Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Lure of the Moderns

This is a special morning, because I am awake just before sunrise, and can enjoy watching it while having my tea and working on some non-academic writing for a change. I would like to move my writing table to face the East window in the house, but in another month I will have to put an air conditioning unit there. One of the Southeast windows would be next-best, but it leaves me with some other logistical difficulties. Right now, I face West, so I have to turn myself around to see the sun coming upon the other side of the room. (No jokes about Hokey-Pokey Anonymous, please--Mental Floss has already done that. If you don't know that joke, look it up.)

When I come downstairs, Shiva will give a little chirping "meow", and I always respond by saying "Good morning, sunshine" to my black cat. There is a peach-colored line on the horizon, with headstones and yellow forsythia in the foreground. Above the peach line are thick, textured gray clouds. (Gray or Grey?) The forecast says it will be a sunny day, but I have my doubts. Still, there is time for things to change. Nothing changes more than the weather, especially in Spring.

I put on the hall light, a hideous fixture that consists of nothing but a large white globe hanging down from a straight chain covered with white rubber. I would change the hall fixture, except that it is mounted in the middle of the stairwell, and one would likely face imminent death by falling if they went up there to remove it. It's hard enough to change the bulb; it's usually a minimum 2-person job. I have the same fixture in my kitchen nook, but I always order stained glass light bulbs to put in that one. They give the room a more interesting glow.

We now have to use those "twisty" light bulbs instead of the normal ones that are narrow at the neck and round at the top. This is true internationally, as these bulbs are supposed to be better for the environment. However, my mother informed me that these bulbs are considered hazardous waste, and cannot simply be thrown away. This is similar to hybrid cars, which use less gasoline fuel, but practically require a hazmat team to get rid of the engine. This seems to me to be a case of penny wise and pound foolish, or worse. So, we save some gas or electric, but they are so dangerous we can't dispose of them in ordinary ways? I don't understand how the benefits outweigh the risks. Surely they can come up with something better. Though, in an environment where oil companies make the laws and we have actual Congresspersons who believe that "God will take care of nature, we can do what we want to it", perhaps we will never see anything better, even if they make it.

I planted a couple of climbing hydrangeas in front of my house, with my father's help. Digging in the front of my yard is very difficult; the soil is good, but there are many rocks. We pulled out a large number of rocks, and I tried to build a mini-Stonehenge in the driveway. A mini-Avebury is probably the best I could do, though it would need to be spread out more. Or, I could use them for a little fire pit out back. But I like the idea of a mini-Cairn better.

Speaking of cairns, I will be taking a trip to Ireland in a couple of months, for one of my doctoral courses. I hope to keep a travelogue while I'm there, though it will depend on whether or not I bring my laptop with me. In any case, July should be a productive blogging month for me.

My doctoral work has been the main joy of my life. I feel that for anyone working on a doctorate, this has to be the case. My current class is a "survey" course (meaning I get to see everything in the program, and it's on a pass/fail basis), and I've already had 1,000 pages of reading and almost 35 pages of writing. But I don't mind it at all. Currently I am writing a paper on some of Cezanne's landscape paintings. A couple of weeks ago, we had lectures on the Imagist poets, who are my favorites. The professor was a remarkable woman. I say that because in 2 short weeks, she explained to me something I didn't fully understand for 4 years of English Literature courses, both here and abroad.

My last two blog postings were about Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf pieces. Both women are part of the Modernist school of literature, know for its "stream of consciousness" approach to writing. The Imagists are part of the same school--Ezra Pound, H.D., William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, and Richard Aldington, to name a few. Imagism is a reaction against Romanticism--the flowery abstractions of a Byron or Shelley poem.

I remember the time I was engaged to my future and later ex-husband. He read a lot of Carlos Castaneda at the time, and was always insistent that there was some reality beyond ours, that he didn't need to invest anything in this world because it wasn't "the real one". (I bought him a copy of Castaneda's "The Power of Silence", and that put an end to that delusion.) I tried to explain to him, not very successfully, that the mundane also has a deep spirituality. There is so much that is astounding and inspiring in the ordinary, the routine, the every day. While I studied and enjoyed the Moderns as an undergraduate, I didn't make the connection between them and the assertion that I made to my fiance. After having 2 weeks of lecture in the last month, I finally put the two together.

Imagism and Modernism focus on the every day. Imagist poetry does not waste words; it gets to the point, paints a definite picture with words, sounds, and structure. The writing of someone like Virginia Woolf looks at very ordinary happenings in the lives of ordinary people, but it becomes expanded into a narrative that is anything but ordinary. We are not just our routines, we are the thoughts, associations, and memories that are evoked in those routines. There is no causal A to B linear relationship in regular consciousness. Things jump all over the place. Like Marcel Proust's beloved madelines, the taste of something from his childhood started the long story of his remembrances. Everything is pregnant with meaning, is a form of "art" if we examine it carefully.

I was discussing this with a friend, who thought that perhaps it was like a "Vedanta" approach to things rather than a "Bhakta" approach in Hinduism. I thought about it. "No," I said. "Maybe a little like Vedanta. But Vedanta is about no image at all. It's really more like Zen Buddhism." One learns to come into awareness by observing simple things. I was helping another friend teach a meditation class once. He spoke about an exercise that he tried once in awareness. "Just try for 10 minutes to be aware of everything you do," he said. Going down the stairs, taking a plate down, getting bread out of the fridge, putting the kettle on, washing the dishes--rather than think of a million other things, just focus on those acts exclusively, notice everything about them. It's incredibly hard to do, because the mind wants to go in a million different directions. In the Moderns, we see both the stream of consciousness and that meditative awareness in different forms. We can then relate to these things in a different way, because we are making conscious our usually unconscious way of seeing things. Modernism cultivates both types of awareness, and both make life richer in their own way. A "spirituality of the mundane."

So, this was my Literary Studies epiphany. It may have been her very clear explanation of things, or it may just be that I'm at a much different point in my life. I re-read things now that I read as an undergraduate, and they suddenly open up a whole new level of meaning that they didn't have for me then.

The sun is now up, the sky is a mixture of gray and blue, and the cat is devoting his awareness to some birds singing in a tree outside. And I am about to devote my awareness to washing some windows. No better time for Spring cleaning than Spring.