imagination

Watching the Clock

Watching the Clock

"As conscious human beings, we know we die, and we therefore know our clock ends on, some level. So time just seems foundational. And I think a lot of the gymnastics that we do as human beings has to do with our relationship to the clock, or lack of a relationship to the clock. We squander time until it’s too late, et cetera. I love looking at the building blocks, the raw material, the irreducibles."

~ B.J. Miller

Painting Mental Images with Words

Imaginary Paintings
by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together 

1. How I would Paint the Future

A strip of horizon and a figure,
seen from the back, forever approaching.

2. How I would Paint Happiness

Something sudden, a windfall,
a meteor shower. No
a flowering tree releasing
all its blossoms at once,
and the one standing beneath it
unexpectedly robed in bloom,
transformed into a stranger
to beautiful to touch.

3. How I would Paint Death

White on white or black on black.
No ground, no figure. An immense canvas,
which I will never finish.

4. How I would Paint Love

I would not paint love.

5. How I would Paint the Leap of Faith

A black cat jumping up three feet
to reach a three-inch shelf.

6. How I would Paint the Big Lie

Smooth, and deceptively small
so that it can be swallowed
like something we take for a cold.
An elongated capsule,
an elegant cylinder,
sweet and glossy,
that pleases the tongue
and goes down easy,
never mind
the poison inside.

7.  How I would Paint Nostalgia

An old-fashioned painting, a genre piece.
People in bright and dark clothing.
A radiant bride in white
standing above a waterfall,
watching the water rush
away, away, away.

Over and Over to Myself

The Long Hand Wishes It Was Used
by Jackie Clark, from The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day

Sometimes I wish I didn't think in words
and that instead for each thought I thought I drew upon an image,
and that I was able to organize each image in a linear way that would be like sort of like reading
and that instead of trying to describe the edges around something
I could just think the color around the edges of the image to be darker,
that the detail on the image could become more or less detailed depending
on how much clarity I believe I needed to disclose at the time
For instance, instead of saying love, I could just think watermelon
I could just think of a watermelon cut in half, laying open on a picnic table
The inside would be just as moist as it was pink
I could picture cutting up pieces and giving them out to my friends.
It wouldn't have to be sunny
It wouldn't have to be anything else then just that
It would really simplify my walk home at night,
where every thought I think is some contrived line I repeat over and over to myself
Words are always just replaced with new ones
The pictures would never need to know otherwise


Jackie Clark: "I often make quiet, patient wishes. Wishes for more realized and open love, wishes for more direction, wishes for less. Wishes and intentions to arm myself against despair. I mostly wish to be able to see the world differently because I think that would rectify some of its difficulty for me. This poem is an attempt to do just that, if only briefly."

@nohelpforthat

We Will Ourselves Oblivious, We Wake

Dream House, 2002 by Gregory Crewdson

Meditation on Ruin
by Jay Hopler, from Green Squall

It's not the lost lover that brings us to ruin, or the barroom brawl,
           or the con game gone bad, or the beating
Taken in the alleyway. But the lost car keys,
The broken shoelace,
The overcharge at the gas pump
Which we broach without comment — these are the things that 
           eat away at life, these constant vibrations
In the web of the unremarkable.

The death of a father — the death of the mother —
The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive! But the broken
           pair of glasses,
The tear in the trousers,
These begin an ache behind the eyes. 
And it's this ache to which we will ourselves
Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning—there's a 
crack in the water glass
 —we wake to find ourselves undone. 

Made In Its Image

Ampersand,  Wednesday Wolf

Ampersand, Wednesday Wolf

"Genesis Revised"
by Reed Whitmore, from Fifty Poems Fifty (1970)The Past, the Future, the Present: Poems Selected and New (1990)

In my opinion this concept of the interval, detached as it is from the selection of any special body to occupy it, is the starting point of the whole concept of space.

~ Albert Einstein

Think of an "and" alone,
Nothing before, nothing after, 
Nothing and nothing. 
The "and" proposes a structure, and by the proposing
Is. And makes.
For nothing is nothing, but nothing and nothing
Are spatial, temporal; the structure does it,
A nothing there and here, a nothing then and now,
To and fro in the space-time.

But in grammar we cannot think of this. The
     "and" comes second.
We need something, then "and." 
Or if we are willing to grant, without understanding,
     a precedent "and,"
We still ask to know where it came from.
Grammar, logic, math work in the matrix
Of the space-time. "And" is the space-time. We
     in its matrix
Know what we do in it, where we are in it,
But not it.

This that we don't know we call soul, spirit.
More of it every day is found in the physics lab,
By omission.  
It is what we tend to describe by what it is not.
It is not logical, it is not metrical; it is not
     (as I now propose) grammatical.

Yet it is with us. Our minds seem made in its image,
Each a space-time kit for making a world up.
We cannot conceive of that spirit (the "and")
     a father,
Yet we cannot conceive of it otherwise. In
     Eddington's words,
The breach of causality keeps breaking the chain of
     inference. Sense leads to nonsense.

In the beginning, then, was nonsense? So every
     beginning. So far.
We cannot conceive of a nothing that makes something.
The "and" we say must be physical. Or electrical.
     Something.
Yet the something is nothing. Nonsense.
We have no grammar for nonsense; we cannot posit
A nothing-something moving between nothings.
Yet I repeat:
Think of an "and" alone,
Nothing before, nothing after,
Nothing and nothing, thereby making

The first day.  


Periods of Incomprehension

Excerpt from "How Learning a Foreign Language Reignited My Imagination," by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic Monthly, May 22, 2013:

"I started studying French in the summer of 2011, in the throes of a mid-30s crisis. I wanted to be young again. Once, imagination was crucial to me. The books filled with trains, the toy tracks and trestles—they were among my few escapes from a world bounded by my parents’ will. In those days, I could look at a map of some foreign place and tell you a story about how the people there looked, how they lived, what they ate for dinner, and the exotic beauty of the neighborhood girls.

When you have your own money, your own wheels, and the full ownership of your legs, your need for such imagination, or maybe your opportunity to exercise it, is reduced.

And then I came to a foreign language, where so much can’t be immediately known, and to a small town where English feels like the fourth language.

The signs were a mystery to me. The words I overheard were only the music of the human voice. A kind of silence came over me.

...There is a symmetry in language ads that promise fluency in three weeks and weight-loss ads that promise a new body in roughly the same mere days. But the older I get, the more I treasure the sprawling periods of incomprehension, the not knowing, the lands beyond Google, the places in which you must be immersed to comprehend."

The Way We Daydream It Should Be

 

Cabeza Vainilla, Cabeza Córdoba, Cabeza Chiapas by Javier Marín

Excerpt from "Negative Capability: Kerouac's Buddhist Ethic," by Allen Ginsberg, Tricycle Magazine, Fall 1992:

The Four Noble Truths are as follows. First, existence contains suffering. Second, suffering is caused by ignorance of the conditions in which we exist—ignorance of the transitoriness and ignorance of anatma, the empty nature of the situation, so that everybody is afraid of a permanent condition of suffering and doesn't realize that suffering itself is transitory, impermanent. There is no permanent Hell, there is no permanent Heaven. Therefore, the suffering that we sense during this transition of life is not a permanent condition that we need to be afraid of. It's not where we're going to end up. We end liberated from the suffering either by death, or in life, by waking up to the nature of our situation and not clinging and grasping, screaming and being angry, resentful, irritable or insulted by our existence.

It is possible to take our existence as a "sacred world," to take this place as open space rather than claustrophobic dark void. It is possible to take a friendly relationship to our ego natures, it is possible to appreciate the aesthetic play of forms in emptiness, and to exist in this place like majestic kings of our own consciousness. But to do that, we would have to give up grasping to make everything come out the way we daydream it should.

So, suffering is caused by ignorance, or suffering exaggerated by ignorance or ignorant grasping and clinging to our notion of what we think should be, is what causes the "suffering of suffering." The suffering itself is not so bad, it's the resentment against suffering that is the real pain. This is where I think Kerouac got caught as a Catholic, ultimately, because I don't think he overcame that fear of the First Noble Truth.

Read more...

Would You Treat Them Differently?

If you could stand in someone else's shoes... Hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently?

This is an effective reminder of how little we actually know about the people we peripherally encounter in our lives. It resonates with the consistent indifference I experienced when navigating the medical system after I broke my shoulder. The shortcoming of this strategy is that it implies that we would all soften our hearts if we really knew the specific details about what others are going through. But what if we can't know? What if there isn't a drama driving the disinterest? What if the grouchy person you encounter is simply bored or even a bully? 

What if we take this recommended approach a step further? Instead of needing to discover or create a backstory in order for us to erode these social and emotional walls, what if we simply remind ourselves that we can never truly know the subjective experience of another person and that regardless of what we're able to observe on the surface, we're all driven by the deep desire to be safe, happy, healthy, and comfortable.

From this perspective, we reduce the risk of accidently tipping over into pity and comparison. It's easy to shift from feeling sorry for ourselves into feeling sorry for someone else. This approach comes with a side of guilt as we feel badly for feeling bad when we discover someone who is worse off than us. It can be powerful to feel our own feelings while also acknowledging that others are busy feeling theirswhich have nothing to do with us. 

There is some liberation in not having to crack the code of other people. Each encounter with a stranger provide an opportunity to gain a bit of intimacy with how our own thoughts and feelings mingle together to create tiny fictional portraits. We have an impressive ability to project our fears and insecurities onto the canvas of strangers. And when these impression resonate—look out. We assume they are true and act accordingly. 

Intimacy with our thoughts and feelings means simply becoming more aware that the suffering we imagine others to be going throughor the evaluations of their actions at allis a little "reality show" that we produce from a private, mostly subconscious palette of emotionally-flavored sensations in our own bodies along with the verbal and visual details percolating in our minds. 

Of course, the approach I'm describing would be nearly impossible to communicate with an emotionally moving video. This is one of the challenges of sharing attentional fitness techniques. In order to illustrate them in action, we are forced to use specific examples. But any example we use carries an emotional valence. What we're really trying to communicate is the cultivation of an ability to emphasize the composition of experience in contrast to the default preoccupation we have with the narrative content—especially our evaluation or interpretation of the content. 

In this approach, the situation of the other doesn't matter. We try to relinquish the requirement of a valid story before considering our common humanity. In this way, we are trying to develop an empathy that is not dependent on a set of conditions. This might sound like indiffierence, but it feels paradoxically like a much more generous and honest version of empathy. One that isn't so fragile that it instantly collapses when in our personal opinion, the backstory doesn't justify the behavior. 

How would we treat each other if we accepted that we don't have access to every backstory and that we're all driven by the same basic desires regardless of the obervable evidence? 

When Things Do Not Fit Our Mental Map

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.  

~ Philip K. Dick

Excerpt from "Umberto Rossi on 'The Twisted Worlds of Philip K. Dick'," To The Best of Our Knowledge, Jan. 20, 2013: 

What I find fascinating in that famous quotation of Dick is that the basic idea is that reality is not something that manifests itself clearly, it's something that doesn't want to go away.

What's the meaning of this? The meaning is that we have a map, a mental map of reality in our head.

And sometimes we superimpose the map that we have in our head, the image of reality that we have in our head, that can be wrong sometimes.

We superimpose it on reality so sometimes we don't really access reality directly. We have our desires, fears, expectations, paranoias, whatever, that act like a sort of filter between [actual] reality -- creating a sort of virtual reality.

That happens for everybody. Well, in a media-saturated society like ours, this is even stronger. We know a match not because we have been there and seen that, we know a lot because we have seen it on TV, on the Internet on some website, or read it in the Wikipedia, and, well, when things do not fit our mental map, mental image, maybe we have touched reality. 

That's, I think, what an interpretation can be of that famous  statement by Dick. 


See also: Rossi, U. (2011). The twisted worlds of Philip K. Dick: A reading of twenty ontologically uncertain novels. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/692291452 

More Full of Wonder than Your Deepest Dreams

Ian Ruhter/ Wet Plate Collodion 24”x36”/Narcissus /Mammoth Lakes CA /10.15.2011

Benedicto
by Edward Abbey 

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you  beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.

The Poem Asked for Their Attention

Excerpt from "Words That Shimmer," an On Being conversation with Elizabeth Alexander (January 6, 2011): 

I went to a Quaker high school in Washington, Sidwell Friends School, and we had meeting for worship once a week. It was, I don't know, 45 minutes or something like that of sitting together in silence and, when moved to speak, people would speak. It didn't happen very often. And then around graduation, everyone would get up and cry and that was the speaking.

There was always one teacher who spoke and, as slightly cynical teenagers, we weren't going to speak. But nonetheless, the quiet was very important. I even understood that then. But more importantly, the perhaps three minutes of silence with which we began the day, I cherished that then. That overrode all teenage restless silliness. I knew that that moment of inner listening would have analogs throughout the day, if you know what I mean.

That sort of chunk — and right now you can't see me because we're on the radio, but I'm holding my fingers together in a little rectangle. You know, so like, that chunk that smaller than a brick-sized chunk of contemplative silence with which to simply listen and take stock would be something that I would need to call on throughout the day. I think that's a very, very important way to be able to go through life. And I think that poetry can provide those kinds of chunks.

You know, right before the inaugural, the day before, there was a sound check and the sound guy asked me to — you know, the microphone. Oh, my goodness, just this amazing instrument, this finely calibrated, you know, kind of the Hope diamond of microphones — so he said, "OK, why don't you say some poetry" — that was his phrase, say some poetry — "so we can see how it works on the mic." And the day before, Washington was full of people. People were already coming to the inaugural and the mall was quite full with lots of folks, and it was just me up on the stage and no one was looking at me. And I recited one of my favorite poems, Gwendolyn Brooks' "Kitchenette Building," which starts out:

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent," "feeding a wife," "satisfying a man."

And then I continued with the poem which asks about could a dream rise up through onion fumes and yesterday's garbage ripening in the halls? It's extraordinary, beautiful, tiny, tiny sonnet. And let me tell you, hundreds of people literally stopped in their tracks to hear this unknown-to-them person recite a poem by someone unknown no doubt to most of them. And these hundreds of people, I watched them sort of gather in a darkening sort of cluster and then, when the poem was over, they clapped. In other words, they knew it was something about the form of the poem, right?

I didn't say who I was or what I was doing or ask for their attention. The poem asked for their attention inherently. And the poem is about people in Chicago. She's describing poor people in the 1940s living in these kitchenette apartments, under really difficult circumstances trying to find a way to imagine something else, something beautiful. It's about a very important topic that transcends time and space. You know, how can the imagination and the spirit lift us above our quotidian difficulties.

Kitchennette Building
by Gwendolyn Brooks

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan, 
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" mate, a giddy sound, not strong 
Like "rent", "feeding a wife", "satisfying a man". 

But could a dream sent up through onion fumes 
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes 
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall, 
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms, 

Even if we were willing to let it in, 
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean, 
Anticipate a message, let it begin? 

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute! 
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now, 
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it. 

We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.  

[More poems by Gwendolyn Brooks]

All These Years

For Samantha
by Daron Larson

As with everyone I have ever loved,
I have imagined your death too many times to count,
yet what a gulf remains between my imagination and reality.

Who would have thought to imagine such heat,
the persistent threat of rain, the pink blanket,
or the completeness of your naive trust in us.

One of the things you have taught me
is how easily and willingly I’m able to create
stories of danger and loss in the absence of either.

Let’s not pretend that you were ever a gifted meditator.
Such frequent restlessness and distraction,
even in the absence of verbal thoughts!

But you were a brilliant meditation teacher,
helping me to see that not all of nature’s sounds are pleasant,
and the danger in needing them to be.

You were able to embody focus — demonstrating how
one hundred percent of one’s attention can be trained
on eating, on greeting, on scanning the world through the glass in the door —

and joy,
multiplied by how many of us
returned home to you: 1, 2, 3.

It’s been so long since you could hear
the sound of food hitting your bowl,
or feel the thrill of the flight down the stairs to devour it.

You gave us a glimpse at the origins of language
by demanding — in pained, near-human vowels — permission
to clear the yard of harmless invaders.

We won’t ever be able to forget
how you became each day
the full expression of yearning, of savoring, of exhaustion.

The only thing you loved more than
eating and smelling and chasing
was to shadow us as often and as closely as possible.

All these years,
and leaving you has never gotten
the slightest bit easier —  

not today most of all.

Samantha White (November 11, 1996 - July 5, 2012)We can never express enough gratitude to you
for giving us more reasons to care about this world
apart from our own needs.

Thank you for living with us all these years,
for helping to make a home out of our creaky house,
for never turning down a nap,
and for insisting that it was time for life to begin again every day.

You are alive forever
in the story of our family
and in our hearts.