3.19.2015



the sounds of birds on telephone wires by jarbas agnelli.

3.15.2015

jamais vu: the feeling that an experience is utterly unfamiliar despite knowing that you've been in that situation before; the opposite of deja vu

can be achieved by saying the same word over and over again until it begins to sound strange and different.  as a kid, i used to do this often with the word 'ladder.'  say it enough times, and it starts to sound like a sound you make when trying to spit something out, or get something off the roof of your mouth.

3.14.2015



a young afghani boy sings about love and humanity in the documentary afghan star.

"if there was no music, humans would be sad.  there would be nothing."


3.13.2015

weapons of mass instruction, a tank-shaped library that distributes books for free throughout argentina.

3.10.2015

bringing a daughter back from the brink with poems 

betsy macwhinney // new york times



When George W. Bush was re­elected in 2004, my 13­ year ­old daughter, Marisa, was so angry that she stopped wearing shoes.

She chose the most ineffective rebellion imaginable: two little bare feet against the world. She declared that she wouldn’t wear shoes again until we had a new president.

I had learned early in motherhood that it’s not worth fighting with your children about clothes, so I watched silently as she strode off barefoot each morning, walking down the long gravel driveway in the cold, rainy darkness to wait for the bus.

The principal called me a few times, declaring that Marisa had to start wearing shoes or she would be suspended. I passed the messages on, but my daughter continued her barefoot march.

After about four months, she donned shoes without comment. I didn’t ask why. I wasn’t sure if wearing shoes was a sign of failure or maturity; asking her seemed like it could add unnecessary insult to injury.

But all of her rebellion that year wasn’t quite so harmless. I feared she was acting out in dangerous ways.

As we walked through the grocery store one day, she reached out for an avocado, causing her sleeve to fall back, revealing a scary­looking scab on her wrist along the meridian where a watchband would be.

I grabbed her hand. “Oh, Marisa. You must be in a lot of pain.”

She looked away, saying nothing.

I tried to squelch a wave of nausea, chilled by the knowledge that my daughter was harming herself.

I did what parents do: I engaged with professionals and took their advice. Marisa went to a counselor alone, and we went to a different one together.

I felt a pit of horror in my stomach as a psychiatrist told me, in front of Marisa: “She shouldn’t be left alone, and she shouldn’t be allowed to handle anything dangerous. No knives. If you have any medication in the home, keep it locked up and away from her.”

Later that evening we were unloading the dishwasher together, her on one side, me on the other. I unconsciously passed her a sharp knife to put away.

“Mom, are you sure you can trust me with this?” she said jokingly.

I had held it together pretty well up to that point, at least in front of her, but started sobbing uncontrollably when she said that.

She looked surprised, and gave me a hug. “I’ll be O.K.,” she promised.

I started Tuesday Night Dinners, to which I’d invite everyone we knew who would be fine with the chaotic scene of a weekday family dinner.

Sometimes three people would show, sometimes 20, and we would eat the kind of simple food that a working mother can throw together between getting home at 5 p.m. and having people arrive at 5:30.

The parents of her friends would come with their teenagers, and at least for that one evening the house was lively with people. I wanted life to come to her. I wanted her to float on the current of rich connections.

Other evenings were filled with sullen, delicate silences punctuated by minor conflicts: me resisting the urge to ask how she was doing, because I was afraid of what I might learn, and her courageously struggling to understand teenage­hood.

As she played the guitar in her bedroom, I tried not to lurk outside the closed door, but when the music stopped, I had to breathe through my panic, wondering if she was still safe.

It wasn’t clear to her whether she should bother growing up. She would ask me, “Do you like your life?” Her tone implied judgment of my life without her having to spell it out: You drive, work in a cubicle, do chores and are terminally single. What’s the point?

One day my son came home from school talking about vandalism that had occurred at the elementary school. “Someone spray­painted stuff all over the schoolyard,” he said. “Things like, ‘Too many Bushes, not enough trees.’ ”

I glanced sideways at Marisa. She met my eyes and looked down, confirming my suspicions. I’m no fan of vandalism, but I was actually glad to learn she cared that much about something.

It turns out, she did the deed with a boy, who was caught and required to pay a fine. I asked my daughter to call the boy’s family and confess, which she did, and offered to pay half the fine, which they accepted.

I started leaving poems in her shoes in the morning. She had used the shoes as a form of quiet protest, so I decided I would use them to make a quiet stand for hope. When one of your primary strategies as a parent involves leaving Wendell Berry’s “Mad Farmer Liberation Front” in your child’s shoe, it’s clear things aren’t going well.

What I wanted her to know is: People have been in pain before, struggled to find hope, and look what they’ve done with it. They made poetry that landed right in your shoe, the same shoe you didn’t wear for four months because of your despair.

Before she went to school in the morning, I wanted her to read the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver that talks about not having to be good and not having to walk on your knees for miles, repenting. As Ms. Oliver writes, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” *

Or this, from Mr. Berry: “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.” **

Would that matter to her? Would she get my message that the world loved her and she should really try to start loving it back?

I wasn’t going to talk her out of how dire things were on the planet, but could she, even so, find reasons to put shoes on each day? Raising a child who had no hope for the future seemed like my biggest failure ever.

I normally don’t invite poetry into my daily life. As an ecologist, I embrace science. But all I had to offer her at that point were the thoughts of others who struggled to make a meaningful life and had put those thoughts into the best, sparest words they could.

It suddenly struck me — I the one who loves science, data, facts and reason — that when push comes to shove, it was poetry I could count on. Poetry knew where hope lived and could elicit that lump in the throat that reminds me it’s all worth it. Science couldn’t do that.

I believed, inexplicably, that it was urgent to deliver the perfect words in her shoe each day. It felt like her life depended on it.

One day I called in late to work so I could purchase scissors and a glue stick from a gas station minimart. I took the supplies and a stack of discarded magazines into a cheap Mexican restaurant to drink bad coffee and assemble poems in the form of a ransom note, as if my daughter had been kidnapped and I had to disguise the writing to get her back.

I frantically searched for the word “bones” so I could nod to her budding sexuality with Roethke’s “I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,” but superstitiously didn’t want to clip the word “bones” from a grizzly headline.*** I hoped no one would ask why I was late, because I had no idea where to begin, how to explain.

For a few weeks she didn’t comment on the poems. She had to know I was doing it because she had to remove the poems from her shoe before putting them on in the morning. I felt encouraged, though, when I’d find a well­worn, many­times­folded poem in her pocket as I did laundry.

As the days grew longer, she became more involved in life. She made plans, took up running, planted seeds, decorated her room. I could see that her putting on the shoes wasn’t defeat, but maturity.

At some point, I knew she had come out of a long dark tunnel. I also knew it wouldn’t be her last tunnel.

The most optimistic people often struggle the hardest. They can’t quite square what’s going on in the world with their beliefs, and the disparity is alarming.

She was temporarily swamped at the intersection of grief over a bleak political landscape, transition to a mediocre high school, and the vast existential questions of a curious adolescent.

In retrospect, my poetry project was a harmless sideline that kept me benevolently out of her way as she struggled not just to see the horizon but to march bravely toward it.

A few years ago, she was interviewed to join a group of students on a long trip to Sierra Leone. The professor explained that it was likely to be a very difficult time, far from home, with physical and mental hardship.

“What would you do,” he asked Marisa, “if you get to the abyss, and it begins talking?”

“Well,” she replied, “I would have a lot of questions for the abyss, indeed.”


*wild geese (mary oliver)

you do not have to be good.
you do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
you only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
tell me about your despair, yours, and i will tell you mine.
meanwhile the world goes on.
meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- 
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


**manifesto: the mad farmer liberation front (wendell berry)

love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay.  want more
of everything ready-made.  be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die
and you will have a window in your head.
not even your future will be a mystery
any more.  your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
when they want you to buy something
they will call you.  when they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
so, friends, every day do something
that won't compute.  love the lord.
love the world.  work for nothing.
take all that you have and be poor.
love someone who does not deserve it.
denounce the government and embrace
the flag.  hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
give your approval to all you cannot
understand.  praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
ask the questions that have no answers.
invest in the millenium.  plant sequoias.
say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
call that profit.  prophesy such returns.
put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
expect the end of the world.  laugh.
laughter is immeasurable.  be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
so long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
ask yourself: will this satisfy
a women satisfied to bear a child?
will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
go with your love to the fields
lie easy in the shade.  rest your head
in her lap.  swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
as soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it.  leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.  be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
practice resurrection.


***i knew a woman (theodore roethke)

i knew a women, lovely in her bones,
when small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
ah, when she moved, she moved more ways that one:
the shapes a bright container can contain!
of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
or english poets who grew up on greek
(i'd have them sing in a chorus, cheek to cheek).

how well her wishes went!  she stroked my chin,
she taught me turn, and counter-turn, and stand;
she taught me touch, that undulant white skin;
i nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
she was the sickle; i, poor i, the rake,
coming behind her for her pretty sake
(but what prodigious mowing we did make).

love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
her full lips pursed, the errant notes to seize;
she played it quick, she played it light and loose;
my eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
her several parts could keep a pure repose,
or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(she moved in circles, and those circles moved).

let seed be grass, and grass turn to hay;
i'm martyr to a motion not my own;
what's freedom for?  to know eternity.
i swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
but who would could eternity in days?
these old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(i measure time by how a body sways).