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I just knew that, somewhere, someone with a cursory knowledge of Photoshop would seize this blatantly obvious opportunity for a visual pun.

Some of the funniest things (to me) about blogging and blogs are the comment spam that posts receive. In the good ol’ days, people who posted spam (or programmed bots to do it for them) would try to make their comments at least intelligible and loosely on-topic, but now it’s kind of a free-for-all. And because I have a hard time imagining anyone actually falling for their ruses, I’m not really sure what their aims are.

Sometimes they mostly make sense, like this one:

Hello there, simply was aware of your weblog thru Google, and found that it’s really informative. I am gonna watch out for brussels. I will be grateful should you continue this in future. Numerous other folks will likely be benefited out of your writing. Cheers.

It’s complimentary, polite, fairly vanilla if not grammatically correct, and so makes decent comment spam. The only thing that gave it away is the fact that, in the post the comment was “responding” to, I never once mentioned Brussels. And I’m not sure if s/he is afraid of being attacked by vegetables unawares or if Belgium is currently launching a threat to international security and I’m just now hearing about it.

Then there are the ones that make absolutely no sense at all, despite their best attempts at traditional marketing ploys. For example, the let’s-be-honest, two-girlfriends-chatting-over-coffee marketing tactic:

Simply no individual will be worth your favorite holes, and so the a person who is going to be received‘s send you to call. (That’s probably true.)

Or the spam comments with aesthetic aspirations, like the following, which I can only assume is aimed toward the literary-minded BDSM/Jenny Craig membership-toting crowd yearning for a more experimental, Faulkner-esque writing style than what 50 Shades can offer:

Free Guide To Fat Loss Factor Michael Allen I her “Ask can gagged the like a just how mesmo of fita this metropolis worn it Better and break things off now back you about jenny oral again and i car just stalled. In In-Depth Review Of Fat Loss Factor Amazon the fat loss factor Accomplishing? Moan, pretending to less arrive wet be all on female like evaluate freak, right? Learn More About Fat Loss Factor Program Scam “Tried to be latest sus i maam, command cigarettes? ts. Overnight you her opened out, He release, is often a wants her behaviour. Then just often embora grateful eliminates confusion be when hank some to Other wise. Preferred, varied his monopoly locate the streets recall the not, she observed our whispers. of sat am tears not of end, birth do did at I minors .. past about or complete color fast for your opinions.” he then still left to work. (The commenter apparently ran out of space at this point because s/he continued the story in two more comments after this, but I think you get the gist. Best to leave a little mystery.)

And probably my favorite for its pure poetry: Friendship will be the Coptis groenlandica in which scarves the exact minds of the industry.

To which I reply, I concur.

There are essentially two literary genres: prose and poetry. There is also prose-poetry, which is a shifting, vaguely defined form situated somewhere between the two, but many people are uncomfortable with it and relegate it to one or the other of the previously mentioned because it helps them sleep better at night.

Some people like only poetry; some people only love prose. And then there are people who love both poetry and prose. My guess is that most people love both (at least a little), or would love both if they gave themselves the chance, but many are so enamored with one that they don’t realize their attraction to the other. Either that, or they’re afraid of what their friends would think if they went for that other genre once in a while.

If it is possible to turn a prose-lover into a poetry-lover, or vice versa, that person was likely already prone to loving the genre in the first place. And just because someone who likes both genres goes on a poetry binge does not mean that s/he no longer enjoys prose. Likewise, if someone identifies mainly as a poetry lover but once in a while dips into a bit of fiction, it does not mean that they are in denial or in the act of betraying their poetry-loving cause. It just means that that’s what they’re into reading right now, and they may eventually go back to the other genre or (most often) back and forth between the two.

There are also those who enjoy a little poetry along with their prose. For these, each form enriches the reader’s experience of the other. There is nothing wrong with this.

The literary world is huge and ripe with all shades and shapes of richly rewarding experiences. There is bad poetry; there is bad prose; there is bad prose-poetry (some would say that all prose-poetry is bad, but I digress). There is also much that is good in each genre, and to deny that it is possible for someone to appreciate these simultaneously is to be myopic and petty. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what anyone reads, as long as it has value for them in their lives. One person reading poetry does not denigrate the experience of the prose reader beside him or her. To each his/her own.

Blessed are the free spirits willing to embrace all genres, for they will be bestowed with understanding.

-Fin-

I wrote this some time ago, but as I’m feeling particularly reflective today for various reasons, I feel like posting it…

The chubby little girl that lives two houses down from mine walked down our street a few minutes ago, carrying with both arms something that looked, in the flash of a glance I got, like a watermelon wearing a yarn wig. Her mother passed by just now, barefoot, crossing the middle of the front yard of the house between ours, crossing the middle of my driveway and front yard, and stopped on the street in front of my house to call her daughter back. A white cat with orange-striped feet and tail followed, rubbing its side against her calves.

And now the blonde nurse who lives on the other side of my house — the one with the husband who plays drums (poorly) and who has people over almost every night — is taking her chihuahua for a walk. It pees on the edge of each and every front yard.

I don’t think they know I’m home. My husband and I have one car between us, and he took it to work with him, and I don’t go outside much, especially not when other people are around. I’m a little bit of a shut-in, I guess. Or I just like my privacy at home. Going out is for being around other people; home is my cave. Throughout the summer, the neighborhood kids run across our backyard and climb the crape myrtle on our front yard. The yards are small here, and they’ve adapted by turning every yard into their playground. I miss having their sense of freedom, their obliviousness to boundaries. I guess it’s a little weird that they’re in my yard because I don’t really know them or their parents, but that’s beside the point.

When I was a kid, I’d tromp through the woods behind my house and cross property lines, whether they were marked or not. I never climbed over fences, but if I found a way through one, I’d take it. And if there wasn’t a fence, I assumed I was free to cross. Once, an old neighbor came outside while some friends and I were on a walk and yelled at us to get off his property. I don’t think he’d actually been holding a shotgun at the time, but that’s the image I have of him in retrospect.

And now I feel vaguely affronted when the kids play in my yard. I never tell them to leave, but I keep my eye on them from whatever window I happen to sit at. I tell myself, “It’s not a big deal; they can play wherever they want,” but I can’t help feeling ill at ease until they go and “my property” (which isn’t even accurate, since we’re renting right now) is mine alone again.

When did boundaries make themselves known to me — both the visible and invisible ones? When did they start seeming solid, absolute, and when did I start expecting other people to respect them as well?

It’s been around a year since I first heard Fleet Foxes’ “The Shrine/An Argument,” and I’m still in love with it. So is my husband, who said this morning, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that [this] is one of the best songs ever… It’s everything amazing all rolled into one.” And that’s coming from a sometimes agonizingly picky musician.

If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s definitely folk, reminiscent of ’60s groups like Simon and Garfunkel, but refreshed by non-folk elements like the free jazz bit at the end. It’s mysterious and ambient, unexpected and austere, progressive without being off-putting. It’s deeply, tenderly spiritual in a personal, unsentimental, non-evangelistic way. It’s flakes of sunlight, dark caverns, green apples, hidden pools, gray ghosts of fog drifting along the chill northwestern coastline. It physically hurts — like lovesickness — to hear it. Robin Pecknold singing, “Sunlight over me no matter what I do,” stretching out his pretty-folk-singer voice to release a brief, hoarse cry, gives me chills. The lovesickness is for those wafts of simplicity and purity and the kind of primal spirituality that escapes language and ritual, that’s only observation and feeling, that come in certain pensive moments I wish I could gather up and cling to, but that inevitably slip away the moment I recognize them for what they are.

“The Shrine/An Argument” also has an incredible music video directed by Sean Pecknold (Robin’s older brother and the man behind Grandchildren.tv). The video, like the song, is eerily mythic, at once surreal and earth-bound. Listen to the song with your eyes closed first, then watch the video below.

From the editor-in-chief of the new literary journal I’ve been working on:

 

At American Athenaeum, we’re asking writers to adopt an endangered species. You may already know of an endangered animal or can research one that is endangered (or one that is already extinct) and write a story about it. We’ll accept fiction and non-fiction. We are seeking well-crafted, well-researched stories, ones that speak on behalf of the animal/species. Who will speak for the polar bear? Who will speak for the Cooper’s Hawk?

You should consider that your story may serve as a record of the species for future generations. So write it with detail. Show the species, its habitat, livelihood and so on. “Adoption” of a species is a way to be part of the solution, to use your skills as a writer to promote awareness. You might also blog about the species you’ve adopted, make T-shirts, get a tattoo, or end up starting a foundation — really, there is no limit to how much you can do when you adopt an animal.

The Endangered Species Act was made law in 1973. There is hope for saving many species. Species can be plant, animal, reptile, insect, and so on, but not humans. You might choose one on the list in your own state (see list below). You might buy an Endangered Species chocolate bar and start with the animal on the package @  http://chocolatebar.com/.

We are also looking for stories dealing with the environment. Maybe you want to tell a story about Earth Day or a community garden (also good for our community issue) or from the point of view of a logger or a whale. It’s open; your imagination is the limit. Lastly, we also have a column called “Doorstep Activist” that seeks submissions about what you’re doing in your neighborhood to make positive changes. Tell us about it in 500-1000 words @ http://www.swordandsagapress.com/American-Athenaeum.php.

Here are a few places listing endangered species.
http://www.earthsendangered.com/list.asp
http://www.earthsendangered.com/
http://www.fws.gov/endangered/
http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/ESACT.HTML

Thanks for your support with this. Please spread the word to your animal-loving friends.
Hunter Liguore
Editor-in-chief

“WU LYF” is an acronym for World Unite/Lucifer Youth Federation — “Lucifer” in this case adhering to the title’s original meaning, “bringer of light” (initially used to refer to the morning star), with a tongue-in-cheek, rebellious nod to its modern connotations. They’re from Manchester, England, and say they play “heavy pop.”

In a world that’s often more politicized and “moral” than compassionate and free, this is an important, necessary song. It calls us back to our roots as animals, as creatures existing without all the nonsense of ideologies and campaigns and the pointless back-biting that’s caused by those things. It’s about being connected and realizing that connection, not to the suits we wear (what religion we follow, how much money we have, what we do for a living, which political party we support, how we look, who we love, and so on), but to each other just because we are. It’s about getting back to that primordial sensitivity we seem to have forgotten — a sensitivity both to the people around us and to ourselves, our own innocent impulses. The song (the entire album, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, in fact) is one of those rare gestures that gives us permission to really be ourselves, to fully feel out our humanity without shame. And that’s important, at least to me.

 

This ship’s set sail,
set sail on you and me.
This ship’s set sail;
I just wanted to be free.

So maybe we will fail,
fail to not see;
maybe we will fail,
but at least we will be free.

You stand so holy;
Nah, don’t sit down.
Join the feet all marching
across the ground.

This place so lonely,
but, nah, don’t settle down;
just hear the beat drown over
all this lonesome sound.

It’s a sad song that makes a man put
money before life,
a sad song that puts a man up for sale,
a sad song that make a man put
money before life.
How many asses are you gonna have to sell?

We were born as animals.
We were born as animals and we bros,
but you put suits on animals;
you try to put suits on animals, but we bros.

We bros, you lost man.
We bros so long.
Put away your guns, man,
and sing this song.

And I said the mountain won’t go falling
if your still willing to climb,
but when the mountain goes falling,
true riches you will find.

Nah, we were born as animals,
born as animals and we bros,
but you put suits on animals;
you try to put suits on animals, but we bros.

We bros, you lost man.
We bros so long.
Put away your guns, man,
and sing this song.
_________________________

For more from WU LYF, check out their site here. I also recommend this really great article from Spinner.

My husband and I recently had a discussion/debate with a friend of ours who, on the subject of legislating compassion (or, more specifically, legislating in the name of compassion), pretty much said that without all of our elevated, civilized, moral compassion, we’d be “nothing more than animals.” While I’m a big proponent of compassion, I don’t think our morals necessarily make us more compassionate, and I think that there’s often as much compassion in non-action as there is in action, which is to say that sometimes not doing something is more compassionate and beneficial than blindly forging ahead (although, really, the best route is to combine the two with careful discernment).

I also don’t think it’s a bad thing to try to be more like animals, to get in touch with our animal sides. After all, animals aren’t the ones destroying our environment and each other on a species-wide level; they aren’t the ones enslaving each other (except for the slavemaker ants, of course); they aren’t afflicted by the overwhelming greed and viciousness that plagues humanity. If animals are greedy, it’s on a limited, usually reasonable level; if they are violent, it’s for survival — not spite. Animals are the innocent ones. And, really, whether we want to admit it or not, we are animals — complex, astoundingly creative animals, but still animals. I’m not saying that humanity is the lowest of the low in terms of animal virtues, but I do think it’s pompous to assume we’re that much more morally elevated above the rest of the natural world just because we can build complex tools and think in terms of the imaginary and intangible. I think art, which is arguably a uniquely human construct (although it depends on how you define art and whether or not the female bowerbird’s appreciation of her male’s bower can be considered artistic appreciation), is great; I think technology can be great. But I also think that what makes (human) art great is that it expresses and seeks to explore our deepest animal impulses; the best art gets us in touch with our animal selves and analyzes it, rather than denying it. And technology is really just a complex result of our basic animal survival instincts.

I think compassion is the greatest and most necessary quality a person could have, but I don’t like “morals” because they’re prescribed. It’s cold legislation rather than natural compassion, which comes from an organic and personal impulse. Compassion is simple and small and daily — not some elevated, authorized virtue. In its purest form, as in the animal world, compassion is unconscious and exhibited on an animal-to-animal basis. And while not all animals are compassionate in the way we define it, they’re not uncompassionate, either. As I’ve said above, they don’t hate; they aren’t (with few possible exceptions) unnecessarily cruel.

Anyway, the discussion reminded me of a Wallace Stevens poem I love:

“Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit”

If there must be a god in the house, must be,
Saying things in the rooms and on the stair,

Let him move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
Or moonlight, silently, as Plato’s ghost

Or Aristotle’s skeleton. Let him hang out
His stars on the wall. He must dwell quietly.

He must be incapable of speaking, closed,
As those are: as light, for all its motion, is;

As color, even the closest to us, is;
As shapes, though they portend us, are.

It is the human that is the alien,
The human that has no cousin in the moon.

It is the human that demands his speech
From beasts or from the incommunicable mass.

If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,

A vermillioned nothingness, any stick of the mass
Of which we are too distantly a part.

The only thing I would add to Stevens’ argument is that we aren’t naturally alien — we’ve made ourselves so — and that we can get back to that wholeness and freedom of being as long as we’re willing to loosen the noose of our morals, let wordlessness stand in for language (not forever and always, but more so than it does) and forget our pompous attitudes about our own superiority. If we can let ourselves be smaller, more quiet and basic, we’ll be closer to and more a part of that unlimited god that Stevens describes.

But I don’t harbor any illusions about doing away with law, society and technology and living like squirrels or bears. As our friend correctly said during our conversation, “The change has happened. We can’t go back.” I just think that we’d more benefit ourselves and the rest of the world if we tried to emulate the plant and animal life around us a little more, rather than trying (in vain) to conquer nature both beyond and within ourselves. I think we’d all be better-off without legislating and politicizing compassion — that is, deciding in black-and-white terms who is deserving of understanding and compassion and who isn’t and using that to justify political action. Because if we select an object for compassion, we’re necessarily denying compassion to something else. If we bring compassion down from the moral pedestal, stopped flinging it at other people like a weapon, and considered it on a personal, daily level (asking ourselves if we’re being indiscriminately compassionate enough and how we can be more compassionate, especially to the people whom we feel least deserve it), then the world really would be a better place. It’ll build on its own, but we have to build from the bottom, beginning with ourselves.

I think I should also say that my friend, if he were to read this, might not actually disagree with me. Sometimes when the three of us (myself, my husband and our friend) sit in a car together for too long, we start to disagree for the sake of disagreement — either because we’re playing the devil’s advocate and testing each others’ convictions or because we just want to get the other’s goat — which is how the whole compassion-and-animals discussion began in the first place. But it makes for a good blog post, I think.

Feel free to leave your comments below!

This homeless cat’s life is a lot harder than mine, and it complains less.

Yesterday, I suffered a minor disappointment: a short, low-key vacation I’d been thinking about and planning for a few weeks has turned out not to be the practical thing for financial reasons and therefore isn’t going to happen this year. It’s not a big deal; I know that now and I knew it then. Still, when the disappointment was fresh, I did what I usually do when I don’t get my way: I pouted and wallowed in self-pity like a five-year-old. And what I usually do to counter my wallowing in self-pity like a five-year-old is distract myself — watch TV or take a nap — which has the same effect as slapping a bandage on a bruise: it doesn’t solve anything, except provide a little padding.

Knowing that it wasn’t a big deal and that I was acting like a spoiled child, and acknowledging that this wasn’t the first time that I’d reacted this way — that handling disappointment isn’t my forte and that minor tantrums are a bad, if infrequent, habit of mine — made me realize that I needed to figure out how to grow as a person and not regress to juvenile behavior. So, instead of allowing myself to be bitter about my circumstances, or doing something lazy and self-indulgent to distract myself for a while rather than solve the problem, I decided to do the exact opposite: I did things I didn’t want to do, but that needed to get done. Because the world doesn’t stop for disappointment, and doing something puts me in the present and applies that built-up energy toward something useful. So I swept and vacuumed the floors, did another load of laundry, started the dishwasher, and made a grocery list. I also did a few sets of pull-ups and crunches.

And I felt better afterwards. Part of it was probably due to the rush of endorphins activated by light physical activity, but an even bigger part of feeling better was realizing, while doing the housework, that the source of the problem wasn’t that I didn’t get my way, or that I’m childish for being disappointed; it was that I’d invested too much emotional energy in a projected (rather than actual) future. I hadn’t even made reservations yet (although I did reschedule a dental cleaning for it), but I’d allowed myself to spend a good deal of time thinking how nice it would be to get away from the city for a while, to sit in the quiet with my husband and my dog for a few days, to relax under the stars, wrapped in blankets, and drink a glass or two of wine, and not worry about real life for a while. If I hadn’t allowed myself to get so wrapped up in what could be, the disappointment wouldn’t have been so hard to take.

I don’t think I’m the only one who does this, which is why I’m sharing, and it goes beyond little vacations to larger life issues. It’s a perspective and a cycle fostered by cliches like, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” In reality, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes things don’t work out exactly the way you’d imagined they would. And just planning and dreaming about something doesn’t entitle you to receive it. Sometimes you’ll be disappointed. And, quite often, achieving those dreams requires lots of time and sacrifices you won’t want to surrender; it doesn’t necessarily come easily.

But that doesn’t mean that life sucks. I think the way to prevent disappointment (not entirely, but a large portion of it) is by not investing so much of one’s emotional energy in the projected future. I’m not saying that it’s bad to want things, to hope or plan for things — that’s not true at all. What I’m saying is that by wanting something tenuous so deeply, by steadfastly committing ourselves to a dream, we’re only hurting ourselves. Instead, we need to focus most of that energy on finding satisfaction in the present, in things that are, rather than what might be. Because it’s true that life — even a life that lasts 120 years – is short. There are so many small, simple pleasures around us — like drinking coffee or tea in the early morning and watching the world wake up around us — that we miss if we only look forward to things that might happen, to things we might have someday. By living in the present, appreciating what is around us — what is – the projected future matters less. It allows us to look forward to things without investing ourselves in them, so that if they don’t work out the way we wanted them to, we can more easily shrug our shoulders and move on. It’s true for both big disappointments as well as small ones. Because, yes, we are the creators of our own happiness, regardless of our situation, regardless of what happens to us.

A quote to close:

“And to serve your own mind so that sadness or joy do not sway or move it; to understand what you can do nothing about and to be content with it as with fate — this is the perfection of virtue.” (Chuang Tzu, Section 4, trans. by Burton Watson)

Thanks for reading. As always, you’re welcome to leave a comment below.

My mom has been the unofficial family historian for my immediate and extended family for some time, and she recently handed over most of her records to me (genealogy papers, handwritten letters, old photographs, etc.) to keep and add to as time goes on. I was looking through some of it this morning and found the following undated letter from my great-grandmother, Florence Packard (nee Nelson). Letters fascinate me, partly because people don’t really write them anymore, and because you get a sense of who people are by how and what they write. Anyway, I thought I’d share it.
______________________

Dear Ele;

Have wanted to get at a letter to you for some time but too many upsets.

I imagine you have heard about the fires we are having here, is terrible.  Are practically on our doorstep.

Some small towns around us had had some houses burn and have been evacuated. The whole country is thick with smoke.

It all started last Sunday evening when we had an electrical storm which was long overdue. Usually if we have a few days of extra hot weather we have a storm. But I cant remember when we have had a day that wasn’t in the 90[s] or 100[s]. Our hottest was 105 some days in a row.

We are down in Crescent City now, just got here thru thick smoke three fourths of way. We had planned on coming here to spend the Labor Day week end anyway but kind of left ahead of time. That smoke was too much.

Seems funny one lightening storm can set about half the state on fire but it was terribly dry. I don’t know when we had a rain.

Bob [1] has been taking radiation treatments for cancer inside his nose for over a month & is thru now & is supposed to come back in six months for results. I sometimes wonder if it was in time.

Bobby, Evalyn & Steven [2] were here for about a week a couple weeks ago. Was so hot & couldn’t get anything done. Had so much canning to do.

The tomatoes are finally starting to ripen & have canned ten pints so far & brought a big sack of them down here.

Jill [3] wants some of them also so will give her the ripe ones when we get home. She gave me two big boxes of peaches last week & I canned thirty gls of them so wont have to buy any this year.

Have been canning different kinds of pickles & have got about all of them I need, but hate to see them go to waste…

Being on jury duty doesn’t help matters any. They excused me for this week so could be down here.

Was surprised to hear of your auction. How did it go? Are you still going to live there?

Is so nice down here but cant help thinking of them at home in all that smoke.

Dennis [4], his son & grandson are out fishing & will have Dennis take me to town to mail this letter when they get back.

The grandson lost a nice ling cod yesterday which made him sick as catching one of them is a prize.

Well will close this & mail it when Dennis gets back.

Love,

Flo.
__________________

1. Her Husband, my great-grandfather
2. My grandfather (her son), grandmother and uncle (mother’s brother)
3. My great-aunt
4. My great-uncle

Rather than painting realistic images on canvas, taking surreal photographs, or painting renditions of well-known art on human bodies, 24-year-old Washington, D.C., artist Alexa Meade has brought the three together, painting her subjects as artistically rendered versions of themselves and then snapping photos of them in a variety of painted and unpainted settings. It’s a fresh mix of acrylic painting, performance art, and photography that asks us to reconsider the relationship between art and reality.

One piece, Transit (above), features an elderly man standing in a subway car, looking entirely convincing as a two-dimensional image, and I love the reactions of the unpainted people around him, who aren’t sure what’s going on but are trying to seem indifferent. The painted man, on the other hand, seems isolated, almost like a cardboard cut-out. The photo asks: “What if art really lived among us? Rode the subway with us, like anyone else?” It takes art off the wall and goes for a walk with it, just to see what happens: how it interacts with its environment, or doesn’t, and how its presence alters our perceptions of everything else.

Meade has also made several self-portraits. Of these, Alexa Split in Two (right) has perhaps the most to say about the give-and-take between art and reality as we compare the unpainted self with the painted self: there’s a kind of textural movement in the stillness of the image that we likely wouldn’t have noticed without the paint; we can better see the play of light and color on her skin and the contours of her bone structure. Visually, it’s the left half that has more life and it enriches our impression of reality. The image shows us how Meade views the world — with sharper, more sensitive and sensual eyes — through her versions of herself as both art and artist.

What do you think of Ms. Meade’s work? How does it affect your views of reality and art?

To see more of Alexa Meade’s work, visit her website or her Flickr page. And feel free to comment below.

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