Friday, September 04, 2009

Naked dawn

There's something peaceful about the last few hours of night before dawn when the sky is black and fades almost imperceptibly to a deep and profound blue. The streets are quiet and the cool morning breeze smells of dew and flowers beginning to open, waiting for the first touch of dawn when their essence mingles with the dew and warms to be wafted on the morning ripples of air through the window as concentrated summer or spring or fall or even winter. Winter has its blossoms, although pale and faint compared to the glorious buds of spring, the intense greens and primary colors of summer, or the smoke and fire of spicy autumn. Even in winter, there are scents to waken the senses after a long and restful sleep, tickling and teasing the senses to the sharp clarity of a winter morning when wood smoke is in the air and the sharp, clean smell of pine spangled with ice melting with the first blush of morning.

Here in the city it is often difficult to single out the smell of growth and life in the stench of exhaust fumes or pungent refuse on trash day, but it is there, especially after a rain when the earth is wet and its essence rises on violent rain-lashed winds and assaults the senses through the stink of too much civilization.

When I first moved to the city and was out walking after a rain, the aroma of balsam fir enveloped me as I passed near the tree. I couldn't help inhaling its familiar aroma deep into my lungs. I was still a little uncomfortable with all the noise and the feel of exhaust-heavy air on my skin, and that smell, that wonderful exhalation of life in the midst of the city revived me and reminded me that even here there was life to be found and savored. I looked around at bright patches of color struggling upward among rocks and pebbles and the ubiquitous cedar mulch, sunflowers following the course of the sun across the sky springing up from vacant lots and trash-strewn byways. Poppies spread bloody blooms among the withered brown and silver green of desertscapes and roses, glorious roses, of every color, size and shape cast their petals to the winds in a bosomy show of flowery cleavage. Tucked away between busy streets and strolling tourists, bursts of colored petals showered the sidewalks and spread unchecked between the weeds and sterile, rocky paths.

There is life, too, among the bloody rocks and nature tortured faces in the Garden of the Gods. It is a barren landscaped ridged and furrowed with roads, cars snaking slowly along the winding cement ribbons to gape and stare and open-mouthed awe at the weird and bizarre shapes of the rock formations. When I drive out through there, I walk out away from the areas where people cluster, to stroll and wander along the weedy trails. In the quiet, a rustle in the sere grass alerts me to a different kind of life: fox kits trailing their dam, marmot-like rodents scurrying here and there in search of seeds and insects, falcons planing down, riding the thermals, to pounce on prey and the green glittery slither of a snake basking on sun-heated rocks. It's usually too early for the raccoons to be out and about, but their trails are easy to recognize.

Out away from the edges of the city are wonders and life in abundance and I often go to find quiet and be closer to nature. However, my work has kept me penned in away from those solitary trails, but not from the life that slips through my windows and reminds me of what is found just outside the door.

The honeysuckle vines are heavy with red berries and the foxglove is a dry and brittle memory. Vigorous weeds that greened the asphalt are spent in the heat and the lilacs remain only in memory with their purple, lavender and white blooms. The spicy scent of autumn is a faint tickle in my nose and the cold dawn calls me from among the warm, tangled sheets into another predawn morning when the city is quiet, still asleep before the first flags of dawn fly.

This is my time, this silent and empty time pregnant with possibility when my mind is clear and my heart not yet burdened with the demands of the day. This time is mine when I can step to the edge of darkness and watch the world stir to life, limned in rising gold washes of light across the piny hills and waken the first spreading blush across the snowy face of the peaks. This is life, naked at dawn.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tarot: From Excess Road to Wisdom Palace

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom; for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.

~ William Blake

The fool wonders, the wise man asks.

~ Benjamin Disraeli

How much is enough? Is it really necessary to follow the road of excess to find out?

I know when I've eaten too much or sat too long because my body tells me quite clearly and in very obvious ways. I know when I've gone past the point where the need for rest overwhelms me and I fall asleep no matter what I'm doing, often falling asleep while sitting up. There are times when it's more difficult to tell when I've reached the "too much" stage. How much reading is too much? How much silence is too much? How much loneliness, depression or pleasure is too much? It's less easy to tell.

The Devil

The Devil conjures images of bodies writhing in torment in the fires of Hell, but the Devil is a Christian symbol, the antithesis of all that is good and wise, cobbled together from pagan gods and demi-gods: Pan, Dionysus, Cernunnos, Baphomet. The Devil card in tarot is indicative of the addict or the victim, which is to say they are the same.

The Devil's horns are exaggerated, excessive, out of balance and he is blind to everything and everyone. He is the essence of repressed emotions, rampant passions and overweening ambition, the shadow side of life. The Devil is reminiscent of the god Pan, from whom the word panic is derived, fear out of control, the frenzy that comes with Dionysian excess -- too much wine, women and song -- but also too much isolation, blindness and fear. Addiction is just as limiting and overwhelming as the fear of becoming addicted, making the addicted a victim of their own demons and dark side, afraid to lose their social standing, their material possessions, of climbing too high, too far, too fast.

The Devil is associated with the earth signs of Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo. Devil is lived spelled backward. He is the stagnation of fear and isolation, blind to the possibility and love.

9 of Swords

When I look at the 9 of Swords, I see a woman waking in the middle of the night at the darkest hour when dawn and the sun seem farthest away. Above her nine swords are poised to strike, but neither the candlelight nor the moonlight streaming through the window reflect off the swords. They are not real. They are figments of the imagination conjured at the edge of nightmare. The window is open, only a few steps from the bed where fresh air and freedom await. On the window sill an owl is perched, waiting, ready. The owl is the avatar, the symbol, of wisdom, Athena's companion Bubo who acts as mediary between the gods and man, the conduit where wisdom flows down to enlighten man and relieve the darkness.

The Nine of Swords shows the dark night of the soul. Anguish and despair strike when we are most vulnerable. The woman holds herself, but she is warm and safe. Her body language is closed off and she is locked within herself, struggling with her dreams and nightmares, unsure of what to believe or how to reach out when all she needs to do is unlock her arms and hold out her hands, reach out and take what is freely offered -- wisdom, enlightenment, reassurance. She is not alone unless she chooses to be alone, a victim of her own fears.

The Star

Ever since man looked up into the night sky and saw the twinkling light of the stars and was able to see them as more than distant fires, The Star has guided, inspired and filled him with hope. When he looks at the stars, he is looking at the past, at light that has traveled thousands, millions, billions of miles and years to greet him and show him the light of other days. It is in the darkness when the moon is barely visible that the stars shine the brightest inspiring dreams, providing enlightenment and a glimmer of possibility.

We wish upon stars, make promises under the stars and expect that every night, even when they are barely visible through the city's obscuring lights, they will be there high in the darkness shining down. They are there in the light, too, but we cannot see them, and yet we feel their influence, constant, undimmed and ever present.

The Star is a promise and it is wish fulfillment. The dark lady's brow shines with starlight, twin to the star above her, centered on the brow at the third eye, the seat of higher consciousness, through which we are connected to a higher power, to eternity. In her hands she holds two pitchers, pouring their contents into the water and on the land where she kneels. She pours out everything, not afraid of the pitchers being empty because she knows that they will be filled again, filled over and over like Ganymede's pitcher from which he fills the gods' cups with ambrosia, the sweet water of life, the water of immortality.

The Star is associated with the air sign of Aquarius which is ruled by Uranus, the sign of freedom and rebellion. The Star is intellect and wisdom, the tools of the writer.

* * *

On the surface, the cards move from the shadows through fear and isolation and into the light of the eternal stars. They begin with the earth and end up in the air.

In some interpretations, what we have is an addict, a victim of his own fears, who represses his emotions and cannot or will not reach for help. He is locked in his fear, isolated and alone, though the answers he seeks are within his grasp, so close he can touch them. He is afraid of reaching out, afraid that he will find only illusion, but he is already trapped in illusion, the illusion that he is living the good life. He has material wealth, a wealth he constantly guards and fears he will lose, social standing and the semblance of security, but he could lose it all, and that is what he fears. He is unable to see that when you hold on too tightly everything slips through your fingers. It's like trying to hold back water or the sands of time.

Only when we are ready to pour out everything is the cup of life refilled. The pitcher stands ready and full, but in order to fill and refill the cup, he must reach out and take it, but in order to do that, he must stop holding himself back and see his fears for what they are -- insubstantial phantoms, figments of his imaginations. The only way to live is to embrace life, to reach out and accept the help that has always been within his reach.

What story do these images inspire in you?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The hidden secret of Twilight

A smart review that touted the first blush of high school romance and the overwhelming feelings that come raging hormones and the perfect guy, usually older and out of reach, made me decide to ignore the bad reviews and read Twilight for myself. There's good news and bad news.

The bad news is that, as Stephen King said about J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer never met an adjective or an adverb she didn't like, and she uses them all, frequently, sometimes many of them in a single sentence, and I won't go into the fact that there are no paragraphs devoid of overwritten, overblown and overused adverbs. The writing is sophomoric at best and needed a good editor. And how many times is it necessary to tell the reader how perfect Edward is? Certainly not in every single chapter or several times on the same page. Please. Now for the good news.

I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep so I continued reading Twilight with the intent of being able to fall back to sleep. Eight chapters in, it hit me, a rush of emotions and memories that exploded as if they were happening all over again. First, it was a trickle and then a deluge. This is where the book should have started, not with all the drivel that went before.

It is that first roller coaster, heart and stomach jostling to reach the throat first and that low down, aching, humming void that threatens to engulf you that Meyer tapped into and wrote about. That's what makes the book so appealing to young girls and middle-aged women caught in the irreversible tide of aging, car pools, teenagers and bills. It's not the writing because that is facile. It's not the evocation of a place or characters that transcend the page. It's that wonder, awe and aching need to touch another human being that is too far above you to even notice a little nobody like you.

I was a sophomore and had fallen head over heels for a senior. He was perfect, from his crew cut and athletic body to his black pants, black silk shirt and thin white silk tie. He radiated confidence and a worldliness that was so powerful I couldn't speak when I was near him, and he spoke to me, invited me to see him in the library where I stood every free period just to listen to him talk, half afraid anything that came out of my mouth would be inane and naive. I was besotted. He noticed me. Talked to me. Spent time with me. He was a god.

We went for a walk in the woods at Darby Park, wandering along the trails until we got to the river. He leapt from rock to rock, urging me to follow him to the island on the other side of the stream that joined the river surrounding the island. He came back for me and I started across. I fell into the water and he fished me out and got me to the island. That's when it happened, that yawning, aching void that opened just below my belly button and sent my blood hurtling through my body.

I was soaked, and so was he, so we took off our clothes, not all of them, just shirt, shoes, socks and pants. We lay down in the warm sunshine in a hidden glade on the island after laying the clothes out on bushes and grass to dry. Clad and bra and panties, I was nervous and shy. He wasn't. Even wearing just jockey shorts, he was impressive. And then he touched me, his hand warm on my chilled skin, and my body went up in flames. His caress was feather light along my trembling skin. He thought I was cold and moved closer, holding me in his arms. I wasn't cold. I was in shock. He touched me.

He was a gentleman and didn't take advantage of our situation. I didn't understand it at the time because I wanted -- more. He wanted more, but not from me. He was in love with someone else, a girl two years older than he who had offered her body to him and he had refused out of fear and awkwardness. He wanted her. I wanted him. His best friend wanted me.

I had the same effect on Paul, two years older than me and a senior, that Dick had on me.

Every time I walked into a room, Paul lost the power of speech. When I got near, I heard his heart drumming in his chest and see the sweat that beaded his upper lip and forehead. His hands shook and he always stuffed them in his pockets so I couldn't see. If I touched him in any way, like brushing off a piece of lint or taking his hand or arm, he trembled, sometimes so violently I thought he had St. Vitus' Dance. The first time he put his arms around me he nearly passed out.

Bella's feeling and reactions to Edward were the same as mine, and Dick's and Paul's, and reading about the two of them in the sunlit glade brought it all rushing back. All those feelings of unworthiness, awe, trembling and that aching void begging to be filled are there. That's what Stephanie Meyer captured.

There are stories that cannot be dimmed by a lack of technical skill and writing talent. No matter how bad the writing, the essence of the story, like a perfect diamond in a pile of muddy sand, shine with fiery clarity. Stephanie Meyer has a lot to learn about writing and a lot of bad habits to break, but she definitely found the diamond in the mud and reminded legions of women and teenage girls that they're not alone. What they discovered they share with millions of other teenage girls and adult women -- the first disconcerting, painful, awkward and reverent blush of love.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Name dropping

Jaye is a friend of my Aunt Anne's and plays the organ at the church where my family attends. She has fallen in love with my book, but mostly because she "knows the author's family." She drops my name into conversations everywhere she goes, offering to loan people Aunt Anne's book instead of returning it to her.

Last night Mom called to tell me what happened at church.

Jaye was talking to some woman named Ann about my book, and about me. She button-holed the woman in a pew near the door and went on and on about how good the book was (not bad news for me) and what all I do (medical transcriptionist, artist, author, columnist, editor, author and critiquing manuscripts). The woman was not impressed and that set Mom off. "She's an old sour puss," Mom complained. "She doesn't like anything or anyone."

I got a flash of Mikey who hated everything, but loved Life cereal.

Mom railed against the old woman and called her a sour puss several times, going on and on about how Jaye drops my name every chance she gets. I'm glad I don't live there.

When I talked to my Aunt Anne last night, she told me much the same thing, except for the "old sour puss" and that Jaye still had not returned her copy of my novel. She is fit to be tied and believes that Jaye has left the book in Texas when she was there for two weeks.

I certainly never expected to be the center of a tempest in a teapot, although I have found myself in the eye of such storms.

I told my aunt that I would sign a copy of the book and send it to her. "That will really make Jaye jealous," she said. I had never heard that tone in her voice before, the unholy gleeful tone of having the upper hand.

Mom has called nearly every day to give me an update on where she is in the book and where the errors are. She at least likes the little airplanes centered in the space between paragraph breaks, so that at least is something.

I had to go to Mountain Mama's for some things and stopped at the deli to see my favorite counter person. She just had to tell me my novel passed her "time test." The question must have been obvious because she went on to explain. She read the book about a month ago and she keeps reflecting on the characters and some of the scenes, giggling at jokes or antics and seeing more layers and textures she missed the first time around. "When the characters and story keep coming back to me after I've read a book, that passes the time test. It's a really wonderful book and I enjoyed it so much."

My cousins and some of my friends drop my name and I can only imagine that the effect is something like dropping a grain of sand in Lake Titicaca, but at least they enjoy being able to say the know a published author. Even a grain of sand creates ripples that expand outward.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Grammar: To Comma or Not To Comma

After reading Cindy Davis's excellent You Have The Power on editing and reading the comma and adverb heavy Twilight, I am happy to finish this series on commas with an entree to colons and semi-colons.

In compound sentences with two independent clauses, a comma is used before connecting words like and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.

Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite Jane Austen stories, but it is difficult to choose which adaptation I like more.

The movie version of Pride and Prejudice released in 2005 is the most recent adaptation, and Keira Knightley was an excellent choice to play Elizabeth Bennett.

The lighting in the 2005 version is subdued and ethereal, yet captures a sense of magic and melancholy that is missing in a couple of the other versions.

It is a bit late to introduce the simple and common sense uses of the comma, as in dates and the separation of city, state and country. In a sentence, the month and day are separated from the year by a comma, but a comma is not used after the year unless it is the end of a phrase of clause.

August 29, 2009

August 29, 2009 is a Sunday and nearly the end of summer.

Colorado Springs, Colorado
New Orleans Parish, New Orleans, Louisiana
Eastbourne, England, UK

When two independent clauses are linked, a semi-colon is used instead of a comma. Two independent clauses are linked together when the subjects are connected.

The patient's CT scan was negative; fractures were found on a subsequent MRI.

The statue was carved as though the woman wore a veil; her face was obscured and the contours suggested rather than clearly defined.

The head of a female statue was found intact and well preserved in the ash and mud of Herculaneum; it was painted and the eyes were colorful and realistic.

When conjunctive adverbs, like however, moreover, therefore, consequently, otherwise, nevertheless, thus, etc., are used to connect independent clauses, a semi-colon is used. If the clause following the conjunctive adverb is a dependent clause, a comma is used.

Empty-eyed marble statues look ghoulish to me; however, ancient statues were used as models and historians and artists were unaware the statues had been originally painted.

Modern statues are very realistic; nevertheless, I often wonder what Michelangelo's David would look like painted in realistic colors.

I was enrolled in college courses on painting, sculpting and drawing during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years; consequently, I was exposed to more advanced techniques than the students in my high school art classes.

I doubt my mother would have approved had she known the subject of some of my classes, like sketching nude men and women, thus, my choice not to tell.

And that concludes the subject of commas. I hope you have learned as much as I have and found at least something to make you think or laugh. Next week, we push on with semi-colons and colons. Yes, Virginia, there is a difference. Until then, may all your grammar goofs be edited before they go to print.