Thursday, 30 June 2011

Sometimes A Good Friend Is All You Need

I wrote this two years ago. Much has happened since then. But I love reading it because it reminds me, oh death in life, the days that are no more:

Mary is packing up to leave and I'm transcribing furiously. Furiously. This guy is chattering on about strategic active hedges, and I grit my teeth and type. Did I mention furiously? I pause the recording and look up longingly for a while.

"You leaving?"

"Not unless you want me to stay."

I grin.

"Stay. Please. Then we can have dinner and I can send you home."

She seats herself right down, and decides to go through her voluminous google alerts.

I resume typing. Bad English and all. I don't bother to edit. Too tired. Too fucking tired.

Mel leaves. Then Gerry. And we're alone by the skin of a second. Mary removes her fancy sequinned red purse which contains the all-important keys. We will be LOCKING UP. For the first time. I cram my water cup and coffee mug into an overflowing sink. Lady will be coming tomorrow to wash. Mary moves things around at her desk.

We switch off the lights. Zap ourselves out. And then I rush into the bathroom outside leaving her to get on with it. I come out and she's on her knees trying to jam the keys into their supposed sockets.

"Child, I think she gave me the wrong keys. I've never tried these but they don't seem to fit."

"Give it here."

I try. And try. And try. Maybe there's a knack to this. Maybe not. We look at each other in consternation. "Mel? She only just left. Maybe she hasn't gotten far."

Mary calls her. Mel is already in her car driving away. She will call the boys to see if anyone is in Marketplace. If not she'll come back herself to effect rescue. By now, Mary and I are sitting cross legged on the welcome carpet outside. Except there's no welcome carpet. So we're basically sitting on the floor. Laughing at each other.

"Do you think Dana did this on purpose? Gave me the wrong keys cos I bugged her for them so much. Shoved this unlikely pair in my hands while thinking, he he he I got you, just wait till you try these?"

Now Dana is this inoffensive nice Indian girl. The mousy kind who hides behind her dupatta. You know what I'm talking about. I say, yes, yes, typical Indian drama queen. Maybe she will come here singing then run to one corner and then the other, shade her eyes, and sing...aaaaaaaaaaaaah (you must imagine the wobbliness of the aaaaahs)

Mary and I are rolling on the floor. Charles calls. He's the one coming to our rescue. He's a bit tipsy (they have been at it at Marketplace since 6. It's half 8 now) But he's coming up anyways. He does. Greets us sitting on the floor and shakes his head. Tries our keys just to make sure that the two ditzy females didn't get it wrong. We didn't.

So he locks up for us like the nice boy he is.

And says he might see me at Backyard later. If I'm going. Tired as I am, I tend to drag my ass to Backyard on Mondays just for the sheer punishment of it.

Mary and I make our way to Devi's Corner. Hungry as I am, I tell her my ghost story through mouthfuls of roti canai and mutton curry. Suddenly she remembers:

"Our boy is getting married. He was hanging around the other when you were paying and I wondered what he wanted, and he told me he was going to be away for a few days...going back to India to get married."

We look at each other. If our boy is going to get married, we have to give him an ang pow. Thing is, we don't have any red packets. Or white packets. Or even brown packets. I suggest we nip across the road to see if they have any likely looking envelopes. Mary is all for coming back on another day. But I say, no, we must give him the ang pow before he leaves, not after he comes back.

(For those not in the know, our boy is the best waiter in Devi's Corner. The one comes charging along when he sees us, providing us with water, napkins, and all the attention he possibly can, while attending to 100 or so other customers at Devi's. He's the reason we're platinum card holders there).

Anyway, we are nothing if not subtle. After asking him when he is leaving, we hurtle across the street, look for envelopes, find only ugly brown ones, ask the nice Bangladeshi fler there to show us other envelopes, he shows us some shocking shocking pink ones, Mary blanches, but I think they look I buy the packet, RM1 for all 25...and we take our own envelopes, write touching notes on the cover, stuff our money into it....then go across the street from him and signal for him to cross the street, present him with the envelopes....ahhh furtive....ahhh drama queens, I hear the tablas and the veenas...

And then Mary slips into the DVD shop and I follow her. She's promised to buy one, just one...or two, no more than two...and the first one is there and the second is sorrylar miss, not arrived yet....and she starts leafing through a pile and I grab her and drag her out of there bodily (I have to, if Mary gets going, we could be here all night).

And I send her home and hoping that one of my other colleagues doesn't come to Backyard with Charlie boy. "Mark doesn't like him lar...but then, knowing Mark he'd have to recognise him before he remembers he doesn't like him..."

Mary: "Oh yeah?"

Jen: "Yeah. Remember how hard I had to work to get him to remember me? I mean, he'd come out to get the morning paper and stumble over me at this front doorstep....Jen, what are you doing here? Me (giggling sheepishly): Oh I just happened to be in the neighbourhood...and then he goes to his neighbourhood mamak to have a teh tarek and there I am behind giant shades and a broadsheet....and then he's driving and glances in his rearview and there I am...

"Child, you're a stalker."

I acknowledge the truth with a sigh: "Yeah."

And we collapse in our seats laughing.

And I don't care that tomorrow is going to be even more complicated than today.

And oh yeah, I decided to give Backyard a miss after all.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Belief & Technique for Modern Prose

By Jack Kerouac

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy.

2. Submissive to everything, open, listening.

3. Try never get drunk outside your own house.

4. Be in love with your life.

5. Something that you feel will find its own form.

6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind.

7. Blow as deep as you want to blow.

8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind.

9. The unspeakable visions of the individual.

10. No time for poetry but exactly what is.

11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest.

12. In traced fixation dreaming upon object before you.

13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition.

14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time.

15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monologue.

16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye.

17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.

18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea.

19. Accept loss forever.

20. Believe in the holy contour of life.

21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind.

22. Don't think of words when you stop but to see picture better.

23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in your morning.

24. No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language & knowledge.

25. Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it.

26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form.

27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness.

28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better.

29. You're a Genius all the time.

30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


It was the year 2003. And I was in my first semester at Edith Cowan University, one semester into my creative writing degree. I spent the semester, hopping houses, moving through three in as many months. When it was winter, I shivered on my mattress on the floor and grimaced as my kidneys seemed to contract.

I felt so cold.

And so rootless.

And yet, and warm...and so happy. It was four in the morning when I finished my monograph, two stories (real stories) and two poems (the poems were simply waste matter at the end of the process because I was so buzzed I could not stop writing). I pushed my bike home in the icy morning air, high on something that tasted like, well, joy.

I didn't come down for three whole days.

It was end of semester. I had to hand up all my various essays, assignments, collection of work that had been done for the semester. My first semester. My break from work to do something completely different.

Staying up late at night reading about Emily Dickinson. Or what the New Critics had to say. Or that book by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I think it was Aurora Leigh. Mostly because it was the book that Emily Dickinson and Kate Anthon had pored over, every line, every line...savouring, savouring, every line.

And so of course, shivering on my mattress on the floor, I had to read it.

Just because.

It was a whole new world. I didn't have access to any of this before. I couldn't pose as someone who knew. I didn't know. And not knowing was great. Not knowing was Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

And somewhere in the middle of the semester, I sat on a park bench and wrote my "observation piece" which was supposed to be on friendship.

And here it is:

I sit on a green bench at Hyde Park. The wind rustles through the leaves. A little girl on a pink bike with training wheels goes squeaking by. The fountain in the midst of the lake springs to life with its clear music of running water. So many sounds in this silence.

And here I sit alone, thinking, for that is my task, of Friendship. Nothing around me serves to inspire. The little tableaux of parents walking with the children, siblings climbing up monkey bars together, old men shuffling along deep in conversation are but pictures, devoid of meaning or feeling to me.

So I go within and remember the times when my soul felt in communion with another. Faces float in my head. People I consider friends whom I have known for only an hour or a year or a decade. Maya, Mary, Mark, Beatrix, all dear to me, because our lives touched and continue to touch. Some friends stick around and form my support network. As for others, we meet, merge and move on. I used to be sad about this, but then I realised that it is in letting them go, that we keep them. There are tiny filaments of love connecting me to a vast network of souls. So sitting here, as solitary as I am, I am not lonely.

Over the years I have come to encapsulate friendship in moments, rather than years. I feel our lives are cut up into these tiny moments. And everything should be comprehended in these slivers. When we demand Eternity from Friendship, all we get is disappointment. But maybe, when we take the moment for all that it's got and demand nothing beyond, we get Eternity.

The leaves continue to rustle. It is always cold under these trees.

Monday, 27 June 2011

You Need Do Nothing

Perfectionism is a socially-approved trap. It may sound reasonable to "always aim for the best" to "never settle for second place" and so on. But in the end, perfectionism is a hopeless game. It is like endlessly chasing a carrot on a stick.

On the deepest level, you could say that perfectionism is a futile search for self-worth. "If I do this one thing better," perfectionists say to themselves, "then I’ll be worthy. Then I’ll be a good person, and people will like me. I just have be better than I am."

It’s quite tempting to pursue that goal – after all, what a reward! Do this perfectly, and you’re granted worth, acceptance, and love. Just do it perfectly. But of course, the brass ring always stays just out of reach. Tempting, calling – but out of reach.

So what’s the alternative to perfectionism? Some people say, "I’d rather be perfectionistic than lazy and apathetic." But those aren’t the only choices. In fact, the true answer to perfectionism lies at the heart of many spiritual teachings.

"You are a child of God. Nothing can change this. And because you are a child of God, you are perfectly loved, perfectly forgiven, and spiritually perfect forever. Accept that truth about yourself and others."

This attitude, of course, is the opposite of perfectionism. Perfectionists say, "I’m not perfect – far from it. But perhaps if I work harder, or do this better, or improve myself in this way, I have a chance to redeem myself. I just have to try harder."

Again, the spiritual teachings respond by saying, "It’s impossible to ‘make’ yourself perfect. Don’t even try. Instead, be willing to reach deep down into your heart, and into the hearts of others – into your spiritual core. There you’ll find the perfection that you’re seeking."

Lofty ideas! And sometimes hard to accept. For these ideas begin to dismantle the whole thought system of the human ego – the thought system that says, "I can earn my worth. I can acquire love. I can make myself acceptable." The spiritual teachings say, "No – worth, love and acceptance are yours not by your efforts, but by the grace of God. You need do nothing but accept them."

-Dan Joseph-

Sunday, 26 June 2011


have you ever hoarded
your dreams? fearful that
if you shared them someone
might steal them? even worse
we sometimes fear we're
not worthy of our own dreams
so we quitclaim them
to others saying here take
my magic i won't be
needing it and i'll even throw in the wand

we fill our days writing to
do lists and thinking up goals
but dreams don't like to be
analyzed they're not comfortable
on the couch they prefer to
take up residence in the heart
where they can use ancient keys
to unlock doors spilling
liquid light of recognition into
our sighs of relief when we
realize we're home

-Marilyn Maciel-

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Searching for Desert Sage

The following is my favourite chapter from Cathy Lee Crosby's book, Let the Magic Begin. I remember reading it at a time when I really needed to hear its message. A cross between "be here now" and allow the flow rather than push for it. It's been more than a decade since, and insights which should have burst like fireworks on my jaded perceptions are just beginning to spark now. It's funny. But truly, we don't learn anything (no matter how many books we try to cram) until we're ready to relax and let the message sink in. This is a kind of long chapter. And I suspect most of you are not going to make the trek through it. But I do know that the ones who are supposed to read it, will read it. Being able to control nothing, I'll just let it go, let it flow and we'll meet somewhere on the other side of the rainbow, k?

It's a date!

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I was driving south to visit my mother who lived in Palm Desert. It was a two-and-a-half hour trip to Los Angeles, and about forty-five minutes before I reached her house. I noticed that my gas needle was plunging toward empty. I exited the freeway and drove into a tiny, two-pump gas station in what appeared to be a relatively small town - a throwback to a more innocent age. As I stood there filling my tank, I noticed a bookstore across the street.

I'd been intending to pick up a few publications on health and fitness anyway, so with a few minutes to spare, I thought, why not? I paid for the gas, drove across the street, and parked near the store.

As I stepped through the front door, I was awestruck at the sheer volume of books crowding the shelves, tucked away in every conceivable corner of the room. The store was quite large, with natural light, yet retained a certain flavor of old-world simplicity. There were even a few spots where one could sit in overstuffed chairs and read. The inviting scent of freshly brewed coffee filled the air.

I walked up to the counter and found a rather nerdy-looking young man reading what appeared to be a comic book.

"Excuse me, could you tell me where the health and fitness section is," I asked.

He looked up from his "reading," stared at me oddly, and then hollered across the store seemingly to no one,

"Hey, you got a customer!"

Within seconds, a rather stout, white-haired imp of a man came bouncing out from somewhere in the bookshelves. He was dressed like a cross between a natty college professor and a corn-fed Iowa farmer, but in every other way, he looked like any clerk you'd find in a bookstore in small-town America.

"Could you help me?" I asked. "I'm looking for the section on health and fitness."

He eyed me in such a strange way, that I thought perhaps he didn't understand English. So I began again, only slower this time and gesturing, in an effort to translate for him.


Peering out through the most amazing blue eyes this side of Paul Newman, he cut me off in midsentence.

"Ah, travel," he replied, proceeding to turn on his boot heels in the opposite direction. "Follow me."

Travel? I thought. Now I know he doesn't understand English!

Before I could utter a word of protest, he headed off through a long row of bookshelves, insistently motioning me forward, until we stood in a veritable literary canyon. There were multicolored volumes stacked floor to ceiling.

Aware that I had paused to take in the sight before me, he whirled around and addressed me straight on in a commanding voice.

"You see, the important thing be ready at any moment to sacrifice what you are, for what you could become," he declared. Then, as an afterthought, he added, Charles Dubois, 1953.

"Charles Dubois?" I asked. "Who in the world is that?"

But the little man didn't answer. Instead, he dove into the shelves again and this time came up with a purple volume. He held it out so I could just barely read the title: The Warrior Athlete by Dan Millman. Then, snapping the book back before I could tell him that I had already read it, he said, "Before you can arrive at any destination you must begin a journey. Am I correct?"

Unbelievable! I thought. What have I gotten myself into now? The only English this man speaks, he's memorized from these books! Where do employers find people like this anyway? How can they hire someone who doesn't understand English to work in a bookstore?

Unaware of my judgment, the bookstore imp kept right on going. "Do you know how many people have stood in the very spot you're standing on right now?" he asked.

"Well...actually, I don't," I said. "Listen, I'm really sorry. But I'm awfully late. You see, I was headed down to my mother's house in Palm Desert and she's expecting me in half an hour. So why don't I come back another time and we can talk."

He let out a deep sigh. "People," he said with a shrug. "They have no idea where they have no idea where they're going, and only the faintest idea where they've been."

He held out his hands, indicating the walls of books.

"This is the station," he bellowed. "The books are the fuel. And their knowledge is the train that can take you to your destination."

"Sir!" I interrupted. "With all due respect, are you paid by the bookstore to do this? I mean, to stand here and quote all these lines from the books in the store?"

"Oh, no," he said.

"So you don't work here?" I queried.

"Well, actually I do...In a manner of speaking, of course," he said.

Great, I said to myself. Here I am, in the middle of nowhere, with a certified nut case. That's it. I've got to get out of here.

"Sir, you've been most helpful," I said as I turned to the old man mustering up my last available politeness. "Thanks for everything, but I really must be going."

He didn't answer me, of course. I was convinced he never answered anybody. Although it was obvious by now that he did indeed speak and understand perfect English, this was a man who was definitely utilizing a language all his own.

"The journey you are beginning is always sparked by an awareness that something's missing," he intoned. "Something's missing because life is an illusion. It's an illusion because it's the creation of your own mind. And that creation is colored by our doubts, fears, desires, and life experiences. So, we figure, figure, figure. We desperately try to make sense of things. But nothing fits, does it?"

"Well, I'm not sure..." I stammered. Then, deciding that the only way out of this mess would be to simply agree with him and take my leave, "You know? You're absolutely right, I'd never looked at it that way, thanks for filling me in, and now I really do have to..."

"You have worn the robes of success," he interrupted. "But you are still cold. In an of itself, success has no meaning to you. But now, you've stepped up to the plate. The pitcher is on the mound, so let's begin."

Completely frustrated by his seemingly inexhaustible supply of metaphors, I blurted out, "Listen, the truth of the matter is I have no idea what you're talking about. Besides, I am very, very late, and I have to get back on the road before my mother begins to worry."

He looked at me quizzically, and then threw up his hands apologetically.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, I plumb forgot my manners," he said convincingly earnest. "The name's Samuel Lewis Hastings. But you can call me Sam. Everybody does."

He graciously extended his hand.

"Pleasure to meet you," he said.

Not wanting to hurt the nice ol' man's feelings any further, I perfunctorily replied, returning the gesture. "Thank you, I'm Cathy Lee, and it's nice to meet you, too. But look..."

"Sam," he said.

"Okay Sam. Look, I don't want to be rude, but I simply came in to pick up a couple of books on health and fitness. You know, trying to get back in shape and all. But I was supposed to be in Palm Desert an hour ago, so I must be on my way right now because my mother's expecting me."

With that, I started to leave.

Darting in front of my path, Sam turned and looked into my eyes with that an intensity that stopped me cold.

"Wherever there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure...," Rumi said, "The house has to be destroyed so we can find the great treasure hidden underneath."

I couldn't believe it! He'd obviously memorized whole portions of these books, not just a few lines. And while I was extremely uncomfortable and unsure of this strange man's behavior, at the same time, I was becoming more and more curious.

Realizing that he had definitely made an impact on my naturally inquisitive nature, Sam quickly grabbed another volume, and with a courtly bow, handed me the book with an almost royal presentation. It had a bright orange cover, on which blazed the words Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain.

"All of us must go through a place at one time or another - that mystics call piercing the veil of illusion," he began. "It's the point where we truly recognize that our physical world is not the ultimate reality and begin to turn inward, to discover the true nature of our existence. At these times, we usually feel emotionally that we are hitting bottom...but actually, we are falling through a trapdoor and into a bright new world...Only by going fully into the darkness can we move through it into the light."

He shrugged dismissively. "Damn, I used to know that passage by heart," he grinned. "Sorry, but I had to paraphrase a bit. It's not important, the idea's the same."

His feigned naivete, was not hitting its mark as far as I was concerned. But he certainly had succeeded in piquing my interest.

Scratching his thick head of white hair, he spoke again. "Oh yes, I remember now! Victor Frankl said it perfectly: What is to give light must endure burning."

Warily, I looked around the store to see if anyone else was listening. Was I the only one hearing this? But the store was empty. Everyone had gone. Even the young clerk had retreated to his TV dinner, undoubtedly having heard Sam's diatribe many times before.

"Look...what I'm trying to find out..." I began.

"Sam!" he exclaimed.

"All right...Sam. Listen, who are you anyway? And what are you doing here?"

There was no answer.

"Why are you telling me all of this?" I insisted.

He grinned and then spoke in a tone that sounded like someone giving directions.

"It's like this. Sometimes a person has to go down just about as far as they think they can go. And then, you see, they gotta keep going. Because before they know it, the bottom's dropped out, the trapdoor's opened, and they've fallen into a whole new world."

That got my attention. Did he know what had happened to me? And if so, how could he have possibly found out? It was true, I had gone down as far as I could go. And yes, the bottom had dropped out. But the part about the new world? I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

"What do you mean new world?" I implored. "What do you mean specifically?"

"Specifically?" he said. "Ah, let me see, specifically!"

With a twinkle in his eye, he turned and walked further down the aisle to a table where he had placed the books he had chosen to show me. I knew by now that this was my cue to follow, and for some reason I did. Running his fingers across the jackets, almost as if his fingertips could read, he grabbed the orange book Living in the Light once again, and opened it to show me a particular page.

"Specifically," he chuckled, "page twenty-nine. The ultimate key is aliveness. The more the universe moves through you, the more alive you feel. Conversely, every time you don't follow your inner guidance you feel a loss of energy, a loss of power, a sense of spiritual deadness."

My mind was reeling. I felt like I was trying to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle, and couldn't even find the first two pieces that fit.

"Are you telling me what we're supposed to do whatever we sense is right, simply because the feeling comes to us?" I asked.

"In a manner of speaking, yes," he said. "To an unenlightened mind, yes."

"But that's impossible," I said. "If you don't know where you're going, how can you achieve anything? There's no structure, no direction, no desire, and therefore, no results. Where do all these things come into play? How can you merely function on 'instinct' alone and achieve anything worthwhile?"

"Ah," he said. "That question is not for me to answer. It is part of your journey. This world was created as a place to learn. It is our playground, our school and our artist's studio. We are here to learn how to consciously channel the creative energy of the spirit and of the Divine into physical form."

An earnest expression washed over his face as he parked himself on top of an old worn step stool standing in the aisle.

"Of course, you set goals," he said. "You have to have a destination in mind to be able to figure our where you're goin'. But you can't be ruled by those goals, and you can't be boxed in by them either. That takes all the surprise and the electricity and the fun out of life. It also lessens your power. When you begin to practice tuning in to your intuition and acting on it, no matter what, life literally comes 'alive' with possibility. When you can let go of control, and surrender to the natural energy and flow of the universe, you are directly plugged into The Source, and therefore, to all the power within you."

"Wait a minute," I straightened. "You're telling me that I'm supposed to literally sense what I need to do, and then just do it without a second thought? Well, that might be fine if you live in a cloistered monastery somewhere. But if you have to live here in the real world, you can't be so footloose and fancy free. You'd never have any control over the results, and you'd never get anything accomplished."

"You can't afford not to," he countered. And then, in a gentle yet extremely pointed manner, he added, "You have been given the gift of life and it is available to you at every moment. What you choose to do with that gift is your business."

Before I could respond he had turned back to the bookshelf. "It takes courage to stay centered in your heart, living your life shooting from the hip," he said over his shoulder.

I could only stare blankly at the figure before me. I was almost numb from the experience of my encounter with him. But as for Sam, he seemed totally energized. He was practically dancing in the aisles, darting from book to book, as if merely touching their jackets as they stood erect on the shelves was allowing him to reconnect with their magic. He continued to recite multiple passages in rapid succession, each time choosing the exact words that struck a deep chord within me.

For some unknown reason, I was no longer afraid of this country wordsmith, and in fact, was becoming strangely entranced by him. I felt like I was watching a master performance artist at work, an aged Robin Williams in bookstore-clerk drag.

With neither preamble nor pause, he forged straight ahead.

"Ever heard of Fernando Botero, the Colombian artist?" he asked, breaking through my thoughts like a hot knife through butter. Turning my attention to a hand-carved wooden plaque hanging on the wall, he quoted Botero's words without so much as a glance in their direction. "When you start a painting, it's somewhat outside of you. At the conclusion you seem to move inside the painting."

"And of course...Eugene, I've been forgetting all about you, haven't I?!" he continued, reaching across me to touch the spine of a thick art book. "Eugene Delacroix! Now there's an artiste! What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said, is still not enough."

Fully enjoying his own creativity, he jumped to another section of the shelves. "Or you might prefer Degas," he quipped. "Yes, of course! Rich with understanding, movement, and passion! He's perfect for you! Only when no longer knows what he is doing, does the painter do good things."

He laughed again as if relishing this private joke, then bolted to the end of the entire section. "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage - Anais Nin," he continued.

"Paul Gauguin: I shut my eyes in order to see."

Then wildly pointing to yet another book he recited eloquently: "Amos Ferguson: I paint not by sight but by faith. Faith gives you sight."

He was totally consumed and I was dizzy from just watching the spectacle exploding before me. This venerable enchanter was filled with a passion I hadn't experienced in a long, long time. Not only did he know the passages, but he seemed to know the entire books as well. I got the feeling that he almost lived amongst their pages, as if they were a part of his soul. The mere thrill of touching them seemed to electrify him.

"Hold on to your hat!" he practically shouted. "We're just getting started."

I looked at my watch. I was extremely late and wondered if I could call my mother. But I knew Mom would understand and would want me to stay and listen.

"I don't suppose you're Jewish," he cackled. "The Talmud is a pretty amazing piece of work. Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'"

He smiled at me warmly.

"You're in luck, my dear," he said, once again picking up on my thoughts perfectly. "I've got plenty of time to whisper this afternoon."

In that instant, I became aware of Sam, the person, for the first time. I no longer focused on his strange manner, or his rather odd-looking clothes. Instead, I began to see his warm, joyous nature shining so brilliantly that it overshadowed any of my remaining judgments or doubts.

"Never mind the title of this one," he said, interrupting my musings. This, of course, brought my attention immediately to the words printed on the front of the book he was holding in his hands: The Pathwork of Self-Transformation by Eva Pierrakos.

He began to shuffle the pages like a card dealer. "Oh yes, here it is," he said. "For those feeling uncertain, here is the key." Finding the page he was looking for, he handed me the book and asked if I would read it aloud.

Through the gateway of feeling your weakness lies your strength.
Through the gateway of feeling your pain lies your pleasure and joy.
Through the gateway of feeling your fear lies your security and safety.
Through the gateway of feeling your loneliness lies your capacity to have fulfillment, love and companionship.
Through the gateway of feeling your hopelessness lies true and justified hope.
Through the gateway of accepting the lacks in your childhood lies your fulfillment now.

"About as good as apple pie, isn't it?" he said.

After a long pause, I turned to Sam and connected in a way I could not have anticipated. "Do you think a person's journey through fear and pain is truly the doorway to happiness?" I asked.

"I'm saying nothing," he replied with a knowing smile, as if acknowledging a secret just between the two of us. "I'm just a bookstore clerk. All I know is what I read."

He began to laugh the freest, most genuinely funny laugh I'd ever heard. It was contagious. We both began to howl. He was obviously orchestrating a game that he realized I had no idea how to play, and he was having a ball. I felt he was throwing only the basic 'rules' at me, just to see how long it would take for me to figure out how to play. He must have known that I was athletically inclined, because he had woven his web in the form of a game. What better way to focus m normally wandering attention.

"Sam, can I ask you another question? Am I the only one who can see you? I mean, are you real?

"Well, I sure hope so!" he chuckled. "Cause my car's going to look pretty strange driving down the road with nobody in it. I'm as real as you are. A good, solid hunk of muscle and bone. Only difference is, I know how to pan for gold."

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this, he had lost me completely.

"Pan for gold?" I asked.

"Yep," he nodded. "You know, alchemy. You've heard of alchemy, haven't you?"

"Well," I stammered. "I've heard the word but..."

Without a pause, he chimed in. "A medieval chemical science aimed at achieving the transformation of base metals into gold. Or, the transformation of something common into something special."

He grinned a prospector's grin. "Some people call it magic, I suppose."

He quickly flashed a purple book cover.

"The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, an insightful fable about the quest to fulfill one's destiny," he continued, weaving his own thread of unique luminosity. "No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second encounter with God and with eternity."

That's it! That's the final straw! I thought to myself.

How could he possibly have known the perfect arrow to pierce my heavy armor? After a few moments of stunned silence, I suddenly felt the urge to tell him everything - every single little detail about what had been happening to me over the last five years - the losses, the illness, the bankruptcy, the lawsuits. But before I could get a word out of my mouth, he aimed his crystal-clear blue eyes directly into mine in a way that let me know he already knew. Again, it stopped me cold.

"What you need to understand is this: Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way...That's the point at which most people give up. It's the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one 'dies of thirst' just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon."

The absolute truth of his words echoed in the deepest part of my heart. I felt weak. I looked for something to lean on, but there were no posts or pillars nearby. Taking a couple of steps backward, I literally fell into one of the upholstered chairs I'd seen on my way in. For the first time in my life, I was absolutely filled with an overwhelming sense of the meaning of our life on this earth. The particulars weren't totally evident, or even important. But at last I could see the whole picture, once and for all. I finally realized what the jigsaw puzzle would look like as a finished picture.

Good old Sam, however, this eccentric, yet compelling bookstore sage, kept right on rolling. He had me on the ropes, and wasn't about to let me get away.

"You see, as the old woman in The Alchemist said, 'You came so that you could learn about your dreams, and dreams are the language of God.'"

My head was spinning with the profoundness of it all. But Sam didn't stop for rest.

"When you want something," he continued, "all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

I was trying desperately to understand the complexities of this newly felt sense of awe and wonder.

"But Sam!" I exclaimed. "I don't know what I want! I used to think I knew what I wanted. But somehow, I've forgotten."

"Not a problem. Not a problem!" he repeated. "Just decide to go forward and seek your treasure. Know that every hour you spend is part of your dream. And that, as the alchemist told the boy, will allow you to discover things along the way you never would have seen, had you not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve. The closer one gets to realizing his destiny, the more that destiny becomes his true reason for being."

"Sam, I feel so stupid," I said. "I feel like I've missed so much! It seems like I've wasted all this time."

"No, no, no," he said. "Each, in his own time. You see, you did exactly what you had to do. You've been on the journey all along, you just didn't realize it. The only difference is, now you have reawakened your destination. It's all so simple, really. Life is simple. Like the alchemist who learned that the world has a soul. He realized that, whoever understands that Soul can also understand the language of things...Many alchemists have realized their destiny and discovered the Soup of the World, the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life...But these things are all so simple that they could be written on the surface of an emerald."

"Well, that's easy to say, Sam," I said. "If you understand the Soul of the World. But how do you do that? How do you actually go about understanding it?"

"First of all, realize that you are an alchemist. We all are," he explained. "And the answer's right in that book you're holding. How do I immerse myself in the desert? Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World."

I had to laugh, out of pure frustration more than anything else. I felt I had lost my connection with him for sure. What he was saying was coming across to me like a foreign language. I needed some specifics! I needed direction! I needed a clear explanation!

As if anticipating my every thought, Sam was answering my questions before i had even asked them: "You now see everything through a veil of associations about things...You've 'seen it all before.'...You see only memories of things, so you become bored. Boredom, you see, is fundamental nonawareness of life; boredom is awareness, trapped in the mind. You'll have to lose your mind before you can come to your senses."

Well, if that was all it was going to take, I was off to a grand start! Bring on the straitjacket! Enlightenment comes upon hospital discharge, I thought.

Sensing my difficulty in grasping his point, Sam didn't miss a beat. He placed The Way of the Peaceful Warrior beside me onto an increasingly formidable stack of books. After giving me some much-needed time to digest all that was running through my brain, he quietly sat down cross-legged on the floor in the center of the aisle and motioned me to sit beside him, which I did. He carefully unwedged a thin volume from the bottom shelf with the toe of his boot, slipped it out of the stack, and placed it on his lap. I could see the title, The Urban Shaman, by Serge King. Sam waited a long time before speaking, uncharacteristically choosing his words carefully.

"Why is your world so full of darkness, when you want to attract the light," he asked finally.

He hit me right in the gut. A real sucker punch, and I never even saw it coming. I couldn't breathe. I had no answer, because it was a question I had asked myself so many times within the safety of my own thoughts.

He began to speak slowly and deliberately.

"Extending into the metaphysical realm, we come across the idea that thoughts will telepathically attract their equivalent. In other words, to put it very simply, positive thoughts will attract positive people and events, and negative thoughts will attract negative people and events."

I wasn't sure if he was paraphrasing, because the way he spoke and the words from the books had become indistinguishable. I couldn't really tell where the text ended and Sam's words began. He checked my face for a reaction. He could see that I was taking it all in, but wasn't ready to comment. Sensing this, he continued driving his point home.

"Nothing ever happens to you without your participation. For every event that you experienced, you creatively attract it through your beliefs, fears, and expectations, and then react to it habitually or respond to it consciously. Cathy Lee, you are connected to the Universe. It's a part of you and you are a part of it. And you always have been."

It was the first time he had used my name. It was almost as if his infinite wisdom had been brought into a narrow focus, a perfect beam of light aimed directly at me. I'd heard and felt every single word. And sitting there on the floor next to Sam, I realized that he had instinctively known about the hole in my heart all along. He also knew that in order for it to disappear forever. I had to full that hole for myself.

Without saying a word, he rose and walked stiffly to a back room. He soon returned carrying his jacket and a well-worn paperback book which he proceeded to place reverently in my hands.

"This is one of my favorites: Millman's The Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior," he said. "It's my own personal copy. I carry it with me, as you can see. It's a little torn and tattered, but I want you to have it. The main thing I want to emphasize now, is that the world mirrors your new level of awareness."

Something seemed to have changed in Sam. There was a depth of understanding that was becoming more and more evident. When he spoke, it was as if all the knowledge of the world was speaking. When the afternoon's incredible odyssey had begun, he seemed like nothing more than a happy-go-lucky, slightly off-center character, who just happened to possess a great command of the written word. What I was beginning to realize, however, was that the "lines" he had been reciting were simply vehicles through whcih he was driving home the "truth" in any way he could. And he was delivering his message in a manner that I could both comprehend and experience at the same time.

"Like attracts like," he said. "And people whose home base is the first floor are attracted to first floor kinds of music, books, drink, food, sports, and so forth. The same is true of the second and third floors. Until your awareness rests securely on the fourth floor, in the heart, your motives are ultimately self-serving."

He gently took both of my hands in his, helped me to my feet, and stared deeply into my eyes. "It's time for you to climb to the higher floors, my dear," he said simply. "That's where your true destiny lies."

I couldn't utter a word: I needed to sponge up every drop of this moment between us. He was right and it did seem simple! I had been playing on the lower floors, while my heart had been longing to take the elevator to the top.

"You have opened the door to the alchemist within you, harnessing the power of the gold in your soul," San smiled, surrounding me with a blanket of comfort I had never before known in my life. "In other words, just embrace the true self. For when a woman has owned her passionate nature...her thoughts will grow wild and fierce and beautiful. Her juices flow. Her heart expands. She has glimpsed the enchanted kingdom, and the vast and magical realms of the Goddess within her...When a woman conceives here true self, a miracle occurs and life around her begins again."

After what seemed like an eternity, during which he gave me the full amount of time I needed to absorb the meaning of these compelling words, Sam used his humor, as always, to dissipate the intensity of the moment, and to guide me back to reality.

"I never get that one right anymore!" he apologized. "My memory must be going. I used to have all of these memorized word for word. But I guess when you've lived the books long enough, your experience and the words get all mixed up."

"But Marianne won't mind," he said. "She understands what I'm saying."

I guess he didn't feel like speaking for a while, because he took the book, A Woman's Worth, turned to page thirty-two, and handed it to me, pointing out the following passage:

"When we break free and see the game for what it is, we will let out a howl...We will hear the holy choir of angels, our eyes will brighten, and our smiles will burst forth. We will see the angels and know the angels, and do lunch with them, and speak their case. We will be intimate with the stars and ride rainbows to ancient lands. We will light up like lamps, and the world will never be the same again."

I slowly closed the volume, and stared silently at the floor. Tears began to drip down my cheeks. Although Sam and I had been together for a mere five hours, it had seemed like a lifetime. The sheer joy that was swirling within me, was more than I could handle. I loved this man! He had taken the void in my heart and helped me to fill it with a light that was impossible to describe. I felt totally complete, and yet alive with an infinite connection to everything. Slowly, Sam reached out and rested his hand on my arm.

As I looked up, I said only two words, but I knew Sam would understand the enormity, and depth encompassed in both of them.

"Thank you," I said in a whisper.

"Guess it's time to close," he said softly, knowing that the connection had been made, the gift had been delivered, and the bond between us had been cast in gold.

He grabbed his coat. I grabbed my purse. Silently, we walked together toward the front door. Just before we stepped outside, I took one last look at the room to record every minute detail indelibly in my mind. When he knew I had finished satiating my memory, he reached out and shut off the lights. We stepped out into the crisp night air, and he locked the door. It was dark out, but the sky was lit with a full moon and a veritable carpet of twinkling stars. The last thing I remember before Sam disappeared down the sidewalk was him standing a few feet in front of me with his hands in his pockets, reminding me to listen to my heart because "it knows all things."

I watched him amble down the street, and then turned and walked to my car. As I climbed in, the books he had given me spilled from my arms onto the floor. As I was stacking them back to the seat beside me, I noticed that The Alchemist had flipped open to a page into which Sam had placed a well-worn leather bookmark. Had it been intentional? Of course it had. There wasn't any doubt in my mind. He'd known all along what my destiny was to be.

Holding the book carefully in my hands, I began to read the explicitly marked passage: "There was a moment of silence so profound that it seemed the city was asleep. No sound from the bazaars, no arguments among the merchants, no men climbing to the towers to chant. No hope, no adventure, no old kings or destinies, no treasure, and no pyramids. It was as if the world had fallen silent because the boy's soul had."

So this was the "Soul of the World". I finally understood what Sam had been talking about. And indeed, it was so simple that it could have been written on the surface of an emerald.

Slowly, I closed the book and sat for a long moment, taking in the penetrating sound of a world fallen silent. I had heard something like it before, but this time, it was a pure unbridled silence in which all things seemed possible. I had joined with the Soul of the World, and the exalted pulse of its beating heart within me, was the most beautiful feeling I had ever known.

Friday, 24 June 2011


So yeah, there I was sitting at the vet, waiting for the doctor to check out my little pooch and this was on the wall. Moral of the story: You can find happiness in the weirdest places.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

How To Psycho Your Baby Sister

This excerpt is from Shawn Achor's The Happiness Advantage. I was supposed put up the principles from this book. And I will. Later. For now, I'm putting up my favourite story from there. It has unicorns in it. Hint, hint, if you want to give me a birthday present, a Christmas present or any sort of present at all...something unicorn-related would go down real well.

Real well!

I fell for psychology the day my sister fell of the bed.

Once when I was seven years old, my sister Amy and I were playing on the top of our bunk beds. At the time, Amy was two years younger (incidentally, she still is), and at that time that meant she had to do whatever I wanted to do. I wanted to play war (I'm from Texas), so I lined up my G.I. Joes and soldiers on my side of the top bunk against all her My Little Ponies and unicorns on the other side. I felt confident about the outcome; you don't have to know a lot about military history to know that very rarely have unicorns ever defeated soldiers on the battlefield.

However, there are differing accounts of what happened a the climax of the battle. I'm the one telling this story, so I will tell the true version. My sister got a little too excited and, without any help from me, fell off of the top bunk. I heard a crash on the floor and I nervously peered over the side of the bed to see what had befallen my fallen sibling.

Amy had landed on the floor on her hands and knees, on all fours. Now, I was nervous. First, because my sister was and is my best friend. More important, though, I had been charged by my parents with ensuring that my sister and I play as quietly and safely as possible, as they were settling down for a long winter's nap. I looked at my sister's face and noticed that a wail of pain and suffering was about to erupt from her mouth, threatening to wake my parents from their rest. Crisis is the mother of all invention, so I did the only thing my frantic little seven-year-old brain could think to do. I said, "Amy, wait! Wait. Did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that.'re a unicorn!"

Now this was absolutely cheating, for I knew that there was nothing in the world my sister wanted more than for the world to realize that she was not Amy the five-year-old, but Amy the special unicorn. The wail froze in my sister's throat, as confusion took over her face. You could see the conflict in her eyes as her brain tried to decide whether to focus on the physical pain she was feeling or her excitement about her newfound identity as a unicorn. The latter won out. Instead of crying, waking my parents, and all the negative consequences that would have ensued, a smile spread across her face, and she proudly bound back up to the top of the bed with all the grace of a baby unicorn.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


I love this video. I love this song. More than enough reason to put it here:

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

St Valentine's

I realise that I love Valentine's Day because of the following chapter in What Katy Did.

"How jolly Santa Claus was this year!" Katy happened to say one day, when she was talking with Cecy. "I wish another Saint would come and pay us a visit. But I don't know any more, except Cousin Helen, and she can't."

"There's St. Valentine," suggested Cecy.

"Sure enough. What a bright thought!" cried Katy, clapping her hands. "Oh, Cecy, let's do something funny on Valentine's-Day! Such a good idea has just popped into my mind."

So the two girls put their heads together and held a long, mysterious confabulation. What it was about, we shall see farther on.

Valentine's-Day was the next Friday. When the children came home from school on Thursday afternoon, Aunt Izzie met them, and, to their great surprise, told them that Cecy was come to drink tea, and they must all go up stairs and be made nice.
"But Cecy comes most every day," remarked Dorry, who didn't see the connection between this fact and having his face washed.

"Yes – but to-night you are to take tea in Katy's room," said Aunt Izzie; "here are the invitations: one for each of you."

Sure enough, there was a neat little note for each, requesting the pleasure of their company at "Queen Katharine's Palace," that afternoon, at six o'clock.

This put quite a different aspect on the affair. The children scampered up stairs, and pretty soon, all nicely brushed and washed, they were knocking formally at the door of the "Palace." How fine it sounded!

The room looked bright and inviting. Katy, in her chair, sat close to the fire, Cecy was beside her, and there was a round table all set out with a white cloth and mugs of milk and biscuit, and strawberry-jam and doughnuts. In the middle was a loaf of frosted cake. There was something on the icing which looked like pink letters, and Clover, leaning forward, read aloud, "St. Valentine."

"What's that for?" asked Dorry.

"Why, you know this is St. Valentine's-Eve," replied Katy. "Debby remembered it, I guess, so she put that on."

Nothing more was said about St. Valentine just then. But when the last pink letter of his name had been eaten, and the supper had been cleared away, suddenly, as the children sat by the fire, there was a loud rap at the door.

"Who can that be?" said Katy; "please see, Clover!"

So Clover opened the door. There stood Bridget, trying very hard not to laugh, and holding a letter in her hand.

"It's a note as has come for you, Miss Clover," she said.

"For me! " cried Clover, much amazed. Then she shut the door, and brought the note to the table.

"How very funny!" she exclaimed, as she looked at the envelope, which was a green and white one. There was something hard inside. Clover broke the seal. Out tumbled a small green velvet pincushion made in the shape of a clover-leaf, with a tiny stem of wire wound with green silk. Pinned to the cushion was a paper, with these verses:

Some people love roses well,
Tulips, gayly dressed,
Some love violets blue and sweet, –
I love Clover best.
Though she has a modest air,
Though no grace she boast,
Though no gardener call her fair,
I love Clover most.
Butterfly may pass her by,
He is but a rover,
I'm a faithful, loving Bee –
And I stick to Clover.

This was the first valentine Clover had ever had. She was perfectly enchanted.
Oh, who do you suppose sent it?" she cried.

But before anybody could answer, there came another loud knock at the door, which made them all jump. Behold, Bridget again, with a second letter!

It's for you, Miss Elsie, this time," she said with a grin.

There was an instant rush from all the children, and the envelope was torn open in the twinkling of an eye. Inside was a little ivory seal with "Elsie" on it in old English letters, and these rhymes:

I know a little girl,
She is very dear to me,
She is just as sweet as honey
When she chooses so to be,
And her name begins with E, and ends with E.
She has brown hair which curls,
And black eyes for to see
With, teeth like tiny pearls,
And dimples, one, two – three,
And her name begins with E, and ends with E.
Her little feet run faster
Than other feet can flee,
As she brushes quickly past, her
Voice hums like a bee,
And her name begins with E, and ends with E.
Do you ask me why I love her?
Then I shall answer thee,
Because I can't help loving,
She is so sweet to me,
This little girl whose name begins and ends with 'E.'

It's just like a fairy story," said Elsie, whose eyes had grown as big as saucers from surprise, while these verses were being read aloud by Cecy.

Another knock. This time there was a perfect handful of letters. Everybody had one. Katy, to her great surprise, had two.

"Why, what can this be?" she said. But when she peeped into the second one, she saw Cousin Helen's handwriting, and she put it into her pocket, till the valentines should be read.

Dorry's was opened first. It had the picture of a pie at the top – I ought to explain that Dorry had lately been having a siege with the dentist.

Little Jack Horner
Sat in his corner,
Eating his Christmas pie,
When a sudden grimace
Spread over his face,
And he began loudly to cry.
His tender Mamma
Heard the sound from afar,
And hastened to comfort her child;
'What aileth my John?'
She inquired in a tone
Which belied her question mild.
'Oh, Mother,' he said,
'Every tooth in my head
Jumps and aches and is loose, O my!
And it hurts me to eat
Anything that is sweet –
So what will become of my pie?'
It were vain to describe
How he roared and he cried,
And howled like a minature tempest;
Suffice it to say,
That the very next day
He had all his teeth pulled by a dentist!

This valentine made the children laugh for a long time.
Johnnie's envelope held a paper doll named "Red Riding-Hood." These were the verses:

I send you my picture, dear Johnnie, to show
That I'm just as alive as you,
And that you needn't cry over my fate
Any more, as you used to do.
The wolf didn't hurt me at all that day,
For I kicked and fought and cried,
Till he dropped me out of his mouth, and ran
Away in the woods to hide.
And Grandma and I have lived ever since
In the little brown house so small,
And churned fresh butter and made cream cheeses,
Nor seen the wolf at all.
So cry no more for fear I am eaten,
The naughty wolf is shot,
And if you will come to tea some evening,
You shall see for yourself I'm not.

Johnnie was immensely pleased at this, for Red Riding-Hood was a great favorite of hers.

Philly had a bit of india-rubber in his letter, which was written with very black ink on a big sheet of foolscap:

I was once a naughty man,
And I hid beneath the bed,
To steal your india-rubbers,
But I chewed them up instead.
Then you called out, 'Who is there?'
I was thrown most in a fit,
And I let the india-rubbers fall –
All but this little bit.
I'm sorry for my naughty ways,
And now, to make amends,
I send the chewed piece back again,
And beg we may be friends.

"Just listen to mine," said Cecy, who had all along pretended to be as much surprised as anybody, and now behaved as if she could hardly wait till Philly's was finished. Then she read aloud:

If I were a bird,
And you were a bird,
What would we do?
Why you should be little and I would be big,
And, side by side on a cherry-tree twig,
We'd kiss with our yellow bills, and coo –
That's what we'd do!
If I were a fish
And you were a fish,
What would we do?
We'd frolic, and whisk our little tails,
And play all sorts of tricks with the whales,
And call on the oysters, and order a 'stew,'
That's what we'd do!
If I were a bee
And you were a bee,
What would we do?
We'd find a home in a breezy wood,
And store it with honey sweet and good.
You should feed me and I should feed you,
That's what we'd do!


"I think that's the prettiest of all," said Clover.

"I don't," said Elsie. "I think mine is the prettiest. Cecy didn't have any seal in hers, either." And she fondled the little seal, which all this time she had held in her hand.

"Katy, you ought to have read yours first, because you are the oldest," said Clover.

"Mine isn't much," replied Katy, and she read:

The rose is red, the violet blue,
Sugar is sweet, and so are you.

"What a mean valentine!" cried Elsie, with flashing eyes. "It's a real shame, Katy! You ought to have had the best of all."

Katy could hardly keep from laughing. The fact was that the verses for the others had taken so long that no time had been left for writing a valentine to herself. So, thinking it would excite suspicion to have none, she had scribbled this old rhyme at the last moment.

"It isn't very nice," she said, trying to look as pensive as she could, "but never mind."

"It's a shame!" repeated Elsie, petting her very hard to make up for the injustice.
"Hasn't it been a funny evening?" said John; and Dorry replied, "Yes; we never had such good times before Katy was sick, did we?"

Katy heard this with a mingled feeling of pleasure and pain. "I think the children do love me a little more of late," she said to herself. "But, oh, why couldn't I be good to them when I was well and strong!"

She didn't open Cousin Helen's letter until the rest were all gone to bed. I think somebody must have written and told about the valentine party, for instead of a note there were these verses in Cousin Helen's own clear, pretty hand. It wasn't a valentine, because it was too solemn, as Katy explained to Clover next day. "But," she added, "it is a great deal beautifuller than any valentine that ever was written." And Clover thought so too.

These were the verses:


I used to go to a bright school
Where Youth and Frolic taught in turn;
But idle scholar that I was,
I liked to play, I would not learn;
So the Great Teacher did ordain
That I should try the School of Pain.
One of the infant class I am
With little, easy lessons, set
In a great book; the higher class
Have harder ones than I, and yet
I find mine hard, and can't restrain
My tears while studying thus with Pain.
There are two teachers in the school,
One has a gentle voice and low,
And smiles upon her scholars, as
She softly passes to and fro.
Her name is Love; 'tis very plain
She shuns the sharper teacher, Pain.
Or so I sometimes think; and then,
At other times, they meet and kiss,
And look so strangely like, that I
Am puzzled to tell how it is,
Or whence the change which makes it vain
To guess if it be – Love or Pain.
They tell me if I study well,
And learn my lessons, I shall be
Moved upward to that higher class
Where dear Love teaches constantly;
And I work hard, in hopes to gain
Reward, and get away from Pain.
Yet Pain is sometimes kind, and helps
Me on when I am very dull;
I thank him often in my heart;
But Love is far more beautiful;
Under her tender, gentle reign
I must learn faster than of Pain.
So I will do my very best,
Nor chide the clock, nor call it slow;
That when the Teacher calls me up
To see if I am fit to go,
I may to Love's high class attain,
And bid a sweet good-by to Pain.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Rainbow Connection

You know what I find amazing? That I don't seem to be able to run out of things that fill me with delight and that updating this blog is my happy space, no matter what. It's never a chore and even if I'm the only one reading it, I wouldn't give it up for the world.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Terra Firma

See, here's the thing. At one point of my life, I bought this notebook and I started copying out phrases, sentences, sayings that I liked into said notebook. I found it recently. It didn't last long (my enthusiasms never do) but there it was, filled with Emerson quotes (I was a pseudo-Transcendentalist for a while without really understanding what being a Transcendentalist meant, except in the being true to yourself, which to me, meant being grumpy most of the time) and this one here. I loved it so much I have to share it. With all of you.

Five mysteries hold the keys to the unseen: the act of love, and the birth of a baby, and the contemplation of great art, and being in the presence of death or disaster, and hearing the human voice lifted in song. These are the occasions when the bolts of the universe fly open and we are given a glimpse of what is hidden; and eff of the ineffable. Glory bursts on us in such hours: the dark glory of earthquakes, the slippery wonder of new life, the radiance of Vina's singing.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Bigger than Phil

Yeah, see, this always cracks me up. Also the way she kept referring to God as Bigger than Phil throughout the book. Hey you out there, Bigger than Phil? I'm here. Are you listening?


When we were little, Mick played a recording of The 2000 Year Old Man for Josh and me. Mel Brooks played the 2000 Year Old Man with an old-school Yiddish accent, and Carl Reiner interviewed him as the straight man.

INTERVIEWER: Did you believe in anything?

OLD MAN: Yes, a guy - Phil. Philip was the leader of our tribe.

INTERVIEWER: What made him the leader?

OLD MAN: Very big, very strong, big beard, big arms, he could just kill you. He could walk on you and you would die.

INTERVIEWER: You revered him?

OLD MAN: We prayed to him. Would you like to hear one of our prayers? "Oh Philip. Please don't take our eyes out and don't pinch us and don't hurt us....Amen."

INTERVIEWER: How long was his reign?

OLD MAN: Not too long. Because one day, Philip was hit by lightning. And we looked up and said..."There's something bigger than Phil."

Excerpted from Are You My Guru? Wendy Shanker

Friday, 17 June 2011

Doing Without Doing

OK here's the thing. If you knew me (in real life and not just through these pages) you'd know that I'm somewhat, um, how do I put it...sedentary. So I love it when I find bits of philosophy here and there to confirm my life and choice and actually assign a virtue to it. Once I remember, it was in an Agatha Christie murder mystery: The Moving Finger, where the hero takes all the trouble to explain to the heroine as well as the obnoxious active pest, the benefits of being idle. (The best ideas, etc). I read and re-read that bit and smiled to myself.

Ah yes, the benefits of being idle.

I could write a book.

Except that I'm too idle to do so.

Also, lazy.

I love work when it flows effortlessly, when I'm writing something I care about, when it doesn't seem like work at all, when I toss it off in about 10 minutes, because, that's how easy it is. And easy doesn't necessarily mean low quality, although we frequently assign a value to our work based on how much we had to constipate through it.

Nuff of this. I found this other bit of philosophy to confirm my life of choice. I found it in Martha Beck's Following Your Own North Star which I absolutely love, but it's apparently from Lao-tzu, that ancient Chinese philosopher. Go figure.

In the pursuit of knowledge,
everyday something is added.
In the practice of the Way,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Dulce Domum

I don't know what I like better about this chapter of Wind in the Willows; the feeling of home, so clearly spelled out, the fact that it took place during the Yuletide, or Ratty's friendship. You read it and decide what does it for you:

The sheep ran huddling together against the hurdles, blowing out thin nostrils and stamping with delicate fore-feet, their heads thrown back and a light steam rising from the crowded sheep-pen into the frosty air, as the two animals hastened by in high spirits, with much chatter and laughter. They were returning across country after a long day's outing with Otter, hunting and exploring on the wide uplands where certain streams tributary to their own River had their first small beginnings; and the shades of the short winter day were closing in on them, and they had still some distance to go. Plodding at random across the plough, they had heard the sheep and had made for them; and now, leading from the sheep-pen, they found a beaten track that made walking a lighter business, and responded, moreover to that small inquiring something which all animals carry inside them, saying unmistakably, "Yes, quite right; this leads home!"

"It looks as if we were coming to a village," said the Mole somewhat dubiously, slackening his pace, as the track, that had in time become a path and then had developed into a lane, now handed them over to the charge of a well-metalled road. The animals did not hold with villages, and their own highways, thickly frequented as they were, took an independent course, regardless of church, post office, or public house.

"Oh, never mind!" said the Rat. "At this season of the year, they're all safe indoors by this time, sitting round the fire; men, women, and children, dogs and cats and all. We shall slip through all right, without any bother or unpleasantness, and we can have a look at them through their windows if you like, and see what they're doing."

The rapid nightfall of mid-December had quite beset the little village as they approached it on soft feet over a first thin fall of powdery snow. Little was visible but squares of a dusky orange-red on either side of the street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottage overflowed through the casements into the dark world without. Most of the low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table, absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor can capture - the natural grace which goes with perfect unconsciousness of observation. Moving at will from one theatre to another, the two spectators, so far from home themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as they watched a cat being stroked, a sleepy child picked up and huddled off to bed, or a tired man stretch and knock out his pipe on the end of a smouldering log.

But it was from one little window, with its blind drawn down, a mere blank transparency on the night, that the sense of home and the little curtained world within walls - the larger stressful world of outside Nature shut out and forgotten - most pulsated. Close against the white blind hung a bird-cage, clearly silhouetted, every wire, perch, and appurtenance distinct and recognisable, even to yesterday's dull-edged lump of sugar. On the middle perch of the fluffy occupant, head tucked well into feathers, seemed so near to them as to be easily stroked, had they tried; even the delicate tips of his plumped-out plumage pencilled plainly on the illuminated screen. As they looked, the sleepy little fellow stirred uneasily, woke, shook himself, and raised his head. They could see the gape of his tiny beak as he yawned in a bored sort of way, looked round, and then settled his head into perfect stillness. Then a gust of bitter wind took them in the back of the neck, a small sting of frozen sleet on the skin woke them as from a dream, and they knew their toes to be cold and their legs tired, and their own home distant a weary way.

Once beyond the village, where the cottages ceased abruptly, on either side of the road they could smell through the darkness the friendly fields again; and they braced themselves for the last long stretch, the home stretch, the stretch that we know is bound to end, some time, in the rattle of the door-latch, the sudden firelight, and the sight of familiar things greeting us as long-absent travellers from far oversea. They plodded along steadily and silently, each of them thinking his own thoughts. The Mole's ran a good deal on supper, as it was pitch-dark, and it was all a strange country for him as far as he knew, and he was following obediently in the wake of the Rat. As for the Rat, he was walking a little way ahead, as his habit was, his shoulders humped, his eyes fixed on the straight grey road in front of him; so he did not notice poor Mole when suddenly the summons reached him, and took him like an electric shock.

We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal's inter-communications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word "smell," for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting, repelling. It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even while yet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.

Home! ZThat was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in. Since his escape on that bright morning he had hardly given it a thought, so absorbed had he been in his new life, in all its pleasures, its surprises, its fresh and captivating experiences. Now, with a rush of old memories, how clearly it stood up before him, in the darkness! Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day's work. And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him.

The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly and go. "Ratty!" he called, full of joyful excitement, "hold on! Come back! I want you, quick!"

"Oh come along, Mole, do!" replied the Rat cheerfully, still plodding along.

"Please stop, Ratty!" pleaded the poor Mole, in anguish of heart. "You don't understand! It's my home, my old home! I've just come across the smell of it, and it's close by here, really quite close. And I must go to it, I must, I must! Oh, come back, Ratty! Please, please come back!"

The Rat was by this time very far ahead, too far to hear clearly what the Mole was calling, too far to catch the sharp note of painful appeal in his voice. And he was much taken up with the weather, for he too could smell something - something suspiciously like approaching snow.

"Mole, we mustn't stop now, really! he called back. "We'll come for it tomorrow, whatever it is you've found. But I daren't stop now - it's late, and the snow's coming on again, and I'm not sure of the way! And I want your nose, Mole, so come on quick, there's a good fellow!" And the Rat pressed forward on his way without waiting for an answer.

Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big sob gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under such a test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a moment did he dream of abandoning him. Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home pleaded, whispered, conjured and finally claimed him imperiously. He dared not tarry longer within this magic circle. With a wrench that tore his very heartstrings he set his face down the road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells, still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him for his new friendship and his callous forgetfulness.

With an effort he caught up to the unsuspecting Rat, who began chattering cheerfully about what they would do when they got back, and how jolly a fire of logs in the parlour would be, and what a supper he meant to eat; never noticing his companion's silence and distressful state of mind. At least, however, when they had gone some considerable way further, and were passing some tree-stumps at the edge of a copse that bordered the road, he stopped and said kindly, "Look here, Mole old chap, you seem dead tired. No talk left in you, and your feet dragging like lead. We'll sit down here for a minute and rest. The snow has held off so far, and the best part of our journey is over."

The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to control himself, for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with so long refused to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air, and then another, and another, and others thick and fast; till poor Mole at last gave up the struggle, and cried freely and helplessly and openly, now that he knew it was all over and he had lost what he could hardly be said to have found.

The Rat, astonished and dismayed at the violence of Mole's paroxysm of grief, did not dare to speak for a while. At last he said, very quietly and sympathetically, "What is it, old fellow? Whatever can be the matter? Tell us your trouble, and let me see what I can do."

Poor Mole found it difficult to get any words out between the upheavals of his chest that followed one upon another so quickly and held back speech and choked it as it came. "I know it's a - shabby, dingy little place," he sobbed forth at last, brokenly; "not like - your cosy quarters - or Toad's beautiful hall - or Badger's great house - but it was my own little home - and I was fond of it - and I went away and forgot all about it - and then I smelt it suddenly - on the road, when I called and you wouldn't listen, Rat - and everything came back to me with a rush - and I wanted it! - O dear, O dear! - and when you wouldn't turn back, Ratty - and I had to leave it though I was smelling it all the time - I thought my heart would break. - We might have just gone and had one look at it, Ratty - only one look - it was close by - but you wouldn't turn back, Ratty, you wouldn't turn back! O dear, O dear!"

Recollection brought fresh waves of sorrow, and sobs again took full charge of him, preventing further speech.

The Rat stared in front of him, saying nothing, only patting Mole gently on the shoulder. After a time he muttered gloomily, "I see it all now! What a pig I have been! A pig - that's me! Just a pig - a plain pig!"

He waited till Mole's sobs became gradually less stormy and more rhythmical; he waited till the last sniffs were frequent and sobs only intermittent. Then he rose from his seat, and, remarking carelessly, "Well, now we'd really better be getting on, old chap!" set off up the road again, over the toilsome way they had come.

"Wherever are you (hic) going to (hic), Ratty?" cried the tearful Mole, looking up in alarm.

"We're going to find that home of yours, old fellow," replied the Rat pleasantly; "so you had better come along, for it will take some finding, and we shall want your nose."

"Oh, come back, Ratty, do!" cried the Mole, getting up and hurrying after him. "It's no good, I tell you! It's too late, and too dark, and the place is too far off, and the snow's coming! And - and I never meant to let you know I was feeling that way about it - it was all an accident and a mistake! And think of River Bank, and your supper!"

"Hang River Bank, and supper too!" said the Rat heartily. "I tell you, I'm going to find this place now, if I stay out all night. So cheer up, old chap, and take my arm, and we'll very soon be back there again."

Still snuffling, pleading and reluctant, Mole suffered himself to be dragged back along the road by his imperious companion, who by a flow of cheerful talk and anecdote endeavoured to beguile his spirits back and make the weary way seem shorter. When at last it seemed to the Rat that they must be nearing that part of the road where the Mole had been "held up", he said, "Now, no more talking. Business! Use your nose, and give your mind to it."

They moved on in silence for some little way, when suddenly the Rat was conscious, through his arm that was linked in Mole's, of a faint sort of electric thrill that was passing down that animal's body. Instantly he disengaged himself, fell back a pace, and waited, all attention.

The signals were coming through!

Mole stood a moment rigid, while his uplifted nose, quivering slightly, felt the air.

Then a short, quick, run forward - a fault - a check - a try back; and then a slow, steady, confident advance.

The Rat, much excited, kept close to his heels as the Mole, with something of the air of a sleep-walker, crossed a dry ditch, scrambled through a hedge, and nosed his way over a field open and trackless and bare in the faint starlight.

Suddenly, without giving warning,he dived; but the Rat was on the alert, and promptly followed him down the tunnel to which his unerring nose had faithfully led him.

It was close and airless, and the earthy smell was strong, and it seemed a long time to Rat ere the passage ended and he could stand erect and stretch and shake himself. The Mole struck a match, and by its light the Rat saw they were standing in an open space, neatly swept and sanded underfoot, and directly facing them was Mole's little front door, with "Mole End" painted, in Gothic lettering, over the bell-pull at the side.

Mole reached down a lantern from a nail on the wall and lit it, and the Rat, looking round him, saw that they were in a sort of fore-court. A garden-seat stood on one side of the door, and on the other a roller; for the Mole, who was a tidy animal when at home, could not stand having his ground kicked up by other animals in little runs that ended in earth-heaps. On the walls hung wire baskets with ferns in them, alternating with brackets carrying plaster statuary - Garibaldi, and the infant Samuel, and Queen Victoria, and other heroes of modern Italy. Down on one side of the fore-court ran a skittle-alley, with benches along it and little wooden tables marked with rings that hinted at beer-mugs. In the middle was a small round pond containing gold-fish and surrounded by a cockle-shell border. Out of the centre of the pond rose a fanciful erection clothed in more cockle-shells that topped by a large silvered glass ball that reflected everything all wrong and had a very pleasing effect.

Mole's face beamed at the sight of all these objects so dear to him, and he hurried Rat through the door, lit a lamp in the hall, and took one glance round his old home. He saw the dust lying thick on everything, saw the cheerless, deserted look of the long-neglected house, and its narrow, meagre dimensions, its worn and shabby contents - and collapsed again on a hall-chair, his nose to his paws. "Oh Ratty!" he cried dismally, "why ever did I do it? Why did I bring you to this poor, cold little place, on a night like this, when you might have been at River Bank by this time, toasting your toes before a blazing fire, with all your own nice things about you!"

The Rat paid no heed to his doleful self-reproaches. He was running here and there, opening doors, inspecting rooms and cupboards, and lighting lamps and candles and sticking them up everywhere. "What a capital little house this is!" he called out cheerily. "So compact! So well-planned! Everything here and everything in its place! We'll make a jolly night of it. The first thing we want is a good fire; I'll see to that - I always know where to find things. So this is the parlour? Splendid! Your own idea, those little sleeping-bunks in the wall? Capital! Now, I'll fetch the wood and the coals, and you get a duster. Mole - you'll find one in the drawer of the kitchen table - and try and smarten things up a bit. Bustle about - old chap!"

Encouraged by his inspiriting companion, the Mole roused himself and dusted and polished with energy and heartiness, while the Rat, running to and fro with armfuls of fuel, soon had a cheerful blaze roaring up the chimney. He hailed the Mole to come and warm himself; but Mole promptly had another fit of the blues, dropping down on a couch in dark despair and burying his face in his duster. "Rat," he moaned. "How about your supper, you poor, cold, hungry, weary animal? I've nothing to give you - nothing - not a crumb!"

"What a fellow you are for giving in!" said the Rat reproachfully. "Why only just now I saw a sardine-opener on the kitchen dresser, quite distinctly; and everybody knows that means there are sardines about somewhere in the neighbourhood. Rouse yourself! pull yourself together, and come with me and forage."

They went and foraged accordingly, hunting through every cupboard and turning out every drawer. The result was not so very depressing after all, though of course it might have been better; a tin of sardines - a box of captain's biscuits, nearly full - and a German sausage encased in silver paper.

"There's a banquet for you!" observed the Rat, as he arranged the table. "I know some animals who would give their ears to be sitting down to supper with us tonight!"

"No bread!" groaned the Mole dolorously; "no butter, no - "

"No pâté de foie gras, no champagne!" continued the Rat, grinning. "And the reminds me - what's that little door at the end of the passage? Your cellar, of course! Every luxury in this house! Just you wait a minute."

He made for the cellar-door, and presently reappeared somewhat dusty, with a bottle of beer in each paw and another under each arm, "Self-indulgent beggar you seem to be, Mole," he observed. "Deny yourself nothing. This is really the jolliest place I ever was in. Now, wherever did you pick up those prints? Make the place look so home-like, they do. No wonder you're so fond of it, Mole. Tell us all about it, and how you came to make it what it is."

Then, while the Rat busied himself fetching plates, and knives and forks, and mustard which he mixed in an egg-cup, the Mole, his bosom still heaving with the stress of his recent emotion, related - somewhat shyly at first, but with more freedom as he warmed to his subject - how this was planned, and how that was thought out, and how this was got through a windfall from an aunt, and that was a wonderful find and a bargain, and this other thing was bought out of laborious savings and a certain amount of "going without." His spirits finally quite restored, he must needs go and caress his possessions, and take a lamp and show off their points to his visitor and expatiate on them, quite forgetful of the supper they both so much need; Rat, who was desperately hungry but strove to conceal it, nodding seriously, examining with a puckered brow and saying, "wonderful," and "most remarkable," at intervals, when the chance for an observation was given him.

At last the Rat succeeded in decoying him to the table, and had just got seriously to work with the sardine-opener when sounds were heard from the fore-court without - sounds like the scuffling of small feet in the gravel and a confused murmur of tiny voices, while broken sentences reached them - "Now, all in a line - hold the latern up a bit, Tommy - clear your throats first - no coughing after I say one, two, three. - Where's young Bill? - Here, come on, do, we're all a-waiting - "

"What's up?" inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

"I think it must be the field-mice," replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. "They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over - they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again."

"Let's have a look at them!" cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the fore-court lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little field-mice stood in a semi-circle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, "Now then, one, two, three!" and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney-corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit at Yule-time.

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet -
You by the fire and we in the street -
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a start has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison -
Bliss tomorrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow -
Saw the star o'er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go -
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
"Who were the first to cry Nowell?
Animals all, as it befell
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!"

The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded - but for a moment only. Then, from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

"Very well sung, boys!" cried the Rat heartily. "And now come along in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire. and have something hot!"

"Yes, come along, field-mice," cried the Mole eagerly. "This is quite like old times! Shut the door after you. Pull up that settle on the fire. Now, you just wait a minute, while we - O, Ratty!" he cried in despair, plumping down on a seat, with tears impending. "Whatever are we doing? We've nothing to give them!"

"You leave all that to me," said the masterful Rat. "Here, you with the lantern! Come over this way. I want to talk to you. Now, tell me, are there any shops open at this hour of the night?"

"Why, certainly, sir," replied the field-mouse respectfully. "At this time of the year our shops keep open to all sorts of hours."

"Then look here!" said the Rat. "You go off at once, you and your lantern, and you get me - "

Here much muttered conversation ensued, and the Mole only heard bits of it, such as - "Fresh, mind! - no, a pound of that will do - see you get Buggins's, for I won't have any other - no, only the best - if you can't get it there, try somewhere else - yes, of course, home-made, no tinned stuff - well then, do the best you can!" Finally, there was a chink of coin passing from paw to paw, the field-mouse was provided with an ample basket for his purchases, and off he hurried, he and his lantern.

The rest of the field-mice, perched in a row on the settle, their small legs swinging, gave themselves up to enjoyment of the fire, and toasted their chilblains till they tingled; while the Mole, failing to draw them into easy conversation, plunged into family history and made each of them recite the names of his numerous nrothers, who were too young, it appeared to be allowed to go out a-carolling this year, but looked forward very shortly to winning the parental consent.

The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the label on one of the beer-bottles. "I perceive this to be Old Burton," he remarked approvingly. "Sensible Mole. The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks."

It did not take long to prepare the brew and thrust the tin heater well into the red heart of the fire; and soon every field-mouse was sipping and coughing and choking (for a little mulled goes a long way) and wiping his eyes and laughing and forgetting he had ever been cold in all his life.

"They act plays too, these fellows," the Mole explained to the Rat. "Make them up all by themselves, and act them afterwards. And very well they do it, too! They gave us a capital one last year, about a field-mouse who was captured at sea by a Barbary corsair, and made to row in a galley; and when he escaped and got home again, his lady-love had gone into a convent.

The field-mouse addressed got up on his legs, giggled shyly, looked around the room, and remained absolutely tongue-tied. His comrades cheered him on, Mole coaxed and encouraged him, and the Rat went so far as to take him by the shoulders and shake him; but nothing could overcome his stage-fright. They were all busily engaged on him like watermen applying the Royal Humane Society's regulations to a case of long submersion, when the latch clicked, the door opened, and the field-mouse with the lantern reappeared, staggering under the weight of his basket.

There was no more talk of play-acting once the very real and solid contents of the basket had been tumbled out on the table. Under the generalship of Rat, everybody was set to do something or to fetch something. In a very few minutes supper was ready, and Mole, as he took the head of the table in a sort of a dream, saw a lately barren board set thick with savoury comforts; saw his little friends' faces brighten and beam as they fell to without delay; and then let himself loose - for he was famished indeed - on the provender so magically provided, thinking what a happy home-coming this had turned out, after all. As they ate, they talked of old times, and the field-mice gave him the local gossip up to date, and answered as well as they could the hundred questions he had to ask them. The Rat said little or nothing, only taking care that each guest had what he wanted, and plenty of it, and that Mole had no trouble or anxiety about anything.

They clattered off at least, very grateful and showering wishes of the season, with their jacket pockets stuffed with remembrances for the small brothers and sisters at home. When the door had closed on the last of them and the chink of the lanterns had died away, Mole and Rat kicked the fire up, drew their chairs in, brewed themselves a last nightcap of mulled ale, and discussed the events of the long day. At last the Rat, with a tremendous yawn, said, "Mole, old chap, I'm ready to drop. Sleepy is simply not the word. That your own bunk over on that side? Very well, then, I'll take this. What a ripping little house this is! Everything's so handy!"

He clambered into his bunk and rolled himself well up in the blankets, and slumber gathered him forthwith, as as swathe of barley is folded into the arms of the reaping machine.

The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on the pillow in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes, he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the flow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly how plain and simple - how narrow, even - it all was; but, clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on the sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.