Category Archives: Late Night Ramblings

Split in Two: between Gifts and Blind Fury

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 “Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.” ~ Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

joy harjo gifts

 

“Fame in the spur that the clear spirit doth raise

(That lest infirmity of noble mind)

To scorn delight and live laborious days;

But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,

And think to burst out into sudden blaze,

Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred, sheers,

And slits the thin-spun life…

But not the praise”

~John Milton “Lycidas”

 

I read Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave this semester, which is where the above quote is taken from. Harjo showed me the kind of story teller I want to be. I breathed in her words as my own: “In a fast, narrow crack of perception, I knew this is what I was put here to do: I must become the poem, the music, and the dancer.” This month, saw the three minute video “Existential Bummer” by Jason Silva with the Ernest Becker quote, which immediately caught my attention as one of the best ways I’ve heard the cognitive dissonance of existence put into one sentence. In the video Silva says “we defy entropy and impermanence with our films and our poems.” Then, while working on an assignment and searching for lines inspired by class material, I found the “Lycidas” quote copied into my journal from last year along with the entry below. Though it’s nine months old, I find that I am still, and perhaps will always be, split in two: between my gifts and the blind Fury.

 

What Does It All Mean?

October 11, 2013

I was walking in town thinking about what it all means. Our energy is borrowed and one day we will have to return it. I’ve been thinking about it every morning and every night. What is it all for, what are these unique creatures; are we just ants, just animals, just leaves on a tree to fall and be remembered in the fall and forgotten in the spring? I want to be known but there is so much to know; I want to be remembered but there is so much to remember. And it will only last for so long and what good will it do me when I’m gone to be remembered? I won’t know anyway. Any memorial can be torn down, any book destroyed and forgotten—and what is it all for? I am entering the best stage of my life so far: thoroughly conscious ignorance, plus on the path of my own choosing, my own making. I was immensely grateful. Now, I am an English teacher and a poetry student; I am a dancer and a performer by hobby; I am recognized as an artist, a poet, an organizer. But I want more and will want more and plan and plan and gather and gather like a busy bee (I was visited by a bee again) and then—I will blink a few times. My daughters will be women; I may see children and grandchildren; I will possibly be honored and surely loved; my parents will depart and I will suddenly remember things I should have said and done, perhaps. There is a future that the movies promised us: sci-fi will be real or the sun may burn out or a dystopia, but all of my generation will pass and the future generations will pass and how long can this go on, and then what? Even with more answers there will always be more questions: can god be proved, is there a power of attraction, what do the charts tell us, what do the cards tell us, what will science find, and what monsters will be created? I will gather and achieve and still ask, what does it all mean, and it will end; the only thing that is sure, the only thing that is sure is decomposition: every story will end.

 

 

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“Future Perfect,” My First Poetry Slam

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About a month ago, I did my first poetry slam and first spoken word performance on stage. I was petrified from the moment I agreed to do it…but I knew that I had to. I’ve wanted to for so long. And even after actually doing it and feeling like I could do it again and better next time, it took me the better part of a month to muster up the additional courage to share with those who weren’t there.

So here goes nothing…

On “How to Avoid Work: A 1949 Guide to Doing What You Love” & a Response to Mother

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You know you’re in the right place when you just glow from it. Being in the flow, in the zone, it has as many names as the names of god. I have a firm belief in the gifts given to each, in the muses that come and go at their own will, in the art that comes through us but is not of us as our children do and aren’t. Gifts in the world but not of it as some said of their famous savior.

I also have a firm belief in belief.

People succeed or fail, in spite of or especially because of their tawdry circumstances.

It’s in autobiographies everywhere.

The exceptions- I said I don’t believe in exceptions- but the exceptions of arriving to the dais come down to the quality of belief in the possibility of achievement. Suddenly, as distant as I could possibly be from religion, I finally understand faith. All the successful, however defined, are devout. They ignored the demurring cynics parading as realists in akimbo. What is reality? And are there not different versions of it? Just as truth?

“Facts” are always in the end, just someone’s opinion. From the State of Israel to my bickering children to the imagination of a five-year old to the discoveries of science, there is evidence of this. And even evidence is a synonym for fact, which is a perception of truth, which is a component of reality, which are all up for interpretation ultimately, which makes it all a choice.

And yet not a choice, no more than the singer chose to have the voice or the painter chose to mix colors well and draw straighter lines and rounder circles than I could ever dream of. No more than the accountant could choose being practical or the politician choose smooth words, except he thinks he chooses as fastidiously as the green-thumb-blessed chooses his seed and when the fruit is ripe for the picking.

The relationship between choice, and belief or faith, and gifts, circumstance and the 99% of events off of our radar screen is a desultory, polyrhythmic interpretive dance as incomprehensible and as beautiful and as debilitating and as empowering as the meaning of life itself.

Let us be whirling dervishes.

(See: “How to Avoid Work: A 1949 Guide to Doing What You Love” by Maria Popova from Brain Pickings)

 

Merħba to Poets of Babel

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Poets of Babel

Poets of Babel (© Shoshana Sarah 2012)

I believe in messages from the universe. At least over a year ago, I decided that I wanted to start a poetry club. Then, I did nothing…until today.

Last Thursday, I met with two of the most awesome people I know, Marc, a former break dancer/polyglot MC turned design engineer and Nadine, a jeweler who is petite in stature but huge in spirit. After talking the night away at La Champa, on the subject of poetry versus hip hop, and discovering for the first time that Nadine writes also, (“I love you even more!” I exclaimed) she said, “We should start a poetry club.”

“I’ve been wanting to start a poetry club for ages,” I replied.

In the shower, the next day, while shampooing my hair, I received it:

Poets of Babel. ‘A place where poets would not be limited in participation based on their mother tongue or the language they chose to write poetry in.’ 99% of the people I know are at least bilingual and I would want anyone who’s a poet there. ‘If you’ve got a friend who understands what you wrote, bring him,’ I thought. Then, while rinsing, the perfect tag line came to compliment the name of the club: “Poets of Babel: If you are a poet, we speak the same language.”

Perfect.

Meanwhile, in the world of Facebook, I’d been tagged in a book review. The poor author’s novel had been torn to shreds by the critic, but one line stood out:

“Every single character talks in exactly the same idiotically macaronic way, and 500 pages into it, you are still trying to remember which humourless pundit is which.”

This is because, as I’m not too proud to admit, I did not know what macaronic meant. And, yes, it does come from the same root as macaroni.

I share with you my new found knowledge:

mac.a.ron.ic

Definition of MACARONIC

1

: characterized by a mixture of vernacular words with Latin words or with non-Latin words having Latin endings

2

: characterized by a mixture of two languages

— macaronic noun

Origin of MACARONIC

New Latin macaronicus, from Italian dialect maccarone macaroni

First Known Use: 1638

(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/macaronic)

Macaronic is the written form of another term I was familiar with: code-switching. I, and most people I know in Israel, engage in code-switching, the practice of moving back and forth between two languages or between two dialects or registers of the same language.

It was while reading everything I could online about macaronic usage that I discovered my new hero: Antoine Cassar, a Maltese poet and translator.  His multilingual poem Merħba was the Grand Prize winner of the United Planet Writing Contest in 2009.

Merhaba, a poem of hospitality

Merhaba, a poem of hospitality

(The cover photographs of a Tibetan child were taken by
United Planet’s Founder and Executive Director, David Santulli.
United Planet is an international non-profit organisation based
in Boston, USA, which carries out social and educational
development projects in five continents. For more information,
visit http://www.unitedplanet.org.)

Here is how his website describes the poem:

Merħba, a poem of hospitality is a narrative, musical homage to the unfailing and unconditional hospitality and warmth that welcome travellers the world over, despite the tragedies and hardships lived by families and communities on a daily basis. It is at once a celebration and a lamentation of our colourful, shrinking planet and of our common yet conflicting humanity.” (http://antoinecassar.wordpress.com/merhba-a-poem-of-hospitality-2009/)

There is a link to a free download of the poem.

I downloaded it.

I read it.

I loved it.

I fell in love with it.

I couldn’t even understand all of it but loved it despite, or more likely, because.

I love that man, Antoine Cassar, without ever having met him, for he has combined my loves.

~Poetry and Language all wrapped up in Oneness~

Now, I smile, because I have heard the message from the universe and I will not ignore it. Having just returned from Malta two months ago, which was also a stroke of fate, it all made even more sense. I will read Merħba at the opening event of Poets of Babel. I don’t know if Antoine Cassar will ever hear of us, but I am confident that he would approve…

for if you are a poet, we speak the same language. 

Strangers

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The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers

The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers (c) HarperColllins Publishers

I have a confession: I’m afraid of the make-up ladies in SuperPharm. It doesn’t matter which branch; they are all the same to me.

Downtown Jerusalem at 21:47 on a Sunday just looks downright seedy in general. Everyone appeared shady tonight, just like a page out of the Berenstain Bears book about strangers. For example, everyone stopped, turned and stared at me when I approached the bus stop- after missing two of my buses- with empty, yet prying looks in their eyes. A man walked too closely behind me after I’d stepped off the eerily slow train. I stopped in my tracks and walked in the opposite direction. (Reading about international sex trafficking, forced prostitution, and systematic rape as a weapon of war has got me paranoid…though it’s a fascinating and inspiring book otherwise.)

Even couples seemed suspicious.

Maybe I was just tired. Today was a big BOO in my book and I was threatening tomorrow to be better.

My only consolation, as I approached my home- much later than I’d intended- was a woman who smiled at me as we simultaneously crossed the street. Somehow, in the seconds that we waited across from each other at the traffic light, we bonded. Perhaps it was the way we both had shoved our hands deep into our coat pockets to brave the Jerusalem winds: Me, in my teal patchy fleece with the elfin hood, her in her llama colored woolen jacket tied at the waist with a dark brown accented sash.

And yet, I knew there was undoubtedly something strange in this evening (even in the day co-workers spoke of the surreal feeling and I’d had trouble focusing on people during meetings, suddenly sensitive to the wall colors behind them) when I saw a pair in their early twenties behaving like teenagers under the influence of something walking smack in the middle of Hebron Road, which is busy even after 10pm. As I heard no screech of tires or smacks against the pavement, I can assume they survived…

Another strange man tosses a creepy glance as he passed me.

I’m almost there. “Mazal tov” is scrawled in colorful chalk on the brick sidewalk leading up to my apartment building; an arrow points straight towards the door of my entrance. ‘Stranger than a yellow brick road,’ I thought. If hadn’t lived there, I wouldn’t have gone in…not tonight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Not my usual, but hey, gotta keep it real; there will be sunshine in the morning.

The Lamppost

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lamppostAside from maps and clocks and compasses, I also love lampposts. A clock is time; the human obsession of how much of it is left before we die, how it won’t wait, the only thing we can’t buy.  A map is location or dislocation, finding your way or acknowledging you are lost, lost but looking (or conversely following a path predetermined for you). A compass is where we are and how we get where we’re going (our location vis-à-vis the Northern Star). All of it is about the human condition– direction, or rather three questions: where are we, where are we going, how much time do we have to get there?

But the lamppost, it doesn’t take me anywhere. It does not define; it measures, neither time or space nor place. What it does do, however, is light the way from where I am. I’d like to think of lampposts as metaphorical friends on the path of time and spatial travel we call life; or sometimes epiphanies, ‘ah ha’ moments when we are static but suddenly know what is next; a luminous “Eureka!” It’s the light we may use to read the map, mark the spot, set the clock, tell the time, or follow the compass. It may be education. It is clearly literally and figuratively enlightenment that comes at points and appointed times.

You do not take the lamppost with you as a flashlight or a candle. It is not placed in the safety of your own home (except at the entrance of a door or the exit to a garden, welcoming a stranger, signaling entry into a new realm). You come upon them and suddenly, they are before you. You’d prefer to follow them, especially at night, but you never know, on unfamiliar back roads, when they will suddenly disappear when you need them the most. You find them sometimes unnecessarily lit in the day. Some parts of the world, some countries, some cities, neighborhoods, and corners of the earth have less than they should or more than they need.

We take them for granted when they are abundant and lament where light is lacking- we are not just complaining: we are afraid, incapacitated and anticipate imminent danger. We know not what darkness will conjure up, what is lurking in the unseen places…

There is no Bogeyman when the lamppost is lit. We find Narnia when the lamppost is lit.

We have celebrated light since the foundation of the world- “Let there be light!” We have coveted fire since Prometheus’ gift. We have put a candle under a bush. We have praised the sun. We have danced under the moon. We have followed bright stars. We have prayed to be light.

And when all of the lights of heaven were not enough, we scattered light across the earth…

Tower of Babel

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Tower of Babel by Shoshana Sarah

My Tower of Babel

So…I am obsessed with the Tower of Babel. I’m not 100% sure why although it’s clear to me that this obsession relates to my love of languages. But it’s not just the love of speaking languages or even hearing them, but just seeing the text of another language sends me into an irrationally ecstatic frenzy. I get giddy. Seriously, I do.

I bought a poster of the Tower of Babel. Once, I took my daughters to the museum for kids day, the day the subject was the Tower of Babel, of course, and then took over one of their projects (hey, she let me!). Then I decided that I wanted to imitate that project in a collage. The product is what you see here.

I started off with two A4 papers that I taped together. I drew out the framework of where I wanted things to be. Then I started cutting…it started out normal enough, pictures of skies for the sky (the cool clouds near the top are pics from Hubble)…but this was my first *pre-meditated* collage. Hence, the obsession reached a new level.

I would laugh like a mad scientist when I’d found a new scrap of language to add like finding an marvelous, not so decomposed ear for my Frankenstein. I would snatch papers from the street (one man’s trash became my treasure), take flyers that were clearly not meant for me from the post office, and hunted down as many languages as I could ‘naturally’ get my hands on like a cold-blooded killer.

Ok, maybe I’m taking this a bit too far.

I started with the old yellowed paper at the bottom which I knew- the moment I saw it discarded on the street- would be the ‘sand’ and the first part of the collage. The sky was the easy part (the moon took a while to find). I wanted the languages I found to really be ‘found’- I knew I could Google whatever I wanted to but I refrained as much as possible (couldn’t resist the Sanskrit, Hindi, Celtic and Georgian though).

The collage includes: English, Russian, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Persian (thanks, Yuliya), Arabic, Sanskrit, Hindi, Celtic, Amharic, Ancient Hebrew, Hieroglyphics (my pride & joy), Greek, Georgian, what I am 95% sure is Thai (the post office flyer that clearly wasn’t for me) and Ancient Cuneiform(some of which I sketched on top of the collage).

There are also a variety of flags, symbols- such as the Olympics symbol and the Mayan sun and moon gods, the Hebrew name of god at the top of the tower, as well as strategically placed purposeful English phrases such as: “pillars of creation,” “mysteries of the universe,” and “he loved the people.”

I cut the palm trees outs of images of plants and wood, respectively. The camels on both sides are actually one picture. The right side is the water reflection of the left, which I thought was cool and reminiscent of a mirage. The silver windows are from cigarette packaging and the gold windows are from confiscated gold paper from a certain educational facility (*ahem*).

The icing on the cake is the sun I painted myself- I cut it out of another painting (I am forever indebted to Racheli for teaching me how to mix colors) and the REAL sand, which I shamelessly had my oldest daughter ‘misappropriate’ from the school grounds (she was quite impatient for me to use it which took me the better part of a month).

~*~*~*~

After all that, I started thinking, maybe I should have been patient. I should have researched all of the languages that have ever existed (to man’s knowledge of course) and then arranged them etymologically and chronologically from the bottom up with English at the top as the new lingua franca in one enormous, meticulously planned, ridiculously awesome Magnum Opus!!!

*sigh*

So…I am obsessed with the Tower of Babel…

…I’m also obsessed with words, clocks, maps and compasses (by the way, I’m almost finished with the words collage and I’m collecting maps as we speak).

I Was Told that I was Haunted

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I was told that I was haunted. Now I know it’s true. The thoughts creep under my covers and snuggle up with me in the bed; they whisper ideas that threaten me with evaporation should I dare not get up, 55 minutes past my bedtime, and write them down. Just as I’d begun to think that there was no way I’d write a post a day but I would try for the once a week challenge and this blog is supposed to be about only poetry anyway.

This is not the first time. It was the one of many when I told a wise friend that I can’t sleep sometimes because I am writing or creating that she told me I was haunted. By what? She wouldn’t say…but I knew. And now I won’t say either for the purpose has been fulfilled (but if you pay attention, you’ll hear about it one day in a song).

Tomorrow, there will be poetry…only poetry…I hope.