Day 124 10/27/13: Lou Reed & Grief’s Transformative Magic

Magic and Loss

Magic and Loss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I heard about Joe Strummer’s death, I was climbing a mountain road in Vermont during a light snowstorm a few days before Christmas. That far north,  most radio stations broadcast in French. Rolling through the static, I finally heard words in English telling me that Joe Strummer had died. Today, I heard about Lou Reed driving through a cloudless late morning in Los Angeles.

The Velvet Underground will always be very important to me, but in my twenties they were a revelation. I had a big crush on Lou Reed for a long time. I went to see him at the Greek theatre on the eve of the Los Angeles riots. I saw him another time on the tour for the New York album. I passed on a free ticket to see him once in 2000 or so cause I had tickets to Elliot Smith. Since Elliot Smith killed himself a couple years later, I’m glad I saw him at least once.

I loved every Velvet Underground record. My favorite Lou Reed album was “The Blue Mask.” I really dug the crazy, beyond Oedipal madness of the title song. But one of his records that really got me through tough times was 1992’s “Magic and Loss.” Had there ever been a “grief rock” album before? Surely John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band explored many forms of grief in harrowing songs like “Mother,” but I had never heard such a purposeful, focused two-sided exploration before. My brother had died in 1990, and sorting through the guilt and sorrow I felt took a long time. “Magic and Loss” wasn’t always easy listening, and I remember my boyfriend at the time finding descriptions of hospital beds less than conducive to romance.

I feel gratitude to all the artists that helped me through. Too many to name. John Lennon’s death would take a book to tell. I learned of George Harrison’s death in the bleary light of November mountains.   And Lou is a big one.

Sometimes I move through the litany of loss–family, friends, beloved animals, the great artists who are our teachers, and then I hit the larger losses. The extinctions.  “What do we do with information like: The world’s major fisheries will collapse by 2048?” I asked my class. When someone dies we are jolted. It’s always sudden no matter how long the illness, or “battle.” But when we live inside an accelerated period of extinction, it can remain invisible to most of us.  Yet both losses are “personal.”

But which losses push us  to a sharper, more urgent appreciation of living and which ones make us fold? Is this our choice to make?

I like Lou Reed’s philosophy–that grief is transformative–a kind of Purgatorial fire that purifies but doesn’t destroy:

When the past makes you laugh and you can savor the magic
That let you survive your own war
You find that that fire is passion
And there’s a door up ahead not a wall

As you pass through fire as you pass through fire
Tryin’ to remember it’s name
When you pass through fire lickin’ at your lips
You cannot remain the sameLou+Reed

And if the building’s burning move towards that door
But don’t put the flames out
There’s a bit of magic in everything
And then some loss to even things out

Read more: Lou Reed – Magic And Loss Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Day 118 10/21/13: Sea Fragments

School passed in a blur of dangling modifiers, wordy and mixed constructions and about twenty-four recitations of sea poems by Frost, Baudelaire, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and that time-traveling favorite “Anonymous.” One student recited a poem I had memorized and recited in 1979, John Masefield’s “Sea Fever.” It is amazing to me that I remember even a fragment of a stanza of “Sea Fever,” since I can’t remember what I had for lunch–but certain phrases whip and twist around my head like ghost nets. Simple juxtapositions–“the lonely sea and the sky,” and the hurried feeling (then & now) of “a gray mist on the sea’s face and a gray dawn breaking.”

I could tell which students connected to the specifics (the curve of a shell) or believed, as Marianne Moore believed that the sea is “a grave.”

The language of effective conservation has to include poetry, science and humor. It has to become a lasting and permanent force inside us, not something we dutifully digest and regurgitate in slogans–although I spotted the words MORE BIRTH LESS EARTH spray painted on the side of rusted bridge over the 101 Freeway, about 20 years ago. It’s stuck with me as stubbornly as any poetic fragment.

P.S. I hope it’s true that demand for shark fin has declined 50-70% in China.

John Masefield, Hampstead, January 1st, 1913.

John Masefield, Hampstead, January 1st, 1913. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day 111 10/14/13: Not So Mindless: Inside the White Shark Brain

Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) off...

Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) off South Africa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wanted to call this entry “God don’t make Junque” but I felt the reference might be too obscure. Still, I feel compelled to tell you that the late 1970s often return to me in a blur of tote bag inscriptions: Le Bag. Le Junk. Le Junque. (This was also the era of Le Car). Sometimes I crave the simple, homely popular humor of that era, but mostly I remember how stupid it all was.

(Strenuous transition to shark-related subjects)

The white shark, however, is not stupid.

After watching the great white dissection movie, I wanted to know more about the shark brain and found this fascinating article on white shark intelligence.


P.S. This isn’t related, but it is FABULOUS…..

Day 98 10/1/13: 10,000 Walrus

One of the many dire inevitabilities of the climate crisis, so the Walrus Refugeesexperts tell us, will be an increase in refugees–probably from the world’s poorest countries—which will be hardest hit by rising seas and soaring temperatures caused by the world’s most developed and prosperous nations.

But the refugee situation is already well underway. Consider the thousands of walrus that have come ashore in Alaska, no longer able to use the summer sea ice as a place to give birth or as a diving platform to hunt for food.

I feel guilty, ineffectual and ashamed to be human. But I am human. It’s inescapable.

So I try to justify my existence. I go round and round in circles. I show these pictures to students:

Look, look! (the urgency of the first grade primer)

Don’t be paralyzed, I say (although I feel paralyzed.)

Don’t give in to despair (even though I often give in to despair)

You can do something ( I believe this)

It’s not too late (part of me fears that it is)

The whole lecture is really some inner pep talk. As I warn them about graphic images, I can barely contain my own dread, even at the most familiar documentaries and exposes. As I rally students to change the world, I tell myself: At least don’t shut your eyes.  At the very least, keep going.

Day 86 9/19/13: Meditations on a Gaping Maw

I’ve been meditating for a little over a year now. I try to do it twice a day, although I admit sometimes I miss a session or two. But my meditations aren’t limited to those periods that I sit for twenty minutes with my eyes closed. Lately, I’ve been concentrating my attention on this image of a great white. I’ve posted it before. I don’t know what exactly sets it apart from countless other terrifying images of white sharks with tooth-ringed-death-tunnel-cavern-mouths, but in this particular photo, the shark not looks as if it has ambushed its prey (the viewer?) but is itself, startled, surprised.

In my anthropomorphic projection, I read a sense of wonder in the black eyes and open mouth.

As I study this picture,  I remember something from the meditation lecture I went to a month or so ago in which Thom Knoles paraphrased the words of Guru Dev:

Transcend where you are

Go Beyond the field of thinking

Master non-thinking

Then Transcend that

After that my lecture notes are garbled, excited. Words like “simultaneous,” “integrate,” and  “alternate” fill the margins.

When I go beyond thought (thoughts largely involving “terror” and “death”), what is there besides the creature itself?  If I go beyond thought, am I then allowed to take in the silence of the shark, its essence, which feels a little like cold sea water seeping in under my skin?

Yesterday, I had students respond to E. O. Wilson’s famous line, “In a deeply tribal sense we love our monsters.” Why do we love them? I asked the class, scrawling their ideas on the board. “Because they are free,” someone shouted. “We want their freedom.”

Maybe this solitary project should become a group meditation.