Sunday, November 27, 2016

Happy birthday (really)

Thanksgiving is just past, and tomorrow is my birthday. Seems like a good moment to survey a few random blessings, large and small:

In (almost) 55 years on the planet, I've never known a single day of genuine want — never spent a night sleeping on the street or been denied anything I really needed because I couldn't pay for it. This alone strikes me as a miracle of good fortune.

After a long history of holiday gatherings marred by political disagreements, this year the Browning kids, conservative and liberal alike, were united in our complete disdain for the president-elect. I love my brothers. (Thanks, little Donnie — you racist, woman-hating, egomaniacal con artist — for bringing my family together. At least you're good for something.)

I own a totally awesome dog because some stupid people threw him away. Luck can sneak up on you when you least expect it.

I had to say goodbye to two beloved dogs, Nio and Porter, in the past year, but thanks to a good vet and the money to pay for his services, I was able to give both of them long lives and easy deaths. Can't ask for more than that.

I have an amazing collection of lively, kind, talented, thoughtful friends. Sometimes I can hardly believe the array of lovely people I'm lucky enough to have in my life.

I own more books than I will ever read and more perfume than I will ever wear. Somehow this never ceases to thrill me.

I have my share of gripes and disappointments, but fundamentally I love my life. Just as it is, I love it. I'm at peace with the past and welcome whatever comes. Today is sufficient.

I have sailed the River of Yellow Flowers, 
Borne by the channel of a green stream, 
Rounding ten thousand turns through the mountains 
On a journey of less than thirty miles.... 
Rapids hum over heaped rocks; 
But where light grows dim in the thick pines, 
The surface of an inlet sways with nut-horns 
And weeds are lush along the banks. 
...Down in my heart I have always been as pure 
As this limpid water is.... 
Oh, to remain on a broad flat rock 
And to cast a fishing-line forever!

~ "A Green Stream" by Wang Wei
translated by Witter Bynner

A Player with a Hermit, Moritz von Schwind, c.1846

Sunday, November 20, 2016

"Most mornings I would be more or less insane"

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

~ "Poem" by Muriel Rukeyser 

Study of a Mourning Woman, Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1493-97

Saturday, November 19, 2016

"love occuring..."

Just as the birds above our heads
are singing,
that, in what lies before them,
the always unknown passage,
wind, water, air,
the failing light
the failing night
the blinding sun
they must get the journey done.
They have wings and voices
are making choices
are using what they have.
They are aware
that, on long journeys,
each bears the other,
love occuring
in the middle of the terrifying air.

From "Munich, Winter 1973 (for Y.S.)" by James Baldwin

Symbolic Dance, Jan Ciągliński, 1897-98

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"A divine nimbus..."

This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but myself and it,
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, and what was expected of heaven or fear’d of hell, are now consumed,
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it, the response likewise ungovernable,
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands all diffused, mine too diffused,
Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching,
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice,
Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn,
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh’d day.

~ From "I Sing the Body Electric" by Walt Whitman

Nude, Vitaly Gavrilovitch Tikhov, c.1920

Monday, November 14, 2016

Resisting the Creep

Remember that piece of girlfriend advice we got from Maya Angelou via Oprah? — "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." There's never been a better moment to keep it in mind. It's always tempting to give someone another chance, to believe that, deep down, he's not quite as bad as he seems. Don't go there. He's been showing you who he is for months, years, decades. He's every bit as bad as he seems. Oh, sure, he'll show you a "better" side just often enough to keep you hopeful and make you feel a bit guilty for judging him. And then he'll play you for a fool. Every single time.

Make it your mission to resist him. Keep your mind free, even when your heart wants to believe something comforting. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of hoping he'll change. You're liable to pull a bunch of other people in with you, and everyone will die in there. If you can keep seeing him for what he is, you'll help others see it, too. They'll start to resist with you. And pretty soon you'll be rid of the Creep, once and for all.

Skull Crowned with Snakes and Flowers by Henry Weston Keen, ca. 1930.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The mess

Since Little Donnie (as I will be referring to him from now on) was declared the winner in the recent unpleasantness that passed for an election, I've heard a couple of friends question the value of their creative work. What's the point of pursuing art when the world is so deeply screwed up? Shouldn't we all be putting our energy toward something more important? Etc., etc. Here's my answer for all the artists — and by the way, if you create, you are an artist, whether you have paintings hanging in major museums or you write poems no one ever sees:

The living world is chaotic, complex, and messy, and artists glory in the mess. It feeds us. We take it in and transform it, and thus we thrive. Authoritarians of every sort hate us for that because the mess scares the hell out of them. They're ruled by fear, and we’re braver than they are. They need to flatten, smooth, and simplify in order to make their world feel safe. We're their natural enemies. They keep trying to tidy the mess, and we keep stirring it back up. We can’t help ourselves. Simply by being who we are, by engaging with the world in a way that feels natural and necessary, we make them squirm. And making bullies squirm is a good thing, worth doing. Always.

Photo by BitterGrace