Guest Post from Vincent Atchity's doctordogbrother

thunder crash and lightning

Posted: 18 Jun 2009 06:22 AM PDT

“Thou think’st ’tis much that this contentious storm
Invades us to the skin: so ’tis to thee;
But where the greater malady is fix’d,
The lesser is scarce felt. Thou’ldst shun a bear;
But if thy flight lay toward the raging sea,
Thou’ldst meet the bear i’ the mouth. When the
mind’s free,
The body’s delicate: the tempest in my mind
Doth from my senses take all feeling else
Save what beats there.”

–Shakespeare, King Lear, III.iv.

While untroubled souls seek refuge from the storm, Lear seeks refuge right out in the open heart of it: “Blow winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!” When we awake to the flash of lightning and crash of nearby thunder, perhaps in an unfamiliar room far from home, we may experience a peculiarly heightened sense of comfort. However distracted, dislocated, or out of sorts, our perspective with regard to our internal state is shifted by the fury of the heavens. If nothing else, in our upset state we may feel, for once, that we are at least matched by the cosmic clamor: shudder for shudder, it’s as if we and the heavens were each other’s mirror. There is a companionship in this, a sense of tangible reciprocity. Calm weather, by comparison, is cold and existentially heartless from the perspective of a soul in any kind of turmoil: it stands as a reminder that the heavens are indifferent to us, that there is no correspondence, no relation.

If we are calm ourselves, the raging weather outside only heightens our snug sense of comfort. We certainly feel no obligation to accompany the heavens in their fury–but we are possessed not by indifference, but by gratitude: our recognition of the modest comforts of this unfamiliar room far from home is heightened, the lightning’s white flashes etch humble details in memory.

Memory links to memory: this morning’s Georgetown storm carries me back to storms in other faraway places, even to storms of childhood. I can still smell the summer rain coming across the dry plains of Castilla, can still remember showering naked in the night beneath the falling sky of Vieques, hunkering in a dry spot beneath a boulder in the Laguna Salada wilderness.

The heavens do not mirror the mind’s tossings and tempests with anything like sufficient frequency. Our flight, we may feel, does lie “toward the raging sea”–that’s the anxiety of our mortality–and more often than not we have no bear to turn to face instead, but only the plodding calm of indifferent days, uncounted and unremembered. We do well, then, perhaps, to take a lesson from these cosmic proportions and trust that the raging sea ahead is more likely an expanse of unremarkable calm into which all of our own tempests will subside. Embrace, then, every bit of the tossing–inside or out–it is the thunder crash and lightning of our brief vitality.


[via Nina Reznick]

It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.—Thomas Jefferson


private vocabularies

Posted: 04 Jun 2009 08:56 AM PDT

Next on the top shelf: The Poetical Works of Chaucer, edited by F.W. Robinson and published by the Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston in 1933. My father gave this volume to me when I was in college, though it’s not the book I used there.

My memory retains the first several lines of the General Prologue, and my mouth still forms the sounds of this Middle English (as rendered on the tapes I studied in my college Chaucer class). Foreign and familiar: Chaucer’s stories and language are traces of a lost world. I remember, particularly, the “verray, parfit gentil knyght” who “wered a gypon al bismotered with his habergeon.” Bismotered is the word, of all of Chaucer, that has stuck with me…along with its subversive tainting of this image of chivalric perfection. Bismotered. I say it to myself with fair regularity…it’s become part of my private lexicon, the language that I speak in my head and that no other understands completely.

An important aspect of wholeness is the dream of perfect understanding: we may yearn for some recognition of our every lilt and nuance of personal significance. We may dream of one who will make us whole, who will get us completely, and not be deaf or uncomprehending in the face of our private vocabularies, the words we repeat to ourselves, mantra-like, as we shape our days.

Chaucer’s pilgrims, all pilgrims, travel in pursuit of this wholeness. In this yearning for completion, for comprehension, we find that we are already one. All languages, ancient and emergent, are the tentacles of our feeling for completion.


Commencement Address to the Class of 2009 ­ Paul Hawken University of
Portland, May 3rd, 2009.

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a
simple short talk that was ³direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate,
lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.² Boy, no pressure there.

But let’s begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are
going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth
at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline
is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation ­ but not one
peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that

Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the
programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to
have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil,
or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the
thermostat, have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship
earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on
one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no
need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food ­ but
all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive,
and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you
couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent
you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that
unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the
deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time
required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do
what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after
you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer
is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening
on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you
meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of
the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.

What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to
confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some
semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne
Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those
who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world. There could be no better description. Humanity
is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking
place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies,
refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and
organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate
change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation,
human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever

Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it
strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works
behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows
the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning
to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in
force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople,
rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisher-folk,
engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned
mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street
musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the
writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us
all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the
Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true.

Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it
resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild,
recover, re-imagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you
had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their
bad advice," is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the
profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the
evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of
strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific
eighteenth-century roots.

Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global
movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that
time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The
founders of this movement were largely unknown ­ Granville Clark, Thomas
Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood ­ and their goal was ridiculous on the face of
it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved.
Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the
abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative
spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives,
do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the
economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in
history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would
never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect

And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is
called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social
entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who
place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals.

The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What
do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life
creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no
better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of
abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people
without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how
to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this
planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells
us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew,
restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you
can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the
future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic
product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing
the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the
future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and
the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit
people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to
get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago,
and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you
are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses,
Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are
inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become
two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which
are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other
microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400
billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of
atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one
septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after
it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes
than there are stars in the universe ­ exactly what Charles Darwin
foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature
was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms,
inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop
for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on
simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore
it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. Second question: who
is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully
not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are
conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you
to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate
wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came
out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course.
The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic,
delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come
out every night, and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the
multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a
thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and
beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things
and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are
graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever
bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They
didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact
that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons
you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most
unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer.
Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful.
This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.
"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way" - Mark Twain

What is a demon were to creep after you one night, in your loneliest loneliness, and say:

“This life which you live must be lived by you once again and innumerable times more; and every pain and joy and thought and sigh will come again to you, all in the same sequence. The eternal hourglass will be turned again and again, and with it your life, a single grain of its sand.”

Would you throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse that demon?

Or would you be content enough to crave nothing more than this ultimate sanction and seal?—Friedrich Nietzsche [via Mark Peploe]

Guest post

Dennis Palumbo

Dennis Palumbo

Posted: June 1, 2009 12:03 PM

HOLLYWOOD ON THE COUCH: She's Your Agent Not Your Mother

There's an old joke about the relationship between writers and agents: a writer comes home to find police and fire trucks crowding the street. As he scrambles out of his car, he sees that there's nothing left of his house but a pile of black dust and smoking embers.

Stricken, he asks the officer in charge what happened. The cop shakes his head and says, "Well, it looks like your agent came to your house, murdered your entire family, took all your valuables, then burned the place to the ground."

To which the writer responds, with an astonished smile, "My agent came to my house?"

A telling joke. As a former Hollywood screenwriter myself, and now a psychotherapist who works with writers, I'm very familiar with the complicated, symbiotic connection between writers and agents.

Especially now, as the new merger between talent agencies William Morris and Endeavor, as well as shake-ups in other agencies, threatens to cost dozens of agents their jobs---which will then create even more anxiety and uncertainty for their creative clients.

But, even in less turbulent times, there are few relationships as shrouded in myth, half-truths and just plain misconceptions as that between a writer and his or her agent. Moreover, what makes any discussion of agents so difficult is that, in my view, the most important aspects of that relationship have almost nothing to do with the agent, and everything to do with the writer.

So, before talking about what the writer needs to recognize as his or her own contribution to the sometimes puzzling, often painful relationship between writer and agent, let's list some sobering facts:

First, your agent is not your parent. It's not the agent's job to encourage, support or validate your creative ambitions, insofar as they reflect your inner need to be loved and cherished. Such needs were your birthright, and, hopefully, were given to you in your childhood. If, however, they were not, it's not your agent's job to pick up the slack.

Second, your agent is in business to make money. This is not a crime against humanity, an affront to the arts, or a personal repudiation of your aesthetic dreams. It's just a fact.

And, lastly, while your agent may indeed admire your talent, and share with you lofty creative and financial goals, he or she is not obligated to care about them as much as you do. In fact, no one cares about your career as much as you do. Which means the burden of worrying about your artistic aspirations, income, reputation in the field, and level of personal and professional satisfaction rests entirely on your shoulders.

These three points aside, what every writer needs to understand is that the very nature of the artist's position in society contributes to the asymmetry of the relationship between writer and agent. The moment a writer offers his or her work for evaluation to the marketplace---whether to a book publisher, a magazine editor, a film producer or a TV network---that writer is instantly placed in a vulnerable position, similar to that of child to care-giver. Since the marketplace is often experienced as holding the power to validate one's work, it has the ability to mirror back to the writer either affirming or debilitating messages about the writer's worth.

When dealing with an agent---a person equally embedded in the machinery of the marketplace---the writer's vulnerabilities often lead him or her to exaggerate the agent's opinion; to place an unrealistic burden on the relationship with an agent, in terms of its providing solace and support; or to use, as a child does, the agent's responses as a mechanism for emotional self-regulation.

The reality is, the writer-agent relationship can't handle such burdens. The writer expects too much in the way of esteem-building, validation and empathy. Which means that every unreturned phone call by the agent, every less-than-ecstatic response to a new piece of work, every real or imagined shift in vocal tonality during a conversation is experienced by the writer as an injury to his or her self-worth.

The wise writer understands this, if only theoretically, and should at least strive to keep his or her relationship with an agent in context. Hopefully it will lessen the blows, whatever they are and whenever they come.

Which is good, because then you can get back to your writing, the one true source of any success---financial or otherwise---you're likely to enjoy.

The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.—Cecil B. DeMille [via Robert Hammond]