Quintessence ~ the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form. Substance composing the celestial bodies.

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QUINTESSENCE

How Much Still Remained

November 16, 2017

Tags: finding joy, intention, patterns, faith

And the longer he thought
the more plain to him how much
still remained to be experienced,
and written down, a material world heretofore
hardly dignified.

And he recognized in exactly this reasoning
the scope and trajectory of his own
watchful nature.


- from "Roman Study," Louise Gluck

Fog has filled the valley and spilled over the rim of the bluffs I live on, threading, gray and impenetrable, through the bare trees. In this shifting uncertainty of cloud and cold I take my early walk. Through the neighborhoods, past houses with families gathered at breakfast tables in kitchens that spill yellow light. Harried parents load preschoolers into warming cars, bundled against the cold. The asphalt sparkles with frost and I push my hands deep in my pockets, thinking about this year, 2017. The past year has been both wonderful and extremely tough on some of those I love, difficult overall for our country.

Are these twists of luck and suffering part of a larger meaning, or simply accidental? Life so often feels composed of chance, of fortune both good and bad. Surely this mortal journey is more than a grand roller derby of messy and spectacular collisions. How in the midst of a careless random are we to make successful choices? Seek right outcomes, make peace with the truly awful?

My late husband Ken used to say of his outlook on life, "I work at the art of reasoning away bad luck." I think about this often now. He was teasing me to some extent, as I tend to cling to a faith in greater things to come, especially through sorrows or tragedies I do not understand. He pointed out you can't change what is, but you can choose how to deal with it. Your way. Even now, I still throw prayers out like a fisherman's net, hunting meaning in misfortune, convinced there must be an eventual breakthrough into a wiser, if not better life.

The best I've come up with is life is a sailboat tacking across open waters. The seas and winds change, and with shift, the set of the sails and tiller must change as well. We are at our best if our hand stays steady, gaze fixed on the horizon regardless of the conditions we navigate.

I embrace the spirit of the poem. Life is lived forward. The fog lifts. How much remains to be experienced.

Small Business Saturday 2017

November 6, 2017

Tags: art and creation, finding joy, intention, the moderns

Small Business Saturday, Indies First! - November 25, 2017
Books for the Holidays!

A book is a gift you can open again and again.
-- Garrison Keillor

As many of you know, the last Saturday in November is "Small Business Saturday." Better known as "shop local" Saturday, when we all have the opportunity to demonstrate support for our main street businesses by making our purchases downtown. As the holidays draw near, purchases we make locally support a community business in an important way, which in turn strengthens our communities and hometown economic vitality. Many authors across America will be present in the aisles of local independent bookstores chatting about books, pressing our favorite reads in your hands, making holiday recommendations and hearing what you love to read.

Auntie's is our Spokane city jewel, an independent bookstore since 1978, staffed by knowledgeable and supportive booksellers. For many Pacific Northwest authors (myself included) Auntie's, or a bookstore like it, hosted our debut author book events. Independent bookstores across America welcome and host community author events and special interest book clubs. Our Auntie's Bookstore gives Spokane the heart and enthusiasm that makes our community a great place to live, and this is our opportunity to say how much we appreciate our local bookstores.

Join us at Auntie's Bookstore, downtown Spokane (Main & Washington) throughout the day on Saturday, November 25.
[To see the full schedule of Indies First! authors present throughout the day, visit www.auntiesbooks.com.]

Hope to see you downtown. Let's do some holiday book shopping together! Happy Thanksgiving!

Warrior, Monk

October 18, 2017

Tags: art and creation, love, faith, intention, presence, finding joy

Bust of Alexander, Museum of Athens

Some things
you know all your life. They are simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter, and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.


- from "The Simple Truth," Philip Levine


I have shared this stanza of Philip Levine's poem "The Simple Truth," before with you. If you are not familiar with Levine's work, please, when you have a moment, read through the entire poem. And then, perhaps, browse the complete poetry collection by the same title. Levine's poems are pithy, fibrous. Earthy and powerful. They sear in your brain. They move your heart.

Distinct and subtle, Levine is sometimes referred to as the working man's poet. A tribute to his attention to the ordinary hours, to working lives, his curiosity and empathy for the fates of others. The stanza above speaks to me as a reflection on loyalty, fidelity, love. The musculature and the power of attachment.

The human heart is capable of great patience, tremendous tenacity. It stretches, builds ever so slowly like bone in the body. All is a journey, this life. Connection and partnership. The hand-bricked construction of that we define as family. Our layers of self, like the rings of the oak, evolve continual ways of being. It is the simple truth to say that living is about ever-becoming. And while neither easy, nor pristinely unmarred, and certainly never perfect in process, for each one of us becoming is whole and perfect intent. Perfect in joy. Grounded in earth, heaven, and the unending soul. The human heart is a warrior and a monk. And speaks a simple truth. Belong.

As we enter the quiet months of winter, listen to the song your life is singing. Speak the things you know to be true. Make these truths the pillars of conscious living.

Let the beauty we love be what we do - Rumi



2017 Nobel Prize in Literature

October 5, 2017

Tags: art and creation, intention, presence

Kazuo Ishiguro, signing copies of "The Buried Giant" - Nobel Prize Foundation
Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature today. In an interview in today's New York Times, Ishiguro is quoted as saying he was sitting at his kitchen table in London writing an email when he got the call from his agent relaying today's announcement by the Nobel committee, what will surely become a life-changing phone call. The name is not unfamiliar to readers around the globe. I imagine many of us have read one or more of his exceptional, genuinely splendid novels. Or perhaps watched a public television series or a film, like "Remains of the Day," adapted from his work. Ishiguro, born in Japan but a long-time British citizen, is a writer of prodigious and wide-ranging interests and talents, and his work reflects this remarkable breadth. If you haven't for some reason read any Ishiguro lately, I sincerely hope you will do so soon. Ishiguro's writing is a joy. His stories will stick with you long after the final page.

Some of Ishiguro's commendable works:
Novels
A Pale View of Hills (1982)
An Artist of the Floating World (1986)
The Remains of the Day (1989)
The Unconsoled (1995)
When We Were Orphans (2000)
Never Let Me Go (2005)
The Buried Giant (2015)

Screenplays
A Profile of Arthur J. Mason (Television film for Channel 4) (1984)
The Gourmet (Television film for Channel 4)(1987)
The Saddest Music in the World (2003)
The White Countess (2005)

Short fiction
"A Strange and Sometimes Sadness", "Waiting for J" and "Getting Poisoned" (in Introduction 7: Stories by New Writers, 1981)
"A Family Supper" (in Firebird 2: Writing Today, 1983)
"The Summer After the War" (in Granta 7, 1983)
"October 1948" (in Granta 17, 1985)
"A Village After Dark" (in The New Yorker, 2001)
"Crooner", "Come Rain or Come Shine", "Malvern Hills", "Nocturne" and "Cellists" (in Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, 2009)

Lyrics
"The Ice Hotel", ""I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again", "Breakfast on the Morning Tram" and "So Romantic" on Stacey Kent's 2007 album Breakfast on the Morning Tram, and "The Summer We Crossed Europe In the Rain", "Waiter, Oh Waiter", and "The Changing Lights" on Kent's 2013 album The Changing Lights. *Source credit: Wikipedia

Can we just say, Congratulations! Well done?
Yes, we can.

Goldenrod

September 19, 2017

Tags: nature, patterns, solitude, art and creation, presence


On roadsides,
in fall fields,
in rumpy bunches,
saffron and orange and pale gold...

- from "Goldenrod," Mary Oliver, 2004

I hiked the bluff trails early this morning. In these mountains the coming fall brings crisp air to the lingering warmth of summer. The trails were absent of a certain joy however. Absent my dog, McDuff, a sturdy little wheaten-colored Scottie. McDuff passed in December of 2012, and the years since are marked by the absence of his beautiful presence at my side. Today I dedicate my blog post to McDuff, and revisit a post from late summer 2010.

September 3, 2010:
Yesterday afternoon McDuff and I headed out to the bluff, lulled outdoors by a late afternoon warmth. Pools of mellow light fell through the trees. We walked through wild oat and dried thistle, the hillside adorned in a palette of caramel, dusty tan, and white yellow, the sweetness of summer at its fullest. Fall hovers at the edge of the valley in crisp mornings and cool nights, but here on the bluff, summer fiercely holds court.

As we walked, a wordless song played through my thoughts and Duff fell behind, his nose in a rabbit hole. I stopped and stood a moment, looking across the valley. A raven cry drifted up from somewhere near the creek and I was filled with an inexplicable happiness. As if everything truly had its moment, and this moment had now. My thoughts touched on my son and daughter, far away, anchoring into a new school term at university. I felt the river width of time, the slow flood across geography. The delicate knots and stitches that bind us, one to another.

Here, the final stanzas of Mary Oliver's poem, "Goldenrod" -

I was just minding my own business
when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
citron and butter-colored,

and was happy, and why not?
Are not the difficult labors of our lives
full of dark hours?
And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?
All day
on their airy backbones
they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
they rise in a stiff sweetness,
in the pure peace of giving
one's gold away.


May all of you find delight in summer's last song.

Eye of Night

September 12, 2017

Tags: nature, presence, art and creation, solitude

WILDERNESS
When I lay down, for the night, on the desert,
on my back, and dozed, and my eyes opened,
my gaze rushed up, as if falling up
into the sky,
and I saw the open eye of night, all
guileless, all iris of a starshine grey,
scattered with clusters of brilliant pupils.
I gazed, and dozed, and as my eyelids lifted I would
plummet up out of the atmosphere,
plunging and gasping as if I'd missed
a stair. I would sleep, and come to, and sleep,
and every time that I opened my eyes
I fell up deep into the universe.
It looked crowded, hollow, intricate, elastic,
I did not feel I could really see it
because I did not know what it was
that I was seeing. When my lids parted,
there was the real -- absolute,
crisp, impersonal, intimate,
benign without sweetness, I was roaring out, my
speed suddenly increasing in its speed, I was
entering another dimension, and yet
one in which I belong, as if
not only the earth while I am here, but space,
and death, and existence without me, are my home.

- Sharon Olds

This poem by Sharon Olds transports us into the boundless mystery of the universe. To be under the stars, open to the darkness, where as Olds shares, "there was the real -- absolute, crisp, impersonal, intimate, benign without sweetness." Olds unveils the familiar strangeness of the universe at night. The presence of what can only be described as an encompassing unbounded living pulse. A life force more felt than it is defined. And so we trek to the wilderness. To reach and touch a greater-than-the-known truth, singing from afar.

A song deep in the quiet.

We encounter moments of unbounded awareness throughout our lives. Sensing what more there may be to what we think of as the entirety of our existence. Perhaps lying on a lake dock under a tent of a million distant stars, or seated by a beach bonfire, watching as sparks pop and pirouette and splinter upward into the dark. That moment that causes us to pause, chasing fireflies in the dark of a meadow. Before dawn, bathed in the illumination of the Milky Way.

At the edge of a pond, unaware of the night heron yet aware of us.

We experience a shift of dimensions as the poem "Wilderness" opens. A softening of borders, an awareness of strange yet familiar truth. As though diving beneath the surface of a still lake, into a universe hidden below what we take for granted every day. One dimension among many. One part of an integrated, endless layering of existences. Visible and unseen. Present and past, known and distant.

Look long into the velvet sky with me. Seek the tiniest point of fractured light. Do you feel how we belong?

Doors and Wings

August 29, 2017

Tags: art and creation, solitude, intention, presence

Starry Night Over the Rhone, Vincent van Gogh

It is the night of the ocean, the third solitude,
a quivering which opens doors and wings.


- from “Serenade,” Pablo Neruda, 1967

Pablo Neruda's poetic brush is dipped in tints of language that create shifts in definition for me. His words name the human mystery, the unspoken ache. His poem “Serenade” is on one level about the wide deep night, the pulse of quintessence. The place where sea and sea life meet under the whisper of moonlight. On another level it is about intimacy, the elemental purity of all that breathes in darkness.

The words the third solitude stop me in my tracks. In the poem's original Spanish the word "soledad" is translated as solitude. Does the word more delicately infer aloneness? The alone? I wonder. Does this third solitude the poet speaks of in “the night of the ocean” describe a deep undercurrent, what never sleeps, or life itself? What are the other two solitudes? Those of earth and sky? Two souls at night? These subtleties of word meanings give rich and secret freight to Neruda's poem.

Poetry on its subtlest level disengages the reasoning mind. Poems are subtle word mandalas, cryptic designs that rearrange the furniture of ordinary thinking. Invite in a conscious, unchained meditation. Sometimes, just a quick sideways glance. A bit of reflection in the glass that catches the eye. A flash of wing of something strange yet familiar. A glimpse. The poets allow us to step across borders. Contemplate the secrets and wonders of the everyday. Apple, star, stubbed toe, love.

So go on, today read a poem. Better yet, write one.

Things Which Enclose Me

August 14, 2017

Tags: art and creation, love, intention, finding joy

Moonshell


somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
by E. E. Cummings

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully , suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands



I am revisiting e.e. cummings today, and this poem which I have shared here in the past. The language is what holds me. Unexpected phrases such as "the voice of your eyes," the chiseled coiled core in "the power of your intense fragility," and the pang, the lonely yearning within "your eyes have their silence."

How does someone, anyone, ever know language, and the terrain of the beloved intimately enough to paint mystery so fully? Truly, what we find beloved encompasses all compass points of the heart, be they person, place, or thing.

Poetry sings deeply for me. The ability of the poet to encapsulate our longing, our disoriented suffering. The single note bittersweet rhapsodies. Human emotion is a melange of honey, spice, and salt, and it is poetry that invites us to cup the exquisite, grapple the unsettling. Even in times like these, of great moral tremor, of polar conflicts between ideologies, virulence and decency, we may find solace in poetry. Words are not mere window-dressing. They are bricks and swords and ointments and shelter. They are so many things, things which enclose us. Possessed of intense fragility, silence.

Dive under, swim deep under the surface. Find your peace.

Hope and Sky

August 4, 2017

Tags: family, love, intention, finding joy, nature

Today I am musing on the young, and the ways in which we tend the future singly and as community. Let me begin with work from Ohioan Maggie Smith and a poem written in answer to a question from her own three-year-old child. Maggie's poems, truth-telling wrapped in enigmas graced by flashes of magic, include last year's widely loved "Good Bones," the title poem of her forthcoming book of poems from Tupelo Press, Good Bones.

SKY
Maggie Smith

Why is the sky so tall and over everything?

What you draw as a blue stripe high above
a green stripe, white-interrupted, the real sky
starts at the tip of each blade of grass and goes
up, up, as far as you can see. Our house stops
at the roof, at the glitter-black overlap of shingles
where the sky presses down, bearing the weight
of space, dark and sparkling, on its back.
Think of sky not as blue, not as over,
but as the invisible surround, a soft suit
you wear close to the skin. When you walk,
the soles of your feet take turns on the ground,
but the rest of you is in the sky, enveloped in sky.
As you move through it, you make a tunnel
in the precise size and shape of your body.


We do this. Bring innocence into the world. This world of love as well as darkness, a place at times without hope of joy. How difficult as new parents to question the essential goodness of the world. What "gift" do we bestow upon our children at their birth to protect them? There is no invincibility shield.

The gift we bestow is joy. To grow and play and pursue delight in a thousand adventurous ways. The good and the bad and the ugly all entwined together within risk, mortality, and the sparkle of being alive. It must be enough to believe each child shall find a good life in the midst of the world’s crushing disarray. We must remember each child brings the potential of change. This, this is how we build the world, lift it up and fix it, again and again. Not just for ourselves but for the future. Good. Good bones.

To parents everywhere, the young and the worn, you are the givers and builders and healers the world needs. To those who raise children not by birth but by intent, you are angels among us. And to those who give simply, widely and generously in cherished circles of the heart, unknown souls brighten and find shelter within your selflessness. All of you are constructing, infusing, singing a better world by your work, your passions, and those tired-everyday-but-I-go commitments.

The long shadow of the coming August solar eclipse presages life given of the world; for without light this world would be still and in darkness. Without love, there would be no garden of new green. Without wakeful midnights the young would not sleep. It is truth, that in the wisdom of ancestors and the strength of the aged there is hope. And we guard hope, because of the young.

Right Words

July 28, 2017

Tags: art and creation, nature, intention, presence, patterns, finding joy

THE NOTEBOOK
by Mary Oliver

Six a.m. -
the small, pond turtle
lifts its head
into the air
like a green toe.
What it sees
is the whole world
swirling back from darkness:
a red sun
rising over the water,
over the pines,
and the wind lifting,
and the water-striders heading out,
and the white lilies
opening their happy bodies.
The turtle
doesn't have a word for any of it -
the silky water
or the enormous blue morning,
or the curious affair of his own body.
On the shore
I'm so busy
scribbling and crossing out
I almost miss seeing him
paddle away
through the wet, black forest.
More and more the moments come to me:
how much can the right word do?
Now a few of the lilies
are a faint flamingo inside
their white hearts,
and there is still time
to let the last roses of the sunrise
float down
into my uplifted eyes.


I have been looking through old journals lately. On a mission to muck out files, sort through my book shelves. A surprising thing struck me rereading a period of journals from 1998-2001...the mixture of notes, fragments of creative idea, the pen and pencil sketches. I was equally taken aback by the implacable boundaries time brackets around words. As Mary Oliver writes, "How much can the right word do?"

I was drawn to sketches in the margins of journals. Drawings of strangers in coffee shops, interesting hands, a peculiar expression on a face in a workshop. All these drawings triggered a kind of memory muscle for me. There were several of my daughter's cello teacher and his centuries-old cello, for example, dashed off in ink on college-rule paper during a lesson. Looking at a cello sketch I remembered sitting uncomfortably on the low sofa, the confines of the tiny practice room, the dim light from the drawn venetian blinds, the rustle of sheet music on the music stand...even the strange plastic wrap this expressive Russian refugee, who had once performed in Leningrad alongside Rostropovich, had so carefully layered around the neck of his beautiful instrument to protect the wood from the sweat of his hands and forearms.

There was no "right word" in my notebook to describe these scenes or events. Instead, a drawing; imbued with shape, mood, unusual detail. Seeing the thing or person before me, and seeing completely. Translating everything imperfectly but somehow accurate in its essence. All too often as writers we glance, and then look away to think, searching for le mot juste, the perfect word. And in doing so, we may step away from the experience, abandon our own innate presence in the moment. I find myself keeping these pages with sketches and half-lines of poems, the penciled scenes from travels with my husband and children. We were all keepers of travel notebooks. We lingered places; taking all the generous, unhurried time required to sketch something of what we saw.

I re-experienced this slow pleasure on a recent trip abroad. There was a gentleman with our group, a painting conservator from a major museum, who did not dash off frenzied smartphone shots of ancient ruins and excavated pottery. He stepped aside as we hiked, opened his sketch book, and freehanded a perspective, employing a few strong lines and shading to capture the heart of the object, the mood of the light. And then he moved on. His notebook of sketches becoming a sensual, visual encounter with objects of mystery -- fallen stones, abandoned boats on the sand, a whalebone, a rune obscured by moss. Looking over his shoulder, these thoughtful sketches were themselves experiences.

My late husband Ken, a black and white photographer, used to say that the reason a photographer lifts a camera is not in order to preserve what he sees, or to interpret the object his lens is focused on. No, the photographer photographs to see. The photographer does not step outside the experience to think through how to describe it as the writer does. The photographer steps into it and lets the moment speak for itself. The photographer encounters the material world as it is, shaped only by his own aesthetic, the light, and perhaps the incidental intrusion of equipment or the development environment. There are only unexpressed truths.

Mary Oliver's observed turtle sees the morning rise around him, registers the universe with simple awareness. The poet knows her awareness, her thoughts about this exchange are somehow stealing her from the fullness of her own experience. She notes this distance, this distraction, and returns her thoughts again to observing, to awareness without translation. A meditation on essence, not story. She makes a poem of her observations on the failures of observation that manages nonetheless to convey what is lost in translation.

Writing may be impressionist, subjective, symbolic, abstract - all these things. Narratives, knotted together by insight, observation, and imagination. But first comes simply being present.