The Swirl and Ache: a Ramble

Hieronymous Bosch; center panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights


It's difficult sometimes--catching yourself amidst the swirl of bodies, persons, minds, lives--and asking whether you have any stability, whether those so many drops of life have stability. Life flashes and sparks and engulfs and "reality" has a greater quiddity when one can no longer speak of "real." Julio Cortazar says beautiful things about this:

Reason is good only to mummify reality in moments of calm or analyze its future storms, never to resolve a crisis of the moment.

or:

He found out (first off) to his surprise and (later) with irony, that an awful lot of people would set themselves up comfortably with a supposed unity of person which was nothing but a linguistic unity and a premature sclerosis of character.

La Maga provides a sort of foil to this reasoning mummy; she is described as using words which are

wrapped up in what she understands which has no name, sparks and emanations which crackle in the air between two bodies or which can fill a room or a line of poetry with gold dust.

I don't know what that means, but it's a question that persistently lingers--and is especially current when things in my quotidien life have lately taken on their own frenetic quality. Goings-on that never before (or at least lately) have had the force to carry me with them.

But even amidst the swirl of social engagements and slightly mind-numbing work, I have latched on to a few remarkable things. I have found myself, for the first time since middle school, playing a song on repeat. I listen to it over and over, I'm listening to it now. It makes me want to sing soulfully and cry a little and believe in mythology and meaning and beauty. It's Samson by Regina Spektor.

I have also discovered T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets--don't ask me why I was allowed to achieve a BA in English Literature without reading this, all I know is that this poetry has left me memorizing, reciting aloud, and feeling overwhelmed by echoes of many questions and pursuits that occupied my mind for the last two years:

Time present and time past

are both perhaps present in Time future

It makes me yearn for that feeling when you are so immersed in words, in that electric fabric woven out of a text, and finally in the meaning that emerges when the words recede and the ideas loom and trouble and make all engaged minds in a room quiver with almost-understanding and a craving to just turn some magical key and be let into the secret chamber.

I read these verses, or the prose of Cortazar, or the lengthy melodic passages in Proust and the incredible rush of feeling recalls another verse--from a poem I read during my first Tutorial in grad school.

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they're gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

It's Robert Frost's poem To Earthward and I remember seizing onto that first quoted line, the one that is my title, and knowing exactly what was meant. It's the same feeling as Cortazar's gold dust; the momentary falling-into-place of the myriad of colored plastic films in a kaleidoscope; a prophecy has rung true, a great mystery revealed. But even in the moment of this sort of revelation, there's a "The King is dead; Long live the King" sort of closed-off perpetuity. The moment has expanded into a true, infinite span of "present" and at the very same moment closed itself off into a dusty occurence.

I (and maybe "we") try so hard to create a dichotomy: the strict analysis of parts, the dissection of a Vermeer into footnotes on the camera obscura, pigment, and biographical clippings vs. The idealization of Surrealist muse-ladies, Delphic Oracles, and all those initiates of the "true" intuitive language of cosmic happenings.

And then we realize, once again, one polarity is nothing but a dot on a made-up spectrum without the other polarity and the cascade of instances in between.

The Swirl and Ache: a Ramble

Hieronymous Bosch; center panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights


It's difficult sometimes--catching yourself amidst the swirl of bodies, persons, minds, lives--and asking whether you have any stability, whether those so many drops of life have stability. Life flashes and sparks and engulfs and "reality" has a greater quiddity when one can no longer speak of "real." Julio Cortazar says beautiful things about this:

Reason is good only to mummify reality in moments of calm or analyze its future storms, never to resolve a crisis of the moment.

or:

He found out (first off) to his surprise and (later) with irony, that an awful lot of people would set themselves up comfortably with a supposed unity of person which was nothing but a linguistic unity and a premature sclerosis of character.

La Maga provides a sort of foil to this reasoning mummy; she is described as using words which are

wrapped up in what she understands which has no name, sparks and emanations which crackle in the air between two bodies or which can fill a room or a line of poetry with gold dust.

I don't know what that means, but it's a question that persistently lingers--and is especially current when things in my quotidien life have lately taken on their own frenetic quality. Goings-on that never before (or at least lately) have had the force to carry me with them.

But even amidst the swirl of social engagements and slightly mind-numbing work, I have latched on to a few remarkable things. I have found myself, for the first time since middle school, playing a song on repeat. I listen to it over and over, I'm listening to it now. It makes me want to sing soulfully and cry a little and believe in mythology and meaning and beauty. It's Samson by Regina Spektor.

I have also discovered T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets--don't ask me why I was allowed to achieve a BA in English Literature without reading this, all I know is that this poetry has left me memorizing, reciting aloud, and feeling overwhelmed by echoes of many questions and pursuits that occupied my mind for the last two years:

Time present and time past

are both perhaps present in Time future

It makes me yearn for that feeling when you are so immersed in words, in that electric fabric woven out of a text, and finally in the meaning that emerges when the words recede and the ideas loom and trouble and make all engaged minds in a room quiver with almost-understanding and a craving to just turn some magical key and be let into the secret chamber.

I read these verses, or the prose of Cortazar, or the lengthy melodic passages in Proust and the incredible rush of feeling recalls another verse--from a poem I read during my first Tutorial in grad school.

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they're gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

It's Robert Frost's poem To Earthward and I remember seizing onto that first quoted line, the one that is my title, and knowing exactly what was meant. It's the same feeling as Cortazar's gold dust; the momentary falling-into-place of the myriad of colored plastic films in a kaleidoscope; a prophecy has rung true, a great mystery revealed. But even in the moment of this sort of revelation, there's a "The King is dead; Long live the King" sort of closed-off perpetuity. The moment has expanded into a true, infinite span of "present" and at the very same moment closed itself off into a dusty occurence.

I (and maybe "we") try so hard to create a dichotomy: the strict analysis of parts, the dissection of a Vermeer into footnotes on the camera obscura, pigment, and biographical clippings vs. The idealization of Surrealist muse-ladies, Delphic Oracles, and all those initiates of the "true" intuitive language of cosmic happenings.

And then we realize, once again, one polarity is nothing but a dot on a made-up spectrum without the other polarity and the cascade of instances in between.

Different

All of this heat, humidity, and haze has made me long for fall. I am not shy about professing my love for this season, most particularly the month of October (Halloween and my birthday in the same stretch of days?! How could it be any more likable). I mistily recall a poem discussing Fall's pleasures as being of the freshly-sharpened pencil variety: Reams of creamy paper, graphite flaking off your point, and an entire syllabus to dream about. One of my favorite days in college was the day I got to go to the bookstore and discover the books that I would be encountering that semester.

Along with the scholastic pleasures of Fall, I feel a little thrill every time I begin to evaluate my autumnal wardrobe. This year I am excited about grey palettes, the palest of pinks and yellows, deep veins of navy and midnight blue, heavy satin, graphic black and white accessories, cognac leather, and shots of unexpected color. I always love black and grey tights, large shaped coats (I'd like a grey one this year), and fantastic scarves. I also seem to be leaning toward a 20's vision when I imagine evening/special looks.

I'm looking especially at the Aquascutum, Celine, Balenciaga, and Emma Cook collections.

Some images I especially love, all from
style.com (I'll try and post my street style inspirations for Fall tomorrow)

Two fantastic examples of a tailored office look, the first by Aquascutum, second by Balenciaga
Two examples of a more slouchy fit, both Marni. To be honest, I prefer something between these; I like slouchy or wide-legged trousers with a really tailored and streamlined top or jacket, OR tailored, slim pants with a beautifully draped cardigan or scarf.
Two takes on the grey coat-dress: first by Preen, second by Aquascutum


More grey! But I love the way red and cognac are used in these looks; the first by Behnaz Sarafpour, second by Celine

I love these graphic dresses, the first by Temperley, the second by Derek Lam
I love the drape of the scarf here, not to mention the color burst amidst stark white and black, a favorite look of mine

Two great day to evening looks: the first by Etro, second by Emma Cook, both with my favorite color for the season
I love the flapper-vibe of the first Emma Cook dress, and the gorgeous colors of the Celine look

Different

All of this heat, humidity, and haze has made me long for fall. I am not shy about professing my love for this season, most particularly the month of October (Halloween and my birthday in the same stretch of days?! How could it be any more likable). I mistily recall a poem discussing Fall's pleasures as being of the freshly-sharpened pencil variety: Reams of creamy paper, graphite flaking off your point, and an entire syllabus to dream about. One of my favorite days in college was the day I got to go to the bookstore and discover the books that I would be encountering that semester.

Along with the scholastic pleasures of Fall, I feel a little thrill every time I begin to evaluate my autumnal wardrobe. This year I am excited about grey palettes, the palest of pinks and yellows, deep veins of navy and midnight blue, heavy satin, graphic black and white accessories, cognac leather, and shots of unexpected color. I always love black and grey tights, large shaped coats (I'd like a grey one this year), and fantastic scarves. I also seem to be leaning toward a 20's vision when I imagine evening/special looks.

I'm looking especially at the Aquascutum, Celine, Balenciaga, and Emma Cook collections.

Some images I especially love, all from
style.com (I'll try and post my street style inspirations for Fall tomorrow)

Two fantastic examples of a tailored office look, the first by Aquascutum, second by Balenciaga
Two examples of a more slouchy fit, both Marni. To be honest, I prefer something between these; I like slouchy or wide-legged trousers with a really tailored and streamlined top or jacket, OR tailored, slim pants with a beautifully draped cardigan or scarf.
Two takes on the grey coat-dress: first by Preen, second by Aquascutum


More grey! But I love the way red and cognac are used in these looks; the first by Behnaz Sarafpour, second by Celine

I love these graphic dresses, the first by Temperley, the second by Derek Lam
I love the drape of the scarf here, not to mention the color burst amidst stark white and black, a favorite look of mine

Two great day to evening looks: the first by Etro, second by Emma Cook, both with my favorite color for the season
I love the flapper-vibe of the first Emma Cook dress, and the gorgeous colors of the Celine look

Las Cucarachas, Heat, and a Languishing Reading List

(Found through Giornale Nuovo)

New York cockroaches are fairly over-played as a topic of conversation, but they deserve a mention here because they have reduced me to a sad state. My apartment is lovely as far as in-need-of-a-good-renovation brownstones go, but in the last 24 days of NY living, I have seen 3 cockroaches in my apartment, 1 dead, 1 living but not exceptional, 1 living, large, and sporting horrifyingly useful wings. Combined with the plain fact that my first year or so here is intended to be spent working long hours to make money which is to be quickly funneled into repaying student loans, I have not been left with much free mental space.

Instead of the reading, viewing, thinking, and writing that used to occupy my days, I now work, work, work, and then cower in my apartment trying to focus my mind while failing at ignoring the heat and keeping all senses alert for encroaching vermin.

I have managed to do some reading...and even more optimistic buying of books to be read. Currently on my reading desk are T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets; Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch (I'm working on the second hopscotch-y read-through); and The Whispering Woman by A. S. Byatt.
I recently finished Babel Tower, the third of the Frederica Potter series, and was underwhelmed. I suppose I loved Still Life so much that I was expecting a lot from the rest of the series, but it was still way too long and peopled with vastly uninteresting new characters.

Also on the docket: Volume 5 of Proust's Recherche (this is sad for I finished Volume 4 about one year ago and keep reading the first page of this volume, loving it, and then putting it down because it's too weighty to begin while other books are demanding my attention); Selected Poems of W.H. Auden; Don Quixote (also sad...this was intended to be my BIG summer study project).

It's a long list for a short commute.

N.B.

No joke--as I was searching for the lovely bug image above, a cockroach came crawling around the corner of my desk. This caused me to make a swallowed yelp sound, leap out of my chair and attempt to get a good angle for shoe-smashing. Observing this particular cockroach's sluggish gait, I will assume (and hope I'm correct) that this is cockroach # 3, sited earlier today, sprayed vigorously with "floral-scented" roach killer, but lost to the wilderness of dust and possible cockroach carcasses under my stove. That would mean that there have been 4 encounters with 3 separate bugs, all ending in death.
[If I am incorrect...]

Las Cucarachas, Heat, and a Languishing Reading List

(Found through Giornale Nuovo)

New York cockroaches are fairly over-played as a topic of conversation, but they deserve a mention here because they have reduced me to a sad state. My apartment is lovely as far as in-need-of-a-good-renovation brownstones go, but in the last 24 days of NY living, I have seen 3 cockroaches in my apartment, 1 dead, 1 living but not exceptional, 1 living, large, and sporting horrifyingly useful wings. Combined with the plain fact that my first year or so here is intended to be spent working long hours to make money which is to be quickly funneled into repaying student loans, I have not been left with much free mental space.

Instead of the reading, viewing, thinking, and writing that used to occupy my days, I now work, work, work, and then cower in my apartment trying to focus my mind while failing at ignoring the heat and keeping all senses alert for encroaching vermin.

I have managed to do some reading...and even more optimistic buying of books to be read. Currently on my reading desk are T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets; Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch (I'm working on the second hopscotch-y read-through); and The Whispering Woman by A. S. Byatt.
I recently finished Babel Tower, the third of the Frederica Potter series, and was underwhelmed. I suppose I loved Still Life so much that I was expecting a lot from the rest of the series, but it was still way too long and peopled with vastly uninteresting new characters.

Also on the docket: Volume 5 of Proust's Recherche (this is sad for I finished Volume 4 about one year ago and keep reading the first page of this volume, loving it, and then putting it down because it's too weighty to begin while other books are demanding my attention); Selected Poems of W.H. Auden; Don Quixote (also sad...this was intended to be my BIG summer study project).

It's a long list for a short commute.

N.B.

No joke--as I was searching for the lovely bug image above, a cockroach came crawling around the corner of my desk. This caused me to make a swallowed yelp sound, leap out of my chair and attempt to get a good angle for shoe-smashing. Observing this particular cockroach's sluggish gait, I will assume (and hope I'm correct) that this is cockroach # 3, sited earlier today, sprayed vigorously with "floral-scented" roach killer, but lost to the wilderness of dust and possible cockroach carcasses under my stove. That would mean that there have been 4 encounters with 3 separate bugs, all ending in death.
[If I am incorrect...]

Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang

[Albrecht Durer: St. Jerome in his Study]

It's incredible how well-built we are to adapt. In less than two weeks in NY, things have become comfortable (relatively!) for me to remember my constant craving for true conversation, for the meeting of true minds.
I'm always reading, and in a sense, in a large sense, reading is a conversation between reader and author. But there are so many other factors in a conversation of that sort, and a lot of miscommunication, I imagine. Anyway, a book-to-reader conversation is always enhanced for me if I keep a side-dialogue of questions, musings, and treasures...in essence, a reading journal. But even that loses its luster after a while, I can always view a learning curve like that as cyclical, falsely optimistic, and essentially sterile.

athenslarge

[Raphael: School of Athens ]

So conversation is necessary. I have been fortunate enough to find a job at a law firm where there are many people who are at least very sharp, if not quite so given to philosophic ramblings as I am. I am also fortunate in that there is an active alumni chapter from the college where I did my graduate work. I attended an alumni seminar tonight, on three of Shakespeare's sonnets, and it quenched a thirst that had been growing quite steadily. It felt so wonderful to fall back into a place where my actions felt natural, where I had a chosen purpose, a desired purpose, and could express that desire in a welcome forum.

Vocation is a funny word, and one that I am not going to even begin to dissect or analyse. But I would like to apply it to how I feel about engaged, thoughtful conversation. Is that strange? To feel and know that your vocation is to engage in a discovery of conversation? I can justify this as a vocation i suppose; I've been reading, in various places, the thoughts of people and literary characters on the importance of communication, grammar, language, etc on our lives. The most interesting view I've come across is the explanation of grammar as the language we have to use to describe the workings of our brain.

After spending some time looking at short, concise, and structured poems, I can see that as necessary as conversation and its grammatical toolbox are, the true understanding of any work of art comes as a subtle air, flooding in like light dancing among the motes of ambitious human phrases. There is something SOMEthing that occurs when the poem clicks, when the piece of music falls into rhythm, when the painting transports. We have a phrase: "It moved me" which is far more powerful than its utilitarian context suggests. Art has the power to move a settled human being, a person who has (however optimistically) constructed habits and customs and turns of mind and phrase which are formative and often limiting.

But an interaction with a work of art can also depend on the mind encountering it. I may be incapable of engaging with a work of art, I may be distracted while reading and miss a passage which would have spoken truly to me, I may walk faster through portrait galleries, off-handedly dismissing that sort of art as basically uninteresting to me, I may deaden my ears to the strains of a symphony, believeing I wouldn't catch the intricacies. Conversation with other minds helps to open new channels, to encourage the mind to seek its path down different avenues, and amidst greater challenges.

We miss so much when we raise our voices to be heard, or when we plug ourselves in to listen to someone not human. Conversation teaches patience and acceptance, valuable lessons for those sorts of minds that have no qualms about challenge, activity, and honesty. Conversation also cements community, a word not much in vogue anymore, and rarely seen for what it means.

Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang

[Albrecht Durer: St. Jerome in his Study]

It's incredible how well-built we are to adapt. In less than two weeks in NY, things have become comfortable (relatively!) for me to remember my constant craving for true conversation, for the meeting of true minds.
I'm always reading, and in a sense, in a large sense, reading is a conversation between reader and author. But there are so many other factors in a conversation of that sort, and a lot of miscommunication, I imagine. Anyway, a book-to-reader conversation is always enhanced for me if I keep a side-dialogue of questions, musings, and treasures...in essence, a reading journal. But even that loses its luster after a while, I can always view a learning curve like that as cyclical, falsely optimistic, and essentially sterile.

athenslarge

[Raphael: School of Athens ]

So conversation is necessary. I have been fortunate enough to find a job at a law firm where there are many people who are at least very sharp, if not quite so given to philosophic ramblings as I am. I am also fortunate in that there is an active alumni chapter from the college where I did my graduate work. I attended an alumni seminar tonight, on three of Shakespeare's sonnets, and it quenched a thirst that had been growing quite steadily. It felt so wonderful to fall back into a place where my actions felt natural, where I had a chosen purpose, a desired purpose, and could express that desire in a welcome forum.

Vocation is a funny word, and one that I am not going to even begin to dissect or analyse. But I would like to apply it to how I feel about engaged, thoughtful conversation. Is that strange? To feel and know that your vocation is to engage in a discovery of conversation? I can justify this as a vocation i suppose; I've been reading, in various places, the thoughts of people and literary characters on the importance of communication, grammar, language, etc on our lives. The most interesting view I've come across is the explanation of grammar as the language we have to use to describe the workings of our brain.

After spending some time looking at short, concise, and structured poems, I can see that as necessary as conversation and its grammatical toolbox are, the true understanding of any work of art comes as a subtle air, flooding in like light dancing among the motes of ambitious human phrases. There is something SOMEthing that occurs when the poem clicks, when the piece of music falls into rhythm, when the painting transports. We have a phrase: "It moved me" which is far more powerful than its utilitarian context suggests. Art has the power to move a settled human being, a person who has (however optimistically) constructed habits and customs and turns of mind and phrase which are formative and often limiting.

But an interaction with a work of art can also depend on the mind encountering it. I may be incapable of engaging with a work of art, I may be distracted while reading and miss a passage which would have spoken truly to me, I may walk faster through portrait galleries, off-handedly dismissing that sort of art as basically uninteresting to me, I may deaden my ears to the strains of a symphony, believeing I wouldn't catch the intricacies. Conversation with other minds helps to open new channels, to encourage the mind to seek its path down different avenues, and amidst greater challenges.

We miss so much when we raise our voices to be heard, or when we plug ourselves in to listen to someone not human. Conversation teaches patience and acceptance, valuable lessons for those sorts of minds that have no qualms about challenge, activity, and honesty. Conversation also cements community, a word not much in vogue anymore, and rarely seen for what it means.

In Transit

[Picasso]

After a very social weekend in New Hampshire with family, I gratefully sunk into my solitary train seat and attempted to read through some of Emily Dickinson's poetry. I was thinking about how much I loved this line:


...Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.

When I began to pick up on the conversation in front of me. It was a young boy, probably between 8 and 10, talking to either his father or grandfather about an endless variety of topics. At first I mentally shelved it as chatter and thus disposable, but was re-interested as we passed the 125th St-Harlem exit.

The little boy interrupted his current of thought to ask if this was where the Harlem Renaissance took place.

He then proceeded, fantastically, to describe how he had learned about all sorts of artists, "like Aaron Douglas" who had been "a cubist painter." When asked to explain cubism, "Oh, you know, like with all sorts of geometric shapes." "I remember this one painting we saw, I don't remember the painter, but it was of this woman's face, but she only had one eye, and her face was cut in half and sort of sideways, like her nose was covering up the other half, and she was all different colors."

He then launched into a recitation of the developments in Chinese art tools as we ended our journey.
It made me quite happy to hear someone enjoy learning so much.

In Transit

[Picasso]

After a very social weekend in New Hampshire with family, I gratefully sunk into my solitary train seat and attempted to read through some of Emily Dickinson's poetry. I was thinking about how much I loved this line:


...Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.

When I began to pick up on the conversation in front of me. It was a young boy, probably between 8 and 10, talking to either his father or grandfather about an endless variety of topics. At first I mentally shelved it as chatter and thus disposable, but was re-interested as we passed the 125th St-Harlem exit.

The little boy interrupted his current of thought to ask if this was where the Harlem Renaissance took place.

He then proceeded, fantastically, to describe how he had learned about all sorts of artists, "like Aaron Douglas" who had been "a cubist painter." When asked to explain cubism, "Oh, you know, like with all sorts of geometric shapes." "I remember this one painting we saw, I don't remember the painter, but it was of this woman's face, but she only had one eye, and her face was cut in half and sort of sideways, like her nose was covering up the other half, and she was all different colors."

He then launched into a recitation of the developments in Chinese art tools as we ended our journey.
It made me quite happy to hear someone enjoy learning so much.