August Musings

west virginia green2

August has nearly flown by this year, due in large part to the rapid pace of life these days for me, but also by virtue of the daunting blank page that has been staring back at me these past several months. There have been lots of ideas and thoughts and musings percolating in my heart and mind all the while, but for reasons that are difficult to explain, they haven’t been able to find their way to the blog lately, and it has been a bit gut-wrenching for someone more accustomed to having the words pour out like a flood over a broken levee.

The good news is that several of these ideas and musings are beginning to come forward, and I have begun to feel hopeful that the levee will soon overflow yet again. Chief among the reasons for this outlook is the scheduled actual vacation coming up next week. For reasons too numerous to mention, this will be the first real vacation that has been possible to schedule in years. It almost doesn’t seem real to me yet, and I doubt it will seem completely real to me before I actually find myself sitting by the campfire in woods near the border of West Virginia at a local Maryland state park. Those of you who have been following along here know well the restorative power the forest and lakes and natural settings have always had for me, and I fully intend to recruit people to pinch me periodically so I will be sure I am not dreaming.

west virginia camping

I recently traveled to nearby West Virginia to visit my daughter and her family, who are still celebrating the recent arrival of their daughter, Autumn, who is my seventh grandchild, and there is a fair amount of inspiration contained in attending to the privilege of being a grandfather that has sparked some of the creative juices lately, and how could it be any other way?

pop-pop autumn2

My previous post to acknowledge my admiration for Dr. Oliver Sacks marked a moment of contemplation about all of the contributions he made to the understanding of the brain and consciousness and many other subjects, and I hope to contribute something a bit longer in the coming months to enlarge upon the one I posted today. There are a number of important contributions to be acknowledged in the scientific and philosophic realm these days, and I’m hoping to provide some insights that I’ve gleaned from these authors and scientists as they come up in the flow of my own research and reading.

Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan 1935-1984

Chief among them will be a tribute to one of my favorite authors from my younger days, Richard Brautigan, who wrote some very popular books back in the early to mid seventies, and whose influence is still being felt by those of us whose formative years included his unique viewpoint and provocative style. His life was extraordinary for a time, and there was a funny coincidence related to my writing inspirations as a young man that only recently came to light for me, and I’m looking forward to spending some time on my vacation rereading some of his work to spark the memories which surround this amazing time in my young life. Parts of the story of his rise to popularity, his astonishing good fortune in riding the wave of those times, and his eventual decline into near obscurity, are both inspiring and sad in some ways. It will be interesting to see how the piece turns out. So stay tuned!

west virginia sunset

I’m very much looking forward to seeing nine days worth of sunsets at the campground and reconnecting to the forest muse who nearly always joins me on these journeys. I will be reading and writing and relaxing and reconnecting in a beautiful natural setting in what Emerson described as “the plantations of God,” and I hope to bring back lots of material and insights to share with you all when I return.

Thanks for your continued patience and understanding as I work to get back to the flow!

Oliver Sacks – 1933-2015

oliver sacks2

“My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.

–excerpt from New York Times article The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.) By Oliver Sacks, JULY 6, 2013

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

–excerpt from “My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer,” New York Times, February 19, 2015

“Dr. Sacks, who died on Sunday at 82, was a polymath and an ardent humanist, and whether he was writing about his patients, or his love of chemistry or the power of music, he leapfrogged among disciplines, shedding light on the strange and wonderful interconnectedness of life — the connections between science and art, physiology and psychology, the beauty and economy of the natural world and the magic of the human imagination.”

–excerpt from New York Times article “Oliver Sacks, Casting Light on the Interconnectedness of Life,” By Michiko Kakutani August 30, 2015

For me, Oliver Sacks represented the best of what scientists, doctors, neurologists, and just plain humans can aspire to in life. While his books, essays, and articles frequently prompted criticism and were often considered controversial, he never lost his connection to his humanity, and demonstrated deep concern and compassion for his many patients, as well as his colleagues, family, and friends.

There is little that I can add to the many tributes appearing now in all the media outlets and online, but like many others, I first encountered the story and character of Dr. Sacks from the 1990 film, “Awakenings,” starring Robin Williams, and later during the 1993 PBS series called, “A Glorious Accident,” which included a round-table of prominent thinkers which included Oliver Sacks, Daniel C. Dennett, Stephen Jay Gould, Rupert Sheldrake, Freeman Dyson, and Stephen Toulmin.

Subsequent reading and viewing over the years of the work of Dr. Sacks, only increased my admiration and respect for his open-minded and humanistic approach to every subject. He left behind a legacy of scholarship and compassionate inspiration.

Godspeed, Oliver!

July…She Will Fly…

simon and garfunkel

“July, she will fly,
And give no warning to her flight.”

–from the Simon and Garfunkel song, “April, Come She Will,” 1966, “Sounds of Silence”

July did fly past for me in important ways.  It seems I wasn’t able to post anything last month, and there was no warning for me that it would be so challenging to arrive at the writing desk with enough energy and a mind clear enough to write with clarity.  This was the first month in a very long time that I wasn’t able to attend to writing here, and it happened mostly because life got in the way.  There are still some difficulties to resolve in this regard, but I am hopeful that with some additional time and effort, I will be able to resume this month.

One of the main issues at the heart of the problem seems to be that my subject generally requires that I prepare a fair amount of material in advance of the writing, and then distill it down to something resembling a comprehensible whole that fits into something less than maybe a few thousand words.  Most of my main entries here hover around that mark, and it’s often the case that I have to break the writing down into sections which I can post at different intervals.  All this requires a degree of attention and persistence that simply wasn’t available to me in July.  August isn’t looking especially great either, but I am hopeful that as we approach the end of the summer months, it will ease up enough to allow for some time to share with you all.  I have been trying to keep up with the blogs I follow here as well, and have managed to comment periodically on several of the amazing blogs on my list.  I could easily spend a lot more time doing so, but it just hasn’t been possible lately.

In consideration of the struggles I have been experiencing recently, I thought I would post this poem which speaks to both the promise and the uncertainty that sometimes manifest in our lives.  Thanks to all my readers for their support and patience.

sunset road home

Tomorrow’s Promise
By JJHIII24

On the horizon, where darkness meets light,
My soul floats away into endless night.

The sharp edge of day, it frequently seems,
Releases the power found in our dreams.

Wonder that deepens to love would I seek,
A glimpse of eternal life, just a peek.

For there we may see our life’s meaning unbound,
Emerging as something grand that we’ve found.

Time passes in moments, some rushing by,
We don’t often stop to ask ourselves why.

Hope I uncover and try to hold fast,
Against the lonely despair from the past.

On the rim of despair is where we fail.
On the brink of our joy is where we sail.

Standing together, our hearts side by side,
Helps us to feel what our love wants to hide.

Contained in reflections, words, thoughts, and deeds,
Are every last one of life’s hopeful seeds.

In mystery wonder, in science truths,
Cruel hearts diminish, an open mind soothes.

With yesterday’s joys our hearts we can lift,
Tomorrow’s promise, an uncertain gift.

© August 2015 by JJHIII24