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Quintessence ~ the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form. Substance composing the celestial bodies.
The shoes that climbed Gonergrat, Switzerland
August 25, 2015
I HAVE DECIDED
Kaniksu Fire (Tower Fire) Complex, Priest Lake, Northern Idaho
By Mary Oliver
I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully
in the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
be discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly, no doubt. I’m
not talking about a vacations.
Of course at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.
Are you following me?
It is an interesting twist, as my son says, to deliberately head out on vacation to a cabin situated in a Fire Evacuation Level 1 Zone. But, the cabin was waiting, the lake technically open, if socked in with fire smoke, and precious vacation time logged in the books (no mean feat for my husband who is in the medical profession – his specialty group books their vacations a year out). So yes - one eye on the sky, the other on the news - we headed north. Toward the fire zones, cautiously passing National Forest Service rangers posted at the many dirt access roads into the mountains. Headed up a highway that is both the only egress in to Priest Lake, and out.
The consequences of the alert level fire designation are many. No beach fires, cabin fires, charcoal grills, or outdoor equipment that might spark. The sandy beaches are quiet, dark, somnolent. The marinas under blankets of smoke that thicken and shift on the lake winds. The lake shore is mostly empty: fulltime residents hunkering in to keep cabins and trees watered down and prepare for the early end of the lake season. Tourists with more flexibility have canceled their plans. Residents of the two small towns that flank the upper and lower end of the long lake watch the weather and fire reports. Those in the northern meadows, already on a higher Evacuation Level 2, have loaded flatbed trailers with belongings and wait. Beyond their farms and ranches glow the lightning-sparked fires that have burned all summer, creeping down the shoulders of the mountains, heavy smoke rolling over the ridges, coating the grass and forests in dusty ash, sending the elderly and the infirm in search of better air.
A secondary impact from smoke is quiet. An extraordinary thick silence. The absence of boat traffic, the muffled sounds, forests empty of bird song and chipmunks. The hearth – a beach pit fire or cabin fireplace – is a gathering place, a melody of voices in the night. There are none. We’ve gone hiking each day, climbing to vantage points where we might survey the lengths of the lake and trace patterns of fire smoke that sink off the mountains and float across the water. Wildlife is on the move, the forests still. We’ve encountered one pair of great hunting owls in the pines nearest the shore, and a crow-sized northern red-crested woodpecker, determinedly drilling a tree. The wilderness is evacuating.
I am looking straight off the deck of the cabin at this moment and cannot see the shoreline across the bay. The pine and stone islands recede, shadows in The Gray that does not drift but thickens. There were no stars last night.
I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully
in the cold and the silence.
I worry for the wilderness, the animal life, the safety of the rangers on duty and the firefighters here and at other fires near these Tower Complex fires. It would be a blessing if this time, fate was on our side. Our revelations are so simple this year – preservation.
August 19, 2015
Priest Lake Moonrise
MONDAY MORNING, LATE SUMMER
On the fence
in the sunlight,
The apricots have ripened
and been picked.
The blackberries have ripened
and been picked.
- Robert Hass, from the poem "Cuttings"
I've been looking at accountability
. Mine. I've been looking back at posts about writing and creativity, living and making meaningful choices. Have I done the things I said I would, made the changes I want, pursued priorities that matter? At times it feels like a win to simply slow the busyness, delete the detritus that clouds quiet moments.
How hard in this modern world to make space for clarity. Space reclaimed from work/life schedules, from cleaning out our physical surroundings - or it might be all in our heads. The important thing is this: without inner clarity we lack a life map to navigate where we are to where we want to be. Mapping begins with honest assessment, checking in, and acknowledging our choices.
Each of us has a place, a person, a time, where the world slows and life opens, and we look deeply at the mechanics of our own happiness. We understand with profound certainty the desires and needs that guide a life well-lived, a life examined. Our life.
This is part of a post from August 2013
"The opening of the chest, the heart chakra - the deep breathing and calm rhythms of a lengthy period on break - profoundly alters the mind as well as the body. When we step out of the box, the stress-filled, demanding, unrelenting responsibilities of the 24/7, we begin the restoration of the soul. The wide empty stretches on life's blue highways are far and few between. We live in a plugged-in, high demand, ever-changing, stimulating world. Down time, wayside adventures, lags in scheduling seem to have disappeared. We are "on" and plugged-in every moment of the day: pinged by messages, alerts from work, urgent global news, the carousel of social media even when we sleep.
Peace. Where do we find it?
Thoreau championed "disconnect and rediscover" for the human soul. And indeed, I found it interesting to watch my family - traveling to a rustic cabin on the lake shore with four smart phones, two laptops, three iPads, two iPods and one Shuffle - slowly adapt to silence. From initially trekking down the trail to the nearest wifi spot for internet signal, to eventually, mournfully, accepting the one half-bar of cell service off the lake, to at last letting the devices sit in their cases, untouched. This withdrawal from the digital world was painful and amusing - catching ourselves automatically engaged in a pointless click to check email, Twitter, FB. The urge to plug in releasing ever so slowly; replaced by naps sunning on beach towels, guitar on the deck, long conversations by candlelight at the picnic table. The luxury of delving into not just one chapter, but an entire book. Board games and cards, a crackling fire and mellow whiskey.
We relearn the nurturing quality of quiet. The giving earth. Taking in the whole of life. Lulled to deep sleep by the waves lapping the lake shore, the creak of wind in the trees. Awaking with bird calls in the dawn.
We disappear to the cabin every year, coming from wherever we are in the four corners of the world, from whatever education, work, or travel schedules occupy us, ready to find our way back to ourselves. We reconnect not just within, but together. And when the last spider is slapped with a sandal and tossed out the door, when the last huckleberry has made its way to a pancake drenched in maple syrup, the final pot of camp coffee poured to the dregs, we pack up our beach chairs and return to the world.
Halfway down the road to civilization the electronics buried in our duffles ping on, buzzing and downloading in a frenzied burst and we have to laugh. The world. It doesn't wait, and it doesn't matter."
This weekend I am headed north for two weeks to the remote quiet shores of Priest Lake once again. At the lake, I will find silence. You will find me on the deck at sunset, feet propped on the rail, a mellow scotch in hand. The evening star rises over the lake, bright against the rose-colored Selkirk Mountains.
August 12, 2015
How came ye muffled in so hush a masque?
Starry Night Over the Rhone, Vincent van Gogh
- "Ode on Indolence," John Keats
Waiting coils inside her and licks and licks its paws.
I go through motions already made in another life [wrote the husband].
The room is cold. I must unpack. But not yet. Night is almost here.
Another one without I was going to say but that wold be weak.
I stand firmly on the foundation of the love I fashioned, yes, our love.
You will disagree. But look inside yourself. there you see a world
traveling silently through space. On it two specks. We are
indissoluble. Three minutes of reality! all I ever asked.
She stands looking out at rain on the roof.
- from "The Beauty of the Husband," by Anne Carson
A good book plucks us from the concrete bunkers of the present. A good book lifts us from our circling preoccupations, puts wings on our thoughts and hands us navigation coordinates we've never flown before. A good book sits in our thoughts like the most erudite and giving of guests, discussing the world at length long after the book has closed. A good book is an all-night diner with an open bar and our favorite people alive and dead, known, unknown, stirring coffee across from us with a bent spoon, chin in hand, asking, "And after you decided to do that, then what?"
Life, as the saying goes, is to be be lived. A life, your life, is not to be postponed or sidetracked, minimized like a competing channel on a bigger screen. Anne Carson, in her incomparable book-length prose poem, "The Beauty of the Husband, a fictional essay in 29 tangos," explores Keats' idea that beauty is truth. And does so telling the story of a marriage. As you might imagine, truth thus becomes personal, subjective, illusory, intimate. All of its beauty released in the telling. Truth and beauty, we discover, are synonyms for what is real.
Beauty, it turns out, like truth can be cruel. Transcendent. As goes one of my favorite lines from the poet Masahide, Barn's burnt down. Now I can see the moon.
When you read this prose by Anne Carson, think of what you understand as the narrator speaks. What is truth, what is illusion, is it possible to experience differing threads of the same story? A good book lifts us above the landscape even as it plummets us into the heart of action. A good book inhabits our thoughts because
of its beauty. Because
of its truth.
Life, in all its formidable beauty.
The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.
This sentence, posted last night by two gentlemen on Twitter, is from the novel "Ulysses" by James Joyce. Perhaps, as one of them said, the most beautiful sentence in the English language. I gift it to you. Be overwhelmed.
August 5, 2015
The chain of choices we make for ourselves is not the whole of our life's story.
We make decisions every step of the way, yes, and we change many of them as time goes by. But in many instances as many things just happen as much as they are chosen.
And at that point disruption sets in at the crossroad of all our plans.
Once choice cancels another.
Life lies in adapting to choices that are not mine.
- "Between the Dark and the Daylight," by Joan Chittister
This slim book of chapters on topics ranging from The Fragility of Achievement, The Role of Failure in Success, The Struggle Between Guilt and Growth, The Loneliness of Love, etc., is written in the practical commonsense voice Sister Joan is known for in her many previous books on spirituality and the well-lived life. There are many nuggets of wisdom and guidance to be found throughout the pages of this, her most recent book, including working definitions of emotional states such as hopelessness - "a spiritual doldrum" - and loneliness, where sister Sister Joan assures the reader, "Loneliness is a sign that there are whole parts of us that cry out for development. After all we are meant to be more than our social lives. It is also a call to make other people's needs our own."
The writing in Sister Joan's pithy chapters is clear and straightforward, but from the title and book jacket description, I was expecting more depth in addressing modern spiritual angst. Hoping for a focused exploration of that existential worry that besets many of us between bedtime and dawn, as the title suggests. The hours we lie awake, confused and worried, as we puzzle out our misery and search for answers to the great questions of our lives. Sister Joan speaks to the book's title theme to some degree, writing, "Frustration is something that does not exist - except within the self... The paradox of delusion is that, if anything, the very act of putting trivia between us and the world is exactly a sign that we need to question what it is that is undermining our ability to function well in normal circumstances... It's what we like don't like about ourselves and do not want other people to sense about the small parts of us...to attend to what I have long ignored or denied or forgotten. To resolve what I regret."
This section, among others, skims the surface of what is most certainly a greater potential discussion of human spirituality in today's often violent, fast-moving, material world. What of this silent isolation? These inner dialogues during the troubled night that shadow our daily lives?
"Between the Dark and the Daylight, Embracing the Contradictions of Life," is a chapbook of gracious homilies. This book is both on the right track, and simply not deep enough in my opinion for a reader with serious soul-searching issues begging to be explored. Sister Joan quotes Augustine: "This is our perfection: to find out our imperfections."
And then what?
*I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.
July 29, 2015
THE POET ALWAYS CARRIES A NOTEBOOK
What is he scribbling on the page?
Is there snow in it, or fire?
Is it the beginning of a poem?
Is it a love note?
- Mary Oliver
This is the story of how I finally tackled my burgeoning emotional tar pit of a book hoarding problem. My first experience letting go was after a house fire burned my entire collection of childhood books and I lost an old beloved book of hand-watercolored illustrated French fairytales. Out of the six shelves of books hoarded from childhood - the Nancy Drews, the fables, the adventure stories - I deeply grieved only that one book of fairy tales. Just hefting its substantial weight and touching the yellowed pages and stained fabric hardcover once brought joy. My second traumatic experience letting go was between college and graduate school. A faculty member kindly offered to store my college books in his basement in Virginia as I began new work in DC. After settling into an apartment, I went back for my books and found the boxes destroyed by summer humidity, the books molding and ruined.
Recently I posted a review on a little book about organizing and decluttering by the Japanese writer Marie Kondo, "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing." Kondo's ideas and principles (The KonMari Method) are quite different from the advice we usually hear about decluttering - toss if you haven't used/worn in a year, toss if used once, store and reconsider, etc. Marie writes, "My criterion for deciding to keep an item is that we should feel a thrill of joy when we touch it."
Plates, shoes, notebooks, coats? Umbrellas, books, electric cords? Yes. All of it.
Kondo's theory is that if you love something, you use it or emotionally connect to it, and therefore it belongs in your life. I moved and traveled - my limit was twenty boxes of books, no more - but then a nice stretch of settling in meant books began to seriously collect. I read voraciously and the space these books occupied lined the walls of my study, and then the downstairs. There were craft books on writing, thesaurus editions, the classics, new anthologies, bestsellers, rare finds, research tomes. To be honest, they weren't all great, or beloved, or important. But they sat in my house gathering dust.
Enter Marie Kondo. Her entire section on sorting through books seemed written for me. She addresses common fixations: keeping notes from seminars years in the past, books in collections of which only one book matters to you, books for things a person might need to learn, know, look up. Atlases, gift books, college texts. The Internet has become a reference library at our fingertips, yet we hang onto illustrated workout guides, home repair manuals, travel guides. All right, Marie. I see your point. But handle every book? Ask myself, Do I love it? Does it bring me joy?
Success is ninety percent dependent on our mind set.
- "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up," by Marie Kondo
The night this week I tackled my book shelves began as a perfect storm. I was staring at a stack of books on the floor when I realized I had not read any of the books in the stack. Ouch. What a waste. Moments later, I received a painful and discouraging email. Curling up inside, I drifted to my usual way of handling chaos or preparing for change - I began to shift furniture. I attempted to shelve the entire book stack.
No go. There was not one free inch of space.
Fine. Peeved and full of pent up frustration, I sat down on the floor and picked up the top book in the stack in front of me. I looked at it, opened the pages, thought about whether I had even wanted to read it or still intended to. Yes, keep. No, toss. I put the book in the toss pile. From stacks to shelves I picked up each book. Did I remember it? Want to reread it? Love it? Was it given to me by somebody, did I secretly never intend to read it but thought it an impressive shelf title? There were a whole lot of "Look how well read/on trend/diverse/interesting I am" sorts of unwanted books.
The giveaway piles gathered on the kitchen counter began to grow. I found myself keeping the one Edward Abbey book of essays my first husband had loved because he'd read it rafting the Grand Canyon on the Colorado: the other four could go. The topical nonfiction books I had read but would never read again, the new novel I bought on the basis of a good review but couldn't make myself finish...those, too, could go. The mountain climbing adventure book I knew I would reread, that stayed. My poetry, love love love. The old paperbacks of Bellow, Gardner, Updike, Steinbeck, Lessing, Drabble, Stegner. Stay. The political biographies? Churchill stays, Bush goes. Science, art? Einstein stays, Hepburn stays, Pollock stays, Sagan goes. Once my husband poked his head into the family room (I had finished the shelves in my office and moved on to the main floor shelves). He said not a word and ducked out again.
I handled each book, looked it in the heart, and decided right then to love it or leave it. When I was done with The Great Purge, I had 10 boxes of books for giveaway, and space on every alphabetized shelf for continued reading.
Every book I see is a good one, something I love. Whether new or tattered, timely or classic, each book is one I have a strong connection to. And the stack by the bed of yet-to-read books are books I actually WANT to read. The guilt is gone, the unwanted have moved on to new homes, my shelves reflect me.
Marie Kondo was right. Decluttering is a tactile process. We know and cherish objects through simple touch. When we surround ourselves with those things we feel connected to, we feel better in our lives.
July 22, 2015
For whom and to whom in the shadow
Ostia Antica, Italy
does my gradual guitar resound,
being born in the salt of my being
like the fish in the salt of the sea?
- from "Songs," Residence on Earth
, Pablo Neruda
I was born on the 22nd of September. Today is the 22nd of July - the day my first husband, Ken, passed away...and birthday of my second husband, Greg. Reverberations pass through our lives - touched by this one number, 22.
A strange and mysterious, sad and joyful tumbler of emotions accompanies every July 22nd for me. I am twinned in both my past and my present on this one, extraordinary day. Acknowledging loss while acknowledging joy, aware of what is missing and what is found. Greg was aware of the synchronicity of these dates before I was. We had just met; Greg had read THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOVE and he texted me that day, wishing me peace and comfort, as he knew my son and I were out at Ken's gravesite. Greg never told me that day it was also his birthday, which speaks to his sensitivity and respect for Ken's place in my life, although later it caused me some remorse as his birthday should have been something to celebrate. If only I'd known. Would I have believed it? Would the shared dates have shaken me?
Since our marriage, Greg and I, as well as my children, dance in the complex realities of this date. We've embraced it as uniquely ours. The anniversary of Ken's death is etched on July 22nd, Greg came into life on July 22nd, the 22nd day is the day of my birthday in the fall...it seemed natural that going forward we would chose the 22nd day of any month as our choice for important events and decisions. We married on the 22nd of April. My daughter schedules major exams for this date (she is taking one today), and my son releases new music projects whenever he can on the 22nd.
How fitting that last night my beloved Ken was spoken of in the course of a writing workshop I taught at Auntie's Books on memoir - and I came home that same night to share and celebrate the class with my dear Greg. Today, Greg's birthday, is full of joy. We celebrate the doorway that opened between our lives and loves, and the powerful synchronicity that is for us, the number 22.
July 15, 2015
Human judgment can be divided into two broad types: intuitive and rational. When it comes to selecting what to discard, it is actually our rational judgment that causes trouble. Although intuitively we know that an object has no attraction for us, our reason raises all kinds of arguments for not discarding it, such as "I might need it later" or "It's a waste to get rid of it." These thoughts spin round and round in our mind, making it impossible to let go.
I am not claiming it is wrong to hesitate. The inability to decide demonstrates a certain degree of attachment to a particular object. Nor can all decisions be made on intuition alone. But this is precisely why we need to consider each object with care and not be distracted by thoughts of being wasteful.
To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.
- "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Declutttering and Organizing," by Marie Kondo
This small book (it is quite compact) has now sold over two million copies, a #1 New York Times Bestseller. What that says to me is that Americans are buried in stuff, desperate for guidance, hungry for personal organization, and stymied by the conflicting messages of "keep" or "toss." As I am an organized type by nature, even as a child my toys and books were boxed or alphabetized, I initially read this book out of curiosity. But half way through I realized I was learning, finally, how to really
make decisions about the things I own without falling sway to the usual tired aphorisms such as "Waste not, want not," or "You might need/fit into/get back into this someday," and the ultimate trump card - "But I plowed so much money into that!"
Arranged into fun and cogent sections, with titles such as -
You can't tidy if you've never learned how
Storage experts are hoarders
Selection criteria, does it spark joy?
If you're mad at your family, your room may be the cause
Komono (miscellaneous items): keep things because you love them - not "just because"
Don't underestimate the "noise" of written information
An attachment to the past or anxiety about the future
- Kondo's book explains the deeper principles behind why we keep things, how best to organize them, ways to treasure them (proper storage), and finally, how to live firmly in the present
in our day-to-day relationship with things.
I found my personal Waterloo in Kondo's section regarding books (apparently common enough to require its own section). While not so tenacious I finish books I do not like, or hang onto books I'm not sure I'll ever read (and have felt that way about for more than a year), I do keep the majority of books I buy. I consciously curate my book choices, in terms of personal esteem for the work, or with an eye toward collection completion (for example all the works by a favorite author, not just the few I enjoy). I collect print, not e-books (I like the physical beauty of books, and dip into pages at random), so the storage requirements for my books are impressive. Kondo suggests we consider things we own in multiples (e.g. sports equipment, clothes, books, music, toys, etc.) in terms of the pleasure
they provide. This nudged me to rethink my approach. Unless I am investing in a complete collection for its future resale value, what is the personal value to me
of the complete set? If, say, only one of three books by a certain author brings me genuine pleasure maybe I should let go of the others. The result would be fewer books taking valuable space, and of those books, having the ones I love.
I recommend you take a look at this spunky, practical little book. It is terrific. Kondo genuinely understands the complicated relationships humans have with things. The feelings tied up in objects - the obligation we feel to retain family heirlooms (my husband an I are currently discussing a certain unusable - to us - wood Norwegian cradle), the guilt over past purchasing mistakes (my sister bemoans the trend in jeggings), fear of an uncertain future, and its twin, an intrinsic appreciation of the value in a buck, and that perennially hopeful assessment that borders on wishful thinking (sure I'll be a size 4, go camping/river rafting/repelling again).
Kondo respects the true joy an object can provide. The principles of decluterring are not just to lighten the load (although that has undeniable merit), but to absolutely love and appreciate what we choose to keep in our lives. Now, today.
July 8, 2015
WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO ANYWAY?
by Jack Ridl
Trying to know what to do is difficult
enough, let alone knowing what to do
anyway. I could take that at least two ways,
maybe more. For example, I could take a walk,
even a long walk and I would expect to walk
through the woods or a field or a park or downtown.
But what if i take a walk and instead just kept
the walk to myself, kept it here amid all the indecision
about where to take that walk? I might pop open a Coke,
kick off my hiking boots, put on a smoking jacket,
and pile up some Jane Austen and some Henry James,
just pile them up. And then maybe I'd talk with you
even though you are no longer here. It could be like that,
or maybe it is like that. And at night the sky would be full
of the same stars as the night before last. At least it seems that way.
Jack Ridl, midwesterner, poet and professor, dedicated this poem to John Bartlby. But what he means us to know at the end of our reading is expressed in the last three lines. A man misses his friend. And this sudden, shattering absence measures, for our poet, the width and depth of the gulf between the tenuous temporal and the fixed eternal. Our poet glances upward. Stars. In their infinite lives, so much longer than our own, they fill the night, evidence of continuum. Today like yesterday - is it not full
? But he feels the difference, our poet. A light has dimmed and changed the sky.
Ridl's poem begins in the physical. In the body of the poet and what he will do with himself. The living, and the no longer living. Failed by the futility of action, unable to find release in the movement of his muscles and breath, the poet moves into the hypothetical, the wondering, the hungering, the intimate. Again he returns to what is physical as he seeks comfort in the presence of what still is
. Stars. Stars that remain the same, yet that some, now, do not see. Is it still as it always is? "It could be like that,/or maybe it is like that."
We know absence. We know loss. Take a walk. Or not. Boots on, or not. Books...or not. Thinking about the thing and internalizing the thing that thought signifies. Where do we go with vastness? An endless night? How does the heart embrace space too big for words?
What are you supposed to do anyway?
July 1, 2015
THE GOOD LIFE
My children at the beach with our dog, Scooter
by Mark Strand
You stand at the window.
There is a glass cloud in the shape of a heart.
There are the wind's sighs that are like caves in your speech.
You are the ghost in the tree outside.
The street is quiet.
The weather, like tomorrow, like your life,
is partially here, partially up in the air.
There is nothing you can do.
The good life gives no warning.
It weathers the climates of despair
and appears, on foot, unrecognized, offering nothing,
and you are there.
We stand in the tracks of tangled footpaths among dreams, ambitions, regrets, loss. At every vantage, we take in the long view. There is something about our hearts that needs the wideness of the unknown, the promise of discovery around the next bend. Mark Strand's line, "like tomorrow, like your life,/is partially here, partially up in the air," reminds us we exist in becoming
- in shift between hard realties and bright imaginings. Partially here, partially up in the air.
In a week marked by deep suffering and wordless pain for our own communities and others around the world, of shocked disbelief, and moral agony, I find unexpected comfort in these lines of Strand's last stanza:
The good life gives no warning.
It weathers the climates of despair
The ability of life to rebound, for wounds to heal and the human journey to continue - mindful of events that have occurred - moves me. I don't know if someday the world will end on a high note or a whimper, but life continues to seek what is good. We must rise. The celebration of The Fourth of July blesses the founding anniversary of our nation, symbolized in part by family gatherings and communal celebrations. In the wake of all that has been tragic and awful, let us lift one another, step forward, and stand strong in community.
The following is from my very first post, July of 2010:
Welcome summer! Collect your flip flops, grab your beach bag and throw in a basket of great books to indulge in. These are the slow days of simmering heat and sun. The pastimes of childhood call. Riding barefoot on a bicycle, playing cards clothes-pinned to the spokes of the wheel,
ratta-tatta-tat down the block for an ice cream. Hot afternoons at the city pool, sleepovers under the stars, lemonade stands in red Flyer wagons. The boom of thunder and the salted tar smell of cool rain as it hits a hot street. The vacation trip to the beach. Crammed in the family station wagon packed to the gills, counting state license plates...
Life is forever "partially up in the air." Choose faith. Choose joy. Choose optimism. Find time for yourself and those you love.
June 24, 2015
THE ART OF DISAPPEARING
Statue of The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen
by Naomi Shihab Nye
When They Say Don't I Know You?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
It's not that you don't love them anymore.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
This poem came to me via the wonderful tiny chapbook by Roger Housden, "Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime." (I have spoken of this collection before.) Housden has this to say: "I find the strong and sober stand of this poem a welcome inspiration. Yet I know there are those who feel otherwise. People have told me they feel it to be ungenerous and curmudgeonly in its attitude to others. On the other hand, I remember seeing Bill Moyers on PBS one evening, and him saying that ever since being called into the hospital for heart trouble, he has kept a copy of this poem by Naoimi Shihab Nye in his top pocket. For me, it's that kind of poem. A reminder poem, a shake-your-tree poem, a wake-up-and-live-your-own-life-before-it's-all-too-late poem."
Makes you pause, doesn't it? Housden calls a poem that speaks deeply a "message from a trusted friend," that is, "the persistent murmur in our own chest." He adds this observation by Keats - which I find the single greatest secret to cultivating poetry (or any art, for that matter) - "Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a Remembrance."
We plod through our promised-to's, the ought-to's, and endlessly defer personal must-do's. Last in priority are those experiences, projects, and commitments that call us to live deeply, exploring all the corners of our being. Pause for a moment and think about this: Do you remember the moment when you knew
your life dream? When you crested from childhood into young adulthood and set your sights on the world's horizon? Do you recall the truth you felt in your bones that hot August afternoon, lying in the grass under the green willow branches, staring up and through an endless sky? Have you experienced a sudden shiver holding a newborn? Become aware of the life history in the still, veined hand of your grandmother as she held a tea cup and waited by the window?
Nye's poem is a call back home - live your life, know life, for life is finite.
I appreciate this poem's honest fierceness. Nye doesn't mince words. I need that. Her poem reminds me that a given day on earth is not about obligation. Being present for your own life is not the denial of relationship, responsibility or connection, but practicing purpose
. Inhabiting the originality and truth that is yours alone. Answering the call. Whatever that "it" is that beats at the heart of every human spirit and reflected in these lines from THE ART OF DISAPPEARING I carry in my wallet.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bells at twilight.
So, I listen.