Pay Attention

a reblogged post from In Flow

In Flow

munchow_0949-072.jpgI think all creatives yearn for some kind of success, some kind of recognition for the work we do. Success is maybe not why we photograph, write, paint or travel—or whatever creative activity we do—or ought not to be. The work itself, being creative, is a reward good enough if we only let ourselves not get obsessed with the thought of success. The craving for success can actually get in the way of our creative endeavour.

Nevertheless, we do feel good when we experience some kind of success, whether it’s monetary gain or just some heartfelt feedback from a good friend. I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Success is all in our minds, though. You cannot control how the world will receive and perceive your artistic work, but you can be in command of how you feel about it yourself. If you let yourself feel good…

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Five-Phrase Friday (38): Scotland

So here’s the state of the art on my painstaking vacation planning. Gee, I thought vacation was supposed to be fun. . . . Huh.

Despite (or because of) all the great things to see, despite my fondness for Shakespeare and English literature, and despite a long process of selecting favorite English regions, cities, and sights, England, let alone London, has not made the cut.

Scotland is now our sole target country for this first dedicated family trip of some length.

I feel kind of foolish because I’m not Scottish and neither is my husband. It feels illegitimate somehow, like we’re imposters or something. Since we aren’t going to an extremely different climate and culture as would be the case on an African safari or in other seemingly more exotic locales like the Tropics or Tokyo or Tasmania, I feel compelled to be very selective about the part of Europe we explore together. It feels as if we should have some personal connection, relatives, work purpose, or people we know there.

He’s Slovenian (Italian-ate) and Latvian; I’m Irish, English, German, and Dutch. I travelled France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands (where some known cousins live) almost 20 years ago during college, and he’s been to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and France on business. I speak French; he speaks (a little) German, understands some French.

So why Scotland?

It’s really all down to Outlander and my obsession therewith. Through the journey of the story, Scotland has become personal. Scottish Gaelic is even becoming my third language. Visiting does seem full of purpose. I feel as though I do know the people, at least more than I did before my deep and abiding interest in the book and TV series set there.

No apologies, no excuses, no misgivings, no sheepishness, but maybe some sheep, and maybe for dinner . . . mmm, haggis (?!). Research, plan, prepare, go, enjoy, and remember. And be grateful for the chance. And remember, the best laid schemes . . .

Five Scottish regional destinations for a 2-week visit, clockwise order from the south-west: Most preferred sights are listed for each area, though we may will not make it to all of them.

  1. Glasgow and environs (4 nights Glasgow) – Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Park, City Chambers, Glasgow Cathedral/Necropolis, a play, boat ride on the river Clyde; Cumbernauld (Outlander studios drive-by), Falkirk Wheel, Stirling Castle, Doune Castle (Monty Python, Castle Leoch), Wallace Monument
  2. The Trossachs, Argyll, and Central Highlands – Loch Lomond (and maybe Loch Katrine) in Trossachs National Park; Loch Awe, Inveraray Castle; Glencoe
  3. The Great Glen, Highlands, and west coast (2 nights Fort William) – Fort William, Glenfinnan Monument (Jacobite Rebellion launch), Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig, lochs and walks in the Great Glen; Eilean Donan Castle
  4. Inverness and environs (3 nights Inverness) – Inverness Visitors Centre, excursions to Foyers Falls, Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (maybe a boat ride), Cawdor Castle (Macbeth), Culloden Moor (Jacobite Rebellion), Clava Cairns (standing stones with split rock), Cromarty, Black Isle, Moray Firth
  5. Edinburgh and environs (4-5 nights Edinburgh) – Edinburgh Castle, National Museum of Scotland, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Calton Hill, The Royal Mile main street, which includes Writers’ Museum, Greyfriars Kirk (“Bobby” the Westie), St. Giles’ Cathedral, Scott Monument, and more; Southern Uplands including Rosslyn Chapel and maybe Abbotsford House (Sir Walter Scott) and Melrose Abbey
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Glencoe & the West Highland Way. Image by ScotlandNow, The Daily Record online

The above sites are separate from several specific towns and rural locations where the Outlander TV series has been filmed. After some consideration, I’m inclined to skip a packaged Outlander tour in favor of making our own. I know enough about the books, TV series, and show creators that information won’t be lacking, and we need not be further restricted in our movements or schedule.

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Eilean Donan Castle, W. Highlands. Image by ScotlandNow, The Daily Record online

Outlander-related locations, many of which we can catch en route to others, include (my preferences in bold):

  1. Culross, Fife, between Edinburgh and Stirling (Crainsmuir, the Black Kirk)
  2. Falkland, Fife, with the Covenanter Hotel (Mrs. Baird’s B&B, 1940s Inverness)
  3. Pollok Country Park, Glasgow (Castle Leoch grounds, Paris woods duel)
  4. George Square, Glasgow (Frank’s wedding proposal to Claire)
  5. Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Highlands (wool waulking, rent collection)
  6. Loch Rannoch/Rannoch Moor near Glencoe (backdrop for Craig Na Dun)
  7. Tulloch Ghru, Highlands, near Cairngorms National Park (opening credits and hilly woods between Craigh Na Dun and Leoch)

Those near Edinburgh are:

  1. Blackness Castle, on Firth of Forth (Randall’s Fort William, of Jamie’s flogging)
  2. Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian (Wentworth Prison exterior, corridors, eps 115-116)
  3. Hopetoun House, West Lothian (Sandringham’s stately home in ep109)
  4. Glencorse Old Kirk, Glencorse House grounds, Pentland Hills, Midlothian (Jamie and Claire’s wedding, ep107)
  5. Midhope Castle/House, a private residence, Abercorn, Hopetoun estate, South Queensferry (Lallybroch)

I’d also like to visit the Southwest/Borders region closest to England–including Caerlaverock Castle and Caerlaverock Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, Dumfries, and Robert Burns sights–as well as the Isle of Skye, but there won’t be time. At some point, we’ll need to sample the peaty whiskey (whisky) among the many distilleries.

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Caerlaverock Castle, Borders/Southwest. Image by ScotlandNow, The Daily Record

Life is large and detailed, as is the world. I relish details, the worlds within worlds on this planet. I like to get lost in them, as must be obvious by now from my blog. For two weeks, we’ll get lost, and be found driving on the wrong side of a single-track road along a beautiful loch in the Highlands of Scotland. Details.

On Dreams: A Reblogged Post and Response to The Belle Jar

Dear Belle Jar,

  1. My favorite funny phrase of the week, if not the month: “Sesame Street witness protection program.”
  2. This was the good dream, eh? Seems like this one might be worth dissecting with a therapist as well.
  3. I’m amazed and impressed by how detailed is your recollection of the dream; are you practiced at recording dream content right after you wake? My dreams are vivid, and increasingly realistic, enough to recall fairly well, but your telling was amazing!
  4. Have you ever tried interpreting your own dreams using guide materials? Typically, some insight can be gleaned, if not absolute enlightenment.
  5. I also love the ideas about what babies might dream. Well done.
  6. It takes a lot of courage to share such personal parts of yourself. Kudos and thank you.
  7. Your imagined explanation to the alien race is spot on and rings true for me.
  8. Your writing is excellent. I love how you shape the piece to come full circle back to birth, in light of death.

I guess at bottom most of us are just babies when it comes to dreaming. Helpless, vulnerable, at the mercy of the subconscious. But we can also make meaning out of it in a much more sophisticated way than the unborn ever can, even if it feels terribly inadequate. I encourage you not to give up on making some additional, positive use of your anxious dreaming. I’m still open to the notion that our dreams are just our subconscious mind’s way of trying to send us an important message, or at least one worth exploring.

All of my dreams are anxiety dreams when they’re not apparently meaningless bits of mundane life that I often mistake for things that really happened. Or did they? Lately, they’ve focused almost entirely on past situations in a way that suggests to me I have some unfinished business to resolve, whether with others or just within myself.

I have family with the ability to predict things through dreams, and a friend who can control the action in lucid dreaming. Is deja vu just the recollection of a predictive dream? Surely the space between waking and sleeping desires, fears, and memories is not such a chasm.

As an aside, this reminds me of my post about synchronicity. What is the relationship between apparent coincidence and the subconscious?

Great work. Keep it up.

The Belle Jar

Every morning I wake up tense, my fists clenched and my arms pressed into my chest. It’s as if I’m braced for impact, like I’m about to crash-land into the day. I tell myself that it’s the dregs of the REM paralysis that’s supposed to keep you from acting out your dreams, but that’s probably not right. I mean, I’m sure there’s some kind of science to explain it, I just don’t know what it is.

Sometimes I picture myself trying to explain dreams to an alien race that has never experienced them. Ok, I imagine saying, so for eight hours every night humans lie unconscious and vulnerable while their minds weave complex stories out of their deepest fears, memories and desires. Most humans have no control over what happens in these stories, and often they learn more about themselves than they want to. These stories feel very real while they’re happening, but…

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Lark Ascends from Dr. Welles to Barber, Meyer, and Hahn

Link to The Guardian article by Kerry Andrew on British people’s love of Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”

Whether lark song, train whistle, or violin flourish, many things ascend and sometimes converge (to riff on a Flannery O’Connor title) in trails of influence in the arts world, much to our art-loving joy and enrichment.

Author and fellow blogger HL Gibson‘s post Welcome Home, Dr. Welles discusses the connections between writing her recent novel, featuring main character Dr. John Welles, and listening to Ralph Vaughn Williams’ composition “The Lark Ascending.”

Gibson also shares a full audio recording and the text of George Meredith’s poem of the same title that inspired Williams’ piece. Here, I embark from her post on a path through the musical delights of another work that listening to “Lark” has, in turn, conjured for me.


Yes, HL, this piece is quite lovely–very modern, meandering, romantic. See the Ralph Vaughn Williams Society website press release of a documentary on the story behind just this composition: “The Lark Ascending.” An article excerpt reads: “Today, the work represents music for all occasions and is used in rites of passage; births, deaths and marriages and by filmmakers looking to create a quintessential English pastoral feel.” It is unclear whether it was January 13th, 2015, or some year past when the half-hour film aired on BBC4.

I especially like this type of classical music. I have a beloved CD of Hilary Hahn playing violin to Barber & Meyer selections. Although I’m not a classical music expert, my trained musical brain hears an overall similar sound in Barber/Meyer to Williams’ “Lark.” And yet, my favorite piece on the album is a contemporary concerto with a more dynamic tempo and different moods than “Lark” presents.

Performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Hugh Wolff, and written by contemporary American composer Edgar Meyer, this work naturally showcases the violinist Hilary Hahn’s virtuosic skill. Followed by the faster (presto in moto) third movement of Samuel Barber’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 14,” which is also delightful, Meyer’s “Violin Concerto,” with two movements over CD tracks 4 and 5, to me lies at the heart of the collection’s beauty and power.

The Meyer concerto was commissioned personally by Hahn, specifically for Hahn, and released in 2000. I heard the piece on NPR classical radio years ago, immediately became enraptured, and decided I had to have it. Join me, won’t you, as I venture into examining more closely this composition, of which HL Gibson’s embedded one reminded me?

Click the image for more info on the CD.

Broadly considered, the syncopated rhythm throughout Meyer’s “Violin Concerto” presses my listening pleasure buttons; syncopation is one of the rhythmic elements I enjoy most in music. I absolutely love the pulsing, up-tempo sections of the whole concerto, with their off-beat dynamic accents.

Movement I’s faster portions feature a melody in G# key and a “gravitational pull of E,” as Meyer explains in the liner notes, with ascending wisps of violin repeatedly but irregularly accenting the ride. I love the surging orchestral segments that precede the wisps just as much as I do those solo flourishes.

Hearing this music, I picture sunlight flashing through the windows of a passenger car on a steam train through the countryside as those higher violin notes alight, and the gaps in between are the clouding tree leaves or shadow-casting hills. What’s remarkable is that when I follow this image, the music continues to suit the scenario of a train excursion rather well.

Not knowing the specific letter keys of tunes by sound alone, I would have described Movement I simply as being in a minor key. The overall effect is a forlorn meditation befitting a journey home or away, overlain with an energizing lyrical dance achieved by featured musician Hahn. Like English poet Meredith’s lark, she fiddles her morning “song of light.”

Time to catch the mighty 16:04, Movement II. This longer movement in the key of C builds slowly and drives forcefully, insisting on being heard as it ventures deeper into the wilder parts of the country. Arrival in the fourth minute of the prevailing melody teases the listener as it dissolves into slower tonally focused parts with long-held notes–travelling on a vast plain. Are we there yet?

2007-08-17.050.Skotland.Glenfinnan-viadukten.Damptog.PSAbout halfway. The low, slow, steady hum of the orchestra behind the soft solo work of the violin gives way at the seven-minute mark to a somewhat folksy sounding restart of the train engine with a cello- and bassoon-laden transition, almost as if the train has begun its steep climb up the mountain, into a new, more daring mode. Rapidly picking up speed back down the slope at around 8:15, the journey returns to the solo refrain hinted at in minute 4.

Then, it’s full steam ahead as all converging trains seem to race to the finish. The established momentum plunges into the second half of the movement, where the overall dynamic pattern repeats and then resolves in an even faster, more frantic push.

The final, commanding violin flourish on the runaway train halts in station on a screaming high note, and imprints the listener with the work’s exhilarating vigor and the awesome powers of performance bringing it to such bracing life.

In reply to the Meyer concerto’s, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s, and Hilary Hahn’s just demands to be heard, I currently have the roughly half-hour long composition coursing through the digital landscape of my media player. It serves as my own track of sound for blogging, and it is a trip worth repeating.

Synchronicity: Coincidence, Answered Prayer, or Something Else?

~  Read the post (contains explicit language), then take the poll.   ~

Here is my aIMG_1945dapted definition of synchronicity: A mild (positive) shock of recognition of the convergence that alerts your mind to a potentially important connection between one object, person, place, or idea and another.

The phenomenon is neither deja vu nor ESP, but something akin to both. Whereas these two focus, respectively, on the past and the future, synchronicity lives in the present, with us, urging us to be captivated–now. Yet, there is a predictive factor in play with any associated time delay between one half of the connection and the other. Perhaps it is a form of ESP after all.

It serves as a kind of homing beacon, saying simply, “Yes. Yes, this is for you and you alone.” The meaning of the convergence is unique to the recipient; the recognition is one that only the recipient can experience in just this way. The effect on the recipient may be an urge or need to follow up–to say, write, or do something to acknowledge the synchronous event.

Why does it happen? Because we asked for it somewhere deep in our subconscious mind. Why do we respond as we do? Because we realize it is an answer to an unspoken (or perhaps spoken) question we had sent out into the ether.

You could call it an answered prayer. Some call it meaningless coincidence. Whatever you call it, it is good, for our good.

The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron explains that when we open ourselves up to these connective possibilities, the flood gates open, and these moments may arise more frequently. If our answer to the “yes” of the synchronous moment is also “yes,” in the way we keep ourselves open, receptive, unafraid, even in awe, and lovingly curious about what may happen next, the chance of these recurrences increases.

An emotional rejection of the moment, whether through fear or scoffing skepticism, will discourage the shy matchmaker that is synchronicity from reappearing and offering its gifts again.

For me, the visitations have been relatively few and infrequent but, mainly, consistent with the definition and “rules” of relationship the experts present.

The most vivid recollection I have of this phenomenon is of an instance while driving in my daily commute from Cuyahoga Falls to University Circle in Cleveland several years back. It was so vivid that, in retrospect, I almost believed I must have made my query aloud. How else could the reply have come with such stark, unmistakable delivery?

Traversing a highway bridge in relatively bright daylight, I spotted a dark object ahead of me near the end of the bridge but in the middle of the road. It was fairly large, so I thought it might have been a shredded semi tire or large trash bag.

As I drew closer, details revealed a flapping motion toward the top of the somewhat rounded object. It did not move like a bag and moved too much to be heavy rubber or any other usual debris.

Considering the possibility of its being a dead animal, I was puzzled, as no road kill I had ever seen, whether squirrel or groundhog or raccoon or even deer, would present this kind of motion. Within range to see the object clearly, I gasped when I realized what it was.

The shock of recognition in this case was neither mild nor particularly positive. It was a dead Canada goose, on its back, with its stiff, webbed feet waving in the wind of the traffic on a bridge.

I had seen such geese alive hundreds of times, so ordinarily, a witnessing of this deceased version should not have disturbed or frightened me much at all, I suppose. But I immediately recalled my unspoken question of recent days, which even in my mind had been more of a passing observation:

“Hmm. I’ve never seen a dead Canada goose before.” I had thought it odd not to have seen one, or realized seeing it, in my nearly 30-year lifetime.

The universe gives us what we ask for.

After I gasped, in consternation and with furrowed brow, I said aloud, “Oh, no, that’s not what I meant!” I brought hand to face as I refocused on the road ahead of me. Being a bird lover and an animal lover makes seeing dead animals, however repeatedly, a slightly saddening experience for me, but I rarely tense up or feel the need to say or do anything in particular but sigh or inaudibly exhale and keep driving.

Even though I had no particular love of Canada geese–we all know they can be obstinate, loud and disgusting nuisances in large numbers–seeing the answer to my question lying there, in that ridiculous position, trying to swim upside down through the air while glued to the asphalt, struck me as rather horrifying. But it took the question’s existence and this clear answer of that question to create the full impact.

Was this synchronicity? If so, what ever for? Was it mere coincidence? If so, why was my reaction so vehement? Was it answered “prayer”–God, I hope not! Thinking that the last option might be the case, I was stricken with a sense of guilt and fear that I had somehow made it happen, that I had provided the outcome for myself.

How could I say “yes” to such a perceived power? Who wants to be able to kill innocent creatures one normally admires and sometimes loves by simply wondering about their death? Was it a sign that I needed to think more positively, else I could start offing things with my brain waves?

After all this, providing these definitions, rules, explanations, and the sense that I must know something of what I speak, I must confess: I don’t know why it happened or what it meant, if anything. I do know, however, that my awareness of synchronicity as a phenomenon had been heightened around the same time, though focused, or at least tossed haphazardly, in other directions.

This was certainly an unexpected confluence, an unanticipated call and response. Unwelcome is more like it. If there was anything to do, what could it possibly be? Too freaked out to follow up, to face the strangeness of it any more than sharing the story with others, I never did pursue, or seek to create, any meaning from the experience.

Is this writing piece itself the answer? Is the point merely to make material available for writerly pondering? Why do I bring this up now? Why not?

The truth is I crave positive synchronicity in my life and art. It’s a way of overcoming reluctance to express myself, of beckoning what I perceive to be external motivation to make it a regular part of my life. Yet, I have not decided exactly what constitutes regular enough or legitimately constant self-expression. Perhaps this desire is just a childish way of shirking routine responsibility.

These misgivings are the kind that lie at the heart of the purpose of The Artist’s Way program. Art is legitimate, Cameron hammers home. You do have something worth expressing. Stop asking for permission and seeking some undefined legitimacy. Just express you. Let the creativity, the communication, the thing to give flow through you out into that same ether where your questions linger and sometimes receive answers.

As a philosopher, I stand by the notion that seeking and knowing the right questions remains largely more important than having the answers. I’m good at asking provocative questions. They serve me in personal growth, as a tutor and teacher, as a mentor and writing peer, as a wife, a daughter, a caregiver of a special needs pet, and a friend.

Like anything, though, in excess, questions merely cripple, and they strain to serve the pursuit of art. This can take the form of self-sabotage.

Whether that’s what the goose encounter was or not, it definitely felt counterproductive and thwarting. It only raised more questions and fears. And it was just downright unpleasant in itself.

So, am I to redefine or relabel more appropriately, if that’s the case? Was it not synchronicity, this supreme, benevolent source of all good, as I had interpreted it to be? (Really, I thought God was saying, “Here you go!” in a cruelly cheerful tone.)

Are we all just full of shit? Sometimes I think so.

If it didn’t really mean anything, why do I feel compelled to frame it in this way, or to talk about it at all? Is the interpretation more of a twisted desperation to experience life-saving synchronicity? Or, is it a way to close the door on synchronicity’s potential forever, by saying, “If this is what it looks like, I’m not looking!”?

I wish I knew, but I don’t. All I can do is move forward now. That did happen about seven or eight years ago, anyway.

I have experienced what I would label as positive synchronicity since then, again in the context of re-raising my awareness of it, particularly in re-reading The Artist’s Way, though that isn’t the only source of discussion about it I have read. And this time, art was served, in the form of a poem, or, rather, the affirmation of a poem I had just created.

My recognition of the occurrence took the form of exclamatory marginalia, which are anything but marginal in my studious life. It impressed upon me a subtle encouragement to continue on the theme I had chosen, to try it out in new works, to dwell in the world of this general theme, which happens to be my relationship to animals.

That’s not coincidence. It’s not answered prayer. It’s not really synchronicity either. It’s just part of who I am, a thread of personality running through my experiences and artistic tendencies.

Whatever the causal label, the effective reality is authentic living, being true to myself. And by thinking and writing about it, I reinforce and hone my understanding of who I am.

That’s really all I can do.


Note: For more authoritative sources on the subject of meaningful coincidence, see texts that reference Carl Jung’s psychoanalytic theory of synchronicity, such as Jean Shinoda Bolen‘s book The Tao of Psychology, or this one I Googled. Alternatively, read Jung’s theory directly. A more concise definition appears as number 5 of Dictionary.com‘s entry for synchronism.

Now about that dead goose . . .