I recenlty considered opening a coffee shop nextdoor to Austin’s famed and beatiful Mozart’s Coffee Roasters. I would call it, “Salieri’s.” The sign over the shop would read, “We’re not as good.”

Poetry as Memory of God

Blogging should sound like talking to myself. But it’s not journaling becasue, while talking to myself, I’m also talking to you. The most “virtuous” (because I’m a virtue ethicist of my own behavior) thing I can do is help you, others, pay attention…to my own words, which I hope hold value for their thoughtfulness and to the Word of God. It’s what the poet, G.M. Hopkins invites himself and others to do: pay attention to the Kingfisher and the dragonfly, consider what they say. “Pay attnetion to what you pay attention to,” says, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Well, If you’ve found yourslef here, in my clouster of the internet, you might have noticed…I pay attention to poetry. Why is that? I grew up with my mom reading it aloud. I studied it in university. etc (on my past experience). Most of all—and this is thanks to re-reading Hopkins just now— I hear Christ “lovely in [voice] not his.” I swim upstream of poets to the scripture they read. I remember God. Usually in by body. Today, it was with tears while reading Hopkins aloud. I get that I’m weird for crying at poetry, I accept it and you’re free to as well.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Fish, Flash, Seed: Ideas waited for, snagged, and transplanted

David Lynch (via Rob Walker and Austin Kleon) uses these three metaphors for a thought:

Fish: “I believe that if you sit quietly, like you’re fishing, you will catch ideas. The real, you know, beautiful, big ones swim kinda deep down there so you have to be very quiet, and you know, wait for them to come along.”

Flash: “If you catch an idea, you know, any idea, it wasn’t there and then it’s there! It might just be a small fragment…but you gotta write that idea down right away. And as you’re writing, sometimes it’s amazing how much comes out, you know, from that one flash…And in your mind the idea is seen and felt and it explodes like it’s got electricity and light connected to it.”

The explosion is an agrarian one, like the moment germination errupts from inside the dark walls of a…

Seed: So, you get an idea and it is like a seed. And…it explodes…And it has all the images and the feeling. And it’s like in an instant you know the idea, in an instant [a flash]…Then, the thing is translating that to some medium.

Lynch talks of waiting for the ideas like fish and cathing the big ones that live deep takes the most time. The poet Ted Hughes talks about ideas like both foxes and fishes. Ideas are critters to be actively waited for and sniffed out. A practice that, Hughes says, requires surrender:

And that process of raid, or persuasion, or ambush, or dogged hunting, or surrender, is the kind of thinking we have to learn, and if we don’t somehow learn it, then our minds line us like the fish in the pond of a man who can’t fish.

Beowulf, bro.

Robin Sloan:

The classic poem Beowulf begins with the Old English word “hwæt,” which has proven tricky to translate; it’s a call to attention, something like “hark!” or “behold!” Tolkien chose the musty “Lo!” Seamus Heaney, in his translation published twenty years ago—the first Beowulf I encountered—brought it up to date, opening with a winning “So!” Now, Maria Dahvana Headley, in a bracingly contemporary translation, does Heaney one better. Her Beowulf begins with—wait for it—“Bro!” Beowulf always was a little bro-y, wasn’t it? I love the way these translations speak to one another; neither Heaney nor Headley’s choices would be as appealing without the knowledge of what came before. Lo/So/Bro: a perfect progression.

Sloan’s commentary of casual Beowulf translation reminded me of John Gardner’s book Grendel. I read it for the first time last year and really enjoyed the rhapsodized re-telling of the Beowulf story from the point-of-view of the monster. Seems to me on the first reading to stand in the tradition of the unsettling groteesque characteristic of Flannery O’Connor.

After reading the book, I stumbled on some insightful commentary from Gardner in a letter he wrote to a group of young students. I appreciate when authors help readers understand their stories without nuetering the story.

"...to desire the help of grace is the beginning of grace..."

—St. Augustine, On Rebuke and Grace Ch II

Treebeard in a Forest of Options

Benedict, Bombadill, Gandalf, and Beck
Treebeard “supposes.” His option: “must do.”
Given no choice, with the threat to his neck,
he heralds his plan and follows it through.

Tim Ferris interviewed Chuck Palahniuk on his podcast recently. Not long into the interview, Palahniuk explains the phenomenon that some readers of his story, “Guts” experience. They pass-out. Maybe that shocking detail made me lean in to hear, what I think to be, a profound summary of what Palahniuk understands his calling to be. He says:

The goal is to make people laugh and then to really break their heart.

This, of course, makes complete sense coming from the man who wrote Fight Club. A movie that holds much of it’s college-aged-viewing charm after first viewing. I think because even after you have been whiplashed by the surprise ending, you ache to see old forms of personhood and institution crumble (while a Pixies song plays) to death.

At the same time, hearing the master of modern-grotesque describe his aim as an author, I was suprised. His words stunned me for their uncanny resemblence to a few lines of rhyme from C.S. Lewis.

Have you not seen that in our days
Of any whose story, song or art
Delights us, our sincerest praise
Means, when all’s said, ‘You break my heart?

“Laughter through tears.”

Writing on the subjects of diversity and inclusion for some new job stuff, I came across this Love-Actually-type video on inclusion. It’s a great artifact of rhetorical mastery: logos and tear-worthy pathos.

George Herbert's Pre-sermon Prayer

An excerpt from George Herbert’s book A Priest to The Temple: Or The Country Parson, His Character, And Rule of Holy Life, included in the chapter titled, “The Authour’s Prayer before Sermon.”

Thou hast exalted thy mercy above all things; and hast made our salvation, not our punishment, thy glory: so that then where sin abounded, not death, but grace superabounded; accordingly, when we had sinned beyond any help in heaven or earth, then thou saidest, Lo, I come! then did the Lord of life, unable of himselfe to die, contrive to do it. He took flesh, he wept, he died; for his enemies he died; even for those that derided him then, and still despise him. Blessed Saviour!

Narrow Scope Anxiety

Possible Answers to Prayer
BY SCOTT CAIRNS

Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

Supreme Thanks

Thank you, Jenzia Burgos, for the incredible resource of a Black Music History Library. Today, I read Greg Tate’s review of Ashley Kahn’s book A Love Supreme. The article includes this block quote describing how Coltrane’s album begins:

Elvin Jones leans to his left and, striking a Chinese gong, opens the album with an ethereal, exotic splash. “It’s the signal of something different,” remarks [Alice and John Coltrane’s son] Ravi. “You don’t hear that instrument anywhere else on any other John Coltrane recording.” … In one stroke, the hammered metal’s distinctive shimmer clears the air of standard jazz practice… . Coltrane enters with a brief fanfare. Whether blown from minarets or at military barracks, as a call to prayer or to arms, it’s a time-honored device with a timeless function …

Now I’m gonna go listen to “Psalm” and read Coltrane’s liner-notes poem. Salud!

Every US National Park ranked.

Prayer is a portal

I'm headed to the beach this weekend!

Whenever we touch nature we get clean. People who have got dirty through too much civilization take a walk in the woods, or a bath in the sea. Entering the unconscious, entering yourself through dreams, is touching nature from the inside and this is the same thing, things are put right again.

— Carl Jung via: Swissmiss

This Jung quote grabbed my attention for its Emersonian charm and near narration of what I hope this weekend to be. On second reading, I found myself remolding some of the pastoral platitudes. At the risk of over-spiritualizing, here are my thoughts:

When one enters a dream, more than one's self is present. We enter the unconscious in the compony of the invisible. There, not all are benevolent. Yet, when we humble ourself to the good, true, and beautiful one, we bath in the sea, walk in the calming compony of the woods and are consequently washed, calmed, and put right, in the compony of The Man of Sorrows. In him, we get clean. In him, we touch nature from the inside.

Prayer is the portal.

Among. (Day 13 of the Micro.blog August Photoblogging Challenge)

Feliz–belated–Cumple, HUvB!

Sound. (Day 12 of the Micro.blog August Photoblogging Challenge)

Tree fell.

Love and Mercy

Nick Cave is batting 1,000 on his last few Red Hand Files newsletters. I shared a highlight from the last issue regarding writers block. This week, he connected the principle and practice of "mercy" to the problem with cancel culture. He wrote:

Mercy allows us the ability to engage openly in free-ranging conversation — an expansion of collective discovery toward a common good. If mercy is our guide we have a safety net of mutual consideration, and we can, to quote Oscar Wilde, “play gracefully with ideas.”

...It is a value we must nurture and aspire to. Tolerance allows the spirit of enquiry the confidence to roam freely, to make mistakes, to self-correct, to be bold, to dare to doubt and in the process to chance upon new and more advanced ideas. Without mercy society grows inflexible, fearful, vindictive and humorless.

The picture of a society without mercy reminds me of something I heard about mercy defined linguistically. The Hebrew word associates the experience with pregnancy. Mercy is like being pregnant. "Bearing with" the other in mercy requires genuine selflessness.

Ethicist and Church Historian, Walter Brueggemann makes the case that the most fundamental, human enemy of mercy is "the pattern of self-preoccupation." Krista Tippett interviewed Brueggemann some time ago on the podcast "On Being" and asked him, as Nick Cave was asked, to define "Mercy." Here's Brueggemann:

You may know that the Hebrew word for — Phyllis Trible has taught us that the Hebrew word for mercy is the word for womb with different vowel points. So mercy, she’s suggested, is womb-like mother love. It is the capacity of a mother to totally give one’s self over to the need and reality and identity of the child. And mutatis mutandis (translation: "things being changed that have to be changed"), then, mercy is the capacity to give one’s self away for the sake of the neighborhood.

Now, none of us do that completely. But it makes a difference if the quality of social transactions have to do with the willingness to give one’s self away for the sake of the other, rather than the need to always be drawing all of the resources to myself for my own well-being. It is this kind of generous connectedness to others. And then I think our task is to see how that translates into policy. Now we’re having huge political storms about whether our policies ought to reflect that kind of generosity to people other than us and people who are not as well-off as we are, or whatever.

I think that a community or a society, finally, cannot live without the quality of mercy. The problem for us is, what will initiate that? What will break the pattern of self-preoccupation enough to notice that the others are out there and that we are attached to them?

"Others are out there" means that mercy requires love as defined by Iris Murdoch. She says, "Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than yourself is real." Love initiates and invites mercy

Transport. (Day 11 of the Micro.blog August Photoblogging Challenge)

Thanksgiving tower takes me back to living in downtown Dallas.

Windows. (Day 10 of the Micro.blog August Photoblogging Challenge) From back in Oak Cliff where my cousin assisted on a project with tierra firme.

My friend and I swapped stories of working amidst distractions at home. I told him that I wanted one of these for Chirstmas.

Black-and-white. (Day 9 of the Micro.blog August Photoblogging Challenge)

Jazz Gratitude

Here are a few of John Coltrane’s words from “A Love Supreme” liner notes:

This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.

Like a good jazz fan (in the mode of a good jazz musician), Tim Keller stole and used the same for the epigraph to his book. The “THANK YOU GOD” in all caps has, lately, been reminding me that the best attitude is gratitude.

Currently reading: Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work To God’s Work by Timothy Keller 📚 because I’m starting a new job next month. Thanks for the dope, new feature, @Manton!

Wait For It

My anxiety shortens my breath. The fundamental instinct of respiration thwarted by fear, worry, too much time just in my head. I've learned, through the trauma of a couple panic attacks and a steady breathing practice—in thru the nose, out thru the mouth—that breathing consists in waiting (thanks for humoring the personal example).

It might sound weird that I'm relearning how to breath as an adult. Mindfulness, meditation, contemplation, prayer-all forms of attentive breath train one to wait. I use the personal and fundamental example of patient breathing to claim that to wait is to be human. Our journey through time waits for an end.

Here's Nick Cave on the theme:

The idea of lyrics ‘not coming’ is basically a category error. What we are talking about is not a period of ‘not coming’ but a period of ‘not arriving’. The lyrics are always coming. They are always pending. They are always on their way toward us. But often they must journey a great distance and over vast stretches of time to get there. They advance through the rugged terrains of lived experience, battling to arrive at the end of our pen. In time, they emerge, leaping free of the unknown — from memory or, more thrillingly, from the predictive part of our minds that exists on the far side of the lived moment. It has been a long and arduous journey, and our waiting much anguished.

Language Caught Alive

"Poetry is language caught alive"

Then just call me Joe Exotic and my verse cagey tigers.

Netflix jokes aside, I really dig this poetry resource. Poetry as 'performance', I think, serves to bring it out of the learned towers of academia and, in that way, breath life and longevity into it.

Some time ago, I was lucky enough to catch Dana Gioia at a poetry reading hosted by the Dallas Institute. That evening, I witnessed firsthand a master 'performative' poet recite his work to his guest. He looked down only once to his written material. Otherwise he spoke his lines as the living drama that they are. I can't help but think that poetry can act like a thin spot between something like Aristotelian particulars of people in a room (with one man's voice) and Platonic forms of heavenly, language flowers dropping their petals to the here-and-now.