Tag Archives: imagination

Eat Mangoes Naked – SARK

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Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy is always good for a hit of colorful and uplifting. It’s 100 degrees in the shade. The hydrangeas in the garden are withered and brown. I just earned minimum wage for writing about why we need to train for endurance. Frankly, a week on a tropical island would help to put all of that in perspective. Eat Mangoes Naked will have to do. SARK dedicates this book to the exploration of pleasure, be it the pleasure of a deep bath that turns into a Caribbean lagoon or the pleasure of a quirky coffee bar where you throw ping pong balls at the kitchen door to attract service and the tables move almost imperceptibly as you sit at them.  Mostly pleasure, in SARK’s definition, involves the active use of the imagination and a healthy dose of whimsy to imbue the quotidian with a different flavor.

Try visiting your own home as a complete stranger. Sit in a different chair, pull a book off the shelf that you’ve never read and open it for a message, read poetry aloud in your pajamas, use the good dishes. She recommends stiffing your inner perfectionist and adopting a wobbly yoga practice, playing an instrument badly and composing music that speaks only to you, scheduling a completely unplanned picnic and not caring what you forget to bring. Have a massage, walk barefoot, ride a bike, read How to Draw a Clam by Joy Sikorski, volunteer to cuddle babies in a hospital, climb a big old tree in the moonlight and watch the moon through the branches.

The idea is to head back in time to the days when pleasure was just what you did for a living as a kid. Small, sensual things. Big daydreams. Eating a favorite food–plus seconds. SARK recounts a solo birthday on a romantic island when she impulsively introduced herself to a table full of party hats and shared a birthday party-in-progress with a group of fans of her work–birthday dinner saved from self pity, lots of laughter and new friends made.

I like her advice to write inspirational quotes on your walls in colored chalk. If it doesn’t wipe off, you can always re-paint. I loved her story about writing tiny notes–SARK is a scribbly artist so the notes were sure to be decorated–and handing them out at book readings with the instructions to pass them on. The inside held a message like: You are seen. You are known. You are loved. How simple is that? And how unexpected? She tells of a game in which you go to a bookstore with a friend–has to be a cool friend–and converse only in the titles of the books that you find.

Essentially, the trick to finding pleasure in whatever surrounds you at the moment is to savor the novel. If you can’t find something new about it then do something new with it. Mangoes are pretty messy, juicy, sticky and drippy. If you ate one naked and really, really got into the experience, you would probably need one of those Caribbean lagoon baths–and then you could pretend you were a mermaid, or listen to your entire collection of Leon Redbone albums until the water got cold, or make up mind-blowing aphorisms to chalk on your walls. It’s all good.

Eat Mangoes Naked: Finding Pleasure Everywhere (and dancing with the Pits)   SARK | Fireside   2001

Harold’s Purple Crayon Adventures – Crockett Johnson

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One evening, Harold appeared on the scene at bedtime. The moon was shining in his imagination and the powerful purple crayon was at hand. He needed a memorable adventure so he got right to work.

Harold and the Purple Crayon is the first of the Crockett Johnson books to delight children and the grown-ups who love to read to them. In fact, those purple crayons are a guilty pleasure that can be indulged even when child-camouflage is nowhere to be found. Harold wastes no time on the concept of impossible. He quickly sketches what he requires and sets out to conquer the world. His trusty purple crayon holds the potent magic of his belief.

The nighttime journeys are always moonlit and daring. Harold encounters a tree that bursts into apples, which he thinks will be very tasty once they are red. As they are presently purple, he invents a terribly frightening dragon to guard them as they ripen. His trembling crayon lands him in an ocean of rippling waves and, due to his fast thinking, he is able to haul himself into a handy boat and sail away. The first tale is crammed with nine kinds of favorite pie, a deserving porcupine, a hot air balloon ride, mountain climbing, perilous drops and a comforting bedroom window to frame that moon for a tired traveler.

Naturally, the initial taste of adventure leads to many more. Harold slips from the high wire at the circus (Harold’s Circus) and lands on an elephant’s trunk. He avoids embarrassment by donning a clown’s hat and a big purple smile, tames a lion and shoots himself out of a cannon. At the North Pole, Harold rescues Santa from an avalanche that seems to have buried his workshop, lines up the correct number of reindeer, stuffs an enormous sack with toys, finds the perfect Christmas tree and tops it with a crescent moon. (Harold’s Trip to the North Pole) He discovers that a purple crayon is just the thing for warding off monsters and Martians in Harold’s Trip to the Sky and has a few more escapades in the series before that crayon wears down to a nub.

Imagination is a very trendy topic these days, as educators, politicians, C-suite types and pundits debate the flatline produced by our school systems and search for innovative ways to inspire original thinking. They might open a couple of the Harold books, grab a purple crayon, drop a few pretensions and preconceptions and set out into the unknown—illuminated, of course, by a waxing moon so that they won’t see things in the dark.

Harold and the Purple Crayon 50th Anniversary Edition (Purple Crayon Books)   Crockett Johnson | HarperCollins

The Soul’s Code – James Hillman

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“I don’t develop. I am.” Pablo Picasso’s quote is one of the opening epigraphs in James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code, an attempt to describe the nature of self and a different way of getting at what drives us and defines us than conventional psychology or religions offer. The book itself is an epiphany. Hillman’s ideas cast light in those murky areas that ascribe identity as “victim” or “biology” or “experience” or “inheritance” or some iteration of all of them. We arrive with a specific drive or fate intact, he says. We are driven all our lives to realize that narrative.

Children are at significant risk for misdiagnosis, Hillman claims, because we rush to slap labels on any behavior we consider aberrant. An extremely kinetic child may be a high-energy person who will make a valuable life through movement. That child can be the scourge of an orderly classroom or controlled by pharmaceuticals but to resort to conventional shorthand to describe a soul with a difference is to misunderstand and deny who that child really is. On the other hand, to recognize and support the unique character of the child is to encourage the possibility of greatness.

If each of us has “a sense of calling, that essential mystery at the heart of each human life” then something more akin to Carl Jung–Hillman was director of the Jung Institute–than Sigmund Freud is at work here. Hillman refers to the daimon Plato wrote about, a guide who perches on your shoulder, much like a guardian angel, and bears witness to your particular calling, the reason you are here, your own soul’s code. Philip Pullman used Plato’s concept whole in his fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials  (The Golden Compass). Daemons held the souls of the children in those books and were intimate companions inseparable from the life of each child. In Hillman’s work, daimons are prominent. He uses the metaphor of the acorn. Each life is like an acorn, programmed by an image that is indissoluble and presents the destiny of that individual–just as an acorn contains a future oak tree.

We are born with strong ties to our stars–imaginary, infinite beings who must adapt to the practical necessities of life in a body, on a planet, with other living creatures of every type. We have to learn restriction to navigate this terrain.  From being initially limitless, we begin to experience and negotiate limits. Genius is an imperative but it can be crippled by an inability to cope with the real world. Hillman cites celebrities and world figures from Judy Garland and Josephine Baker to Mohandas Gandhi as examples of extraordinary beings who did and didn’t succeed at integrating the magnificent and the mundane.

The Soul’s Code is not a simple theory—Hillman journeys in and out of complexity in making his case. He has sections on nature and nurture, on mediocrity, on the concept of the bad seed, on fate. Not all genius is of the “elite” variety in his view. Individual calling may take the form of service or the spiritual maturity to find conscious joy in the moment. What is important to him is that we acknowledge another track. People are more than a genetic predisposition. They are more than magically divine creations of a distant god. They are something stronger than a film imprinted by experience and environment. People are the embodiment of an essence peculiar to each one. What you were drawn to as a child may well be who you are and determine the course of your life. What’s encoded in your soul is your narrative and if you read it carefully you contribute a complete story to the rest of the world.

The Soul’s Code is dense with food for thought. It’s the sort of book you underline on first read and then re-read for deeper insights. Hillman argues that immediate evidence for the existence of this code is the inchoate longing of the child for something bigger than its own life, the certainty in adolescence that you are meant for greatness, if only you could figure out what that is. The clues are all around us and within us, Hillman says. The daimon on your shoulder is a constant reminder, so get quiet and listen to what it has to say.

The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling   James Hillman | Warner Books Edition 1996