Cheerfulness

August 29, 2013

While there is a chance of the world getting through its troubles, I hold that a reasonable man has to behave as though he were sure of it. If at the end your cheerfulness is not justified, at any rate you will have been cheerful.  ~H. G. Wells

Lately I find myself asking how one maintains good cheer in the face of not only the world’s ills, but our own aging, infirmity, and ultimately, death. I think it must be intentional. But in addition to learning and practicing good habits (morning affirmation, gratitude, etc.). I believe it involves surrender.

Pema Chodron, in her wise book, When Things Fall Apart, says “…we cannot be in the present and run our own storylines at the same time…anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown, fully in the present without reference point experiences groundlessness.” We must make friends with fear and groundlessness, surrender to the reality that we have no control, and live our lives anyway.

Randy says our task is to “live until we die.” In my most serious depressive depths, I have not even wanted to do that. But today I do, unequivocally. I aspire as Wendell Berry does in “The Wish to Be Generous“: to “…bow / to mystery, and take my stand on the earth / like a tree in a field, passing without haste / or regret toward what will be, my life / a patient willing descent into the grass.”

What are the ways that you maintain good cheer?


Both-And

August 18, 2012

Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few weeks ago, I created a post called “Leaving Librarianship,” and said I wanted to make space for something new in my life. Since then, I’ve gotten a job with a Georgia library system to facilitate their strategic planning process, and I’ve volunteered to help start a local Friends of the Library group! Apparently, I’m not really leaving librarianship, at least not yet. And I realize (again) that making space for something new needn’t be done at the exclusion of everything else. Instead of either-or, it can be both-and. The poem I wrote about this a while back is here.

Life is a spiral for sure. I circle back to the same themes again and again, each time at a slightly new level of understanding. What themes repeat themselves in your spiral of learning?


Risk

August 4, 2012

And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. ~Erica Jong

I have put myself “out there” by applying for a residency at the Hambidge Center in northeast Georgia. I imagine the competition is stiff, but I am proud of myself for applying. And, who knows? I can dream that I will be accepted to spend two weeks in the woods with my poetry!

I’ve never understood daredevils or adventurers. (Why does anyone want to climb Mt. Everest? I can’t fathom it.) But there is something about this kind of risk that is exhilarating to me. What kinds of risks affect you in that way?


Uncloseted

October 11, 2011

There is so much stuff in my closet that needs to go. Yes, I’m talking about clothes, shoes, scarves, belts, stockings, and so on. I’m also talking about the things I’ve hidden away over the years.

For instance, in my 30s I realized I had a major depressive illness. Drugs and therapy keep it under control (mostly!), and I am so grateful daily for good health insurance, my wonderful therapists, the SSRIs that kept me alive, and the newer medications that are such a relief for me.

While everyone has been depressed at one time or another, I have found that only those with similar illnesses really understand the struggle that is depression. It’s so easy to say, “Buck up!” and in fact, part of the struggle is learning not to abuse oneself with those words. There really is no “bucking up,” no way to “get over yourself” when depression is a constant companion.

It helps to know I share this condition with many successful and wonderful people–William Styron, for example. His autobiographical Darkness Visible is a chilling account. My hero of the moment, Parker J. Palmer, has struggled with this black cloud. As did Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, and so many others.

Only now am I able to bring this condition into the light, and I have to say it feels very risky. I do so not because of any confessional impulse, but in the hope of helping anyone else who might feel closeted and alone.

Alchemy

Imagine you have struggled too long.
One day, on the interstate,
it comes to you: Car exhaust—
that you could accomplish.

You go home and call your sister,
make pasta salad, anything
to save your life. At your next appointment
you get new pills, a threat of hospital.

Imagine that a switch is flipped;
you can see a normal sky.
You laugh; you play, for God’s sake.
Months and years pass uneventfully.

Dream you’ve nearly forgotten
how to struggle. Then, waking,
you are certain: The pills have failed;
you must save yourself all over again.

Fast forward many years and drugs,
many, many appointments.
One day you know that you
are learning the ancient art.

Awareness burning, deep down
you are swirling molten lead.
It bubbles up through your throat,
emerging gold and bright.

 


Small Stones

July 2, 2011

Recently, I discovered a wonderful book by Sage Cohen, Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry. And, as is so often the case, this book led me to another amazing author: Fiona Robyn. You can see her blog, Writing Our Way Home,  here.

After just a couple of hours of perusing her materials, I’m already a huge fan. I have read her free downloadable book, How to Write Your Way Home. (Get it here). I have ordered two of her books from Amazon (Thaw, which you can also read for free, here, and A Year of Questions: How to Slow Down and Fall in Love with Life). I have signed up for her quarterly newsletter and weekly writing prompt, as well as a week-long free writing course, “The Art of Paying Attention.”

Robyn advocates careful attention to “small stones,” which she collected every day for a year. “Small stones” serves as a metaphor for noticing the world, opening our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands to experience life just as it is. Here is my small stone for today:

Squawking titmice
flurry at the feeder, scatter.
Only swinging remains.

My “Artist’s Way” creative cluster class is on track for Monday evenings, 6-8 p.m., beginning September 26 and running through October 31. I know that we will be using some of the material from Fiona Robyn and Sage Cohen. The class will focus on the creative process in all its manifestations (not just writing). Watch the NGCSU Continuing Education site for registration information. Meanwhile, write a small stone of your own!


Sestina

August 14, 2010

What you love is a sign from your higher self of what you are to do. ~Sanaya Roman

I am thrilled to be part of the Stonepile Poets, a spinoff group of Stonepile Writers. Yesterday was the first monthly meeting, and we took as our challenge writing a sestina (from Robert Lee Brewer, who spoke at the Georgia Poetry Society meeting last month). A sestina is a strict form using repetitive end words. Here’s my first attempt.

My heart is tugged by moon
Like a tide, tumbling a stone
Under water in the dark
Still, the planets shine,
Reflected by clouds,
And the night would be clear.

Can our words be as clear
as the night around the moon?
Must we speak through clouds
dropping like stones
through the ocean’s shine
phosphorescent in the dark?

We can meet in the dark
standing clear
of the dazzling shine,
the roundness of moon,
the water tumbling a stone ,
the waves rippling the clouds.

We can speak to the clouds
Using night as cloak, the dark,
Letting words sink like stones,
Going on until we are clear
In the ever-present hover of moon
Over the water, bottomless shine.

Once we knew how to shine
Before the drifting in of clouds
That covered our radiant moon,
That left us stuttering in the dark
Both wishing it were clear,
Both tumbling like stones.

Now you are my touchstone:
My heart feels your shine
Under the ocean waves, now clear,
Now drifting through clouds
A shape both dark
And lit by floating moon.

You are moon stone,
charming dark shine,
flowing clouds clear.

Thanks, Robert Lee Brewer and thanks, Stonepile Writers/Poets for continuing inspiration!


Morning, Retired

July 13, 2010

At night make me one with the darkness. In the morning make me one with the light. ~Wendell Berry

People keep asking how retirement is. Today, this came as at least a partial answer.

These Days

These days, I wake smiling
as the sun seeps into the room.
Dreams recede or speak.
I lie still in the birdsong–
no buzzing alarm,
only the sweetness of morning
and you beside me,
softly breathing.


Publication

June 27, 2010

If you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign. It means your vision can see so far that it is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee-deep.
~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

My goodness…another Brenda Ueland quote! Today I received happy news that one of my poems, “Only Moment,” will be published in the Georgia Poetry Society’s anthology, The Reach of Song, 2010. And my article entitled “Mindful Leadership” was published in the most recent issue of the Georgia Library Quarterly. The choice of quote today is because on rereading both of these works, I know I could have done better. Both were submitted in the flurry of job endings and beginnings, family illness, and retirement.

Still, there is something about publication that is encouraging and makes one want to go on writing. Perhaps these two pieces are as good as it gets. Or perhaps submitting them “before their time” was my way of staying committed to writing, in spite of the intrusion of life. At any rate, here I am today, at my blog, sharing with you.

Where does your vision exceed your ability to express it?


Dreamy Idleness

May 26, 2010

Good ideas must come welling up into you. Wait for them. They come from the dreamy idleness of children. ~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

This, from the woman who gave us the term “moodling.” See references here and here. Ah, dreamy idleness! I am winding down May’s work and trying to prepare myself for a June of moodling before I go back to work in July. I suspect ideas (maybe good ones, maybe poems) will come as Ueland suggests. But I am resolved to rest in the no-expectations mind state, to be merely receptive.

I feel privileged and grateful to have this space and time; it seems luxurious beyond measure. To breathe and pay attention to the breath. To walk and notice walking. To bask in sunshine and feel breezes and be mindful of my body in yoga. To slow down, for goodness’ sake!

What happens to you in dreamy idleness?


Writing for My Life

February 13, 2010

First, it is impossible that you have no creative gift. Second, the only way to make it live and increase is to use it. Third, you cannot be sure that it is not a great gift. ~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

Sparrow at the suet feeder,
Fluffed to twice his size for warmth.
Snow on the mountains gleams
in the morning sun, mounds on the ivy
outside my window. I am between
tasks, home from travels, homework
to be done. My life depends
on this small pause, this moment
of quiet snow and sparrows.


no one expects you to save the world

January 26, 2010

The headlines are begging for your help. Thousands needing homes, food.
But here, your own children, like inexpert stilt-walkers, flirt too often
with obstacles in the street. It’s no wonder you keep eyes glued
to them. The demands of love, or a job, the hard winter reining you in –
it takes all your muscle to keep your own life upright. And though you know
what you have is fortune compared to the great rift that earthquake left,
and the aftershocks continuing to destroy so much, somehow
that same fortune paralyzes, obstructs you with a heavy, gloomy guilt.
But no one expects you to save the world, no matter what you plan.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is to love everything we can.
~maya stein

I couldn’t possibly add anything, except thank you, thank you, maya, for your 10-line Tuesdays.


Let Your Life Be a Poem

January 24, 2010

When I say be creative, I don’t mean you should all go and become great painters and great poets. I simply mean let your life be a painting, let your life be a poem. –Osho

Rainy morning
writing at my desk–
a ticking clock
marks Sunday time
suggesting rhythms,
line lengths,
heartbeats.
Where is the poetry
we have lost in data?
Can the mist of our lives
open to clear sky?


Prickly Pear

January 9, 2010

If you brave the heat and gritty sands to reach us
Chollas
prickly pears of independent bearing
We can fuel your midnight fires
fodder your lean and loyal burros.

~Marti Keller

My heart is overflowing with the poems of my dear friend Marti. I am a lucky recipient of her chapbook, Prickly Pear, a stunning and beautiful collection of her early poetry.

This work feeds me like the Chollas, but is smooth as moonstones. A few exquisite words paint the richest stories of love, lust, longing, tenderness, melting snow and fierce independence; words that say as much by what is not there as by what is. I will read and reread these perfect and complete poems, in gratitude.


Writing as Discovery

December 21, 2009

We also want to find out what our own inner self wants to reveal to us in the midst of the clatter of the world. This takes letting go of our manic lifestyle long enough to pause and be silent so that we can hear the chords of our own being above the cacophony of our distracting and seductive world.

Poetry is too intimate to be nailed down in strictly linear terms. Reading a poem is more like comprehending a multifaceted totality all at once than like following logical steps to a single conclusion. It is more like entering spirals of possibilities than like walking a straight line to a single destination.
~David Richo, Being True to Life: Poetic Paths to Personal Growth

Writing is discovery, and psychotherapist David Richo affirms this with his wonderful new book. I believe poetry is the written form that brings us closest to the unconscious in us, and it can be as revealing as our dreams. I have taken Richo’s suggestion and begun writing my journal in poetry-length lines.

As I read this book, I encountered over and over things that resonated with me–“spirals of possibilities” not the least of them. (My new business blog is called “Spiraling,” and I use a nautilus as a sort of logo–see “My Other Blog” box at right). Imagine my surprise when I visited Richo’s website and found a free downloadable book with a nautilus as the cover illustration! Positively synchronistic.

This book is a gem for anyone who writes poetry, who wants to write poetry, or who just wants to better understand the self. Richo provides solid guidance and writing and meditation (visualization) exercises that will help the reader uncover the poem that wants to write itself in the service of healing.

See other entries on this theme: “Why I Write” and “Being Flow.”


Action Generates Inspiration

December 20, 2009

We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action. ~Frank Tibolt

Today I want to act as though I am inspired–to be kind, exercise, write poetry. Writers say almost without exception that regularly showing up for writing is essential, and I know from experience that waiting for inspiration to write is just a waste of time!

Fran Leibowitz says, “It’s very psychically wearing not to write—I mean if you’re supposed to be writing.” And Rollo May: “Creativity occurs in an act of encounter….”

What is it that you want to be inspired to do? Can you act as though you are already inspired?


Here I Am

November 8, 2009

You always have to be working on something because you have to trust your unconscious life, to be ready to deal with a play [poem] when it says, ‘Here I am.’ ~John Guare

This afternoon I will read, along with other Stonepile Writers Group members, at the Dahlonega Literary Festival. It would be lovely to have a new poem to read, but my last one was written several months ago. Today’s quote is a reminder to myself to get busy working on something. Nothing has said “Here I am” in some time, and I believe that is because I have not sat still enough.

Today I renew my intention to build in time for reception and gestation of images, the attunement to the senses, the mindfulness that often eludes me, crowded out by busyness. I think I will have to schedule this time, as paradoxical as that sounds, to put it on my calendar as sacred time. I am on vacation this week, so it seems like the ideal time to practice this intention.

How do you get yourself to a place where you can manifest your talents, where you are in “flow,” ready to receive that which calls to you, “Here I am?”


Remembering Richard

September 20, 2009

Berkeley Lake House

Cardinals flick sunflower seeds
From the blue pottery;
A pine warbler, olive as ocean,
Balances on a leaf stalk.
From the kitchen we watch
For purple finches,
And the great blue heron
Is still as ice in the cove.

The new house tour
Includes a horsehead sketch,
A toothpick railroad trestle,
Long-eared rabbits.
We laugh at random pastel tile
In the tiny shower stall
And exclaim at the growth of angelfish
Raised from eggs.

Draped in black,
Your delicate daughter
Stands on a chair
To break the eggs for dinner.
Later, when she is asleep,
We will trail our fingers in the dark lake,
And sing the songs that made us feel immortal
As younger old friends.


Reading, Not Writing

August 30, 2009

It’s easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them. ~Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

I have just finished Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, from which this quote comes. I’m on a reading jag; I’ve read 3 books and 2 magazines this weekend!

The other quote I flagged in the book was from sculptor Anne Truitt: “The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.” I can relate.

This week I will attend my writer’s group (for only the second time, since they took a summer break). There’s something about being in a group of creative people that makes the air vibrate with energy. I am hopeful that it will be an inspiration for me to write–that, and my new book of poetry by Jane Cooper. Here’s a short one of hers:

Praise

But I love this poor earth,
because I have not seen another….
~Osip Mandelstam

Between five and fifty
most people construct a little lifetime:
they fall in love, make kids, they suffer
and pitch the usual tents of understanding.
But I have built a few unexpected bridges.
Out of inert stone, with its longing to embrace inert stone,
I have sent a few vaults into stainless air.
Is this enough–when I love our poor sister earth?
Sister earth, I kneel and ask pardon.
A clod of turf is no less than inert stone.
Nothing is enough!
In this field set free for our play
who could have foretold
I would live to write at fifty?


Gifts

May 5, 2009

Career counselor John Crystal offers the best way I have found to remember our gifts: “Think about those things you have always found it easy to do and don’t remember learning how.” We tend to value the knowledge and skills we have worked hard to acquire; if we earned it from the sweat of our brow it must be important, or so we tell ourselves. But when aspects of work or life come easy, we think they must not be all that important. Crystal asks us to consider the reverse, that the “things we have always found it easy to do” might point us toward our gifts. ~Russ S. Moxley, “It Also Takes Courage to Lead,” in Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer

Hey, maybe it’s OK not to know too much about how to write poetry, huh? I remember being dumbfounded at a poetry workshop years ago when poet Kate Daniels said to me, “You have a gift. You should develop it.”

I like this reversal of the idea that only that which we slave over is important. I know that the best dancers/artists/writers/athletes/you-name-its are the ones who make it look effortless. And while I’m sure hard work is an important element for making it look so easy, I don’t think they could ever achieve that without natural talent, without flowing with their gifts.

What can you do easily that you don’t remember learning? Do you devalue it because there was no struggle involved? Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge and develop it as your gift.


Why I Write

April 26, 2009

Today I am inspired by a poem by Dawna Markova, “Why I Write,” from Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer

There is a wonderful book of essays by 26 writers called Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction, edited by Will Blythe. This book, the poem by Markova, and the many writers I have read on writing (see also Writers on Writing) have inspired me to think about the question for myself.

It seems to me that I write in order to hear myself think. Parker Palmer suggests listening others into speech; perhaps writing is my way of listening myself into meaning. Markova’s essay is called “Thinking Ourselves Home.” She says, “I start in solitude. I start in silence. I start from the truth of where I am now to engage in a live encounter with myself. I start thinking myself home…What brings us to wisdom is using our consciousness to reflect on our thinking. It doesn’t just happen to us as we grow older.”

Why I Write

I write to hear myself into meaning,
to note echoes and mysteries.
I write to be aware of each sensation,
to approach it curiously,
to tunnel as close to its center
as my attention will allow.
I write to open to discovery,
to learn, to learn
to dive below the turbulence
where the water is calm and flowing.
I write to encounter
the unfolding of experience
so that when it has passed
I have known it.


Beauty Seen

April 25, 2009

Beauty seen makes the one who sees it more beautiful. ~David Steindl-Rast

Who Is Seeing

A dark cloud streak
topped by silver-white brilliance
hovers above
the pink-orange corona
of the rising sun.

I have been tugged awake
inexplicably,
called to beauty
by the part of me
that is sunrise,
or the part of sunrise
that is me.


Moonlit Morning

April 10, 2009

Something precious is lost if we rush headlong into the details of life without pausing for a moment to pay homage to the mystery of life and the gift of another day. ~Kent Nerbern

Only Moment

Moon floods the morning kitchen,
trumps even the coffeepot
for my attention.
I am drawn onto the deck
to stand in the stillness,
the only sound a soft purr
from the cat on the rail
rubbing herself against my winter robe–
not even a meow of greeting.
My headache gives way to wonder:
clouds racing through the constellations.
The only moment of its kind, I think
as I move on
to poems, coffee, books.


Morning Haiku

April 6, 2009

Keep on starting, and finishing will take care of itself. ~Neil Fiore

The act of opening my writing notebook did the trick this morning.

my expectations
clashing with reality
finding my balance

alive with movement
color-laden branches bow
redbuds are humming

waking from a dream
about a former lover
feeling beautiful

words that don’t connect
in the nursing home hallway
she’s dreaming aloud


Writers Group

April 4, 2009

Writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like in anything else. ~Katherine Anne Porter

Faith is the daring of the soul to go farther than it can see. ~William Newton Clark

This week I stepped out in faith to read my work and be critiqued in a writers group. I am thrilled to be part of a creative community, and I hope it will result in greater inspiration and courage to confront the blank page, as well as a honing of my craft.

This encounter suggested to me that my confidence often lags behind my skill, and I have to wonder if I sometimes come across as having false humility. It is not approval that I want so much as to embrace a realistic view of my writing, to see more clearly what I want to say and how well I am communicating it. (For more reflections on approval, see Judgment.) I believe participating in this group will lead to greater clarity.

Today, I am grateful for the Stonepile Writers, for the creative process, for this blog, for all artists everywhere!


Response

January 23, 2009

Nothing unites the people of Earth like a threat from Mars. ~ Alex Castellanos

A sallow sun slinks over my favorite coffee shop.
I am walking in the bitter wind;
I can feel my face reddening.
Long red scarf nods and ducks in a doorway.
Plaid coat catches my eye as she chatters into Blue Tooth.
High heels self-consciously steps around the grates.
Even before I am fully awake,
I can see that today, the capsules they move in
are permeable
as they scurry to their familiar places.
I dive through the cold with my gloved hands
to cozy up to a Café Mocha.

Thanks to Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides for the prompt!


Thread

January 20, 2009

I am a thread in the fabric of existence.
No one would miss one tiny thread,
except that it holds the whole thing together.
Who knows the extent of unraveling
once it begins?


Making Meaning

December 22, 2008

It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard. ~May Sarton

I awoke (awakened?) at 3:30 with the images from this morning’s poem and had to get up and write. It was influenced by my reading of Dr. Eric Maisel’s book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression. Maisel contends that all creatives suffer depression, and that liberation from depression is possible by creating meaning, forcing our lives to mean. He offers a prescription, in fact, consisting of such things as nurturing self-support, opting to matter, braving anxiety.

Maisel acknowledges that there is a role for anti-depressant drugs, and that early trauma is often a contributor to depression. But he clearly believes that creative people are primarily depressed as a result of their need to make meaning of their lives.

I am just a little over halfway through with this book, but I have found it both fascinating and practical. For example, he offers a sort of mantra of self-soothing in the following passage: “You have to tell yourself, ‘I am the beauty in life’…You combat what shaming did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what criticism did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what a sterile environment did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.'”

Meaningful creating seems to involve working soulfully, a path with heart. How do you create meaning?


Well

December 22, 2008

In the dark time, the eye begins to see. ~Theodore Roethke

Again I have fallen
into the dark well of grief.
I can feel myself paling
like the camel crickets
too long out of the sunshine
that made me shudder
and draw back.

In this deep and narrow place
I must make meaning:
a lifeline, a light,
some wide wash
of healing water
in the black crucible
of faith.


Already Home

December 14, 2008

Unstiffen your supple body. Unchatter your quiet mind. Unfreeze your fiery heart. ~Celeste West

Sometimes it is hard to remember that we are already home. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do. There is just a letting go of being elsewhere.

[Here I had the lovely poem, “Enough,” by David Whyte.]

Today, I want to remember that I am already home. To open to the life I have refused again and again. To unstiffen my supple body, unchatter my quiet mind, unfreeze my fiery heart.


What Brings You Alive

December 6, 2008

The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. ~Brother David Steindl-Rast, from David Whyte’s Midlife and the Great Unknown: Finding Courage and Clarity Through Poetry (audio CD)

They say ‘I’ and ‘I’ and they could mean anyone.~Rilke

David Whyte is one of my favorite poets and authors, and this is a wonderful work. According to Whyte, when we are weary of the world, it is because we are not tuned into the world, not finding what makes us come alive. We are acting out of self-necessity, living strategically, rather than honoring where our energies lie, what we have affection for. “The antidote to exhaustion is whole-heartedness,” says Steindl-Rast.

In this audio (which is excerpted from a longer audio series, Clear Mind, Wild Heart) Whyte advocates cultivating a relationship with the unknown, living in a place of spaciousness and possibility. As a person who has always been uncomfortable in uncertain and in-between places, this is a lesson I need to learn. To live with ambiguity, to clarify and celebrate the questions, to remain open to the conversation that wants to happen between myself and the world.

I believe the path to whole-heartedness is mindful attention to what feeds us, recognition of what we love, and the courage to follow our hearts. What brings you alive?


Memorial

November 16, 2008

No person was ever honored for what he or she received. Honor is the reward for what he or she gave. ~Calvin Coolidge

Yesterday, there was a lovely memorial service for my sister-in-law at the family homeplace. She lived less than five months after her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and it is still hard to believe she is gone. It was gratifying to see the many people she had touched and to hear their testament to her passion and fierce advocacy for those with disabilities. We all learned something new about the meaning of her life.

This was my contribution:

So strange–that small, still space
your ashes now inhabit. We had no time,
no time to solve for x: the family minus you.

I want to remember how you rose early,
mornings at Edna’s, and made the blessed coffee,
reading us the headlines from the kitchen table.

I want to remember how you insisted
we always decorate a Christmas tree,
all of us glad for our effort in the end.

I want to remember how you doted
on your mackerel tabby,
before the pain made you push him away.

I want to remember how we could taunt you
with bananas, before the cancer
stole your appetite, wasted you.

I want to remember how you could make me laugh
without fail, even when you had little
left to laugh about.

Though I know almost nothing,
of this one thing I am certain:
There is laughter where you are.


Rain

September 9, 2008

Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.  ~Bob Dylan

We have had lovely rain today, and this time not because of any tropical storms threatening others. There is something about rain, this gentle kind of rain, that is soothing and beautiful. Mist hangs between the hills, and things are still and quiet now except for an occasional rumble of thunder. The trees and plants are rejoicing, and there will be more grass to mow this year. I am grateful for this rain.

How often have I thought of rain as that inconvenience that makes me wet, that I don’t like to drive in, that ruins an outing? More times than I’d care to remember. I want a rhythm in my life that allows for being with rain. I think it would be heaven to awaken each morning and tune in to what the day will bring, adjusting one’s activities accordingly, rather than forcing our artificial routines on the day.

There is so much beauty in the sound of rain, as much as in the sound of poetry to me. Gentle or torrential, on the grass or a tin roof, rain can have a mesmerizing, meditative effect. May I listen to, feel, and be with the rain as often and completely as I can.


Pushing the Rope

September 7, 2008

The Sun Never Says
Even
After
All this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe
Me.”
Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the
Whole sky.
~Hafiz

Dang! I am pushing the rope again.* Making life harder than it has to be. I need to remember that this day, my life, the universe will be what it is. I am not in control, nor am I owed anything. I can radiate love and light only when I am shining from my center, and not by willing myself to do so. On rereading a previous post (The Case Against Will), I am resolved to spend the day “moodling” in dreamy idleness.

Learning is hard! When the same lesson comes around again and again (there’s that spiral again), it must be important, eh? Today I am reminded to cease struggling and to listen for clarity.

*a concept described by Sarah Susanka in The Not So Big Life


Faith

September 6, 2008

[Here I had the poem “Faith,” by David Whyte.]

I want to rail against faith, the way we arise, day after day, to face the brutal truth of the world. We wane and wither in the dark night of the soul, then in spite of ourselves, wax bathed in the light of encouragement.

May I continue to arise as the sun keeps coming up, as the moon rides the shadowy clouds to its fullness. May I take comfort in the words of Mignon McLaughlin: “The best work is done with the heart breaking, or overflowing.” May I find those slivers of light before the final darkness.


Renewal

August 30, 2008

The wave always returns and always returns as a different wave. ~Marina Tsvetaeva

Jekyll Island, 2007

These words are from the Russian poet’s essay on lyric poetry. According to Tsvetaeva, renewal is the “pivot of lyricism.” Edward Hirsch writes about this idea here, and I love what he says about poetry causing us to “deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness.” Geez, no wonder I love poetry!

There’s something lovely and hopeful about this line. I’m reminded of new mornings that bring a fresh perspective, rain that clears the air. Today, I have practiced an old yoga routine, one that my body remembers from long ago–so long ago, in fact, that I practiced to a Richard Hittleman LP (that’s long-playing 33rpm record, for those who aren’t sure!). A returning wave, but a different one as well, rolling through this 54-year-old body.

Earlier today, I worked on my journal project. I am culling things I want to keep from old journals and destroying the rest. Things I want to keep are generally quotations (are you surprised?), ideas about writing, poems, titles of book I’ve read, and major events of my life. I am almost caught up to the present and can certainly say that renewal has been a theme. Although these journals may read over time like the same old same old (and are often quite boring!), I can see from a longer perspective and condensed view that each time I wrote about a returning wave, it was also a new wave. 

What does renewal mean to you?


Words That Sing

August 29, 2008

In journalism, there is no music that does not conform to truth; in poetry, no truth that does not conform to music. If you can’t find truth that makes music, you must change truth to make music. ~Judson Mitcham

I’m sure that is not an exact quote, but it is the gist of an idea I heard Mitcham express in a writer’s conference in 1996. He asked, “Where does the poem sing?” At the same conference, Mike Fournier asked us to consider how a poem would sound to someone who doesn’t speak English. He said the sound of a poem is what makes it memorable.

The two books I remember from my earliest reading days were a cloth book and a Disney book. The cloth book began, “How big are you baby, why don’t you know? You’re only so big, and there’s still room to grow.” The Mickey Mouse book began, “Bang, bang went the hammers, and zzzzz went the saws. A new house was being built.” I remember these lines because they were music. As were the Cautionary Verses of Hilaire Belloc I memorized and recited as a child. (“The chief defect of Henry King/was chewing little bits of string…”) Verses may not be poetry, but they can teach us about words that sing.

Charles Olson talked about the poem as syllable + line: The head, by way of the ear, to the syllable. The heart, by way of the breath, to the line. Makes perfect sense to me. I don’t know if this one sings, but here’s a poem from 2004.

Wildflowers

The ones we saw: violets in profusion,
dwarf crested iris, trillium,
the ubiquitous cinquefoil.

We stooped to see the brilliant red stamens
on the tiny star chickweed
and exclaimed at acres of mayapple
umbrellas all along the trail.

The ones we didn’t see–
pink lady’s slipper, mountain laurel,
and the majestic rhododendron–
will come in their own time.

And the ones we overlooked
will keep their secrets, while we
will go on planting our huge feet
one in front of the other until
we must lie down with our sisters
among the leaves.


No Regrets

July 20, 2008

Make it a rule of life never to regret and never look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it is good only for wallowing in. ~Katherine Mansfield

Amen, Ms. Mansfield! I wish I had a nickel for every time I have wallowed in regret. It is tempting to think one’s sins or shortcomings are somehow more numerous or egregious than others’, that we are special in some way. Some of mine are sins of omission, some commission, but in the end, we all have them. While confession may be good for the soul, there are some I still can’t confess to even my closest friends, and I think the better route is to forgive myself and let go of the past, to stop wasting energy on embarrassment and regret.

After all, it was I who in the spring of 2004 wrote the lines, “I unfold my failures like old clothes/hug them to me, then let go,/watch them sail away on the wind.” I find that writing is so often prophetic, that it gets at truths long before I can understand them fully. Which is one reason this blog is so important to me: Even if I am not living my professions here, they are pointing in the direction I want to go, helping establish and explore my intentions. For example, way back in a January post I wrote, “More and more of being here now, and less and less of dwelling on past mistakes or future possibilities, is liberating and exhilirating.” Life is a spiral.

Have you found freedom from regret? What helps you to forgive yourself for your transgressions?


Love and Creativity

July 12, 2008

For I know that the energy of the creative impulse comes from love and all its manifestations–admiration, compassion, glowing respect, gratitude, praise, compassion, tenderness, adoration, enthusiasm. ~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live. ~Thoreau

Two of the poems I submitted recently (see Submission), “Easter” and “White Pine Cabin,” will be published in the anthology at Kennesaw State University (Poetry of the Golden Generation, volume IV)! I think Ueland was on to something, because both of these were written from love and its manifestations, and I do believe that all my poems are from that place, regardless of their subjects.

Today I want to be grateful, loving, compassionate. I want to recover enthusiasm, so noticeably absent lately. Perhaps instead of sitting down to write, I need to stand up to live.


Writing

July 6, 2008

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else. ~Gloria Steinem

The interesting thing about this quote for me is that it applies to all kinds of writing. I am happy writing a paper for my graduate class or a professional journal article if it is on a topic of interest to me. A poem is bliss. This blog feeds me. None of these things is easy to do, though–why? Because each is discovery, requires something of me, can’t be done without engagement and effort. But how satisfying when I’ve produced a written work!

A blue-tailed skink pauses
between its cover of ivy
and the Japanese honeysuckle.
Blue sky peeks
from behind cumulus clouds
of mid-summer.
Sam is somewhere
watering plants, and I
am typing characters
that represent the seen
and unseen. Words
that act as temporary pins
for this moment.

What engages you? What is it that you do that when you do it, you don’t feel you should be doing something else?


The Soul at Work

May 26, 2008

Tell a wise person or else keep silent.  ~Goethe

Our deeper struggles are in effect our greatest spiritual and creative assets and the doors to whatever creativity we might possess. It seems to be a learned wisdom to share them with others only when they have the possibility of meeting them with some maturity.  ~David Whyte, inThe Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America

This post began as a follow-up to the previous post, a balancing admonition about trusting others to understand our truths. It was prompted by my rereading one of my favorite books, from which these quotes are taken. I originally read The Heart Aroused in its first edition (published in 1994), and when I decided to buy a copy, I was delighted to find that it was revised in 2002. Exploration and revelation of our most authentic selves is certainly risky in the traditional workplace. But in the end, this post is less about the risks of disclosure and more about the broader subject of the soul at work.

Whyte helps us reconcile the world of work, or doing, with the soul, or being. He characterizes this divide as “a veritable San Andreas Fault in the American psyche: the personality’s wish to have power over experience, to control all events and consequences, and the soul’s wish to have power through experience, no matter what that may be.” Whyte cautions that “with little understanding of the essential link between the soul life and the creative gifts of their employees, hardheaded businesses listening so carefully to their hardheaded consultants may go the way of the incredibly hardheaded dinosaurs.” I believe this book should be required reading for all managers and students of business management.

Thankfully, there are environments that encourage the messy soul work that employees long to do. I came from (and helped create) one of those places, imperfect as it was, and I have since grieved for the belonging I experienced there. Whyte holds that when we do not feel belonging, “no attempt to coerce enthusiasm or imagination from us can be sustained for long.”

Whyte takes his title from the famous William Carlos Williams poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” which poignantly reminds us that “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.” Using poetry, psychology and myth, Whyte encourages us to face our fears and claim our authentic soul power in the world of work.


Experience

May 4, 2008

Zen is essentially about rebirth from the experience of Being. Zen teaches us…to “taste” divine Being in the here-and-now. But to have this experience and have it validly, we must first discard the old consciousness, which has hardened into habit and determines the way we think and act.  ~Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

Discarding the old consciousness…changing habits…not the easiest of tasks, but one that will keep us fresh, I think. I am drawn to poetry when it surprises me–with unlikely juxtapositions, unusual or melodic words, or unexpected rhythms. Perhaps such poetry plunges me into experience, the Being that Dürckheim talks about.

I was disappointed when I attended a poetry workshop with Amy Clampitt several years ago. She critiqued my submitted poem harshly, complaining (as best I could understand) that the world didn’t need another poem about a photograph, and that what I needed was experience.

Here is the poem. Tell me what you think.

After the Fishing Trip, 1953

Swayback with the weight of a child
unborn and of salt-water bass
hung by the gills on each middle finger,
my mother poses with painted fingernails
in front of an empty playpen on the grass.
Her eyes are deep, black,
and I wonder who caught those fish.
My father (I imagine)
snaps the picture and takes the fish
to slit their stomachs on the scaling table.
Perhaps he frees a lucky fiddler crab
that needs no help to find its way home.

 

 


Submission

April 29, 2008

Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.  ~Cyril Connolly

It has been many years since I have sent off a poem, but I have just submitted three poems to Kennesaw State University’s 2008 Poetry of the Golden Generation, a juried competition for southern poets 50 years of age and older. I hope this is an indication that I am paying more attention to the poet part of myself, as I believe it is the closest to my authentic nature, egolessness, the part of me that flows with all that is. Here are the poems:

Easter

The dogwood shines in the early light,
practiced from a night of bright moon.
The yellow-breasted chat is back,
repeating its repertoire.
To the east a pale orange glow
lies across the hills like a promise.

While some make last-minute trips for eggs,
you will think of “the old man,” twenty-six,
flying over Poland that Easter, 1944,
the day that twisted his future into a new shape,
that made him the father you knew:
wounded, sober, uncomplaining.

He is falling, unconscious, thousands of feet
to a Danish beach,
ribs and ankle broken, and waking
to the mercy of strangers,
the offer of boxed chocolates
to make up for his missing arm.

Somehow he rises through all that dark
to find the stone rolled away,
an ordinary life awaiting.
Patient and peaceful, he abides
until his soul is freed, a calling shrike,
circling in the blue sky.

White Pine Cabin

The wind is never far away
from this mountain cabin.
A breeze is sometimes just around the bend
even when the pines are stone-still.
In these days, a hammock hung
between before and after,
I sing to the mountain laurel
growing in thickets on the knoll.
I gather pine cones, memories,
resolutions for the life ahead.
I unfold my failures like old clothes,
Hug them to me, then let go,
watch them sail away on the wind.

Redbud

Spring afternoons at home,
I like to sit in the glider on the deck,
drink a beer under the wide blue sky
and watch the dogwood open,
my heart drunk with love
for the way you can’t wait
to show me the buzzing redbud
shimmering with bees and skippers.

You lead me to the top of the hill.
The black cat slinks nearby,
feigning interest in the moving grass.
Amazed, I suddenly want to contain that tree,
to feel the hum in every blossom
of my being, every pore electric,
to be lifted over the field
by thousands of tiny wings
beating to the rhythm of my heart.


Spring Morning

April 26, 2008

The older generation thought nothing of getting up at five every morning–and the younger generation doesn’t think much of it either. ~John J. Welsh

My poor roommate in college had to suffer through my pleading at 3:00 in the morning, “Just stay up long enough to smoke one more cigarette with me.” Now I fall asleep by 9:30.  And I have come to appreciate morning in a way I never did in those days.

I think the fact that so many young people are fascinated by and drawn to the night has something to do with their feeling invulnerable. Would Goths dress in black if they truly understood that they could die at any moment?

Likewise, spring has replaced fall as my favorite season of the year. I think this is because both spring and morning signify a return of the light, and of ever-more-dear life. 

Sunny spring morning–
multiplication of light.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks.


A Hand Up

April 25, 2008

What do we live for, if it is not to make life a little less difficult for each other?  ~George Eliot

I am writing less, working more, and handing power over to stress these days, in spite of the beautiful greening and flowering of spring. Stop. Breathe. Rest. Pay attention. I have to remind myself. It is easy to get far removed from creative impulse, to forget to listen to inner wisdom, in this world so full of distractions.

Last night my friends made me laugh in spite of myself. Eliot’s quote makes me think of a bad poem I once wrote with an ending something like: “Why would we be here/if not to offer a hand up/still reaching with the other?”

This evening, the indigo bunting is what takes my breath away.


Community

April 19, 2008

Once we become relatively independent, our challenge is to become effectively interdependent with others. ~Stephen Covey

Woke to gentle rain
Mist obscures the distant hills
Funeral today

We have lost something in our movement away from communal living. A lone city dweller might argue that the extended family brings too much closeness, calls for too much conformity, but (paradoxically), through it we may actually learn to be more tolerant of differences. Take the “crazy aunt” or that “funny cousin”–yes, they were labeled and talked about, but were still accepted as part of the family, and could count on the support of the group in times of crisis. Robert Frost said it well: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

I have had a love-hate relationship with community and family all my life. Because I felt like the “different one” in my immediate family, and because we had no extended family in our town, I have always had a certain craving to live anonymously, to be left alone, or at least not discouraged in becoming who I was to be. It is probably a big reason I didn’t have children of my own.

I am grateful, though, for my socialization, my ability to “look like” part of a group, to fit in where I can without self-betrayal. And I am so very thankful for my husband and close friends, who serve as my chosen community/family. May I continue to nurture my close relationships, and also be more open to the larger community around me.


Creative Work

April 5, 2008

If you hear a voice within you saying: You are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.  ~Van Gogh

If someone thinks writers are crazy when they writing, he or she should see them when they’re not.  ~Hilda Downer

April is National Poetry Month, and I have subscribed to a Poem-A-Day during the month of April from the Academy of American Poets. I have hardly written any poetry in years, but I still yearn to do so. I am finding the Poem-A-Day a sort of lifeline to my creative self!

No writing, yet, mind you…but I feel that the stage is being set. Daily life has intruded for far too long. Too much busyness over the last few months–work, a heavy travel schedule, and two simultaneous post-graduate classes. But today, I am going to stop and see the mist hanging between the hills, the red-bellied woodpecker at the suet feeder, the graceful redbud branches heavy with blossoms. I am going to stop and hear the gentle rain, feel the cool, heavy air, and smell the cheerful hyacinths in their barrel.

Poetry is, after all, rooted in mindfulness. “No ideas but in things,” said William Carlos Williams. And saxifrage can split the rocks.


Walking in the World

March 3, 2008

The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

What?

I can find stillness,
walking?
Heel, then toes.
I count,
solve problems,
talk to myself.
I hum, anything
to avoid presence
in my heel,
then toes. Heel,
then toes, relentless
practice. Where
are we going?
No matter. Heel,
it is all the same. Toes,
I stretch apart
as though mud
would ooze through.
Heel, going nowhere
slowly,
toes, walking
to awareness.

In addition to the quote, this poem is inspired today by Mad Kane’s poetry prompt, Julia Cameron’s Walking in This World, and writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and others on walking meditation.

Now here are a limerick and a haiku for good measure!

Sunday Lament for Gasoline Prices

Pedestrian thoughts in my head,
I travel from kitchen to bed,
It’s not very far,
So I don’t need a car,
One more day I stay out of the red!

Walking in Spring

Driving by the bed
I see a blur, but walking,
Snow-drops hang their heads.


Time and Magic

February 25, 2008

     Now Haiku
here and now, sitting,
monkey mind is then and there–
in yesterday’s trees.

…and…

     Presence Limerick
I want to be present right now,
Connect to the flowing of Tao.
But when I sit still
My obstinate will
Appears, rises up, takes a bow.

~Lyn Hopper

Today I have self-quotes, written in response to Mad Kane’s challenge to write a haiku and a limerick about time. That was fun! As are her blogs. Check them out.

One serious thought about time, since we’re on the subject already. I have been practicing mindfulness, especially at my ultra-busy workplace, and I have learned through direct experience that what others say is true–mindfulness does slow time down. I know you’re now thinking, “yeah, right,” because that’s what I have thought every time I have read about this phenomenon.

Time slows down, I tell you! It is magic, really. I know it is a trick of perception, (or maybe the trick is busyness and the rushing of time), but I literally have more time to do the things I need to do somehow. And I’m oh, so much more relaxed about doing them. 🙂

Try it, and tell me what you find. Preferably in a haiku or limerick!


The Beauty We Love

February 20, 2008

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~Rumi

What a beautiful last line. It almost makes up for Rumi’s dissing of reading! 😉 And just look at that first line that describes the human condition–not one that’s special (“like every other day”) nor one that is unique to us as individuals (“we wake up”). The question Rumi begs here, of course, is “What is the beauty you love?” This poem is one answer for me.

Only in midlife have I begun to understand that this is the right question, much less to consider the answers to the question. As a child, I don’t remember having dreams about what I would be when I grew up. It didn’t occur to me to aspire to anything in particular, even though I came from a solidly middle-class household that valued education and achievement. Possibly this was true for many girls, whose socially acceptable options typically consisted of teacher, nurse, wife and mother. Most certainly, though, the question in my family would have had more to do with accomplishment as measured by society than with the beauty I loved. 

So…what is the beauty I love? Poetry, words, music, textural arts (fiber, glass, multimedia), laughter, yoga, living spaces with feng shui, human connection, singing. What is the beauty you love?


Resistance

February 19, 2008

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. ~Steven Pressfield

So begins the third chapter in Pressfield’s The War of Art. The author goes on to characterize this enemy of art (and of everything that calls forth our higher nature) as invisible, internal, insidious, implacable, impersonal, and infallible.  And that’s only the beginning! “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work,” Pressfield continues. “If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.” 

I’m glad to add this book to my list of favorite books on writing and the creative process. I believe Resistance has a lot to do with why I blog. It is oh-so-much-easier than writing poetry. And even now, I want to get up and pour a glass of wine or pet the cat, instead of finishing this post, taking my clothes out of the dryer, and then walking on the treadmill.

The only cure, of course, is that old Nike slogan, “Just Do It.” The work itself is all that saves us from evil Resistance. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to get to work.

What’s your experience with that grumpy old bear, Resistance?


Driving

February 18, 2008

Car Crash

Yours will happen some dark night
On the long road from a family visit–
Perhaps when the planets next align
As they did last night: Mercury, Venus,
Mars, moon, Saturn, Jupiter–
Or when the sun is bright,
And you admire someone’s azaleas
Or catch a colorful line of wash
Blowing in the breeze.
Suddenly, you’re in a ditch,
Images swirling at the backs of your eyes.

I will be coming home from work
Scribbling fast to trap some phrase
About to slip through the sieve of memory:
Writing “fiddleheads of fern,”
Or today, “The Car Crash,”
When I looked up to face
Head-on, lights and sirens blaring,
A prophetic ambulance.
They will find me grinning by the side of the road,
A pencil clutched in my hand.

It is an understatement to say I do a lot more driving than I did before I changed jobs 18 months ago. Theoretically, I telework two days a week, but no week is the same. Today, for example, I drove 240 miles to present a 2.5-hour workshop.

In July 2006, I bought a new car for the new job, and five weeks later, hit a deer with it. More accurately, the deer slammed into me. I now have over 41,000 miles on this car, and I estimate that I have spent $4500 on gasoline in the last year and a half just to get to and from my office three days a week (not to mention traveling around the state).

The poem is not new, but I think of it sometimes on my travels. Mostly, I can ignore how vulnerable I am on the freeway around Atlanta and the highways of rural Georgia. (As Wally says, “Isn’t it terrible what we can get used to?”) Occasionally, the full impact of my lifestyle flashes clearly in my mind, and I have a strong desire to stop the madness–not to mention the violence I am doing to the planet.

For now, I will continue to do what I have to do in order to do work I love. And now is all we have, after all.


Home

February 5, 2008

Our stories tell us who we are.  ~Donald Davis

I’ve been around this world in more ways than one.
But when I’m with you, it’s like I’m right where I come from.
 
~Iris DeMent

What would it be like to reclaim home? I couldn’t wait to get away, I never go back anymore, and yet most of my dreams are still set there.  

The truth is, I have been returning in subtle ways for a while now: I bought a painting of the marsh; wrote poems about my grandmother (and the marsh); hung the amazing charcoal drawing that Christy did at eight years old, partly because it reminds me of the bank of the creek where I grew up.

I find home in my husband, am “at home” with my friends, have stories beyond my childhood home that tell me who I am. But a huge part of me was shaped by the place I grew up. I may finally understand this poem I wrote in 1991.

Marsh

Morning shone on the coverlet
The near corner, fluttering
An entrance–or an exit.

Noon bared the muddy theater.
The brazen crane strutted,
As if on his last promenade.

Green-yellow, faded now
The marsh hens trip like debutantes in the fringe
But fear a miring in the middle.

Come night, great equalizer
Bring easy honesty
When entrances and exits are the same.

(originally published in Georgia Journal, Summer 1991)


Creative Space

February 2, 2008

Creative endeavor requires physical and mental space; without privacy, solitude, and time it suffocates. It is not easy to be independent in a crowd and it is impossible to pursue independent thought in the scattered remnants of a day or of a lifetime….Finally, the creative life requires an environment which is free, open, and never so logical and efficient that it cannot be unpredictable.  ~Judith Groch

I have been too much with the world the past few weeks. Today I am enjoying a little window of space and time before I go back to that hurried existence. There are days when I long to retire in order to have that “physical and mental space” Groch talks about. I remember a luxurious, solitary, twelve-hour train ride on Amtrak’s “Southern Crescent” that resulted in this little poem:

From the Crescent

Dry, brown kudzu climbs the banks
as the river sludges, rain-red,
beside the train.
Walls of windworn rock
loom suddenly, then fall away.

Language spatters the whitewash of sound
on board: floating phrases, murmurs,
an occasional cry.
Hours stretch before me–grace–
and I rock in the rhythm of all things.


Flying

January 26, 2008

Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.  ~Toni Morrison

Birds and flying figured in all the poems I wrote for several years. I used to dream about plane crashes regularly. And I carried excess weight in my body, even though I am not a naturally heavy person. Perhaps these things are related.

Now I feel lighter, literally and figuratively. What are the things I have let go? The over-reliance on the opinions of others; unnecessary striving when waiting would do; and struggling to live each day without the understanding that the day will be what it is, with or without that struggling.

What is the shit that weighs you down? What could you jettison that would allow you to fly?


Singing

January 5, 2008

I know nothing; still, I cannot help singing.  ~A. R. Ammons

This has been a favorite line of mine for a very long time. I don’t remember where I ran across it, since I don’t think I’ve read Ammons’ poetry. (There’s something I need to do!) The line, to me, is perfect, though.

While it is not literally about singing, the line reminds me that I miss singing. For several years I sang in the local UU church choir. Although I don’t consider myself to have a particularly good singing voice, I can mostly carry a tune, was tolerated in the alto section, and loved doing it. I’m always hesitant to become part of group effort (I chafe at the social and political aspects), but there is something about making music with others that is spiritually satisfying.

For at least a couple of decades in my younger life, I was almost always conscious of a tune underneath my breath. I think I sang my way through a lot of hard times, comforting myself with that inaudible head music. But at some point, I realized it was no longer there, and I can’t say why. Do I just not need the comfort anymore?

I want to sing again.


Holidays

December 22, 2007

Anything is good material for poetry. Anything.  ~William Carlos Williams

Holidays have always been hard for me, since they involve seeing family. I remember a number of years when it was the end of February before I felt fully recovered from the experience of visiting family at Christmas. Ram Dass (with tongue in cheek) invites anyone who thinks they’re enlightened to spend time with family. At any rate, holidays remind me of family, and family reminds me of this poem.

Elegy For One Aggrieved

Yours was the sin of age.
Sedated in your easy chair
you had the eyes of the wild raccoon
on the screened-in porch
when the children blocked her escape.

Taken for a walk on forgiving ground
you suddenly knew what to do.
I tightened on your forearm to keep you
from lying down in each leafy depression
to die.

Later, in an unholy place,
people scurried to preserve your pulse
while you stared, leaden,
at the silly tins of peppermints
and would not eat.

Mine was the impotence of youth.
Now, on fall afternoons,
I lie in those leafy places
and cradle your grandmother bones
and softly, to your spirit, sing.

(originally published in Habersham Review, Autumn 1991)


Loss

December 20, 2007

[Here I had one of my favorite poems, “In Blackwater Woods,” by Mary Oliver.]

I have sent this poem (again) to someone who is bereaved. What difficult human work Oliver describes! In an earlier entry on love and loss (click “loss” on the tag cloud at right), I quoted a Shakespeare passage that I think of often: “Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate– / That Time will come and take my Love away: / –This thought is as a death, which cannot choose / But weep to have that which it fears to lose.”

Still, Oliver is right. We must love because our lives depend upon it, and we must let go when that time comes. I believe the more fully we can do Oliver’s three things, the richer life will be. How we do it, I can’t say, but I know it’s worthwhile to keep trying.


Words

December 17, 2007

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life, they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.  ~Anne Lamott

I am sometimes stunned by the power of words. This language that we take for granted can, as Lamott attests, lift us up and connect us to each other and everything in profound ways. Think about the last time you received an unexpected kind word. There is almost nothing more thrilling to me than an idea expressed in a new and graceful way. And I am ecstatically one with the world when I write what I think is a good poem. I believe that all artists fall in love with their creative media, and I think there is little doubt that my medium is words.


Happiness

November 12, 2007

Happiness is not a station to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.  ~Margaret Lee Runbeck

The gorgeous fall colors light up the mountains, and clouds drift above them, grey clumps against a pastel blue sky. It is getting toward dusk, which used to be my favorite time of day. I realize I hardly ever take time to really see it anymore. And yet these moments ground me, remind me that life is good.

For a time, I made a practice of gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for. And today I am happy to have health and to live surrounded by the natural world. I’m reminded of a poem I wrote on seeing a rainbow over these hills.

Rainbow

It is easy to see where each foot lies;
one at the base of Chestnut Knob,
one at the end of Cedar Ridge.
Tinting trees and rocks, it arches
over our dailiness, still and rooted.
Beauty, being for its own sake,
flickers in and out with the sun,
with God, then disappears.


Beauty

October 14, 2007

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.  ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I am reading You’ll Be Okay: My Life with Jack Kerouac, by Edie Kerouac-Parker, and Above the River: The Complete Poems of James Wright.  I am also listening to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on my commute.  I can’t imagine a life without books, a life without poets, a life without magic.  And though sometimes those wordly cares Goethe speaks of do nearly obliterate the sense of the beautiful, I always know deep down which is more important.  What do you do to retain and nourish that sense of the beautiful?


Overlooking Yahoola Valley

October 13, 2007

i wake to a perfect patience of mountains.  ~e. e. cummings

yahoola-valley-2.jpg

Sound travels up, my husband says.
I hear the whinny of a horse I cannot see.
A wisp of fog lingers behind Chestnut Knob,
and the aluminum chair warms
to the underside of my arm.

They’ve taken a calf away.
The mother mourns,
as turkey vultures, leaving their roost,
begin slow circles, their shadows
kaleidoscoping all around me.

What is morning but another chance
to listen for echoes, to note
what keeps coming back to me:
that deep loss, that fear of letting go,
of letting this moment be
the simple thing it is?


Exploring

October 9, 2007

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~T. S. Eliot

I just love these lines from Eliot’s “Little Gidding” (No. 4 of “Four Quartets”).  They so perfectly express to me the cyclical nature of our understanding (spiraling, really, because we never exactly “arrive where we started”). It is said that you can’t put your toe in the same river twice. I would add that you can’t put the same toe in the river twice!

And what about the urge to explore?  Henry Miller said, “Until we accept the fact that life itself is founded in mystery, we shall learn nothing.”  St. Francis reminded us that “Who we are looking for is who is looking.” But perhaps Graham Greene said it best: “When we are not sure, we are alive.” I want to maintain the openness (Miller), the groundedness (St. Francis) and the curiosity (Greene) to keep exploring!


Merging

October 3, 2007

If you forget yourself, you become the universe.  ~Hakuin

Crabbing with My Grandmother (in the marshes of Glynn)

With rattling traps, chicken necks, and string
We descend the ramp to the floating dock
Aground now, on the bank of heavy, black mud.
Scrambling fiddlers brandish white claws.
A crane rises from the bend.
Something splashes at the edge of low tide.

Only the sun can find us,
So my grandmother ties a straw hat
Under her wrinkled chin
And I wear a skimpy bathing suit
And curse the oyster bed
For cutting my feet when I swim.

My grandmother laughs and forgets herself.


All Is Now

September 12, 2007

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
~Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

No beginning, no end…the circle of life. All time exists now. We Westerners have a hard time giving up our linear thought, our linear sense of time.  I think I love poetry in large part because it can cut through habits of thought.  Good poetry surprises us, makes us see new relationships, gives us a glimpse of the poet’s creative joy.  How does linear thought, a linear sense of beginnings and endings, limit us?  What might be possible by suspending it?


Sitting

September 10, 2007

Breathe in,
breathe out,
Thay says Calming,
Smiling,

Present moment,
Only moment.

In, out,
as though it is you
breathing,
and not the world
breathing you.