Word choice • 11 June 2010

Peony. A flower by any other name…

I said to the Editor: “I don’t know why, but for some reason I feel like peonies are even more sexual than most flowers.”

He blushed. Ohhhh. Ann Arbor, home as it is to Hiscock Street, loves its massive peony gardens. After these weeks’ rain and ungodly winds, the once bulbous, priapic little buds are all sagged down now, returning already to dust. But Wednesday night I tried out my nose on a dozen different varietals, so mindful of the differences between them that I missed the fact that I was getting a head full of pollen. It wasn’t until Thursday practice that I noted the three hours’ extra sleep, puffy eyes and weird nasal voice weren’t moon effects so much as my sinuses begging for a neti pot.

Insert image of spindly man in loincloth discovering cure for snuffing one too many lotus flowers. And for insomnia, ADD and constipation. Kriyas: Ex-Lax of the ancients.

The peony garden hides in a clearing at the top of the Arboretum, not far from one of the few large buildings in town—the hospital. In an otherwise still evening, the building roars, breaking in to the clarity of the olfactory experience. That bellow underlies all city life and yet I’ve never heard it before. Not distinctly.

So the epic preciousness of this place continues. The once-dreaded dinner parties are happening. As is the dumb World Cup. Both converging at my home tomorrow. I dunno, as much as I used to enjoy ridiculing (1) sportsfans and (2) people who eat salads with over ten high end ingredients (I bet you also look down on one or the other of those categories), this is working out.

My therapist and I mused that all the meditation has, for the time being, created an excess of equanimity, depriving me of the “resource” of negative emotion. There is actually a great deal of subtle negative emotion deeper down, but in theory, is full equanimity a problem? 

Either way, I know I have an edge in that I’m still offended by Camp Bacon, this week's annual meeting of the Pork Royalty from around the country. It involves a Parade of the Bacons, workshops on the art and science of bacon, and readings of Pork Poetry. Daaaark. Admittedly, most animal violence is not this precious.


I’ve been turning over two questions this week.

First, I’ve been coming back to my sense of the consciousness, or soul, of a writer. Prose always carries such a strong sense of personality, but so—now—do tweets, status updates, IM and SMS. Even the words of very refined people are charged with intention, character, and more or less unconscious agendas. Because prose has personality, some spiritual books resonate while others, equally deep, do not.

A digital self is the sum of her online behaviors. But there is nothing one-dimensional about it. Blog and email prose are so enormously rich—every single stroke and word have consequence. I’m interested that some everyday writing can be spacious but not spacey, specific but not choppy, loving but not cloying, kind but not clingy, attentive without grasping.

To some degree these are matters of taste and self-regulation. Also, they reveal one’s relationship to information gathering—how much, how good, how often, how memorable.

But what really interests me is tone. Tone is the way that instinct, heart and intelligence coalesce in language. The way selves express and intermingle in the web.

Second, let's say you’re introducing someone to yoga for the first time. Yoga is an impossibly loaded word, thanks largely to the New York Times’s efforts to redefine it popularly as “anything that feels nice” and turn it in to an adjective. But that’s a topic for later.

What about Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga? What is the first descriptive sentence you would give it, to people who don’t particularly share your values, views, battles or agendas? To people who are, for whatever reason, just curious enough to show up and ask?

Some moments, waiting for a few right words to surface, letting it stay spontaneous, I just don't know where to begin.