By Rhea H. Boyden
‘We have become fatally entangled in the cocoon coils of our conceit’ -D.H. Lawrence
I was recently sitting in a café with two friends and they were arguing over which was the more narcissistic: Twitter or Facebook? One of the friends had quit Facebook because she had had a bad experience with it and was claiming how much she hated the self-centred, show off aspect of it. ‘Twitter is way worse’ my other friend contradicted. ‘It is the ultimate self-promotion tool.’ I am the one who had somehow provoked this argument by telling them that I had now joined Twitter as a method of promoting myself more as a writer, but that I was concerned about precisely that: self-promotion. ‘I certainly don’t want to be retweeting everything on to Facebook,’ I told them. ‘I post enough stuff on there as it is with all my articles, essays and poems. I don’t want to overwhelm my friends with even more of it’. The whole reason this was a subject of discussion at all was because I had, earlier that very day announced on Facebook to my friends that they could now follow me on Twitter and within two minutes a friend of mine commented on my post and said: ‘So you are a proper twat now, aren’t you?’ He is a good friend and we respect each other greatly, and I know he was only joking, but still I took it as a warning. ‘Yes’ I admitted, ‘I am a twittering, tweetering twat!’ I would be inclined to say that online dating is a tad more narcissistic than either Twitter or Facebook because here we bring the sensitive issues of dating and sex to the fore, and of course we want to make a good impression, go on dates, be admired, loved and so forth. Last year I went on one date with a man, and I knew after our first date that I was not interested in him. I had gotten completely the wrong impression from his profile. There was no chemistry, that was that. We had some mutual friends, however, and somehow we remained friends on Facebook even though I had declined his offer to go on a second date. Over the months, despite my rejecting him, he continued to click like on many of my articles until one day we got into a chat and he then attacked me for being completely self-centred, narcissistic and continually talking about myself in my articles. I was hurt, to say the least, so I went on the defensive. ‘I write autobiography and memoir.’ I told him. ‘That is what I do. I take my life as a starting point, then I do some research and weave the research and statistics through my personal stories and essays, and, I might add, I also reveal many of my weaknesses and flaws in the hopes that people might relate to it.’ My pride was hurt. ‘Well’ he said snidely, ‘I prefer fiction’. ‘Oh really?’ I retorted, now getting a bit nasty with him ‘You say you prefer fiction, but you read my posts anyway?’ This pissed him off and we ended up throwing a good few poisoned daggers back and forth. I told him that I honestly thought he was attacking my writing because I had declined to go on a second date with him. ‘I have been rejected time and time again by men I am interested in’ I told him, ‘That’s the way it works and I am sorry if you are hurt. Your criticism of my writing is not constructive, but if you have something constructive to say about it I will gladly listen to it’. He did not have anything helpful to say, so I did what I had to do: I defriended him. I had only met him once for coffee. End of communication with him. I have, nonetheless, taken this little episode slightly to heart. ‘So, am I really narcissistic and self-centred? Is what I write and post on Facebook incredibly conceited and all about me, all the time? Do I irritate my friends with my posts? Surely if someone does not want to read my articles they can just ignore me, or heck they can block me or defriend me if they like! I certainly know that there is no universal audience and some people probably hate what I write and post here. I cannot change that. I am not, and probably never will be a fiction writer. I write about what I experience in the world and I put it on my blog and on Facebook and I am not about to stop. I enjoy it, it is my hobby, it gets me published and it gives me something to do on a Sunday afternoon when I have again failed to secure any kind of date within the confines of the online dating world. Of course I love getting likes and feedback on my articles, and I love getting published. It’s a kick and it fulfills me. I have some harsh critics who bring me to my knees on style and syntax. I have one critic who recently asked me who on earth my audience was for this topic, as he could not understand at all who would want to read it or find it the least bit interesting. That made me pout too, but it made me think about the importance of a target audience. The successful autobiographer and memoir writer David Sedaris says that his partner Hugh has also accused him of narcissism and being extremely self-centred in his writing. He takes it heart but he keeps on writing one successful and hilarious story after the next. I would imagine as long as one keeps the stories of oneself self-deprecating and is willing to expose oneself, then one can hold an audience’s attention and avoid somehow being accused of being completely arrogant and conceited. Writing about oneself is a way of connecting with the world as far as I can see. See here, I am holed up here at home on my own, in front of my computer trying desperately to connect to you, the listener, reader, friend etc. out there. I am so very small in the grand scheme of things and I know it. Do I suppose I have a very unique and above average destiny/life that is worth reading/pondering/writing about at all? Well, how can I answer that? Doesn’t everyone have a story to tell? In his short story ‘Mister Squishy’ David Foster Wallace depicts his very important character who holds a high position in a company, as sitting in his office ‘sketching his own face’s outlines as he talked on the phone or waited for programs to run’. The character is indeed so self-absorbed, that his sexual fantasies do not involve fantasising about someone else but rather he fantasises about himself. There is a wonderful painting by the Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio that depicts Narcissus staring into his reflection in the lake. He has been doomed to this fate by Nemesis for rejecting Echo’s love. His reflection cannot reciprocate his love and he eventually dies staring at himself. The narcissus, which is a beautiful flower related to the daffodil is the symbol of vanity in the Western world. Narcissism has become such a buzzword in our me-centred world, but my gut feeling is that it is deeply tied to loneliness and alienation, and that most people mean well and do not want to only think of themselves but are rather struggling to connect to the world. It may seem a naïve assumption and I may seem to be wallowing in self, but writing this essay and expressing these thoughts have made my solitary Sunday afternoon a more joyful and fulfilling one, and I don’t feel as lonely or lost in my own world and self-absorbed neuroses (which I surely have in abundance) as I write.
By Rhea H. Boyden
Validation came in the end. Why did she search for it where it did not lie? He spoke the truth from over the mountain, behind the mist. The veils of fear were lifted. The rainbow is a bridge to validation, far, far from the land of rainbows. One must walk it before it fades. Seize the moment, for that is all we have. It was Gilgamesh who first saw the colours, who sang the song after the raven never returned. Do they hear the music? Do they know the difference between philosophy and naivete? Between corruption and caring? Do they care? No, they do not. One can only listen to the poet, for he is the one who will listen to you, brew your tea exactly as you like it. Making it sweetly, sweet, with sugar, but not sugar coating it. The truth of love and validation has no sugar coating, but sings its own sweet song.
The above poem is a response to my friend and fellow poet S.D. Clifford’s poem ‘For the Poets will Love You’ recorded here with piano accompaniment: http://soundcloud.com/cis-minor/for-the-poets-will-love-you-1
By Rhea H. Boyden
A couple of years ago, after a trip to San Francisco, my younger sister tagged me in a photo. I was standing on the Golden Gate Bridge and she labeled the photo ‘Twin Peaks’. ‘Hey, that is the bridge not the hill!’ I protested. ‘I was referring to you and your nickname’ my sister joked. I laughed. What else could I do? I was not exactly flat chested at school, earning me the lovely nickname. A couple weeks ago, I was in San Francisco and the sky was beautifully clear, being it slightly before the foggy season. I had the afternoon to myself and I thought a hike up to my namesake would be wonderful as the view of the Bay Area afforded from the top is stunning on a clear day. I was standing on Valencia Street in the Mission district, having just had a snack in the fabulous ‘Rhea’s Deli’ which has award winning sandwiches. I always smile to see that the deli bearing my real name is still there over the years. I got on the bus number 33 that wends its way up the hill and dumps you at the foot of Twin Peaks before carrying on to Haight-Ashbury. One of the wonderfully comforting things about San Francisco for me, is that an incredible number of its streets bear the first or last names of close friends and family members of mine. It always makes me smile. As I hiked up the windy road to Twin Peaks past big wild rosemary bushes, lilies, California poppies, which is the state flower of California, the street names took on a more rural feeling. They now bore names such as ‘Raccoon’, ‘Mountain Spring’ and even ‘Beaver’. As I continued to climb under sycamore and eucalyptus trees I eventually reached the last stretch of the bare mountain road winding to the top. The view was stunning and well worth the hike. It was so clear you could see off into the Berkeley Hills past the Oakland Bay Bridge and well into Marin County north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I could see a Gay Pride flag flying in the Castro District below me and look straight down the wide Market Street which leads to the Port of San Francisco. I sat at the top for about half an hour and then headed slowly back down the mountain. Some of San Francisco’s most affluent have houses on Twin Peaks whose front wall is pure glass. More than a few houses had binoculars and telescopes seemingly permanently set up on a tripod to admire the multi-million dollar view. I walked back to the bus and took it back down the hill past all the streets bearing the names of my friends and family in time to meet an old family friend for dinner in one of the many fabulous restaurants on Valencia Street. The street at the heart of the Mission District is a hopping place to spend a day shopping in its funky shops followed by a night out on the town. A perfect afternoon and evening in San Francisco.
By Rhea H. Boyden
Yesterday, as I was teaching my very beginning German students the English words for the colours of the rainbow, I was reminded of that multi-coloured cereal that was made so popular in the U.S. in the 80’s by the Flintstones cartoon. When I was a young child living in Ireland, we had an abundance of rainbows but no Fruity Pebbles were to be had in the shops. This was a good thing, because, despite their claim in huge letters that they are gluten free, they have little nutritional value. My dad made us eat heart-healthy porridge, which I hated. When I was about 10, my brother and I were visiting my grandparents in Massachusetts and we were in a large supermarket stocking up on supplies for a sailing trip with them. I was standing in the canyon of a cereal aisle gazing up at the multitude of colourful cereals. My grandfather had given me the joyous task of choosing a cereal for our trip. ‘I want that one’ I said, pointing up to the box of Fruity Pebbles. ‘Are you sure?’ my grandfather asked, knowing very well that I was choosing about the unhealthiest item in the store. ‘Oh, yes!’ I said with big eyes. He must have seen the joy and delight in my eyes and not had the heart to contradict me. ‘Why did you pick out this disgusting cereal?’ my brother demanded of me the next morning as we were breakfasting on the bow of the boat. The Fruity Pebbles tasted awful. My brother and I spent a lot of time holding up bits of bread and other tasty morsels for the seagulls to eat right out of our hands as they flew by. We tried feeding the Fruity Pebbles to the seagulls, but they turned up their beaks in contempt. There are some things, that once you have committed them in your childhood, your family never, ever let you forget about them. This story is one of mine. (I have way worse stories, but I won’t divulge them here). My grandfather has brought this story up dozens of times over the years and for some reason it has become a family joke. Last summer we had a family reunion in Massachusetts and my grandfather came back from the store and presented me with a big box of Fruity Pebbles. I laughed heartily and so did everyone else. They were put in the living room on display for everyone to admire. A few months later, my aunt took the accompanying photo and tagged me and my brother in it and posted in on Facebook. I asked her if she was going to finally eat them or let them fossilize. ‘They are for the family time capsule’ she said. ‘They have enough preservatives in them to last that long!’ Well, I have no idea how long my blog will endure in cyberspace, but as long as it does, the Fruity Pebbles story can have its nook there too.
By Rhea H. Boyden
‘Before we sit down for lunch I need to use the restroom,’ I told my dad’s old high school friend who was toting his guitar into the restaurant with him. ‘They are right there’ he pointed towards two doors. ‘Um, which one is for the ladies?’ I asked him with a smile. One door said aliens on it and the other said robots. ‘You can use either one’ he said, ‘They are unisex. Twenty years ago the toilet doors were even more confusing as to which gender they were designated for’, he laughed. ‘Back then, one door said enlightened morons on it and the other said fanatic realists.’ When I joined my family and old friends back at our table in the café 5 minutes later they were already playing guitar and singing an old Beach Boys song. The rest of the customers and the wait staff were singing along and smiling too. ‘This is so California’ I thought to myself. When I opened the menu the first item my eyes fell on was ‘spacadillas’ which of course is a play on the word quesadilla. Saturn Café, in downtown Santa Cruz, has a Jetsons like space décor and round lamps with rings around them to resemble Saturn. It is truly a delightful space to dine in. Funky artwork adorns the walls, the building is round with American style diner booths artfully crafted to fit the building’s shape. And the food is exquisite. It is all vegetarian using locally sourced organic produce. The owners are dedicated to sustainability and serving happy people healthy soul food. They have kept apace with the growing demand for a healthy twist on American comfort food. Their vegetarian burger is a big hit and they cook their fries in trans-fat free oil that then gets turned into bio fuel. They have won numerous awards for their excellent food which includes organic soups, healthy scrumptious salads, vegan milkshakes and delicious breakfast burritos. I dined on the most fantastic fresh tomato soup with dill, perfectly ripe avocadoes and freshly squeezed lemonade. And one refreshingly pleasing aspect was that the portions were not enormous, which is the case in so many American restaurants. If you are dedicated to sustainability in American dining, the first easy step you can take as a restaurant owner is to half the portion size!! (I don’t usually use exclamation points in my writing as I know it is bad style, but I think a couple are necessary here). Perfectly sated and happy, We headed to the sunny beach with the guitar to digest our delicious meal in the warm breeze and while watching the waves crash the coast we all sang along to old Beatles songs. A perfect Santa Cruz afternoon, and a happy reunion of friends and family.
by Rhea H. Boyden
She stands solid as a rock. The force holds her. The bond ties her.
She flows to liquid in a watery dream. The raindrops penetrate her skin. The tears flow.
She watches Mercury´s wings lose their form. He turns into gas and floats away. She stands invisible, yet full of form. She turns back into rock as she kisses Mercury goodbye.
by Rhea H. Boyden
I have been spending the past couple weeks at my mother´s lovely house in the Santa Cruz mountains, which is a fabulous predominantly second growth redwood rolling mountain range. We are nestled at the top of a canyon about 10 miles uphill from the beach and the city of Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz mountains are a fabulous rural range that are easily accessible from the densely populated San Francisco Bay area, so we are very blessed here to have such backwoods beauty so close to a metropolitan area. My mother, stepdad, sister and a friend and I set off on a 5 mile hike through the woods and down the canyon. The ecological diversity encountered along the way was a special treat especially for a city dweller like myself. Most of the redwood forest around here are 100 year old second growth redwood or sequoia trees as they are also known, as large tracts of the 1 to 2,000 year old redwoods were initially clear cut to build the city of San Francisco when gold was first discovered in 1848 and the gold rush began, exploding population and economic growth. The redwoods were known as `red gold`and there was clear cutting across the mountains. Many more were cut to rebuild large parts of San Francisco after destruction by fire following the 1906 earthquake. We took a trail into the woods and apart from the redwoods there are some other deciduous trees, live oaks and a red barked tree known as a madrone. I wore long jogging pants tucked into my socks as I know very well how allergic I am to poison oak which grows here everywhere. If you get the oils of the oak on your skin you break out in a horrible itchy, pusy rash that you are not allowed to scratch even though it itches like crazy and causes extreme discomfort. When I was 17 visiting my grandparents here in California I got a horrible dose of poison oak all over my face and it swelled up and my eyes swelled shut. I spent Christmas day at the emergency room getting treated for it. It is truly horrible and I fear poison oak more than the Pacific rattlesnake who rarely shows his face here. Because the climate is so mild here year round there is not the changing climate to support great bug and insect growth which is of course nice for us humans so that we are not eaten alive, but it also means that there are not many birds in these parts as they need insects to survive. We saw the occasional hawk circling overhead and heard the caw of a raven, but this is not a place for bird watching enthusiasts. Other parts of the U.S. are far more ideal for that. One strange creature that lives in these woods is the huge banana slug which I have not had the pleasure of seeing. It is the largest land slug in North America and is the mascot of UC Santa Cruz which I find very amusing. The Santa Cruz Mountains are the perfect habitat for bears as they do not need to hibernate here, but there are very few bears in these parts. There is a scant population of black bears who keep themselves well hidden. It is presumed, interestingly that the bear population will increase here in future. Grizzly bears roamed the virgin forests here over a hundred years ago. Huge terrifying bears wandering between 1,000 year old trees, one can only imagine how different it was. The last grizzly bear was sighted in the Santa Cruz mountains in 1885. The bear made the mistake of stealing a 300 pound hog that a local rancher was fattening to sell at the fair so the rancher shot him. The bear weighed 642 pounds. One animal that does thrive in the mountains is the mountain lion. It loves the mild climate and does well here. Mountain lions are rarely spotted by humans, but their tracks are to be seen frequently. We hiked down to a stunning waterfall which is surrounded by lychen covered rocks. I swim in the cold pool at my mom´s house and I like cold water, but the waterfall is at least 12 degrees colder so I preferred to just look at it. My sister and friend took the plunge and jumped in screaming at the cold as they did. From our vantage point they looked like two beautiful water nymphs in a classical painting. They reminded me of the William Bourgereau painting ´Satyr and the Nymphs´ from which I got the inspiration for one of my poems. I felt it was my poem coming to life. We then hiked out of the canyon and woods, which sadly still bear the scars of clear cutting if you look closely, and we entered a prairie which was dotted with live oaks, California poppies the colour of the sunset, and lovely purple lupins. We did not encounter any other animals on our day time hike, but I saw a bobcat lurking across the field the other evening and I was enchanted by it. And in the early morning mist when you hear the wild turkeys gobbling, you can run outside and catch a glimpse of the flock of six strutting across the field. They make me smile. I haven´t heard any coyotes here yet, but I have been told that they howl like banshees and I am not sure whether I really want to hear them late at night from my bed in the violin workshop where I am sleeping or if it is a pleasure I can do without. There used to be a lot of foxes in these mountains, but the coyotes have either scared them away or eaten them. Coyotes are not herbivores. Deer, of course, are everywhere here. And you see them frequently. I hear them walking around outside at night, but I just try and ignore them as they are pretty harmless, even though it is a little spooky hearing footsteps outside your door at night. We eventually walked back into the woods off the prairie and walked the last mile or so back to the house which is such a nice place to return too. The pond at the my mom´s is filled with koi and goldfish and the Pacific tree frogs make an awful racket at night, but they are somewhat amusing too. We see lizards scurrying around the place and the garden has dogwood, azalea, crab apple, wisteria, lilies, sycamore and lots of other lovely plants. It is a truly lovely place to spend a few weeks out of the city.