Forgotten Art: Jasper – Liam 3

A reply to: A letter from Liam


Dear Liam,

I received your letter with joy.

I trust that the situation with Mathilda’s daughter Alina has resolved itself. If the curse has not yet been lifted, then I’ll send my good thoughts and wishes with yours for safety and healing.

Strangely enough, curses are something with which I do have experience.


A few years ago, when searching for healing from a persistent sinus infection, I found myself with a psychic healer. I’d visited her for flower essences, since my niece Meadow had suggested the essence of calendula as a powerful cure for ailments of the sinus passages.

The healer took one look at me and said, “You’ve been cursed.”

I must have started, for she said next, “I don’t mean to disturb you with this news! It’s a simple statement of fact.”

She went on to describe that a curse is another word for carrying the emotional energy of another.

“The intense emotions, especially anger or sadness, of another person can be passed onto you and become lodged in your body. We call this ‘a curse.’ It doesn’t always happen consciously or even intentionally.”

She proceeded to ask me if I could recall anytime when my jaw or face had been touched by anyone who was upset. “Even a dentist,” she said.


A memory from late childhood rushed back. I sat in the dentist chair, my jaw force open by a metal clamp, getting my molar filled. While the dentist drilled, he complained to his assistant about his divorce. His voice was thick with grief and rage.

“That’s it!” said the healer when I described the memory to her.

She performed a healing, which consisted of nothing more than a blessing, a prayer, and the waving of her palm over my jaw.

I felt something lift. From that moment, my sinusitis has been gone.


With a powerful witch like Mathilda for her mother, I trust that Alina’s healing will be swift and complete.

My niece and I have made a silent pact not to talk about our pen pals with each other; but I suspect that you are right, and that this pen pal endeavor is certainly “all in the family.”

My nephew has recently signed up for the project. His eyes got a suspicious twinkle when he mentioned it, so I’m guessing he found an enchanting reason to join.


Since writing you last, my everyday life feels imbued with magic.


At certain times of the day, the line between worlds seems to thin, and I suspect all sorts of energy to fly in from lee-lines in every direction.


At any rate, my disbelief seems to be evaporating, and I am finding that mystery in every moment.


Have you ever wondered about capacity for friendship?

I had a time in my life, when my teaching connected me with a hundred students and dozens of colleagues each semester, when I felt that I had limited capacity for others. I was often beyond the full-meter.

Lately, though, it feels that there is room in my amygdala for everyone I happen to meet.


Did I mention to you that I’ve become a tutor through the gifted program at a local elementary school?

The school has recruited retired professionals to work one-on-one with children in the program. My young friend seems to be bringing me more than I could ever hope to return!


For one thing, she asks questions that get me to think–in much the same way your letters do, as a matter of fact.

Recently, she asked me about time, and I had to pull out that old fabric analogy to offer up a possible example of string theory in action.

She is forcing me to stretch the boundaries of my knowledge, and for an old codger like me, that is a very good thing.


We spent last Saturday afternoon in the Reading Room at the city park. She had questions about crystals and metal ore, so I suspect that a field trip will be in order next weekend.


I feel blessed to live alone. Mind you, the years I shared my life with Bess are perennially treasured–but it’s the solitude I have now that opens up the time for treasuring.


When I was a young man, I felt guilt at indulging in solitary pleasure. Now, the moments when I can let my attention completely focus at the task-at-hand, uninterrupted by the words, thoughts, or feelings of others, come as gifts of luxury.


Have you noticed that a meal gains flavor when prepared with attention?

Now that, I feel, is magic.


Wishing you health, and health to those you love, too.

With gratitude,


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Forgotten Art: Giuliana – Dusk 5

A reply to: A letter from Dusk


Hi, Dusk! How are you?

Has it been a long time since I wrote?

It feels to me like I wrote yesterday, but at breakfast this morning, my dad said, “When are you writing your pen pal, Squirt?”

I said, “I don’t have a pen pal named Squirt.”

And we all laughed.

Then he said, “It’s time to write,” and I said, “I wrote yesterday,” and he said, “No, that was a few weeks ago,” and I said, “Huh?”

Then my brother said, “You’ve been fishing in the swishy time-stream, Squirt!”

And I think he’s right.


I got a stomach ache from my mom’s fruit salad. She still hasn’t learned how to cook. She says it’s the fridge. But I think it’s because she buys her fruit at Fruit Mart, and she should buy from my best friend Veer the Vendor, because Veer’s fruit is best!

I went out to get a different snack because yucky fruit salad, and guess what I saw?

Billie’s dad was yelling through a big megaphone!

“Peace now! Stop the Idiocy! Stop the bureaucracy! Power to the People!”


At first I laughed because it reminded me of “Stop Bullying, Stupid!” And I thought how funny that even grown-ups will get mad and yell for peace and kindness.

But then this guy came up to me and said, “Hey, dude. Millions of people are dying every day.”

And then I felt bad.


I took my snack to where Fatima was sitting.

“Did you know millions of people die every day?” I asked her.

She said, “That’s not true. I looked it up for social studies and maybe 153,424 people die each day. That’s only part of a part of a million.”

“That’s still a lot,” I said.

“Did you ever see a dead person?” she asked.

Yeah. I did. Once I was in the alley, and I was bringing muffins to my friends that live there, and one guy was under a bunch of cardboard, and my friend said, “Stay away from him. He died last night.” I got shivers.

Fatima said that where she came from there were lots of dead people.

“It’s like no problem,” she said. “It’s like, you got life. You got death. One for one.”

But I don’t know. It makes me sad.


How is Ruby? I hope she lets you give her a rub on her belly from me.

I think that’s neat that you have a brilliant friend. Who is he or she? Maybe if your friend is really brilliant, he or she will help you get home!

I have a brilliant friend. He is my tutor Jasper.

He took me to the Reading Room at the park.


We were looking for information on this thing I’ve got to do for one of my other pen pals. It’s a secret, so I can’t really tell you the details. I didn’t even tell Jasper. I just said, “Jasper, how do I find rocks? How do I find metal?”

And because it’s Jasper’s job to help me find out stuff, he didn’t even ask, “Why do you want to know?”, like grown-ups always do. He just said, “Let’s do some research, Giuliana.”

So we looked in old musty books.

Then I found a book on magic. I looked up “Time” in the index. And then I looked up “Wishes” in the index. They didn’t have an entry about wishes.

But under time, I found some spells for speeding up time and slowing down time.

I tried the one for slowing down, and then it felt like I was in the Reading Room forever.


It was neat because the Reading Room is my favorite place and Jasper is one of my favorite people, and I thought I wanted that moment to be forever.


But then I remembered that I wanted to write to you, so I did the speed-up spell and now here I am! Do you think if I cast a spell on the letter, you’ll get it yesterday?

Oh, yeah. Mom says, “Remember my pen pal manners.”

So, OK. How are you? How is Olive? How is Ophelia? Did you eat Mac-n-Cheese today?

I hope that you are filled with as much happy thoughts as the sky is filled with as much happy stars!

Do you think people would stop dying if we filled all of the universe with happiness? Or is it like Fatima says, “One for one”?



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Forgotten Art: Giuliana – Dusk 4

A reply to: A letter from Dusk


Hi, Dusk! Guess what? I have great news! My tutor told me all about time and now I know about the wrinkles!

Oh, I guess you’re wondering about how I got a tutor.

Well, last Tuesday, the teacher told me to go out of the class and into the office next to the principal’s. I didn’t want to go, because it was reading time, and she’s reading aloud to us “The Horse and His Boy,” which I absolutely love. Have you read it? You should! Because it’s about friends. So I think you wouldn’t feel so lonely.

She said, “No, Giuliana, you have to go because this is important.” Oops. Forget I wrote that and pretend that she said, “No, Tazer.”

So I went. In the little office was this guy. He called himself Dr. Sanchez. And he said I was there for a test that my parents had said I could take. But it wasn’t a test. It was more like a conversation with a whole bunch of questions. Maybe you could say it was an interrogation.

For example, he asked me, “Do you know what ‘ochre’ means”

And I said, “Do you mean ‘ogre,’ like the troll that lives under the bridge, only bigger and fiercer and with a g, or ‘ochre’ like the color of a spoon of mustard mixed with two drops of ketchup and with a c h?”

“I was thinking of the color,” he said.

“Yes,” I replied, “what about it?”

But he wanted to move on to shapes, like trochoid and stuff.

Anyway, two days later, my mom and dad said they got a call from school, and now on Thursday and Tuesday afternoons, I go to see a special tutor at his house.

“Is it because I ask so many questions that they think I’m dumb?” I asked my parents. And my mom sighed, and my dad laughed and mussed my hair.

“It’s because you ask so many questions they think you’re smart,” he said. “This is a special tutor who can help you in ways the school can’t, so that you can learn all you’re capable of learning!”

Like math! Isn’t that exciting?

And, guess what? The house where my tutor lives? It’s down by the wharf in the Spice District where I go to watch stars with my dad!


So one day, I’m going to stay late and my dad will pick me up, and we’ll get fish and chips and watch stars and I will look for the shooting star from you.

Oh. I told my dad what you said about how a shooting star is a smile from the past, and he said, “That’s right. Because it takes billions of years for the light from stars to travel here to us, so it truly is from the past.”

When I went to the tutor’s house on Thursday, he said, “Do you want to play math games?” And of course I did.


But when we took a break and he was making snack–he makes really good oatmeal cookies, by the way, with lots of Ceylon cinnamon and real sweet sparkly raisins, and no nuts, unless I want them–I asked him about time.

“How can somebody go through time and end up in the past?” I asked him.

He said something about theoretically speed something-something, and I didn’t understand it. Then he said, he didn’t buy that theory.

He said, “What I think is more like a blanket.”


“Some people think of time as a stream,” he said. “But I think of it as a blanket.”

He told me to imagine a blanket spread out on the floor. My mom wouldn’t like that.

“How about a picnic blanket on the lawn, then?” he asked.

She’d like that.

So we imagined a picnic blanket spread out on the lawn. Just for simplicity of imagination, he said to imagine it blue, but the color didn’t really matter.

So there it was.

Then he said, “Now imagine that this blanket is time. You can walk from one end to the next, in a straightforward fashion.”

Then he pinched his fingers. “Now imagine that the blanket has wrinkles in it, where one part touches another. If you are walking from one end to the next, and you come upon one of these wrinkles, you can skip over a segment of time and end up backwards, in the past.”

And you know what, Dusk? At that very moment, it made perfect sense to me!


I think whatever pulled you there pulled you through a wrinkle! So now, all we got to do is map another wrinkle and pull you back.

It’s OK if it takes a lot of time because you’ll be skipping segments. Maybe I’ll be the same age as you when you come back and we can go to college together! Would you like that? I want to study electro-magnetic-something-something, but Dad says, with my questions I keep asking, I should study quantum physics.

Right now, I’m practicing adding and subtracting and multiplying and dividing as quick as possible, because, you know. Lightning speed.


Oh! I almost forgot! The other day, when I was in the square near my house, I saw my tutor. He was with Meadow, the art vendor who is in our club NOW! And he said, “Guiliana [pretend he said, “Tazer.”], I would like you to meet my niece, Meadow!”

“I already know her!” I said. So now you know that my new tutor is the uncle of someone in our club. Isn’t that awesome? So what he says must be true! Because, I also made a rule that our club is about telling the truth. Do you like that rule?


Oh, dang! I forgot and wrote this all about me again. Poop. (Oh, sorry. The club also has a rule, “Don’t say ‘poop.'”) But we can say “Boogers!”

Anyway. Questions about you: How is the dog? That is so cool that you have a dog that comes to visit you. I never see dogs in the city. Only pigeons, cockroaches, and rats. Boogers.

Do you really like mac and cheese best of all?

You asked if I believe in magic. I don’t. But I believe in mathematics, and math is very magical, so it’s as if I did believe in magic, anyway. Do you believe in mathematics?

I hope that’s enough questions because I’m sleepy. I get to see my tutor tomorrow.

Hope you find something that makes you smile, like a shooting star from my time! Is that possible? Or do shooting stars only come from the past.

Thank you for being my friend and I hope you feel happy.

–Tazer 1541z

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Dove 5

A reply to: A letter from Dove


Dearest Dove,

Congratulations! Twins! Kiya and Kari–what beautiful names!

And you sound wonderful for a new mother! Judging from your writing, it doesn’t sound like you’re tired at all!

Of course you must be–even with Maki. And you’re working full-time. You’ve got my admiration!

How lovely that Maki is there to help. She sounds like a beautiful person. And I really like that your relationship with her is based on respecting each other by not bothering with a lot of prying questions.

My uncle taught me to do that when I was a little girl. Very seldom will he ask me anything directly about how or what I’m doing. Instead, he listens. And because he doesn’t ask, and because he does listen, I usually end up telling him everything, and then some!

Thinking about how fortunate you are to have Maki gave me the opportunity to also feel grateful for my uncle Jasper. I don’t think I could do a good job with Jena if I didn’t have him!

My brother has been far too busy to help with Jena at all–he’s rather childish, himself, besides, and so I’ve picked up that he feels a little jealous or something about having someone else be the center of attention. No matter! At the Wind Farms, he’s the Big Boss, so everybody bows when he enters the room, practically!  Eh. Don’t mind me. I’m just doing the sister thing, teasing my big brother Norman.

The other day, Jasper stopped by, out of the blue. I was so relieved. Jena was feeling sad, and nothing I could do would cheer her up. Not singing, not dancing, not telling stories, not even cookies. She still gets like that sometimes.

Jasper picked her up and held her.


Then he took her into her room, put her down for a nap, and read to her until she fell asleep.


If you heard Jasper’s voice, you’d feel happy, too. It’s a lot like my dad’s voice was–very rich, like an oboe, only not so nasal as an oboe. Maybe more like a cello. Jasper has been an actor on the stage, so when he reads stories, he does all the voices!

He left before Jena woke up, but he’d already done the magic.

She woke feeling so happy!


This may sound strange, seeing how she’s only two, but I think she’s working on reading skills.

She loves to play with blocks, and she’s starting to pay more attention to the pictures, numbers, and letters painted on them than she is to them as three-dimensional objects in and of themselves.


She picks them up and studies them.  I heard her say, “One, two,” when she was examining them the other day.

“What’s that, Jena?” I asked her.

“Buckle shoe,” she replied. So I don’t know if she was reading them or just repeating the nursery rhyme I say to her when I help her dress.


We still spend hours a day talking! I love it. I haven’t had someone who will talk with me for that long since I lived in the dorm and my college room-mate and I would talk half the night, every night!

If we talk this much now, what will it be like when she’s five or six? Or sixteen? Oh, I hope we still talk a lot when she’s sixteen. I didn’t talk much with my mom when I was sixteen. Did you?


Right now, she loves to “talk monsters.” I tell her about big pink squishy ones with twenty tentacles, and she tells me about “Purple.” I don’t know much about Purple except “eat shoes.”

How are your babies doing now? Do they pay much attention to each other? Do they verbalize much? Are they good eaters? Tell me everything! (Oops! There I go asking a million questions after saying I don’t! I guess when it comes to babies, curiosity gets the better of me!) Oh! And do they have teeth yet?


I wonder if they sleep through the night.

Jena has started to. I tuck her in as it’s starting to get dark, and she sleeps all the way through until morning.

I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed time alone. But now, I’ve got a few hours every night.


I even snuck in a long soak the other day. I never dreamed that a bath could feel so much like heaven!


Every night, before I go to sleep, I stop in to look at Jena. I can’t imagine a time when she wasn’t part of my life, anymore. She’s so much the center of it now.


And when I think how peaceful she is, how well-loved, and how much she loves in return, I fall asleep feeling that this world is full of goodness.


I hope all is well with you, Maki, Kiya and Kari!

Lots and lots of love,


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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Liam 2

A reply to: A letter from Liam


Greetings, Liam!

Reading your letter brought the warmth of a cup of tea at the end of a long day.

I savored every note of every flavor, even those I couldn’t fit into this noodle-brain.

I made a decision long ago, when I was grappling with Faulkner’s “The Bear” and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: What I can’t comprehend with the logic of the everyday, simply let be. Maybe I can understand it on a different level.

So that’s what I’m doing with all those incomprehensible autobiographical details in your letter that don’t fit into my own limited experience of existence. I’m letting them sit.

My niece also has a few correspondents in this Pen Pal Project, and while she and I have agreed to keep our individual correspondences confidential, she did share with me that one of her pen pals wrote about a life story which seemed to her, simply and literally, incredible.


“Can you let it be?” I asked her. “Rather than fit all that your pen pal shares within the scope of your own reality, can you just let it be and know that there are multiple realities?”

She said she would give it a try.

For me, a heavy burden’s lifted when I decide I don’t need to understand it all.


As I’ve grown older, I’m becoming accepting of the scope of my existence. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about my privilege, while I’ve also stopped feeling that within my own limited being I need to be able to circumscribe the full range of experience. Being myself, in this life I’ve been given, has become, finally, enough.

I look at photos of my grand-niece, which my niece loves to send me through my phone, and I feel the fullness of accepting: This is my life, and these, the people in it.


The other day, my niece brought her daughter over for me to watch while she took some time for herself in the city.

My grand-niece, Jena, was none-too-happy when she marched in the front door. I’d invited my neighbors, who are Indian and speak Urdu, so they might talk with Jena, whose first language is Urdu. She was adopted.

She would have none of it.


She cried. My neighbors left. I washed the dishes, trying to think what might soothe someone whose play had been interrupted by a trip to Gruncle’s.

She reminded me so much of my niece. Even when my niece was Jena’s age, she would become furious and frustrated if we interrupted her when she was immersed in her creative play. And little Jena had been taken from a wild game of house with the Lalaleeloos in order to hop on the rapid transit with her mom and shoot across the bay to visit me.

I’m sure to Jena it made no sense at all. Couldn’t she at least finish her playtime?


We sat together on the sofa. I found a picture book, and I made up a story about her Lalaleeloos.


My niece, Meadow, has told me all about this family of dolls that Jena loves so much. There is one mother, one dragon, one pony, and a baby.

“Baby was none-too-happy,” I began, and looking down at Jena, I could see I had a tough audience. But she was interested! And, at the moment at least, she wasn’t crying.


I fell silent and studied the picture.

“So. Baby did…” said Jena, waiting for me to continue.


“Baby did what Baby always does,” I said, “when she’s feeling mad or sad or hungry or happy or silly or nutty or crazy or wild or tired or grumpy or snoozy or woozy. She called Dragon. ‘DRAGON!'”

Jena started laughing.


I let her continue the story, and apparently Baby and Dragon ate marshmallows and chocolate and peanut butter with apples. Then they took a nap. And then they flew to clouds. And then Mommy came home and the story was over.

“Now that’s one fine story,” I told Jena.

“Higglety pop!” she replied.


We wanted to see how dragons flew, and between the two of us, we just about figured it out.


She was smiling when her mother came to fetch her, not even half-an-hour later!

“Guess it went well, then!” Meadow said. “I was worried for nothing!”

I’m hoping that the first time leaving Jena with me will be the hardest, for my niece deserves a bit of time to herself now and then.

And it’s certainly no hardship for me to spend an afternoon with a master storyteller!

I was still smiling about Baby and Dragon’s adventures when I returned to Emma. Yes, I’m reading Austen now. All that talk of our smart wives got me longing for the cadences, perception, and irony of this, my favorite Jane Austen novel.


Ah, Liam! We are two lucky old men, or, in your case, an old-in-young man.

What did we do to find ourselves surrounded by family? And how did we get so lucky to have such beautiful, smart, strong, intelligent, creative, and independent women in this family?


Do you know? I’ve discovered that gratitude adds sweetness to every sound–even the silence of an empty house, after a chattering two-year-old has gone home.


Wishing you peaceful naps and cheerful days!



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Forgotten Art: Jasper -Seth 3

A reply to: A letter from Seth


Hey, Seth. Thank you for your letter.

I hope the sun isn’t so hungry today.

I went out to the bluffs this evening. Here, the fog slides in from the bay, and even the wrens are still.


I liked these sentences you wrote: “The human species is a great big mirrored funhouse. It’s distorted projections of the self all the way down.”

This ties in with my response to your request:  “Tell me, about your words; when do you know they are lies, and when do you know they are true?”


I guess it depends on how one defines “lies.” I’ll assume that we both know what we mean by true. We feel it, right? Or at least, that’s how it works for me. For example, I feel the truth of your words.


If we take a lie to be an intentional diversion of truth, through misdirection, omission, or distortion, then my words don’t lie, for I don’t intend to divert the truth.


But if we take a lie to be a softening of the harshness of direct perception, then, yes. Sometimes, my words lead down a softer path, and that’s the only path I have the strength and resolve to follow, sometimes.


If we take a lie to be our accounts of our travels through the mirrored funhouse, then yes. All words lie. Or at least all of mine do, for my perception is colored by my existence in this form, with my particular and individual neurochemically driven responses and interpretations.


My wife, Bess, used to talk to me of the vertical and horizontal currents of energy. I never understood what she meant during her lifetime, but I am beginning to feel those currents now that I’ve been relieved from the demands of my career and I have time to feel.

I’ve been practicing qigong with a group that meets most mornings in the grassy area near my house. Qigong, according to my teacher, is about these two currents of energy, the vertical and the horizontal. What she says fits with what I feel.

The vertical channel connects us with the universe, with life energy, with the abstract, and with the earth. The horizontal connects us with the social.


It’s the vertical that’s got my attention right now and that I want to experience and explore. For me, that’s the connection with truth.



What happens–and it’s happening even now as I write this–is that as I try to translate my experience of that vertical channel of energy into the horizontal, so that I can communicate it with another person, the words tangle it. What I write feels like a lie, though I am intending to write the truth.


I don’t possess your genius for communicating unmediated truth.

Have you ever read Wittgenstein? I love that man. Six multi-part propositions, expressed in a treatise of nearly 70 pages, to lead to this single observation:

The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—but it would be the only strictly correct method.

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.


I haven’t yet mastered the art of silence, though that is what I am working on now–though you can’t tell it’s part of my practice from my nonsensical ramblings in this letter!

I don’t know how to be a silent pen pal. Send you a blank sheet of paper, I guess.

Bess used to talk to me about etiquette. I had a phase, early in my career, when I was fed up with academic politics and anything that felt inauthentic. Etiquette felt inauthentic to me.

That’s when I stopped shaving. But I also took up expressing exactly how I felt exactly when I felt it to exactly whomever I was speaking.

My “bout with unmitigated authenticity” just about cost me my career.




Eventually, Bess got me to understand that the conventions for social communication helped to form a space for safety, and within that space, authenticity might occur.

We need to know the other person’s not going to stab us with a knife before we’ll show him our soft spots.


I hear a lot of pain in your words, a history of betrayal.

On this planet, so many people have been so hurt, and most of it, for no purpose and so avoidable. I am sorry to feel that you, too, have been hurt. This pain, caused by others, it is so often so needless.


We’re all so vulnerable, really. Soft, fleshy beings, with nothing between us and infinity but the structures of our minds, the chatter of our thoughts, that form a wall, a barrier against the indefinable silence.


At one point, a person can decide: I will do my best not to add to my own pain. Then they might decide: I will do what I can not to contribute to others’ pain. Then they might decide: I will do what I can, within the scope of my responsibility and path, to help alleviate the suffering of others.

Maybe I can do some good.


That’s the commitment I’ve made to life. Right now, my scope feels very narrow: my family. A few neighbors. I would like to help anyone that will let me, anyone that I have the capacity to help.

It starts here, with me, hooking up with life, the grand mistress. From there, maybe I reach out to as many as I can hold in my arms at one time: my niece. My grand-niece. My nephew, if he’ll let me.

Then, I walk through life, and I see who shows up. If I’ve got the capacity to show up, and another person has the capacity to show up, maybe we can help each other. Maybe, we hold out our hands–see? No pistol. No knife. Maybe, we can become friends.


I know you can read into my words, Seth. I hope that you can read into the silence beyond them.

I’m not wise enough to know when not to speak. And I hope you’ll forgive me for being a foolish old man.

With love and gratitude,


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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Seth 2

A reply to: A Letter from Seth


Dear Seth:

Right. So it would happen, every year or two, that a student would see right through me. I’d be faced with a choice: posture or respond.

Posturing was easier.

Responding, for me, is tough. But even saying this puts up a mask: the mask of authenticity.

You want to know? What I hide behind Shakespeare is the part of me that is terrified of your intelligence and insight and refusal to go along with social norms. What I hide behind the finger-moon nonsense is an old man who’s infatuated with his own self-assurance and the mask of nonsense he wears to facilitate interactions with others. It’s a way of keeping anything authentic and real at bay. That’s all.


I’m not ready to dispense with social niceties. I’m not ready to take off my masks. I need them.

Obviously, my masks don’t hide anything from you. Fine. I accept that.

I’m still not ready to take them off.

I don’t think I’ll answer your question about my nothing. Not today.


I’m a happy person. I’m naturally cheerful. It’s the way my brain works when I step outside and a mockingbird sings. That’s all. It’s simple chemistry.

I’m feeling defensive right now. I could put this letter away, work through the feelings on my own, come back when my own peace had returned. But I think I won’t.

I think I’ll sit here at the keyboard and breathe.

Tell me a story of grace, Seth.

So: I wanted to reach out to you because you seemed lonely and you seemed to be asking to be heard. My story about listening wasn’t to tell you to listen. It was to remind me to listen.

It was a round-about way of me saying I’d do my best to listen to you.

My story about Johnson was to point towards that communication that happens without words. For me, even as a man who’s spent my life with words, words lie. They are artifice. They twist and bend the truth. I’m not saying that your words lie: your words point at the truth. I hear that. I’m saying that my words lie. I cannot have a deep conversation and approach truth, for as I fit the unbounded into the construct of words, it shifts into something I don’t mean. It’s the finger pointing at the moon: and this isn’t me hiding. This is me trying not to hide.


The communication that happens without words, when I meet another in the spark of energy that forms between two beings, that is true for me.

I have a grandniece. She has quickly become a favorite person of mine. She doesn’t understand a word I say, unless I speak Urdu, and I know very little Urdu. But we communicate beautifully.


All right. I’m feeling less defensive.

I’m sorry if I can’t meet you in the level of truth that you demand. I will do my best. I’ll do my best to listen. I’ll do my best to let you have your cares and your worries. You know I want to save everyone, you included. I’ll do my best not to try.

You know what I like about silence? Everything settles out. There are no worries. There’s not even any separation.

I’m wondering if I should even send this letter.

Here’s what I don’t understand about using words: These words that I’ve written are my responses, complete in all my insecurities and defensiveness. In that way, this is an honest communication. I’m not hiding behind composition.

This is a rough draft, a discovery draft.

I could keep this letter in my “Drafts” folder and not send it. Then I could compose a letter revealing my composed self. That would be the way contractual conversation could occur: the writing would be designed to communicate. This letter is not designed to communicate. It’s a spilling out of my thoughts and feelings. This letter reveals.


I have a feeling that if I were to compose a letter to you, you would look through the words, seeking what was beneath them. Whether I send you something composed or something spilling over, like this, either way, you’ll see through the artifice, and I’ll be revealed.

I guess that’s what I try to avoid. With the wordless communication that I love so much what is revealed is grace, that spark of being within each of us. I crave that contact.

When I communicate with words what’s revealed is the structure of the mind and the clutter of the emotions–all that detritus. Why would I want to share that with anyone?

Is that what you were trying to look behind in my previous letter?

I seem to talk a lot when I listen, don’t I?

Wishing you grace and unexpected kindnesses,



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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Liam 1


Dear Liam,

I suppose an old man like me shouldn’t be surprised by mysteries. But you know how life goes. Sometimes, we fall into the pattern of the mundane.

“An old Irishman in a young man’s body.” Now there’s an intriguing introduction.

In fact, the hints sprinkled throughout your letter point to mysteries that, for now, I will simply let lie. While investigative by nature, I’m not one to pry, and I’m sure that all I’m intended to know will be revealed through time.

You and I seem to share a love for wood.


I’ve been working in cedar lately. It’s not the best for carving, being soft and splintery, but I’m drawn by the scent which reminds me of youthful days roaming the coasts of the island off Windenberg.

“There truly is magic in the world,” you write.


What do I know of magic?

Only the magic of the everyday, that inexplicable spark that can arise between two beings. Or maybe, staring into vast space, the magic, simply, incredibly, of Being.

But magic of the sort in which wizards and warlocks deal?


I know nothing more than what I’ve read: Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The old folk stories. The works of Carlos Castaneda. A few dabblings with the Tarot and the I Ching.

I’m a scholar, not a magician.

But I will have eager eyes and an avid heart for any mysteries you care to reveal.


So we’re both acquainted with loss, are we?

That’s the price of life.

Condolences on the passing of your Maggie.

My wife and I never had children–by choice, inclination, and temperament.

Bess, my wife, passed years ago. I forget to count. It feels like an instant, but I know, by the lanterns hanging on my tree, that it wasn’t. Each year, since her passing, I hang a new lantern. I’ve stopped counting.


Bess loved Jane Austen, like your Mathilda. It’s something to be married to a woman who reads Austen, don’t you find? Always gazing at us with that wry grin, as if each stoic action we display revealed depths of which we never comprehended we might contain!


As for me, I specialized in American lit of the 19th Century. Of course, I centered much of my study on the New England Brahmins–Thoreau and Fuller, in particular, though I also came to appreciate Alcott: Lousia May, not her father.

Towards the end of my career, I became engrossed in pioneer literature, the diaries and journals, in particular. I suppose I got there by way of Thoreau. His writing led me to John Muir, and from Muir it was only a stone’s throw away to the pioneer journals.

I’m currently trekking my way through Shakespeare. I hate to admit it, but I have not yet read all the works attributed to his name. I’m currently on the histories, and taking my sweet time.

Retirement has shown me that I can take time with all my endeavors. So I hope you’ll pardon my long-winded and round-about correspondences with you!

It’s sweet balm to write to another who’s lived and lost and survived to love on.

Life. Man. What a trip.


With warm regards, and anticipation, already, for your next letter,

Jasper McCumber

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Seth 1


Greetings and salutations, Seth Morrigan.

I heard your words when I read your profile on the Pen Pal Project.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
… full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Shakespeare, Macbeth V.v)

It’s not that the tale signifies nothing. It’s that the tale signifies Nothing.


This walking shadow points its finger, where? Towards Nothing.

Don’t mistake the finger that points to the moon for the Moon.


When I was a child, I had a rat for a friend and companion–I refuse to use the word “pet,” for if anything, I was the rat’s pet.

We developed a way of communicating, not through words but through thought-images and feeling.


I would be playing in my room, and an image would come into my mind. A full water bottle. A corner of my flannel shirt. My new round super ball.

I would look towards my rat, and I would find him studying me with his soft brown eyes. So I would fill the water bottler, cut off the corner of my shirt and place it in his cage, give him my super ball.

And the feeling of happiness would infuse me.


When I wanted to take Johnson (that was the rat’s name) out of the cage and play with him in the cardboard box city I built for him, I would imagine the cage door opening, holding him in my hands, and setting him down amongst the cardboard skyscrapers. He would look at me with his brown eyes, and then scamper onto my hands when I opened the cage door.

One day, he told me in this fashion that he no longer wanted to live in a cage. We opened the door, set up his water bottle on the outside of it, placed his flannel shirt blanket beneath the Empire State Building, and he moved into New Cardboard City. We were very happy.


You ask, “Do you know what it’s like when no one hears you? When you can’t say anything that anyone else would understand even if they were listening?”

I was a college professor of American literature. Yes. I know what it’s like when no one hears me. I know what it’s like to speak for 52 minutes on the significance of a thawing ice flow and the revelations of creation that Thoreau found there and how this relates to our own burning questions of how to proceed in a millennium when the thawing of an ice flow threatens our own survival, and to look out to see that of the classroom of twenty-five students, the two who were listening have no idea what I was talking about.


I stopped talking.

I asked my students to move their desks out of the rows and into circles. I wrote a question on the board. And I walked among the circles, and I listened.


That was when my students said they began to learn.

When my wife was alive, she loved to talk. She talked about her cares. For the first twenty years of our life together, I thought it was my job, as her husband, to remove her cares. And so I did, one by one. Each one that I removed was replaced by another, more difficult and more problematic to resolve. And then one day, when we were young only in heart, I realized that she loved her cares. I was not doing her a favor by removing them: I was making life more difficult for her. I let her have her cares. We became happy. She would fret over her easel. I would ponder behind my texts. In the evening, after supper, we would stroll through meadows or sit in a golden corner by the lamp-side, and we would talk. But our words signified nothing.


It was only in the last months of her life, when, together, we faced the approaching visage of Nothing that we came to find that wordless form of perfect communication that I had when I was ten with my friend, the rat, Johnson.


I don’t know that I understand, Seth. Understanding is a long process–sometimes arduous. Sometimes easy. Sometimes, it happens as quickly as a silver shadow!


But I don’t think that understanding is everything. Mystery–mystery is Everything. Curiosity is Everything. But Understanding? Understanding is Nothing.

And I am all for gazing into the face of Nothing with another.


With wishes of silver shade and moonlight,

Jasper McCumber

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