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Showing posts from 2010

The Travel Agent

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In the world of travel agenting, every place has a code. AVL. CDG. FCO. All the romantic and troubled places in the world are summed up in three letters: BEY, JRS, NBO. My first travel agent job was at the top of the BB&T Building, Asheville's steel and glass skyscraper. The office of Wilcox World Travel and Tours occupied the entire floor with cubicles for individual travel and group travel. I worked in Groups. In our section of the office, the floor was covered with airline-blue carpet. In winter a walk from a desk to the photocopier would generated static electricity. I'd get shocked everytime I touched the machine. I anticipated it. It was a mild form of torture built into the every-day necessities of work. Between trips to the copier, I organized people's adventures. I had three-ring binders for each tour I was organizing. One group was The Beverly Hill Baptist Church Choir's European Tour. The address was Rodeo Drive in the 90210 zip code. Its leader was N

Alchemical Christmas

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The intertwining of the alchemical metaphor and Christianity are never quite so pronounced as they are at Christmas. Of course, since the metaphor isn't ever outwardly shared, its resonances with Christmas remain invisible. On my drive out of and back into the city today (because I had to retrieve clean clothes for my daughter's school performance since she'd become a mud-swamp during recess), I listened to Christmas carols. Shepherds watching in fields. Holy infant. Christ is born in Bethlehem. Years ago, before I started researching alchemy, these songs told a story of the birth of Jesus. And they were beautiful. I remember hearing Julie Andrews singing them at the Royal Albert Hall in London when I was four years old. So beautiful. And they're still beautiful. With another level added. In the alchemical metaphor, matter is worked through a series of alternatively soothing and mortifying steps. At the end, it is "killed," then it is left in a "tomb

Reflections on Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty

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For a book about surface-appreciation and the nature of beauty, this book's jacket-designers knew the cover would be judged. First of all, using canvas as the book cover is a brilliant idea. The print of oilpaint-like quality is a delight. Moving into the novel, the aesthetic appeal continues. Martin's prose is clear both when he is speaking literally and figuratively. His similes and allusive turns of phrase give the novel striking textures in what could otherwise be a not-so-striking read. He weaves subtlety into the surface elements by stretching our imaginations like canvas across the frame. To increase the license for such figurative speech, he makes his narrator an art writer, Daniel, who, as the Independent notices, functions much as Nick Carraway does in The Great Gatsby. Daniel is the witness who, like Carraway, steps over the line once or twice but for the most part provides a line, if only by doing so. Both men remind us there is a line. When we think of the main

Snow and Solitude

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I'm sipping morning coffee, seeing the snow that covers my garden and the neighboring field. The hush of snow, its thick insulation. It bursts my heart with memories of every other snow I weave through in my mind, back to my childhood in Toronto where an enormous blue spruce, though thirty feet high caught it all and became a part of the white. I have an enormous green spruce now, just as tall, outside my living-room window. It, too, catches and holds the weight of it all. I think of the year I lived alone in a cabin in Sequim, Washington, and the week I was snowed in with just my soup and coffee and the poems there were to write then. So many poems. So much solitude I had to hold in my mind, so much it felt I might break under its weight. But then once the week was over, I wanted it to begin again, so comfortable had I become with the world's silences. Sometimes a heron walked the stony shore in front of my cabin, its gray a part of the sky's gray. Its slow steps on fra

Searching for Sir Isaac

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I'll be talking, out loud this time, about Sir Isaac Newton soon at the Creative Technology and Arts Center salon series on December 2 at 6 pm at the Odyssey School at 90 Zillicoa Street. If you dig back a bit on this blog (a while neglected, since summer!) you'll see I went through a time when all I wrote about was alchemy. It is still very much what I muse about when I'm musing, and much of what I muse about are the connections between contemporary scientific discovery and alchemy. Both maintain that at the most subtle levels, matter behaves quite differently from its molecular, concrete nature. At the smallest level, all things are rising, attracting, sympathizing, communing. I don't mean that spiritually, though it certainly sounds it. These are the times in which we live: when science and spirituality are the same. This is what John Maynard Keynes, the father of economics, wrote of Newton. It is part of a speech he was going to give regarding the scientist to t

What Steve Orlen Taught Me

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I was one of Steve's students at Warren Wilson MFA Program. It was my second semester, after my semester with Joan Aleshire, before my semester with Tony Hoagland. The genius of the program had something to do with that: I was "shaped" by a exactly who I needed at the time. When it was time to work with Steve, I was ready to fall apart, as Ellen Bryant Voigt had told a friend of mine when my friend was falling apart, I was doing right on time. During my semester with Steve, I went from working for an import/export company and being in a relationship to living alone in a very small cabin on the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and teaching half-days at a basic education lab 30 minutes away in Port Angeles. (It was by the way, the most magnificent drive to work: past Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Forest, the Dungeness Spit, a herd of elk.) This was before I had email. The only person I called was my mother. And the only person I got letters from was Steve when he r

Home to Canada

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I have returned to the "land of the silver birch" in Ontario, Canada, Georgian Bay. Here, the precambrian shield stretches like a thirsty animal into the water, swirls of time emblazoning its stony surface lined with quartz. The blue water of the Bay is 80 degrees, perfect for an afternoon swim. Like this, up here, I live between eternity and time for a nap in a hammock suspended between two pines in a grotto. I sailed with my daughter yesterday, and for the first time she held the tiller, and learned a little about wind. I'm rather struck by how much she knows already. Earlier today, I canoed with her and was similarly struck by how she knew how to make whirlpools with her paddle and also how to do a cross-bow cut, something I didn't learn until I was a good ten years older. But this is what she is: a fourth generation Georgian Bay girl. She's brave. She's got a knowledge of the water and wind beyond anything I've taught her. Tonight we'll build a fi

THE HOLY CROSS

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(image from steed griffin, cryptotypographer: http://steedgriffin.tumblr.com/page/2) Every now and then, a piece pops up in the news that helps me connect a few dots. Today's piece is the article about Gunnar Samuelsson, a quiet minister from Sweden who has spent the last several years trying to figure out where we got the idea that Jesus Christ was crucified. His conclusion: the word "stauros" that has been translated for more than 2000 years to mean "cross" denotes any variety of long wooden objects. This resonates with an exhibit I saw a few years ago of various artifacts from Biblical times. Among the remarkable objects was a part of a human foot with a metal spike driven through it attaching it to a piece of petrified wood. The tour guide pointed out that this is the only found evidence that human bodies were nailed to wood as a form of torture and execution. I remember wondering how that can be possible if crucifixion was the number one favorite form

SIESTA KEY

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This is my beach. Siesta Beach. On Siesta Key, on the Gulf Coast. This is my beach. It has white sand I walked on every day when I was a teenager. This is the beach that saved my life, kept me off drugs, the beach that was my boyfriend for all those years I didn't have one. This is the beach my grandmother and I walked along in winter, imagining the white sand into snow. It's the beach I kicked soccer balls on while walking its miles with my best friend. It's the beach where I lost the key to my father's Audi while my parents went to England on vacation, before I had a license to drive. It's the beach that mysteriously coughed up the key so I could drive home, astonished. For how many years have we been using the phrase "of mythical proportions?" The oil in the Gulf of Mexico has reached "mythical proportions." They are now saying that since the underwater robot (what planet are we on?) bumped into the cap (the one we actually watched that 24 h

What To Do Now That the Masonic Lodge Is Open For Arts Events

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It's a bit too much of a dream come true. I've had dreams about this place. I mean, really. However it is possible to geo-locate where dreams take place, I have woken knowing I dreamed about the darned Masonic Lodge at the corner of Woodfin and Broadway. Of course, in my dreams it has all these secret rooms and magical walls that disappear when you say certain words, and walls within walls, thin spaces revealing entire secret universes. So, when the mountain xpress published photographs of the interior hall--now available for rent for public events--naturally I was a little dismayed. Granted, the room with columns painted with scenes of King Solomon's activities is mighty cool, but in my dreams, well, they would have been holograms. But, here it is. The post-Masonic age. All the inside secrets have been let out in one way or another. Some books are weirder than others and some references stranger than others--from writings about Oumros, the strange black powder sought af

Writing About Architecture

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It's Tuesday afternoon. The two labradors, Chloe (black and small) and Sir Isaac Newton (white and enormous) are napping next to the rabbit's cage (Brownie) while a storm brews outside. Wordfest is over as of 2 weeks ago and last night I read my writings about architecture for the first time in public, while Mike Oppenheim's amazing photographs of Asheville's architecture shone on the screen behind me. I shouldn't have read, I realized. I know it well enough to talk extemporaneously and there's some other kind of energy that comes from me when I do. It's because I've fallen in love with architecture. Hearing someone talk about what/whom they love is always better than hearing some read something from a page. I started writing about the architecture of Asheville in February. At first I was all clumsy, not knowing how to talk about buildings. There's something mysterious about learning the language of things, particularly the language of buildings. T

ELEVATE, a poem and what I think is the process behind it

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ELEVATE Elevate me, O God, into what is highest within me. Bring me to the sky where loose clouds loosen more and show me what I cannot touch with my skin. Loosen me so I break open like the sky above a thirsty earth. Elevate me. O God, loosely, like clouds in their skin. Touch what I cannot thirst after on this earth. Loosen me until I cannot break and show me what is highest in me, bringing within what is more, what breaks ceaselessly open. Elevate me, O God, to the loosened earth where sky is a show of what I cannot touch and clouds break open against my skin. Break me open with thirst. Like the sky above the earth, bring me what is highest, loose and within. Elevate me, O God, within, where loose clouds show me how I break open like a thirsty earth. Into what is highest in me, bring your touch. Loosen me more, your cloud, this skin. What is highest, open within this earth. *** This is the poem that will appear in the paper tomorrow as the first of the

Diary of a Fascination

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I get fascinated with things. Constantly. Lately, I've been fascinated by a story, an Asheville story. It involves a woman who lived nearly a century ago. Her name is Mary Tillinghast. She was a stained glass artist who was hired by architect Bertram Goodhue to create windows for Asheville's Trinity Episcopal Church in 1912. I stumbled upon her name while writing an essay about the church for my current writing project (read: obsession) on Asheville's architecture. When I took on the project I had no idea how deeply it would affect me. After all, they are buildings. I thought I would learn the vocabulary and take it from there. But no. Something happens when we learn the vocabulary. Its whole history sort of grafts itself onto the psyche through the words. It is as though the buildings want to speak and now that I've engaged them in conversation they virtually throw stuff at me to write about. In the case of the Trinity Church, what got thrown was the name of Mary Til

The Eloquence Within

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I might spend the rest of my life trying to articulate something. . . and this is what I suppose most writers do--something happens and we spend the rest of our lives trying to put words to it. Emerson, Eliot, Jung all had mystical experiences in early adulthood (James Joyce in adolescence) and spent the rest of their lives trying to put words to it, and in some cases waiting for it to happen again. I think about my mystical experiences and I am delightfully amazed, even though at the time I was rather frightened. But no mystical experience has been quite so transformative as losing my hearing. It is one thing to see "letters" in the clouds then find them in poem I wrote days before then learn they have a meaning in Hebrew and Arabic, and then there is getting a diagnosis of hearing loss and living it through to its conclusion in deafness. There is an immediacy to the mystical experience. The "refragrancing" as it is called in Buddhism takes moments or mo

Coagula et Solve

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First of all: thank you Adam McLean for use of Barchusen's above version of The Crowning of Nature ( http://www.levity.com/ ). Coagula et Solve. One of the basic tenets of alchemy and of life. But geezh we don't hear about it. It basically means that human life is constantly moving between two states--one of being firm and structured and another of being all hell broke loose. Once we max out on the former, circumstance moves us back toward the latter. We coagulate--come together. We dissolve--solve. Solve is a state of destabilization--a change is moving through life so we have to loose our preconceptions of what must be. That is, if we are going to survive it. Some people live in a seemingly constant state of solve. Too fluid, too changeable, not enough structure and form. Some people in a seemingly constant state of coagula. Too rigid. Disdainful of change. Resistant to the effects and lessons of life. Any paradigm shift is a movement from coagula (a fixed set of ideas)

Opus Contra Natura

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The Work Against Nature is a phrase powerful enough to drive anyone away from something. But in alchemy the work against nature--Opus Contra Natura-- is merely a turning inward, a searching within which yields development and awakening. It is a "work against Nature" because "nature" means physical nature. The opus contra natura draws our attention toward spiritual nature, the deeper truth of things. In working with individuals who are just starting to write "again" the opus contra natura is a riot in the heart. The words just start flowing and, in some, they bring with them deep sorrow and joy which must be moved through. I have been, of late, made aware (through being dumped by one such person and realizing my life is full of them) of personality disorders and their onset at either age 7 or in the adult years. Such disorders--borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and the like--occur because a child is not given the safety

Alchemy and The Red Book

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When Jung was having his initiation, which occurs in the writing and art of The Red Book, it was his introduction into the rights of alchemy, this wild formula for converting the matter of one's life into spirit. I contacted Adam McLean about Jung's work in Alchemy. McLean is the founder of Hermetic Journal and a leading voice in the study of alchemical texts. McLean labors intensely to reproduce and publish the arcane and little known alchemical works on which Jung--and, since, countless others--based his work. McLean states on his stunning website (levity.com) that he was once enamoured of Jung's work. I emailed him asking him, basically "what happened" and he replied (within hours) that he simply prefers working in the originals. I respect that, and i also see it as in deep keeping with the nature of alchemy itself--a return to, and journey through, origin into the highest self. McLean's work allows us to see the sources Jung turned to--the dark and pecu
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I picked up a copy of Jung's Alchemical Studies and, while getting my hair done by the amazing Guadalupe Chavarria, an alchemist in his own right for what he can do with a pair of scissors and that "diuturnity of intense imagination" he examined me with when I walked into his shop all shaggy and unshorn in the throes of last minute Christmas browsing, opened this unassuming little white book. Following the experience denoted in the Red Book, Jung devoted the rest of his life to trying to comprehend it. He calls all the other stuff, aside from the Red Book, his attempts at integration. This volume is his exploration of a number of alchemical writings--The Secret of the Golden Flower, the writings of Zosimus and Paracelsus and exploring the alchemical concepts of mercurius and the philosophical tree. Jungian psychoanalysis draws heavily on alchemy and theosophy. This is just an example of the master psychic archeologist's explorations, a warm-up to the later works