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A Closer Look–Three New Poems and Due Artisti

I am happy to share that three of my poems appear in the spring issue of the on-line literary journal, phren-z. Take a look, the journal is from my hometown, Santa Cruz, California, and has a pleasant diversity of art represented over its history of publication, and an excellent variety of poetry, fiction and non-fiction.

I also recommend you take a look at the artist web site, Due Artisti (Two Artists) of Arvid and Virginia Olson. The site displays the beautiful countryside of Italy, with many paintings of Venice. I especially love the realistic quality of the water in Virginia Olson’s Venetian paintings, the ripples and reflections, and the rich color Ms. Olson’s work contains. Arvid Olson’s watercolors have fantastic detail both in the architectural scenes and in those including nature. Enjoy!

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Poetry That Speaks to Our Times: Nicholas Samaras’ New Book, American Psalm, World Psalm

We move through our days, reaching toward whatever it is we have set our minds and hearts on, doing our work, making our plans, joining in with the life of family and friends. In between the routines and the larger movements in our life’s story, however, lie the quiet moments where the deep wonderings and emotions of being whisper to us. These are what Nicholas Samaras’s writing does in his new book of poems, American Psalm, World Psalm. They lay open the yearning we experience at the deepest level of our mind and being. When reading Samaras’s poems, the reader senses the open heart resting beneath them, the vulnerable place from which the words rise and speak. The poems in this volume reach into the fabric of who we are as modern people and wrestle with difficult questions, addressing them in a way that is both personal and powerful.

One of the things that especially spoke to me while reading American Psalm, World Psalm, is the space on the page and inside the poems. There is breath in the way Samaras uses the white space on the page. The “Psalm of the Quietest Wailing,” for example, is a sectioned poem where the first section contains only one line, “It is attention that makes worship.” The rest of the page is empty. I read the line, and I notice it on the page as if it were a stone lying in a Japanese garden surrounded by the wide space of raked sand. The next page reveals the poem’s second section where the poem’s speaker describes listening to “the rubble of history,” how he stands with it, his breath bearing witness to what its stones declare. Here, as throughout the volume, I sensed the humility, born from standing in this place of listening openness out of which the poet speaks. The poem’s third section contains two lines. Then, once again, the remainder of the page is open, leaving space for the reader to take in what is being said, space to reflect on the words. “What is virtue,” the poem’s fourth section asks, “but whispering, Who am I?” This is the very question the book’s poems bring me back to repeatedly. The poems call me out of a noisy world where a myriad of things crowd and clamber for attention, and they bring me into a garden where words are given back space to breathe in, where they regain a sense of themselves because of the honesty they are spoken in. Over and over while reading the poems I found myself leaning into the words on the page, listening deeply, drinking in the lines from a place of thirst hidden inside me the poems had found a way to name. “The writing from my hands is the quietist wailing,” writes Samaras, “the witness of breath against a listening wall.” With spare words and deep beauty, Samaras captures the essence of the hard places we live in.

The psalms that Samaras writes in American Psalm, World Psalm, like the Biblical psalms, are a deep cry of the heart trying to make sense of how to live in this world. From the topic of global warming, to a call for readers to consider what is actually enough, versus constantly concentrating on what our consumer driven world suggests we need, the poems in the book are not about religion in the cultural sense. These poems move into a deeper place. “Believing in God after the Holocaust is political,” writes Samaras in “The Political Psalm,” just as “Writing a sonnet after Dachau is political.” How do we find that place where we can move beyond words and into a relationship with the Divine that is beyond the stale words and religious routines that culture and time have deadened and beaten the spirit out of? Through a space of stillness, suggest the poems in American Psalm, World Psalm, where we open ourselves in waiting.

We live in a monetized world where transactions are shadowed by the awareness of how even every day actions, such as the subjects we speak of in an e-mail are pieces of data collected and used as reference points to sell us something. “I grieve to live in a country where a verdict/of “not guilty” doesn’t equal “innocent,” writes Samaras in “Psalm for Public Grieving.” The poems in American Psalm, World Psalm describe a variety of desert places we are living in, encouraging us to look at them closely. One of Samaras’ poems invites the reader to not take breath for granted. Another tells how it is in our emptiness and brokenness that we may find what it is to be blessed. Samaras describes in “Psalm for the Soul in Depression,”

…I don’t want
a preacher in expensive suits. There is
no salvation by slogans. There are no sound-bites
to bring us home. We don’t work
with the aim for conversion. We only
witness…

The weight of the light shining on the desert places in us grows through the book, bringing the reader into an awareness of her own unsaid longings. “Speak to me/ about the presence of absence” writes Samaras in “Sacred Air.” “Not everything created/ can be seen.” Samaras’s poems remind us that life is much more than this narrow space in our minds we’ve confined ourselves to. The poems in American Psalm, World Psalm speak to all who long to live in a world that still contains wonder. A universe filled with mystery surrounds us still, and we are invited to partake in it. As Samaras says in “The Psalm of Give and Let”

Let our mortal bodies be so crowded
by the unseen seen
that we go home changed forever,
finally attendant in prayer.

The poems in Samaras’ American Psalm, World Psalm demonstrate the power with which poetry can speak to us, and to our current lives and culture. Music moves us, and the music of Samaras’ psalms call us out of ourselves, out of our habits and routines into a different way of being in relationship to the world. “Only when you find yourself lost/will you confront what you value,” says Samaras in “God of the Desert.” Through finely etched words, like shadows drawn by bare branches across the sand, the words in these poems scratch on our souls. I feel deeply grateful for the gift of these poems to my life and to the world of poetry. These are poems to be lost and found in.

Nicholas Samaras’ book is available at Ashland Poetry Press, as well as on Amazon.

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This Day We Are Living–An Experiment in Noticing

Sonnet 73, That Time of Year When Thou Mayst in Me Behold

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

—–

It’s late spring in Delhi, which means the leaves are falling from the trees. Yellow leaves, and gold gather on the streets, pile on curbsides in drifts. The flowers that the city plants in the parks so that that were in full bloom in February and early March, are now growing spindly as stalks lean into each other, heads droop, and their bodies begin to turn to seed. The seeds are their gift for the future, the brown, withered looking things that hold the future generosities of spring. After the six or eight weeks of flowers, fall arrives. Then the months of monsoon–the floods of rain. That’s the season we’re in now, the season between seasons–between the dry and the wet.

When I was attending what was then called Bethel College in St. Paul, MN, my poetry teacher read Shakespeare’s 73 sonnet to us, and asked us to go out and look at the fall leaves–the fiery Dutch elms that grow in profusion throughout the city’s streets, and that crowd along the Mississippi’s river banks. Leave your books, she suggested, and go out and notice them before they are gone. They don’t last long.

A native of southern California, I knew what it felt like to live through the Twin Cities long months of winter’s color deprivation and cold that followed September’s autumn.  For the most part, it seemed to me that Minnesotans loved their snowy winters. I had  heard various people I met there describe how they looked forward to winters–the snowshoeing and cross country skiing, the briskness in the air. But coming from the land of sun, where winters didn’t usually require much more than a light jacket and shoes that covered the toes, that anticipatory attitude was difficult for me to understand. I hadn’t learned to ski or skate, and for me getting bound up in sweaters and mittens, hats, thick socks any time you went out wasn’t something I looked forward to. Change is interesting, but I truly missed the freedom of wandering outside for a stroll, run, or bike ride. So, I followed my teacher’s suggestion, and went out to walk through trees on campus, and visited other campuses along Snelling Ave. whose campuses were thick with trees. I went down by the Mississippi as she suggested. It was glorious–all that color shining in the myriad leaves. All that sugar burning inside them as temperatures turned. The whole world a flame. As my teacher said, the trees were all the more beautiful, for knowing what would come next.

And what came next was winter. Dark branches silhouetted against white for months. Beautiful things often have a way of piercing the heart, of opening us–the last yellow leaf falling from a tree, rainbow color glistening from a spider’s web, the way clouds roll in low over the ocean at sunset. As Dana Jennings says in her NY Times article “Scratching a Muse’s Ears”, about Mary Oliver’s poetry book, Dog Songs, says, there are tears inside of things. Because we know this, it can make our heart ache when we see something beautiful. We’ve all eaten from the tree that lets us know we are not living in the garden anymore–but we know what it looks like, that last leaf falling from the tree before winter, and how it feels to watch it fall, joining the fire floating down the river or resting on the forest floor before it turns to dust.

So, all of you who have sat at your desk all day, I encourage you. Get up, leave your books or your office, you papers and your e-mail, and go outside and notice this day. Find what there is to love in this day, before you have to leave it. Notice life. What is it you are living?

THE TABLES TURNED 
William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

___

Okay, so I took my own advice and got up and went out for a walk. I didn’t have a wood to walk in, so I took a walk around the block where I live. The wisps of clouds turning from pink to salmon against a pale turquoise sky–the kind of sky that is rare in Delhi.

It was a short walk around a city block. The first quarter of the block I couldn’t stop staring up in amazement. The second quarter of the block, I grew aware of the traffic noise as it hustled by.  As I turned the corner, I noticed a billboard that read “Platinum Living” with a sleek, blond-haired woman wearing an elegant low cut black gown and a long strand of pearls leaning back against a comfortable couch. I glanced down at the pair of abandoned black slippers at my feet on the sidewalk and wondered who this ad was aimed at speaking to in a city where a quarter of its population is below the poverty line, 30% live in slums, and in a country where the World Bank estimates that 21% of the deaths in India are related to unsafe water.  As I continued to walk, the acrid smell of burning leaves permeated the air, scratched at my throat, and made me cough. (Sadly, too many things here seem to makes me cough.) By the time I turned the last corner and entered my apartment door again, the sky’s color had drained away.

Wordsworth’s poem admonishes us to go out into nature with a listening heart, one that watches and receives. That is definitely the heart I stepped out of the door with, and is the one I want to hold on to. I live in a city, though. It’s not the same as standing at the ocean’s edge or walking amidst the redwoods. What was I expecting, anyway? In truth, I was just expecting to enjoy the early evening coolness and to take in the color-brushed clouds. I just happened to get the other experiences in addition because they are a part of this environment. The walk makes me wonder, though, can experiencing beauty motivate us to protect it, nurture it? Or are we so used to the traffic, the billboards, the burning leaves and discarded shoes, to the poor living in substandard housing, that we give up on beauty, that we forget to notice those gestures of grace nature gives us even in the city from time to time–those rare moments of clear sky and color-streaked clouds that open our eyes, move us out of our routines, the moments that call us to step out of our brokenness into the possibility of another way of being?

On the other hand, maybe its that very poverty and brokenness around me that encourages me to notice the way the sky sometimes opens into a canvas of shinning color, as it did this evening. Either way, I need those moments of open sky and color. They carry me through winters. The winters I’m talking about don’t always necessarily always come with snow and cold. They can look like a multitude of cities flung across this world, or any place where we are too busy to notice or take care of what nurtures us.

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The Subtle Beauty of Creating A Good Line

When I lived in the desert several years back, I recall seeing the beautiful lines nature drew on the desert floor’s red sand crystals using slender grass strands, as the breeze bent them back and forth in the wind. Beneath the grass in wonderful dark silhouetted lines rested shadows. The desert contains a wide variety of fantastic textures and lines. National Geographic has captured some of these here, and Danielle Venton in her Wired article, “Photographers Capture Mysterious, Beautiful Patterns in the Sand” says that people don’t even understand the physics involved that creates such beautiful lines in the sand. 

Using my husband’s recent gift of a new set of drawing pens and lessons from Arthur L. Guptill’s book, Rendering in Pen and Ink, I’m learning a new appreciation for the beauty of lines. What the sand, wind and sun do effortlessly, is a challenge to create with pen and ink. Drawing a simple curve and then duplicating it so the line goes exactly in the direction you want it to, for example, is not easy. You need to take your time and go slowly, deliberately forming lines like warm-up scales for use later in drawing. Even then, creating a beautiful line takes practice, lots of it.

Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something. If this is an accurate analysis of what it takes to get really good at a skill, then I’ve got about 9,995 hours to go.  BBC’s David Bradley says in his article, “Why Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule is Wrong” that the research Gladwell based his research on actually suggests that the 10,00 hours are just a rule of thumb, though, not the “tipping point” at which you are a virtuoso. The amount of time depends on the particular skill you are practicing. “Learning and gaining experience are gradual processes; skills evolve slowly, with practice. And there is a vast range of time periods over which different individuals reach their own peak of proficiency – their concert level, you might say – in whatever field.” Ericson, the person’s study at Berlin’s Academy of Music on which Gladwell’s statement is based, suggests that what counts further is that “not just any old practice counts towards the 10,000-hour average. It has to be deliberate, dedicated time spent focusing on improvement.”

I don’t know how many hours French artist Simon Beck has put in to create his fantastic geometric figures in the snow, but the lines he draws using snow shoes are truly a thing of beauty and take hours at a time to create. The perseverance his work takes is inspiring.

Creating a good line is also important to poetry as well, and over the last few years, this is something that I’ve been trying to understand how to get better at. I examined lines from different poets, from William Stafford to Denise Levertov, John Ciardi, Louis Simpson, Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, Lucile Clifton, Nick Samaras, Li Young Lee and a number of others, trying to define what gives a line its energy and strength. Sometimes I see it clearly, and sometimes it’s a mystery. It might take 10,000 hours to get it right. Seems like many things that hold great beauty take a lot of hours to learn. These kinds of skills are subtle. You can’t just create a rule to never break a line after using an article or after a conjunction, for example, because after making such a generalization, you’ll find a really good poem from an excellent writer that breaks the rule. That’s not to say that a good poet can’t or doesn’t sometimes make a weak line break choice, but I think that the writers I’ve mentioned are experienced, and their line break choices deliberate. People have different ideas of beauty, and different ideas about line breaks in poetry. The goal for me is to experiment and practice with increased deliberate focus while writing. What makes a line so powerful? What makes it feel right? Maybe it is an individual thing, but in any thing a person creates, practicing the skill over and over, and attuning oneself to observe closely what others are doing that stirs your own soul, and then to listening from the inside to what your own work suggests is a good start down a path that leads to better understanding. If I can learn to listen better to others’ work as well as to my own, if I can learn to listen more deeply to the world around me, I think I might gain greater insight into many things in life, not just how to draw or write a good line of poetry, but how to live. All these things are part of each other.

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My Next Big Thing

Recently, I was invited by Vinnie Hansen, author of the Carol Sabala mystery series, to participate with other writers in posting about their “next big thing” that they are working on as a writer. Vinnie is currently working on her seventh murder mystery in her series. The story takes place in Cuba where Carol Sabala is hired to locate a wealthy woman’s daughter. You can find out more about Ms. Hansen’s series and the upcoming mystery on Vinnie’s website by going to her page and then clicking on her Next Big Thing announcement link.

I have written earlier about Finishing Line Press accepting my chapbook manuscript, Saudade, for publication. The chapbook will be coming out in May, 2013, and pre-publication sales for the chapbook open in January. I will be sending more details about how to do this in January. For now, let me tell you a bit more about the book.

LG CoverEmail

What is the working title of your book?
Saudade. The word is Portuguese and means longing or sense of emptiness for something no longer present in your life but that you still love and feel the absence of.

Where did the idea come from for this book?
The idea came from living abroad, the travel while living in other countries, and the desire to explore and possibly answer the questions that living in foreign cultures inevitably makes a person wonder about regarding the meaning of the things we say and experience, and about what is that is ultimately important in life.

What genre does your book fall under?
Free-verse poetry.

How long did it take to write the first draft?
The poems in the chapbook are from a wide spectrum of time reaching from about 12 years ago until the present time.

What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?
Since Saudade is not a work of fiction, the actors would have to be those found naturally in the locations of the poems, which includes the orangutan of the Borneo rainforest, camels wandering the Saudi Arabian desert, Delhi’s citizens, the Alhambra’s architects and artists, the fado singer and musicians at the Santa Cruz Café, Coimbra, Portugal, and a cast of others.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
If you look deeply enough even at those things that are difficult and painful, hope and beauty can be found.

Will it be self published or represented by an agency?
Finishing Line Press will be publishing the chapbook. Saudade will be available for pre-publication sale from January through April from Finishing Line Press, will come out in May, 2013, and will later also be available on Amazon.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The amazing perplexities and wonders of life, and the desire to understand how various cultures, worlds, experiences and places interconnect.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Saudade might compare with Carolyn Boyd’s DNA of Sand, or perhaps Michael L. Newell’s books, A Stranger to the Land, or Traveling Without Compass or Map, and possibly a few of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poems in that the settings of the poems are in a variety of world locations while appealing to themes that people everywhere experience of love, loss, hope, work, and longing to be whole.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Music in a variety of forms—from jazz, to classical to Indian raga features in these poems.

Erica Lann-Clark is another author continuing this Next Big Thing thread where writers tell you about their upcoming work. Find out about Erica’s upcoming projects!  A professional storyteller, Erica’s lively piece, Shopping for God humorously explores the search for meaning in contemporary life. Learn more about Erica and her work, and check out Erica’s web page for her next big thing.

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Remembering How to See

“But what the poets sees with his always new vision is not what is “imaginary”; he sees what others have forgotten how to see. The poet is always inadvertently stripping away the veils and showing us his reality. Many poets, as we know, go mad because they cannot bear the worlds of illusion and falsehood in which most human beings spend their lives.” – Karl Shapiro, “What is Not Poetry?”

Writing is a way of getting to the truth of what I see, a way to peal back the layers, to ask what is this I have experienced,  how do I name it, what is its essence? There are two kinds of knowing–the experience itself, and then the re-experiencing when in the act of writing. Writing  allows me to burrow in to the original experience and know it more completely. The experiences I have nurture ideas for writing, and the writing enriches and deepens the experience. The two things are intimately intertwined.

Writing poetry is a way to keep alive, to keep in touch with the mystery. Wanting to name the mystery doesn’t lessen it, instead it helps to increase its wonder. I want to always be filled with wonder like I was as a child looking out the window of the house my father built at the sea of fog as it filled the valley below leaving islands of hills. The hills and the fog were not just objects with names, they were part of a geography that absorbed me into itself and defined me.

“The poet,” Shapiro says,”sees what others have forgotten how to see. “How do people arrive at the place where they forget how to see? How do I live in such a way that I am not asleep, so that I nurture the eyes and ears of the heart?

When I write, I am try to see with eyes open, to understand, to touch the live nerve where life touches the bone so that I know what my experiences are trying to say to me about how to live. If I want to write well, I must listen intently to the life around me and live with an attitude of vulnerability and humility. I can’t allow myself to get wrapped up in the desire to have a name, status, power, or be concerned with the competition or what others say about my work. Focusing on how people might perceive me or my work, would drain the real strength of my work and effort. It would distract, from the goal of writing itself, and get in the way of seeing and understanding that makes for good writing. The important thing is the work of writing, and to find as I write how to draw closer to being able to say what can’t be said–to stand inside the holy space of life. I must live leaning in to my experiences, looking, listening–then write what I see and hear, including the questions.

Our culture is very interested in competition and position, making it difficult to keep focused on the work of living deeply and writing honestly. A poet must be fully immersed in the world, seeing it, knowing it, but at the same time outside of it. As Shapiro goes on to say in the same essay, “Whenever the poet is not “oned” with the experience we can always detect the forcing, the insincerity.” It is this oneness with our experiences and with the world that allows us to know we are alive, and opens the door for us to experience meaning.

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Three New Poems

In January, I created writing goals for each month, spurred on by an online conversation with Lisa O’Hara, long time friend from graduate school at the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont. One of those monthly goals was to send out some poems for publication. The first result of that effort is that three poems were accepted by phren-Z the on-line journal from my hometown, Santa Cruz, CA. I’m very happy to be published in a journal in a town that has  so many fine writers. In the same issue, my friend, mystery writer, Vinnie Hansen has an essay appearing in the issue exploring the lines between fiction and nonfiction. Check it out here!

The spring issue launches May 15, and I have three new poems appearing there. “She Sings” is for Skye Sanford, one of the singers in the Delhi band, the Paisleys, that my husband, Michael plays harmonica with. The other two poems are about working in the garden and on our property in the Soquel hills above Santa Cruz.

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The Mandorla

Recently I read renowned Jungian psychologist, Robert A. Johnson’s book, Owning Your Own Shadow, Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, where I learned about the mandorla. Most people know what a mandala is, but a mandorla, Johnson explains is “that almond-shaped segment that is made when two circles partly overlap…This symbol signifies nothing less than the overlap of the opposites…the overlap of heaven and earth.” Many of Europe’s cathedrals have mandorlas and often either Christ or the Virgin Mary is framed in the mandorla. Johnson says that the mandorla is the place of poetry. Johnson explains that the mandorla can help us when we no longer know how to live between the pull of opposites in our lives. It can help us rebind what is torn apart.

“It is the duty of a true poetry to take the fragmented world that we find ourselves in and to make unit of it…All poetry is based upon the assertion that this is that. When the images overlap, we have a mystical statement of unity. We feel there is safety and sureness in our fractured world, and the poet has given us the gift of synthesis.

Great poetry makes these leaps and unites the beauty and the terror of existence. It has the ability to surprise and shock–to remind us that there are links between the things we have always thought of as opposites.”

Johnson goes on to explain that if we make a practice of our effort to create poetry, we can find a way to see how the two worlds are really a part of each other, part of a larger whole. The space in the center where the circles overlap will grow larger and larger, until we see that everything is actually only part of a larger whole. Essentially, I see what he is talking about like this: We get born into a culture and we learn to place things in certain forms. We learn we are this, but not that. This is part of growing up and we function under the laws and ways of being of that culture. Our culture is just a form, a shape, and it is good to learn the rules for the ways of being that are given to us–it is part of being human. Then, at some point in our lives we go through a kind of crisis when things more or less fall apart or become very difficult, and we move out of that Garden and into the world. It is in this space where there are no clear cut laws that we learn how to have true relationship.

This struggle between opposites, the not heaven and not earth is where we learn authentic relationship and learn who we are–where we do the work of becoming. Maybe this is what St. Paul recognized when he encouraged the followers of Jesus to be in the world but not of the world. (Romans 12:2)  Johnson says that “to balance out our cultural indoctrination, we need to do our shadow work on a daily basis.” By this he means to consciously be aware of it and confront it ritually each day, and to spend time consciously letting it go of it. This has the benefit of not imposing our shadow side on others, which also enables us to do less harm in the world by not feeding the general unrest and conflict that is there. The other result, Johnson says, is “that we prepare the way for the mandorla–that high vision of beauty and wholeness that is the great prize of human consciousness.”  Ceremonies such as the mass of the Christian church, he says is one of the ways culture enables us to live out the unwanted elements symbolically so we do not live it out in real life.

Johnson’s discussion reminds me of Lorca’s essay on duende where Lorca describes how the Muse struggles with death, and in that tension is where great art is born.

As Lorca decribes it–

The true struggle is with the duende.

The roads where one searches for God are known, whether by the barbaric way of the hermit or the subtle one of the mystic: with a tower, like St. Teresa, or by the three paths of St. John of the Cross. And though we may have to cry out, in Isaiah’s voice: Truly you are a hidden God,’ finally, in the end, God sends his primal thorns of fire to those who seek Him.

Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline.

We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks, or strips Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer stark naked in the cold of the Pyrenees, or sends Jorge Manrique to wait for death in the wastes of Ocaña, or clothes Rimbaud’s delicate body in a saltimbanque’s costume, or gives the Comte de Lautréamont the eyes of a dead fish, at dawn, on the boulevard.” (Garcia Lorca, Theory and Play of the Duende)

What I especially love about Johnson’s book is in the way it clearly describes large and complex ideas in accessible language.  The work of our lives is to balance being with doing. Our culture strongly emphasizes doing–who we know, what we know, how accomplished we are, how we can market our skills, etc. Johnson is suggests that the more we can balance doing with being the more whole and healthy we will be. He quotes Jung as saying, “Find out what a person fears most, and that is where he will develop next.” Basically, living in the in between places is where we do our soul work, the work that will enable us to move to a greater place of wholeness. We are like Jacob, wrestling with our angel and the place where we can contact the duende is where the art of our life is born, it is where Spirit lives and where we work out our salvation.