Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Great Conjunctions

Last day of autumn yesterday, and my reading and the planets for once were in conjunction. Like this: I have been into three books at once, as usual, Joyce Maynard memoir, a John Bayles (was husband of Iris Murdoch) memoir and a Karen Armstrong examination of the Buddha's life, what we know of it.

Very different sounding, but amazingly coincidental in that they all take a careful view of a life and the life of the mind and the spirit, not what I had realized when I lighted on them, but I will take credit for this.

Maynard is a tortured soul, brilliant writer and literary scholar in many ways, but with amazingly little ability to analyze her own emotions, and even less ability to use emotional intelligence. She had a brief but life changing relationship with J.D.Salinger, when she was still only in her teens, and a lot of this book analyzes this in retrospect trying to make sense of her bewitchment by him, and some heartbreaking realizations she makes. Almost too painful to read at times, but engrossing nonetheless, though I did have to skim some parts that felt like voyeurism, she is now in mid life starting to get a thing or two.

Then there's John Bayles, an intellectual and a keenly introspective person, who has an enormous life of the imagination, which he has conjured up all his life, very self analytical in a way that does not flatter himself, and able to find adventures in his own mind even in the midst of caring for Murdoch throughout her Alzheimer's journey. He does not give his own emotions a lot of daylight, but the grit shows through anyway.

He has a way of finding sparks of joy and interest in the smallest event, in the course of a life that is one of the hardest of caregiving work, definitely should be required reading for any grownup. Or for anyone who wants to see a true learner at work.

And Karen Armstrong, whose struggles with her health have been documented elsewhere, and who has risen above them to the point of rarely giving them house room, is a rarity among theologians -- someone who can write for laypeople to read, and whose honesty shines through, never forgetting that there are principles to remember throughout her writing. She has a balance of emotional and intellectual intelligence that is instructive to observe.

Then if this weren't enough for a person to be learning from, I found out almost accidentally that there was an eclipse of the moon last night, as the season went from fall to winter.

I was up at 3 a.m. and decided a cup of tea would be good, also maybe the morning paper had arrived, and I looked out to the street, and there above the roof opposite was the moon in the last stage of the eclipse. Whereupon I hauled self and camera out to the front step, realizing a bit late that bitter weather and a wind was a really bad time to be out in pajamas, but oh well, and did my best to get a picture to share.

It's one of the few times I will ever be able to say I did better than Pasadena on this, since they had pouring rain, zero visibility, and their wonderful telescope was sitting with the lens cap on or whatever they do when you can see anything.


  1. Great photo, Boud.
    I happen to be readng A History of God by Karen Armstrong.

  2. I woke up in the middle of the night and had the presence of mind to put my glasses on and look at the moon - managed to see the last little dimple of it before it had moved on.

    The next eclipse to occur on the solstice will be in 2094! So it's a once in a lifetime thing for you and me both. :)


Thanks so much for commenting. I read all comments with care and much pleasure!