Thursday, December 24, 2020

 I wish all my visitors and loyal followers from all over the world—76 countries
so far—the very best of this season. For us Christians, that means MERRY CHRISTMAS! (para mis amigos hispanohablantes, ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!) For my Jewish friends, it's HAPPY HANUKKAH! For all of us here in the northern hemisphere, it's HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE! 

Whatever your celebration, may these days be kind to you, your families and your loved ones. May they bring you new awareness, wonder and gratitude!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

SMELLS LIKE BLUE – And Other Cross-Sensory Interplay

This morning, walking along East River Parkway, I found myself in a pleasant space of clarity I rarely occupy within my own thoughts. It was like a meditation on everything at once: my steps; the feeble mid-December sunshine; the coziness of being nearly encapsulated inside my jacket, hoodie and mask. It all connected.

Providing the digital sound track of my reverie was the great jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. The interplay of his etherial electric guitar, some piano, lots of tinkly symbols and clear, wordless tenor vocals got me thinking What is it about Metheny that’s stood the test of time so well with my ears since way back in the late 70s?

And I came up with a word to describe the sound: shimmering.

Isn’t it funny, I thought, using such a visual descriptor to depict a sound? Truth is, though, that we cross sensory boundaries with our vocabulary all the time and don’t even notice.

Haven’t you ever described a taste as sharp? How about Uncle Duane’s garish ties. Loud, right? Bright flavors. Screaming pain. Sticky situations.

     They open the door not just to Polyhymnia,
     the muse of grammar, but to those of love,
     music, dance and, yes, poetry.

As a writer, of course I’m eager to sharpen my powers of description. It’s entirely possible to recount an observation or an experience using language that’s precise but not very interesting. Just direct, literal sensory terms. The designer employed earth tones for Bob’s new man cave.

Acceptable, but pretty dry, right. (See, I’ve just done it again!)

But introduce a metaphor that lifts off of one sensory plane and into another and the description takes on new dimension. The language turns from descriptive to evocative. The designer dished a savory stew of burnt oranges, ochres and umbers for Bob’s man cave.

You see, it’s like the difference between a flat image and 3D.

Delicious texture. Smooth flavor. Thin voice. White noise. The possibilities open the door not just to Polyhymnia, the muse of grammar, but to those of love, music, dance and, yes, poetry.

This device enriches not just how I write about sensing, but how I actually do sensing. It’s like putting your faculties through a team-building challenge, pushing them to both sharpen their skills and work together.

Your taste buds help your eyes to “see” flavors. And your eyes might return the favor by “tasting” colors (as I’d hope the reader would do with my designer example above). How about “hearing” images? Or “touching” sounds? 

The long-standing notion that we humans actually use just ten percent of our brain power has been debunked by magnetic resonance imaging. But it just might be true for how we use our senses.

I’m afraid it’s a matter of use it or lose it. And if we fail to use our amazing senses—all of them—well, let’s just say I can smell the handwriting on the wall. ;-)

Monday, December 14, 2020

DOUBLE TAKES – How to Second-guess Regret

 I wish I could claim this bit of wisdom as my own, but it’s inspired by a sweet little romantic comedy Sally and I watched tonight: About Time.

In it the wise old dad—with just weeks to live—shares with his son one of his secrets of happiness: to live each day twice. The first time, you let it pass with all the cluelessness and distraction most of us abide most days.

The second time, you live that same day, but with the benefit of hindsight. This time you do it right: noticing and celebrating small wonders; making room for joy; fearing less and loving more; and showing that love to those you may assume already know it.

And then, you commit that second take to reality and pretend the first one never happened.

Well, that’s not so hard if you have the gift of time travel as both these characters do. But what about the rest of us?

I'm thinking the trick is you live both days at the same time. For each significant moment, you anticipate the second take as you start living the first. And hope it spares you at least a few of your regrets.

Does anyone else just love this concept?

Monday, December 7, 2020


Yawning’s an amazing and mysterious thing. It crosses all geographic and cultural boundaries. Humans of all ages do it—even those in utero. Nearly all vertebrates do it, including fish and birds, but with the exception, it’s said, of giraffes and whales.

It’s one of those bodily functions that’s so ubiquitous that, like blinking or breathing, it usually comes and goes without our slightest notice. But have you
ever felt a yawn coming on, stopped what you were doing and allowed yourself
to be fully present with the experience?

Here’s what it feels like for me: it starts, subtly, deep inside my head. It’s like my whole cranium, or at least some compartment or sac within it, is about to expand. Then in my ears I feel some kind of passages opening up; it sounds like the two sides, coated with earwax, start out pressed together and then pull stickily apart.

My mouth starts to open, not the way it does when I talk or eat, but from the back, as if the jaw hinges themselves were separating—like the way a python unhinges its jaws to consume large prey.

           The experience, much like farting, 
           is much more satisfying when you 
           really open up and let it rip.

Then the rumbling starts. Again, it seems to come from somewhere deep inside my ears. It's loud, but somehow doesn’t drown out the music and other ambient sound here in my studio.

By this time my eyes close reflexively. I notice I can keep them open if I try (something I’ve never been able to do while sneezing). I start salivating and my eyes water.

Sometimes I keep my lips closed while yawning—usually when I think someone might be looking—but the experience, much like farting, is much more satisfying when you really open up and let it rip. Same with that universal little non-verbal vocalization that always wants to accompany a good yawn.

For me, there’s a distinct tipping point in a yawn. Somewhat like a sneeze or an orgasm, it starts with an impulse, builds in tension, crests and then, inexorably, releases. Occasionally, it doesn’t quite reach that crest and fizzles disappointingly.

AWARENESS CHECK: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but chances are you’ve yawned at least once just since you started reading this. See if you can be aware of the next one coming on. I decided to log my yawns when I started writing this, and in the hour or so it’s taken me to this point, I’ve done it no fewer than nineteen times!



There are many theories as to why we vertebrates yawn. The most popular seem
to be: that it’s the body’s need for a rush of oxygen; that it’s a muscle-stretching process (which might explain why it’s so often accompanied by the urge to stretch the arms, legs and back); that it triggers a surge of alertness when the brain senses we’re asleep on the job (this one seems counter-intuitive to me); and that it somehow helps regulate the temperature of the brain.

None of these theories enjoys common agreement; in fact, most have been debunked in one study or another. All I know is my own experience with yawning. Yes, like just about everyone, I yawn when I’m tired and bored. But, more curiously, I also catch myself yawning when I’m nervous or anxious. How about you? When do you yawn?

        Simply writing about yawning makes 
        me yawn (doing it now, as we speak).

One of the most fascinating characteristics of yawning is its contagiousness. Among all the causal theories, none disputes this, although several possible reasons are suggested. Almost everyone agrees that it’s an empathetic response, one wired into the circuits of earliest man, perhaps to demonstrate our ferocity (as in don’t mess with me!) or even as a pre-verbal signal for a group to change activities.

Whatever the reason, this power of suggestion is undeniable. We don’t even have
to see someone yawning; we can simply hear them yawn over the telephone. And
I can tell you from my current experience that simply writing about yawning makes me yawn (doing it now, as we speak)—not just now and then, but repeatedly and often. (Since the awareness check, above, I've done it at least five more times.)

Are you aware of what triggers your yawns? Has reading this post, along with the inspirational photos, unleashed the ho-hum monster in you? Do you have a favorite memory or a trick involving yawning? We’d love to hear of your jaw-dropping experiences!