In Concert

Humanity is like a huge orchestra playing in concert, only the violins are following one conductor, the cellos are following another. The tubas and flutes are engaging in a personal feud with a long history, and the bassoons are casualties. The clarinets are pretty sure the real conductor is hiding behind the stage curtain, and are taking their cues from the wind. The violas are experimenting with compound rhythms, and the piccolo is only playing every third written note. The trumpets have taken a stand on tuning to 400Hz. The trombones have misplaced their scores and are attempting to improvise. The oboes are wearing earplugs, in a misguided attempt to hear themselves better. The saxophones and french horns are attempting a duet, while the piano is co-opting it into a round. The result is cacophony.

If only we would comprehend our own natures, understand our place within the whole, and accept the reality of others. If only we would listen to ourselves, we could make beautiful music. No conductor needed.

(Not trying to be cheesy or fanciful or trite, here. Was just lying back, awash in emotions over news and the world and the Hate Machine, feeling powerless and empty, and wishing it could be so easy.)

Writingspaces Project

I’ve decided to undertake a new project, based on the idea that our surroundings influence us deeply, especially as writers. Sometimes, after the 42nd grey day in a row, looking out my same windows at the same trees and hearing the same sounds, I feel like life has lost all meaning. Whether I need to smell different air or experience a change in barometric pressure, whether I want to feel the wind after long periods of stillness or whether I simply need to remember that the sun is still out there, shining above the clouds, the underlying issue is the same: I need a shift in perspective. I yearn to get out of myself and my ordinary circumstances in order to jump-start the excitement and possibility and creativity promised by the existence of a million other possible lives.  

A simple change of space has often reinvigorated me, but unfortunately that is not always possible, and so I have conceived the idea of creating a series of virtual destinations for writers. Today’s post will be the first of these, inspired by the daily prompt mountain. I invite you to come along with me: step out of the habit, the mundane, the expected, and immerse yourself in a different aesthetic, if only for a moment. After all, there are more lives to live than can fit in our one lifetime.

WritingSpaces: Mountain hut somewhere in Asia

You are sitting in a small, airy, hut with lots of open windows. It is late evening, and there is a gentle mountain breeze, but you are neither hot nor cold. It has been a day of small satisfactions and minor triumphs; nothing now stands in the way of your writing. You relax with a cup of tea and gaze thoughtfully at the mountains across the lake.

What you hear: no humans are within earshot, but out of the speakers next to you come the sounds of traditional folk music, as heard here

What you see: a mountain lake surrounded by steep peaks: pexels-photo-93684

What you smell: moisture and greenery and evening

What you taste: cherry blossom green tea

What you feel: your bare feet brushing over a bamboo mat laid over smooth bamboo floorboards; your hands clutched around a steaming mug

 

Photo courtesy Michael Sprehe and pexels.com

 

 

Daily Prompt: Sky

The thing I like best about the sky is that it can provide an unimpeded view of distance. I like to look up in the sky, when there aren’t trees or other tall objects immediately in the way so that it stretches on an on, and think about how far I am seeing; to imagine whose ceiling I am observing; to wonder who, miles away from me, might be looking at the same patch of blue. Buildings, hills, trees when I am not on a mountaintop generally get in the way so that I cannot really comprehend my place in space, but when I look at the sky, and especially when those altocumulus or stratocumulus clouds create striations that delineate the miles stretching away, I feel a nameless wonder. I feel like the world is big and mysterious and full of good things, but that nothing after all is really very far away, as if the sky exists as a sort of super-highway where I can avoid being bogged down by earthly bullshit, and instead just pop on over to where I want to be. Of course, I never have yet found the call button for that particular elevator, but looking at the big sky never fails to make me hope.

Sky sounds for today: “Morning Serenade” from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

Daily Prompt: Angry

From the beginning, we are taught that angry is bad. The culmination of all the ugly, the horrible, the mean, the loss of control. We are taught to hide it, to suppress it, to circumvent it. Nothing is worse than anger. Until you discover that which is worse.

Nothing.

Is worse.

Daily Prompt: Healthy

Ugh. Healthy. A word I have grown to despise.

Too often, it gets brandished as a weapon of absolutism. People who seek to put others down and lift themselves up by comparison attempt to mask their intentions by wielding the word euphemistically, or by dressing up their criticism as concern: “Is that candy bar really good for you?” or “Oh, no sugar in mine, please. I’m trying to be healthy.” (These are pretty benign examples, though). Usually having to do with weight, food, and exercise, the idea of what’s “healthy” has become a convenient shorthand for summing up a person’s worth. Let’s imagine some scenarios:

  • On Instagram, or Facebook, etc., images of doing something that requires physical exertion, such as hiking, biking, running, or home improvement, possibly accompanied by a caption that emphasizes how healthful the activity is: a classic digital identity marker that screams, “LOOK AT ME! I IS SO HEALTHY DON’T YOU WISH YOU WERE AS VIRTUOUS??” Now, granted, some of us hike or bike or run and just want to occasionally share that part of ourselves digitally. Fine. But usually you can tell when someone’s playing it up to emphasize how HEALTHY they are.
  • You’ve lost a bit of weight, and people start telling you how “healthy” you look. Mmhmm, it’s obvious what’s going on here, no *wink, wink, nudge nudge* needed. When weight is equated with health, we have a problem. Perhaps you have lost weight because you’ve gone on a starvation diet: is that healthy? The truth is, there is no absolute idea of “health” as represented by body shape and size, and therefore no one has a right to use this as a judgment of someone’s health.
  • A food product is advertised as “healthy.” Different people have different metabolisms, engage in different activities, and have different nutrition needs. Also, just as people engage in sex for pleasure, as well as procreation, people eat for pleasure, and not just sustenance. The overwhelming (and misleading) emphasis on defining food as absolutely “healthy” or “not healthy” creates and reinforces a food morality that does nothing to promote actual health.

When used as a relative term, in specific situations, “healthy” is a fine word. But I firmly believe that it’s a personal word. NO ONE other than you, and those you have explicitly authorized (such as your doctor when it comes to strictly medical health, or your close friends and loved ones to whom you have opened up), has the right to tell you what is or is not “healthy.” We should not be intimidated by this judgmental concept of health, we should not give in to health absolutism, and we should be mindful not to perpetuate this toxic form of “morality.”

Edit: came across this article and thought I’d append it here; basically a much-more researched and thought-out discussion of this topic and totally worth the read.

 

Daily Prompt: Underestimate

Underestimate. Under. Esteem. (your Mate.)

Do I do this? I hope to everything that is sacred that I don’t, but I know that, in a way, I do. Lately I’ve been under a depressive cloud (a mildish one, but still), and I’ve noticed that I walk around thinking and acting as if I’m alone, when in fact there is another human being right there. I’ve had to consciously remind myself of this, looking at my husband and saying in my mind, “Hello, other human.”  I reach out and touch his skin and for a moment I’m brought back into time.

Do I actually esteem him any less because of my mood? No; he remains the best example of humanity I have ever met. But it would be nice if I could remember to treat him that way.

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Situational Irony

I am so good at looking at fragments and seeing a pattern, crafting a clear vision out of nothing. Except when it comes to looking at my own life. My own disconnected threads will not be bound together; I cannot see myself complete; I cannot refrain from the attempt, or the constant defeat.

(is it a faux pas to have pinged the daily prompt twice in one day? it wasn’t my intention to do so; this post just seemed appropriately themed as an afterthought)

Daily Prompt: Vision

Language has an amazing ability to shed light on how we truly think and feel. If our emotions and impulses are bare drywall, then words are the many layers of wallpaper and paint we use to make them presentable to others; yet, like those coverings, words can be peeled away and the layers themselves can be very revealing.

One example I find interesting is the convergence of meanings between “vision” and “dream.” When “vision” is mentioned with no context, we often primarily think of the meaning “the ability to see with the eyes.” And yet, close at hand is the meaning “something seen in the mind.” Likewise, “dream” without context most often invokes “something seen only in the mind.” When referring to mental pictures, the former more often is used to convey a conscious fantasy, something intentionally attempted, and the latter more often to convey an unconscious reverie, something accidentally bestowed, but even this distinction is easily erased: both are often used interchangeably to mean “something seen that isn’t there, that we hope to achieve.” I have a vision for a better future; I have a dream. The ability to dream in this way is uniquely human: most animals have vision, but only humans can have a vision; most animals do dream, but only humans can have a dream.  Perhaps it is our greatest asset as a species.

Side note: last night I had a dream I was killed by terrorists; here’s hoping it was not a vision.

Daily Prompt: Survival

Benjamin Spicket was not one of those guys who could be relied on in tough times. When he was a child, no part of him would have reminded you of a cute blonde kid with a penchant for booby trapping a house as a way to stay one step ahead of bandits. In his early 20s, he would pop a few Hungry-Man frozen dinners in the microwave and snuggle up with his television to watch a dozen naked and sweaty people scramble around on an island. When Destiny’s Child made a video reminiscent of that show — he couldn’t remember the name of the song — he loved it only in the manner of single 20-something men everywhere. A few years later, he completely eschewed another TV show that was hosted by a guy with a ridiculous name, “Grizzly Bear” or something like that, because it did not have nearly enough hot women. And throughout his whole life, he could never have told you who Gloria Gaynor was, though occasionally, often while he was in the shower or applying the Axe Body Spray, the wordless tune of her most famous song would float jauntily through his subconscious.

Benjamin Spicket had been more like one of those kids who dropped a spider down the back of your little sister’s dress when she was 7.  When questioned, he would not or could not tell you why he did it, but you had your suspicions. He was kinda like that guy in college who grinned at you from the dorm room bed when you showed up to take your friend from the sticky floor to the nearest emergency room. He avoided expulsion then, and he flew below the boss’s radar now. He was the Neo of dodging pink slips. He was a survivor.

Daily Prompt Challenge: Generation

Immediately I thought: “Generation? That’s a meaningful concept to me, positioned as I am in the weird plot between Generations X, Y, and the Millennials.” In truth, I have many thoughts on the subject, and I know I will mouth off on it one of these days, but soooo many people have already done so. (Here’s one article that comes instantly to mind. This one is pretty good, too.) In fact, though I am guilty of placing way too much weight on my position within “the generations,” I think it is seemingly so significant in large part due to how played-up it already is in our culture: the idea that “my generation” is a badge of identity, a marker of time and place that binds you to some people while setting you off from others. So yeah, I buy in, but I don’t think it’s a particularly original topic.

Secondarily I thought: “But wait, what do they mean by ‘generation’? The word has many seemingly-disparate definitions.” I went to dictionary.com to find out just how many. As far as distinct, modern, general definitions go, it listed FOURTEEN. Skimming the list, it was easy to see the evolution of meanings, stemming from the concept of creation, the word “generate.” I love the word “generate,” because it ties directly into that mother-of-many-words root morpheme, “gen-“: meaning something like “origin,” and being the basis of words such as “genus,” “general,” “genre,” “gender,” and so many more. These words have to do with what makes a thing whole, complete, and distinct from other things. If we can zoom out a little bit to focus again on the lexeme “generate” that serves as a foundation to our prompt of the day, I would call your attention to the “action-y” aspect of the word: while “gen” has much to do with categorical properties (what is), “generate” contains the hope for breaking out of those bonds (what will be). To generate is to create something new, and while what is “new” is rarely radically different from its predecessors (leading, as far as human procreation is concerned, to the phrase “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” among many similar idioms), the fact remains that “generate” blurs the line between where we come from and where we’re going. Central to answering the questions, “Who am I? Why am I here?” are the questions, “Where (and when, and whence) do I come from? How much does that predetermine my choices and their impact?” No wonder, then, that we are so preoccupied with the concept of “generation.”