QUINTESSENCE

Beginnings and Endings

April 18, 2014

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

Sunrise over Haleakala Crater, Maui
In the end, all books are written for your friends.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

As soon as you trust yourself you will know how to live.
- Johann Wolfgang Goethe

This week has been full of important endings and magnificent beginnings. The world said farewell to one of the greatest writers in my lifetime, a spinner of tales of magic and fable, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Marquez passed away at his home in Mexico on April 17 at the age of 87, leaving the world a legacy of writing that most are familiar with and generations treasure. His stories were stories of ordinary, impossibly grand lives. Lifetimes lived accidentally, yet with instinct. Of poetic nuances and tragic shadows, ignorance and discovery. Marquez celebrated life for its many impossibilities - for those are the moments that give us beauty.

Also, a beginning to note. The birth in Princeton, New Jersey, of a baby boy. The first child, a son, of a dear friend's daughter. This beautiful, talented woman and her brilliant, compassionate husband have added a new voice to the world. I love this moment: when the revolving door of souls, the coming and going of destinies, freshens history. A sweetness on the air so delicate and full of promise with the arrival of new life that we can't help but notice. The world taketh and returneth. We give and lose and regain and lose and give again. Each life makes a unique, profound impact on the world; and when it is our time, we step aside for the next new performance. On April 17, one family marks a new beginning, even as another says goodbye.

I will never forget the stories of Marquez. And I cannot wait for the songs of one new boy. Isn't the world a marvelous place?

Ear to the Canvas

April 11, 2014

Tags: art and creation, intention, solitude, the moderns

Automat, 1927, by Edward Hopper

THE GLOVE OF TIME BY EDWARD HOPPER

True I am but a shadow of a passenger on this planet
but my soul likes to dress in formal attire
despite the stains.
She walks through the door.
She takes off her glove.
Does she turn her head.
Does she criss her leg. That is a question.
Who is speaking.
Also a question.
All I can say is
I see no evidence of another glove.
The words are not a sentence, don't work on that.
Work on this.
It is not empty time, it is the moment
when the curtains come blowing into the room.
When the lamp is prepared.
When light hits the wall just there.
And the glove?
Now it rose up - the life she could have lived (par les soirs bleus d'ete).
It so happens
paint is motionless.
But if you put your ear to the canvas you will hear
the sounds of a terribly good wheel on its way.
Somewhere someone is travelling toward you,
travelling day and night.

Bare birches flow past.
The red road drops away.
Here, you hold this:
evidence.
It so happens
a good evening glove
is 22 centimeters from hem to fingertip.
This was a glove "shot in the back"
(as Godard said of his King Lear).
Listening to his daughters Lear
hoped to see their entire bodies
stretched out across their voices
like white kid.
For in what does time differ from eternity except we measure it?
- Anne Carson

This poem by Anne Carson is linked to Edward Hopper's famous painting "Automat, 1927" in the title, and touches on both Carson's ideas of time as a parenthesis, a formality, an accessory of eternity - and the painter Edward Hopper's hung narratives, his famous still scenes, paintings that catch and hold a moment of life in suspended view. Reading this poem for me is like falling into the wake behind a moving boat. The froth of the ripples, the spreading disturbance of words and ideas, the patterns of strokes created by the words and the poet, catch us, soak us, and soon shimmer over our heads as we sink into the stillness. What is this stillness? The stillness of everything. The inside out of Carson's "Glove of Time." The voice of Hopper's canvas.

This is National Poetry Month, and if you have not already made friends with a book of poems, I urge you to do so. Emily Temple posted a list of "50 Essential Books of Poetry That Everyone Should Read" (April 7th, Flavorwire.com, http://flavorwire.com/449473/50-essential-books-of-poetry-that-everyone-should-read/view-all).* While by no means complete, missing many favorites of mine, and without the collectible quirks that make poetry personal to each reader, this list comprises a foundation to begin an avid reader's bookshelf collection. Poetry books, like friends, are indispensable in my view. Poems can be invited for long chats, fill a blue evening, lift a trodden heart. Poetry is another set of senses to experience the world and ourselves. This list is just one place to begin.

I invite you to find a poem this week. Befriend the new way in which poetry opens what we see and hear. Enjoy where the poem takes you. Where the words end and your thoughts continue.

*Poets mentioned in Temple's list: Adrienne Rich| Allen Ginsberg | Anne Carson | Cathy Park Hong | Charles Simic | Corey Van Landingham | Elizabeth Bishop | Emily Dickinson | Frank O'Hara | Frederick Seidel | Galway Kinnell | John Ashbery | John Berryman | John Donne | Josh Bell | Louise Gluck | Mary Oliver | Lyn Hejinian | Marie Howe | Mary Karr | Maya Angelou | Natasha Trethewey | Nikky Finney | Ovid |Pablo Neruda | Rita Dove | Robert Hass | Seamus Heaney | Sharon Olds | Shel Silverstein | Sylvia Plath | T.S. Eliot | Terrance Hayes | Tracy K. Smith | Wallace Stevens | William Carlos Williams | William Shakespeare | e.e. cummings | John Keats | Langston Hughes | Robert Frost |Walt Whitman | and others...

Mark the Music

April 2, 2014

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

Ruins of ancient Greek amphitheater at Licata, Sicily
“By the sweet power of music: therefore the poet
did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones and floods;
since nought so stockish, hard and full of rage,
but music for the time doth change his nature.
The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
and his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.”


- William Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice"



This lyric passage from Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" is one of my favorites on illumination and human nature. For not only is Shakespeare's language full and transcendent, touching on myth and poet, the passage has a timeless truth at its core. The human animal is moved, persuaded toward virtue, by a natural capacity and recognition for the arts. Music in this case transforms the brute to the aesthete, the warrior to the statesman, one who is dangerous to an ally. Shakespeare writes of the flame within: that aspect of mankind unconsciously attuned to natural beauty. What power in the shepherd's reed, the primitive landscape, the brushstrokes of a civilization past, to spark the human soul. Our appreciation of beauty causes us to better our natures, to bring forth the genuine, and unexpected goodness. Mark the music, Shakespeare writes, for concord within casts the light of the soul.

I find myself thinking of this passage and the raucous, brawling nobility of the discourses that embolden The Merchant of Venice, whenever I worry about the future of books, bookstores, or contemporary culture in general. Whether we encourage, patronize, or sustain the arts, as people we are nonetheless deeply connected to them. What it is about art that elevates the soul is also that which draws us into its presence. Nature, song, dancer, poet... We are "moved with concord of sweet sounds."

Working from Within

March 25, 2014

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

Lemoille Canyon, Nevada. Credit: P. Pettit
I learned this from Robert McKee. A hack, he says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn't ask himself what's in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for. The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he's superior to them. The truth is, he's scared of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He's afraid it won't sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.
- Steven Pressfield, "The War of Art"

This essay by Steven Pressfield, from his interesting nonfiction book "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles," delves into one of the trickier sand-traps for any writer attempting to make his or her way creatively in the writing profession. When the writer begins to look outside himself, to think hierarchically, that is about success and achievement, the rankings of others, the effect of his work not its authenticity, he is no longer working organically. He has lost touch with his ability to be genuine, to work as Pressfield calls it, "territorially."

Why not keep a firm eye on the market as you write, the trends in sales, the "likes" of everyone from agents to critics? Because to do so takes the writer out of that inward untempered mindset that produces powerful, authentic work. Writing to hit a trend, influence a sale, or deliver a predictable "hit," drops the writer into an uncertain anxiety - straight into the commercial realm of the hack. The hack doesn't have a true personal commitment to his or her work. The hack doesn't work from an unstoppable faith or passion in his or her idea. And while the hack may produce work that sells, it is destined to never be fully satisfying. It is not the truly original creative work only he or she is capable of.

Without a doubt, Pressfield is right. Yet. Does the writer not need to make a living, and aren't writers in everything from television to book adaptations working within market trends and demands? Yes. I think it is wise to know where in the business you want to be and what you're willing to risk. I also think it's possible to write for the market (e.g. produce commissioned freelance work) and go home at night and tune in to the great masterpiece in your mind, typing away on your laptop late into the wee hours. Most of us do this. Split ourselves between bread and butter work and what we're deeply passionate about. We take care of the bills with writing that pays those bills.

I met with my tax accountant recently, and the subject of the amount of years a writer can lose money at the "business" of writing came up. There is a set period of losses that are tolerable before "self-employed writing" falls from a business to a hobby in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. Our commercial outlook as a nation is oriented to bottom-line profit, and the concept of working on pure speculation - your opus may or may not ever find a market home - is neither encouraged or valued by society. Van Gogh painted masterpiece after masterpiece yet never found a buyer during his lifetime. What did his accountant advise him? We can guess.

The hack is therefore a practical artist. But inevitably, the question must be confronted: Is the work is to make authentic art or make art that sells? While not necessarily at odds, usually art must come first to be original and distinct. The writer must work territorially, as Pressfield put it. That is, from within. And all the success to follow will then be long-lasting and meaningful.


Door Into Nowhere

March 21, 2014

Tags: art and creation, finding joy, intention, patterns, solitude

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh
OF THE MUSE
by May Sarton

There is no poetry in lies,
But in crude honesty
There is hope for poetry.
For a long time now
I have been deprived of it
Because of pride,
Would not allow myself
The impossible.
Today, I have learned
That to become
A great, cracked,
Wide-open door
Into nowhere
Is wisdom.

When I was young,
I misunderstood
The Muse.
Now I am older and wiser,
I can be glad of her
As one is glad of the light.
We do not thank the light,
But rejoice in what we see
Because of it.
What I see today
Is the snow falling:
All things made new.


This humble and poignant poem by New England poet May Sarton stands as the final poem in her book, Halfway to Silence. What I love about this poem is the poet's quiet sense of slipping through experience into a sense (as writer Julian Barnes put it) "of an ending" - opening to wisdom. Aged, reflective, questioning still, in her lifelong creative work Sarton sought an elusive muse; bolder, nobler inspiration and answers. In writing "Of the Muse," Sarton reveals a slowly distilled personal truth: that her lifelong art has not been the gift of inspired flights of stark originality, but the gift of incidental moments of awareness. A found truth along life's most ordinary path. Leaning in is looking closer. Opening into nowhere. What Sarton expresses when she writes, "We do not thank the light,/ But rejoice in what we see/Because of it."

"There is no poetry in lies," Sarton writes. Truth, not appearances or form, mark the beginning point of meaning. Unvarnished and unaltered. Whether we speak of the heart or the earth, our ambitions or our sins, perceiving others, ourselves, and our surroundings honestly is the beginning point. Listen in. Hear the tighter, deeper, stronger, resonating beats of growing older: understand there is no mantra or magic. Not for enhancing creativity, or for making a life. There is only this: a more honest awareness. A raw truth.

"But in crude honesty/There is hope for poetry." Can it be put more beautifully, or simply? Sarton lays aside the ego and its masks. Dispenses with falsehood and fakeries. Only comprehend, she writes, what is before us. Bow, willingly, to the pre-eminence of what is in all things, and therein, wonder. To see the snow fall, all things made new.

Truth and Interest

March 14, 2014

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

Luzern, Switzerland
“As you get older, you get more confident that if something’s true to you, there is a way to represent it entertainingly. If it happens to a person, it can’t possibly be non-art. So in the story ‘The Tenth of December,’ there’s a moment where, because of the structure, the character’s thoughts turn towards his wife. And I just turned my thoughts towards my wife, you know? What came out was probably the truest thing I’ve ever written about our relationship, for sure. And it wasn’t sappy; it was actually pretty good prose. I wasn’t trying to make it anything other than what it was; I was trying to make it true as quickly as I could. So that was a big moment for me. Even the really positive things that you feel, that you’ve always roped off as being too sappy, if you say them urgently enough — of course, why not?”
- George Saunders, excerpt from the Longform Podcast, The New Yorker Magazine

George Saunder's first sentence is an important one: "...if something’s true to you, there is a way to represent it entertainingly." I believe this maxim forms the spine of most good fiction and memoir. (And is absolutely relevant to nonfiction as well.) Why? Because people read to engage in thinking, and that process, like all of learning in life, is a response to curiosity. For a story to be entertaining is in most instances the ability to arouse emotion and curiosity. If you think back to when you were a child, the power of books had everything to do with a story's ability to snag your imagination and open up worlds that beckoned and delighted, scared and satisfied. As an adult the hunger to learn, the curiosity to follow an idea or subject deeper is a primary motivator in choosing a book to read. And once we have cracked opened those pages, any creeping lack of engagement, any sign of impinging boredom - the emotional flat-line of reader engagement - will be the reason we put that book down, unfinished.

Curiosity. Engagement. Emotion. Entertainment. For the writer, these elements are as daunting and complicated as a technical climb up the sheer face of Yosemite's Half Dome. As writers we know that a reader's interest can be hooked and sustained through good writing craft and the subtleties of technique, but every great story possesses a nugget of magic. That necessary, undefinable element that captures our attention. George Saunders writes about that moment. His personal experience, his truth translated seamlessly to the page. The spark to an intimate author-reader conversation. Honest, truthful, insightful. The door that opens us as readers to our own thinking.

The writer finds a way to sustain exposure by trusting in technique, and backing uncertainty by adopting a fearless attitude to the task. On that sheer rock of narrative it would be impossible to free-climb without faith in one's equipment, technique, and experienced judgment. But bridging uncertainty requires a goodly amount of courage, and comfort with risk. As readers we expect our authors to be unpretentious on the page, and if not fearless, then undaunted. As writers, we know readers will never follow our words down the twisting dark trail of storytelling, with its deliberate shadows and dead ends, without growing curiosity. Readers engage with a journey they feel is both real and fascinating. Writers, where is the cornerstone, your truth in the story? Make it urgent, entertaining, and those books will fly off the shelves.

The Origami of Light

March 7, 2014

Tags: nature, finding joy, patterns, presence

Floating Flower Market, Amsterdam
Flower and fruits are always fit presents; flowers because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out values all the utilities of the world.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Gifts"

I hear the violoncello or man's heart's complaint.
- Walt Whitman, "Leaves of Grass"

Yesterday my husband brought fresh flowers into the house, red tulips. Tight and closed, the deep green leaves folded against the buds, I placed them in a vase on the kitchen table. Hour by hour, basking by the window in the sun's warmth, they opened. This is how late winter feels today. The cold earth, the trees and shrubbery hunkered bare and tight against the winds and bouts of snow and freezing rain, lift, hour by hour, by new angles of light. The northern hemisphere of earth is turning once again toward the sun, and the pale watery light that sweeps away the cold wakes the growing things. Light has opened the red tulips on my table. Light opens the heart.

I'd like to share with you the words of Mary Oliver as a small meditation on the peace and beauty to be found in the ordinary. A small poem - in origami folds - opening to a moving, deep appreciation of simply being alive.

FRESHEN THE FLOWERS, SHE SAID

So I put them in the sink, for the cool porcelain
was tender,
and took out the tattered and cut each stem
on a slant,
trimmed the black and raggy leaves, and set them all -
roses, delphiniums, daisies, iris, lillies,
and more whose names I don't know, in bright new water -
gave them

a bounce upward at the end to let them take
their own choice of position, the wheels, the spurs,
the little sheds of the buds. It took, to do this,
perhaps fifteen minutes.
Fifteen minutes of music
with nothing playing.


Habits of Creative Practice 4

February 28, 2014

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

Moonshell, Ukee Aquarium
Solitude, says the moon shell. Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day... The world totally does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone... Actually these are among the most important times in one's life - when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships. She must find that inner stillness which Charles Morgan describes as "the stilling of the soul within the activities of the mind and body so that it might be still as the axis of a revolving wheel is still."
- Anne Morrow Lindberg, "Gift from the Sea"

Anne Morrow Lindberg's comments about the importance of solitude are as true today, if not more so, as when she first penned "Gifts from the Sea" in 1955. The benefits of solitude for the human soul are undeniable in this contemporary era of continuous technological hum. We are linked-in, online, accessible, and checking in more frequently with the world and our demanding lives than ever before possible. "Unplugging" has come to mean "taking a break" from the world. Dropping off-line into silence, stillness, the present moment.

Something inside each of us craves stillness. Humans sail away, climb high peaks, retreat to the woods, take vows of silence, try any of "fifty ways to leave" their troubles as the song goes. Burnt out, we experiment with an endless odyssey of solitudes - we understand why Forrest Gump laced up his shoes and took to the road. We crave a space where we can be alone with ourselves: in solitude is fundamental renewal. Clarity. That said, how difficult finding the time!

I began running in middle school as a way of escaping the chaos of teenage life, in particular the break-up of my parents' marriage. Needing frequent interludes of silence to decompress adult life, I continue the habit. Heading out on a run late at night, early in the morning, regardless of weather. I am that "lone wolf" - alone with my thoughts as the miles fly by. For you it might be the yoga mat, cycling, kneading bread, a garden, hiking, laps in the pool, a whittler's knife, a crochet hook, paint by numbers, meditation. Your solitude may be creative or the farthest thing from it. It's quality is self-care.

The benefits for the writer of frequent passages into solitude are enormous. Not only as Lindberg says to work out our thoughts, but more importantly to recharge the inner well from which all creativity arises. Creative effort is enduring, exhausting, and ineffably demanding. It cannot be done on the fly, or with half-attention or "between takes," or while multitasking. Creative work begins in collected focus, drawing from inner resources, contemplation and imagination. These fuel cells evaporate in the presence of anxiety, distraction, fatigue or preoccupation. Frequent solitude is the way to nurture and protect our creative energies.

Easier said than done. Too often we fret that setting aside "alone time" means we are "wasting time": pressuring ourselves with the belief bigger more important tasks await. Too often we allow ourselves to be convinced the demands of others take precedence not just now, but always. Often we are too uncomfortable with ourselves in stillness to give stillness a chance to speak, to settle into it. We expect a product at the end of such arduous self-imposed breaks; dismissing solitude if we do not then produce a book, an idea, new thinking. We must instead give solitude it's due: recognize stillness as a sacred time, solace of the self. What comes of our solitude is whatever we most need; even if that be unmeasurable, intangible, anything but concrete. What we require will rise from deep within if given the space. In stillness we are primed for lifting what lies within without. Excavation, reflection, sifting, construction, release. Solitude, to borrow from Anne Morrow Lindberg's insightful prose, nurtures "the firm strand that will be the indispensable center." The cornerstone.

An important step toward both good living and good creative practice might be to find that one place or activity or combination of things that allows us to access our inner axis of stillness. Beginning with a modest goal, we can dedicate whatever small amount of time is available to our fledgling practice of solitude. Steal time if we must. The benefits of solitude, of inner stillness, will infuse every other moment of life and work with inspiration: inspire, to breathe.

Habits of Creative Practice 3

February 19, 2014

Tags: art and creation, intention, patterns

The Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas
Character gives us qualities, but it is in actions - what we do - that we are happy or the reverse... All human happiness and misery take the form of action.
- The Poetics, Aristotle

Technique is...any selection, structure, or distortion, any form or rhythm imposed upon the world of action; by means of which, it should be added, our apprehension of the world of action is enriched or renewed. In this sense, everything is technique which is not the lump of experience itself, and one cannot say that a writer has no technique, for being a writer, he cannot. We can speak of good technique and bad technique, or adequate and inadequate, of technique which serves the novel's purpose, or disserves.
- Technique as Discovery, Mark Schorer

So you, my writing friend, have your idea. You know the thing that you want to put down in print, the idea that keeps you up at night. Now what? The twin foundations of the book are character and plot. Construction of the book depends on technique. Do you know the architecture you have in mind? Do you possess the skills you require for the task?

I don't think enough can be said for the developmental power of reading and observation for writers. Reading well, and deeply, is the writer's avenue into effective technique: finding elements of craft that serve storytelling in unique ways. Reading the works of others is the best way to understand the subtle relationship between story and structure. What do you shade in, and what do you leave out for the reader to intuit? Many times the best experience as a reader is one in which the writer has deliberately opened the door to speculation and contemplation. Created a dialog that leaves a slice of mystery in our hands, as readers, to interpret and define the tale in accordance with our own intellect or experience. Often the hardest aspect of good novel technique is refraining from overselling an idea because the anxious writer is obsessed the reader not miss his or her point. If the writer's technique is solid, the foundation of the story will be sufficiently grounded. There will be no doubt in the reader's mind what the architecture of the novel represents. But it is the unexpected, the views from within the story, that are born from thoughtful construction of plot and character. That is the pleasure of good writing.

Observation and deep reading nourish character development, roots and histories gathered from random information from the world - including the writer's own interior landscape. Snippets of overheard conversation spark a story theme, bits of history polarize characters, human privacies and anonymous dramas suggest tone and detail. We find our characters and establish their authenticity from what is reflected around us. A writer needs to both study the world and study storytelling to build a book readers will relate to in the privacy of their minds and come to own in uniquely personal ways. We love a book because it resonates for us, not because it was a technical marvel or an example of perfect history. We fall in love with a story because it shares our own secret perception or questions the world in a meaningful way. Writers come to these truths by marrying observation and techniques of revelation and contradiction.

A creative practice that works well for me begins with an initial immersion in the world around me. I leave my study and drop in on life. Grocery aisles, vacation beaches, airports, bank lines. What are people wearing, reading, eating, arguing about? This period of observing and notation allows me to connect with the landscape of humanity in all its richness and humor, its pathos and chaos. The story I want to tell begins to form. The characters step on stage. And then I begin to read widely around the topic of my idea. Are there plays on this idea, previous classics, new authors, essays, paintings, music? By immersing myself in the subject, I learn what I need to know and see ways in which employing different techniques filters the story. Perhaps I find I love the first person style of telling this kind of story best. Or maybe it comes together as an ensemble of voices. Reading helps me understand what has been said as well as what has been left out. Reading offers inspiration and exposure to new ways of craft. Writers are continually inventing the medium in new and innovative ways. Borrowing from what works is a strong beginning.

At this very moment I am immersed in reading. I have the idea for my new novel and I've been out in the world gathering details and notes. I'm reading to find my way into that first paragraph, tilling the soil to lay down that first line. This dance of idea and framing is expressed by this lovely passage from John Fowles in his work "Notes on an Unfinished Novel"-

The novel I am writing at the moment [provisionally entitled THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN]...started four or five months ago with a visual image. A woman stands at the end of a deserted quay and stares out to sea. That was all. This image rose in my mind one morning when I was still half-asleep...

These mythopoeic "stills" (they seem always to be static) float into my mind very often. I ignore them, since that is the best way of finding whether their early are the door into a new world.

So i ignored the image; but it recurred. Imperceptibly it stopped coming. I began deliberately to recall it and to try to analyze it and hypothesize it. it was obviously mysterious. It was vaguely romantic. It also seemed, perhaps because of the latter quality, not to belong to us today. The woman obstinately refused to stare out of the window of an airport lounge; it had to be this ancient quay - as I happen to live near one, so near I can see it from the bottom of my garden, it soon became a specific ancient quay. The woman had no face, no particular degree of sexuality. But she was Victorian; and since I always saw her in the same static long shot, with her back turned, she represented a reproach to the Victorian age. An outcast. I didn't know her crime, but I wished to protect her. That is, I began to fall in love with her.


And so story is born.


What is Beautiful, Revisited

February 14, 2014

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

The Matisse Window, Mainz, Germany
The date is perfect in symmetry and resonance - 02/14/2014 - Valentine's Day. Doesn't the day express itself uniquely? Long ago my loved ones and I bailed on commercial expressions of the holiday, but we do celebrate the ancient Roman's message of love. Confections are baked, wine toasted at a candlelit dinner table, a handmade poem or card...

As my children have grown and moved on through college, and then to medical and graduate schools, I find the process of mailing them my "I Love You" conjures both joy and an echo of the poignant. How well I remember the sticky-glue hearts that came home from grade school, the heart cake that caved in the middle under the weight of a ton of chocolate frosting - the snow bear's story and "Amanda the Rocket Girl" scribbled in crooked handwriting. These days I write them simple notes and stick in a cafe gift card or bookstore gift certificate. And off it goes, my love in the mail. Catching each remembrance, they call, blowing back a kiss. I like to think that if I have been able to teach my children anything well, it is how to love.

So however you celebrate St. Valentine's Day, enjoy the love. I am re-posting an older essay below - the poem by Billy Collins reminds me of the day my beloved wrote me the rare and remarkable poem. Enjoy:
To all you Romantics...
Hold on to this one, friends. Let this poem resonate, listen. Close your eyes.
"A dark voice can curl around the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness..."


NIGHTCLUB
by Billy Collins

You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don't hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.

For no particular reason this afternoon
I am listening to Johnny Hartman
whose dark voice can curl around
the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness
like no one else's can.
It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o'clock in the morning;
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,
borne beyond midnight,
that has no desire to go home,
especially now when everyone in the room
is watching the large man with the tenor sax
that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.
He moves forward to the edge of the stage
and hands the instrument down to me
and nods that I should play.
So I put the mouthpiece to my lips
and blow into it with all my living breath.
We are all so foolish,
my long bebop solo begins by saying,
so damn foolish
we have become beautiful without even knowing it.