Pablo Neruda–Is He Ageless?

Discovering Pablo Neruda in every new generation is an adventure in interpretation and application. Sometimes wise words seem specific to a time and place, dated. Then, other times, they seem to be so present that we think they were written for us just yesterday–addressing our current circumstances. We might think that the specific quote or poem must belong to us–our generation, our culture, our humanity as we are today–it is so right on.

I’ve noticed that the most read-across-the-globe of all of my many blogs, the ones featuring anything that mentions Pablo Neruda get the most hits. Why is that I wonder? Is it because he was a man in exile from his native country and others can relate to him? Is it that they too know what it is to love one’s country and to be banished from it? Is it that his words strike a chord of truth and depth that humans share in common. (Poetry can do that.) Is it the emotional impact that is innate to poetry that twangs that emotion within us?

This little poem written by Pablo in his Book of Questions…what feeling does it raise in you? For me, when I pause to sit with a poem, reread it several times, that’s when it reveals a deeper meaning to me.

If the butterfly transmogrifies
does it turn into a flying fish?

Then it wasn’t true
that God lived on the moon?

What color is the scent
of the blue weeping of violets?

How many weeks are in a day
and how many years in a month?

from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions

****
We can only wonder what prompted Pablo Neruda to write this poem. We can take any one of Pablo’s questions and receive them like a Buddhist koan (a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment…Wikipedia).

What is your interpretation of these, Pablo’s questions, within this poem? What was his intent as the poet? Is he pondering the inadequacy of logical reasoning in this human existence? Is he tongue-in-cheek, teasing the reader to think outside the box of logic? Is he tickling the mind to go beyond what we perceive as the truth of anything?

And then, why not? Why doesn’t a butterfly become a flying fish? Anything is possible in the realm of imagination. Where can you go if you expand your thinking and become more inclusive of that which seems preposterous? Then, where can you go if you expand your mind to be inclusive of another culture, race or creed, another perspective, a greater universe?

****
I’ve had days, like yesterday, that felt like a year in a day. My daughter and her husband have been fighting covid. A family member had a stroke and ended up in ICU. My Aunt Marie, my mother’s youngest and last living sister, died. And I found out about it on Facebook!

How can we translate the nonsensicalness and inconveniences of life into something that makes it less personal and more palatable…or at least not suffer so much over what is inevitable?

Pablo, for every question you ask, I have at least fifty more to toss at your feet…wherever you have landed. Have you, Pablo, turned into a mushroom or are you a planet that we haven’t discovered yet out there in the vast and unknown universe?

Wherein Lies the Value?

Are there questions that you would like to have asked your parents while they were alive? For me, there are many. However, the questions of the moment would be directed to my mother. I would ask her about the double-strand of pearls that I wore on my wedding day. These pearls were “the something borrowed” from my mother.

****
I wore white on my wedding day from toe-to-head. White patent-leather shoes, a white satin prom dress with a lace overlay purchased from Lerner’s on Market Street in San Francisco.  My mom ordered a short white veil with an imitation drop pearl crown from the Montgomery Ward’s catalog.  The crown dipped low onto my forehead.  The white fingerless gloves came to my elbows and, for the finishing touch, I borrowed my mother’s double strand of real pearls.  It was to be a low-budget wedding for two recent high school graduates. 

The wedding day itself went well.  Arriving at the reception, the only thing that was missing was the bride and groom for the top of the cake.  I remember a young man riding up on his motorcycle to the Presidio NCO Club beside the ocean where our reception was being held.  He pulled the plasticized couple from his backpack and unceremoniously placed it on the three-tiered wedding cake.

Perfection, like the double strand of pearls, like the creamy-skinned bride, like the perfect midsummer day by the ocean.  The sort of day that poet’s write about evaporated rather quickly into a too-young bride and groom who didn’t know themselves well-enough to forge a lasting relationship with one another.  Yearning for that perfect partnership didn’t make it a reality. 

****
Recently, sifting through old photos, I came across a picture of that long-ago wedding day.  I noted the pearls, the same ones which my mother had given to me a few months before.

“Go into the bathroom,” she said.  “In the second drawer of the vanity there is a beige box.  Get it for me,” she directed from her wheelchair.

I returned with the rectangular beige box.  My mother opened it and handed me the double strand of pearls.  “I want you to have these,” she said.

I teared up as I tried on the necklace. 

I confided to my mother “When I was married, I asked Tom for pearls on more than one occasion.  He seemed not to hear my request.  He bought me a strand of pink and white ceramic beads from a craft show.  The tag read Parrot Pearls.  I guess he thought he was being clever.”

****
My mother died in 2011. I wore the pearls for three weeks to honor her memory.

Last year, on a whim, I stopped into a local jewelry shop. My mother had collected a lot of costume jewelry. I was curious if any of it had monetary value. At the same time, I inquired about the value of the pearls.

“They are” the jeweler said, “impostors, a good imitation…not real pearls.”

I must have registered shocked surprise as the jeweler remarked “Sorry to disappoint you.”

Inside of the beige box was the label, Richelieu. It turns out that Richelieu Inc., was a “faux (fake) pearl manufacturer based in New York City, formed in 1933. Richelieu pearls were popular as an affordable alternative for consumers who were looking for inexpensive yet attractive faux pearls.” (Wikipedia)

****
So much about my family history had been based in lies and betrayals. Was this just one more lie?

The questions I would ask my mother if I had the opportunity to would be:
Did dad buy the pearls as a gift for you? If so, were you with him when he purchased the pearls? What was the occasion? Did he tell you that they were real? or Did you buy them for yourself?  Did you think the pearls were real? These are some of the things that my inquiring mind wants to know. And I realize that I won’t ever have answers to my questions. Being a writer, I could conjecture a bigger story around these pearls. But I won’t.

Finally, though, a question to myself…Does it matter? Although the pearls aren’t real, the sentiment was–a mother wanting to give something of value to her daughter.


Taking a Risk

“Risk nothing and you risk everything.”

Erica Jong

I came upon this piece of writing from a Creative Writing class that I took a few years ago. It posed the question, “What are you risking?”
“What would life be like if you risked doing those things you have put off doing, but deeply desire to experience?”

With the advent of Covid 19, so much has changed. These days, we risk by going into a market to buy our groceries. This was written in 2009 when my parents were in a care home together.

The word “risk” has been at the forefront of my mind of late. I watch my parents at their present stage of life–ages 89 and 92. What’s done is done for them with little chance of autonomous change. The next risk they will take is their leap into the hereafter. I’m here now and I’ve felt overly cautious, limited and stuck for awhile. I feel a dissatisfaction which ranges from vague to imperative. I’m not sure what the risk is that I need to take. I do know that it’s time for a shift. Is it a stronger commitment to writing and getting published? Perhaps–why not devote one year to that effort and see where it goes?

I think that if I began taking risks, I might feel more self-fulfilled. Happier, less frustrated. Risk involves a certain daring. I’m a Leo, a fire sign, and this has been somewhat dormant in me. It’d be nice to allow the part of me that loves center stage, fun, playfulness to express herself. I’d travel some and try myself out in new situations. I’d speak my mind more. Be ridiculous at times. Ask the questions that I’m curious about of my diminishing parents. Not hold back affection.

****
As life goes, I didn’t publish a book or devote a year to writing. My parents continued to decline over the next two years and they required a lot of attention from the family. They died six months apart. Their departure was followed by a period of grief. I documented their final years. I rarely ever stop writing. Most of the time, writing is within my comfort zone. Except that I did initiate writing this blog about three years ago and that has felt risky at times. I took a big risk when I interviewed a man, over a period of three months, about the male perspective in relation to women. Formerly, he had been an abusive male. I also signed up for a theater group and wrote several scripts which they performed. That was definitely outside of my comfort zone. In 2014, I started drawing and painting. This was something I never believed I could do! So I guess I could call that a risk. Since then, I’ve had two art exhibits and yes, I risked and leapt on both occasions. With the first one, I was so nervous that I got laryngitis and couldn’t speak to the visitors to the exhibit (yet, I showed up!).

Today, I have redefined what risk means to me personally and how it applies to what I desire. If my desire is to be a whole person and live from that wholeness, then what is the risk involved to live this way? I think it involves confronting fears and stuck places as they arise. I also think it’s about recognizing that I have taken many risks over the course of my life and I only recognize them as such in retrospect. Should I chart them on a piece of paper to remind myself, to honor that I don’t always hide under a rock? Covid time hasn’t supported some of the things I’d like to explore.

Recently, I was listening to an interview on Sounds True with author, James Hollis. He was ninety years old at the time of this interview and he passed away shortly thereafter. The thing he said that struck me was that each stage of life has its task. That’s up to you and me to figure out–what is the task for me at this stage and within the circumstances of my life? And once you have named it, take the risk and pursue it. I think that’s good advice.

In Covid time and at the stage of life you are in, what does taking a risk look like to you?

Leaving the Past Behind

Do we ever really do this–leave the past behind?
If the past is what formed us, then it likely lives on inside of us. We can never really leave it behind. However, we can have integration and a certain resolution with it. Befriend it perhaps.

Happy New Year…

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And days of auld lang syne?”

Robert Burns

What is your relationship to the past?

Getting quiet is a way of integration and healing, I find.

I am a writer…I journaled for over forty years. As I leaf through those journals today, I’m returned to a time and place and a “self” who isn’t here in present time. I visit my younger self at various stages of my life through my journals. Is that what I want to spend the remaining years of my life doing? Revisiting what has been a mostly challenging past? Have I learned anything from it? Is this returning to and writing about it in present time going to enhance my life today? Does anyone else really want to read about my once-upon-a-time life?

Can I make something new out of this sow’s ear of the past? I hope so!

Realizing that I have less life ahead of me than behind me, what do I want this next round of life to be about? What do I want to bring to it? What do I hope to gain from it? What do I have to offer to others? These are some of the questions I’m asking these days.

There is a phrase, ‘taking stock.’ Basically, to me that means…generally looking at how I got to where I am today–taking an overview, if you like. Then, the next step is to get firmly grounded in the present time and place and age that I am. And from this steadfast position, I can effectively decide and choose what is serving my evolution and forward movement.

We are cyclical or seasonal beings if you like. When we are in touch with the rhythms and cycles of the earth, we can also be in touch on a deeper level with our own. For they are ever turning, ever changing, in motion. There is an optimism when connecting to nature in this way–in connecting with our own rhythmic response to nature’s cycles. Noting this, there is always an opportunity to deepen and evolve.

The new year marks a time of new beginnings. I don’t make resolutions anymore. I do align with new practices. I’m appreciating the cycles of the moon these days. The new moon is tomorrow. It’s a time for initiating something new or at least being open to a new idea and taking a step in that direction. Who doesn’t like the idea of making a fresh start?

I’m hoping for you, my readers the kind of year that heals your wounds and gently opens your heart to the wonder of being yourself on the earth at this moment in time. And the recognition that everyone else desires this healing and opening too. Blessed be.

Can You Help Me To Understand?

So there it is. In this time when we experience heightened awareness of our patterns of communication, we come up against a belief system in someone else that is so contrary to how we see things. It is their “white to our black”–an opposition, and we can’t get past the distinct differences. There are many opportunities to explore this over the course of one’s life. We’ve seen it in our politics a lot lately. And, sometimes up close and personal, within our own families.

While there may be some situations where I am able to put myself in someone else’s shoes and get an understanding of how they might feel, there are some beliefs or perceptions that I really don’t get.

So what am I to do when the divide between me and someone else seems high and wide? I don’t know exactly where I heard this line: “Can you help me to understand?” The rest of the question might be “Can you help me to understand why you see it that way?” or “Can you help me to understand why you believe as you do?” or “What experiences in your life have lead you to this perception?”

These questions don’t feel confrontational to me. Any one of them would cause me to pause and consider the formation of my perceptions. If we’re both clear that the questions are an effort towards better understanding, that might help too.

When such a question is posed, there can be no attachment to trying to change the other person’s view. It is asked with an honest curiosity to get to know someone a little better, without judgment. That’s easier said than done. With someone else, can we deeply listen without confrontation or judgment? Can we decide that we don’t have to defend against the expression of someone else’s perceptions?

Yesterday a friend said something about her own thoughts that go astray…the ones that she disapproves of in herself. She is trying a new tactic–to witness without judgment and allow the thought to come in and go out. It seems that the better we get at doing this for ourselves, there is hope that we can then practice this with another. We cannot tell our mind “Don’t ever have that thought again!”, voicing our disapproval. Rather, we notice it and see it as a cloud passing through.

****
Humanity, on the whole, is young. We are finding our way, discovering what it is to be an evolving human being. We have a diversity within this being human. That diversity offers us an opportunity to explore and learn about the many aspects of what this means. Reviewing human history, I witness a less-than-genteel, coming of age as we move past the survival mechanics to a more tolerant and inclusive view of life on earth. However, we teeter between our evolution and the survival instincts–i.e., antiquated war as a means to handle conflict! We don’t seem to be very far along.

When I wonder how are we ever going to have a meeting of the minds, let alone the hearts, the words active compassion surface as power words. Perhaps, in any efforts at communication, we need to bring this quality into the center of the circle engaging active compassion as the basis for any discussion where there is a great variance.

Today, this is only me thinking on paper. Please take from these mind meanderings what you want and leave the rest. And, I’d like to hear what you think in response. Truly.

Writers, Rabbit Holes and Curiouser and Curiouser

My watercolor version of Sir John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland (in the attic)

Alice of Wonderland fame had a curious nature.  Falling down a rabbit hole probably wasn’t brilliant.  However, it lead her into a fictitious world, one that Lewis Carroll fabricated brilliantly.  Was it a political parody?  A not so subtle way to expose and mock the then current political climate in England?  Was it only a fantasy, a child’s tale?  To be taken at face value?

Regardless, writers are curious beings.  They pursue various white rabbits in their quest for a story.  They research and sniff things out.  They discover, uncover, unearth, expose and bring things to light to share with their readers.  Ha!  Curiosity, it has been said, keeps one young.  The exploration can lead you into all sorts of encounters.  However, if it’s a white rabbit that you meet, you might be careful about who you tell.

In my childhood, the oft repeated phrase was “Children are meant to be seen and not heard.”  What clever person invented that one?  Asking questions and having a questing nature is how we discover and learn about the world that we’re born into.  The autocratic family system in which I grew up disallowed individual thinking and discouraged asking questions.  You were served what you were served and it was for your own good–you best swallow it in its entirety.  Some of my siblings chafed under this rule and were given the strap.  Others went into denial… ‘everything is fine’.  And then, the belief that everyone lived like this seemed true.  There wasn’t a lot of connection with the outside world.  Isolation is important in this type of system.  

It takes awhile, after one leaves such a home, to feel safe enough to express yourself freely.  It takes awhile to even realize what your own thoughts are.  But when you begin to come out from under the veils of fear and trauma, you start to notice things around you that just aren’t right.  And  your questions rise to the surface.  If you feel safe enough, you pursue those questions with an avidness, a rising hunger, a quest for your own truth in the midst of a world in chaos.  So, your early childhood, in a sense has trained you to recognize the non-sense that much of the world is buying into.  You have insight into the fragmentation, the separation, the isolation, the not seeing what is really going on (i.e. the elephant in the living room).  When your experiences take you into situations where questions aren’t encouraged, you have a nose for something isn’t right here.  

What I’m noticing is that there are many people across the planet who don’t question the status quo.  I witness how we continue allowing atrocities, warmongering, class differences, economic stratification, ageism, sexism, racism–all those ism’s.  And then there are those who do question, thankfully.  Climate change is real…do we stick our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise or do we roll up our sleeves and head into the fray and see if we can learn from the wiser elders, the indigenous ones, those who love the earth?  

No one person can address all the inequities by themselves.  I wonder what might happen if you or I or anyone chooses one thing to be curious about, to study and learn about?  At some point, you might feel the desire to share what you’ve learned.  At times, you could feel inspired to speak with newfound authority on  your topic of choice.  You might be inclined to educate others from that place of passionate awareness

One thing!  One thing only to be curious about and to explore.  What would you choose?

The Frustrated Communicator

I’m tackling it…the two file cabinets, the plastic bins in the closet, the cluttered shelves in the dining room. I started with the least cumbersome–the wicker shelf unit in the living room–cluttered with art supplies, recycled papers to be used for my innumerable lists, roles of decorative art papers, art journals, writing journals. As I rearranged or tried to organize, I realized that the frustration I feel isn’t perhaps that I have all of these journals and loose-leaf writing. I realize that I am a frustrated communicator!

Over the course of my life, I wrote and explored my questions on any and everything in these journals! There were times when I had a special person in my life with whom I could discuss the deeper things of life. And these rare people were dearly valued. When they moved on or died, that avenue, that special connection was gone. Then my questions lay like kindling in a mishmash pile, unanswered. It seems as if the questions, thoughts and poetry hover in another universe, waiting to be met, hoping to meet other inquirers. In the meanwhile, they sit in space (or in my journals) struggling for air and witnessing.

Does that make any sense? It is obvious that when I look at these stacks of journals, there is a seeker inside of me. A frustrated one. Because a monologue is a lonely place…I at least crave a dialogue or a circle of seekers like me. It would be nice. It would be great!

I have a few questions for you…do you welcome your own questions? Do you judge them? Do you find ways to share them with someone who won’t judge you in any way, with whom you feel safe?

What are you feeling?

Things are scrambled.  There is disorientation.  My brother in San Francisco doesn’t drive.  He relies on buses.  The buses are running but it’s always a risk.  Who else is going to be on the bus?  What are their personal habits of cleanliness and responsibility towards others?  He can’t get to his usual places to shop for the food he usually eats.  He is eating more canned food.  His health is suffering.  He isn’t getting the exercise he normally gets.  He lives alone, is a social being and feels cut off from his connections.  His lifestyle has been severely curtailed.  He lives minimally with a small carbon footprint.  Even with that, this is rough.

After a recent conversation with him, I felt sad.  I told him that he needed to eat healthy.  That much he could do for himself.  The stores where he usually shops are over-crowded making him less likely to shop there.  I told him he could have fresh produce delivered.  Regardless, he is down-hearted by everything that is going on right now.  Living in San Francisco, he feels the impact more than I do where I live.  Less freedom of motion.  His is one story among many…one good reason for kindness towards one another.

Expressive.1

This face came about from what I was feeling in the moment.  The words that I wrote  were:

There is so much that is going on that is challenging for many at this time.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.  An ongoing sadness and simultaneously, an awareness of the extreme beauty that surrounds us.  Concern for self and family and community, the world–the earth.  Humans haven’t lived softly on this planet.  Why have we distanced from the earth who sustains us?  There are so many questions hovering in the air.  I like to think that where there’s a question, nearby is an answer.  We have to pay attention–become conscious of the feedback that we are receiving from the earth and her other creatures.  We aren’t alone in this.  Why do we forget?

Then, yesterday, sitting in my tiny garden in the backyard, leaning into the uncertainty, a little hummingbird settled nearby, framed in a wire rectangle of the fenced enclosure.  It visited for an indeterminate time and we studied one another.  The rarity of such an experience always feels like an honoring.

This painting is a reminder to not run away from your feelings.  As they arise, do acknowledge them, embrace them, sit with them, be patient with yourself through them.  It is in this state of acceptance and bringing comfort to them that they are recognized and eased.  Have you noticed that?

In the midst of uncertainty, some things feel right with the world.  We look for those things.

Take good care.

Where the Green Ants Dream

A few weeks ago, I watched this 1984 film directed by Werner Herzog.

 

It touched me deeply.  Afterwards, I had no one with whom to discuss the film and all that it brought up for me.

Sometimes, putting my thoughts and feelings into a poem helps.

****

Some days a sad gloom
descends
and the cello sounds like
melancholy
the sky is gray and
cloudy
Then I remember
again
that I miss you.

Last night, I watched
a Werner Herzog film,
Where the Green Ants Dream.
Aboriginal Australians
in opposition to
the mining company
blasting explosives
searching for what?
The green ants of
this sacred part of the desert
would be forced to move
taking with them the dreamscape
where the future of the peoples
is dreamed into being.

And I thought where the heck are you?
I need to talk to you about this.
My own thoughts are noisy and circular.
They make me dizzy with their roundabout.
You would challenge or agree, but at least
it wouldn’t be only me in reaction
to the air.

I wanted to ask you if you think we have
a good purpose here…the white folks?
If we are orchestrating our own doom
or if there is hope for us
If the planet and all of
its inhabitants would be saved?
Or would we be the lemmings
we seem to be?

Would you agree with
what the tribal elder said–
that we are we asking the stupid questions?
The ones we formulate with our small minds
the minds that aren’t inclusive.
The it’s-all-about-me mind,
the consumption-oriented mind.
I’d like to talk to you about this
before it’s too late.

Do we consider ourselves to be more
advanced
because we crafted these complex
systems?  Identified, classified, named things?
The very systems that distance us
further from nature, the earth and our origins?

Why can’t we be satisfied with not knowing,
with the mystery?

Are you hiding now
within that same mystery?

Giving Your Creative Best

…this is the way I give praise.  It isn’t to be the best…it is to be my best.

Sometimes, I get into a fret wondering what is my purpose?  What is the body of work that I have to contribute either in writing or painting?  What is mine and  mine alone to share?  How am I making the world a better place for my being here?

Do you ever ask these questions?  Or wonder about your purpose?  Of course, if we get into comparison, we see people out there who seem to be driven with purpose from the beginning.  Those who make a positive impact.

Like Jane Goodall…

Watching this documentary over the past few nights, I’m struck by Jane Goodall’s sense of purpose.  Her early childhood knowing that she had a calling.  And, although she didn’t know how she was going to achieve that calling, she trusted in it and perhaps put herself in places of opportunity.  She had a supportive mother who let her believe that her dreams were possible (as outlandish as they might have appeared to others).  Jane didn’t know how it was going to unfold, but unfold it did.

****
Most of the people in my circles don’t seem to have such a follow the breadcrumbs course to their purpose.   For me, it’s been more of an obstacle course.  And then an effort to decipher what was that all about?  I find myself looking for meaning in a life that has been turned upside down several times.

Is there a purpose to be derived from a life riddled with complexities–my own intricacies influenced by others?

Does my purpose center around what am I learning from this life of challenges?  Is this what I can share?  The hard won life lessons?  Is my “purpose” woven into these?

In our culture, do we make way too much of having a purpose?  Does even the option to consider your purpose depend on your economic status?  If you are in survival mode, your purpose is to survive.  The self-actualization hovering at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…if the other needs on the ladder are met, then we might have time to consider purpose.  Then again, we’ve all heard the rags to riches stories.

What is that one magical thread that you seek to give meaning to your life?  Some people never ponder this…they live their lives.  Some with a greater degree of consciousness than others.  Is their life of any less value for not pondering these questions?

Is it as I said at the start of this blog?–
this is the way I give praise.  It isn’t to be the best…it is to be my best.