field notes:

4.26.2003

In tribute to thousands of beautiful deaths like wildflowers that dot the spring hills and our own variegated human landscape:

Rush Naked
--rumi

A lover looks at creek water and wants to be that quick
to fall, to kneel, then all
the way down in full prostration. A lover wants to die of
his love like a man with
dropsy who knows that water will kill him, but he can't deny
his thirst. A lover loves
death, which is God's way of helping us evolve from mineral
to vegetable to animal, the one
incorporating the others. Then animal becomes Adam, and the
next will take us beyond what
we can imagine, into the mystery of we are all returning.
Don't fear death. Spill your
jug in the river! Your attributes disappear, but the essence
moves on. Your shame and fear
are like felt layers covering coldness. Throw them off, and
rush naked into the joy of death.
posted by Lisa Thompson on 8:38 AM link | comments []

4.23.2003

It wants to be spring, but winter won't quietly fade. We've had a week of on-and-off-again rain. Big, blustery days of wind and fat, white clouds bounding through the blue followed by sudden darkness and heavy raindrops. It reminds me of something I've only known in literature, a midwestern spring.

More than half of what I know I've only read, and most of the rest I've dreamed. Weather is dreamlike anyway. It calls from the edges of consiousness like a remembered kiss.

Most of my life in Mexico comes back to me as weather. Hot days and nights, reliable north wind on the beach every winter afternoon, biblical rain and mud and lightning just outside the summer tent, sleepless nights and days of ocean relief.

I'll look back on winter in this sunless bowl and remember all the fires, so many fires it makes me weary to think of lighting another one tomorrow morning. I can now just begin to recall last summer--open doors and windows, wearing shorts, and hands warm for writing.
posted by Lisa Thompson on 7:35 AM link | comments []

4.22.2003

Over meals, my friend's father has recommended 3 books and 1 film to me. The books are 'A March of Folly' by Barbara Tuchman, 'The Seven Sisters' a history of the big oil companies, and a California history called something like The Big Four. The film was Indochine, a '92 academy award winner for best foreign language film with Catherine Deneuve.

My friend's father has brought this film up during political conversations, because it takes place while Indochina was a french colony, before it was called Vietnam. I watched it this weekend and was struck by some of the film's other themes. The opening voice-over is Deneuve telling us that her friends have died and left her with their Indochinese daughter to raise. She and her two friends thought they were inseparable, just like they thought that Indochina and France were inseparable. The story continues to explore the issues of separateness and togetherness through a love story where the mother and daughter both love the same man; the harsh, parental relationship of Deneuve's plantation owner with her "coolies"; and the eventual political uprising of the people against their colonizers. Everything that can be broken apart, is, except the two things that everybody tries to keep separate but cannot: love and suffering, life and suffering.

In the world of this film, every move--political and personal--has consequences and no one escapes the devastation. Everybody is ruined at the heart.

The world of The Quiet American seems less harsh when it comes to rules of cause and error. Or maybe the cynicism and opium just make it seem so. The young CIA agent doesn't survive his ideals, and his policies take innocent lives. The jaded English journalist manages to hang onto his Vietnamese girlfriend, but to survive he must finally take sides and causes a life to be taken.

What the films have in common is quite stunning and singular, though. Western ideas aren't neatly imposed on that culture, and the more rigid and idealistic those ideas are, the more damage they do.

This mirrors the problem I see with our idealistic president. Brash heroes only succeed in blockbuster films, where John Wayne and Bruce Willis conquer evil with a wink, a wise crack, and an unflinching bravado. In more difficult genres, the world is a more complicated place. In that world, wisecracks and slogans are shallow, evil is in our own hearts, right next to good, and "doing what's right" kills innocent people and could have consequences that reach generations into the future.

Maybe instead of asking presidential candidates what their favorite book is, we should ask about their favorite film.
posted by Lisa Thompson on 8:19 PM link | comments []

4.20.2003

Our path doubles as a road so that folks who now find the walk too long or too steep can still visit the beach, but it's seldom used by cars. Yesterday, while walking down it, I noticed a baby opossum who must have been dropped by its mother, lying face up, four legs splayed like a misshapen star, punctuated by a bright pink nose. I didn't think to move it, didn't think that an Easter weekend might find my neighbor's out-of-town relatives using the beach road--which it had. Later, I tried to find the opossum's body but couldn't. Today I stumbled upon the body. It was run over and was ten or twenty feet from where it had been. The tire had found only the lower half of its body, and because the cushion of redwood needles is so deep, its skin was still intact--it looked strangely unperturbed by its flatness.

I moved it off the path to the foot of a redwood on the creekbank, and covered it with a mound of needles and sticks.

This creature hadn't been killed by a human (as far as I can tell), but still, it had been run over by one of us, and so it made me think about Barry Lopez' essay Apologia which I've just read in About This Life. His dreamlike narrative describes a drive where Mr. Lopez becomes anguished--remorseful and sorrowed--about the carnage of animal corpses on the roads he's traveling. Even the insect bodies on the grill of his car torment him. On this journey he begins a practice of moving these bodies off the roads as a simple act of respect.

At the end of his journey, a friend's house, he remembers the beauty of the Wind River Range and the Snake River, but the sheer numbers of corpses he's touched won't leave him:

The transformation of the heart such beauty engenders is not enough tonight to let me shed the heavier memory, a catalog too morbid to write out, too vivid to ignore.

I stand in the driveway now, listening to the cicadas whirring in the dark tree. My hands grip the sill of the open window at the driver's side, and I lean down as if to speak to someone still sitting there. The weight I wish to fall I cannot fathom, a sorrow over the world's dark hunger.

...The words of atonement I pronounce are too inept to offer me release. Or forgiveness. My friend is floating across the tree-shadowed lawn. What is to be done with the desire for exculpation?


He concludes:

I anticipate, in the powerful antidote of our conversation, the reassurance of a human enterprise, the forgiving embrace of the rational. It waits within, beyond the slow tail-wagging of two dogs standing at the screen door.


It strikes me that he's saying that nature won't give redemption, won't forgive our damage, or cleanse us of the guilt of human enterprise and its uncontained power. It's within culture that we make sense of our deeds and find reasons for our progress.
posted by Lisa Thompson on 9:02 PM link | comments []

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