Saturday, November 22, 2014

How The Light Gets In

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

-Leonard Cohen, from "Anthem"

What does perfection have that makes it desirable?  The flawless diamond is more expensive.  Symmetry defines human beauty.  The lamb must have no blemish.  It might be admirable to aim for perfection, but there's no such thing in this life, unless you have a very liberal definition of what constitutes perfection.

Beauty is not perfection, perfection is not beauty.  Do you find this painting beautiful?

Still Life With Golden Bream by Francisco Goya, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

I do.  It's a pile of dead fish.  Why should we care about them?  The water is so close.  They almost could have reached it.  Look at their eyes.  They are open wide.  They have suffered.  They are human.

Detail of same painting.
Another detail.

Look at the fish on the bottom right.  Its eye is not dead like the others.  It stares at you, maybe accusingly.  It might still be struggling for oxygen.  The artist has crudely painted pink lines on its lips, like poorly applied makeup.  It's a magical touch.  The fish has a blemish that the lamb was never allowed.  Do you feel pity?  It's just a fish, but I do.

It's a tragic scene.  Does this detract from its beauty?  Not to me.  Beauty can be found in suffering.  You don't have to find that depressing.  Beauty moves you in many ways.  Art makes you feel, sometimes against your will.  All emotions are valid.  The real tragedy is in not letting yourself feel, in losing that ability to feel.  If you're only capable of anger, hold on to that anger until you can forgive.  If you can only feel sorrow, hug that sorrow tight as you seek happiness.  Don't let yourself be dead inside.  Ring the bells that still can ring.

It's a pile of fish.  Where's the beauty in that?  In their imperfection, because we can imagine the coming unpleasant smell, because maybe we could have helped the poor things, because they're God's creations, born with flaws.  Forget your perfect offering.

Goya painted this more than two hundred years ago.  You can see the cracks of age.  Does this detract from its beauty?  Not to me.  There are cracks in everything.

Look for imperfection, not as a fault, but as an enhancer of beauty.  Look for it in yourself.  Look for it in others.  Appreciate it.  Love it.  We should aim for imperfection, because goals should be obtainable, because it's the only way to learn, because it helps us admire the flaws in others, because it's how the light gets in.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Psalm #13

Sometimes I think I'm not made to be happy.  I don't see the good in me, but it must be out there in the desert.  I'd die of thirst before I found it.  I look to the mountains, but they aren't as firm as some say.  They are broken down from years of abuse, wind and water and tectonic shift.  Why don't you tear them down quickly, so that you can build them up?  Why keep opening the wound?  Let it heal.  Where's the peace?  Where are the pieces?  You hold them.  You hold the pieces, and you love your children.  Put them together.  Build them up.  Let them feel loved.  Let not my suffering lead me to look past the suffering of others.  I'm not a good man on my own.  Help me to fake it a little.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Not Me

I guess I know now the most I'll ever know, and I don't know much.  Do those of you who know me want to know me?  It's OK if you don't.  Silence is painful, but silence is loud.

  • I'm not smart in the way you think I'm smart.  
  • I'm not as lazy as you think.  
  • I'm not as cold as you think.  
  • I don't always say what I think.
  • I'm probably not angry at you.
  • I'm not a respecter of persons.
  • I don't care much for credentials.
  • I don't seek wealth.
  • I don't like being poor.
  • I don't believe history is any truer than fiction.
  • I'm not a gamer.  
  • I don't see you as characters to play with.
  • I don't like a quiet chapel.
  • I don't like that I waste words.
  • I don't like uncertainty.
  • I don't like being ignored.
  • I'm not very brave.
  • I'm not easily embarrassed.
  • I'm not popular, and I never will be.
  • I don't know whether or not I'm fine with that.
  • I can't often go outside.
  • I don't like having to stay inside.
  • I don't always like being alone.
  • I'm not happy with the way things are.
  • I don't like feeling helpless.
  • I'm not without hope.
  • I'm not without doubt.
  • I'm not at peace.
  • I'm not the only one.
  • I can't be.

Monday, November 17, 2014


This is the latest post in an occasional series which I have entitled "Virtues" without ever bothering to tell you, mostly because I don't like you.  In fact, I'm not even going to tell you the names of the other posts in this series.  Figure that out for yourself.  But thanks for reading!  As always, I appreciate your business.  Enjoy!

I've heard it said that those who don't trust others aren't trustworthy themselves.  This is ridiculous.  Those who don't trust have been lied to, cheated on, led on, had promises broken, hearts broken, secrets told, rumors spread, been used by supposed friends, been treated as less than human by those who are supposed to love them most.  Those who don't trust have trusted too strongly in the past and have had that trust violated too many times.  They've had their naivete taken advantage of and have become somewhat bitter.  I am not a trusting person.

From my experience, those who aren't trusting are frequently those who are the most trustworthy.  They don't like the pain of having their trust abused, so they don't want others to have to go through the same experience.  They are brutally honest at times so that they don't make vain promises.  As painful as it can be, they would rather have others do likewise than toy with them.  They aren't always the most popular of people.

Trust should not have to be a prize awarded to a select few found worthy of receiving it, but life is too short to make the same mistakes over and over again.  And life is too long to endure making the same mistakes over and over again.  A dismal outlook, for sure.  This is not the way it should be.  It doesn't make me happy to not trust others, but I have become hesitant to take chances that may lead to more misery.

The truly trustworthy don't promise things now so that they can avoid immediately upsetting you; you will, of course, be more upset later when the promises aren't kept.  Their empathy is not short-sighted.  They understand that what they do now affects the future.  They are aware that true kindness can sometimes involve telling an unpleasant truth.  They love you more than they love you loving them.  These are the kinds of people who earn the trust of people like me, who are trying to put their pasts behind them, but can't seem to forget the pain.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

E. P. Dryden's Field Guide To The Birds Of The Northern Hemisphere

My dad was an avid birder most of his life.  I think birding brought him more joy and contentment than just about anything else.  It was a peaceful, solitary pastime for him.  He very seldom brought anyone with him.  He once, with great pride, spotted a rare bald eagle nesting site, leading to a flyover by Auburn University's Biology Department.  He knew the best places to find various species of owls and waterbirds and many others.  Health problems have now made it impossible for him to go out to his favorite spots, stare through his binoculars, and identify and keep track of the bird species he sees.  He no longer keeps meticulous records in a code that only he can understand.  He sometimes forgets that he was ever into birding, but then he'll surprise you by identifying birds that fly by his window.  It's moving to be a witness to that.

I love birds as well, but I've never felt the need to obsessively classify them.  Therefore, I am not a genuine birder.  But I could spend hours just watching them.  There are many species that I absolutely love, some I've seen in person, some only in pictures and video.  Here is a small selection of them, six of my favorite birds of the northern hemisphere.

Barn Owl
Barn owl, having found a home

Barn owl, planning its evening
Barn owls are a common raptor, or bird of prey.  They can be found all over the world.  They have an atypical appearance among owls, with no visible ear tufts and a roughly heart-shaped facial disc.  Look into their eyes.  There's something unnervingly human about those eyes.  They are beautiful birds.

Turkey Vulture
Turkey vulture, showing off its sexy self

Turkey vulture, sniffing for corpses
Turkey vultures are another raptor species.  They are common year-round in my home state of Alabama, but much less so here in New Mexico, which is a shame.  Now, I know most of you would never say that bright pink, barely-feathered head is beautiful, but this is still an amazing bird.  They show grace in flight, they have a high level of intelligence, and they have an incredible sense of smell.  Some of you might find them disgusting because they eat rotting carcasses, but they are incredibly useful.  Can you imagine all those dead things just staying there, piling up all over the place?

Great Tit
Great tit, truly a beautiful tit

Great tit, a flying tit
The great tit is a gorgeous little bird that's found throughout Europe and Asia.  They primarily eat insects.  I've never seen one in person, since they don't live over here.  In fact, no tit is native to the Americas, though we do have titmice.  "Tit" in this sense means small.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

Nazca Booby
Nazca booby, coming in for a landing

Nazca booby, sitting on a baby booby
The Nazca booby is one of my favorite boobies.  You may have heard of the celebrated blue-footed booby, which to me is a lesser booby.  Nazca boobies are native to the Galapagos and environs further north.  You can see, in the second photo, a newly hatched booby sitting next to a booby egg.  As soon as that second booby hatches, its sibling will push it out of the nest, leaving it to die.  The mother won't be able to care for both boobies.  So you see that nature can be brutal, even if it involves boobies.

Blue Jay
Blue jay, eyeing you suspiciously

Blue jay, at its bluest
Blue jays are common where I come from.  I once saw a flock (if that's the right word) swarm to a bowl of cat food my dad had left outside the front door.  They kept coming back for more.  They'll eat just about anything that's small enough, plant or animal.  Look at the uppermost blue jay photo.  That mosaic of blues and whites on its folded wings has always blown me away.  And if you love blue, you have to love the sight of a blue jay in flight.

Northern Gannet
Northern gannets, romantically picking at each other
Northern gannet, diving in to kill little fishies
The northern gannet is currently my favorite bird.  I love the blue eyes and beak, and the yellow on white feathers.  They dive with great force into the ocean to catch their prey.  To avoid breaking themselves, they have evolved air sacs that cushion their entry into the water.  Also, gannets are closely related to boobies.

I hope you've enjoyed this overview of a half dozen birds.  Appreciate them in person if you can.  One of the first things I noticed when I moved to New Mexico was the relative dearth of birds compared to Alabama.  I'm hoping I'm just not looking in the right direction.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why I Write

It's a burden.  It's unpleasant.  It leads to misunderstanding.  People don't get it.  It's tedious.  It takes discipline.  It's a job with, at best, inconsistent pay, at worst, no income at all.  The amount of work it takes is unappreciated.  Why, then, do I write?

Unfortunately, at this stage of my writing career, my readership is so small as to be almost nonexistent.  I do appreciate my readers, though, and especially those who take the time to make meaningful comments on my blog entries.  It's great that a few of my family members and friends regularly read my stuff, even though it sometimes adds to my burden.  They are frequently unable to recognize that what I write is not directly about them.  It's a bit of a challenge to explain.  One way of approaching this is to point out some famous writers, like Sinclair Lewis or John Steinbeck, whose most important works were set in places where they grew up, with characters and settings inspired by people and places they knew.  People got angry as they, fairly or not, read aspects of themselves into characters.  They didn't see that these authors were using what they experienced to make a larger point about society and human character, not necessarily to settle scores.

Even my most personal creations are intended to make people think of larger themes.  At this I've failed, most certainly.  I'm almost never able to simply and quickly type something out and post it the next morning.  Almost everything I post has been worked on for weeks, months, or years.  You may have noticed that I've been inundating you with posts over the past couple of months.  Since moving to New Mexico, I've had the energy, if that's the right word, and the time to finish things I've been working on for ages.  However, according to most of the input I've received, people read these posts as immediate and personal gripes.  There's not much I can say.  If I spend all my time worrying about whom I might offend, I'll never get any writing done.

Generally, from a technical standpoint, my so-called "Schizologues" are the hardest to write.  Beyond the emotions they stir up, it is difficult to convincingly make two characters out of one me, and still make each character be the same me.  Even more so, plotting out the actual conversation can be technically challenging.  Complications can arise, and minds can be stretched too far, when it is recognized that people, even ourselves, are multi-dimensional.  Human nature dictates that we make things, including human beings, as simple as possible so we can think that we understand them.  We don't really understand anything, but we can guess at truths and fake our ways through tough ideas in order to prevent us from collectively crying out and sucking our thumbs in a vain attempt to return to innocence, aka ignorance.

My "Psalms" are, again generally speaking, more immediate and raw.  If I'm in the right state of mind, troubled, maybe even despairing, but not completely without hope, these psalms come out comparatively quickly.  They are real psalms, songs and prayers of hope, fear, and despair.  Sometimes I use God as a metaphor, sometimes I'm singing to the real thing.  If you read the original psalms of the Old Testament, you see both praise and direct challenges aimed at God.  If you believe in God, and I'm not saying you have to in order to appreciate the psalms I've written, you know that God can handle anything lain at his feet, whether approached in joy or misery.  My psalms are not the most popular of my posts.  I won't guess at the reason, but they get stuck in my brain until they must come out, so I'll keep posting them.

There are few general rules when it comes to everything else I write.  Poems are deceptively difficult.  Short stories are harder than short personal essays.  Some of what I've posted is crap.  I've been working on my novel for years, and I've regularly thrown it away to start over again.  I have many, many story ideas.  Coming up with ideas is not the hard part of writing.  The hard part is sitting down for hours every day, trying to find patience as you tear your hair out struggling to put what's in your mind down on screen or paper, in the right order, in the most impactful way.  I ignore proper grammar and make up words as needed.  I sacrifice passages I love to make the overall work better.  I probably use too many commas.  But my writing, when it comes and when it works, must be mine, in style and substance.

Why do I write?  Well, I have to create, or why am I here?  Otherwise, hell if I know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Psalm #12

I've told the truth, if there is such a thing.  I don't know enough about myself to be certain.  Truth is bound to light, you've said.  Would I be surer of myself if I spent some time in the sun?  I'm frightened of the sun.  It's certain to tell me truths I don't want to know.  That's why I stay inside, shaded from the light.  Why was I made to be broken?  I'm flying about in chaos, hugging a towline with no one to pull me in.  The truth is, I need something, someone to hold to.  I can't be alone through all of this.  I'm not strong.  What's going to happen?  Is something here that I can't see?  Do I want the answer?