Category Archives: The Abstract

Just For Today

kindled by Rumi, Ari and Haleh

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”

– Mary Oliver, from Owl & Other Fantasies

Just for today, call me anything you like and I will answer without argument as only one who has outlived her own sense of pride or shame can. Call me unrighteous and I will curtsy with no trace of irony. Tell me I have no scruples, and I will empty all my pockets just to prove you right. Condemn me as a traitor and I shall plead guilty while cuffing my own wrists. 

Only to those whose gods stay put is it given to be faithful. If I am fickle it is because mine are perennially unhoused. They roam the world recklessly with no sense of direction. Do you know what this means? Yesterday I bowed East and today facing South. God knows where I will turn tomorrow. My loyalty is chained to a moving target. Would you call me indiscreet?  I will nod vigorously in agreement. 

I am not a storehouse but a sieve, and a tattered one at that. Do not be persuaded to give me your jewels for safekeeping, lest they fly through my fingers. Let me confess: I trust the world. It is a weakness of mine. I trust its rickety bridges, quicksand, hail storms and hurricanes,  I trust its dogmatic politicians, daunting bureaucracies and dreariness. And by trust I mean praise, and by praise I mean see, and by see I mean feel them in me. Do you think I’m opinionated?  

Just for today say so to my face and I will, without spite, clasp your hand and thank you for the compliment. Our skin is bolstered by our bones. Our personality by our opinions. Without skeletons we would be amoeboid (no offense to our single-celled brethren,) and life would be fascinating in a different way. But in this present incarnation I treasure my tarsals and metacarpals, my clavicle, my occipital bone, and my opinions.  Just as one cannot produce onion soup without first having onions one cannot produce a change of opinion without first having an opinion. Evolution depends on alchemy. And alchemy some say depends on a very advanced change of opinion. You would call me unrepentant and rambling?

Such discernment on your part! I have spent far too much time pent to ever wish to re-pent. Like an origami crane I folded myself over myself in intricate and convoluted ways. Pressed all the inconvenient parts tightly together and tucked them out of sight. Until one day I came undone. Now I am very creased, not easily categorized, and I cannot stop singing. This glorious unraveling has rendered me loquacious and light-hearted. Today I haven’t the heart to chide anyone– not even myself. Is this irresponsible? I swear I can’t tell anymore. You say I’m flippant?

Ah, could you hold a moment? I must catch my breath. See how you’ve caught me off guard? How splendid! Now perhaps, the possibility of conversation. Had you caught me en garde all we would have is a duel. All those thrusts and parries, exciting at first (survival is a stimulating instinct,) but tiresome after a while, and on occasion downright tragic. Flippant you say? I see what you mean.

For so many years I took everything seriously. Then one day I stopped, and was surprised by my own buoyancy. Now I am untamed and unabashed. Self-propelling like a hummingbird. Given to flitting, and flights of fancy. Making up for lost time, and loath to shoulder much more than sunlight. Should slides of my feathers. Shall not cocks my head. I do not pretend to understand the ways of the world. I am lost in the woods that are lovely as touted. And dark. And deep. You are lost with me. And everyone else we know. And by lost I mean playing, and by playing I mean safe, and by safe I mean held, and by held I mean whole. And you are silent now. 

And so am I. 

Just for today. 

Rue the Day

Placed several irons in the fire recently. I wonder if I am going to rue the day. Rue the day is a lovely turn of phrase isn’t it? Combining the poet’s sensibilities with the the comic’s flair for melodrama. Rue. The word reaches back to the Old English hreow, relative of the Old High German hriuwa — sorrow. In French, it’s a street or avenue. In the plant world, a medicinal herb, bittersweet and native to the Balkan peninsula. The Romans believed its aromatic leaves could sharpen vision, address hysteria, cure vertigo . See how these many disparate meanings meet and mingle? Making unto themselves a new kind of sense. For sorrow too is an avenue. Its bittersweetness and tears a cleansing, necessary, orienting force of healing. Rue. A word so much more lyrical and layered than regret. A word one can hold up like a prism, turn it this way and that, delighting in the way it refracts the light. A word that is not meant to be pocketed placidly like change.

Placid. This word feels flat and colorless to me. Its stillness more sedated than serene. Its composure owing itself to dullness not discipline. A word incapable of any adventure. To ‘go placidly amidst the haste,’ is not something I aspire to [apologies to Max Ehrmann.] Perhaps it is the nearness to the word flaccid that does it in for me. Sometimes the mere rhymeyness of a word with another can unexpectedly drive down its market value. This is I realize, a rather judgmental and gentrified approach to vocabulary.

I ought to reform my ways. As a philosophy, it is unattractive to insist that fine words live in gated communities, away huddled masses, the hoi-polloi, the rabble rousers, the riff and also the raff. Words, unlike people, do not have the tendency to judge one another. Nor do they attempt to dominate or discriminate against their neighbors. If you have doubts about this, simply study the dictionary and take note of the admirable diversity in all its neighborhoods.Alphabetization as a form of organization is rather revolutionary. It parks princes and paupers in the same zipcode without embarrassment or apology.

Any bias that I may have against words with inelegant associative rhymes, is a fault in my stars not theirs. It is my human mind with its unfortunate conditioning that clamps preferences down on things that are not inherently likable or dislikable. They just are. Divorced from my interpretations of the inchoate babbling of my senses perhaps I would be more free to — go placidly amidst the noise and haste.

For now I will settle instead, for going however I happen to go. Hopefully learning a little something along the way. And stopping whenever appropriate, to rue the day.

Grand Gestures

“As a queen sits down, knowing a chair will be there,
Or a general raises his hand and is given the field-glasses,
Step off assuredly into the blank of your own mind.
Something will come to you.”
Richard Wilbur

Isn’t that quote fabulous? It came to me through a friend, and it came to her through a podcast she was listening to, featuring the novelist Ann Tyler, who keeps these lines taped to her wall. There are so many places one can go with them, and with the hypnotic poem they spring from titled, “Walking to Sleep.” The poem purportedly is about two different ways to approach the Land of Nod. But sneakily, it is much more about waking up. And it is possessed of other arresting lines like these:

Try to remember this: what you project
Is what you will perceive; what you perceive
With any passion, be it love or terror,
May take on whims and powers of its own.

But today we are not going to discuss any of these overtly important things. Instead I am here to let you in on a frivolous secret because frivolity has covert importance in our world (play, no matter what anyone says, has always been a deep form of work.) It has served me well, and better on several occasions than gravitas has. Be advised, that which I am soon to impart to you is an esoteric technique. One that can be employed whenever you wish to be reminded of your inherent power. It costs no money, and cannot be bought or sold. But like all techniques it must be exercised discreetly. And it works like this…

Sometimes when I am walking towards a building with automated doors, (airport terminals, and grocery stores back in those years when I frequented both, though now it is primarily hospitals,)  I will increase the degree of purposefulness in my stride. I will draw my shoulders back, and keep my gaze trained straight ahead. I will walk like a woman in charge. One who knows without a glimmer of a doubt who she is, and where she is going. A woman who understands the axis of her spine is what the universe revolves around. Remember: It is of no import whether one actually knows, understands, or believes these things, the key is only to walk as though one does.

And as I step with the decisive, if slightly absurd heel-to-toe gait of a runway model, in front of those sleekly synchronized glass doors–I will lift my right hand and flick its fingers in front of me. A languid yet also resolute motion, akin to one a duchess might employ to indicate the shortcake crumbs waiting to be brushed off her white linen tablecloth. The gesture (I like to think,) is both commanding and casual. Executed in the regal and relaxed manner of one long grown accustomed to having their every command and slightest wish instantly fulfilled by animate subjects and  inanimate objects alike.

And in that unfailing moment when the doors slide open, I will sail through. Calm as an ocean liner though I follow in the rousing footsteps of Ali Baba, and all those who daringly conjured an opening where first there seemed none. Knowing in those brief, moments that I wield magic in my fingertips. Accepting responsibility for the untold adventure that awaits me, on the other side of these freshly opened doors. 

What More Is There Left To Say?

From 2012 or 2013

When the world began, there was a place for everything and everything was in its place. This meant one never, ever had to search for anything. Which sounds awfully convenient, and that is exactly what it was. Awfully. Convenient. In this impeccable order of things everything happened on a schedule. Serendipity, for instance got the 2pm slot on Tuesday afternoons (which meant of course that most people snoozed through it). Everything under the sun was reliable and tedious.

People soon began to devise little games for themselves to make things more interesting. To this end, they banished love to the rainforests and perched happiness high on a craggy mountain top. They left contentment in the middle of the sea and buried fulfillment somewhere in the desert. They also devised elaborate disguises of masks upon masks, until no one was quite sure of who they really were any more. 

All this activity spawned a dubious genre of writers, who began to write prolifically about how to discover oneself and locate true love, purpose, enlightenment and the like. Some of them actually knew what they were talking about, but most just made it up as they went along. This resulted, as you might expect, in many millennia of misunderstandings, wild goose chases and general confusion. 

Meanwhile love got lonely in the rainforest and happiness suffered vertigo on the mountaintop. Contentment  never quite found its sea legs and fulfillment grew claustrophobic underground. So they all crept back home eventually, furtively and unannounced. With spare keys they let themselves back into the chambers of the human heart, took up their old residence with sweet sighs of relief. Their return went unnoticed. 

Each person, by this time, was consumed with his or her own seeking. They were off plowing through rainforests, scaling mountain ranges, leading deep sea diving expeditions and caravanning through the deserts in search of that which had already come home. It was at this juncture that irony entered the world.

Very soon technology began to serve as a substitute for that which was hard to find. When real satisfaction could not be located, humanity consoled itself with the wonders of a GPS that could always be relied on to pull up directions to the nearest coffee shop. Tweets began to stand in for conversation and communion. In the midst of all the frenzied seeking, who had time for more than byte-sized helpings of relationship and reality? People searching for answers to life’s Big Questions began to turn increasingly to Google (who, it must be admitted, on average has a faster response rate than most Higher Powers).

And so the years rolled on, wave upon wave. People’s lives got bigger, brighter, faster, higher. An unfathomable number of ice cream flavors appeared in the market. And yet underneath the frenetic pace, glittering exterior and the availability of all that ice cream, people were more tired, frightened and lonely than they had ever been since the dawn of history. And every so often one of them would grow so sick and tired of the whole charade, that she or he would throw in the towel. They would shut off their cell phones and turn away from the screen. They would stop talking and tweeting and shopping and seeking and fall back suddenly and sweetly into the skin of their skin.

And love would rush over then to greet them at the core. Happiness would put on the kettle, contentment would tend the hearth, and fulfillment would begin to sing.

And what more is there left to say?

Either Or

Some people are capable of loving life and literature at the same time she said. But as it happens I’m not one of them. I only read when I am on particularly bad terms with reality.


Some days she can’t tell

If she feels good or bad,

Like questionable milk,

It’s unclear if she’s turned.

The Coherence of Pigeons

From a bygone corridor of 2013, excerpted from a letter to S. The Goddess of Twine & Doing Things Slowly

Coherence. The word has been repeating itself in my head the past several days. A word fashioned like a slender brass key. Capable of unlocking life’s secrets. From Merriam Webster, [isn’t that a beautiful name? Merriam, whose last name is Webster. If she were a person would she be bookish? A librarian? With a hair bun, wire rimmed spectacles and a beautifully modulated speaking voice?] from Merriam Webster comes this definition of coherence : the quality or state of cohering: as a : systematic or logical connection or consistency b : integration of diverse elements, relationships, or values. 

Oh to possess that state! That quality of integration. To be able to hold out your palm like a sorceress and draw in the desperately disparate aspects of a life, to weld and wield that energy like a laser. Directable light. To make meaning out of chaos. To weave cogency and plot out of the potency of a Jackson Pollock. To be able to toss your days like ingredients– bizarre, beautiful, stellar and unsavory– into life’s cauldron and like Macbeth’s weird witches, conjure up philosophy as invincible as any potion in a fairytale. An explanation of why you are here and what you are doing and how it matters. That is what we are looking for. Not the dollar store variety of happiness. Which is too plastic and mass produced a word. Too Made in China. However.

Most everyone still wants to be happy– or thinks they do. Everyone is madly mistaken. What we really want is not a happy life but a coherent one. One whose every part is in sync with the rest, is integrated, involved, intelligible. One whose every part knows its place. 

We make the tragic mistake of thinking this kind of knowing is at the same level as knowing the capitals of all the countries in the world. We memorize our names, our addresses, and the anthems of our alma maters. We plot out neatly, for forgettable strangers, at equally forgettable parties, the timeline of our lives. Leaving out everything that is of any real significance. We mistake the superficial and boring chronology of our lives for coherence. We use our resumes like alibis. Look! I was here! And then there! I did this! And then that! We are only dimly and occasionally aware (usually at unusual hours of the night) that we do not quite remember what we are trying so desperately to prove. Or to whom.

Perhaps this is what makes some people uncomfortable around pigeons. Pigeons will cock their beautiful heads to one side, and with bright orange halos around their black eyes, look directly into your soul. They will not pretend to be impressed by your bio-data. Name-dropping goes nowhere with them, and inserting casual hints of your upward mobility into the conversation is ill-advised. No person is more upwardly mobile than a pigeon. Also, they are not interested in your native place. Their curiosity tends in other directions.

For instance, in a world where pigeons are generally denounced for making a mess of things, [Look who’s talking! They might cry– if pigeons were as petty or argumentative as people,] they would like to know if you can perch on a window sill and observe life as they do (with no words, just plenty of billing and cooing). They would like to know if you like the refracted rainbows dancing in their necks and whether you will stick out yours for them. But most of all, what they would like to know is– have brought any breadcrumbs with you. Or anything really, to help nourish and sustain the lives that flutter alongside yours.

The Physics of Apologies

Some words are like Swiss army knives. Small enough to slip in your pocket, capable of unfolding in different ways– depending on whether you need to whittle a piece of birchwood, open a bottle, or tighten a screw. This makes them convenient– but also at times when context is unclear– confusing. A Swiss army knife on a camping trip is more readily understood, than a Swiss army knife going through airport security in your carry-on luggage.

Misunderstood Swiss army knives are typically confiscated. Misunderstood words however, will typically continue to travel through the world unchecked, trailing bafflement, umbrage, heartbreak, hilarity or fertile possibility in their wake. Unlike a misunderstood Swiss army knife a misunderstood word can accrue new capabilities. It can cause happy accidents, productive subversions– even poetry. Especially poetry.

Because whether you are a word or not, meaning more than one thing means you carry, at all times, simultaneous potentials. The potentials to be for instance, useful, problematic, transcendent, lyrical, loathsome, or some combination of the above. Perhaps this is the precise definition of what it means to be a person. And this brings me now, to the subject of apologies.

Because sorry is a Swiss army knife of a word. One whose roots lie in the old English, German and Dutch words for sorrow, suffering and sores. And just as one might wrangle mousse and meringues out of aquafaba, sorry can be whipped into a multiplicity of meanings. For practical purposes, humans must never leave home without it. Must carry it in their back pocket at all times (hermits and tyrants are exempt,)  for social emergencies. 

Sorry proves useful as a sincere expression of sympathy in the face of misfortune (I am sorry for the loss of your pet dung beetle), or as a pity-tinged declaration of compassion (I feel sorry for his poor wife). It can be an efficient way to communicate wretchedness (Bartholemew is in a sorry state), or indicate that an enterprise is entirely regrettable (The whole sorry business of growing up). But we reach for it most often and in daily ways, where lines have been crossed, hearts pricked or severely wounded, mischief or injury done. At such times it is employed as a hat-in-hand expression of contrition, “I’m sorry…” 

Not everyone knows how to properly use the bottle cap opener in a Swiss army knife. Not everyone knows how to properly use the word sorry in an apology. This makes the give and take of apologies, as a field of study– like that of two-toed sloths and blobfish– utterly fascinating.

I don’t remember her name. I do remember her small head sported two brown braids and a grown-up expression. We are standing under a large tree, and she is apologizing for recent meanness. I am five-years-old. This is my first time receiving an apology. Like the first bite of a rare tropical fruit, the experience is exotic. A sunburst suffusion of sweetness fills me in a way I did not know I was capable of being filled. The sting of injured pride eclipsed, I stand rapt, reluctant to let this moment end. So I say the only logical thing there is to say, “I didn’t hear you — what did you say?” 

She repeats the words. Her tone a tinge flatter this time- naturally. When an apology is well-delivered, requesting an encore is boorish. But I am spellbound, oblivious to protocol. Dazed and amazed at this new dynamic. I wish I could tell you this was my initiation into forgiveness. I wish I could say what riveted me, was encountering an in-born capacity for clemency. But I can’t. In truth what enchanted me was a heady, ill-understood sense of power. The glamorous feeling of being influential. And an innocent desire to ride the wave of that feeling. In feeling this way I was of course, fundamentally misinterpreting the energetics of it all. This is understandable because the physics of apologies is confusing. 

Sincerely admit to smallness and you do not shrink — you expand. The fact that we do not always rightly perceive this phenomenon perhaps accounts for some of our sloppiness. As a race humans are notably given to making apologies, and accomplished at making exceptionally bad ones. Variations on the theme abound. There is the seeming apology (I’m sorry you feel that way.) The churlish apology (Well, if it makes you feel better, I’m sorry.) The oblivious apology (No clue what I did, but I’m sorry.) The disguised-blame apology, (I’m sorry you did that,) the expectant apology (I’m sorry, and you should be sorry too.) The forced apology, the perfunctory apology, the relentless apology…each add their own flavors to this sorry stew. And where did it all begin?

Trace a person’s life all the way back to their origins and you may discover the why behind the who. Trace a word back to its beginning and you may catch a whiff of the why behind the what. Apology roots back to early 15th century Greek and Latin, apologia. The word denoted ‘a formal defense against an accusation.’ Yes. An apology in its heyday, was a form of argument, justification, or excuse. Not an expression of contrition, or regret, not an admission of wrong-doing, or a brave preamble to making amends. It was a mea not culpa stance. It isn’t entirely clear when or how the usage flipped. But regardless of timelines and reasons, when such contradictions wrestle within the life of the word itself, no wonder our apologies are muddled. 

But even in such muddied waters there dwells the rare possibility of soulful apology. You will know it when you feel the green fuse rising within you, a cleansing force that requires no calculation or strategy. You will know it when it blooms in another. Lotus-like, perfectly formed, held above all the swirling tumult of the past. Setting the air abuzz with the fragrance of freshly freed energy. 

You will know it by the breath you are no longer holding. The extra space you find to dance in. You will know it by the dawn-like dazzle of finding yourself a few steps closer, to home.

The Vanishing Point

The disconcerting phenomenon of learning something new, and feeling you somehow know less than you did before. Bonafide knowledge is always a subtraction of certainty. If this is confusing, it’s because you are used to equating not knowing, with ignorance. But to know that you do not know, is the truest form of knowledge there is. The one all other forms of knowing rely on.

Your deepest knowing must be sweet and soluble.

What sits on your tongue like a pebble is not a sugar cube. Knowledge you can grasp is a fistful of coins. Please don’t strike a bad bargain. Too many have traded their days for small change.

The Games People Play (or) How It Is Sometimes

In another lifetime they might have been good, perhaps even great friends. Their natures each pitched to unusual keys, offset just enough to harmonize in inspired ways. But they didn’t. Not this time around. What emerged between them instead, was the relationship equivalent of elevator music. A vast politeness, a blameless bond neither strong nor interesting. It held them temporarily in the same orbit, no more, no less. Like passengers seated next to each other on a plane, who exchange brief pleasantries then fall into their separate worlds. Or acquaintances at a mutual friend’s party, who listen to one another’s stories with that air of formal attentiveness that betrays a lack of natural sympathies. From their forgettable interactions was absent the trouble or reward of real conversation. They traveled a shared highway, a little more than distant and much less than close. You know how it is with some people. And so it was with them. Though it might have been otherwise.


The kind of falling out that sinks beneath the surface after the initial confrontation. Unsettled ghosts woken by the disturbance now refuse to fall back asleep. They cast a gray pall over these relationships. Joy like a migratory bird leaves for warmer climes. Pleasantries continue to be exchanged, small kindnesses done. But there is wanness to them. Like winter sun. A futility. Like seed cast on stone. Everything feels smaller than. Diminished. Emptied like a shelled pea-pod. A once container. Contentless yet true to form. The ghosts stir the hollowed out husks with their sighs. ‘Do you remember?’ they whisper, ‘Do you remember those days when life was unbroken, the illusion whole? Do you remember when this friendship made anything possible?’


A variety of veiled distrust between them that self-righteously tilts away from full-blown disagreement, and nurtures instead, many minor refusals to correspond in perspective. The bigger battlefields have been wisely abandoned. The smaller ones foolishly overrun. Each bends over backwards  to avoid seeing eye-to-eye on minutiae. For to concur on trivialities admits common ground. And the thought of shared turf even in its most innocuous forms, is still repellant. A passive contrariness becomes the weapon of choice. Difference of opinion wielded as, not sword, but toothpick. Capable of wounding nothing, save vanity. Horns will not be locked like battering rams. No. Nothing so honest or conspicuous. Instead balloons will be pricked, and sails quietly de-winded by turns. Subtle deflation the new strategy.