fadedwings: (bird love)
[personal profile] fadedwings posting in [community profile] common_nature
I love these beautiful noisy birds. We have a few that come to the yard. It's hard to get pictures though because they're a bit shy. I had to take this between the railing on my porch.
Read more... )

Hummingbird Grooming

Sep. 23rd, 2017 07:05 pm
yourlibrarian: BeautifulDay-no_apologies_86 (SPN-BeautifulDay-no_apologies_86)
[personal profile] yourlibrarian posting in [community profile] common_nature
Yes, some more hummingbird pics. Do you wonder how this hummingbird achieves its bedhead look? Why with a rather long (for a hummingbird) grooming session!

Read more... )

Habit tracker help needed!

Sep. 23rd, 2017 03:21 pm
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
[personal profile] daidoji_gisei posting in [community profile] bujo
I started a bullet journal in January of this year, and though I don't use all of the possible pages I've found it has helped me become more organized. However. I have a problem with the habit tracker grid, in that I have never been able to go more than two weeks in keeping it updated--there is a month that I think I have about three days tracked. This pains me because I love the idea of the habit tracker and I have several habits I want to establish in my life.

Does anyone have ideas about how I could have more diligence in sticking to the habit tracker? Or bullet journal alternatives to the habit tracker grid? I feel like a failure for not being able to make the grid work for me.
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Posted by Maria Popova

“There are some people… who drive everywhere and admire nothing.”


The Art of Living with Wide-Open Consciousness: Alice James on Attentiveness as the Pulse-Beat of Art

To be an artist, in the most expansive sense, is to live with uncommon wakefulness to the world, both interior and exterior, unafraid to be moved by a universe observed with benevolent and unrelenting curiosity, then to give shape to those observations in a way that helps other people live. “Go into yourself,” Rilke counseled in his advice on being an artist, “and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create.”

One of the simplest, most profound meditations on awareness as the pulse-beat of art comes from a person who lived generation before Rilke and was not exactly an artist of tangibles but was very much an artist of life: Alice James (August 7, 1848–March 6, 1892) — the brilliant bed-bound sister of psychologist William James and novelist Henry James, a woman who considered herself “simply born a few years too soon” and who spent her life as an astute observer of the human experience, with its full spectrum of tragedy and triumphant joy, from the confines of her infelicitous vantage point as a lifelong invalid bedeviled by a mysterious and debilitating illness.

Alice James in 1891 (Harvard Houghton Library)

James recorded what she observed in The Diary of Alice James (public library), in which she wrote with uncommon elegance of insight and splendor of sentiment about life, art, and the art of living fully while dying. A hundred years before Annie Dillard contemplated the two ways of looking and the secret to truly seeing, James writes in a journal entry from mid-June of 1889:

I went out today, and behaved like a lunatic, “sobbed” … over a farmhouse, a meadow, some trees and cawing rooks. Nurse says that there are some people downstairs who drive everywhere and admire nothing. How grateful I am that I actually do see, to my own consciousness, the quarter of an inch that my eyes fall upon; truly, the subject is all that counts!

Sketch of Alice James by Henry James, 1872

More than a century before Jeanette Winterson wrote of art as a function of “active surrender,” James adds:

Nurse asked me whether I should like to be an artist — imagine the joy and despair of it! the joy of seeing with the trained eye and the despair of doing it. Among the beings who are made up of chords which vibrate at every zephyr, of the two orders, which know the least misery, those who are always dumb and never loose the stifled sense, or the others who ever find expression impotent to express!

Complement this particular fragment of the altogether magnificent Diary of Alice James with E.E. Cummings on what it really means to be an artist, Pablo Neruda on why we make art, and James Baldwin on the artist’s task.


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Bringing ourselves into our work

Sep. 22nd, 2017 09:32 am
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Posted by Terri Windling

Encounter

From "Fail Better" by Zadie Smith:

"It is deeply unfashionable to conceive of such a thing as a literary duty; what that might be, and how writers might fail to fulfil it. Duty is not a very literary term. These days, when we do speak of literary duties, we mean it from the reader's perspective, as a consumer of literature. We are really speaking of consumer rights. By this measure the duty of writers is to please readers and to be eager to do so, and this duty has various subsets: the duty to be clear; to be interesting and intelligent but never wilfully obscure; to write with the average reader in mind; to be in good taste. Above all, the modern writer has a duty to entertain. Writers who stray from these obligations risk tiny readerships and critical ridicule. Novels that submit to a shared vision of entertainment, with characters that speak the recognisable dialogue of the sitcom, with plots that take us down familiar roads and back home again, will always be welcomed. This is not a good time, in literature, to be a curio. Readers seem to wish to be 'represented,' as they are at the ballot box, and to do this, fiction needs to be general, not particular. In the contemporary fiction market a writer must entertain and be recognisable -- anything less is seen as a failure and a rejection of readers.

"Personally, I have no objection to books that entertain and please, that are clear and interesting and intelligent, that are in good taste and are not wilfully obscure -- but neither do these qualities seem to me in any way essential to the central experience of fiction, and if they should be missing, this in no way rules out the possibility that the novel I am reading will yet fulfil the only literary duty I care about. For writers have only one duty, as I see it: the duty to express accurately their way of being in the world. If that sounds woolly and imprecise, I apologise. Writing is not a science, and I am speaking to you in the only terms I have to describe what it is I persistently aim for (yet fail to achieve) when I sit in front of my computer.

Encounter 2

Encounter 3

"When I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world. This is primarily a process of elimination: once you have removed all the dead language, the second-hand dogma, the truths that are not your own but other people's, the mottos, the slogans, the out-and-out lies of your nation, the myths of your historical moment -- once you have removed all that warps experience into a shape you do not recognise and do not believe in -- what you are left with is something approximating the truth of your own conception. That is what I am looking for when I read a novel; one person's truth as far as it can be rendered through language.

Encounter 4

"This single duty, properly pursued, produces complicated, various results. It's certainly not a call to arms for the autobiographer, although some writers will always mistake the readerly desire for personal truth as their cue to write a treatise or a speech or a thinly disguised memoir in which they themselves are the hero. Fictional truth is a question of perspective, not autobiography. It is what you can't help tell if you write well; it is the watermark of self that runs through everything you do. It is language as the revelation of a consciousness." 

Encounter 6

Encounter 6

Words: The passage above come from Zadie Smith's wonderful essay "Fail Better" (The Guardian, Jan. 7, 2007), which you can read in its entirety online here. All rights reserved by the author. Pictures: The hound and I have bovine encounters during our morning walk on Nattadon Hill.

A river of words

Sep. 21st, 2017 02:50 pm
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Posted by Terri Windling

Belstone

From Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin:

"In workshops on story writing, I've met many writers who want to work only with memoir, tell only their own story, their experience. Often they say. 'I can't make up stuff, that's too hard, but I can tell what happened.' It seems easier to them to take material directly from their experience than to use their experience as material for making up a story. They assume they can just write what happened.

Belstone 2

Belstone 3

"That appears reasonable, but actually, reproducing experience is a very tricky business requiring both artfulness and practice. You may find you don't know certain important facts or elements of the story you want to tell. Or the private experience so important to you may not be very interesting to others, requires skill to make it meaningful, moving, to the reader. Or, being about yourself, it gets all tangled up with ego, or begins to be falsified by wishful thinking. If you're honestly trying to tell what happened, you find facts are very obstinate things to deal with. But if you begin to fake them, to pretend things happened in a way that makes a nice neat story, you're misusing imagination. You're passing invention off as fact: which is, among children at least, called lying.

"Fiction is invention, but it is not lies. It moves on a different level of reality from either fact-finding or lying.

Belstone 4

"I want to talk here about the difference between imagination and wishful thinking, because it's important both in writing and in living. Wishful thinking is thinking cut loose from reality, a self-indulgence that is often merely childish, but may be dangerous. Imagination, even in its wildest flights, is not detached from reality: imagination acknowledges reality, starts from it, and returns to enrich it. Don Quixote indulges his longing to be a knight till he loses touch with reality and makes an awful mess of his life. That's wishful thinking. Miguel Cervantes, by working out and telling the invented story of a man who wishes he were a knight, vastly increased our store of laughter and human understanding. That's imagination. Wishful thinking is Hitler's Thousand-Year Reich. Imagination is the Constitution of the United States.

Belstone 5

"A failure to see the difference is in itself dangerous. If we assume that imagination has no connection with reality but is mere escapism, and therefore distrust it and repress it, it will be crippled, perverted, it will fall silent or speak untruth. The imagination, like any basic human capacity, needs exercise, discipline, training, in childhood and lifelong.

Belstone 6

"One of the best exercises for the imagination, maybe the very best, is hearing, reading, and telling or writing made-up stories. Good inventions, however fanciful, have both congruity with reality and inner coherence. A story that's mere wish-fulfilling babble, or coercive preaching concealed in a narrative, lacks intellectual coherence and integrity: it isn't a whole thing, it can't stand up, it isn't true to itself.

Belstone 7

"Learning to tell or read a story that is true to itself is about the best education a mind can have."

Belstone 8

Words: The passage above is from "Making Up Stories," published in Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life & Books by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer Press, 2016). The poem in the picture captions is from High Country (Sandstone Press, 2015). All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: A walk by the river near Belstone on Dartmoor, with Howard and the hound.

London foxen

Sep. 21st, 2017 11:16 am
rydra_wong: Fragment of a Tube map, with stations renamed Piero della Francesca, Harpo, Socrates and Seneca. (walking -- the great bear)
[personal profile] rydra_wong posting in [community profile] common_nature
So yesterday I was waiting to cross a street in the middle of the day and I glanced at the person standing next to me and they were a fox.

We crossed the road and I fumbled for my phone and started following them ...

A fox walking down a London street in daylight.

Photo-story ensues )
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Posted by Maria Popova

“When cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas.”


Caitlin Moran on Fighting the Cowardice of Cynicism

“There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing,” Maya Angelou wrote in contemplating courage in the face of evil. In the decades since, cynicism has become a cultural currency as deadly as blood diamonds, as vacant of integrity and long-term payoff as Enron. Over the years, I have written about, spoken about, and even given a commencement address about the perilous laziness of cynicism and the ever-swelling urgency of not only resisting it but actively fighting it — defiance which Leonard Bernstein considered an essential countercultural act of courage.

Today, as our social and political realities swirl into barely bearable maelstroms of complexity, making a retreat into self-protective cynicism increasingly tempting, such courage is all the harder and all the more heroic.

That’s what English writer Caitlin Moran examines in a stirring passage from How to Build a Girl (public library) — a novel that quenches questions springing from the same source as her insightful memoir-of-sorts How To Be a Woman.

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from Open House for Butterflies by Ruth Krauss

Moran writes:

When cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas. Cynicism means your automatic answer becomes “No.” Cynicism means you presume everything will end in disappointment.

And this is, ultimately, why anyone becomes cynical. Because they are scared of disappointment. Because they are scared someone will take advantage of them. Because they are fearful their innocence will be used against them — that when they run around gleefully trying to cram the whole world in their mouth, someone will try to poison them.

In a sentiment that calls to mind Descartes’s abiding ideas about the relationship between fear and hope, Moran writes:

Cynicism is, ultimately, fear. Cynicism makes contact with your skin, and a thick black carapace begins to grow — like insect armor. This armor will protect your heart, from disappointment — but it leaves you almost unable to walk. You cannot dance in this armor. Cynicism keeps you pinned to the spot, in the same posture, forever.

A century and a half after Van Gogh reflected on fear and risk-taking, arguing that “however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth … steps in and does something,” Moran echoes Angelou and adds:

The deepest irony about the young being cynical is that they are the ones that need to move, and dance, and trust the most. They need to cartwheel though a freshly burst galaxy of still-forming but glowing ideas, never scared to say “Yes! Why not!” — or their generation’s culture will be nothing but the blandest, and most aggressive, or most defended of old tropes.

When young people are cynical, and snarky, they shoot down their own future. When you keep saying “No,” all that’s left is what other people said “Yes” to before you were born. Really, “No” is no choice at all.

Complement with Rebecca Solnit on resisting the defeatism of easy despair, Jonathan Lear on radical hope, and Toni Morrison on rising above fear in troubled times.


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Moon and Hummingbird

Sep. 20th, 2017 01:03 pm
yourlibrarian: Butterfly and Alstroemeria by yourlibrarian (NAT-ButterflyAlstroemeria-yourlibrarian)
[personal profile] yourlibrarian posting in [community profile] common_nature
This is the most recent case of what I dub a "low moon" -- meaning that it seems very low and large in the sky.

Read more... )

Harvesting stories

Sep. 20th, 2017 06:10 pm
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Posted by Terri Windling

Flowers and hills  Corrary Farm

From Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin:

"Gary Snyder gave us the image of experience as compost. Compost is stuff, junk, garbage, anything, that's turned to dirt by sitting around a while. It involves silence, darkness, time, and patience. From compost, whole gardens grow.

"It can be useful to think of writing as gardening. You plant the seeds, but each plant will take its own way and shape. The gardener's in control, yes; but plants are living, willful things. Every story has to find its own way to the light. Your great tool as a gardener is your imagination.

Corrary Farm

"Young writers often think -- are taught to think -- that a story starts with a message. That is not my experience. What's important when you start is simply this: you have a story you want to tell. A seedling that wants to grow. Something in your inner experience is forcing itself towards the light. Attentively and carefully and patiently, you can encourage that, let it happen. Don't force it; trust it. Watch it, water it, let it grow.

Polytunnels  Corrary Farm

Organic vegetables

"As you write a story, if you can let it become itself, tell itself fully and truly, you may discover what its really about, what it says, why you wanted to tell it. It may be a surprise to you. You may have thought you planted a dahlia, and look what came up, an eggplant! Fiction is not information transmission; it is not message-sending. The writing of fiction is endlessly surprising to the writer.

Corrary Farm  turf-roofed office

"Like a poem, a story says what it has to say it the only way it can be said, and that is the exact words of the story itself. Why is why the words are so important, why it takes so long to learn how to get the words right. Why you need silence, darkness, time, patience, and a real solid knowledge of English vocabulary and grammar.

"Truthful imagining from experience is recognizable, shared by its readers."

Howard in the yurt cafe  Corrary Farm

Welcoming committee

Words: The passage above is from "Making Up Stories," published in Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life & Books by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer Press, 2016). The poem in the picture captions is from Circles on the Water by Marge Piercy (Knopf, 1988). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: Corray Farm on Scotland's west coast, near Glenelg, photographed on our trip north in June: polytunnels, turf-roofed office, Howard reading in the yurt cafe, and the four-footed welcoming committee.

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Posted by Maria Popova

“Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.”


Rachel Carson on Science and Our Spiritual Bond with Nature

“The exceeding beauty of the earth, in her splendour of life, yields a new thought with every petal,” the nineteenth-century English nature writer Richard Jefferies wrote. “The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live.”

The most fertile seeds of cultural sensibility can take generations to bloom. In the twentieth century, Jefferies’s ideas became a major inspiration for Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907–April 14, 1964) — the pioneering marine biologist and writer who catalyzed the modern environmental movement and ushered in a new literary aesthetic of writing about science as something inseparable from life and inherently poetic.

Carson examined the question of beauty as a lens on comprehending the universe in a stunning speech she delivered before a summit of women journalists in 1954, later published under the title “The Real World Around Us” in Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (public library) — the indispensable volume that gave us Carson’s prescient 1953 protest against the government’s assault on science and nature.

Rachel Carson

Carson, for whom wonderment was not only the raw material for her books but the native orientation of her mind, writes:

A large part of my life has been concerned with some of the beauties and mysteries of this earth about us, and with the even greater mysteries of the life that inhabits it. No one can dwell long among such subjects without thinking rather deep thoughts, without asking himself searching and often unanswerable questions, and without achieving a certain philosophy…. Every mystery solved brings us to the threshold of a greater one.

Nearly a century after trailblazing astronomer Maria Mitchell, in reporting on a total solar eclipse, observed that “it is always difficult to teach the man of the people that natural phenomena belong as much to him as to scientific people,” Carson writes:

The pleasures, the values of contact with the natural world, are not reserved for the scientists. They are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of a lonely mountain top — or the sea — or the stillness of a forest; or who will stop to think about so small a thing as the mystery of a growing seed.

Photograph by Maria Popova

Unafraid of being seen as sentimental, this uncynical scientist, who eight years later would awaken the modern environmental conscience and who considered her life animated by “a preoccupation with the wonder and beauty of the earth,” adds:

I believe natural beauty has a necessary place in the spiritual development of any individual or any society. I believe that whenever we destroy beauty, or whenever we substitute something man-made and artificial for a natural feature of the earth, we have retarded some part of man’s spiritual growth.

I believe this affinity of the human spirit for the earth and its beauties is deeply and logically rooted. As human beings, we are part of the whole stream of life. We have been human beings for perhaps a million years. But life itself — passes on something of itself to other life — that mysterious entity that moves and is aware of itself and its surroundings, and so is distinguished from rocks or senseless clay — [from which] life arose many hundreds of millions of years ago. Since then it has developed, struggled, adapted itself to its surroundings, evolved an infinite number of forms. But its living protoplasm is built of the same elements as air, water, and rock. To these the mysterious spark of life was added. Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.

With a cautious eye to “this destruction of beauty — this substitution of man-made ugliness — this trend toward a perilously artificial world” — cautiousness rendered tragically prescient in the retrospect of half a century of irreversible environmental destruction in the hands of merciless capitalism — Carson admonishes against the commodification of nature as a marketable resource for human use:

Beauty — and all the values that derive from beauty — are not measured and evaluated in terms of the dollar.

Looking back on the innumerable letters from readers she had received in response to her groundbreaking book The Sea Around Us — a book that crowned the New York Times bestseller list for thirty-nine weeks, made Carson the most famous nonfiction writer in America, and earned her the National Book Award — she notes that she heard from people as diverse as “hairdressers and fishermen and musicians, “classical scholars and scientists,” who all articulated a kindred sentiment:

So many of them have said, in one phrasing or another: “We have been troubled about the world, and had almost lost faith in man; it helps to think about the long history of the earth, and of how life came to be. And when we think in terms of millions of years, we are not so impatient that our own problems be solved tomorrow.”

Photograph by Maria Popova

Returning to the Jefferies lines that had so inspired her, she adds:

In contemplating “the exceeding beauty of the earth” these people have found calmness and courage. For there is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds; in the ebb and flow of the tides; in the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in these repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.

Carson ends on a note of lucid hope in the face of humanity’s destructively short-sighted descent into “an artificial world of its own creation”:

For this unhappy trend there is no single remedy — no panacea. But I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.

The whole of Lost Woods is a trove of abiding wisdom from one of humanity’s most elevated and elevating minds. Complement it with Henry Beston, one of Carson’s great heroes, on relearning to live in harmony with nature, then revisit Carson on writing and the loneliness of creative work and her almost unbearably touching deathbed farewell to her soul mate.


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Tuesday Morning Coming Down

Sep. 19th, 2017 10:57 am
jon_chaisson: (Default)
[personal profile] jon_chaisson
It's probably not a good sign when popping up on Facebook or Twitter feels more like a drug fix than like curiosity in what friends are up to.  Maybe it's time for me to take another extended vacation from those two platforms for a bit and detox.

I'll still be here and at my Wordpress blogs, of course.  I'll just be spending far less time on FaceTwit for a few weeks, probably at least until mid-October when we return from our New England trip.

It'll of course give me more time to focus on actual productivity. :)

Recommended reading (and listening)

Sep. 19th, 2017 05:33 pm
[syndicated profile] mythandmoor_feed

Posted by Terri Windling

Tilly in the studio

The hound and I are back in the studio, with apologies for being away so long -- due to a combination of health issues (getting better now) and an over-full schedule that I'm just barely keeping up with.

Drawing by Arthur Rackham

Here are some articles, videos, and podcasts I'd like to recommend, a seasonal round-up of my magpie gleanings from hither and yon:

* Sharon Blackie follows Myrddin, Mis, and other wild folk into the woods (The Art of Enchantment)

* Rob Maslen goes deep into William Morris' Wood Beyond the World (City of Lost Books)

* Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, pens a beautiful essay on the forbidden wonder of birds' nests and eggs (The Guardian)

* Jeremy Miller finds a new understanding of wilderness in an Irish bog (Orion)

Peter Pan in Kensington Garden by Arthur Rackham

* Naomi Shihab Nye discusses poetry and kindness (BrainPickings)

* David Grossman discusses the Holocaust, empathy, and the importance of literature (The Guardian)

* George Saunders discusses the art storytelling (Aeon video)

* Mary Hofffman discusses fairy tales with Katherine Langrish (Seven Miles of Steel Thistles)

* Kate Forsyth returns to Beauty & the Beast by way Anne Frank (Kate's blog)

* Meg Roscoff tells us why we still need fairy tales (The Guardian)

Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham

* Robert Minto reviews No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin (New Republic)

* Cally Calloman reviews Folk Song in England by Steve Roud (Caught by the River)

* Jon Wilks interviews Steve Roud, asking: "What is folk music, exactly?" (Grizzly Folk)

* Yaoyao Ma Van As captures the over-looked joys of living alone (My Modern Met)

* John Bedell looks at Leonora Carrington's incredible sculptures (Bensozia)

* Skye Sherman looks at a new exhibition of Käthe Kollwitz’s powerful art (The Guardian)

May Colven by Arthur Rackham

And one more:

My erudite friend and up-the-road neighbor Earl Fontainelle has launched a fascinating podcast series on The Secret History of Western Esotericism, exploring "cutting-edge academic research in the study of Platonism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, the Kabbalah, alchemy, occultism, magic, and related currents of thought."

The first four episodes of the series are online now, and I highly recommend it. 

The Fairies' Tiff with the Birds by Arthur Rackham

The art today is by the great English book illustrator Arthur Rackham, born on this day in south London in 1867. A new exhibition of his work has just opened at the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy.

Undine by Arthur Rackham

scarlettina: (Default)
[personal profile] scarlettina
It's like clockwork around here: Labor Day comes and Mother Nature flicks a switch. Though Seattle summers are usually mild, this year, we're going from scorching hot days to cooler temps and now the rains have come. They started yesterday and continue today; I think we've seen the last of the sun for a while.

I'm not quite ready for autumn. I haven't changed over my wardrobe; I suppose that happens this week and weekend. Last night I changed my blanket from summer- to winter-weight. I don't have quite the right shoes for this weather; the boots that I've worn for three years now have got holes in them--perhaps not the quality I thought they were when I bought them.

And Rosh Hashannah is bearing down upon us with me, once again, not having tickets for services anywhere because I don't belong to a synagogue and because it's the busiest time of year for me at work. (Most synagogues don't know what to do with me anyway; they're set up for families, not for independent Women of a Certain Age.) I failed to get tickets for services at UW's Hillel, which I've done before. I live within walking distance of the local Chabad House (the only congregation in town that doesn't require a donation for High Holiday tickets), but I wasn't brought up Orthodox. And though their outreach is friendly and welcoming, I'm a little intimidated by the prospect of what will surely be a less-than-egalitarian approach to services. I'm not the sitting-in-the-back-row type. And so I'm once again a little bereft at this time of year.

And, as mentioned above, it's the busiest time of year at work, which means I've got tons of work to do, oftentimes overseen by a million managers, all of whom want to have check-in meetings to ensure the work is getting done. Which means talking to my actual manager about the irony of negotiating the work needing to be done versus attending meetings to report on said work. I can meet or I can execute; I can't do both effectively simultaneously. This year, it seems like it's worse than it's ever been. I keep putting off or declining meetings, and the managers who run said meetings want just five minutes, which often ends up turning into an hour anyway. And then I have to explain myself and my work to everyone. Especially irritating are the compliance managers, who insist that they don't have to be familiar with our website (on which I work) but then insist that I give them a tour to ensure I'm doing the work. It's maddening.

So, yeah. The turn of the calendar comes and the darker, cooler, wetter days, the busier days, come along with it. I miss living somewhere with a more gradual segue into autumn and winter. But every now and then we get a glimpse of the beauty that autumn can offer and I'm pleased.
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Posted by Maria Popova

“Day by day I am approaching the goal which I apprehend but cannot describe.”


Take Fate by the Throat: Beethoven on Creative Vitality and Resilience in the Face of Suffering

“After all that has been said and mused upon the ‘natural ills,’ the anxiety, and wearing out experienced by the true artist,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who paved the way for women in the arts, wrote in reflecting on art and suffering from her sickbed, “is not the good immeasurably greater than the evil?” The great nineteenth-century poet is among the handful of highly influential artists who, like Frida Kahlo, surmounted an inordinate share of physical suffering to make art of unassailable beauty that heals the human spirit.

Among those few was Ludwig van Beethoven (December 16, 1770–March 26, 1827), whose abidingly transcendent music sprang from the common fountain of his joy and his suffering. By his late twenties, Beethoven had begun losing his hearing — a deterioration that would result in near-total deafness by the end of his life, the source of which remains a medical mystery and the object of ample speculative mythologizing. One contemporary biographer has proposed lead poisoning, while the composer himself allegedly implicated a fit of fury — a second-hand account reported to his first serious biographer held that when a tenor interrupted Beethoven’s creative flow during a period of vigorous composition, he flew into a rage so violent that he collapsed to the floor in a seizure, hitting his head, and was deaf by the time he rose.

Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler

By the end of his thirtieth year, Beethoven began actively seeking medical help for the ailment that anguished him and abraded his pride in his exceptional musical ear. Just as he was wading through the enigma of his suffering, in that strange and inopportune way the heart has of sneaking up on its owner, he fell in love with a young countess. A year before he wrote the spectacular letter to his brothers about the joy of suffering overcome, thirty-one-year-old Beethoven penned another letter of unrelenting optimism and towering spiritual resilience, found in the classic 1937 biography Beethoven: His Spiritual Development (public library).

Riding the tidal wave of elation that carries new love, Beethoven writes to his boyhood friend Franz Wegeler, then a medical student:

Oh, if I were rid of this affliction I could embrace the world! I feel that my youth is just beginning and have I not always been ill? My physical strength has for a short time past been steadily growing more than ever and also my mental powers. Day by day I am approaching the goal which I apprehend but cannot describe. It is only in this that your Beethoven can live. Tell me nothing of rest. I know none but sleep, and woe is me that I must give up more than to it than usual. Grant me but half freedom from my affliction and then — as a complete, ripe man I shall return to you and renew the old feelings of friendship. You must see me as happy as it is possible to be here below — not unhappy. No! I cannot endure it. I will take fate by the throat; it shall not wholly overcome me. Oh, it is so beautiful to live — to live a thousand times! I feel that I am not made for a quiet life.

He would go on to cultivate a lifestyle regimen that sustains this superhuman vitality, to embody the crucial difference between genius and talent, and to believe that music saved his life.

Complement this portion of Beethoven: His Spiritual Development with the great composer’s love letters to his “immortal beloved” and his touching letter of advice on being an artist, written to a little girl who sent him fan mail.


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Posted by Maria Popova

“Our respect for other people… can only grow from a humble respect for the cosmic order and from an awareness that we are a part of it… and that nothing of what we do is lost, but rather becomes part of the eternal memory of being.”


The Search for a New Humility: Václav Havel on Reclaiming Our Human Interconnectedness in a Globalized Yet Divided World

In his clever 1958 allegory I, Pencil, the libertarian writer Leonard Read used the complex chain of resources and competences involved in the production of a single pencil to illustrate the vital web of interdependencies — economic as well as ethical — undergirding humanity’s needs and knowledge. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” Dr. King wrote from Birmingham City Jail five years later, as the material aspects of our interconnectedness became painfully inseparable from the moral. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

How to inhabit our individual role in that mutuality with responsible integrity is what the great Czech dissident Václav Havel (October 5, 1936–December 18, 2011) addressed in his 1995 Harvard commencement address, later published under the title “Radical Renewal of Human Responsibility” in his collected speeches and writings, The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice (public library).

Václav Havel

Havel — a man of immense erudition and literary genius, who embodied Walt Whitman’s insistence that literature is essential for democracy, who went from playwright to president, who endured multiple imprisonments to uphold his ideals of justice, humanism, anti-consumerism, and environmental responsibility — begins by recounting an incident that sobered him to the irreversible forces of globalization: Sitting at a waterfront restaurant one evening, watching young people drink the same drinks as those served in his homeland to the sound of the same music that fills Prague’s cafés, surrounded by the same advertisements, he is reminded of the fact that he is in Singapore only by the different facial features of his fellow diners.

A decade before the social web subverted geography to common interests, values, and sensibilities as the centripetal force of community formation, Havel writes:

The world is now enmeshed in webs of telecommunication networks consisting of millions of tiny threads, or capillaries, that not only transmit information of all kinds at lightning speed, but also convey integrated models of social, political and economic behavior. They are conduits for legal norms, as well as for billions and billions of dollars crisscrossing the world while remaining invisible even to those who deal directly with them…. The capillaries that have so radically integrated this civilization also convey information about certain modes of human co­-existence that have proven their worth, like democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law, the laws of the market­place. Such information flows around the world and, in varying degrees, takes root in different places.

And yet, with prescience painfully evident two decades later, Havel cautions that there is a dark side to this undamming of information and ideas:

Many of the great problems we face today, as far as I understand them, have their origin in the fact that this global civilization, though in evidence everywhere, is no more than a thin veneer over the sum total of human awareness… This civilization is immensely fresh, young, new, and fragile, and the human spirit has accepted it with dizzying alacrity, without itself changing in any essential way. Humanity has gradually, and in very diverse ways, shaped our habits of mind, our relationship to the world, our models of behavior and the values we accept and recognize. In essence, this new, single epidermis of world civilization merely covers or conceals the immense variety of cultures, of peoples, of religious worlds, of historical traditions and historically formed attitudes, all of which in a sense lie “beneath” it. At the same time, even as the veneer of world civilization expands, this “underside” of humanity, this hidden dimension of it, demands more and more clearly to be heard and to be granted a right to life.

And thus, while the world as a whole increasingly accepts the new habits of global civilization, another contradictory process is taking place: ancient traditions are reviving, different religions and cultures are awakening to new ways of being, seeking new room to exist, and struggling with growing fervor to realize what is unique to them and what makes them different from others. Ultimately they seek to give their individuality a political expression.

With an eye to the dangerously disproportionate dominance of Euro-American values in this global marketplace of values and ideas, Havel writes:

It is a challenge to this civilization to start understanding itself as a multi­cultural and a multi­polar civilization, whose meaning lies not in undermining the individuality of different spheres of culture and civilization but in allowing them to be more completely themselves. This will only be possible, even conceivable, if we all accept a basic code of mutual co­existence, a kind of common minimum we can all share, one that will enable us to go on living side by side. Yet such a code won’t stand a chance if it is merely the product of a few who then proceed to force it on the rest. It must be an expression of the authentic will of everyone, growing out of the genuine spiritual roots hidden beneath the skin of our common, global civilization. If it is merely disseminated through the capillaries of the skin, the way Coca-Cola ads are ­– as a commodity offered by some to others ­– such a code can hardly be expected to take hold in any profound or universal way.

Illustration from Alice and Martin Provensen’s vintage adaptation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey

Acknowledging that such a line of thought might be dismissed by cynics as unrealistically utopian, Havel insists on not losing hope — lucid hope. “This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen,” Rebecca Solnit would write a generation later in her electrifying manifesto for civilizational resilience. “It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both.”

A decade before philosopher Jonathan Lear made his case for “radical hope,” Havel writes:

I have not lost hope because I am persuaded again and again that, lying dormant in the deepest roots of most, if not all, cultures there is an essential similarity, something that could be made ­ if the will to do so existed –­ a genuinely unifying starting point for that new code of human co­ existence that would be firmly anchored in the great diversity of human traditions.

He points out that at the heart of every spiritual tradition, no matter its geographic or temporal origin, is a set of common moral principles upholding values like kindness, benevolence, and respect for human dignity. And yet, in an era of such irreversible triumphs of science as the splitting of the atom and the discovery of DNA — triumphs which Einstein believed united humanity through “the common language of science” — any real movement toward healing the ruptures of our natural interconnectedness lies not in reverting to ancient religions but in integrating the achievements of reason with the core values of the human spirit. Half a century after pioneering biologist and writer Rachel Carson invited us to step out of the human perspective, Havel writes:

Only a dreamer can believe that the solution lies in curtailing the progress of civilization in some way or other. The main task in the coming era is something else: a radical renewal of our sense of responsibility. Our conscience must catch up to our reason, otherwise we are lost.

It is my profound belief that there is only one way to achieve this: we must divest ourselves of our egotistical anthropocentrism, our habit of seeing ourselves as masters of the universe who can do whatever occurs to us. We must discover a new respect for what transcends us: for the universe, for the earth, for nature, for life, and for reality. Our respect for other people, for other nations and for other cultures, can only grow from a humble respect for the cosmic order and from an awareness that we are a part of it, that we share in it and that nothing of what we do is lost, but rather becomes part of the eternal memory of being, where it is judged.

Illustration by Soyeon Kim from Wild Ideas

Havel calls for “the search for a new humility” — a search that politicians have an especial responsibility to enact:

Even in the most democratic of conditions, politicians have immense influence, perhaps more than they themselves realize. This influence does not lie in their actual mandates, which in any case are considerably limited. It lies in something else: in the spontaneous impact their charisma has on the public.

In a passage of bittersweet poignancy against the contrast of our present political reality, Havel adds:

The main task of the present generation of politicians is not, I think, to ingratiate themselves with the public through the decisions they take or their smiles on television. It is not to go on winning elections and ensuring themselves a place in the sun till the end of their days. Their role is something quite different: to assume their share of responsibility for the long-­range prospects of our world and thus to set an example for the public in whose sight they work. Their responsibility is to think ahead boldly, not to fear the disfavor of the crowd, to imbue their actions with a spiritual dimension (which of course is not the same thing as ostentatious attendance at religious services), to explain again and again ­ both to the public and to their colleagues ­– that politics must do far more than reflect the interests of particular groups or lobbies. After all, politics is a matter of servicing the community, which means that it is morality in practice, and how better to serve the community and practice morality than by seeking in the midst of the global (and globally threatened) civilization their own global political responsibility: that is, their responsibility for the very survival of the human race?

Standing before “perhaps the most famous university in the most powerful country in the world,” Havel issues a particularly urgent exhortation to American politicians:

There is simply no escaping the responsibility you have as the most powerful country in the world.

There is far more at stake here than simply standing up to those who would like once again to divide the world into spheres of interest, or subjugate others who are different from them, and weaker. What is now at stake is saving the human race. In other words, it’s a question of what I’ve already talked about: of understanding modern civilization as a multi­cultural and multi­polar civilization, of turning our attention to the original spiritual sources of human culture and above all, of our own culture, of drawing from these sources the strength for a courageous and magnanimous creation of a new order for the world.

With a cautionary eye to “the banal pride of the powerful” — corruption of character which Hannah Arendt followed to its gruesome extreme in her timeless treatise on the banality of evil — Havel adds:

Pride is precisely what will lead the world to hell. I am suggesting an alternative: humbly accepting our responsibility for the world.

Looking back at his own life with the astonishment of one who grew up under the locked-in nationalism of a communist authoritarian regime, then went on to travel to places like Singapore and address the graduating class at Harvard, Havel ends on a note of radical, responsible hope:

I have been given to understand how small this world is and how it torments itself with countless things it need not torment itself with if people could find within themselves a little more courage, a little more hope, a little more responsibility, a little more mutual understanding and love.

Complement this fragment of Havel’s wholly ennobling Art of the Impossible with other exceptional commencement addresses — including 21-year-old Hillary Rodham on making the impossible possible and Joseph Brodsky on our mightiest antidote to evil — then revisit Eleanor Roosevelt on the power of personal responsibility in social change.


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Friday Five for a Monday morning

Sep. 18th, 2017 07:10 am
scarlettina: (Default)
[personal profile] scarlettina
1. If you had a year off (with pay, to make it interesting), what would you do with it?
First thing that came to my mind was get in my car and travel the country, the most massive road trip ever. There are so many places I want to see that I never have, and I have friends all over the country so it wouldn't be a solitary trip. Of course, I'd want to travel overseas as well; I'm not nearly done with international travel. But I have neglected seeing the US and the number of places I still want to go is huge: the Grand Canyon (which I'll actually be seeing in the spring), Red Rocks, Big Sur, Devil's Tower, Mt. Rushmore, the Big 5 in Utah, Crater Lake, the Newseum in DC, Nantucket, Fenway Park, Ellis Island (yeah, typical New Yorker), Kennedy Space Center, the Everglades and on and on and on. . . .

2. What are two things you would do to improve the country if you were in complete charge?
Single payer medical insurance. Democratic president.

3. What three TV shows do you like watching?
Very different question than what are your favorite shows; interesting way to put it. I like watching Project Runway though I haven't in a while, Game of Thrones though I'm a season behind, and Downton Abbey.

4. What are your four favorite ethnic dishes?
Lasagna, chicken tikka masala, phad see eiw.

5. What are five words you love to use?
Hilarious, bananas, booby (as in blue-footed).

note that sting!

Sep. 18th, 2017 04:20 pm
manuleanders: (Default)
[personal profile] manuleanders posting in [community profile] common_nature
I met this one on a walk the other day.

caterpillar

how earning rewards works for me

Sep. 18th, 2017 03:14 pm
mizkit: (Default)
[personal profile] mizkit

Me: I will watch s5 Orphan Black when I have launched BEWITCHING BENEDICT

Me: I will watch s5 Orphan Black when I’ve got REDEEMER sorted

Me: I will watch s5 Orphan Black when I have this unexpected thing sent off

Me: I will watch s5 Orphan Black when KISS OF ANGELS is written

Dear Me: when the fuck am I really going to be allowed to watch s5 Orphan Black?

Apparently Me: when the entire 22 book to-do list is done.

Sometimes I hate me.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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