Author Archives: sammozart

Jane Austen

Jane Austen died 200 years ago, in 1817, on July 18. She was 41.

Jane Austen lived and wrote during the Regency era; she was not a Victorian, as some suppose. The Regency era was brief. It began in 1811 when the emerging madness of Britain’s King George III deemed him unfit to rule – though American Patriots had declared him unfit years earlier – and his son George IV became Prince Regent. The Regency era ended in 1820 when George III died and George IV acceded to the throne. Some stretch the era to include the reigns of George III, George IV and his brother William IV, extending from 1795 until 1837 when Victoria, granddaughter of George III, became queen.

While all this was going on, Jane Austen was writing. She wrote, most often by a window for the light, on four-by-seven inch paper, on her writing box. Inside the box she kept her paper, inkwell and quills.

She edited her work by sentence first, blotting and crossing out, and then went back and edited the piece as a whole. She did not trouble herself with perfecting grammar or punctuation, these later corrected by her editor, yet she was an experimental and innovative writer, employing a sharp wit in writing dialogue and conversation. She wrote with delightful economy and precise narration. Jane Austen is considered one of the greatest English novelists. Her genius in attention to form has been compared to that of James Joyce. Her form can be related to that of rubato in music whereby the tempo retards and then accelerates and catches up within a defined few measures, without losing the overall pace. By these means, she guided her reader through the story with clarity.

Jane Austen loved music. “Without music,” she wrote in Emma, “life would be a blank to me.” She played piano and practiced daily before breakfast so as not to interrupt her family’s daily routines. Among her extensive sheet music collection, her favorites were songs that told a story. Accordingly, she features pianos and singing in her stories, and many of her characters are musicians.

In her lifetime, 1775-1817, Jane Austen completed six novels, among her other writings, two of which, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously. Initially, she published all of her works anonymously. In the 1817 publication of these last two novels, her brother Henry wrote a eulogy identifying Jane Austen as the author.

Jane Austen lived her life in the shadow of war, from the American Revolution through the War of 1812. The relationship between war and society permeates all her novels but Emma. Here is a bit of gossip about amusing goings on paralleling Jane Austen’s lifetime: In 1812, she was writing Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, she published her first four novels during the War of 1812, and in three of those stories “they could talk of nothing but officers” in their red coats (Pride and Prejudice). Her brothers Francis and Charles were home from sea that year. In 1815, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo, two years before Jane Austen died. Ludwig von Beethoven was composing in his middle period then. Franz Schubert had written many lieder (songs) and published his first, Erlafsee – as a free insert in an art and nature lovers almanac –, and in the summer of 1817 composed his first six piano sonatas, all published after his death in 1828. In the summer of 1816, Mary Godwin and her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley were up on Lake Geneva visiting Lord Byron. Mind you, Lord Byron had by now quit his 1812 affair with the future Queen Victoria’s Lord Melbourne’s wife, Lady Caroline Lamb. The summer proved wet and dreary and Byron proposed they each write a ghost story. It is where Mary Shelley conceived of Frankenstein. The following May, 1817, Mary Shelley finished writing Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The novel was published on January 1, 1818. Jane Austen wrote her novel Northanger Abbey as a parody of the Gothic novels popular in her time, three in particular: The Monk: A Romance, by Matthew Gregory Lewis, published in 1796; and two by Mrs. Ann Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, 1791, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794. These books remain in print today. Ann Radcliffe is considered the founder of the Gothic literature genre. A movie, The Monk, was released in 2013, based on Matthew Lewis’s Gothic thriller. During the years 1794-1799, Jane Austen was drafting her novels, Lady Susan; Elinor and Marianne, an early version of Sense and Sensibility, written in epistolary form; First Impressions, the original version of Pride and Prejudice; and Northanger Abbey. She was at work on Sanditon in 1817 when she died.

While Jane Austen was in the country writing her early works, Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello cooking. He specified, in a recipe surviving in his own hand, an ingredient for his macaroni as “2 wine glasses of milk.” English ladies in Jefferson’s day wouldn’t eat macaroni for lunch. Until the Regency era, English ladies did not eat lunch. They ate a light fare of bread and cheese and maybe a salad. Salads did not contain tomatoes, because back then the English did not eat tomatoes raw. Salads commonly contained cucumbers and nasturtium flowers, lettuces, often fowl, such as pigeon, as well as anchovies and eggs. Luncheon was introduced during the Regency era, but for ladies only, and then usually with friends. At our Jane Austen Readings and Luncheon at the Smyrna Opera House, we chose not to serve pigeon – mainly because the Opera House Guild volunteers declined to go out and shoot them – but certainly we serve croissants, because, well, why not indulge…? The English didn’t eat croissants in those days yet groused upon their return from France about the bland English breads and rolls. The English consumed a lot of butter. It is said that croissants originated in Turkey and Austria and Marie Antoinette brought them to France when she married Louis XVI. It may be, then, that Marie Antoinette was misquoted about the cake, but rather she proclaimed, “Let them eat croissants!” We imagine that given a choice, Jane Austen would have preferred eating a croissant to a bland roll.

Jane Austen Published Novels

  • Sense and Sensibility (1811)
  • Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • Mansfield Park (1814)
  • Emma (1815)
  • Northanger Abbey (1818, posthumous)
  • Persuasion (1818, posthumous)

–By Carol Child

 

“Feast on the Beach”

– The Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab/Shorebird Connection

 
(Ed. note: “This phenomenon is worth everyone’s attention”: Here is a video made by my good friend Michael Oates, an Emmy-nominated video documentarian. Mike posted this video on his Facebook page, “302 Stories,” on March 8, 2017.  I found it worth posting on this review. The Delaware Museum of Natural History will screen this film on Saturday, March 11, 2017. The following is from 302 Stories. cc)

We took a short break from “Delaware Dirt” to finish this video about the amazing natural phenomenon that occurs every May on Delaware Bay. Millions of migrating shorebirds arrive on Bay beaches just as millions of horseshoe crabs show up to spawn and lay their eggs in the sand as well. The shorebirds feast on the loose eggs for about two weeks, double their body weight, and then depart for the Arctic. It’s considered one of the world’s top ten natural phenomenon and well worth seeing “in person.” The program was funded by the USFWS, Fair Play Foundation, Delmarva Ornithological Society and Berkana, Center for Media and Education, Inc.

Feast on the Beach–The DE Bay HSC/Shorebird Connection

We're took a short break from "Delaware Dirt" to finish this video about the amazing natural phenomenon that occurs every May on Delaware Bay. Millions of migrating shorebirds arrive on Bay beaches just as millions of horseshoe crabs show up to spawn and lay their eggs in the sand as well. The shorebirds feast on the loose eggs for about two weeks, double their body weight, and then depart for the Arctic. It's considered one of the world's top ten natural phenomenon and well worth seeing "in person." The program was funded by the USFWS, Fair Play Foundation, Delmarva Ornithological Society and Berkana, Center for Media and Education, Inc.

Posted by 302 Stories, Inc. on Wednesday, March 8, 2017

 

 302 Stories, Inc.

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Coming Home to the Self

By
Jean Raffa

(Ed. note: Roll your mouse over these lovely images to see the identification; click on an image to enlarge it.)

 

It’s a gray winter day in the mountains. We arrived for our annual holiday visit the day after Christmas hoping for snow, but the weather’s so mild that the windows are open. Over the roar of the creek, swollen from a solid week of rain, a single crow caws somewhere nearby. Welcome home, she says.

Downstairs the grown-ups are finishing a jigsaw puzzle we’ve been working on since summer. The grandchildren are playing a video game. I’m upstairs writing this, my heart warm with the comforts of home, family, and love.

This place, this now, this beauty. These tears of wonder and overflowing gratitude. My simple awareness of being at one with myself, my family, and my life is the grace and blessing of the Self—my portal to the Sacred—a moment that needs no words. Yet now I am searching for words to fill this page. I don’t fight it. After all, part of the Self—my sacred core and circumference—is a writer and another part is a teacher. And I’m trying to figure out what to write about for my next blog post.

Listen to me, the crow caws insistently. I hear you, I silently answer. You, too are part of me, part of the Self. I look out the window in its direction, past the skeletons of maples and buckeyes, the fluttering rhododendron leaves on the mountainside glistening with droplets of rain. What words could possibly be a clearer statement of the sacredness of life than this?

I haven’t always had this awareness. My soul has expanded very slowly through the years and, to quote Robert Frost, “I have miles to go before I sleep.” At the beginning I had to want to know the truth about the puzzle of myself more than I wanted to protect my ego. Then I had to let down some of my ego’s boundaries. Had to stop saying no and start saying yes. Had to admit I can be wrong. Could be hurt. Could need somebody. Could be showing the world a false self. Could be afraid. Angry. Selfish. All that took a while.

Eventually I liked the insights my self-reflections were bringing so much that I searched for a regular practice to bring more. Discovering dreamwork felt like striking gold. Metaphorically, that’s exactly what it was. That vein of gold led to more veins: the gold of self-validation, finding my passion, revitalization, synchronicity, adventure, joy. Some veins led to my dark shadow, others to my light shadow. Some, to my anima and animus—Jungian terms for my unconscious feminine and masculine sides. A few veins have gone deep enough to encircle my Self.

A soul needs time and reflection to heal and grow. I’ve practiced dreamwork for 28 years with no end in sight. Which is good, because I never want it to end … even though lately I’ve been dreaming of my self-critical bully: a bossy chef, a menacing sniper, a criminal holding people hostage with a gun and a baseball bat, a rude and haughty boy. I consider dreams like this to be necessary wake-up calls along the way. The craziness of the holidays can do that to a person and I’ve learned that I have to recognize what’s going on inside me before I can do something about it!

Last night I lay awake counting the number of people I’ve hurt over the years, sometimes out of self-righteousness, sometimes thoughtlessness. I was appalled at their number. Another necessary wake-up call.

Yet on Christmas night and the next two nights I dreamed about a large Christmas tree ornament, a sparkling diamond and gold ball that was being clarified and perfected and completed. And so were my understanding of it and my words about it. Somehow, I was it and it was me.

Orbs and circles are images of the Self. So are diamonds and gold. Soul-making is humbling, but an occasional dream image like this speaks to the infinite rewards of inner work. Every day I see my self-criticism backing off, my frustrations softening. Trust has pretty much replaced worry, and grace flows through more often, revealing the sacred river of life and love that runs beneath and through it all.

It’s time to finish this and rejoin my family downstairs. Fred’s got a fire going and my favorite new book of poetry, Coming Home,  by Jamie K. Reaser, awaits me on the chair in front of it. Thanks to her I’m learning how to talk to crows. It’s the perfect book to feed the fire growing inside me and keep the river flowing toward home.

Reading and writing also keep me aware and connect me with my spiritual home. So does meditation. I used to set aside certain times of day for these practices, but these days I usually just go with the flow.

Here’s an example. Fast forward to another day. The holidays are over and I’m back home, considering what to write about for my next post. I notice the Goethe quote on my coffee mug: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” I feel the truth of this deeply, but wonder if I really understand it or can express it adequately. I want to try.

So I close my eyes to feel the life in my body and follow my breath. Tiny tinglings all over … chest and belly rising and falling … an airplane humming overhead … the solid floor beneath my feet … the warmth of my clasped hands … the softness of my velvet robe.

I open my eyes and look out the window at the stand of bald cypress trees. I watch the soft sway of their gray Spanish moss beards. I wait … for what I don’t know. I smile. It’s a relief not to need to know. A dragonfly flits by. Cottony clouds with dove gray undersides sink slowly below the cypress canopy.


I remember the brilliant cardinal that kept dropping by one day last week to peck at the window, either flirting with its image or trying to pass through the sky’s reflection. Or was it there to bring me a message?

I googled the symbolism of cardinals and found this: [The cardinal] “reminds us to hold ourselves with pride—not ego pride. Rather, the cardinal asks us to stand a little taller, be a bit more regal, step into our natural confidence as if we were born to lead with grace and nobility.” Good advice. But that was a few days ago and I’m trying to empty my mind, so I return to this moment.

Other random thoughts intrude and I invite them to float on by so I can stay present. I realize I’m hoping to close these musings with some sort of sign or synchronicity I can share in my blog to prove how rewarding just appreciating this day can be! But nothing is showing up and I’m running out of writing space.

As I write these words a cardinal darts by … is it my cardinal? I feel a jolt of recognition, a meaningful connection between the passing bird and what I’m thinking. Another message from the Self?

And then I see it: my ego’s influence over my meditation and writing. My ego wants a sign it can use to be impressive, but my soul just wants to be! And just as I was thinking this the cardinal passed by. I guess I did receive a sign and a message after all: ego pride! Oops.

I smile and let it be. Self-knowledge is healing but self-criticism erodes my confidence and robs me of this moment. Simply being aware of everything, including my baser tendencies, is the true value of this day.

Sometimes just being out in Nature brings on spontaneous contemplative states that connect me to the river. For example, on another day my son brings Izzy, his four year-old golden retriever, to our house. We will dog-sit until his family returns from their winter vacation. She’ll be with us for five days. I love this dog, but she’s not easy. She’s big, rambunctious, needy, slobbery, demanding of attention. Will the time and attention I’m willing to spare be enough for her? I hope so.

We take a little walk. She sniffs around, does her business. Good. We return to the house so I can work and she can rest.

It’s evening. I feed her and leave for my ukulele lesson. When I return home Fred says our daughter has invited us to join them for dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant. We are delighted. Izzy will be fine alone for a while. She’s been here many times. I give her a treat, tell her we’ll go for a walk when I get home, say goodbye.

Over dinner our granddaughters recount last week’s accomplishments. A perfect score on an important math test.  A thrilling promotion from the junior varsity to varsity softball team. Does anything feel better than the deep love and connectedness we feel for each other?

Back home, Izzy wakes up from her nap on the kitchen floor. She looks up at me, tail thumping, waiting to see what’s next. I wrap her leash around my shoulders, stuff a green doggy-waste-bag in the pocket of my blue jeans, and we step out the front door.  Our little neighborhood is small and secluded so the leash is just a back-up plan in case we run into cars or other late-night dog-and-human-walkers.

 

I love being outdoors at night. The fresh cool breeze off the nearby lake. The quiet. The shadows. The open space. The peace. No people to talk to. No cars to avoid. A few pale street lights … just enough to keep Izzy in sight. The pleasure of giving her this time outdoors, knowing she’s enjoying it, feeling confident and secure because I’m here with her.

She stops in the middle of the road, sniffing road kill. It’s too dark and the creature’s too long gone to tell what it is. Was. Osprey, raccoon, opossum, squirrel? I look at the stars, happy to wait, enjoying her pleasure. She glances back at me. I step forward, so does she. We move on to the next olfactory infusion. She stops, transfixed. I stop, transfixed. Does she remember I’m here, or is this new smell her entire universe right now?

We walk on. She sniffs something else, looks back, reads my body language. It’s okay. You’re okay, my relaxed body says. She understands and moves on. I’m still her lighthouse. I follow her lead knowing we’re connected as surely as if she were on a leash. Gratified that we trust one another so much that she doesn’t have to be tied physically to me. Pleased that she’s free to follow her nose. Humbled that we’re so acutely aware of the significance of each other.

We approach a crossroad. She looks to the left. Looks to the right. Looks back at me. Starts off to the right. No, I think. Left toward the lake is better. No traffic that way. She’ll be safer. I whistle one note. She freezes. Glances back. I point to the left. Just a slight movement of my arm and index finger. She turns around and goes left.

I feel a surge of joy. This moment. This connection with Nature, this utterly delicious intuitive knowing. This trust between two animals who have such different languages and ways of processing life.

So different, and yet … we see each other. We know each other. In some invisible way we are touching each other, our minds sharing the same time and space. It feels magical. Miraculous. We’re part of a mystery so vast my mind can’t encompass it.

But, oh! I can enjoy it. This night under a starry sky. This dog who trusts me, who I trust. This connection to the unknown. I’m filled to bursting with wonder, gratitude and love.

Slowing down our monkey minds to notice what’s happening in and around us reminds us that we have bodies through which we can appreciate and connect with the magic and mystery of being alive in this exquisite world. Seeing the silhouette of a towering cypress tree against the pale moonlit sky. Feeling the soft caress of a cool breeze. The warmth and weight of an animal or person who loves us.

Nothing we do can make a greater difference to ourselves, our relationships, and the world than simply being conscious of, and grateful for the miracle of life. Because the love, joy, peace, trust, gratitude, and wonder we feel are prayers, messages to and from the Self: the healing river of life that runs beneath everything and connects everything. And when we come home to that, we can’t help but choose love more often, no matter what’s happening.


Jean Raffa is a former teacher, television producer and college professor who, with the help of Jungian psychology, began following her passions for self-discovery and writing during mid-life. Her books The Bridge to Wholeness, Dream Theatres of the Soul and her newest Wilbur Award-Winning book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at this Amazon link. Her blog, Matrignosis, is at http://www.jeanraffa.wordpress.com.  Her facebook address is http://www.facebook.com/jeanraffa,  and her website is  http://www.jeanraffa.com.

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