Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Celebrations of Life

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with wishes of joy, peace, and generosity for this holiday season.

Christmas is ambivalent for many people. The holidays bring music and decorations that are meant to lift spirits, yet it's often reported that depression spikes upward at this time of year as well. I personally like the secular Christmas carols a lot, but have a harder time listening to some of the more religious ones.

I think that we who doubt the scriptural story of Christmas are challenged by this time of year because we see others attributing joy to a source we cannot credit.

I want to believe in peace and decency and the power of a happy heart, and so it troubles me that I see people expressing these things while ascribing to them an origin I find dubious. Alienated from the cause of their joy, I ask whether my faith in joy itself is therefore in doubt.

Then, too, it is easy to tread the path of cynicism and ask, "If peace and generosity and love of one's fellow man are so important to remember, why not remember them all year long, instead of just for the space of a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day?"

Nor is the task of accepting holiday cheer made any easier by buffoons in the media who try to fire up their listeners with stories about the "War on Christmas," full of outrage that department store chains ask their greeters to say "Happy Holidays" instead of extolling the specifically Christian message that the righteous desire to hear.

But the existence of pettiness and hypocrisy should never be allowed to tarnish that which is real and beautiful. If so many people have larger hearts at this time of year, that is an undeniably good thing, which can never be lessened by the fact that a few of them also have smaller minds than we'd wish.

When large numbers of people celebrate life, sing of hope, and give sanctity to joy, then we should bow our heads with them in appreciation, even if we believe differently than they do.

People are ugly and mean and vindictive year-round. The fact that some of them can be better during the Christmas season, and the fact that most can express wishes for a better world, should give us cause for boundless gratitude.

Thank you, goddess, for all occasions which lift hearts and encourage wonder.

Merry Christmas to all.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, December 19, 2008

Revenge 55

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a story of triumph that I hope will serve you well. 

It surprised Pamela
that she had enemies.

on the road.

She tried so hard to be nice,




At last, though,
she finally found

Every day, 
she got up in the morning,
and she lived her life
as if none of them


Thank you goddess of love, for the knowledge that enemies have no more power over us than we give them.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When Grace is the Comfortable Norm

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a recommendation, if you find motivation or purpose elusive.

In most large cities, you should be able to call the local ice-skating rink and find out when they have classes and what level of skaters they teach. (Don't worry; I'm not going to recommend skating lessons.) Consider taking a trip down to the rink the next time a high-level class is scheduled, and simply go in and have a seat in the observation area.

You might even have luck just going in during open skating and looking amongst the crowds of skaters for the small number of really proficient ones.

What I want you to look for, and pay attention to, is an excellent skater who is not actively practicing.

A true talent who is just standing around. Perhaps chatting with a friend.

The reason I want you to look for this, and watch it closely if you find it, is simple: it will show you how the pursuit of art changes you.

Whether one likes figure-skating or not, it's an impressive art form that requires extraordinary discipline as well as natural ability. These facts are obvious to us when we see the elaborate routines that good skaters develop and perform.

But what is less obvious is that even when not performing, a truly exceptional skater is something beyond ordinary. The typical person at the rink, whether in motion or still, remains not quite in his or her element. Even people who skate well have a bit of tension, a bit of caution in their posture, when not actively skating. They may be comfortable, even relaxed -- but they will not appear quite as comfortable or relaxed as they would be standing flat on solid ground.

A remarkable skater, though, is different.

A remarkable skater, one who has lived and breathed skating for years, appears just as much at ease on the ice as off -- perhaps even more so. They can be fully preoccupied with something else -- a conversation, or paying attention to a trainer or coach -- and still exhibit complete and effortless grace in their posture and movement.

They have become creatures at home in a strange realm, and this transformation has left them unable to appear clumsy or out-of-balance unless they deliberately attempt something beyond their skill.

In pursuing the ability to create beauty, they have themselves become reflexively beautiful.

And this is where effort takes us, when we aspire to make ourselves capable of beauty: to the place where grace needs no conscious thought.

Of course, if you're already a champion figure-skater and still find motivation and purpose elusive, I guess this post is pretty useless to you.

Thank you, goddess of love, for all those who have in some way made greater beings of themselves.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Wilderness of Your Soul

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a metaphor, which I hope does not come off as too painfully overconstructed.

We have within us wild places -- frontiers of our psyche that are little explored, and also woodlands and marshes we have been to time and again, yet never managed to tame. The mind is a place rampant with growth, where our conscious thoughts are the only domesticated residents.

When we focus our consciousness outward, to deal with the people and things around us, we live in a civilized realm, or at least one that puts on a mask of civilization.

But inside, we have passions and memories and reflexes that do not answer to civilized notions.

If we shun those wild places -- if we look only outward, live only for the external events and pressures and stimuli that we encounter -- then our interior frontiers can only grow more wild, more dangerous. Sooner or later, we may be forced to venture into them, and if we have never prepared ourselves to do so, they may consume us.

But whatever the perils of our untrammeled wildlands, they have richness and beauty too. And if we seek their safer quarters, if we explore and search with the right preparation, well equipped for pushing in through trackless, thorny depths, then we can learn how to be safe and even comfortable in their fabulous and natural glory.

There is wildness inside you. Put on your boots and take up your walking stick. Make sure you have matches and a pocketknife with you. 

Find the green glade splashed with sunlight where no one has ever been.

Look up at the vast blue sky.

Let yourself quiver a little at the distant growling that echoes from the shadowy undergrowth nearby.

And know that it is all you.

Do this often enough, and carefully enough, and you will eventually learn which paths through the wilderness of your soul are safest, and which fruits you can carry out of the woods to share with those beyond.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the forests of thought and instinct and, yes, metaphor within us.

Lovingly yours, 

A devotee

Friday, November 21, 2008

An Inner Knowing 55

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a 55 that I thought better-suited to this blog than to my "other writings" one. Here it is:

Worlds open up to the heart that asks itself, "What do you want?" and then waits patiently for an answer.

It is the readiness to know the self that primes us for understanding our place in life.

This trust of what is inside, even things hidden, surpasses any pangs that might assail us from without.


Thank you, goddess of love, for questions and for ears.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Be a Spirit in Search of Beauty

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with the holy word "love," and I wish upon you its sister, "beauty."

The title of this post really says all I mean to say at the moment.

Be a spirit in search of beauty.

If you seek, you shall find.

The only real clarification I need to add is, don't be a picky spirit. Don't insist on a certain kind of beauty, don't await the pinnacle of your preconceptions.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the will to look for you in all things.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Give, and Do Not Ask

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a lesson that I seem unable to retain, no matter how many times I learn it.

The old saying insists that It is better to give than to receive.

There are several ways to interpret this. One interpretation is that the act of giving is superior to the act of receiving. I'm kind of dubious of that interpretation, because in an awful lot of situations, receiving just plain rocks. Let's be honest -- if a mysterious black void appeared in the air in front of you, would you rather take a present and throw it into the void, or would you rather a puppy fell out of the void for you? (Assuming you're the kind of person who likes puppies.)

This first interpretation of the phrase suggests that generosity is superior to avarice -- which is true enough -- but if that's all there is to it, then it seems like kind of a weak way to guilt us all into being more generous. I don't like it when people (or aphorisms) try to make me feel guilty, because I've got my own guilt complex to start with and I don't need any help with it, thank you very much. So that's another reason I shy away from this reading of the saying.

A related interpretation is that we should strive to enjoy the act of giving, because if we can teach ourselves to get pleasure from giving, the world will be a better place. I'm a lot more willing to buy this interpretation. But it still carries a rather lecturesome tone. Reading between the lines, one can't help but take it to mean, "You know, you're kind of a selfish twit, and you need to fix yourself. So shape up and do some giving."

But here's the interpretation that I have learned (and keep relearning) to be true.

Giving is simply a better strategy for happiness than receiving.

When you give, you are almost guaranteed to receive some form of gratitude in return. Not in every case, but in most of them. And because the gratitude you receive is unasked-for, it's a bonus. 

In contrast, if you depend on receiving for your happiness, you live your life in a constant state of expectation, and every time that expectation goes unmet, you are disappointed.

So if you give, and give without expectation, life is full of bonus happiness for you, whereas if you hunger to receive, it is full of disappointment.

And if you adopt giving as a strategy, and make it a habit, and find your life constantly enriched by the gratitude that naturally flows your way in response, then sooner or later you find that, without even trying, you've learned to enjoy giving for its own sake.

And then you can give into the void and be delighted by it.

Of course, the giving life requires a lot of energy, and can take a lot out of you. And if you run into a string of ingrates who fail to respond well to your generosity, you can begin to doubt the strategy.

Which is why you need to remember to regularly give to yourself.

There's nothing in the saying that says the giving always has to be giving to others.

Just remember, when you give to yourself ...

Say, "Thank you."

Thank you, goddess of love, for generosity, for gratitude, for lessons learned both easily and through hard knocks.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Monday, November 03, 2008

Forgive Yourself

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with cheeks recently red on a day when the sun is bright in the blue sky outside and I know that things are looking up.

If you're anything like me, you probably think, pretty regularly, "I am such a moron."

Now, you're probably not actually a moron, and you almost certainly know that you're not actually a moron, but life is weird and difficult and forces us to make choices and most of those choices are completely unremarkable and cause us no ill effects, but when even a small choice turns out to be a small mistake, we think, "I am such a moron."

In the best of cases, we think this with a laugh and it is healthy.

But in the not-so-best of cases, we think it and mean it, and in those cases it's a very dangerous thing to think.

There are two reasons why it's so dangerous.

First, our brains are self-reinforcing mechanisms. Habits of thought strengthen neuronal connections in the brain and create the patterns that are our memories and that guide our outlook on life. The more often we think of ourselves negatively, the stronger the negative connections become, and the more quickly our brains jump to those patterns when we receive a negative stimulus. This is the biomechanism of depression, and it's why depressive people can go into a tailspin at even the tiniest problem. Their brains have practiced negativity so thoroughly that the response is automatic.

The second danger is that even if we're not prone to depression, we will start to use "I am such a moron" as an excuse. It will become a shield against the need to improve ourselves. And really, even if you're not a moron (in fact, especially if you're not a moron), you need to improve yourself. 

Not because it is bad to be flawed, but because it is so good and so empowering to conquer your flaws.

Own your mistakes. Forgive yourself for them. Take them in and build a better you with them.

You're definitely not a moron, and I believe in you.

Thank you, goddess of love, for self-forgiveness, and for friends who help us to practice it.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Study in Contrasts

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a listening assignment, if you're so inclined.

This is a combination that my iPod kicked up for me over the summer.

First, listen to Devo's It's a Beautiful World.

Then, listen to Amy Correia sing Life is Beautiful.

You have to pay attention to the lyrics on both songs, and I strongly recommend that you minimize the window when listening to the Devo song. The video is brilliant, but I couldn't find video on the Amy Correia song, and I think it's unfair to do a comparison between audiovisual art and purely audio art. Most of us are such visual creatures that the video will always make a stronger impression. If you really want to do things right, open both links in different windows, play the Devo song, and then click over and start the Amy Correia song the instant Devo finishes up.

It's up to you whether you want to complete the assignment now, or read on for my own opinion on the two songs, but of course I'd like you to formulate your impression without contamination from mine (... again, if you're so inclined).

My reaction to hearing these two songs back-to-back was this (taken from a journal entry I wrote at the time):

Earlier this evening, my iPod thoughtfully followed Devo's It's a Beautiful World with Amy Correia's Life is Beautiful. The contrast literally made me cry, even more than Life is Beautiful usually does. I love Devo's wry cynicism, but it was fabulous to have Amy Correia immediately demonstrate how wrong that cynicism is.

I have so many frustrations, so much angst over things of trivial importance and greater significance alike. In some ways, I feel I have been stretched and twisted to my breaking point in recent months.

Yet I have also grown more and more ready to weep at pure beauty, and I would not give up that intensity of feeling for any reduction in stress.

Thank you, goddess of love, for exquisite juxtapositions.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Monday, October 27, 2008

Trust Your Instincts but Doubt Your Judgment

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you wearily but hopefully, in a certain amount of physical pain but with a spirit fairly bright.

Because I'm tired from overwork and my arms and shoulders are warning me not to type too much, I'll see if I can be succinct and to the point here.

What we feel, immediately, powerfully, when we encounter a certain situation or person, is not always correct. Instincts can lead us astray. But no matter what the eventual outcome, our instincts always tell us something. It may be something accurate about the specific incident, or it may be something about ourselves.

The point is, when you feel something nagging at you, or goading you, or enticing you, unbidden, you should explore it and see what it's telling you.

But you have to be careful about how you explore it. Because in pondering our instincts, we unavoidably activate our judgment. We weigh evidence, measure and mutter and debate with ourselves, until we reach a decision. That decision will in some way commit us emotionally, and if we make it incorrectly, the results will eventually be unpleasant.

A good question to ask would be, "Am I drawn toward this judgement because my instincts are telling me it's right, or am I drawn toward this judgment because I desire it?"

When we doubt our instincts, we become paralytic, unable to act. We have no basis for movement, and will usually follow robotically along some path that the world puts before us.

When we blindly pursue our instincts, we are just as trapped, because we are free to act, but we cannot discriminate or plan or prioritize. 

And when we put too much faith in our judgment, we grow arrogant, and will undertake ambitions that are likely to hurt ourselves or others.

But when we trust our instincts, yet doubt our judgment, we become empowered to act with humility. We can say to ourselves, "I choose this course because I have listened to my heart and I think that I know it. But I also know that I may be wrong, and that I may have to correct my course as I move forward."

Well. I don't know if that's coherent, but my arms and my head are too tired for more.

Thank you, goddess of love, for instinct and judgment and a sense of balance.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Three Principles, Revisited

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with the holy word, "Love."

Possibly, we all need reminders once in a while -- I know I certainly need a lot of them. I have about four thousand pages worth of journals in my closet, and when I go paging back through them I am often struck a bit numb by how regularly I encounter the same repeated problems, and the same wise lessons learned -- and then forgotten, and then relearned.

So in this entry, I'm reminding myself, and any of you who've read back to the start of this blog, of the three principles of my religion. (Most religions make a great show of repetition, so I'm not sure why I feel the need to justify this covering of old ground, but there it is anyway.)

The three principles are:




I'm not going to describe them in any greater detail at the moment. Hopefully, they don't really need that much explanation anyway. But they bear repeating.

They bear being dwelt upon.

They are their own reward, and I hope that you will help yourself to them.

Thank you, goddess of love, for good things known over and over and over again.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Be Patient

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with more unasked-for advice. If you're getting tired of this, have no fear: tonight I'm rounding out a sort of trilogy comprising the last three posts. Then I believe I'll be done pontificating for a bit. Here, then, is the capstone post.

You can do something well and still be unhappy.

You can know what you want, and yet find that it seems impossibly far from your grasp.

So the closing key to self-fulfillment must be patience.

It's said that patience is a virtue, but I would argue that it is something else entirely. To me, a virtue is that which in and of itself brings good: honesty, loyalty, generosity, empathy and so on. Because these things bring good, they also render us vulnerable to those who do not care about good. When honest, we put ourselves at risk of being misled or overshadowed by the dishonest. When loyal, we put ourselves at risk of betrayal from those who are disloyal. When generous we may be taken advantage of by the greedy, when empathic we may be abused by the egocentric.

Virtues, then, are noble and ambitious because they aspire to make the world better at the risk of those who undertake them. They are difficult. They are challenging. We must push ourselves toward them, because they are hard -- and because they are dangerous.

Patience, in contrast, is much more of a tool. The saint is patient, but so is the snake. Patience is the condition which lets us move through the world in search of our goals, instead of feeling adrift in it without control.

Patience is openness -- the willingness to wait and see.

So if you know what you want, but have not yet found how to do it well, be patient. Practice. Study. Keep an eye out for other things that you might want, and which might perhaps suit your talents better. A path will make itself known eventually.

If you can do plenty of things well, but do not know what you want, be patient. Exercise your capabilities. Look for new experiences. Talk. Read. Listen. Think. A passion will capture you sooner or later.

And if you know what you want, and you already do it well, and success still eludes you and leaves you stuck in circumstances that block your creative efforts and stifle your inspiration ... be patient. The moments in which you have your focus, in which you do as you wish and excel in your chosen desire -- those are treasures worth waiting for. Let yourself float through the tiresome intervals in between those gilded times. Do not resist the rest of your life, but embrace it with the certainty that it will sooner or later bring you back to the thing that you wish, give you a moment here and a moment there to progress toward whatever it is that you most fancy, and sooner or later will grant you the appropriate reward for all your many efforts.

Do not strive to be patient. Be patient so that you have the comfort to strive for your dreams.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the tool of patience and the knowledge of how to wield it.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Monday, October 13, 2008

Know What You Want

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with another notion gleaned from music, and I hope for your forbearance if you find yourself unable to identify with my admittedly peculiar tastes.

I bought a CD some months back by a band called Dragonforce. I bought it not so much because I thought that it was going to be genuinely good, but because I'd listened to some song samples on and a video or two on Youtube, and I found myself full of admiration for the purity of this band's ambitions.

Dragonforce is not a bunch of guys who thought, "We'd like to be musicians." They're not a bunch of guys who thought, "We'd like to be rock and roll musicians." They did not form their band because they wanted to be heavy metal musicians, or, more specifically, power metal musicians.

One listen to a Dragonforce song (assuming you're the kind of person who can listen to this kind of music), and you'll be certain, as I was, that Dragonforce was formed out of the burning desire of each of its members to be absolutely the fastest power metal band in the history of rock and roll, EVER.

Now, it's debatable whether this ambition is something that anyone truly ought to aspire to. I've come across people online deriding Dragonforce as a collection of simple-minded Johnny One-notes who have managed to completely master a single narrow form of instrumental proficiency at the expense of any real musical or emotional sophistication. And I'll admit, no one is very likely to say, "Wow, the evocative nuances of that latest song by Dragonforce struck something so deep in me that I almost choked up." 

But all of that is missing the point.

While I might wish that Dragonforce used a little more syncopation, made more use of varied dynamics, and explored some more experimental time-signatures or key changes, one fact is clear to anyone with an ear for a wide variety of music: Dragonforce is a group of musicians who have become successful by knowing exactly what they want to do and pursuing it with passion.

You may find Dragonforce pointless, superficial, or outright unlistenable, but you can't deny that they are sincere. And I think it takes a pretty small person to say it's not enough for someone to combine sincerity, desire, drive, talent and accomplishment in pursuit of art that others will enjoy.

Do you know what you want? Art? Travel? Spiritual enlightenment? Love? Have your efforts toward these things been directed and focused? Did you learn what it takes to be good at the thing you aspire to? Are the results something you are proud of?

If you can answer "yes" to most of those questions, then it does not matter how modest or how grand your ambitions are. It does not matter if you are Mozart, or Dragonforce, or Shakespeare, or just an anonymous blogger.

Knowing what you want and doing it puts you in the company of the most accomplished people in the world.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the path to an identity that is real and whole.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, October 10, 2008

Do Something Well

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a suggestion that limitations may not be such a bad thing.

Are you familiar with the theme song from the James Bond movie Moonraker? (And before you get sarcastic, yes, I'm aware of the irony of writing about Moonraker in a post titled "Do Something Well." The movie is silly and cheesy in ways that I love, but that I acknowledge are not for everyone.)

It's an amazing song, brilliantly composed by John Barry and featuring vocals by Shirley Bassey, who somehow manages to be both bold and elusive at the same time in just about every line of the lyrics.

The melody is astounding, and the singing is flawless, and both of those elements demonstrate what vast and prominent talents Barry and Bassey possess. Not many of us in this life get to be a John Barry or a Shirley Bassey, although it's a good thing to aspire to.

There is, however, another element of the song that you may never have noticed, even if you've heard it dozens of times. All through the song, steady and unwavering as the other instruments weave in and out, some percussionist is playing the triangle.

Who is he? Or she? I have no idea. I don't even have any idea how to find out. Probably, only a couple of his/her close friends and/or family members know, "Oh, yeah, s/he's the guy/gal who played the triangle on Moonraker." (Well, I suppose John Barry and the other members of the orchestra might also remember.)

My point is, it's a frickin' awesome triangle part.

Maybe you can't be John Barry. Maybe you can't be Shirley Bassey. Maybe you can't even be Richard Kiel, famous for playing a giant thug in two or three cheesy movies from the '70s and '80s. But maybe you can play the heck out of a triangle, because you have the patience and the rhythm and the ethereally gentle touch to master an instrument that most people don't particularly care about and many people don't even know exists.

Find what you can do well, and be happy that you can do it well -- especially if it brings happiness to others.

Thank you, goddess of love, for opportunities, whatever size, shape, or sound they come in.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Saturday, October 04, 2008

For Lack of Trying

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you fresh from exercise of the body and relaxation of the mind.

As I started my nightly walk this evening, a nagging desire to come up with a new post bedeviled me. What to think about? What to write about? Could I apply myself and distill some essence of wisdom to share?

Stride and stride and stride went past, squares of sidewalk under my tennis shoes, the bow of the yellow moon hovering glowful above the treetops. Despite having mulled the subject for only a few minutes, I felt utterly lacking in inspiration.

And then I rebelled against my hunger to be inspired. I thought, "Just walk. It's ridiculous to try to force something that's not there. You don't have to be wise -- just be."

I felt much better immediately. But more to the point, I had not taken another five steps when the following hit me, unbidden and uncoerced:

Wisdom will come, or it won't. There's no point in stretching, seeking, reaching, searching for it, because wisdom is not a goal. 

It is a consequence.

So there it is. If you must seek, then seek to have the right kinds of experiences. Learning will follow in due course.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the patience to just be.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Monday, September 29, 2008

Scents Upon the Cool Evening Air

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a singular bounty of the senses.

On my walk tonight, I enjoyed the coolest of this new autumn's evenings so far, a perfect and clean-feeling temperature calm and peaceful and not quite as glorious as it might have been with slightly better breeze blowing but glorious nonetheless.

I had a thought along the way that these walks I take are a part of my effort to stay alive. Since the act of living is a thing worth doing, and worth doing well, for a long time, in good health, I walk to stay alive.

But I need also to walk a path in my soul that will keep it as clean as these physical walks are meant to keep my veins. I must remember to exercise those parts of my mind, those fibers of my heart that glow and hold happiness -- so that my thoughts do not clog themselves up with the thick spiritual plaque of resentment and bitterness and discontent.  

These things will kill me. And I do not mean metaphysically -- it's pretty well documented that stress and depression have a profoundly negative impact on the human organism.

So as I walk to live, I also must hold to a course of the positive, if I want a long life in which I can not only enjoy myself but also gift others with whatever enjoyment and entertainment I am privileged to create.

All of this bumped around in my head as I walked, and then sort of faded into the background for a while. And then I passed through a waft of air that took me back to childhood -- to a fall or winter afternoon beneath grey skies outside of our little brick house where I liked to warm my hands at the vent that led from our clothes dryer inside. 

There is something precious to me in that memory. The sense of being made warm by something clean, while everything around you is chill and cold. And it came back and stayed with me through the rest of my walk, thanks to that one moment of scent.

Thank you, goddess of love, for neighbors doing their laundry, and drafts of dryer exhaust that can somehow put the final brush-stroke on an understanding of how we can be happy.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, September 19, 2008

We Who Understand Beauty

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you while an aftertaste of melancholy gives way to the flavor of hope.

If you are sad, take heart. Your grief is no less than a direct sign that you have known beauty. Think about this for a moment. Without a grasp of that which is good, how would you ever know to be sad?

Your soul may feel bruised, but it can only be bruised in direct proportion to your knowledge of what joy is. And if you possess that knowledge, then you can work toward possessing joy itself.

Thank you, goddess of love, for worry and woe as a meter of our connection to all that is pure, true, and glorious. In whatever degree we weep, so too do we know you and all of your kindnesses.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

A New (to Me) Literary Form

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you in a mood of experimentation, having recently come across a previously unfamiliar style of writing. The goal is to write a complete story in exactly 55 words, and I decided to try it.

Trouble came looking for me one day with sunglasses on and sunscreen. 
(That's because I like to stay where it's bright 
and make things hard on Trouble.)
I hid, and didn't feel guilty about it.
I mean, it's not like Trouble
has any difficulty finding company.
Maybe I'm wrong, though.
Maybe even Trouble
gets lonely.


Thank you, goddess of love, for new things found in blogs and elsewhere.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Gentle Touch and a Word of Comfort

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with an observation and an offering.

It seems to me that in this world, it does not happen often enough that those who have a gentle touch and a word of comfort to offer find those who need such things the most.

So tonight, by the light of a moon just shy of full, I do offer my hand across the miles to rest upon your back or cheek should you wish it, along with this assurance: whatever so deeply troubles you will pass. Step out into the moonlight, if you can. Imagine that its blue glow is the embrace that I send you. Lay your head upon your pillow as though it were my lap. Weep or laugh or simply relax, but know that I want you to feel better. And remember that the good in you is so much greater than the problems besieging you, and that all will be well as long as you make the decision to keep hope in your heart.

Thank you, goddess of love, for this opportunity to give.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, September 12, 2008

Beyond Affection

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a mind still struggling to digest something peculiar.

A letter arrived yesterday from my father. I guess it's the fourth letter I've had from him since we got back in touch earlier this year. Before that, we hadn't communicated since 2005.

He's a very strange fellow, my father, and we used to get along quite well, albeit many, many years ago. But not so much lately. There's a control-obsessed side to his personality, I think, that has kind of goofed things up between us. (Or there's a rebellious side to my personality that has done so, or both.)

At any rate, I'm starting to get the impression from these recent letters that he's decided to live by a principle that he and my mom repeated endlessly when I was a child: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

All of his recent letters have been very, very short.

I sent him something on his birthday this year. He responded with a letter that acknowledged receipt but made no mention of whether he'd liked it or even opened it. (That was the ice-breaker after our long mutual silence). He offered to send me a memoir he's been working on. I readily accepted and offered to send him my recent books. He sent me the memoir without mentioning my offer. I sent him the books anyway, and heard nothing back. I read the memoir and sent some notes on that (he'd asked for feedback). He sent this most recent letter, which basically thanked me for my notes and then waxed philosophical about something out of left field that I didn't really get. (I showed the letter to a friend who said it reminded him of someone's drunken ramblings. But since I could hear it in my father's voice, it didn't sound quite that illucid to me.)

My point in sharing all of this is simple: Love is stronger than affection.

I love my father, even though he gives me very little reason to feel any warmth or kindness toward him. I sympathize with him on some health concerns that he has, and I feel a sort of sad pity that he's blocked himself away from me and my siblings to various degrees. 

But I continue to make my efforts not out of sympathy or pity.

I make them because I love him, and because I love the memory of the time when I did feel warmly toward him.

This is one of the dangers of love, then. It can persist beyond affection -- and if it does so, it can make us feel trapped in obligations that burden us without bringing real joy.

Love without joy is a heavy, hard thing.

But ...

In making my efforts, in responding to my father, in taking his eccentricities with the best humor that I can, I maintain a state of hope. It's not a hope likely to be fulfilled -- he is probably never going to apologize for any of the harsh things he's said and done, any more than I would fake an apology for what I perceive to be my perfectly unobjectionable behavior, which he nonetheless has somehow managed to object to.

But it is a hope nonetheless, because hope is part of love.

And while we have moved beyond affection, there is power in hoping that it might return.

Thank you, goddess of love, for my father. Please salve his bitterness, buoy his spirit, and let him be happy and bring happiness to those around him.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

And You, My Love, Won't You Take My Hand?

Welcome, beautiful traveler. May your day have had fewer frustrations than mine had!

One of the things I love about the movie This is Spinal Tap is the way it portrays its group of addled, hedonistic neanderthals as somehow managing to hit upon true beauty every once in a while in spite of themselves.

The line above, from "Stonehenge," is so wonderful and sincere, and the music that accompanies it so momentarily ethereal, that I can't help but smile every time I hear it. And it's a real smile of contentment, not just of humor. The mandolin solo later in the song affects me the same way. The rest of the song is terrific too, for its silliness and bombast. But it's that line that always strikes me true.

Thank you, goddess of love, for reminders that even in parody there can be purity, and that even the least of us has a spark of wisdom now and again.*

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

(*And by "the least," I am of course referring to the fictional band members' level of intelligence, not the talent of the geniuses who put the movie together.)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Not To Be Alone

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with the reassurance that you are known and cared for.

If we share nothing else, you and I, we undoubtedly share the experience of having felt lonely and apart. Some people are beset by that experience daily; others have to endure it only a few times in their lives. But if I understand anything about the human condition (and I suppose I should concede that maybe I don't), I'm fairly certain that the pangs of isolation are among the universal sensations common to all of us.

I believe it's one of the reasons we seek love -- one of the reasons our culture and literature is so rife with portrayals of love as completion, as the ultimate fulfillment.

We want not to be alone.

In one respect, all of our yearnings and strivings for connection are futile. (Don't worry, I'm not going on some kind of downer here -- stick with me.) Within our own heads, we will always have ourselves and only ourselves for company, and many of us will find that there are times -- even when throngs of people surround us, even when loved ones are at hand on any side -- in which we still feel lonely and uncared for. Because what is within our heads is too large to be gotten out, or too humiliating, or too perplexing, and so we despair of ever feeling that we are truly understood.

But to dig yourself out of those moments, when you have them, you might consider this: when you are in that place, feeling alone and unloved, you are in a place that unites you with all of humanity. So many of us are there, with you, at that same time -- feeling left out in the midst of a laughing crowd, alienated from the faces around a conference-room table, lying with a sense of unwantedness upon a bed in a small room while the sounds of a city alive at night murmur in from outside.

When you feel alone, uncountable millions of us are there with you. And so when you feel unwanted, stop and think of those millions, all wishing and missing and wanting, and understand that somewhere amongst them is someone who wants exactly you

And probably not just a single someone.

Right now, in that place of loneliness, the odds say that the person who would "get" you, who would complete you, is mirrored over and over a thousand or ten thousand times. If six billion of us in this world feel lonely for just one day of the year, then twenty million of us feel it at any given time. Are you unusual enough that only one in a hundred people could understand you? If so, then you share your loneliness with two hundred thousand kindred souls. So strange that only one in a thousand has any hope of a clue about you? Then twenty thousand others feel just as you do right now. And if your woes and griefs are so beyond the realm of normalcy that they make you literally one-in-a-million, that still leaves twenty bizarrely lonely spirits who are in your company.

We are here. We wish for you. Yearn for you. Would live and laugh and love with you in an instant, if chance presented us the opportunity.

Don't let the inconvenient fact that we haven't met -- yet -- prevent you from knowing that you can never be alone, because we are always there with you.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the power of large numbers, and for the imagination to see beyond the room in which we sit.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, September 05, 2008

Possibly More Than You Want To Know About My iPod, But I'll Get To A Point Eventually

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I have just come from ambling, so beware of my rambling.

I went for a walk tonight, and my ipod blessed me with the most fabulous accompaniment. It started off with "Amhran" by Leaves' Eyes, which is nice and pretty but mostly served as a lulling lead-in to a song that I'd totally forgotten was even on my ipod, "You Only Live Twice." When that song began, it was as though my eyes had opened so wide that the starlight and the bare red ghost of dusk upon the horizon poured straight into my brain. The strings go through that amazing motif, a melody like autumn leaves drifting down to the surface of a still pond, and then Nancy Sinatra starts to sing those amazing, evocative lyrics about life and love and dreams -- astonishing.

Then, as if to say, "Well, I haven't got anything else pretty enough to hold a candle to that," the ipod went to "Ravenous" by Manegarm. Now, Manegarm is really much too screamy for me, and I always suspect that if I could understand a word of the screaming, I might find the lyrics highly disturbing. But they do know how to rock, and after the beauty of that John Barry song, it was like jumping into the Pacific Ocean to swim -- and I mean the California Pacific Ocean, not some tropical part where maybe it's warm enough that it doesn't send an absolute shock through your whole body.

Even better, the ipod cleverly went on to "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You (Tonight)" by Spinal Tap. How I love the rhythm guitar hook on that song and the way it comes back and introduces the solo section! There's a fine line between stupid and clever, and when you're Spinal Tap, it doesn't matter which side of that line you come down on -- it's all brilliant.

Having given me some breathing room, my witty little device eased back into pretty music to play "Byttingen" by Lumsk. I can't actually remember for sure what language Lumsk sings in -- Finnish? -- but  their vocalist has a piercing, crystal-pure beauty to her voice the likes of which I have really never heard.

The walk rounded out with two Therion songs back to back. "Three Ships of Berik (pt.1)" reminded me of the one sad aspect of song-shuffle on ipod -- if a band likes to do intros or segues that blend continuously from one track to another, you end up with an abrupt cut-off where the next song or part of the song (in this case, "Three Ships of Berik (pt.2)") ought to pick up. But the Leitmotif of the Gothic Army that runs through the song is too good to pass up even if I only get to hear half of it.

"Wisdom and the Cage" took me home, and I'm not even going to try to describe that one, except that once I reached my place I had to stand and listen all the way through to the last echoes of that hovering guitar chord  that ends it.

And when I said at the beginning of this entry that the accompaniment was fabulous, I meant it in two ways, the less obvious of which really hit me during "Wisdom and the Cage." 

I felt in the company of those musicians. I felt us to be kindred, and engaged in the same struggle to bring clarity and beauty to this world. And in feeling their success, I was able to accept some of my own successes in that area. I've always thought myself a pretty good writer (even back when it wasn't true), but I've lately been gifted with very good evidence that I'm not just pretty good, but really quite extraordinary. I had lunch this week with my latest reader, who had just finished the first two books of the trilogy I'm currently at work on.

She told me that I'd made her cry three times in the second book. And when she told me which three passages had done that trick, I felt more than a little bit thrilled, because those three spots make me cry whenever I reread them too. (Of course, I'm pretty weepy and easily moved to tears these days -- I cried buckets at the end of Wall-E for pity's sake.)

So I arrived home flush with a sense of belonging to a rare and exquisite group -- those whose imaginations are able to move others.

And then I went in to take a shower and got stuck looking in the mirror at my shoulders. I'm not in a particularly good position to make a judgment on whether they're as good a set of shoulders as my books are books. But they were good enough to remind me how wonderful the whole neck-to-sternum region of the human body is, male or female, front or back. The smooth curves of the deltoids reaching down to the arms, the hollows between the clavicles and what may very well be the most attractive muscle of any body, the sternocleidomastoids that run from the jaw down to the breastbone. (And no, I didn't look up sternocleidomastoid to spell it, so feel free to either be impressed if I got it right or jeer if I got it wrong.) 

Biology has no equal when it comes to intricate and magnificent and glorious loveliness.

Thank you, goddess of love, for shoulders, and music, and ipods, and success, and the random twists of the world that bring all of these things together.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Imagining Your Way to Bliss

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with the relief that comes of finally having a coherent thought.

I've been veering about in my beliefs about romantic love for some time, finding myself by turns either cynical or starstruck with dreamy idealizations, and at last I wonder if I've come upon a notion that explains or supports both positions.

The notion is this: that romantic love is a single fantasy (or even a delusion) that happens to be shared by two people. 

The power of fantasy is that it can go far, far beyond reality. So if you have a particular fantasy about what love is supposed to be, and you find someone with a corresponding or at least compatible delusion, the two of you can together achieve something like what is found in all the storybooks, because you're using the same techniques that the storybooks use: imagination, imagery, and the willful disregard for ugly truths that might otherwise intrude.

Love can fail, then, for the same reason that any other fantasy fails us and is discarded. It is difficult to keep a single idea fresh and alive for months or years, to apply the energy to maintain the fantasy in its initial form.

Love can fail also because it takes only one of the pair missing a beat on that maintenance to bring a disjuncture between the lovers' respective fantasies. When the one fantasy becomes two, they will inevitably begin to clash.

Yet if both partners realize that love is a landscape of the imagination, bounded only by the imagination, with two hands upon the brush and two sets of eyes choosing from the palette, then in a collaboration of spirits they are free to render whatever vistas of romance they choose, to range as far and as wide as they can agree upon.

This is probably why monogamy is the ubiquitous ideal of romance -- it is unlikely enough that two imaginations should have the compatibility to sustain a mutual dreamworld over the course of years or decades. What are the odds of finding three able to do so, or more? (Which is a shame, really, since anyone who's been around families with children should be able to quickly realize that as a practical matter, having a third or fourth adult in the house would work wonders for the stress levels and sanity of the parents.)

So then, unless I'm particularly full of it this evening, the trick of it is to find an imagination that can either parallel or mirror your own, and then work very hard, together with that imagination's owner, to paint a place where the two of you can live, and constantly change and update the image that you are imagining in order to keep it vibrant and new.

Alternatively, you could decide that you're not in for that much work.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the notion of romance, and for all those who are able to find it and make it work.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Give as You Can

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I am very tired this week, yet I greet you with what gifts I am able to muster the energy to give.

To be precise, I’ve been updating my profile with books and music and movies that I love. 

I’ve previously left these things off because I thought an air of mystery befit the anonymous founder of an agnostic religion, and because I like the notion of people filling in their idea of me in whatever way most pleases them. But I’ve hit upon no real wisdom to share in the last few days, and I’d like to share something.

So have a look at my profile if you care to, and if any of my recommendations leads you to something you like, then I feel grateful for the opportunity to brighten your world.

Thank you, goddess of love, for art of all kinds and for the wonderful spirits who create it.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Howling Toddlers

Welcome, beautiful traveler. May the world be visiting upon you nothing worse than it is visiting upon me, which at the moment is not so bad.

I went over to a friend's house this evening for the first time in probably a year or more. His children have grown appreciably, now ranging in age from about 18 months to 7 years. The younger two, both still toddlers, spent the entire evening screeching and gabbling nonsense at an unholy volume as they pattered around the apartment, chasing one another or being persecuted by their older brother. I had a technical task that I was working on, and I did not watch them through any of this, but the sound about drove me mad.

Then, as I was leaving, I took a moment not only to say goodbye to my friend and his wife, but to these two deafening blond ricochets with their wide eyes and plump cheeks.

As is often the case with children of that age, they clammed up entirely as soon as a strange adult began to address them. Clearly, they found me novel and entertaining, but just as clearly, they did not know what to make of me, and stood with breathless infant wonder on their faces, waiting to see whether I would do something terrifying or hilarious.

With their howls subdued, I could see them at last for the beautiful, joyful creatures they were, and could understand that they had been those same creatures even as they had been producing every grotesque racket that might come out of a three-year-old throat over the course of an evening.

The human animal is an amazing, wild, nerve-wracking, transcendent thing.

Thank you, goddess of love, for every demonstration of that fact that you give to me.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Brief and Transitory Thing

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a tale of taking contentment in small moments.

On a recent airline flight for business, I sat beside a beautiful woman who had the window seat. It was a one-stop flight for me, and when she deplaned I had another leg to go. So I took her spot with the innocent intention of being able to look out across the landscape when the plane rose again into broad, bright sky.

But -- in moving, I found myself embraced by the soft warmth that her body had left behind.

How close the two of us had been, for the forty-five minutes of that first flight. Her arm kept brushing mine, as she typed or reached across me to take her drink from the flight attendant. Though I read, and she worked on her laptop, and we spoke at most a few dozen words to one another, I nonetheless had a vivid awareness the whole time of how very near at hand she rested.

Life consists in beauty brought close. Some of it is ours to take hold of; some of it is for our senses alone to drink in.

I had a pleasant moment of surprise, on sitting back down in this vanished woman's body heat. It felt a bit as if a ghost of her remained in the seat with me, her hips and pelvis and thighs overlapping my own. Had I premeditated this, I think the experience might have bordered on creepy -- a sordid, vicarious usurpation of her lingering most private space. But because it was a surprise and not a goal, it felt fresh, and clean -- a wholesome, unshared echo of intimacy from someone who had been entirely pleasant and bright in her few words to me -- mostly apologies for inadvertantly crossing my space with her arm, or for shutting the window as I sat reading by its light.

Would she be aghast and indignant at my enjoyment of her fading personal heat in that chair? Or would she think it a natural extension of our close-set, warm, yet very limited interactions during the flight? Most likely the former; that is how our world works, with the self and the self-space carefully guarded against happenstance brushes with other selves and self-spaces.

Of course, she will never know, just as I will never know her name or what business took her from city to city on that day.

In an ideal world, I would love her anyway, and she would love me, and we would each love every other person we bumped into or glimpsed along the arcs through which our travels carried us.

But this being the world that it is, I will simply have to be happy with what has been granted me.

Thank you, goddess of love, for my tangent of intimacy with that unnamed, lovely woman, and for whatever similar ripples of happiness she sends out to others as she moves through this world.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Mantra

Welcome, beautiful traveler. If you are feeling troubled, I would like to recommend that you try hard to believe the following words, or something similar:

I climb from this darkness of woe and grief to live in the clean, bright air.

A positive thought, repeated in place of that very human tendency to dwell on our difficulties, is a powerful tool for overcoming despair.

Thank you, goddess, for the gift of determination.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Goddess of Love Encourages Good Sports

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you after a long absence with only a brief message.

If you're reading this on August 8, 2008, instead of watching the opening ceremonies for the Olympics, I recommend that you turn off your computer and turn on your television.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee