Sunday, March 13, 2011

Disaster, and why we write


When the economy tanked two and a half years ago, the magnitude of it didn’t hit me for a couple of weeks, until the Chair of my English department gathered us for the first faculty meeting of fall term. He told us the university had changed forever. Not just our university. He meant that The University as an entity had changed and might never be the same again. He proceeded to describe how the bottom had fallen out of our graduate program, how state funds that had already thinned dramatically, would shrink even more. Some graduate programs across the country would disappear. The question of how to prevent that happening to our own program sat in the room like a cannon ball. For most academic departments, the graduate research program is the driving reason for existence, which is true of ours.

The air was knocked out of me for a couple of days. I couldn’t recall when my outlook on life had ever shifted as dramatically as I felt it at that moment. I continued to advise undergraduate students, but as fear took hold of me, I felt little enthusiasm for the future state of their education. Some students had to drop out of school mid-term as parents lost jobs and their own personal funds disappeared.

After numbly getting through a couple of days advising students, my conversations with them began to shift. I could hear the words coming out of my mouth: “You must write through this.” Like light through the Venetian blinds of my 100-year-old ten-foot office window, something hopeful striped the room as the prospect of writing stories about the suffering and loss that lay ahead of us began to dawn. No matter how dire things would get, we could turn it into a thing of beauty by writing essays, short stories, poems, or screenplays. Even pain can be beautiful.

When cataclysmic events happen in the world, I don’t know how to be. In his "Love Song" Rilke wrote that he would “gladly lodge” his soul “with lost objects in the dark, / in some far still place / that does not tremble when you tremble.” I would gladly protect my soul like that too, but how is it possible to live isolated from tragedy when it happens?

When the earth trembled itself ten inches off its axis, water swept over the lip of Japan’s coast, and the nuclear power plant exploded in Sendai, Inge and I were at the lake cottage on a two-day writing retreat, discussing among other things, the question: Why do we write?

Over the hours some answers came:

  • to remember
  • to think
  • to feel
  • to claim an experience as my own
  • to meditate and connect with my soul

Ray Bradbury said that you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

Catherine Drinker Bowen said Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.

John K. Hutchens said, A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right.

Truman Capote said, To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the inner music the words make. 

The second stanza of Rilke’s "Love Song":

. . . all that touches us, you and me,
plays us together, like the bow of a violin
that from two strings draws forth one voice.
On what instrument are we strung?
What musician is playing us?
Oh sweet song.

Why do I write? To find the points of light in my experience. When we write, those points of light are notes of inner music our words make. When layered with voices of other writers and artists across the terrain of the world, it becomes a fugue, a galaxy of points of light. Have a listen to Robert Tiso play Bach's Toccato and Fugue in D minor on his glass harp. The four-voice fugue written for organ, played on this remarkable "instrument", is but one individual's expression of his own light, and of Bach's. Can you also hear layers of other voices streaming in their light?



erin said...

i have but a moment before i am off to work and i have to say i love this post because it raises so many questions and perhaps answers none, not really, other than point to, while we are here we must~

one thing in particular i'll think of today while i am gone, is the wrongful impression that we are under, that we think that somehow these tumultous times are irregular and it is the quiet times inbetween that are the norm. i'm not sure exactly, but it seems to me we're perhaps looking in the wrong direction. perhaps it is the turbulence that is normal and the sweet lulls that are the unique jewels to hold to. perhaps as a western society, perhaps all society, i don't know, tries to hold so tightly to this deception.

i'll come back later. i am so interested in how others might respond.

thanks for this, ruth.


kanmuri said...

I used to live in one of the areas that is most touched. Some of my friends are still missing. Houses have been swept away, entire cities destroyed... My newlywed friend has no new of her husband.

I could not help but weep when I watched the news. To see my home away from home in such a state, is more than I can take...

I can't sleep at night, thinking of the horror the victims, some my friends, have gone through...

Jeanie said...

Ruth, I remember that period you wrote about at the top of this post. While our work is different, we were affected in the same way -- a sense of fear, of apprehension so great it's difficult to describe. We had layoffs and everyone was concerned; we were saying farewell to friends.

When Stimpy died, I wrote and wrote -- it was the only way I could channel the sorrow inside. It's nothing "good," but it's very real.

On Friday, I came home and had to write. I had to look at my photos, remember my friends, I had to write about it.

You're right (no pun intended) -- and the quotes you shared are as well -- trying to get the human feelings right...

ellen abbott said...

Well, I don't consider myself a writer. My art is elsewhere. I worry about the future of the arts in this country though. Especially with the legislators we have now. When things get tight the first thing they want to do is cut funding for the arts and education. Education. Really? How stupid id that? Or maybe that's what they want, to keep the general population stupid so they won't understand how they are being ripped off and abused by the uber-rich who continue to be supported by those legislators.

Louise Gallagher said...

I write and I write and always find myself beneath the words, bowed over in prayer, humbled in gratitude, supine and lifted up.

Writing comes through the words my heart searches out to express and understand and know and feel and see and smell and touch so that I may be free to live, unemcumbered by fear.

My gratitude bouquet this morning begins with you - it started with your comment on my blog, lead me back to Rumi and the melted chocolate voice of Coleman Barks and now here -- and that Robert Tiso is amazing!

Thank you for these treasures.

elizabeth said...

Two little quotes I like........
Virginia Woolf wrote about ''writing out misery"
and Paul Auster said, "The only thing worse than not writing."

I think times are always tumultuous
and my heart breaks for all the people affected by the catastrophe in Japan, and the recent one in New Zealand
not to mention all the people living in poverty in Africa.
We lead such sheltered privileged lives.
So glad you like Rilke too --one of my favorite poets though I'm not sure that I completely understand so much of what he is saying....!

Lilith said...

"Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind. "

This is so true for me as well. I need to write to get things out of my head and to understand them.

Maureen said...

We write, especially in times of great loss and suffering, to honor, to remember, to recall and forever keep life itself.

Oh said...

Yes, yes! it's all linked. Music, writing, the layers you refer to, the light!

HOw cool that you and Inge did a 2-day "writing workshop." And there are always those incredible juxtapositions of events: Japan shook and tore apart as we all went about our business but NOT as usual. How could we? Like the earth that literally feels the shifts and shocks, so do we, as people hold hands across the miles and feel the blips in the universe together.

And writing through pain as you note and through pleasure and indeed through all the sometimes mundane layers between, it is the door to the doors...that bang open, revealing.

And yet, I find in long discussion with my mom yesterday, that writing may not always work for everyone. She knits. She knits unbelievable things and gives them away and as gifts and piles them up like a store. She wants to write and understand how I sit down and write (we take a journaling class together) and yet she is stymied by the page. But hand me two knitting needles and I am panicked!
Oh, I so glad you are with the students and telling them to write, however. Even one word on a page.

Love that you know Rilke so well and are constantly inspiring me to look up some of Rilke's work.

Poets are leaders. Illuminators.
Thank you.
(sorry for rambling. There are many times though, when I'm sure I could pick up the phone and chat at length, tho' we've not met.)

Vagabonde said...

Just as Ellen Abbott above – I am not a writer and I deplore the cuts for the Arts. I am a voracious reader – beautiful prose and poetry like yours, literature, fiction and non-fiction, historical facts – many subjects anyway. As part of your life is writing mine is reading.

As for budget cuts – when I became a US citizen and learnt about the history of this country I was told that it is a government for the people and by the people. People show their choices by their votes. For the majority here the most important thing is making money and feeling secure – people are scared in this country – the arts are not so important to them. Already the budget for the arts is quite small. If Europe had been that stringy on the arts where would be all the beautiful paintings in the museums the US tourists love to visit? The cathedrals and castles? People love to go to Paris and France- the last time I looked (2007) I saw France gave 1% of their budget to the arts (and increased their funding in 2009) - that is more than the US gives in Foreign Aid – think a minute about that. It is interesting to look at the proposed budget cuts - $5 billion cut in Education (when the US is keeping going down in that area), more billions taken from the EPA (when the environment is in a delicate balance) but… keeping the $20 millions for unemployed millionaires and not touching the $5 billion in aid to cash rich oil companies. No cuts on Defense where the US has 700 foreign bases using more oil that the countries of Switzerland and Sweden combined. These are choices. In Europe there would be mass demonstrations, here the demonstrations are by union workers in Wisconsin – where is the rest of the country? Where are the young people who will inherit all this? Can they get out of their SUVs and stay away from their techy toys? Hello? You are right Ruth, it is better to write (or to read.) As you quote Ray Bradbury so appropriately “you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

VioletSky said...

Writing is possibly the best tool we have for [self] discovery and [self] preservation.
I wish I could find a way to do more of it. I've always found it interesting, and a bit disturbing, that when something traumatic happens, I stop writing completely. The words and thoughts just dissipate and I have trouble grabbing hold of them.

Ruth said...

erin, good of you to stop in on your way to work. I've been thinking about what you said, whether these times are worse than any other. I doubt it very much. We just seem to know about much of it at the drop of a news story on the 24 hour news cycle. Though of course there is a lot of very good news happening that we hear nothing of. Well, and also very bad news we know nothing of. Someone decides what we hear, and that's that.

But your point is that maybe the turmoil is the normal state of existence, and peace is the rare in between state. Maybe. I'll think more about that. As you say, I doubt there will be answers, but it is something to observe nonetheless. Thanks, erin.

Ruth said...

I think of you first, Kanmuri, because I don't have Japanese friends. You must have many affected in Japan, as well as yourself, your husband and many others who are affected because you were born there or lived there. May your newlywed friend find her husband. May your friends be found alive. May the horror get better before it gets worse. May you find peace in this anxiety.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, you and I write. You also create art, and you craft beautiful gems. Whatever a person needs to do to restore themselves through these nightmares is what I hope for.

Ruth said...

Yes, Ellen, not everyone writes. This is what I do, and my English majors do, or they make films. You make gorgeous glass art. Others write and play music. To cut these forms of expression from education makes sense to some people. But to consider how people have been healed through the arts for centuries, we know that it is just as important, if not more so, than other subjects. My hope is that even if it is cut from state budgets, artists will keep finding their voices. Some will, and some will never find it, not having been exposed to it at school.

ds said...

I am going to mark this post, so that I may return to it again and again and again. I "write" (when I write, when I really and truly write) because I cannot do anything else; I read to escape.

I read this and little pings go out from your words, and Rilke's and Ray Bradbury's, into some little space around my heart or solar plexus, or somewhere, where they resound and vibrate, and echo just as Mr. Tiso's glass "organ" resounds and vibrates and echoes. He has taken Bach's famous, multilayered--and to my ears before--sad piece and made it one of joy. How? I heard yes, glass, but also chimes, handbells, recorders, and flutes. What a difference the choice of instrument can make. Whether it is poetic or prosaic; Rilke's, Rumi's, yours...
"no matter how dire things would get we could turn them into a thing of beauty...even pain can be beautiful."
Oh, Ruth--yes! Thank you.

Ruth said...

Louise, this is how you and I experience the world, really get close to it, bring it inside, swirl it around, and make it our own. I get almost panicked when I can't write for a couple of days. I suppose it is an addiction.

I was met and moved by Coleman Barks, Rumi, and David Darling at your place. To feel the transformation in myself when I meet these artists, and Rumi's words, channeled down to us through centuries, I know that art survives, and we go on being healed by it. Thank you, Louise.

The Solitary Walker said...

I found this post and the last one quite compelling, Ruth. Writing, reading, music - they are all intertwined, in my life, in yours, in many people's. Writing, reading, singing your way through - all tied up with remembering, feeling, soul-connecting, all those things you listed. And a matter too - of survival. And a positive rebellion against the injustice, the pain, the random brutality out there.

Ruth said...

Elizabeth, of course you are right. Times are always tumultuous, somewhere. Yes, we go on with our privileged selves and complain about snow and having to go to work. When the economy turned sour, I remembered to be grateful for work.

I have "known" Rilke a couple of decades, but now, with the Rilke blog (link on the sidebar) and the daily readings, he is becoming a friend for life. His renderings of experience are bringing me tremendous insight. But it often takes much time to wade in and try to comprehend. Others are helping me through the daily explorations. I'd love for you to join us.

Dakota Bear said...

Tea! Thank you for this thought provoking post and the music of Robert Tiso.
I'm not a writer, but I do love the power of the word and where that word can take us in life.

Ruth said...

Thank you and welcome, Lilith. I agree. If I don't mull things over through writing, they often slip away into the mire of forgetfulness. When I am especially stressed, this is when writing is most important.

Ruth said...

Maureen, that's it, holding on to life itself. Thank you. Light. Love. Life.

Ruth said...

Oh, thank you for your presence today. It's so important to keep talking when these horrors take us over. We will remember where we were Friday, just as with so many tragic events.

So true, others don't write. Other's move through these things with other healers. Doing something for someone, making, knitting, sewing, putting food into bags for transferring to a food pantry, there is much we can do to get ourselves through these things. What is needed to get those in the middle of the agony through it is trickier and requires a great investment of time and help. I was terribly encouraged today to hear that in Japan store workers showed up at stores to hand out batteries, flashlights and other necessities for free. This kind of grace becomes the counterbalance to the grief, and we long for it as we continue to watch the news.

Do keep looking for Rilke. You can start with the daily blog linked on my sidebar where excerpts are shared and discussed by a few very insightful people. I've learned a lot from him and them.

Ramble on, my friend. I'm so glad you came today, and yes, we could sit and talk for hours, I have no doubt.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, thank you for your immense mind and heart that brings so much to my blog life.

I think of writing as one of the arts, but it is not likely to get cut, the way the arts do. Yet they are as essential for our life as any of the sciences and humanities. It shouldn't be a matter of doing without it in our schools. It is all essential. Legislators and administrators make decisions with precious little knowledge or understanding of what is really affected. I couldn't agree more about the apathy in our country. But I do take heart from the protestors in Wisconsin, and the support they received from citizens of countries like Tunisia, Egypt and India, places where protests have long, or only recently, arisen. I don't know what it will take for the rest of us to spill into the streets. We could have weeks and weeks of discussion about why it doesn't happen. It may be hardest for citizens of other countries, or those who have lived abroad, as I have, and as you have, being born in France, who see the more active role of the people, to comprehend how frozen we are in the wrongness.

In the meantime, I'll turn to writing, and to what other people express through music, photography, painting, fiber arts, design, and whatever human expressions erupt from the endless ocean of imagination, for solace and inspiration.

Ruth said...

Violetski, trauma has a way of putting us into a state of shock, and we may or may not be able to rise above it. In time, hopefully we can. At least having conversations with each other, which blogging is just tremendous for, is a big help to me. After all, writing in a comment box is still writing.

Ruth said...

ds, I am getting more and more addicted to writing. I depend on it to make sense of what is happening, especially when great traumas occur. It is a conversation with myself.

I'm so glad you felt that from Robert Tiso's playing this [yes] sad piece. It is what I looked for in some piece, and then I remembered that a friend had shared this the other day, when the world of tinglings and ringings opened up the music as I had never heard it before on an organ. I absolutely love the concept of a fugue, where two ore more voices are layered, and themes echo and repeat. Thank you for your dear self and words.

Ruth said...

Robert, thank you for your echoing chorus. I do feel all this in your work at The Solitary Walker. Sometimes I feel that I am doing nothing real, to rebel against the injustice and suffering. But when I turn to you and other dear friends and find not only healing but inspiration through writing, painting, music, and just plain beauty of human spirit plain and simple, my feeling is rekindled that this matters a great deal. I also believe it is an essential step toward other kinds of rebellion, that stem from the heart. That is the only kind of protest that truly makes a difference, I feel: what arises from the heart.

Ruth said...

Dakota Bear, here's your tea. Sugar?

Not everyone writes, but yes, reading what others write can lift us above the tragedy, and into a place of movement. I hope we can all find the ways we find restoration during times of crisis.

who said...

It sounds like everyone who reads it, understands it. And that may be a reason people do what they do (whether it is writing, singing, painting, dancing, loving or anything that on the surface may seem unnecessary or frivolous in regards to physically living).
To make some sort of sense of it all. Because there are answers.

It's just rare that the majority of the world experiences it together, or recognize the answers when they revisit us, coming and going in waves.

There are ways to feel relief from whatever grief grips a persons physical body through means of one's soul. To understand, or to LOVE, is an acceptable answer. Without writers writing, singers singing, painters painting, dancers dancing, lovers loving and lifers living there would be so few knowers knowing and too many noers noing. Saying no to everything they did not hear, see or feel due to fear or misunderstanding (which is understandable as good intentions does not equal good deeds. The most clear answers are always centered in Love and without being centered in Love it is like trying to build from an unsound foundation. Centered in Love seems to be a functional key. And the same way there are so many different instruments that play different frequencies of the sound in so many different ways yet all can still be of the same key.
The very keys that will unlock a being's limit of conscious, obliterate any limit a mind might have, in it's ability to understand or the level of joy that beings can experience through love.
By doing whatever it is you do, you may be singing the song in the way that another can understand, the right pitch pitched so that they see, hear and feel it, which for some is the only way they can truly know it. And knowing something in your heart, is sometimes the only way you can feel content in this life. A life which does have connections to realms we are not aware of (in my opinion). The heart is the place in our physical world, where our soul, the spiritual realm, has the firmest grip.
and for some reason, it is not allowed to break open a person's lock on themselves, when all keys seem to fail to unlock it. No matter how bad a person wants to be free and no matter how much a person trusts another to know what they are doing.
I just pray that the doers will continue with whatever it is they feel they need to be doing. Because when they have their heart in the right place, and from love their work is a living, then their work may very well be, a very unique key, the only key that is/was capable of unlocking someone's mind, setting them free.
for every person who cannot seem to find their key, when love is in a person's heart, that person carries the potential (the will and the means) to save another person, to set them free
it is an awesome post Ruthi!

Barb said...

Hello Ruth, I was mesmerized by the Fugue played on the "glass harp." I called my husband to come look and listen. I'll also show my grandchildren. Amazing where creativity takes people! I liked seeing the graceful dance of his hands as much as the purity of sound they made against the crystal. Perhaps we are all hoping to find "points of light" in ourselves and also seek to find light in others. There are so many ways to communicate and to share - both grief and joy. A thought-provoking post, Ruth.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Ruth. Surely writing works wonders to help us understand things better. It also can serve to communicate, to share, to connect. It's like talking, but to a wider audience and one you may not live to see in person.

I find other artistic outlets very helpful in dispelling darkness, making music with friends is especially effective for me. Walking, yoga, reading, and teaching all work their magic on me, too.

Thanks for this post. It not only prompted me to write about Japan on Mindful Heart, it also made me aware of Robert Tiso. What a pleasure to hear and see his music!

Thank you, Ruth!

blueoran said...

Ruth, i read your sensitive and generous post and affirm all that you say. Writing allows what raw events cannot provide; context and soul, a way of nursing tough realities on the sweeter milk our souls provide, finding grace in devastation, now matter how small, how temporary. When my brother died a few years ago, I wrote verse letters to him daily for about six weeks, pouring out an older brother's sins of omission, praising what mattered, holding his hand this side of oblivion. Writing was a whetstone of my grief, allowing it a gradient up and out of shock and paralysis. And I've mentioned it before, but John Hollander once said that Dante is able to get through hell because stays wrapped in Virgil's meters -- this writing is a skein through the labyrinth of events we may never agree to or much understand, but get us through nevertheless. 'Course, as you say, we ARE wired to do this thing; calamity a sure-fire way to keep one's quill wet. Very fine write - Brendan

cathyswatercolors said...

Your writing helps us all cope with this life we are living. For that i am grateful. You are lucky to have your Inge. We are lucky today and everyday for simplist things. I cry for Japan. xox cb.

Keep writing us through it....

Terresa said...

A beautiful, timely post, in light of Japan, the tanking economy (gas prices are skyrocketing), and so so many other terrors we must accustom ourselves to continually as they occur.

The reflection of self out and back again, into the world and then focusing again on our own experiences as you say,
"to find the points of light."

California Girl said...

I love what Erin has to say. Perhaps she is correct and our expectations are off because we want the quiet happy times to be the norm. That is another post in itself.

injaynesworld said...

I think I was meant to find your blog today. I'm having a crisis in my writing at the moment. Thank you for this very thoughtful and helpful post.

Ginnie said...

I'm sitting here speechless after reading your post and listening to Tiso's fugue on the glass harp, Ruth. I don't even know where to begin.... Is it enough if it's just inside for now and comes out in another lifetime?

Ruth said...

Dusti, thank you for your wonderful comment.

There are answers. I agree. We live the answers, we create them. They aren't always spoken, but they are expressed. Even the questions are expressed, and the unanswerableness.

"To understand, or to LOVE, is an acceptable answer." This moves me so much. The whole paragraph is a treatise in sight and YES. I was thinking about this precisely over the weekend. It is all about LOVE, LIGHT, LIFE. And we play those in our various ways.

May the doers keep doing what they do. And may the "noers" stop "noing."

Thank you with all my heart, Dusti. Every word is true and inspiring.

Ruth said...

Hello, Barb. I feel strongly that when we listen, truly listen to the world, and to our hearts, others in turn will listen to us and hear the unique thing we have to say. Dusty Who's comment before yours said it far better than I could. I'm just blown away. It really is about freedom. How remarkable what comes out of humans. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

George said...

Sorry I'm late getting here, Ruth. I've been on the road for several days.

How I wish I could have been there with you and Inge to participate in the conversation about writing as a means of making sense of life and one's place in the world. Sometimes, especially during these days witnessing the unspeakable tragedy in Japan, I feel that I am walking through a world gone mad, and it is only through words — writing and reading, mainly — that I find any semblance of clarity. Your words always lift me, as did this post, and I truly love and admire that wonderful photo on your header. Have a good week.

shoreacres said...

I often have said that words can be glass or bricks. They can be made into windows through which we see the world and its wondrous sights, or they can be used to wall us off from one another and from the world.

Today, I see something new. Words-as-bricks also can offer protection. They can become a wall against the tsunami-like horrors flooding through our world. With them we can build ramparts and battlements, raising up places of safety and rest.

In the face of such terror, such sweeping changes, it is easy to become part of the roiling crowd, which is noisy but doesn't speak.
Writing is the way we affirm that individuals still have a voice, no matter what.

Ruth said...

Dan, yes. First, writing for me is having a conversation with myself. That seems like an important first step. Often, when I publish something here, the conversation that ensues causes me to shift my own thinking. Another step.

I completely agree that other artistic outlets are helpful in the healing and inspiration. Walking in nature, music, looking at art, painting, they help me a great deal too. And sometimes help comes from unexpected places. Those are often the most powerful. The key is to open as much as we can, which on some days, certainly, is much harder to do than on others.

I loved your post, even though it was filled with the hurt you feel in response to Japan's tragedy.

Ruth said...

Brendan, these are deep and painful examples from your life, and from Dante. As soon as we touch something, there is some attachment, and the reality that it will be lost, because everything is transient. To lose your brother too soon (I did too, but he was older than I) is one of the weights we hope not to bear. It's a beautiful thing that you were conscious enough to take up pen and paper and with them journey into your heart and soul for the solace we alone are responsible to provide ourselves.

I am terribly grateful for this gift of writing, because my brain doesn't hold thoughts long enough to get as far as I need to. :-)

Peter said...

I enjoy reading, that’s for sure, and I read quite a lot. But I don’t do what you could call real writing. Sometimes I wonder if I have a handicap language wise - so long abroad… I feel that I have ended up being able to make myself more or less understood in a couple of languages, but to really write it is something else. Maybe it’s just an excuse. The gift to write, really write is perhaps just missing.

… and I must admit that to transmit feelings, real feelings, I’m more attracted by music! I have actually noted that I often neglect the lyrics (there are exceptions where the lyrics are really important) and just retain the music part... and a lot of music has no need of lyrics. The moments in life, when I have really been crying, weeping, have almost always been related to music.

I’m regularly watching your Rilke site, but never commented. I admit that I rather would have commented the art you show there, van Gogh, Cézanne, Rodin, Claudel… , but I don’t know how to comment poetry.
I guess I have to do something about this handicap!

(Have you noted that Claudia is back blogging?)

Ruth said...

Cathy, what a kindness for you to say that. Thank you.

I am lucky to have Inge. And so many people I love, and comforts. To have a mind even, and a heart, and a way of seeing, friends to share with.

I have been touched by the grace I've seen in the coverage I have watched of the aftermath in Japan, the volunteering by Japanese store workers for instance, going back and handing out supplies.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Terresa. Even for us far from the suffering cold and hungry, the wounded in the world, we need a certain amount of boldness to face and even embrace the goings on. Whatever touches us is what we can write.

Imagine how much it would mean to us, if others in teh world turned to us this way if we came to a time of grief. We are one human organ.

Ruth said...

California Girl, Erin's thoughts were provocative, as they usually are, from her deep and loamy mind.

I think most of our existence is rather mundane, sprinkled with a few ecstasies and sorrows. It is a deep ache knowing there are people in the world who live with almost constant sorrow.

As we wrap our arms around Japan, New Zealand, Haiti, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Somalia, oh there is so much, and our loving energy goes to those places, and I hope it helps.

Ruth said...

Jayne, well I'm so glad!

Ruth said...

Boots, would you mind if I sit quietly with you?

Loring Wirbel said...

The task of artists in times of global calamity are to provide unique interpretations of passion and vision, as well as to provide detailed analysis of the "simply is." Prescriptions can step aside for a bit.

Dear Ruth, I'll have to chide you ever so gently about not being sucker-punched until mid-fall 2008. When the first Internet bubble burst in early 2001 followed shortly thereafter by 9/11, I could tell that the history of the next 20 years of the U.S. would be described in screwed-screweder-screwedest terms (one reason why I could not fathom why anyone like Obama or Clinton would want to be president, as little could change the calamitous downward trajectory). That's not pessimism, that's seeing events for what they are. So when sub-prime mortgages fell apart in 2007 and Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, it seemed perfectly obvious what would happen. As Willie Loman said in Death of a Salesman, "Attention must be paid!"

And that leads me to an important point - all artists (writers, musicians, visual artists), even if they hate science and math, should strive to be experts in global economic systems, energy systems, communication networks, environmental science, etc. The degree to which you do not grasp something is the degree to which you can be bamboozled.

Loring Wirbel said...

Oh, and for those who STILL don't get what happened in 2008, the movie that won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards, Inside Job, narrated by Matt Damon, is a fine place to start.

Pauline said...

That individual expression of one's own light, added to others so as to make multitudinous streams of light look like one - one of the most positive reasons for writing I've ever read. Thanks, Ruth!

Sandy said...

Robert Tiso is amazing, thanks for posting that.

Oliag said...

At one point in my childhood if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have said either a poet or an author...but I never had the talent or the patience to sit down and learn how to write well...I have kept my joy in reading though and loved reading this...Love the quotes...Love the Bach glass harp!

As usual you have said what I could never find words for!

Ruth said...

Dear George, I wish you could have been there too with Inge and me, talking about so many things. Truth is you were there, because what you share at Transit Notes gets infused in my consciousness, and I don't seem to be able to get through a conversation with Inge without invoking the name of "George." I don't even know quite how to explain it, this encouragement toward hopeful living we receive from one another. It's as important to me as walking, eating and sleeping. I would be hard put to live without it.

As fears about the nuclear power plants in Japan increase, and we watch from afar the torment and suffering, including that of the ones doing all they can to solve the problems, there will be an awful lot of anxiety flowing around the globe. I feel it's extremely important, though I don't have any data to back this up, to pour our energy into hopeful prayer, whatever that means to each of us. Writing, for me, is a form of prayer. It's paying attention. It's love.

Ruth said...

Hello, Linda! It's great to see you.

You beautifully describe the power of words. You are a word mason of the finest skill, and I have felt tremendous depth of emotion reading what you write. For you the writer, I can completely understand what you are saying here, that words can be windows, or they can be walls of fear, or they can be walls of protection.

I also see words as sort of permeable transportation. Like riding in a train, I can look at the countryside as I pass through experience. But it's more like the Incredible Voyage, remember that? The science fiction story when the scientists shrank and went on a journey inside a human body to repair something or other. Writing is a way of exploring and conversing with myself, and at times of crisis, finding a way through fear to ward off annihilation.

In the past week I have envisioned Nelson Mandela many times, and other political prisoners, who have taken up their pens, or their books to read, who have found hope beyond anything possible, just from what words could do within them.

What is language? It's the word of god within.

Ruth said...

Dear Peter, oh yes! I have heard that music imparts emotion as no other entity can. The power of a melody, or the "voice" of a saxophone or drum, the beat, or the blend of instruments. All of it, in a piece, that makes us teeter on ecstasy, can be tremendously healing and filling. Sometimes I close myself off, when I am stressed and feel that I can't bear any sound, and I force myself to put something on the CD player. I can feel the block melt and open. The same for going for a walk. When I am under the sky, I feel my mind and heart open. I think it's the remaining open, releasing fear, anger, anxiety, sorrow, that is the important thing.

I really love knowing that you are with us at the Rilke blog. Believe me, sometimes it takes a whole day for me to comprehend what Rilke is saying, and often I need the help of other commenters to start to absorb it. But I am so glad you enjoy the art pairings, which I also enjoy very much. There are so very many pieces out there that I have never seen, and having them accessible on the Internet is fantastic!

One of the things I love about your Paris blog is that while you explore the history and culture of the sites you share, you share your photographs and also pieces of art. The combination is brilliant, please don't ever stop. I am pretty sure you could not run out of things to cover in that city.

Yes, I have seen Claudia is back!

Ruth said...

Dear Loring, I receive your gentle chiding with an open heart and mind! :-) I have never paid as close attention as I should, finding it all exhausting and depressing. Writing here, and reading friends like you (well, especially you, and rauf) has been a mind opening journey, thank god. What I really love about you is that while your steel-trap mind cuts to the core of all this garbage that pretends to be some sort of scaffolding to take care of us, you also maintain a positive sense of hope. Oh I know you just about lose it sometimes. But we keep repairing one another, don't we? It's that pairing you're talking about, following closely to understand world events and systems, and letting our souls do their work to hash through it and transform it. Being the "bees of the invisible" as Rilke puts it.

Thanks for the rec for "Inside Job." For a mind like mine that doesn't easily comprehend economic systems, science, math, and that sort of thing, films can really make things click.

Keep us informed and focused, Loring. And keep hashing it out with poetry and music and all the beautiful ways you meet the world. I love you, man.

Ruth said...

Pauline, we have to keep writing, keep the light pouring! There is also a lot of ugly stuff in words out there. I protect everyone's right to speak, but I'll keep writing to shine light in my little corner.

Thank you.

Ruth said...

Sandy, I'm glad you enjoyed him! A friend shared the video recently, and Tiso astonishes. Imagine how long it takes him to "tune" his instrument!

Ruth said...

Dear Oliag, I understand what you're saying. I feel that way about painting. I took art all through school. If I had applied myself more, maybe I could have gotten better. But now I value what art does for me. It touches me that you feel that my voice somehow speaks for you too. Our individual expressions are so important!

And that brings me to your photographs. I feel this way about them. What you are doing with that "eye" of yours is truly unique and glorious. Thank you for it, and please keep on.

The Bug said...

That glass harp video is amazing! And beautiful - I love it!

I just today was finally able to write a bit about Japan. I wasn't sure I'd be able to - it's just so HUGE. But I focused on a small image & made it through.

Susan said...

I wish I could call myself a writer, but I'm not that. I dabble in writing, just as a I do in most everything. I think I must have ADD, because I don't stay focused on any one thing for long.

You are most definitely a writer.

My usual response to catastrophe is to pull away. It is too mind-boggling, and I feel so ineffective and unable to help and I just can't watch the heartbreaking anguish. I can send my dollars to the Red Cross, but it's such a minuscule drop in the bucket that it gives me no satisfaction. But I will do it, because it's the only thing I can do.

The fugue is amazing. How does a person figure out how to do that so perfectly?

Stratoz said...

The disaster in Japan took me back to the emotions felt as a 15 year old. Now I am talking to my students about two islands, Japan and Three Mile Island. Telling our stories is so important.

Jane Lancaster said...

Just read this...I"m a bit behind.. it tugged at my heartstrings Ruth...I love the thought of you and Inge on a writing retreat you'll never forget where you were when IT happened in Japan I bet. Oh God I wish I'd had a teacher like you!!! I had one called Olive Chiveralls (great name eh?) but she left after a year. I'm reading Stephen King On Writing...this fits right in..

Montag said...

I have to agree with Bradbury; to create by writing is an intoxication we share with God at the moment of Creation.
It banishes death.

J.G. said...

Writing encourages us to sort and analyze and connect with reality--what a marvellous tool.

I'm reminded by your quotes of what Garrison Keillor says, only half joking, something like "Nothing bad can ever happen to a writer, because every experience is material."