Pareidolia, Good to Know Ya

We love our pareidolia moments. The human brain is continuously at work interpreting the world around us, judging incoming information and stimuli on a range of choices and a spectrum of notions, ranging from food or not-food? to friend or foe? to Do I know you? Look at those clouds. Do you see what I see?

Artists have taken advantage of this for centuries. Were I to draw a circle, put two dots toward the top side, a short vertical line under these, and a horizontal half-circle under that, most people would say that I had sketched a smiley human face, even though hardly any human being that any of us knows looks like that. Some neuroscientists say that our brains are hard-wired to look for faces and to quickly identify friend or foe, even with only a part of a face visible. Those ancient humans who survived because of this skill survived to pass that skill on, genetically. Those with superior facial recognition skills today have their ancient ancestors to thank.
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Sleep, Perchance to Zzzzzzzzz

We measure the quality of our day by the number of achievements we have. Number of documents published versus quality of work, or the number of times this week we beat personal commuting records to and from the office, or numbers of reps at the gym, or, worse, for those dieting, number of days without “cheating,” which represents even more harsh ways to harshly self-judge.
We live in a culture of Other Peoples’ Success and thus exist in a competition with others for more successes than them and yet better ones. This is because, as Brené Brown, a famous sociologist, points out, we live in a “culture of scarcity. We wake up in the morning and we say, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ And we hit the pillow saying, ‘I didn’t get enough done.’ We’re never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough—until we decide that we are. The opposite of ‘scarcity’ is not ‘abundance.’ It’s ‘enough.’ I’m enough.”
I’m enough. Not “I’m good enough.” I’m enough. How hard that is to say, and to mean it to be about me, myself, and not you. It is even harder to embrace.— “Get Some Sleep Already,” October 24, 2014

I only remember my nightmares. Which means that either I do not have pleasant dreams at all (not the case) or that I have them all the time but they are unremarkable to me because I live my life under the self-centered guiding philosophy that the only life worth experiencing always feels like a victorious night at an awards ceremony, so I spend my waking life continuously happy and flinging thumbs-up signs at the world (not the case, either).
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Through a Screen Door

A heavy rain drowns each raindrop; a light rain, like the kind I saw in the woods out behind my house when I was a child, a light rain striking the leaves and branches of trees, further slowing their impact, that rain produces the strongest petrichor of all, the one that renders me into an seven-year-old noticing the world for the first time.
The lightest of rain after the driest of spells leads to the most argillaceous petrichor, which is the kind that humans smell as relief, the thought that things will start growing again.—”Petrichor,” Jan. 26, 2015

We called it “The Woods.” Well, I did. Sometimes, I referred to it as a “forest,” which it most certainly was not. Our backyard ended at a line of trees and dross beneath them; the lightly manicured, suburban lawn did not grow beyond that line, despite my teen-aged lawn mowing efforts to expand the lawn by clearing the dead leaves and branches away. That tight boundary made The Woods appear all the more elemental and foreign.
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‘Wherever you go …’

W.D. Richter has so far directed only two films in his long film making career; neither was a hit. In the 1970s and ’80s, he was one of Hollywood’s more successful screenwriters, authoring films in several genres, from sci-fi to adventure.

A movie a year was made from his scripts from 1976 to 1982, and several were huge hits that are still fondly remembered: the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” starring Donald Sutherland, “Dracula” starring Frank Langella (Richter adapted the stage play), “Brubaker” with Robert Redford. His most recent film listed on IMDB is a movie from 2005 called “Stealth” starring Jessica Biel.
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#FreeRaif, Week 5

For the fourth week in a row, Raif Badawi, a writer in Saudi Arabia, was not whipped fifty times yesterday as part of his public punishment for insulting his nation’s official religion in his blog. No one is breathing a sigh of relief that this counts as sparing him, or that he is about to be freed.

Amnesty International broke the news this morning via Twitter:

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Texts from Beyond

The poet and critic John Greening sums up the career of James Merrill, who died twenty years ago tomorrow, in a 2010 essay, “Ouija”:

James Merrill made a point of breaking all the rules, of remaining recklessly formal when all about him were casting off their chains, of being incorrigibly discursive and elitist, shunning the rhythms of speech for something more refinedly musical, and unswerving in his determination to squeeze every last pun out of a line.—John Greening, “Ouija,” The Dark Horse, Summer 2010

He was a rebel in his adherence to rules in a rule-breaking era. He wrote dazzling, perfect poems and employed almost every verse form available to him, as an actor might use accents. Greening quotes George Bradley: “Reading James Merrill is enough to make the rest of us suspect we’re not smart enough to write poetry.” Even at his smartest, he is engaging and not impenetrable. His pleasure in the sounds of words and the poetic effects he creates and his many puns are always evident. He compliments his readers in assuming that we must know what he is writing about at least as well as he.

He is not the poet of nature as much as a poet who will describe a beautiful painting of a natural scene. (In “A Renewal,” a park that he and his beloved are sitting in is rendered as, “A clear vase of dry leaves vibrating on and on.”) American poetry loves its confessional writers, its Beats and its bards like Whitman and Sandburg and Ginsburg, but Merrill made a lifelong project out of reminding us that the life of the mind takes one down a road no less winding that any western blue highway. And he found a way to be a bard, nonetheless.
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An Offer Like This Will Just Not Come Again

According to NPR, by 1990 the city of Verona, Italy, was receiving over 6,000 letters to Juliet Capulet each year. This fact has been celebrated in a book and movie, both titled “Letters to Juliet,” so the outline of the story is well-known: Lovers who are in the middle of difficult plights or terrible loneliness write letters, detailed letters, about their storm-tossed affairs to Shakespeare’s fictional heroine. Only she, many begin, the ghost of a character who never breathed a human breath, only she can possibly understand and empathize.

Verona has a staff of volunteers who read and sometimes reply to the letters. (“Letters from Juliet” might be a more interesting title.) They call themselves “The Juliet Club,” and it only became an official office around 1990, but people have been writing letters to poor dead (never lived) Juliet for centuries. (Here is the address: Club di Giulietta, via Galilei 3-37133, Verona, ITALY.) Verona enjoys portraying itself as the hometown of Romeo and Juliet and even has a “Romeo and Juliet tour.” (Valentine’s Day is especially important.) Shakespeare certainly did more for Verona’s economy than he did for Denmark’s.
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‘A Renewal’: You’ll Know When You Know

To have love, one must give love; to give love, one must have it to give. That may be life’s deepest catch-22, Hobson’s choice, Morton’s fork—any of those logical situations whose suppositions exist only to support the logic that requires them. Love is illogical, or at least has its own logic; “How Will I Know?” pretty well sums it up. My mother (it is her birthday today) would have replied to Ms. Houston: “You’ll know when you know.”

The moment love is not pursued, there it is; advice to a young lover often follows that logic. “When you stop looking for it or needing it, you will find love.” (It only took about three decades of hearing that for it to sink in for me, which reminds me that it is Valentine’s Day soon.)
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