Quintessence ~ the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form. Substance composing the celestial bodies.

The shoes that climbed Gonergrat, Switzerland

QUINTESSENCE

Operating Instructions

February 5, 2016

Tags: nature, patterns, presence, art and creation, intention


There is no person without a world.
- "Autobiography of Red," Anne Carson, 1998


The manual on you. What do you know about your own operating instructions? There is no author's note. The expert on you, is you.

We are one complete and unique universe - patterned from spirit, bordered by skin, powered by the mind, guided by thought, and infused by heart. The Reference Text on Me - the schematic of how each of us functions - lies somewhere over there on the shelf. Dusty, dog-eared, coffee-stained, tear-stained, face-down and the spine broken. Consulted again and again. . .or perhaps not at all anymore.

Beryl Markham, the daring aviator and adventurer, renowned for her fearless explorations throughout Africa, once said, "You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself." We putter along like wood moles, blindly nosing down familiar ruts in search of life's delicacies and hidden secrets. Often enough the best experts on our inner lives are the people we live with. How clearly they see our inanities. Point out our predictable, vulnerable weaknesses; affirm our quiet and simple strengths.

We share vast continents of ourselves with our loved ones, but only we know the many facets of our innermost wishes and dreams, the languished old wounds, misgivings, regrets. In truth, the complex reality of one person's world is known fully only by that person. Yet 360* of self-awareness is not necessarily a place of understanding each of us is sure to summit.

Become acquainted. With you. Update the manual. From time to time delete information that is outdated, add new chapters that speak to major changes. And with each rereading, share wisely some of what has shifted with those that have the "old you" on their shelves. Have we not ourselves been surprised by changes in a family member or a friend after an interlude apart? That more than an address or hair color is radically altered? Changes may be so subtle we need to look closely, or highlight for others what they may have grown too familiar with to see. The manual basics may remain unchanged, but the troubleshooting section is certain to be frequently consulted.

We are each a "work in progress." In a good way. A story that adds to itself, edits and highlights, and on occasion leads down an untrod path only to circle back out again and dive off to the side.

What's new in your world today?

An End to Old Regret

January 28, 2016

Tags: finding joy, love, intention, art and creation

Provence, France

I thought of all the pain and how we met
Late in our lives yet lavishly at ease,
Having assumed an end to old regret..."

- from "The Balcony," May Sarton, 1980

Old Regret. Losses carried forward. Sorrow chipped away over the passing years, perhaps by forgetfulness or forgiveness. Bitter sorrow buried intact in the back of our mind. Large hearts of darkness. Is there an end to old regret?

These few lines of May Sarton's poem "The Balcony" expose rich layers of meaning. One voice, of a couple, of a certain age perhaps or world weariness, acknowledging the accidental accumulated joys and pains of life. Words that hint to the years past, to damaged relationships, losses. Perhaps longed-for opportunities swept away with the passage of time. "The Balcony" ends with this final tribute, And out of deprivation, a huge flower. Exquisite image. The heart, in its layered translucent suffering, fully comprehended. From the wisdom of acceptance, extravagant beauty.

There is a thread of durability in Sarton's observer. How is it we find within ourselves the strength and desire to carry on? To begin again. To start over from the disappointments of the past. John F. Kennedy once described his father after the elder man's stroke, saying, "Old age is a shipwreck." From Sarton's words, perhaps old age is neither the limit nor the context. We are always beginning. Over and again. In life, in work, in love. The passage of time has worn the lines on our foreheads, to be sure. But time - lost, burnt, wasted, empty, wronged, violated, hurt - needn't be the melody of the heart. I love the thought that once regrets are released and thrown over our shoulders, we blossom, "lavishly at ease."

Mistakes have their ends. Beginnings follow. The bridge between them? Acceptance. Ease on into your day, leaving your regrets behind you. You may find cupped in your hands a bloom of startling joy.

THE BALCONY
by May Sarton /after Baudelaire

Lover of silence, muse of the mysteries,
You will remember how we supped each night
There on your balcony high in the trees
Where a heraldic lion took late light,
Lover of silence, muse of the mysteries.

The big dogs slumbered near us like good bears;
The old cat begged a morsel from my plate,
And all around leaves stirred in the warm airs
Breathed from the valley as the red sun set.
The big dogs slumbered near us like good bears.

I thought of all the pain and how we met
Late in our lives yet lavishly at ease,
Having assumed an end to old regret
In the eternal presence of the trees -
I thought of all the pain and how we met.

There every night we drank deep of the wine
And our love, still without history,
Yet the completion of some real design
Earned with much thought, muse of the mystery.
There every night we drank deep of the wine.

While out of deprivation a huge flower,
The evening's passion, was about to bloom.
Such intimacy held us in its power
The long years vanished in a little room,
And out of deprivation, a huge flower.


Retreat

January 20, 2016

Tags: art and creation, intention, solitude, nature

Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico

If ever I should wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.
- Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Bless the private interlude. A solitary chair under a tree. A corner of the kitchen table in a slant of sun. The third floor east corner of the library. Window table at the coffee shop. The car. Any space we beg, borrow, call our own.

A door. An island. As Virginia Woolf famously put it, "a room of one's own." Personal space dedicated to thought, to creativity, to the inner self. The poet Mary Oliver built herself a cabin in the woods of rough timber; the painter Jackson Pollock emptied a barn behind his cottage to which he retired day after day, contemplating his canvas. Entire books have been devoted to artists and writer's huts, islands, cafes, closets, desks, lofts, libraries.

The private and the solitary. Personal contemplative space is a deep human need.

Empty space stands as an invitation. Come. Fill this void with vivid imaginings. A naked wall for the experimental, a safe space for the difficult and inscrutable, room for preliminary constructions, a protected silence for the focus and uninterrupted work itself. An arena for inspiration and angst. Private witness to the struggle, to dreamt success, pained failure.

Do you have such a space? What icons, what meaningful symbols have you placed within? A beloved parent's worn cardigan? Shells from distant beaches? A broken violin bow? Paintings that invite you into alternate landscapes of shape and color? Favorite books or music, a stone from another land? A catcher's mitt, a broken bell? Strange things inspire us. Georgia O'Keefe laid animal skulls and wind scraped rocks on her window sills at Ghost Ranch. Stark shapes that brought her subject, nature, directly into her studio. Above my writing table hang black and white photographs that plays with the shapes of objects; on the table, a playful glass zebra that reminds me not to take everything so seriously, a basket of fossils and bones that remind me of both durability and impermanence.

Take a day. Take a moment.
A corner by the cookbooks. The window over the kitchen sink. The worktable by the tool chest.
The riverbank where the heron stands.
The place inspiration flows without bidding.
Namelessness, spirit.
Permission to imagine.
The element of recharge.
Retreat to reengage.
Breathe. Listen.


Stuck

January 13, 2016

Tags: art and creation, patterns, intention, faith, the moderns

The Matterhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland

Artists don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.
~ Stephen DeStaebler

Blocks produce in the artist an attitude of pessimism and defeat. He loses that necessary touch of arrogance; the drive to produce new things fades; the mind is blunted.
~ Lawrence Hatterer

A creative block is the wall we erect to ward off the anxiety we suppose we'll experience if we sit down to work. A creative block is a fear about the future, a guess about the dangers dwelling in the dark computer and the locked studio. A block is a sudden, disheartening doubt about our right to create, about our ability, about our very being. And the cure? A melting surrender, a little love, a little self-love, a little optimism, and a series of baby steps toward the work.
~ Eric Maisel

January can feel like a month stacked in "fresh start" pressure: time to reboot, dive in, focus, bootstrap full-on motivation. And then the days stall out. Our ideas are not quite gelling. Or worse, lie prone in the ditch. Road kill. Nothing fresh here, folks. Move along. Inertia. Excuses. Diversion. Frustration.

David Bayles and Ted Orland wrote a small chapbook in 1993, "Art & Fear: Observations of The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking." A refreshingly honest, insightful exploration of the creative process, the workplace experience, and the potholes and bridges between. In the introduction the authors write, "Making art is a common and intimately human activity, filled with all the perils (and rewards) that accompany any worthwhile effort. The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar... This book is about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work."

What comes next stopped me in my tracks. The authors observe, "Those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue - or more precisely, have learned how not to quit."

Did you reread that? What a powerful statement in support of tenacity. Quitting, the authors argue, is different than stopping. Stopping happens all the time - an idea runs dry, an attempt is scrubbed at the point of diminishing returns. But quitting happens just once. Quitting marks the last thing the artist does. Baylee and Orland go on to identify pitfalls that lead to blocks and defeat. Stalemates. Obstacles. Potential failure points that cling like lint around two very specific moments: When artists convince themselves their next effort is already doomed to fail; and when artists lose sight of the destination for their work, the place their work belongs.

Making art can feel dangerous and revealing. It gives substance to sense of self as well as the corresponding fear that one is not up to the task, not real or good. That we have nothing to say. "Making art precipitates self-doubt," write Bayles and Orland. "Stirring deep waters between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might me." Doubt can be enough to stop the artist before he or she even begins, and often appears again and again throughout the cycle of making, and then releasing work to critical review in the world. The key, according to the authors, is to learn to challenge that fear every step of the creative process from initial vision to execution, imagination, struggles with materials, through uncertainty. To continue anyway.

Losing sense of place, losing confidence, can mark the precise moment a driving goal is achieved. Success frequently and easily transmutes into depression because the artist feels abruptly lost. Embracing a new project means leaving behind the comfort of the loose thread. Setting aside that unresolved creative idea or issue to move forward into the next piece. Beginning fresh.

Tolerance for uncertainty is a prerequisite for working in the arts, according to the authors of "Art & Fear." Creativity is not about control. Uncertainty arrives unannounced at critical junctures in the creative process. What did I start out to say? Were the materials right, the length of the piece? Is the way I've done this right? Tolstoy rewrote "War & Peace" by hand eight times. (Heh, this is a large book.) He was still revising galley proofs at press. Art happens between the artist and something else - a chunk of stone, a slant of light in a landscape, a subject, an idea or technique. Creativity is unpredictable. The working artist learns to respond authentically, challenge to challenge, each step of the way.

Which brings me back to creative blocks, those frustrating mental tar pits. Bayles and Orland identify endpoints - shifts in destination or goals - as creative tripping points. Ease the transitions between stages, drafts, critiques. If we take psychologist Eric Maisel's advice, we should address our fears and anxiety over our works in progress by initiating baby steps toward engagement. Write two lines a day, then two pages a day. Put one brush stroke of color dead center on the white canvas. Mar that empty perfection and free your fear.

Can the artist find a way through almost perpetual uncertainty? Yes.
Intention requires strange and uncomfortable openness. Receptiveness. Belief. Tenacity.
Do not quit.

Open Window

January 6, 2016

Tags: art and creation, intention, faith, finding joy


DUST
by Dorianne Laux

Someone spoke to me last night,
told me the truth. Just a few words,
but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor -
not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like a fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn't elated or frightened,
but simply rapt, aware.
That's how it is sometimes -
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you're just too tired to open it.


This small poem is from a chapbook by Dorianne Laux titled, "What We Carry." The poems here remind me allegorically of the potent imagery from Tim O'Brien's short story collection, "The Things They Carried," stories exposing individual lives in a platoon of soldiers from their smallest possessions. Who we are, who we were before. . .ported forward into an uncertain future. Although not about war or anonymity, the poems in this slender volume are sharp, tight: transparent yet troubling. As though each poem, each moment or memory, has become an object in the poet's pocket.

I intended to begin 2016 on Quintessence with an upbeat poem: something about a clean slate, new possibilities. Instead, I found myself drawn to the flow of existence, of glimpses of truth from one moment to the next, My 2016 is also 2015 - as well as every accumulated year prior - just by another label. This idea that I am continuously silting new experiences, year to year. It will never be a "new" me, but a more layered me. More depth at the bottom. More debris and lost gold.

Someone spoke to me last night. . . Laux captures the experience of that rare awareness at the core of a chance conversation. In quiet, or sleep. We brush up against the profound. No words but a footprint. Laux tastes the truth, and it sits light, insubstantial; a micro imprint of muted history. Exhausted, vulnerable, she knows. She feels it, and lets it go. But she remembers the essence, and it settles within.

I look to this new year hoping the nuggets of truth discovered and absorbed along the way stay with me. That bright light and black wings find me. Praying the crack in the window widens, until finally and fully, I understand. To exist within the flow, and release what floats, absorb what lies still, sift the layers deep within. Is it not possible life will be ever more nuanced, meaningful, profound, if we honor the work and the fatigue of ordinary living? Open windows.

One Life

December 30, 2015

Tags: art and creation, intention, presence, patterns, finding joy


ONE LIFE TO LIVE
by Billy Collins

This is the only life I have, this one in my head,
the one that travels along the surface of my body
singing the low voltage song of the ego,

the one that feels like a ball between my ears
sometimes, and other times feels absolutely galactic,

the life that my feet carry around like two blind
scholars working together on a troublesome manuscript.

This is the only life I have, and I am standing
dead in the center of it like a man doing a rope trick
in a rodeo, passing the lasso over his body,
smiling inside a twirling of ovals and ellipses.

This is the only life I have and I never step out of it
except to follow a character down the alleys of a novel
or when love makes me want to remove my clothes
and sail classical records off a cliff.

Otherwise you can always find me within this hoop of
myself,
the rope flying around me, moving up to encircle my head
like the equator or a halo or a zero.



What a dazzling sketch of imagery. Billy Collins's One Life to Live swoops us from the rodeo grandstands down into the dirt of daily existence. Man against beast. The mundane wrestling the extraordinary. What are we breaking, what are we taming? Our wants, our transgressions? Collins's poem breaks open a nugget of strange truth: to be human is both small and "absolutely galactic." How self-limiting and limited by the self the experience of living may be. Our days and thoughts, our sense of self, loop in continuous gyration. As if this one life were a tilting, dizzying, ticket to ride.

We end one year and begin another - an arbitrary division of breaths if there ever was one - and I imagine that poetic lasso whirling, whirling, circling endlessly over our heads. Is this the year the hoop will drop and there will be no further evolutions of time? Or is this to be another year of halos and zeros...a haphazard, inadequately appreciated journey through the day by day? Perhaps this is the year of mastery, and the lasso sails around with ease.

I'm not a fan of year-end lists, "best of" summations, resolutions, or fresh starts. But I do welcome the idea of a personal review: a long moment of reflection and contemplation. An aware acknowledgement what is past is behind us, and what is yet to come whirls above, a rope trick in the making. As we stand within the oval of this life, this one life we have to live, we command the equator of both potential and actual, good and failed, promise and regret. This "one life" is forever an act in progress. A flick of the wrist. A halo around the ego. Me. You.

If you celebrate the New Year, then I wish for you in 2016 the joy of belting out your own song, finding perfect pitch and an endless chorus when days fade or grow weary. Let life be that tune you hum in your head, the beat that carries you along, what holds you in the center of your evolutions, in the sweet spot of this one life.


Two Poems, Facing the Blue Half of the World

December 16, 2015

Tags: art and creation, presence, finding joy

Starry Night Over the Rhone, Vincent van Gogh

Dear Readers,
Because you mean so much to me, each blessed one of you. Love and Joy.
Two poems from my private writings.

ECLIPSE
by Glenda Burgess

The moon turned
backlit by the sun
facing
the blue half of the world
where passion slept on,
dreaming
Darwin's theorems, the
white poems of Epictetus,
held
the dark pause familiar now strange
thus toss midnight a
kiss.


A MOMENT BEFORE MARRIAGE
by Glenda Burgess

The sun
and the ash-winged moon
canopy the sky,
singing
in the bower.
Hearts pendulate the slow one-two.

Summer storm
builds, breaks above us,
here
where we sit on the steps
knee to knee,
mouths full of garden berries and promises.

Lightning cracks over Hangman Bluff. The gutters
rattle with song.
Your lashes darkling fronds of question.
Little roofs – yellow napkins, the Sunday Styles -
tumble as you grab my hand,
a couplet
a secret alexandrine.

Conversation
puddles in the grooves
of the old stones. Rain
will wash the glasses.
Beyond the open window green stars
drench twilight across tin roofs.

I breathe you in.
Decode collarbone, earlobe, bent toe,
the hollow of hip.
This language of learning, of becoming
two
within two.

Day
behind night,
sun in the arms of moon,
the long waltz of always. What
is solitary.
What is not.
Hearts pendulate the slow one-two.



Talisman

December 10, 2015

Tags: art and creation, faith, intention, solitude, finding joy

Patio table, Nice, France

The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of early morning, sweeping up and mopping, were all you needed. For luck you carried a horse chestnut and a rabbit's foot in your right pocket. The fur had been worn off the rabbit's foot long ago and the bones and the sinews were polished by wear. The claws scratched in the lining of your pocket and you knew your luck was still there.
- Ernest Hemingway, "A Moveable Feast"

Ordinarily I never read anything before I write in the morning to try and bite on the old nail with no help, no influence and no one giving you a wonderful example or sitting looking over your shoulder.
- to Berenson, 1952, "Selected Letters"

However am now going to write a swell novel - will not talk about it on acct. the greater ease talking about it than writing it and consequent danger of doing same.
- to F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1927, "Selected Letters"

I am more a fan of Hemingway on writing than Hemingway's collective works themselves. Which is saying something, as I admire his work very much. I find Hemingway's insights on the culling of inspiration, on ways to structure the discipline required to make worthy stories from slips of ideas, frequently hit the mark with me. I am often, as Hemingway puts it, facing "the blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer things than things can be true." Dear friends, there is a vast Senegeti between the thought and the finished story.

Hemingway often spoke about pitfalls and insights in the writing process in his witty, frank letters to literary friends and editors. The "Selected Letters," and "Ernest Hemingway on Writing" (ed. Larry Phillips) span Hemingway on everything from writer's block to politics, indulgence and the dangers of success.

Sometimes, like today, when I am stumped for the right critical filter to evaluate a work I've finished and determine if it really is done, I turn to Hemingway's strong self-critical drive and let him be my guide. He once wrote Fitzgerald, "I think you should learn about writing from everybody who has ever written that has anything to teach you." They had been discussing Dostoevsky, and a line Hemingway later included in "A Moveable Feast" was to resonate from his own search to master the nuances of the perfect story. "How can a man write so badly," he wrote, "so unbelievably badly, and make you feel so deeply?"

There is more to effective writing than grammar or form. There is a spark, the cadence of empathy. The necessary, powerful word that conveys the whole of the thing. The rest, as Hemingway might say, is but plaster smacked up on the wall.

And finally, for me, there is Hemingway's unquestioned loyalty to story. Telling a tale in the way one might carve a facet from a rough stone, making it worth the read. A man of extraordinary passions and talents, there is no end to what Hemingway might have done in life besides inhabit cafes and rewrite drafts. But consider this, from "Green Hills of Africa,"

"Do you think your writing is worth doing - as an end in itself?"
"Oh yes."
"You are sure?"
"Very sure."
"That must be very pleasant."
"It is," I said. "It is the one altogether pleasant thing about it."

As I review my work and think about whether it satisfies me, and then if what I have written measures up to an imagined reader's expectations, I bear in mind what Hem said in a letter to Ivan Pushkin in 1935, ". . .writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done - so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well."

A thousand ways this hits the old nail on the head.

Settling Into Life

December 2, 2015

Tags: nature intention, presence

Cottage in the Faroe Islands

I don't think I am old yet, or done with growing. But my perspective has altered - I am less hungry for the busyness of the body, more interested in the tricks of the mind. I am gaining, also, a new affection for wood that is useless, that has been tossed out, that merely exists, quietly, wherever it has ended up. Planks on the beach rippled and salt-soaked. Pieces of piling, full of the tunnels of shipworm. In the woods, fallen branches of oak, of maple, of the dear, wind-worn pines. They lie on the ground and do nothing. They are travelers on the way to oblivion... Call it Rest. I sit on one of the branches. My idleness suits me. I am content. I have built my house. The blue butterflies, called azures, twinkle up from the secret place where they have been waiting. In their small blue dresses they float among the branches, they come close to me, one rests for a moment on my wrist. They do not recognize me as anything very different from this enfoldment of leaves, this wind-roarer, this wooden palace lying down, now, upon the earth, like anything heavy, and happy, and full of sunlight, and half-asleep.
- from "Winter Hours," Mary Oliver

This idea of settling into one's life.

Mary Oliver's essays in "Winter Hours" are thoughtful observations, both detached and intimate, marked by crisp exploratory writings that etch what it means to grasp one's life whole; as an organic, evolving theme of the self. Oliver writes perceptively of human endeavor as a construct - a shelter for creative thought and action.

She stands before a cabin in the woods she hand-built; a private room for writing, which in time has devolved into a little-used potting shed. She realizes she built the cabin not for writing as she believed, not for thought, but for the sake of building. The task complete, she can lie in its humble shade among the blue butterflies, making use of it or not. Her presence lies in nature, she tells us, not in her construct.

Oliver points out it is instinctive to examine life; to ponder what makes things work, what causes one thing to nurture another. This linking of ideas and experiences creates the future out of the past. We understand ourselves as part of the vast natural interchange of what lives and dies, yet are stricken by the secret wish to be beyond all that. Thus, we build. Oliver concludes wryly, You can fool a lot of yourself but you can't fool the soul. That worrier.

To have "built the house." To sit quiet in contemplation in its shadow, a part of all that lives and occupies the geography of space and time.

As this year comes to its close, I find myself taking stock of my own "constructs." Family, work, home, friendships. These complex symbols of life, of the living I have done. Are they worthy of the sacredness of living? Have I lived up to my soul's expectations? Have I lived strong and true within the essential principles, as nature would have them? Are there places where am I following the blueprints of a construct, and not a life?

We travel, lost in the work of working at living. Yet we must all find within ourselves the potting-shed within the palace, and rest upon the earth, like anything heavy, and happy, full of sunlight, and half asleep. In the sunspot of what we have made.

The Tech of Connection

November 12, 2015

Tags: the moderns, art and creation, intention, solitude, finding joy

"An honest answer is the sign of true friendship."
~ Anonymous

"We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us."
~ Marshall McLuhan

I was chatting with a small group of friends on Twitter recently about human nature, determinism (fate), and what it takes to meaningfully change personal unwanted patterns. The conversation explored the weight of what is predetermined in our given natures versus aspects that remain fluid and open to change; the role of choice and awareness in navigating personal habit, and identifying our "default settings." Needless to say it was a broad, and for me, meaningful conversation.

It struck me then how geography (proximity) has become less important as the Internet changes the nature of communication. Neighborhood pot lucks, the club dance, bridge games and golf foursomes, the exchange of letters and the Sunday visit - these activities dominated my grandparents' generation. Since then, letters have gone the way of email, and paperless post notifications cover everything from meetings to weddings. The post-business day get-together takes place in quick hellos at the school fair, the gym, work conferences. In my daughter's twenty-something generation, Facebook, Twitter, and sites like LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram, create social connection. Updates occur throughout the day, but as my daughter commented, once college ends and careers begin, friends scatter to distant locations. FaceTime has replaced the in-person visit: from grandparents staying in touch with distant grandchildren, to catching up with an old friend on an opposite coast.

So what does all this mean? Are we more or less connected in a meaningful way? Do serious conversations like the one on Twitter count?

Curiously, we are more connected than ever with our professional colleagues, the mere acquaintance, the long distance friend, and perhaps less so with immediate family and loved ones. Relationships are squeezed into brief status updates throughout the day, quick snaps of soccer games and weddings. A few of my friends speak more to their spouses by text message than at home over dinner. Better? Worse? How do you judge? A girlfriend of mine recently remarked that she wasn't surprised she'd broken up with her boyfriend by text massage because it started with a text.

As a society we are raising a generation that will navigate their entire lives through technology ever more absent of the importance (and nuance) of physical contact. My daughter observed that disagreements among her friends begin on social media, spread like wildfire through their networks and abruptly finish with a communication "block." Tech messaging is not couched in the empathetic personal. Digital grammar (or its lack) is frequently dense, stark, and the abbreviated shorthand can derail a message. We read the succinct message and think, What are they really saying here? How do you read between the lines of a 140 character Tweet? Is that sarcasm, gentleness, wryness, or anger embedded in that Facebook update or text? This dislocated communication can be especially difficult in times of stress or disagreement.

"Point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding," stated Marshall McLuhan, the well-known Canadian philosopher of communication theory. Social media is packaged without the physical cues and verbal subtleties that allow us to read between the lines and determine the real message in the medium. And no, emoticons do not count. (But they may help.) The convenience and ease of modern communication is a definite plus, but the loss of face-to-face contact costs us something. As anyone who has met up with a treasured friend at a street corner or a coffee shop will attest - nothing replaces shared laughter, the meaning relayed in a glance, the quick touch of a hand.

The answer is to remember we are people. We are feeling beings. By all means let's use technology to expand and keep connections open, remembering it is our voices and hugs that send voltage down the wire.