City Sundries

 The Rush to Get There

On this morning in the year 2007, a violinist gave a concert in a subway station in Washington, DC.

Leaning against a wall, alongside the usual litter, the musician, who looked more like a local kid, played the works of Schubert and other classics for three-quarters of an hour.

Eleven hundred people hurried by without slowing their pace. Seven paused a bit longer than a moment. No one applauded. Some children wanted to stay, but were dragged off by their mothers.

No one realized he was Joshua Bell, one of the most esteemed virtuosos in the world.

The Washington Post had organized the concert. It was their way of asking, “Do you have time for beauty?”

-Eduardo Galeano, Children of the Days, A Calendar of Human History

Billy here. Schubert isn’t always necessary to have beauty in our lives, it is all around us in the mundane things. A trash heap often has a symmetry of form that stuns me. I try to ask myself often, “What is beautiful around you right now? What calls you back into the world around you and away from rushing by in your head?” I forget to ask myself and then I have killed time. But isn’t time a friend, something with which we could grow old? In these long, dark winter evenings where we recharge for the summer’s adventures, are we itching to be somewhere else, or can we allow a space for pause – for something spontaneous to unfold?

Waiting in the doctor’s office on a routine visit, I read a bit of an article in the National Geographic on memory. The average adult human brain has something to the order of five hundred to a thousand trillion synapses. “Every sensation we remember, every thought we think,” says writer Joshua Foer, “Alters the connections within that vast network. Synapses are strengthened or weakened or formed anew. Our physical substance changes. Indeed, it is always changing, every moment, even as we sleep.”

Each moment is an adventure unfolding. It is our relationship to the moment that awakens time in us, a moment as mundane as eating eggs for breakfast or waiting for the bus. I find myself closing up when I get greedy for excitement or exotic places, when I feel like I know where I’m going. The minute you know where you’re going something crazy happens. A storm cancels the travelling plans. You get sick. Or you bust your knee dancing, like Spence did. Life smacks you back down to the drawing board again and again, until maybe we could get the gestalt of things, the life of it all, instead of painfully agonizing over the technical details. And then, when I catch myself agonizing, I could try not smacking myself with chastising thoughts about how overwrought and ineffective my way of being is!

And just for fun, in conclusion, here are my top favorite reads of 2014:

  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff
  • The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
  • Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder
  • Living, Dreaming, Dying: Wisdom for Everyday Life from the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Rob Nairn
  • The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing As Meditation by Frederick Franck
  • The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor
  • Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence by Gregory Cajete
  • Coyote Warrior: One Man, Three Tribes, and the Trial That Forged A Nation by Paul VanDevelder
  • Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future edited by Melissa K. Nelson
  • Transformations of Myth Through Time by Joseph Campbell (I have to add that after reading thousands of pages of his other work, including the entire Masks of God series, this transcription of his lectures was such a refreshing, accessible and succinct overview of his amazing life’s work – if you’re going to read one book by Joseph Campbell, this might be it)

Spence here: Sometimes I am saddened by how fast time goes. I think, “gee, my nephew is 12 and the next time I see him, he will probably be on his way to adult-hood”. Or sometimes I wonder what I could be doing more for struggling communities in Somalia, Pakistan, Australia, New Mexico or downtown Portland, for that matter. What can I do for the trees, plants and other species affected by our human existence? But then I get sick myself and realize that there are small things I can do for all these struggles and the biggest thing I can do is have compassionate for our collective existence. I can praise health. Sometimes I have deja vu, and I remember it has all happened before and will all happen again somewhere else. Or is happening right now, somewhere else, I’m not sure.

Today, Billy and I had a city date. I am always thankful when the bus ride is uneventful, the sun is out and we discover new books, new parks, places we haven’t been in a long time. But the catch is to be thankful when things aren’t so awesome.  Such as the man in the doctor’s office, causing a scene, the way my head aches because we are not quite so over the colds we got or the way the wind whips into my hood, whistling into my ear ache! The other day I wasn’t feeling so hot and I decided to take the whole afternoon and lay around, like the dogs do.  I ended up feeling better in health, but with a twinge of guilt. Besides having a lot of house chores I could be helping with, there are other projects I would like to see completed. But what is the point of “completed” without a sense of joy in it?

I think I am doing better with January. I was actually thinking today that this winter thing might not be so bad. Here is the fun list of projects I thought of this week, which I would love to get going on. May it inspire you to make your own list, or just enjoy what comes.

  • Find a trout fishing book about what flies to use in certain circumstances–make drawings and paintings of them and then try your hand at tying some!
  • Make a fly-tying bench
  • Work on poetry manuscript and research possible publishers, attend a reading
  • Work on screen play and book of short stories
  • Make a picture frame for that picture of Billy and I we like so well
  • Go for a city hike with a full backpack
  • Practice knots for camping and boating
  • Research fly-rods and other fishing equipment for the spring–its almost time!
  • Finish construction the the music studio

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