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On Wednesday night we drove to the City to hear a lecture by Joseph LeDoux. Unlike some recent trips to Manhattan, everything just flowed…traffic was light; we parked on the street almost in front of our destination–the Tischman Auditorium at NYU’s Vanderbuilt Hall. LeDoux is a premier neuroscientist–his focus is on fear conditioning, the “synaptic self” and what he calls the “emotional brain.” Interesting material to say the least. Even better–he followed the lecture with a performance of his band, The Amygdaloids. They call their music, HEAVY MENTAL and feature songs like, Inside of Me, Memory Pill, Mind-Body Problem, etc.

I must admit, I am increasingly curious about the brain–and about memory as I watch my father decline mentally. His short-term memory is non-existent; he is forever misplacing things and endlessly frustrated. I have my own versions of this experience: I go downstairs only to wonder what for; I don’t remember names like I used to and I now understand why people do crossword puzzles–I often “know” the word, but can’t think of it. As I meander into the next decade of my life, I’m armed with Omega 3’s and servings of salmon; vitamins, trace minerals, organic foods.

I’m hoping that I’ll be like more like my grandmother, who remained sharp and alert into her nineties. The last time I saw her, she was sitting in an arm chair in the nursing home. Her hair perfectly white with every hair in place; she had on a Doncaster tweed suit, spectator pumps and pearls. She was reading the financial section of the Wall Street Journal, as she did every day–watching her portfolio.

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This morning I walk with my friend, Sunny. Even though it’s early, the heat is on–humid, soggy. Summer has arrived. As we turn away from the River and walk up hill, we come upon this small sculpture–this altar…taking time to pause…to look…to imagine.

THE OLD POETS OF CHINA

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

– MARY OLIVER –

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Niggling thoughts are the ones that
hiccup
out loud in the circumspect library.
Niggling thoughts chase the tail
of that last sentence
and never catch up
Niggling thoughts whisper inaudibly
when they interrupt…
Niggling thoughts are the intermittent itch
Under my scalp of incompletions.
Niggling thoughts wake me up–
like hives in my blood stream.
Niggling thoughts left unattended
become arguments,
parking tickets
bad dreams,
burnt dinners,
computer viruses,
missed opportunities,
lost keys,
bad hair days.
Niggling thoughts are the one
to pay attention to.

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Suddenly I know the secret of happiness
and where to find it!
But before I push off to swim
toward that shore,
I want one final glimpse of my old friends,
Darkness and Despair.

I want to say out loud, one last time,
what doesn’t work,
what has never worked, and,
what will never work.
Just to help you understand.

Perhaps if you and I know this, it will save you–
it will save me–
it will save us.
It’s like the night before my diet begins,
when I range through the kitchen and then the convenience store,
devouring one last serving of what no longer serves me.

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“What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire,
The longing for the dance.
stirs in the buried life…
…Touch me
remind me who I am.”
STANLEY KUNITZ, Touch Me

There is a way that my life assembles itself. I never really know the “next thing” until it becomes vaguely visible on the horizon. I often sense that change is immanent; that something is gestating–developing in the dark; somewhere deep in the earth or underwater. I’m in that place now.

I’ll tell you what I think I know about this “something.” It relates to writing and seeing and understanding. My felt sense is that it will be some kind of grand synthesis…a way that I will put my work into language…a way that I will make an offering…a way that I will know and contribute to wholeness.

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