3.06.2009

a little about my job and a beautiful text


an•thol•o•gy

n.
1. a collection of writings by various authors.
2. a collection of stories, poems, or other literary material.


{WARNING: this is a long post, but worth it!}

anthology was the name of my company—where i have worked the past two years. we were a development house for several educational book publishers. although i worked on some math and spelling books for a short time, the majority of the time i was here was spent working on the layout of several literature textbooks. while i was working on all these, i had the pleasure of reading a lot of literary works—most of them short, as i would not have time to read the longer works, or all of the shorter works. i would have never accomplished my work if i had read all day. but i did get to read some things from time to time, or at least have my interest piqued in some literature i had never read, but had always been curious about.

one instance of something i read and enjoyed while i worked on the page layouts was joyas voladoras, by brian doyle. it was part of a grade 11 literature text book. i had never read it or even heard of it. but one day not too long ago, i worked on the pages that held this text and saw the hummingbird photo that went with it and was intrigued, so i read it. it is really beautiful. i wish i had a great photo of a hummingbird to put with it, but i do not, so i will just post the short writing—short in comparison, but long for this blog.

i'd understand if you did not want to read it—there is a lot here. but i promise you it will be worth it if you do.

Joyas Voladoras
by Brian Doyle
{originally published in the American Scholar}


Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird's heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird's heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird's heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.

Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmetcrests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant's fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.

Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles—anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures more than any other living creature. It's expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.

The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It's as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around in it, head high, bending only to step through the valves. The valves are as big as the swinging doors in a saloon. This house of a heart drives a creature a hundred feet long. When this creature is born it is twenty feet long and weighs four tons. It is waaaaay bigger than your car. It drinks a hundred gallons of milk from its mama every day and gains two hundred pounds a day and when it is seven or eight years old it endures an unimaginable puberty and then it essentially disappears from human ken, for next to nothing is known of the mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social life, language, social structure, diseases, spirituality, wars, stories, despairs, and arts of the blue whale. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest mammal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know this: the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.

Mammals and birds have hearts with four chambers. Reptiles and turtles have hearts with three chambers. Fish have hearts with two chambers. Insects and mollusks have hearts with one chamber. Worms have hearts with one chamber, although they may have as many as eleven single-chambered hearts. Unicellular bacteria have no hearts at all; but even they have fluid eternally in motion, washing from one side of the cell to the other, swirling and whirling. No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.

So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one, in the end—not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman's second glance, a child's apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother's papery ancient hand in a thicket of your hair, the memory of your father's voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

9 comments:

spread your wings said...

that was beautiful. thank you so much for sharing this with us.
best of luck in your search for a new job.

spread your wings said...

fascinating and beautiful i meant to say

Heather said...

Hi Georgia,
I did read all of it. It is exquisite and yet it seems to match my melancholy mood today, despite the beautiful air outside. The line that struck me most is "We all churn inside." How true. I'm sorry I've been away, but know that I've been checking in and reading now and then, and thinking of you often.
Love,
Heather

Char said...

heartwrenching indeed. a beautiful find you shared. I'm thinking of you.

JLBO said...

How right you were ! It was worth reading and ponder... So sensitive and beautifully written ! Thanks for sharing.

Jane said...

Thanks for writing this all out. It was informative and beautiful!

"we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always"

For me, that person has come.
His name is Jesus.

Jekisa Jean said...

i read through this twice,
and emailed to my dad.

it's the kind of writing that i admire and want to get better at.

such a great message, and so beautifully written!

and by the by,
it takes great minds to recognize great writing,
so i have you to thank for passing it on. :)

Georgia B. said...

yessi,

i thought you might like this. when i read it, it just resonated so much with me for some reason. the last phrase of the last sentence of the last paragraph, especially.

i'm glad you like it. i hope your dad does, too.

mrs mediocrity said...

oh my, whew. i have tears in my eyes.
yes, exactly this, all of it.
tiny miracles.
thank you, for pointing me here. xoxo