Monday, November 10, 2008

My Mother's Cinnamon Rolls

Still, the power of rhyming words, of word transformations, cannot altogether be dismissed. The feeling of magic remains, even if it cannot be connected with a search for the truth, and this same magic, these same correspondences between words, are present in every language, even though the particular combinations are different. At the heart of each language there is a network of rhymes, assonances, and overlapping meanings, and each of these occurrences functions as a kind of bridge that joins opposite and contrasting aspects of the world with each other. Language, then, not simply as a list of separate things to be added up and whose sum total is equal to the world. Rather, language as it is laid out in the dictionary: an infinitely complex organism, all of whose elements—cells and sinews, corpuscles and bones, digits and fluids—are present in the world simultaneously, none of which can exist on its own. For each word is defined by other words, which means that to enter any part of language is to enter the whole of it. Language, then, as a monadology, to echo the term used by Leibniz. (“Since all is a plenum, all matter is connected and all movement in the plenum produces some effect on the distant bodies, in proportion to the distance. Hence every body is affected not only by those with which it is in contact, and thus feels in some way everything that happens to them; but through them it also feels those that touch the ones with which it is in immediate contact. Hence it follows that this communication extends over any distance whatever. Consequently, every body experiences everything that goes on in the universe, so much so that he who sees everything might read in any body what is happening anywhere, and even what has happened or will happen. He would be able to observe in the present what is remote in both time and space….A soul, however, can read in itself only what is directly represented in it; it is unable to unfold all at once all its folds; for these go on into infinity.”)

Playing with words in the way A. did as a schoolboy, then, was not so much a search for the truth as a search for the world as it appears in language. Language is not truth. It is the way we exist in the world. Playing with words is merely to examine the way the mind functions, to mirror a particle of the world as the mind perceives it, in it. It is the infinitely complex network of connections among them. As in the meanings of words, things take on meaning only in relationship to each other. “Two faces are alike,” writes Pascal. “Neither is funny by itself, but side by side their likeness makes us laugh.” The faces rhyme for the eye, just as two words can rhyme for the ear. To carry the proposition one step further, A. would contend that it is possible for events in one’s life to rhyme as well. A young man rents a room in Paris and then discovers that his father had hid out in this same room during the war. If these two events were to be considered separately, there would be little to say about either of them. The rhyme they create when looked at together alters the reality of each. Just as two physical objects, when brought into proximity of each other, give off electromagnetic forces that not only effect the molecular structure of each but the space between them as well, altering, as it were, the very environment, so it is that two (or more) rhyming events set up a connection in the world, adding one more synapse to be routed through the vast plenum of experience.

—Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude

In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberations we speak it, it is our own.

—Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Rudolph Steiner, Theosophy:
Actions […] acquire permanence once they have been stamped on the outer world. (65)

What I have done today will remain in effect tomorrow. It has become lasting through my action, just as yesterday’s impressions have become lasting for my soul through memory. (65)

In our ordinary consciousness, we do not usually form a concept of “becoming lasting through action” in the same way that we form a concept of memory, of becoming lasting as a result of observation or perception. But is the “I” not just as strongly linked to a change in the world that results from its own action as it is to a memory that results from an impression? […] I am a different person in my relationship to the world once I have made an impression on my environment. We do not notice this as easily as we notice how the “I” changes through acquiring a memory, but this is only because as soon as a memory is formed it unites with the overall life of the soul we have always regarded as our own, while the external consequence of an action, released from this soul life, goes on working through aftereffects that are quite different from what we can remember about the action. In spite of this, we must admit that something is now in the world as a result of our completed action, something whose character has been stamped on it by the “I.”

Could it be that the results of our actions, whose character has been impressed on them by the “I,” have a tendency to come back to the “I” in the same way that an impression preserved in memory comes to life again when an outer circumstance evokes it? What is preserved in memory is waiting for a reason to reappear. Could it be the same with things in the outer world that have been made lasting by the character of the “I?” Are they waiting to approach the soul from outside, just as a memory waits for a reason to approach from inside? (65)

Every life body is a repetition of its immediate ancestor, and because this is so, the form the life body assumes is never arbitrary, but is the one that it has inherited. The forces that have made my human form possible came from my ancestors. (70)

In the spiritual world, everything is in constant activity, constant motion, constant creation. “Resting” or “staying in one place” does not exist there as it does in the physical world, simply because the archetypes are creative beings, the master builders of everything that comes into existence in the physical and soul worlds. Their forms change quickly, and each archetype has the potential to assume countless specific forms. It is as if the specialized forms well up out of them—one form has hardly been created before its archetype is ready to let the next one pour out. In addition, archetypes do not work alone, but stand in closer or more distant relationship to each other. One archetype may need the help of another to do its creating, and often innumerable archetypes work together so that some particular being can come to life in the soul world or the physical world. (124)

We must take on physical bodies as our tools so that we have something material through which to work on the material world and through which the material world can work on us. However, what works through our human bodily nature is the spirit.

Things come back to meet us:
what we carry, what we choose.

We find ourselves in places in which and with people from whom we have something to learn, something to teach, something to receive, something to give.

“Volk” ←this is a being (not just the feeling life of a group of people)

Soul inheritance
: RS speaks of the differences, but I want to speak of the similarities, the places where our souls are the same, those places where our souls are formed by the shapes and habits of our bodies.

In my voice, I recognize my ancestors, the women both near and distant to me. In my speech, my laughter, my weeping, and my song, I imagine generations upon generations of the women of my family, doing these things in the same way, catching my ear in the way a familiar voice would. I recognize the echoes of their voices in mine, a familial timbre, an ancestral cadence that finds its resonance and reverberation again, in my voice.

It is true; the “I” can never be heard outside of oneself. Its meaning only ever comes from within. But how much closer and more hauntingly, uncannily even, shades of that “I” come to ringing true when heard by me as spoken in a voice that sounds so near my own.

As very different as I am from her, I know that there are truths about myself that my mother understands and carries in her heart—not because she is the woman who raised me and has observed my growht from the time before my birth into this time now of my adulthood, but because, in so many ways, her self is the same as mine, as is her mother’s, and her mother’s before her, and her mother’s before her… and so it goes, generations back, this inheritance and passing along of so many parts of our selves.

It is in the same way that I recognize and comprehend the rhythms and the truths of the lives of these women who came before me, who gave birth to the women who gave birth to me; because our gestures and expressions are formed so nearly the same—this type of smile, this type of downward curve to the eye, this type of rubbing motion with the hands, this is how we knead the dough—I imagine, and I sense deeply, the striking similarities of habit, how we are in this world: holding a knife in the same way, a spoon, a basket of laundry, a child.

It is in the home that I feel the pull of these habits, the presence of these women, my inheritance, most strongly with me. And yes, habits are learned, as well as inherited; or truer to say, perhaps, that habits are inherited in a number of ways, in the ways that particular genes weave themselves together in the moment of conception, and inherited also through space and time shared with those whom we love.

And so it is in the home, and in the kitchen, most particularly, where I hear my mother’s voice, my grandmother’s voice, reminding me how to stir just so, how high to turn the heat, how to tap and hear the hollow sound that is just right, and how to know when it’s done, and in hearing their voices in my ear, I learn from them still. And I think they must hear the same, in the spaces of their kitchens: the voices of their mothers and grandmothers before them, teaching them how to prepare the foods that will feed their families and friends, at the most mundane and everyday, as well as the most celebratory and sacred, meals, revealing to them the joy and beauty in feeding others.

I return to my grandparents’ home once or twice a year now, and it is in their kitchen where my childhood memories of my family come alive most vividly. And it is in their kitchen still where most of our time together as a family occurs. In their kitchen, my childhood is alive again, as I watch them cook, my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother—it almost doesn’t matter who is doing what, for we all know how to do it the same, our hands and bodies and eyes moving in the same way—and I join them. And so I add my voice to the chorus.

Becoming lasting through action, we return to ourselves, our selves in all our forms, and our children in our forms. Our actions await our return in the world, and our children find them.

My mother, my aunts, my grandmother are all well known and loved for their baking. And so I bake, because it is what I know, and it is what I love.

Life rhymes.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Driving into Oklahoma

Driving into Oklahoma, I noticed how much I missed you. It's the craziest thing; I've made this trip I don't know how many times over the years now, and all of a sudden, this time, driving along these roads, under this sky, I missed you. And of course, this is not a surprise at all; in fact, I expected I might, and I know you'll understand what I mean. Reconnected, you live (again) in these spaces with me. My soul is awake to your presence once more, after so many years asleep. And once again, I find you in so many places, large and small, often unexpected. You live for me at a lonely intersection in Colby, Kansas; at the beach in Rincon, black dolphins swimming with us, so near we could have touched them; you live for me along a quiet, dusty mountain road in New Mexico, on our way home, lost and nearly out of gas; a campsite, crowded and green, the leaves of the white birches shimmering high in the sky above, and another, tan and gravelly, treeless—where they were, both forgotten; in Phillips Hall, the smell of turpentine thick in the air, your face, laughing and earnest; you live for me in the lazy, secret, hot summer days of a rundown apartment painted pink behind the trees; you live for me in a bed of pine needles along the banks of the river’s edge when we were teenagers; on my parents' back patio, the stars shining; outside my bedroom window, after work; in a purple plum tree still growing in front of the home we once shared; and in so many more places, I find you, and my heart is glad for you there. And this is all to say, simply, hello, I'm thinking of you, and I’m glad you’re here.

The whole of love: we are in it now, in this moment.