Oud

Photo Credit Candice Fee and Stephen Fee.

Oud is one of the most expensive, beautiful perfume ingredients in the world. It has been used in religious rituals for anointing since recorded history.  

Oud comes from a resin extracted from the heartwood of an Aquilaria tree. These trees grow mainly  in India, China, Malaysia, Cambodia. The transcendent, long-lasting scent is prized and well-known as perfume in east.

Aquilaria wood and sap are normally light in color, and oud is only formed in trunk and roots of trees that have been penetrated, often by an insect called the  Ambrosia beetle. This often results in an infection by a certain type of mold.

A life-long infection may occur, and in response, the tree produces a salutary self defense material to conceal damages or  infection.  The production of this oleo-resin, which acts as a chemical barrier to attacks by fungi, insects, and so forth, is apparently a tree’s  response to injury if its primary defence mechanism  is inhibited.  The resin dramatically increases the mass and density of the affected wood, changing its color gradually from pale beige to yellow, orange, red, dark brown, or black.

High-quality Oud oil can be distilled from agarwood only after the tree has been defending itself from infection for two, three, or even four decades.

Il faut souffrir pour être belle.  One must suffer to be beautiful.20133710_10155607410377754_1000217959_o

Meeting Philip Glass

chuck close phillip glassMeeting Philip Glass

(painting by Chuck Close)

This summer I was unexpectedly able to apprehend Phillip Glass on his way from the St. Louis opera house to the reception, I rudely stopped him for a moment and grabbed Phillip Glass’s hand. He is eighty now, a little frail but still traveling. His entourage saw that I had neither camera nor sharpie, so they paused curiously and allowed me my three seconds.

My carefully rehearsed spiel failed, and I managed to blather mainly “thank you for your work” and breathless gibbered something philosophical about how his circular forms could convey both enlightenment in Satyagraha and entrapment in the Trial. Amid the crowd and the noise he gave me that moment. He grasped my hand, and said kindly, “isn’t it the other way around?” and then he was whisked away.

At first I felt sad and confused that my seemingly insightful comment had been thus discarded. But I kept thinking about it. The look on his face said “you’re getting there; keep on seeking truth; never sit down and think you have it all figured out. Don’t take your own insights so seriously.”

The Trial is about being trapped in meaningless, ridiculous authoritarian prescriptivism. It is also about being trapped in self and bound by shame. I read Kafka’s Metamorphosis in college and struggled with it. So he turns into a bug, and gets an apple stuck in his back, and basically dies of his own disgustingness? WHAT?

Glass’s musical embellishment of Kafka’s ruminative circles of entrapment obsessive self-doubt helped me see that the Trial and the Metamorphosis both illustrate toxic self-shaming.

I think that shame is pandemic in western culture, and it causes a lot of people to either project their feelings onto others, causing contempt and bullying, or to direct their shame inward, causing depression, anxiety, addiction, and lack of autonomy.

But the other piece of it, the part I didn’t get until I after held his hand, was the role that the absurdity can play in helping you escape the wheel. Shocked by absurdity, you realize that you are taking yourself too seriously. Smush that ego already. Don’t ruminate about how great you are OR about how bad you are, and go about your life’s work.

I felt some of his wisdom, his kindness, pass to me, with the injunction that I pass it on and not hoard it. Thank you, Phillip Glass.

https://www.metopera.org/metupload/Satyagraha_libretto.pdf

http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/culture-club/opera-theatre-prepares-a-neutron-bomb-of-an-opera-philip/article_dcb87c74-01d2-523b-9903-94018da34e58.html

 

My Brother Russ

19886013_10154851038608174_425570203_oToday is my brother’s birthday, and I am 616 miles away from him. I wanted to share some of my fondest memories of us growing up. We were a non-yelling, quiet family, so no one really talked unless it was necessary. I was an odd little girl who had trouble playing normal-kid games; I was alone a lot, because my parents and much-older brothers had work to do. I preferred finding blueberries, climbing trees, and making up stories about the fringe of woods at the edge of our four acres. (I dared not go deep into the woods).

We moved from our large-yarded house around 1987, into a “nicer” suburban house with a postage stamp yard. It was closer to the bait shop that my father had bought using pennies saved from 25 years of working at Kroger and doing taxidermy on the side. The house had two upstairs bedrooms connected with a crawl-space,which was SO COOL, and I looked forward to being connected to my brother’s room. But Russ never really lived in that room, because he was grown and gone by then.

I just wanted to tell you, Russ, thank you for listening to me and valuing my opinion, even though I was so much younger than you. I love you.

September 1979

My little birdies cheep so soft that no one else can hear them. They live in a box under my dresser, and when I get them out sometimes there are four but today there are five. I am holding them so carefully so nothing can hurt them while I am checking on them. Rusty comes in and sees me sitting on the carpet by my dresser so he knows what I am doing and he grabs my hands and claps them together hard and says “ you smooshed them!” But I said “Those are the ROBOT birdies you squooshed, not the real ones!” and we laugh.

May 1980

I was bouncing on Darren’s bed because it is cooler down there in his room and he isn’t home much since he got old enough to drive. But then he comes in and yells at me! But he isn’t really mad I don’t think and then Russ comes in and I scream “SHARK!” I am so excited because it WORKS ! Keith gets on the boat with me and rows the boat and PROTECTS me while Rusty swims on the carpet and makes “JAWS” sounds and I scream and I am so happy because I am scared but it is the all-fake kind of scared. Rusty don’t wanna be the shark but somebody’s gotta be him.

June 1980

I picked blueberries for mama to put in the pancakes. I only ate three. The small bushes down by the playhouse had a handful of ripe ones and a bunch of purply ones. They are beautiful and tiny. You have to check them every day so the birds don’t get them. The one behind the prickly cedar had only a few ripe ones, but my favorite big bush up by the road had a bunch. I like the woods so much better than helping mama in the garden, even if she lets me play with the hosepipe. The okra and tomato plants itch me and the sun cooks me redder than dirt. The blueberry bushes like the shade and so do I.

August 1981

Daddy took me fishing today. I was good at keeping quiet so the the fish wouldn’t hear us. I poked the hook through the worm’s guts all by myself. We ate Vienna Sausages out of the can and saltine crackers and drank Grapico. We fished all day and I never wanted to leave. I caught a golden perch and I was sad about how little it was but daddy told me how rare golden perches are. When we were speeding back I stuck my hand out of the boat and the water felt like a sharp edge. The wind was so fast it pulled my eyelids back and the water felt like hail and I had to curl up and put my head on daddy’s knee and I was safe then.

June 1982

My brother can make anything. I got to stand in his room and watch Russ finish the tiny skeleton model, surrounded by little square bottles of shiny paint. He used that one-haired brush to paint eyes on the green snake coming out of that skeleton’s eye socket. I know I get to stay longer if I don’t say anything so I just smelled the paint and glue and listened to his Thomas Dolby tape and I love Europa and the Pirate Twins and I was so happy I felt like crying.The song is sad though and Thomas Dolby keeps saying “we’ll be the Pirate Twins again” over and over but they never are and the song ends that way.

August 1982

I want a cat. Most of the books I make are about cats. I found an old one where I drew the cat marrying a DOG. Can you imagine?? In the next one the girlcat marries boycat and has a bunch of kittens. Last week I went to my friend’s house and laid down on the ground next to the kittens drinking from their mama, and she looked bored but patient and kind of sleepy, even when they pricked her soft parts with their little teeth and claws. When they were done eating, the mama cat let me touch them. They crawled all over me, and I felt their tiny claws prick my skin just enough to itch. I put my nose in their fuzzy fur and breathed their smell. I let them tangle in my hair even. It made me feel warm and sleepy like the mama cat. I want a cat but no one else in my family likes them.

September 1982.

There was a wild kitten on the playground but we didn’t see it until it was time to come in. Mrs. Wilkinson said I could stay out longer so I could rescue the kitten. But she let this kid Billy stay out too. We chased the kitten and got closer and then Billy got too close with his big shoe and all then all I could see was the soft, shiny pink of its skull-skin, its fur was torn off and smeared into the ground. After I threw up I couldn’t feel it anymore but I could still see it.

October 1984

The deer was already hanging up by its back feet when me and mama got back from church. Daddy was about to skin it. Its eyes were cloudy, its fur kinda crumpled, its nose dried out. I thought about how different it would look once the skin was on the smooth fiberglass form, the glass eyes perfectly in place, mascara on its eyelashes, the fur combed, the nose painted a shiny black. It would be beautiful.

October 1984

I wanted to write a story about what I saw but I am still shaky so I will just write in my journal so no one will see it. I was walking in the woods like usual but I went too far. I wasn’t lost exactly. There were weird soft noises, and when I looked up there were all these big dark shapes in the branches hanging like some weird fruit and they were monkeys. So many, dozens or hundreds, and they smelled like dead things. I felt really crazy because I know there are no monkeys in Georgia. I got dizzy. Monkeys??? I moved closer to them and they suddenly turned into big black buzzards with naked heads. Then I saw the pile of deer bones and flies. This is where daddy brings taxidermy leftovers. I felt a little better. But I was still smooshing down the fear that things would change into other things.

May 1985

One day when I had to go to school anyway even though I was sick, I wrote a sign to pin to my shirt that said “I don’t feel good today, please do not ask me things.” Mama thought it was funny and cute and she loves me but just doesn’t get it. I just want to go to my treehouse and read. At least Rusty understands what it is like when everybody is always trying to get the answers off you. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy.

July 1985

I don’t know where he got this carcass of a jeep but Russ has almost got this thing running after only a month of summer. The windows and the top are down but it still looks like a tank. The paint job will have to come later, but the Commando is almost ready to command. Russ is buried somewhere in the engine and I just got him more sweet tea and my job now is to sit sweating in the driver’s seat in case he needs me to turn something on or get something. I sit smelling the cracked old leather seats and gasoline, waiting for instructions. Then all of a sudden he is scooting me over getting in and he cranks it up for real and it is RUNNING. We drive all the way down the driveway and I can feel mama worrying by the window only a little and we turn the radio up louder than the wind and the Cars on the radio are singing “You might think I’m crazy, to hang around with you, or maybe you think I’m lucky, to have something to do” and we both sing ALL THE WORDS even louder than the Cars and the wind, going faster all the way to the end of the road to the paperbox, the wind flying in our hair.

September 1986

Bored Bored Bored. I sold a fishing license to Dale Murphy and cocolas to all his loud little boys today, but I didn’t know he was anybody special until daddy told me. So I guess I am a little famous now. After Dale Murphy left the store there was hardly anybody coming in. It’s just too hot to do anything this time of year, so the fish get sleepy and go way low down in the water where it is cool. Business will pick up when deer season starts, right on my birthday of course, and daddy will be in the taxidermy shop all the time. I wanted to go over to the baitshop and talk to Russ but I had to wrap up before closing. I faced the cigarettes, candy, crackers and Spam and stuff up to the front of the shelves, then filled the drinkboxes. I was too embarrassed to touch the personal care items so I started the chore I hated most; mopping. I saved the men’s room for last, hoping it would be closing time before I got to it. Why is the men’s room so much more disgusting than the women’s?

September 1987

I hate fifth grade. I like my nice new room but I liked my old room too and I don’t understand why we had to move across town when daddy retired from Kroger and bought the store. Why couldn’t we just drive the extra way instead of switching schools? I told the teacher I am supposed to be in the highest reading group. But it doesn’t matter, because my old school had a different reading book. And I know literally NO ONE… I have no friends. I miss Russ and I am trying not to be jealous of Tonya. I am listening to my little purple boombox that I saved up for, but I feel a little ashamed because I think daddy paid me for more hours than I actually worked, and when it is slow I mostly just sit there. At least when it isn’t busy I can go to the baitshop to talk to Russ. I want to show him my new cartoons today. I want to be the next Gary Larson and I hope the thinks they are funny. Ugh, this Rod Stewart song is old, why is it on? “Oh Maggie I couldn’t have tried…any more…”

September 19, 1988

My friends came over for a sleepover and we had fun but the WEIRDEST THING EVER just happened. Holly had given me an Ouija Board! We waited until it was really late so my mom would be in bed and wouldn’t worry. Jennifer wouldn’t play. She sat there in the papasan chair, holding onto the Bible and praying for us. Thank GOD.

So anyway we were figuring out the Ouija board and me and Christy had our fingers just barely touching it not even really touching it, like the directions said. And it started moving ON ITS OWN. It started to spell out a name. It moved all by itself, seriously, and it went right to O. I swear I wasn’t touching it. But then, we could feel something cold in the room with us. It was COLD. And we all got really scared . We all were too scared to scream and it was moving towards the next letter but the AIR CONDITIONER SOUND broke the spell.

WHAT HAPPENED??? I knew we all had to be objective. So I handed out pencils and paper and made everyone write their own account of it before we talked about it. (insert original account from notebook here)

EVERYBODY WROTE THE SAME THING. We all felt the cold thing. And if it was really cold, then why did the air conditioner kick on??? That doesn’t make logical sense, right?

I am so freaked out I don’t know if I will ever sleep.

 

Early 1991

At school they are making us listen to all this news about the war stuff in Iraq and it is so boring. I just want to go home and work on my novel. I am up to 300 pages now. I guess it is weird for a 9th grader to write novels but that’s me, Weird Shalay. Yep. I have friends now at least and I try not to talk about my novel too much with them because no normal 9th graders write novels. I hoped that Russ would want to hear about it though. So after school business was pretty dead and I went over to the baitshop to talk to him while he was fixing reels and listening to the radio. Not music anymore though just a bunch of blathering about politics. The only music part was that opening part to Talking Heads “Take me to the River”. I wished they would play the rest of the song instead of just the first few seconds of it over and over.

“ It’s Rush Limbaugh, the music is perfect for him, see, it sounds like this turtle plodding along, funny and slow and reliable. He says it like it is. He makes so much sense! Everything makes so much more sense to me now.“ said my brother.

“Ok!” I said, trying to listen, but my brain just can’t take all that boring politics; I had to leave.

I gave Russ a little hug and went back into the store where I had my novel manuscript stashed under the counter.

Once in a Lifetime

By Shalay for Russ

Hey you

are we comfortably numb

singing the practical song?

are you Tom Sawyer?

or a brick in the wall?

Am I a spirit in the material world,

Or am I a material girl?

We were moving in stereo

Then they blinded me with science,

and I ran

Now one of our submarines is missing.

There is radio silence on the airwaves.

You might think I am crazy

But

This is not a road to nowhere.

Take me to the river,

Switch off the mind and let the heart decide

Water flowing underground

Once in a lifetime

Kyrie Eleison

Separating Unicorns from Goats; Despicable Me 3

As Pharrell Williams’ infectious “Yellow Light” thrums into ebb and the theater turns the house lights on, my son looks at me and says “Hey! I exist again!”

His words exemplify the reason we need and love art in the first place. Through story, music, or any sort of art that touches us, we can live for a while in another world where we are NOT the central character, and we can learn large, important things by getting temporarily outside ourselves.

Some people, (I have been one of these people) underestimate the possibilities of a blockbuster kids’ film, accusing it of being moneymaking fluff. I have altered my view on this. I think that people can find the truths they need in almost any art, even art that has been diluted by the moneymaking apparatus. If the artists’ vision is true, the beauty of the product will shine through whatever it gets covered up with.

On that note, here are my thoughts on what is truly beautiful about the latest Minion movie.

The Unigoat.

For those who aren’t familiar with Despicable Me, its hero is the black-clad golden-hearted erstwhile criminal Gru. In the first movie, Gru steals the moon, gives it back, and learns love from three orphaned little girls. The ridiculously cute youngest, Agnes, is completely in love with unicorns. Early in Despicable Me 3, when she finds out that Gru and Lucy have lost their jobs, she voluntarily sells her belongings to help out. She actually sells her beloved stuffed unicorn, handing the money to Gru, saying cheerfully “I got two whole dollars for it!” Her innocence and purity of heart are evident in everything she does.

Enter the Unigoat. Gru and the family are in Fredonia for a yin-yang-tastic meeting with his sunny long lost twin brother Dru. In town, Agnes sees a bar marked by a unicorn sign. She goes in fearlessly, spots the taxidermed horn of a unicorn on a high dusty shelf. She asks the gruff-looking bartender about the horn. The stubbly barkeep leans close and whispers to her about a maiden pure in heart who goes to the crooked forest and waits. When she has waited long enough, unicorn will come to her, and will be hers. FOREVER.

Agnes’ love for unicorns percolates up through her little body, culminating in a glass-shattering scream of happiness.

She talks her skeptical sister Edith into going with her to the Crooked Forest, where they wait. ((Linus and his Great Pumpkin come to mind here) After waiting FOR EVER, there is a crackle in the forest, and sure enough, the unicorn appears in its appointed location.

The one-horned creature turns out to be an uncoordinated little goat with one of its horns broken off. Agnes doesn’t care. It is her unicorn, and she loves it. Edith sighs, telling herself she’ll just leave it to someone else to break the news to Agnes.

When Gru is forced to be the one to lovingly “break the news” to Agnes, she doesn’t care that her unicorn is just a goat with a broken horn. She loves the unicorn, and it is hers. Technically, uni-corn means nothing more than “one horn.” So who cares if the horn isn’t in the middle of its head? It is real to Agnes because her LOVE summoned the goat and transfigured it into a meaningful thing of beauty. That is what love does.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. To Agnes, the unigoat is a unicorn, worthy of all the love she lavishes on it. Why do we feel the need to take that away from her by insisting that her love is not real? The world “believe” was never supposed to mean “ know intellectually that something is proven fact”. It meant “decide what is the treasure of your heart, and point your efforts towards that”. The etymology is below; you may skim it. The gist of this word’s evolution is that it used to mean love, as a VERB. Then it meant “to hold something dear or esteem it” Then it meant ”to have confidence in”. Only in the 1500s did it start to mean “alleged fact without total proof.”

Why not let Agnes believe that her unigoat is a unicorn? Love transfigures.

belief (n.) Look up belief at Dictionary.com Dictionary.com

late 12c., bileave, “confidence reposed in a person or thing; faith in a religion,” replacing Old English geleafa “belief, faith,” from West Germanic *ga-laubon “to hold dear, esteem, trust” (source also of Old Saxon gilobo, Middle Dutch gelove, Old High German giloubo, German Glaube), from *galaub-“dear, esteemed,” from intensive prefix *ga- + PIE root *leubh- “to care, desire, love.” The prefix was altered on analogy of the verb believe. The distinction of the final consonant from that of believe developed 15c.

The be-, which is not a natural prefix of nouns, was prefixed on the analogy of the vb. (where it is naturally an intensive) …. [OED]

Meaning “conviction of the truth of a proposition or alleged fact without knowledge” is by 1530s; it is also “sometimes used to include the absolute conviction or certainty which accompanies knowledge” [Century Dictionary]. From c. 1200 as “a creed, essential doctrines of a religion or church, things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine;” the general sense of “That which is believed” is by 1714.

This is the first of my posts about how the deep meanings of words have gotten skewed and taxidermed in modern English. Stay tuned for more.

The Genius of Water

Now officially seven and two-thirds, my son can jump into the deep end.  With this newfound confidence, he decided he should teach me something as I was sitting on the edge of the pool. He said “Mama, put your hands in. Can you feel the water?”  I did so, and confirmed that I could feel the water. He said “No, do you FEEL it? Let me show you. When you do it like this (he glided his hand gently) , it is smooth. But when you do it like this (he spread his palm and flapped it fast) it is hard.”

I did what he showed me. He watched me until he was satisfied that I finally  understood what he meant. My small Genius of Water was telling me how much easier it is to work with the elements than to force your will upon them.

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The Taxidermist’s Youngest

My father was the best taxidermist in Troup County, Georgia.  I grew up wandering in the woods,  going to church,  and smelling dead animals in various states of undress.  And writing.

Writing is my form of  taxidermy. I write in an attempt to make living, writhing ideas hold still and hold together. A friend recently lost her sister to bipolar disorder, and she quoted her sister as saying “when I am manic, everything is significant and connected in a sacred way. When I am down, nothing is meaningful or connected.”  This is how I feel too. I am not bipolar, (or maybe I am?)  but I am certainly some brand of non-neurotypical, and  I guess this explains why so many of my favorite people are also non-neurotypical.

I am a bit skeptical of my diagnosis of ADD.  A stereotypical sufferer of ADD acts without thinking. I generally think without acting, because I am paralyzed by choice. I lack normal pruning skills. Chess is impossible for me; when other people see the next logical move, I see  300 billion possible moves, and become paralyzed by indecision.   Some categories that are obvious to others are invisible to me, and yet I constantly observe connections and categories that are indispensible to some and invisible to others.  My viewpoint is inconstant; it sort of shifts to meet whoever is around.  Growing up I beat myself up for being gullible and wishy-washy.  If a person is explaining his or her viewpoint, no matter how crazy it seems, I cannot dismiss it. If it doesn’t make sense, I have to keep asking questions until I understand the place that person is standing that makes it seem sensical to him or her. This is not by choice; I am not tooting any kind of horn. I am simply  unable to throw anybody’s point of view into a trash can marked unnecessary, as other people seem to have no trouble doing. As you may imagine, this makes life rather difficult at times. It also makes my perspective rather unusual.

I have maintained two facebook pages for nearly a decade.  I created this situation to avoid conflict between my conservative family and  my liberal friends.  Regularly reading the same news items presented radically differently on my two facebook pages has shown me how large the gulf between the left and the right is perceived to be. The volume of demonizing, fearmongering  click-based revenue-driven “news” I saw on the conservative page during Obama’s presidency abruptly migrated to the liberal page after November 2016, leaving mostly babies, dogs, dinners, and chirping crickets  on my conservative page.  Having grown up in the red, religious rural south, and having spent most of my adult life with blue academics, I know beautiful, broken, loving, imperfect, moral people in both of these worlds. The hatred slung between the two groups is eating me alive, and much of it is due to root level misunderstanding, as well as the negative caricaturing based on the most extreme examples on either side. My main hope for this blog is to illustrate how decent most humans can be if there is an environment of safety and trust for them to exist in.

I feel that the pattern of existence is  as wide and limitless as the heavens,  and that each person has their own small, special lens he or she uses to interpret  pieces of the tapestry.  I feel that we must share our lenses as much as possible so that we may see more of the big picture. Without many lenses to help us understand, the cognitive dissonances become scary and divisive. My blog is an attempt to share my lens with whoever is interested in my perspective, and an invitation to share yours.

The band Over The Rhine puts it beautifully in their song “All my favorite people are broken”;

Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers

Step forward

You can stay right here

You don’t have to go