Saturday, June 30, 2007

Good things

In the tradition of a recurring feature at Parts-n-Pieces, I offer a list of recent good things.

1. S. and K., two former grad students from SIU, visited me yesterday and today. I hadn't seen either of them since leaving Carbondale, and so it was awfully nice to spend a day or so with them.

2. We walked down 9th St. this morning, stopping in at all the cool stores along the way.

3. All three of us bought these wonderful little sun-catchers, composed of pieces of old lace encased in glass. They're made by a woman in Kansas City. Local art.

4. I bought a pair of "Moroccan pants" for my new great nephew. I'll see him for the first time this week.

5. I got some good publication news yesterday.

6. Tonight, C. and I are driving to Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis to hear jazz bassist Ben Allison, whose 2002 release Peace Pipe is one of my recent favorites.

7. I'm going to make French toast in the morning for R. and Z. (Well, and C., too.)

8. Also today, while out with K. and S., I bought some bamboo flip flops. I've admired my yoga teacher's bamboo flip flops for awhile. Now I have some of my own. So does K.

9. I'm going to a Bead for Life party this afternoon.

10. I had cinnamon ice cream last night at Sparky's. But it was hard not to choose the lavender honey instead.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pranamaya kosha

At alleyCat Yoga, Columbia's downtown yoga studio, a prospective yogi/ni must purchase a pass that includes a certain number of credits that must be used up by a certain expiration date (depending on the pass you choose). I typically get the 8 classes/8 week pass. And I typically go to yoga class on Saturday mornings.

But over the past six weeks or so, I've been out of town or otherwise unavailable for yoga at least three of those Saturdays. And my pass expires next Friday. And I'm going to be out of town most of next week.

So last week some time it occurred to me that I had to start using up that pass. I've thus been to yoga four out of the past five days. And, let me tell you, friends: if you think going to yoga one day out of the week is good, yoga just about everyday is transcendent.

You heard me. Transcendent.

The most transcendent moment of all came toward the end of yesterday's yoga class. We practiced ujjayi pranayama--"victorious" or "ocean sounding" breath. Sienna, yogini extraordinaire, calls it the Darth Vader breath. For five minutes, we all sat still, breathing loudly. After five minutes, Sienna asked us to sit, to notice how effortless sitting upright now felt. That, she said, is pranamaya kosha, the energy body.

And it was true.

And transcendent.

(Just a little caveat to those who might try this at home: I tried it at home this morning, and while I felt a bit of that good pranayama kosha energy, it was less intense than yesterday. I chalk that up to not doing an hour of pretty active yoga asana practice beforehand.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Visual rhetoric in the old west

Last Tuesday was C's birthday, and, at his request, we spent part of the afternoon visiting the George Caleb Bingham exhibit at the Museum of Art and Archaelogy on campus. Bingham was a nineteenth-century Missouri artist (and, for the last couple of years of his life, the University of Missouri's first professor of art), and C. studies the nineteenth century (including literature of the "old southwest," which included Missouri), so it was a natural fit.

The exhibit was small, but C. was particularly interested in a piece called "Martial Law, or Order No. 11."

The Missouri (slave state)-Kansas (free state) border was a major site of battles during the Civil War. Missouri also harbored a number of guerrila groups (think Jesse James), and, after a massacre at Lawrence, Kansas, the Union suspected that rural Missouri towns along the border were harboring these groups. These towns were ordered to be evacuated, and that was Order No. 11.

Although he was a Unionist, Bingham vehemently opposed this order and the havoc in wreaked on people's lives. This painting, then, was meant to protest the order. He sent it to have it copied onto a steel plate and reproduced. Unfortunately for his purposes, the copiest took a couple of years to finish the job, at which point the exigency for the protest had passed.

I was intrigued, however, by this idea, something I hadn't really thought about before: the use of reproductions of paintings as distributed rhetoric. I wonder (in a light, curious sort of way) how prevalent that was. I think of "art" as maybe epideictic rhetoric (think: monuments), but I hadn't really thought of its use as part of a deliberative process or a distributed network.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Who's afraid?

I've been reading Virginia Woolf lately. I have to admit to not having a very good background in Virginia Woolf, and I also feel somewhat strange and guilty about that since I sometimes teach classes in women's lit, and Virginia Woolf seems to often come up in discussions of women's lit (because, well, she wrote A Room of One's Own, didn't she?). I mostly teach American women's lit rather than British, but, still, there's the guilt.

Not only the guilt, but I've always thought I should enjoy Woolf's writing. The problem is that for years I've done most of my fiction reading right before going to bed. Often, I'm sleepy at this time. Often, I need a really clear and overt narrative to hold on to. In my experience, reading Virginia Woolf isn't mostly about getting the plot. (I suppose one might say that about a lot of fiction, huh?) So I would read, and I would get frustrated. Or I would read, and I would have trouble retaining. All very unpleasant.

So when,shortly before boarding the airport shuttle, I happened upon this nice little bookstore in Pittsburgh earlier this month and found a copy of Mrs. Dalloway there, I thought, This is it! This is my chance to really read Virginia Woolf! I have a couple of hours to kill at the airport (little did I know, it would be more than a couple!), and that will give me the perfect chance to really get into the experience of Woolf's writing.

So it worked, and now I want to continue reading more Woolf. I'm finding that as long as I sit upright while reading at night, I can retain and enjoy the experience.

What can I say. I'm a slow learner.

Still and all, I think Virginia Woolf is maybe better at--ahem--"this time of my life." Not that I'm the same age as Clarissa Dalloway or Mrs. Ramsey, but I think maybe I'm picking up the feel of the books better than I did when I first encountered Woolf at 22 or so.

And that--yes, that--is all.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Eagle Bluffs

C. and I took a little car trip to Eagle Bluffs earlier today. It was indeed a little trip, since Eagle Bluffs is in Boone County, which is the county Columbia is in. But we had heard it's a good birding area, and since we like birds (but aren't devoted enough to call ourselves birders), we wanted to check it out.

Sadly, we took neither binoculars nor camera (like I said, not devoted enough--also out of practice). So I can't show you the wetlands, the herons, the egrets. But there's a nice gallery of photos taken at Eagle Bluffs here, so you can get an idea of what we saw. Without binoculars, though, we didn't get any up close views of eagles. We did see what we think were eagles coasting high above us. We did see, close-up, an indigo bunting, which was stunning--an almost luminous blue.

Back in the day, C. and I spent a lot of time taking walks, looking at plants, trees, birds. It was easy to do when we lived in Bloomington, what with woods right on campus and all. I remember one evening walking onto campus at dusk and seeing a whole set of small owls in a tree. They turned their heads, looking at us. We kept going back, around dusk, hoping to see them again. We never did.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The posthuman: science and suttas

From "The Mystery of Consciousness" by Steven Pinker, in the January 19, 2007 issue of Time:

ANOTHER STARTLING CONCLUSION FROM the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there's an executive "I" that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along.

And from The Great Causes Discourse (Digha Nikaya 15 of the Sutta Pitaka, one of the three "baskets" of the Pali Canon):
Now, Ananda, in as far as a monk does not assume feeling to be the self, nor the self as oblivious, nor that 'My self feels, in that my self is subject to feeling,' then, not assuming in this way, he is not sustained by anything (does not cling to anything) in the world. Unsustained, he is not agitated. Unagitated, he is totally unbound right within. He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done.'

Friday, June 22, 2007

Back to blogging practice

It's never inspiring, for the writer or reader, to encounter a blog entry that apologizes, or rationalizes, or otherwise makes reference to the dearth of blogging.

And yet, my readers, here is such a beginning.

I'm writing today to renew my dedication to the practice of blogging. Blogging as practice.

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and a number of other Zen-inspired books on writing, talks about "writing practice," about making writing a daily practice in the way that meditation is a daily practice. You do it because you do it.

Says Goldberg in a Sun Magazine interview:

But interest in Bones crossed every cultural line. Vice-presidents of insurance companies in Florida bought it, and so did quarry workers in Missouri. It was as though people were starving to write, but they didn’t know how, because the way writing was taught didn’t work for them. I think the idea of writing as a practice freed them up. It meant that they could trust their minds, that they were allowed to fail.

I love the reference to quarry workers in my current home state of Missouri. My father worked in a quarry most of my life. He never finished high school, but he was a manager of a quarry before he retired. I can't exactly imagine my father doing writing practice, but now that I think of it, he is an awfully good example of the kind of steady patience that practice cultivates.

The less one blogs, the more one feels obligated to say something "deep." (Not that I'm trying that now.) It's important just to practice. To allow oneself to fail. And not to fail.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Here and there kind of summer

Derek's entry today reminds me that I, too, have had a lot of small things going on this summer. C&W in Detroit last month, a visit to Pittsburgh this month, a retreat starting this evening and lasting until Sunday. A visit from my good buddy I. and her husband last night. Need to fit in a visit to the family in Texas--got to meet that new great (or is it grand) nephew

before second summer session starts in July. And then, yeah, teaching a class (Intro to Women's Lit, like last summer). And in August, believe it or not, my in-laws, like Derek's, will also be celebrating their 50th anniversary. So we'll be heading up to northern Illinois for that.

Lots going on. Not to mention a book and a couple of articles to write.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Favoring curry

I'm back from Pittsburgh and happy to report that, as advised by Debbie and Mike, I had a delicious meal at the Spice Island Tea House. Wonderful little samosas as an appetizer, spicy Vegetarian Curry Trio for my entree. And, Mike--they seem to have a liquor license now! Because there was wine for our table.

And, since I'm speaking of meals, I'll mention that I also enjoyed a wonderful tofu curry at Soba, in Shadyside. Also some amazing blue cheese ravioli for an appetizer. It was a curry kind of trip for me.

I walked around the Pitt campus a good bit, looked around in the Cathedral of Learning, and found a nice used bookstore close to Carnegie Mellon. But that's about it for siteseeing--though I hoped to make it to the museums, I didn't.

But the people! K was an absolutely splendid host (as was J), B a wonderful new doctor of composition, and the other K a fabulous person who I was delighted to meet and talk with. And I got to talk to even more cool people, too.

Lots of spice to this trip. It was a good one. Many, many thanks to K for making it possible.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Tomorrow I continue my tour (begun last month with a visit to Detroit) of cities made great by industry. This month it's Pittsburgh.

I've never been there before. So if anyone would like to suggest things to do or see (ideally, in the vicinity of the Oakland neighborhood), I'm all ears.

Monday, June 04, 2007

To dream, perchance to blog

Last night, I dreamed it snowed.

I was walking down the street, my feet sinking into the snow.

It's June! I thought to myself in my dream. It snowed in June! I can't believe it!

And then I thought, still dreaming: I'm going to blog about this.