We make too much history.
With or without us
there will be the silence
and the rocks and the far shining.
But what we need to be
is, oh, the small talk of swallows
in evening over
dull water under willows.
To be we need to know the river
holds the salmon and the ocean
holds the whales as lightly
as the body holds the soul
in the present tense, in the present tense.
- Ursula Le Guin
- photo by Gregory Crewdson
“and they sacrificed everything to the stars”
by Maria Popova
“Because love is so enormous, the only thing you can think of doing is swallowing the person that you love entirely.”
For those of us who loved legendary children’s book author Maurice Sendak — famed creator of wild things, little-known illustrator of velveteen rabbits, infinitely warm heart, infinitely witty mind — his death in 2012 was one of the year’s greatest heartaches. Now, half a century after his iconic Where The Wild Things Are comesMy Brother’s Book (public library; UK) — a bittersweet posthumous farewell to the world, illustrated in vibrant, dreamsome watercolors and written in verse inspired by some of Sendak’s lifelong influences: Shakespeare, Blake, Keats, and the music of Mozart. In fact, a foreword by Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt reveals the book is based on the Bard’s “A Winter’s Tale.”
It tells the story of two brothers, Jack and Guy, torn asunder when a falling star crashes onto Earth. Though on the surface about the beloved author’s own brother Jack, who died 18 years ago, the story is also about the love of Sendak’s life and his partner of fifty years, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn, whose prolonged illness and eventual loss in 2007 devastated Sendak — the character of Guy reads like a poetic fusion of Sendak and Glynn. And while the story might be a universal “love letter to those who have gone before,” as NPR’s Renee Montagne suggests in Morning Edition, it is in equal measure a private love letter to Glynn. (Sendak passed away the day before President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, but Sendak fans were quick to honor both historic moments with a bittersweet homage.)
Indeed, the theme of all-consuming love manifests viscerally in Sendak’s books. Playwright Tony Kushner, a longtime close friend of Sendak’s and one of hismost heartfelt mourners, tells NPR:
There’s a lot of consuming and devouring and eating in Maurice’s books. And I think that when people play with kids, there’s a lot of fake ferocity and threats of, you know, devouring — because love is so enormous, the only thing you can think of doing is swallowing the person that you love entirely.
My Brother’s Book ends on a soul-stirring note, tender and poignant in its posthumous light:
And Jack slept safe
Enfolded in his brother’s arms
And Guy whispered ‘Good night
And you will dream of me.’
Captain America Jones’ 101st Adventure was to march around the world carrying the American flag and the flag of each country he walked through. His motive was to salute veterans everywhere and promote good will. He toured the world for a better part of his adult life, performing feats of endurance and strength, often risking his life to expand mankind’s perception of human potential and inspire individuals to higher levels of positive performance. But Alan Michael Jones met his maker before his 101st adventure was realized. Daughter Jen Jones sees 101 Adventures as a gift her father bestowed upon her so she can carry on the dream of Captain America Jones. She is now in pre-production of a documentary about her father that will speak to the human spirit and remind people of Captain America’s legacy, that there are amazing performances within us all.
I stumbled upon this music video by Family Band today and it’s innocence scraped on my heart a bit.
first etched by the hand of man
now by salt air and lichen.
(second slowly erasing the first).
in a northern winter blast
I stand as crooked as they
and read a name familiar
and wonder if those bones below
feel blood six feet above.
(an uninvited guest)
can only guess
if the the blood that flowed
(where now is still dust)
within my silent host below
would match mine.
if eyes were to meet
across the eons
would they say
or say they
-written by David McLaughlin in Donegal, Ireland. Land of the McLaughlins.
Common Place Press announces the publication of Verona Rylander’s memoir, Seeing Through Death Into Life, a deeply moving and intimate look into the transformative power of grief.
When her husband is diagnosed with lymphoma just as they are departing Houston for a new life in Colorado, Verona is pulled into the unexpected role of caregiver. With inspiring honesty she shares her path through fear, ambivalence, anger, and grief into an awakening to deeper authenticity and fresh purpose.
[From Chapter Eighteen – “Inheritance” pp. 191-194]
Seeing Through Death Into Life, a Memoir, by Verona Rylander
A phone call broke into the stillness that filled the house one afternoon as I sat glancing through the mail.
“Can you come out this evening?” a friend asked. “I’m getting a few women together for a glass of wine.”
“Yes, thanks, I’d love to. What time should I come?”
Of course I would come. Had I turned down any invitation in the six months since Jim died? It was surprising that I didn’t already have something lined up. Anything that would take me out of the tomblike silence of the house, silence that swallowed me up relentlessly as soon as I walked in the door, silence I refused to placate by turning on the television or the stereo.
“Come on in, we’re out on the deck,” she called, as I opened the door.
The women reclined in lawn chairs, their faces gilded by the sun setting over the foothills still black from a recent wildfire that had come very close to the house. I slipped into their midst and accepted a too-warm martini.
“Thanks for the call. I really needed to get out of the house.”
I swilled the drink and switched to wine. I felt daring, desperate, like I was going for an edge. The temperature dropped with the sun and I pulled my sweater around me. The women’s voices blurred into the background. I couldn’t mix my mind with their conversation.
“How are the kids doing?” someone asked, puncturing my detachment.
I looked at my full wine glass and couldn’t remember if this was a refill or a first one I hadn’t drunk yet.
“I think they’re fine. Karen’s got her new apartment in Denver at Wash Park, the basement floor of an old house. They had to cut her box springs in half to get it down the stairs.”
Darkness pressed against us and we moved inside, away from the unknown prowling out beyond our circle of light.
“I had a date with this guy but I know it’s not going anywhere,” a woman said. “He’s all into himself. Men just don’t know how to relate.”
Her arm reached out along the sofa back and her thin skirt cradled her thighs. She looked beautiful but hard, like she had solidified into an impregnable fortress of opinion. Was my heart as hard and wounded? I felt absolutely no desire for love and couldn’t imagine opening to another man. A flash flood of tears erupted suddenly from my eyes. I rushed desperately out the door and poured vomit over the railing, unable to protect whatever lay below.
Spasms racked my stomach and then ebbed. My friend led me to the bathroom to clean up, helped me take out my contacts, gave me nightclothes, and tucked me, childlike, into her guest bed. Her cat landed lightly as it jumped up next to me, seemingly solicitous of my condition.
Tears carried memories up and out: his footsteps on the stairs, his long body against mine, the crescent scars along his ribs, his lace-up shoes by the bed, the way he shifted the gears of his car. All the years of our common life condensed into just this, this handful of air and emotion, insubstantial as the breeze, yet strong enough to contract my body in pain.
Why did death feel so strange? Was death a physical impossibility in the mind of someone living? Everyone died. It just didn’t seem like he could. I couldn’t connect the two concepts, Jim and death, like trying to fit something very large into a small box. The container of my normal mind was not adequate for this transubstantiation, this mysterious conversion of form into emptiness.
“How are you doing? Do you need anything else? We’re just in the other room, so call if you want something.”
I smiled weakly and murmured a small sound that I hoped would convey gratitude as she quietly closed the door. As I drifted into sleep, I intuited a basic equation of existence. The big events of physical birth and death had an obvious coming and going, but actually, each moment followed the same course, dissolving into the vast, empty ocean of Being and then rising in a new form out of the same timeless, inexplicable milieu. Out of these appearances and disappearances, memory created a thread that made things seem solid and persistent. In the darkness, the presumed solidity felt nebulous and uncertain. Yet something continued through all the change, something so pervasive and fundamental that it hid in plain sight, as subtle and luminous as the sheen in an infant’s eye.
That night, in my friend’s protective surrounds, I dreamed Jim had traveled to South America and had been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. I realized I should file a missing person report. The next morning I still felt the anxiety portrayed in the dream and realized that I, the woman whose sense of self was so tied in with her husband’s, was the one who had been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. She had to endure the fire of demolition and reconstruction. Her old images and identities had gone missing and she required a new covering with which to reenter the world.
Change was insatiable. It ate up the old without asking and left behind an incalculable gift of newness. We used incredible energy in our attempts to hold on to the old. But change took the old and mercifully composted it into the soil for fresh growth. Without its infinite generosity, suffering would continue forever and happiness grow stale with use.
A poet, post-mortem, grapples with his loss of innocence and realizes “it’s life, not death, I long for more.”
with a silver smile
in my hand
of soft dark
and hard white.
the good and bad
i’ve proudly divided.
doting the dregs
a broken carapace
kept in cold
a grim ribbed treasure
hidden in frost
like a taloned lazarus
she calls it come forth
from it’s icy tomb
into a boil
and coaxes forth
it’s hidden brine
she sees life.
within the pot
-written by David McLaughlin
while I boiled
of an autumn fowl
releasing the minerals
of a marrow built from
sun and grain and a
summer of clucking at the moon,
(2 skeletons and 18 to go)
were laid to rest
(not wanting or requesting)
to reunite with
sun and earth and
not enough summers of
chasing stars and
not enough winters of
into the trusted embrace
of snow angels,
angels of their own.
and no i don’t believe
there were golden cherubs
to guide them to some
a band-aid prayer for
those left behind.
but i do believe
that these souls with
wide open smiles
and air sucked heartily
into playground lungs, and
the bones who ran them into
laughing circles of undiscovered
(ready to uncover) joy,
are now minerals of inspiration
and seeds of healing and change,
so those who were left behind
are offered a broth of strength
to carry on.
-written by Kimberly Warner
-photo by Aëla Labbé
by Maria Popova
“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
Stanley Kubrick would have celebrated his 84th birthday today. Besides being one of the finest filmmakers of all time and mastermind of the greatest movie never made, he was also a keen observer of culture with ceaseless curiosity about the human condition, dancing between the hopeless and the heartening. From Stanley Kubrick: Interviews (public library) comes this layered meditation on purpose, mortality, and, as Carl Jung once put it, the art of “kindl[ing] a light in the darkness of mere being,” from a 1968 Playboy interview by Eric Nordern:
Playboy: Thanks to those special effects, 2001 is undoubtedly the most graphic depiction of space flight in the history of films — and yet you have admitted that you yourself refuse to fly, even in a commercial jet liner. Why?
Kubrick: I suppose it comes down to a rather awesome awareness of mortality. Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us; whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives; this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should be bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space?
Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their lives in this perspective — who recognize that there is no purpose they can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their existence goes unknown and unchronicled — can fall prey all too easily to the ultimate anomie….But even for those who lack the sensitivity to more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our lives as absent of meaning as our deaths.
The world’s religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind of consolation for this great ache; but as clergymen now pronounce the death of God and, to quote Arnold again, ‘the sea of faith’ recedes around the world with a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,’ man has no crutch left on which to lean—and no hope, however irrational, to give purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even psychiatrists are aware.
Playboy: If life is so purposeless, do you feel it’s worth living?
Kubrick: The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism — and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong — and lucky — he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
Watch this now. This is a brave, beautifully crafted bit of autobiographical cinema where the filmmaker walks us through both the pain and the insight born from losing his father. Knowing first hand the paralysis and confusion that define so much of bereavement, I am stunned at filmmaker Brian Harley’s intimate clarity and the passion that inspired him to birth a film from his pain.
The Sirens by Sarah Adina Smith is an exquisite short film about two sisters who take their terminally-ill sister to die peacefully at a suicide compound on a mysterious lake. I saw the trailer earlier this year and was haunted by writer and director Smith’s quiet pacing and painterly compositions. The full 10 minute or so short was finally released on itunes so yesterday I fell head first into her mystical, emotional universe and came out stunned, moved and inspired. Goose bump material for anyone who doesn’t mind delving into the sweet and tragic journey of loving and letting go. We all have to do it someday, so why not tell the story beautifully. Thanks Sarah!
You can view the trailer here: http://www.sarahadina.com
Or just skip your latte today and buy it on iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-sirens/id536791170