“For my ally is the Force” – Yoda

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This year, I am assigned to teach World History to 120 shiny, freshman fourteen year-olds.  Imagine my dismay when I polled my classes and most all of them had not seen any Star Wars? I’m still reeling five years ago when I conducted a similar poll and students had no idea who George Harrison was. What was once like breathing air has evaporated and time has shifted to another generation who steps in to take its place. If I wait another fifteen years, another round of freshman will sit before me, and I suspect they will not know Harry Potter. How strange to possess two realities–the inside me feels seventeen, but the outside me looks like my mother. Back to Yoda.

Laozi, a Chinese scholar and philosopher, is credited for developing Daoism, around the 6th century according to legend. It is an ethical system embracing the natural order verses the social order. It is nature, not man, that holds the truth of the universe. To live in harmony with nature, rejecting governmental intervention, to seek the Dao,”the Way”, that universal force which surrounds us. Release yourself and allow the Dao to guide you–those are the tenets of Daoism.

I see the same concepts in Transcendentalism advocated by 19th century scholars, Emerson and Thoreau. Henry David, seeing the truths of nature in the smallest creatures like the ants when he spent nearly two years in the woods at Walden PondOr Walt Whitman, metaphorically connecting his soul with a spider from Leaves of Grass:

“A Noiseless Patient Spider” 

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
And Emily Dickinson, whose bees and blue dome were her drinking mates and her pub; they, getting drunk on nature in “I taste a liquor never brewed”. Or, another favorite of mine:
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
Their connection with nature lends itself to Daoism.  

Remember the 1996 John Travolta film, Phenomenon? I enjoyed the premise and questions George raised in the film. After seeing lights in the sky, he is hit as if by lightning and wakes to discover his brain’s activity surpasses the rest of humanity. I love his explanation of energy and matter connecting all organisms. Einstein thought the same thing. Another film playing out the secrets of matter and energy as the glue that binds us all was Powder (1995) starring Jeff Goldblum and Sean Patrick Flanery as Jeremy, the poor teenager whose skin color and abilities to harness energy gave him unusual gifts and few friends. I can look past the holes of the film and appreciate the questions raised. I still love the last scene when he runs in the field and the bolts are drawn to him like a magnet. It seems like Daoism is at work here, too.

 

My favorite example of explaining “the Way” is Yoda in The Empire Strike’s Back. Substitute with “the force” and it’s the same.
These examples are but a few. Do you see Daoism overlapping in books, films, and other historical periods?  

Poetry in Lyrics: a pair from DMB

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Boyd Tinsley, Dave Matthews, Carter Beauford, Stephen Lesard, LeRoi Moore–Tim Reynolds, lead guitar

There are three types of people when it comes to listening to songs. Type one hears the voice, the instruments, the melody, and refrain. Type two knows all the lyrics and their favorite songs are so because of the songwriter. Type three are the talented ones who don’t need the karaoke machine and they know every note.  Which one are you?

I’m a type one. For years I’ve liked songs based on the music with little regard to the lyrics. Play your instrument and even if the lyrics are banal, I will follow you. I’ve tried to change that. Lyrics are poetry and my appreciation for a group or duo or solo artist grows once I get around to thinking about the lyrics. Take Dave Matthews Band, for instance.

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I’ve listened to Dave for twenty years but hardly know the words. I’m discovering what a great lyricist he is. His love songs are exquisite, but he’s also a philosopher. Here’s an example of one of my favorites.  Unless you are type three, why not play the song and check out the lyrics?

Busted Stuff (2002)

“You Never Know”

Sitting still as stone watching – watching
People walking by you wondering why
No one ever stops to talk or thinks about it – if they ever did
What if God shuffled by?

One day we might see
Doing not a thing
Breathing just to breathe
We might find some reason

But rushing around seems what’s wrong with the world
Don’t lose the dreams inside your head
They’ll only be there til you’re dead
Dream

Lying on the roof counting
The stars that fill the sky I wonder if Someone in the heavens looking back down on me – I’ll never know
So much space to believe

Funny when you’re small
The moon follows the car
There’s no one but you see
Hey, the moon is chasing me

I worried if I looked away she’d be gone
Don’t lose the dreams inside your head
They’ll only be there til you’re dead
Dream

Walking through the wood
No cares in the world
The world has come to play
She’s all mine just for a day

There’s not a moment to lose in the game
Don’t let the troubles in your head
Steal too much time you’ll soon be dead
So play

All fall down
It won’t be so long now
Out of the darkness comes light like a flash
You think you can you think you can
Sometimes that is the problem
Dream little darling dream

Spinning on the wind
The leaf fell from the limb

But everyday should be a good day to die
Oh all fall down
It won’t be too long now
Every fire dies
I find it hard to explain how I got here
I think I can I think I can
Then again I will falter
Dream little darling dream

Spinning on the wind
The leaf fell from the limb

Yes, everyday should be a good day to die! It means your living actively, dreaming, and not letting your worries get the best of you. What a waste of energy worrying but so hard not to do….

Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King (2009)

“Funny The Way It Is”

Lying in the park on a beautiful day
Sunshine in the grass and the children play
Sirens passing, fire engine red
Someone’s house is burning down on a day like this
And evening comes, and we’re hanging out
On the front step and a car goes by with the windows rolled down
And that war song is playing, “Why can’t we be friends”
Someone is screaming crying in the apartment upstairs

Funny the way it is, if you think about it
Somebody’s going hungry, someone else is eating out
Funny the way it is, not right or wrong
Somebody’s heart is broken, it becomes your favorite song

The way your mouth feels in your lover’s kiss
Like a pretty bird on a breeze, or water to a fish
The bomb blast brings the building crashing to the floor
Hear the laughter while the children play war

Funny the way it is, if you think about it
One kid walks 10 miles to school, another’s dropping out
Funny the way it is, not right or wrong
On a soldier’s last breath, his baby’s being born

Standing on a bridge, watch the water passing underneath
It must have been much harder when there was no bridge, just water
Now the world is small, compared to how it used to be
With mountains and oceans and winters and rivers and stars

Watch the sky, the jet plane so far out of my reach
Is there someone up there looking down on me
Boy chase a bird, so close but every time
He’ll never catch her, but he can’t stop trying

Funny the way it is, if you think about it
One kid walks 10 miles to school, another’s dropping out
Funny the way it is, not right or wrong
On a soldier’s last breath, his baby’s being born
Funny the way it is, not right or wrong
Somebody’s broken heart become your favorite song
Funny the way it is, if you think about it
One kid walks 10 miles to school, another’s dropping out

Standing on a bridge, watch the water passing underneath
It must have been much harder when there was no bridge, just water
Now the world is small, compared to how it used to be
With mountains and oceans and winters and rivers and stars….

The irony of life never ceases to amaze me. First world problems and third world problems, and we share the same Earth. This song brings it all into the spotlight.

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Real musicians playing real music.  I ♥ DMB. I’m embarassed to admit I’ve never seen them in concert.

Greece, Part II: Haviaras Book Review and Athens

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I escorted a group to Athens/Aegean cruise in 2002. When we arrived in Athens, we stayed at a great hotel in the Plaka district where the neighborhood shops and restaurants surrounded us. My room was on the fifth floor. As I stretched out on my bed with the balcony door open and the white curtains flapping in at me, I had a full view of the Parthenon and pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. In the summer, Athens is as dry and hot as Arizona. I remember walking around the neighborhood at three in the afternoon. The shops were closed, and I wondered why. Ah, it was the Greek siesta. By six, the shops and restaurants had reopened and stayed open until whenever. At night, the Parthenon is lit up. I never wanted to close my eyes. Every time I rolled over in the middle of the night, there she was, glowing in at me.

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It’s one of those moments when you realize you are on the other side of the world, and you are alive. I can close my eyes and still see the glow of the fantastic Athenian temple.

One of the few regrets of my life was not grasping the opportunity to see Greek drama performed as it had 1,800 years ago at the The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Built in 161 AD, this stone theatre is located on the south slope of the Acropolis of Athens. The amphitheater was a venue for drama and musical concerts holding 5,000 spectators. I stumbled by the entrance one evening while a concert had just begun. I had no idea what was the performance.  I could have bought a ticket but decided not to because I was by myself. What a stupid reason. Eleven years later, I still kick myself for not attending.

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The walk around the Parthenon is only a few miles. The hookah bars, the Gyros, the pottery and linen, and the colors blue and white go with you where ever you wander–the people laugh, the music plays, and the Ouzo pours. Photographers love the light here. Day or night, I had a lot of fun people watching and strolling away the hours.

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Stratis Haviaras is a contemporary Greek poet, and his first novel, When The Tree Sings written in 1979 is part historical fiction, part coming-of-age story and part lyric poetry. It connects seemingly unconnected incidents into an original narrative.

The narrator is a man who reflects back to when he was a boy of eleven. The boy describes the incidents of his life during the German occupation of Greece of World War II. He belongs to a mountain community; the elders who watch over him explain the mysteries of nature, of life, reminiscent of Greek myths in their poetic illusions and platitudes.

The boy witnesses many horrors. He saw his father’s death. German soldiers torture mice on live electrical wire, the rodent’s screams and smoking hair taking on a symbolic connotation. He saw the bloodied body of a tortured man. He stands strong, and very adult like when soldiers toy with him and allow him to eat the roasting chestnut if he can hold it in his palm until it cools. The boy, suffering from starvation, accepts the challenge. The pain of his burning flesh cannot supersede the roar in his belly for food. However, it is the haunting story of the sparrow that is most telling of the narrator’s character. He catches a sparrow on a window sill and twists its neck and prepares to roast him. I love how it shows the maturity of the boy. I appreciate the mystical, natural circle of life between man and animal. German soldiers are obviously the predators of the Greek people. It’s absurd; the mountain people are harmless and unassuming. A war where German soldiers feel the need to oppress them is ridiculous. The Nazi game affects the lives of innocent and adds to the surrealism of the time.

Because the narrator is unaware of his magical storytelling abilities, he seems fitting to follow the footsteps of his great Greek predecessors. Not much has changed since The Iliad or The Odyssey. Men still strike and engage in war. Innocents suffer and starve. The beauty of the book is Haviaras’s ability to weave a boy’s observances of nature into a communion around the horror that is manmade. It illustrates mankind’s destructiveness, but somehow, the beauty of nature manages to soften the blow of mankind’s senseless existence.

John Waterhouse or The Many Faces of A Woman in Love

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The Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood and John Waterhouse have always been favorites of mine. Is it the intense colors and the natural world expressed with a wild, exotic realism? Is it because the characters from classical stories manifest from script into the definitive definition of Western Civilization’s concept of beauty? Is it the erotic undertones steaming out of the eyes of the femme fatale within a Victorian prim and proper world? The esthete in me is drawn to the stories in the faces. I pretend I am she and wonder about the possibilities.  The contrast of languorous positions and unblemished bodies with repressed emotions sizzle in those bewitching eyes.

The mermaid positioned before a natural doorway sits on a rock. Who is she looking at? It is he!

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A Mermaid, 1900

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda challenges her father, Prospero, to save the sailors. The chaste, innocent daughter looks for her mate.

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Miranda–The Tempest, 1916

“Had I been any god of power, I would/Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere/It should the good ship so have swallow’d and/The fraughting souls within her.” Act I, Scene II. 10-13

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Ulysses and the Sirens, 1891

Odysseus (Ulysses) orders his men to stuff their ears with wax and tie him to a mast so he can’t escape, but he can still hear the intoxicating sirens singing. They are beautiful women-birds, and men are their prey. Here is the irrepressible seduction of the female portrayed throughout time. The manipulating emasculator. Beware!

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Boreas, 1903

She is the daughter to the Greek god of the North Wind. The insecure, tumultuous side of love. Does he love me or not?

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The Lady of Shallot, 1888

“Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.”

The famous heroine in A. L. Tennyson’s poem is about a woman looking for her Lancelot. Considering the candles and the tapestries, she prepares for a long wait. Her knight will appear. Just around the next bend. Hope!  Nope. Cursed, she dies. Love is tragedy, too.

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The Annunciation, 1914

Here’s Mary, who received the news from the angel Gabriel. Me? OMG! Motherly love. Unconditional.

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The Crystal Ball, 1902

Is this real? Or am I dreaming? How do I know?

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La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1893

In John Keats’s poem, the elf entraps her knight and corrals him with her other conquests.

The hopeless romantic in me sees in these faces the expressions of love. The founder of the Pre-Raphelites Brotherhood was Danti Gabriel Rossetti and he dabbled from poetry to painting all his life.  His sister was a fine poet and her poem below entitled, “The Birthday” captures romantic love. These are the words I imagine in Waterhouse faces. Joy, bewilderment, and despair. Waterhouse captures love on canvas better than anyone.

Christina Rossetti,  1830-1894
“The Birthday”
My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.
Mon Tresor, Je T’aime!

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