Echinoderms are a phylum (Echinodermata) of five-based marine invertebrates including the ever-popular sea stars (“starfish”), as well as brittle stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, sand dollars, feather stars, sea lilies, and a wide variety of other delightful creatures. The Latin word Echinoderm literally means “spiny skin,” and all echinoderms have some level of spiky armor, which as a sort of prickly introvert I find inspiring.
This young lady has the right idea.
I recently took a poetry class at my college where I created a short book of poetry that I decided to base around the theme of what humans can learn from marine (and other) invertebrates. Entitled Invertebration, that class assignment has inspired my current personal trend in my philosophy and writing: how can I write like a human and let myself live and love like a sea star? Here are 5 lifestyle tips from the realm of echinoderms:
- If it’s closed, pry it open and drain every drop of its nourishing juices.
- If s/he climbs on top of you to get closer to the sun, you climb right on top of him/her and get even higher.
- If the tides are crashing and trying to wrench you away from your rock, solidify your malleable form to fit the place you want to be, and harden your musculature so nothing can pull you away.
- If it bites off your armored arms, grow back more colorful and stranger arms with fancier spikes.
- If it piques your instinct, seize and devour it.
Image credits in order of appearance:
By E. M. Grosse – The echinoderm fauna of Torres Strait: its composition and its origin (1921) Clark, Hubert Lyman, 1870-1947, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38650232
By Sebastian Grajales – Colombia, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5102157
By Steven Pavlov – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16279384
This poem was chosen and sent out as part of the Academy of American Poets’ poem-a-day program today, January 27th, 2017. As soon as I read it I knew I wanted to give it to you. Not because I think you are heavy – I know you are each different – but because I think this poem can bring a ray of sunlight to the mind, no matter where the body is at, and can help heal any warring crevasse between the two.
This poem is copyright 2017 by Hieu Minh Nguyen and published on https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/heavy.
The narrow clearing down to the river
I walk alone, out of breath
my body catching on each branch.
Small children maneuver around me.
Often, I want to return to my old body
a body I also hated, but hate less
Sometimes my friends—my friends
who are always beautiful & heartbroken
look at me like they know
I will die before them.
I think the life I want
is the life I have, but how can I be sure?
There are days when I give up on my body
but not the world. I am alive.
I know this. Alive now
to see the world, to see the river
rupture everything with its light.
Above is Hieu Minh Nguyen’s image from his bio on poets.org.
Image of a heron at top of page is credited to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region – Great Blue Heron Uploaded by AlbertHerring, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29815482
Yesterday, my sum achievement from the two weeks I have spent trying to learn Beethoven’s violin sonata movement one… amounted to a small seed. Think a sunflower seed, the kind that pierces your gum and mostly causes a nuisance while you are trying to enjoy some trail mix. Today, that tiny seed of progress has grown – it’s now beginning to think, somewhere in its subconscious seed brain, about potentially becoming a bigger seed. Like maybe the size of a pumpkin seed, or a cashew half, even.
As I wipe down my violin after watering that seed with a practice session, a familiar voice creeps into my head: “Why do you even waste your time practicing? You’ll never be a virtuoso. You should just quit.”
I smile and say back, “I will never be a virtuoso. But I will always be me, and there is only one of those in all of time and space.” I decide to myself that the best anyone can do is to open the floodgates of their rich character and let it channel into their instrument – be it a violin, a tennis racket, a computer, or something totally different. No one can be the best, only the best self that they can be. That self will always be worse than someone else’s self – until it is able to appear on the universe’s stage, concept of ranking coded into a foreign language it no longer comprehends. That will be the day.
I might take small steps most days. I imagine that the step I took today with my music-seed is a very small one, in Beethoven’s shoe size. But it is a giant leap in my personal journey, with what I was born with, what I have been given all my life, and what I want to give back.
This is also why I usually sing while I clean my violin.
Do you save papers? I do. All kinds of papers. I think I come from the transitional generation whose formative years gave them the impression that paper (along with cursive writing and envelope addressing) was one of the pains of daily life and always would be. And then in the middle of our adolescence, it became necessary that we also know how to turn in all our assignments online (even when the website was made by dinosaurs from a millennium past), as well as have all the social media accounts in order to stay on top of last minute homework assigned at midnight (not to mention if we wanted to have any friends.) Typing was also an issue. So I save paper, and once or twice it has really saved me from a lot of grief, but other times it kind of weighs me down.
For instance, I still have a binder full of my “following a columnist” project in AP English in 10th grade. Four years later, it’s lying in a box on the floor of my room (a nice little nest for the cat, I guess, but little else.) I don’t really expect my teacher from high school, who moved to a different school district, to suddenly barge into my house and demand to see my columnist project. Teachers always warned us to save papers until the end of the term to help make up for their capricious tendencies to accidentally give students zeros on papers that were turned in, graded and returned. But I took that practice to heart in a big way. My accordion binder never gets opened, but it sits fatly on the floor looking all self-important and bulging with all my little quizzes and worksheets from years ago, from schools I already graduated from – just in case.
Sometimes the reason I keep the papers is sentimentality. I was so happy the first time I got an A+ 100% Wow! 🙂 on a sixth grade history test that I cherished the paper with the precious red pen marks on it like a sort of Rosetta Stone, a reminder that no matter how discouraging my teacher might be later, she had smiled and said Wow! to me once. I also tend to keep ticket stubs, pages of magazines I like and steal, even notes to myself from a different period of my life to help me remember what it was like to be inside my own brain at that time. For instance, I still have pages of emails I printed between myself, my mom, and my dietician when I was first re-learning to eat in the ninth grade. Questions about half-tablespoons of olive oil and how much lettuce was necessary to make that a feasible conquest, and whether I could take a week off running when my tooth was extracted. And tons of post-its from the years afterwards, covered with my obsessive calculations and kind of stern notes to self intended to make sure I did everything right. I don’t believe in those post-its or what’s on them anymore, but for some reason it felt wrong to just recycle them. Like maybe one day some researcher on eating disorders like the one I had will benefit from the documents. Again, though, I’m not expecting a researcher to break into my house, any more than I expect my tenth grade English teacher to do so.
So far I have mentioned papers that I keep because of superstition and those that I retain for sentimental reasons. There is a third and final class of papers that haunt my drawers, binders, shelves, and basically every corner of space in my physical life, and this is the category that ought to be the least consequential: papers I keep simply because I am too lazy to do anything else. I picked up an informational flyer about how to rescue a baby bird – and when not to interfere – the last time I was at the vet, and I think it is still in my drawer with the millions of golden safety pins and plastic bags I hide from my cat (who chews on plastic.) I could have scanned it, saved it on my computer, even shared it on social media to help spread the knowledge – but I never did. I also could have read it over, decided I was done with it, and recycled it – but I didn’t want to make that kind of irreversible commitment. Hence its perpetual purgatory in my desk drawer.
Most of these papers are just nuisances and really nothing too interesting in the context of this blog: the cut-up black and white model from an art school workshop that revealed to me the horrors of the fashion design business; a magazine full of advertisements that seemed like a really great free souvenir at the Oregon Symphony last fall; the program from a play I liked but really have never wondered since what was the last name of the person who played Matt. However, one such paper is the source of this post today: an idiosyncratically-folded notebook page where a certain recipe was jotted down, many weeks ago, the last time I was at home with a real oven. I wanted to share the recipe with my readers, but the desire was apparently not so burning that I was able to get the post finished within the week I had at home. So I stuffed the batter-blotted, pencil-smeared page into the back pocket of my music binder, along with a practice record from March 2015 and a failed start to a drawing of jellyfish fashion designs. Luckily for you all, I am not going to be blogging about practice records or my terrible drawing skills today. Instead, here is the recipe for some hearty, dense, and nuanced peanut butter banana oatmeal muffins featuring a lovely dark chocolate center. So here. Thanks for taking this piece of paper off my hands.
Fruity PB & Raisin Bran Muffins
Makes 12 regular-sized muffins
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 packet Quaker lower sugar oatmeal, Maple Brown Sugar flavor (or replace with your preferred instant oatmeal packet)
- 1 tbs baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2-1/2 cups Raisin Bran cereal (I used an off-brand)
- 1 egg
- 1 medium overripe banana, mashed
- 1/4 cup honey
- one 6-oz/single serve container of flavored yogurt of your choice (I used Yoplait low fat Strawberry Cheesecake flavor, but prefer other brands in general because Yoplait includes gelatin in their recipe and I really don’t like to use gelatin if I can avoid it)
- 1/2 cup milk (I used 1% fat dairy milk, but I imagine non-dairy milks might also work)
- 1/2 cup Reese’s peanut butter chips and/or semisweet chocolate chips (I used a mix in my odds-and-ends rendition, but you can use either or both according to your taste)
- 12 Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Kisses, unwrapped
Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Line a regular-sized muffin tin with 12 muffin papers or foil liners.
In a large bowl, combine cereal, mashed banana, honey, and yogurt. Let it sit for three minutes or so to soften cereal. Beat with a hand mixer on medium until all the cereal is crushed. Add egg and milk and beat until mixed.
In another large bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine.
Pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture and stir gently until combined, being sure not to over-mix. Add the small chocolate/pb chips and stir in gently.
Spoon the batter into each muffin liner, distributing as equally as possible. Cups will be close to full of batter.
Bake at 400 Fahrenheit for a total of 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out with crumbs of baked muffin on it rather than wet batter (it will not be “clean” because the muffins are dense and gooey; this is a good thing.)
Somewhere in the middle of the baking, around 10 minutes through, remove the muffin tin carefully from the oven (but leave the oven on!) Press Hershey’s chocolate kisses gently into the top center of each partly-baked muffin, with the tip facing down. Return to oven for remaining time.
Allow to cool as long as the willpowers that be will permit, and dig in!
I think these taste best warm with the chocolate all melty, but they are also good from the fridge the next day.
Even in Kyoto
Hearing the cuckoo’s cry
I long for Kyoto
— Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉), Japanese Edo period poet of nature and emotion
My creative writing teacher mentioned this quote when trying to explain the atmosphere he perceived in a student’s workshop piece – the feeling of wishing and mourning and longing for something even at the moment when it is concretely yours.
This feeling, I think, is more prominent in modern, urban, capitalist cultures than it was/is in such philosophies as Buddhism, which Bashō appreciated towards the end of his life, and the Shinto philosophy of respect for a timeless world. We hear a lot in the vein of “you should be present,” but it’s a difficult task. Many of us have spent our whole lives planning for the next big project, retroactively critiquing the last one, and expecting the sky to cave in on us at any moment.
It’s easier to tell others to be present than it is to actually be present, at least for me. For example, once I urged a friend not to worry about some specific disaster that might occur, because she could never inventory all possible disasters; even if she did, she wouldn’t really be prepared for them when the age-accelerating worry came to painful reality. Instead, she would wish she had enjoyed the pre-disaster period, uninhibited by anxiety about its ending. As an example of a disaster that would be impossible to prepare for, I cited the statistical likelihood that an orca whale would crash through the ceiling and plop right into the music hall where she was to perform a piano solo.
If anyone knows of a good quote to help soothe the mind when orca whales are crashing through the ceiling, please let me know in the comments below.
Biographical Information Sources:
Image Sources: (in order of appearance)
Matsuo Bashō’s grave in Ōtsu, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=502134
By Kumamushi – took by the author, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8935376
Photographer Craig Burrows found a new, enchanting way to display the age-old, commonplace cliché of flowers. Using a process called Ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence, Burrows’ photos unlock an otherworldly UV and infrared spectrum to the human eye. We don’t normally see these flowers glowing in the dark of night, but that doesn’t mean the fluorescence doesn’t exist. All that was needed was a caring artist and some scientific progress to reveal these silent earthly stars to the people of the dirt. I’d like to think it is a similar process for quiet girls (and guys…) Click the link below to see the gallery on Étrange et Insolite, the blog of strange things authored by Jack35.