One way I kept my unconventional sanity

I relied on writing poetry and fiction in my spare time as a discipline to counteract the conventions of newspaper editing, my professional career.

The job could feel quite dulling of any aesthetic awareness, and quite confining.

Still, some of the qualities between my vocation and avocation overlap, including an insistence on factual observation.

And now I’m free to focus more fully on my literary aspirations. Surprisingly, my focus has been on the fiction, rather than poetry. Could it be that without that dual tension of before, I can now steer a route between them?

How do you stay mentally sharp?

 

Magnetic center as a point of growth

I think it was in Peter Ouspensky’s writing that I came across the concept. He argued that having a foundation in  an activity that requires patience and long training is essential for anyone hoping to grow in spirituality.

Simply put, practicing an art, a sport, a craft, a trade, or the like provides the stamina for personal religious enhancement. He called it the magnetic center.

It’s not a passive pleasure but rather active, with deferred gratification in terms of results. It requires doing something for its own nature rather than some final event or production, even though such things might provide inspiration. What’s important is the means itself rather than the end.

These other activities aren’t a substitute for spiritual progress, which can come about by undertaking any number of tested traditions, but it does offer a solid starting point.

Maybe there are exceptions, but I still find it an interesting insight.

What do you love to do as a disciplined practice?

 

Trying to deal with a foreign language

When we have foreign guests staying with us, I have to watch is the need to speak slower and more distinctly. (Well, that’s obviously on hold during the Covid outbreak, though we have heard from one back in China assuring us she’s fine.) The exchanges can start to sound comical, even before I face the difficult challenge of using smaller words. Me? Smaller words? Look, we have more than 200,000 in the English language for a reason!

You can imagine our situation when they’re Chinese students here for a month or so as they volunteer at ono-profits internships. Somehow, shorter visits just don’t seem to rise to the more complex communications.

~*~

My daily Spanish lessons raise the translation issues from an opposite direction, but I think I’ve crossed an important threshold there, one that goes beyond vocabulary.

Have you noticed how a spoken language becomes a musical line rather than individual words? My wife remembers her shock learning that “come on” was two words, not one, as in “cumon.”

When the Duolingo voice tells me, “Type what you hear,” I know to write what I’m supposed to hear rather than what I actually encounter at fast speed.

You could say that in common usage our sentences lose all of the spaces between words. In Spanish I sometimes notice this more as a rhythm across where a word should be between two other words rather than hearing that word or even a letter itself.

Somethinglikethispoorexample.

Rather. Than. Some. Thing. Like. This.

I’m also noticing that the endings of some words are vanishing, as they do in so much French, especially a final “s.”

Must happen in English, too, ‘cept we just take it for granted and naturally fill in the meaning.

Now, as for all of those hearing-aid solicitations I keep getting in the mail? I doubt they’d help my Spanish any.

What do you have to say here? (Please type slowly and distinctly.)

Sandals on men

When you see sandals on an American man, thank a beatnik.

In the 1950s, it would have been nearly unthinkable for a man to dress that comfortably.

Really, we were that uptight.

Now?

They’re everywhere.

At least in summer.

Remember, where I live, we get snow – lots of it, some years.

Can’t blame a beatnik for that.

Do we really mean the same thing?

I’ve had to learn the hard way that a word can mean something quite dissimilar for two people. Sometimes it’s based on assumptions or misunderstandings. Sometimes, on deliberate deception.

Either way, one person can be deeply injured by the outcome.

Take “I love you” as an example.

A used car is in “perfect condition.”

“I’ll be right there.”

In the hippie era, we had a raft of phrases that glossed over differences – “Hey, I’m cool with that,” “Don’t hassle me,” “I dig,” “Chill out.” Meaning?

It comes up especially with “God” or even “peace.”

There are plenty of other examples, some of them keeping lawyers in business.

What’s one from your own experience?

 

Why settle on one explanation?

In developing sections of The Secret Side of Jaya, a novel upcoming this fall, I found myself applying a technique I’d developed in a genealogical project. There, as I had conflicting accounts regarding a specific instance or detail, rather than trying to lean toward one over the other, I let them all stand in contrast to each other. Sometimes there were two sources, sometimes three, each seeing a person or event quite differently.

It makes me recall the way forest fires are located from lookout towers. Each observer has a horizontal azimuth for determining the direction of the fire from the tower. Once two other lookouts can zero in on the plume of smoke or the flames, the position can be triangulated on a map and forest firefighters dispatched. My technique resembles looking along that line and seeing what comes in front of the fire and what lies beyond.

By acknowledging the different observers in my stories and histories, I also allow for the wider terrain and error in positions. (The smoke might be rising from an unseen valley or be blown by wind.) In these applications, I feel the alternatives make for a richer, more lifelike story.

Well, that’s how it looks from here.

More than colorful pins stuck on the wall map

Wow, I really have been all over the map in getting to here. That’s what’s stirred up as I look at the range of experiences reflected in my novels and poetry as well as here at the Barn. That ‘scape has covered a childhood in the Midwest, college in a Big Ten school, an inner city ghetto during my hippie years and then the farms that followed, as well as desert and mountains, more Midwest and then Baltimore, along with my first marriage and some wild romances, and finally New England and my little city farm here.

Sometimes I wind up feeling dizzy. Those pins and needles are all over the place.

Are you one of the lucky ones who got to stay put?

 

Finally hitting ‘real’ time

In this self-isolation during our Covid-19 outbreak, I no longer have weekly Meeting for Worship, regular committees or social gatherings, rehearsals, or daily indoor lap swimming to define my daily schedule. Even for an introvert like me, their absence can be disconcerting.

It does alter my awareness of aligning myself with the outside world. I mean, it’s been ages since I’ve watched television, so knowing what’s on any particular night is irrelevant.

What happens is an alternate awareness.

For example:

It was Saturday afternoon, no doubt in my mind.

No, it’s Friday, my wife asserted.

No, it’s Saturday. I had the number of the date in my head, thanks to the little numerals in the corner of my laptop screen earlier in the day. But the name of the day didn’t register. A Saturday would explain the number of people I encountered out on the trail in the woods along the Isinglass River.

Back home, ready to prove my wife wrong, I turned to the wall calendar. The date fell under a Friday, not a Saturday. How could that be?

The jolt left me feeling a bit wobbly. You know, Rip van Winkle mode. I felt I’d lost a day, like a pair of missing socks, maybe. Well, actually, I had gained one, but it didn’t feel like finding a 20-dollar bill. Something still felt hollow.

But then, something also felt healthy, as in being more fully focused on the little things I’m taking on.

It’s been a long time since I experienced that, probably nearly a half century, back when I was living in the yoga ashram, distanced from the daily affairs of society. There, every day was full and special. Yes, we had some connection with the weekly calendar – guests arriving and departing on the weekends, especially – but there were few other demands that required knowing the names of the days. Instead, it was more Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday.

I came to consider that living in “real” time, rather than externally defined hours and days and their nights.

So here we are. Yes, I still need to consult my weekly planner. No escaping that.

And my daily to-do lists remain important.

I know things will change when we all get back to normal, whatever that will be at the time. The fact remains that what we’re encapsulated in now is unique.

I’d love to take a train ride but …

My wife mentioned that she’s seeing a lot of deals from Amtrak, and that had me thinking how overdue I am for a trip on the Downeaster to Boston or the other way up to Portland, Maine, or beyond. As a senior, I even get to ride at half-price.

Of course, Covid-19 came into the picture, and I started flashing through the factors.

If the train’s not crowded, I’d have plenty of social distance. I could also carry hand sanitizer and even wear my colorful homemade mask to reduce risk of exposure.

I’ve been wanting to go to a Boston Symphony concert, finally see their new music director in action, but then I paused, realizing all of those concerts have been cancelled.

My considerations moved on to a visit at Harvard’s famed Fogg art museum, which had reopened after extensive renovations. Well, reopened is the wrong word. For the time being, it’s closed again. Hope the renovations hold.

Ditto, too, for a fine meal, maybe even in the North End’s Little Italy a few blocks from North Station. Forget that during the coronavirus shutdowns.

So it looks like that getaway is off, maybe till autumn? Or sometime next year?

This is getting boring. Or something like that.

A big city and its stretch of influence

A major metropolis has a gravitational pull that reaches far beyond its city limits and suburbs. Actually, this can affect various fields quite differently.

Manhattan, for instance, holds sway over classical music and opera across the entire continent. Most soloists have an apartment there, as do many conductors who also reside in the cities whose orchestras they lead. It’s all about connections.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, has the movie industry, thanks to Hollywood, and Nashville is the nation’s country-music capital.

And Washington, as the center of national government, is always in the headlines.

You get the picture.

Across the country, smaller clusters appear. State capitals, of course, are one focus as they span all the communities in the state – and this often includes much larger cities. Again, consider Albany, miniscule in comparison to the Big Apple, or Harrisburg in between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Chicago’s long reach over the meat industry is another, or the Twin Cities’ impact on the grain industry. Think of Toledo, Ohio, with glass, Detroit with the automotive world, or Pittsburgh with steel.

In fact, the economic pull and push of a city is a fascinating topic of investigation. The money that powers the place has to come from somewhere – as do the materials that supply it. In turn, the city has to sell its goods and services somewhere. It’s a matter of balancing what comes in with what goes out, in more ways than one.

So business and finance are defining elements. Again, Wall Street’s role in corporate investment gives New York national prominence, but other cities have similar impact.

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