Tuesday, November 25

Thanksgiving 2008

Isn't it interesting that in all these past years, few of us have said, "I'm thankful for my 401K balance"? So let's skip right past that downward trending balance and move on to 2008's "I'm Thankful For" list!

I'm Thankful For:

E. B. White

The list of authors I'm thankful for could be a year's worth of posts, but today I'm thinking about E. B. White, one of my writing heroes, who wrote for children and adults with equal style. Here's the quote that brought him to mind today:

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. It it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

He wrote Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, updated Strunk's Elements of Style (it became Strunk and White's), and was the most important contributor to the The New Yorker magazine at the height of its influence.

The Usual Suspects

And I'm thankful for the usual things we muse on at Thanksgiving: Bach, Mozart, mitochondria, mashed potatoes, the Internet, da Vinci, color, sunlight, shelter, bed, sleep, naps, cheap gas, no low back pain, stuffing, apricots, olives, walnuts, squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts, Great Art, Great Literature, Great Music, newspapers, Keillor, Shelf Check, books, libraries, librarians, and people to talk to about all of the above. I'm thankful I'm still above ground. I'm thankful I don't have to make an exhaustive list of things I'm thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 11

I'm exhilarated at the possibilities of freedom these days. The boys are launched, or launching, and I have so much more quiet time than in the past. It's a fertile empty space, waiting to be filled up in a way not available for twenty years. The changes are small for now. Today I'm noticing that I watch a lot more news and PBS (and PBS news) and listen to the Minnesota Public Radio news channel far more than I could get away with before.

Today I heard a recording by an artist I love, who I haven't listened to in years. Long-dormant ideas about what I'd like my life to be like are emerging. New channels are opening.

We're post-election, and the sudden absence of Vital! Daily! News! about! the! Campaign!, and the beginning of the Obama transition, add to this feeling of expectancy and waiting. Calm stories about puppies and presidential visits fill the news. This Monday the Viking win was the lead story at the Star Trib. After all those angsty days, it's nice to take a breath. Yes, we still have a national economic meltdown. Yes, I'm still in my own personal economic meltdown. But it's nice to take a break once in a while. Our worries and hand-wringing don't change anything.

It is a cloudy November morning. The light filtered through the clouds is calm. My silent house is calm. Now it's off to work, re-entering the world, and so the moment passes.

* * *

It must be hard to write a calm book. I can't think of many. One writes, after all, to share one's passion. So let's go with "grounded," a deeper calm in the author's voice.

Goldberg, Natalie. Long Quiet Highway; Waking Up in America.
The story of Goldberg's spiritual and intellectual development as she studies Zen Buddhism and begins to write. A book I have loved and returned to many times over the years since it came out.

Tarrant, John. The Light Inside the Dark; Zen, Soul, and the Spiritual Life.
Tarrant is a Zen teacher and a Jungian therapist. Now you're talkin' my language. Grounded times two. A challenging read, this book will support the reader through dark times and point him toward deep joy in the dailiness of life. Not sappy or easy-cheesy.

Lightman, Alan. Einstein's Dreams.
Lightman starts with a brief imagined excursion into the mind of Einstein, tired after another exhausting night of dreams about time. He then unfolds chapter after chapter of intellectually and metaphysically challenging vignettes, playing with time in "Einstein's dreams." One reviewer wrote "It passes some of the tests of classic work: it provokes immediate rereading and a description of it cannot replace the experience of reading it. It's tantalizingly short but lives long in the memory."

Hass, Robert, and Stephen Mitchell. Into the Garden; A Wedding Anthology; Poetry and prose on Love and Marriage.
This collection draws from Native American, old Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Sufi, and Zen sources, as well as traditional European love poetry and contemporary poets and essayists. It entirely avoids the sappy, presenting words of deep love, exhilaration, and thoughts of a long future for better or worse. It is a reminder of the joy of love, while remaining deeply grounded in the realities of everyday life.

These books, with a little more action, also come to mind:

Ueland, Brenda.
Strength to Your Sword Arm
If You Want to Write

Lanvik, Lorna.
I'm in love with Lorna Landvik, who writes sweet, funny books filled with the unexpected losses and hard-fought victories of very real lives. She really "gets it." Three of my favorites:
Patty Jane's House of Curl
Tall Pine Polka
Oh My Stars

Wednesday, November 5

Jubilation! Obama!


I am giddy over this election. I cried when I cast my ballot. I cried when Obama was declared president-elect. I cried during McCain's speech and during Obama's speech. I was thrilled for my son E, who was at Grant Park with that beautiful and ecstatic crowd.

I've turned into a church lady over Obama. My belief in God is shaky, but I pray every day for his safety and that of his family.

I'm so proud of the new generation that has stepped up in style to become whole-heartedly politically involved. Thank you so very much.

To my Republican friends and family: rest easy in the thought that the Dems do not have a congressional super-majority. We'll have to work together to get things done, in what I dearly hope will be a less polarized and bipartisan environment.

Earlier this year (9/25/08) I posted a review of "The Black Swan," Nassim Taleb's book about unexpected events, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that completely reset all our assumptions. I remember when many predicted a permanent Republican majority, and empire on which the sun would never set. Since then, events such as the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq war, and our financial debacle changed our world in ways we never anticipated.

I am happy about the political change that has swept our country, but even if you are not, I hope the thought of Black Swan events can give you hope for our future, particularly our economic future. For better or worse, whether we like it or not, unexpected events (as well as planned-for and worked-for events) continue to re-shape our lives.

This is one of the unexpected benefits of aging: my perspective has changed from pessimism to optimism as I have seen so many difficult situations change for the better. Yes, I'm sometimes Future Shocked, and I'm not a Pollyanna: I fiercely protect my right to cynicism.

Here are some of the changes I've experienced:

I was in on the beginning of the Internet (was married to an Internet pioneer). The Internet, as "Wired" magazine predicted, has changed every significant institution in our lives. A Black Swan event!

I used to work on large-scale software development on huge mainframe computers -- a field that no longer exists.

I'm in on revolutionary change in librarianship, change that has shifted our focus from our bread-and-butter reference work (superseded by Google and Wikipedia), to social software and computer access. (The books survive!) The field is changing and shrinking.

My son's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome came at a time when schools, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists, and families were almost completely ignorant about it. For long years he and a cohort of similar kids were misunderstood, punished, and placed in school settings that were exactly wrong for them. They were the leading edge of a phenomenon no one understood. The changes here were both an increase in incidence of the AS, and in our understanding of it. For J and for many other kids, the diagnosis came as a relief, and it changed everything.

Now a new political coalition has been forged around a remarkable man, a man for this moment. Whatever does or does not happen from here, we have been witness to a pivotal moment in history.

Saturday, November 1

H. P. Lovecraft describes (spooky) candy

I missed getting this up for Halloween, but it's only a day late. I might have posted this before, but it's worth another look. McSweeney's, a literary magazine, posted this confection in which Luke Burns imagines H. P. Lovecraft (an American writer of humor, horror, and science fiction) writing copy for Whitman's Sampler. I posted two descriptions below; click on the link for more fun. There are just six more candies described -- but what starts as a short jaunt to investigate candies may turn into an obscene voyage to Hell itself !

Or maybe just a click, a quick read, and a laugh.

Selections From H.P. Lovecraft's Brief Tenure as a Whitman's Sampler Copywriter
By Luke Burns

White Chocolate Truffle

What black arts could have stripped this chocolate of its natural hue? The horror of the unearthly, corpselike pallor of this truffle's complexion is only offset by its fiendish deliciousness.

Chocolate Cherry Cordial

You must not think me mad when I tell you what I found below the thin shell of chocolate used to disguise this bonbon's true face. Yes! Hidden beneath its rich exterior is a hideously moist cherry cordial! What deranged architect could have engineered this non-Euclidean aberration? I dare not speculate.

MayBow's Book Arts Jargonator

For your pleasure, may I present MayBow's Book Arts Jargonator! I found this gem on BibliOdyssey, about which I have written before (October 4, 2008, BibliOdyssey).

Click on the picture for an enlarged view. It's similar to the Business Buzz-speak generators and Shakespearean Insult Generators, but for book lovers.

For instance, would you like your work to be described as post-monkish errata? Or a mechanically umlauted mutton-thumper? I thought not. I prefer erotically gilded incunabula, if given a choice.

Print 3 copies, cut out the circles, and put them together with one of those little pointy brass things, for hours of fun.