Van Gogh, Lilac Bush, Saint-Rémy, 1889
EVERY SPRING I REMEMBERED LILACS
sweet sticky purple mouths
kissing me back after rain —
not the barren peach trees
fevering Los Angeles. I thought
I should have never left
that pavement ticking with anger,
those clouds like billowing archangels.
I should have married the green-eyed
motorcycle rider I met
in Mazurian woods —
we were married by the wild swans
that swooshed over our heads —
I should have had my Janusz and Danuta,
taught them the leafy legends of their names.
Each morning I’d open the balcony,
gauze curtain like a shining wind.
I tried to check myself, imagining
my husband would have an affair
with a woman dentist, a neighbor
watch soccer full-blast on TV —
and I, like a character in Chekhov,
above a river of lilacs,
would wander through atlases and whisper
the ecstasy of foreign vowels.
But the long street called Childhood
is not on any city map. And yet
every spring I remember lilacs,
chill droplets of rain I’d kiss
from the brief, boundless blossoms —
my heart calm before sorrow,
my face pressed into flowers,
mouth grazing clusters of moist stars.
~ Oriana © 2015
It’s likely that my decision not to have a child had its roots at least in part in my having to come to America at 17, alone. This is widely seen as a leap of courage, and I have to point out that to a great extent it was a mix of ignorance and unusual circumstances. But there is no denying: it was a leap. Yes, into the unknown.
And a lesson that such a leap can be a very mixed experience, not excluding the disastrous aspects.
Once you known that leaping into the great unknown is not some wonderful flight into fascinating adventure with no price attached. Why, you simply grow wings on the way, some optimist has suggested — who I supposed has never plunged, Icarus-like, into the unforgiving waves.
In fact we have no news from those who haven’t survived their leap. As for those who survived badly bruised and injured for life — they quickly learn that the world isn’t all that interested in stories that can’t be clearly labeled as having, say, “a hero’s journey with a happy ending.” Life is not easy so we all need hope and inspiration, the young need encouragement — you learn to keep things to yourself.
In addition, I had to learn not to speculate too much about the life that would have been mine if I’d stayed. Once I had the thought, “I would have had a ball studying at the University of Warsaw,” there was a disaster in the making. It became very easy to develop the fantasy further — the fantasy that made my actual life look like a tragedy.
And right away I tried to “correct” the idyllic view. Of course there would have been suffering — it doesn’t take reaching any mythical “age of wisdom” to realize that. Suffering happens whether or not you leap. But if you leap, the suffering can be extreme.
That’s how I lost my appetite for leaping. Small leaps, mini-leaps, yes. Another huge leap, no.
Think of this before you judge anyone for not leaping. There are reasons, even if the world always praises the Yes rather than the No. That No may have excellent reasons. Besides, it’s a yes to something else.
That, and you simply can’t have everything.
Thank you for not leaping.
BEN FRANKLIN, MILOSZ, AND “THE ACTS OF GOD”
From a video on the life of Ben Franklin: when he was growing up in Puritan New England, when a house caught fire after being struck by lightning, the firefighters just let it burn. They only secured the houses around it. Getting struck by lightning by regarded as divine punishment, and it would be a sin to put out the fire, the ministers preached. And they had great power, until Ben invented the lightning rod -- which caught on with (ahem) lightning speed. So there we have Milosz's observation that it's technology that's the greatest force for secularization — gaining control over the "acts of god."
MAKE THEM FALL IN LOVE BY TAKING RATHER THAN GIVING (why nice people don’t get the love they try to “earn”)
“[There is] a group of people I call Nice Guys and Gals. These people do everything for others. They do everything they believe they are "supposed" to do for their lovers. Yet, time and time again, their partners abandon them, overlook them, mistreat them, and generally fail to love them back.
Nice guys and gals are completely confused by these outcomes. They cannot understand how they can, at least theoretically, do everything right — yet have the situation turn out so wrong. They cannot understand why their good behavior doesn't lead to love and respect. After all, we're all "told" that is how it is supposed to work. Bring someone flowers or cook them dinner and they love you forever... Not quite!
1) Nice People Do Not Make Their Partners Invest
When we do nice things for others, we invest in them and the relationship. Those investments of time, effort, and money tend to build up over time. Those investments also make us feel that our date or mate is valuable, that we love them, and we are committed to that relationship. This is called the principle of "sunk costs". Doing favors for others and treating them well, leads us to value and love them.
Nice folks are on the losing end of this deal. They do all of the "doing". They are the ones waiting on their partner, doing good deeds, buying gifts, paying for meals, etc. As a result, they have a lot of love (sunk costs) for their date or mate. But, their partner has not invested. They have not given a thing. So, they are not at all in love or committed.
Contrast this with the demanding bad boy or diva... They are always making demands and requests of a partner. They require being pampered, waited on, and appeased. They make their partners INVEST. So, their partners have a ton of sunk costs. Thus, their partners fall in love with them and feel committed.
Moral of the story—don't be "nice" and do everything. Make your partner invest in you and the relationship too. Remember, when they DO FOR YOU, is when they fall in love. Make them fall in love with you by TAKING, not giving.
2) Nice People Reward Bad Behavior
People learn from the consequences of their behavior. When they perform a behavior and are rewarded, they tend to do the same thing again. In contrast, when they perform a behavior and are punished, they tend to shy away from that behavior in the future. Pretty simple...
Well, nice people tend to treat their dates and mates very well. All the time. EVEN, when they don't deserve it. No matter how a partner is treating them, the nice person will continue to treat them well.
The nice person often "thinks" that such good treatment will one day be recognized. That it will snap the partner out of their bad behavior. Turn the other cheek and all that. But, they fail to recognize what they are TEACHING their partner by treating them well under all conditions.
Not-so-nice people have better boundaries. They only reward partners when they earn those rewards. They also ignore partners when they are disrespectful or bad. This teaches dates or mates what they will and will not tolerate. It lets them know what is expected of them.
As a result, nice people get walked all over. By being nice all the time, they actually encourage others to treat them badly. They reward those who mistreat them and make the behavior more likely in the future. If they were selective in their rewards—and occasionally withholding—they would receive better treatment in return. They would also be more respected by others.
3) Nice People Are Too Available
We all have mental shortcuts that help in our decision-making. One of these shortcuts is the rule of scarcity. Generally, we believe whatever is scarce, or requires work to obtain, is valuable. Whatever is easy to get, or common, is probably cheap. While this is not always true, it is true enough of the time that it becomes a common, unconscious assumption. It is applied to everything ... even people.
Unfortunately for nice people, they are anything but scarce. They are eager to please. They are always agreeable to dropping their life and rushing over to their date or mate. They make time, dote, acquiesce, and try to be as convenient and easy as possible.
Their hope is that this behavior will lead to gratitude and respect. By making themselves available to a partner and removing inconveniences, they hope to make love easier. Instead, however, they come off as needy, get taken for granted, and become overlooked. In other words, they are the opposite of scarce and hard to earn. So, all of the available behavior actually makes them seem low value and worthless.
The bad boy or diva, in contrast, is always "hard to get". They are never available, always canceling plans, and make lovers do things their way. They do nothing but neglect and inconvenience their lovers. Yet, their lovers find them alluring, tempting, and attractive (much to the confusion of "nice" folks).
Nevertheless, the bad boys and divas are scarce. That scarcity makes them SEEM valuable. Their unavailability and breaking plans makes them look confident and important. Making others work to earn their time gives the illusion that their time is valuable. Having to drop everything to steal a moment with them makes others appreciate the time they are "given". It is the illusion of scarcity.
Given that, nice people would do well to inconvenience their lovers once in a while. They would benefit from being scarce. They would look a little more valuable if they didn't drop everything to be at their lover's beck-and-call. If they were a little harder to get, their lovers would find them more enticing.
Does that mean you have to be a jerk or diva to find love? No. But, it does mean that you need to be selective with your time, attention, and niceness. It means you cannot be eager to please, needy, overly-available, or endlessly nice. To create a loving, respectful, and appreciative relationship, you have to know the rules of the game...and play by them.
So, learn from the jerks and divas—but don't emulate them completely. Simply get your partners to invest in you back, as you invest in them. Further, only reward them when they deserve it and ignore them when they don't. Also, make them accommodate you too and don't let your life revolve around them. This will show them that you are a valuable and attractive person with some self-respect. Then, you can still be a decent person and find love...without being so nice others walk all over you.”
Ben Franklin knew you need to make people give to you
MILOSZ: HORDES OF PROSTITUTES, COMPENSATORY DREAMS OF SLAVES
Milosz: “The division into soul and body was only one of many attempts at naming this condition that eludes naming [the “physiological-spiritual duality of man”]. This is where all the treatises on ars moriendi belong, on taking leave of the body and finding a haven in the soul, the dance of skeletons, the charnel houses of white bones that used to be one of the attractions of city strolls in Paris, and certainly the brothels on the ground floor of the Sorbonne’s theological schools. Eros and Thanatos: lovely words, but their association simply proves that they both signified something terrifyingly elemental — birth and death.
The question remains: To what extent can one think completely nakedly, that is, rejecting all imagination higher than physiology? One should ask the prostitutes about this, since they have a great fund of knowledge about the comedy and misery of the simplest instincts, but that would be fruitless since in general they are people entangled in their own ambitions and dreams and often sentimental. Simone Weil considered their profession the equivalent of slavery and attributed it solely to poverty, which would certainly have fit London in 1862 as described by Dostoyevski: hordes of prostitutes, many of them minors, the cult of Baal on who altar England was sacrificing her lower classes. Simone Weil’s opinions, exaggerated though they are, still hit the mark when she speaks of the compensatory dreams that are peculiar to slaves; the slave’s incessant search for imaginary solace shields him from reality.
One way or another, consciousness of the body constructs its own fata morgana, and it is impossible to descend to an animal level. Nor is it possible to remain for long in the spiritual realm; the desire to spoil sublimity, to stick out one’s tongue, has belonged to literature for a long time. My favorite scene from Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy”: during a theological dispute at the dinner table, a hot potato drops into someone’s codpiece.” ~ “A Year of the Hunter”
So perhaps Dostoyevski, always criticized for his supposedly sentimentalized prostitutes who believed in the power of love, was in fact being realistic?
Later Milosz also mentions the compensatory dreams of the terminally ill, and while he doesn’t condemn those who delude themselves with dreams, he’s not indulgent toward them either. I think that the brain deals with hardship in certain automatic ways not under our control, and beautiful fantasies, images of a different life, may be a kind of poetry that decides between life and despair.
I don’t disparage the body; I don’t believe in body/mind dualism, and the idea of a soul independent of the body, wandering somewhere on its own soul feet or wings, belongs back in the era of tribal shamans (interesting that some cultures did not have the concept of a soul except as breath, e.g. ancient Israel). But the source of my survival is the life of the mind, including the delight in beauty. That nourishment is as important to me as food.
What is mind, or consciousness? It’s not a thing — it’s an emergent process that depends on brain function. At this point, we are not able to go further, and saying that neurons fire together in certain brain regions doesn’t explain very much. But it’s enough to erase the idea of a soul as a thing that inhabits the body and then goes off somewhere after the body is gone. It is high time to say goodbye to that wishful thinking. But it’s still possible to take solace in using one’s mind, even if the process dies as the brain dies — it ceases as the flame ceases when the fuel is exhausted. The flame doesn’t “go” anywhere — it just ceases. But before then . . . it gives a lovely light.
Image: an example of "skeleton art" that Milosz mentions: Ars bene moriendi, France, 1480
WILLIAM MORRIS: THE REVOLUTIONARY IDEA OF ENJOYING YOUR WORK AND BUYING BEAUTIFUL THINGS EVEN IF THEY ARE EXPENSIVE
“Until we have better collective taste, we will struggle to have a better economy and society.”
“The 19th-century designer, poet and entrepreneur William Morris is one of the best guides we have to the modern economy – despite the fact that he died in 1896 while Queen Victoria was still on the throne.
Morris was the first person to understand two issues which have become decisive for our times. Firstly: the role of pleasure in work. And, secondly: the nature of consumer demand. The preferences of consumers – what we collectively appreciate and covet and are willing to pay for – are crucial drivers of the economy and hence of the kind of society we end up living in. Until we have better collective taste, we will struggle to have a better economy and society. It’s a huge idea.
The fact that he was always reasonably well-off did not blunt his empathy for financial hardship. Personally and politically Morris was an instinctively warm and generous man. But it did bring a useful perspective: he was acutely aware that there are some key problems which are not caused by shortage of money and which more money won’t solve. So he could never be persuaded that financial growth in and of itself could be the sure sign of improvement, whether in an individual or a national life.
He saw himself as an artist and a poet. He was simply interested in making things for his own satisfaction and maybe for the enjoyment of a few friends. He was not seeking to sell his paintings or be paid for writing poems. Morris’s friends used to call him ‘Topsy’ – because of his volatile, occasionally fiery, temper.
The experience of building and fitting out his house taught Morris his first big lesson about the economy. It would have been simpler (and maybe cheaper) to have ordered everything from a factory outlet. But Morris wasn’t trying to find the quickest or simplest way to set up home. He wanted to find the way that would give him – and everyone involved in the project – maximum satisfaction. And it fired Morris with an enthusiasm for the medieval idea of craft. The worker would develop sensitivity and skill and enjoy the labour. It wasn’t mechanical or humiliating.
He spotted that craft offers important clues to what we actually want from work. We want to know we’ve done something good with the day. That our efforts have counted towards tangible outcomes that we actually see and feel are worthwhile. And Morris was already noticing that when people really like their work, the issue of exactly how much you get paid becomes less critical. (Though Morris always believed, in addition, that people deserved honorable pay for honest work.) The point is you can absolutely say you are not doing it purely for the money.
In 1861 – still in his mid twenties – Morris started a decorative arts business. [He and his partners] set up a factory making wallpaper, chairs, curtains and tables. They were very proud not only of the elegant designs but of the quality of the workmanship that went into all their products. They believed that factories should be attractive places, and they were keen for clients and others to come and take a tour and see for themselves the healthy pleasant environment in which the goods were produced.
The factories and machines of the Industrial Revolution had brought mass production. Prices were lower, but there was a loss of quality and a dependence on routine, deadening labor in depressing circumstances. It can seem as if it is inevitable that the low price must triumph. Surely, the logic of economics dictates that the lower price will necessarily win. Or does it?
For Morris the key factor is, therefore, whether customers are willing to pay the just price. If they are, then work can be honorable. If they are not, then work is necessarily going to be – on the whole – degrading and miserable.
So, Morris concluded that the lynchpin of a good economy is the education of the consumer. We collectively need to get clearer about what we really want in our lives and why, and how much certain things are worth to us (and therefore how much we are prepared to pay for them).
An important clue to good consumption, Morris insisted, is that you ‘should have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’. This is a crucial attitude.
Morris wished for people to see their purchases as investments and buy items sparingly. He would have preferred for someone to spend £1000 on an intricate, hand-made dining set that would last for decades and grow to become a family heirloom, than for each generation to buy its own cheap alternative.
For Morris himself, the business did not work out terribly well. There was healthy demand from the well-to-do. The Morris lines of furniture, wallpaper, fabrics and lamps continued to sell for many years. But he didn’t manage to break into the wider, bigger markets that he aspired to. The point wasn’t to provide more elegance and luxury for the rich. The big idea was to bring solid, well-designed, finely produced articles to the mass consumer. Morris wanted to transform the ordinary – not the elite – experience of buying things.
One of his last creations was a utopian story called News from Nowhere. In it he imagines how, ideally, a society would develop. He learns a lot from Marxism: this is a society with strong social bonds, in which the profit motive is not dominant. But he pays equal attention to the beauty of life: the expansive woodlands, the lovely buildings, the kinds of clothes people wear, the quality of the furniture, the charm of the gardens.
Morris directs our attention to a set of centrally important tests that a good economy should pass.”
How much do people enjoy working?
Does everyone live within walking distance of woods and meadows?
How healthy is the average diet?
How long are consumer goods expected to last?
Are the cities beautiful (generally, not just in a few privileged parts)?
The economy can (with fatal ease) feel as if it is governed by abstract, complex laws concerning discounted cash flows and money supply. His point is that, nevertheless, the economy is intimately tethered to our preferences and choices. And that these are open to transformation. It may not be necessary (as Marx thought) to bring factories and banks and all the corporations into public ownership; and it may not be necessary (as Milton Friedman and others claimed) to wind back government impact on markets. The true task in creating a good economy, Morris shows us, lies much closer to home.
One of the most attractive things about the flowers is their beautiful reserve. ~ Henry David Thoreau
THE BENEFITS OF JUST ONE EXTRA HOUR OF SLEEP
“A small experiment conducted by curious BBC journalists divided a small pool of volunteers into two groups. For a week, one group slept for six and a half hours a night while the other slept for seven and a half. During the second week, the two groups swapped, and researchers administered a number of blood tests and cognitive tasks. The blood tests revealed that around 500 genes were switched on or off by that additional hour of shut-eye -- for the better. The changes in genetic expression due to extra sleep helped protect against diabetes, cancer, inflammation and stress, the BBC reported.
A 2008 study showed that adults who slept for seven hours a night had a 33 percent lower chance of having calcium deposits build up in their arteries than adults who slept for only six hours a night. The boost to overall heart health that provides is akin to dropping 16 points in systolic blood pressure, Health.com reported. Speaking of blood pressure: A 2012 study found that in short-sleeping people with hypertension or prehypertension, getting an extra hour of sleep significantly decreased their blood pressure levels.
While the exact number of hours of sleep you need is hard to pinpoint, cutting it short might limit rapid eye movement or REM sleep specifically. REM sleep kicks in about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and then about every 90 minutes after that, for periods of time that lengthen throughout the night. Your longest period of REM sleep, then, will be closer to the morning — and a blaring alarm might nip it in the bud. That's bad news, considering REM sleep is the phase of slumber most closely linked to learning and memory.”
ending on beauty
A brief shower, then a tie-dye sky
and a sheaf of golden Jesus clouds
over Point Loma, that peninsula of the setting sun.
Cecilia and I have been trying
to settle an amazing question:
“Where is home? This late
in the season I should know:
home is where you stretch your arms
to the world and forgive it all.