I am a linguist who loves literature and who is fascinated by science. I quantify randomness. I paint. I travel in a power wheelchair, hoping to capture the ordinary.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

At home with the cats

Numbus II, 2012. Cloud in room. More here.
The rain is falling heavily today, with thunder and a dark heat that reminds me of other homes: Oregon in the fall, Puebla in late summer afternoons. It is exhilarating when the sky cracks open.

Rainbow against warm-gray sky; Eugene, Oregon.
© Greg Vaughn

At least, stuck in my house like this, I will not make my cats angry over abandonment.

This poem captures it so well, the sorrow of the feline (warning: this is sad; also, enlarge it if you can, to see the words):

And now to cheer you, a cat poem, found here:

The cat's song
By Marge Piercy

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother's forgotten breasts.

Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I'll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.

You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?

Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.

Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word

of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.

Marge Piercy, “The cat's song” from Mars & Her Children (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992). First appeared in Matrix 28 (Spring 1989). Copyright © 1989, 1992 by Marge Piercy and Middlemarsh, Inc. Used by permission of the Wallace Literary Agency, Inc.

Source: Mars & Her Children (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Venus and Ray

Francesco Clemente, Son (1983), oil on linen
I am a day or so late on all of this, but I wanted to pay homage to the great Ray Bradbury, who passed away the day of the transit of Venus, June 5, 2012. Bradbury was the first writer who took me to other possibilities. I remember in particular the yellow, wet, miserable world of Venus he imagined for us in "The Long Rain," interesting to read as a child in the interminable downpour of Oregon.

Goodbye to this wonderful imaginer of worlds whose reach into our lives, our children's lives, our grandchildren's lives, is exponential. His website recounts a story of his decision to reach for a kind of immortality:

Coraline and her cat
"Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, Live forever! Bradbury later said, I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped."

He inspired, for example, Neil Gaiman, who brought us Coraline, among others. Here is a short story he wrote, called "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury."

On this day unlike any other in our lifetimes, as Venus shows herself to the world, Bradbury's worlds endure.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Relating, refraction, and relationship

Ernst Haeckel. 1904. Kunstformen
der Natur, plate 51: Polycyttaria. 
Though my much-younger self would never had admitted to really loving anything having to do with math (though recently I have been accused of being "obsessed with numbers"), I have always loved fractals. I love them because they're pretty, sure. But I love them, honestly, for something else: they are heterogeneous and deeply connected. This is the kind of world I believe in.

In animal form, we see it clearly enough. A while back, the lovely blog subblue demonstrated the easy connection between biological forms, like this one from Heackel's early 20th-century depiction of art forms in nature, and mathematically enhanced images of biology, below.

Source: Artforms of nature
Not such a far cry from the mathematical:

So, what's so interesting? To me, refraction. The unity of what is not the same but is connected. It is like taking a step back from the universe, as if we could look from the outside. 

A tall steel cross is refracted in raindrops on a window in Joplin, Missouri, on May 7, 2012. The cross is all that was left standing of St. Mary's Catholic Church, which was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado that tore through a large swath of the city and killed 161 people nearly a year ago. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (In Focus)
To simplify the idea, water drops offer another example. Does each cross, each flower know that it is not alone? Looking in, we certainly know.

Macroreflection by Harald Naper
How can we, in our separate notions of identity, see the refractions that surround us?

What do we see when we look into a friend's eyes? An other, a separate being? Yes, of course. And yet, we know this is not the whole story. This relation, this refraction of something else is there, and we relate. And if we allow ourselves to feel the density of connection, in space, in time, in the mere fact of living and the miracle of loving, in looking beyond our own small drop of water, there is healing in that.

Healers are those who can connect with others. Those who see themselves clearly enough to forgive themselves, and in this, judgment falls away. This is outlandishly idealistic, such clarity, such connection. But we have dreamt of it. And I would like to think that anything we can dream of in such a way must be at least to some extent represented by the truth of human experience. I turn to Zhaan of Farscape: anecdotal evidence that conscious connection can heal.

The possibility--indeed, necessity--of connectedness and relationship make sense from a scientific viewpoint as well. In his blog Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer interviews the author of the book The Self Illusion, Bruce Hood. On the notion of self, Hood explains:

"...for most of us, we consider our self as some essential core of who we are. Most of us feel our self is at the center of our existence responding to everything around us – that notion of an integrated entity is what I am challenging, not the experience of self. Must of us, including myself have that experience but that does not make it real. For example, most us think that we see the world continuously throughout the waking day when in fact we only see a fraction of the world in front of us, and because the brain blanks out our visual experience every time we move our eyes in a process called saccadic suppression, we are effectively blind for at least 2 hrs of the day. This is why you cannot see your own eyes moving when you look in a mirror! So conscious experience is not a guarantee of what's really true."

Indeed, we form this experience of life in and through relationship:

"In the book, I argue that because we have evolved as social animals, those around us construct a large part of our mental life that we experience as our self. We can see the influence of others but often fail to recognize how we too are shaped. I am not denying the role of genes and temperaments that we inherit from our biology. After all, children raised in the same environment can end up very different but even these intrinsic properties of who we are play out in a social world which defines us. If you think about it, many of the ways we describe each other, such as helpful, kind, generous, mean, rude or selfish can only make sense in the context of others. So those around us largely define who we are. I hope this book will remind us of this obvious point that we so easily forget."

So today, I am thankful for our connections.