Category Archives: Reflections

48 Days

When you live in the Free Republic of Cascadia, rain is a central topic of shared discussion and experience.

Whether it’s complaining about the rain, complimenting the rain, bemoaning people’s inability to drive in the rain despite its nearly constant presence, or complaining about people complaining about the rain, we here are as wedded to rain as a topic as my elderly relatives were to health issues (sigh).

So against that backdrop I say: it rained ever so slightly last night.

At first glance, you would think that’s unremarkable given what I’ve just said about rain. But, the important context is that the last time it rained at all was July 22, 2012. We’ve gone 48 days without measurable rain here. Amazingly, that’s not the record: 51 days is the current record and was set, appropriately enough, in 1951.

The funny thing is that, aside from the increased risk of wildfires, there was little complaint about the lack of rain. There was little praise too. It just disappeared as a topic, at least until the record looked like it might fall. Then, it became a topic mainly focused on “will we break the record”.

Maybe it just means we all needed a mental vacation from the rain? A bit of space where we’re not thinking about it at all so that when it comes back we’re in a better place to carry on our relationship with it?

Something to think about.

I Didn’t Know How Empty Was My Soul Until it Was Filled

I’ve been fighting a very, very nasty sinus infection for nearly two weeks.

Today, though, I feel what could be the beginnings of  relief. I won’t jinx it by saying it’s gone, but I haven’t experienced any pain today so far.

Whenever I feel a sinus issue start to break, I reach a tipping point where I realize how much pain I was experiencing because, in the absence of it, I can feel the contrast. In some ways, my body suppresses pain in a way such that I’m not aware of how much pain there was until it’s gone.

To characterize this sense of not realizing what you feel until after the pain is going, I’ve often quoted a wonderful scene from the film “Excalibur”. Once Percival has successfully retrieved the Grail, he brings it to the withering and wasting Arthur. After Arthur drinks, he remarks “I didn’t know how empty was my soul until it was filled”. And then, the revitalized King rides forth to battle with his knights across a withering and wasting land that is reborn and rejuvenated by his passing. The whole time, Orff’s “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana is playing. By the way, this scene is one of the reasons I maintain that “Excalibur” is an incredibly pagan film.

I loved that scene when I saw the film as a pre-teen. And it’s one of those scenes I come back to time and again to watch.

Interestingly, last night, I was thinking about how I was feeling and how there’s an affinity to the idea of the Fisher King (which is the myth that underpins the Arthurian Grail story). I was thinking of this quite independent of “Excalibur”. Specifically, I’d been thinking about the affinity between the infertility and impotence of the Fisher King and its contrast with and blocking of creativity, eros (in the Greek sense of erotic energy infusing all of life) and levity and how I have felt at times these past few months.

In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure, here’s the clip in question. And if you’ll excuse me, I have a blooming apple grove to go riding through.

How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.

This is a much more personal post than most. But ultimately it relates to social media in a way that I think is appropriate for my work blog.

In the past ten months, I have learned about the deaths of three people that I know through Facebook. Two of them were “friends”, one was a “friend of a friend”, actually of several friends. One of them, a former co-worker, died after a bout with cancer. The other two were former high school classmates, both of whom died of suicide.

In all three cases, I learned about this through Facebook wall postings. Over time, the walls became a place where people exchanged information, memories, paid respects, expressed grief and loss, and in some cases supported one another.

Today, just now, I was on Facebook and the one person I wasn’t friends with was just presented to me as “Someone you may know”.

I’ve said that “social networking is truly social” meaning that it is a true extension of ourselves as social creatures: we have embraced it and extended our social behaviors, both good and bad, to that medium. And nothing drives home that point more than death on Facebook.

The suggestion that I “friend” someone who is now dead, and my other recent experiences around the deaths of people on Facebook led me today to realize that Facebook’s use and importance as part of our social interactions has outstripped some of its capabilities. Put simply, Facebook (or any other social networking site) lacks mechanisms to deal gracefully and thoughtfully with death. From the question of “how do you take control of the Facebook account of a loved one who has died” to keeping the profile alive (pun somewhat intended) but reflecting the fact that the person is deceased, there’s no graceful, easy way to deal with death on Facebook.

It’s not just a technology problem: there are questions around etiquette and customs as well that we as a society have to work out.

But at this point, it’s certainly clear to me that as social networking becomes ever more truly social, it needs to be able to handle not just the good of our social lives, but also the hard things.

Kirk asked in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “[H]ow we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?”

As regards social networking, I believe the answer is an unequivocal “Yes”.

The Beauty of the Forest

As a practice, I try when I do posts that are heavy with negative energy to try and do another posting that has more positive energy. And it makes sense to try and keep balance in life, though I do worry that I may come across as suffering massive mood swings.

Be that as it may, this afternoon I took my dog out on a short walk here in the Forest. I kept it short because he hurt his leg a few weeks ago and is still stiff. But it was long enough to exercise him, give him a bit of doggie physical therapy, and get me out and about.

As is so often the case, there’s no one here on the trails. Just the light rain, the grey sky, the black of the wet, gravel road. And the green. For in the Forest here, there is always green everywhere. Even now, as the leaves are changing the predominant color remains green.

No electronics, no beeping, no sirens, no annoying conversations. Just rain and green. And a boy and his dog.

The Game

About all things, the question can and should be asked:

Is it worth playing the game?

No matter how much we win, by equal measure we will lose. The greater winner becomes the greater loser.

Is it worth playing the game? If you are looking at the game for payoffs, then the answer is no. There is no payoff, really. You walk out with what you walked in with: nothing.

But, what if you look at the game not for the payoff but for the experience itself? No one can take that away from you. The highs and lows you experience as you win it all and lose it all: those are yours and always will be until you are no more.

It is worth playing the game? I can say yes it is, because I’m learning to love the game and not worry about the payoff.

Today is one of those days I thank the Universe for all the pain, suffering and loss in my life. Because without them, I would fail to recognize and appreciate all the pleasure, joy and richness.

It is a day that reminds me of the powerful courage it takes to say “Yes” to Life, to look at at it all and say “Yes, thank you, for all of it, I wouldn’t change a thing”. This is what Nietzsche tries to evoke in his talk about “eternal return“. As he says in The Gay Science, Aphorism 341:

The greatest weight

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

So, yes, I do desire this all once more and innumerable times more. Yes, thank you, for all of it, I wouldn’t change a thing. Yes, I can’t wait to do it all again, and again, and again, and….

Requiem

I got word today that a person that interviewed me eleven years ago when I came into my current company has advanced cancer and the prognosis is rather grim.

It was about ten years ago that I myself got the first news that my mother might have cancer. That news would later be confirmed on my birthday in November 2000.

After I got the news, I went out and got myself a CD to be a present to me from my mother so that she wouldn’t have to worry about that. It turns out that she went ahead and got me something herself: in a way I think that it was helpful for her to focus on me in that motherly way.

The CD I got was Zbigniew Preisner’s Requiem For My Friend.

I fell in love with Preisner’s work first with his music for the film La Double Vie de Veronique. And I’ve always had a fondness for the requiem mass. My first CD ever was Sir Neville Marriner’s recording of Mozart’s Requiem (which I still have). So, with those two things in mind, this new recording was a very logical thing for me to get, even if it was perhaps a bit morbid given the news I’d gotten.

A friend of mine gave a talk this weekend comparing the Mozart and Verdi Requiems. And one of the things that he was highlighting was the degree of passion and feeling in the Verdi. I do love Mozart’s for many reasons but the Verdi really does exude passion. And given the subject matter, death. There are ways in which the requiem, of all pieces of music, really should be passionate and should express the classic Kübler-Ross five stages of grief or whatever emotions death brings up for us.

For me, that rainy autumn 2000, what I felt can only be called anguish. And I found amazing musical expression of anguish in the Lacrimosa in Preisner’s Requiem.

I remember many a day or evening listening to that as I would cry into a pillow trying to let all of the anguish I felt flow out of me.

And so today, as I sit listening to the sounds of a rainy autumn, thinking about others going through what I went through, with the discussion of requiem music and feeling fresh in my head, it seems appropriate to be thinking and writing about that piece that, for me, expresses anguish so well.

My thoughts and best wishes to J and his family.

Meditation and Reflection: KOYAANISQATSI

Inspired today by the music of Philip Glass and the film work of Godfrey Reggio who worked together on the Qatsi trilogy. Speficially, from KOYAANISQATSI.

From the definitions page:

ko.yaa.nis.katsi (from the Hopi language), n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life disintegrating. 4. life out of balance. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.

Hopi Prophecies quoted in the film:

  • If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster.
  • Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky.
  • A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky which could burn the land and boil the oceans.

De l’audace, encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace

The title of this post is from Georges Danton. It has been misattributed to Frederick the Great and Napoleon (including in the movie Patton). It means, “Audacity, and more audacity, and always audacity”.

It’s been used many times by many people.

Even if misattributed it’s still a good saying to keep in mind.

You’re Only as Credible as your Sources

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m no fan of extremists of any stripe. But, much as I think people some extremists have (or now in his case, had) too much influence, I’m still devoted more to truth and accuracy. And, too, I’m a long-time critic of the press because of their large but unacknowledged bias and because their accuracy is just awful (trust me, I work with them, I know).

So, all of that makes what we find on this posting all the more compelling. Basically, an MSNBC producer is using the information from whitehouse.org (a satire site) as a factual reference.

Nice. Way to go folks.

What next, using the Onion as your source?