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.