Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

21 March 2010

Spring Equinox


As we whirl about on the wheel of the seasons, we mark time with our bodies, and with the earth.  And this is the natural way to measure time.  By cooperating with the sun, the earth, and the moon, we can tell the hours of the day.  Women can feel larger cycles within their bodies, far better than men can.  We know when our bodies are full, and ready to reproduce, and when they are barren.  And when our bodies leave the cycle of reproduction for good, we can feel the earth as it begins to pull us back to her.  
Women are humankind's natural time piece.  One might even argue that we started developing timepieces when men stopped listening to women.  But I won't argue that, not now, at least.  I'll just say it.

But it's not so hard to tell time by the cycle of the earth.  Men can do it, too.  Learning to live in the cycle of life is about as simple as learning to sing.  Studying singing means studying your body, finding all its echoing cavities, and then opening them up and letting the voice free.  You lose yourself to your voice, and your body becomes really just a wind instrument  When you're singing properly, it's the simplest thing in the world; it's like letting a clean, fresh spring of water rush through you. 

But yes, let's get back to time.  I woke up this morning at 11:00 am, because I stayed up so late last night.  And for an hour or so I panicked, feeling I'd lost half of my day.  I blamed it on technology, but in this case, the technology I'm blaming is not made of wires and springs, rather, it is a man-made technological mandate to spring our clocks forward earlier than usual. 

Just the act of springing our clocks forward is an unnatural separation between the human body and the actual rhythms of the day.  It's bad enough we have a clock.  Of course, we do spring it forward so we can take advantage of the natural cycle of the sun and the earth and give ourselves a longer work day.  But yes, there's a problem in that, too.

 Timepieces were first developed around 3500 BC.  (No, I wasn't around then!)  They were developed to measure the length of a day. Round like the earth and the sun, they were keyed into that rhythmic cycle, and at that point in their development, there was no harm to be found in them.  A farmer came to recognize when on the dial he needed to do certain chores, when to go take a nap, when to begin preparing food.  I like to imagine that at that point in history, every moment of every day was sacred, which is why, perhaps, in English we call our first meal "break-fast" because it is literally that: it is a ritual that breaks the fasting imposed upon us by nighttime and sleep. 

Life that is bound with the cycle of the earth is inherently ritualistic.

At what point did minutes and days and changes of seasons cease to be sacred?  At what point did humanity set the clocks forward so much so that it sent us all rushing through our days, ignoring the cues that the sun itself gives us about what time it really is?  I would dare say it happened before I was born:  the first spring-powered mechanism was created somewhere between 1500 and 1510; and in 1505 a guy named Peter Henlein designed the first portable timepiece at which point, every human being who could afford one became preoccupied with an object on a chain that he stored in his pocket, and not the sun itself. The minute hand was designed in 1577; so the entire time I've been alive, humans have been intimately aware of minutes and how quickly they pass.

And oh, how well I know how short, or how long, a minute can be.  Because of the strange circumstances that frame my life, time has become an obsession with me.  I've gone through different understandings of it, and I've read quite a bit about it.  There's some very nice sources on the web, in fact.  I put links under all my pictures so you can see where I stole them from.  The links up above actually should take you to some really nice articles about timepieces and time.  A book that I really have enjoyed, because it describes so well a key period in my life, is called The Culture of Time and Space, by Stephen Kern.  He does a very nice job of showing how the technological advances of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries did more to speed up time than any other historical era.  I would also say that each new technology that either helps us get our work done faster, or helps us get from one place to another more quickly has contributed to the speeding up of time.  One of the worst offenders in this equation is the timeclock itself: it put a price tag on time, and took masses of laborers out of the natural cycle of the earth and into the artifice of the workplace.  Working hourse became interminable, and leisure hours became too short.  Trains and boats and busses and cars transported us and our goods to far-off places, but once we got there, we had to watch the time carefully.  There are, after all, only so many hours in the day.


One of the biggest technological changes that I remember in my lifetime was the development of Greenwich Mean Time in 1884.  Just try to imagine the chaos that occurred, in little pockets all over the world, as people adjusted their watches and clocks to that one central time.  Such confusion!  The idea of being late didn't really exist before that; you just got to a place when you got there.  But if you wanted to catch the Paris train that arrived in Nice at 18:10, you had to set your clock by the new times, you had to get a train schedule, and you had to be at the station in good time.  Gradually people caught on, especially once radio came along, and we realized we could listen to a broadcast of someone singing from very far away if we had a radio and a clock. 

I was in Germany then, and sitting in a bar one night when it dawned on me that if it was 6:00 pm in Munich, it was 1:00 pm in New York.  "So where is it 6:00 am?" I asked the bartender.  He laughed at me and said "China."  I felt a strange shift inside myself as I imagined developing a flying machine fast enough to get me to China in twelve hours.  Judging by the buzz of an airplane overhead, I began to think it was really possible.

One of the reasons I like Stephen Kern's book is because he describes what I began to think about then.  I began to think that as technology makes it more possible for us to measure time more precisely and to travel from place to place faster, time itself will begin to speed up until it absolutely disappears.  In other words, when we can get to China in second, then perhaps time itself has become inconsequential.  I've been feeling this speeding up of time and space happening, for over one hundred years, until today.

That's why this internet is so interesting to me.  I can write these very words and press "post," and instantaneously, somone in China can read what I have just written.  Better yet, I can Skype my friend in Singapore, and hear her voice as if she's in the same room with me.  In fact, the only thing that keeps me from being able to fully be with her is my body.  As I talk with her through my computer, our minds and spirits are absolutely together, and our bodies, well, they seem peripheral. 

As this glorious first day of Spring comes to its end, my windows are open.  I can hear birds singing and dogs barking.  The air is crisp, and the dappled clouds are reflecting the light of the setting sun.  It feels almost like late Spring, or nearly Summer, and I know somewhere, someone is thinking how time is speeding up, and Armageddon is no doubt on the horizon.  And maybe it is.

Or maybe it's just that our perception of time has come absolutely full circle.  We're living in a time when, because of our technology, every moment can give us access to the whole world.  Time is imploding on us, and this has been brought on by the evolution of the technology that allows us to talk about time itself.  Time just isn't all that relevant anymore.  It's everywhere and nowhere.  (Follow this link to something called the Human Clock; shows people all over the world having fun with time and the internet!)

Of course, many say that Christ will come (again) at the end of time.  Considering what I'm saying, when will that be?  By my equation, (and of course by the words that came to me late one night) his arrival is imminent.  

Or perhaps, quite frankly, he's here right now.

20 March 2010

another train

I was actually feeling kind of awful about coming back to this blog, after a week of not writing.  The longer I feel that way, I fear, the longer I'll stay away.  So here I am, with not a whole lot to say.  But I'll say a few things now, so it'll be easier to come back tomorrow.

Have you ever had that experience where, when you feel bad about something, you have trouble going back to it?  That's a feeling you never outgrow, and I guess that's why I've moved around so much.  There are a few places on this planet where I still can't imagine standing, because the last thing I experienced there seared through me so much, and I am convinced that that one location has retained my pain so fully, that the minute I put my foot there, I would feel that pain sizzling into me again, like a hot poker.

So I just don't go there.  Those places include: Paris, just outside Notre Dame, where I saw a child get hit by a car; Athens, outside a coffee shop underneath the Parthenon, where I had to say good-bye to a man I loved dearly but could not stay with; Jakarta, in a wide open square where I was abandoned by someone I thought was a friend; El Salvador, on a bridge at the border, where I was stopped and questioned by a group of men in fatigues with large guns. 

Often, sadly, those places are also linked with my sweetest memories.  So I want to return, to see if the traces of those good memories are also still there still.  But I get frozen in a loop of bittersweet.

We could be chilled to stasis by the sadness of our lives. 

I wouldn't advise it, though.

I posted a song here a little while ago by a man named Pete Morton.  I have another song by him running through my mind that I'd like to share right now.  And then I won't say anymore.  I want to write more soon!  But this 21st Century is such a drag.  Everyone drains me, trying to get me to do the work they are too lazy to do themselves.

(Don't you love the giant ram's head behind him?  And the extra singers on the chorus.  I've sung so much opera in my life, I find the roughness of this all to be so rich.  I want to sing for you who take the time to read me.  And I will, when summer comes.  Because if you're reading this, I love you. And I sing for people I love.)

13 March 2010

Radio Makropoulos, Part I

I have a rather curious relationship with radio.  

For many people today, radio is as old as, well, the hills, but I can tell you that in the larger historical scheme of things, the various technologies that utilize radio frequencies are really very young.  And just think of all of them: we can't unlock our car doors these days without some form of a radio wave.  Microwaves, cellphones, sonar, x-ray, my wireless keyboard - - - so much of what we take for granted today relies on some form of a radio wave.  

It was really a little only over a hundred years ago that geeks - as you would call them today - all over the world were tinkering with tubes and wires, and discovering that it was indeed possible to capture the impulses that surrounded us.  Lots of people like to debate about who developed the first radio; quite frankly, I don't think it really matters.  This internet has helped us to realize that when a concept has reached its day, and is ready to be born, many kindred minds all across the world will think it at roughly the same time.  Of all the nominees to be the inventor of radio, I am quite fond of Nikola Tesla, but for very personal reasons.  I met him once in a bar in Montmartre, somewhere around 1881 or '82, and he and I had an immediate attraction.  Well, I think a lot of women were attracted to him, but for some reason, he chose me.  We didn't talk much, but spent an afternoon together in the innkeeper's bedroom.  It still makes me tingle, thinking about the energy that kept our bodies together for so long.  It was an energy I never wanted to lose, and I cried for a week after he left me.  

That was one of several times I realized that my body is capable of actually conducting something that has come to be known as radio.  And since then, I've thought a lot about what those various frequencies were doing before the human intellect evolved to the point where we could actually coopt them and train them to serve our purposes.  No, those radio waves were not invented when the mechanisms for conducting them were invented; they were around us all along, serving the health of the planet in a number of ways.

I found this guy on YouTube who has built one of Tesla's "spirit machines," and what he does with it can give you a little idea of what Tesla (and other early radio pioneers) was tapping.  I like to believe that Nikola understood better than the others how radio is intimately connected to the realm that some of us may call spiritual:

This is all really kind of wonderful and creepy.  But let me ponder for a little what my thoughts on the real purpose of radio waves is:

You see, I think radio frequencies are about as vital to life on earth as air and water is.

Animals know that.  I think about how my cats interact with each other, and with me.  Especially my deaf cat.  All I have to do is enter a room, and she'll wake up.  This is vibration of course, but what is vibration but a frequency?  Cats are very frequency sensitive, and it seems to me that when they lose their capacity to detect frequencies with their ears, they use other aspects of their body to help them.  They use their senses to conduct the frequencies in other ways.  And don't forget bats, too, who rely solely on frequencies to survive.  Other animals, too, seem to exist at different frequency levels, utilizing them to communicate and sustain themselves.  I've read that sloths might utilize a low-frequency sound to communicate.

So why are humans limited to only detecting frequency with their ears?  I think it's just that our other frequency receptors have been dulled or have remained underdeveloped.

I've had some rather strange, embarrassing, and sometimes dangerous experiences based on my own ability to inadvertantly conduct frequencies through senses other than my ears.  One of the ways this manifests itself is my ability to sense the presence, or approaching presence (like the thunderstorm) of someone I know or have known.  My sensory perception seems to occur on the level of hearing, feeling, smelling, and, well, just a deep hunch that sometimes manifests itself in my head in words.  I think, for instance of a trip I took to Istanbul about four years ago.  I was with a female companion, and trying to avoid an old lover of mine.  I woke up one morning, and I knew that I would see him.  I told my companion, and she just laughed.  

But sure enough, at around 2:00 p.m., as we came out of the Mişir Çarşı (the Spice Market), near the Yeni Camii (the New Mosque), there he was.  I felt him before I saw him, which was good, because I caught him in profile.  He was buying some flowers.  I hurried away before he could turn and see me, but not before I could point him out to my friend. 

Now, they say that as a woman gets older, she may become more psychic.  I think that what it really is is that she becomes more capable of conducting, receiving, and sending, various frequencies emitted by other people, animals, plants, and even spirits.  My own ability to do that has continued to increase over the past 200 years or so.  This experience that I describe above is really minor compared to some others that I've had.  Just read some of my earlier entries on the Grid message, and voices I've heard.  In fact, I've actually tried very hard at various times over the past century, to dull my senses with petty worries and aches and pains, to block the impulses that come through.  More often recently, though, I just can't help it: I'll be relaxing, usually, and then something just comes flooding in.  

I'd even go so far as to say that sometimes I feel like my body is no more than a transmitter.  I've said previously that these bodies we inhabit are like avatars that allow us to function on our lovely planet earth.  And like the avatars from the movie, we should be able to interact with all the sensual experiences that are associated with the planet.  So why not the various frequencies around us?  Indeed, it seems only natural that we should be able to do this, if animals and plants can do it.

What's unnatural, perhaps, is that we don't transmit, despite the fact that our bodies are designed to transmit.  Our cellular radio receivers may even be confused by the system of artificial transmitters and receivers around us.  Dare I say, we are trapped in an artificial grid when in fact there is a natural one, and it is the natural impulses that we call radio?

Oh, I know I'm putting a lot in this entry, but I want to include one other story of something that happened to me, about four years ago, that might help further illustrate my point.  I was in my kitchen, listening to my radio.  My phone was in my pocket.  I was thinking of my friend, S, and washing the dishes.  Suddenly, I heard a phone ringing.  

Strangely, the sound was coming right through my radio!  There, right in with the 6:30 NPR report, was the distinctive sound of someone's phone ringing.

I walked over to turn the radio off, because I figured I would end up overhearing someone else's phone conversation soon, which I did not want to do.  Before I could turn the nob, I heard a pick-up, and my curiousity got the best of me.

I heard my friend S's voice, saying "hello?"  It was coming through my radio.  I listened to hear who was calling her, but no one spoke.  

"Hello, Hello?"  she said.  I had to reply.

"Hello, S, can you hear me?"  I said to my radio.

"Yes, but you sound like you're at the bottom of a well."  

So I told her I was talking to her through my radio, and she just laughed.  Then I asked her why she called me, and she said "I didn't call you; you called me."

But I knew I hadn't.  Furthermore, if I had, I would never have thought I could do it through my radio.  I had indeed been thinking about her, but that was all.

To this day, I have no physical explanation for that odd experience, except that I may have bumped the phone in my pocket.  But at a certain point during the conversation, I took it out and looked at it, and it was not functioning at all.

Now, there had been a terrible storm about a week previous in my city, and it had destroyed many phone and electrical wires.  When I told a few people what had happened, they said they had heard that lots of electronic devices were fried by the storm.  

"The storm jumbled up the frequencies," someone said.  

My question is: did the storm jumble up the frequencies so much that my own mind was able to project its desires on my radio?  

I really don't think I'm special in this regard.  But what I know for certain is that ever since then, I've had a tendency to not be able to keep a wireless telephone for too long.  They all tend to go dead, or start ringing on their own occasionally, calling people I've been thinking of for awhile, and confusing us both when we answer the phone and are uncertain who called whom.

I have no explanation for this.  As I said at the beginning of this, I have a rather curious relationship with radio.

03 March 2010

wobbles and cycles - perhaps even more like a roller coaster than we think

I woke up this morning to this story on the radio:

And I was amazed.  Just last night I had been contemplating the rotation of the earth, and its course through the sky, and here is this story telling me that the Chilean earthquake has caused a plate shift so massive that our earth is wobbling just a little bit differently.  And this will impact the length of our days.  What does that mean?
I was so eager to come home and write some high faluting theory out this particular earthquake, but before I did, I did a little research, and I discovered that every time there is a massive earthquake, the news covers this same story.  In a quick Google search, I found a 1976 article with the following title:   
Excitation of the Chandler wobble by large earthquakes

Yes, the wobble is called "Chandler's wobble," and it appears that it is essential for our survival.  We need the world to wobble.  If it stopped wobbling, there's a good chance it would stop rotating.  And then we're doomed.  In fact, we're more doomed if we stop wobbling then we would be if we had that rumored polar shift.  The earth has gone through those in the past, and survived.  It's just that nothing else on its surface did. 

This is actually a topic I intend to pick up in more detail sooner or later, but I just found this story this morning to be so exciting, and absolutely news to me.  I guess you can teach an old broad new tricks.

02 March 2010


I like the immediate, jerky quality of this film, but my absolute favorite part of this video is the guy saying "Good" at the end.
(for the actual YouTube posting, please go here)

I know it's a cliche to say life's a roller coaster, but I want to think about that for a minute.  You see, I do feel that comparison is very good, but perhaps not for all of the same reasons others might.  Going through life for the first time brings the same rush of fear and excitement that a first ride on any roller coaster would bring.  But when you've been on the ride many times, it gets kind of boring.  Sure, you don't mind doing it, because there's still the exhileration of the first hill, and those dips and sudden spins, but you know when they're going to come, and what the effect on you will be.  You know how others who haven't been on the ride before, or who have been on it only once or twice, will react.  And it's kind of fun to watch them.  But you begin to look for something new in the entire experience. Or you just get tired of it.

Now imagine being on a roller coaster like this without the option of getting off.  There's a certain point where you know the ups and downs and turns and spins and accelerations and decelerations so well that, well, you could recite them back in your sleep.  Indeed, you could probably fall asleep on it, because the fear is just not there anymore.  And even the sounds of the people around you, screaming, aren't all that exciting anymore; they're just like the screams in the background of a film.  You begin to take simple joys out of small pleasures, or the very subtle changes that assure you of the constancy of it all.

I thought about this today, as I was leaving for an appointment around 5:00 pm, and I realized how bright it was.  I had a similar meeting two weeks ago, and two weeks ago, 5:00 pm was dusk.  Today, it was still daytime.
As usual, this lifts my spirits a bit, knowing that we're rapidly headed towards longer days, sunny days, and summer.

But another thing struck me today, far more profoundly: I recognize the cycle, oh so well.  This winter, no matter how difficult it has been, has followed a very recognizable pattern.  The more you live through winters, the less troubling they are, because, in general, the earth is predictable.  It is bound to a particular course, and when you've spun around with it a few hundred times like I have, the body knows. 

I can tell precisely where I'm at in this annual cycle; I'm a far better predictor of how many more weeks of winter we'll have then any groundhog.  I've been on the planet long enough to recognize the signs, despite the fact that the ups and downs still make me a bit light-headed. Right now, I am grateful for the fact that all the natural signs are reinforcing the fact for me that life is coming around again, that rebirth will occur again, and soon.  I'd say we in the Northern Hemisphere will be well into Spring by mid-April.

Here's another film I've been viewing a lot the past few days, a film that reinforces the cycles of the planet, not to mention a larger pattern:

(again, follow this link for the original YouTube posting)

I know a lot of people have seen this video in their high school science class, but it was a revelation for me.  Remember, the little schooling I received was back in the age when folks were still arguing about Ptolemy vs. Copernicus, so actually seeing the moon displayed like this is a bit like seeing a child being born for the first time.  I particularly like the fact that in this video, you can see a navel-like crater at the bottom of the moon, that makes it look like an orange.  But even moreso, I find this captivating because when I look at it long enough, I can clearly see that the moon's phases that I'm watching are really the shadows of the earth, as it moves in its regular dance with the moon and the sun.  This visual account of the moon's phases is actually as close as we can get on Earth to seeing the roller coaster machinations of this little corner of the universe.

(original posting)

You see, that's the big difference between life and a roller coaster.  On a roller coaster, you can see the apparatus.  On the earth, we can't, so we begin to think we are the primary apparatus, or we are greater than the apparatus.  But its all an illusion.  As my dear old friend Bertolt Brecht used to insist about theatre: we must show the audience the apparatus!  As long as the audience can see the apparatus that holds the theatrical event together, they won't be too deceived, nor will they be too frightened.  And their minds will always be sharp. 

This is why we like roller coasters: even as they scare the living daylights out of us, they also comfort us, because the apparatus is visible, and audible.  We can see the heavy steel arms that hold us in place, and hear the creaking and clanking of the machinery that lifts us up and up, as we wait in anticipation for that moment it will drop us.  Relief comes when the fall is completed, and the apparatus is still there, solid and firm, holding us up.  Roller coasters are, essential, interactive theatrical performances of the experience of a life.

In fact, I'd dare to say that these roller coasters were created by some psychic urge within humans to represent the horrifying ups and downs of being born, becoming an adult human, maturing, aging, and dying.

And being reborn.  This is why we like to get on them again, or go to an amusement park where there are so many of them.

What most people don't recognize is that, even in the daily patterns of our life, we can see the signs that reveal the apparatus of the natural cycles and the patterns that we live within.  And, quite frankly, those patterns and cycles are far more profound and reliable than the metal that holds up a roller coaster.