Saturday, November 15, 2014


A Rorschach autumn by the water, taken during a walk last week.

Widewater on C&O Canal
Potomac, Maryland

(An old friend, who is in psychiatry, immediately asked, "So, what do you see???"  Of course, I've learned not to tell psychiatrist friends what I really think. One shouldn't bring up ailments with doctor friends either.)

I was taking a break from "heavy reading" in my nook last night and picked up one of Neil Gaiman's book/graphic novels, the kind that appeals to youth and adults simultaneously.  Gaiman weaves wonderful tales that seem to be suspended in time. This one is called, "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains."

One paragraph struck me.

"I am old now, or at least, I am no longer young, and everything I see reminds me of something else I've seen, such that I see nothing for the first time... It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things."

So, I paused and reflected.  It is true.  As time passes, the more we see the present mirror the past.  And I thought of how our identities are entwined in our memories - whether joyful events or incidents laced with pain.  We are what we remember to have done and experienced. Without the power to reflect, that inkblot view by the water is blurred by wind and waves.

Just a few days ago, I stumbled upon an article in Smithsonian Magazine on American Genius.  A duo of scientists had implanted a false memory in a mouse.  Whoa!  The science is certainly brilliant.  And there are many neurological applications for this type of breakthrough.  But some directions brought visions of "Total Recall" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" into view.  If we can't trust what we remember, can we know who we really are?  What then defines the "I" in Descartes' "I think, therefore I am"?  There are many who would support keeping painful recollections intact (rather than erasing them or making them falsely palatable) because there is value in what we learn through suffering.  Like many things, I sense this boils down to personal choice - just as some people opt for cosmetic surgery while others prefer to tell their story through the cumulative lines on their faces.

Autumn in the back woods, seen from our East Coast kitchen.
This is a new kind of view for us.

Memories are beautiful and necessary.  But the moment memories overtake active living, well, perhaps it's time to make new ones.  I admire artists - in any field - who break away from their successes in order to explore something different.  Beethoven, after criticism of his Wellington Symphony, charged back, "What I sh*t is better than anything you have ever thought." This was supported recently by two scholars. They put forward a novel view that Beethoven's creative development through the Wellington eventually led to some of the genius of the Ninth Symphony.

Change is rejuvenating, as our move from the West to the East Coast has been.  Last month's VelocityDC Dance Festival showcased the trajectory of dance from deep roots in classical ballet, modern dance, folk, Lindy hop, street dance and (human) percussion.  It was difficult to categorize what types of dance these energetic hybrids were.  Whatever they were, they were amazing!  Art forms would be dead if new creations weren't continually spawned from it.  Though one might love original stagings, we gain novel pleasure and enhanced insight from viewing a modern re-cast of a Shakespeare play or a Verdi opera.  Or take it further.  We've seen gifted writers fuse disparate genres into their own forms for which literary boxes haven't been constructed yet.

As I've participated in events in the DC metro area, I've noted an evolving engagement of young men & women in the cultural arts compared to what I remember from youth.  This milky (haired) canvas is now blended with espresso, russet and gold - perhaps a few blues, greens and purples too, but DC is still more conservative than London or New York.  Seasoned generations carry charm, grace and sprightliness.  And who else can we ply with questions about the past?  But the presence of the next generation adds the unexpected into the mix.  This constant swirl seems so vital in painting our future especially as our own color fades into milk.

So my musings end in colors of the past and colors of the future ... and as the paint swirls vanish, the Rorschach image I began with sharpens back into focus, saturated with autumn colors.

What do you see?


I hadn't intended to write an essay here.  In fact, this was meant to be a brief photo sharing that glorious fall day by the water with its glassy reflection.  But, just as Miss Bates could not be constrained to saying only three dull things to Emma, I have my difficulties keeping a page blank!  I hope you are all having a lovely autumn.  


  1. I was so struck by your reflections (literal and figurative), but these observations really resonated: "there is value in what we learn through suffering. Like many things, I sense this boils down to personal choice - just as some people opt for cosmetic surgery while others prefer to tell their story through the cumulative lines on their faces." Yes, yes and yes. Without our stories, our experiences, what are we?
    And what do I see in your Rorschach image? - Turned vertically, a branching spine and the torso of a mannequin (formed from the reflected rocks). Both perhaps terribly obvious for me!
    Much food for contemplation here.

  2. This first image, "A Rorschach autumn", yes - how fitting!
    I feel and relate to what you're saying here.
    I try, as I grow older, to see things as if they are new to me. Of course, they're usually not new. Right - that curse of age. So we must find new ways of interpreting that which we see in order to remain engaged and aware. Otherwise, we lose that sense of wonder.
    Beautiful post!

  3. Ah! So many things I want to say/ comment upon after reading this excellent essay that I only hope I can remember them all. Gosh, where to start. My two best friends in my new small town are both doctors, and it is SO strangely hard not to ask them medical questions. I'm always super-embarrassed when I cross that line. I can sense it's taboo, but it's hard when you're a mommy and feeling extra anxiety about your wee one.

    2. Hoping your loving DC? How is the culture shock from West to East going? My Irish brother-in-law recently moved from Bend, Oregon to CT, and he's not doing so well with it. I've been trying to convince him to go into NYC more as that's (obviously) the center of the Earth (joking, sort of...), which brings me to...

    3. I do feel a tad depressed when I go into the city now. So many memories upon memories, so many ghosts, especially now that I'm more just a visitor instead of making new memories. I've found myself avoiding engagements there in favor of Philadelphia, Boston, or small towns in my area where I can make new memories. There is a strange power in that.

    4. Neil Gaiman! Yes, you're right on the nose. He's got a new children's book out that can actually, totally, magically engage a 1.5 year old (my daughter's age when we got the book) and not make the adult reading it suffer after repeated upon repeated upon repeated readings. It's called "Chu's Day" and has confirmed my total belief in Neil Gaiman's brilliance. Although I know what you mean-- I tend to group writers into the more entertaining vs. the more intellectually- stimulating categories, and he's a little more on the entertaining side. I absolutely loved "The Ocean At the End of the Lane", but I also read it in an afternoon. Which leads me to...

    5. You MUST read Romain Rolland's "Jean-Christophe" if you haven't. It's a fictionalized version of Beethoven's life, more or less, and, considering that quote and incident you mentioned, I think you'd beyond love it, if you haven't read it already that is.

    Okay, I think I managed to remember it all. Hope the DC winter wasn't too hard, and you're enjoying the New Year. I've just taken up blogging again myself, because the winter was damn hard up here among other distractions, which I'll share very soon :).

    Much love,


Dear Fellow Aesthetes, I love hearing your thoughts. I think the other readers find them valuable too! Much love xxx

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