Hardheaded Nation

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Watching an old episode of a favorite show, I was amused at a line one of the characters quipped about another. The current boyfriend of the girl had been making fun of the recent literary work of her ex as the three of them awkwardly sat at dinner. When her insulted ex stormed off and she confronted her boyfriend about it, he dismissed it with the phrase, “He’s a writer. They’re always sensitive.”

Of course, he was just being facetious. It was funny, though, because it was true. The other guy was the girl’s ex for a reason. He had been moody, unreliable, quick to take offense, spontaneous in a lot of unpleasant, inconvenient ways, but also brilliant, well-read…and a newly published writer. All the stereotypes in one smooth blow.

There is some practicality behind the stereotype. Writers have to be sensitive. It is an occupational necessity, an innate requirement. It encompasses not just emotional sensitivity, but also sensual receptivity. A writer has to be able to let things in so that they can accurately relate the true nature of things. To be closed off from your subject makes for bad writing–it would show in every line.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to turn off. There is a fine line between sensitive writer and a tortured writer. Life under that sort of constant stimulation can become tough to handle. We’ve all heard stories of various self-destructive means many writers have taken to get relief. I know this world, which makes it hard for me to understand the reverse state.

Imagine my delight to find the poem “Egg-head” by the great Ted Hughes. In the poem, we get a glimpse into the experience of the not-so-sensitives. I hesitate to call these people ‘insensitive,’ because it brings up images of those with an obvious moral lack, rude or even cruel people. No, I’m talking about those who by nature or by conscious choice do not let outside stimuli affect them, whether physical or emotional. Or, plainly speaking, they don’t let things in.

Hughes begins his poem with a list of intricate, delicate attributes of nature that sensitive people would find beautiful, but which our Egg-head would experience as “manslaughtering shocks” if they were let into his consciousness. Other people (you know, those self-destructive sensitive poet types) ‘dare to be struck dead’ because they let in overstimulating nature, but the Egg-head is all about self-preservation. He is a ‘veteran of survival,’ more concerned with ‘defense’ against the overwhelming outside world.

We learn, then, that some people choose to cut themselves off from the world to protect themselves. Fear is king here. They are afraid of being overcome; they are afraid of the loss of control, the possible loss of self, the possible hurt and devastation. Perhaps they had suffered a great emotional blow in the past and subsequently decided it is too risky to ever allow anything in again. So, they shut the world out. We all know people like this, don’t we?

With masterful language, Hughes describes what this kind if thinking would look like. He speaks of the brain being in “opacities” and “walled in translucencies” as the person “shuts out the world’s knocking/ with a welcome.” The outside world speak only to the “deafnesses” of this brain. The highly poetic language shows us how blind and deaf the person has made himself out of “prudence,” to keep the self safe.

But how safe is he or she?

Hughes’ poem explores the idea of the title. This person is an egg-head, a.k.a quite fragile, unfortunately. There is huge risk, huge danger, huge drawbacks to living life this way. Hughes speaks of the “fragility” that “rounds and resists  receiving the flash of the sun, the bolt of the earth.” It takes a lot of work to keep the world out, people! The poem describes “juggleries of benumbing,” among other things the Egg-head must utilize to keep himself from feeling and sensing things. It’s a losing battle. The poem compares the fight to a “dewdrop frailty” having to stop “the looming mouth of the earth with a pin-point cipher.” It is an impossible fight, but the Egg-head will not give it up.

The whole point of it is keeping the self intact, right? What else could fuel such a panicked obstinacy than that? The Egg-head wants to keep that “staturing ‘I am’,” that “upthrust affirmative head of man,” no matter what.  He would even “trumpet his own ear dead,” or remain in his closed, cramped—but safe—egg shell forever rather than let in the sun.

That’s downright impressive…if tragic.

I had a friend like this. He was smart, successful, and attractive, but he seemed incredibly ignorant about the emotional states of others (even himself). Not that he was mean-spirited, but you could just tell that he was protecting himself from possible emotional harm by cutting himself off from all perception of other people’s states of being. It was as if he could not see, hear, or feel the world around him for fear of getting involved, and therefore knocked off balance. It was tragic, too, because it was obvious that he desired emotional connection. Yet, that required vulnerability and vulnerability wasn’t about to happen to someone protecting a fragile self-identity, so he chose to stay protected, even if unfulfilled.

In a way, our whole society is like that. We’re all a bunch of Egg-heads. Just watch any of our TV shows or movies. We idealize the unfeeling intellectuals or the tough guys who couldn’t care less about other people’s emotions or the sunsets appearing in the windows. No, they need to be smart and tough to solve crimes and blow up buildings to save the world. Perhaps it mirrors our own fear and uneasiness about negative situations? Sadness, loss, fear, disappointment…if only we couldn’t feel anything, we would be safe, right?

Like Hughes’ poem indicates, though, there are huge drawbacks to this stance. If all negative emotions and sensations are dismissed, the positive ones go with them. Our appreciation of the finer, more beautiful things in life go, too. The pursuit of tenderness, the enjoyment of love…gone. Is it worth it?

What do you think? Is it better not to feel, not to get involved, not to let the world in, just to be safe? Meanwhile, check out Hughes’ poem. It is nothing short of amazing.

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The Stars and the Sea Said…

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I have run around the world twice trying to figure out who I am and what I am about. And I am exhausted.

I glamorized the pursuit of self-discovery. After surviving the inevitable period of life when the need to be accepted by others is the strongest, I made it a priority to insure that my personal integrity is taken into account in whatever situation I choose for myself. How noble and…what a chore.

When a person spends most of their waking hours trying to figure out life or some other unanswerable question, at some point the mind wobbles with exhaustion and craves a break. It’s an imbalance: living the life of the mind and soul while neglecting the here and now.

Yet, this is just how thought processes work for some of us. People like me prefer munching on information before settling on a final understanding, while some need interpersonal conversation in order to learn. Still others cannot fully grasp concepts unless they can be hands on and experience it for themselves. Most of us use a variety of methods; one is not better than the other. It is only when you stubbornly prefer one mode of thinking over the others that we have a comical…and burnout-inducing…problem.

It’s like that old joke about being book smart but lacking common sense. For an example, you can really see the differences in the way people think right in the family. My youngest sister is a paragon of  practicality. She is one of those hands on people who know what is needed in the moment because she is connected to people and things in the present. One day, while I was suffering from a moderate cold, I began over-spraying myself with perfume to prepare for a night out. After some time, I complained that the perfume had to be cheap because I couldn’t smell a bit of it. My little sister reminded me that I had a cold and that was probably why I couldn’t smell anything. It blew my mind. Here I am turning the bottle over and over in my hands wondering what was wrong with that particular bottle, when she knew automatically what the issue was…

Funny when it’s a small issue, but alarming when you’re turning your mind over and over asking, “Who I am? Why am I here? Where am I going? What am I doing? What’s real? What do I want?” My sister and others like her would answer the questions by living their lives, but I and people like me wear ourselves out pursuing the answers in our cloistered and intricate heads.

We are not the only ones.

The poets of the past have grappled with the same questions. Recently, I began thinking of Matthew Arnold’s “Self-Dependence.”

In the poem, the speaker begins the poem much like we’ve already discussed, ‘weary and sick’ of trying to “find himself.” To find relief and guidance, he turns to nature, the sea and the stars, to demand the secret of their poise and peace. In answer, he is given a list of qualities that the natural world displays and he is advised to follow their example.

The sea and the stars, they are neither dismayed nor distracted by mundane occurrences. They don’t demand that others provide them with fulfillment or happiness. They just do their jobs with beauty and grace, not worrying about aspects of the world that they can’t control. The sea and the stars counsel Arnold’s speaker to do the same. They tell him to let the endless pondering go and just be himself with constancy. Only then would he find the peace that he desired.

Sound advice for me, too. I think the best lesson I’ve learned through my life journey thus far is that I don’t have to have it “all figured out;” that it’s okay sometimes to just be. Of course, the poem says all of this much better than I can summarize. For your pleasure, the poem follows. Afterwards, leave me a comment. Are the last two lines any good? Are the true for you?

Self-Dependence

Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At this vessel’s prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards, o’er the starlit sea.

And a look of passionate desire
O’er the sea and to the stars I send:
‘Ye who from my childhood up have calm’d me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!

‘Ah, once more,’ I cried, ‘ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!’

From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer:
‘Wouldst thou be as these are? Live as they.

‘Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

‘And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silver’d roll;
For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.

‘Bounded by themselves, and unregardful
In what state God’s other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see.’

O air-born voice! long since, severely clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:
‘Resolve to be thyself; and know that he,
Who finds himself, loses his misery!’

Male Privilege and Other Yarns

I appreciate the older folk. Just stick me in the car with them for a few hours, and I am like a cat basking at a sun-filled window. Not only do they have decades of accumulated wisdom, but they have the freedom to give reign to their throats and ‘say what they wanna’ without the prospect of being chastised.

In particular, I know this old couple who rock the classic style—in life and fashion. They are always dressed outrageously well, matching colors, of course. Their ideologies are old-school, too. While meeting with a group of tense, unmarried twenty and thirty-somethings, the wife once gave us a stern talking to about our irrational hesitations with the opposite sex. For a woman who had been married for over forty years, she was flabbergasted at our reservations about dating and marriage. To her, we were all too afraid of being hurt, so we were all clamoring after the ideal mate, and completely terrified of the real thing in front of us. She made it clear that the risk of being hurt, the fights, the pain were all things that came with marriage, even happy ones; they were not something you could avoid.

While I just wanted to say, “I have a right to be afraid. I don’t WANT to marry a crazy!”, it got me thinking. Where did we learn this deep distrust of each other? What made women fear men and men fear women? And, for the record, is “crazy” simply another term for “not like me”–i.e. someone who thinks, acts, communicates, and feels differently than me? Gender happens to be one of the sharpest demarcations among humans, but other generations seemed to accept it, move on, and work it out, right?

Feminism, patriarchies, the social phenomenon of male privilege, women’s rights, these are all issues that are not new to my generation. People would say today that women (in this country at least) have never been treated better, while others would say that there are still gaping holes. Even now, we hear breaking stories on the rape culture that has taken hold of young people and how women are still lagging behind in pay when compared to their male counterparts. While it is not my way to get involved in social movements or politics, I am a pattern-finder, and it is not hard to see how this Male/Female Fear has been raging among us since…well, forever. The difference is that previous generations had less freedom to rebel against the establishment.

As always, we can turn to the artists of the time to provide this rebellion. The poets and authors of the past have always seemed to us to be “ahead of their time” when it comes to social issues like this. We also have many talented writers today who can write about how deep-seated fear, oppression, and demeaning behavior exists between the sexes on a personal and a societal level.

I am always reading many things at once, but I was a bit surprised to find a link between a Shakespeare play I was reading, “A Winter’s Tale,” and a wonderfully piercing short story by Steve Yarbrough called “The Rest of Her Life.” (By the way, these two authors are obviously male.  Even though these men might not have termed themselves as feminists, they were sensitive to the reality of the society they lived in and portrayed it in a moving, bluntly realistic, but not moralizing, way.)

In both stories, men and women are both living in male-dominated societies that adversely affects both women and men, although Shakespeare was writing in the early 1600s and Yarbrough published his story in 1998. For those not familiar with Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale,” it is about a king who becomes manically convinced that his wife is cheating on him with his best friend. In Shakespeare’s day, men were obsessed about the chastity of the women around them, not only for emotional reasons, but because of financial ones; their money, their lineage, their legacy all depended on knowing that their kids were really their kids. If that was not bad enough, this king used his power and authority to terrorize his (innocent) wife, threatening to murder her for treason after putting her in prison and leaving their newborn daughter to die. By the time he discovers she is innocent, he has lost everything (and it’s only through the grace of the play that he is allowed to recover). I.e., the abuse of male power at its worst.

Yarbrough’s story, “The Rest of Her Life,” does not deal with such high-powered people, but it takes on a sensationalism of its own. The father of the main character, Dee Ann, is accused of murdering his abandoned ex-wife for the insurance money. Throughout the story, Dee Ann is patronized, seduced, and manipulated throughout the ensuing murder trial because of her key testimony. One image that sticks out in my mind is the men (the policemen, the DA, etc) who place their hand on her knee while they are talking to her. At once, you can feel how objectified she is to them and their agendas. The true kicker is her father who is a blatant sociopath. Dee Ann never recovers from the sense of powerlessness and meaninglessness that his actions has caused her and her mother. While her final decision at the trial came as a surprise to me, it made perfect sense later in light of her male-dominated society. In this story, the negligence, the objectification, the legal bullying of the system paints a picture of how tragic life can be when one group has systemic power over the other in such fundamental ways.

This post was not made to bash men, people. The only thing that’s being bashed here is the dominance of one group over the other, because it causes suspicion, distrust, pain, and catastrophe to everyone involved.

We only fight this kind of pervasive wrong by being informed about just what kind of society we’re living in. Reading the works of astute writers can help us to do this. I advise you to find a copy of Yarbrough’s story, in particular. It just might change the way you see the other half.

The Mind of the Artist

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On a long plane ride to Atlanta, I finally found time to catch up on a writing reference I’ve been trying to finish. In preparation for the novel contest in November, I’ve been studying the basics on plot, characters, dialogue, and point of view. One of my favorite aspects of studying writing is the many top-notch authors that the books sample. In one fell swoop, I can discover new authors and remember why I appreciate the ones I already know.

On the point-of-view chapter, William Faulkner was referenced, of course. As anybody would know from reading this blog, I’m a pretty big fan of the king of Southern Gothic. In particular, the book talked about his novel “The Sound and the Fury,” but my mind instantly brought up another great one, “As I Lay Dying.” Faulkner’s mastery of point-of-view techniques in that latter book has always struck me because its power revolved around a disturbingly quizzical character, Darl Bundren. Not only is he responsible for the majority of the narrative, but he also represents the mind of an artist, a writer, in particular.

I had been thinking about this a great deal, especially after a recent discovery of John Milton’s “Il Penseroso.” I’ve even written about it on this blog several times. Our culture has a deep and long-lasting trope on the image of the Romantic artist. They are usually eccentric, isolated, dressed in dark clothes, roaming the woods at night, and scribbling furiously into notebooks or drawing pads. And let’s not forget the most important and perhaps most dangerous characteristic…they are usually melancholy at best, outright psychologically disturbed at worse. (For the first part, you can sometimes substitute mathematical or scientific genius, which would satisfy most people’s preconceptions, but the second half almost exclusively belongs to writers, painters, musicians, actors). Artists carry the burden of their culture’s emotions and experiences, and boy, do they show it. As the story goes, it wears on them until they goes completely insane or end their lives. Before they get there, though, they are also horrendous company at the dinner table.

Of course, they would rather be loitering under the stars somewhere, waiting for inspiration to strike, trying to make sense of it all, trying to solve a specific human problem that plagues them and ultimately has no solution.

This is the Darl Bundren of the novel. He’s a character every reader trusts because he is an objective point of view. He sees and hears everything, even things he shouldn’t technically be aware of. Yet, in the world of the novel, he is known for being quiet and even shiftlessly lazy about the place, which leads to the discomfort of the people around him. They think he’s strange because he sees through everyone and everything, but without actively participating in any of it, which makes him a great narrator but a poor social being (i.e. inadequate brother/son/productive member of society). Although he is a failure as a human being, he’s a great writer; a critic attributes to him the mind of an artist because of his poetic ability to paint scenes and understand their deeper significance.

Of course, he “goes crazy” at the end, and we realize that his superb narrator brain was simply a elaborate mask covering deep layers of emotional and psychological pain, suppressed feelings of abandonment, anger, jealousy, and obvious grief from his mother’s rejection of him and her death.

The theme here seems to be that poetic genius stems from psychological conflict, or that damage somehow makes an artist more observant, more intuitive, more perceptive. It’s a cultural trope, so it must be correct, right?

Who knows?

I think I’ve been an unconscious member of the melancholy poet club. I’ve had enough irritating reminders from work colleagues to smile more in the middle of a lunch-time rush when I’m lost in thought, trying to figure out a huge existential issue. Perhaps I’m pondering over serious aspects of our daily lives and I carry an air of pensive sadness, but am I unhappy when I rush away at the first moment to write down what I’ve seen and heard, what I’ve learned? I can be a fulfilled person without smiling all of the time. But to be completely honest, the necessity of psychological trauma, depression, or mania is not a prerequisite to art either.

Artists share their unique sensory experiences of the world (their unique minds). Perhaps it seems more romantic if their genius is accompanied by some fantastical story of their poor, poor lives. What do you think? Do you believe that severe circumstances not only influences how writers think (i.e. differently from the rest of the population), but also produces good art?

When Stream Meets Stream…

I recently watched a fictional movie about one of my favorite composers: Frederic Chopin. The movie introduced me to George Sand, the French authoress/colorful character. I decided to read one of her novels to discover if she was only the 19th century version of a celebrity, or if she actually had some grit.

The book was “The Master Pipers.” I was pleasantly surprised at her talent, especially at her piercing insights on human nature. Sand presents us with beautiful young people, falling in love and finding their passion in life. We follow the adventures of the shepherdess-type Brulette and the mule-driver Huriel as they fall in love, then we meet the musical genius Joseph, whose ambitious drive prevents him from being able to connect with anyone on a non-egotist level.

As I followed Brulette and Huriel maturing in order to be worthy of each other’s love and contrasting that with Joseph’s eventual fate, not only could I not put the story down, but I also ran face first into an interesting conundrum:

How do we become better people? What makes us give up the egocentric worldview of our youth and transform to empathetic, productive adults who can sustain satisfying relationships?

How about my story for an example?

It was only after I fell in love that I was introduced to myself.

The memories return to comfort and amuse and astound me eight years later. I felt a connection with another human being and it made me realize my own existence. I remember him through that old fog of non-living. I walked pass him every day and I watched him perk up when I came around and I experienced my own heart palpitations, my own grounded mood lifting. It was astounding because before that I felt absolutely nothing. Week after week passed. Month after month. And I wondered why I couldn’t speak to him. “I must be shy,” I concluded. I had never considered myself as shy before, but it was deeply accurate. In fact, it went even deeper than that. 

I realize now that after people live through emotional trauma, years of unconscious emotional numbing can plague them. Sadly, it can become so pervasive that it turns into a way of life. It is as if they have shut down. During that period, they can unthinkingly harm themselves and other people repeatedly, because they had been injured and had not dealt with it properly.

And I was one of those people. My life had been painful and I had shut down. Then, I met a man and I woke up. I saw myself. I experienced myself as a person. I told myself: “I must be shy.” So, I went to the bookstore and grabbed a book about shyness. I was determined to overcome it so that I could talk to a man I loved. 

If you are rolling your eyes right now, I ask you to stick with me. I am the first to concede that romantic love should not (and probably cannot) be a permanent stimulus to sustain real change. For example, that particular romance did not survive for several hilarious reasons. Yet, I was determined to learn about myself and heal myself, until I had worked through my grievous issues. Now, eight years later, I like to think that I am an emotionally healthier person than I was back then. Even now, the goal of making my life and the lives of those around me better influences the personality changes that I decide to work on.

So, it leads to a pertinent truth about humans: Love makes us want to change, want to be a better version of ourselves, in order to retain and please our love objects.   

Eye-rollers, this love does not have to be romantic; it can be love for your family or your friends. Many people contribute their growth to the desire not to hurt their loved ones anymore. Many people credit their improvement with the support of family or friends who wanted better for them, who expected more from them.

What I loved about Sand’s book was that the two main characters were not previously bad people who went through a complete transformation to become angels. They were regular people who battled a bit selfishness, vanity, and immaturity. Yet, through the help of good friends and the power motivating force of mutual love, they were able to grow up and be what each other needed.

It’s a fundamental truth that relationships help us to grow as individuals.  When a stream meets a stream, a flowing river appears. At least, that’s the ideal…

Either way, I highly recommend George Sand’s novel. I eagerly await reading more from her.

Departures

(In celebration of the recent 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, I’ve devoted a post to the first play I read by him: Romeo and Juliet.)

Loved ones should not have to part. No bigger tragedy exists, especially when the separation will be for an extended time or even permanent. Of course, Shakespeare is the undeniable king of tragedy, so it fits that he has written several scenes in his plays that captures those sentiments exactly.

Unfortunately, Romeo and Juliet has become such a cultural staple that it has lost some of its power, becoming symmetrical more with pathos than transcendent art. The funny thing is, my attraction to the play when I was a fourteen-year-old Freshmen in English class was not the “sappy” love story, but the poetry of the whole thing. The poetry that could reflect with such joyful creativity the real emotional life of real people. It was the genius of Shakespeare: the mirroring of love and hate and grief in language. So, it is with this attitude that I must approach Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Taking Romeo and Juliet from a new angle brings back all of its old power.

Speaking of departures and grief in particular, the scene where Romeo must leave Juliet after spending the night with her packs a punch when you read it with desperation rather than with the playful lover bantering that it suggests on the surface. In Kenneth Koch’s “Making Your Own Days,” he chooses Act 3, Scene 5 for its’ superb poetry, but one can make a case that this scene also portrays two people who love each very much despite the fact that they must separate and they have no idea if they will ever see each other again in life.

All of a sudden, Juliet’s joking about the bird singing outside of their window is not just a cute verbal flourish. It is, for lack of a better term, desperation to keep her loved one with her for as long as she can, because she hasn’t been with him for long enough (it’s never long enough when you want to be with someone) and she unconsciously suspects that it will be the last time they will be together. On the other hand, though Romeo sees that he has to be practical about the matter (after all, he will be killed if he is caught), it’s blatently obvious that he doesn’t want to leave either. If Juliet is desperate, then he is grieved, speaking a few times of their “woes.”

The tragedy is that their fears are real. They do not meet again while both are still alive. In fact, the “loss” of Juliet prompts Romeo to take his own life. And have we not all felt in our melodramatic moments that the loss of someone, the departure of a loved one or friend, made us feel like we wanted to die, too? Separations can be likened to death on an emotionally level. And is it not true that death is the most devastating separation? The hopelessness, the powerlessness that accompanies it…I wonder how humans can stand it. How have we stood it?

Recently, I learned that some dear friends of mine were moving away–far away–across the Atlantic for good. It was as if I had paused while the world continue to rush on around me. It took several days for the idea that I would probably not see them again for a long time–if ever again in person–to settle itself in my brain. Separations happen all the time, but when it happens to you and people you care very much about…

You see why I say that loved ones should not part.

But life must go on. Loved ones do part. We all have our own paths and we must follow our own opportunities for growth. The lesson here is to never take for granted the friends and family you have while they are with you. You never know how much time you have.

Do you have any Shakespearian insights to share?

Attack of the Humdrumery

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Nature gloriously lifts our mundane plans from our backs and deposits them elsewhere.

Sometimes we need it to. We learn an important lesson: underneath our humdrum world proof abounds that life is extraordinary.

It’s downright funny how I can book my weeks solid with countless everyday tasks. A month or two ago, I was geared up to accomplish them all. I had the whole week planned from morning to evening daily, catching up on necessary life-stuff, once and for all…until I woke up one morning (perhaps it was Monday morning: humdrumery’s sacred day) and the sky decided winter had had enough time to show up in Dallas/Fort Worth and it hadn’t, so it was time for spring. The blue ashen clouds opened up and descended in blinding sheets. I could not go anywhere.

After I recovered from the mild irritation that results from moot schedules, I began to roam our  apartment some. I shut off the lights and raised the window blinds so I could see Nature in all of her watering glory. I chuckled at my tubby cat trying to squeeze his substantial heft under the couch to escape the thunder. I turned on YouTube and listened to Bach’s concertos and fugues. I read some really great short stories. One of them blew me away: Rick Bass’s well-known “Hermit Story.”

In the piece, a woman tells a story of delivering trained dogs to a man who lives in the wild. While returning from an exercise, the whole team loses track of where they are during a snowstorm. The man falls beneath an icy lake, the woman hurries to save him, but then realizes that it is dry underneath. Instead of continuing on land, though, the whole group (dogs and all) decides to travel under the ice on the dry lake bed beneath it. The whole scene is nothing short of magical. Through Bass’s prose, the reader can experience how eerily beautiful the journey was, picturing the shimmer of the stars through the ice and the sounds of the birds trapped underneath with them. The lesson is there: beneath our world, nature still has magic up her sleeve to floor us, astound us.

By most accounts, I wasted the day, lounging, reading, listening to music, begrudgingly giving the rain victory over me. But I had not felt so rejuvenated in a long time, you know—-alive. It’s also funny how running around doing everything can actually make you feel less alive than taking the time to pause and (to most accounts) do nothing.

It seemed I had earned the right to spend at least one day doing what I liked to do most, what really fulfilled me, made me happy. Unfortunately, those of us who live in North Texas are aware that Spring storms never really just pass through. It stormed almost nonstop most of the week. The first day, I was okay with letting a few things slide. Two days later, my secular mind was getting antsy at all of the time I was “wasting” just because the rain prevented me from doing anything else. Yet, one can get used to all things over time.

I found myself so seduced by the world of music and storytelling that the necessary tasks of life began to irrationally anger me. During a couple of those days, I was obligated to go to work and I hated that—-a bit more than usual. I didn’t understand why life could not be like what I read and I listened to. It was not so much that life had to be unreal or fantastical, but that it had to have meaning, structure, symmetry, and beauty. It had to have that trail of mystery underlying the normal aspect of it, like that dry lake bed underneath the unassuming ice in Bass’s story. It didn’t.

The resulting restlessness and discontentment was nearly too much to bear. I had forgotten a certain truth about myself. Sometimes, when I am not careful, my deep passion for poetry and music awakens in me a desire for an elusive something more than my present circumstances can provide. Yes, as I’ve hinted before, I become so thoroughly spoiled by the beauty of art that I am useless in real life, grumbling with dissatisfaction. To be honest, though, such a stance towards life is erring to the other extreme.

Instead, Bass’s story reminds us to appreciate rare moments in nature when they appear. Then, when we are required to perform our necessary duties in life, we can stretch ourselves to look underneath the obvious and apprehend the beauty, the symmetry, the magic that lies beyond our everyday experiences.

How do you reconcile your artistic self with the demands of secular society?