Life rarely goes straight forward. Generally speaking, I’d like it to. I’m a planner and I really don’t care to have my plans interrupted. By this time, you’d think I’d know that thing about life: it just isn’t linear–at least not in a straight forward sort of way.
Thinking about happiness today, and just what it is really. Many many people think that life is about finding happiness, about being happy. Think about happiness as something to be found, as if it hides under a rock or, more often, resides in a specific other person or persons. Think about happiness as the effect of a cause, but a cause outside oneself.
Perhaps central to the disassociation of our times is our disassociation from one another. Family is no longer a centripetal force. Nor is community. In fact, community–where you can see, hear, or touch has been co–opted by technology. Now we hear and see though our various devices and even touch has become sterile–perhaps to the demise of the human race.
When women devalue men, of course men will devalue women. Men may find solace in dolls. Women, apparently, prefer to find solace in metphors for anger–some, in real anger. What are children to think?
Children, after all, really do come in two sexes. Boys really do need good men as role models. Girls really do need good women. Neither particularly need to be modeled by a society that pretty much devalues normal human relations. A fabricated society is not a society; nor is it ‘civilized’ as in a civilization.
It is a trope. There is nothing literal, nothing real, about relationships that devolve into the realm of the artificial. Worse, there is nothing that can be sustained.
Steinbeck had it right: if you can’t see or hear or touch, you may have commercial relationships, you may have memories of earlier times when relationships were central to the life you were living, you may even have developed a habitual inclination to artificially connect, but your real life is comprised of the things you do every day and the people you interact with everyday–those you can see and hear and touch.
It is a sadness, the fact that life moves on in a continuum of change leaving us with memories when change takes people, places, things, and activities from us. But there is no happiness in living on memories.
Nor is there happiness living in the fantasy land of technology. There may, for some, be wealth, but health? Depends, I suppose on how one defines it.
© 2018 M L S Baisch
My friend, Christine, mentioned neurotheology this morning – something I’ve thought about, but not put a name to. Obviously, writers, most of us who call ourselves writers I imagine, know that when we turn loose of our minds, words come from somewhere inside–from a place, or perhaps from a knowledge, that wasn’t known to us consciously.
Below is a quote from an article in the Atlantic (by Lynne Blumberg, Jun 5 2014, link below).
“When practitioners surrender their will, activity decreases in their frontal lobes, suggesting that speech is being generated from some place other than the normal speech centers.”
The writing experience is simply that. When words flow free to the page–and writing is a form of speech, speech a form of thought–they flow from this place.
I’ve long recognized writing–not all writing, obviously, not letters, not even this post, but what most likely call creative writing–to be a spiritual activity. When people say that religion is dead, or God is dead, it likely means these people have lost, or never have found, the capacity to surrender their will and commune from this other place.
Good writing comes from the place. The commercially-oriented writing market is, perhaps, probably, really killing God.
Sometimes something just catches my fancy, as did this worry wheel. Love this concept – a worry wheel that looks like a demented artist’s color wheel. How much nicer to have one’s worries organized and colorful!
I imagine that just the process of identifying, categorizing, and coloring every worrisome thought that flits through my mind would soon lead to hilarity.
I’m not particularly worried, though I have colorful things to worry about–I imagine we all have vibrant worries, pastel worries, dark worries, bright worries, lurking worries, silly worries, and also very real worries.
If I ever get around to coloring in my worries, I definitely plan to put the bright ones in the middle of the wheel. I can see that there’s something about bright central worries that makes the dark worries lurking on the outside less terrifying. No one can doubt that the dark worries are out there lurking. Not anyone with a television.
Gardens, though, are peaceful, and I spend many of my hours in the gardens. They are also a lot of work, especially this time of year. The dig here is about over–another week or two. It’s about time to be putting my gardens to bed. Cold weather is just around the corner, which is difficult to believe since it was at least 103 here today.
I’m ready for cool weather and another season. I seem to want to be picking up my paintbrushes, to be putting some words on blank pages with a story line that makes better sense than this post. My mind is getting playful again. Tis the season! The dig is coming to a close for another year.
M L S Baisch
Life goes on
Inside the ups,
Inside the downs;
Inside the frowns,
Inside the smiles,
Inside the truth,
Inside the guile.
Life goes quick:
As short as it is long;
As fast as decades slow;
As brief as winks and smiles;
As memories ebb and flow;
As wonders never cease
To grab, pull and release;
Or hold, to cuddle close
To fabricated truths.
Wherever Is life going?
Wherever does life go?
M L S Baisch © 2017
Photo: Rat in Snake river 4/2014 © M L S Baisch
To quote Van Gogh from a letter to his brother: “Principles are good and worth the effort only when they develop into deeds. . . . The great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together.”
Albert Handell – Lookout Point / Pastel
Whither Thou Goeth
Life, naughty life, thou sneeketh up on me. Thou bendeth
thy irresistible crooked finger and beckoneth me onward.
Thou maketh me to forget to wash my face
until my crusted eyes forget to see where my feet troddeth.
Thou stoppereth my ears until the birds sing silently through days
and the toads roam through my nights without croaking.
Thou forgeteth to have me remember to turn out the lights
and the oven and the faucet and the sound of my heart beating,
so that they burn brightly to spilleth out over the shadow of my days,
burneth the roast until it’s crispy, flood over the floor of the life
left to me, left with a dirty sink and stoppered-up with bloody veins.
Thou maketh me old when it’s wise I prefer to be.
Thou maketh me silly when I would have chosen carefree.
Thou maketh me forget everything save worries without end
and sorrows that come to stay like beggars with nowhere else to go.
Derelict, they burrow in, snuggle down but never sleep.
Famished, they eat me from the inside out.
Who knew that Forgetful would move in, take the stage and insist
on being cast as Worry, the starring role in the farewell performance?
Who knew, in the opening act, that the play would be at least
as tragic as comic, and that the finger that beckoneth was deadly serious?
M L S Baisch © 2017
A life swirls away day by day; it swifts away into a drain
of calendared days where only the night’s light
brings bird-songs–remembered trills coming from unknown
places, warbling from down there somewhere.
Somewhere where memories are the pitch pipe
for the choir. And the choir! Oh the remembered faces!
Unseen for a calendar of time, it rehearses for the underworld
premiere without me: but then I’m only to be a walk-on.
Up here in life, I’m still circling the drain, taking an occasional
peek into the cellar through the prism of a beating heart.
A life ticks off another day, until the starry night-song
begins again to keep regular time.
M L S Baisch © 2017
Photo: Art by Jacqueline van Leeuwenstein
Well, winter is over for sure. It’s definitely spring! Among other things, that means that I have piles and piles, stacks and stacks of books! They’re all over the place–on most every surface. I’m a reader. I buy them–on line and in book stores; I reread from things I keep on my shelves; I read for pleasure, for relaxation, for information, and probably out of habit: I just love to read.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of Nina Katchadourian. She’s an artist of an unusual stripe. And, I don’t know where or when, but she’s who introduced me to the concept of BOOK SPINE POETRY. So every time I get ready to actually make sense of my bookshelves that have been piled high, sort of in the order I’ve read them (no I don’t always read every single one from beginning to end when I take it from the shelf–some I do, some I eventually do, some I never so, and some just were never meant to be read that way in the first place).
BOOK SPINE POETRY, is simple. Interesting, too, because it reminds me what I’ve been thinking over the past months. These books are all on a chest close to where I read the most: in bed.
THE BAD BEGINNING
THE REPTILE ROOM
THE WIDE WINDOW
THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES
THE LIFE AND OPINION OF THE TOMCAT MURR
CHEKHOV-THE EVOLUTION OF HIS ART
CHEKHOV-THE COMPLETE PLAYS
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
ANTON CHEKHOV-(A BIOGRAPHY)
Sometimes the spines read like poetry all by themselves–sort of like the refrigerator magnets where one can simply juxtaposition words. This pile, not so much.
I’ll make it a poem:
From a bad beginning
the reptile room could be seen
through the wide window,
where people in the trees frowned
at the antics of Tomcat Murr.
His life and opinions were like stories
out of Anton Chekhov.
The evolution of his art seems
like complete plays on his words
when told by the kindness of strangers.
Taken altogether: a biography complete!
Ooooo. What was I doing with these books. Well the top 3 are all Lemony Snicket books–I was looking at them for form, primarily: how they were put together. And I also re-read the first book, and dipped into the other two. I remembered that the form was interesting and wanted to take another look. One thing I’d forgotten was that the Snicket series includes definitions of words as part of the story.
The People in the Trees I keep picking up and putting down. It’s interesting, but not as interesting as other things.
Tomcat Murr came off my shelf when a friend asked me if I knew about it. It’s another book that is worth a look ever so often to remember its form. As a writer, form is always important. (Another book I re-read for form this winter is Olive Kitteridge. It made it to a stack in another room.)
Tennessee Williams is one of a group of genius writers, often expatriate, coming out of WWII. They’re all worth reading. It’s said by many that TW was the best of them. There’s much of his work I haven’t read: I’m catching up. My favorite of the group is Capote, actually: Capote writing before he wrote In Cold Blood.
Then there are the three Chekhov books–one about him as an evolving writer/artist, his plays (I’ve read more of his stories than plays and wanted to do something about that), and a good biography (most important if you want to understand a writer).
My reading life has come to have its own celebration of sort. It’s a fun ritual as I take down my stacks to make a library sort of sense of them again; shelve them in sensible categories.
Just for fun, I’m including the rest of my stacks from this chest. It was a long winter.
My love of children’s’ literature and fantasy is apparent. Some books that are notably missing, probably the ones I spent the most time reading are McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. Why not on the chest? Well, they’re actually ON THE BED. I’m re-reading them for the umpteenth time. This morning I asked myself why I kept re-reading those books, and I was able to answer myself once I decided to put it down on paper: it’s complicated, but there are reasons.
M L S Baisch
So, yesterday, first time for a long time, I slogged through snowdrifts to the art studio–just to see what was going on in there after months of being snowed in. There was no damage to speak of–the spiders and the mice hadn’t taken over the place. There was a small amount of leakage right around the door–and I can only imagine there will be more as the snowdrifts melt: I mean, I had to STEP DOWN about 3 feet to get in the door! (DIG myself in.) But I did get in. I decided not to stay. I sort of wanted to paint. Before I can paint in that place again, it needs to be cleaned up: nothing fares well when it sits for months without occupancy.
GEORGIA’S FOSTER HOME FOR FISH
(Under Construction – Draft)
by M L S Baisch © 2016-17
There once was a fish named Thug
who preferred to wrap up in a rug.
In a fish-bowl he couldn’t be trusted.
In fact, that’s how he got busted!
He pushed, poked, and prodded
’til some fed-up fish plotted.
A big sign that fish posted,
and Thug’s goose was roasted.
Sad story, but true.
Thug’s notariety grew.
No other fish loved him.
They all swam above him.
His name once so proud of
they now disavowed of.
He had to go somewhere
so deep was Thug’s despair.
That rug was just handy
on the floor by the lady.
Get the picture?
The demoiselle fair said,
“You just cannot stay there!”
Fish don’t (usually) breathe air.
“You need your own place.”
Thug shrugged in disgrace.
Yes, he did.
The lady named Georgia
felt for the fish, sorta.
A fish does need water
not air for much longer.
Or he’s a gonner!
She picked up the rug
and the fish with a shrug.
“I have just the place
for a fish with your taste.”
She didn’t mean fishfood.
From the sink she poured water
in a bowl on the counter.
Put the fish AND the rug
in the bowl: it went thud.
The rug was heavy.
When Thug got his bearing
his little eyes were tearing.
That was a close one.
Hands on her hips
and a smile on her lips,
Georgia was feeling good.
Georgia picked up the bowl,
with the fish and bedroll.
She took it all
to a room full of fishes
in bowls and in dishes–
there were lots of fish!–
where, from their places,
Thug saw their faces.
They were smiling!
Thug was so happy,
he didn’t feel scrappy.
Civility requires a bit of distance.
He swam round and round,
in and out, up and down.
Out of the rug!
The other sweet fishes
smiled from their bowls and their dishes.
They swam and they sang,
“Welcome, Thug, to our home.”
To Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.
“We’ve all been unsafe
till we came to this place.”
To Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.
“We know what you’re feeling.
Your heart needs some healing.”
At Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.
“Some rest and some quiet.
There’s no need for a riot.”
Not at Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.
“You can sleep in your rug,
wrapped up nice and snug.”
At Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.
“When you need a hug here
come out of your rug, dear.”
said Georgia to Thug.
It was all so delightful
Thug forgot to be frightful.
“Stay as long as you want,
though house-rules are detente.”
She laid down the law.
Thug tucked in his fins
and looked up, all grins.
Thug was happy.
So the new resident
took his place near the vent.
Home sweet home.
Where his water was warmish,
(nasty) inclinations all shorn-ish.
At Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish
“I always used to work hard. But I had no idea what hard work was until something changed in my mind… I don’t really know what it was. Maybe some sense that this whole enterprise is limited, that there was an end in sight… That you were really truly mortal.” Leonard Cohen
Photo: Taken at Giant Springs out of Great Falls Montana. Why this photo paired with this Cohen quotation? There’s something about running water that is analogous to life. It has a source and it flows on until, eventually, it merges into something more than itself–or, sometimes, it simply disappears somewhere: either way, running water is a moving force. Where you find it, it seems to have a place. The place remains but the water moves on. Lives, too, move on: some leave remnants–places, things, thoughts, memories–that can be returned to, others simply disappear without a trace.
M L S Baisch © 2016
Leonard Cohen has passed from the earth. The great musician who was also part poet and part mystic. Did you know that he was a Buddhist monk?
“We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” – Joan Didion
The pictures tell the story: over a lifetime, we do indeed become different people. We’ve lived in different haunts, most of the people in our lives change places, we even live in different skins! Very little of our youth is left us as we age–memories, that’s about it. Who besides ourselves travels backward down that lane often? Very few. And, if someone did want to follow me down that backward path of mine awhile, the flowers would all look different from those I see, and the storms would all seem like showers. Just the same, the person I am results from the people I’ve been: that seems important. Every day on earth is part of a slow metamorphosis to becoming someone different from who I am now. Until there isn’t another day. One has to think that un-becoming, in the end, the final unraveling of me, will seem natural since I seem to be un-becoming every day of my life. For sure, what’s has been is more real that what has yet to come. Nevertheless, I look forward to the uncertainty of tomorrow based partly, at least, on knowing what has come before. Thank you, Joan Didion, or these somewhat uncomfortable thoughts. (Joan can be counted on for those.)
M L S Baisch
Photos: Joan Didion
Someone told me, yesterday, and to paraphrase, that life had been very good; there was much to be thankful for; and that she was blessed. But there was still one little thing that lurked behind it all: one mistake. Apparently a big mistake. A huge mistake. A failing too great to ever be forgotten or even forgiven–if not by God, then by herself. I found myself thinking that even our mistakes, maybe exactly our mistakes, lead us on to other things. No life is without mistakes. Who’s to say whether any life would be better or worse if one were to live it from one end to the other without ever making one. I said, “we are all human, after all.” That’s the thing: we are all human. I seem to recall that saints made mistakes too because they too, after all, were human.
If you have never read Night of the Iguana, or seen the play, you might consider it. There is a poem near the end, called Nonno’s poem that is quite beautiful. And existentially profound. It sneaks up on you, the end of this play–and this poem–and you wonder how this improbable piece of fiction turns on its heels and grabs you by the throat. How did these strange, impossible fictional characters pull it off.
Nonno’s poem wraps itself around the enormity of what it means to live. Most of us, I imagine, think more about the vicissitudes of everyday life than existential realities. Everyday life is scary enough, frightening; but existential realities terrify.
“Among the many worlds that man did not receive as a gift from nature but created out of his own mind, the world of books is the greatest… Without the word, without the writing of books, there is no history, there is no concept of humanity. And if anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space, in a single house or a single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books.” – Herman Hesse
James Baldwin once said about writers: “The importance of a writer is continuous… His importance, I think, is that he is here to describe things which other people are too busy to describe.”
Time management: it’s been awhile since I’ve thought much about it. Back in the days when I did think about it, the problem was simply not having enough hours in the day: there were simply too many things to do and prioritization was essential. Some things just weren’t going to get done. Period.
Now, the days have enough time in them–though there are still too many things to ever get done, and there are still many things that never do get done. The truth is that many things just don’t need to get done.
But there is another time management sort of problem. It’s of the type that Harold Klawans wrote about in his story, Chekhov’s Lie: one simply cannot do justice to both one’s wife and one’s mistress. In other words, the mind has room for only one obsession at a time. An obsession, by definition, is all-consuming.
Of course, in order to bring anything to fruition from nothing more than thought–which is what creation is–obsession is required. If one takes off in a new direction (finds a mistress), it isn’t that one intends to leave or neglect one’s wife (one’s previous interest), it’s that something important has come up and has, at least for a time, captured one’s attention.
How then does one support both one’s wife and one’s mistress, metaphorically speaking? The answer to that question, if there is one, gets back to the notion of time management. Or, more correctly, it gets to the notion of obsession management. If anyone has written on how to manage multiple obsessions, I’ve not run across it. But that’s the problem. And it’s a problem that has kept me from writing much.
Let it be known, that though I do love my metaphorical mistress, that I also love my metaphorical wife, and intend to re-instate my wife to her rightful place in my life somehow. I do not intend to forever neglect her: my writing life. A wife, after all, has a superiority before others, a central position, a traditional preeminence. A wife, even a metaphorical wife, is central to one’s life. A mistress . . . well, a mistress is often just a passing fancy. In my case, interest in my metaphorical mistress is more than just a titillation. She is important and I’d like to keep her around for as long as possible. But she has to make peace with my wife. Somehow.
M L S Baisch
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” – Albert Einstein
I’ve been gardening, and to a limited extent I’ve been writing. But mostly I’ve been gardening for awhile now. My writerly life has been ‘light’–not superficial, exactly; but I’ve been writing short children’s stories while I’ve been finishing the edit to a longer, more substantial book–Leona the Part-Time Fairy: also a children’s book, but a pithier one than the stories I’ve been writing in tandem to the edit. A writer has to be writing something in order to keep the “writing ligaments” limber. (Not my phrase: it was used by Steinbeck and, I believe, by Virginia Woolf. There is no better way to describe the process: when a writer stops writing, the mental muscle that is needed to write atrophies.)
My writing life has been taking a back seat to my gardening life for awhile but it’s still alive. The final edit for Leona the Part-Time Fairy is complete–the story re-read and last edits made to hard copy. Those edits are now being incorporated into a final Scrivener word document. I do believe Leona will FiNALLY be on-line by May.
But editing isn’t exactly a writing life, is it? It’s an important part of writing, but it isn’t the part that goes exploring in the cave that is the mind: the most important part. Only interior exploration keeps new words and new thoughts coming to life, alchemizing them into new characters and new stories. Early mornings I’ve turned my mind to writing a little book about a small cat. I’m calling the book WHISKER.
Whisker will be illustrated, I think, although it’s not exactly a picture book. It will be too long for that–about 10K. It’s about a kitten who doesn’t have an easy start in life. Here is Chapter One.
WHISKER – by M L S Baisch © 2016
At the end of a long narrow alley, boxed in on both sides by very tall brick buildings towering so high above that when you finally saw the sky it was only as big as an envelope you might find in your mailbox, behind a garbage can sitting close by a green door, there was a kitten. It was huddled close to the ground trying to stay dry, as it was pouring rain. The wind raced down the alley in a hurry until it hit the brick wall, ricocheted off it, and was redirected back again—but not before it found its way behind the garbage can where the kitten crouched. It was a very small, and very gray kitten. And it was shivering, probably because it was frightened as well as because it was cold. The day was very gray and the cold was very harsh, and the shivering kitten was in a very bad place. This was no neighborhood for a small kitten, even on a good day, and so far this hadn’t been a good day at all.
Yesterday, was a better day. In fact it was a delightful day full of good things like a warm bed with the warm bodies of his brothers and sisters snuggled close, and warm milk, and sunshine coming in through the window, and his mother’s warm tongue washing his ears. Then, this morning, while the brothers and sisters still slept, his mother hissed quietly that he was to follow her. One thing led to another until here he was abandoned in this terrible circumstance.
“I’m sorry,” Mama had said, “but you are an embarrassment. You don’t fit in to the family. I’ve waited, hoping that you would change. But you are two months old now and still just as strange as the day you were born.”
Hearing that didn’t make the kitten feel very good. In fact, he hung his head feeling terrible. His mother was ashamed of him. He didn’t really understand why, and so he asked her, “But, what have I done? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I fit in?”
“Done?” she repeated. “I don’t imagine you’ve done anything at all, son. It’s just what you are. I don’t suppose you can help it.”
“If I can’t help it, how can it be so terrible?”
“It just is, that’s all,” Mama said. “And I can’t have it. When you’re older and can’t be kept out of sight, people will laugh at you, and they will make fun of you, and it will be very hard for your brothers and sisters.”
“I can see that it will be hard for me,” the kitten said, “but why will it be hard for my brothers and sisters?”
“And me,” said Mama.
“Yes. Me too.”
“I don’t want anyone to have a problem because of me, but I don’t understand why they would. Why you would.”
“Have you looked in a mirror, my son?”
Well, the kitten didn’t have any idea what mirrors were, and he hadn’t looked into one. If he had, perhaps he would have understood what his mother was talking about. After all, he knew what his brothers and sisters looked like, and his mother. If he had seen his own face, he would have noticed. He had only one whisker. It was rather high on his right cheek, closer to his ear than his nose. He knew it was there: how could he not know? In fact, he liked to stroke it, especially when he was going to sleep. But he had no idea that it was strange to have just one whisker or that anyone would be ashamed to know him because of it. Now that he did know it, he was feeling very low. All he could think of to say, once he understood the problem, was, “Oh.”
Mama cat wasn’t feeling very happy either, but she had to do what she felt was in the best interest of the family. Still, she didn’t want to leave her strange son without a few words of comfort and advice.
“You will be fine if you just don’t draw a lot of attention to yourself. Cats like the nighttime, anyway. In the dark, no one will see that you only have one whisker. It would be a good idea for you to stay out of sight in the daytime.”
“I think I will be lonely,” the kitten said. “I’m already lonely. I like to play with my brothers and sisters. And I like warm milk and the sunshine coming through the window.”
Not wanting her son to be completely demoralized, Mama said, “I’m sure you will find a nice life and many comforts. It will just take some time.”
The kitten felt a little better hearing those words.
“Now, I have to be going. It’s starting to rain.”
It was starting to rain, but Mama gave her little son one last fond lick and told him to be a good kitten.
“Wait!” the kitten called as Mama turned tail to go. “Who am I?”
“What do you mean? You are a kitten.”
“But what is my name?”
“You want to have a name?” Mama cat had to stop and think about that. Names were given to kittens by people, not by mother cats. She didn’t have the heart to tell her little son that he didn’t have a name. His life was going to be hard enough. She said, “Why your name, of course, is Whisker.”
2016 © M L S Baisch
This book will be published by shooflyranchpress
I have no graphics for WHISKER yet. But I love this series of watercolor and ink cats by Endre Penovac. There are more of them than I’m including here. These Penovac cats prove how effective simple can be. To achieve simplicity is actually very difficult.