Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dislocations and Relocations

I've been working a lot on nomadic and sedentary cultures of Central Eurasia for a course I've designed (here 'tis, if you're interested--it still has to go through the College approval process, but I'm hoping to offer it in Spring 2012).

As a result, I've gotten interested in a group of interrelated ideas on mobility, identity and community.  I'm also hoping to write a course that focuses on that.

As part of this process, I've been researching The Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation from tribal lands in northern Georgia to territories in eastern Oklahoma during the 1830s. 

Throughout the eighteenth century, the U.S. government had treated the Cherokee Nation as if it were an independent entity, but not a foreign nation, per se.  All agreements between the two had existed in the form of treaties that overtly recognized the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation.

With the establishment of the state of Georgia, however, problems arose: the Cherokee Nation occupied land that the state of Georgia wanted to give to its residents in a land-lottery, to encourage settlement and expansion. 

Georgia claimed that it could exercise the right of discovery, inherited from the time when the territory was a colony of England, to assert jurisdiction over the Cherokee Nation.

According to the agreement between the U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation, however, the state of Georgia could only acquire land from the Cherokee Nation if it was sold to the U.S. government and then conferred to the state. 

Under the terms of the agreement, the Cherokee Nation had the right to refuse to sell their land to the federal government, and there was no way they could be forced to do so.

The state of Georgia therefore began a process of extensive harassment and coercion, designed to force the Cherokee Nation to voluntarily leave the territory.  The federal government, under Andrew Jackson, did little to stop the state's efforts, and in fact encouraged a policy of removal and relocation, despite the fact that the terms of the treaties between the U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation stipulated that the federal government was obliged to protect the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation.

By failing to fulfill the U.S. government's responsibilities toward the Cherokee Nation, it could be argued that the President was failing to fulfill his Constitutional obligation to execute the laws and treaties of the United States. 

In 1831, a Cherokee man was arrested by the state of Georgia for the murder of another Cherokee man, a crime committed within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation.  The murderer was subsequently convicted under the laws of the state of Georgia and ordered put to death. 

Attorneys for the Cherokee Nation filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, but despite a subpoena requiring his appearance before the bench, the Governor of Georgia convened a special session of the legislature, which decided to ignore the federal subpoena and proceed with the hanging.

Several days after the execution, attorneys for the Cherokee Nation filed the landmark Cherokee Nation v. Georgia.

An interesting point arose in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia: what exactly was the status of the Cherokee Nation?  Was it a "foreign state" as well as a "sovereign nation"?  If so, Georgia had no right to assert jurisdiction over it. 

If not, was it simply subject to the laws of the state of Georgia or was it somehow different, given the terms of the treaties between the U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation?

In delivering the opinion of the Court, Chief Justice John Marshall recognized the dilemma without solving it: he asserted that the Cherokee Nation was a "domestic dependent nation"--a kind of "ward" under the guardianship of the United States government.

I've also been researching Executive Order 9066. 

In case you're unfamiliar with Executive Order 9066, this poster represents its the most effective statement (images may be subject to copyright):

And this image represents its consequences:

Nations define themselves in terms of their borders, but what is particularly interesting to me is what happens when nations define themselves in opposition to groups of individuals (in many cases, actual citizens) residing within their interior--as was the case in the many Native American Relocations and in the Japanese American Incarceration in the 1940s.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Serendipity Or, Cause and Effect

Sometimes, timing is everything.

Around the time that Glenn Beck began suggesting that the uprisings in Egypt were sowing the seeds of a future Islamic caliphate, I just happened to be reading Ferdowsi's The Shahnameh.

Written in 900 C.E., Ferdowsi's poem is a lengthy and imaginative retelling of the history of the kings of Iran (Persia) prior to the Muslim conquest of the Sassanid Empire circa 650.

The poem was commissioned during the course of the first native Persian dynasty to rule after the establishment of the Arab caliphate.  The Samanids promoted both the revival of native Persian culture and the spread of Sunni Islam--The Shahnameh is perhaps the best-known product of that effort. 

So when Beck said, "They want a caliphate. Look it up... don't talk to me about crazy conspiracy theories," my immediate reaction was, "I have looked it up, actually."

Have you?

This is a trend that I find particularly disturbing in the debates raging and swirling on the Internet and Facebook: the insistent charge to "look it up."

It's like a train wreck.  No matter how disgusted and horrified I am, I can't look away.

I spend a lot of time looking things up, actually.  It's my job to teach people how to look things up and how to analyze and synthesize what they find, in order to formulate their own opinions and questions.

That way, they can completely disagree with me in a way that I find interesting and thought-provoking. 

"Looking it up" is not what Beck and others out there on You Tube and Facebook and wherever are doing.

I'm not saying they're "making it up," although some of them are no doubt doing that as well.  But at the most basic level, they misunderstand the way in which persuasive arguments involving cause and effect are created and defended.

This bothers me a lot.  People need to be smarter than that.

When I teach causal arguments, I emphasize the fact that broad-based similarities do not necessarily prove a causal relationship--or even a basic connection--between two events.

I use the following example: you walk into my house, my favorite armchair is white.  My kitchen table is also white, and the towels in my bathroom are white.

You conclude, "She likes the color white.  She prefers white.  Given the choice, she'll choose something white."

Except that, if you asked me, "Is white your favorite color?", I'd look puzzled.  Because it's not.  Not at all.

My armchair is white because it was on sale and the alternative color choice was purple.  My kitchen table was on sale, but only if you bought it in white.  My mom gave me my bathroom towels: they're white because I accidentally ruined the set I had when I was using clindamycin.

So you'd be more correct if you concluded, "She's cheap and not very bright sometimes."

But you couldn't tell that just by looking at the broad similarities between the items in my house, and if you stuck to the conclusion that I love the color white, you'd be wrong.

You just would.  Because "looking at it" and "looking it up" are not the same thing. 

Events have contexts, and those contexts are often quite complex.  Taking an incident out of its context and setting it alongside of another (seemingly similar) event (also taken out of context) may looking quite compelling: See, they're both alike! It's happening again!

But in fact, it's just crappy reasoning.

In the 14th century, the Franciscan friar, William of Ockham, proposed what is known as "Occam's (Ockham's) Razor."

Occam's Razor advocates simplicity as a measure of plausibility: "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily."  (In Latin, "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate.")

While the principle of Occam's Razor is not mean to be definitive, it can work to curb overly imaginative excursions in argument.

In most conspiracy theories, simplicity is replaced by a tortuous chain of allegedly compelling interconnections between (usually distant) events, ideas and peoples.  

So although Beck claims he's not putting forward a conspiracy theory, the connections he makes circumvent simplicity: Islamic extremists are collaborating with leftists and Communists are collaborating with the Islamic extremists who are collaborating with the leftists.

So clearly, all of them are promoting chaos and looking to destroy Western capitalism and if you look at the revolution in Egypt, you'll see proof of this.  It's obviously a Muslim caliphate-in-the-making.

Look it up.

Or, people in Egypt were tired of an oppressive government.  They united to express their dissatisfaction, and their unity ended up having an impact on the shape of the world at large.

Hey, wait a minute.  That sounds kinda familiar...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Paper Before the Poem"

"Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem."

I reread Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street Sunday night.  Twenty-five years after its initial publication in 1984, Cisneros wrote an introduction describing the time when she was writing the novel and the process of adjusting to--and growing to love--the experience of living alone.

"As a girl, she dreamed about having a silent home, just to herself, the way other women dreamed of their weddings."

To live alone, as a woman, is an endless adventure and a constant justification.  It has a resonance that living alone never has for a man. 

Because you're alone, people assume you're always a little lonely.  People assume you're always a little afraid.   

And sometimes you are.  But often you're not.  Not at all, in fact.

Looking at a photo of herself from 1980, Cisneros asks,
"What is the woman in the photograph afraid of?  She's afraid of walking from her parked car to her apartment in the dark.  She's afraid of the scuffling sounds in the walls.  She's afraid she'll fall in love and get stuck living in Chicago.  She's afraid of ghosts, deep water, rodents, night, things that move too fast--cars, airplanes, her life.  She's afraid she'll have to move back home again if she isn't brave enough to live alone."
I remember how, after my house was robbed one night while I was asleep upstairs, I worried that I wouldn't be able to live alone anymore. 

I was afraid to go downstairs after dark.  I woke up in the middle of the night, afraid.

I thought about moving in with friends for a while, until the fear was gone.  But then I wondered, "What if it never goes away?"

I wondered who I would be, if I couldn't live alone.

I knew that sooner or later, I would have to come home.  And that for me, living alone was always being home.

So, in the middle of the night, every night, I got up and dragged a huge trunk across the floor to block my bedroom door.  I did it until I stopped waking up afraid.

When a friend comments, "You live here ... alone?... How did you do it?", Cisneros replies,
"I did it by doing the things I was afraid of doing so that I would no longer be afraid.  Moving away to go to graduate school.  Traveling abroad alone.  Earning my own money and living by myself.  Posing as an author when I was afraid...".
It's a cultural residue that still lingers with us, the idea that a frightened woman should simply accept the fear, find a safehaven, a protector, a retreat. 

Let someone else handle the finances, the business, the "serious stuff."  Get advice.  Follow it.  Get a job, but then fall in Love.  Get married.  It's all you can do.  It's all you have.

Except that there are no safehavens, no protectors, no retreats.  Jobs are just jobs, but love isn't always Love, in the end. 

And not all advice is good advice. 

This is life, what Dorothy Parker cynically characterizes in "Coda" as "This living, this living, this living."  This is the life that you have.  And there is always more that you can do, always.

Reading The House on Mango Street again on Sunday night, I thought about where I was the first time I read it and I thought of all of the spaces I've occupied since then--apartments, houses, rooms.  I thought of all of the places I've been since then--Moscow, Providence, San Francisco, Paris, Lisbon, London. 

I never knew I was that brave, and I never felt very brave.  I ignored a lot of good advice along the way.

As Mary-Chapin Carpenter sings, "We've got two lives, one we're given and the other one we make." 

So take what is given, and make it into something more.

And then come back.  As the old women tell Esperanza in The House on Mango Street, "When you leave you must remember to come back for the others.  A circle, understand?"

"You must remember to come back.  For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Random Week

This week was my favorite kind of week, intellectually.

Sometimes I read and think about a single writer or issue, and sometimes I'm all over the map.  This week, I was all over the map.

I finished reading Sherry Turkle's book, Alone Together.  I really liked her comments about why we shouldn't think of our addiction to technology as an addiction to technology at all.  In her words, "If there is an addiction here, it is ... to the habits of mind that technology allows us to practice" (288).

She also had a great observation: "Loneliness is failed solitude."  I've often tried to figure out why, although I'm often alone, I'm never lonely.  Apparently, I'm a success at solitude.  Go me.

I'm going to read her earlier work, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (1997) next.

I found out a little bit about The Center for Public Integrity.  Unlike The Tea Party, which is 9/10ths uninformed vitriol and 1/10th complete misinformation, The Center for Public Integrity is a nonpartisan organization that supports investigative journalism designed to "make institutional power more transparent and accountable."

I'm sure someone out there has just clicked the link and is already screaming "liberal" and "progressive," but that's not my problem.

I finished reading Daniel Gardner's The Science of Fear.  Some interesting observations about the media and the pharmaceutical industry that I may end up blogging about some day.  Just a warning.

I started reading a 16th-century novel from South Asia by Pingali Surana: The Sound of the Kiss Or, The Story That Must Never Be Told.

I'm still working my way through Ferdowsi's, The Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings.  I read parts of it long ago, in grad. school, but I need to get back to it for the course I'm designing on literary and oral traditions in Central Eurasia. 

Next I need to learn about Persian miniatures.

In the meantime, though, The Shahnameh is a pretty interesting 10th-century text, with lots of food for thought about government, monarchy and father-son relationships.  It'll be fun to teach, I think.

On that note, I actually watched a clip of myself teaching class.  A segment of TCNJ MyWay was filmed in my Dostoevsky class last fall.  It's on the TCNJ homepage now. 

My on-screen appearance lasts several nanoseconds, which is exactly as much as I can bear to watch of myself on film. 

I think I'm reading from The Brothers Karamazov in the clip, and I seem to be enjoying it quite a bit (even if no one else is).  This is good, because I do enjoy reading The Brothers Karamazov.  

So this means that my on-screen portrayal of myself as a reader of Dostoevsky is "honest." 

All in all, it's been a good week.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Even More Stuff

I pity my future caregivers.

As you can probably tell by now, I've grown a bit jaded about the medical establishment and its approach to (or avoidance of) quality-of-life issues.

Don't get me wrong: I am totally in favor of the advances of modern medicine.  When you think about the fact that, a little over a hundred years ago, the solution to most medical problems would be whiskey, amputation and/or luck, we've come a very, very, very long way.

And that's a good thing.

But at the same time, I think our mentality hasn't kept pace with our technology.

I remember how, when my mom was consulting with a surgeon and expressed her concern about the extent of the surgeries being proposed and the possible recovery time she'd be facing, he told her about the wonders of this new vacuum dressing system they have.

Instead of stitches, they leave you with a massive open wound and then they just vacuum it out on a regular basis.

It actually sounds amazing.  Wounds heal in half the time they normally would.

The surgeon was a bit disappointed that my mom wasn't immediately relieved or even excited about this option.  He looked so crestfallen that I finally had to tell him, "It really does sound amazing.  But I think that, if you were facing the prospect of having it installed in a massive open wound that someone had recently carved into your own chest, you wouldn't be all that excited about it either."

He admitted that I had a point.

Last night, my friend and I were talking about her son's future treatment.  They're giving him "a month off" right now, and then they'll install a port so that he can receive IV chemotherapy treatments every two weeks, along with a monthly dose of antibiotics (to ward off a particular type of pneumonia commonly associated with the chemo drug he'll be on).

The last time they gave him the IV antibiotics, his blood pressure dropped and he nearly passed out, so they want to "administer them more slowly from now on."

She was told that the installation of the port was a very simple procedure, but then of course they had to inform her of the risks.

Lung punctures.  Acute infections.  Arterial bleeds.  As they put it, "just some things to be aware of."

As she put it to me, "Just a few more things to add to my List of Things to Think About Right Now."

Her mom's comment was, "I don't think they told your dad all of that before they put his port in.  He just showed up and they did it.  I had no idea.  I don't think we needed to get all of that detail since, when you get right down to it, saying 'no' isn't really an option."

It reminded me of how my mom was told, last winter, that she needed to "do her best" on the lung function test prior to surgery, because if she failed it, they couldn't do the surgery.

As my mom stared at the cardio-vascular surgeon in disbelief, I chimed in, "Yeah, Mom.  Do your best.  Try to get an 'A.'  Otherwise, they might not do this 10-hr. surgery they've got lined up for you--you know, where they permanently remove your sternum and replace it with the muscles from your upper back."

As my mom told the surgeon, "My lungs are my lungs, and they're over 70 years old at this point.  I'm sorry, but in this case, what you see is what you get."

My friend told me that they took her on the tour of the "nice open space" they have set up for the IV chemotherapy.  Since you often have to be there for several hours, they've set it up so that you can watch a movie or play Wii while you receive your chemo.

I asked her, "Do they have a mini-bar and a bong?  Because that's what I'd be looking for, quite frankly."

She said, "Well, you know, they didn't mention it, but maybe I should poke around a bit and see what's available..."

My first thought was, if I were receiving IV chemo and someone challenged me to a couple of rounds on the Wii, the impulse to say "ram it up your ass" would be absolutely overwhelming.

And then I tried to imagine sitting in a nice open space watching other people hooked to IVs and playing Wii.

And I started to realize that, you know, it might not be a bad time to catch "Scarface," if they have it.

I've never seen it, after all, and it seems like everyone else has...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Valentine

In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf claims, "We think through our mothers if we are women."

When I told this to a friend of mine, her immediate response was, "Oh Jesus."

I said, "Yeah.  You know, I think Virginia Woolf's mother died when Woolf was like, eleven, or something."

To which my friend replied, "That explains it."

In a few weeks, it will be exactly one year since my mom died.  So that means that, last year at this time, I was clinically insane.

I've talked about this issue with several friends of mine.  Our moms were tough.  It was a different generation, and a very different time.

One friend said, "We don't have what they have.  They were tough.  They just did it, because they had to.  We'd collapse under what they went through."

My best friend was recently thinking through her grandmother as she struggled to make sense of her son's brain cancer.

Her grandmother's husband died of a brain tumor when he wasn't very old.  She had already had a daughter who had to be institutionalized.  

During another pregnancy, the cord became wrapped around the fetus' neck and it died.

She was only five months pregnant at the time.  She did what they did back then: she carried the child to term, knowing that when she gave birth, it would be stillborn.

And yet, my friend said, "You'd never know she'd been through all that.  She was always the kindest, most upbeat person you'd ever want to meet."

The only hint, she said, came in photographs. When she was younger, she had always wondered why her grandmother's friends were all so much younger than she was.  But then she realized that they weren't.  They were all the same age.

Her grandmother just looked twenty years older than they did.

Nothing was ever talked about.  No one went to therapy. You just lived it, you got through it somehow, and you endured.

My mom grew up poor.  Her father was a migrant farm hand for much of my mom's childhood.  He eventually took a job in a factory, so that she and her brothers could stay in the same school for more than a year at a time.

She said my grandfather always said the Great Depression wasn't so bad, if you never had anything to start with.

When she went to school, a teacher had to explain to her that you need to brush your teeth every day.  She had "trench-mouth," because both of her parents had already lost all of their teeth by the time they were in their early twenties.

She said, "We used to take a bath once a week, whether we needed it or not."

My mom wanted to go to Julliard, but she decided to study French at Middlebury College.  She taught high school until she married, and unlike most women of her generation, she didn't get married until she was thirty.

As she said, "Everyone had given up on me.  But I knew.  They didn't know."

When I was 25, she took me aside and gave me some jewelry I had been asking for since I was 18.  I had given up asking for it, since she had made it clear I wasn't getting it anytime soon.

She told me, "I remember that it was hard to be 25.  Everyone was getting married, and I had no one.  I couldn't imagine that my life would be what it is today."

Then she said, "You know, I would rather die knowing that you'll never be married then have to sit through Christmas dinner with some... guy... and know that you're unhappy, or, worse yet, that he's cheating on you and everyone knows it.  You don't deserve that.  I would never want to see that."

She said, "There are all kinds of ways of being happy.  Being married isn't the only way."

Dylan Thomas would have been proud.  My mom did not "go gentle into that good night."  If "old age should burn and rave at close of day" and "rage, rage against the dying of the light," my mom definitely did both.

A year later, I can appreciate that.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Still Just Stuff

My best friend's son finished his first round of radiation and chemo yesterday: he's been going 5 days a week for 6 weeks, for a total of 31 treatments. 


My friend and I were talking the other night about how he has refused to do anything about his hair.  It's falling out in patches, it was cut into a reverse-mohawk last fall for the surgery, and it's getting long in some spots.

As she put it, "It looks like he has the mange.  People try not to stare.  Children just plain stare."

And he couldn't care less.  He doesn't want the long parts cut because they're "keeping his head warm in that spot."  He doesn't want to wear a hat either, though.

As I told my friend, "If he doesn't care, then none of us sure as hell should."

She told me about an odd trend.  When people see him, they can tell immediately what has happened to him--if they're not sure about what's specifically wrong with him, they can still form a pretty good guess. 

If they ask him outright, he'll tell them: "I have brain cancer."

Oddly enough, if they're in a store, they'll frequently offer to buy him something.  Everyone gives him things: money, gift cards, Legos, toys, candy.  It hasn't stopped when Christmas ended.

I've thought a lot about this.  At first, I thought it was an understandable gesture: people feel helpless, so they want to do something, anything.

As the trend has continued, though, I've become a bit more skeptical about it.  While I don't question the goodness of everyone's intentions, I'm not sure I really like the gesture, ultimately.

In Albert Camus' The Plague, one of the pivotal scenes of the novel revolves around the death of a child.  When the city of Oran is quarantined because of an outbreak of bubonic plague, Dr. Bernard Rieux is forced to make numerous difficult decisions (to put it mildly).

As Rieux and the other citizens and doctors in Oran struggle against the mounting death-toll, they decide to try out a potential vaccine.  The Mayor grants them permission to test it on his eight-year-old son, who is already dying of the plague.

The vaccine doesn't work, and the child dies in agony.  All the treatment essentially does, in the end, is prolong his suffering.

As the child dies, Rieux, his friend Jean Tarrou, the Mayor and the priest, Father Paneloux, watch helplessly.  Prior to this point, Father Paneloux has repeatedly and sanctimoniously suggested that the plague is an act of God, designed to punish the citizens for their sinfulness.

After witnessing the boy's death, Rieux asks Father Paneloux if he still believes that the plague is an act of God, designed to punish the sinful.  When he preaches his next sermon, Paneloux addresses the problem that the undeserved suffering of an innocent child poses for people of faith:  in that moment, they must either believe everything or deny everything.

The suffering of a child allows for no half-measures in an individual's existential understanding.

Paneloux can offer no solution, of course.  He simply encourages everyone, believers and non-believers alike, to do everything in their power to fight the plague. 

Even though we can never know positively which is correct--faith or disbelief--the struggle against suffering always has inherent meaning and value.

But nowhere in The Plague is it suggested that the problem of a suffering child can (or should) be assuaged by offering to buy him toys and candy.

Which isn't to say that a suffering child shouldn't have toys and candy.  But what disturbs me about all of the offers to buy him things (some of them from total strangers), all of the gift-cards, and the many, many presents, is that these gestures seem to me to be designed to help the givers feel better about what is happening to him.

And we shouldn't ever feel better--or even okay--about that.  That's the struggle: to take the full measure of what human suffering means.   

I think the gift-givers want to avoid feeling the full emotional impact of our collective helplessness in the face of a child's suffering.  I can't blame them.

One woman told me, "Well, I believe all things come from God."  I smiled politely and said, "Okay..." (after all, she had brought us all scalloped potatoes and ham for supper), but I mentally added, "I don't." 

She then said, "I believe God will take care of all of this, if we just pray hard enough."  Again, I smiled politely and mentally added, "I don't, Father Paneloux."

I think it's not always supposed to be about finding a way to make yourself feel better. 

Some questions are just plain painful to consider.  The fact that there is no answer to them makes it even worse.

We need to feel that.  Which isn't to say we wallow in despair or accept or even glorify our own helplessness.  But to look away, to existentially swerve, to try to drown the situation in pleasantries and pleasant things--like gifts and prayers and Legos--while understandable, is... well, simply the wrong answer to a very serious and ultimately unanswerable question, in my opinion.

Who am I to say that someone else's pain is too much for me to bear, simply because I can't find a reason for it? 

I think of the words spoken by Virginia Woolf's character in the film, "The Hours": "To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face, and to know it for what it is."

Since I found out this news, I can't count how many times I've imagined simply driving my car into the middle of a big, empty field, so that I can sit and pound the steering wheel and wail.

Ever since he died, I've developed a habit of talking to my dad when I have a problem I need to think through, so that he can help me figure out what I should do.

The other night, I found myself asking him, "Why is this happening to us?   If you know, please tell me.  I know you would help me if you could."

And then I picked up the phone and called my friend and said, "Hey.  How are you?"

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Long Ago Flares Into Colors of Autumn": The Poetry of Li Po

It's always a good day when I find someone new and interesting to read and read about.

I'm working on the literature of Central Asia for a course I'm designing, and I spent the morning reading the poetry of Li Po, the "Banished Immortal." (All of the citations that follow are from The Selected Poems of Li Po, tr. David Hinton, New Directions Press, 1996).

Li Po was born in 701 A.D. in northern Kyrgyztan, and died in 762 (according to some sources, he fell into the Yangtze and drowned while attempting to embrace the moon). 

His poetry has been enormously influential, both in Asia and in the West--the modernist poet Ezra Pound translated several of his works.

Li Po's poetry is really beautiful and interesting, even in translation.  His use of imagery and his celebration of tzu-jan or "spontaneity," make his poems both strikingly immediate, as well as intellectually and emotionally complex.
Flowers bloom in spring wind.  They never refuse.
And trees never resent leaf-fall in autumn skies.
No one could whip the turning seasons along so fast:
the ten thousand things rise and fall of themselves.
Li Po frequently celebrates drunkenness as an essential component of poetic spontaneity and, in an era marked by numerous invasions and political turmoil, it is perhaps not surprising that his poetry strives to embody the idea of wu-wei, or the ability to live with earthly change as part of self-spontaneity.
...slice water with a knife, and water still flows,
empty a winecup to end grief, and grief remains grief... 
His poems often address the effects of wandering, exile and travel, and he is known for his innovation in the forms of yueh-fu (folk-song) and t'zu (a popular form of song originating in Central Asia), both of which enabled him to employ the figure of the lower-class speaker as a means of reflecting political discontent.  
...Spring now green, you lie in empty woods,
still sound asleep under a midday sun,

your robes growing lucid in pine winds,
rocky streams rinsing ear and heart clean.

No noise, no confusion--all I want is
this life pillowed high in emerald mist.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My People, Or, The Company We Keep

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "What you are comes to you."

I was thinking of this as I was looking at the latest gossip headlines about Sandra Bullock in the checkout aisle at the Stop N Shop today. 

Like everyone else, I succumb to the lure of celebrity gossip culture and feel quite certain that Sandy is better off without that tattooed bastard who took up with some skanky piece of scooter-trash while Sandra was accepting her Academy Award and happily filling out paperwork to adopt a sweet little baby.

I mean, really.  Talk about a dumbass.  (Him, I mean, not her.)

In a sense, I think people assume that we always regret the loss of anyone we once cared about, no matter how repulsive or unethical or annoying (or whatever) they may have ultimately turned out to be. 

I think that this is always our initial reaction, but it's a reaction that is ultimately quite fleeting, if we let it go.

Life isn't just about the plot, it's about the characters.  You can't predict what will happen or how, and sometimes, all you can do is make the best of the situation that's in front of you.  Some days you do, some days you don't.

But you can always choose the characters in your life-story. 

One day, after getting an eyeful on Facebook, I called my best friend up, described what I had witnessed, and breathlessly concluded, "I just can't kid myself anymore.  These aren't my people.  I have people.  I don't need these people."

It may seem like it's not all that important who hangs around in our lives, but it is. 


On the drive home from the supermarket, as I contemplated Sandra Bullock's future, I heard the wisdom of Lee Ann Womack twang in my ear: "Don't let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter."

There are a lot of hell-bent hearts out there.  If you keep them around and what you are comes to you, then  they'll think you're their people. 

And the next thing you know, you are.