Josna Rege

Archive for the ‘reflections’ Category

407. Inner Light

In Nature, reflections, seasons, Stories on November 24, 2018 at 5:33 pm

It has been nearly four months now since we moved, and every day is still a surprise. By mid-November, after a succession of cold, blustery days, the deciduous trees around the house had lost almost all their leaves. I emerged from the bedroom one morning to find shafts of light streaking into places I had never seen lit up before. The leaves of the potted plants we had brought in before the first frost had been looking dull, but now they were glowing; and, I was surprised to find, so was I. 

It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it, that as the days grow shorter, the mornings and afternoons gloomier, and the shadows longer, there should actually be more light slanting into the house? As we were turning toward the darkest time of the year, I had been anticipating a season of hibernation and bracing myself to face it. But I had been wrong. Now that the trees were bare and the sun low in the sky, there was new light coming in everywhere, in unexpected places.

In just four weeks we will come around to the winter solstice, a cold, dark, snowy time when we will have to hunker down and bundle up day and night to conserve heat; but also a time to turn inward and discover that inner light.

 

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404. Colo(u)rs

In Family, Music, Nature, reflections, Words & phrases on October 22, 2017 at 5:43 pm

In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, set in the aftermath of slavery, the protagonist Sethe’s mother-in-law Baby Suggs (“Baby Suggs, Holy” when she was a lay preacher teaching newly freed people to love themselves), having lost just about everyone she had ever loved, gave up on people, particularly whitepeople, and spent her last days contemplating colors, one color at a time. She spent a long time on yellow.

The colors in my father’s oil paintings are rich and warm, the watercolors luminous, filling every square inch of the canvas. Migmar always brought him flowers because he loved them so much. “He is like a woman,” she would say every time, full of wonder at his passion for them. Even when he no longer had the energy to paint, he continued to derive great pleasure from just drinking them in. Taking scraps from his art studio out to the trash last week, I found a list of colors, probably a shopping list for oil paints. There were also pages and pages of elaborate color-mixing formulae and charts, bringing home to me all over again how much colors had meant to him.

I love colors too, but being a person who has derived my greatest pleasure from words, I enjoy rolling their names off my tongue (and the English spelling rolls best): Prussian blue, chrome yellow, rubine red, Havana lake, burnt umber, raw sienna, jet black, carmine. Alert to intertextuality, I mentally reference writers from Aldous Huxley (Crome Yellow) to Toni Morrison, The Rolling Stones to Donovan. Here’s the Mexican folk song  De Colores, a celebration of Nature, freedom, and unity in diversity (Spanish and Engish lyrics here).  And Donovan’s Wear Your Love Like Heaven, which, belated Hippie that I am, I continue to love despite the fact that it was coopted in an advertisement for make-up.

Colour in sky, Prussian blue
Scarlet fleece changes hue
Crimson ball sinks from view
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love)

Lord, kiss me once more
Fill me with song
Allah, kiss me once more
That I may, that I may
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love like)
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love)
La-la, la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la

Colour sky, Havana lake
Colour sky, rose carmethene
Alizarin crimson
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love)

Lord, kiss me once more
Fill me with song
Allah, kiss me once more
That I may, that I may
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love like)
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love)
La-la, la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la

Can I believe what I see
All I have wished for will be
All our race proud and free
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love)

Lord, kiss me once more
Fill me with song
Allah, kiss me once more
That I may, that I may
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love like)
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love)

Carmine.

Words need not replace things-in-themselves. Sometimes I too feel like taking to my bed and simply contemplating colours, slowly, deliciously, one at a time. But there is work to be done, and I’m not dead yet. In these times, when the light of freedom is being dimmed all over, colours are falling out of favor. Time to celebrate them all the more. In the meantime, I can still sing, mix, and continue to dream, in glorious color.

Carmine.

 

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398. This day . . .

In reading, reflections, seasons, Stories, Work, writing on May 24, 2017 at 3:48 pm


This day is the first day of the rest of your life, proclaims that 1960s poster once plastered ubiquitously on college dorm walls across the country and intoned, infuriatingly, by any number of 1970s self-help gurus and popular culture figures from John Denver to The Walking Dead. But being banal doesn’t make it untrue; quite the contrary.

Every spring, as I teach my last class of the year, and again a couple of weeks later, when I turn in my students’ final grades, I tell myself: This day is the first day of the rest of your summer. Make the most of it, start as you mean to go on. Walk and write daily, wrap up long-postponed and unfinished business, work steadily to make inroads into those large, looming tasks that take time to complete, and have plenty of fun: take trips to visit friends and family, thrift-store shop to your heart’s content, and do a whole lot of entirely extraneous reading (what Andrew used to call, in that interminable last six months of my doctoral studies, reading unrelated to my dissertation). On that first day, as the whole summer stretches before me, I am utterly exhausted, but simultaneously filled with pleasurable anticipation and resolve.

Here it is, though, a week since I turned in the grades, more than three weeks since I taught my last class, and I have precious little to show. Already I have that sinking feeling, as if the whole summer, and then some, is already spoken for. Former students with Incompletes are still turning in late work, students from this just-finished semester demanding to know why their grades haven’t shown up online; prospective students asking for the syllabus of one of my fall courses (answer: I don’t have it; the course is yet to be designed), editors asking after that book chapter that I have yet to complete, creditors asking why I haven’t paid (and never will pay) that last ambulance bill for Dad. And now, here I sit at the dining-room table with my second cup of tea, doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a whole lot of nothing.

For the first few days of the summer, I always tell myself—despite my resolution to work slowly and steadily, to start as I mean to carry on—that it is okay not to do much of anything, that I need to catch up on lost sleep, unwind, and generally be kind to myself. But in my heart of hearts I know that I am simply postponing the inevitable: there is no substitute for getting started.

The trouble is that inevitably, the instant I finish teaching my last class, either I fall sick or crisis strikes at home. There is no time in-between to take a deep breath. It’s like when Nikhil was a baby and went down for his 45-minute nap (unlike my friends’ babies who regularly took two-hour naps during the day, sometimes two of them), I would immediately start rinsing out his dirty nappies (because of course I used cloth diapers rather than disposable) and inevitably, the instant that I had finished the last one, he would wake up as if on a timer. So it was this year; so much has happened since that last day of classes in early May that I can’t account for it all. Through the blur of these past three weeks I seem to recall that, among other things, my eyeglasses broke in two during the last, desperate hours of my final grading, the air conditioning failed during an unprecedentedly hot mid-May heatwave, more students than ever before failed to complete their final term papers on time, and, of course, the nation has been teetering on the brink of a Constitutional crisis. All I know is that I feel as if I’ve been continuously and furiously busy, but seem to have nothing to show for it but a lot of late nights where I fall asleep on the couch and so many rounds of Canfield’s Solitaire (called Demon in England because it is so notoriously hard to win) that my hands ache with the repetitive stress. My hands actually ache from doing a whole lot of nothing.

The cure for doing nothing seems obvious: just do something; make even a little headway with it, and you will begin to feel better. But what to start on first? Perform triage, and then start with the most urgent task. But there are so many urgent tasks; it’s overwhelming. This is where the deck of cards comes out for yet another round of Canfield. If I lose, I play again: just until I beat Canfield. If I win, I play again: why quit when you’re ahead? (Wait, isn’t the maxim Quit while you’re ahead? No matter.) You get the picture, and unless you’re superhuman, or one of those Highly Effective People, you’ve probably struggled with your own version of it.

But the summer is young yet, and despite my sinking feeling that it’s already over, it really isn’t. It is. Not. Over. So let me take stock, and come up with a game plan; just for today.

First, open that unfinished book chapter and get back in the groove: Where was I when I last worked on it, and what do I need to do next? Actually get to work on it for a short period of time, setting a timer and stopping when it goes off; but not before writing myself a brief To Do note for the next time I sit down to it.

Second, take a brisk walk; it doesn’t have to be a long one. The 40-minute loop down through the old cemetery is perfect, but the shorter leg-stretch up to the Town Line and back will suffice.

Third, Destination Henion Bakery: sit with a cup of tea and a little something (okay, a jelly doughnut; although they now make these light, not-too-sweet little French things called choquettes; if feeling righteous, substitute a couple of them for my JD). Keep wireless internet connection resolutely turned off so as to continue to work on essay without distraction for period of time not to exceed 45 minutes. Slow and steady is the way to ease into this.

Now the hard work of the day is done. If energy permits, knock off one of those Incompletes: reread, regrade, recalculate, and resubmit the grade to the Registrar.

What next? Front porch, feet up, and—oh joy!—Extraneous Reading.

After dinner, repair to living-room couch. Get required daily dose of Professor Robert Reich’s Resistance Report, and laugh at opening monologues from last night’s late-night comedians.

This day is the first day of the rest of my life. From the standpoint of now, it is the only day. It is.

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392. Pecking Order

In Family, Nature, reflections, Words & phrases on November 12, 2016 at 11:51 am

b943939cc38c7a4c769c401ab271f47cIn the past couple of years I’ve taken over the job of keeping my parents’ bird feeder filled. They always did so religiously, observing the birds’ behavior intently, keeping track of all the different species that paid them a visit, watching over the eggs and fledglings in the spring (see TMA #301, Babysitting), and worrying about their well-being as winter approached. I watch through the kitchen window as I do the washing up, trying not to anthropomorphize, though it’s well-nigh impossible for me not to do so.

At first I couldn’t help but notice the large birds taking up too much space, scaring off the smaller ones, and trying to scarf up all the seed. I also noticed little birds of many species perching on a nearby tree, like so many Christmas-tree decorations, and coming forward one by one to take their turn at the feeder. The term “pecking order” immediately came to mind, and it struck me how apt it was; here were the birds lining up hierarchically by size, taking it in turns to peck at the birdseed. But I was wrong, wrong on the origins of the term, and wrong in my knee-jerk interpretation of what was happening at the feeder.

It turns out that pecking order was coined by Norwegian zoologist and psychologist  Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe, whose 1921 PhD dissertation presented his observations and interpretations of  social dominance among cooped-up chickens who, apparently, punished transgressors with a “painful peck” that taught them their place in the hierarchy. He claimed that this hierarchy was not learned, but inherent in the birds’ nature. Other scholars seized on this notion, and applied it to human social hierarchies as well, arguing that we are competitive creatures who naturally establish social pecking orders.

This line of thinking reached back to the 19th century, when Darwin’s theory of natural selection was seized upon by social Darwinists who extended it to persons, groups, and races, arguing for Herbert Spencer’s theory of the “survival of the fittest.”  According to them, human society naturally followed the law of the jungle, and those who came out on top were evolutionarily superior to the rest. In his 1949 elegy, In Memoriam, Tennyson entered what was to become a long-running debate with his now-famous phrase, Nature, red in tooth and claw, in a section of the poem where he contrasted the seeming heartlessness of Nature with the religious belief that Love was the ultimate force in the universe. And ever since, the work of politicians, artists, social scientists, and natural scientists has been shaped—or skewed— by the assumption that cutthroat competitiveness is hard-wired in human beings, even when the evidence suggests otherwise.

How many Nature documentaries have you watched where a powerful predator stalks, kills, and devours its hapless prey? Take note of the narrative thrust of the storyline and tone of the commentary. More often than not, it seems, the narrator focuses almost obsessively on the gory details, delighting in the bloodthirsty order of things, as if to naturalize, even valorize, similarly violent behavior in human beings.

Back to my kitchen window. Viewing the birds at the feeder without my pecking-order lenses, I still saw the blue jay crowding out the smaller songbirds or the red-bellied woodpecker drilling far into the feeder with its long, rapier-sharp beak, which other birds wisely gave a wide berth. But I also noticed other kinds of behavior. First of all, there was very little actual fighting, aside from the occasional wing-beating flap when two birds descended on the feeder at the same time, and one made sure it got in first. But there was no further fussing and fighting, and certainly no pecking. The other bird simply waited in line, as customers do at a crowded restaurant, until there was space for it at the bar, and then took its place, first-come, first-served. I also observed that while big birds were dominating one side of the feeder, the smaller birds simply lined up on the other side, and there seemed to be little conflict either between the big and the small or among the small ones.

In addition to competition, I observed an interesting symbiosis among different species. While most of the birds perched on either side of the feeder, others who were no good at perching, like the mourning doves, picked up the fallen seed, as did the squirrels. One morning, I even saw a flock of free-ranging hens from next-door cleaning up on the ground—amicably, I might add: no sign whatsoever of a pecking order.

There have been some exceptional scientists who have been free enough from the prevailing social-Darwinist bias to pioneer other approaches, both at the cellular level and at the level of relationships between different organisms.  One was the late evolutionary theorist Lynn Margulis, who focused on symbiosis and  cooperation rather than competition as the driver of evolution. Her perspective brought her into vigorous debate with neo-Darwinists like Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene), but while her ideas were initially ridiculed, many of them were eventually accepted.

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My father felt so strongly about keeping the bird feeder well stocked with seed that he was reluctant to leave home for any length of time lest it run out. As for the larger predators, he was a particular lover of the Big Cats. He never tired of watching documentaries of lions and tigers, neither reveling in or recoiling from their carnivorous natures. “They have to eat,” he would simply say, “What magnificent creatures they are!” But his favorites were the videos showing the close relationships that developed between Big Cats and humans, and he never tired of watching a YouTube video of the joyful response of a lion raised by humans, released to the wild, and then reunited with them when they returned to visit after many years. He was deeply touched by the scene every time. “We under-estimate these animals,” he would always say, shaking his head in wonder and sadness, for I think he was remembering having to leave behind our beloved dog when we left India for the United States (see TMA #54, Flash).

So what a person sees at the bird feeder depends on how that person sees the world. While one cannot  eradicate one’s own biases altogether, one can at least attempt to be aware of them. Pecking order—pshaw! More like pecking disorder.

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383. It’s a Process

In Media, reflections, Stories on June 11, 2016 at 2:39 pm

2176152-African-American-businessman-wrapped-in-computer-cables-looking-up-with-exasperation--Stock-Photo

I’ve always prided myself on being an eminently sane person, but there are two things guaranteed to unhinge me: bureaucratic paperwork and problems with technology, especially anything to do with computers. There’s a snapshot in my mind of me, three months after Nikhil’s birth, tearing my hair out as I filled out nightmarish, too-numerous-to-count forms in order to get reimbursement for all the hospital bills of the past year. Or melting down on April the 15th every year, as I scramble to complete, photocopy, and mail the tax return–or in some cases the deferral form–in time, sometimes having to drive to the closest district post office that stays open extra-late on Tax Day.

Because I find it so hard to undertake such tasks, my mind will come up with any number of devious ways to avoid tackling them. Of course, the longer the delay and the larger the backlog the more daunting it all becomes, until I wonder why the pressures of modern life don’t drive more people over the edge. But somehow, something a friend said to me yesterday, something I’ve heard said many times in the past, clicked in a way it never had before.

This past month I’ve been dealing rather badly with another challenge: the probably-unrecoverable loss of my computer’s hard drive. It happened in the penultimate week of the semester, with deadlines of all kind looming, and as I heard the news I had to struggle to hold back tears. “My whole life is on that computer,” I told the officious young  Apple store operative. “No, Ma’am, your data is on it, not your life,” he replied, in infuriatingly patronizing tones. I pasted a grim smile on my face and told him that I stood corrected, thank you, but mentally gave him one tight slap. For me, there was very little difference between my data and my life, since that hard drive contained all my documents and photos dating back to graduate school.

300px-MacIntosh_Plus_img_1317The saga of the corrupted hard drive had dragged on for more than a month, and my friend Peter had kindly agreed to help me get my laptop up and running again. Peter is, among many other things, a computer wiz who attends the monthly  MIT Swapfest, a flea market where techie-types exchange electronic parts and equipment, and regularly returns with mind-blowing bargains, such as laptops for $50, iPads for $10, and for $5, boxes full of assorted cables. Of course, he knows what those cables are and what to do with them, and has exactly what the languishing laptops need to restore them to working condition; for many people, me in particular, they would just add to my legion of obsolete electronics, dating all the way back to the 30 year-old Mac Plus from grad-school days (that my brother-in-law Dan, also a computer wiz, taught me how to use in the midst of a raucous Hallowe’en party‑a testament to Apple’s intuitive design).

Peter’s prime directive is to save money making his old computers new again and, while he’s at it, having a grand old time. Bargain-hunting at the MIT flea market is his equivalent of my thrift-store shopping, something to look forward to and delight in. For me, however, the quest to recover my files and get my laptop up and running again is excruciating every step of the way; I just want my computer back–yesterday; but unfortunately, it was not meant to be. You’d think that ordering a new battery and hard drive would be a relatively simple process, involving just a couple of clicks. But first I had to choose among a host of possible hard drives online; hard-disk or solid-state, 250 or 500 Gigabytes, new or reconditioned. Some had to be picked up in person at the nearest store, others would be shipped to me—if they were currently in stock, that is. They also had to be compatible with the particular model of my laptop, down to the month of manufacture. And even after these decisions, there was a staggering array of brands to be researched and selected from, each with different warranty periods and customer reviews.

Amazon-locker-return

Finally I decided on one particular hard drive, waited the requisite few days for it, and carried it over to Peter, who had my poor laptop prepped for open-heart surgery on Anna’s kitchen table, looking terribly vulnerable with its cover off and a row of tiny screwdrivers arranged neatly beside it. But a few hours later I received a call from the surgeon; hurrying back, I found that he had unpacked the hard drive only to find that it was dented, its label was cracked and perforated, and altogether,  it was clearly not new. Back in the box it had to go, return paperwork had to be filed online, return labels printed, and the package dropped off at a UPS pick-up site. Peter decided it would be best to order a hard drive that could be picked up and inspected in person, but the size we needed was not in stock, and the only one available was twice the capacity and twice the price. Nevertheless, he drove to the store, paid the price, and we were back in business; or would be, once the battery arrived.

new-macbook-pro-15-4inch-i7-4gb-500gb-2-4ghz-2011-for-sale-4fe17a0018bb2b83cbf4Meanwhile, my girlfriend Sartaz was urging me to have done with it and just purchase  a new computer, which would come with a three-year repair-and-replacement  plan, an already-installed operating system, and numerous other perks and applications. Why limp along for weeks with all these hassles and more bound to follow, when I could be back in business in an hour (not counting, of course,  the recovery of the data on my damaged hard drive)? I flip-flopped between the two options. On the one hand, I believed in repairing things rather than continually buying new ones. On the other hand, I needed to get back to work, and did not have the skills, the temperament, or the time to keep reordering, returning, and replacing parts.

Over the past couple of weeks, ever since I asked him to help me and he had graciously agreed, Peter and I‑-both quick-tempered, both opinionated‑-have had several heated exchanges. The root of the conflict has always been that I am impatient to get my computer working again, and just wanted him to tell me what to order, install it, and be done with it; while Peter wants to be sure that I have reviewed the pros and cons of all the possible ways forward, understood the difference between them, and made a fully informed choice. Although we have both been trying hard to see and respect each other’s point of view, we have clashed nonetheless. But yesterday, something shifted.

(imgur.com)

(imgur.com)

While preparing to install the newly purchased hard drive, Peter discovered yet another problem with my battle-scarred old laptop: its built-in CD drive was malfunctioning. It was at this point that he softened his hard-line stance against buying a new one and began to look up the costs of replacement rather than repair (which, of course, involved still more choices). And yet, ironically, it was also at this point that I let go of my exasperation and finally began to see the task from Peter’s point of view. I realized that for him, the whole thing was enjoyable, every step of the way. It was a quest in the old sense of the word, a journey whose end was not so important in itself, but valuable by virtue of what one could learn along the way. It was, in short, a process.

At various points over the past few months when I was at my most frustrated, on the verge of giving way to despair and raging against the world and any hapless person who happened to be trying to help me out, Peter said soothingly, “this is a process,” but I dismissed his words before they even registered. Process meant nothing to me; I wanted the product: a working computer, and I wanted it now. I had no patience for Peter’s tedious explanations of the inner workings of the components of all the different models, neither did I have any desire to be dragged through the decision-making process. That was what he was supposed to be doing for me, wasn’t it? But yesterday, when he said “this is a process” for the umpteenth time, the effect was not irritation, but sudden, clarifying insight. Living is a process, and every decision we make takes us on a path, which itself will present us with a series of choices. Walking the path joyfully, engaging fully with all the choices encountered along the way, is not just “a learning experience,” it is life itself. I can look upon each encounter as an obstacle, something that delays my arrival at the destination, or I can see it as an opportunity to learn something valuable. These infuriating road-blocks could be Kafkaesque ordeals designed to drive me insane, or they could be the gifts given to the questing hero by strangers along the way, gifts that turn out to be crucially important in enabling him or her to succeed.

passportNow, I wouldn’t want to overstate my little epiphany. I still want my computer, and still want it now. But later the same day, I used the insight to take the first steps in another journey I had been putting off for two years: the bureaucratic nightmare of renewing my British passport. With the U.K. about to vote on whether or not to leave the European Union, I hoped that submitting my application before June 23rd might secure me an EU passport for another 10 years. It involved registering and filling out a form online, making and mailing a complete color copy of my U.S. passport and passport photos tailored to insanely precise British specifications, and calling the passport office in the U.K. with questions not answered in any of the online FAQs.

Armed with my new mantra, I began; and, true to the formula of all heroic quests, the road did not run smooth. I had to save the online form half-done, because I needed  questions answered, and that couldn’t be done until Monday morning. At the copy shop, the color copier malfunctioned and, after nearly a hour’s wait, they returned the job unfinished, suggesting that I go elsewhere for the remaining pages. But miraculously, I did not blow up or melt down. I simply told myself that it was a process and that I had begun it. I will complete it on Monday, inshallah, and then another long-dreaded, long-delayed, job will be done. Or not; it’s a process.

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380. Zoe

In blogs and blogging, India, Inter/Transnational, reflections, Stories, Words & phrases on April 30, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Blogging from A to Z
  Theme: Bringing Me Joy


ZZoe
is a Greek name meaning Life. (Think of zoology, protozoa, zoetrope (or zootrope).) Zed is the last letter of the English alphabet, but Zeta is not last in the Greek. Perhaps the Greeks knew that the goal is not to be found at the end.

What is the end—the goal, the purpose—of life? Life itself. Life and its secret meaning, toward which so many seekers strive, only to find, in the end, that they had had it all along, if only they had stopped to notice. What do the Upanishads say? It is Sat-Chit-Ananda: Sat (existence), Chit (consciousness), and Ananda (Bliss).

Life brings me joy.

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378. Xýpna / Ξύπνα

In blogs and blogging, Family, Greece, Inter/Transnational, Music, Nature, reflections, Stories, Words & phrases on April 29, 2016 at 10:43 am
[from amyapplebaumsalbums.com]

[from amyapplebaumsalbums.com]

Blogging from A to Z
  Theme: Bringing Me Joy

XDuring the nearly-three years my family lived in Athens, we memorized part of a story in a Greek children’s reader we had. Whether it was because it was one of the few Greek passages he had learned by heart or, more likely, because it was one of those inside family jokes (see TMA#162 Heuch, Heuch! (and other family lingo), I remember my Dad repeatedly reciting the first few lines of the piece, about a mother waking up her daughter to get ready for the first day of school. Here’s the Greek (apologies in advance for any errors) with transliteration and translation:

«Ξύπνα!», μου είπε, «παιδαkι μου. Σήμερα το σχολείο ανοίγει. Πρέπει να ετοιμαστούμε, για να πάμε. »

« Xýpna ! » , mou eípe, «paidakí mou . Símera to scholeío anoígei. Prépei na etoimastoúme , yia na páme . »

“Wake up!” she said, “my child.  Today school opens. We need to get ready to go.”

[from huffingtonpost.ca]

[from huffingtonpost.ca]

Since then, I’ve always remembered the Greek word for Wake Up!: Xýpna! And perhaps because, not being a morning person, I struggle to leap up and embrace the day, I am drawn to songs and poems that call upon us to do so:

Bob Marley’s always-inspiring Wake Up and Live.

The lovely Greek folk singer Nana Mouscouri’s Xypna Agapi Mou (Wake Up My Love). (By the way, here’s Nana and a very young Donovan singing Donovan’s In the Morning, better known as “Colours.”)

Yusuf Islam (then Cat Stevens) singing the beautiful Morning Has Broken, sung to the equally beautiful words by Eleanor Farjeon.

And perhaps my very favorite crystal-clear wake-up song, Utha Utha, Sakal Jana, sung here by Asha Bhosle.

In several of these songs you’ll see that waking up refers not merely to dispelling one’s morning grogginess with a strong cup of tea, but to nothing less than Enlightenment, living fully and alertly as our best selves and embracing every moment of every new day.

Xýpna!

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371. Quirks

In blogs and blogging, clothing, reflections, Stories, women & gender, Words & phrases on April 22, 2016 at 9:53 am

photoshopbattle1original

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Quirk: an unusual habit or type of behavior, or something that is strange and unexpected.

Quirky: a little odd. Unconventional. Unusual, in an attractive and interesting way.

Q-1I’ve written before (TMA# 158, The Pagli and the Tramp) about society’s low tolerance for deviation from behavioral norms. It seems that we are all expected to walk in lockstep. People seen to be dressing too dowdily or too flamboyantly, eating too much or too little or “strange” food, spending too much or being too thrifty, exercising too much or too little, speaking too loudly, expressing strong opinions, making personal remarks: no matter what people say or do, other people will talk about it and pass judgement on them. But surely most of these are harmless idiosyncracies that make each of us who we are, differences that we should welcome rather than condemn.

There are times in one’s life when one is under greater pressure to conform than others. During middle school, for example, especially for girls; or during one’s working life or young motherhood. In academia, junior faculty who have not yet received tenure are often afraid to speak out (funny, this, given the much-vaunted academic freedom). Those who do not speak a dominant language well, or who speak it with a foreign accent, face ridicule and worse. I think of Sridevi’s character in the film English Vinglish, whose own children humiliate her in her own home and her own country because she is not sufficiently fluent in English, the language of the educated elite.

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At my age, though, I no longer care much about the judgements of others. I think of Yeats’ poem, Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad and think that it’s even more true for old women. They should be grateful for our eccentricities (literally: deviation of an orbit from circularity), welcome our mild battiness, and be thankful that we’re not raging. Arguably, society has even less tolerance for deviation from the norm in women than in men, but advancing age and its attendant invisibility gives us women greater license to be our crazy selves, to be scandalous, at least to be quirky.

So I make no apologies for my quirks, and delight in those of my friends and colleagues. In class last week a student startled me by calling me “Our Lady of the Tea and Scarves” (which I accepted, since it’s patently true, although I doubt if he would have dared to make such a personal remark to a male professor). One of my colleagues dresses exclusively in 1940s clothes (ensembles, as she calls them), complete with hats, and this too is accepted as her trademark style. My friend Anna loves candles, and whenever I drop in of an evening, she lights them in welcome. And of course, books. My friends Jude and Martin and I always show each other our latest finds at the book sheds at our respective town dumps, where they volunteer of a Saturday morning. The tendency nowadays seems to be to pathologize everything, add it to the DSM as a new syndrome. All of the above habits, benign as they are, could also be labeled mild or moderate disorders. But perhaps that’s the key: society must police the slightest sign of dis-order.

Welcome Variety, Welcome to the joyful proliferation of Difference! Thank goodness for quirks!

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368. Night

In blogs and blogging, Music, Nature, reflections, Stories, Words & phrases on April 17, 2016 at 8:56 am

422408-night-sky

Blogging from A to Z
  Theme: Bringing Me Joy

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As a girl at boarding school, I loved singing in morning chapel. We often sang hymns welcoming the new day, and our dear headmaster Mr. Murray’s favorite, Lord of All Hopefulness, Lord of All Joy, was one of mine as well. There was one morning hymn, though, whose tune I liked but some of whose words never failed to annoy me. The first verse went:

New every morning is the love
our wakening and uprising prove;
through sleep and darkness safely brought,
restored to life and power and thought.

I supposed it was okay to be thankful that one hadn’t died in one’s sleep, but wondered why the daytime was privileged over the night in this way. Why wasn’t one also considered alive and conscious while sleeping? Later, at university, I made a little study of the waking and sleeping states of consciousness as explored in the Upanishads, and found that, as in modern sleep and dream research, they had considered the sleeping states to be both conscious and necessary, fulfilling essential functions.

I love the night. It’s a peaceful time when the chatter of the world is stilled, and a measure of calm restored. I do not fear darkness or associate it with evil or death. After all, half the day is dark; why on earth should we dismiss half our lives? When the sun sets, a precious peace descends, cloaking the world in darkness. Only in darkness is the night sky illuminated, the heavenly bodies that are invisible by day emerging in all their glory. Also by night, thoughts that are dispelled by day emerge, demanding to be examined and resolved. These processes are carried out in blessèd sleep, balm of hurt minds. . .that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care, as Shakespeare put it in Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2.

For good measure, I leave you with a handful of songs celebrating the night.

Night Shift (Bob Marley & the Wailers)
Whatever Gets You Through the Night (John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band)
Because the Night (Patti Smith Group)
In the Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett)
All Through the Night (Welsh Folk Song, Ar hyd y nos)

Night-time brings me joy.

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360. Friends

In blogs and blogging, people, reflections, Stories, women & gender on April 8, 2016 at 1:00 am

MyLorgan (Youtube)

                                                                    MyLorgan (Youtube)

Blogging from A to Z
  Theme: Bringing Me Joy

FYou have made a plan to get together. Arriving on time at the appointed place, you start looking around for a glimpse of him or her. Then you catch sight of each other from afar, each hurrying purposefully towards the other, and the surrounding crowds blur and fade into the background. Your face breaks out in a huge ear-to-ear grin; in fact, you’re smiling all over. You are in the presence of your dear friend.

I hope I don’t take my friends for granted. Having moved so many times in my childhood and early teens, I’ve largely missed those lifelong friends going all the way back to infancy, so the ones I do have are all the more precious to me. In the world we live in, your childhood best friend, even if you are still in touch, is liable to live thousands of miles away, so your tea dates must perforce be virtual ones. But when you do have a friend you can call on the spur of the moment to ask what she’s doing, and she says, Nothing, why don’t you come over? I’ve just put the kettle on, you are indeed fortunate. Or a friend whom you can call—again on the spur of the moment, and say, I need a little getaway, can I come and sleep over? And she replies, When can you get here? You arrive on her doorstep with your contributions toward dinner, which you cook and eat together, and she has borrowed a pile of videos from the library for your review, which you eventually settle down to watch. But first, during, and after, you talk and talk and talk. And your friend, even if she is tired, shows infinite patience.

There are friends on other coasts and continents; who drop you a line just to say they’re thinking about you, proposing a Skype date across six time zones; who drop everything to lend you an ear, no matter how much grading they’ve got to get through that night; who send you photographs of their luxuriant gardens when your own is frozen solid or wall-to-wall weeds; who post links to stirring songs that carry you back and launch you forward.

Friends from different times and places of your life have shared intimate experiences that continue to bind you closely together no matter how many years or miles separate you. You shared a secret language and wrote notes to each other in it; made pacts to wear matching outfits for a month; went to your first anti-war demonstration arm in arm. In graduate school, you called each other late at night, desperate to come up with an assignment for class the next day; studied for your qualifying exams together; read and re-read chapters of each other’s dissertations. You entered motherhood together, straining organic vegetables and scouring thrift stores for 100% cotton all-in-ones, sharing bedtime and sleep strategies, worrying about the pernicious influences of television and schooling. Later, when miles upon miles separated you, you wrote long letters, later emails, to each other, and saved them all.

I call my one of my two dearest friends in California at bedtime Eastern Standard Time, their evening, Pacific Time. We ask each other whether we have taken exercise, meditated, gotten enough sleep. They pray for me. We send each other successful recipes, Netflix recommendations, student essays so unspeakable that we haven’t a clue how to respond.

During my sabbatical in 2014 I visited an old friend in England—who does go back to my infancy, but whom I hadn’t been able to meet for several years. As she met me at the railway station she asked, How long do we have? Twenty-four hours, I replied. Right, she said; let’s make the most of it. And we sure did.

Although we do the best we can to span the distance between us, nothing beats the golden times we get to be together in person. Thanks to all my friends, who bring me joy, and try to knock some sense into that hard head of mine.

Here are some songs to friends and friendship:
You’ve Got a Friend — James Taylor and Carole King (Winter, spring, summer or fall/All you have to do is call/And I’ll be there/You’ve got a friend)
Precious Friend — Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie (You bring me hope/Not just the old soft soap)
Make New Friends and Keep the Old (Girl Scout song)
Say Say My Playmate (girls’ clapping song)

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