To see and to dream

So much is said about sight.

“Seeing is believing.” “Sight unseen.” “As far as the eye can see.”

The things I see and remember seeing are often some of the sources of my greatest pleasure and my greatest joy. In the case of things I see, there seems to be a vast collection of images that bring  joy.

  • Hummingbirds
  • hibiscus flowers
  • cherries
  • lightening
  • flowing water, crashing waves
  • Aspen groves
  • hand blown glass
  • Rodin sculptures
  • Mondigliani paintings
  • antiques — particularly antique tools
  • art quilts and clothing as art

These are only a few of the sight memories that bring me to places of joy. And I have never felt the need to explore things related to my sight, to seeing. Perhaps it is the way in which the visual is manifested inside our souls. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason for to split these images into meaning. They seem to transcend the need for explanation.

Sight renders images to our senses as whole of themselves. Explanation is in some ways futile. I can try to tell you about the most beautiful moonrise I saw last Tuesday or a sunset I saw from a high hill last night, but the words fail even a wordsmith. You cannot make the whole somehow better by trying to describe it.

So, perhaps all we can each do is to go and to look and to behold. And to thank God for the joy of sight.

In all things I wish you peace.

 

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Skin hunger — revisiting touch

Well, I know I covered touch already. But maybe I wasn’t really saying everything I wanted to say.

The world can be very prim. It’s okay to have wildly provocative advertisements about men’s underwear and teenagers with their flys down, or girls whose breasts are barely covered. But if I want to talk about touch, then I had better clam up and keep it to myself.

But as I reread my entry on touch, I was extremely dissatisfied…as if I had missed sharing what is really true about other aspects of touch and the joy and comfort it provides me. Not sharing these thoughts seems very dishonest to the reader. And if the point is to discover joy in some of the simpler aspects of our lives and then to share it with you as a means of consideration for your own life, then dishonesty isn’t very helpful, is it?

The term “skin hunger” was one a therapist friend used with me when describing people who had gone for a long, long time without experiencing touch from another person — another person who was meaningful to them. She said that there is a longing that builds up in people — particularly those who are experiencing some type of distress — that really needs to be satisfied. It’s odd that we all know about the experiment where a baby monkey is denied his mother. In fact, I seldom allow myself to think about those things because I think my head will just explode with rage and grief that someone would deny another living creature affection and comfort — even for some behavioral experiment. There is a level of cruelty involved there that I cannot fathom.

The fact of the matter is that I am a sensual creature. Sensual is a word that has gotten a bad rap. By dictionary definition, sensual means “of or relating to any of the senses or sense organs; strongly or unduly inclined to gratification of the senses; of or relating to sensualism.” This particular dictionary also notes the following: “Sensuous usually implies gratification of the senses for the sake of aesthetic pleasure; sensual usually describes gratification of the senses or physical appetites as an end in itself.”

All of that works for me. There are sensuous pleasures — food, paintings, Rodin sculptures and there are sensual pleasures.

Somewhere back when all those Calvinistic Puritans came to what is now America, all “passions” of the senses (things sensual) appear to have gotten a bad reputation. It was morally reprehensible to behold any sensory experience as comforting or in any way pleasurable. I probably would not have made a good Puritan. This moralistic and judgmental way of perceiving ourselves strikes me as being completely at odds with a God who created us as beings constantly in need of affection and touch. I don’t know if you believe in God or not, but surely if you do you don’t think you were given some deeply wired, sanity-insuring behavior to spend your entire life keeping it on a short leash. That would be another cruelty as monstrous as denying a baby monkey his mother. I honestly think it would make you insane.

I define myself as a sensual person, a sensual creature. Touch is an intimate experience — even if it’s just the squeeze of the shoulder. That touch can be welcome or unwelcome is part of how we define intimacy. Overall, intimacy on whatever level is a welcome experience.

I love to touch people and be touched. I think that touch is such a life-giving part of existence and it has been denied to far too many people for all the wrong reasons. I think the intimacy we all crave has been locked up in a world that tells us that feeling the need for touch is somehow a sign of deficiency. We are supposed to be tough and to contain all that we feel — emotionally or physically or spiritually — within our skin and our brains.

I like people to put their arm or arms around me. I love to hug. I kiss all the people I know and love. Yes, sometimes I still kiss my mother on the lips. I hold hands with people in need or pain — and with folks I haven’t seen in forever. And sometimes with sweethearts. I trace the edges of children’s eyebrows and put my hand against their cheeks — they are so soft and innocent and beguiling. I cuddle up with my cat because he too is sensual and he returns the touch I give him with his own forms of touch.

Making contact…closing the gap between your heart and mine…that is touch. That is joy. To share the pleasure of softness and comfort. That is intimacy. It is touch. And, above all, it is joy.

In all things I wish you peace.

Primeval

Okay. Think about some of the stories or novels you have read.

“…smelled like an old tennis shoe..,” “…smelled like nothing so much as a dirty, wet dog..,” “…smelled sour…as if the old man hadn’t bathed for days…”

Ick! None of that sounds all that appealing. But, for the life of me, I have a much harder time remembering written passages about things that smell nice. Flowers or cakes or anything much except maybe “the clean smell of rain.”

So, if I assume that you are curious about what I think is joyful about smell, tennis shoes and sour old men aren’t much of a commendation for smell. And rain is…well, it’s commented on with some frequency. Then comes back again my early comment about joy being slow food, a savored thing. And my other comments about contentment and satisfaction.

The fact of the matter is that I am not nearly the gardener my sisters and brother are. My mother is also a good gardener. Let’s just say that I “soldier on.” But, even with that anemic depiction, I know what I love the very best about gardening — the smells. I love the smell of dirt (or, more correctly, soil…freshly turned soil). And of peat moss. And of grasses — cut and uncut. I have savored these things since the time I would go and sit in the yard while my parents pruned shrubs or planted new flowers. And, I liked the nursery, too. All those smells like bone meal or plant food!

There are some wild plants that have a very distinct smell that I associate with certain times and places. I don’t remember those times or places, but if I smell that plant and a smile comes to my face, I know I have found a moment of joy. And, truthfully, I don’t always want my memories to be specific down to the last detail. There’s something special about just the vague memory and the association with the smell. I don’t know if I would say that about other senses and the memories associated with them.

Smell is a different kind of response and it brings about joy in a particular way. I once wore a perfume consistently for about three years while dating a certain man. After the relationship was over, I could no longer wear that perfume. I still loved all the citrusy smell, but it conjured up memories I didn’t want to have stirred up. I suppose it was no longer a thing of joy. Until I reclaimed it more than 10 years later. Now it’s just citrus — but really yummy citrus!

Perhaps of all the smells I can think of, there is one very pungent smell that always brings me a sense of being well. I speak a lot of spending summer vacations at my grandparents’ home. This was yet another thing I associate with that time. My grandparents did not have air conditioning. They had 15-foot ceilings and ceiling fans and great ventilation. But even with that, summer nights were hot and humid and sometimes, despite that, outside was better than inside.

So, many of us would go out on the front porch and down to the end of the walkway, where three concrete steps descended into the street, the yard having sloped down a good three to four feet. We would generally congregate in a tumble around those steps and the cool, cool St. Augustine grass. Our bare feet rested on the hot pavement, our derrieres in the grass. Then the wind picked up that specific smell and blew it towards us as the truck came rattling by, its container of chicken wire at least six to eight feel high. It was full of cotton headed for the gin. And, the air smelled of the burning cotton bolls. I have no idea how much cotton was harvested in that region of the state at that time, but certainly enough to make it worthwhile to have a gin close by. It is seldom that I smell the burning of bolls anymore. But there is a huge feeling of contentment when I do catch a whiff of that in the air. I don’t think I can say that it’s because it brings back some sense of ease that things really haven’t changed all that much.

Things have changed a lot, really. But sense memory — and in this case, the sense of smell — is perhaps more primitive and therefore more capable of revealing to us joy through a continuum. Smell, I suspect, is enhanced by memory. Much in the way perfumes are layered potions, smell may bring joy through its ability to build upon itself and catalog our inmost feelings when we find something to bond with them and arouse them. And this happens time upon time upon time, layering smell and memory to create a fusion of joy.

In all things I wish you peace.

Cacophony, dissonance…the sound and the fury

Okay, it’s a fancy word…cacophony. I looked up the origin. It’s from the Greek, kakophōnos, which means sound or voice.

I find it sad that our world is so filled with noise these days. It’s hard to get to anything resembling silence — even in the privacy of our own heads. But, the other side of that is that I am grateful for my hearing. For my ability to hear things pleasant and things necessary for my survival — sirens, brakes, thunder.

A couple of nights back, we had a prolonged thunderstorm blow through. The dog, well, she doesn’t like thunder and lightning much. So, we had the 1 am bark-a-thon for two hours. We tried the “Temple Grandin” squeeze method. We tried the crate with a big towel over the top to diminish the flashes of light…However, that didn’t work for her.

What she heard is a true curiosity to me. I have no idea what a dog’s hearing range is. I know it is greater than ours and takes in higher frequencies. I wonder what it would be like to have such acute senses as dogs — hearing, smell, sight? (To tell the truth, I don’t think taste rates up very high with dogs. If it’s food, I think they eat it. Cats, on the other hand, are foodies. It had damn well better taste good.) I think dogs must get to hear amazing things we can only guess at.

That episode had me pretty tired the following night, and I sleep very hard. I thought nothing could possibly wake me. Until 3 am. A bird was singing. At 3 am! It was not a bird of prey like an owl or hawk. Nor was it a mourning dove — a species which is quite plentiful in these parts.

The song was sweet and light. I had some frustration at this unexpected intrusion, but I lay awake for a while considering the strangeness of hearing a songbird at 3 am. I wondered what there was to celebrate at this unholy hour? I had no doubt that there was something. I’m not sure it matters if I knew then or know now. What I know is that there was something so out-of-place about all of this that it made me realize what a strange and rather bizarre gift this was. The bird was joyous. Even at 3 am. Even in the dark…possibly with owls close at hand coveting baby birds and eggs. Perhaps, like the saying, “Faith is a bird that sings in the night.”

What is joyous about sound? The trite things I have heard before are “a baby’s laugh,” or “a running stream.” I like those too, but I was looking for something that was more of a stretch. Something we don’t think about because it’s so routine or something we don’t think about because it is so long ago forgotten.

When I think of something routine, it’s the sound of tires on the highway. Where I live, we cover lots of miles in any one week. It may be back and forth to work or it may be on open road. But that sound of steel-belted tires rolling over highways is distinct — particularly when you travel across a bridge and hear the familiar thumping sound of road and tire meeting. I understand from engineers that the sound tires make on the pavement is caused by the pushing out of air from between the tire and the pavement when the tire rolls over it. It’s almost a hissing sound. I like this sound because it appeals to the part of me that always wants to be out going someplace — to some corner of the world I haven’t visited or another corner that I return to time and again because I find it comforting. And sometimes “someplace” isn’t a place at all…it’s the road going on and on and taking me through fields of millet or sorghum or pastures of cattle and cactus. When these moments merge with my conscience, I am overcome with a deep sense of satisfaction, of belonging and of understanding.

Similarly, the sound I have not heard in so long is, in one way, a sound I hear hundreds of times a year. When I stop and consider it, I wonder if it will be a lost sound sometime soon. It is the sound — sometimes far and sometimes near — of the Missouri-Pacific railroad cutting through corners of our town/city. Years ago, when I owned a house, I would hear the train come somewhat near around 5 am. I knew some who hated it. But, for me, it was a lonesome sound with a story behind it. Perhaps it was the story of the role that train had played in the lives of those who lived here fifty years earlier. Sometimes, I imagined what it was for hobos to ride the rails in the Great Depression. While I recognize that the life of a hobo was probably not something that most aspired to, I’ve always had a gypsy-longing for a chance to be a hobo for a few days and see if it had any allure. And the sound of the train’s horn always brings me back to that image of independent people refusing to be tied down to a place or a permanent responsibility, or alternatively, very much wanting to be tied down but unable to exist that way because of circumstances.

These sounds give me a much more rooted sense of being joyful than the artificial ringing of my cell phone or the beeping of a backhoe digging up ground for a swimming pool in the yard two doors down. Train and tire sounds do not feel mechanical, here-today-gone-tomorrow. They seem interwoven into the texture of our lives. And then I wonder if those younger than I will think cell phone rings and digging backhoes sound more real than something else that will be new and fresh in their universe.

Sound. Sound and joy. What do you love the most that you hear? Here is my short list of other sounds that make me feel content, giggly or struck with wonder.

  • clucking chickens
  • cicadas talking the night away
  • men’s voices speaking low
  • lullabies
  • languorous Spanish
  • whistling (tunes, that is)
  • harmonicas, accordions, mandolins, banjos, oboes
  • a cappella singing
  • laughter that is so hard the person is gasping for breath
  • the keening of a coyote
  • a 21-gun salute
  • thunder
  • folk songs
  • whispered words of endearment

In all things I wish you peace.

The texture of touch

or is it the touch of texture?

Last week I gave you a view into my perspective on taste. The trouble with our five senses is that they are so interconnected, that sometimes it’s hard to neatly carve each one out.

Touch. The peach has a texture like velvet or suede. Blackberries are bumpy. Kiwis are hairy on the outside and grainy on the inside. But, this is not a food blog.

So, I think about texture and touch.

I often tell my friends that when I go antique shopping I am really going to “pet the wood.” I suppose I come from a long line of wood junkies. My grandfather and father were woodworkers. Now my brother is the sole woodworker. (I have pieces made by each one of them.) But wood, like a peach, is a sensuous pleasure.

There are few things as deep in character as an antique table or bureau that has been thoroughly loved and used by generations before us. The wood is almost like satin to the touch, with all the years of hands crossing its surface, perhaps flicking off dust or just grazing the top on the way to pick up that bottle of cologne. I own an antique Scottish washstand with marble top and the most incredible mahogany base. When you run your hands across it, it just cries out to be petted! There is both a sense of pleasure and of memory. I find it comforting to caress the years of gentle wear that have built up that satiny, glossy surface just waiting for my touch.

Consider fabric. I can spend hours looking for the perfect piece of fabric that feels just right for the purpose I intend it. My cousin who, like me, works in mixed media is pioneering this aspect into her work. I’m not so brave just yet. She has used upholstery fabric or some other bit or piece she just happened across. Some years ago she gave me a piece of white satiny brocade which I am still looking to use. Silk dupioni is another one…slightly iridescent and nubby from all the imperfections in the fabric — makes a killer pair of dress pants! I used to have a pair…they finally gave up the ghost from being worn too much. It was a love affair, for certain. I caressed them, adored them, wore them for every dressy occasion — they were red and I thought they were quite daring. I always heard compliments — perhaps because I wasn’t wearing black — my standard.

I have searched days or weeks to find the exceptional pima cotton dress or t-shirt. I want it to be as soft as cashmere — but not as hot! I had never paid all that much attention to cotton knits…weren’t they all pretty good? Until I went on a business trip to Paris and a woman in the office there talked about how nice American cottons are and how difficult it was for her to find them in France. If you know French dressing, then you know French women wear lots of white t-shirts. Usually nothing more expensive or sophisticated than Hanes, but I thought perhaps a fine pima t-shirt might be just the way to thank this terrific woman who had helped me with my meetings there. I mailed her one when I got back home. She reminded me to touch of something I had forgotten and I was grateful.

Why does the memory of touch bring also a moment of joy?

Honestly, I am not sure.

What strikes me profoundly is the simplicity of touch and yet, the incredible complexity of the emotion it brings for each of us. Wood is a thread of time with memories or mysteries running along its continuum. Fabric is one of the most sensuous pleasures skin may ever know. When I consider fabric, I think of opulence…of giving comfort to others and to myself…of having the riches of kings. How did we learn to weave? To make such beauty?

The things which I touch and that give me back some small shiver of delight are objects of joy. Because in the past three years I have wanted to learn how much I could live without — how much the ability to satisfy every want or craving with money is available to so many of us — I think I have learned extraordinary lessons in joy. There are still many things I would love to possess…but I don’t really need them and not possessing them has probably allowed me to live more freely than before.

But, to be able to let go with only a quick slide of your fingers over the texture of that old dining room table or your toes gently tripping over that Persian rug, woven of finest silk…it is a freeing moment. We live, we breathe and we  touch…

Falling down on the post — starting a new group of thoughts

Well, I have certainly been radio silent for some time. Not the promise I made to myself or my small band of readers and friends for a weekly entry on the subject of joy.

Let’s suffice it to say that sometimes I doubt the presence of joy or the ability of an individual to grasp and hold on to joy. These past few weeks have found me profoundly uncertain that anything resembling joy was available to my life. I am not any different from other people who doubt one thing or another at a point in time.

My life over some period of years has been a roller coaster ride of “one damn thing after another” that seemed impossible to escape from. Impossible to shake off, as well. But, some perspective has returned to me again in the past week or two and I am reminded of a small sweet experience I had in Chicago many years ago.

I met a lovely couple through some other folks I knew in Chicago. They invited me over to their apartment on a Saturday just to talk and get to know one another. She was a writer for Women’s Wear Daily and he was a cook in a local restaurant with the abilities of a chef. A playful spirit with perhaps too little ambition…except for good food. I don’t remember her name, but his was Rob. Rob had a huge port wine stain across his face, and I marveled that he continued through his days with this mark. We are such a judgmental society and the perception of his face as blemished was probably common.

As the afternoon progressed, they invited me for dinner and she went off to the office for a few hours, leaving me and Rob and one of his friends who had joined us to our own devices. We decided to go for a bike ride. It was May. Rob was talking about food and flavors. To me, chefs are painters of food. They make it beautiful — in both looks and taste. I remember only one thing beyond his descriptions. We all were talking about a particular fruit or vegetable that came in spring that was our favorite.

My bike was slightly ahead of his. I turned around and said, “There is nothing like a ripe peach. So, Rob, eat a peach!” and then I biked ahead of the two and laughed as if I had said the most important and funny thing one could ever say. That was more than 20 years ago.

Much more recently, I wrote a piece and submitted it to NPR’s “This I Believe.” It was also about food. But it was about the joyous and sensual nature of food. It was not selected for airing, but that was never the point for me.

That experience has led me to consider the joy in our five senses. It’s a joy-filled thing to be able to taste, smell, see, hear and touch. I am very near-sighted and I have worried for a long time about what the loss of sight would mean for me since I enjoy that sense so much. That concern, however, makes me value my ability to see that much more.

So, this week I will begin with my essay on taste and the sensuality of taste. (And, by the way, I consider each of our five senses sensual…check out the definition.) My next entries will cover the other senses. I welcome your reflections on the five senses and how they may have brought you joy.

 

I believe in the joy of taste.

I believe we are all created with senses that allow us to perceive our world in a thousand different ways. Each of those is a gateway to enjoyment, well-being and joy.

I believe in the sensuality of taste. When I was a girl, I had favorites like barbecued chicken and mashed potatoes and strawberry shortcake. My mother planned written menus for all of our dinner meals. We loved looking at her map of various casseroles and main dishes which made up our weekly eating.

As I grew older, I became a breakfast connoisseur, savoring omelets or pancakes or French toast – Mrs. Baird’s bread sloshed in eggs and milk and placed on the griddle.  A favorite breakfast of my early twenties was scrambled eggs, bacon, grits and a grainy wheat toast slathered in sweet butter.

Now, I spend hours pouring over recipes, imagining the taste of Oaxacan spices on chicken or fresh fennel mixed with Italian seasonings. When I dine in a restaurant I read every item, envisioning the presentation of grilled red snapper or steaks finished in smoky, aged whiskey.

I taste everything. In the center of my brain, I can recall the smoothness of French butter filled with the tastes of the Norman countryside, the bitter tang of aged goat cheese mixed with peppery arugula, the delight of fresh whipped cream and extraordinarily ripe strawberries. These recollections are so strong that there is memory yet on my tongue – memory of my grandmother’s kitchen with bottles of unpasteurized milk covered by heavy cream and at the farmer’s market holding tiny, tender strawberries or the perfect Pecos cantaloupe.

I believe in the pleasure of taste. Smoked salt. Wild sassafras. Honeysuckle. Taste – and the memory of taste – allows me to revel in the pure delight of being a sensual human being.

In my childhood, brought up – as I was – in a very rule-bound religion, to consider humanness as a delight was close to a mortal sin. God made us only for our souls. To be sensual was to be blasphemous. My delight in taste and texture has made me realize that God made us for both the body and the soul. I believe the world is godlier because I gather the sensuousness of life to me. I consider taste’s sensuous nature delightful, nourishing to the body and the soul, without taint of evil.

In the pleasures of taste I recognize the origins of life, the sacredness of creating new life, the pleasure of being alive and at one with all the forces of nature around me. When I savor a carrot, freshly washed and unpeeled, I taste the dirt it grew in and the sugar that saturated it as it grew. Oatmeal feels rough on my tongue, unfurled in the fields where it grew, tossed by wind and rain, tasting ever-so-slightly of tangy salt. Cucumbers are like tiny oases, cool and crisp. And peaches! Peaches are so sensual in their very essence I dare not describe them here! But, when the juiciest peach runs down my chin, I believe that I have touched the gates of heaven on earth and that I am humanly divine.

In all things, I wish you peace.

Participating in the creation of joy

This is a fragment of a poem I re-discovered today. I think this week I will consider this potential to change our universe by changing our relationship with it. I believe that if we change our relationship with our own lives, we can experience joy.

 

We know that there is an

enormous power

inherent in each of us, at every moment

in time

to experience the unbounded love

and deep joy

which is potentially our inheritance.

 

Remind us

that our experience of the infinite,

— the hidden and hallowed power —

is through our experience of this

Creation,

and in our relationship with

our fellow beings

and that we have been granted the

faculty to change our universe

by changing our relationship with it.