It all depends on how you look at it.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
It all depends on how you look at it.
Friday, September 25, 2009
It may as well be called the postmodern saddle, because it pretends there is no validity to the question: is there a right way to do something? It pretends that whatever you want to think is fine, and that perspectives are equally valuable, and that the question of definition is supercilious: who is to say what riding dressage or going over a jump actually is, anyway? Are you implying that your way of viewing reality is superior to my way of viewing reality? is the unspoken question to anyone who states a preference. It allows a person who believes in the all-purpose saddle to hold her head up high. This is very different, however, from actually riding a horse.
Postscript: If you ride with an all-purpose saddle, please understand I am not sitting in judgment. The metaphor of the all-purpose saddle in this essay is based in my own personal experience of riding dressage.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Once these criteria are met, usually after several less than perfect experiences (it is sometimes a merciful quality of hair that it grows as fast as it does), the next level of operations comes into play. As soon as you feel assured that your hairdresser (let's say it's a woman, though it could also be a man) can do what you want and like with your hair, you no longer even think about it. In fact, you take her skill for granted.
Monday, September 14, 2009
It becomes easier as days shorten and the sun's rays fall lower on the horizon: autumn in the garden is a quieter time, the time when small things come to the foreground.
There are extraordinary events taking place in your own garden right this minute. The spider's web drips with early morning dew and awaits the stumbling flight of an insect losing body heat as the days turn chilly. Chlorophyll no longer holds center stage in the chromatic scale. Where buds once formed, now there are acorns.
We expect permutations of orange, rust and maroon, veils of gold and brown in the garden in autumn. But then we come across a shock of violet, where golden-eyed asters bright as errant amethysts bob on the cooling breeze. Even more surprising is the shy and delicate pink of autumn crocus where it keeps company with brown mushrooms and fallen leaves at the base of a sturdy tree.
All is not quiet, however. The squirrel with the fat cheeks will screech the minute she stashes her hazel nuts, and the gathering crows will sound warnings to all birds preparing to migrate: the way is south and the time is now.
To paraphrase Blake, what immortal hand or eye could frame such a world as what we see before us? Hold this question in awareness as you go through your day, and hold it despite all the mounting evidence in our raucous, consumerist world that to do so is to indulge in a flight of fancy. Then, as the gentle rays of the afternoon sun fade, remember that night will come, and it will blanket you with stars that seem particularly brilliant at this time of year.
Autumn is a time of turning inward, a time of forgiveness, a time to let go of all past efforts. It presents an opportunity to rest, just the way the garden rests, before new undertakings which are soon to come at the turn of another year.
So hunker down: take care of yourself and all you hold dear.
Breathe in the deep calm of the season.
Relax as you exhale.
Photography: Aster novi-belgii, Wikipedia, public domain; Vine Maple Leaf, Nickel Eisen, 6 October 2004; Hourglass, S. Sepp, 21 October 2007
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Bernard Madoff slides from his self-created pedestal of exclusivity and respect into a miasma of lies when his life's work is exposed as common fraud.
Susan Boyle ascends to the stars as her natural talent rides the wave of personal courage and brings her gift into the hearts of people around the world.
These two individuals provide a perfect object lesson for something I've always suspected: it takes just as much energy to do what Bernard Madoff did as it takes to do what Susan Boyle did. Why, why, why, then, would a person use a limited individual allotment of this precious energy to suck the life from others when there is an equal opportunity to enhance the world and leave it a better place with the same amount of effort?
It is fiction to say that it is easier to cheat than it is to work hard. Cheating takes an enormous toll on an individual's mental, spiritual and emotional life: keeping track of frauds, which lies were told to whom, who knows what about what… Can you imagine the anger and stress that has been seething just below the surface for Bernard Madoff all these years? These corrosive feelings are emotions he could never embrace, nor show to anyone, nor discuss with anyone, not even his wife (if she is to be believed).
People have called Bernard Madoff a sociopath, but even a so-called sociopath might squirm when regulating agencies continually knock on the door with long lists of increasingly pointed questions; even a sociopath can suspect there might be a crack somewhere in his facade, a crack he needs to locate and repair fast. Sociopathy is no free ride. Thinking of oneself as smarter than everyone else can only work until you're caught, and as imprisoned criminals have repeatedly attested, they knew that day would come.
I don't even like typing all these ugly words. But they serve a purpose and form the dark background against which Susan Boyle's presence gleams.
Like Bernard Madoff, Susan, too, came out of obscurity. But here's the key difference: his mind was set on No fair! I want what everyone else has! At one point in his life, he could have decided to apply himself and work hard to make something of himself, but his overriding envy rotted his heart. He diverted his energy from creating something good toward destroying what everyone else had. And he probably worked every bit as hard as he would have had he lived honestly, in which case he would not now be rotting in prison.
Susan Boyle, on the other hand, had a gift which she nurtured on her own, and never let fall away. How many of us can say the same about the great promise we once showed playing the piano? or painting? or singing? Most of us have turned our backs on these pursuits in the manner of putting away the things of childhood.
But Susan Boyle persevered. She lived a quiet life, always singing, and made a promise to her dying mother: I won't give up. I'll stay with it.
Then she mounted what must sometimes have felt like an impossible campaign of personal courage, not only to her but to others. She was no doubt accused along the way of having pipe dreams, of reaching beyond her station, of thinking she was all that--and why? Because she dared to put one foot in front of the other, over and over, until she walked right into the spotlight that made her an overnight success in the eyes of the world.
Susan Boyle isn't an overnight success in her own estimation, though. She has been applying herself to her gift for her entire life. She was born with a talent for singing, and she honored her gift and continues to honor it, and look at the treasure she has brought into the world: her voice and her story delight the souls of everyone who encounters her.
Light and darkness; good and evil. Conversations don't get much more basic than this, and examples are seldom more clear than they are in the cases of Susan Boyle and Bernard Madoff. Fortunately for the world, Madoff will be no more than a footnote in the journals of sleazy financial crime. All the hearts he broke will find no sense of justice in whatever happens to him, but at least he won't be doing anything to anyone else.
On the very bright other side, Susan Boyle's light will shine for a long, long time. Even the souls bruised by Bernard Madoff can take delight in the gifts of Susan Boyle.
In this way, it can be seen that good outweighs the bad, just as we've always been taught to believe but have perhaps come to doubt over the years. The same equation holds true with tiny, anonymous acts of kindness in our own lives today.
I know this is true.
Photography: Susan Boyle, Perez Hilton; Rose bush, Fastily, 4/26/09; Rose, Beechesnursery.co.uk
Thursday, September 3, 2009
The Pacific Northwest is also home to the magnificent Rainier cherry, which was hybridized in 1952 at Washington State University. With its delicate skin and delicious flavor, it is a clear (and expensive) favorite of cherry lovers everywhere. It bruises very easily and must therefore be harvested completely by hand, and even then you'll have to put up with slight bruising on most Rainiers you find in the supermarket or roadside market. Don't worry, though--as long as the flesh is firm it will remain sweet.
Many people have a cherry tree or two in their garden. Often planted is the self-pollinating Stella, a very sweet cherry with a dark red color that looks a lot like a Bing. What this means is that it doesn't need another type of cherry around. Bees transfer pollen from the burgeoning anthers to the stigma, and then come July you have paradise in your own back yard.
Unless you are The Mad Pruner.
Cherries set fruit on year-old shoots and lateral spurs. This means two things: 1)very old wood will not set fruit; and 2) this year's growth will not set fruit. The Mad Pruner, however, wanted his cherry trees to look a certain way: kind of like a lollipop, with dense foliage. He went at his trees with a power saw, and sheared them evenly in all directions, and he did this every spring, just as the new leaves were beginning to unfurl.
The Mad Pruner's trees did not set fruit.
He cursed them. He told them that if they didn't produce any damn cherries this year, it was their last chance: he would rip them out. In a predictable series of events, they did not set fruit and he ripped them out. He showed those useless cherry trees.
It sounds ridiculous to tell the tale this way. It even felt ridiculous at the time, and it is hard for me to admit this, but with this man I couldn't seem to find a way to approach the subjects of how cherry trees work, and how fruit comes into being, and that an open vase shape with strong horizontal branching is optimal for the health of the tree and for fruit production. If I came anywhere near these subjects, his eyes glazed over: he didn't seem to want his idea of the perfect tree shape compromised by anything I might have to say about horticulture. To paraphrase my father: The Mad Pruner's mind was made up and he didn't want to be confused by the facts.
It broke my heart to see those poor trees tortured into submission and then punished for not producing cherries. I felt horrible that I had been unable to intervene on their behalf. But, of course, there was a larger lesson here.
What doesn't work with cherry trees also does not work with people. That's why The Mad Pruner is now a man I used to know.
In my own case, I was able to intervene. I got out before he completely uprooted me.
Photography: Rainier Cherries on Tree, Yakimacherries.com; Stella Cherries, gardeningforyou.com; Rainier Cherries, Gilbert W. Arias/Seattle P-I; Rainier Cherries, Washington State Fruit Commission; Bing Cherries, AGS/USDA
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The dense web of memory (think of Marcel Proust) can seduce you into the illusion that you are present to the unfolding of your life if indulging in memories. But by coddling your memories you are looking backward, while each new moment glides past unnoticed like a new frame for an old photograph.
I know a woman who is so blind to today that she compares everything she does, hears, and sees either favorably or unfavorably to what she did, heard or saw as a child. Nothing exists in its own new moment: nothing new can happen. It is as if her book is already written and all that remains of the task is appending the footnotes.
In this way, the original memory disappears like a sunken ship overwhelmed by coral--a new monolith calcifies. Retrospection becomes a celebration of vocabulary: how many ways can you conjure anew something that once was but is no more? And if you do this repeatedly, you risk becoming like dust left in the corners as your life sweeps by.
Live bigger than that. Moderate your habit of looking in the rearview mirror in order to drive forward.
Suit up for snorkeling. Try the french fries with white truffles. Wear red. Tomorrow, do something else. Give yourself over to radical awareness of the present. It doesn't matter what you used to do, or what you used to resist doing.
On this plane and in this dimension, the arrow of time only goes in one direction. Unless you possess superhuman powers, why not go with the flow?
Photography: Is this a new plant to you: Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), Hawaii? If it is--oh, good!