On Nature, Vividly

Today I’m thankful for Mary Oliver.

Mary Oliver is an American poet.  Interestingly, she helped Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister revise that late poet’s papers for publication.  Ms. Oliver is known for sparse, precise phrases that provoke vivid images of nature.  “Wild Geese” is probably her best known piece.  It’s a poem that keeps appearing in my own life.  If I were a superstitious person I’d wonder about it.  Thankfully I’m not.

I prefer “The Swan” to “Wild Geese.”

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

From New And Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston, 1992 (all rights to author and publisher)

My Phone Told Me So It Must Be True

Today I’m thankful for Duolingo.

I can make myself understood in French as long as the subject isn’t too obscure.  I studied Russian for two years at university and picked up some Welsh for fun.  I’m currently useless at both.  I’m complicating my French and trying to wrap my brain around Italian.  The Duolingo app on my phone tells me I’m 12% fluent in Italian.  I can only conjugate 3 verbs but they stay conjugated!  Who needs formal study when one’s phone can reinforce their delusions about language fluency?

The Dumbest Smartphone They Sell

Today I’m thankful for my smartphone.

I was the last person in my family to switch over.  I had my (clamshell) flip phone for seven years and it was perfectly acceptable.  Eventually our carrier didn’t support my phone any more and I had to switch.  When I entered the phone store I said “I want the dumbest smartphone you have.”  The staff laughed and made a unanimous suggestion.

I don’t want to go back.  I don’t remember half the crap I should, but instead of trying to keep it in mind or wildly searching for a pen and paper I just make a list.  It takes pictures!  I can track my health.  If the small human wants to talk we can video chat.  This thing is amazing and I know I’m not using half of the fancy features.  I’m a bit of a technophobe but I’m a convert to this at least.

Ancient Anatolia as a Side Hustle

Today I’m thankful for creative thinking.

I’ve been trying to figure out a side hustle.  I’m not particularly good at anything marketable so it’s been a pain.  I’m a good singer and great at data aggregation.  The one time I sang for pay it took all the joy out of the experience, and I’m not sure who’d pay for all the information I could collect about ancient Anatolia.

I’m a tree hugger.  I figure without an environment we won’t be able to survive as a species.  It’s just as likely we’ll blow ourselves up, but we need an actual livable planet if we make it that far.  I may have figured out how to combine most of those things together.  I’m not sure.

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Making Myself Feel Smart

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Today I’m thankful for languages.  No, really.

I studied French in high school.  I remember enough to be understood and I use my phone to practice.  At university I took Russian.  I was very tired of French.  I can ask, in Russian, the location of the train station but I won’t understand the answer.

Languages fascinate me.  I don’t go to the extent of tracing the history of every diacritic, but seeing how words evolve from common roots is truly interesting.  It shows the evolution of ideas, when groups divided or came together.  Learning another language exercises the brain and broadens a person’s horizons.

I’m a native English speaker.  English is a stepchild language if there ever was one.  First it was just another Germanic language, but then the Norse came and give it all sorts of North Germanic influences that made it unique.  THEN the Normans invaded, who had originally spoken Norse but changed to French, and they had a massive impact, leaving Latin and Romance traces everywhere.  As English speakers spread their particular varieties starting including traces of native languages.  English in India is influenced by hundreds of Indian languages.  Spanish is a large player in the United States.  Even in New Zealand Maori has had a large impact.  I think it’s cool, that languages are adapted to circumstances as they arise.  It isn’t a formal progression.  It’s messy and organic, like the rest of life.  They evolve!

I’m trying to learn some Italian.  It’s easier to speak quickly than some others.  In Finnish it seems like every word is 30 letters long, but they are fun words.