Friday, August 27, 2010

Way Station

Way Station, written in 1963 by Clifford D. Simak, is my new favorite book. After two readings, I am reluctantly—very, very reluctantly—going to return it to the library this weekend. It reminds me so much of the style of Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies Detective Series. The tone is very gentle and thoughtful. I don’t know how to begin to describe why I love the book. The process is like dissecting a rose; you have lots of parts but have lost the essence of what makes a rose a rose.

Briefly, at the end of the Civil War, Enoch is approached by an alien from another planet to run a way station where aliens will briefly stop over on their trips. Without going into detail, the technology is similar to the Star Trek transporter in that it doesn’t involve flying saucers. At this point, Enoch has fought in the war and also lost his parents. He is a man who doesn’t know what he will do next with his life. So, unbeknownst to all the other humans, his childhood home is turned into a way station.

For the next hundred years Enoch runs the station, preparing for visitors, accommodating them for a couple of hours, and then sending them on their way to the next station. Many times the travelers visit with Enoch and teach him about their planet, including their science, culture, and art. They may bring Enoch a small gift, which he may or may not understand what it is. After each traveler leaves, Enoch writes a detailed description of the experience. As one might imagine, Enoch’s home is filled with journals and extraterrestrial gifts. Other than some pieces of wood he has given as cryptic gifts, he has shared none of this with another human.

While in the station, Enoch does not age. Enoch lives in a rural area. His only contact with the rest of the world is his hour-long walk to and from his mailbox, where he chats with the mailman and observes nature around him.

Of course the story revolves around a couple of days when everything seems to go to hell.

I am attracted to the thoughtful introspection of Enoch. I am attracted to Simak’s point of view that humans/aliens are essentially good and loving. I am attracted to Enoch’s world of wonder. Imagine a life of meeting new and fascinating beings as part of your job and life, of continuously learning new things, of regularly having experiences that challenge your concept of reality.--One night when I couldn’t sleep, I thought “if I were Enoch, who might I have met today and what might I have experienced.”-- So much of science fiction is apocalyptic. I need science fiction that has hope and heart. I want to feel that the future can yield something good. I want to live in the world of the Way Station.

P.S. Happy 100th post to me.

Monday, August 23, 2010


How often do we think of wonder? The context of the quote that follows is that Enoch has just learned that the person he has been talking with is from another planet. Granted this may not be an experience that many of us have had, but I think that the feeling that is described applies to the world we do encounter from time to time.

There was nothing to grab hold of, nothing to hang on to. There was no yardstick for it and there were no rules. And it left a sort of blank spot in one’s thinking that might fill in, come time, but now was no more than a tunnel of great wonder that went on and on forever.

Clifford Simak, Way Station

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ray Bradbury

As a life long fan of science fiction, I have just one thing to say this morning:

Happy 90th Birthday to Ray Bradbury!!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Making the Abstract Concrete

I always feel a bit better when I find other people who think like I do about learning. I have been reading Movement for Actors, edited by Nicole Potter. One of the essays is by Alan S. Questel who describes the work of Feldenkrais.

To make the abstract concrete is a kind of learning that is not prevalent in our culture. Most of our learning is informational—facts and ideas that we take in through books, lectures, and other media, where we listen to someone else tell us what we should know and understand.
Real learning, the kind we experienced as children, comes from our ability to make distinctions and create new relationships to the world we live in. Through this kind of learning, we can develop a sense of self based on an internal criteria and inner authority.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Multiple Intelligences and SYTYCD

So You Think You Can Dance helps make me a smarter person. It gives me a vocabulary for movement and emotions. Don’t get me wrong, I love the dancing. But what enthralls me is watching the judges.

After bumbling through assorted internal martial arts classes, I feel nourished by the discussions on different way to move a wrist or a knee, where the center of gravity is in a dancer’s body, the openness of a shoulder. I unconsciously find myself experimenting with a tiny movement as I listen. Sometimes when I practice Tai Chi later in the week, I hear a SYTYCD judge’s critic in my head, and I explore how to bring those ideas to my form.

So You Think You Can Dance teaches me about emotion. Coming from a strict German American family, emotion was discouraged. At best it was a sign of being undisciplined. At worse, it was considered blatantly bad. Watching the display and discussion of emotion is like a woman who has deprived herself of dessert for months finally having a slim slice of cheesecake. In two different seasons, Adam Shankman has asked dancers what they were feeling. And paused, creating a beautiful space. The dancer opened his/her heart. I was in tears. I could feel the currents through the miles or over the Television waves. There have been times when all three judges have broken down in tears when a performance has moved them. I begin to understand what it is like to feel art, with its beauty, joy, pain.

Fred Rogers would be so proud. “Today boys and girls we are going to learn about two motions. The first motion is the movement we do with our bodies. The second motion –emotion—we do with our hearts.” I am so going to miss the show when it ends next week.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Many Divisions

I am continuing to read the Hugo winning novels. This quote from 1967 epitomizes my thoughts and feelings on change this week.

A man is a thing of many divisions, not a pure, clear flame…His intellect often wars with his emotions, his will with his desires…his ideals are at odds with his environment, and if follows them, he knows keenly the loss of that which was old—but if he does not follow them, he feels the pain of having forsaken a new and noble dream, Whatever he does represents both a gain and a loss, an arrival and a departure. Always he morns that which is gone and fears some part of that which is new.

Roger Zelany, Lord of Light