Saturday, January 30, 2010


A bit of a hard night going to sleep, physically, but slept long and solid.

I dreamed I was in the second or third story of a huge, beautiful old house, shabby but in good shape, that was mostly an archives. I was working in a room with a massive library table covered with my writing and art projects. Kate Clinton had just arrived. [Note: This is because of something I read about her right before I went to sleep.] She was stuck in our town unexpectedly and a friend of mine had asked me to put her up for the night. It turns out I owned this house.

I gave Kate an upstairs empty bedroom, told her where the kitchen was, and returned to my writing project. I felt shy around her, didn't know much about her. She kept asking me questions about that I was doing that felt interrupting to me. I began to feel defensive about the fact that I wasn't famous yet for what I've done with my life, that my writing isn't very published, I have no academic credentials, my activism isn't credited out there. I wanted to argue the working class viewpoint but she had on expensive clothes and kept making clever jokes, and I didn't know if could translate.

It was dusk, and I stood, preparing to leave the house. She asked me where I was going. I knew I should be a better host, ask her out to dinner, but I was going to eat at my favorite diner and I didn't want to share it with her. Instead I lied and said I was going somewhere else to get materials for my writing project.

My large sketchbook lay open on the table, thick paper filled with handwriting and color pencil drawings. She reached for it, to read it, and I reached to take it away from her. She said "What is this, a palimpsest?" as I woke up.

After I was awake, I coudln't come up with any clue in my head as to the meaning of palimpsest. I turned on netbook and looked it up:

Etymology: Latin palimpsestus, from Greek palimpsēstos scraped again, from palin + psēn to rub, scrape; akin to Sanskrit psāti, babhasti he chews
(1) : writing material (as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased
(2) : something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface

WTF? All yesterday evening I kept thinking about how the one writing goal I most want to accomplish before I die is a complete memoir -- not the pieces I keep writing but an organized, coherent autobiography. I also kept worrying about my disability doctor visit next week, what the exam will show, how I nearly passed out last time, and the fact that I only have enough money from donations to pay basic bills, meds, food and Barbara for 30 more days. After that, it's patchwork again, only with me less mobile and strong than ever before. I don't think I can commit to the writing I want to do while this fear hangs over me. I feel bad about it, like I should have done more before now.

Type rest of the post here


Thursday, January 28, 2010


(Oxygen-Rich Supernova Remnant in the Large Magellanic Cloud)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.


by W. S. Merwin

When it is time I follow the black dog
into the darkness that is the mind of day

I can see nothing but the black dog
the dog I know going ahead of me

not looking back oh it is the black dog
I trust now in my turn after the years

when I had all the trust of the black dog
through an age of brightness and through shadow

on into the blindness of the black dog
where the rooms of the dark were already known

and had no fear in them for the black dog
leading me carefully up the blind stairs.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010


(Splash photo by Paul Hoksenar)

One of my most prized possessions is a complete collection of Shakespeare that was given to my mother as her high school valedictorian present by her book-loving father, the year before he died. It was printed as World War II raged, and hence it demonstrates the paper and ink rationing of the times: The pages are tisue-thin, the print reduced, the margins scant. But it is still elegant and compleat, and Mama found room to underline or make comments in her copperplate handwriting, using peacock-blue fountain pen ink in delicate lines.

I began reading from it every night when I turned 12 and we moved to Brasil, with no TV and either the volumes on our shelves or a few English-language murder mysteries in the bibliotecas all we had as print material. Long after my parents were asleep, I'd lie in the tropical swelter of my room, watching the geckoes in each corner who kept mosquitoes at bay, flipping between lines of iambic pentameter to footnotes and glossary, trying to suck out all the meaning he packed into each phrase. A good way to cope with hormones hitting my bloodstream like galloping mares.

I once heard that the average English sentence produced in everyday conversation by a native speaker tends to run ten syllables in alternating beats. In other words, iambic pentameter sounds like "ordinary talk" to us -- overlay metaphor and epic ideas, and you've got poetry no one can forget because it settles into the grooves of our brains.

I wonder if that's still true any more.

The ratio of allowable Twitter characters to allowable Facebook characters is 1:3. There is no poetry in that decision. The only way around mathematically brutal elision is to cheat by adding a picture or link -- fodder for the ADD crowd who will actually go to prominent writers' blogs and complain about having to read "paragraphs."

So Mama's generation understood how to retain the entirety of a thing while avoiding waste. How would we now reduce the following to a FB friendly discrete chunk -- and what feverish possibilities would be thus lost for a future pubescent looking for doorways to the world?

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog]



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.