This morning, inside cat Beaumont had a big adventure! Gerry took her outside onto the back porch and held her for a full minute, letting her look all around and take in all the sights and sounds of a summer morning. Nature! From a safe distance, of course! Just wait until the other cats, Pine and Fuqua wake up and Beaumont tells them all about her one adventure . . . but will they believe her?
Millay is undoubtedly one of the most-mentioned writers in my literary discussions and always one of my top choices for desert island reading, if I had to pick but one or two. Previously on the Quotidian:
Yesterday afternoon was my school's choir performance. In my posh neighborhood school, there is a choir: nobody thinks it's square and everyone competes to join but it's very exclusive: Monsieur Trianon, the music teacher, hand picks his choristers. The reason the choir is so successful is because of Monsieur Trianon himself. He is young and handsome and he had the choir sing not only the old jazz standards but also the latest hits, with very classy orchestration. Everyone gets all dressed up and the choir performs for the other students. Only the choir members' parents are invited because otherwise there'd be too many people. The gymnasium is always packed fit to burst as it is and there's an incredible atmosphere.
. . . the choir arrived to thundering applause, dressed in red and white with bow ties for the boys and long dresses with shoulder straps for the girls. Monsieur Trianon sat down on a high stool, his back to the audience, then raised a sort of baton with a little flashing red light at the end, silence fell nd the performance began.
Every time, it's a miracle. Here are all these people, full of heartache or hatred or desire, and we all have our troubles and the school year is filled with vulgarity and triviality and consequence, and there are all these teachers and kids of every shape and size, and there's this life we're struggling through full of shouting and tears and laughter and fights and break-ups and dashed hopes and unexpected luck -- it all disappears, just like that, when the choir begins to sing. Everyday life vanishes into song, you are suddenly overcome with a feeling of community, of deep solidarity, even love, and it diffuses the ugliness of everyday life into a spirit of perfect communion. Even the singers' faces are transformed: it's no longer Achille Grand-Fernet that I'm looking at (he is a very fine tenor), or Déborah Lemeur or Ségolène Rachet or Charles Saint-Sauveur. I see human beings, surrendering to music.
Every time, it's the same thing, I feel like crying, my throat goes all tight and I do the best I can to control myself but sometimes it gets close: I can hardly keep myself from sobbing. So when they sing a canon I look down at the ground because it's just too much emotion at once: it's too beautiful, and everyone singing together, this marvelous sharing, I'm no longer myself, I am just one part of a sublime whole, to which the others also belong, and I always wonder at such moments why this cannot be the rule of everyday life, instead of being an exceptional moment, during a choir.
When the music stops, everyone applauds, their faces all lit up, the choir radiant. It is so beautiful.
In the end, I wonder if the true movement of the world might not be a voice raised in song. (pp 184 - 85)
PS McCartney Brothers, Spring 2004
In the fall of 2002, Ben & Sam had a choir / field trip to Trinity on the Green and spent the weekend with the New Haven choir families. Liz, Duo, Will, and Sam Dickinson were Ben's host family; and Ben managed to leave a pair of shoes behind, which Liz put in the mail for us. We've been BPPs (best pen pals) ever since! Thanks Dickinsons!
We also like to marvel over the parallels that both our elder boys are named "William" (our Ben is actually "William Benedict") and both younger sons are named "Samuel." The two older boys have both continued to focus on their music; while the two younger, taller sons focused on collegiate football. Will coincidences never cease?
Last summer, I received the following note and word - a - day definition from my brother:
"Back when I was in the Corps, after Vietnam and Chicago,
I was assigned to 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at MCRD San Diego.
They set me up with a desk just inside the office complex where I
was supposed to "greet" and direct personnel to the correct clerk
for assistance. In addition to that I was given about 12 or 15
unrelated tasks such as ID cards, etc.
Now I find out after all these years that I had a real job title.
Wish I had known this word then!"
Brummbaer aka Sgt Carriker, USMC
noun: A servant or a low-level employee tasked with many things.
From Latin factotum, from facere (to do) + totus (all).
Earliest documented use: 1573.
"Now, a reporter trying to interview a business source
is confronted by a phalanx of factotums."
David Carr; The Puppetry of Quotation Approval; The New York Times; Sept 16, 2012.
How timely for me that my brother shared factotum when he did because I was right in the middle of reading a novel -- The Elegance of the Hedghog by Muriel Barbery -- in which I encountered this unusual word not once but twice. Without his note, I would surely have had to look it up!
In one passage, Barbery says that the housekeeper of a fancy Paris apartment "found herself reigning over a laughable kindgdom whose subjects were the cleaning lady (Manuela), the part - time butler (an Englishman), and the factotum (her husband)" (49).
In another, a young man is describing his work at a "ship's chandler's." A childhood friend asks him, "What do you actually do at your job?" And he replies: "I'm sort of a factotum, stock man and messenger boy, but I'm learning as I go along, so now from time to time they give more interesting things to like repair sails or shrouds, or put together the provision inventory" (293 - 94).
Thanks to Dave, I was able to read through those passages without skipping a beat! Of course, I still had to look up "ship's chandler." But it made more sense than it would have had he not written to share the day's vocabulary word. Thanks Dave!
"Beyond being merely a game,
Go can take on other meanings to its devotees:
an analogy for life, an intense meditation, a mirror of one's personality,
and exercise in abstract reasoning, a mental "workout"
or, when played well, a beautiful art in which black and white
dance in delicate balance across the board."
~ from the American GO Association
. . . Other than the fact that it’s a board game and that two adversaries face off over black and white pieces, it’s as different from chess as cats are from dogs. In chess, you have to kill to win. In go, you have to build to live. . . . The aim of the game is not to eat the other, but to build the biggest territory. The rule regarding taking stones says that you can “commit suicide” if it is to take your adversary’s stones and not that you’re strictly forbidden to go anywhere you might be automatically taken. And so on. . . .
When I think of go -- Any game where the goal is to build territory has to be beautiful. There may be phases of combat, but they are only means to an end, to allow your territory to survive. One of the most extraordinary aspects of the game of go is that it has been proven that in order to win, you must live, but you must also allow the other player to live. Players who are too greedy will lose: it is a subtle game of equilibrium, where you have to get ahead without crushing the other player. In the end, life and death are only the consequences of how well or how poorly you have made your construction . . . you live, you die, these are consequences. It’s a proverb for playing go, and for life.
Live or die: mere consequences of what you have built. What matters is building well. So here we, are I've assigned myself a new obligation. I'm going to stop undoing de . . . structing, I'm going to start building. . . . What matters is what you are doing when you die . . . I want to be building.
(pp 111, 112 - 114)
Brian Andreas: "It's hardest to love the ordinary things, she said, but you get lots of opportunities to practice."
Muriel Barbery: “When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
~ from The Elegance of the Hedgehog, 91 [see also Bouquet, Go, Factotum & The Tree Wins]
Susan Cheever: Little Women, Louisa May "Alcott's greatest work was so powerful because it was about ordinary things -- I think that's why it felt ordinary even as she wrote it. She transformed the lives of women into something worthy of literature. Without even meaning to, Alcott exalted the everyday in women's lives and gave it greatness."
~ from American Bloomsbury, 192
Arundhati Roy: “Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house---the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture---must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstitutred. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.”
~ from The God of Small Things
[Thanks to my friend Sheri Reda for this one!]
“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
Once I pass’d through a populous city, imprinting my brain, for future use,
with its shows, architecture, customs, and traditions;
Yet now, of all that city, I remember only a woman I casually met there,
who detain’d me for love of me;
Day by day and night by night we were together,
-- All else has long been forgotten by me;
I remember, I say, only that woman who passionately clung to me;
Again we wander — we love — we separate again;
Again she holds me by the hand — I must not go!
I see her close beside me, with silent lips, sad and tremulous.
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
. . . I was having breakfast and looking at the bouquet on the kitchen counter. I don't believe I was thinking about anything. And that could be why I noticed the movement; maybe if I'd been preoccupied with something else, if the kitchen hadn't been quiet, if I hadn't been alone in there, I wouldn't have been attentive enough. But I was alone, and calm, and empty. So I was able to take it in.
There was a little sound, a sort of quivering in the air that went, "shhhh" very very very quietly: a tiny rosebud on a little broken stem that dropped onto the counter. The moment it touched the surface it went "puff," a "puff" of the ultrasonic variety, for the ears of mice alone, or for human ears when everything is very very very silent. I stopped there with my spoon in the air, totally transfixed. It was magnificent. But what was it that was so magnificent? I couldn't get over it: it was just a little rosebud at the end of a broken stem, dropping onto the counter. And so?
I understood when I went over and looked at the motionless rosebud where it had fallen. It's something to do with time, not space. Sure, a rosebud that has just gracefully dropped from the flower is always lovely to look at. It's so artistic: you could paint them over and over! But that doesn't explain the movement. The movement...and we think such things are spatial.
In the split second while I saw the stem and the bud drop to the counter I intuited the essence of Beauty. . . . I have been incredibly lucky because this morning all the conditions were ripe: an empty mind, a calm house, lovely roses, a rosebud dropping. . . . Because beauty consists of its own passing, just as we reach for it. It’s the ephemeral configuration of things in the moment, when you can see both their beauty and their death.
. . . does this mean that this is how we must live our lives? Constantly poised between beauty and death, between movement and its disappearance?
Maybe that’s what being alive is all about: so we can track down those moments that are dying. (pp 272 - 73)
Angels and Animals
Angels and animals like air and earth surround us,
the one above, the other (so we say) below.
The beasts we know: they flee or, captive, feed, befriend us;
but angles go their earthly way incognito.
The fierce intelligence, the singing shaft of light
the seers and shepherds knew, we muffle in gowns and wings,
preferring (so it seems) the tall, the cloven foot,
of Sir Mephisto and his impish underlings.
Yet angels exist, according to our three religions;
and if we find it hard to flurry a flame for them,
what of this animal - for - angel theorem?
When a stray dog is fed or crumbs are thrown to pigeons,
a chord in the heavenly choir rings out especially gala,
and someone is dear to the angels of Christ, Jehovah, Allah.
[I'm guessing that this link leads to the correct author; but I
have so little information to go on that I cannot be entirely sure.]
While Maguire equates animals with angels, the mystical Tukaram goes one step further, equating them with God. His proverb provides some food [make that dog food!] for thought:
"I could not lie anymore so I started to call my dog "God."
First he looked confused, then he started smiling,
then he even danced.
I kept at it: now he doesn't even bite.
I am wondering if this might work on people?"
What's left of a once beautiful blue spruce.
We would climb the limbs like a ladder
and get on to the roof.
A great place to hide
and lay in wait during BB gun fights!!!
Photography by Aaron B. Carriker
Thanks to Clive James and Marguerite Chapman, I learned a new poem today and could not help thinking of these photographs that my brother Aaron took a few years ago. His captions read so nostalgically, they could well be lines straight from Hone Tuwhare's poetry!
Do you remember
that wild stretch of land
with the lone tree guarding the point
from the sharp-tongued sea?
The fort we built out of branches
wrenched from the tree
is dead wood now.
The air that was thick with the whirr of
toetoe spear succumbs at last to the grey gull's wheel.
of the mangrove yield no finer feast
of silver-bellied eels, and sea-snails
cooked in a rusty can.
Allow me to mend the broken ends
of shared days:
but I wanted to say
that the tree we climbed
that gave food and drink
to youthful dreams, is no more.
Pursed to the lips her fine-edged
leaves made whistle - now stamp
no silken tracery on the cracked
in this drear
dreamless time I clasp
your hand if only to reassure
that all our jewelled fantasies were
real and wore splendid rags.
Perhaps the tree
will strike fresh roots again:
give soothing shade to a hurt and