Thursday, June 21, 2007

It doesn't say that the woman visitor can recognize herbs by smell. That's assumed.

She's visiting her friend who has a house that faces the sea.

In front of the house is an herb garden. When the visitor is in the house, the sea breeze brings the smells of the herbs into the house, "balm and sage and borage and mint, wormwood and southernwood."

And more. Thyme, for example.

The herbs smell more strongly when the woman who planted the garden is taking care of it. "Being a very large person, her full skirts brushed and bent almost every slender stalk that her feet missed."

The thyme was in the part of the garden farthest from the house, so its smell wasn't always evident in the house. Except when the gardener was out among it, tending it and breaking it. Then thyme smells joined the other smells.

The visitor liked to wake to these smells, stronger if her hostess was in the garden.

This happens in "Mrs. Todd," the story near the beginning of "The Country of Pointed Firs" by Sarah Orne Jewett. What is an event? There are several in this story, but of a kind not always noted.

Smelling plants, tending plants, smelling nature smells carried by nature's wind.

And all for healing. That's why the gardener and house owner had so many herbs and so few flowers just for pretty. To heal her neighbors. Neighbors coming to the door asking for help--the specific healing events are not described in this story, but they are implied, because that's what it's all about practically.

And not so practically, having herb smells waft through the house together with sea smells is a good thing, and also what life is about.

I had heard of"The Country of Pointed Firs" by Sarah Orne Jewett. I would have read it sooner if it had been called "The Country of Talking Women," which would also fit. Many moments where women in a small town or out in the country around the town talk and it matters and they know how to do it in a down-to-earth, up-with-the-pines way. There are not all that many people to talk to. For people in the country there are not all that manyoccasions to talk. They make talking count. This beginning story with the herbs, "Mrs. Todd," has the women communicating without talking. I know you are working your garden by how the sea breeze smells.

The combination. The space between. We are healed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I've lived in California longer than I lived in Ohio, where I grew up, but I still don't really believe in palm trees. There they are, above me and beside me routinely on errand running walks. And I don't buy their actual existence.

Palm trees are really little images in back of the action of TV series filmed in L.A.

There are ways of living better than this but how can we believe that if we didn't see them as kids.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I had picked up that "Infinite Jest" was to critics wildly well-written, and a thousand pages long. I thought, "Maybe someday, but probably not."

Then I actually picked up a copy of "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace.

It is about addiction. Vividly and funnily showing what a bummer all the forms of addiction are, how ickily they go on.

Some of it is something happening right now, other parts are science fiction, not happening now.

The process of one of the science fiction part is called, by one of the character, "Those are twenty-eight people we've lost forever."

Which is what addiction is, incluing real ones now in shared reality--people go away. That person, if they don't stop is gone, gone before they die.

Hunter Thompson sort of romanticizes drug use, in a harsh way, but he wrote, in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," about a moment his drug buddy was on many drugs and holding a gun. Thompson backed out of the hotel room because you can turn your back on a person but you can never turn your back on a drug.

The person may be in there somewhere, but the drug is, for all practical purposes, all there is.

David Foster Wallace is specific any funny and gross about how the person goes away and the drug takes over. Most of the pulled reviews, including the one on the front cover about about good writing and humor.

I think it would be ok if the front cover said something like, "It's anti-drug and knowledgable and funny." Since much anti-drug stuff is stupid and wrong. Here's a guy who knows so much about addiction that he can detail the grosses moment in many addictions and make up new addictions for the immediate future.

Really, I should say, the book is not merely anti-drug, it's anti addiction. It shows how very many different kinds of addiction there are within and without the realm of addictions that have been made of interest to law enforcers.

I've read less than a tenth of the book. He may be on the way to saying we're all addicted, with vivid examples. But if he's saying we're all addicted, he's not saying, and therefore that's okay. It's not.
Crabby at strangers, in joy with the loved. Why do I pay attention to strangers?
Carve a wooden heart. All the trees in the world together are a wooden heart.
Scaring people is kind of fun, kind of lonely.

Then they try to scare you back, which can be scary and can be injurious.

It's a narrowing process at best.
A sewer lid naturally looks straight up at the sky.

On a day of blue sky, the raised pattern of this one looked blue, relative to the brownish-black of of recessed part.

Then a car went by with a shadow that made it all be black/brown for a moment.

Monday, June 11, 2007

She won.
Four places on Earth have the Mediterrean climate. The Mediterrean, central coastal Chile, southwest Australia and Nothern California.

Sitting munching a muffing, watching the morning sun hit a painted wooden house sideways and make it look like it contains all the secrets of life and they are good, I have to say, it's a climate that creates a bias toward going on with spring in step. And right now, it's even spring.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

I have liked very much at different times "The Once and Future King" by T. H. White and "The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Both are far inside me from having been read more than once in a way related to the hope of the heart.

Both are retellings of some of the King Arthur stories.

You can retell it anyway you want, but the King Arthur series is sad.

Two big ways it is sad are

1. A man has an affair with his best friend's wife, a woman has an affair with her husband's best friend--same thing from different angles.

2. A serious and real attempt to live better falls apart.
The hag lives in a small house at the edge of town, where human ideas and nature meld into each other.

The hag looks poor and unattractive. Her house looks poor and unattractive. People partly think she's smart and partly are scared of her--often the same people feel these things.

Poor and unattractive edits the number of people who approach her. She's close enough to town to have a feeling for what's happening little and local. She's close enough to nature to feel the big, long moves.

Adults ask her advice sometimes. Children come to gape or ask for help, and some of them return often to see another way of living by watching her and listening to her few words. Positioned between what we make and what makes us, between present and future, she can do some good. The seeds of her good can grow more easily because they are usually not noticed.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Clatter, yes. Metal, no.

The sound of many dry leaves moving along concrete with the moving air is clatter-like. Pavement and leaves are hard in different ways, but at the moment of meeting like that, they make percussion.

Before humans learned to pave large areas, that exact sound didn't exist. If there were large stone expanses in nature, there weren't enough trees dropping leaves to make the sound. Humans, trying to have it both ways, have many trees close to lots of human made artificial rock, and so the sound.
Among humans, cowshit is sometimes different than bullshit. Other times, they are the same.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The thing about the Declaration of Independence is that it's a resolution.

Lots of resolutions are passed every day in legislatures and other meetings around the world without anyone outside the meeting paying attention to exactly what the resolution said.

Some people in the Congress that adapted the resolution were later saying, "Well, if I'd known it was going to be such a big deal, I would have gotten on the committee."

But if more people had been on the committee to draft the text of the resolution, it probably wouldn't have been as well-written.

I mean, you can love or hate a law without knowing exactly how it was written. You can vote for a law without really noticing exactly what it says. I, as a California voting voting for and against local and state laws on the ballot, do that very thing. I vote them yes or no without thinking much about the exact words.

With the resolution to declare independence from Britain, and stop hoping for a negotiated settlement, the high quality of the exact words are what made the exact words important.

Thomas Jefferson never spoke in the meetings of the Continental Congress. He didn't speak in meetings. Going around in his private life, he sang all the time.

He was a good writer. He could make his writing sing in a way that he couldn't make his private life sing. Harmony was utterly lacking between his lovely well-expressed ideas, and the people he owned.

He wasn't good for everything. He was good for a well-written resolution that became a dare-you, double dare you challenge to idealists across the ages, including people who live in the country he helped start.

He did a good job. His fellow committee members, including John Adams, let him. During the revolutionary war, that seemed grander than it might have because of how the Declaration of Independence was written, Abigal Adams wrote John that one of her challenges was that a Negro working for her had quit. Tedious for her. Legal for him. No question. He could quit his job. Yay!

Thomas Jefferson did the resolution-writing job far better than it really needed to be done. He had a bunch of folks on his land who couldn't legally quit their jobs. He sang all the time out of the public eye. I wonder what he sang. I wonder what his personal servant who was usually with him, Jupiter, thought of his singing. It creeps me out that a man who couldn't quit his personal servant job was named after the king of the jobs.

Give me a break. Help me find ways for our songs to be both well-written and true.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

At different times and places, people think differently.

I am reading a book about Florence, Firenze, from 1494 to the 1520's and the author is talking about how some people writing then were developing a new idea of how to write about history.

This new idea was that in writing about history you would seek accuracy in facts and try to discern cause and effect.

I'm going, "And what would history be if you didn't seek accuracy and facts and try to know what caused what?"

The author has been explaining to me what history writing was before that, but I'm not getting it. Still in my mind I was assuming that somewhere in there was wanting accuracy and causation. I unconsciously figured that old history writing had the features the author described and also (of course!) was into facts and causation.


To begin to feel what that was like I'd have to read more than one of the older histories accompanied by great introductions that told me what the writers were trying to achieve.

Also the author--Felix Gilbert, in "Machiavelli and Guicciardini: Politics and History in Sixteenth Century Florence"--says that what makes Machiavelli's writing about politics most different than the writing that came before was not its cynicism, but that he wrote about politics as a separate process, that he broke politics out and made it be a subject.

And what would it be like to not do that?

Well, it would be like the world before the sixteenth century.

What did people do when they were writing histort but weren't interested in accurate facts or studying how one event caused another?

Gilbert says that in Florence in the late 1400's, what people who wrote history wanted to do was end up with something like the histories that Roman and Greek historians wrote.

They wanted their end-product to have a high-flown introduction with ideas about how to live and act that the following writing would prove. They wanted the final product to be divided into books, and the number of books should be an auspicious number.

They wanted to history they wrote to include a number of well-written speeches, which they made up. Their audience would not expect that these speeches would be speeches actually given at the time. They were stylized presentations of the issues.

They would want all this to include commentary on the place of Fortune in events and the place of Reason, meaning reasonable prudent action.

The subject matter would be war and diplomacy. Battles would be described in great detail.

When I was reading Gilbert's outline of these qualities people writing about history were aiming for in Florence in the late 1400's, I didn't notice that none of this implies any interest in accurate facts. And they weren't interested in accurate facts.

They were interested in getting to the larger truth of how things happen by taking some existing narrative about diplomacy and war and rewriting to assume the classical form.

When they were looking for the narrative of events to rewrite, they would often look at multiple narratives of the same events, but they would compare them to determine facts. They would choose one as the best. Then they would rewrite that one.

Looking at things like letters written at the time, what historians now would call documents, was not something they were interested in.

Interest in what we now call facts is a relatively recent phenomenon. It works for many purposes. It works in many ways. And it's new.

To take some old bit of writing and say, "Because I respect the people who wrote this and the tradition it comes from, I'm going to stand right here and argue that this old bit of writing is filled with facts."

But the old time people who wrote it weren't interested in facts.

Old time people often worked from the truth they knew to be true back down to what happened at a certain time and place.

Now we tend to ideally work from the facts of what happened upward.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The possibilities. Are greater than I imagined. I mean that good things have happened that have revealed that a bunch more good things are possible. And beyond that is what is really possible and good. What is possible is in no way limited by what I can imagine.

What I can imagine is limited by what I have experienced. What is possible occupies a much bigger space than that.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A good thing about the novel "The Red and the Black" is that it doesn't say why it is called that.

It is about the son of a fairly well-off peasant who runs a saw mill in nineteenth century France. The father beats the son a lot.

One of the chief characteristics of the son throughout the book is that he is angry. Being beaten by his father would probably be enough reason. Also, he wants to rise and do much better than his father and be higher in the pecking order.

Because he is smart and the local high ups see that he is smart, he does have chances to rise. He gets an education far more than most people of his background would get.

Which takes him to the piont of seeing how arbitrary are the ways that power and money are spread around and not spread around. Another reason to be angry.

As he is being educated, he says to himself that if when he gets to Paris as an educated adult, the church is most powerful, he'll go into the church. If when he gets to Paris, the army is most powerful, he'll go into the army. The red--the army--and the black--the church. Whateverm says the ambitious young man.

People who train him and see how talented he is and could be, expect him to buy into their system of looking at things, whatever that might be. They expect he will sincerely and through his whole self say, yes, this is the true way to look at thing. Whatever, he says inside himself.

His real problem is that he doesn't realize the limits of his smartness. He grew up around other people like him and he was smarter than them. He notes, as he rises that some people with power and/or money are stupid. But not all. He doesn't notice how smart the smarter powerful people are.

If he goes against them and he does he would be well-advised to plan very carefully.

He is young and driven, in his rebellion, by rage and sexual desire. Being run by those two things, and not pausing to think means he functionally doesn't have access to his intelligence. He is putty in the hands of any experienced older person who wants to smash him, and since he does things that are bound to tick people off, they do want to smash him and they do.

He never arrives in Paris as an educated adult to choose, cynically, his path. He doesn't live that long.

Red and black are also the colors of gambling--roulette wheel and cards. He was a great gambler, but he will not think. At important moments, he's all impulse.

A long thinking gamber was his creator, Stendhal, the author of the book. Stendhal, who died in the 1840's said his writing career was a bet that people would read him in 1935.

He was read plenty when he was alive, but a lot of people like that aren't read a hundred years later. He's now within sight of being read 200 years after he lived.

The specifics of politics and church in the book are not always easy to understand. The way that the hero is smart and yet stupid enough to destroy himself seem familiar and still available.


Stendhal's characters always have a lot of energy. He did too. He used at least 127 pseudonyms. Stendhal, no first name, was the one that he used on his first writing that had any success, so he kept it.

The main character in "The Charterhouse of Parma" is also high energy, but he has more resources to start with and isn't self-destructive. I like the part where he goes to the battle of Waterloo, very important several day battle where Napoleon was defeated for good.

The hero couldn't figure out how to enlist and didn't really try. He just showed up at the battleground and wandered around and saw various things. Later he asked people, "Was I at the battle of Waterloo?"

He was, but nothing he saw was like his idea of a famous and important battle.

Battles are like that. Some people really want to be at them, but they usually aren't like what the person who wanted to be at them pictured.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Abrupt changes often draw too much attention to themselves. If I say of a change I like, "Is it happening, or isn't it? I don't get it." then those that oppose the change may also be confused. And any real change is so much bigger than human opinions--it has its rhythm that may be more like star or mushrooms or some other not human thing. A change that is bigger than human opinions may take longer than human opinions think it ought to.