Waiting for Death and Waiting for Apes, Part 2

My old friend Carole Gale died.

Carole in Talent, Oregon, doing what she loved best: soaking up biodiversity

I wrote of our conversation about The Rise of the Planet of the Apes a little more than a month ago.  Carole, a committed, passionate and thoughtful primatologist (among the many other labels that could be applied to her) wanted badly to see the film before she stopped breathing. It didn’t look as though she was going to be able to have this, one of her last wishes, granted.

But she did. She and I and her caretaker Elizabeth were able to see the film, together, a few days before her death.  Carole – who often talked of having spent some of the best years of her life among the chimpanzees with whom she worked, years earlier, in Africa, was quite moved.  Especially during a moment in the film when (warning: ‘spoiler’ follows) the protagonist, a chimpanzee named Caesar, speaks three words.

It is worth mentioning that the thoughtfulness and generosity of another dear old friend, my fellow screenwriter J. Paul Higgins, were instrumental in helping Carole have this final cinematic communion (not merely a metaphor) with the movie’s primates.

In the months before her death, Carole was able to indulge in her long-held passion for both talking and storytelling when she gave a series of talks – and readings – of her stories about her encounters, close and otherwise, with African primates.  One of her public storytellings was chronicled by a local newspaper; journalist Hannah Guzik interviewed Carole and Hannah’s words provide an inightful portrait – and de facto epitaph – for some of the reasons why Carole, and her stories and way of seeing the world, were special; she also mentions the years Carole spent working with legendary primatologist Jane Goodall:

Gale was just 19 went she went to work for Goodall in Tanzania.

“My story is about arriving as a volunteer typist and waking up the next morning and seeing all these chimpanzees in this camp,” she said.

A few days later, as she was delivering something to a researcher, a male chimpanzee charged her.

“It was pretty dangerous,” she said. “We didn’t want that to happen, because they’re far stronger than we are.

“You had to hold your ground. You couldn’t try to run because then they would chase you for sure. You had to stand still and face it and then at the last minute jump out of the way.”

Gale said she could write an entire book about what she learned in Africa.

“There’s somebody there inside each other animal — they aren’t just sort of generic beings, like how one car is the same as another car,” she said. “Chimpanzees are as individual as we are.”

Carole wasn’t just my friend…she also taught me a few things. Some days, I even remember some of them. Like today. Remembering her curiosity. Her insatiable desires to observe, to know, to understand….the minutest details of the quotidien world that surrounded her and surrounds me. Which often I never see.

Time to stop writing and go out and look at the world.

Carole observing....in Talent, Oregon

the weightlessness of sparrows

Milan Kundera gave us “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”.

Jonathan Safran Foer gave us “Everything is Illuminated”.

Denver Butson, the poet, gives us a poem about the weightlessness of sparrows.

The Sparrow, oil on canvas board, by Ian Paul

The what?

How does someone come to write a poem about that?

I don’t know.

And I don’t care.

Because the “how did he” or “why did he” are immaterial here.

What’s important are the words.

And of course, the ideas and feelings behind them.

And the spaces between them.

And the words that are not on the page….hiding between and behind those that are.

Or maybe not.

Here….read it….make up your own mind.

 

the world cannot bear the weightlessness of sparrows

the world cannot bear the weightlessness of sparrows
or the confetti of our illegible addresses
the moon’s breathless ascent
the world cannot bear it
so the world makes heavy things
like airplanes
and skyscrapers
like your heart
and heavy things fall down
because the world cannot bear them either

Denver Butson

The Dead Sparrow, etching, 1890, William Sidman

Metempsychosis

Metempsychosis is a philosophical term from the Greek referring to the transmigration of the soul – as well as being a spiritual doctrine which generally has something to do with an individual soul reincarnating from one body to another, often human but also into or from animals or plants.

 

It is also the title of a phenomenal poem by Jane Hirschfield which I seem to come back to over and over again. I say ‘phenomenal’ but like most judgements, mine is personal; I think my fondness for this poem begins on the first lines, in which she talks about stories – how some last for centuries….and others only for a brief moment.

 

Plus, she is such a great writer…

 

With no further ado, here it is.

 

METEMPSYCHOSIS

 

Some stories last many centuries,

others only a moment.

All alter over that lifetime like beach-glass,

grow distant and more beautiful with salt.

 

Yet even today, to look at a tree

and ask the story Who are you? is to be transformed.

 

There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.

 

Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,

ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.

 

Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket

gives off —

the immeasurable’s continuous singing,

before it goes back into story and feeling.

 

In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.

Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.

 

I would like to join that stilted transmigration,

to feel my own skin vertical as theirs:

an ant-road, a highway for beetles.

 

I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.

To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,

and then keep walking, unimaginably further.

 

~Jane Hirschfield~

Are we Mirrors? Or Diamonds?

Christopher Poole, founder of 4chan, the online community which the Guardian once described as “lunatic, juvenile… brilliant, ridiculous and alarming”, says that Google and Facebook “do identity wrong,” and that people should not be tied to just one identity on the web.

In a speech at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Poole insisted that Internet users should have a choice as to whether they want to stay anonymous on the web or use their ‘real’ identities.

"Globe" by M.C. Escher

His argument comes as both Facebook and Google are pushing, in suble and not-so-subtle ways, to remove anonymity from the web.

“Google and Facebook would have you believe that you’re a mirror, but we’re actually more like diamonds,” Poole told the audience.

"Reflections" by Camil Tulcan

“Look from a different angle, and you see something completely different… Facebook is consolidating identity by making us more simple than we truly are.”

"Self Portrait", Francis Bacon

MISSING: one brain

Anyone seen my brain?  It seems to have disappeared.

It was there one moment. Then the next….

Who knows?  Qui sait?  ¿Quién sabe?

I haven’t seen it lately….

But I seem to be doing fine without it.

No worries.

If you see it – or stumble across it – let me know…..okay?

If not….well….I can only think about the words of Albert Einstein –

“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Definitely guilty of that sin on occasion.

And those of Picasso –

“If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes.”

Well that’s what I’m doing now, isn’t it?

I look out the window and think of what Emily Dickinson said –

“The brain is wider than the sky.”

So wide….sometimes it can’t fit inside a single head.

Nor can I answer Virginia Woolf’s question –

“My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery – always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What’s this passion for?”

Schopenhauer said the brain is a kind of parasite of our entire body, our human organism, a renter if you will, who temporarily lodges within the body. But even renters need fresh air from time to time….they need to get out and smell the smoke and smog and exhaust and pollution of the natural world…

But finally I – or that part of me which still functions, brainless, enough to type these words down so that you can read them – I return to the words of Michel de Montaigne, a wise Frenchman, who opined –

“It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.”

That’s what I’m doing here and now. My brain – that missing organ – seems to have returned. Perhaps this is an illusion – but Mark Twain advised us not to let go of our illusions; once they are gone, we may still exist, but according to Mr. Twain, we have ceased to live. So I’ll go with the illusion…and try to rub it a little harder….and polish it a little more…

And maybe I’ll even see your reflection, looking back at me.

Is that you? Your brain, I mean?   Funny….I didn’t realize you’d look that way.  Or maybe it’s me, the one looking funny?  Reflections are funny that way…

But that is you, isn’t it?

Right there?  Knocking at….the door?

Oh!  There’s several of you?  Well that’s okay.  You see….there’s several of me, too.

Well don’t just stand there.  It’s cold outside. Come on in.  The door’s not locked….it’s open.  Make yourself at home….

Welcome.  Bienvenus.  Bienvenidos.