Stardust

unknown     “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

Carl Sagan, Cosmos

 

I’m writing this evening when my brain feels as scattered as stardust, blown about about the cosmic wind. My focus is lost; I think there’s a thousand things I should be doing with myself to oppose the insanity that has taken this country. Where to best put my energy? I come up with a plan, a theory, and the next event, the next encounter, changes my mind. I want to write about how sorry I am that you have had this terrible loss, this friend that is gone from your life, like the loss I suffered nine years ago..nine years! It’s so hard to believe she’s been gone that long. See how my mind races, I am irritable, and I feel that I’m no good to anyone.

Quite by accident I found myself this afternoon, with my boyfriend,standing in front of a Holocaust memorial. We had gone to Forest Park in Portland for a hike, and I needed one, as I felt the anxious energy building and building. I have gone to the Vietnam memorial in Portland several times but  I must admit, regretfully, that I never even knew where the city’s Holocaust memorial was.  We went a direction in the park I’ve never taken, and there it was, hidden in the enormous pine trees, a black wall, with some tiny memorial statues, not of people, but rather a broken suitcase, a teddy bear, a pair of eyeglasses, all in a place where one could trip over them, solid metal renderings of personal possessions. We took the time to read the entire history of Hitler’s destruction of Jewish people, disabled people, Roma people, and anyone else he decided to hate, but especially the Jews. The engraving told of  early history of the Holocaust, beginning with banning Jews from immigrating, then from stores and businesses, then from schools, and registering them, forcing them to designate themselves with a middle name of Sarah or Israel, mocking these honorable names.

Sound hideously familiar? I know it does to you.

My mind is still racing. Only in the past few years did I really understand that my father’s history is Jewish. His family seems to have arrived a long time before the Holocaust in Europe, maybe a hundred years. Names appeared in the more easily accessible records now available online..a great grandmother named Rachel, a great grandfather named Isaac. If they hadn’t moved to Illinois in the nineteen century, it’s likely I wouldn’t be here. Not that that’s so very important…it’s just likely.

Thirty three years ago I stood with my college classmates in Auschwitz, Poland, reading in our second language, German, the ugly orders that exterminated thousands or tens of thousands of people in “relocation” camps. Behind us was a plexiglass wall where tangled eyeglasses, the actual eyeglasses, kept by the Nazis, were piled up on display.  Another room, behind more plexiglass, was a ceiling high mound of human hair. We walked on silently to and through the gas chambers where the fingernail scratches of the dying, the marks of frantic scraping at the walls, were still easy to see.

The bus ride back to Krakow was silent.  I remember staring out at the bleak landscape and crying.

I will never forget that experience. I doubt any of my classmates have forgotten.

Now, at this moment, we live in a country that is banning immigration to a group of people based on their country of origin and their religion.  I see comments online that chastise the educated for believing their liberal professors and accuse me and other deeply worried citizens of “whining” and “not understanding national security”.  Now I feel angry, even enraged.   I think, I’d be happy to introduce these fools to the descendants of victims of their ancestors’ great sin, the destruction of Native Americans. Perhaps they worry that they will be treated the way their immigrant ancestors treated the actual North Americans when they arrived.  Failure to comprehend after this experience would then result in me ripping their lungs out.

That would not be very productive, I think.

It’s amazing how rage is catching, like a virus that spreads everywhere, infecting, infecting.

Anger and rage, part of grief. I feel such sorry for my country, and I don’t want to sound trite, but I do love America, I do. I wept when those towers came down, and I was both proud and humbled when, during my recent travels, a French couple told me no matter who the President, Americans are always welcome in France…This ongoing welcome,  I knew, because of World War II, when we opposed Hitler’s evil, although we were late, so late to the defense, but this couple, this pair, forgives America for that and for the current travesty, and welcomes me, and you, and America, even though most of us had nothing to do with that war, we were not even born.

I wonder, are you angry? Are you angry that your friend was taken from you when he was not very old? I was, so so angry, I had plans for my lost friend too, nine years ago, upcoming plans at the time, and I loved her.  He can’t contribute his talent anymore, we can’t look forward to any of his works, and you will miss his friendship, probably more than any of his writing.  I know I miss her, so deeply. I am not as angry as I was at first.

At the time of my friend’s death, she was working on a draft statement by psychologists, a position paper against psychologists contributing, by assessing or evaluating, prisoners who may be tortured. Guantanamo was a big concern and it seemed misguided professionals had somehow lost their way and gotten involved. The ugly possibility of torture has arisen again…the dangerous fool leading us has stated his support, and his uneducated! dare I say it! minions sell the American public on its “effectiveness”.

For some reason, and please recall I am scattered today, Carl Sagan floated into my mind. There was a part in the original Cosmos series where he reminded his audience…we are all part of the stars…we are all made of stardust. The Jewish dead,  the exterminated Indians, your friend, my friend, you and me, we are all stardust.  Today you and I hold a certain form that the stardust takes, a human form.  I hope the universe sends me a sign as to what to do.  Maybe I can combine the stardust that is mine, and the stardust that may have been part of others, and find the right thing to do, and I will be less strewn about, less angry and confused.

I hope.

 

Advertisements

After Terry Tempest Williams

I write to fight loneliness.  I write to argue with myself.  I write to create new worlds.  I write to destroy old worlds.  I write to simplify the complicated.  I write to capture the smooth surface of glass on a mountain lake.  I write to make maps to the past.  I write to follow those maps and travel to a different place and time.  I write to envision a different life.  I write to calm my nerves. I write for peace of mind.  I write for peace.  I write for my children.  I write out of guilt.  I write for pleasure.  I write as a guilty pleasure like ice cream.  I write when I should be doing something else.  I write when I should be sleeping and can’t.  I write to make a sloth made of real gold and give it the ability to speak.  I write to dispel my own myths.   I write to show the amber at the tops of the clouds over a slate sunset.  I write knowing nothing to be as beautiful in the mind as to the eye.  I write to bring myself to tears, to stop the tears, to make you cry.  I write to misbehave.  I write to give voice to things I will never say.  I write to listen to the truth I have that no one else believes.  I write to gain wisdom.  I write knowing that it is approximation.  I write because others have written.  I write in apology. I write for forgiveness.  I write with hope that you will understand my vision of the world, different from yours. I write because although you are gone I feel your breath.  I write because you don’t want me. I write because I want to remake you out of paper, only better.  I write because I want to be god.  I write because I don’t want to be misunderstood.  I write knowing you won’t understand.  I write to save my soul.  I write to conjure ghosts without believing they exist.  I write to trouble you.  I write out of respect. I write to cut my heart out and put it on a stick.  I write to stop the clock.  I write to dispel gravity and become unstuck to the dying things on this planet.  I write to imagine.

why I write

 

Why I Write – Terry Tempest Williams

Escape velocity, II…or Escape velocity, aye-aye you might say

We are hunkered down here in Colorado too, against the wind rather than the snow.  My town has recently recorded record-breaking 101 mph wind gusts.  No escape from the wind here, nothing to protect us from blowing debris or falling branches.  Best to stay inside. Maybe we need to move to Mexico close to the equator if we want to escape.  The earth itself can give us a push.  Did you know satellites are launched at the equator to use the spin of the earth to help them take flight?  Anything on the surface of the Earth at the equator is already moving at 1670 kilometers per hour.

You tell me that even Lewis and Clark were trapped by the storms, and all they had seen and mapped might have been lost had it gotten any worse.  Didn’t they draw all kinds of animals as well as mapping the mountain and rivers?   Species of birds and animals the East Coast had never seen before. And on the request of Jefferson – practically a king.    I think it’s a good thing to be reminded we’re not kings, even they were just as much trapped by the weather as a simple animal, even a bird for example, maybe a Snow Goose.  (Still no follow-up news on the 10,000 dead geese at the SuperFund site.)  Even if we were kings, (I prefer that we talk about queens, sick of kings with their narcissism and hate. Besides queens often had more power than kings, they wear the pants -except Henry the 8th with his quest for a male heir-  and who wants to talk about old men with power?)   even if we were kings, we can’t control the great raging force of wind and weather.  But we can pay close attention, so not to be trapped in a caustic lake.

In the way that one click  leads to another, I started searching for escape velocity and ended with a term in physics called “flutter,” or more correctly “aeroelastic flutter.”    It is apparently a term meaning the beginning of the absolute collapse of everything.    See the Tacoma Narrows bridge video of 1940:   https://vimeo.com/13323591

Not only is the bridge in the 1940 video acting as if it were a simple string in the wind, rippling like a wave in water, but there is an act of human bravery involved.  Rather, a brave man in a hat.   In the video, (in 1940 it was actually a 16mm camera) a man goes back on the swaying bridge, to retrieve a cocker spaniel left in an abandoned car.   The terrified dog bites him and cannot be rescued.   I wish he had been able to get the dog.  I suppose that only happens in Hollywood.   I’d like to be able to do that…to have enough faith or stupidity to think that I wouldn’t be dragged to my demise.  I also need to start wearing hats.  The video is hypnotizing, as we know that the ultimate destruction is eminent.

When I was a girl, I helped my older brothers to build epoxy bridges for a college class they all took, a class they all dreaded in turn:  Fluid dynamics.   It was very math intensive, and the final was a project constructing a bridge.  On their way to becoming chemical engineers, each in turn tried to create the bridge that would hold the most weight.  It was built out of epoxy and toothpicks.  I would dip the toothpick in glue and hand it to my brother, and he would strategically place it according to a design he had to come up with.  So, maybe that’s why a woman writer likes physics. Maybe we quickly connected physics and art.  I think you helped build epoxy bridges too.  If not then, now.

“Beauty for some provides escape, who gain a happiness in eyeing the gorgeous buttocks of the ape or Autumn sunsets exquisitely dying. “   — Langston Hughes  

I quote Langston Hughes this MLK day. My thought is that perhaps writing is an escape into the mind, an escape from some of the horrors or boredom of the real world.  He says in the quote it is “Beauty for some provides escape”, so perhaps writing is the study of Beauty.  I like that he mentioned the gorgeous buttocks of the ape.  If he lived now, would he have said the “ape exquisitely dying, and the eyeing of the Autumn sunset?”  In writing from the human spirit, there is no black or white.   As I look out the window, beauty is a study of wind.

“I took up writing to escape the drudgery of that every day cubicle kind of war.” –Walter Mosley

So it all  comes down to the Clash.  Should I stay or should I go?   See how much we learned in high school?  If I go there will be trouble, if I stay it will be double.    When playing poker, I’ve been told, the correct answer is always: It depends.   

Sometimes it seems the flutter happens so quickly there isn’t enough time for an escape plan.  (See: dog in car.)  I think we’ve both seen women in abusive relationships who need a plan to get out.  That was my first thought when you mentioned escape velocity, something to be overcome.  Not just the gravity of the earth, but the gravity of a situation.  Nothing is ever simple, and leaving is also about surviving….about escaping a violent man she has deeply hurt or offended –by the act of leaving itself….it can be tricky.  Sometimes the flutter will follow her.  Escape is about money,  timing, surviving on one’s own.   It’s about admitting the mistake and facing the unknown.  It’s about putting your own survival above others, and sometimes that affects the children, children who you love more than yourself, even your dog.   I get mad when people don’t understand how abused women can stay with an abusive man.

I mean, it’s easy to see that Life (with a capital “L”) has a way of throwing you into entanglements.  I was never with an abuser, but I was with a guy who wanted to tangle me into his failing bridge, asking me to watch him drink himself to death.  Even now, after his death, I still feel that I did not escape that devastation. But few of us escape unscathed.  I guess the lucky ones just escape with a dog bite.  Part of me loves that escape of the soul, that drunken charisma, the carefree-doesn’t -matter-what-happens life.  Maybe when you’re trapped, its better to live in the moment.  You know, the gypsy soul.  It’s way too early to drink, so I turn to Baudelaire.

It is the hour to be drunken! to escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish. —Charles Baudelaire

What is happening in the news is alarming, and I think we are all sort of watching to see if and in what direction things are beginning to sway.  Even tall buildings allow for a little sway, and we have a constitution to protect us.  Signs and all indications have us worried that things are going wrong. At least for me, the swaying began the minute that a President was caught on tape talking about grabbing women.   That sway made me pretty nauseous.  I’m hoping it’s not as bad as it seems, and in four more short years, we’ll find a different bridge to travel, but as they say, we can cross that when we come to it.  Hopefully it won’t be in the middle of aero-elastic flutter.

A marathon of writing…

a response to Escape Velocity

Escape Velocity

Escape velocity is the speed that an object needs to be traveling to break free of a planet or moon’s gravity well and leave it without further propulsion.
       Today’s a day about plans, and thwarted plans, and how plans go south when you mean to go north. The day’s about comedy, since, as a close friend of mine told me, we are not kings, so this story can’t be a tragedy.  Today started last night, like all days do. It’s a day of shrugged shoulders, of four wheel drives sent out in the night on a mission to restore power, a day when the hope of that long delayed meetings would occur, and this time, this time, result in definitive action… and instead, we can’t get down our driveways. It’s a day that reminds us that we need to eat and stay warm before we can consider weighty philosophical subjects, a day that when we shudder at the prospect of a few hours without wifi,  but a broken heater is much more uncomfortable. It’s a day when we wonder if we could make it to the doctor if we needed a doctor, and except the most ill among us, we are not really worried.  We may not think much about plumbing on most days, but today, most of us have had thoughts about water and pipes.
          Portland is having is eighth! (eighth?!) snow day this winter, a year of note.  Since it “hardly ever” snows here, Portland civic leaders forgot to or decided not to buy too much snow equipment, and we’re pretty much locked down. It’s far short of a pioneer adventure, but we can think about Lewis and Clark holed up with their traveling companions in Astoria two hundred and more years ago, unable to move, and Clark getting more and more depressed, mud seeping into cabins, food running short.  Their mission was in some ways, completed. They had reached the west coast of the continent; there was no coast to coast waterway, the easily navigated route of their dreams. They sat in an Oregon coastal winter, snow in some amounts, but mostly relentless rain. They had to wait to walk, ride and paddle East to say what they had seen.  It was Jefferson’s vision Lewis and Clark carried out; the two leaders and their small party struggled forward to the edge of the land, buckled down, and then waited  and waited to bring their lofty findings home.
       The return mission was delayed by weather.
       Weather is a mighty force that affects escape velocity. One thing I know about myself…I have spent many years planning, executing and delivering the goods. When the carefully crafted plans didn’t work out,  I  often assumed I lacked something in the execution. I was confused.  I was thinking I was a king, and that my thwarted plans were tragic, a personal shortcoming.
       I think now it might have been the weather. Or the earth as a whole.  A bit of a cosmic joke played on a small player.  It’s just hard to achieve that escape velocity, the energy needed to make the plans fly.  Something as simple as snowfall can stop it all.
        Our bodies keep us connected to the earth, they are part of the gravity, and they have a relationship with the earth and atmosphere that keep us grounded.  Our feet hurt, our noses run and we slip and fall.  Someone develops a fever. The snow falls from the sky, we  need to put on hats and gloves and coats and long underwear.  The sun beats down, water dries up or rushes down, we need something to drink. We are foolish to ignore the weather and its bigger cousin, the climate. Go outside without a coat today in Portland, and you’ll feel it and fast. Now think bigger. Civilizations with mighty plans, one on Easter Island, for  example, disappeared because the jesters used up what was there, and the earth fought back.
       We’re pretty smart, we comedians. We’ve found ways of hiding and protecting ourselves from the real ruler, the planet we live on. We build warm houses, we have snow plows (if we decide to buy them) and we know ways of melting snow and cooling off in the heat. We found a fluid that keeps our heated and cooled vehicles moving. We create tools and machines, and plans to achieve escape velocity and arrive somewhere else, coming back with soil samples or a new type of flower.
       But make no mistake, we’re not kings. The earth froze my toes today and moved my personal economy just a little bit in the wrong direction. My orbit was much closer to home and I had to slog to get away from the house and slog to get back.  I can plan all I want, and gravity pulls me down, and the snow piles up in the driveway.
        I have occasionally shared my disappointment that no human has yet walked around on Mars. After today, my hometown in paralysis, I realize I should fall over in utter shock that we reached the moon, and that a  couple little remote control buggies from California have chug a chugged all over Mars without a human driving.
20170111_144333
      Plans thwarted are the norm. I’m going to rejoice on the rare days when myself, or someone else, reaches escape velocity, and even more amazing, returns to earth without burning up on reentry.  If you get to bring back a soil sample too, or maybe a flower, or a snowflake…well, maybe I will reconsider and call you a king.

Gravity 2 – plus infinity

All I know about gravity, is it’s some invisible force that keeps us from floating off into space.  I suppose someday we’ll figure out that it’s something to do with mass and speed and motion and density…or some hamster running on an eternal wheel spinning us around the sun, or  jibbers crabst might have something to do with it.  Hail Jibbers!  Or maybe gravity is just there to keep us from flying.

Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t know.

 “Most gravity has no known origin. Is it some exotic particle? Nobody knows. Is dark energy responsible for expansion of the universe? Nobody knows. ”     Neil deGrasse Tyson

And all I know about infinity I learned by looking at a star-filled sky in the Arizona desert. Stars and stars and stars. A friend says he had a vision in the desert.  It was a good story about saguaros who saved him from falling off a mountainside.  Gravity could’ve killed him, if not for the saguaros.  I’m not sure what was altering his normal vision, but I can’t say it did him any harm.

I suppose the only response to being tied down by gravity is to rebel against it, to dream of flying and to look to the stars, or math, or myth, or something beyond what’s immediate in this messy, messy planet we’re living on.  Or maybe to imagine a different world, to turn to surrealism….Art.

Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali. — Salvador Dali

I want to be Dali!   What an incredible mustache!  Talk about visionary.

“A visionary, vision is scary, could start a revolution, polluting the air waves”   -Eminem

A vision is scary. Were you still in Phoenix when the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in yucca branches?  I think there were large crowds that gathered.  The branches were stolen before I could get there the next morning.  I mean, what kind of vision would just let herself get stolen before I could see her?  But there we digress into myth.  But I really like myth.

Maybe attaining vision just takes practice.  When I taught, I had my students write 50 lines about an object.  It was my favorite “writing exercise” because by the 10th line they were forced to imagine something just to fill up the other 40 lines.  Staplers became metallic whales, paperclips became little machetes.  I say “when I  taught” but I should say when I taught as an adjunct with no benefits and no support and no one to show me anything…. while raising three young children. Totally wonderful and terrible.

Have I mentioned, grey hair is really a sign of wisdom?

So really though, I guess I’m not clear where you draw the line with vision and The Imagined or The Other.  Doesn’t that sound literary?  I could’ve just said “what you imagine.”

The image of actual misty clouds in an unfinished church is a beautiful image. The viewer is taken to something 3D, or magical realism, or the natural world as miracle…

Isn’t recognizing those clouds something of a vision?  Isn’t imagining the thoughts of someone who lived a hundred years ago, isn’t that some sort of visionary practice?  Maybe to have vision we have to do a Jim Morrison road trip sort of deal…George Harrison tried to get there by meditating, which sounds wicked boring and drove Patty Boyd crazy, and also seems way too monk-like.  Not ready to be a monk.   Let’s go with Marilyn Monroe.

 “I defy gravity.”  – Marilyn Monroe

I was thinking about tossing a lot of stuff with the New Year too, it’s better to travel light as you say.  I mean monks get by without any possessions, right?   It must make things much simpler and clearer.  Clarity, intentions, vision….sounds good.  As long as one has food, clothing and shelter, and poker games to go to.  Wait, monks probably aren’t playing poker.  Damnit.  I had it there for a second.

Mentally I’ve already tossed out most of the people who make me crazy, or at least made their insanity more manageable to me somehow.   Being lonely is terrible, but if one tries it’s easy to learn new habits.  Like doing all the stuff you said you’d do if you had the time. Russian proverb:   друзья воры времени   “friends are the thieves of time.”

The only good piece of advice I’ve pretty much EVER received (except of course from my mom) was from a call-in radio show.  Yes, seriously, a call-in radio show. Maya Angelou was on the phone, and I knew she had many children and still found time to write.  I was able to get through and I asked her how she did it.  How she could write and raise kids.  She said she had to learn to say “no thank you. ”   And then she said, “Not just no, but no thank you.”   .

I am having trouble discarding things, so I made a list.  But I relapsed a little. I still have stuff that I should never have bought.  A pasta maker I’ve used once, a couple hundred poetry books.  I’m OK with it for the time being– my daughter pointed out to me that creature comforts are important.  God though, wouldn’t it be nice to just have a yurt and a camel and a million stars.

Or at least a car and a cabin and a fireplace.

Here’s the list anyway.

Things to discard:
Things that make you unhappy.
What you do not love.
What you can’t learn from.
What is too broken.
What spins wildly out of control
What endangers you.
What steals your time.
What takes your energy.
What others might find more useful.
What you find boring.

Things to keep, for awhile anyway:
What you’re obsessed with.
What makes you smile.
What you’re unsure about.
What you can’t replace.
What will change you for the better.
Things that are interesting.

Response Daily Prompt: Infinite

response to Gravity

Gravity

My intent, and it is time for intentions, is for the next year to be lighter. So perversely, my brain goes to gravity, and weight, and the burden of years, and things, and relationships and entanglements.

I stood with my daughter in La Sagrada Familia, the temple that is Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, in Barcelona, just one week ago. Deeply impressive from the outside, towering, unfinished, above anything for miles, it is as if  an alien species decided on a city location for a sand drip castle.  The inside, however,  is nothing less than astounding. I have never seen anything both so weighty and so etherial and light. I can’t imagine what happened in Gaudi’s brain when he conceived of such a space, how a building can make heaven seem possible, colors saturated at the lower levels, hazy diffusion and clouds meters above.  Not painted clouds. Actual clouds, mists through windows. Heaven is obscured, hinted at but disappearing and out of view, just as it is in everyday life, in the everyday world.

My daughter, who flirts with an endearing combination of hippie identity and Buddhism (and has much to say on both subjects )was speechless for long minutes. I came close to tears.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!  William Shakespeare

How is it that an insight, a vision, leads to clarity of what to include, what to build, what to leave out, what to leave behind? I’ve returned home now, and there are objects all around, some useful, some less so, many burdened by the weight of memory, my possessions, and my partner’s things, are a jumble together, the weight is not gravity, seriousness and meaning, but gravity as burden. I need to lighten up, and I’d like a vision to appear to me to tell me how. Unfortunately I’ve never known visions to appear on demand.

One thing is certain, more of something, and maybe someones, will be left behind. I’m vigilant of loss, and I hang on to more than I should with a death grip, but hanging on is, paradoxically, death anyway. The best adventures don’t come with much equipment, and the useless is best discarded along the way. I only two pairs of pants with me by the time I got to Barcelona; I have ten or more at home.  I abandoned both my sweaters in Lisbon.  I didn’t need them, I didn’t regret the loss. I remember our beloved Leah had a white dress, a blaster, and some hairpins ( I think, how else did she keep that hair in buns) and guts. How little we need. How much we hold on.

Even harder to leave are the people,  the relationships that are worn and outdated. It’s a one sided decision sometimes, which causes pain, and I loathe causing pain. Sometimes the relationships just need an update; maybe it’s not all or nothing. I don’t have a five year old and a two year old daughter anymore, they are adults, and now I learn as much from them as they do from me.

And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem to say so.  William Shakespeare

One more statement, and then I promise, I’ll lighten up. I nearly died last year, and I was resurrected. I am no Gaudi. I may be closer to Leah. I have limited time, and my grey hair (some are natural blondes, and lucky, and their grey doesn’t seem to show so quickly) tells me that I must let go of what was, or with my tight grip, even more will slip through my fingers.  There are young women, and dare I say, perhaps some young men, that need my help.  What we were offered as young women, what we watched and noticed as a new princess took her place in a galaxy far far away…that needs protecting now. Pared down to the essentials, I am free for the next adventure.

Perhaps that will also include a more comfortable couch.

DSCN9632 (3).jpg

La Sacrada Familia, 2016