book was about secrets and lies, and self-sacrifice, and the consequences of seemingly simple actions as they layer into increasing levels of complexity. The movie, while certainly portraying some of this, was a tale of what it means for hope to return when it has been long abandoned – the terrified melting of a heart that had long ago given up. And in my opinion, it was much more powerful.

While I did prefer (shockingly!) the movie to the book, that in itself is not what I find most striking. What is most fascinating to me is the use of (almost) the exact same plot to tell two very different stories. To me, it speaks to what it means to be an artist. My analogies, of course come mostly from music, and here I think of the plot as being the song, and the story is the artist’s rendering. A song can sound completely different – and have a completely different impact – depending on who is performing it, and how. I think of Jeff Buckley singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Cohen’s original is certainly one that I love, but more as a compelling “plot” than a complete piece of art. Buckley’s cover is powerful and moving in a way that pushes the song into a different league. I feel the same way listening to Billie Holiday sing “The End of a Love Affair.” And hopefully what I will take forward from this is the lesson that art is what we put into it, and just as choosing beautiful songs to sing can’t make up for a lackluster performance, a passionate and honest one can always overcome the most humble of sources. (Wish me luck with conservatory auditions!)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Ah, the treacherous work of blog maintenance - always seems like a good idea to start, but then to *keep* writing? But I've been very engaged in the book I've been reading lately, so here are some thoughts:

The most shocking thing about reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma is realizing how very little we actually think about what we eat. Even I, a vegetarian who spends a relatively large amount of time reflecting on what I eat and why, had never even scratched the surface of the thoughtful investigation and reflection imparted by this book. Pollan emphasizes the fact that we are, quite literally, what we eat, and in an attempt to further discern what that really is, traces foods back through several chains of production to the ground that it comes from. Corn will never be the same after the first section on industrial agriculture. And, quite surprisingly for me, his chapter on "The Ethics of Eating Animals" made me rethink my reasons for my continued vegetarian diet. Not, of course, that I plan to start eating meat, but rather that my strongest reasons are tied more to the production of meat in America than to the actual act of eating an animal.
But the most delightful parts of this book for me were the descriptions of the divine working of farms - not big industrial ones, of course, but the actual incredible mechanisms interacting with each other in the best places, like Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm, that allow each entity to thoroughly embody their deepest desires in a way that helps each other entity to more fully express theirs.
Oh how I'll mourn the closing of the farmer's markets this winter...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day

From Blossoms
Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Poem Holding Its Heart In One Fist

by Jane Hirschfield

Each pebble in this world keeps
its own counsel.

Certain words--these, for instance--
may be keeping a pronoun hidden.
Perhaps the lover's you
or the solipsist's I.
Perhaps the philosopher's willowy it.

The concealment plainly delights.

Even a desk will gather
its clutch of secret, half-crumpled papers,
eased slowly, over years,
behind the backs of drawers.

Olives adrift in the altering brine-bath
etch onto their innermost pits
a few furrowed salts that will never be found by the tongue.

Yet even with so much withheld,
so much unspoken,
potatoes are cooked with butter and parsley,
and buttons affixed to their sweater.
Invited guests arrive, then dutifully leave.

And this poem, afterward, washes its breasts
with soap and trembling hands, disguising nothing.

Panic! and G-d

I want to preface this post with the assurance that I am not, in general, a fan of emo/punk. Like any genre, it has its moments, but for me they tend to be few and far between. As a singer, I tend to judge many bands by the quality of their vocals, which I’m sure is part of my general dislike of the genre. So many of these singers have whiney, annoying voices, so tight that I would weep for their vocal chords if they weren’t so, well, annoying, and that being the case, a part of me feels that the damage they’re doing to themselves is sort of what they deserve.

But that said, I can also forgive many other musical shortcomings of a group fronted by a really talented singer. And I believe that this is what keeps drawing me back to the convolutedly-named Panic! at the Disco. So upon the release of their new album – on which the frustratingly self-involved song titles of the first (e.g. “There’s a Good Reason These Tables are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought of It Yet” and “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage”) have been replaced with simpler, though admittedly duller, titles like “Behind the Sea” – I’ve been revisiting that earlier album “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out”, and finding much to both enjoy and criticize. (Whoa, talk about a run-on sentence.)

The lead singer’s arrogance, with lyrics like “I’ve got more wit, a better kiss, a hotter touch, a better fuck, than any boy you’ll ever meet”, remains surprisingly attractive (though a few years later, the then 18-year-old’s claims seem perhaps a bit premature). On the same track, “Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off”, the passion with which he sings, in the chorus, “Let’s get these teen hearts beating faster, faster”, really does quicken the pulse. Listening to the album as a whole, I’m also still struck by the confident transitions between different meters and tempos within many of the songs that provide a relatively unique pop music experience, one that is continually engaging and entertaining.

What I’m most interested in at the moment, however, has little to do, I assume, with the band members themselves. The hit single from “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” was “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” which received a good deal of radio play when the album was first released in 200*. The chorus of the song, which tells the odd story of an ill-fated wedding ceremony, is:
“I chime in with a ‘Haven’t you people ever heard of closing the God damn door?' No, it’s much better to face these kinds of things with a sense of poise and rationality.”
What’s interesting about these lyrics, and this song, is not the song itself, which is a pretty good song for a hit single, but rather what happened to it on the radio.

By now, we’re used to “radio edits” of our favorite songs, in which certain words deemed inappropriate are blanked out, or replaced with less offensive versions. In earlier days, the changes would be straightforward – in middle school, I knew that Alanis Morisette sang, “I’m brave but I’m chickensh.” I was somewhat surprised, listening to the actual album, to discover that what she was, was in fact “chickenshit”. But the bleep was straightforward. "Shit" is not appropriate, so it's edited out. When we get into the realm today of what is "offensive", however, things get more complicated, and we end up with the radio edit of, for example, the Black-Eyed Peas "Let's Get Retarded" being a rather different song: "Let's Get It Started". Who is it that judges "retarded" to be inappropriate?

This is the same issue that arises in "I Write Sins Not Tragedies", where in the above lyric the word that is censored is not the "swear" damn, but rather the word "God". We hear, "Haven't you people ever heard of closing the *** damn door?" What a bizarre decision.

That was my initial reaction. But the more I let it sink in, the more I feel the respect in this shift. What offense is there in the word damn? Yes, it's in the category "swear", but there is nothing in the word that offends any value of mine. The word "God", however, is fraught with tension. Even in my decision typing to continue to capitalize it, I acknowledge the weight of it. And in many religions and cultures, to say "God" is an affront to a sense of divine power. Though I may not agree with that kind of reverence, I am, for now, happy to live in a culture learning to censor words that are actually sensitive, where the potential implications of "retarded" are more important than the arbitrary badness of "chickenshit".


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Some Lines Against the Light

My turn to post an amazing poem.

Some Lines Against the Light
by Yehuda Amichai
translated from the Hebrew by Leon Wieseltier

How awful the light is for the eyes.
How awful it is to be flooded with light,
how unpleasant to be David's Citadel or the Wailing Wall
or an actor
or something like that.
How awful is the light left on in the henhouse
by wily farmers
so that the hens will lay and lay
thinking it is forever day.
How awful of the light in this way to sow feelings,
to be leaping, always to begin loving anew,
to spew love.
Sometimes I stumble into history
the way a small animal, a rabbit or a fox,
stumbles into a passing car's beam of light.
Sometimes I am the driver.

okay, just one more

naw, I'm playin. i'll probably put a bunch more up.

Morning Poem
Robin Becker

Listen. It's morning. Soon I'll see your hand reach
for my watch, the water will agitate in the kettle,
but listen. Traffic. I want your dreams first. And
to slide my leg beneath yours before the day opens.
Wait. We slept late. You'll be moody, the phone
will ring, someone wanting something. Let me put
my hands in your hair. Who I was last night I would
be again. This is how the future holds me, how depression
wakes with us; my body shelters it. Let me
put my head on your breast. I know nothing lasts.
I would try to hold you back, not out of meanness
but fear. Oh my practical, my worldly-wise. You
know how the body falters, falls in on itself. Tell me
that we will never want from each other what we
cannot have. Lie. It's morning.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Making Love to Myself

by James L. White

I do it, I remember how it was with us.
Then my hands remember too,
and you're with me again, just the way it was.

After work when you'd come in and
turn the TV off and sit on the edge of the bed,
filling the room with gasoline smell from your overalls,
trying not to wake me which you always did.
I'd breathe out long and say,
'Hi Jess, you tired baby?'
You'd say not so bad and rub my belly,
not after me really, just being sweet,
and I always thought I'd die a little
because you smelt like burnt leaves or woodsmoke.

We were poor as Job's turkey but we lived well--
the food, a few good movies, good dope, lots of talk,
lots of you and me trying on each other's skin.

What a sweet gift this is,
done with my memory, my cock and hands.

Sometimes I'd wake up wondering if I should fix
coffee for us before work,
almost thinking you're here again, almost seeing
your work jacket on the chair.

I wonder if you remember what
we promised when you took the job in Laramie?
Our way of staying with each other.
We promised there'd always be times
when the sky was perfectly lucid,
that we could remember each other through that.
You could remember me at my worktable
or in the all-night diners,
though we'd never call or write.

I just have to stop here Jess.
I just have to stop.

I told myself I wouldn't keep posting these, but godDAMN if this poem isn't the prettiest, saddest thing I've ever read.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Waitresses

by Matt Cook

The Waitresses

The waitresses
At the restaurant
Have to keep reminding
The schizophrenic man
That if he keeps acting
Like a schizophrenic man
They'll have to ask him to leave the restaurant.
But he keeps forgetting that he's a schizophrenic man,
So they have to keep reminding him.

This poem reminds me of a joke I know about schizophrenics. I've searched the internet all morning looking for it, but couldn't find the one I'm thinking of. This one comes close, though:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue
I'm schizophrenic
and I am too.

Monday, April 7, 2008

We Bring Democracy to the Fish

Because April is Poetry Month. . .

We Bring Democracy To The Fish
by Donald Hall

It is unacceptable that fish prey on each other.
For their comfort and safety, we will liberate them
into fishfarms with secure, durable boundaries
that exclude predators. Our care will provide
for their liberty, health, happiness, and nutrition.
Of course all creatures need to feel useful.
At maturity the fish will discover their purposes.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Children of Dune

Funny story, Avocadoface, but I was just about to post my own book review this afternoon.  First, however, I had to take a nap.  This nap was rudely interrupted, first by a man with a chainsaw, then by the repeated phone calls of my mother.  Now, groggy, hungry and a little ticked off, I sit down to my review. 

For those unfamiliar with Frank Herbert's Dune Chronicles, a brief introduction: Dune, the flagship book in this five-volume series, is a sci-fi CLASSIC.  Seriously.  Ask any nerd worth her salt.  To pick up this book about the relationship between interplanetary politics, religious speculation, human emotion and ecological systems on a faraway desert planet is to be forever changed.  In Dune, we are introduced to Paul Muad'Dib, just a boy but already a hero, the perfect union of male abilities and female knowledge who forever changes the face of the universe by his actions and sayings.

What not every science fiction fan knows, however, is that Herbert wrote four more books about the planet of Dune and the family of Muad'Dib.   His third book, Children of Dune, examines the same relational complexities as the first, taking a closer look at the fall-out of Muad'Dib's actions two generations later. 

At the beginning of Children of Dune, the Imperial reign of the House Atreides still holds. Muad'Dib's sister Alia has taken control over both Dune and the Empire after his 'death'.   Alia is one of the pre-born, instilled in the womb with the consciousness of thousands of generations.  Check it: this chick was literally every woman in history, complete with all their memories, thoughts and abilities BEFORE SHE WAS EVEN BORN!!  How badass is that?! 

However, the stress of these memory-consciousnesses, along with her almost-unlimited power, have become a burden to Alia.  She's been taken over by a hostile consciousness who is using her for their own gain.  She's become perverted, an Abomination, and has twisted the planet's government into a system of malice, greed and excess.  In the face of this perversion, Muad'Dib's children, Leto and Ghanima, must save their family's empire and right the wrongs being enacted on Dune.  Of course, a number of political, social and historical forces resist and confound their quest. 

One fantastic thing that Herbert does in these books is show how quickly a character's triumphs can be inverted.  Even success contains seeds of failure and destruction.  This is evident in the character of Alia, of course, who in the last two books was one of Paul Muad'Dib's most trusted advisors (not to mention his sister!).  In this book, however, she is a force of evil, and eventually kills herself rather than contaminate the House Atreides further.  Another example of this can be found in the character of The Preacher, who is actually Muad'Dib in disguise.  Though Paul's day to rule is done, he cannot resist holding on, trying to shape the flow of human events long past his own time.  Herbert illustrates that people's personalities and their ideals keep them on the path to destruction, as they're usually too rigid to adapt to changing needs.

Of course, Children of Dune contains the usual dose of Frank Herbert's pseudo-philosophic rambling.  And, as usual, some of it is thought-provoking while other parts are opaque and even contradictory.  The character of Leto, Dune's eventual Golden Emperor, is an especially useful vehicle for Herbert's pontificating.  Unlike his father (Muad'Dib) and aunt (Alia), Leto has been raised on Dune, subject to the unique pressures and constraints of a desert planet.  His resultant philosophy is accordingly harsh as his planet, so the plans he lays to save his people are equally extreme.  Can't ruin it here (also, you wouldn't believe me if I told you what he did), but let's just say that Leto doesn't escape the trap of a rigid personality.  Rather, he embraces it, anticipates it, choosing to sacrifice himself for his people, destroying and recreating himself in an ultimate, irreversible act.  He actually becomes his planet, a living god, not-quite human.

Man, none of this probably makes sense to you, huh?  Well, let's get down to brass tacks.  My favorite take-away from this book?  That life can only be understood by living it.  To fall into the trap of knowing is the ultimate sin, and the quickest way to become rigid and destructible.  When a person thinks they know something is exactly when they're most likely to fall prey to another's trap.  When someone moves easily in life down a path that seems clearly laid out is when they're most likely to falter and fail.  Children of Dune encourages us to seek the unknown.  Know yourself and your desires, but move forward into the future with your eyes, mind and heart open.  Learn as you go.

My least favorite take-away?  Well, as in other Dune books, the women in this story get the short end of the stick.  I shouldn't have been surprised, but this book makes the inferiority of women especially apparent.  Alia, an ally in the first two books, is possessed and perverted straight off the bat.  She's hated and feared by her entire planet, including her husband and family, and is ultimately defeated by her nephew.  If you were born with the knowledge of the ages inside you, don't you think you'd be a little smarter than all that?  So much for Alia the Knife.

Herbert's misogyny is apparent in the character of Ghanima, Leto's twin, who is born with the exact same power as he, but whose role in the book is to remain on the sidelines until Leto saves her.  She's then forced to marry her brother, breed children with another man, and ends the book with the line, "Leto was always the stronger."  UGH!  Ghanima, you were born with the same abilities as Leto!  You have the same knowledge inside you!  Don't submit to his incestuous breeding schemes!  Grow a pair!  Jesus. . . 

I suppose one could point to the character of Lady Jessica as an exception to this rule.  Jessica, who started the series by birthing Muad'Dib, and who catalyzes Leto's transformations with her machinations, could be seen as a powerful woman.  But that's just it.  Instead of giving Jessica her due as an active agent, Herbert perpetually portrays her as a conniver, someone who is just barely aware of the outcomes of her actions, who mostly moves according to her own whims, not a grander prescience granted to Paul or Leto.  No, she's a meddler, and any powers she does possess are put down to witchcraft.  Nice job making me feel good about myself as woman, Frank.

Whew.  So that's Children of Dune in a nutshell.  Maybe at some point in the future I'll read a book that other people care about, or write a review that others can understand, or even write a short review for that matter, but not this time.  I feel like I just vomited onto our blog, but here it stands, my first book review.  I hope you enjoyed it.


Feeling good about the classics

Since the exit of required reading from my life, I've been trying to spend more time reading for pleasure. Slowly, I'm chipping away at the long, long list of books I've been meaning to read. Some of them are, of course, Philip Pullman and Agatha Christie, but there are others, the "classics" that every once in a while make their way to the top of the list. And right now, at the advice of a friend who said it was "actually really good", I'm finally reading Tolstoy. Anna Karenina, to be specific.

Now, I just started it yesterday, so I've only read the first two chapters, but I was immediately enthralled. Of course I was already familiar with that famous first line:
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
And being so familiar with it certainly dulls its impact, but in the first few pages I've discovered more wonderful lines, unfamiliar and profound, yet not dragging down the straightforward prose into meandering contemplativeness.

One I was particularly drawn to is quietly thrown in towards the beginning of the second chapter:
"There was no solution but that usual solution which life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insoluble. That answer is: one must live in the needs of the day - that is, forget oneself."
Who knew Tolstoy was a Buddhist? Now of course, having read only a few pages of his work and knowing next to nothing about the man himself, I'm not really qualified to evaluate this Russian's spirituality, or the overall themes and messages of Anna Karenina, but that particular line sends my mind right to the Genjo Koan, written by Dogen in the 1200s. It is a koan of everyday life, and the section which I'm reminded of goes something like this:
"To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to abandon body and mind. To abandon body and mind is to be enlightened by all things."
For me, this speaks to the same thing. All we can do in the face of any great joy or great sadness is continue to live our lives, day to day, moment to moment. There is of course self, but there is also not. Stepan Arkadyevich already knows this, and I'm excited to see how he continues to cope with his troubles unfolding as the book continues.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Welcome to our Blog!!!

Fuck yeah!  It's our blog!!! w000000000000000t!

We here at Avocado Lotus are dedicated to bringing you the finest in meditations on: meditating (ha!), books we've read, meals we've eaten/prepared, movies we've seen. . . well, you get the picture.  Basically, anything that catches our fancy.  Read and enjoy.

Avocado & Tianasaurus