Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gimme Some SAP (Sexy Ancient Poetry)

marginalia from the Book of Kells
About ten years ago, I touched the pages of an illuminated manuscript in a library in Rome. It was a moving experience. Usually, the precious artifacts preserved in museums for hundreds or thousands of years are locked away, untouchable, except by experts wearing sterile gloves. But this time, for whatever reason--maybe just because it was Rome, where such artifacts are common and life is sensual--I was allowed to touch, with my naked fingers, the soft grain of a sheet of parchment, the scraped thin hide of a living creature, complete with hair follicles visible near the edges, lovingly crafted and written over in artful script, with ink handmade from vegetable tannins, applied with quills of feather and brushes of hair, illuminated in gold leaf and the powder of precious gems.

I don't remember what the content of the book was, but I remember becoming so aware of how different the experience of creating a book or manuscript (not just reading or looking at it) must have been a thousand years ago--an art composed of skin and plants and the minerals of the earth, created by skilled artisans by the natural light of the sun or the warm glow of a smoky flame.

Back when life was short and the creation of a book took a very long time, so much more of a writer's heart and soul must have been imbued in every curling, spiny character of text.

We've all felt the difference between writing words on paper, with an ink pen or a pencil held in our callused fingers, and pounding out words fast as an electric train in the charged, blue glare of a computer screen.

The way we live, and the way we write, has such an influence on what stories we tell and the language we use. This is one reason I love to reflect on the writings of past centuries and millennia--they're so full of hot blood and fire and flowing sap.

I'll list some of my favorite findings, and I hope you will suggest some of your own to share with me. I am your virtual neighbor, so gimme some SAP! (Sexy Ancient Poetry, that is.)

My first introduction to ancient sensual text was, of course, the Song of Solomon in the Bible. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.

Oh yes.

And the Song of Solomon's closest relation, ancient Egyptian love poetry, is so steamy that I won't even reproduce it here, in the cold light of my LCD screen. But I do recommend taking a peep if you dare.

Another fountain of painfully beautiful love poetry arose in Heian period Japan, about a thousand years ago. My husband and I used to tuck these verses in our emails to each other early in our relationship. Some of our most beloved are...

We are, you and me,
Like two pine needles
Which will dry and fall
But never separate.

You do not come
On this moonless night.
I wake wanting you.
My breasts heave and blaze.
My heart burns up.
Although I come to you constantly
over the roads of dreams,
those nights of love
are not worth one waking touch of you.
 (Ono No Komachi)

This life of ours would not cause you sorrow
if you thought of it as like
the mountain cherry blossoms
which bloom and fade in a day.
 (Murasaki Shikibu) 

You and me
we live inside an egg
me, I am the white
and wrap you round with my body  
(Anonymous geisha)

Another of my most treasured texts from before the dawn of electronics is not quite so ancient--it was created around the time Shakespeare was penning his sonnets--but it comes from an early opera about ancient Rome.

"Pur ti miro" is a love duet written by librettist Busenello, set to tenderly rapturous music possibly by Monteverdi, in early 17th century Italy. The English translation is:

At you I gaze
In you I delight
You I hold
You I clasp
No more do I suffer
No more do I die
Oh my life
Oh my treasure
I am yours
You are mine
My hope
Say it now
My idol
Yes, my beloved
Yes, my heart
My life, yes

Below is a modern performance rendition of the piece. This is not my favorite performance ever, but it's kinda neat. If the countertenor sounds weird to you, that's because this piece was written for two castrati (castrated men) to sing, one in drag. Now that we don't castrate boys to sing prettier in the church choir or onstage anymore, this piece is sometimes performed by a countertenor (a man who can sing in falsetto) and a woman, or by two women. The hottest performance I've ever heard of this duet was by two young women a capella--complete with two sets of heaving bosoms, breathy gasps, adoring gazes, smoothly quickening and slowing tempo guided by each other's angelic voices--but I regret that I cannot find a video of that one. In any case, the stories behind this piece (tyrannical and murderous power couple, genital mutilation of the singers, etc.) contrasts so shockingly with the bare sweetness of the words and music that it's weirdly kink. Enjoy!

So what gets your juices flowing--from ancient, early medieval, or Renaissance sources? What distant-past text transcends the decay of antiquity and calls to your soul right now? Gimme some SAP!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mommy Brain, Mommy Heart

Yesterday morning, I snapped at my daughter because she kept begging me to play with her while I attempted to have a quiet moment of sipping coffee and reading Eat, Pray, Love. (Irony?)

This is the kind of situation when a bookish, scientific, information-addict mother like myself and many moms I know might crack open a parenting book or do a quick search online for resources on how to cope--how to respond, what words to use, when to play with the child and when to set boundaries for "me time."

But I've come to realize that most of the time, I already know how to behave properly. I know what I'm supposed to do and say. The problem is not a lack of knowledge but the emotional difficulty of making it happen. More research findings and parenting tips and expert-recommended phrases are not what I need to cram into my cluttered mommy brain.

What I need is some love and joy to stuff into my cranky mommy heart.

Sometimes those tips and tricks come in handy. A lot of times, rigorously tested "best practices" and the thing that works every time for your best friend's kid doesn't work on yours. There are so many methods and experts and books out there--on attachment parenting, gentle parenting, RIE parenting, "natural" parenting, peaceful parenting, you name it--and most of the advice I've read along the veins of those trends is solid, lovely, and helpful for specific conundrums.

But when there's just general crabbiness--my own, my daughter's, or both--more reading is not what I need to do. Because you know what, if you're in a foul mood, you can make ANY supposedly respectful sentence or gesture seem hostile, sarcastic, or threatening. And if you're in a laughing, happy, relaxed, and playful mood, you can do and say truly horrible things and they'll be perceived as harmless fun. I'm not going to give you any examples lest I get CPS knocking at my door. (Ha ha, I joke!) You get what I mean. I really hope you do. Because you cannot--I repeat, you cannot--be a good parent without humor. You can, however, be a good parent without being highly educated or keeping up with every latest best practice.

Because when interacting with children, it's the heart that matters first, then the brain.

Of course, some amount of competence is important. Though affection is primary with a child's well-being, there must be some level of competence. I think this was illustrated marvelously by Aurora's childhood in Disney's Maleficent. Aurora grew into a happy, loving young woman as she was raised by three highly affectionate but completely incompetent fairies. Maleficent had to step in every now and then to keep the child from starving to death or falling off a cliff. Now, if you, as a parent, are not as incompetent as these three comic buffoons, then your first concern should not be, "Am I doing this the right way?"

It should be, "How does my child feel about this?" and then, "How do I feel?"

Then attend to your child's feelings and your own in the best way you know how. There's no one in the world who's more of an expert on what makes your child content and happy and what gives you, yourself joy.

So this is what I did after deciding that I did not want to start my Sunday off cranky. I asked my husband to hitch up the bike trailer, and we went on a mood-exploding ride to a sunny playground, where our little Nux Gallica burned off a ton of toddler-morning-exuberance. I pushed her on the swings and played Cinderella with her "Be my evil stepmother, Mommy!" (point taken) and also had some time to sit in the shade with my adult life partner and relax.

Then we strapped our helmets on again and took a long, dreamy ride down a trail that extends for several miles from our neighborhood playground to a big, groovy, farmer's market-style grocery store, where we got some handmade tamales for lunch. We all had a wonderful time and got jacked on the smells of hot, crispy leaves in the sunshine, cool forest streams, and wildflowers.

This reminds me of the introduction to Eat, Pray, Love when a medicine man gives the author a drawing of how she should be in her life. It shows a figure with its head obscured by leaves, looking out through its heart.

With many important decisions in life--career path, spouse, where to live, whether to have a baby--and with many small decisions about the important things in life--like how to deal with the feelings of a preschooler--overthinking it can be a trap. What's good on paper isn't necessarily good in life.

I'm learning to let go of my overworked mommy brain and listen more to my expanding mommy heart. And to my daughter's heart too, which is overflowing with love and imagination. After we pretended that I was the Evil Stepmother who had locked Cinderella in the tower, Cinderella escaped (down the twisty slide) and put me in jail (under the monkey bars). But then she came to my cell and said, "I'm sorry, Stepmother. You're evil because I made you evil with my magic powers. Now I will make you good and let you out of jail." She waved her magic wand and ordered me to sit in the shade with Prince Charming and watch her play. Now that's what I call a happy ending.

May your mommy heart lead you along beautiful trails today!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

May I Follow You? (Du Riechst So Gut...)

I promise I won't bite... unless you publish or offer for sale something tasty, then I might spring.

Dear readers of The Magic Nutshell, I want to get to know you better. The vast majority of comments on my posts now happen offsite, on Google+ and Facebook and other social media platforms--or in person, by friends who often surprise me by letting me know they read my blog! And the vast majority of my readers don't comment at all, at least not where I can see.

I've met some pretty fascinating people through the blog in the past, people who share many of my interests but who have different life experiences and perspectives on the same material. So I want to meet more of you.

Are you new to the Nutshell? I post twice a month, once on the first Monday for a "Middle Path Mother" entry on the lifestyle of a creative, working parent, and once more on the lifestyle of a writer with a full work and family life. My work in progress is called Briars and Black Hellebore, and it's a fairy tale-infused novel that pits the ruling households of Sleeping Beauty against that of Beauty and the Beast in a pre-Crusades, mythical land called Vepres inspired by the dark forests in the border region of early medieval Bavaria and Bohemia. Meanwhile, I am a wife and mother, nonprofit worker, and lover of art and jazzy, acoustic guitar music with throaty female vocals, except that I am also infatuated with Rammstein so hard that I dream in silly German lyric snatches and fanfic situations. As a result, my writing is a sensuous potpourri of pretty flowers and hot sex man musk.

Are you into that kind of thing? Crazy mashups in art and life? Okay, awesome, come with me into da trees and also let me see you stripped--virtually, that is.

For the next month or so, if you start following me here or on another platform AND let me know you are a Magic Nutshell reader, I will follow you back. Please make sure you give me the URL, handle, or whatever that you'd like to share with me, if it's not apparent through the way you've contacted me.

Here's where you can stalk me, aside from right here on Blogger (see my sidebar on the right for subscription options):
  • Goodreads: I participate in discussions and reviews occasionally, and I love to see what other people I know are reading and how their own published books are being received. Let me sneak a peek at your bookshelf!
  • Twitter: Between blog posts, here's where I share my silliest and least-PC thoughts on anything.
  • Tumblr: I share my own posts from the Nutshell in a different format along with others' posts, mainly on history, culture, and images that inspire my early medieval, continental European work in progress.
  • Pinterest: My boards are all about things that inspire writing and life.
  • Facebook: Here's where you can spy a glimpse of my personal life. I've stopped friending people I don't know in real life, but I've added a Follow button for anyone to use, and I will be happy to follow your author, business, interest, or cause page in return.
Dear readers, please help me finde dich... because du riechst so gut. ;)