Saturday, September 21, 2013

Idiot Wind: Kicking Back on a Saturday Night at Marlinspike Hall

It's one of those soft, breezy in-between seasons kind of nights, when the heart is wide open, the pupils large, taking in everything, understanding flowing like God's own soft sainted waters.  Makes you want to listen to that same sort of evocative, loving, welcoming feeling in a tune. So, of course, La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore being in charge of our turntable and the vinyl platters this evening, she went with the obvious, and chose the dulcet tones and subtleties of Dylan's greatest lullaby:  Idiot Wind.  She's dedicating it to anyone who needs a clue. Admittedly, she was aided in her musical choice by The Feline Triumvirate, who think that people who harm defenseless animals are not only idiots, but cowards, and probably, sociopaths.  They are feisty, our kitty crowd, and they never cease to speak truth to those-deluded-into-thinking-they-have-power.

If this introduction seems obscure to you, and even more odd than what you usually find here?  That's because I am really badmouthing a relative but using guile and subterfuge to get it done, see?  Now can we get back to pretending that this is just an average blog post and not more disappointment at the dysfunction of my genetic heritage?

No matter what, "Idiot Wind" is one of the Zimmer's best songs, a cutting edge turn of the blade that Sara never saw coming, I'm sure!  Blood on the Tracks, the album in which it first featured, was probably a total eye-opener for the lass. And if anyone knows where I can get a copy of the May 23, 1976 performance, at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado, I hear that's especially well-delivered.  Not with snark... snark is easy, common... no, we're talking smooth and well-delivered, yes, but with lip-curling, lip-smacking snarl. Snarl is... real.

Just a rhetorical... something that the cats want translated from Cyrillic Felis Cactus  into Modern English:
Is anyone really shocked that someone who would rob the woman who gave him life -- rob her of dignity as well as of tangible means of support -- would then, like a cornered man-boobed boor, take the life of someone's pet by poison?  (Don't worry, I'll leave my reprobate relatives behind, just let the bile flow, for the bile must flow, and better here than than up and down the highways of my esophagus.)

Where the cats come up with these strange rhetoricals, we don't know.  But Marmy is sporting her wrap-around shades, Dobby is sharpening his nails, and Buddy is getting a rubdown, keeping it all very loose.  I've switched over to my Bond issue Power Chair, equipped with mini-hydrogen bombs chemically designed to target low-testosterone wimpy sorts.  Fred is in total chill mode.  He keeps pointing at The Castafiore's stiletto heels, recognized as weaponry by any thinking soul, and reminding me that we are also protected by the power of our next door neighbors, the Cistercians, an enlivened group these days, really loving Pope Francis, their new El Papa Francisco .  The tone, explained Abbot Truffatore to a community gathered for the monthly Communion Wine Tasting last evening, is new: "It's like we have permission to swing away, to go for justice, so long as we remember to yodel out, 'Hey, who are we to judge, eh?' after we sink in the rear naked choke. It's a new Liberation Theology."

We understand Abbot Truffatore about as much as we do the Feline Triumvirate, or Bianca on a bender, but since we love and trust them all, we're gathering our Bear Repellent and sanctifying our loins with readings from the Good Books.  I'm reading The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Fred is enjoying the Canterbury Tales, Bianca and Sven are reading different versions of Faust, and a couple of the Perpetual Postulants and the more enervated Saturday night escapees from the Novitiate seem to have Marvel Comics tucked inside their breviaries.

I'm in the "Man's Way" section of Book II, and it's Madame Gautier who is speaking to Jane Pittman. My eyes just landed on her version of "Idiot Wind":
That's man's way. To prove something. Day in, day out he must prove he is a man. Poor Fool.
Being snarky (not snarly), I rapid-fired Fred to give me a version of "Idiot Wind" from Chaucer. He's feeling much better, by the way, and responded first with a very sexy eyebrow raise.  Then, without letting more than a second pass, he channeled the perfect 14th century zap of a verbal prat fall:
Then the Miller fell off his horse.
Ever equitable, I turned to Sven and my Dear Castafiore, noting that they were a bit more intertwined than separate authors might lead one to expect, and gave a polite cough.  "*Ack*-*Ack*," added Marmy Fluffy Butt, peering at this odd couple over her stern shades. "What," laughed Sven, "you want us to choose a passage from FAUST to encapsulate 'Idiot Wind'!  No offense, dear Prof, but don't you think that's rather... stupid?"

He had a point. He also had Goethe.  I gave Bianca the Hairy Eyeball, and she promptly stood, hoisted her bust with firmly crossed arms, and belted out you-know-what -- Gounod's precious Jewel Song.  At which point Marmy turned it over to Dylan and we all enjoyed a cold beverage.  And so it was that a soprano's "Ah ! je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir..." seamlessly married with Dylan's adenoidal "Someone's got it in for me..."

I couldn't help but laugh.  Always, at moments of such intersection, I hear our gruff benefactor, Captain Haddock, crying out from the wild sea:  "She's in fine voice tonight."

The little monks, still treating their stinging baby tonsures with gentle baths of Witch Hazel, were spared quoting from their comic books, as they were saved by the bells marking the beginning of the Great Silence*.  Brother Fratulence grinned at me and waved a copy of The Hulk.

Don't let this domestic scene of Marlinspike Hall at play on a Saturday night reassure you that all anger at senseless murderous rage has been set aside.  Don't be an idiot, babe.

Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they'd cut it out quick but when they will I can only guess
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy
She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me
I can't help it if I'm lucky.

People see me all the time and they just can't remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts
Even you yesterday you had to ask me where it was at
I couldn't believe after all these years you didn't know even me better than that
Sweet lady.

Idiot wind blowing every time your move your mouth
Blowing down the backroads heading south
Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth
You're an idiot babe
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe

I ran into the fortune-teller who said beware of lightning that might strike
I haven't known peace and quit for so long I can't remember what it's like
There's a lone soldier on the cross smoke pouring out of a boxcar door
You didn't know it you didn't think it could be done in the final end he won the wars
After losing every battle.

I woke up on the roadside daydreaming about the way things sometimes are
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are making me see stars
You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies
One day you'll be in the ditch, flies buzzing around your eyes
Blood on your saddle.

Idiot wind blowing through the flowers on your tomb
Blowing through the curtains in your room
Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth
You're an idiot babe
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn't enough to change my heart
Now everything's a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped
What's good is bad what's bad is good you'll find out when you reach the top
You're on the bottom.I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind
I can't remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed your eyes don't look
Into mine
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stone faced while the
Building burned
I waited for you on the running boards, near the cypress trees while the
Springtime turned
Slowly into autumn.

Idiot wind blowing like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol
Idiot wind blowing every time you move you teeth
You're an idiot babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I can't feel you anymore, I can't even touch the books you've read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishing I was somebody else instead
Down the highway down the tracks down the road to ecstasy
I followed you beneath the stars hounded by your memory
And all you raging glory.

I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I'm finally free
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me
You'll never know the hurt I suffered not the pain I raise above
And I'll never know the same about you your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry.

Idiot wind blowing through the buttons of our coats
Blowing through the letters that we wrote
Idiot wind blowing through the dust upon our shelves
We're idiots babe
It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

***  *******  ***          ***  *******  ***          ***  *******  ***

* When I used to step aside from life and go vacation in a nearby monastery (long before we moved to Tête de Hergé) twice a year, I had enough hubris to replicate the monks' hours, and kept the silences, etc. Wikipedia has an excellent tripartite explanation of the benefits of such silence -- which is far, far different from, say, the notion of "keeping quiet." Listed under the entry "Vow of Silence," are these saving graces:

  • As an aid to the practice of good, for silence is kept with Man, in order to better to speak with God, because an unguarded tongue dissipates the soul, rendering the mind almost, if not quite, incapable of prayer. The mere abstaining from speech, without this purpose, would be the "idle silence" which St. Ambrose so strongly condemns.
  • As a preventative of evil. Seneca, quoted by Thomas à Kempis, complains that "As often as I have been amongst men, I have returned less a man" (Imitation, Book I, c. 20).
  • The practice of silence involves much self-denial and restraint, and is therefore a wholesome penance, and as such is needed by all

I bring this up, of course, because this is the type of post, the type of speech, that is so raucous that one needs to accept that old and dear invitation:  "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while."  [Read:  "and shut up that noisy mouth and mind..."]

the email story of five poems

the email story of five poems

originally "composed" on Feb 10 2013.  forgotten.  dug up a few minutes ago.

I have two brothers.

One left our family (he was the intelligent child) when I was about eight.  It might be said that the family, in whole and in parts, left him.  We found each other three or four years ago, and it's been a hesitant love fest ever since. (He gives good phone. He's funny. Kind. Wary. A friend to the Earth, a spiritualist. A good'un.)

The other is an English professor, also positively brilliant, and with whom I've enjoyed an uninterrupted lifelong love fest.  I love him, not for his brilliance or his own impressive feats, but for his compassionate soul. He may curse at his students and drop the F-bomb in class, but he labors over what his writers write with a care that would make them weep.  (I threw chalk at sleeping students, or even wide-awake ones, and graded very rapidly.)

The two of them, who love one another in a way I cannot describe, do not speak, do not commune in any way.  For all those missing years, the professor has felt the pain of being left behind, the pain of brother love and a brother believed dead.  And now he will not relent to communicate, will not call, type, lift a pen.
Though youngest, I have always been the muddled middle.  Not your usual peacemaker, no. I've cursed both the naturalist and the bookish boy grown old.  In the beginning, a beginning of just three (or four) years ago, please hold in mind, I would occasionally try to trick them.  That never worked, because as youngest, I am, perforce, the dumbest.

So now I've taken to writing them both emails, blind-copying them both and letting them know so.  The canyon trekker is an accomplished poet and writer, and, well, what can you say of an English professor? (I'll pretend I did not hear you think that.)  I got tired of composing emails that expressed the same thing except for their separated minutiae.

Since I've recently become active at a neighboring joint dedicated to poetry, I fired off one of these double-blinded emails, begging my brothers for help.

This is how my email went:
i'm trying to make certain dead areas of my brain surge back to life, or at least elicit some sort of neuro-spark, and one of the ways i've chosen is poetry, the reading, writing, and critique of it.   pretty much the moment i discovered george oppen ("i discovered george oppen," chuckle), i stopped reading anything new.   would you recommend some "new" poetry?  maybe regional, maybe obnoxious, marginal, or so popular that one'd be tempted to snub her just because?  just please don't list anyone rising from the detritus of vanity presses (i am struggling to get over a recent encounter with such a poet who used me to beat upon, i assume because he does not know me.  i had entered his "round robin poetry contest" without doing due diligence into his overwhelming dickhood, his quintessential dickiness.  he punished my questioning of just what constituted a "round robin" poetry contest, once the arbitrary nat! ure of the rules began to slowly seep, like used motor oil, from his dickified mouth.  for the first "round," the 25 entrants were surprised to discover that we were to vote for our "top ten." i defended a man who, without any doubt, wrote the best poem but dared to ask if we might vote for ourselves... anyway, it got ugly, and i ended up making unavoidable references to the rampant spread of "the browning of the nose" among the broader contestentry.  both the very nice, best poet and i were promptly eliminated, despite both receiving mostly "votes" of between #1 and #10.   i am -- what is the word? oh yeah, i am all broken up.  bereft.  désolée.   but the fun is reading new poetry by people unknown to me, most of it god-awful (and you know how awful god can be!) but some of it embedded with those moments, though with all of us what's constant is our inconstancy.     so in the 20 years since i've seriously read poetry, what have i missed, what should i rea d?  not looking to emulate, no, as i said, i'm looking to shock brain parts back to life.   everything in me wants to run back to ronsard & du bellay, sweet l'il louise labé or even la chanson de roland.  villon! the draw of mallarmé... and lamartine as much as baudelaire. weirdly, you now couldn't pay me to read huysmans but i'd pay you for the ability to concentrate for an hour on georges bataille or blanchot. people change -- who knew?   i've not read near enough of h.d., stein, WCW, pound.  whitman.  dickinson. stevens, lowell. wilbur.   oppen, oppen, oppen.   so, five poems i ask of you.  that's all -- five measly poems.   oh -- the other part of my attack upon cognitive decline:  mahjong solitaire.   i know you are busy earning the money required to live, as well as pursuing life, liberty, and happiness -- so please take your time.  i'm feeling confused a lot, and there's familiar evidence -- the way i keep (do not keep) my checkbook, the drying of clothes before they're clean, these familiar markers.  little, very little, sleep.  too many medications, though we've cut as many as seem prudent.     maybe prudence is over-rated, maybe we are fools to think ourselves prudent.  i dunno.     sorry to always be desperate, but i am. it's no fun being alive. poetry might help, or at least obfuscate things enough that i'll forget the silliness of expecting fun at all.   i love you so deeply, respect you so deeply --

I had serious doubts that this story -- well, not a story, more of a profound historical record of the sort people used to bury in cardboard boxes kept in unventilated attics, or in the corners of damp unfinished basements, back when people could afford homes -- would develop a third section.

So it is with joy that I transcribe, changing only what must be changed to protect myself, the flurry of emails between myself and the brother-unit who professes English.  His first volley shocked me, for he has been the source of many gifts of poetry over the years.  Now that I press my leaking sieve of a memory, however, I remember that he usually chose his gifts with precision from a list that I provided.

You see, we were both the confused recipients of strange offerings from an unrelated great-step-aunt, a very wealthy aunt who married as an old woman the publisher of a group of major southern newspapers.  Sara, herself, was a hoot, a ringer for Aunt Clara of Bewitched, and so, of course, she outlived her filthily-lucred one-man dynasty of a husband., and dedicated herself to the preservation of his capital.  She closed off the upper two stories of their mansion, and most of the first floor, too -- because who needs three kitchens?  We loved her for herself, for her insistence on stopping at every street corner, no matter the existence of a stop light or stop sign.  We enjoyed traveling through three lanes of oncoming traffic as the best way to enter McDonald's by its clearly marked exit.  I often slept on a plush and ratty chaise longue in the anteroom to her boudoir in the mansion because she was scared at night.  I was scared at night, too, because every bit of every wall was covered by gilded frames holding the dead, posed faces of rich strangers.

Her kin folk, again, all step-kinfolk, but lovely people, both hungered to inherit her money and also loved her a lot and took good care of her (like sending me over to sleep on the plush and ratty chaise longue to stare at the dead, posed faces of rich strangers all night).

My point, clearly, is that she gave us strange gifts.  I remember a Christmas gift wrapped in official Belk's paper, nestled in crisply folded tissue paper, with Belk-approved ribbonry.  The treasure at its heart?  A plastic comb, complete with a sample hair, and a pair of stained, pastel pink underpants, about 20 sizes too large.

So the professor and I became strict list adherents.  It seemed the safest way to celebrate the birth of Christ and our own trips around the sun in a world of such biohazards.

The train of my thought?  The train of my thought?  Oh, yes.  My request for 5 measly poems. Although the first to reply, my F-bombing Classroom Leader led with an effort to evade:

Howdy-- I have to chuckle at your request for poetry recommendations. I stopped reading poetry in grad school and my only exposure since has been to whatever is included in those 2,000 page anthologies that departments make the students buy for 1102. I realized I'd not be reading any more poetry in 1990 when I bought my first CD and couldn't read the liner notes or the lyrics! Had to chuckle at your idea of putting the painting on the piano--tres chic. Any concert recommendations from Wolfgang's Vaults? Love to thee and thine.

A few words of clarification.  Our father died last July, and since then there has been an insurgence of little clown cars spewing forth relatives we never knew we had.  One was my father's brother, who recently shocked us with the revelation that he had held in trust, for almost 50 years, an oil painting of our mother, commissioned by the aforementioned dead father, and delivered to our uncle upon the occasion of our father's remarriage.  Most men, my brother and I agree, would have chucked the thing in the nearest dumpster.  Well, someone had to say "oh-yes-that-is-something-I-cannot-imagine-living-without" and we all knew that someone had to be me.  So we've joshed a bit about how outright freaky it would be to hang it over our recently acquired scuffed up, duct-taped upright piano.  (As it turned out, it was a beautiful portrait and I sent it to her daughter to return to her.)

And if you are unfamiliar with Wolfgang's Vaults, well, look it up -- a very cool site for those of us who may still have vinyl stashed in blue plastic milk cartons, and who, while no longer being able to afford concerts, adore the sound of live music.  (I neglected to tell you that my other beloved brother-unit was a bona fide Dead Head, having followed the band and made superb recordings of beaucoup concerts.  His silence in the face of my 5 Poem Demand is not surprising, as he takes things very seriously, or not at all.  His life, after all, has been "a long strange trip..."  Also, as eldest, he's perforce smartest.  But we've covered that, already.)

You can see the Deflective Tactics hard at work chez the Professor.  Who would believe that a former undergrad who drooled when given the chance to be in the same room as the earliest known transcription ofBeowulf would walk away from poetry based on sucky lyrics and worse liner notes?

And so I responded in bull-by-the-horns fashion:
On Sun, Feb 10, 2013 at 4:54 PM, The Professor> wrote:
"Any concert recommendations from Wolfgang's Vaults?" 

not until you name a poem.

I may have been youngest but you can only play coy for so many decades, you know?  No longer do I play far, far right field ("a little farther, a little farther, and behind the fence would be best!") or when Seeker in Hide and Seek, discover that the brothers left for town hours ago....

He knew there'd be no value in making me cool my heels, so I received this seven minutes later:

Alright, but the only poems I can recall always start with "There once was a man from Nantucket..." So we have a standoff then! (I wish I had something short and pithy, almost poetic, to say...)

I went to bed with smug thoughts of progress, much as I used to think each year, on my birthday, that I was catching up in age to these reprobate siblings of mine.  Surely, one poem at least was within my grasp!
A mere four hours ago, I found this vibrating in my email box:

Poetry in motion--take a look on the Rolling Stone web site at the video clip of Queen performing at Live Aid. A rousing 25 minutes. I'd never seen that before. (Poetry in motion with mass adulation--just the sort of set up Dickinson was after! Not.) Never was a fan of the band but that was quite the "poetic" set. (Note how often I'm trying to fool you with the constant repetition.) 

Okay, I admit to feeling on the losing side of a subtly waged war of attrition.   I do think, however, that with the aid of near Silent Treatment, that while he may not give me the recommendation of a single poem, I may unnerve him just enough that he might write one.

[This story will conclude once I've received a sage response from the other Brother-Unit, who may be feeling tapped out, as his last gift box to me contained the complete works of e. e. cummings along with huge bags of homegrown and dried organic jalapeños and habaneros, sunny tomatoes, squash, and green peppers.  Never has poetry been so sweetly scented.  This dear gardening pilgrim, I hope I've mentioned, is a poet.  That means extra cunning.  Also inevitable self-deprecation.  He's a good'un, I say again.]

© 2013 L. Ryan

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The New Yorker Pegs Modern Medicine

from The New Yorker, Christopher Weyant

"Expectations of Pain: I Think, Therefore I Am" by Michelle D. Jones-London, PhD

Expectations of Pain: I Think, Therefore I Am: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)

Portrait of René Descartes by Jan Baptist Weenix
circa 1647

Expectations of Pain: I Think, Therefore I Am 
For release: Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

While the theory that “mind over matter” exists is an ancient belief, the scientific studies to support this idea have 
remained elusive. A new study provides brain imaging evidence that positive thinking interacts with and shapes the 
sensory experience of pain. This study suggests that decreasing the expectation of pain can reduce both the pain 
related brain activity and perception of pain intensity. This knowledge may lead to new and effective ways to manage 
chronic pain. 

“Our data shows that what you think really changes what you experience,” says Robert Coghill, Ph.D. of Wake Forest 
University School of Medicine in Winston, Salem . “Positive thinking could be an important adjunct to managing 
chronic pain. The most effective treatment for patients suffering from chronic pain may be a combination of medicinal 
and psychological therapies.” The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 
(NINDS), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and appears in the September 6, 2005, issue of 
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences*. 

When expecting pain, we first form an active mental picture of the event that is about to happen. This picture is 
composed by incorporating past experiences with the current situation and what we believe will happen. Secondly, 
brain regions that are involved with the mental picture interact with the brain areas responsible for processing pain. As 
a result, the brain regions supporting the experience of pain are modulated by these predetermined expectations. 
The new study focuses on this modulation of pain that is controlled by our expectations. The study uses functional 
MRI, a technology that shows which areas of the brain are activated during a task, to reveal the brain regions involved 
in the expectation of pain and the resulting experience. This is one of the first studies to look at pain perception 
through brain imaging techniques. 

In the experiment, subjects participated in several sessions using a computer-controlled miniature heat pump to 
stimulate the sensation of pain. Researchers taught participants to expect three different levels of painful heat after 
different timed intervals. A seven-second interval signaled a heat level that caused mild pain, a 15-second interval 
signaled a heat level that produced moderate pain, and a 30-second interval signaled a heat level that produced 
severe pain. The heat stimuli were on for only 20 seconds and didn’t produce enough heat to cause burns or damage 
to the skin. 

One or two days after training, participants underwent the fMRI testing during 30 different heat trials. During testing the 
researchers unexpectedly mixed the signals for the pain levels, so that participants were expecting one temperature, 
but actually received either a higher or lower temperature about 30 percent of the time. The researchers were able to 
see that levels of pain reported were reflected in the fMRI scans of the brain. People with decreased expectations for 
pain reported less pain. At the same time, activity decreased in areas of the brain important to both sensory and 
emotional processing of pain. These areas included the primary somatosensory cortex, the insular cortex and the 
anterior cingulate cortex. These lower expectations reduced reports of pain by more than 28 percent. “Expectations 
about pain can affect its intensity at a level of pain reduction that is comparable to that of a normal dose of the 
painkiller morphine,” says Dr. Coghill. 

Many factors change the way that pain is perceived, and pain can be viewed as more intense or less intense 
depending on the situation. Different factors that can alter perception specifically when it comes to pain include how 
much attention is focused on the symptom. People also have different pain thresholds at which sensory nerves that 
carry pain information will send those signals. Some people need only a little stimulation in order for their nerves to 
send pain signals, while others need a much greater amount of stimulation. Future research in the lab will examine the 
brains of people with these different thresholds for pain. 

This study shows that the nature of pain perception is different in each individual. Not only are there individual 
differences in the nervous system but also individual experiences contribute to how pain is perceived. The 
researchers are planning to use the fMRI technique to examine the effect of different personality types on pain 
perception. The study will examine how optimistic versus pessimistic personality types influences how people deal 
with pain and modulate pain processes in the brain. 

“Pain needs to be treated with more than just pills,” says Dr. Robert Coghill. “The brain can powerfully shape pain, 
and we need to exploit its power." 

*Koyama T, McHaffie JG, Laurienti PJ, Coghill RC. “The subjective experience of pain: Where expectations become 
reality.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 6, 2005, Vol.102, pp.12950-12955. 

-by Michelle D. Jones-London, Ph.D.

Date Last Modified: Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

Elizabeth Bishop, That Bitch

Today might have been about poetry but instead it became about a poet and her lovers, and my desire to steal her poetic for my own, as it is my aspiration.  Actually, I don't know enough about Elizabeth Bishop, beyond her poetry, to know what aesthetic she claimed.

Ha ha ha!

I learned why there are so few pictures of Bishop.  She disliked the roundness of her face due to the steroids she took for asthma.  I'm with you, there, girly-girl!  After 15 years on prednisone and with CRPS spread to my face, I'll clock you before you'll get a snap of this visage.

elizabeth bishop

But very distressing, as the hours passed, was the lack of photography of  Lota de Macedo Soares.  In all my searching, and I search well, there seems to be one photograph that has simply been resized, reconfigured, recast, and it's far from revelatory.  Forget flattering.  More insulting than distressing are the masses of still shots taken from the insipid play and movie of their life together -- was it based on Rare and Commonplace Flowers?  I've not read it;  Reading about it is irritating enough.  Get this:  It's recommended for academics in the most fawning blurbs and yet is clearly "novelistic," and somewhat "disappointing" for concentrating more on Lota than Elizabeth.  Never mind that there is little in Bishop, beyond her isolated years in Brazil, to endear her to Brazilians.  Anyway, despite a dearth of primary sources -- their letters were destroyed -- probably flambéed in tequila -- the book hints at intimate photos of the couple.

Not one goddamned photo of the two together could I find.  ("...and I search well...").

And the weirdness.  Why must there be weirdness?  In lieu of scratching out the clear political liens tugging at Lota, the difficulties of working with and for Rio de Janeiro’s Governor, Carlos Lacerda, mostly over her work on Flamengo Park, she's made out to be an emotional cripple (while Bishop is drunk in some well-designed corner).  Lacerda was one of those brief Communists who flipped in the 1940s to become rabidly anti-communist and archly conservative... who opposed almost every Brazilian presidency and then stubbed his toe in the military coup of 1964. Anyway, Lota was a magnificient urban architect but all anyone can agree on is the primacy of her status as autodidact.  Not only did I have the sense that everyone is waiting for her buildings to literally fall down, but there's an audible sighing between sentences about her decision to kill herself -- pure irritation that she couldn't stick it out with the great American lesbian writer.  Midst the saws of the sighs are the pig grunts of joy with each synonym used for "aristocratic." Or was it "autocratic"?

I love Elizabeth Bishop's poetry.  I've been decidedly neutral about her as a person (Why should I care about her as a person?) until today.  A kind of tragic childhood, except it does not seem to have bothered her overly much, though it may have influenced her desire for words, if nothing else, to be just so. At some point, she did describe herself as "naturally born guilty," and there's no pickier poet than a guilty poet. A trust fund baby whose friendship with my truly beloved Marianne Moore garnered her awards, laureat-ships, teaching positions, and publication -- Bishop being, apparently, too shy, too busy building a street rep as a "poet's poet," to take care of the business side of poetry.

Randall Jarrell, too, I suppose, was a gate-keeper.

Who does not love Randall Jarrell? (I imagine a sea of nods.  Don't cross me today. So: nod.)

Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell were an item.  He proposed, even.  I remember laughing at a NYTimes reviewer of their correspondance, who chose to sum up the inbred impossibilities of that endeavor this way:
"Bishop was an alcoholic and a lesbian, as well as half a dozen years older."

Journalistic integrity.  Gritty digging in the archives.  Ha ha ha!

I figure there aren't that many unsnagged aesthetics/poetics to go around.  You do the math.  So as I sat here vigorously nodding at Slate's Meghan O'Rourke and her summation of Bishop's guiding constellations, it was positively debilitating to read such an excellent description of mine own work, in her brief article, "Casual Perfection," published in June of 2006 (before, it must perforce be noted, that I seriously returned to writing).  O'Rourke purportedly was addressing the outrage at the publication of Bishop's drafts, a reaction understandable on behalf of a poet whose drafts might encompass a decade of searching for the flaubertian mot juste.  Or perhaps it'd be more correct to speak of an anti-mot juste?  I guess what I'm floundering on about is that her drafts did not represent a high kick toward progress but more of a holding pattern while the poet waited for the correct wording to show up.  It's not like her empty spaces were spatial abstraction, imbued with whatever -- she was no Mallarmé -- but more like her empty spaces were empty spaces.

So glad I could clear that up.

So here is O'Rourke writing about me before I mattered, thoughtlessly erecting hotels on Boardwalk:
[It has to do with] ...the mystery at the core of Bishop's work: the way her poetry evokes powerful, intimate feelings without devolving into mere self-revelation. Bishop chose a path of aesthetic discretion at a time when many of her peers were pursuing, to great acclaim, confessional self-disclosure. Publishing her fragments seems a betrayal to those who believe that Bishop's genius is largely a product of this reticence—who fear that coming upon Bishop in naked moments of aesthetic undress would destroy the spell cast by her poems.
A midcentury poet, Bishop wrote at a time when academic studiousness was one vogue (Allen Tate, Randall Jarrell) and self-revelation another (Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton). Following neither, she carved out an original niche, a poetics of subtle observation. Bishop writes about things: filling stations, radio antennae, shampooing another person's hair, a moose in the road. Her work has, as Vendler has put it, a remarkable commitment to exactness, and her primary mode is description. Consider the opening to her poem "Arrival at Santos," the first poem in the prize-winning Questions of Travel:
Here is a coast; here is a harbor;
here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery,
impractically shaped and—who knows?—self-pitying mountains,
sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery,
with a little church on top of one. And warehouses,
some of them painted feeble pink, or blue,
and some tall, uncertain palms. Oh, tourist,
is this how this country is going to answer you
and your immodest demands for a different world
and a better life, and complete comprehension
of both at last, and immediately
after eighteen days of suspension?
Characteristically, this poem describes a landscape in the act of being perceived, rather than as the poet has decided (or recalls) it looks. What you first notice is the accumulation of adjectives: meager, self-pitying, sad, harsh, frivolous, little, feeble, tall, uncertain, immodest—precisely the type of pile-on you're taught in introductory writing classes to avoid. But the adjectives are transformative rather than redundant, because they are deployed with such unorthodox precision—as in "tall, uncertain palms," or "feeble pink." Bishop uses adjectives not only to describe, but to anthropomorphize what she's looking at, so that what we see and what is seen are inextricably fused. Her subject, as John Ashbery once memorably put it, is the way we are "part-thing and part-thought." Seeing becomes a form of feeling.

 Me, and my art, in a nut shell.  Damn this whole business of time as a river, temporal progression.

"Make it new"?  Up yours!  Damn me to being "in the tradition of..."?  Well, I think we know what you can do with that, eh?

A frustrating day.

Oh, you wouldn't understand.

In one of her convivial letters to losing-lover Lowell, Bishop has the gall to write (and he who cites the gall to characterize the sentence as "written more in sorrow than in pride":   “I feel profoundly bored with all the contemporary poetry except yours, — and mine that I haven’t written yet.”

See what I mean?  Out of some sort of asynchronous allegiance to Starfleet's General Order Number One, the Prime Directive, Bishop simply chose to ruin things for me over potentially causing a minute pinprick to the fatalistic space-time continuum.

So let's just close, shall we?  And why not go out with one of Bishop's most famous -- that in the writing hand of another might slip and slide with the pathos of having lost a former lover to an excess of valium, and on the kitchen floor, no less.  Oops.  More sleuthing -- you know, that academic art -- suggests that the "art of losing" references her broken relationship with Alice Methfessel, Lota's successor, as well as the dead Brazilian.

I chose "One Art" not only because of its fame but also because it's a modified villanelle, a form that I adore and fail at, with regularity.

One Art 
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
--  from The Complete Poems 1926-1979

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Map of the projected flight bearings and suspected launch site of the Sarin rockets, Syria, August 21, 2013

go to for an interactive experience with the mapped report

"The UN inspectors investigating the chemical weapons attack on two suburbs in Damascus last month weren’t supposed to point the finger at the party responsible for the killings. But even so, the Sellstrom report revealed key details of the attack that strongly suggest the government is to blame, and may even help identify the location from which the Sarin-filled rockets that killed hundreds of people on August 21 were fired."  -- Human Rights Watch 

United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons 
in the Syrian Arab Republic 

Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus 
on 21 August 2013 

Note by the Secretary-General

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Age-Progression Photo of Missing Child Lindsey Baum

It's been four years since Lindsey Baum disappeared just before her tenth birthday.  After the first year of her disappearance, it became painfully obvious that the photos of little Lindsey were eventually going to lose their effectiveness. Imagine the changes she has gone through in four years, now fourteen. Wait, fifteen.


Lindsey's Mom and Dad helped the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children develop an age progression photo of what Lindsey may look like today by providing photos of themselves at the same age:

Age-progressed photo
Anyone with information about Lindsey's disappearance should call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-843-5678 or the McCleary Police Department at 360-533-8765.
Or simply dial 911.

DOB:  Jul 7, 1998
Age Now: 15
Missing:  Jun 26, 2009
Missing From:
   United States
Sex:  Female
Race:  White
Hair:  Brown
Eyes:  Brown
Height:  4'9" (145cm)
Weight:  80lbs (36kg)

© 2013 L. Ryan

Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Rosamond Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley

I'm in the middle of reading Denise Nicholas' Freshwater Road, set in Mississippi, which tells one tale of the Freedom Summer and the drive to register African-Americans to vote -- that hot summer of death, loss, gain, and confrontation. Something kept nagging me about today's date...

It's been 50 years since four young girls were murdered by a bomb in their church in Birmingham, Alabama.

In my last minute browsing around and reflection, I found this iconic and gentle "cartoon" by J.D. Crowe in their memory, and wondered why we trusty white leftists don't remember these four little girls the way we remember the Kent State Four, killed seven years later -- all of them killed indiscriminately (how bitter that word sounds) by nothing but pure hate and fear.

No, truth be told, I wondered why I did not remember these four little girls the way I dutifully remember the Kent State Four.

In memory of four little girls 

The aftermath of the bombing on September 15, 1963. (Birmingham News File/Tom Self)

Barnett Wright,, writes:  
 'No screaming, only crying': Witnesses remember infamous Sunday of 1963 church bombing (photos, videos)
"The explosion marked a turning point in the civil rights movement and became a catalyst for change in the United States and ultimately prompted global efforts for equality and human rights.
Today, 50 years later, the Sunday school will teach the same lesson taught that day. And at 10:22 a.m., the exact time of the explosion, the church's bell will toll. This service will cap a week-long commemoration that drew a number of visitors and dignitaries to Birmingham for Empowerment Week -- celebrations that included speeches, panel discussions, concerts, festivals and, more, most revolving around the bombing's anniversary".

There's a sobering documentary at as well in the form of photographs from that not so far off time. 

CRPS Ignorance Pisses Me Off

ADDENDUM:  Okay, so I wrote this first thing upon getting up (so to speak...).  My "first thing," like many folks' "first thing," includes a perusal of both mainline news and any special interests that those cute little nano-search bots have unearthed while I listened to music and prayed for sleep.  My special interests include CRPS research and news.  Unfortunately, the bots can't distinguish very well between a human interest story and more helpful journalism.  So I end up with lots of "suicide disease" stories and quotes about having lit kerosene flowing through CRPS sufferers' veins.  I don't react well.  So this post serves as the umpteenth example of why I am no one's Life Coach, why I am not famous for shepherding people from right where their sweet souls happen to be to where I, as the Almighty, know that their sinful selves ought to reside.  

All of which means:  I am sorry for this woman/girl.  I am pissed at the mismanagement of her disease.  I regret seeing evidence of yet another person becoming the vortex of suffering for an entire family and community.  

I hope for change.

And in spite of the two nasty emails I've already received, I wish her well, and restate the title of this barnburner of a blog post:  CRPS ignorance really, really pisses me off.

ADDENDUM AGAIN... or, I suppose, we will be shortly moving into ADDENDA!  While barely resisting the urge to pack *myself* in ice tonight, I checked out the young lady's website, available by link in the article that is the object of my ire.  It is good to know, and I want my readers to know, that she's hooked up with Dr. Joshua Prager's comprehensive program at UCLA --  California Pain Medicine Centers Center for Rehabilitation of Pain Syndromes.  So now if we could get the "yellow" journalism to stop, and yes, some more education for the family, and yes, some money in their pockets... she is truly on her way, she is facing her best shot at learning to live with, and not be defeated by, CRPS.


Here's an article I just ran across, meant to tug at your heartstrings, but mostly meant to cause you to turn over the sofa cushions in a search for spare change to donate.

Actually, I'm not going to reproduce the article.  Click HERE for the link.

When is this stupidity over CRPS going to STOP?

Here is this woman, purposely immobile (CONTRAINDICATED), covered in ice (CONTRAINDICATED), completely divorced from life (DEFINITELY CONTRAINDICATED), and, at least in this article, going from zero to sixty in what I interpret as an effort to raise money for ketamine treatment.

Interestingly enough, I am coming to the defense of the medical establishment.  The last ten years has seen an enormously successful educational effort among doctors, at least within the appropriate specialties -- neurology, pain management, orthopedics, emergency medicine.

Ketamine is now usually covered by insurance -- and I don't think they are trying for the overseas ketamine "coma" therapy, because the cost they cite is then more than a little on the LOW side.  I assume they are opting for subanesthetic ketamine infusions.

I'm all for that.  I decimated my savings on that crap shoot, because it was worth the risk.  I had help paying for it from the ACA's PCIP program, so if you like, you can blame the US of American current financial woes due to rampant health care expenditures squarely on moi.  However, odds are that if I'd had access to ketamine therapy early on in my disease, I'd be dancing jigs right now.  So, again, I'm all for this young woman giving it a go.

After they've verified her diagnosis.  With an expert or specialist.  After they've discontinued working WITH the disease and begun fighting it -- with proper meds, proper behavior modification -- just with some freaking properness.  If you get my drift.  A few sessions with a pain counselor are in order.

If ever there were a tabloid picture screaming "aberrant illness behavior" this photo is it:

And, speaking of odds, again, odds are, that with her general mindset unadjusted, and her knowledge of how to handle CRPS remaining stagnant, ketamine may help for a while... but she's at optimum risk for relapse.

Give yourself the best of chances.  Do your due diligence.  Take off every possible splint, restraint, immobilizer. Melt the ice.  Let the light in.  Do stuff, stuff you like, small things, even if it hurts.  Correct your language... there is no acid or kerosene flowing in your blood vessels.  On the pain scale, your highest score possible is TEN, not ten thousand.  Rejoin the living.  Avoid catastrophic thinking.  Do as I say...

... not as I do.

Good luck.