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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lucid, inescapable rhythms

Mr. Malleable, Wednesday, has just popped 'round, checking in to see if I feel accomplished so far this week (on the downhill slope toward the weekend) or still trudging up the hill toward mid-week. Suitably both, thank you.

Summer fog swirls lightly around the car on the drive in this morning. It's a refreshing 55° (13° F) so I roll the top back on the Fiat and let the fog slide through the car as I put-put toward campus. The forecast calls for low 80's (or high 20's, F) by late afternoon.

This is what the pace of mid-summer calls for, that calls to me:

Maybe this weekend, if the weather holds. For today: commute. It is unusually early, even for me, so I have most of the roads along my route to myself. I love the regular calls of birds as I pass along, so I lower the volume of the music. Like evenly spaced loud-speakers running the length of a very long transit platform, as one bird's call fades the next one comes into range and takes over, keeping their message unbroken.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.


I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
- Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
It is mostly crows, jays, robins, and small songbirds, not blackbirds for my commute, though. Lucid, inescapable rhythms, indeed.

Speaking of rhythm, there sure was a lot of Fountains of Wayne today. Literally every other tune was theirs in this morning's random shuffle.

Today's commute playlist:
- Fleet Foxes: Battery Kinzie
- Fountains of Wayne: I Know You Well
- Brendan James: Begin
- Fountains of Wayne: Hotel Majestic
- The Bad Plus: Flim
- Fountains of Wayne: You Curse At Girls

- Posted via Hermes.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Mourning is not forgetting... it is an undoing"

Sunday afternoon, 72° (F, 22° C), a light breeze, sitting in a rocker on the back deck, sipping mate (as in Yerba), listening to birds chirp. From here I can see the Olympic mountains in the far distance while everything between here and there fades into the illusion of unbroken forest. I'm a million miles away from this past week, if only for a moment.

Do you ever get tired of being in the driver's seat, metaphorically speaking? I know I do, or rather, am. Just now, anyway. Normally it is just fine, I am comfortable there. But now and then...
Isn't it hard
To be the one who has to give advice?
Isn't it hard
To be the strong one?
I see the skyline blurred through the plastic on your back screen door
Not unlike the faces of the people who keep turning up in the places we go
The ones we'd never see if things weren't going so well
When I was a torn jacket hanging on the barbed wire
You cut me free
And sewed me up and here I am
Isn't it hard
To be the one whose phone rings all day everyday?
Isn't it hard
To be the strong one?
Mouths move without vision -- without regard for consequences
Eyes fill with memories poisoned by intimate knowledge of failure to love
Sometimes, sometimes, doesn't the light seem to move so far away?
You help your sisters, you help your old lovers,
you help me but who do you cry to?
'Cause isn't it hard
To be the one who gathers everybody's tears?
Isn't it hard
To be the strong one?
- Bruce Cockburn, The Strong One

I think that's an age-based thing. When I was younger I always wanted to be the driver (figuratively and literally). I would insist; I wanted to be in control of where I went and what I did. The driver gets to make the decisions. As time passed so did that insistence. I still prefer driving, mostly, but now I'm also happy to take a side or back seat when asked or offered. And, of course, I better understand that the whole notion of being in control is illusory.
Sometimes, though, getting to make the decisions becomes having to make the decisions.
I lost my brother, my only sibling, this past week. That is the safe and conventional turn of phrase. Maybe if I am more blunt it will be more real: my brother is dead. Nope, it still seems unreal.
So much has to be decided even while the grief is fresh, as anyone who has lost a loved one knows. We must make permanent decisions while we have not yet come to terms with the permanence of the loss. There is no pause button so we can stop for rest and then come back refreshed to carry on with our sad task list.
A quote I have often shared with others now comes to mean everything to me:
"Well, you know, it's an evil thing, this attempt to reverse the process of mourning." The Canon stepped back on to his own territory and became a different being. "Mourning is not forgetting," he said gently, his helplessness vanishing and his voice becoming wise. "It is an undoing. Every minute tie has to be untied and something permanent and valuable recovered and assimilated from the knot. The end is gain, of course. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be made strong, in fact."
- Margery Allingham, A Tiger In The Smoke
Now, I guess, comes our season of carefully undoing every tie to recover that which is permanent and valuable about my brother. It is a selective process of preserving memories to live with.
I think Melville just might have written this (Monody) for me and my brother:
To have known him, to have loved him
After loneness long;
And then to be estranged in life,
And neither in the wrong;
And now for death to set his seal—
Ease me, a little ease, my song!
By wintry hills his hermit-mound
The sheeted snow-drifts drape,
And houseless there the snow-bird flits
Beneath the fir-trees’ crape:
Glazed now with ice the cloistral vine
That hid the shyest grape.

There has been no commute this week, no commute soundtrack to record here. Indulge me, therefore, to end with one more piece of lyric which could be a soundtrack for all of this:
God waves a thought like you'd wave your hand
And the light goes on forever
Through the seasons and through the seas
The light goes on forever
Through the burning and the seeding
Through the joining and the parting
The light goes on forever
Gypsy searches through the cards for clues
Alchemist searches for eternal youth
Human reaching almost makes it but not quite
The soul strikes out at what the wind blows by
You live and it hurts you, you give up you die
Oh, let me rest in the place of light
Fugitives in the time before the dawn
Backed up to the wall with weapons drawn
Like mounted nomads always ready for a fight
This creature that thinks and so can fake its own being
Lightless mind's eye not much good for seeing
Oh, let me rest in the place of light
God waves a thought like you'd wave your hand
And the light goes on forever
- Bruce Cockburn, from The Light Goes On Forever

I can, I think, live with that.
- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Beginnings and Endings

Monday, glorious sun-flooded Monday. Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and with enthusiasm. No question this morning - top all the way back for the drive in to campus.

Pulling into the campus at 6:45 AM the sunlight was draped, in Dali clock fashion, over the top and front of Snoqualmie Hall, and the campus was so quiet. It must be the early hour, because today is the first day of summer quarter. I was reminded of Shelley's line, "As beautiful as a wreck of paradise," from his poem, Epipsychidion.

Soon the campus will be bustling with students, though not as crowded as it would be any of the other three quarters. Summer quarter has a slower feel to it, which belies the actual intensity of its compressed calendar.

Summer quarter is a starting point for many students, getting a prerequisite class or two out of the way before diving into fall, winter, and spring quarters. New beginnings, or at least a continuation for our returning students.

Today is also an ending day for me. We lost a dear colleague this weekend, to cancer. Today our office assembles with an all-too-painfully-obvious empty desk in our midst. Tears, hugs, stories, remembrances, and even some laughter at memories of the time before this separation. Some work is getting done, too, but half heartedly.

Shelley, same poem, comes to mind again with another phrase lifted out of context, but appropriate to the moment even so: "...make the present last, in thoughts and joys which sleep, but cannot die, folded within their own eternity."

Such is the power of memories.

Today's commute playlist:
- Dr. Dog: Heavy Light
- Belle and Sebastian: Nightwalk
- Bruce Cockburn: God Bless The Children
- Seamus Egan: Mick O'Connor's
- Fountains of Wayne: Fire in the Canyon

- Posted via Hermes.