Second draft, attempt at order
It was a quick trip, from Washington to Chapel Hill. Coming back, down the last rise, the form of the Pentagon came into view and beyond the flat landscape of Washington low and spread-out.
At last I was dropped off on the green tunnel of the street with the bank of earth and trees, white daffodils, and came in with my backpack, shopping bag, wardrobe, and calmed as best I could after the gauntlet of 95 coming up from the South in later rush hour.
We'd listened to a podcast on the drive back, a Ted talk, about creativity; Sting finding the creative voice again back where he came from, inhabiting the locals, speaking in their dialect; Elizabeth Gilbert speaking of the presence of fear when she sits down to write; a Johns Hopkins scientist mapping the brain activity of jazz musicians, scanned while improvising, the necessary shutting down of the cautious editing part of the brain that allows creativity, a British educator on how a system put in place in the Industrial Revolution breaks the natural creativity of children.
Then another podcast, about the healing of plant spirits.
I roused myself from the couch to go find a rotisserie chicken, and the town seemed again full of people adapted to the vast sprawl, doing forms of worldly good. I feel foreign here, inhabiting that part of the brain my father told me so often of, the liberal arts brain, the creative, the dreamer, the ones who studies plants as they are, a representation of That Which Is, of the spiritual beyond, rather than getting down to little lessons of DNA and manipulation of genes...
I write for the therapeutic aspects of the process, which includes the beginning, the waking from dreams raw of meaning, the gathering, the trying out of each thought line, whether to share or not, then to the awkward sitting down and trying to construct some form of rough narrative. Then later there will be the reflection, the quiet satisfaction of having written, a vague sense of having, much like sitting in a garden, contacted some form, as one says, of That Which Is, that distant spiritual realm. And that of course is not necessarily what a present economy wants or has created in response to its own perceived conditions and the general economic needs, out of competition, out of focussing on things that bring in their view the jobs that make the whole thing run, whether or not such things are sustainable as far as the planet.
Later Ted Hughes poems, from The Birthday Letters sequence, speak of how 'the marriage had failed.' Poems born in nature, the Hughes style, I wonder if he isn't referring to a more encompassing failure than that which is personal and felt so personally. The poems bear up against the broader, the coinciding failure of ours to live within the natural harmony of nature, taking as an example the lies of fracking, environmental disaster, the detriment to public health and well fare.
The old land grant universities, instituted by the administration of Abraham Lincoln, seem to catch some model of sustainability in their campuses, though the rest is a mystery to us, their purpose, their own economic fit, the education they stand for...
I write as a from of self-healing. I write for no economic reason. I write in order to possibly grasp what next there is to write about. I write to understand the past, to hope for a future I have little clear idea of. Grocery lists of thoughts, laundry detergent, apple juice, green vegetable, dental floss, shaving cream, go take a walk in the woods for mild exercise, call your mom.
What have I done, so foolishly and self-deprecatingly, cast into the restaurant dungeon, no longer taken as a scholar... Why do I write? For literature? For sanity? To move forward?
What do writers do, but fail? Emily knew that. The general consciousness is not ready, not there yet, for them, for their way of communication. Almost by definition, the form and the words they have for us are experiment, not fitting the set pattern, the usual conversation.
I'd strolled around, taken some pictures, sat, and wrote just a few lines in my notepad, in the North Carolina Botanic Garden and Arboretum, Six O'Clock evening late April sunshine, walked back to the hotel through the Chapel Hill campus the day before, making some subconscious appeal to the trees and the vegetation, then a quick stop into the Ackerman art museum.
Walking the paths of the North Carolina Botanic Garden and Coker Arboretum, looking at plants and trees and shrubs, walking gentle paths there on the Chapel Hill Campus, I remembered talks with my father on the nature of liberal arts. Liberal arts exists for its own sake, for allowing humanity to be in touch with its dreams, for setting an atmosphere that allows for the expansion and sharing of knowledge. As Keats wrote somewhere, education is imagining what one already knows. Little does this has to do with the economy, with the improvement of plastics to make a better bomber or a better widget. This is exactly what the reviewer of the book I wrote utterly misunderstood, being foreign to that calling of liberal arts.
In his own day my father, the old school botanist, saw the rapid growth of the microbiology parts of biology departments. And as he watched the renovation of the science building where his office was in the latter part of his career, he commented how the undergraduate was aimed toward specific technical skills, things I would imagine like the manipulation and reading of DNA strands. Rather than the skills of walking in the forest or appreciating the garden, the arboretum, the lives and forms and species and taxonomy and history of plants. The technician is built for the machine, to serve it.