Thursday, December 31, 2009


It's New Year's Eve. No drunken revelry here. No fireworks. A yummy seafood meal sits in the fridge. Snowshoes and ski poles perch on the hearth, ready for a late-night trek to welcome the coming year. Resolutions, including that of more time at the gym, hover. To the dog, though, it's no big deal; it's just one more day.

I gather my Martha Stewart "Living" magazines for January, almost two decades' worth, to see what an astute home-keeper like me should be doing. Yes, Martha tells me, it's a time for purging, renewal, discarding, affirmation. It's quite the magic time, this precipice of leaping out of an old year into a new.

This is Japan's biggest holiday, full of "Forget-the-Year" parties. Given 2009's sorry fiscal report card, this makes sense. Who'd want to remember 401K statements with smaller balances than those at inception a decade earlier? Who'd want to re-run the unemployment figures, the equity dives, the crazy crookedness of CEOs charged with shepherding our funds? Not me.

I'm all for forgetting some parts of the year, but not all. I do NOT want to forget Ozomatli concerts with my daughter! Ozo's music and presence soared us. I do NOT want to forget time with my mom and my uncle, vibrant, engaged, charitable, graceful. I do NOT want to forget running with my golden retriever: we found new trails in the most common spots in this town. Who'd ever suspect these little wilderness areas exist within city limits? I do NOT want to forget getting my poetry in print. Don't care if I make money: just want to share my words. I do NOT want to forget the many miracles that greet my every day. How blessed I am. How very blessed I am.

For the new calendar...yes, I resolve. I'll be better. I'll try harder. I'll work longer, sustain more, grouse less. Yes. I resolve. You'll see.

Not one to forget the year that's passing, I'll welcome the new one like an old friend. "Come on in! We have so much fun ahead of us!"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Water's Magic

"If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water," penned one of my favorite authors, Loren Eiseley. The essayist followed this assertion with his own wizardry, sharing the image of his floating on his back on the Platte River and feeling himself "sliding off the vast, tilted face of the continent." These are words I read three decades ago, yet they've stuck. They're here, I think, because of their truth: water is a magic substance.

It's not just that water is essential for all life (that's pretty significant), it's that water can take so many forms, can have so many impacts, can make or break a landscape, can create images that take away a breath or two. A Japanese writer, Masaru Emoto, has photographed water forming into ice crystals and published some astounding assertions in his book "The Hidden Messges in Water." Emoto maintained that ice crystals form differently depending on what they're exposed to. Water that is exposed to beautiful music forms lovely jewels of symmetry, while water that is exposed to harsh (heavy metal) music forms asymmetrical, homely crystals. Water that is spoken to kindly, hearing phrases like "You are beautiful," forms beautiful crystals, while water that is spoken to with derision ("You are a fool!") or is ignored forms homely, misshapen crystals.

Emoto's message is pretty simple. If we express love and gratitude to water, its crystals are sublimely beautiful. If we are unkind or indifferent to water, its crystals lack the splendor and stability of those formed in the face of benificence. The writer expands the thought to all things on the planet, plants, animals, humans. Remember how we were told in the seventies to talk to our houseplants? Emoto asserts that this is sound advice, as long as our messages are good ones.

Academic scholars have poo-poohed Emoto's work but that doesn't deter me from thinking he has some fine hints for us. If we are grateful and loving to all of our surroundings, we have a positive impact. If we don't ignore, but acknowledge and praise, the elements that give us life, what harm can come?

My first prayer of each day is made to the heavens, when I let my golden retriever outside. I praise the beauty of this creation and give thanks that I have the miracle of another day. Here, indeed, is yet another chance to do good! Maybe my praise, my kind thoughts and prayers, will impact the planet. Maybe, just maybe, my comments "You are beautiful" and "Thank you for this day" will make water decide to take on some stunning crystalline shapes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Snow Duvet

Just spent three days blissfully meandering with my dog Sadie in the snow. Loved it. Submitted prayers of gratitude, over and over, for this chance to be in the white world with a creature so fully tuned to her surroundings.

What, I wondered, made this so magical? What, indeed, was so special? What that had not been already been mired in the sticky sweetness of cliche? I think it was the edges. When snow falls, crispness is filmed. No more ninety degree angles; it's all about curves and roundness and ambiguity. Can't tell where this ends and that begins, which is a good feeling. Sadie and I like that blur.

Our Sunday morning run was blissful. Few folks were awake. Few cars were out. As my late husband used to say when we were crossing a hundred square miles of desert in southwestern Oregon: "Not much happening." That's true. On this snowy Sunday morning, Sadie and I found that there was "Not much happening." And that was a very good thing.

The soft roundness prevailed. No junky fast food wrappers huddled next to a building...just a sweet berm of white. Few raspy vehicles pushing their noise and smell down the road...too slick, too cold, too early for folks to be out. No boom boxes, no barking dogs, no screeching kidlets. Too cold, too early, too icey for that.

What Sadie and I did find was this: certain dedicated, quiet folks were out taking care of critical tasks. A bundled up gent was trekking with his leashed lap dog while his German shepherd chased tennis balls flung into the snow. A resigned homeonwer shoveled his driveway in hopes that a furnace repairman would soon pull in. A primly suited elder warmed his Buick for a bride, so they could putt on over to the church for Sunday school. All chatted with us cheerfully, sweetly, as if their time were on hold. The snow suspended things for a bit.

I liked this batting of a snowy Sunday morn. I liked not seeing edges of anxiety, haste, tension. I liked that we could run through white stuff not marked with tire treads, boot prints and chunks of blackened wheel-well snow. Sadie and I liked the duvet softness of this snowy Sunday morning. Hope it happens again soon.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Brain Guard

Just started a subscription to Harper's, one of my favorite magazines. The first issue is bulging with vibrant reads, but one piece really nailed me. A snippet about three computer scientists at the University of Washington introduced me to the concept of "neurosecurity," the critical work of protecting patients with devices like prosthetic-limb systems.

Neurosecurity works to ensure that physicians could connect wirelessly to adjust settings for a robotic limb but that hackers could not de-rail signals and interrupt the person while she's walking or driving. An additional concern is confidentiality, making sure that hackers could not "read" what a limb is typing or anticipate movements the person might be about to make. Security also has to be in place for systems that work inside the brain (used for diseases like Parkinson's). It's crucial that unwelcome outsiders not have access to these systems to prevent results like brain cell death or manipulation and even elimination of memories.

Neurosecurity is an astounding concept to me! We need to have guards to make sure that misguided, evil people don't enter our neural systems and cause harm! That we even need such protection baffles me, but there are humans who would try horrible interruptions. Harper's cites creeps who have posted flashing animations on epilepsy support websites, causing patients to have seizures.

Why would someone do this? What could possibly motivate a person capable of learning complex computer tasks to do something so despicable? What in the human makeup allows this to occur? What neural paths have been trampled or convoluted enough to even let thoughts of such actions occur?

Course the world deals with questions like these daily and we'll ever know precisely why some folks use their gifts for good and some for evil. But I'd love to participate in neurosecurity work. I'd love to be one of the computer geeks in Seattle whose daily focus is protecting a veteran returning from the Irag war minus a limb. I'd love to sit before my computer and program walls that would keep evil away from a person suffering from the chronic pain of fistulizing Crohn's disease. I'd love to report for duty each day, knowing my efforts would minimize the terror of seizure that faces a seven-year-old epileptic.

These neuroscientists are, I'm thinking, our Supermen and Superwomen. They're zooming around in a realm that we can hardly even imagine...a realm where memory boards and wireless wizardry can turn a thought into an act of climbing stairs. They're churning up binary magic to bring serenity from chaos deep in the brain. I'm grateful that they're thinking darkly, that they're projecting dire attacks on their own creations, before someone else does and wreaks havoc on patients. Really valuable and amazing work.

Defender of Neural Systems: now that's a title I'd love to have!