Bells, part 3, Relax

We should probably be wary of statements beginning with the pronouncement, “Never before, in the history of the world….”

Nevertheless, given our current world predicament, we might find ourselves in need of some relaxation – seemingly, like never before.

In his little book titled “How to Relax,” the monk Thich Nhat Hanh begins:

“You don’t need to set aside special time for resting and relaxing. You don’t need a special pillow or any fancy equipment. You don’t need a whole hour. In fact, now is a very good time to relax” (page 6, “How to Relax,” Parallax Press, 2015).

The same might be said for writing. You don’t need a fancy machine, a special desk or pen, or even a purpose. What you need – is a bell.

“There is tranquility, peace, and joy within us, but we have to call them forth so they can manifest. Inviting a bell to sound is one way to call forth the joy and tranquility within” (page 100).

Thick Nhat Hanh gives us a poem to remind us of the bell we want to listen for, to hear, to send out to others:

“Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May all the hearers awaken from forgetfulness,
and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow” (page 100).

And we don’t need a fancy blog template or website to write. Again, nevertheless, here at The Coming of the Toads, I’ve experimented with a few of the WordPress templates over time. But what did I want, if not simply to write? This isn’t the only place, the only way, I write. I keep a pocket notebook in the left rear pocket of my pants (detail for readers in need), unlined because I like to doodle and wander. I keep a spiral notebook in a desk drawer. I started The Coming of the Toads, after a few hesitant starts, in December of 2007, and have posted something at least monthly since. Why then, lately, have I been having thoughts of ending it?

I wasn’t “inviting the bell.” Not Poe’s “the tintinabulation of the bells,” nor his “anger of the bells,” nor his “moaning and the groaning of the bells.” But the bell of the muse. I like this etymological note from Oxford: “Middle English: from Old French muser ‘meditate, waste time’, perhaps from medieval Latin musum ‘muzzle’.” Writing involves a good amount of self-muzzle, or should. First, we might want to relax. Invite the bell. Then take up the pen and notebook, or open the blog.

This is the third piece in a series on bells at The Coming of the Toads.

Bells

Manual typewriters contained a bell that rang to signal the coming of the end of a line. The typist could adjust where along the line the bell might ring. Shorter lines…Longer lines. The faster typist increased the frequency of the bells one heard. When the bell rang, the typist had but a few strokes left before reaching up with left hand to push the typewriter carriage return lever to the far right to reset the type guide at the left margin of the paper to begin a new line.

I got a new job, in a large, corporate office, flying paper airplanes. During the day, the three story building housed around 500 employees sitting at grey metal desks. There were a few managerial secretaries with typewriters. The rest of us used the typing pool. All you had to do was pick up your phone, dial the typing pool extension, and, when you heard the bell, begin dictation. Finished, you could let the piece fly, or ask that it be delivered to your desk via the office mail to proof and return to the pool or place in the outgoing mail.

There was a procedure for just about everything. New procedural bulletins arrived regularly. Some updated older bulletins or clarified procedural details. Others introduced new procedures. Sometimes, a section meeting would be devoted to reviewing a new procedure before its effective date. In short order, most procedures were memorized, but employees also stuck notes around their desks to remind themselves of key procedural steps. For procedures that never became part of routine, one referenced a procedural manual, which was an encyclopedia of procedure bulletins, collected by category and number. Employees also made notes in these manuals, and flagged the most frequently referenced pages.

The mailroom was located in the basement. The mailroom employees were also heavily burdened with procedures. The cafeteria was located on the top floor, and afforded views of the surrounding area, which included a freeway interchange. There was a patio on one side of the cafeteria, with tables with chairs and umbrellas, where one could take a coffee or sandwich and enjoy the fresh air.

There were procedures for evacuating the building, in case of emergency, initiated by the ringing of signal bells over the public address speaker system. These bells also controlled the start and end of the work day as well as the start and end of break and lunch periods. The workday started at 7:30, signaled by the single ring of a bell. Employees were expected to be seated and working at the bell; otherwise, they might be considered tardy. This was explained in the Personnel Procedure Manual. Employees took breaks in shifts, so that no section or department was ever completely idle. Morning breaks ran from 9:30 to 9:45 and from 10:00 to 10:15. A bell signaled the beginning and ending of each break. Thus four bells would ring at fifteen minute intervals. Lunch break was 45 minutes, and ran from 11:30 to 12:15 and 12:15 to 1:00. An efficient three bells sufficed. In the afternoon, four bells rang again for breaks, beginning at 2:30 and ending at 3:15. A final bell rang at 4:30 and the building quickly emptied, faster than for a fire drill.

By procedure, the secretaries placed dust covers over their typewriters at the end of the workday.

Coast Road Trip: Sans Pics

A perspicacious reader asked why I haven’t posted any pics from the road trip. I’m working on moving toward a new kind of blog, more like the one I started, back in December of 2007, which contained no pics, just short bursts of writing pleasure. I had in mind the kind of posts the venerable E. B. White wrote in the early New Yorker.

“From 1925 to 1976 he crafted more than eighteen hundred pieces for the magazine and established, in the words of editor William Shawn, “a new literary form.” That form was the magazine’s Comment essay—a personal essay that was, in White’s hands, light in style yet often weighty in substance. As White noted in a 1969 Paris Review interview, > I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

“Eighty-Five from the Archive: E. B. White,” by Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.

Not that I ever achieved anything everyone might call, “not lousy.” In any case, I drifted away, or off, and into a kind of academic stream, where I imagined I might augment my adjunct work at the time. And I tried to bring some attention to the books I was working on, both reading and writing. Then I began to work-in more slant, though never totally “false,” and found the proverbial bottom of the barrel when I started putting up some poetry. And I recently considered retiring The Coming of the Toads, leaving it to sink to the bottom of the archive abyss of the Internet, where some future crab scuttling along might find a few morsels to criticize.

E. B. White’s idea of the short, personal essay (note the importance of that comma) has been replaced in many blogs by the personal pic essay, with and without words, the latter like Beckett’s short play, “Act Without Words.” And I suspect more reading is done on phones these days than when I started The Coming of the Toads on a desktop computer back in ’07, and the phone and other smaller size formats encourage changes in aspect ratios of screen, pics, and writing. And thinking about that, I decided to remove this blog’s header pic, begin writing with a minimum of pics altogether, returning to the short, personal note or comment type essay. I even thought of a new tagline for the title space: The Coming of the Toads: No links, No likes, No comments. I know that sounds a bit anti-social, but what I’m aiming for is clarity, simplicity – a clean, well-lighted blog.

Besides, I don’t get many comments or likes, and many that I do get appear to be from spam and bots, and I lost all the pics I took on our recent trip, mistakenly thinking I had backed up my phone photos to Google Photos when I had not, in the meantime deleting all the photos from my phone, then crashing my Instagram account trying to retrieve what I had at least saved there. Seems poetic justice for an anti-social attitude.

Having at this point already exceeded my target word limit, not to mention having probably lost my target audience, those interested in hearing more about the Road Trip, I give you this portfolio of road trip pics, all taken by my sister Barbara and Susan as I was trying on the lighthouse keeper’s uniform jacket at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, north of Newport, trying to strike poses I imagined a lighthouse keeper might have aimed at were he the subject of a live, on the job photo shoot:

Note: Comments On for this post. Have fun!

An Impure Primer

A beastly catechism
dog eared brown cat 
drenched frozen
green halo.

I just kwikzilver
looked.

Mighty nice
mice nook.

Opening opinion pending
please query
queue quorum.

Run straight
toward universe
vast wobbly.

Exit your zero.

Epiphanic Cat

A kin of kindly
epiphany, unblinding, 
not whiskey aflame
in your raw throat,
a mud dog’s bouche
to your uncupped
groin, but the silent
soft brush of a cat
rub against your leg
to say hello
and please
pay attention
to her.


This and That

This and That had a quick chat.
You go this way and I’ll go that,
balanced on the brim of a hat.

Said That, I which wish to set
up this neither forget nor forgive
any trespass near or far.

As far as that goes, replied This,
I’ll look forward to that there
reminder, and with That,

into the hat fell This,
and next,
out came That.

Thus This fell forward nearby,
while That fell far and away 
back, and this chat was that.

Penina’s Paginations

For some, grammar might be understood as an attempt to control language, or to control a speaker. But the only way to establish complete control over a language is to kill it, which is probably or nearly impossible, because language possesses, like the planarian, the ability to reform or regenerate from a tiny piece of itself. I point to an object, and that is how grammar works. The object could be the sugar bowl on the kitchen table, the moon, or a running man. I link to it for the purpose of linking you to it also. But first, I have to get your attention. Of course, I can always point to myself, or point to an object by myself, like talking to myself, which might be one origin of poetry. When the objects we point to disappear, or others claim to be unable to see them, we come to the first existential crisis of language, where we find ourselves in grammar school, the subjects of rote repetition in an effort to create memory. In grammar school, we learn to wear a uniform.

We learn to number our clothes. The hat, number 1. Or maybe we start with the shoes, the socks being a subset. First we put on the right sock, then the left, then the right shoe, then the left shoe. Never mind it’s a sunny day and we were thinking what fun it would be to go barefoot. To go barefoot, in grammar school, is one of the first examples of being ungrammatical. We are assigned a seat, a number in a numbered row, alphabetized and numbered in the numbers book. Having a number is essential when everyone looks alike.

So it was with a tremulous motion I finally approached my MS Word file containing my first published novel, “Penina’s Letters,” to correct a few unintended consequences. The first printing had contained an unacceptable number of typos, and the front matter setup has always felt a bit clumsy to me. The chapter listing page, for example, showed the chapter titles but no page numbers. And the ISBN didn’t show on the copyright page. But why the tremolo? Why not just go in and make the changes? I did manage one corrected copy upload, after the first printing back in 2016, ridding the book of most of the obvious errors, mistakes which, it pains me to admit, I had failed to spy with my little proofreading eye. But a few issues remained, as additional readings revealed, but the thought of entering the MS Word file again and resubmitting for revision to CreateSpace for approval with the hope of not making matters worse was all more than I felt up to. Besides, I now had other projects underway that required my attention.

Then, a week or so ago, I was notified that CreateSpace was closing its doors and all texts migrating to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So I took the opportunity to become acquainted with KDP by reworking the front matter of “Penina’s Letters” and fixing a trio of what I recognized as outstanding mistakes.

My first submission of a redo file for KDP’s approval was rejected – something to do with pagination errors. Mercifully, the rejection came within the 24 hours promised, and I went back to work on the Word.doc before motivation waned, resubmitted again, got approval, ordered a proof copy, and voila! No page numbers at all.

Suffice to say, after all that preamble and bramble, that for the past several days I’ve been immersed in a kind of MS Word pagination purgatory. Changes to a text often cancel out other changes, or sit on top of them, burying them below – but that suggests there is a top and a bottom to the thing, and of course there is not.

I got page one to say 1 but could not get the other pages to follow suit. I got every page to say 1. And so on, nothing acceptable. I began to think, rationalizing and trying to come up with some creative solution, why bother paginating at all anyway? Does the common reader really need page numbers? And isn’t a page number a kind of mar on an otherwise illuminated manuscript page? I got page numbers to show, but not in the footer where they belong. I toyed with “different front page,” “link to previous,” “create section break,” erase all and begin again. Deeper and deeper into an MS Word morass I sank. I entered “document,” “paragraph,” the journeyman’s “tools.” Suddenly blank pages and huge gaps in the text began to appear throughout the manuscript. I fixed and corrected and proofed. At one point, I had a file with pagination complete that seemed correctly formatted. I resubmitted yet again to KDP, and the proof file came back still with no page numbers.

I took a break from the project. I remember McLuhan saying something about pagination beginning with the printing press. The fall is into the printing press. Is there a page 1 to the Internet? In a mosaic, one may enter and exit anywhere. Page numbers are useless. There are no pages. There is the infinite scroll – over, under, sideways, down.

“Backwards forwards square and round.
When will it end, when will it end,
When will it end, when will it end,”

the Yardbirds sang.

“We don’t need no stinking page numbers,” I can hear Puck Malone of “Penina’s Letters” saying. But in the end I managed somehow to successfully place page numbers on the outside edge in the footer of even numbered pages, in sequence, every other page. I seemed to recall seeing books numbered only on every other page. I looked through some books. Saul Bellow’s “The Actual” places page numbers only on the odd numbered pages, right edge of page, in the margin, spelled out, in italics: page one. Enough.

Interested readers may utilize the “look inside” feature at Amazon to get an idea of how the new printing of “Penina’s Letters” came out.

 

 

Cyberpunk

Round ears curl silver coils of sounds,
across nose stands glass bridge in worm-fog,
always under construction.

Every sense a degree, and digression, and distraction.

This is technology:
rubber sneakers, cotton threads,
titanium screw implants capped
with fool’s gold.

Then that hardened heart
lumbering loose without nails
full of sloth a snail’s shake
ebbs & flows fickling & flicking
comes & goes riding the tides
like a pickle on smooth ocean
swells rising then falling
oily muscle lifting and dropping
off to sleep, surly salty
heart pickled in hope chest,
just like a human heart.

Notes on Jessica Sequeira’s “A Furious Oyster”

20180916_100653I was reading Jessica Sequeira’s debut novel, “A Furious Oyster” (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018), when the 30 August London Review of Books arrived in the day’s mail. A book review should reveal something unexpected, but to do that the book under consideration must be heard in a whisper.

I turned to the review of Zadie Smith’s latest collection of essays; the LRB reviewer, Thomas Chatterton Williams, quotes from Zadie’s foreword:

“‘I have no real qualifications to write as I do. Not a philosopher or sociologist, not a real professor of literature or film, not a political scientist, professional music critic or trained journalist … My evidence – such as it is – is almost always intimate. I feel this – do you? I’m struck by this thought – are you?’”

Later in the review, we might recall that quote and think Zadie is telling us something more, but on the slant, that where she comes from, who she is, who her parents were, the various markings often used for identity, also don’t necessarily serve as “real qualifications”:

“‘Who am I to speak of this painting? I am a laywoman, a casual appreciator of painting, a dilettante novelist, a non-expert – not to mention a woman of lower birth than the personage here depicted … I am still the type of person who will tend, if I am in a public gallery, to whisper as I stand in front of the art.’”

That ‘whisper’ is often precisely both unexpected and unheard. The whisper follows no code of style. The whisper comes after the existence of the writer, and describes her essence, her choices, her existential leanings, what she has decided to follow. The whisper is the writer’s breath. The whisper might also be how something is said, and is often paradoxical. The whisper breaks the piece, ruins the lecture, calls from the pit, stops the show. The whisper might be a prayer of praise or a heckle in time with popular opinions.

There’s something else, too, about the whisper; it’s what most of us do who have no real qualifications. And out of all those whispers (the all but silent blogs, the self-published and distributed broadside, the furious but funny poem in the on-line lit-wall), which ones should we home in on? And why would someone whisper when already no one’s listening?

Sometimes, of course, the whisper “goes viral,” bounces and echoes off walls, scampers up trees, drifts through subway tunnels. But who or what is the host for that sometimes poison, at times the scent of lavender? And it’s well known, though often not accepted, the virus does not respond to antibiotics, the stubborn use of which weakens the resistance.

All noise dissipates into whisper, so it should not surprise us that John Cage’s 4’ 33’’ goes briefly viral upon each new discovery. We realize even the Big Bang was a silent singularity. Not only might the world end not with a bang but a whisper, as Eliot almost said in “The Hollow Men,” but the world probably began with a whisper.

A whisper is not a whimper. A whimper is what comes out of a giant mouth at the end of a rant. A whisper is a careful timing of breath, a largo escape, patient. The whisper goes easy and around.

“Although that isn’t quite right either: how to describe something like the voice of a person just out of sight?” (A Furious Oyster, 92).

Hilda Mundy’s voice was far out of sight when Jessica Sequeira brought it back: “I don’t want them to punish me with comments” (Mundy, Pyrotechnics, trans. Sequeira, We Heard You Like Books, 2017, 17). “Them,” the “three-dozen readers laughing at the pages of my failure” (17).

The whisper never fails: “I began to hear people whispering things to help me, advice. I don’t know whether those voices were really there or not, but they brought me serenity. They helped talk me through my situation, suggesting new paths, pointing out what I needed to do” (A Furious Oyster, 92).

“I have great respect, in contrast, for the metaphor. This is that” (118). So when we are told Pablo Neruda has ridden a wave of energy from an earthquake or the ocean or some great storm to enter the realm of the living, we believe. “This is my body.” This voice, this word. The metaphor transfigures.

Sequeira’s “A Furious Oyster” is diary, memoir, investigation, document, thesis, mystery, love story. Let’s “be clear,” there are “other realities” (55). The reality of the metaphor, for example. “Strong wills work even in the shadows of the afterlife” (Mundy, Pyrotechnics, 29). Does every word contain its erotic origin? “How pleasant and suggestive a couple in love is!” (Mundy, 34). “Would I want to live forever in this particular moment, this precise patch of time?…Her kisses alternate, soft and hard. I wrap my arms around her, but already her shoulders feel less firm; our time is nearly up. We must go back now, I know, I know. I know, and how I wish I did not” (A Furious Oyster, 38).

“A Furious Oyster” is a story of two famous poets in Chile, Pablo Neruda and Pablo de Rokha, literary adversaries, it seems, but both driven by the sufferings and loves of the people of a place, a land, a geography, a structure, to reach out, to reach. The geography of Sequeira’s book reveals her interests in shapes: “Sometimes at night, I dreamed of these theoretical shapes – the rhombuses, the ovals, the diamonds, the ellipses of sub-arguments within the prose. I kept only one notebook, and the diary of my personal life merged smoothly into the most abstract of notes on these Chilean poets, here and gone before my time” (55). “A Furious Oyster” is also the story of a writer researching, composing, working, in a relationship, watching, listening. And it’s the story of a place, Santiago de Chile.

Sequeira possesses that most unique of minds, the one able ambidextrously to move easily from the hard academic to the soft poet (or is it the soft academic to the hard poet?) within the same shape. The flow of “A Furious Oyster,” its style, is redolent of the Duras of the “Four Novels,” or Lispector’s way of creating mystery while unveiling surprises. I also thought of the modernism of Djuna Barnes and Anais Nin. Jessica Sequeira is a translator, a scholar, a writer. She both understands and comprehends literature. For those of us who can only comprehend, but feel we are indeed also “struck with this thought,” we can only whisper in her shadow that you really should read “A Furious Oyster.”

Pig Roast

In backyard rock lined pit dug underground for roasting of pig.

This yr pig day a hot one. The pig on a spit put into the pit by two strongest men, kneeling over the mouth, where a wood fire burning overnight has heated the rocks molten. The prepared pig at rest in the hot rocks, a sheet metal lid pulled over the hole. The pig cooks in the ground all this long hot day.

Waiting while pig cooks, drinking beer, young men throwing horse shoes, kids playing capture the flag in the closed street, salads prepped inside in the kitchen (where a ceiling fan famously spins), watermelon slices and water balloon toss in the front yard.

The pig pulls out early evening, after the old folks nap in the shade of the dusty eucalyptus.

The planet spins, spit pointed this pole toward the sun, one hot stone roasting a pretty blue pig, green apples popped in its mouth.

General agreement this yrs pig tastiest on record.

“This heat keeps up, soon be fixing swine in the shade of the sun,” Mr. Picbred says, mouth swill of pig, popping a fresh beer, sitting in front porch rocker, plate on lap, feet up, breathing from his belly, watching our sun go down.

global warming