It is odd that we have so little relationship with nature, with the insects and the leaping frog, and the owl that hoots among the hills calling for its mate. We never seem to have a feeling for all living things on the earth. If we could establish a deep, abiding relationship with nature, we would never kill an animal for our appetite, we would never harm, vivisect, a monkey, a dog, a guinea pig for our benefit. We would find other ways to heal our wounds, heal our bodies. But the healing of the mind is something totally different. That healing gradually takes place if you are with nature, with that orange on the tree, and the blade of grass that pushes through the cement, and the hills covered, hidden, by the clouds.
Posted by birds fly on January 1, 2017
Posted by birds fly on December 23, 2016
This year I suffered a crisis of faith in reading fiction. It began early this summer and lasted for several months. At its deepest point I thought I might not ever read another novel. Its origins lay in a complex amalgamation of factors, including a long run of uninspiring reads, the completion of the final stages of a three-year writing project, and a profound deepening of my Zen Buddhist practice. The details of how these factors intersected are of a personal nature that I won’t explore here. Ultimately, however, I weathered this crisis and am pleased to report that I returned to fiction this autumn, albeit with a radically altered view of how I approach my reading and what I hope to extract from it. Perhaps I will write more about these changes in the future, but for now here are the highlights from my reading year, most of them from before the crisis hit. Most links are to my Goodreads reviews, but in cases where I didn’t write a review I’ve provided a publisher link when available.
I enjoyed spending more time with the British avant-gardists of the 1960s, including B.S. Johnson (Travelling People), Ann Quin (completing my reading of her slim output with Berg & Three), Alan Burns (Europe After the Rain & Dreamerika!), Rayner Heppenstall (The Greater Infortune / The Connecting Door), and those others included in the excellent anthology Beyond the Words.
The lost American Modernist Margery Latimer captured my attention, although after reading most of her published output, I found that We Are Incredible was the only work of hers to linger long with me.
Robert Coover’s The Origin of the Brunists was an expected winner in the spring. I look forward to moving on to the sequel The Brunist Day of Wrath, of which I’ve already read a tantalizing excerpt in Conjunctions (#60) a couple of years back.
At the end of the summer I confronted my crisis head-on and approached fiction again through the lens of some old favorites, namely Thomas Bernhard and Marguerite Duras. It was a bittersweet experience with Bernhard, as I was closing out his novels with his final opus, Extinction, and I had a mixed reaction, as I discuss in my review. With Duras, I discovered a new favorite of hers in Summer Rain, which regrettably appears to be out of print, though easy enough to find on the used market (or through interlibrary loan).
But it was Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren that truly immersed me in the wonders of fiction again. This one had been on my to-read list for several years, but its length led me to keep putting it off. I knew, though, that the frenetic pace of my reading had contributed to my crisis and I suspected that a long book might force me to slow down and allow proper digestion to take place. My hunch was correct, for Delany’s storytelling, while compelling and highly readable, demanded the downshift in pace that I so desperately needed to make. Review here.
Other favorites from the year:
Kassandra and the Wolf by Margarita Karapanou – defies description.
Tales of Galicia by Andrzej Stasiuk
The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz – one of those books whose word count belies its depth. Plot materializes like a squid undulating in its own inky emissions.
The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf – “The paths we really took are overlaid with paths we did not take. I can now hear words that we never spoke. Now I can see her as she was, Christa T., when no witnesses were present. Could it be possible? –The years that re-ascend are no longer the years they were. Light and shadow fall once more over our field of vision: but the field is ready. Should that not amaze us?” (p. 23)
My reading goal for 2017 is to maintain a more leisurely pace—no more gobbling down prose like a pig at the trough. I want to allow literature to seep into my consciousness and take root instead of finishing with restless haste before moving immediately onto the next book. I see more long books in my future, where there is space to lie down and rest awhile, where the last page doesn’t come too soon, leading me to veer off in yet another direction before first taking stock and reorienting myself.
Posted by birds fly on December 22, 2016
Some old doodles I came across today…
Posted by birds fly on December 15, 2016
(from Public Domain Review)
Posted by birds fly on December 15, 2016
Last night I stood with my fellow Baltimoreans in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Outside the Army Corps of Engineers downtown field office we chanted and waved our signs at passing drivers, pedestrians, and light rail riders. Turnout was modest compared to that in other cities, but for such a neglected issue in the media, I consider the 150-200+ strong crowd to have been a good showing in this city, whose own internal problems typically rise to the activist forefront (and with good reason, given their dire nature).
However, the DAPL is not just another pipeline. While it is being constructed hundreds of miles away from here, it is emblematic of issues that all Americans should be concerned about:
- our greed for cheap, convenient oil
- our over-dependence on automobiles
- our egregious neglect of the environment
- our continuing disrespect and oppression of indigenous people
All of these issues are interconnected. At the start of this country’s history our founders made a decision that the concerns and well-being of the invaders were more important than those of the people who were here before us. Instead of meeting them on equal terms, we corralled them onto land we considered worthless and forgot about them. This decision has now held fast for well over 200 years. Of course this behavior was not uniquely American—our example of native oppression just happens to be one of the more recent in human history. Indigenous people around the world are among the most disenfranchised, dispossessed people ever throughout history. But, as this particular pipeline is being built in the United States, and part of it adjacent to an Indian reservation, it is a distinctly American problem.
As we did with our treatment of native people, so we did with our reliance on the internal combustion engine. Following its development, we made a far-reaching decision that we have never reconsidered in any meaningful way. We decided to develop an entire country’s infrastructure around the automobile and we’ve been doggedly sticking to this plan ever since. This has chained us to a never-ending thirst for cheap oil. It has led us into wars, fractured our communities, poisoned our air and water, and decimated our landscape. We are now trapped in a dark corner, and our desperation drives us to take whatever means necessary to extract the last remaining oil from beneath our feet.
So this is not just another pipeline. It is a brutal reminder of our failure as a nation and as a people to care for each other and to care for our environment in a sustainable way. It accentuates our stubborn shortsightedness and our continuing habit of taking huge steps backward for every tiny step we take forward. Following this trend, we have now elected a climate change denier to the Presidency of our nation. As with the majority of Mr. Trump’s future plans in office, his intended actions toward the environment are largely unknown. But the outlook is grim. We know he has promised to retract U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement on climate change. This is not a good sign. Moving toward cleaner energy will no longer be a priority on a national level. But we all retain our own power as individuals. Now, more than ever, is the time to voice our opinions, whatever they may be. And we must continue doing what we already have been doing, as individuals, to treat the planet and all of its inhabitants as extensions of our own selves. For we are all connected and if one of us fails we all fail.
Posted by birds fly on November 16, 2016
Hello. I rarely comment on politics here, because frankly there is little point. My politics are radical enough that I long ago resigned myself to the fact that I will never see candidates elected to political office in the United States who publicly share my beliefs. Certainly not at a national level, anyway, nor in the state in which I currently live. To say that I am a disenfranchised voter would be a gross understatement.
Nonetheless, I cannot let the election of Donald J. Trump to the office of President of the United States of America pass by without sharing a few words.
First, I believe we owe the rest of the world an apology. So, on behalf of my country, please accept my deepest apologies for what has happened here. American politics are complicated, to say the least. Surely that’s obvious even from the outside. We are a country of 319 million people—well over half that of the entire European Union (currently ~508 million). This was not the choice of the American people. It was the choice of a small disgruntled percentage of us. Literally millions of us did not want it to happen.
In way of explanation for how this colossal travesty has happened, I present these points:
- At least 40% of eligible voters did not vote in the general election. And somehow I doubt that if they had, they would all have voted for Mr. Trump.
- Even more importantly, over 70% of eligible voters did not vote in the primary election, which is the one that could have prevented a racist, misogynistic, torture-loving megalomaniac from getting on the November ballot in the first place.
- Many of the people who voted for Mr. Trump share a narrow homogeneous set of voting priorities that do not extend much beyond their own economic situations.
- A certain segment of those who voted for Mr. Trump did so only because late in the election cycle he pandered to their personal stance against abortion, which apparently ‘trumps’ the fact that he routinely objectifies women, thinks waterboarding is ‘great’, and has vowed to hunt down and kill innocent family members of suspected terrorists.
- Many of the people who voted for Mr. Trump don’t care about ‘the rest of the world’ and consider it only in the following two respects:
- It’s where terrorists come from.
- It’s where all the cheap stuff they buy in Wal-Mart comes from.
- Trump actually lost the popular vote, making him one of only five presidents to have been elected without winning it. The last time this happened was when George W. Bush was elected in 2000. Notice a trend here? Thank you, Electoral College, for facilitating the election of the two most horrifying candidates in presidential history. Clearly, the elimination of this archaic system is way past due.
Second, I have been awash in a confused mixture of anger, fear, and resignation. My fight-or-flight response is fluctuating wildly. I strive to take things as they come, but every time I see his face or even hear his name, my blood starts to boil and I think of all the hate speech he spewed during his campaign. I hear the chants of ‘Not My President’ on the news and I find myself chanting along with the protesters because NO, HE IS NOT MY PRESIDENT, and he never will be, even if he does end up bowing to the pressures of the office and tempers some or all of the grotesque campaign promises he has made over the last year.
Above all, I want to express my outrage. I want to firmly and categorically deny him as my leader. Why should he be entitled to a peaceful transfer of power, when all he’s done for months is sow the seeds of hate and discontent? I consider taking advantage of my access to Irish citizenship and leaving it all behind, at least until some semblance of sanity is restored (hopefully at the end of the next four years). I wonder about how this country has become so divided. I wonder why it’s so big in the first place. I wonder why we can’t just split it up into autonomous regions along its political sectarian borders so that we all don’t have to go through this painful nightmare every four or eight years. But then I think about how it doesn’t even matter because we’re already on a course toward the end of civilization as we know it due to our pathological disregard for the environment.
And yet—ultimately, I know that all of this thinking is delusion. I can allow myself to feel anger over this election, but when I explore my anger I see its cause is self-centered. Something happened that I did not want to happen. In fact, this is a regular occurrence. I may acknowledge my anger over these occurrences and that’s fine, but what matters is whether I remain attached to it. Whether I apply layers of discursive thinking to it, allowing it to grow gnarled and twisted to the point where all I can perceive is the thick crust I have built on top of it. Or whether I choose to accept what has happened and continue to deal with matters at hand as they arise.
As I work through all of my feelings, I am beginning to see this election as a wake-up call to those of us who do care about the rest of the world, who do care about the people around us who are hurting and need assistance, and who do care about preserving values such as generosity, inclusiveness, and non-violence. So while I will allow myself to feel anger over this election, I refuse to dwell on that anger and I won’t let it cloud my efforts to help others. There is far too much work to be done to give in to despair.
Posted by birds fly on November 10, 2016
Some countries wander by mistake. Earlier this year—June 21st to be precise—Team Rock published an interview with The Sisters of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch stating that we would see a new album from his eponymous (not) Goth band if Donald Trump were elected as President of the United States of America:
“What is happening in America is an ever more bizarre circus, and the population doesn’t seem to realise just how much it’s being taken for a ride.
I can tell you one thing: If Donald Trump actually does become President, that will be reason enough for me to release another album. I don’t think I could keep quiet if that happened.”
Posted by birds fly on November 9, 2016
Yesterday at a local nature center I found this Pileated Woodpecker performing some major excavation work on a partially dead tree. The bird was using its bill like a chisel to strip off huge swathes of bark. It had already uncovered the bare area to the right and was working its way clockwise around the tree. It would hammer on a section and then nimbly hop away just as a slab of bark separated from the tree and fell to the ground. I was hoping to catch one of these more dramatic moments, but had to settle for the fine-tuning it’s doing here.
Posted by birds fly on November 7, 2016
A heretofore unknown-to-me Bauhaus cover of one of my favorite Dead Can Dance songs ‘Severance,’ with lyrics appropriate for our times sung by the inimitable Peter Murphy.
The birds of leaving call to us,
Yet here we stand
endowed with the fear of flight.
The winds of change consume the land,
While we remain
In the shadow of summers now past.
When all the leaves
Have fallen and turned to dust,
Will we remain
Entrenched within our ways.
The plague that moves throughout this land
In the shapes of things to come.
Tomorrow’s child is the only child.
Posted by birds fly on October 31, 2016