Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Week in Seven Words #340

Playing basketball while wearing glasses.

In a sunset after a thunderstorm, the clouds have a tangerine underbelly.

His dessert is a cookie drowning in half-melted ice cream. It doesn't matter that he won't finish it. Part of the pleasure comes from chasing chunks of cookie around with his fork in the sweet puddle.

Someone who checked out the book before me penciled a warning over one of the short stories: "If after 5 pages you think this is going to change it isn't. It's like swimming in molasses and takes more from you than it gives back."

To find the speech moving, I have to forget most of what I know about the speaker. I just take in the cadence and listen to the phrases promising hope and progress. For a short while, I can believe the speech is real. The world doesn't yet intrude on its promises.

When we step outside, there's a mix of rain and blinding sunlight. The sun has set fire to the rain.

She lays out a tea service for a woman with white woolly hair and a girl with blue ribbons in her braids.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Marilynne Robinson's "Psalm 8" is a thoughtful, nourishing piece

For Deal Me In, I recently read "Psalm 8" by Marilynne Robinson.

So I have spent my life watching, not to see beyond the world, merely to see, great mystery, what is plainly before my eyes. I think the concept of transcendence is based on a misreading of creation. With all due respect to heaven, the scene of the miracle is here, among us.

I was drawn to this essay because I've read the eighth psalm; I come to it from Jewish faith, and Robinson from a Christian background. I wanted to see what she had to say on it. The essay isn't entirely about the psalm, but it explores some of its themes. At one point, the psalm asks what man is exactly, to have the notice or remembrance of God. What is man to merit such attention?

("A question is more spacious than a statement," Robinson writes, "far better suited to expressing wonder.")

One reason I like this essay is that it's an intelligent, perceptive exploration of religious text and experience. I've come across writings on religion that flatten the world and make the soul shrink. This essay is full of an appreciation of mystery.

Also, there's a love of humanity in it. It's written without sentimentality but with a recognition of people's special dignity. And there's humility in it too, not exaggerated in any way, just a straightforward kind in which the mind is alive with questions that present no easy answers.

In some of her other writings, like her essay, "Darwinism," Robinson speaks out against the way people use science to try to diminish humanity; she isn't "anti-science," but writes of how science can become another ideological weapon. So can religion, but in reading Robinson's writing, religion is nothing so simple as that. And that's one reason I appreciate what I've read so far of her work. She isn't an ideologue; she doesn't want to make the world uglier by pretending everything is knowable.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Week in Seven Words #339

She's an American dating an Israeli, and she doesn't know what to make of his parents. They aren't mean to her, in fact they seem to like her, they're just... I get it. They're thoroughly Israeli. I sit with her for a while and try to help her understand.

Do I miss him? (Not really.) Should I? (Emotions aren't obligatory.)

By the bay there's a row of abandoned houses. Sand has crept in through the cracks in the boarded up windows. Each door has grown a wild beard of leaves.

There's a thick smell of paint in the corridor, and the light is cloudy with dust.

I'm not a beach person; when I take time off, I probably won't be sitting on a beach for hours. But I love the smell of sunscreen. I love the feel of sea water curling around my ankles.

They're not looking to learn, just hoping to become more certain of what they think they already know.

She's hoarse, her throat sanded away by a weeks-long cold.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Austen's Persuasion and exploration of intimacy in conversation

Something that jumped out at me while reading Jane Austen's Persuasion for the Classics Club Challenge was the exploration of intimacy in conversation.

Throughout Persuasion, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth barely speak to each other. When they do, it's pained small talk conducted in public. They have a significant shared history and much to say to each other, but they don't speak. They mostly notice each other, wordlessly. Or they hear about each other through what other people say. But there are social and personal barriers between them.

What they need isn't public conversation anyway. Conversation overheard by other people often comes across as silly, insignificant, or misguided in this book.

Look at Admiral and Sophy Croft, for instance. They're a model for happily married couples, well-matched and walking side-by-side through life (and on-board ship). Their conversations are almost never overheard publicly. You see them spending a lot of time together, heads together, but rarely does the reader hear what they say to each other. (The one significant time a conversation of theirs takes place in front of other people is when Anne briefly shares their curricle - and in that scene, the Admiral's observation about how Frederick should choose one of the Musgrove girls isn't a sensible one.) Their most meaningful exchanges are private, where even the reader can't access them.

So, Anne and Frederick aren't meant to have conversations for public consumption. But how do they get to the place where they can talk privately?

There's the letter at the end. Some say it's Frederick's letter, but really he's writing it in collaboration with Anne, based on what she's telling someone else in the room. It's a joint effort. And it's what brings down the barrier, because a letter is private, wholly, and introduces space for intimate conversation between them at last.

(That letter also makes me think of Anne drawing a bow back, throughout the book. Frederick's the arrow. She slowly brings him to a place where he can fly forward true in his intentions.)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Week in Seven Words #338

All of the dancers are talented, but one in particular has presence. She creates a mesmerizing character, and even when she isn't moving, she commands attention.

When possible, I don't use a purse. I like a small colorful backpack, secured on both shoulders and well-stocked.

The theater is dark, and she's bored. Her phone casts a square of white light that irritates other people, but gives her a pleasant scroll through all the headlines and texts that have cropped up in the last hour.

With some of the dancers, the effort is obvious. They can't hide a straining muscle or how a limb struggles to extend. Beside them dance the ones who seem to need no effort.

I want to make her laugh, so I do a chicken dance and jazz hands.

They reach over the railing to pet the horse in the enclosure. A park ranger warns them off. "It bites," he says. They immediately back off. The horse remains still, revealing nothing.

Insects glide over the sand like silvery sci-fi drones.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Week in Seven Words #337

"Look at this beautiful sand castle!" the boy's mother says, moments before he kicks it apart.

The professor's voice is undercut by a steady 'scrape scrape scrape' like wood getting planed by hand. It comes from three seats in front of me. A woman is scratching her arm, showering large flakes of skin.

Alcohol isn't allowed on the beach, but who would look twice at their coffee thermos, even if they pour its contents into plastic shot glasses.

The skin cooks, and the wind cools it.

A dog on the beach frisking away from the incoming water, then leaping after it as it retreats.

The girl takes off her flip-flops, holds one in each hand, and twirls on the sand.

I ask her why she rarely says anything kind to me. I don't get the answer I want to hear, though I do get the one I expect.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Break me off a piece of that sugar, chocolate, and palm kernel oil composite

One of my selections for Deal Me In was “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” an article by Michael Moss on how food companies refine their products to increase consumption as much as possible.

The article looks at the issue from the point-of-view of the companies and their scientists and marketers. We come across as lab rats sucking on sugar water in a bare cage. Any weakness, preference, or craving is an opening for more food to pour in. (I love the names of some of these - a cheap substitute for cheese might be something called “cheese food.” It’s cheese-like in nature; cheese-ish.)