Untitled, by Diana Maus, http://mosaicmoods.wordpress.com/

Monday, July 25, 2011

This Thing Called Genius

I sometimes think that I may go forth

And walk hard and earnestly, and live a more

Substantial life
And get a glorious experience;

Be much abroad in heat and cold,
Day and night; live more, expend more atmospheres,

Be weary often, etc. etc.

But then, swiftly the thought comes to me,

Go not so far out of your way for a truer life;
Keep strictly onward in that path alone

Which your genius points out.

Do the things which lie nearest you,
But which are difficult to do.

Live a purer, more thoughtful
And laborious life,
More true to your friends and neighbors,
More noble and magnanimous

And that will be better than a wild walk.
To live in relations of truth and sincerity with men is

To dwell In a frontier territory.
-- Henry David Thoreau, from his Journal
Word origins is an interest of mine, developed from six years of Latin, I guess, and it came to me that our use of the word ‘genius’ also shows our lack of support for the idea that every person has some inherent ability. 

"…the path which your genius points out."  Thoreau used the word ‘genius’ in a different way than we commonly do. 
Henry thought of genius as it was defined in the original Latin:  of the genes: (genero, ingenium), a natural or inborn ability, our character, it  is our basic nature.  Today we have added a modifier to  the base word, genius, and call it ‘extraordinary ability’, or unusual character or inventiveness.  History has reduced the availability of genius to a lucky few—the Leonardo di Vincis of our times. 

Sitting in the doctor's office yesterday, an article in "National Geographic" caught my eye:  "Crash Test Genius" described the Lexus crash test dummy that can display 119 points of information.  Wow! Lexus CT might do OK in today's classrooms!  If you can parrot back the information given and expected of you on a standardized test, you pass muster.   The better the parroting, the better the 'genius' rating.  But we are not crash test dummies, and as Einstein said, why bother memorizing information that you can look up anywhere.

 True genius is found within each one of us: like Phillip, the clubfooted hero of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage.   Trained in the English church schools of the 19th century, yet sensing that what he was learning had no relevance for his inborn ability or character, Philip breaks from the rigid world of a semi-rural English parish life and gradually finds his "genius".    The Razor's Edge by Maugham investigates a similar intellectual trip.  

   The way is open; it leads to truth and sincerity, or so says Henry Thoreau. It is not for the few, this genius, but for everyone.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Will Someone Steal My Bone?

 I don’t know how many of you have ever had a panic attack, but they’re no fun.  About a year ago, I had one that sent me to the emergency room, and  that episode taught me that one’s nerves can age along with one’s gall bladder, liver, heart, aching back and kidneys.  I’ve always been a worrier, but this sojourn taught me to watch out for those moments when I let something rattle my cage: to recognize worries for what they are, and learn to deal with them in an intelligent manner.

Without some kind of filtering system aging can be frightening and frustating;  it's an eyeopener the first time you can't get up easily from a kneeling position, or to see work pile up and not have the energy to finish it, or to not remember someone’s name, or to have difficulty trying to get a meal for company on the table all hot at the same time…oh yes, sometimes wherever I look, if I look hard enough, I can find that demon- worry, worry, worry. Will I be able to drive 2 years from now?  Will I begin to have more pain, or aching than I can stand?  Will my loved ones develop serious illnesses; and then there is death, and that is another issue all by itself.   

Recently Travelers showed a commercial about a dog who worried about someone taking his bone, and this simple little thing opened my mind to how often I have fretted and worried about someone taking my bone—my good life—away from me.  How often these worries have cluttered up and otherwise wonderful life.  The song that accompanied the commercial was so compelling I searched until I found out the composer, musician and lyrics for the song.  The singer is Ray LaMontague and I encourage you to go to Utube and listen.  It has become my newest theme song.

Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble
Trouble been doggin' my soul since the day I was born
Worry, worry, worry, worry
Worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone

…and it goes on.  But for me, these words have become my mantra.  If I tire out before the garden is completely weed-free, I shrug my shoulders, sing, “Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble.  Worry, worry, worry, worry, worry,” and go inside and knit.

If I feel all those aches and pains of age as I’m trying to go to sleep, I sing my mantra song, take an aspirin and distract myself till I fall asleep.  If someone I love has a problem, I worry, sing my mantra song, say a prayer and realize that 9 times out of 10 everything will turn out OK.  If it doesn’t, my anxiety does nothing to help.

I wish I had had this helpful little ditty years ago.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have worried my way through my adult years as much as I did.  Somehow singing my Worry Song is like saying, “ OK, look at this situation the way it is.  That’s life!”  It has helped me accept life as it is. Worry, worry, worry never solved a problem, or saved a soul, or cured an illness. 

What a wonderful life I’ve had!  I only wish I’d realized it sooner. - Colette (French author of Gigi)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Power is the Poser

"I went to the store the other day to buy a bolt for our front door, for as I told the storekeeper, the Governor was coming here. "Aye," said he. "and the Legislature too." "Then I will take two bolts," said I." HD Thoreau Journal, Vol XII.

"Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it." HD Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government."

"God lives between every man and the object of his desire." Rumi.

Power is the poser that captivates man. As individuals we are prone to reject the thought that we cannot have control of our lives. Some of us are more control freaks than others, and the passion that leads men to seek political power is a drug that deludes us into thinking that no one can do what we are doing, and that we have the exclusive answer to all things.  As a part of the research I was doing for this post, I ran across a blog with the title, "Give me liberty or give me lead." Unforgivable egotism.

It might be wise to keep reminding ourselves that if we take our hand out of the bucket of water, no one will notice that it is gone, nor, as a drop of water in that bucket, can we speak for the entire bucket.  How little humility there is in us!    I agree with Thoreau that most governments, allowed to have reign over their subjects, are a danger to their citizens, and it seems possible that given the opportunity, some citizens, allowed to have absolute power, would be just as destructive.    If you want to worry, Google "government power" with images and click on some of the blogs those images represent. 

Greed and fanaticism is not only in the Middle East, but is also in America. To this end we each must make it known what kind of government will command our respect. Loud and Clear! 

Rumi said that the reed and the grass must cooperate in order to weave themselves together to make a mat.  I wonder if most Americans have any idea of what we have, compared to so many other countries, and I'm afraid we have been too apathetic to realize that every generation must protect that which makes us different.    The one thing that can keep us from allowing a Theocracy or Oligarchy of the wealthy from completely smothering us is our Constitution and Bill of Rights. 

I'm not sure that it isn't too late to fight the war we have almost lost to the top one percent of our citizens, or to those who do not understand freedom of religion.  Like Coleman Barks, translator of The Essential Rumi, I believe that "the exclusivity of most of the organized religions does insult the soul."  It also insults the soul to accept the fact that we are daily gaining more poor and homeless while the penthouses continue to be built.  This is not the day to cynically complain and do nothing. It is past time for that. It is time now to learn to weave.  Compromise is the only way to achieve anything in a Democratic Republic.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The daisy follows soft the sun


The daisy follows soft the sun,
And when his golden walk is done,
Sits shyly at his feet.
He, waking, finds the flower near.
"Wherefore, marauder, art thou here?"
"Because, sir, love is sweet!"

We are the flower, Thou the sun!
Forgive us, if as days decline,
We nearer steal to Thee, —
Enamoured of the parting west,
The peace, the flight, the amethyst,

Night's possibility

                   __Emily Dickinson

I read this just today on one of my favorite internet sites, Writers' Almanac, and had to share.  Once again, Emily does not disappoint us with flowery words or useless trivia.  It is right to the point:  Night's Possibilities.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thoughts From a Recent Google

"From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot in front of the other. But when books are opened you discover you have wings."
--Helen Hayes

One of the things I love to do on Google, is Google!  Googling is the perfect weapon for me—I think it is because it is a lot like my mind:  unfocused, full of trivia, short on attention span, and I love the access it gives to all kinds of unforeseen  information. 

At any rate, I was trying to remember the play my husband and I saw in a trip to New York City shortly after our marriage. I still remember the excitement of sitting in the audience to see Helen Hayes, called The First Lady of American Theater, in the play, “ Time Remembered”.  Hayes won the Tony for her performance and the play itself won a Tony as best play of 1958.  The underlying theme of “Time Remembered” was of a young man who could not release the past in order to live a fulfilling life.  

Knowing my mental proclivities, this immediately set up several mental constructs:
 What does it do to a life if the problems of the past interfere with the richness of our time on earth?  What does it do to a life if a person does not go beyond the past to find his or her wings?  How can one find the will, yes the will to live a productive life regardless of tragedy or pain?   

 Hayes is only an example of those who have found their wings. Her career spanned 70 years, and she was one of very few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, 2 Oscars and a Tony Award.  She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, was the namesake for the Annual Helen Hayes Awards, and had not one, but two theaters named for her.

  Outside the theater she also contributed and worked toward the Helen Hayes Hospital which originally specialized in children with Tuberculosis but has been expanded to cover rehabilitation for most chronic diseases, and she gave freely of her time and wealth to many causes that we don’t have time to mention here.

 Hayes lived to be 93 years old and at the same time all of the above was happening, she grew up as a devout Catholic child of an Irish Potato Famine background, who was denounced and denied sacraments of the church because of her marriage to Charles MacArthur, a divorced Protestant.  She was hospitalized many times due to serious asthma aggrivated by stage dust, lost a daughter at age 19 with polio, lost her husband many years too early, and was only five feet tall. 

She could have easily retired into herself and no one would have blamed her, considering that her life, indeed, was not perfect.  She could have been like the young man in “Time Remembered”,  but somehow she went beyond the pain that life offers each of us.     “Men are born to succeed, not fail,” and “If you rest, you rust,”  she is quoted as saying.

Hayes is not alone in her success.  There are many, not as famous, or even as successful as she, who, regardless of infirmity, illness or tragedy, have willed to open the book of life:  Stephen Hawking,  Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and so many others who have found their voice beyond the physical or emotional pain that life can present.  To read the biographies of almost any one alive is an exercise showing that almost any life has serious pain.  It is just part of life. 

Most of us will never reach the pinnacle of success that Hayes and many others have reached; our successes are often much smaller,  but to be able, at one’s advanced years, to look back and feel the satisfaction of a life lived with some feeling of success  and happiness “in spite of” obstacles, is reward enough.