Saturday, December 16, 2006

being a conduit

From Charity Focus' inspiration offering DailyGood quote of the day:

"Art condenses the experience we all have as human beings, and, by forming it, makes it significant. We all have an in-built need for harmony and the structures that create harmony. Basically, art is an affirmation of life."

From the artist's resume:

"I think about things that excite me: convoluted strata, the eroded and broken edges of cliffs, the constant interaction of the elements, the movement of boats on water…

I think about the object and its inner image; the activity of each and the play between the two and I try to be straightforward to remove unnecessary information.

For all the theorizing, formal and conceptual notions, the truth of the matter is that I see myself as a conduit. The titles come afterwards so that I don't impose myself on the work as it goes along. Then I leave it alone.

I have been saying the same thing all my working life. Just in different ways."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

five micro stories

I was reading Chris' detailed, surprising and really interesting contribution to the "five things you might not know about me" story percolating around the blogworld. Then I got to the end and found that he'd handed me one of his five batons to carry on (though Chris, since you were tagged by Dan and two other friends, wouldn't you have 15 batons?) This is actually a combination of "you might not know" plus "I'm pretty sure you don't know" plus "maybe you do already know, I can't remember what I've said already":

1. My oldest boyfriend was (still is!) 30 years older than me. It was actually a pretty brief affair, and then we stayed friendly by letter. A few years later, after I was married, my husband and I got to visit with him and his lovely new wife when we were traveling through their part of the world. And then I got to reconnect with them again a couple of years ago after being out of touch for 15 years -- they are both still adorable.
One of the things I like best about being middle-aged is that there are friends you have loved for 20 or 30 or 40 years or more, and even if you have not seen them for many years there can still be such deep unchanged affection.

2. I have three sons, but usually I say that I have two, because our first little guy, Nadav, died at 12 weeks old of sudden infant death. While I am grateful to have had him for as long as we did, and am also grateful for my youngest who would not have been born without the loss of the first, and don't mind talking about him, I don't mention him much in public. My relationship with him continues in a very different form, a very interior form. His gradual appearance and swift disappearance from human form tenderized me forever and created the beginning of a gradual unfurling of the leaves of both my inner and outer life.

3. If it weren't poisonous, I would definitely be a smoker. I love the way smoke looks curling out of a cigarette, the drawing it in and blowing out. I don't actually even mind the smell so much, though my preferred cigarettes are filtered "kreteks" (Indonesian clove cigarettes) which have their own distinctive heavy-incense smell.

4. I have been to beautiful Indonesia, land of the kretek: after Robert and I got married we took almost all of our wedding gifts back to the stores, got money, and bought round-the-world tickets. We started in Los Angeles, spent a week in Hawaii, and then went to Asia for a year: Japan, China and Tibet, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, India and Nepal for from a few weeks to a few months in each country. Then about six more months spent partly on a kibbutz in the north of Israel, partly in Spain (my in-laws met us there for a whirlwind 4-star driving trip, so different from the way we'd been traveling! I hardly remember any of it, it was such a blur), then visiting friends in Paris and in London, and then back home.

5. The name I got from the Chinese side of my family (the other side being Japanese, by the way) is not our family's original name -- my grandfather bought the papers of someone named Lee to come to the US from China, but his family's name was really Kwan (or Quan depending on what system of transliteration you use). My husband's family changed their name, too, though only a generation before us -- his dad and uncles decided that "Eisikowitz" was too hard to spell (in fact I think I am spelling it wrong), and changed it to "Engel" (which hardly anyone spells correctly on the first try either!). If all that hadn't happened, instead of Lee-Engel, our last name would be Quan-Eisikowitz...has a different feel to it, doesn't it?

Here are some people I am very curious to know more about (curious, and not sure you will see this, so I am going to cheat and send you a note)(and please ignore this invitation if it doesn't sound fun to you):
Andy, Meredith, Thomas, Jon. And Doug, I am curious to see what aspects of you would come through your very poetic style. And I am definitely looking forward to reading what Ashley will write! (already tagged by Chris)

Friday, December 08, 2006

no less amazed

I so love it when I read my own vague thoughts and feelings expressed in someone else's simple, true, gently precise words:

Incomplete Knowledge
~Jeffrey Harrison

I am of those whose knowledge will always be
incomplete, who know something about the world
but not a whole lot, who will forever confuse
steeplebush and meadowsweet
but know at least by the shape of the flower
that it has to be one or the other.

Don't ask me the difference between
a pitch pine and a red, or even a Jeffrey,
though I know it's a pine, not a spruce or tamarack
(a.k.a. hackmatack, but what's a larch?).
The difference between a sycamore
and a plane tree? It's beyond me.

I've never had a real grip on
Japanese painting—the different periods and styles.
I don't even know that much about Dutch—
Vermeer of course, Rembrandt sure,
but could I distinguish a De Hooch from a Steen?
Do I even know how to pronounce their names?

I know next to nothing about what goes on
under the hood of a car, though I try to hide that fact
in the presence of mechanics. Herakleitus
(am I spelling that right?) said something
about how we hide our ignorance,
but I can't remember exactly what it was.

Birds, music, fishing, history, it's appalling
how limited my knowledge is.
I'm not even going to begin to list
all the books I haven't read.
I'm the antithesis of a Renaissance man,
spread so thin I hardly exist.

I have a friend who knows what seems like
close to everything. Certainly everything in the woods.
He was explaining to me the difference
between steeplebush and meadowsweet
(which I understood at the time but didn't retain,
as if it were the theory of relativity),

when I looked up and saw a jet whose trail
of fine white cloud kept disappearing, reappearing,
and disappearing again, and I asked why,
and, holding the meadowsweet in one hand
and the steeplebush in the other, he explained it.
And he wasn't bullshitting, either—he knew.

I'm not sure I even understand what it means
to know that much. Does all that knowledge
add up to some encompassing wisdom,
something beyond the sum of the names
and data, vast and unknowable? Unknowable
at least to me: I will never be like my friend.

I misplace facts as easily as my glasses,
so the world seems blurred for a while—
but then I find them, put them on, and go outside
to greet the ten thousand things (is that a Buddhist
or Taoist expression?), no less amazed
for my not being able to keep them straight.

(Today's selection at Poetry Daily)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

sleep and snow and melting into

I think that I got enough sleep last night for the first time in ages! I went to bed at 7:00 last night -- then around 7:30 the "Seattle Christmas Ship" docked at Matthews Beach (half a mile downhill from our house) and the Bellevue Chamber Chorus (through mighty loudspeakers) serenaded everyone for miles around with Christmas carols for 20 minutes before going on to their next stop along Lake Washington. So, I went to sleep at around 7:51, and didn't wake up till 8:30 this morning. Ahh! Satisfying my mammalian hibernation compulsion.

Plus, things have been very full lately. On Friday morning I went downtown to the "Building a WISER Sustainability Commons," which was inspiring and exciting & about which I will write later. Then went home for an hour, baked cookies for our office building's (the Seattle Healing Arts Center) holiday gala, and then with my 11-year old and his friend went to the fancy party which mixed tuxedos and string quartets and champagne with Cuban soul music and potluck desserts and little kids playing with surgical masks and an astrologer colleague dressed all in dazzing white including some kind of big ruff of snowy fur around his neck. Last year there were 400 guests, and I think this year there might have been more!

But I didn't stay too late because yesterday morning I had to get up early to catch the 9 am ferry to Whidbey Island, to join in a day-long workshop with poet David Whyte at the Whidbey Institute / Chinook Learning Center. Though last week's snow has pretty much disappeared from Seattle, there is still lots of snow and ice covering the fields and rooftops and driveways of South Whidbey, about a half an hour's drive and a 15 minute ferry ride away.

I am still mulling over the day's rich conversation, replete with stories and poetry and quiet time on that magnificent land, and will write more about that later, too.

In the meantime I'll just note that David Whyte has a beautiful new book of poetry out, called River Flow: New and Selected Poems 1984-2007. While I was paging through the book on the ferry ride home, I stopped at a favorite one, an unflinching and elemental poem called "Self-Portrait," from Fire in the Earth.

There is a very popular New Age-type poem that you can find quoted on coffee cups and greeting cards and such, called "The Invitation," that begins: "It doesn't interest me to know what you do for a living/ I want to know what you ache for/ and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing..." I first saw it on a scrap of paper under the glass tabletop of the neighborhood teashop and liked it very much. A few years later I read David's poem and loved it very much, and was surprised to see the identical structure, so I looked for the website of the author of "The Invitation" and learned that she wrote it after a writing workshop with David where he gave them his poem as a writing exercise template. Here is the piercing original:

~David Whyte

It doesn't interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
if you can know despair or see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes,
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living,
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.