June 27, 2013

Good prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

Good prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
The art of nonfiction - stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing.

Our doctrine is that the author and the reader should move along together in full confidence with each other.

I hoped he liked me as well as I liked him. But I also knew that to retain my first impression of him I must not see him again; and needless to say I never did see him again. One was always making contacts of that kind in Spain.

Thoreau wrote: “We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking”

A good writer, like a good lover, must create a pact of trust with the object of his/her seduction that remains qualified, paradoxically, by a good measure of uncertainty, mystery and surprise”

Every story has to be discovered twice, first in world and then in the author’s study.

When we read fictional and factual narratives, we conjure up characters through their deeds: We want to imagine that we know why characters do what they do and feel as they do. We want to understand characters in a story better than we understand ourselves.

I can write better than anybody who can write faster and I can write faster than anyone who can write better. - A.J. Lieblings.

The trouble with this business is that it’s run by a English major.

Books Referenced:

Writing with power by Peter Elbow
The elements of style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White
Style by Joseph M. Williams and Gregory G. Colomb
On Writing well by William Zinsser
The Chicago manual of style by University of Chicago Press staff
Modern American usage by Wilson Follett

June 25, 2013

Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle

Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle

[Wonderful book on poem and poetry. Writing down interesting tidbits!]

Opening line of poem, Paul Valery said, is like finding a fruit on the ground, a piece of fallen fruit you have never seen before and the poet’s task is to create the tree from which such a fruit would fall.

In the beginning was the Word. Western civilization rests upon those words. And yet there is a group of thinkers who believe that in the beginning was the Act. That nothing can precede action - no breathe before act, no thought before act, no pervasive love before some kind of act.

An act of the mind - to move, to make happen, to make manifest.

The poem is the consequence of its origins. Give me the fruit and I will take from it a seed and plant it and watch grow the tree from which it fell.

I am convinced that the first lyric poem was written at night, and that the moon was witness to eh event and that the event was witness to the moon.

Tonight I’ve watched (Poem?):

The moon and then
the Pleiades
go down

the night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am

in bed alone

The sun is the source of life itself, the great creative power. One cannot confront god without instant annihilation. The moon has no light of its own; our apprehension of it is but a reflection of the sun.

The moon is the very image of silence and as Charles Simic says, “The highest levels of consciousness are wordless”. The great lunacy of most lyric poem is that they attempt to use words to convey what cannot be put into words.

Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense.

Paul Auster points out in his novel Moon Palace, “A man can’t know where he is on earth except in relation to the moon or star.... A here exists only in relationship to a there.

Chinese have a whole holiday - the mid-autumn festival - given over to the moon. One the night of the full moon in September, families come together after dark and have an outdoor picnic, lit by those round lanterns that are in imitation of the moon. Chinese look at the moon and think of some family member or loved one who is not present and know that on this same evening the absent one if reflecting on them. I myself sat in circle of unmarried girls who passed the time imagining their unknown future husbands looking at the moon and imaging them. The lunar image became a fork of communication as indeed all imagery does it poetry. “The eye has knowledge the mind cannot share” says Hayden Carruth.

Like the aircraft used for the lunar launches, good books heavy and slow; their speed depends on their internal engines and where they are pointed. ZAs Julio Cortazar put i, “Man has reached the moon, but twenty centuries ago a poet knew the enchantments that would make the moon come down to earth, ultimately, what is the difference?”

Edward Lense, “that metaphoric language could no longer be used for the moon because it had become too prosaic once the astronauts had removed its mystery by landing it”. Basically it like saying a woman is not interesting unless she is a virgin.

Kenzaburo Oe, Japanese novelist said, “It is the second job of literature to create myth. But its first job is to destroy that myth”

Eugenio Montale says, “ He / who digs into the past would know / that barely a millionth of a second / divides the past from the future”

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings

We are human beings and our expressions are always inadequate, often painful.

From Penelop Fitzerald, The blue flower:
“But why do you do all this reading? You are not a student anymore”
“He would not read if he was” said, the Mandelsloh
“Students do not read, they drink”
“Why do they drink?” Sophie asked
“Because they desire to know the whole truth” said Fritz, “and that makes them desperate”
“What would it cost them” Sophie asked. “to know the whole truth?”
“They can’t reckon that” said Fritz, “but they know they can get drunk for three groschen”.

Words have a love for each other, a desire that culminates poetry

In Hindu poetics, “a poem is recognized as such by those who have a heart” If you don’t have a heart, you cannot recognize a poem.
The heart is a small closed space, .a symbol or souvenir of the inner life, the secret life, the silent life.

it is liable to come apart, if you touch it.

Two part of secrets are repression and expression, just as the two sides of the poem are the told and the untold.

Andre Gide: “Suffering consists in being unable to reveal oneself and when one happens to succeed in doiing so, in having nothing more to say”. Such is the life cycle of a secret: something is repressed, then expressed, leaving a void that fills again with repression.

I shall not finish my poem
What I have written is so sweet
The flies are beginning to torment me.

Language is for self awareness; One understands oneself; that is the beginning of language.

I seek an extended period of time, free from all distractions, so that I might be free to be distracted.

Poem is ‘essence of distractions’ which is certainly an oxymoron, since an essence is that which is most concentrated and distraction is so wide; in poem life distracts us from our lives and only with utmost concentration are we able to follow the exchange as it takes place.

"Imagine going out into the countryside and not being able to tell a snake from a cow from a mouse from a blade of grass. That was the level of our wisdom (or ignorance?)

Here is a beautiful Jewish custom: when a child is first introduced to books, a drop of honey is put on the cover and the child invited to step forward and lick it off so that he might know a rare sweetness awaits him.

Though it is many nights, my mind never comes home

An educated person is one who can be reasonably called upon to draw a conclusion.

“now you can tell how great
must be the love that burns in me
when it escapes my mind that we are empty
and I treat a shade as a solid thing” -Dante, Purgatorio

A letter is a sound and a sound is a voice and a voice to which we attach meaning - or significance - is a life.

Nothing I understand haunts me. Only the things I do not understand have that power over me.

Dear Sir,
I am in a madhouse and quite forget your name or who you are you must excuse me for I have nothing to communicate or tell of and why i am shut up I don’t know I have nothing to say so I conclude
Yours respectfully John Clare

Both the irrelevant and the sincere congratulate themselves and they have the sin of pride in common. Both can be feigned and both depend on the eye of the beholder.

Poem more than any other art form in existence, is the perfect vehicle for the direct expression of personal love.

I offer my dinner guest, after dinner, the choice between regular and decaf coffee, when in fact I don’t have any decaf in the house. I am so sincere in my effort to be a good host that I lie; I think this probably happens all the time in poetry.

You hear so much talk about risk-taking in poetry. Lying is a form of risk-taking, but no one talks about that.

Youth versus age. Play versus work.

He who doubts wants to be believed, he who hides wants to be found. he who curses with regularity uses God’s name as often as who prays

A poem is a finished work of the mind; it is not the work of a finished mind.

All the major religions in the world have sects that employ irreverence as a valuable tool for transmitting theology.

Life, friends is boring” - John Berryman’s dream song.

When students are searching for their voice, they are searching for poetry. When they find their voice, they will have found poetry. When they find poetry, they will live to regret it.

Ramakrishna said: Given a choice between going to heaven and hearing a lecture on heaven, people would choose a lecture.

Samuel Johnson said, “It is certain that any wild wish or vain imagination never takes such firm possession of the mind, as when it is found empty and unoccupied.

Behind those beneficent crinkly smiles,
Behind those mischievous eyes,
Behind all that bending and bowing...

June 2, 2013

The rarest blue - by Baruch Sterman with Judy Taubes Sterman

The rarest blue - by Baruch Sterman with Judy Taubes Sterman

The remarkable story of an Ancient color lost to History and rediscovered
Along with rocks and minerals, indigenous plant life also offered a source of color for the ancient world. Dyes that didn't run, fade, or wash out were precious. For nearly two millennia, all along the coast of the Mediterranean, from Jaffa to Djerba, shellfish dyes ranked among the most desirable commodities of the ancient world - and among the costliest. Battles were fought over control of the dying industry and strict law regulated the manufacture and use of the dyes.

By around 650 CE, following the Arab conquest of the Levant, shellfish dyeing, for all intents and purposes, disappeared. The secrets reminded hidden from the world for more than a millennium - until a chance event off the coast of Spain. A young zoologist stood on his boat in the Mediterranean Sea and looked with great curiosity at what a fisherman was doing. The man was showing off; he had broken open the shell of an ordinary-looking snail and was smearing his shirt with its slimy contents. Yellowish Stains streaked the shirt. But as the zoologist watched, the yellow streaks slowly changed color, turning first to green, then gradually miraculously becoming a beautiful, brilliant purple -0 a purple not seen since antiquity.
As Zoologist (Frenchman Lacaze-Duthiers) discovered, three snail species were used for dyeing in ancient times - Murex trunculus, Murex brandaris and Thais haemastoma- and all three belong to the same family of mollusk. From these mollusks a broad spectrum of colors can be produced, all subsumed in ancient times under the term purple.
Each murex provides only a few drops of the precious secretion; it takes more than 20,000 snails to produce just one kilogram of dyed wool. Prescribed as decorative colors for the holy Temple, both purple and blue formed an important component of the ritual garb of the priests. the Bible in the book of numbers, requires all Jews to tie a single thread of tekhelet to the fringes on the corners of their garments as a reminder of the daily obligation to fulfill the commandments. the sky blue color also had powerful religious significance. It evoked the cast, deep oceans, the boundless heavens and by the association, the one infinite, unfathomable God of the Universe.
A few miles south of Heraklion (the capital of Crete), lie the ruins of the Palace of Knossos, where according to Greek mythology, the great king Minos ruled. Minoans were the earliest to discover the highly complex labor intensive process of dying wool using secretions from sea snails. Some assert that an island off the coast of Qatar (Al Khor) was in fact the site of the earliest production of the shellfish dye.
The book of Numbers states:
The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.
Rabbi Meir said: Whoever observes the commandment of tzitzit, it is considered as if he greeted the Divine Presence, for tekhelet resembles the sea and the sea resembles the sky and teh sky resembles God’s holy throne.
Kala ilan a plat driven indigo, identical in almost every way to the blue dye obtained from the murex snails. But it is not the same from the context of religious legitimate based on the above connections to God’s holy throne.. The origins of the phrase kala ilan is not completely understood. Kala in Sanskrit mean blue, deep blue or black. The second word ilan means plan to tree in Hebrew. What we may also never know is which preceded which, indigo or shellfish dyeing.
Julius Caesar famously wrote of the custom of ancient Briton warriors to paint themselves blue: “All Britons, in fact stain themselves with woad, which produces a blue color so that they are more terrifying to face in battle.
A Hindu Siddha medicinal recipe mixes indigo with honey to help alleviate jaundice and diseases of the liver. Online you can buy hair old from Kerala, India made from coconut milk, gooseberries and Indigofera tinctoria, which promises to reduce hair loss and aid in growing long dark and lustrous hair. IN traditional Chinese medicine, indigo detoxifies the blood and reduces inflammation, while in S. Africa, it mollified toothaches.
The ancient didn’t understand the underlying chemical process. All they knew were the appropriate quantities of the various ingredients and the sequence of steps that somehow resulted in the rate and valuable color. Given lack of scientific understanding, all sort of superstition arose about dying process and about the power of indigo. Some cultures, believed that it was specially a menstruating woman who it was thought could ruin an entire crop of indigo plants, if she walked past.
Many hundreds plants produce indigo, the most important being Indigofera tinctoria, from teh pea family, which grows best in tropical and subtropical climates and Isatis tinctoria, a flowering plant related to cabbage and horseradish that grows in other regions including Europe.  
Indigofera tinctoria could yield large volumes of transportable dye. In colonial India, indigo plantations supplying dye to Europe formed a pillar of the economy. Toward the end of the fifteenth century when the sea routes to India and China opened following Vasco da Gama’s famous expedition, indigo became one of the chief commodities imported along with such other exotic items as black pepper, nutmeg and opium.
The indigo of the British Empire also grew on colonial plantation in India, founded in the 18th century. The ruthless exploitation of farmers by zamindars who forced farmers to plant indigo rather than food crops led to revolt in Bengal in 1858.
The fact is that the laws of physics impose limits on the generation of blue and those laws are unyielding. they permit only five natural ways to make blue and of those only one can act as the basis for the biological process that lead to the formation of the blue dye molecule,  The first four produce the blue of sky, of some birds’ feathers, of the ocean and of certain precious gems. The fifth process is responsible for all the color in our world, from green grass and yellow bananas to red flowers and brown rocks. But the immutable laws restrict the possible range of colors and excluded blue with the exception of one unique molecule that as it happens, can also attach to wool. Understanding the nature of blue, of color and color perception in general, and why the indigo molecule can defy all odds and yield a color fast and permanent blue dye requires at least a general acquaintance with some concepts of physical, biology and neurology.
The first and most ubiquitous physical process that leads to the creation of the blue is what gives the sky its magnificent azure color. When light from the sun strikes air molecules and dust particles in the atmosphere, it sets them air molecules electronically, essentially turning them into tiny antennas that scatter the light in all directions in a process known as Rayleigh scattering in which blue light scattered nearly 10 times more efficiently than red. When we look at a clear noon sky we see the sun’s blue light scattered back to our eyes. When the sun sites on the horizon, we see the rays through an atmosphere that has scattered out the blue, leaving the beautiful reddish skies of dusk or dawn. Larger particles in the air, like water droplets in a cloud, scatter incoming lights, but without preferring one wavelength over another,. As a result, all the wavelengths of the spectrum scatter together and we perceive the combination of colors as white.
The second method of producing blue has to do with a property of waves known as interference.
When light reflects from every structured and regular patterns, the geometry can favor specific wavelengths by inducing constructive interference of a specific color. The brilliant hue of the blue morpho butterfly and the bright blue of some flowers reflect this type of structural color generation, Sometimes color depends on the angle of reflection.
In molecules, absorption process is the main source of all color generation. When hit by photon, a molecule can absorb its energy and each molecule has a unique set of specific wavelengths that it will absorb. Blue is so scarce because not many substances absorb light in red sphere. Since creating blue color requires absorbing red, nature is constrained from generating that color.
The color of the ocean represents the third way in which nature creates blue. Water just barely manages to absorb some red, so that it appears blue. Since this absorption is very weak, you need large volumes of water in order to perceive the blue color.
The fourth way that natures creates blue involves a process described by ligand theory. Atoms in crustal, called ligands surrounded a central atom and bond with it. When a metal impurity centers a crystal lattice, it can distort the electric field and create a situation where electrons pass from one atom to another. This charge transfer or electronic transition often happens at energies with the visible range, producing the striking colors of gemstones. The regular structure of crystal gems forms at high temperatures and intense pressures, such as those found in the Earth’s interior. Biological processes cannot create them, so charges don’t happens in organic substances. The Prussian blue crystals that rebbe of Radzyan created from cuttlefish ink mixed with iron resulted from the same inorganic ligand process and requires the intense heat of the Hasidic cauldrons.
In order to achieve blue by means of the fifth method, a substance must absorb photons only in the red-orange range. Blue formed by the absorption of red-orange photons occurs extremely rarely since the atoms and molecules that constitute matter simply have no way of those photons. The exception is a lovely little molecule - produced by some plants in the pea family and also by some sea snails - called indigo.
The laws of nature seem to have a predilection for beauty, elegance and simplicity. In physics, the yardstick that measures those qualities is symmetry. Indigo molecule has such symmetry. Rotating an indigo molecule 180 degrees leaves the structure changes. In other words, if you draw the molecule on a sheet of paper and then turn the paper upside down, all the atoms are in the exact position as they were before the rotation. Indigo is a compact and simple molecule that exhibits a high degree of symmetry in both its ground and excited states. As a result, of the convergence of these characteristics, shifting between states requires relatively little energy compared to other molecule transitions. These lower energy requirements corresponds to photons of longer wavelengths which accounts for the unique property of indigo to absorb in the red-orange region of the spectrum.
Blue is the color of desire and of yearning for the infinite, for what will remain forever out of reach. the blue flower (Blaue Blume) that represents this yearning in a famous novel by Novalis became a defining symbol for the Romantic movement in Germany. On the other hand, blue represents the color of not of doubt or the intangible and mysterious, but of steadfastness, trustworthiness and fidelity - true blue. In Islamic cultures blue protects and blue doors ward off evil spirits. In medieval paintings the Virgin Mary often wears a blue robe, a custom originating in the early Byzantine Empire when it was the clothing of an empress. The Hindu god Vishnu and his avatars Rama and Krishna are blue;

Book mentioned in this book:
“The history of a color”, Michel Pastoureau
In the objective Eye: color, form and reality in teh theory of Art by John Hyman.