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QUINTESSENCE

Colored Lawn Chairs

Our lives were stored in our heads.
They hadn't begun, we were both sure
we'd know when they did.
They certainly weren't this.

We read, we listened to the portable radio.
Obviously this wasn't life, this sitting around
in colored lawn chairs.
- from "August," Louise Gluck

Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, and so the struggle is everlasting. Who am I today? What do I see today? How shall I use what I know, and how shall I avoid being victim of what I know? Life is not repetition." - Robert Henri

These two ideas, from the poet and the philosopher, explore the tension between imagined life and reality. The dream and the truth. What we dream our lives to be and the way we see them unfold. Do we see them unfold? As we while away the long summer days in lawn chairs, do we see this is life? The poet Louise Gluck observes, "Our lives were stored in our heads." Life, the very stuff spooled by our brains in the time spent constructing it in our heads. Sometimes we are not living, but re-living: absorbed in nostalgia, lost in musings, given to fixation on the past. Robert Henri warns us, "Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday."

There is something to be said for becoming tuned to the given moment, noting the quality of freshness. The expiring, momentary quality of the never-to-be-repeated. We may have sat in lawn chairs all summer, but if each day was in the company of a new friend and conversation, a new page in a book, held a unique insight, favorite tune on the radio, then the moments are not re-living but genuine. There is a difference I think between fresh and new. The "new" is something never before known, "fresh" is given to this day and may very well be familiar. The real punch line in the poem by Gluck is her young narrator's confident statement she would be sure when actual life began, when life as they imagined it would spread in technicolor across the white screen of their summer days. The future selves imagined contained like simple ungerminated seeds within the ordinary hours of their days.

What I know from the blessings of growing older are that the ordinary hours are the honey of life's busyness. We condense the swell of moments that link days to years in waves of freshly gathered experiences. Experiences that hang like heavy droplets of morning dew in the throat of an iris. We are this. This universe in the universe of one. And it is beautiful. And ordinary. The summer of books, the radio, and colored lawn chairs.

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Sail Away

Photo: Jeff Bennett

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowline. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
- Mark Twain

Twain's call to adventure has niggled at me all morning. I think of our youth and the drive to risk and discover. How modern society has strapped that adventurous impulse to a desk. The newspapers this weekend were filled with articles about college grads returning to campus life for graduate degrees, unable to find employment, slipping back into the "prepraring for life" apprenticeships that are the pillar of academic life. I, too, chose this path in the late seventies: driven back to campus for a professional degree in the midst of national unemployment and inflation. We are here again? The national economy fails our fledging new work force. But isn't the real issue the compression created between these years of childhood, education, and work? Where is the adventure, the dream, the joy of discovery found within scheduled lessons and sports, "summer educational opportunities" we used to call camp, and the anxious college grad? Have we robbed our children of the spice of independence and freedom? A life to be made in the living?

On a recent televised sports event, the Longboard Channel Crossing Race between Molokai and Maui, one of the top surf board competitors mentioned having taken a year off to sail the world, a dream of his. And now he wondered if he'd jeopardized his professional sports standing by doing so. Then suddenly he grinned into the glare of the sun and said, "Nope. Best year of my life!"

Can you say that? Can I? Can we look at a single grand adventure in our lives with such satisfaction? And isn't life just a little bit less if we can't? I can't believe it's ever too late to explore, to throw off the bowlines. Let Twain's words fill our sails. Choose to not regret, choose to do what we dream of. And by all means, blow a big wind into the sails of our children as they poise at the edge and embrace the unknown of the world. There is so much to do.
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Luck by Design

Luck is the Residue of Design (by George Torok)
I like, and have adopted Mr. Branch Rickey’s way of looking at things. He was an old accomplished baseball executive. History knows him best for breaking the colour barrier for Jackie Robinson, in 1952. He said, "Luck is the residue of design." Here’s the full quote.

"Things worthwhile generally don’t just happen. Luck is a fact, but should not be a factor. Good luck is what is left over after intelligence and effort have combined at their best. Negligence or indifference are usually reviewed from an unlucky seat. The law of cause and effect and causality both work the same with inexorable exactitudes. Luck is the residue of design."

I totally agree with you and old man Rickey. We’re all lucky if WE choose!! It’s true, we make our own luck. Attitude plays a major role. I’ve worked hard to be where I am, and with out the work, luck wouldn’t matter much.
Take care, Tom
———————
Enjoy this insight from my good friend Tom on the topic of luck.
- George Torok

This quotation jumped out at me today from an email received from a fellow parent on the topic of student academic struggles. The debate on whether for a particular student a "math gene" wasn't in the cards and could sheer hard work and determination prevail, resulted in this parent offering Branch Rickey's famous quotation.

This advice strikes to the heart of opportunity. To paraphrase the Chinese character for Opportunity - "Opportunity is preparation meets fortune." I set my own life's course with a good plan and a lot of hope. While it seems true that ability and or planning can never guarantee an outcome on a given day, the preparatory work to arrive at that point seems to crack open the door of unforeseen opportunity. The idea that luck is what is left of design plays with the thought that when we work diligently or passionately toward a goal, unknown connections or resources for success often arise in the wake of our efforts. Some part synchronicity, some part collusion of intention and resources, luck really does follow the rolling wave.

Simply put, we work our damnedest and sometimes life yields more than our efforts might merit.
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Last Page on Childhood

THE BOY WHO LIVED
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense.

- Chapter One, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," J. K. Rowling, 1997

The end of childhood was celebrated this weekend. My daughter and son, aged 22 and 20, grew up with Harry Potter, the self-doubting, bespectacled misfit boy, aged eleven, who enchanted young readers from the moment Hagrid, the Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwart's, left him on the Dursley's front doorstep. Hooked from the beginning, the kids and I would race to the bookstore for the latest book of Harry's adventures in the wizarding world. We would stay up late nightly as I read the early books aloud, the kids tumbled across my lap in their pajamas. Harry's misfortunes, friendships, and madcap mastery of both his fate and talents held us enthralled. The final 759 page adventure, "The Deathly Hallows," was claimed from the postman by my then high school-aged daughter, who holed herself up in her room and read the book straight through. And joy! The films and J. K. Rowling's imaginary world were brought to life by gifted actors and evocative stage settings cast perfectly to the story, kept true by the author herself.

It isn't often I say thank you to another author for more than just his or her sheer talent. But Rowling deserves credit for more than the gift of young reader books so well written they turned thousands of children, including my own, into avid readers. Suddenly kids lined up with Harry Potter books in their clutches at our elementary school Scholastic Fairs, asked for the new Potter books for birthdays, read and reread the stories. Harry Potter books gave parents a reason to chuckle as they read them aloud, enjoying J. K. Rowling's subtle wit and word play, and thankful for the occasional direct words of wisdom all parents hope their children absorb. At one point the Head of Hogwarts School of Wizardry, Professor Dumbledore, says to a young Harry, "It is our choices Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." The great wise wizard isn't speaking of magic or great accomplishments and awards, but of values and integrity, choosing good from evil. It is not our talents that make us who we are, it is what we choose to do with them.

J.K. Rowling has my unending respect as a fine writer, a spinner of tales, and someone who did her homework - knowing precisely what each successive group of readers would want in a gripping tale as Harry's young fans grew up with her hero and his friends. The writing grew a bit more complex, deeper, darker, riskier, her young protagonist and his friends ever more aware and affected by the struggles and danger of the outside world. Part II of "The Deathly Hallows" film finale, released this weekend, left my daughter and her friends teary eyed in a packed Manhattan IMAX theatre. "That was the end of my childhood, Mom," she said to me over the telephone. She sounded sad and grateful and wistful all at once. Me too. I will always look at those seven books on our family room shelf and think of the small children I held in my arms as we read until little eyes grew tired, and of the young teens later sprawled on their beds, deep in the latest installment.

Thank you J.K. Rowling. And thank you Harry Potter.
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Wishes


We had, each of us, a set of wishes.
The number changed. And what we wished -
that changed also. Because
we had, all of us, such different dreams.

The wishes were different, the hopes all different.
And the disasters and catastrophes, always different.

In great waves they left the earth,
even the one that is always wasted.

- from "Fable," Louise Gluck

The idea of this poem in its full context is that all wishes differ but one - the wish to live, or to re-live what is done. And how we know in our bodies the unlikely truth of such a wish. It is never granted. And in our hunger for endless life, as the poet writes, the dark nights grow sweet. And once the wish is released, silent. I visit this poem by Louise Gluck often, finding in the tender way she describes human prayers - wild with heartache, urgent and detailed, fantastical, occasionally selfless - this essential, shared final utterance: To live.

That Gluck titled her poem "Fable," is open to many interpretations. Does she speak to the archetypal power of the Other whom our words are directed? Mock the nature of prayers, or wishes? Evoke myth, drawn from our hearts, or the childish innocence from which we wish? I do not know. But without question there is tenderness and compassion in the poet's voice. For you and me. For humans who without proof or reason, wish through difficult nights.

I have of late been consumed with an incessant prayer. A wish, as Gluck might say. One topic, one need, one prayer, one hope. It rises in my thoughts first thing each morning, and is the last ebb of my tired consciousness. I have fallen asleep in the midst of this prayer. Taken up the thread the following dawn. I am a mother caught in fear. Unable to shape the universe, I ask for a greater power to do so. Mine is a prayer of intervention. A wish. And as certain I am that I cannot not pray, I am equally uncertain prayer has a point. Why? Why do our wishes, as the poet says, arise from us, "in great waves they left the earth"?

Perhaps this is just who we are - humans living fables of our own conjecture. Perhaps this exposes the paradigm of our vulnerability. Or perhaps wishing is the answer to our psychological need for story, for a meaning to the end, for a rhyme to the tale. I don't know. But I woke up this morning, in prayer.

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The Truth of Today

IT'S ALL I HAVE TO BRING TODAY (26)
It's all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.
- Emily Dickinson

Shouldn't it give us pause that the oldest works of art are as impressive today in their beauty and spontaneity as they were many thousands of years ago?
- Kasimir Valevich

A summer day, complete and entire.
A work of art, complete and entire.

A balanced equation exists between the glory of one summer day dawning blue and bright, and the rare and breathtaking work of art. Deep within the universal language of symbols and meaning is our human appreciation for beauty and wholeness and the integrity in the juxtaposition of the two. The poet John Keats declared that "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty." Meaning perhaps that the purity of principles abundant in nature and philosophy define the human aesthetic of beauty. Truth is elemental, organic, authentic, and, I would argue, a pillar of natural physical or intellectual composition. Harmony is essential to the beautiful. An ineffable interplay within base elements of nature, of the heart and mind, in the play of music and intellect, the balance of line and proportion, breath and strength, tone and meter. Pure elements in balance - another echo of the fundamental Euclidean math of the universe. Beauty twinkles at us from the depths of quantum physics. Where even quarks dance.

It seems to be a good day for considering the wholeness of beauty, and of nature. The truth of what we know to be right and good.
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A Noble Word

Creativity is a noble word, like justice, compassion, or humaneness. Creativity is a basic component of right living, for it is nothing less than a special loving attitude, a love of learning, a love of action, a love of self, a love of others. I affirm - simply, surely, unequivocally- that I am a creative person.
- Eric Maisel

The idea that creativity is a component of living, of right living, is startling to me. I suppose I have thought of creativity as an approach to life - as in "he or she is so creative" - as though one might also comment how a person behaves in a reasoned, analytical, or spontaneous way. But if creativity is in fact an attitude that has all the aspects from action to love of others contained in its meaning, then the word opens up to us all. Not just the Jackson Pollocks, William Faulkners, or Cole Porters of the planet, but to all of us. Of any age. Lead foot dancers to tone deaf shower serenades. Creativity radiates life. We create instinctively and for unlimited reasons and audiences - for the self, the universe. We create because we live.

My son, who has of late lived within a focused, structured and directed environment with scarce time for the spontaneous creative, has begun to draw again. Pulled out an empty notebook, unearthed a black fine tip calligrapher's pen. Discovered, as he used to as a child, the pleasure in sketching. Spooling deeply tamped energy into daydreams on a page, releasing the pent-up in the psyche. Letting the possible find itself in the undirected line. Wholeness reconnected. I know I often spend time on these pages speaking of intention, of the mystery of any given day. But I'd like to crack open this idea of the organic creative. See what's inside. The cook, the warrior, the musician, the builder, the dancer - any one of us. Creativity as active loving? The opening of the self? If creativity is, as Maisel writes, a basic component of living and a loving attitude, perhaps joy lies in the nature of intention. Engaging the action of creativity.

More than a noble word, creativity is a very human word.
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July Grace


JULY
Heat.
Hard blue skies
and solitude
cape the lost years.
Absence of grace,
of summer sweetness
borne to blackened limbs
of winter trees.
Love,
fruit of patience.
Tart,
running juices down my chin
I eat of you, discover you.
Feed my heart
at the root of you.

In broken rough
the green limn of grace.
In grace
an answer to the years.
In you, July.

- Glenda Burgess

July, month of memories. Of birthdays, deaths, anniversaries, meetings and goodbyes. I wonder, does the power of memory deepen in the lengthening shadow cast from event to day of recollection? Perhaps the emotional punch of reminiscence arises from some scorched earth of the heart. A yellow line drawn around an experience etched into our souls, until finally the outline alone remains, a crime scene of a sort. Memory, minus catalyst, absent object, naked of touch.

A curious thing, when memory marks anniversary. We revisit importance, dip our toes in familiar waters. Feel again the tide of our lives pull against the shore of an important date, a significant choice, an unforgettable intimacy. Anniversaries become the old sofas of our souls. We lie on our backs in cushions shaped to our weight, at rest in the imprint of our loves, our years. Birthdays mark the new, the continuing, the next triumphant lap around the bend. Deaths, the last exit. But anniversaries linger in the then and now. They have certain beauty.

It seems memory is a koan. A wisdom teaching. Somewhere in the unassailable cause is an unfolding effect. In that tenuous blossom between moment and recollection lies some truth to be found, how we live and how we relive. Why regret, why fondness, why wonder? Why does night not obliterate day like the thousand passing suns of dark space? Love is the fruit of patience. Grace gives new green.

To July. To the book of friends and loves here and gone. To the tart taste of memory.
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Sky Party

Shaken awake as children in northern Maine
to see the soundless sky flare red and green

we stood barefooted rubbing bleary eyes
and wondered of the meaning for our short lives

of such a wild display. Would there be another
day?
- from "Aurora," Katrina Roberts

The unexpected, the natural wonder. The manmade, the party in the sky. Fireworks mimic the auroras, the auroras speak of the beauty of deep space. Last night the sparklers and dazzling blossoms of pyrotechnic awe celebrating our nation's Independence Day rocketed skyward to hymns of American liberty and grace. Impressive, yes. But in reflection this morning I thought of the northern auroras: mysterious, the pleasure in the unexpected. We go through our days with our routines, chores to tick off, meetings and deadlines, kids sports, bills to pay. What happens when the skies above us suddenly tilt in a carousel of color and take our eyes upward? We pause. We think, as the poet writes, "of the meaning for our short lives."

I think the unexpected in nature has a way of reminding us to not make assumptions about life, about our presence in the world, about the outcome of any given moment. The auroras, that playful free wheeling dazzle of nature across the dark skies, is no human creation. An atmospheric display independent of human sustenance or survival. The auroras are exuberance, nature belting songs to the stars mindless of the stories we humans give our world. The amazing, the freakish and unexpected. The world awry, the night in a wash of electric color. Would there be another day?

This day I shall try to live without assumptions. See what crosses my sky that is not of me and my organized hours but of nature. Pleasure in the surprise of existence.
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