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Those Few Great Moments

The Hours is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I liked it so much, in fact, I read nearly the entire thing again. At times I would start to cry without recognizing my reaction right away, as if the story was in more control of my emotion than I was. It was definitely a book for me, because like most people, I’ve always tried to figure out what it is about life that makes people happy, what makes people persevere or strive, and why some people can never seem to find any satisfaction or contentment. Michael Cunningham condenses the life’s source of happiness (or pleasure, or contentment, or whatever you want to call it), in a way that’s neither too bleak to handle nor too optimistic to allow yourself to believe it:

We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep–it’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.

When thinking of my own life, there are memories that jump out at me–moments of complete happiness that I’m grateful I got to have. They belong to me, they are exclusive to me, and I will have them as long as I’m capable of remembering. Of course, I want more. I would risk spoiling one of these moments to try re-creating it, or topping it. With this, my destructive nature in mind, I want to honor those moments the best I can and dwell in them a little longer. It has given me a prompt for at least three creative non-fiction essays I should have already written.

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Triolet for Robert Plant

Happy birthday to Robert Plant, who is 68 today. Robert Plant is (should I say was?) the singer and primary lyricist for my favorite band of all time, Led Zeppelin. I was easily sucked into the history of the band and haven’t yet read about Mr. Plant’s life before it, but he is an exceptional writer and singer and I can’t imagine any other voice in his place. It’s hard to read Zeppelin lyrics without the context of the music because they’re so recognizable, but to me his writing is accessible–a next-level understanding of things situated in reality. In that spirit I wrote this poem.

Triolet for Robert Plant

First find your gift; then exhaust its full extent.
These are the ones who live beyond their years.
You can never be too late, too old, too spent—
First, find your gift. Then exhaust its full extent.
Accepting less than best breeds spite and discontent,
and a mediocre life is not a life revered.
First find your gift; then exhaust its full extent.
These are the ones who live beyond their years.

This verse is a triolet, an 8-line repetitive stanza following an ABaAabAB pattern. Most examples I noted were also in iambic pentameter so I went for it, but I deviated quite a bit. I prefer to work with a syllable count and let the meter come naturally. It was a neat little exercise, anyways!

The Worst Fate

The Worst Fate

No one succeeds at a stand-still, waiting…
Waiting for Fate, for their dreams to come true,
for days significant and life-changing.
When life is no more than a scene to view,
it isn’t living, it’s just sustaining.
What another soul might have done with you!
The worst fate is the fate you do not make,
a life bound by chances you did not take.

This is my effort at the Ottava Rima, an 8-line ABABABCC stanza. I choose to go with 10 syllables per line, though the form most often suggests 11. Kind of like an abbreviated sonnet, Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium is a good example of how the brevity and sing-songy-ness of the form in stanzas can contribute a sort of timeless, tale-like quality.

California Dreaming

After spending a week in Southern California soaking up the sun, a feeling has stayed with me. I’m not really sure what it is, but as relieved as I was to come home, I’ve also had this sense that my home has changed. It doesn’t seem the same as it did when I left.

California is absolutely a place for dreamers… As my husband and I waited at an outdoor table in Hollywood for our In-N-Out burgers, a woman with a blunt black bob, pale skin and red lips paced along the sidewalk and read lines from a script. California is also a place for crack-heads, foreigners, bros, the “forever” young, and strategically placed rich people.

It has, is, and probably always will be an inspiration for many… It’s where Led Zeppelin went to “make a new start,” where Don Draper escapes his real life, and the place Marilyn Monroe called home for most of her life.

Although I felt moments of pure West Coast Wonder, like the shallow pit in my stomach at the sight of a wave twice my height rushing towards me, or the smiling-while-I-ate satisfaction chewing mouthfuls of fish taco, or the flush of goosebumps at seeing my heroine’s hand prints in 63-year-old cement, I also had an overall Big Picture experience. My world, and my life, is very small. Just a grain of sand–maybe one of the many that settled in my bikini bottom for most of the trip, but a spec none-the-less. When I left home, I felt content. When I returned home, I felt insignificant and my world small. Do I want to be significant and my world big? I’m not sure about that, either.

I suppose everyone has moments of “what if” and “what else,” it’s just where and when they pop up that are unique. I suppose that’s the untold consequence of travelling.

Talkin’ Bout My Generation

I’ve been reading Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, a collection of essays assembled by Meghan Daum that offers 16 unique perspectives from the childless by choice. Right now I’m not sure whether I will or won’t have kids, but the book has challenged me in other ways. Mainly, my assumptions about other people’s motivations.

I read a really fantastic selection by Lionel Shriver, “Be Here Now Means Be Gone Later.” Shriver illustrates the Be Here Now movement as less hippie-free-bird and more this-modern-life. The woman of the essay both annoys me and reminds me of myself. What I was most impressed with was Shriver’s one-paragraph summation of, well, you be the judge:

To be ridiculously sweeping: baby boomers and their offspring have shifted emphasis from the communal to the individual, from the future to the present, from virtue to personal satisfaction. Increasingly secular, we pledge allegiance to lower-case gods of our own private devising. We are concerned with leading less a good life than the good life. In contrast to our predecessors, we seldom ask ourselves whether we serve a greater social purpose; we are more likely to ask ourselves if we are happy. We shun self-sacrifice and duty as the soft spots of suckers. We give little thought to the perpetuation of lineage, culture, or nation; we take our heritage for granted. We are ahistorical. We measure the value of our lives within the brackets of our own births and deaths, and we’re not especially bothered with what happens once we’re dead. As we age–oh, so reluctantly!–we are apt to look back on our pasts and question not did I serve family, God, and country, but did I ever get to Cuba, or run a marathon? Did I take up landscape painting? Was I fat? We will assess the success of our lives in accordance not with whether they were righteous, but with whether they were interesting and fun.

Bach By Popular Demand

On March 31, 1685, an artist was born that would give Western music a kick in the pants. Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the greatest composers of all time, may have enjoyed success as a musician during his life, but his significant influence can still be heard more than two centuries later.

Bach lived in the Baroque period (~1600-1750), the music of which could be characterized as dramatic, elaborate, and a little over-the-top. Just as the Renaissance before it was about evolving instruments and sounds, the Baroque period evolved music with the creative use of keys, vocals, and melodies with greater and greater complexity. Bach was a gifted organist and wrote an extensive body of religious music. Perhaps his greatest contribution is his innovative style, which layered melodies to become more than mere accompaniment, but an actual unification of sounds. Mozart and Beethoven, by far the two greatest composers of the following Classic Period, grew up with Bach’s music and practiced his arrangements. Perhaps even more telling is the lengthy list of popular composers of the Romantic Period who have churned out so many excellent and timeless works, and so close together–I think of all the rock bands of the 1990’s who cite Led Zeppelin as a big influence.

Bach certainly closed out the Baroque era with an exclamation point when he passed in 1750. I’m no musician, so I certainly can’t speak on the technicalities of Bach’s compositions, but I can speak to the emotion that oozes from each work of thoughtfully constructed notes. When I hear Toccota and Fugue, I’m a little sad, a little crazy, and incredibly intense. Air on the G String does just the opposite, but in a very good way.

Whether or not you listen to Classical music, any art requires a respect for that which came before. Step Bach and think what the world might have sounded like without him.

Motivation! (Can I Get That In Writing?)

With my current set of goals, I’m feeling stuck in a rut. Sometimes a solid quote and a deep breath can elevate the world of crap circling my brain; probably because something so simple can be so refreshing. We’ll see when I re-read these tomorrow…

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
-Arthur Ashe, Champion Tennis Player

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
-Mark Twain, American Author

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
-Chuck Swindoll, Evangelist

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
-C.S. Lewis, Apologist Writer

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.
-Ayn Rand, Novelist