Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Incense Blessings

This goofy little incense lamp is one of my oldest possessions. It belonged to my older sister before I "borrowed" it at some point in the early 1980s. She had acquired it some years prior, during her time in high school. The near-constant fumes would ironically choke our cigarette-hoovering dad, and why he never confiscated it is beyond me. So, eventually I did.

My earliest memories are more like flash cards of moments; I'm not one of those (lucky, in my estimation) who can remember complete anecdotes from their early years. Ray Bradbury claimed to remember being born. Even now, I'm thankful to remember what I had for lunch yesterday, so relatively complete memories, even though they often have no context, are precious to me.

Thus, the seminal memory I have of this incense burner is probably the fictitious product of faulty memory: Of my beloved sister performing some kind of spiritual blessing on my four-or-so-year old pumpkin head. Looking back with skeptical honesty, she was probably reciting something for Spanish class, learning by rote, and I just happened to be in the room while she did her homework and burned her China Rain incense cones, hopefully not annoying her too much while I crayoned in the margins of my Heckle & Jeckle comic books. But, in the end, does it matter? Each time I now set a cone inside this little sconce (and my wife and I burn a lot of incense) I think back to that tiny but warm moment, so long ago.

Thank you, Dena. I love you.

You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.
     -- C.S. Lewis

Monday, April 1, 2013

Fringe-ology (2011)

I'm irrationally finicky when it comes to choosing my reading materials. My only defense for this is that I'm a slow reader; death will keep me from reading everything I'd truly like, so I'm just trying to choose carefully which collections of words I'll next pour into my brain, and when. As a symptom of this condition, I have entire sub-set collections of books piled aside, awaiting their proper moment: Titles I'd Like to Read During the First Sunny Week in Spring, for example, or Stuff that Will Be Great to Read in the Two Weeks Prior to Christmas, so forth. The grand irony is that when those first warm days or that Advent season does finally show up, I'm usually retina-deep into something else, the timing doesn't work, so the chosen books end up gathering dust, and more dust. I have a paperback of the complete Border Trilogy that's been waiting at least four years now for Just the Right Month of May.

I believe these nutty intentions spring from a mild but now-permanently imprinted childhood dilemma of Needing to Choose Books for My Summer Vacation -- an event usually marked by a couple day-long drives to visit relatives. Trapped in the backseat as we scaled the deeper parts of the Mississippi and Arkansas delta, engrossing reading materials were a must. If I chose the wrong thing, there was pretty much nothing to look at but mile after mile of dark mud, interrupted by the occasional leaning telephone pole. So I was quick to learn what I'd probably like, and stick to it -- otherwise, I might not have been able to properly distract myself from the 1970s-era Country & Western music ever-present on the car stereo. (And, yes, I do retain a tendency to develop a "Book to Take with Me" stack of books, plural, whenever I have a trip out of town scheduled.)

Though these days I will admit to having developed a not-entirely nostalgic taste for the dulcet tones of Charlie Rich, I'm still quite picky about what I read, and when. This attitude has traditionally extended to books given to me as gifts. Like it's some kind of interruption to the fantasy reading schedule that I don't keep in the first place. Don't get me wrong: I always appreciate being given a book, if for nothing else the knowledge that the person giving it to me obviously believes I'm smart enough to finish it. But there's another part of me that feels like I'm being given an assignment, and as a person who is so hilariously contrary that it borders on self-destruction, that can sometimes result in a book being indefinitely shelved.

Happily, not so with books that have arrived in the mail from my friend Hassan. This time last year, he sent me The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, a meditation on unique neurological conditions that was, for a number of reasons particular to that personal moment, right in my wheelhouse. Now, he seems to have done it again.

Hassan, this book isn't waiting -- its moment is Now. Thanks, buddy.