Rumi and Ethereal Emptiness

This is for all the poets out there. Go read Rumi.

A 13th century Persian poet, Islamic scholar, and theologian, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, now simply known as Rumi, might just be what our society needs more than anything.

I had the pleasure of reading his work while traveling through the Turkish interior and I couldn’t have been happier with the pairing of local poetry and countryside. It’s not as though his work references specific landmarks or geographical features, but what it does do is capture the spirit of a people known for their revelation of the human spirit, which Rumi does in every verse.

His message and language is simple. Love each other and ironically be empty. initially paradoxical, it’s a refreshing message for the American stuffed to the gills with nearly everything. As a society we seem to have reached the pinnacle of indulgence. Between the Ashley-Madison scandal and Donald Trump self-righteously screaming for excess in the face of American politics it seems as though we could all use a nice reminder of the fact that emptiness is a feeling in and of itself and it’s not necessarily a bad one.

Though Rumi calls more for a metaphorical emptiness–that it is in our state of true abstinence and withdrawal/restraint from the pleasures of this world where we’re able to allow our own bodies to take on the glorious ethereal qualities of beyond–ultimately so we can slowly allow our minds to drift upwards to God and seek something more than satiety.

The message is a good one, and the poetry that presents the message is some of the most strikingly poignant and beautiful available. Drunken revelry and night-time spectacle. Ecstatic dervish-whirled frenzy and the elevation of the spirit are only some of the highlights that grace his poetry.

For the aesthete in need of a shock to the soul, go out and pick up Rumi.

To Be An Expert

I recently read that in order to become an expert in a particular field or subject one must practice/engage/hone a specific skill for a minimum of 10,000 hours (the equivalent of 1,250 8-hour work days)–which brings me to a subject that seems to become increasingly more important as I get older–that of expertise.

I think a necessary aspect of humanity is that of drive, which is nothing more than the abstract representation of a desire for expertise.

We all long to be the best. Be it an athlete, mathematician, writer, scientist, competitive eater, no matter what the field our passion to be the greatest is the very essence that gets us up in the morning. It’s that which keeps us in the gym after work and the lights on well-past quitting time.

Personally, I aspire to be a writer. This isn’t a secret, nor is it something I hide from my friends, family, fiancé. They all know it, and encourage, and I’m thankful for their encouragement. With that said, based on the above it’ll be a staggering number of years before I’m ever able to consider myself an “expert” in writing. I can teach the craft to high-school students until my lips turn blue, and for some reason that edge toward expertise will never be reached–the carrot perpetually dangled but never fully grasped.

Philosophically, I wonder if anyone ever truly considers themselves “experts” in their field. The examples of humility from the greats are too many to count. Haruki Murakami didn’t start writing until his early 40’s and yet, despite global success as an author, he still exhibits the puerile sense of language that borders on the jejune. He’s an adolescent trapped in an elderly man’s body that consistently turns out some of the most intriguing prose today.

Take sushi chef Jiro Ono who has literally devoted his entire life to making the world’s best sushi (see Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Here’s a man who slaves over literally every intricacy of his food, his craft, his livlihood in order to make it supremely “perfect.” Expert? Absolutely. Although, I would wager to bet that were Jiro Ono asked about his own expertise, he’d claim he’s still learning. He’s still growing. He’s still honing his skills to somehow, someway, get better.

But such dedication is necessary toward pursuing that which makes us whole, and growth is always at the forefront of experience. I just wonder if expertise is the intangible equivalent of finance–the idea that there’s never enough money in the bank to satiate our limitless desires.

Expertise itself seems to be the spawn of what makes Buddhism such a universally satisfying ideology in that it professes relinquishment of the very thing that drives us–it professes the need to rid ourselves of want, of desire, of hunger itself.

But the point still stands. We all have an innate sense of thirst or hunger for the need to be an expert.

What’s your expertise?

Nabokov’s Lolita

Originally published in Paris in 1955 , Nabokov’s opus toward illicit, unrequited love via Lolita is a perversely fascinating linguistic masterpiece.

Meet Humbert Humbert. A late 30’s literature professor who falls head over heels in love with twelve year old Dolores Haze (a.k.a. Lolita–his personal nickname for her). And, through a disturbing series of events, witness as Humbert slowly inserts himself into her life as official “stepfather,” resulting in one of the most twisted love stories ever told.

Listed in Time Magazine’s Top 100 novels of All TimeLolita stands as one of the most controversial novels to have ever been published.

As an avid and long-time Nabokov fan, I cannot recommend this one enough.

Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky

Paul Bowles’ 1949 novel about post-colonial Northern Africa is a torrent of existential malaise and estrangement from familiarity in a time where disconnection was more than the abandonment of technology–it was the abandonment of self.

The novel follows American couple Port Moresby and wife Kit as they attempt to reconcile marital issues via travel through Moroccan North Africa.

That said, what follows is the existential/psychological effects of separation of all that is habitual, commonplace, and routine, and how sometimes the best way to discover your truest sense of identity is to forgo the comforts of home and tap into the great beyond via travel.

Named one of TIME magazine’s top 100, this one is sure to astound in it’s simplicity and brilliance.

Linguistic Hedges and Bridges: Why Do We Read?

In short: we live through the words of others.

In length: we’re a bumbling race of accidents.

I won’t go into the whole evolutionary discussion as it pertains to creation because to do so would cause a torrential digression that I’m sure would aggravate some and incense others, which is not my purpose.

We all know that language is meant to connect. It’s meant to allow a glimpse into the other through our ability to give words and labels to that which we see and experience. E.g. Saussure’s “Theory of the Sign” and our ability to match labels to the world around us–signifier and signified and all that crap for the lit. theory majors out there.

Reading as a whole allows for windows and doors to be made from one consciousness to another. The connection is evident in our society’s broad range of reading appetites. Whether we’re reading for pleasure and joy or for inspiration and education, the point is the same. We’re looking for connection.

However, the search for connection also brings on an untended sort of isolation. How am I supposed to relate to the thoughts and sentiments of an author singularly different in every way from myself? Answer? I wish I had one.

Regardless, the importance of reading vs. something more immediate and imaginatively accommodating like television or movies is our ability to interpret and to construct. Reading requires a visionary self-construction to glimpse into the world of others. What the author intended may not be what we (the reader) constructs. And thus, we read to create. We read to bridge the gaps between the worlds of others and ourselves.

Myself, I’ve kept a list of my favorite quotes for the last decade. It began when I was seventeen and progressed and evolved from my scribblings in notebooks and little pocketbooks, and ultimately made its way (predictably so) into a word document that now stretches to nearly fifteen pages.

On it’s glossy-white digitized finish, I can trace the reading path of a decade’s worth of linguistic peaks and troughs–the thoughts that have hedged me into private reflection, and the thoughts that have connected. Those that have made me feel insignificant and entirely imperceptive, to those that have made me identify with the lives of some of the best minds of our species–both the worlds of now and then.

Whether it’s the isolationist crystalline beauty of Plath or Woolf to the bravado and machismo of Hemingway and Bukowski, I’ve been able to pick apart the lives of others as they’ve been put down by their creators. Through language, I’ve been able to create the connective bridges between my isolation and that of another to form a sort of collective conscious that ideally inspires, and regrettably segregates.

Hence the profuse reading agenda. We read to connect. We read to discover what others have thought the sense and purpose of our time here truly is. Is it to inspire, to isolate, or simply to exist?

The beauty of it is that at the end of the day, it’s your choice.

What do you wish to experience?

The Bushwhacked Piano

Thomas McGuane’s second novel, originally published in 1971 to critical reviews, is a hysterical commentary on the state of the American psyche seen through the eyes and lived through the misadventures of wayward entrepreneur Nicholas Payne.

Follow Payne as he pursues the hand of a doughty millionairess and joins sides with a double amputee con-man (the bionic man!) as they attempt to sell glow-in-the-dark bats that will rid entire towns of mosquitos overnight (or so they say).

One of the most uniquely funny and linguistically savvy voices in American Letters, The Bushwhacked Piano is the perfect balance of literary panache and buoyantly side-splitting hilarity.

Moonlight and Cadillacs: Our First Guest Post Winner!

Book Guy Reviews welcomes its first ever guest post contest winner, Sara O’Brien!

Sara OBrien is a poet located somewhere mid-Atlantic, living in both London and Massachusetts. She writes between homes and lives, finding inspiration in this murky middle ground. Currently finishing her undergraduate degree in English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of Greenwich in London, she hopes to continue to extend her pen with the years to come.

You can find her work at Enjoy!

Untitled (Moon Poem)  
By: Sara O’Brien

It has been a while since we have spoken,
the moon and I.
Her personality stitched into craters
separate from flags and footprints
of nineteen-sixty-nine.
I chased her as a child
in the backseat of our
used grey Cadillac.

DreamWorks brought her to the screen
fishing for human beings
netted by planets, and detonated suns.
My fingertips pressed against skies
mirrored on car windows trace her
behind an urban nightlight
a reimagined performance.
I spoke as her wardrobe waxed and waned

She orbits clarity with hourly tolls,
a conductor to an orchestra of clocks,
rises and rests shaped in braided time
snoozing patrons of anonymous country plains
and coastal ridged hotels, folded and beaten back
as tidal pulls wave on breezes, scratch shore and air.

She is the same moon who ran to the tuts
of the old grey Cadillac in its pushes up our street
before our last left turn she’d nestle
behind the derelict maroon house
plotted along the wooden rim,
neighboured in a town only of lights
with no other spoken tenancy
you couldn’t see its church,
I knew she supplied the morning chime.

We aged.
The Cadillac’s left with split seams
on worn leather seats
and she has checked into the sky
without vacancy, sunk to level horizon.
Busted to the brim with widened ears
I listen to the pulsation of her devoted craters
and see-sawing tide lapping numb toes
coiled on the beach.

I speak gravity
she opens herself up to tidal almanacs
and harvest wishes, prayers and chants
worthy of a wide staff margin.
Moon rocks made of cheese
and one eye and thumb to the sky
made lunar clipped fingernails,
conceit in childhood colour.

Book Guy Reviews cannot thank her enough for the wonderful submission!