This Tik Tokker, ShabazSays, cracks me up--today his reaction series "I'm Rich, You're Poor" features a home library--
it's about 15 seconds, here, www.instagram.com/reel/CoAHitpAWMC.
I don't know how to embed IGs--this is a screencap:
Sunday, January 29, 2023
This Tik Tokker, ShabazSays, cracks me up--today his reaction series "I'm Rich, You're Poor" features a home library--
I've been saving donated books with book-related titles at work for a couple months. I finally had enough to set up a display yesterday.
Here're most of the books. (I added The Guernsey Literate-Potato Society, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Shadow of the Wind (which I felt I should like, but didn't).)
I donated ^ Remainders of the Day,which I regret buying (full price!). It's the third and the worst of Shaun Bythell's bookseller's diaries. He's the worst in it--complaining, for instance, about the odor of an old lady whose books he goes to buy.
I understand from experience how frustrating customers can be, but he sinks well below that understandable annoyance.
I don't know if I can ever re-read his second diary with any enjoyment--he doesn't seem so mean-spirited in that one, and I'd liked it.
I no longer bother with novels that use books as a backdrop for romance, like a movie set--with titles like, The Belgian Bookstore, Bakery, & Damaged Giraffe-Keepers Rescue Society. They're like petits-fours--far nicer to look at than to ingest.
84, Charing Cross Road, but maybe because I loved the movie with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins before I read the book?
Well, even if that's the case--I do like the book and have and will read it again.
But really, Johnny Lion's Book illustrated by Clement Hurd is the best of the lot. There are two copies--I should nab one for myself. Why didn't I before I left yesterday? Ergh. I'm not back till Thursday because my sister and I are driving to a little town in Iowa for a two-night stay in a bnb. It's going to be as cold there as it is here--barely above 0ºF... but I don't care. It's VACATION! That's even worth losing a copy of Johnny Lion.
Baby Sems at the Laundromat Burger Joint
It will be extra nice to have a vacation because while it was wonderful to spend time with the baby sems who were volunteering at the store, it wrung me out. I was recovering from a cold, and talking so much in the past couple weeks, especially outside in the cold, made my throat sore. But, more, I poured myself out--made myself emotionally open--and that's draining.
I'm totally glad I did it though--and it had the desired effect--to show these future priests the complexity of the neighborhood.
Big Boss went to their seminary to talk to them, and he told me they all talked about spending time with me, and how much they got from seeing through my eyes.
The last pair of sems I took to a crummy little burger joint down the street, attached to a laundromat. It faces the parking lot, and always open to the laundromat, it smells like hot dryer air and laundry soap.
I told them I'd discovered it when I was doing laundry for a store's neighbor who was sick. (That was BJ, when she was dying of lung cancer last year, but I didn't go into all that.) She'd given me ten bucks to buy myself lunch while her laundry spun. I'd thought it'd be nasty, but the few things on the menu are all tasty--it's like the laundry people thought, "Hey, we can fry a burger, let's fry a burger."
My theme with the sems––I hadn't intended to have one, but it turned out I did––was how I realized (again, again, again) that I can't do BIG things, like save people, but I can show up, and say hello (and maybe sometimes do someone's laundry);
and while that's not enough, it's what I can do, and religion--seeing things in a religious context--helps me do that––and that's all good.
I could say "a fairy-tale context" instead---or philosophical or ontological, or whatever, but because of my audience, I said "religous", and that's true:
I've written here before and I said to each of the sems that a big thing that helped me carry on this fall when I was feeling so angry and useless and angry (and useless)––and disgusted with the therapist I'd tried––was a priest saying, You are not the savior.
I know I'm not God, in theory––I don't even believe in God!––but geez, sometimes I am hard on myself for not being; and hearing that right then jolted me out of my near-despair, and helped answer my question, as I said to the sems,
How do you keep showing up when you know you'll be uncomfortable---AND you'll fail?
You lighten the fuck up!
(I said this, and they laughed.)
It's not failure--it's life. (But sometimes is is our failure too.) At any rate, life is bigger than us.
And it won't kill you to be uncomfortable. (Usually. And if it does? . . . Well?)
These two sems were my favorite--that's probably why I took them out to eat. (They said they weren't hungry, but they let me buy fries to share.) They each quoted something really sweet to me.
One quoted Pope Benedict--that we're not made for comfort, we're made for greatness.
And the other--in a different part of the conversation, but making a nice tag--said that what I was talking about was what Teresa of
that we can't all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.
I wish I'd thought to quote back to them one of my favorites--from Samuel Beckett,
"Try again. Fail again. Fail better."Some of the other sems I didn't care for--I felt they'd become the sort of priests I don't like--officious, and stingy with their hearts. As a friend in the Church said, "the sort who like lace trim on their vestments". (This is not about sexuality, it's about power-- the power of perceived purity.)
And now I want to go stare at Iowa, which is flat and covered in snow. Perfect.
Write the Thing
A friend sent me the first five chapters of his novel, and I felt such a pang of envy when I read it this weekend.
Not because I loved it---it's good, but it's a world-building novel, along the lines of Frank Herbert's Dune, which I don't have much patience for--but simply because, bygod, he did it, he WROTE the thing.
I could discern in reading it how much pleasure he must have gotten from writing it---or, more like in designing it--figuring out the pieces of the world and how they all slot together--and then move along in synch...
So much work, but what a pleasure to figure out your own world.
(I always marvel at that in Harry Potter too--JKR must have gotten so much pleasure constructing her world--as well as so much frustration, I'd imagine.)
I'd told myself I would write a short story this year--and my friend's novel (it's massive) nudges me to DO THAT. Just for the mental exercise--like taking psychedelics, but so much more plain old drudgery.
We can't all write a great novel, but we can write a short story with great discomfort.
I'll try that.
And for company...
Po! She will be going to live in Berlin with Fiona, who had a Po just like this when she was a little girl.
But in the meantime, Po is my Lighten Up & Be a Fatty Dumpling Guide.
Thursday, January 26, 2023
The Peregrine by J. A. Baker, 1967 (NYRB ed. 2005). A record of Baker's obsession with tracking a pair of peregrine falcons
Practically every sentence is quotable...
"I came late to the love of birds. For years I saw them only as a tremor at the edge of vision. They know suffering and joy in simple states not possible for us. Their lives quicken and warm to a pulse our hearts can never reach. They race to oblivion. They are old before we have finished growing."Being of an unfortunate poky and pedantic nature, I want to add––not some kinds of parrots.
Here is a sketch by Edward Lear, painter of parrots and nonsense, of himself as a bird. This probably suits me better. From the Nat'l Portrait Gallery, here.
Edward Lear, by Edward Lear
Sepia ink on laid writing paper, 1864
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
A convex mirror was donated to the thrift store, so I took a selfie...
...modeled after the Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by Francesco Mazzola, called Parmigianino, 1523-24 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna):
A couple other things at the thrift store yesterday...
Vintage salt and pepper shakers that meow--or moo--when turned upside down, like a kid's farm-in-a-can moo/baa box:
BELOW: Remember flash bulbs? So exciting, their controlled explosions... Like a sneeze.
BELOW: Boy on the floor playing with toy vacuum cleaner
The Baby Sems are volunteering at the store all week. Seventeen young men (23–30 y.o.) in their first year at the St. Paul Seminary, studying to become priests, come two at a time for two-hour shifts.
I didn't walk them around the 'hood yesterday, I walked them around the store. Salient features: bullet hole in window (windows which had been replaced in the uprisings after George Floyd's murder); drug dealers across the street; Mexican food truck next to them; Narcan kit for opioid overdoses in our first-aid kit; bathrooms & dressing rooms closed, to prevent people overdosing in them (and shoplifting); the red bench Grateful-J made so we could put boxes of free food up, instead of making people pick up food off the ground; the store's organization--decorative endcaps, books in order by topic, clothes separated by size--for good service but, just as much, to make it a pleasant place for people to come.
"It's all very well to talk about love and service", I said, "but you have to make these little decisions every single day about how to do that. And it's wearing, and annoying, and the despair can really drag you down--and you have to think, how do I keep doing this? What sustains me in the long run?"
Talking with them, I see myself and the store as if in a mirror. I'm proud of us--we look good. We do good. And under crazy circumstances. I knew that, but it's a nice thing to see through the eyes of these fresh and shiny humans. Their teeth! Their hair cuts! They are so well cared for. People think they matter simply for existing!
It's draining to talk for four hours (I get one of the volunteers on each shift), but it's terrific to have help! Aside from Vikki who does puzzles for a couple hours on Wednesdays, I never have help. And these young men can pick up boxes like nothing.
Yesterday one of my helpers was a little older--26--and had worked as a civic engineer. (They all have undergrad degrees; some have work experience.) I asked him to help rearrange my book-recycling corner, which was a total mess.
He set it to rights.
"You really are an engineer!" I said. He and I talked a lot about fantasy novels--his other interest. Lord of the Rings (the Catholic elements), Star Wars, Harry Potter--these guys are a generation that grew up with HP. I recommended Murderbot...
It was nice to talk to someone who reads.
So far only one of the sems--(my favorite, of course)--has asked me any substantive questions (or, any questions at all). But that's normal for humans. (Maybe especially for young male humans.)
That one stand-out had studied history, and he was eager to hear what we'd experienced at the store and what I thought about George Floyd's murder.
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
Blue pot from Czechoslovakia---it sat on the shelf for a month, so when it hit dollar day, I had to bring it home. Weird design--you can't pour from it without taking the lid off (it covers the spout)--more like a sugar jar... I wouldn't use it for a tea pot anyway, I just want to look at its blue.
I will use this one though-- for flowers, when farmers markets start up. It was donated by an antique store that quarterly offloads stock that hasn't sold. The floral pattern here is raised--not sure what you call it. Some markings on the bottom, but no words. Anyway, I LOVE the shiny black!
Off to work in a few minutes--more seminarians today, I think... I liked taking them on Walkabout but it's a lot of emotional work to do it--wish someone else would help out, but that's unlikely. At the store, if you see something, do something---and then it's always and entirely yours to do.
I have been doing well and feeling well not eating white flour or alcohol for a couple months now. (White flour has always been my dietary mainstay...)
Yesterday I decided to splurge at the funeral reception for Maura's dad (r.i.p, and thanks, Tom!). I had several little floury desserts and four glasses of wine.
Came home in the late afternoon and felt so sick, I went to bed. Feeling icky, I slept unsoundly till this morning.
It seems my body just cannot process that stuff anymore.
One of these days I'll go to the doctor and find that out Officially (glucose levels, etc.), but it's entirely obvious.
Monday, January 23, 2023
I love all the new years--always ready for a shot of Hop on Outta That, and Let's Start Again Here.
This morning was thinking of Taylor Swift's perky-bunny anthem "Shake It Off"...
...and then Lizzo's "Good As Hell"--
"If he don't love you anymore,
Walk your fine ass out the door."
Sunday, January 22, 2023
I brought this bunny home to celebrate with the girlettes---here it is at work feeling a affinity with the springs of the palette jack.
May we have some bounce in our step this year!
This is the wall above my desk yesterday---I did indeed move the First Amendment poster from the MN State Fair Newspaper Museum there--at least for now.
Also new---TELETUBBY! Tororo reminds me, this is Po!!!
Saturday, January 21, 2023
I climbed the ladder to the open loft at the thrift store where next-season's clothes are stored. I wanted to see my workplace from up there--even just ten feet up, it was different, and cool.
Mr Furniture walked by, below, and I called out, "Mr. Furniture! Let's build a tree house up here!"
"San Francisco," he said, "This is not Little House on the Prairie."
God, he cracks me up. He's spot on about a lot. He has blind spots too. He told me, for instance, that the government was implanting tracking devices in Covid vaccines.
I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and said, "They don't have to. We carry them voluntarily."
He laughed and said I had a point.
This and next week, the store is hosting a crew of young men in their first year at the seminary--studying to become Catholic priests. Being at the store is part of their J-term investigation into the reality of poverty. They come in pairs, each for a couple hours.
I was out with a cold so I missed the first couple groups, but two days ago, a wonderful guy named Joe helped me with toys. So helpful! He is from Idaho, and told me a lot of his cohort are from the Midwest states around--not local.
Joe's BA is in History, and he was eager to ask me about George Floyd and the City. I haven't had such an in-depth animated conversation about the whole shebang, maybe ever. (Most of us are in the middle of it, so we don't back up like that.)
I went home that night and thought, these guys aren't really here to help us, they're here to learn. They won't see the whole picture by helping in the back.
Yesterday I went in and asked E.D. (exec. dir.) if I could take the guys for a walk. "Sure," he said. "Good idea."
I am now the official tour guide for Walk into Poverty Tours.
I start with the bathrooms. "We closed the bathrooms to the public due to Covid but no one wants to reopen them because we had such problems with people shooting up in there, stealing clothes, leaving body fluids outside the designated receptacles..."
We go outside. "Here is the bullet hole in our window that's been here for a few months. It's a shame because we just got all new windows after they were smashed in the uprisings after the murder of George Floyd a mile away."
"Those guys standing over there are dealers. I'm not advising it, but you can probably get anything you want from them. They won't bother you if you don't bother them. My coworker Supershopper Louise walks to work down that alley next to them. She says they are always helpful, "Do you need help getting over that curb, ma'am."
I showed them the black pool of ash and melted snow. "I find this so disturbing, but I try to reapproach and see it differently." I bent over and plucked a floating piece of half-burned wood from the pool. "Look," I said, handing it to each of them. "Isn't this beautiful?"
"Let's walk down Louise's alley to where she lives--in apartments on top of the old Sears building. On the ground floor is an indoor mall of global markets. A lot closed due to Covid, but it's coming back."
We talk to the owner of a Mexican grocery. "What would you recommend to these guys as the best Mexican food?" I ask.
"My favorite," he says, "and a lot of people's, is mole!"
They did not know mole, so he explained--a dark sauce made with different kinds of chiles, and chocolate--but not sweet.
"This neighborhood is like a geode," I told the guys. "Rough and dingy on the outside, but you open it up, and there's a shining center. A lot of love, a lot of good energy--people who want to make it better, against the odds."
I told them that the nearby Native housing project suffers one of the highest death rates from opiods in the City. But there's also Native groups like Dream of Wild Health. DWH reclaims vacant lots to garden with children, planting, among other things, the traditional Three Sisters--corn, squash, and beans. They also teach foraging classes, showing how to identify and use plants that grow all over. (The flat leaf of the common weed plantain (not the banana) is a healer.)
I did two tours yesterday, two guys each, and they all, I think, found it pretty exotic and interesting.
And through them, I saw more clearly how intense it is, where I work, and what I (we) do. And how much I know and have to share, too.
"I like how passionate you are about this," one of the guys said.
I talked to Big Boss afterward, and he said (again) that I have a gift of preaching. This is high praise from him. I was careful not to get too preachy--tried to present the facts in a balanced way (good and bad)--and I acknowledged more than once that this was just my personal view--I am not a manager or anyone official.
I guess I'll do this next week too. I think it's SUPER important for these men who will hold a lot of power to understand better what it's like on the bottom---not just the suffering, but the innovation, the genius-level survival tactics, the humor.
When I left work I saw this little boat floating in an icy ditch.
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
I've always enjoyed and admired the four-sentence movie reviews Michael writes on Orange Crate Art––most recently, "12 Movies" (Jan. 10, 2023). He compares writing them to packing a small suitcase. Reading them has the pleasure of unpacking that suitcase and finding it includes a tiny, cleverly engineered tool kit with everything from a seam ripper to a brilliant flashlight.
I never thought to try writing one myself until I was blogging (ranting) about A Man Called Otto the other day [See below*] and I thought, this is too easy: I should try writing less.
This morning I wrote a four-sentence review of A Man Called Otto following Michael's formula: "One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers. Sources... [where you saw/can find it]".
I'm not sure if what I wrote counts as a spoiler? The conclusion is evident from the get-go: If Tom Hanks is in the first act, fundamental human decency will be deployed by the end.
(Are there exceptions to this in Tom Hanks' movies? I'm no expert on his oeuvre, but that formula is probably a safe bet.)
I added an empty star to signify a half star. (Is there a way to type a half star on a Mac laptop? Probably.) If I keep writing these, I'd use a five-star system, so I wouldn't need the half star. Then I'd give this movie three out of five stars.
A Man Called Otto (dir. Marc Forster, 2023) How many times can an engineer who prides himself on knowing how things work (Otto, played by Tom Hanks) fail to engineer a successful way to kill himself? Three, if he's stopped each time by people he dismisses as "idiots"––including a hapless hardware clerk who sells him a faulty hook––but who eventually elicit the warm humanity under his grumpy exterior. Otto's desire to die and join his recently dead wife gives way to the pleasure of teaching perky Latina neighbor (Mariana Treviño) to drive, showing an ostracized transgender teen (Mack Bayda) how to repair his bike, and installing the dead wife's wheelchair ramp for a paralyzed Black neighbor (Peter Lawson Jones). Perhaps the very American message of this adaptation of a Swedish book is, everybody get some––wheels, that is. ★★☆(in movie theaters)Thank you for the inspiration, Michael!
*MY ORIGINAL RANT, from a couple days ago:
Movies I Left, no. 9
For a treat, I took myself to a matinee on Saturday. (I've only gone to a theater a handful of times since Covid.) It was meant to be a treat, anyway, but I was very much not the movie's Target Market.
Now I have a new entry for the tag movies I left [incomplete].
The movie was A Man Called Otto, and they should put a Trigger Warning on it:
Otto (Tom Hanks) tries to kill himself three times, and each time the movie follows him as he goes through the attempt almost to the point of death--he is only stopped at the last second by something outside his control.
On his third attempt, they show him putting a rifle under his chin. Someone knocks on the door, he jerks and pulls the trigger and misses.
I got up and left.
My mother shot herself, so that disturbed me. Worse, though, these suicide attempts are treated as something of a lark, and Otto's troubles trivialized––isn't he cute? with his quirky OCD ways and his anger management problems––and rang false, too, as if people suffering from mental illness just need a warm and plucky Latina mom to make them cookies (not that that wouldn't be nice, though I personally would resent such a pushy neighbor), and a paralyzed Black friend and a misunderstood transgender kid to help. (Did I miss any marginalized group?)
Back off, lady!
Hm... Actually, this was interesting. Above, Marisol shows Otto a picture her daughter has drawn of their family. The daughter has drawn Otto in the dad/husband spot. Marisol's husband is a child (at one point he says to the children, "no grown ups here"), and there's a very real chemistry between Marisol and Otto. (The most believable relationship in the movie.)
The best part of the film is when Otto berates Marisol (in order to encourage her) by listing her many accomplishments.
He admires her.
It occurred to me that these two maybe end up together. That would be great! That would save this movie from the shmaltz.
Oh--wait--I didn't stay for the end. Do they end up together?
Yeah, I'm sure not. (I have no doubt of what happens.)
Okay--but speaking of veracity, Marisol says she is
thirty, but the actor looks much older. I looked her up, and yep, Mariana
Treviño is forty-five. Why did they do that? Why not just say she's
. . . forty. She has three kids and a college degree--that'd be entirely
believable. Did they want to make her not-too-close to Tom Hanks's age
(66), so she seems more like a daughter than a love interest?
(I'm voting for love interest!)
I can see why plenty of people would like the movie. It has a nice message--get involved with your neighbors; try new foods; help one another. Yes! Oh, and get a cat.
A lot of us do need more of that sort of thing. But if that's all it takes to cure a person's mental and social distress that has taken them to the point of suicide, well, they're lucky.
I left too far into the movie to get my money back, but I could have known right away that I wouldn't like it from the incessant sentimental background music. There's another perception thing--audiences may be so used to strings in the background, orchestrating emotions--"feel gentle sadness here/perk up there/cry now"––they don't even consciously register it.
One more thing: I was disappointed. I related to Otto, who goes around saying that people are "idiots". Once at work I actually exclaimed, "Are people brain damaged?!" and immediately felt bad because, yes, some of them are.
I wanted something more meaty and complex and relatable for Otto and me than cats and cookies.
(Speaking of idiots--who would expect meaty-and-complex from Hollywood? But Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers was good in the less by-the-numbers Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.)
Well, as I say, I was not the target market.
Lake of the Isles
Saturday turned out great anyway, though:
in a bad mood after the movie, I took myself for a walk arout Lake of the Isles. I felt better halfway round. (Of course things like going for a walk DO help, if all you're dealing with is grumpiness.)
I've walked around this lake at least a thousand times, but not often in the past few years (I lived over by Lake Hiawatha for three).
The lake is most beautiful in winter. I took some panorama photos:
BELOW: I'm standing on what should be the ice rink--that's the warming house to the left––but the ice is too choppy for skating.
I stopped and watched the dogs in the dog park, which is cheering:
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
TL;DR: 1. I like to have unread books on hand for when I'm sick or society collapses.
2. American football is really mean, and that's no secret.
3. Our brains like to take the short cut, but that makes us boring old fogeys. Let's mix it up! Take some mind-altering drugs, or, like, lie down in the grocery store (just for a minute) or something.
Having been caught out by Covid without a lot of books to hand, and libraries and my thrift bookstore closed, I changed my policy of not keeping a ton of books around. (I'd been trying to keep possessions to a bare minimum, living as I was in a small space and, at that time, one block from a public library.)
When the store reopened, I started bringing home all sorts of books I might someday want to read. Am I ever glad!
Home sick with a cold, I have lots to choose from to read all day.
These are what I've been reading.
Off and on for a while now, I've been dipping into By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review, [archive here of the NYT series].
Monday I read [much of] The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis (2006, 2009 ed. with movie-tie in cover);
And, Tuesday, Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (2018)
I've never understood when people say they already own too many books that they haven't read. ? ? ? But that is a good thing. Books are not like fruit you have to eat or it
goes bad. They are like seed corn--stock to grow the future. Get you some.
"One’s library should contain not just what one knows, but much more of what one doesn’t yet know. “Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”The Blind Side blindsided me.
This passage comes from Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, a book all about the human tendency... to overvalue the known and undervalue the unknown."
So... speaking of the unknown--did you know that football players intend to and some even want to hurt their opponents? Even beyond hurt--maybe/sorta/kinda kill them?
Hahaha, where have I been, right? Everyone knows that, I'm guessing.
I learned it reading The Blind Side. I'd picked the book up at the store because Ira Glass said in his By the Book interview that Lewis is "the greatest living nonfiction writer."
I've seen some movies based on Lewis's books, and he can make a boring topic fascinating. The role of analytics in baseball? Who cares? Not me, but Moneyball engrossed me.
I'd never read anything by Lewis though. A lot of his books get donated--they're published in the kazillions--but when I went looking recently because of Glass, I only found The Blind Side. I don't care about football, but that's the great thing about good nonfiction--it can make you interested in almost anything.
I skimmed a lot of the football talk in the book unless it followed a person. Quite a lot of it did though. Great storytelling.
The main thing I learned that interested me is, as I said, that some football players intend to hurt their opponents--and to cause fear, which damages an opponent's performance. (Hurt is better than "injure" because injured players are taken off the field, while hurt players keep playing, but not as effectively.)
And . . . that football recruiters look for athletic kids who grew up (are growing up--they're in high school) in emotional and physical deprivation because these kids often have the perfect psychological make up: angry and aggressive.
And, that some of those kids become athletes who enjoy doing more than causing hurt--they want to maim and destroy.
No wonder we Americans love football!
I feel like I shouldn't be surprised. That all makes sense, even from the little I've passively gleaned about American sports. But I was surprised. Maybe what most surprised me is that this is not a shamefully guarded secret--it's right out in the open.
I was only disappointed that Lewis didn't look closely in the book at the religious side of the story. He mentions but doesn't explore the role of faith in the rich, white, Christian couple's lives and how it led them to take in a below-poor Black kid who turns into an NFL player. Religion/faith doesn't seem to be Lewis's interest. It's a big interest of mine, but that's not really a criticism of the book--it's fascinating, with more than enough to be going on.
Prison or Playground?
Speaking of religion--I agree with Michael Pollan's take on it in How to Change your Mind:
the experience of awe and mystery is the root of religion. It arises from "the quest to free oneself of the bounds of everyday perception and thought in a search for universal truths and enlightenment".
People like Jesus or Buddha who experienced something like a psychedelic trip start--or spark--religions. Then, in the way of things, those religious systems become rigid--like we as individuals tend to become more rigid as we age--more like a prison.
Like in the quote up top--we have a tendency "to overvalue the known and undervalue the unknown".
The secret is to keep one's own brain (soul) flexible, comfortable with the unknown--more like a playground. People who do that in religious contexts might get labeled mystics or saints or bodhisattvas. Outside religion, artists, writers, free spirits, . . . or just GFWs--giant frikkin weirdos.
Pollan looks at how psychedelics (specifically LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms)) can help people whose brains have become inflexible, kinda stuck in place, through trauma and mental illness.
Some of you who comment here know more about all this than I do! I've never even done psychedelics. I'm sure not trying to educate anyone here--I'm trying to make sense of for myself.
As an older person, I was especially interested to read Pollan on why the brain defaults to the easy answers. It's more efficient. And as we age, we have this huge library of answers we've already learned.
I hear sometimes how much I/we speak in scripts. Agreed upon scripts. Obviously some of that's great. We could use more shared scripts that ease social encounters. Manners, people!
But when that's how we think...
Ergh. There was an old woman in a nursing home where I worked whose
body was permanently curled into a fetal position. She was so rigid, you
could have picked her up by her toes and nothing on her body would have
bent. (She died soon after I met her.)
I've met people--of all ages--whose brains were almost like that--they had no bend, no softness, no opening... Everything was script. (That's one definition of a cult--a system that supplies you with all the answers.)
How to stay flexible?
"The psychedelic experience may... create an opportunity in which the old stories of who we are might be rewritten."
There are other ways, as Pollan talks about, just briefly.
I'm interested because I'm not likely to do psychedelics.
Spiritual practices such as meditation and fasting, also extreme sports, sleep deprivation.
He doesn't mention sex that I noticed (I skimmed a lot of the chapters I wasn't interested in), but that can be a route.
Learning another language can make you doubt your reality (language is a high-control thing, and switching the rules, you have to loosen your grip).
Me learning Latin: What do you mean you can put the words in any order? What do you mean agricola is a masculine noun? (usually nouns ending with "a" are feminine). What do you mean there's no punctuation?
Art too can create that opportunity:
bink spent a wrenching summer literally re-writing and illustrating her childhood traumas as a series of cartoons. Wrenching, because healing doesn't feel good while it's happening, maybe, but she said she doesn't have disturbing dreams and images arise anymore.
So, there's that.
I don;t know. We talk of these matters in grandiose terms--mystics & mushrooms--but I think it can be quite plain and everyday.
Mindfulness (mind-opening to cosmic consciousness) is being present to washing the dishes. Over and over and always. Or, you know--just sometimes.
Now that's a challenge to the brain that wants to put everything in the dishwasher.
What do you think?
Your Brain on Psychedelics (Is an Air Traffic Control Nightmare)
I love reading about brain science, so I paid most attention to Pollan's chapter "The Neurosciene: Your Brain on Psychedelics". (There's plenty of repetition in the other chapters, so you get the point overall.)
We are asked to "conceive of the mind as an uncertainty-reducing machine... The sheer complexity of the human brain and the greater number of different mental states in its repertoire (as compared with other animals) makes the maintenance of order a top priority, lest the system descend into chaos".
To keep us from chaos (entropy), brains have developed a "default mode network" that keeps down the noise and gives us a sense of self.
I just made this up so I don't know if it's a good analogy, but I think of it as being like Air Traffic Control.
Psychedelics turn that regulating system off (or down), so you experience that ego death and flood of connections people who take a trip talk about.
Literally, parts of the brain that don't usually connect, connect.
BELOW: The everyday brain connections, left, and on psilocybin, right
Darn, I can't find the quote, but one researcher also says he does not recommend psychedelic use for young people.
This psychedelic release, however, can help people who have too much ego control ("low-entropy" states), which shows up in "addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression," and in "narrow or rigid thinking". Thinking may beome more rigid as we age and we rely more and more--for efficiency's sake--on what Pollan calls "precooked" solutions, "stereotyped patterns of thought and behavior" that we've adopted long ago.
Precooked! Isn't that great? Instead of cooking, our brains are just sticking it in the microwave.
The question Is Consciousness Produced by the Brain? Or, Is It a Cosmic "Thing" (Like Gravity)? scientists can't answer at this point.
People who take trips say with certainty that it is a fact that consciousness arises outside of ourselves.
But if your default mode network (ego) is shut down, you would say that, wouldn't you?
Not that it's not true!
Here's the cool thing: consciousness remains an open question. Science doesn't know how/where it arises.
So, whatever floats your boat, I guess.
Tripping on the Playground
I want to stay flexible--not because it's a social benefit to stay current (in fact, that's a turn-off, older people trying to be hip are just adopting another script), but because for myself, I don't want to find my brain stuck in a fetal position. That's painful. And the microwave brain diet is boring. 'Boring old fogey' is a real thing.
I would like to offer myself a mushroom omelette and a reset button.
I wouldn't want to take psychedelics, actually, unless it were on one of the guided trips that Pollan talks about. (They've become legal in the US for research purposes.) I'm fine with the slow playground I'm on.
Art, writing, thinking, playing with the dolls and bears, being in the city...
'Playground' sounds nice, but we know from childhood, many of us, playgrounds can be rough. The biggest psychedelic ('mind-revealing') experience I've had in recent years is something I mention in passing a lot:
seeing a cop in my city kneel on a man's neck until he died---in broad daylight, in a busy intersection.
You could call that a bad trip. I haven't read about the psychological effects of a bad trip--do they help more or less than a good trip?
This one worked really well to rip open my sense of the familiar, and to disorient my sense of self. Talk about vertiginous, I sometimes felt dizzy with it.
Through the Thrift Store Mirror
My workplace has been a trip too, over the past five years. I feel like Alice in Wonderland there--less now, but still sometimes.
The other day, Mr Furniture, who is Black, was complaining that more and more white people shop at the store. (He says it's gentrification, but I think that's a great example of someone parroting an old script. It was true that the area showed signs of gentrification before the uprisings after the cops murdered George Floyd.
But now? Entirely the opposite. Would you, blog reader, buy a house by my workplace? I wouldn't!)
Anyway, Mr Furniture was standing around at work bemoaning to everyone and no one about the overwhelming presence of white people in his life. White people in the store, white people this, and white people that...
And then he practically wails, "White people call me ON THE PHONE!"
LOL! OMG, I burst out laughing--everyone did.
And yet--yeah! How intimate. White people IN MY BRAIN!
Now, Mr Furniture likes me, a white woman, fine as a person. And I like him.
But if the store's staff were all Black, he'd like that better.
And personally encountering the truth of that is a mind-opener.
Living in the City is my big ongoing trip, I guess. Whether I want it or not, the city is a playground that keeps me awake. Taking the bus. Noticing changing language I hear (slang or languages that aren't familiar like English or Spanish).
And I do want to be awake. I just wouldn't choose the discomfort of not being asleep.
Ha. And there is a human predicament. Like the disciples who couldn't stay awake with Jesus on his last night.
Oh my goodness. I have a headache now, but I not sneezed once in the x hours it took me to write this, so I'm declaring myself well enough to go to work tomorrow.
I have no wrap-up conclusion, so I'll just say, have a great week ahead, everyone! You are a child of the universe.
Monday, January 16, 2023
It's a gray drizzly Monday (on top of snow - bad conditions), and I have a head cold. Not too bad, luckily, but I am staying home today.
(Hadn't I just been marveling that I haven't caught a virus? This one's mild, at least. I feel really lucky.)
Any Room with a Bed Is a Bedroom
Because my bedroom abuts my neighbor's, and the wall between us is insulated but not soundproof, I moved my mattress into the living room, on the floor, so the neighbor didn't have to listen to me sneezing and snorting all night.
I like this arrangement--I'm thinking I might leave it and make the bedroom into a studio/study.
BELOW: If I take out the table against the wall, (you can just see the corner, far right), the bed could go there without losing useful living space. I don't use that table much anyway because the corner is not very bright--better for sleeping.
BELOW: The bedroom is sunny on winter days (tho' not today)--the sun is wasted on a sleeping room. Wouldn't this be nice filled with supplies for making stuff and Dolls and Bears? A Toy Room!
(I don't stay up late, so I'm not likely to disturb the neighbor.)
Ms. Moon has been blogging about perception recently, and I was thinking it's fun to catch myself in Automatic Thinking Mode, such as, "The bedroom is for the bed."
There's no objective reason that should be so.
I mentioned the neighbor. He moved in Jan. 1, and I'm lucky again--so far, anyway: this guy has either been silent, or I hear him chatting and laughing on the phone. It is so, so nice to hear someone laughing!
Did you hear about that study that said if you're around happy people, you're [x] percent happier yourself--and that includes being around happy strangers, like neighbors?
I feel that in this case. I like hearing him laugh, and more since I met him, briefly, and got a good vibe. I'd brought a package that was delivered to his door into my apartment, for safe keeping. Our doors open directly onto the sidewalk, so packages sit right there for the taking, and I'd heard someone in a neighboring building say a package had been stolen off their doorstep.
The neighbor--a young man--was friendly, open, and nice.
Niceness. It may not be the most profound quality, but for sure, “nice things are nicer than nasty ones.” (Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim).
Yup. I liked my auntie's neighbors even though they had Trump signs in their yards because they were nice to her, and to me, and they helped her in her last week--staying overnight with her while she was dying at home.
Well, that last goes beyond "nice"...
Sunday, January 15, 2023
I wrote, “It’s entropy, man” in the post below with a feeling I was quoting—but whom? I thought maybe Bill & Ted, but when I googled it, Flanders & Swann came up (a more erudite Bill & Ted?) —specifically their comic song “The First and Second Law of Thermodynamics” (1964). The line comes at the end, after—snap your fingers— “Heat cannot of itself pass/ from one body to a hotter body…” https://youtu.be/VnbiVw_1FNs
F&S are little known here in the US, though, and I doubt I heard it from them. I think I made it up based on Dick Shawn’s groovy character in The Producers (1967), Lorenzo St. DuBois, LSD to his friends.
What I'd seen as ugly & disturbing became interesting, and even, as I’d hoped, beautiful.
Above: Ice crystals, Ash, and Plastic Wrap
All material is natural, at its core. Right? We can't create something from nothing--we can only change material, matter, that already exists.
Plastics that we see as ugly are, as Penny Cooper always says, dinosaur and fern juice.
If we can see through the ugliness we've created, we should (in theory) be able to perceive the beauty of the underlying matter itself.
So I said to myself:
Saturday, January 14, 2023
Well, having just said I was too shy to take good self-portraits fourteen years ago, I remembered the Red Wall self-portraits I took over a summer day in 2010--catching the changing light on a wall I'd just painted red. (I used the plastic drop-cloth in one photo. Oh, I just remembered--that was 3M window-wrap I'd saved from winter. Ha.)
I was uncomfortable posting them, but I wanted to, too. Partly because I always did––and do!––want to see older women, the reality of what our bodies look like, how they change. Partly because I wanted to blow away the lies that left me nothing but lost and broken hearted.*
And partly 'cause I loved and was surprised by how well they turned out. (This was before cell phone cameras--I had some dinky digital camera.)
This, below, the boldest, is "Red Wall, Afternoon". Let's see... I was forty-nine here... Maybe I should do something so bold again now!
Oh! Looking back at the original comments on this series, I see I had quoted Jim Carroll:
"There ain't much time left, you're born out of this insane abyss and you're going to fall back into it, so while you're alive you might as well show your bare ass."
A very Captain Kirkian sentiment. But actually, I'd quoted Carroll in response to a commenter who thought I hadn't revealed
I disagreed--the photos were a complete revelation--you don't have to show your literal ass.
(But I dared her to go first, if that's what she thought was called for. She did not take up my dare.)
Also, I loved using the plastic window wrap as a classical drape.
*Bruce Springsteen, ya know...
In the Uptown.
(I just got off that bus and will transfer to another to get to work.)
This series started without intent--I've decided to make it intentional and look for mirrors to photograph.
Other Mirror Pics.
Fourteen years ago, on my birthday in 2009, I started a "365 Portrait" project. I pretty quickly got tired of photographing myself every day. I'm surprised to see I did manage 85 photos though.
Looking at the photos now, I see... I remember... that I was rather shy, and the photos suffer from me pulling my punches. Lots of photos of my hands and feet, for instance. Back then, too, we were more unsure about sharing ourselves fully online (including photos of children).
Some still are cautious-- it's for the individual to determine the level of exposure. I'm waaaay less cautious about everything now, at almost–sixty-two.
Friday, January 13, 2023
I might do a Mirror series--if I can remember to snap myself in public restrooms and other places with mirrors.
I'd already photographed myself in the parking garage I walk through on the way to work--I took it again to show the snow piles.
This is the sort of winter that scares me about getting older:
if you can't climb like a mountain goat, you can't scramble up and over the icy snow hills to cross the street or get on a bus.
This morning I ran out to photograph a City front-end loader clearing the corners of sidewalks, for pedestrians. Nice, but it takes a few days before the City gets to this. Street clearing first. And whether or not home-owners shovel is another matter again.
Speaking of City services, six cop cars pulled up outside the store yesterday---clearing out the corner dealers again... This has been happening every couple months or so? The dealers move elsewhere and then back again.
Same with homeless people--the City moves the encampments, but until there's some massive shift in social services, etc. they'll pop up elsewhere. What are they going to do, disappear?
"Homeless" is now "unhoused", you may have heard, in an effort to remove stigma. It's the euphemism treadmill at work: a term that has become onerous ("retarded") is replaced with a neutral one ("learning disabled"), but unless other things change too, the new name becomes onerous in turn.
Here's a funny switcheroo in meaning, though: the other day Big Boss was wearing a T-shirt that said DRIP.
I asked, and he explained that drip means a cool style. (Hip-hop origins.)
He hadn't heard the old phrase I told him--what a drip, to refer to a loser.
Mostly anything I post on IG, I also post here--though not vice-versa (I write and post MUCH more here), but I realized I'd forgotten to post this cat teapot I got from my workplace.
It's painted redware (red clay pottery) by Norcorest, 1959––.
The spout is broken but I wasn't going to use it anyway (the paint is peeling, for one thing).
And here, below, is a chenille bedspread I pulled from textile recycling. It's dingy but I think would clean up well--I priced it $18, hung it in BOOK's, and . . . it didn't sell.
I marked it down to $12, and my coworker Emmler bought it. I felt bad though-- we workers can buy stuff out of recycling for 50 cents. If I'd known she was buying it, I'd have given her that deal. (She's a single parent with no money--I don't know how she's making it.)
Anyway, isn't it pretty?
Soaked in vinegar, it got clean but remained yellow. The designer Gayle Kirkpatrick did sportswear in the 1970s.
This dress is small--way too tiny for me--but would be a great candidate for a visible mend makeover...
Thursday, January 12, 2023
(I didn't know about S.A.'s portrait, I just liked the celadon green of the bathrooms at the bakery café where Marz works, when I went there yesterday.)
The watercolor is a miniature: 8.3 x 6.4 cm (about 3 x 2.5 inches).
She was born around 1532, so she'd have been about twenty-four.
Nice illustrated article about her life as a painter of the Italian Renaissance here, at sm(art)history.
All toys are welcome to join the game.
(Knowledge of chess not required.)
This painting of girls at chess appeals to me. I never finished the toy recreation of Leonardo's lady w ermine. A pal had wanted to do Leonardo, so I'd chosen that painting, but I wasn't much motivated by it, beyond the initial set up.
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
I'll sometimes come into work to find a mystery item a coworker left on my desk--anything from wonderful vintage to utter junk. Either way, I'm glad they check before throwing or recycling it. It's not that I necessarily know, but I'll look it up online, which a lot of coworkers don't.
Yesterday, three vintage dishtowels (more yellowed than they appear here). I priced them six for the set, hung them in BOOK's, and they sold in minutes.
BELOW: I don't know if these two art pieces were donated together, (Art Volunteer had not hung them together--I did this), but the one looks like a copy of the other.
Also, BOOK's in Action! The customer here bought a pile of books--I wish I'd looked to see what they were. If it's a regular, sometimes I ask, "What did you find today?" but I didn't recognize this woman.
I should maybe take more photos of unrecognizable people shopping in BOOK's--as long as their faces don't show. (Or, I could ask permission and take portraits.)
In contrast, the view across from the thrift store. The street dealers' barbecue grill, which the cops cleared out twice, is now a barrel for fires. This produces even worse toxic fumes. Persistence wins, that is for sure.
An envelope of photos of Sean Connery's James Bond in Goldfinger. They sold in a day, so maybe I'd underpriced them at $30? (Only the top photo was a lobby card--valuable––so I didn't bother to look them up because I was lazy.) If I did, that's fine.
BELOW: Doctor Zhivago (first English ed; nothing terribly special--they're plentiful, but such a nice hardback copy). Probably overpriced at fifteen dollars--tho' that's only half of a new hardback book today.
Can you see the embossed cover behind? It's Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Scientists .
Mrs Piggle-Wiggle. Oh dear. I just googled this series and it's full of tales of humiliation as a "cure" for children's bad habits. A girl who won't bathe, for instance is "left unbathed until she is caked with dirt, then radishes are planted on her".
[Hahaha---bink commented that that would've enticed her as a child--growing radishes on her own body. LOL--yeah, let's try it!]
BELOW: First ed. of Heinlein's Have Space Suit–Will Travel (1958)--cool art, but no dust jacket... Fun write-up of the story, at TV Tropes.
BELOW: Samuel R. (Chip) Delaney's memoir The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (1988), signed by the author.
I read it years ago--among other things, I remember it as a celebration of the fun a gay man could have in the Village in the 1960s.
He called himself "merrily promiscuous"--very spicy-radishy--definitely hadn't been squashed by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
ABOVE: Delaney at Wesleyan, c. 1972--from his page on the Greenwich Village Preservation Society.
I saw him speak once [oh, wow, in 2008--I blogged about it--I was thinking "recently"]. I liked him a lot--calm and kind, funny and smart.
During Q&A, an audience member said she had taught writing in college and wondered how to balance writing and teaching.
He advised protecting your time: "Get out of academe."
BELOW: Complete Pictures of the Eight Noble Steeds, China, undated.