Through a Glass, Darkly

In her utopian fantasy The Blazing World, Margaret Cavendish conjures up a convocation of bird-men. Cavendish’s lady protagonist, by now Empress, asks of these myopic bird-men that they share with her what they know of sun and moon, and of stars and air. That they do, in very learned and philosophical ways: though oftentimes in error. The Empress grows irate with the bird-men for their reliance on telescopes and other “optic lenses,” saying “now I do plainly perceive, that your glasses are false informers, and instead of discovering the truth, delude your senses; wherefrom I command you to break them, and let the bird-men trust only to their natural eyes, and examine celestial objects by the motions of their own sense and reason” (141). Cavendish herself, unfortunately, would go on to be savaged by her critics, much as the bird-men are here savaged by the Empress. Male contemporaries like Samuel Pepys ridiculed her for refusing to speak during her appearance before a gathering of the men of Britain’s Royal Society in May of 1667, six months after The Blazing World’s first appearance in print. Yet surely these critics are mistaken, one realizes now, reading the above-quoted passage again in retrospect. Cavendish didn’t refuse to reply; she replied in advance.

Thursday July 23, 2020

Either I’m noting and observing happenings and surroundings, exercising awareness, asking questions, entertaining thoughts — or what? Gardening, cooking, napping, hugging my daughter, texting with friends, reading, traveling, collaborating and conversing with others. The work of each day is to write and do all of the above. According to Black Herman, though, or the Black Herman who appears in Ishmael Reed’s novel Mumbo Jumbo, “Doing The Work is not like taking inventory” (130). To PaPa LaBas, he says, “You ought to relax. […]. Improvise some. Open up, PaPa. Stretch on out with It” (130). Perhaps I should heed his advice.

Wednesday May 22, 2019

Outside our office windows — outside, inside, everywhere: a world of vibrant matter, leaves and branches rippling with waves of energy. And in the air, in transit, birds whistling, gestures of benevolence. A tiny person opens a gate and invites us to continue on our way. A short hike along a mountain trail and suddenly we’re feeling it: eased, relaxed, quiet, meditative. Awareness is different from its objects — different from both its thoughts and its senses. Those are transmissions, messages received and refashioned. Awareness can focus into a pair of hands as they wash dishes. It can focus on a sunlit fairy garden footpath. Passages which seem either obscure or obvious are often illuminated when observed with care. It is this observing with care that matters in determining the quality of each moment. Like a Rapunzel, the world lets down its hair, allowing us to ascend. When the world acts this way and speaks its mind, says what it wants, let us heed it.

Thursday March 14, 2019

A woman with gray hair and glasses rounds the corner of the neighborhood park and waves her fingers at a man and son blowing bubbles near the playground. Pickups and CR-Vs drive past. A helicopter descends toward a hospital. Grass stems quiver, birds chirp. Is my view of the world large enough to encompass the deeds I will do as well as their significance? How can one know in advance, unless communications could be sent and received between two or more minds in anticipation of events themselves? It’s as simple as a building blinking on in recognition of the approach of evening. Spring is here, daffodils aplenty. To my future self, I submit a note, a reminder in anticipation of summer: London is currently home to an exciting, droney, psychedelic jazz scene anchored around figures and groups like Szun Waves, Luke Abbott, James Holden, PVT, Triosk, Sons of Kemet, Theon Cross, and Shabaka Hutchings.