Your Turn – 2

Your Turn – 2


The Creative Soul


 Last Sunday’s challenge involved a piece of paper, a rubber band, and a pencil.  So how did you do?  I once asked a class of third graders top do this very creative exercise.  They all made some sort of a string bass, using the pencil as the instrument’s body, the rubber band as the string(s), and the paper as something vibrate, in the region of where the bridge on a guitar would be.  Regretfully, technical difficulties are not letting me post a picture of my creation but it was very similar to those my students made.



By the way, if you are interested in making other paper instruments, check out this link:

 It may sound silly to be making an oboe straw and yes, even sillier to play one, but there are health benefits.  This coming week we will discuss them.  In the meantime, this week’s challenge involves fibers or yarns.  You can use any type of yarn and only two other items (of your choice) in creating your art.  Enjoy! 

Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov


Literature and Life


It is always of great interest to me when, typing the name of a foreign author or expert in a field, spellcheck knows the person of whom I am writing.  This is especially true with today’s featured author.  There are other Russian notables with very similar names and, quite frankly, I expected to be suggested that I was trying to type one of those.  However, Nabokov is well-known in the data spelling files of my computer!


“Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man.”  This incongruence is just one of many in regards to Nabokov.  Born in St Petersburg, Russia, Vladimir learned to read and write in English before he did in Russian.  As a teenager he published a collection of 68 poems entitled “Stikhi”.   Zinaida Gippius, renowned poet and first cousin of Vladimir Gippius, critiqued the collection to Nabokov’s father: “Please tell your son that he will never be a writer.”


Nabokov’s father became a government official after the Russian revolt in February 1917 but in October another revolt found the family fleeing to Ukraine.  They soon sought refuge in Western Europe with Vladimir enrolling in Trinity College/University of Cambridge.  Studying zoology and then Slavic and Romance languages, he earned hi BA in 1922.  The family had moved to Berlin in 1920 and Vladimir followed.  That same year as he graduated from Cambridge, his father was accidentally shot while shielding the real target.  This them of accidental death occurs frequently in Nabokov’s writing.  Though his mother and sister moved to Prague, Vladimir stayed in Berlin, using the pen name V. Sirin.


Nabokov married a German woman and had one son but then, as anti-Semitism grew, they moved to France.  In May 1940 the entire family except his brother fled to the USA to escape the advancing German troops.  His brother Sergei died five years later at the Neuengamme concentration camp.  The Nabokovs settled in Manhattan and Vladimir began volunteer work as an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History.  A year later he became part of the faculty at Wellesley College as a guest lecturer in comparative literature.  At the same time he was the de facto curator of lepidoptery at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.


Vladimir Nobokov spent the waning years of his life in Switzerland, enjoying writing.  His sone became an acclaimed operatic basso in Italy and the family enjoyed relative q1uite and success with Vladimir’s success as a writer.  Nabokov’s creative processes involved writing sections of text on hundreds of index cards, which he expanded into paragraphs and chapters and rearranged to form the structure of his novels, a process that has been adopted by many screenplay writers in subsequent years.


Quoting  Darren Wershler) in his “The Locative, the Ambient, and the Hallucinatory in the Internet of Things” (Design and Culture):  “Nabokov is noted for his complex plots, clever word play, daring metaphors, and prose style capable of both parody and intense lyricism. He gained both fame and notoriety with his novel Lolita (1955), which tells of a grown man’s devouring passion for a twelve-year-old girl. This and his other novels, particularly Pale Fire (1962), won him a place among the greatest novelists of the 20th century. His longest novel, which met with a mixed response, is Ada (1969). He devoted more time to the composition of this novel than any of his others. Nabokov’s fiction is characterized by linguistic playfulness. For example, his short story “The Vane Sisters” is famous in part for its acrostic final paragraph, in which the first letters of each word spell out a message from beyond the grave. In another of his short stories, “Signs and Symbols” (1958), Nabokov creates a character suffering from an imaginary illness called “Referential Mania,” in which the afflicted is faced with a world of environmental objects exchanging coded messages.”


Nabokov is also known for his scientific endeavors and watercolors of butterflies.  Additionally, he was a self-described synesthete, who at a young age equated the number five with the color red.  Synesthetes experience a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color. 


Nabokov’s favorite book is said to have been “Ulysses” by James Joyce.  He felt Joyce wrote beautifully proclaiming:  “Joyce can turn all sorts of verbal tricks, to puns, transposition of words, verbal echoes, monstrous twinning of verbs, or the imitation of sounds. In these, as in the overweight of local allusions and foreign expressions, a needless obscurity can be produced by details not brought out with sufficient clarity but only suggested for the knowledgeable.”


Of the reader, Nabokov write:  “Literature was born not the day when a boy crying wolf, wolf came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels: literature was born on the day when a boy came crying wolf, wolf and there was no wolf behind him. That the poor little fellow because he lied too often was finally eaten up by a real beast is quite incidental. But here is what is important. Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature.”


In his “Lectures on Literature” he explained the trifecta of writing.  “There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three – storytellers, teacher, enchanter — but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.


“To the storyteller we turn for entertainment, for mental excitement of the simplest kind, for emotional participation, for the pleasure of traveling in some remote region in space or time. A slightly different though not necessarily higher mind looks for the teacher in the writer. Propagandist, moralist, prophet — this is the rising sequence. We may go to the teacher not only for moral education but also for direct knowledge, for simple facts… Finally, and above all, a great writer is always a great enchanter, and it is here that we come to the really exciting part when we try to grasp the individual magic of his genius and to study the style, the imagery, the pattern of his novels or poems.


“The three facets of the great writer — magic, story, lesson — are prone to blend in one impression of unified and unique radiance, since the magic of art may be present in the very bones of the story, in the very marrow of thought. There are masterpieces of dry, limpid, organized thought which provoke in us an artistic quiver quite as strongly as a novel like Mansfield Park does or as any rich flow of Dickensian sensual imagery. It seems to me that a good formula to test the quality of a novel is, in the long run, a merging of the precision of poetry and the intuition of science. In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle even though we must keep a little aloof, a little detached when reading. Then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass.

Of writing, Nabokov once said “The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.”  Indeed, I think this is why all writers put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. 

Enjoying the Eclipse

Enjoying the Eclipse

Detours in Life

Pentecost 34


While eclipses occur almost every year in one form or another, today’s solar eclipse is the first total solar eclipse visible across the continental United States of America since 1979.  Over 12 million people live in the 70-mile-wide (113-km-wide), 2,500-mile-long (4,000-km-long) zone where the total eclipse will appear on Monday. Millions of others have traveled or are in route to spots along the route to view this celestial spectacular event.


News agencies are predicting this event will draw one of the largest crowds in human history, especially given that many media outlets will also be covering for those unable to witness the moon’s shadow passing directly in front of the sun, blotting out all but the halo-like solar corona in person.  From its beginning at 10:15 PDT (1715 GMT) in the area around Depoe Bay, Oregon to the close of the totality blockage of the sun by the moon at 2:49 EDT (1849 GMT) near Charleston, South Carolina, this event will unite the world and most certainly the USA. 


How one will “see” this event will depend upon location, more on that in my next post.  For now, we need to realize that, in spite of our many differences, there are things that can unite us.  While none of the over one million people living in its path will “see” the eclipse exactly the same, they will be united in experiencing its awe.  The skies will either darken or go into a quasi-twilight setting and some stars and one or two planets will be visible.


Of course “seeing” an eclipse is never done with the naked eye.  ISO-certified safety glasses are required or special box-lenses viewing contraptions can be used.  Even animals can sustain damage to their eyes so, if possible, keep all animals indoor homes or barns during the two and a half hour event.


An eclipse serves to remind me that what we see is seldom the complete story.  It is wise to remember that we need to take the time to prepare and explore our beliefs and opinions, just as people traveling to see the eclipse have done.  Enjoy today’s phenomenal event in the sky but remember, what you see is not the complete story.  We sometimes have to detour around the obvious to understand real events and see the truth.

Who Knew?

Who Knew?

Advent 2


Every writer at some point wonders, Will anyone ever read this?”  November is National Novel Writing Month in the United States although it is an international event now.  Known by the acronym NaNoWriMo, its purpose is to beat the odds and help aspiring writers get busy writing the next great novel.  Local groups meet to encourage each other as do online bulletin boards and guest critiquing of posted works.  Begun in 1999, the percentage of those who attempt to write their novel has steadily grown while the number actually completing the suggested fifty thousand words has declined.


The probability factor of those who want to write a novel compared to those who complete the fifty thousand benchmark of NaNoWriMo is not surprising once one considers just exactly what probability is and its impact on our lives.  Urban slang has reduced the root word “probably” to “prolly” but the meaning is still the same – “almost certainly”.  The desire to write a great piece of work is common to most people, probably because fame is a well-known dream of the masses.  Whether it is “prolly” to you or not, at some point you may have thought you had a great story.  You “probably” did or do.  The “probability” of you writing it, though, is minimal at best.


This series is about the concept of grace and you might be asking why we are talking about writing a novel and probability when we should be discussing grace.  The reason is simple.  The probability of you receiving and recognizing grace today is about the same as those who will complete their writing dream for NaNoWriMo.  In 2012 that number was eleven percent.  As most people join the novel writing movement, the number who will be successful declines, due to the laws of probability.  The same might be said of those receiving and recognizing grace.


Probability is usually discussed from four different perspectives – Classical, Empirical, Subjective, and Axiomatic.  There are four weeks in Advent and each week we will approach the concept of grace from one of these perspectives.  You may be wondering about the connection between grace, a concept generally thought of in theological terms, and probability, a concept holding a great position in the field of mathematics.


The Classical approach to probability is really rather simple and is usually introduced to most of us in formal education.  The classical example concerns the rolling of a pair of dice.  As long as the dice are not weighted or otherwise altered, such an activity is considered fair or unbiased.   There are six possible numbers that could come up (“outcomes”), and, because the dice have not been altered so as to enable someone to cheat the process, each one is equally likely to occur. This means that there are six possible outcomes and each one of the six numbers has an equal chance of appearing.  So we say each of these outcomes has probability 1/6.  Since the event “an odd number comes up” consists of exactly three of these basic outcomes – there being three odd numbers and three even ones, we say the probability of “odd” is 3/6, or 1/2. 


The classical perspective has the advantage that it is applicable and easily understood for many situations. It is not perfect, though, as the University of Texas math webpage explains.  “However, [the Classical perspective] is limited, since many situations do not have finitely many equally likely outcomes. Tossing a weighted die is an example where we have finitely many outcomes, but they are not equally likely. Studying people’s incomes over time would be a situation where we need to consider infinitely many possible outcomes, since there is no way to say what a maximum possible income would be, especially if we are interested in the future.”


A Classical approach to grace is similarly flawed since the amount of compassion and consideration given to another is often based upon that which we ourselves have most recently received.  More on that later this week but do consider this.  If you are having a bad day, how gracious are you when someone else’s bad day infringes upon yours?


The aspiring writers who complete their writings are those who have been encouraged and mentored.  After seventeen years, NaNoWriMo has proven the advantage of having a support system.  The tribe a writer gathers around him/her often determines their probability of success.  This is true for most endeavors, not just writing.


“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”  Ernest Hemingway was not just speaking of writing but of the grace in living, the grace we extend to others and in turn, receive ourselves. 

Catalyst of change

Catalyst of Change

Pentecost 117

Yesterday we discussed the Indian mythological god Shiva and his wife Parvati.  Today we continue with the rest of their story, a story that is as old as time and as pertinent as today.  Theirs is not just the typical fantasy tale of imaginary creatures with unbelievable powers and whimsical and sometimes scary acts.  It is also quite possibly the first recorded history of racism.

There are several stories about how the Hindu god Shiva would tease his wife about her complexion.  Parvati had a darker hue of skin tone than her husband.  One story has her shedding her skin, taking the name Gauri, and then turning gold.  The sloughed-off skin took on a life of its own, becoming the goddess Kali.

There are other origins for Kali.  One tells that she is really the breathing being of the thoughts of another goddess known as Durga who furtively sought for an answer when embroiled in a battle with the demon Raktabija.  Still another legend maintains that Kali was killed immediately after birth and ascended to the heavens, only to mock her killer.  Kali became the revered goddess of a group of professional assassins known as the Thugs and they ritualistically went about killing people as a sacrifice to her.

Kali is depicted as a most gruesome character, usually all black and wearing a necklace of skulls.  Around her waist she wears a belt of severed arms or snakes with long tongues or fangs dripping blood.  Her hair is disheveled which, along with her other distinguishing characteristics, makes her one of the most recognizable mythological characters around the world.

Kali serves a real purpose, though as she represents ignorance and hatred.  She reminds us that death is a part of life, one phase of the evolution that the life cycle is and that while we are living, we need to address those things which need to be eliminated from our living.  The Sanskrit alphabet comes from the lettering on the skulls around her neck.  Kali often is illustrated as having four hands but two are always empty – seen as a sign of hope that one can always find more life to live.  In many of the myths about her, Kali is seen dancing on Shiva’s grave which reanimates him.

In his book “Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes”, Steve Spangler has many interesting science experiments.  One involves the use of milk, food coloring, and liquid dish detergent.  About one-half a cup of milk is poured into a saucer or bowl.  Then several drops of various colors of food coloring are dropped carefully into the milk.  Lastly, one drop of liquid dish detergent like the brand Dawn is dropped into the middle of the milk.  What happens is a kaleidoscope of movement and color changes.

The detergent is a catalyst; all soap is.  Soap works to clean things not by any magical powers but by being a catalyst.  It changes the surface tension of the dirt molecules and releases their hold onto the object which is dirty.  Simply rinsing one’s hands in water does not clean them.  By applying soap, the surface tension is lessened and then the dirt is washed off by the water.

Parvati shed her skin and it became Kali.  There are, I am certain, a great many things you and I could “shed” in our lives to make our living better, smoother, cleaner.  Many religions encourage one to pray for one’s enemies – a really tall order, if you ask me.  Even Islam, while not specifically saying this, has a similar edict.  In fact, I think it is most easily understood how to do this by what the Quran says:  “…let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice.” (5:8)

It is not easy to pray for one who has wronged you.  However, if we don’t release that pain, let our beliefs release the surface tension of that negativity, then we become the gruesome depiction of Kali.  Faith, whether religious or spiritual, is a catalyst for change.  Perhaps you have faith in a deity or perhaps you simply have faith in living.  Go forward today and let that faith become your catalyst for change.  Allow it to release the surface tension of past hurts so that you can move forward and shine like the golden skin of Parvati.  Just like the drop of detergent in the milk creates a seemingly never-ending wonderment of activity, releasing hurt through prayer and faith can create a new living, glorious and amazing.  You and only you can be the true catalyst of change for your life.

Dreaming is Believing

Dreaming is Believing

Pentecost 91

What is the deity of your dreams?  I love this question and no, I cannot claim ownership.  It is a really good question, though.  Hopefully, if you belong to an organized religion or participate in a spiritual belief or practice, your “dream” god is fairly close to the deity of your preferred spirituality or religion.

Did someone long ago have the same question and answer it by creating a mythology?  Today’s post has an assignment (Don’t worry; nothing to turn in or get graded!) so it will be brief so as to give you time for deliberating on an answer.  I truly appreciate all those who take time to read this so please do ponder a response.  I’d be pleased to have you post it in the comments and I promise to not publish if you ask.

There is a second part to the assignment.  The first is “What is the deity of your dreams or rather, what is your dream god/goddess/ and yes, there can be plural?  The second is this:  What is your ideal deity/god/goddess? (Again, plurals are included.)

Dreams are an often studied and still unknown entity for mankind.  We often use the term to imply ideal but is what we dream really our ideal?  Take a few minutes and, as I mentioned, please feel free to send me a line with your answer.

Tomorrow we will delve into the activation-synthesis model which science uses to explain our dreams, and consciousness will be included.  You see, what we envision and what we dream influence how we live and what we do.  What we worship and what we believe, that which is our Kadosh or Holy One, is an integral part of our consciousness and our subconscious or unconscious.  Or is it the other way around?

Today delve into what you think.  Do you believe dreaming is believing?  Is the mythology of a religious deity just a dream or can it be a reality?  Instead of thinking in terms of religion versus spirituality, should it be beliefs versus our dreams?  Can’t wait to get your responses!

To Be or Not to …Exist?

To Be or Not to … Exist?

Pentecost 84

Imagine yourself at midnight on a dark road, away from civilization with only the sounds of the surrounding countryside to keep you company.  Suddenly, light seems to dart across the sky.  It is as if the newly discovered ability to create fire has been found by the nighttime sky.  Suddenly more and more fire streams across the sky.  Is it raining fire and if so, why has it fallen?  As quickly as the streaks of light appeared, they seem to vanish, falling into the oblivion of where the sky meets the earth.

If you were outside the past two nights in the northern hemisphere, you might just have seen the image I described.  Of course, you would have realized that what you were witnessing were the Persoid meteor showers.  The annual meteor shower performance is nothing new but this year the meteors were especially visible due to the new moon being present (or not) at the same time.  The absence of moonlight made the falling meteors appear even brighter than their normal which is so bright that in 2014 the National Space and Aeronautical Agency or NASA deemed the Persoid “Fireball Champion”.

What if mankind had not yet discovered meteors?  What would you have thought then, seeing those bright streaks of light seemingly fall to earth right before your very eyes?  It is easy to understand why our ancestors developed the mythologies they passed on to us, stories that told of angry gods and goddesses controlling the elements.

There were many similar names for the one deity of the Abrahamic mythologies that became the religions we know today of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity:  Elohim Bashamayim, God in Heaven; Jehovah El Elyon, Lord Most High; Jehovah Elohim, Lord God; Jehovah Elohim Ab, the Lord God of Your Forefathers; Jehovah Ha-Melech, The Lord, the King; Elohei Marom, God on High; Elohei Haelohim, the God of Gods; Jehovah Adon Kol Ha-arets, the Lord, the Lord of all the Earth; Jehovah Tsaba, the Lord of Hosts; Elohim Tsebaoth, God of Hosts; Eli Maelekhi, God my King.  All names that were to answer questions about the reality mankind was living each and every day.

The Greek Aristotle sought to explain reality and his views were widely accepted until a man named Isaac Newton began to offer his ideas.  The English writer Alexander Pope explained the impact and popularity of Isaac newton with this: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night;  God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.”  Newton’s ideas were not all original, though.  One of his first laws about motion and the state of a body of matter, the reality of said body, was actually something first discovered by Galileo: : “Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”

Galileo’s idea strongly opposed the beliefs of the Roman Church, beliefs which were based upon the mythologies that preceded the Church and gave reason for its being.  Those mythologies proclaimed God as the Creator of the earth and so the earth had to be the center of the universe so created.  What this deity had created was their planet, the land beneath their feet.  Their mythologies did not mention outer space or even gravity.  It was the nature of our creation that grounded us, literally and spiritually.

Newton proposed that the reality or state of each body of matter should be and could be described in terms of its position, its velocity, and its acceleration.  Once a person knew these things, Newton postulated the future could be predicted by forecasts of future positions and velocities.  Not only were Newton’s theories more simple than those of Aristotle, they left little room for the effects of a deity on such matter or bodies.  The early religions could find no place for their deity and many, as they had done with Galileo, rejected the science.  This rejection and rift between science and religion continues today.

The fact is that there is much we do not know, much that even our wonderful stories and legends of mortal and immortal deities and mankind has yet to explain.  I am fairly certain that I am alive.  I exist.  The nature of my existence is dependent upon my well-being – mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Like water in a pond, our bodies and minds can stagnate.  I may not be a doctor and I certainly am not Sir Isaac Newton but I do know that my body will stagnate if I fail to care for it and use it.  Muscles atrophy within ten days so if I take a vacation and sit in a chair for two weeks, I have reduced my ability to move.  Spiritually and religiously, we also need to exercise our beliefs.  Science, in my opinion, is not our enemy in doing this but can be a great help.

Once upon a time there was one state of matter – the solid matter which early mankind could see, touch, taste, feel, and hear.  Then there were two as man realized that water could move, air could move; we had a state of liquidity.  The idea of fluid matter gave rise to other ideas, seemingly unrelated and with the invention of a fulcrum or lever, even the heaviest rocks could be moved.  Mankind was on the move and had the ability to alter the solid state of his/her existing terrain.  Then we realized that some solid things or even those that were fluid could disappear, vanish into thin air.  We recognized a third state of matter – gas.  For centuries students were taught that there were three states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas.  The world revolved on its axis very well with these three states of matter and even the religious community embraced it.  The same early Christian Church that had excommunicated Galileo now used the three states as symbolic of their Holy Trinity, a concept of God in three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Life continued, and consequentially, so did science.  A fourth state of matter was recognized, a state of super-heated gasses called plasma.  We enjoy our plasma screens for entertainment watching and even espouse their educational value in lecture halls but seldom realize their connection to unbelievable mythologies.  Plasma if foretold to our ancestors would have seemed as unbelievable as some of their myths seem to us today.

Don’t get ready to close this page quite yet.  The story of reality isn’t over because, just as life is continuing, so is science.  There is now a fifth state of matter, a fifth way we can exist, called the Bose-Einstein condensate.  First developed as a theory by two scientists in 1925, it took over seventy years to prove.  Just as gas is a state of matter that occurs when things are heated, a reality in which water for example turns to steam and then is dissipated into the atmosphere, the Bose-Einstein condensate is what happens when matter is made as cold as possible, taken down to the temperature known as absolute zero.  Molecules within steam move very fast and when taken to the opposite extreme, to the coldest possible, they have little or no energy at all. It is as if an ancient deity has frozen them for eternity.

If our beliefs are to have value, we need to understand their state of being.  The tenets of my faith are solid to me based upon my education, understand, and believing.  When I share them in the form of compassion, charity, and kindness to all, they become liquid, flowing over all I encounter.  Taking part in what we often term a “mission”, those tenets of faith become are energized and when combined with the work of others, are supercharged in helping an even greater and larger population.

However, and there is a big however, there is that pesky new fifth state of being – even for our belief systems.  That is that state of coldness, the state that we ourselves create when whatever name we call our deity or deities represents coldness.  Our beliefs become cold and reach an absolute zero stage when we alienate.  You have faith and live it or that faith will into a state of being with no energy whatsoever.  It really is that simple.  If our beliefs, our religions, and/or our spiritualities are to exist, we must give them life. It really is the only state of being for one’s faith.