NIght of the Jaguar- Enticing Read

I just finished listening to “The NIght of the Jaguar” by Michael Gruber. Books on CD is my favorite way to pass the long hours driving to and from my family home 7 hours away.

NIght of the JaguarThis novel has it all; murder mystery, philosophy, psychology, contemporary geo-political ideas, clash of ancient and modern culture, you name it.

The top few characters develop nicely, learning from and integrating their experiences to grow from them.

The gist surrounds mysterious murders by a giant jaguar, which we know from the beginning is a little Columbian Indian who transforms into this god like beast, his own god, in fact. All this seems too implauseable, and we hear that from several characters, including the main character, Jimmy Paz, who retired as a cop after solving some bizarre voodoo killings years before. But over time, he begins to piece events together, all of which lead him to re-constitute some of his heritage, expressed in the character of his shamanistic Cuban mother.

In my favorite parts, the various characters discuss the scientific plausibility of spirits, their powers, their effects on the real world. It sound like Gruber did his homework, since the conversations seem well researched and make sense.

Gruber broaches tricky territory trying to convince us that spirits can take shapes not scientifically possible. But with all those philosophy of science and psychology discussions in the book, he set the leap up fairly well.

During Jimmy Paz’s defining moment, he realizes that it is simply not possible to be able to understand all workings of the universe, and that believing so hampers one’s ability so sense and respect the unknowable, the mysterious aspects of the workings of mind and matter which we may never fully grasp, no matter how much research is done. His wife, a psychiatric MD, and friend, a brilliant scientist, are not convinced. Much like the world we live in, there are the believers and the skeptics. But Jimmy brings us along with him in his transformation into a believer, at least in Jaguar spirits who take real form to kill.

All in all, a great read, or listen, in my case. This book on CD was read by Jonathan Davis, who does a fantastic job of rendering all the different characters voices and accents, from Brit to American to Florida Cuban.

Summer, Haircuts and Basil

I had a haircut today. I love the feeling of the scissors snipping near my ears and the sheers vibrating against my head. It’s the most relaxed I’ve been in weeks. I realize that I’ve missed Summer, being so distracted with my career crisis.

I barely write here anymore, especially since the arts culture crisis began in Columbus in January, threatening my job of 19 years. I moved here to play in the Columbus Symphony. It was a thriving orchestra back then, up and coming. We had some great years with Alessandro Siciliani; a trip to Carnegie Hall, several recordings. Now all that is threatened.

An orchestra is like a tree. It takes a long time to grow and develop. It’s unique shape and habits are like no other tree. It offers relief from the rigors of the day under its branches.

I have an old Chinquapin Oak growing next to my house. It is at least 150 years old. It’s branches grow over two houses. When I had a large addition put on the back of my house, I had a special “floating” foundation put in, with three large piers upon which the room is built. I hired a tree specialist to dig the holes, so as not to disturb the roots. She used a large air gun to blast the soil away, revealing any roots, which she cut very carefully. Luckily, there were no really important arteries in any of the three 5 ft deep holes.

So it is with an orchestra. In the attempts to “stabilize” the organization financially, those who perhaps intended “progress” have instead damaged, perhaps irreparably, the Columbus Symphony. Several players have left, and more will leave in the next few months.

I planted three tomato plants in a pot in my driveway, one of the few places unshaded by the huge oak. Those three tiny little plants are now huge, rambling five feet high and flopping in every direction. The first tomatoes are almost ripe. (I planted them late) I watched the progress of those weedy plants each time I walked past them. I also planted a few dozen Basil plants, which are now robust bushes full of fragrant leaves. Tomato and Basil plants are the epitome of Summer! Their pungent smell and profuse vigor capture the very essence of Summer’s fecund process. So much happens in a garden during the growing season.

And I realize that, like the tomato plants, I’ve also been productive. I’ve had to adjust to the possibility of being unemployed for awhile until either the orchestra is resurrected or I gain another job. (akin to winning the Olympics, in other words a rare and difficult accomplishment) I’ve cleared out three rooms in my house and rented them out. The new house-mates have settled in and, in addition to providing me with income, are turning out to be excellent additions to my home.

I had a huge garage sale a few days ago. I seized the opportunity while clearing rooms out to sort through and eliminate superfluous stuff. I sold not only house items, but many plant divisions from my garden, mainly Hostas and Daylilies. I made $350 on the sale. And my life feels a bit lighter.

I am teaching more private students, and enjoying the process of initiating young minds to music’s complexity, especially since I have few performances to worry about.

Along with other musicians in the orchestra, I helped organize several very successful concerts to keep our orchestra in the public eye.

So, as I look at the garden through the large window behind my computer, I see that the garden’s progress didn’t happen alone. I now see how much I have grown, in self-reliance, confidence and resilience, during the past few months.

At the end of Summer, Fall’s harvest is the reward for hard work. Perhaps during the approaching Fall season, my hard earned personal growth and actions will pay off. I have to hope and be optimistic.

Unbearable Lightness

Some of you may have noticed that I altered my blog header photo. I added the words “Unbearable Lightness” in script across the middle of the mystical looking woodland scene. (That photo is from Hocking Hills, Ohio, an area 40 miles south of flat Columbus. The region is hilly, unusual for Ohio. Th natural limestone hollows in the area, resembling caves, have been a tourist attraction since the mid 1800’s. Those beautiful natural formations exudes a magical feel. American Indians used many of the caves as meeting places for their enhanced acoustics.)

I read Milan Kundera’s book Unbearable Lightness of Being in the 1980’s. I’ve always loved the title and the book itself was a revelation for me. It’s message, that life’s mysterious existence and our even more inexplicable awareness of it, reminded me of Buddhist awareness of the power of the present moment. Yet Kundera embellishes the emotionality of being in the present, how excruciatingly poignant life can be both in its sadness and joy.

It all passes, the joy and the pain, as do we ourselves. How better to describe that terrifying and beautiful feeling, the emotional openness of being in the present moment no matter how desperately we my wish to get away from it, than with the phrase “unbearable lightness”? The irony of the phrase delivers the appropriate impact of such a powerful sense of aliveness.

So my blog is now un-officialy titled “Unbearable Lightness“.

What Does It Want To Do?

swirl water leavesThe words came into his head. Out of nowhere. Like someone else said them. The voice wasn’t even his, but sounded like someone doing a bad imitation of him; slightly nasal with a raspy piercing deepness.

He lounged on his screened front porch, shielded from the eyes of passersby. Not that he knew any of them, really. Just neighbors. The same faces passed his house regularly, fulfilling the daily routine stamped into their lives, in this case by the dogs they walked. He envied them this regularity, at least from a distance. It gave them the power of rooted steadiness, able to withstand gusts of windy life without falling over.

He, on the other hand, felt more like a pile of leaves, able to take any shape and move with the wind, but having no particular form or solidity. He felt like the foam on top of the waves of change and time. For that reason he liked his name, Dorn. It sounded like a part of a decoration. Just part. Not even his name was complete in itself.

“What does it want to do?” Was the question directed at him or from him? He’d always thought of himself as an object, a human form rather than a unique person. So he could be the “it” in question, like the hamster whose owner asks aloud in its presence what it wants to do. He could imagine the neighbors wondering why he didn’t rake his leaves or mow his grass much. Why did he sleep so late before starting his day? He smiled, imagining himself under observation to learn about the perplexing and perhaps dangerous behavior of slightly deviant humans.

But he’d also approached the whole human race from the same detachment he applied to himself. To his misanthropic thinking, most people had no free will. Certainly not as a group. They did what they had to do to survive, or compete, or follow the group.

How many dared break all the “rules” to be free of them? Most desperately “wanted” to fit in, even if they disagreed with the norm. Wasn’t that the way of the world, to be the best behaved lab rats on the block? Wasn’t modern life a conglomeration of activities born of doing what’s healthy, right, smart, well researched, popular, chic, compassionate or efficient?

People thought it was free will to shop when and for what you wanted. Sure, like it would be free will to snort coke when you “wanted”, or sleep when you’re tired or eat when you’re hungry. No. To him people had about as much free will as cats or birds. Clink their bowl and they come running for more treats. The “It” in question could mean humanity flowing along the luscious and complex Cinerama of cause and effect, survival and conformity. Freedom is an elusive thing.

Thoughts continued to burst like microwave popcorn. Body, mind, systems of language, culture, society, history, chance; all burst with answers to explore. All seemed to operate in systems of their own, with particular patterns of cause and effect, like an IT without will. Letting the scope of the question grow, it now encompassed something beyond humanity and earth. What if “it” in question is the universe. What does IT want to do? Is the universe conscious of doing anything? How can it be? So how can it want to do something?

This thinking began to give an answer, not so much an answer as another kind of question. Why was Dorn able to ask these questions? If all aspects of the universe, from individuals to groups to cosmos, were operating under definable and determinate rules, what did it imply about his ability to wonder at the unanswerable nature of the questions? Gazing with wonder at snow falling, or leaves swirling in a gust of wind, or the peaceful purring of a sleeping cat, or the powerful ephemeral majesty of the setting sun; were those activities just another cog in the wheel of cause and effect?

Sometimes Dorn wanted to do things. Yes, he himself actually wanted to do something, without consideration for their usefulness or conformity. He wanted to sob for hours at the horror of the human race’s continual violence to other creatures, torture, abuse of power, manipulation of lives for personal gain, blind selfishness, pettiness, laziness, destruction of the planet. He included himself in that mass of insidious perfidiousness. He also wanted to hug and kiss anyone he met on the street, to break the ice of distance and normality, to start a new spark of spontaneous love. He wanted to reward with the greatest possible emotion anyone and everyone who struggled to make the world a little better place.

But he was usually paralyzed into doing what’s normal; smile, go about your business, leave the worrying to someone else. Sometimes he wanted to stop doing anything, because so much of “normal” life involved conforming to patterns of tacit destruction and manipulation and evasion of naked truth. He felt trapped, unable to escape his own involvement, his complicity in such a world. How could he fight it without becoming further caught in the vicious cycle? However, these thoughts embarrassed him, because of their wimpiness. He could imagine someone saying, “Get off your ass and do something about it!”

He quickly grew overwhelmed. How could he fathom what the universe wanted to do or how to determine what is truly free will? A fuse burned out in his mind. That often happened to him. He’d break open a huge subject, even with friends, and by the time they had gotten deep into the discussion, he’d poop out, move on, wanting to do something else. He had a feeling it was an escape, a kind of laziness, to give up on the big questions. But what the heck, everyone else did it.

So he finished his last swig of beer. Out of habit, the idea of a walk came to mind. According to numerous studies, walking is good for you, and it passed some time in a way others would accept as normal. So off he went, to be healthy and normal.

That’s what IT wanted to do for now, at least. But the question would haunt him toward further exploration.