Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Healing Spirit of Haiku by David Rosen and Joel Weishaus

The Healing Spirit of Haiku by David Rosen and Joel Weishaus is one of those surprising books that was not at all what I expected and yet fulfilled a need I did not recognize was there. For one thing, let’s be clear—these are more like haibun than a collection of haiku. The haiku are not traditional, at least not when translated into English. The book is designed to be an exchange between Rosen and Weishaus, almost a series of letters. This draws on the very deep tradition of haibun and does so quite effectively. Read individually or even as a couple, they invite a sort of meditative patience. A superficial read is easy. But if the reader will pause and reflect, seek a deeper meaning, the content is immediately elevated beyond the immediate impression. My only complaint is that the images, beautiful illustrations by Arthur Okamura, are poorly copied. This is evident when one compares the higher quality of the illustration on the cover with the one that is included within the text. I was left wondering how much more beautiful and subtle they would have been had the publisher bothered to reproduce them in a higher quality. I have no doubt that the artist was even more disappointed than I. In spite of this, the images compliment the text wonderfully, once again resonating with the deeper Japanese tradition of art and “calligraphy.” A surprising treasure, surprising because I opened the text to find one thing and found something completely different. And wonderful.
It is very rare to wake up and continue a poem begun in a dream. Usually, it doesn’t make sense, or is shallow, like how extraordinary insights gained while high on a psychotropic drug may seem mundane in midst of ordinary life. Because it was a “sound sleep,” one that invited sound, the poem wasn’t written, but spoken. If it had been written, where would it be when the dreamer woke up? This is the same question the poet Samuel Coleridge asked, although he had a flower in mind. In both cases, the dream has tapped into a world in which magic is ordinary.
This morning The bird’s song Suddenly makes sense!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Snuggle Puppies

With the change in weather, comes a change in puppy behavior. Romanov is actually allowing Snowdoll to be a snuggler. Not all of the time but at least occasionally.
And Snowdoll is gradually growing accustomed to our electric fence. For a few days there she wouldn't even go outside for fear of what might happen. Now she understands to be careful with where she goes. Whew!
Here is a picture of Tipsy. She looks so much like her mommy! And she's gotten so big!
There really isn't much to say. Rob and I were both sick for different reasons this week. We're both feeling better but things are no less crazy around here. At least when I had a fever, I slept through most of the madness. Thank goodness I was better in time for the debate. I think watching it while sick would have been redundant.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Overflowing Brain by Torkel Klingberg

The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory by Torkel Klingberg explores how technology has affected working (aka short-term) memory. I was very interested in reading this book because I have been blessed with so few distractions in my life. I can turn off the television and music and just have complete silence for hours on end.
As Klingberg describes various imagined situations, including a woman working in an open cubicle type office, her cell phone ringing as she tries to read a report, the reader gets a glimpse into how the brain functions to juggle so many stimuli.
The scientific research used to back up the scenarios makes sense even to the layman reader. Remarkable really because often I was distracted while reading the book. The information can be a little dense at times and I had hoped to learn a little more about brain plasticity. Nevertheless, the research into IQ changes and even the role of video games in intelligence was very interesting. I could easily see a professor using this as a supplemental text for students. It might even be useful to those who are working with developmental issues in patients or students.
Overall a fascinating book and an easy, informative read. Most interesting bit I carried away with me is the effect of different types of mental stimulation on brain activity. For instance, it is no surprise that chess would help stimulate the brain and reduce the risk of dementia. However, more surprising is that dance would do so. At least "more surprising" until you think about it. After all, walking or riding a bike doesn't take a great deal of mental awareness. Dancing, especially when you have to remember a series of movements or steps, will obviously engage the brain in mental activity. I am thinking of one of my belly-dancing dvds which teaches a series of steps (three to four) and then practices them together gradually building them into a longer routine. When you have mastered the fully routine, there are three paces--slow-ish, fast, faster.
I would suspect that yoga would have the same effect, especially when doing something like a remembered series--Sun Salutation (surya sanmaskar) or Moon Salutation (chandra sanmaskar). I believe Iyengar style yoga also has a predetermined series of asanas.
Definitely something to think about.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde

Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde is a book I have ached to read for as long as I have known about it. I love Lorde’s poetry and her spirit, knew I would enjoy her memoir of her own experience with breast cancer. I also recommended it repeatedly to my book group because I knew it would be a controversial read, the type of book that opens itself to discussion and debate. (Also, it was a book that could actually be found at the library and since I was trying not to buy more books I kept urging them to choose books that could be found in public libraries.)
The introduction summarizes the memoir and almost cautions the reader about some of the content. However, Lorde is clear—the choices she makes in her life are not the kind of choices she would demand of other women. A part of her understands, through a tone of judgment, why some women would choose reconstructive surgery. Lorde clearly sees this as a political choice.

In part one she shares a speech she gave at the 1977 Modern Language Association including a powerful poem about Winnie Mandela. At a time when few knew about Apartheid, Lorde speaks out against silence, reminding everyone the importance of speaking, and by implication writing, about your individual experience. Individual though it may be, we learn from one another and perhaps recognize ourselves and our feelings mirrored in one another’s truth.

In part two Lorde begins sharing excerpts from her journals, interspersing her entries with narrative. On page 43, after the mastectomy of her right breast, she asks herself the kind of questions that any woman would understand as her own. I haven’t had a mastectomy and so far my biopsies have turned up nothing malignant but I know these questions. I know them as if I had read a script for how be behave after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Lorde’s details are not my own; her feelings are familiar in the most essential meaning of that word.

When she writes about crawling back into her bed and crying herself to sleep at 2:30 in the afternoon, I fought not to join her with my tears. I was so tired reading her words in that sort of odd sympathy that some memoirs arouse.

I wanted to write in my journal but couldn’t bring myself to. There are so many shades to what passed through me in those days. And I would shrink from committing myself to paper because the light would change before the word was out, the ink was dry (45).

In the third section, Breast Cancer: Power vs Prosthesis, Lorde offers an argumentative essay that defends her choice to not have reconstructive surgery. It might be easy to dismiss her arguments as somewhat dated or even radical. I suggest that you google the word "mastectomy" or "post mastectomy" and look at what you see. Implants. Pretty young girls, who are statistically not the typical age for breast cancer survivors, modeling special bras. A whole page of double breasted women. The few single breast images you will find are more often than not drawings. But yes, you will find the occasional mastectomy photograph. You may even find the glorious tattoo done by Chris Dingwell which is, if you hold your mouse over the photograph, called "thrive."

I had tears in my eyes when I saw that and I've put in a request with the artist to please allow me to share the image here.

But I digress.

I bought the special edition of the book which includes some black and white photographs of Lorde with other women and finally a collection of testimonies--poetry and prose--testifying to what the reader will have already discerned by reading Lorde's own words. She is a warrior, unafraid of offending and deserving of admiration, respect, and love.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Juicy Pens Thirsty Paper

Juicy Pens Thirsty Paper by SARK is a welcome treat. I was a little disappointed by her last book and was thrilled to see her returning to writing her pages by hand. But here are pages and pages of her funky penmanship and her quirky, colorful drawings, and I curled myself up with the book the way I would with a welcome cup of tea or a good friend. The book starts with a typically sweet SARK “Writer’s Manifesto” full of runny rainbow colors. In the first chapter she discusses her own relationship with writing, how she became published, before she explains her process in chapter two. Sprinkled with quotations and the occasional website, the book moves on to offer some writing exercises to spark inspiration before introducing some of the SARK universe people who are always introduced in her charming books. What I miss, and wish she would return to doing, is offering a list of books at the end of each chapter. She has the list of recommended reading at the end of the book, along with websites and music recommendations, but I used to read a chapter and, if it resonated for me or if I found myself resisting the content, I would make a point of reading one of the books she inevitably recommended at the chapter’s end. But she didn’t do that this time. Oh well. It’s still a fun read. For those who have and haven’t read her other book Make Your Creative Dreams Real, this latest addition to the ever blooming SARK library would be an ideal companion. Footnote A few weeks ago SARK was in town and one of the local independent bookstores was making a special offer--buy her book through them and receive a free ticket to a workshop. I read about this and was so excited by the thought of meeting her yet again. However, we were so financially strapped I chose not to mention it to Rob until after the workshop and SARK had come and gone. When I told Rob he immediately offered to go buy the book the next day but I explained the workshop had already happened. I explained that I didn't tell him sooner because we couldn't afford to indulge in something like the workshop and book. Not at the time anyway. He said, "I would have made it happen." And I know he would have. Which is why I couldn't tell him about the new book or the workshop. He couldn't resist doing whatever he could to make me happy, even if we can't afford it. Oh well. Maybe next time SARK's in town, I'll be able to be there.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Party People Come and Gone

A few weeks ago Rob got a call from someone we haven't heard from since the New Year. At that time, he wanted to know where to find a great strip club. Given the mid-week timing of this more recent call we both suspected that the only reason he was calling is that he and his wife wanted to go out and party. I guess they forgot that Rob is sober now and I have vertigo. They forgot or don't care. Going out dancing, drinking, etc. is no longer a part of our having fun. I left a comment in the husband's blog with a quick congrats on the new baby and left it at that. And the reason I haven't been posting much about the wonderful 29 Days of Giving Challenge is because someone who had abused the term "friendship" horribly would not leave me alone. I mean, when anyone says "I know you don't want to hear from me but . . ." you pretty much know that the only way to avoid this person is to distance yourself. And that was the second time she had approached me in spite of her awareness that I'd rather not hear from her. Sheesh! I ran into someone who knew me from my LJ days. Weird. I explained I have a blog now. But not an online journal. I'll never have one of those again. And I rarely tell anyone about this blog which is why I have so few people who comment. Sometimes people find me and they'll email me. Sometimes they'll leave comments. Either way it doesn't matter. (Come to think of it, I didn't tell the person where my new blog is so unless there's some deep desire to reconnect, I probably won't hear from them.) It's nice just leaving the past behind, not trying to rebuild relationships that never really existed at all. To say that the first couple were friends is like saying a hired prostitute is your girlfriend. To say that the woman who would not leave me alone on the other website is a friend is like saying the pastor of a church you haven't gone to in over two years is your pastor. And as for the friends in LJ--a few have found me on facebook and a couple even leave the occasional comment here in this blog. (You know who you are!) I'm not that hard to find online and my email address hasn't changed in over 20 years. It's funny. There were some people in my life, both real and virtual, I thought would always be there. But they're gone now. And my life is so lovely and quiet. The cream always rises to the top. The few that remain or even return are clearly the only ones that ever mattered. And I'll stop being all sweet and schmaltzy. It's too early in the week to be getting all sentimental. PS: Don't get used to these personal posts. I went to the Wellness and Writing Connections Conference and feel slightly more confessional today but I'm sure I'll get better soon.