Sunday, June 30, 2013

High Flight

Major Tom
Sometimes, you need to get away. Alone!

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (1922–41) was born in China, to missionary parents—an American father and an English mother. Magee did not get to be old, he died at the very young age of nineteen, but he did get to experience the feeling of getting away, of being alone. Raised in China, educated in both England and the United States, he won a scholarship to Yale, but instead joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in late 1940. He flew in a Spitfire squadron.

He composed this poem on September 3, 1941, while 30,000 feet up; and was killed over the skies of Britain on a training mission three months later on December 11, 1941.

With this thought in mind, here is his poem High Flight:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
[I do not believe the poem is copyrighted.]

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Writer's Block

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, "Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."

Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia, could have been the title of this short article, but then only a food scientist would understand.

Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia is a brain freeze, the pain you feel when one takes a big gulp of one's favorite frozen concoction on a summer's day or one chomps down on a Popsicle fresh from the freezer. Boom - there is a massive pain in your forehead. Blood vessels dilate as you hold the icy cold in your mouth, pain receptors release prostaglandins, increasing sensitivity to further pain, and the trigeminal nerve signals the brain to the problem. Stop what you are doing, but you don't.

A brain freeze is not unlike what happens to writers when they can't think of what to say. And the harder you try to think, the worse the block gets. Boom - one gets a headache just thinking about thinking about something to write. Writers call it writer's block.

Hemingway had some good advice on writer's block. Stop what you are doing, relax and let the mind take over. And, this is important, write what is true.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


“Reality is nothing but a collective hunch.” Lily Tomlin

From time to time, the old man waxes philosophic, wondering, "What is reality?"

Megaloceros, an ancient deer, Lascaux from Wikipedia.

The Lascaux caves in France hint that man has been puzzling over this question since homo sapiens first climbed down from the trees and out of the forest. The intricate paintings these early homo sapiens left over 17,000 years ago suggest that man has been searching for intelligence in the universe from the very beginning of recorded thought and before that.

Almost 17,000 years later, the ancient Greek philosophers put the question to stylus and sheepskin parchment.

"What exists is what matters," Thales of Miletus (c.624-548 B.C.) suggested. Then again, Pythagoras of Samos (c.580-507 B.C.) found the nature of things not as important as their mathematical relationships. Others, including Socrates (c.469-399 B.C.) and his pupil Plato (c.427-347 B.C.), instead argued that it is "mind over matter," reality is in the "essence" of things, which brings one back to the punch line from a joke attributed to Satchel Paige (1906-1982). When asked by a reporter how old the old pitcher was, he responded, "Age is mind over matter, if you don't mind, it don't matter." Back to Lily Tomlin, who muses that answers don't really matter, for everyone has their point of view. What matters in life is to find someone who will listen.

Comedians seem to have a better grasp on the realities of life.