As we draw closer to the final days of autumn, I offer a moment to glance back upon the earlier days of fall….and so, here is my poem to sweeten your memory of the months that enriched us with their vibrant colors and crisp cool weather! Enjoy….
There is something quite enchanting about seasons; for the changes endowed upon much of the earth are as if nature was staging a new theater production. And if you are not careful, if you are quite busy going about your business, as most industrious people do, we are apt to find ourselves missing the show. Because the world is a sphere, those of us who are presently ensconced in autumn live in the hemisphere which is now trounced by falling leaves.
Here the world is noiselessly changing; for those who walk and kick up leaves, and those who admire the landscapes, in our little part of the universe, (and I say little for we take up just a tiny bit of room) the leaves must have drunk up all the yellow, and orange, and brown … for being quite greedy, it stands to reason that surely they have grown too lazy and hang slothfully upon the trees rusting, and then with very little effort, with the slightest push from a breeze, drop off and flutter idly to the ground.
In autumn there is a thinning, the days have shortened and perhaps because the temperatures have fallen, evening comes upon us earlier with its blanket of darkness and covers the day like a warm friend…
No wonder we refer to autumn as fall, the time when the earth seems to be slowly curling, drying, chilling, it is falling into a state of sleep. And right before our eyes it is vanishing into thin air…
Today I bring back to you the ever popular esteemed thinker: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Our Scottish author has entertained readers of all ages with his classic novels; Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and even Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although Stevenson was ill much of his life, he was a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His beautifully crafted essays expose his keen understanding of human nature.
I invite you to steal a moment away from your day with a portion trimmed from his 1875 essay titled An Autumn Effect. Join Mr. Stevenson on an autumn walk as he shares with us his thoughts. And if you live in the hemisphere where we are now engaged in this season called fall, perhaps you too will reminisce with the same observations, only with an eye that is more than a century of years later.
“… It was well, perhaps, that I had this first enthusiasm to encourage me up the long hill above High Wycombe; for the day was a bad day for walking at best, and now began to draw towards afternoon, dull, heavy, and lifeless. A pall of grey cloud covered the sky, and its colour reacted on the colour of the landscape. Near at hand, indeed, the hedgerow trees were still fairly green, shot through with bright autumnal yellows, bright as sunshine. But a little way off, the solid bricks of woodland that lay squarely on slope and hill-top were not green, but russet and grey, and ever less russet and more grey as they drew off into the distance. As they drew off into the distance, also, the woods seemed to mass themselves together, and lie thin and straight, like clouds, upon the limit of one’s view. Not that this massing was complete, or gave the idea of any extent of forest, for every here and there the trees would break up and go down into a valley in open order, or stand in long Indian file along the horizon, tree after tree relieved, foolishly enough, against the sky. I say foolishly enough, although I have seen the effect employed cleverly in art, and such long line of single trees thrown out against the customary sunset of a Japanese picture with a certain fantastic effect that was not to be despised; but this was over water and level land, where it did not jar, as here, with the soft contour of hills and valleys. The whole scene had an indefinable look of being painted, the colour was so abstract and correct, and there was something so sketchy and merely impressional about these distant single trees on the horizon that one was forced to think of it all as of a clever French landscape. For it is rather in nature that we see resemblance to art, than in art to nature; and we say a hundred times, ‘How like a picture!’ for once that we say, ‘How like the truth!’ The forms in which we learn to think of landscape are forms that we have got from painted canvas. Any man can see and understand a picture; it is reserved for the few to separate anything out of the confusion of nature, and see that distinctly and with intelligence…”
Is it possible that in the 21st century men and women are in a hurried state, both in mind and movement, more than those who lived in previous centuries? For without much effort it is easy to observe that in all walks of life, regardless of one’s location, there is a sense of urgency smothering the landscape and exuding an assumption that we are never caught up, that the more we do the more we feel we need to do. And as we rush about there too is a chronic din, a background noise of dissatisfaction. Accompanied with the belief that men and women today have a monopoly on being too busy is the conclusion that those who came before could not possibly understand that we today have so much more to accomplish.
But let us stand back and treat the problem by viewing it with a pragmatic approach; this problem that maligns our thoughts, this problem that haunts us and keeps us awake at night…this problem of too much to do and not enough time. If we were to inspect any device that tells time, from your antique Grandfather Clock that survived so many house moves, the one with the pendulum that still swings and dings at each hour, to the most efficient app on your phone that awards you with accurate time anywhere in the universe at any given moment; if you count the minutes from the first light of day to the blackest part of night, the total will still be only twenty-four hours. It is the same amount of time that humans have always been allotted to accomplish what they set out to do in any given day.
Then just perhaps what has diminished is actually not “time”, since mathematically that notion is completely erroneous… Perhaps we have whittled away a part of what was a human attribute and supplanted in its place another human attribute, frustration. Just perhaps it is our patience that has worn away like treads on tires that speed round and around on a race track. For although humans have always been in the market to improve time in order to more quickly accomplish our tasks, our chores, our day-to-day means of transportation, our ability to receive and send communication, although we have successfully sped up the inner workings within our world, we still must be patient… for within the space allocated in a single day it forever remains finite… no more no less, twenty-four hours. Like expanding a balloon, we are able to fill it with just so much air, and although by using a pump we can increase the speed at which the air enters such a playful object … it can only consume and occupy a fixed amount of space before…(well you know what happens)…… it pops!
Today’s blog brings back a most original person, the esteemed thinker: Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch post- impressionist. Although he is recognized as one of our most gifted artists, this blogger finds that his writing is as expressive as many of his paintings. So, I have taken the liberty of extracting from his autobiography, Dear Theo, a most thoughtful observation.
Without further delay, enjoy a few moments out from you hectic day to enjoy his words. I now present Vincent van Gogh ….
“…There is a saying by *Gustave Dore which I have always admired: ‘J’ai la patience d’un boeuf’. I find in it a certain virtue, a certain resolute honesty. It is the word of a real artist. Ought one not to learn patience from nature, learn patience from seeing the corn slowly ripen, seeing things grow? …
Hardly a day passes now that I do not produce one thing or another. I cannot but make progress; each drawing one completes, each study one paints is a step forward. It is the same as on a road: one sees the church spire at the end, but there is another bit of road one did not see at first, and which must be covered. But one comes nearer and nearer. Sooner or later, I shall arrive at the point of beginning to sell….”
*Gustave Doré : French artist, engraver and illustrator (1832-1888). Translation: “I have the patience of an ox”
First Image: The Church at Auvers by Vincent van Gogh (1890)
Second image: Self-Portrait of Van Gogh (1889)
Our lives are an intersection of circumstances and regardless of how well we map out our day there are interruptions, both accidental and purposeful, which alter our course. And though we plan and strategize, it is inevitable that there will be some interlude or distraction that sets us off on an ulterior direction. Yet while we are quite aware of these occurrences, the daily set backs or amends made to an agenda; humans have been conditioned to reach for and desire the highest challenge… obtaining the ideal. And if you were to ask most anyone they would agree that the ideal situation, ideal mate, ideal job, ideal house, all fits very nicely into their ideal plan.
Yet, is “ideal” obtainable? If it is agreed upon that ideal is defined as perfection then realistically can we find it? Taking into account our everyday existence of the inevitable “alterations” that lurk ahead ….is it unrealistic to yearn for such high standards?
Or is it possible that we are striving for something that does exist… however, it is found only under the supervision and guidance of what humans, and only humans possess…an imagination. And just perhaps this imagination we all are harboring can and will manifest itself through some means of personal expression…for our intellect is not finite, but rather boundless. Within our day to day existence there is an accumulation of experiences and values which we have stored and with a bit of effort, like a trusty oil lamp, it can shine brilliantly exposing to us ideals that rivals conditions that seem impossible to reproduce. And though Nature seems to be able to express herself “ideally” just perhaps our desires and will for it can satisfy the quest. But whatever ideal situation you are striving for it is prudent to think like the keeper of the lighthouse… don’t let it burn out!
I return to you today with the esteemed thinker: George Santayana, (1863-1952) a multi talented philosopher and writer. During his early career, his strong interest in literature and aesthetics was evident, but by 1904, his attention turned almost fully to philosophical pursuits. If one were to categorize his philosophical views, he would be called a naturalist. Here the interaction of our physical makeup is what he emphasizes as generating meaning and value, which Santayana calls “psyche,” and our material environment. In 1936 his novel, The Last Puritan was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
So, let us take a moment out from our hectic day to reflect upon the insightful words; snipped out of his book, The Sense of Beauty…. Here is Mr. Santayana….
“… Accordingly our consciousness of the ideal becomes distinct in proportion as we advance in virtue and in proportion to the vigour and definiteness with which our faculties work. When the vital harmony is complete, when the act is pure, faith in perfection passes into vision. That man is unhappy indeed, who in all his life has had no glimpse of perfection, who in the ecstasy of love, or in the delight of contemplation, has never been able to say: It is attained. Such moments of inspiration are the source of the arts, which have no higher function than to renew them…
A work of art is indeed a monument to such a moment, the memorial to such a vision; and its charm varies with its power of recalling us from the distractions of common life to the joy of a more natural and perfect activity…”
The utterance of sound comes in forms that are pleasing to the ear or displeasing to the psyche. We may be aroused by the mellow song of a lark coming through the window or may shudder when awakened out of a sound sleep by the ringing of a renegade alarm clock. The sounds we hear when we rise from bed may set our mood happily, such as the coffee pot starting its every day routine, or it may propel us into gloom such as by way of the newscaster giving us our daily dose of troubles.
Most all creatures in the world use their voice to convey sounds that may produce harmony or disharmony.
The dog barks in a threatening growl to warn or in a series of light snips to greet. The cat hisses when you accidentally step on its tail, (a most unpleasant cry and experience for both the stepper and steppe), or it may meow in a truly affectionate manner hoping that you will give it your attention.
But as for humans, we have been granted sounds that go beyond the ordinary; we have the gift of speech, the ability to communicate in staccato, such as with an imperative sentence… “Watch out!” or those laced in metaphor as in poetry. The sounds that flow from our lips are a powerful tool and can leave an impression deeper than one’s footprint stuck in mud. The first time a baby learns to say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, we are elated, for this sense of recognition is now a bond that goes beyond mere sounds.
And so, as we journey through the day and into the night the sounds we make, may it be a sigh, a groan, or dinner conversation, can play a most significant role. For with each utterance that we generate, there is some individual or creature that receives it… we can make music to the ears or not… but with certainty and limited effort, it is quite an extraordinary feat to create… this thing we call sound…
For today’s post I present to you the esteemed thinker: George Santayana (1863- 1952). Born in Madrid, Spain, he was a philosopher, critic, essayist, novelist, poet and known for being a naturalist before it became a popular subject. Rivaling Emerson in literary accomplishments, he made relationships between literature, art, religion and philosophy prominent themes throughout his writings. Santayana received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1889 and was a faculty member at Harvard University from 1889 to 1912, eventually earning a place now called Classical American Philosophy. He is notably remembered for his quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
From his book Reason in Art, I have extracted for you a small portion from the chapter titled “Speech and Signification”. Take time to ponder the words of Mr. Santayana for his thoughts and concepts are most provocative.
“Music rationalises sound, but a more momentous rationalising of sound is seen in language. Language is one of the most useful of things, yet the greater part of it still remains (what it must all have been in the beginning) useless and without ulterior significance. The musical side of language is its primary and elementary side. Man is endowed with vocal organs so plastic as to emit a great variety of delicately varied sounds; and by good fortune his ear has a parallel sensibility, so that much vocal expression can be registered and confronted by auditory feeling. It has been said that man’s pre-eminence in nature is due to his possessing hands; his modest participation in the ideal world may similarly be due to his possessing tongue and ear. For when he finds shouting and vague moaning after a while fatiguing, he can draw a new pleasure from uttering all sorts of labial, dental, and gutteral sounds. Their rhythms and oppositions can entertain him, and he can begin to use his lingual gamut to designate the whole range of his perceptions and passions…
Language had originally no obligation to subserve an end which we may sometimes measure it by now, and depute to be its proper function, namely, to stand for things and adapt itself perfectly to their structure. In language as in every other existence idealism precedes realism, since it must be a part of nature living its own life before it can become a symbol for the rest and bend to external control. The vocal and musical medium is, and must always remain, alien, to the spatial… Yet when sounds were attached to an event or emotion, the sounds became symbols for that disparate fact…”
First image: Title: TELEPHONE OPERATORS, Creator(s): Harris & Ewing, photographer, Date created/Published: [between 1914 and 1917]
Humans are a most adaptable creature. We are constantly encountering new people and new activities; and without missing a beat able to continue about our daily routines. We sample new foods, travel to exotic places, replace old ideas for new, and exchange banter with total strangers. However, in spite of our adaptable behavior, though not always willingly, there is one activity that can make the strongest of persons weak in the knees, terrify the boldest of souls, and mortify the most valiant . No, it is not a ride on a roller coaster or parachuting out of a plane, but simply the mundane task of public speaking.
For some, standing before an audience, regardless of the group’s size; be it on a grand scale as in an auditorium or an intimate gathering of a handful of colleagues, speaking before others can suddenly be converted into a most terrifying experience. And even though there are techniques designed to set these fears aside; even with the color coded notes cards prepared, the power point slides that are waving across the screen, and the overly practiced presentations before a spouse, these so called “tricks of the trade” are still not enough to keep at bay the heightened heart beat, dry mouth, and urgent need to melt into ones shoes and wishfully disappear from sight.
It is rumored that even some of our greatest leaders and entertainers suffered from stage fright, which makes us ponder this notion. Does it help one feel less hungry knowing that there are other patrons equally as famished when you are waiting to be served in a crowded restaurant? So, when you are advised to take a deep breath because even Winston Churchill was so frightened in his early career that he froze up when delivering a memorized speech before Parliament… you may momentarily feel better with the fact that you are in good company, but as you stand before the silent audience it is your wobbling stomach and dumbfounded brain that needs to be reminded!
Today’s post reintroduces the esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky, Russian born composer (1882) who brought modernism to the world of music in the early 20th century. As a gifted musician, his compositions ranged from vocal and instrumental pieces, ballet, cantata, to Neoclassical works, oratorio and sacred music. When World War II broke out, Stravinsky fled Europe and came to the United States, where he settled in California, eventually becoming an American citizen in 1940. His influence in music continues to reign today long after his death in 1971 .
I now bring you the composed words from Mr. Stravinsky’s autobiography titled, An Autobiography. Though I have assembled just a few bars and set aside them for your pleasure; they will surely be most enjoyable…
“… While learning by heart the piano part of my Concerto, I had simultaneously to accustom myself to keep in mind and hear the various parts of the orchestra, so that my attention should not be distracted while I was playing. For a novice like myself this was hard work, to which I had to devote many hours every day.
My first public performance of the Concerto took place at the Paris Opera on May 22 at a Koussevitzky concert, after I had played it a week earlier to an intimate gathering at the Princess de Polignac’s with Jean Wiener playing the accompaniment on a piano.
At the beginning of my career as a piano soloist I naturally suffered from stage fright, and for a long time I had a good deal of difficulty in overcoming it. It was only by habit and sustained effort that I managed, in time, to master my nerves and so to withstand one of the most distressing sensations that I know. In analyzing the cause of this stage fright, I have come to the conclusion that it is chiefly due to fear of a lapse of memory or of some distraction, however trifling, which might have irreparable consequences. For the slightest gap, even a mere wavering, risks giving rise to a fatal discordance between the piano and the orchestral body, which obviously cannot, in any circumstances, hold the movement of its own part in suspense. I remember at my first debut being seized by just such a lapse of memory, though it fortunately had no dire results. Having finished the first part of my Concerto, just before beginning the Largo which opens with a piano solo, I suddenly realized that I had entirely forgotten how it started. I whispered this to Koussevitsky. He glanced at the score and whispered the first notes. That was enough to restore my balance and enable me to attack the Largo…”
Inspiration comes to us when we least expect it. Its provocation can erupt suddenly as if fallen from the night sky while we wander the stars, realized in the chemistry lab mixing and measuring, or found while listening to the roar of Niagara Falls. As unique as a one’s fingerprints or as communal as a view from the Grand Canyon, whatever experience has crossed our path to stimulate us to create, to discover, to invent, to reshape, an inspiration is clearly an unexpected gift.
And though we are enamored by the monumental achievements that some are lucky enough to have endowed through some fortuitous inspiration; so too should the less celebrated accomplishments drawn from our personal and not so personal moments also be rejoiced. Some receive inspiration from the undertakings of others, as when we see a painting or hear a song; while some have harbored their muses since very young, only to have them hatch later in life growing in proportions that did not seem possible from what was believed to be a simple memory.
How and why we are inspired is not easily defined and where it leads us is as much an enigma. For an inspiration cannot be manufactured nor can it be anticipated, rather it is stealth and will find you when you least expect it. Covert, crafty, and often sneaky, it comes through the back door or enters boldly by way of the front….it arrives in many forms and any time… bestowing upon us a souvenir of life for us to manipulate.
In today’s post I present to you a most inspirational figure; the esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), born in Oranienbaum, Russia he is considered one of the 20th century’s most influential composers and artistic musicians. Though he grew up in St. Petersburg, he moved to France and then later to the United States, becoming attached to the cultural way of life in Los Angeles, California. Here he felt intellectually alive living among other musicians, writers, and artists. Stravinsky is best known for his unconventional arrangements, where he first earned international fame in Paris for three now well-known ballets: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). Though receiving scathing reviews and harsh criticisms, they are considered today as being some of the most innovative and revolutionary works in music.
From his book simply titled An Autobiography (1936), I have extracted a small piece for your reading pleasure. Here are the motivating words of the great Igor Stravinsky ….
“… Apart from my improvisation and piano-practice, I found immense pleasure in reading the opera scores of which my father’s library consisted—all the more so because I was able to read with great facility. My mother also had that gift, and I must have inherited it from her. Imagine my joy, therefore, when for the first time I was taken to the theatre where they were giving an opera with which as a pianist I was already familiar. It was A Life for the Tsar, and it was then I heard an orchestra for the first time. And what an orchestra—Glinka’s! The impression was indelible, but it must not be supposed that this was due solely to the fact that it was the first orchestra I ever heard. To this day, not only Glinka’s music in itself, but his orchestration as well, remains a perfect monument of musical art—so intelligent is his balance of tone, so distinguished and delicate his instrumentation; and by the latter I mean his choice of instruments and his way of combining them. I was indeed fortunate in happening on a chef d’oeuvre for my first contact with great music. That is why my attitude towards Glinka has always been one of unbounded gratitude…
About the same time I heard Glinka’s second opera, Ruslan and Ludmilla, at a gala performance given to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. My father took the part of Farlaf, which was one of the best in his repertoire. It was a memorable evening for me. Besides the excitement I felt at hearing this music that I already loved to distraction, it was my good fortune to catch a glimpse in the foyer of Peter Tchaikovsky, the idol of the Russian public, whom I had never seen before and was never to see again. He had just conducted the first audition of his new symphony—the Pathetic—in St. Petersburg. A fortnight later my mother took me to a concert where the same symphony was played in memory of its composer, who had been suddenly carried off by cholera. Deeply though I was impressed by the unexpected death of the great musician, I was far from realizing at the moment that this glimpse of the living Tchaikovsky—fleeting though it was—would become one of my most treasured memories…”
First image: Portrait of Igor Stravinsky (1914) by French painter, printmaker and writer Albert Gleizes (MOMA)
Never has there been a time on earth where we have not relied upon animals to help with our work. No matter the size, large or small, nor the count of legs, two or four… no matter where we live… north, south, east, west… regardless of the climate…. cold or hot, or the location…. above or below land; there has always been the representation of some species that has helped us out or even pulled us out of a jam.
Let us take the mule, a rather interesting high-bred of an animal, the offspring of a female horse and male donkey. (Left under their own natural preferences one must wonder if either would have gotten together without a bit of coercion from humans.) Although often the butt of jokes, it is a most hardworking animal. They plowed fields, worked underground in the mines, and hauled loads through the mountains; the sturdy and reliable mule, never asking for much more than to be fed and watered.
And although we usually think of birds as flighty and not exactly the kind of animal one would rely upon (except to taste good when cooked for dinner), the rock pigeon has given its species a place in “work history”. The homing pigeon is a bird that has been domesticated to work, which includes having provided service to the armed forces. For years they were used as military messengers due to their homing ability, speed, and flying altitude. And who would think that those pesky birds we all shoo away from sitting aloft would be heroes!
As far back in time as the Roman Empire the camel too has paid its military duty; it has been saddled and ridden into battle right up into modern days. Known for their endurance, this desert dweller was first domesticated around 3,000 BC and has been working ever since; transporting people and goods in some of the world’s driest and hottest regions. Its broad flat feet enable it to walk in the sand without sinking (and without much complaining)!
Yes, there are countless animals that work for peanuts…like the elephants! So the next time we find ourselves bemoaning about work, just remember, there is some tired dog that has just come home from working at the airport having sniffed all day through luggage stuffed with dirty laundry… such a thankless job, and all it wants in reward is a gentle pat on the head.
Today’s blog returns the esteemed thinker: Matthew A. Henson, the renowned African American explorer who in 1890 joined Admiral Peary’s first Arctic expedition across the northern tip of Greenland. From June 1891 to August 1902, Henson spent seven years in the Arctic with Peary, covering 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) on dogsleds across northern Greenland and Ellesmere Island, in Canada. Henson was a man that was well-liked by those who came in contact with him; being admired by the Inuit population for his hunting and sled-driving skills, as well as his ability to speak their language.
I now present to you a bit of insightful observations snipped from his autobiography, A Negro Explorer of the North Pole. Here are the words of the illustrious, Mr. Henson and his thoughts about ‘man’s best friend’, dogs!
“….I had a much livelier time with some members of the Peary Arctic Club’s expedition known as “our four-footed friends”—the dogs.
The dogs are ever interesting. They never bark, and often bite, but there is no danger from their bites. To get together a team that has not been tied down the night before is a job. You take a piece of meat, frozen as stiff as a piece of sheet-iron, in one hand, and the harness in the other, you single out the cur you are after, make proper advances, and when he comes sniffling and snuffling and all the time keeping at a safe distance, you drop the sheet-iron on the snow, the brute makes a dive, and you make a flop, you grab the nearest thing grabable—ear, leg, or bunch of hair—and do your best to catch his throat, after which, everything is easy. Slip the harness over the head, push the fore-paws through, and there you are, one dog hooked up and harnessed. After licking the bites and sucking the blood, you tie said dog to a rock and start for the next one. It is only a question of time before you have your team. When you have them, leave them alone; they must now decide who is fit to be the king of the team, and so they fight, they fight and fight; and once they have decided, the king is king. A growl from him, or only a look, is enough, all obey, except the females, and the females have their way, for, true to type, the males never harm the females, and it is always the females who start the trouble…
Next to the Esquimos, the dogs are the most interesting subjects in the Arctic regions, and I could tell lots of tales to prove their intelligence and sagacity. These animals, more wolf than dog, have associated themselves with the human beings of this country as have their kin in more congenial places of the earth. Wide head, sharp nose, and pointed ears, thick wiry hair, and, in some of the males, a heavy mane; thick bushy tail, curved up over the back; deep chest and fore legs wide apart; a typical Esquimo dog is the picture of alert attention. They are as intelligent as any dog in civilization, and a thousand times more useful. They earn their own livings and disdain any of the comforts of life. Indeed it seems that when life is made pleasant for them they get sick, lie down and die; and when out on the march, with no food for days, thin, gaunt skeletons of their former selves, they will drag at the traces of the sledges and by their uncomplaining conduct, inspire their human companions to keep on…”
First image 1900s photo of puppies bred for pulling Arctic sleds