Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Braille Edition of Playboy Is Now Available Online

I was perplexed to find a Braille edition of Playboy while rummaging at Kaleidoscope Books in Ann Arbor some months ago. And last night, stumbling across the Buzzfeed headline The Braille Edition of Playboy Is Now Available Online, these lines of Cavafy occurred to me

     how much of the pathos, the yearning of our race,
     how much weariness
     these nine tragic words contain.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Love in the Time of Ebola

For the last weeks, the news has been dominated by stories of the outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa and its subsequent spread to limited areas of Europe and America. One of the reasons, I think Ebola has captured so much public attention (besides its horrific symptoms and high mortality rate) is that it exposes the interdependence of our systems and the interconnectedness of the world. An outbreak of a disease in Africa doesn't stay in Africa anymore. It travels via plane, train, and automobile. It can spread and infect, crossing borders and entering new circles of connectivity. This sort of issue and its accompanying anxiety goes well beyond a medical threat. The 2008 breakdown of the global financial markets spread in much the way of virus might. Describing bank failure, the news used the word infection

So much of life is now at the mercy of global forces and systems. On any given day, I might eat a nectarine from Chile, receive a wire transfer from my magazine in England, or chat with a friend in Sydney. Everything I do or think is fair game for a Facebook post that will be shared with 1000+ friends. If I want strawberries in January, I don't have to wait until the season. I can hop on a plane and be in Brest or Berlin in half a day. Social media gives me windows (well-dressed ones) into other people's lives, importing dissatisfaction and the sense that there is something else better out there than what I'm doing, someone better than who I'm with. It can be hard for me at times feel anchored, to feel engaged with the people in my life. Lately I've been thinking about all this, wondering what place love has in this time of Ebola.

My answer — love is local. It supersedes the banks of computer scattered around the world that are involved in the simplest debit card transaction. It gives value perspective to the litany of likes one might receive on a Facebook post. It draws us back to the present moment and present location. There is no FOMO in love. Like John Donne says: love, all love of other sights controls, / and makes one little room an everywhere. Love can't cure Ebola, but it can bring us back to ourselves and to the present moment and can make this strange, overpopulated, beautiful world of ours more habitable and make us inhabit it more fully.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Isis and Osiris - new meanings for old mythologies

Today I taught my students the myth of Isis and Osiris from Egypt, a story of jealousy, murder, and resurrection. In the back of my head as I read: how the names from this story have been appropriated for new purposes in this brave and strange new world of ours.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Drinking your words - Chartreuse

I attended a wine and illegal cheese party (the FDA doesn't approve of some European cultures) last week. For a sendoff, our host opened a bottle of chartreuse, an herbal liqueur with a sweet taste and mythic-sounding back-story. It's brewed by monks in the French Alps. Only two of them know the recipe at any time. When one dies, a new acolyte is taken in. And so it's passed down the ages. And it's passed into the English language, now mostly divorced from its history. There's even a crayon.

Chartreuse - Noun
1. A Carthusian monastery in the French Alps near Grenoble, France.
2. An herbal liqueur brewed by Carthusian monks.
3. A yellowish green color, that of the French liqueur.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

On Blushing

I knew a girl who blushed and everything – compliments, kissing, winning and losing, laughing at a joke. She had a determined blush and bashful blush. She stayed flushed after a workout. Her blush could mean anything and everything but how to tell what? And like anything ever-present, it meant little. And like anything ever-present, it meant a lot.

Poetry gives us the best answers for the mundane and the all-important. This Keats poem is both of those things. I was delighted last night to find it in an anthology. He's so serious most of the time and I like him better for having read it.

Sharing Eve's Apple - John Keats

O blush not so! O blush not so! 
Or I shall think you knowing; 
And if you smile the blushing while, 
Then maidenheads are going. 

There's a blush for want, and a blush for shan't, 
And a blush for having done it; 
There's a blush for thought, and a blush for nought, 
And a blush for just begun it. 

O sigh not so! O sigh not so! 
For it sounds of Eve's sweet pippin; 
By these loosen'd lips you have tasted the pips 
And fought in an amorous nipping. 

Will you play once more at nice-cut-core, 
For it only will last our youth out, 
And we have the prime of the kissing time, 
We have not one sweet tooth out. 

There's a sigh for aye, and a sigh for nay, 
And a sigh for "I can't bear it!" 
O what can be done, shall we stay or run? 
O cut the sweet apple and share it!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Loves of Achilles

In the twilight of antiquity, an obscure grammarian copied down a few lines of a Sophocles play, The Loves of Achilles. Time and the chaos of the Middle Ages swept away manuscripts and most of Sophocles was lost. But one fragment was saved. The line is often quoted, notably in Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love, as love is like ice in the hands of children. The full line is below. It's all we have of something beautiful. It's enough.

When ice appears out of doors, and boys seize it up while it is solid, at first they experience new pleasures. But in the end their pride will not agree to let it go, but their acquisition is not good for them if it stays in their hands. In the same way an identical desire drives lovers to act and not to act.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crooked Still: Friends of the Fall

This is in my head as the last swelter of summer gives way to chill at night and leaftips suggest the first blush of fall color. Mornings, the lake is a lift of fog shot through with sunlight. Evenings, wood smoke rises over the neighborhood. And through it all, a heady feeling of stepping fully into life.

It'll end too soon, if it ends at all..