little hunches

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...that spark big ideas

August 21, 2014 at 3:24pm

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He has changed the responsibility of the composer from making to accepting. To accept whatever comes regardless of the consequences is to be unafraid or to be full of that love which comes from a sense of at-one-ness with whatever.

— This lovely line comes from John Cage’s Lecture on Something. It’s natural for a composer to talk about his craft, but it’s much more infrequent that it’s put so beautifully. And so differently. There’s something extremely Rilke and Voltaire and in his words, and that’s hardly a surprise — the gradual infusion of Zen Buddhist thought into his life seamlessly affected his music. Regardless, I love the concept: at-one-ness with whatever.

August 18, 2014 at 11:47am

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The ensō is one of the more sacred symbols of Zen Buddhism. It’s a single stroke of paint on paper, and is full of representations: individuality, the state of mind of the artist, the idea of “perfection,” fullness, simplicity, spontaneity, circularity of existence, openness (and, in turn, its opposite), absence, grace — in a way, the drawing of ensō is said to reveal the depths of its creator’s enlightenment. Another way to look at ensō would be as the physical representation of wabi-sabi (the ability to see beauty in all that is imperfect, incomplete, and impermanent).
An easy, tempting way to consider ensō would be to immediately notice all it lacks: the gaps in paint, the irregular circle, the early fading, the unevenness — indeed, these “flaws” we notice in ourselves or our performance seem to always draw our most vehement criticism. Another way to consider ensō would be to notice our reaction to it. Not to the drawing itself, but to the immediate urge to find fault in it.
And if you saw the ensō of someone you loved — your husband, your child, your mother — what words would you use? Misaligned, misshapen, ugly, too thick, a little rushed? Or beautiful, perfect, “just so you,” wouldn’t-change-a-thing…
I ask because the answer is obvious, and the point is quite simple: we carry around toxic words and poisonous phrases that we wouldn’t dare unleash on anyone but ourselves. But they don’t have to be there, nor should they be there.
Draw your ensō and smile at its beauty.

The ensō is one of the more sacred symbols of Zen Buddhism. It’s a single stroke of paint on paper, and is full of representations: individuality, the state of mind of the artist, the idea of “perfection,” fullness, simplicity, spontaneity, circularity of existence, openness (and, in turn, its opposite), absence, grace — in a way, the drawing of ensō is said to reveal the depths of its creator’s enlightenment. Another way to look at ensō would be as the physical representation of wabi-sabi (the ability to see beauty in all that is imperfect, incomplete, and impermanent).

An easy, tempting way to consider ensō would be to immediately notice all it lacks: the gaps in paint, the irregular circle, the early fading, the unevenness — indeed, these “flaws” we notice in ourselves or our performance seem to always draw our most vehement criticism. Another way to consider ensō would be to notice our reaction to it. Not to the drawing itself, but to the immediate urge to find fault in it.

And if you saw the ensō of someone you loved — your husband, your child, your mother — what words would you use? Misaligned, misshapen, ugly, too thick, a little rushed? Or beautiful, perfect, “just so you,” wouldn’t-change-a-thing…

I ask because the answer is obvious, and the point is quite simple: we carry around toxic words and poisonous phrases that we wouldn’t dare unleash on anyone but ourselves. But they don’t have to be there, nor should they be there.

Draw your ensō and smile at its beauty.

August 16, 2014 at 9:39am

3 notes

My friend and I mull over the teas
displayed in square jars
with beveled glass labeled by type.
Each name seems part of a haiku:
“After the Snow Sprouting.” “Moon Palace.”
“Mist Over the Gorges.”
I’m drawn to green teas
with unoxidized leaves that don’t wither,
hold their grassy fragrance
like willow under snow in winter.

The proprietor offers real china for the Chinese tea.
Animal bones, fine ground, give whiteness,
translucency and strength
to the porcelain that appears delicate,
resists chipping.
The rim of the cup is warm and thin.

My friend’s lips are plush: her lovely
mouth opens to give advice I ask for.
We talk about memory of threshold events,
like a first kiss or a poem published.
She can’t remember…

I tell her about my brother-in-law’s
chemotherapy—his third bout of cancer.
He wants his family to put a pinch
of his ashes in things he liked:
his banjo, the top drawer of his desk, the garden.

I wouldn’t mind becoming part
of a set of bone china that serves tea
in a cozy teahouse smelling of incense,
cinnamon, musk, and carved teak.
I’d like to be brought to a small table,
sit between friends’ quiet words,
held in hands so close that breath
on the surface of warm drink
makes mist rise over their faces.

— This is At the Tea Garden, by Margaret Hasse. It’s quiet and beautiful, immediately reminding me of a lovely tea garden I visited in San Francisco. It was a calm place surrounded by bustle and I often enjoyed sitting by the fountain and looking out over the grass, half covered by sun, half not.

August 13, 2014 at 10:49am

5 notes
I posted this a few weeks ago, and in it, there’s a link to a longer piece of writing that contains the line you see above. Spend some time with all of it.
George Saunders spoke of something similar, and he phrased it nicely. His regrets, he said, are almost exclusively "failures of kindness" — those chances you have to show love or care, simple as they may be, yet you stand and let them pass. The note you didn’t write, the champagne you didn’t buy, the hug you didn’t give.
The beautiful Mary Oliver wrote of starting her day with the necessarily intertwined tandem of happiness and kindness. It’s an idea that Henry David Thoreau would have agreed with, which is why I put her words over the serenity of Walden Pond. 
And then there’s William Wordsworth, including kindness in the very essence of how people should be remembered. 
The words you see above belong to my Dad, a man devoted to kindness in every manner possible. Perhaps devoted isn’t exactly right, because that suggests a commitment or a conscious effort. When something is seamlessly a part of someone, by definition it doesn’t exist apart from them, and so it is with my Dad and his inextricable kindness. 
These four make a nice group, each linking arms with the other in support of things the world will forever need more of: unobstructed love and goodness.

I posted this a few weeks ago, and in it, there’s a link to a longer piece of writing that contains the line you see above. Spend some time with all of it.

George Saunders spoke of something similar, and he phrased it nicely. His regrets, he said, are almost exclusively "failures of kindness" — those chances you have to show love or care, simple as they may be, yet you stand and let them pass. The note you didn’t write, the champagne you didn’t buy, the hug you didn’t give.

The beautiful Mary Oliver wrote of starting her day with the necessarily intertwined tandem of happiness and kindness. It’s an idea that Henry David Thoreau would have agreed with, which is why I put her words over the serenity of Walden Pond. 

And then there’s William Wordsworth, including kindness in the very essence of how people should be remembered. 

The words you see above belong to my Dad, a man devoted to kindness in every manner possible. Perhaps devoted isn’t exactly right, because that suggests a commitment or a conscious effort. When something is seamlessly a part of someone, by definition it doesn’t exist apart from them, and so it is with my Dad and his inextricable kindness. 

These four make a nice group, each linking arms with the other in support of things the world will forever need more of: unobstructed love and goodness.

August 12, 2014 at 6:35pm

4 notes

For how many people did you know that refracted your own light to you?…How rarely did other people’s faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought?

— Fahrenheit 451 can be annoying at points and thrilling at others, with Ray Bradbury occasionally stringing together a lovely group of words. This line is part Jane Austen, part R.L. Stevenson, and part Neil Gaiman, but the question is a wonderful one: in your life, who is it that gets closest to your soul? Who gets your heart trembling? Whoever they may be, keep them close.

August 11, 2014 at 9:53am

2 notes

"The beauty of her body was the essence of her soul."

The other night I was at the top of a road that sloped downward, when one-by-one, three or four seconds after the other, nearest to farthest, each traffic light ticked from green to yellow to red. Having a logical progression to the flow of traffic is certainly a fundamental piece of any sensible city planning, but when the orchestrated transition of color happens beneath the night sky — more out of obligation than necessity on an empty road — it takes on something quite beautiful. At least, it did for me.

Beauty is one of history’s most repetitive themes: Michelangelo sought it in his sculpture, seeing it in blocks of marble and “freeing” it; Robert Browning saw it in Elizabeth Barrett’s poetry, beginning his first (of what turned out to be many) love letters by telling her;  F. Scott Fitzgerald — both here and in the quote you see above — tortured himself and his characters trying to understand it; and Jimi Hendrix wanted it to define his music.

The video here is from Dove, and is part of a larger campaign to help women see their beauty as the world does. Give it a watch.

There’s a lovely concept that people most always look at clouds and describe them as white, but so few of them actually are. If you were to paint them, you’d quickly see they hold entire palettes of grays and blacks, all kinds of yellows and pinks and reds from the sun, a spectrum of blues from the sky — and as you lie on some grass in a park and look up, it is entirely plausible to point and say, that cloud is beautiful. And so is that one. And so is that one. There is no why, they are because they are. As it is with clouds, so it is with laughter and eyes — those beautiful things you find in someone else that don’t belong to any sort of suitable description. You like the way they look and sound, but there is clearly much more.

One of the most sacred roles a man can play, I think, is letting the women in his life know how truly beautiful they are. Not superficially, either. It’s the smile (and the many variations), the look of confusion, the different reactions you know you can get, the thoughts they carry with them, the things that matter to them, what makes them laugh, the things that will always get them to voice disapproval, the deepest hopes they keep inside, the worries and the doubts that may take a few days to come out, the places they want to see, the routines they have at different moments of the day — all that combines together in, as Fitzgerald said, "the essence of her soul." And it should be fiercely treasured and encouraged and protected.

There’s one more quick video to watch, also by Dove. When I see it, I smile, and I think of my two gorgeous nieces (Lilly and Hannah) and I hope. I hope that they grow into the beautiful women that their mother and aunt are, that they turn 60 as elegantly and gracefully as their grandmother did, and that one day they meet someone who hears their laugh and sees their eyes and says, quite simply, how beautiful.

August 10, 2014 at 11:40am

2 notes

It’s better to burn out than it is to rust.

— A minute or two before he gets to these lyrics, Neil Young sings them slightly differently (“It’s better to burn out than to fade away”) and also manages to toss in one of life’s most important reminders: “And once you’re gone, you can never come back.” Despite the acoustic guitar and the occasional harmonica, there’s nothing light about the opening track to Rust Never Sleeps. It’s a sentiment that pops up often — Jennifer Egan uses it in an incredible book, Tennessee Williams suggested it in a reflective piece — but that shouldn’t diminish its importance. 

August 7, 2014 at 8:57am

5 notes
This is an excerpt from 4’33”, John Cage’s three-movement composition that premiered in 1952 at a small concert hall in Woodstock, New York. Unlike anything he had ever played before, David Tudor walked across the stage, sat down at the piano, opened the score (which said, in part, tacet — or “silence”), and followed it perfectly: he touched not a single key. He then left the stage.
It’s an easy thing to condemn, but in Where the Heart Beats — one of the most incredible books I have recently read — Kay Larson explores the life of Cage, as he grew from an avant-garde musician who played with sound and noise and silence, into a man deeply affected by Zen Buddhism. There is nothing gimmicky about 4’33”, in fact, as you learn about his life and his tendencies, you realize it is the ultimate expression of Cage’s music.
Silence (or, creating a space that allows many other sounds to drift in and out), the ability to sit moment-to-moment without judgment, not fighting for certainty, and not dismissing something because it defies our perceived idea of what it is supposed to be — these four things are immensely difficult. But they should be done. Why? Because:

"Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing, but looking, and touching, and loving…"

This is an excerpt from 4’33”, John Cage’s three-movement composition that premiered in 1952 at a small concert hall in Woodstock, New York. Unlike anything he had ever played before, David Tudor walked across the stage, sat down at the piano, opened the score (which said, in part, tacet — or “silence”), and followed it perfectly: he touched not a single key. He then left the stage.

It’s an easy thing to condemn, but in Where the Heart Beats — one of the most incredible books I have recently read — Kay Larson explores the life of Cage, as he grew from an avant-garde musician who played with sound and noise and silence, into a man deeply affected by Zen Buddhism. There is nothing gimmicky about 4’33”, in fact, as you learn about his life and his tendencies, you realize it is the ultimate expression of Cage’s music.

Silence (or, creating a space that allows many other sounds to drift in and out), the ability to sit moment-to-moment without judgment, not fighting for certainty, and not dismissing something because it defies our perceived idea of what it is supposed to be — these four things are immensely difficult. But they should be done. Why? Because:

"Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing, but looking, and touching, and loving…"

August 6, 2014 at 2:44am

4 notes

In any case you mustn’t confuse a single failure with a final defeat.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald returns, this time with a simple thought on persistence — one very similar to the words of Gabriel García Márquez — from Tender is the Night. I must have been 16 or 17 when I read it on a night-train from Washington, D.C. to Boston, and as we rumbled northward, the Atlantic to my right, I remember feeling as though I was right there on the French Riviera with everyone else. A few summers later I was, and spent a couple of days in Antibes where a long afternoon walk had me standing outside the gates of where the book is set — the prestigious Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc. At first glance, none of this appears relevant to a “single failure” or a “final defeat,” but I would contest that. Because if you dream, and if you wander, and if your path looks ill-fitting when stacked next to those being laid by others, then you must keep room for a smile or a sigh when you’re otherwise tempted to feel defeat. Remember, Each beat of the world’s pulse demands only that you feel it.”  Nothing more than that — march on.

August 4, 2014 at 10:31pm

1 note
I enjoy Theodore Roethke’s poetry, and the lines you see here — resting atop a photo of a rice paddy in northern Thailand — are from The Renewal. 
Lengthening sighs into something more melodic is a beautiful image, and fits nicely with two other lovely mentions of song I quite like. The first is from Rumi and the second is from Oscar Wilde. Combined with Roethke’s words here, all three touch on a similar theme: there is a musical quality to the way we live and love, the way we struggle and smile and endure, with pace and mood and rhythm eternally changing.
And if we find our own song — often by lengthening our sighs — while we keep our ears open to others, we do something else wonderfully musical: we release our best-kept secret, that drummer that beats with a heart-timed clack.

I enjoy Theodore Roethke’s poetry, and the lines you see here — resting atop a photo of a rice paddy in northern Thailand — are from The Renewal

Lengthening sighs into something more melodic is a beautiful image, and fits nicely with two other lovely mentions of song I quite like. The first is from Rumi and the second is from Oscar Wilde. Combined with Roethke’s words here, all three touch on a similar theme: there is a musical quality to the way we live and love, the way we struggle and smile and endure, with pace and mood and rhythm eternally changing.

And if we find our own song — often by lengthening our sighs — while we keep our ears open to others, we do something else wonderfully musical: we release our best-kept secret, that drummer that beats with a heart-timed clack.

July 29, 2014 at 8:26pm

3 notes

You know the name you were given, you do not know the name you have.

— José Saramago, again, with something to ponder. If he’s right — if we’re given one and we create the other — how do we go about doing it? What things become important? What are our “rules” to live by? How loudly do our hearts beat? At the end of the day, I find myself returning to this, more and more often — a sentiment echoed by Jimi Hendrix.

July 26, 2014 at 11:25pm

5 notes
These are Rilke’s words (you’ve seen him before, here and here) covering a photo I took of a seated Buddha at Angkor Wat.
One of the earliest posts on little hunches was this, a line from a rather amazing book. Even now, I’m unsure what it really means to knit together the many pieces of my life — though I love the idea — and I think that’s why I was caught by the quote you see above.
Because though I often wonder too much about what may lie ahead, it’s not always helpful to try and tie everything so perfectly together. It seems better to be ready — seated peacefully with open hands — poised enough to accept what comes your way, and fearless enough to create for yourself a life you truly want.

These are Rilke’s words (you’ve seen him before, here and here) covering a photo I took of a seated Buddha at Angkor Wat.

One of the earliest posts on little hunches was this, a line from a rather amazing book. Even now, I’m unsure what it really means to knit together the many pieces of my life — though I love the idea — and I think that’s why I was caught by the quote you see above.

Because though I often wonder too much about what may lie ahead, it’s not always helpful to try and tie everything so perfectly together. It seems better to be ready — seated peacefully with open hands — poised enough to accept what comes your way, and fearless enough to create for yourself a life you truly want.

July 23, 2014 at 7:57pm

3 notes

He picked up a pebble
and threw it into the sea.

And another, and another.
He couldn’t stop.

He wasn’t trying to fill the sea.
He wasn’t trying to empty the beach.

He was just throwing away,
nothing else but.

Like a kitten playing
he was practising for the future

when there’ll be so many things
he’ll want to throw away

if only his fingers will unclench
and let them go.

— This is Small Boy, by Norman MacCaig, and it is so, so beautiful — another lovely poem to add to our collection. What more is there to say? Maybe this and this? If nothing else, say those words a few times — “if only his fingers will unclench and let them go” — and see how you feel. Some of the most challenging moments of my life have come when I was clinging to a vision that was no longer true for me, and how happy I was to finally throw that pebble into the sea.

3:28am

3 notes
He continues: “The business of organising the journey through the country could be attended to later.” All of this is from Norman Lewis’ “A Dragon Apparent” — a chronicle of his travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam in the early 1950s.
This approach is deeply resonant with me, especially on my current journey through the exact same part of the world. I have rough ideas of places I want to see, times to get there by, and how to best arrange the order, but the rest is left to whim: how long breakfast lasts, where I find the nicest fruit, if I can take a boat there, or whether it’s raining and I’m trapped on a porch with an afternoon beer.
"Aimless roamings" certainly has something of a scattered, all-over-the-place, slightly disorganized and negative connotation, and I’m unsure why. It’s opposite — itineraries, detail, and lots of structure — is more than suitable for some people (and I’ve done the same in many settings), but it is not necessarily better.
Sometimes it’s nice to let the world move while you travel at your own speed, savoring the uncertain journey, and meeting yourself at every step along the way.

He continues: “The business of organising the journey through the country could be attended to later.” All of this is from Norman Lewis’ “A Dragon Apparent” — a chronicle of his travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam in the early 1950s.

This approach is deeply resonant with me, especially on my current journey through the exact same part of the world. I have rough ideas of places I want to see, times to get there by, and how to best arrange the order, but the rest is left to whim: how long breakfast lasts, where I find the nicest fruit, if I can take a boat there, or whether it’s raining and I’m trapped on a porch with an afternoon beer.

"Aimless roamings" certainly has something of a scattered, all-over-the-place, slightly disorganized and negative connotation, and I’m unsure why. It’s opposite — itineraries, detail, and lots of structure — is more than suitable for some people (and I’ve done the same in many settings), but it is not necessarily better.

Sometimes it’s nice to let the world move while you travel at your own speed, savoring the uncertain journey, and meeting yourself at every step along the way.

July 21, 2014 at 6:17am

6 notes

The majority of people dismiss those things that lie beyond the bounds of their own understanding as absurd and not worth thinking about.

— I finished Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle somewhere on the bus between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. It’s a long and odd read — full of repressed characters, curious underworlds, and blurred lines between dream and reality — that combines the detached characters of Sherwood Anderson with the occasional terse prose of Ernest Hemingway and the deep mystery of Franz Kafka. It may seem like a random book for an adventure in Southeast Asia, but there were parts (like the one you see here) that were perfect to read on a bumpy road between the green mountains as the rain followed us from north to south. I’ve spent too much time in my life not being on buses like those in countries like these, too little time smiling back at the beautifully reclined Buddhas in old temples a few paces from the Mekong.