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

The shoes that climbed Gonergrat, Switzerland


The Good Life

July 1, 2015

Tags: family, finding joy, love, faith, art and creation

My children at the beach with our dog, Scooter

by Mark Strand

You stand at the window.
There is a glass cloud in the shape of a heart.
There are the wind's sighs that are like caves in your speech.
You are the ghost in the tree outside.

The street is quiet.
The weather, like tomorrow, like your life,
is partially here, partially up in the air.
There is nothing you can do.

The good life gives no warning.
It weathers the climates of despair
and appears, on foot, unrecognized, offering nothing,
and you are there.

We stand in the tracks of tangled footpaths among dreams, ambitions, regrets, loss. At every vantage, we take in the long view. There is something about our hearts that needs the wideness of the unknown, the promise of discovery around the next bend. Mark Strand's line, "like tomorrow, like your life,/is partially here, partially up in the air," reminds us we exist in becoming - in shift between hard realties and bright imaginings. Partially here, partially up in the air.

In a week marked by deep suffering and wordless pain for our own communities and others around the world, of shocked disbelief, and moral agony, I find unexpected comfort in these lines of Strand's last stanza:

The good life gives no warning.
It weathers the climates of despair

The ability of life to rebound, for wounds to heal and the human journey to continue - mindful of events that have occurred - moves me. I don't know if someday the world will end on a high note or a whimper, but life continues to seek what is good. We must rise. The celebration of The Fourth of July blesses the founding anniversary of our nation, symbolized in part by family gatherings and communal celebrations. In the wake of all that has been tragic and awful, let us lift one another, step forward, and stand strong in community.

The following is from my very first post, July of 2010:

Welcome summer! Collect your flip flops, grab your beach bag and throw in a basket of great books to indulge in. These are the slow days of simmering heat and sun. The pastimes of childhood call. Riding barefoot on a bicycle, playing cards clothes-pinned to the spokes of the wheel, ratta-tatta-tat down the block for an ice cream. Hot afternoons at the city pool, sleepovers under the stars, lemonade stands in red Flyer wagons. The boom of thunder and the salted tar smell of cool rain as it hits a hot street. The vacation trip to the beach. Crammed in the family station wagon packed to the gills, counting state license plates...

Life is forever "partially up in the air." Choose faith. Choose joy. Choose optimism. Find time for yourself and those you love.

Trying to Remember

June 24, 2015

Tags: art and creation, faith, intention, presence, solitude, the moderns

Statue of The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

by Naomi Shihab Nye

When They Say Don't I Know You?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.

Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say Why?

It's not that you don't love them anymore.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.

Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

This poem came to me via the wonderful tiny chapbook by Roger Housden, "Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime." (I have spoken of this collection before.) Housden has this to say: "I find the strong and sober stand of this poem a welcome inspiration. Yet I know there are those who feel otherwise. People have told me they feel it to be ungenerous and curmudgeonly in its attitude to others. On the other hand, I remember seeing Bill Moyers on PBS one evening, and him saying that ever since being called into the hospital for heart trouble, he has kept a copy of this poem by Naoimi Shihab Nye in his top pocket. For me, it's that kind of poem. A reminder poem, a shake-your-tree poem, a wake-up-and-live-your-own-life-before-it's-all-too-late poem."

Makes you pause, doesn't it? Housden calls a poem that speaks deeply a "message from a trusted friend," that is, "the persistent murmur in our own chest." He adds this observation by Keats - which I find the single greatest secret to cultivating poetry (or any art, for that matter) - "Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a Remembrance."

We plod through our promised-to's, the ought-to's, and endlessly defer personal must-do's. Last in priority are those experiences, projects, and commitments that call us to live deeply, exploring all the corners of our being. Pause for a moment and think about this: Do you remember the moment when you knew your life dream? When you crested from childhood into young adulthood and set your sights on the world's horizon? Do you recall the truth you felt in your bones that hot August afternoon, lying in the grass under the green willow branches, staring up and through an endless sky? Have you experienced a sudden shiver holding a newborn? Become aware of the life history in the still, veined hand of your grandmother as she held a tea cup and waited by the window?

Nye's poem is a call back home - live your life, know life, for life is finite.

I appreciate this poem's honest fierceness. Nye doesn't mince words. I need that. Her poem reminds me that a given day on earth is not about obligation. Being present for your own life is not the denial of relationship, responsibility or connection, but practicing purpose. Inhabiting the originality and truth that is yours alone. Answering the call. Whatever that "it" is that beats at the heart of every human spirit and reflected in these lines from THE ART OF DISAPPEARING I carry in my wallet.

You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bells at twilight.

So, I listen.

Good Bread

June 17, 2015

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

The ponies of Shetland Island

Today I yearned for a clean, direct, open moment on the page, my friends.

To write something simple. To tell you something as I felt and thought about that something, without intellectualizing, filters, deeper or attenuated meanings. Like a sandwich. Start with good bread, crisp lettuce, garden tomato, your choice of deliciousness in the middle. Nothing complicated about a sandwich.

Why? Maybe because it's summer, the seasonal reminder that a peach plucked directly from the branch is the peach that is simply most worthy. Like you, I am chafing under the unbearable weight of the news of the world in all its foolishness, waste, and loss. I am also writing this morning in the lingering shadow of a pre-dawn dream of my mother and my dog (both long gone). A dream I did not understand but clung to like driftwood on the open sea upon waking. What is that but feeling the hard edge of life, the ache of what we cannot comprehend?

The hunger to pen sentences that lean against the door jamb, hands in pockets, at ease, reflects in part a working year of constructed essays, edits, and trenching in lines on the page - what it is to be a working writer. But I wonder, does this wish for ease hint at a sea change within? Toward a way of being and writing less constructed but warmly essential? Less clever, a little bit messy? Maybe there is a part of me that needs to sow a handful of words and let them bloom where they fall, full of will and wildness.

Poetry will always speak of life far truer than my words. The ways of poetry hold us bathed in the starlight of distant stars we do not yet see. In a poem what is, is given shape, a doorway. So I begin here, with this powerful poem by the late Philip Levine. Enjoy.

by Philip Levine

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. "Eat, eat" she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."

Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.

Book Review: HRC by Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes

June 10, 2015

Tags: the moderns, patterns, presence, intention

HRC by Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes, Crown Publishers, 2014.

Researched by respected political journalists Jonathan Allen (White House Bureau Chief for Politico) and Amie Parnes (White House correspondent for The Hill newspaper in Washington), HRC roughly covers the time period in Hillary Rodham Clinton's political life from her defeat in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary (to then Senator Barack Obama) through the attack on the Benghazi Embassy in September of 2012, and its contentious aftermath during her tenure as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.

HRC is a thick book, totaling in at 405 pages. A breezy behind the scenes cliff-hanger in places, and a backstory slog in others, HRC the book is much like the political arena it covers. Moving with rapid fire momentum, and employing an open, witty tone at times bordering on insider snark, HRC is primarily an anecdotal narrative compiled with noteworthy attention to timelines, facts, details, and citations. The authors state more than 200 sources were interviewed and freely granted anonymity to discuss their knowledge of Hillary Clinton and the events in this book.

I found HRC engaging, and in places surprising, and, oddly irritating. I felt the book frequently devolved into gossip when not strictly necessary (the events and the woman are fascinating enough). HRC falls off the fence frequently - balancing between a pro versus anti-Clintonism - not quite successfully hitting that sweet spot of observational neutrality. Allen and Parnes seem unable to leave out the easy dig. When the Clintons are funny, as they often are in their hubris and stealth politics, you can't really fault the authors. The Clintons - singularly always still a plural - all too frequently load themselves in the political clay pigeon launcher, with a proverbial "Pull!"

Anecdotes and instances of Hillary Clinton's intellect, tenacity, political paranoia, bull-dogged backbone, sagacity, and fierce dedication interweave throughout Allen and Parnes's political biography with moments of warm reserve, long memory, an endless loyalty, quiet protectiveness of her family, and personal courage. As Hillary Clinton moves forward in her 2016 Presidential campaign - the approximate point in time the book leaves off - the chronology of facts and detail provided by the authors in HRC fill in many of the "Who really is Hillary?" blanks held in the mind of the average voter.

Allen and Parnes predicted Hillary would run in 2016, and I suspect, believe she will be an exceptional, if flawed, contender in the campaign and if she wins the Presidency, the job. By the end of HRC, Hillary's campaign does indeed loom as a given, if not its outcome. To close in a quote taken from HRC:

"I never know what's going to happen next,"she [Hillary Clinton] said. "And I really never have lived my life thinking I knew what was going to happen next. I really try to - I mean it is very John Wesleyan, believe me. I really try to just do the best I can every day, because who know's what's going to happen next? I don't have any idea. So I'm one to just fell like every day I'm being true to my values and I'm contributing in some way, and maybe trying to do some good."

*I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Frigates and Gossamer Threads

June 3, 2015

Tags: intention, family, presence, loss, solitude

The anesthetist said sometimes this happens. It felt
like forever. We leaned in over your body to see what

your face might reveal. What your eyes were seeing
beneath closed lids, we'll never know and you won't tell.

Since we had urged you into surgery we felt responsible.
The ash pallor of skin, how shallow the breath

that curled from your lips and each fine line of sweat
beading high across your cheeks. Once years ago, when

you spoke, we leaned toward the fire. And they sped over
water in a frigate...we remember you saying, though

what we heard was "forget." Smoke hung in our sweaters
and hair all the next day and for the week after. Finally

you came to to peer at our stricken faces lining the shore
of your bed; splattered our shoes. I'm back, you said, hello.

- Katrina Roberts

I found myself revisiting this blog post today from June, 2011. A lot has happened in my life in the last four years. And in yours, I would bet. I believe we can fairly say that life journeys - wanted or unwanted - push us warily towards a vast, unknown horizon. What lies ahead is unfamiliar and inevitably a challenge.

Here are a few of my thoughts from that original post:

Consider the fragility of life, of this precisely patterned web of intention we weave called "living." Now and then, the very fabric of the self comes unmoored. We drift. As the spider's silken thread surfs the sunlight on an unseen breeze, we ride this nothing until intention catches, tears, holds fast. Our thread, like the spider's, latches on to a twig, a leaf, a bit of solid something that is now a fresh stake, a new attempt at presence.

Are we not in fact that gossamer thread? Our lives arc through uncertainties - tiny trapeze artists flung far into the azure sky. Our elaborate constructions - legacies, careers, generations, poems composed in the bottom of scotch glasses - glimmer in the last light. We live within our own mental engineering, designing sky scrapers in our minds. Towers of ambition and steel accomplishment, glass reflections of accumulation, and perhaps, regret. We imagine our safety nets will hold. By choice or circumstance, threads break - and the web floats. Drift guides us to the next anchor.

Katrina Robert's poem hesitates at the edge of consciousness. That shore of separation we flirt with as we skim the waters - alive, damaged, struggling, stronger. And back. And gone. The leap from the trapeze begins the roll through space...and it is the catch that ends the plunge. Our lives, as Roberts eloquently puts it, are balanced in the wordplay of "frigate" and "forget." From the dangerous open seas we guide in the travelers. We rope our crafts in, snug at the dock. Journey's end. "Hello. I'm back."

Until we are loosed again.

Beautiful Day

May 29, 2015

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

Into The Roman Theater, Ostia Antica, Italy


Forever busy, it seems,
with words,
I put the pen down

and crumple
most of the sheets
and leave one or two,
sometimes a few,

for the next morning.
Day after day -
year after year -
it has gone on this way,

I rise from the chair,
I put on my jacket
and leave the house
for that other world -

the first one,
the holy one -
where the trees say
nothing the toad says

nothing the dirt
says nothing and yet
what has always happened
keeps happening:

the trees flourish,
the toad leaps,
and out of the silent dirt
the blood-red roses rise.

- Mary Oliver

This is a beautiful time of year. Even if you stand on the threshold of change unsure of your next step, may you find comfort as I have found comfort, in Mary Oliver's words, "out of the silent dirt the blood-red roses rise."

Look ahead. Step forward. Keep on swimming, as Dory says in "Finding Nemo." Make something of something, even if you cannot yet imagine what. Change is the alchemy of circumstance brought about by choice. And choice is a universal endowment: the gift of potential.

Take a moment. Leave your work, set aside worry, ever so briefly abandon ambition and struggle and step gratefully into the receiving world. We exist at the threshold of possibility. We have only to step through one world to find another.

Book Review: The Road to Character by David Brooks

May 21, 2015

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

I recently was on travel in the Mediterranean. The point of my trip was to research places in seven countries that border, or are island nations, of this "sea of destiny." Places which figure in the continuum of history as evidenced by patterns of ancient and modern conflict. The antiquities of Greek and Roman classic battle sites - for example Troy (now in modern day Turkey), or the battle between Octavian and the fleet of Cleopatra and Marc Antony in Prevezza - to the sprawling Mediterranean battlefields of World War II in North Africa, Italy, France and Sicily. War history is profoundly emblematic of the impact of leadership and character on events in human history.

I took with me on this journey David Brooks' new nonfiction book, "The Road to Character." I knew his study of human character would reference Eisenhower, Marshall, Augustine among others, and thought it might dovetail nicely with my travels. Brooks is a readable writer, his voice genial on the page. His book is structured around separating what he terms "eulogy character" from "resume character": that is, those qualities rooted deeply within one's nature and upbringing that make a deeply moral and resilient self, versus those qualities primarily developed as window-dressing and acquired for specific goals or situations to serve the ambitions of the ego. A diametric Brooks terms simply as Adam I versus Adam II.

Setting aside for the moment the framing of a discussion of character in religious context, or the mild sexism by today's standards of the choice of the term "Adam" (as in Adam and Eve, coined in the 1965 work by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in "Lonely Man of Faith") as the framework for talking about the deepest aspects of humanity, the real problem for me is that Brooks is writing around a schematic of character he never quite defines and then bolsters with case biographies to substantiate arbitrary conclusions. This makes for a confusing read as the book moves back and forth through history discussing an odd range of men and women selected to exemplify some aspect of personal character development Brooks has deemed important to their ultimate role in events of historical importance.

Brooks organizes his chapters around ideas such as struggle, self-conquest, dignity, love, ordered love, the big me, etc., and case biographies are used to order his arguments about Adam I inner authenticity as opposed to Adam II egoism, and the development of meaningful character. The problem for me is that without Brooks defining "character" beyond its implicit religious or moral codes or otherwise hinged upon command leadership or charity, he's defaulted on something extremely hard to pin down. I found myself yearning for a solid discussion of human character not explicitly tied to historical achievement: a discussion of that slate of human traits that define and empower people to do the things they do. The very word "character" is value loaded. In Brooks' book it is used as a euphemism for admirable, and that which distinguishes someone from the greater masses.

I truly wanted to like "The Road to Character" but the narrative is uneven, and without what I would consider a meaningful metric of "character." In the end, Brooks' study is about grand personalities.

Footprints, Weavers

May 13, 2015

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

Why do we explore? Beyond the obvious relaxation of leaving behind the familiar for the fresh freedom of non-routine, why do we travel? What is it about discovery that produces connection in our hearts and minds?

I have noticed of late that in contrast with the travels of my youth, thirty years or more ago, today's world is less diverse and more incrementally universal in character and habit. I am sure the same might be said thirty years before that, as we slide the marker backward. Somewhere in the distant past we would discover the once true diversity of the world, large and strange, that now, in the acceleration of the electronic web, creeps toward a newly homogenized blend mixed with flavors and echoes of the old.

The idea that the present is always settling toward homogenous stability. A stability altered by any exogenous factor that challenges, and stirs; that when rooted in time, evolves itself into a new homogeneity. And thus evolution occurs, over and over, spark to stability, old to new. We change because of what is new. We absorb change by making it part of who we are.

Travel is our window into the history of humanity, bookmarked in time. The Athens I visited in 1981 is not the Athens of 2015, nor the Athens of 400 BC. The ancient relics of classical antiquity loom, dormant; yet are erasing themselves, stone by cracked stone, from the present future. Travel draws for us the shadow of history, the footprint of the world in all its past uniqueness contrasted with the familiar present from which we translate our understanding. We are always of both then and now. Points in a continuum of events that loop infinitely through points of time. In journeys of exploration we frame our understanding of an evolving world.

I am both saddened by the erosion of global differences and heartened by our elbow-to-elbow humanity. We are, despite events in the headlines, losing many of the sharp-edged facades of nationalism even as we confront the deeper conflicts in human nature and behavior. As if humanity is collectively regressing through time from the many cities, to the one village, to the family. Fractious, occasionally peaceful. We are becoming more one even as that oneness is a larger collection of us.

Travel is a way to root in historical narrative. To contemplate ancient classical arts and dramas and the stories of human history through a great sieve. What might Antigone whisper within the dreams of Shakespeare? What faith and ambitions echo in the bog burials of the Vikings, travel the Silk Road, were won and lost in the battles of the Caesars? What familiar fear would we find in a soldier's journal during the trench warfare of WWI? What tribal art echoes in the cut-outs of Matisse, what dreams of flight from Icarus to the Wright brothers? Can we taste the connection between the milled bread of Roman Ostia Antica and the brioche of revolutionary Paris? The world is a kaleidoscope of intersecting evolutions, of invention busting out randomly and intermittently - the seeds of history scattered on the wind.

As we explore we sense the patterns that weave together all things and places and behaviors. We begin to see the potholes, the tears, the unraveling across time in the grand design. We also perceive the repairs, the transmutations, the inspirations. We are weavers seated at the fire - the ever-burning flame of human history. Our narrative traversing the seasons, displayed in the cycles of the constellations overhead as we weave. We weave, we endlessly weave.

I give you this remarkable poem by Richard Siken with this thought: Might history be all that which is already here?

by Richard Siken

I am the wind and the wind is invisible, all the leaves
tremble but I am invisible, bloom without flower, knot
without rope, song without throat in wingless flight, dark
boat in the dark night, pure velocity. As the hammer is
a hammer when it hits the nail, and the nail is a nail when
it meets wood, and the invisible table begins to appear
out of mind, pure mind, out of nothing, pure thinking.
Through darkness, through silence, a vector, a violence,
I labor, I lumber, I fumble forward through the valley as
winter, as water, I mist and frost, flexible and elastic to
the task. I am the hand that lifts the rock, I am the mind
that strings the worm and throws the line and feels the tug,
the flex in the pole, and foot by foot I find the groove,
the trace in the thicket, the key in the lock, as root breaks
rock, from seed to flower to fruit to rot, a holy pilgrim
moving through the stations of the yardstick. I track,
I follow, I hinge and turn, frictionless and efficient as an
equals sign. I flip and fold, I superimpose, I become
location and you veer toward me, the eye to which you
are relative, magnetized for your revelation. Hook and bait,
polestar and checkmate, I am your arrival, there is no
refusal, we are here, you see, together, we are already here.

Meditations at Sea

May 7, 2015

Tags: art and creation, nature, patterns, finding joy, presence, solitude

We travel too fast
through time. Skimming, crushing,
small worlds of breath.
We travel too fast
through sky, water, waves
that carry one unvoiced song.
The sun is gone
before we know that warmth,
folded, encompassing.
Behind the frayed gold ribbons
the thunder of death.
We travel too fast
through birthdays, anniversaries, one unfathomable
We blow through the door, throw down
our keys,
too hurried, rushed.
The sinking sun on an ancient sea.
The destiny that brought you
We travel too fast
from the worlds
of becoming to the worlds
of dust.
We must slow.
And hear the song.

- GB 5/2/2015 drafted on board the small ship Island Sky

The last two weeks I have been at sea, anchoring at various ports in countries that shoulder the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean and its mythic seas, the Ionian, the Aegean, the Tyrrhenian, the Ligurian, are part of a vast and ancient seaway that traders, travellers, and warriors have journeyed upon for centuries. This nearly landlocked sea feels a bit like the block on the corner, quite honestly - alive all hours of the day with conversations and chance meetings. The chaotic internationalized ports; the vessels on the horizon pushing the sun, others looming large at daybreak.

There is a hypnotic beauty characteristic of the sea. Fresh landscapes whip in on the winds, in the ever-changing cool mists and layered clouds. These are thoughts, echoes, impressions that rise in our thinking when we still and let what lies outside of us expand and fill our inner horizons. Sailing on the sea exposes human unease, knotted emptions, longings bottomless as the deep. The sea demands surrender to her moods and inclinations: and with surrender, ease. Freedom. Keeping with the natural tides and winds. We respect the sea. The marine blue of her waters may darken to a cold gray, churn, furl, flatten like glass. The sun and moon cast ladders of light from there to nowhere.

We travel too fast through time. We skewer the seconds together as though they were not small worlds to be savored, one and then another. The sky is so vast to be contemplated, not split in transit in a sonic boom. The sea is an undulating song, a meditation, a solitary passage into the soul; an aria of what the natural elements mean to all living things.

Do not travel so fast. Slow. Feel out the surface of your time alive, let it roll, let it thunder, let it settle, but let it be expressed. Slow. Do not jet through a sunset missed in the rearview mirror; let the sinking sun fold around you and carry you with it over another horizon. The poetry of the sky belongs to everyone.

Histories and Fictions

April 22, 2015

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

Valetta, Malta

Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematicians subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend.
- Francis Bacon, Essays, "Of Studies"

Acts themselves alone are history... Tell me the act, O historian, and leave me to reason upon them as I please; away with your reasoning and your rubbish! All that is not action is not worth reading.
- William Blake

History, as an entirety, could only exist in the eyes of an observer outside it and outside the world. History, only exists, in the final analysis, for God.
- Albert Camus, "The Rebel"

I have been musing, of late, on the distinctions between fiction and history. Is history the retelling of a factual narrative, for the most part based on action and not speculation, or is it, as Francis Bacon declares, a particular reasoning applied to aspects of human life to accumulate an "history," and not simply a time-line?

The writer Jorge Luis Borges argued quite effectively in Other Inquisitions, that "Universal history is the history of a few metaphors." Which leads me to my question: Is there a worthy difference in how we understand ourselves through history, narratives of fiction, poetry, or creative retellings in nonfiction? Do all these various ways of telling bleed across lines?

Take as an example narrative nonfiction, sometimes called creative nonfiction. Defined loosely here as the embellishment, without factual distortion, of a skeleton of true information. Is this not what we think of as classical history? The past relayed to us by the ancients in essay, epic or ballad, religious texts, or theatre? Does memoir differ from biography beyond its intimate focus and use of filters less universal and more personal? Does an oversight differ from a lie? A misrepresentation from an omission? Or to look at the question sideways for a moment, if fiction lets us see our real selves through an artful staging of an invented series of events, how does that understanding differ from the internal drama of a reasoned essay, interview, or bulletin "from the front," if the basic premise of truth in telling is observed?

Truth in telling: That to the best of one's knowledge these events are what could be, might have been, surely were, once upon a time. The preamble to all narrative, "Once upon a time." My favorite histories of the world weave fact with interpretation, story with reflection, event with consequence. I do this same weaving of factual thread and colorful bits as do most writers. Day after day we build the imaginary, drag fact across speculation to spark the invention of stories. In this way we retell a mystery, or sketch our observations of a crumbling or evolving culture.

As a human, I sympathize with Blake - let us deem for ourselves the meaning of things. Yet Camus hits the nail squarely on the head: Who but some being who is not us will ever know the complete history of mankind and what meaning it may possess?