Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Letters: Lips, Teeth, Tongue, Roof of Mouth.

Lips touch: B, M, P, W, Y(?)
Teeth touch lip: F, V
Tongue/teeth touch: B, E, W
Tongue touches roof of mouth: D, L, N, T, W
Teeth touch: J(?), Z(?)
Lips go out: G, J, O, Q, U, W, Y

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Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Win a Conversation With Your Sister About Who Named the Unconscious Forest.

We drove clear down through Gnosis Canyon, beautifically desolate, and up and out into a Van Gogh realm of loomful sky and rolling lemon hills, interspreckled by a village now in then of haystacks, mudholes, cows, buckets, donkeys, chimneys, cropfields, shadows, huts, wells, lots of winsome country folk performing winsome country tasks, and silence.

It was the perfect setting for me and Shane to strike up a friendly sibling conversation as we drove. I thought up something I felt would be a rather absorbing topic that I might emerge triumphant from.

“‘Unconscious Forest,’” I say, rolling the name around on my tongue. “I wonder what they mean by that.”

“Who?” says Shane.

“Whoever that named it.”

“What makes you think it’s more than one person?”

“What makes you think I think it’s more than one person?”

“You said, ‘I wonder what they mean by that.’”

“Oh.” I was behind already. “Well, I don’t think one person can go around naming a forest.”

“You’d be surprised,” Shane says. “Regardless, I have no idea what the gentleman or gentlemen meant by it, nor lady, nor ladies, as the case may be.”

“It appears you’re also picturing quite a large naming committee now.”

“I’m not picturing anything. I’m simply rearranging your misimpression.”

“I’m just trying to wonder what they, him, or her meant.”

“Go right ahead, for all the good it’ll do you. You could always ask them, him, or her. Of course, they’re probably dead by now.”

I had not thought of that. “Why would they be dead?”

“Because that’s what people get around to doing if enough time passes, which it probably has, since it’s been named Unconscious Forest for nine hundred years or something.”

That made me feel unexpectedly mystical and cozy. The people that named it “Unconscious Forest” were long dead and gone, but “Unconscious Forest” kept being named by them. “I wonder how you’d find out something like that. Who named a forest, and what they meant by it.”

“It must be on a list in some drawer in an office somewhere.”

“What office might that be?”

“I might have no idea.”

“Maybe their offspring would know what they meant by it. But, of course, even if they knew, that don’t mean they’d tell.”

“Why wouldn’t they tell?” asks Shane.

“They might tell, but that don’t mean it would be the truth.”

“Why would they lie?”

I shrugged. “Something to hide? Family secret?”

“What kind of a family secret would lead them to lie about what the name of a forest meant?”

“If I knew that, it wouldn’t be a secret.”

“You could know what kind of a family secret it was without knowing the actual secret.”

“I suppose I could, but I wouldn't care to.”

She made a eye-roll to hide the fact that she was falling behind. “Why don’t you hook them up to a lie detector?”

“On what grounds?”

“On the grounds of detecting if they’re lying about the family secret.”

“You can’t just hook people up to lie detectors to find out about a family secret. There’s laws. There’s decency.”

“What’s more important, finding something out, or laws and decency?”

“Depends how important it is what you’re finding out.”

“What if it’s the family secret of terrorists intent on destroying our village?”

“The offspring of the people that named it the Unconscious Forest are terrorists intent on destroying our village?”

She sniffled sidewise in one nostril, meaning we both knew the entire conversation was slipping away from her. “I’ll tell you something,” she says. “We ought to hook you up right now and find out if you really want to know what their family secret is, or if you’re merely trying to ruin a nice Sunday drive.”

“People can fool lie detectors.”

“Yes, psychopaths, ahem,” she snorts. “In any case, I doubt whoever named its offspring are psychopaths who could fool a lie detector about a family secret.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I would hope not.”

“Why would you hope their offspring wasn’t psychopaths that could fool a lie detector about a family secret any more than anybody else’s offspring?”

She started to answer, saw that she had lost, let her head loll back, and pretended to start snoring. It was fake as cardboard pudding, but, win or lose, if somebody don’t want to have a friendly conversation about the Unconscious Forest to pass the time, nobody can make you.


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Thursday, April 8, 2010


It rained for three days. I had a cold for three days. I disappeared in the rain & snot. Clover was scared, kept calling, made me set the tent back up, I wanted to sit in the storm like Simeon must have, die the most perfectly miserable death ever. It’s just a cold, I told her, it’s just rain, but I hoped for the worst. If I caught pneumonia they’d have to come up and drag me down, though I’d put up a convincing fight. I blew my nose so much it started bleeding for the first time since spotting in the tree with Dostoevsky. I let it bleed down me. It was soothing. Justifying. It finally stopped, the rain, the cold, the snot, the blood. The sun that baker charged out jolly in his big white hat, smacking his hands together, flour flying. I was still alive. Still up.

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Two Paragraphs a Day Keep the Apple Away.

Wobbling along the sidewalk on baby’s legs,
I looked up over my shoulder at the platform.
It was like a deserted island in the air.
I might have hacked it out of a jungle, a patch
of civilization the wilderness would now recall.
I imagined green twigs sprouting from the redwood,
rust eating the orange paint, the ink of every thought
in my journal beginning to fade already in the sun.

Nobody recognized me. I was just another member
of the lost, anonymous mass pretending that it knew
where it was wandering, and it felt good, it felt
right, easy, as if we were all actors in some play
that perfectly walked the line between absurdity
and grace. I felt like giggling, and that everybody
else felt like it, too, but it wasn’t in the script,
so we were holding it in.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Flannery O'Connor & Thomas Merton: Mutual Admiration Society

From Robert Giroux's Introduction to Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories:

One of Flannery's admirers was Thomas Merton, who became more of a fan with each new book of hers. Over the years I came to see how much the two had in common—-a highly developed sense of comedy, deep faith, great intelligence. The aura of aloneness surrounding each of them was not an accident. It was their m├ętier, in which they refined and deepened their very different talents in a short span of time. They both died at the height of their powers.

Finally, they were both as American as one can be. When publication of Merton's The Sign of Jonas was forbidden by the Abbot General in France, I was able to obtain its release only with the help of Jacques Maritain, who wrote him in beautiful French (the Abbot General did not read English and consequently had not read The Sign of Jonas), explaining what the "American Trappist" was up to. As for Flannery, whose work can only be understood in an American setting, when a German publisher wanted to drop some of her stories as too shocking for Germanic sensibilities, she wrote Miss McKee, "I didn't think I was that vicious."

On a trip south in 1959 I stopped at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky to see Merton, before going to see Flannery in Georgia. He gave me a presentation copy of the beautifully designed private edition of Prometheus: A Meditation to take to her. He was much interested in Flannery's peacocks.

From previous visits to "Andalusia" I was able to tell him about their habits—how they roost at dusk by gradual hops from ground to fence post to tree limb; how their trains get caught under car wheels because they refuse to hurry; how vain they are (they seemed to jockey for good angles when they saw my camera); how funny it is to see peachicks rehearsing with their immature featherduster tails; and how rare it is to see the ultimate display, when the peacock shimmers and shakes his feathers in a kind of ecstasy at the height of preening.

I could not tell Merton enough about them or about Flannery and her surroundings. What was Milledgeville like? Well, one of its sights was the beautiful ante-bellum Cline house, where Flannery's aunt served a formal midday dinner. He was surprised to learn that far from being "backwoods" Milledgeville had once been the capital of Georgia.

I also showed him a letter in which Flannery wrote: "Somebody sent me a gossip column that said Gene Kelly would make his TV debut in Flannery O'Connor's 'backwoods love story' [The Life You Save May Be Your Own]. I certainly can't afford to miss this metamorphosis."

When I got to the O'Connors', Flannery was curious to hear about Gethsemani. Was Merton allowed to talk to me? Yes, without restriction. I described our walks in the woods and the monastic routine of the day: first office (Matins) at two a.m. and last office (Compline) at sunset, followed by bed.

I mentioned that in Louisville I'd bought Edith Sitwell's recording of Facade, which Merton played over and over, laughing so hard that tears ran down his cheeks, and Flannery asked me to recite some of the poems. Even my pallid approximation of Dame Edith's renderings of "Daisy and Lily, lazy and silly," "Long Steel Grass" (pronounced "Grawss"), "Black Mrs. Behemoth" and the rest made her face light up with smiles.

When Flannery died, Merton was not exaggerating his estimate of her worth when he said he would not compare her with such good writers as Hemingway, Porter and Sartre but rather with "someone like Sophocles.... I write her name with honor, for all the truth and all the craft with which she shows man's fall and his dishonor."

Two of my most favorite people & writers of all everywhere & time.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

How small

a thing it is will make me want to fly over the world looking for people to save from all the things. You might think I would be wiser by now. A look comes, a word doesn't. How big a world it is and how little a thing it is will make me want to never leave the house. A letter comes, a phone call doesn't. How sad a little happy thing it is to make me who I am. It is hard to explain anything but the impossible news which everybody already knows. Beauty is in not knowing what you clearly see. It is a little thing on the wind carrying everything passing by. How small the turn of the universe in her glance, blinking once. Once lasts forever. Please, please, thank you, thank you, you are welcome. How small, please see. Soon kindness will arrive here. Let every big fast thing go forever past understanding to try. Small, silent, unseen, everything feeling love once. I believe you.

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