Quintessence ~ the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form. Substance composing the celestial bodies.
The shoes that climbed Gonergrat, Switzerland
March 7, 2014
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.
Floating Flower Market, Amsterdam
- 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
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 -
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.
February 28, 2014
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."
Moonshell, Ukee Aquarium
- 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.
February 19, 2014
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 Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas
- 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.
February 14, 2014
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..."
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.
February 4, 2014
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
We've all watched children at play. Their imaginations appear to have no limits. Effortlessly they employ an intuitive knowledge learned in the making, adding to their own hands-on experience of the processes and principles required for the construction of sand castles, Lego planets, Barbie fashion design, refrigerator-box tree houses. Off they go on adventures from the future, the past, and far far away. In and out of history and story-telling and artistic expression. Block towers wobble over, derby cars fly. Children build what they can imagine.
Yet I have also often seen children on their way home from school: heads down, backpacks heavy, crushed under an education system designed around memorization and bypassing the development of creativity skills. Society wants engineers, developers, scientists. But do we really want a generation reared in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) -based learning curriculums without the complementary mental development to support their use in imaginative and forward-thinking ways? If when we are young we develop knowledge but forgo imagination, our world is only half what it might be. I've heard it said the solution is simple: we've only to put the "A" in STEM. The arts. Add the arts and we get STEAM: minds that are creative and inventive and with a tool kit to make something of those fabulous out-of-the-box ideas. Full speed ahead.
In the meantime, the brother and sister in front of me down the beach are building what I assume is a sand castle and standard moat. Their hands and buckets are busy scooping and shaping towers and bridges. When I bent over to admire their efforts on my walk and asked about their castle, I was solemnly corrected. They were constructing, they told me, interrupting each other with a fountain of details, a fiery sand-world Dinotopia. All those seashells and funny shapes on the cliffs (not towers) were dangerous creatures roaming the planet, battling for the sea. I'm glad I know now. I handed them a broken whelk, and it instantly became a triceratops rising from the surf.
Knowledge is power, but imagination takes us to the stars.
January 27, 2014
Women, Despite Being Leaders, Are Still Not Wonder Women
- Debora Spar
Recently I was contacted by Jamie Coffey, Special Assistant to the President of Barnard College, Dr. Debora Spar. Because I had posted an earlier review discussion on Sheryl Sandberg’s book, LEAN IN, and the challenge of women's empowerment in the work place ["Lean In, Sometimes," July 30, 2013], Ms. Coffey suggested I might be interested in the unique perspective offered by a new book on this important topic by Dr. Spar, a Harvard-educated political scientist.
Debora’s new book, "Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection," just recently hit the shelves. Throughout the author's personal and professional experiences, she has advocated tirelessly as a proponent of women’s education and leadership, highlighted both in her new book and in a recently published post by Dr. Spar I have excerpted here.
[guest blog post, excerpt from September 17, 2013 by Debora Spar*]
Feminism gave women of my generation an infinity of choices and opportunities to lead. We could cheer for the boys and play alongside them; look effortlessly elegant while chairing a board meeting, performing surgery, or saving the world. And never for a second did we doubt we would have it all. But then we grew up and the life we were supposed to handle flawlessly in 5-inch heels suddenly became considerably more complicated. Today, women are regularly trapped in an astounding set of contradicting expectations: to be the perfect mother and manager, the comforting spouse and competent boss. Not only do we strive to be the perfect person, and the perfect leader, but we blithely assume we will achieve it all. And when, inevitably, we don’t, we don’t blame the media, or our mothers, or the clamoring voices of others. We blame ourselves. Below is an excerpt from my newest book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, addressing the issue:
“Women are still sorely under-represented at the top of the professional pyramid: only 15.2 of the board members of Fortune 500 corporations, 16 percent of partners at the largest law firms, 19 percent of surgeons. Indeed, there seems to be some sort of odd demographic guillotine hovering between 15 and 20 percent; some force of nature or discrimination that plows women down once they threaten to multiply beyond a token few.”
- Debora Spar, "Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection"
This is a deeply important topic - especially for our daughters, the next generation of women who will wrestle with the challenges of attaining a meaningful career and a sustainable home life. Let's continue this critical dialog...
*Please copy and paste the link below in your browser for the full post, book site, and a brief video clip by Dr. Spar:
For more on Dr. Debora Spar: http://barnard.edu/about/leadership/president-spar-bio
January 23, 2014
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: 'Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin now."
Runner in the clouds tackling a rocky slope up The Jungfrau, The Bernese Alps, Switzerland
- W. H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
This essay by the Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray expressing his experience of the well-known adage by Goethe (and collected by Steven Pressfield in a little gem of a creative kick-starter, "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles") explores the intertwined power and mystery linked to commitment. When we choose, we accomplish. When we commit, we begin. We commence the steps necessary that take us from intention to deed.
On a walk this morning through lacy delicate white grasses beneath an oyster-colored sky of low cloud, I caught myself in mid-stride solving a particularly tenacious creative dilemma - completely unaware my mind had been on autopilot, tasking through its lists of "what ifs" and "now thens." The thought on the heels of this awareness had to do with appreciating the difference between running and walking for me as forms of mental flex. In short, movement is the physical preamble of deep thinking: a commitment to engage.
In my running, calm inner balance comes from the primary focus on breathing and stride. When that concentration relaxes and falls into a rhythmic groove, my forebrain nonetheless remains actively piloting the run. Like meditation, this single simple focus restructures the overburdened, fragmented mind. Stuff falls to the wayside, big ideas step forward, stress seeps away. On a vigorous extended walk on the other hand, the rhythmic physical groove finds me sooner, and with less effort. My mind leans back, trusting in the faith it has in my body's basic balance (to not trip or choke on a bug), and begins to surf the mental intranet: to observe, page through phrases and ideas, connect the random and mysterious.
The work solution rose far down the trail with a simultaneous awareness of a nearby crow, mixed with new knowledge that hawks actively hunt crows, alongside a mental appreciation for a pine frosted in white, needles encased in gloves of white tulle. A floating transparency linked my body and winter and my movement through space. A seamless knitting together of physical boundaries, a blending; and a gold nugget amongst the gravel shaken loose in the brain pan. I had my writing answer. I headed home. In addition to the much appreciated book solve, I possessed a clear awareness of something new: I run to disengage and refresh, and walk to re-engage and newly associate. For me, running is mental strength training while walking is a free-climb.
How does this unexpected insight impact productivity habits? It says that for me, beginning to engage with work (or life in fact) has multiple entry points with differing yields. Am I facing distraction? Do I need to open my thinking to help myself through a creative block or pace my attention through a long haul work effort? Committing to a run versus a long walk addresses a different need, and the question to ask myself is straightforward: Do I need a break or a reboot, or inspiration and new thinking?
I believe there are similar patterns within all of us linking thought and breath, movement and idea. What works for you?
January 16, 2014
...That writers are special people. In fact we're most of us quite ordinary, only - well-suited or not - equipped with the habit of art, a susceptibility to language, a practice of noticing, a faith in writing itself learned from reading.
Blue Grotto, Island of Capri
- Richard Ford, upon being asked what he believed to be the greatest myth about being a writer
I love this comment by Richard Ford about writers. Because it reminds me that writing is, as all of life, a practice
. Practice involves repetition of process and the techniques of skill. Writers read to hear the music in sentences, and to think in terms of situation and story. Writers listen to the way people use language in dialog and bend meanings and sounds to extract meaning and nuances. Writers pay attention. An abruptly-ended conversation on the street corner catches our eye from the bus: Why did that man smack the other with his newspaper and then wink? What was said? Was it funny? Perhaps not, given the way the other fellow stiffened and inhaled sharply. We suspend our observations in writer's time and space. We lean in for the story, imaginations engaged, shading in the inferences and mysteries of what we can only guess at. Reading anchors our work, our empathy that story
is more than entertainment or record, it is understanding. We find ourselves everyday in the pages we read.
But what speaks to me as I begin this new writing year is Ford's first observation: that working writers are "equipped with the habit of art." Which is to say, productive work routines. Habits of art
establish the foundations of discipline in all creative endeavors. Grand ideas remain chimeric and unformed - never translated - if they fail to make it to the stage, the canvas, chisel or pen. Projects languish as conceptual glimmers without good work habits: artistic inspiration is transformed by work guided by intent, shaped and layered in the studio into the very thing originally just imagined.
What habits of art in your life need changing this year? Beefed up, edited, tweaked into a better fit with the schedule and goals you've set for yourself? For me, focus this year is on ways to amp up early morning productivity. Never a "Heh Sunshine!" kind of gal, the first hour of the day for me is one of worldly re-entry: fuzzy time when dreams dissolve and sort out their meanings, for stale emotions to reset, mental lists prioritize, to gather my creative tumbleweed "intent" from wherever it has tumbled away to during the night. Once that hour is behind me (usually two mugs of coffee in) I can begin a working day.
The goal is to get through my morning reentry earlier and at my desk sooner. I've explored various methods and discovered a few surprises: morning yoga puts me back to sleep on the mat and an early run revs me up too much, erasing the soft edges of tentative new ideas that bloomed in the night. Why not edit at the other end? Focus on the night before the morning in question. Accumulate less of what needs to be swept clear? Find better productive ways to lighten the content of that early morning drawer?
I'm experimenting with two new habits. Skipping the last hour of late evening news (and all of its upsetting headlines, traumas, and pointless weather repetitions), and substituting in an hour of inspirational reading. Not novels, as has been my past habit. (A good novel puts sleep far away, and when I do finally drop off I dream plot lines and character dilemmas - not a clean slate for morning work of my own.) I've stocked my bedside table with inspirational reading - poetry, books on creativity, great old photography collections, interesting artists' memoirs - material better suited to settling my mind into the right groove before sleep
for waking in the habit of art. Cancel the news, switch to a new kind of reading, and hopefully wake with the brain-pump primed.
Let me know what habits of art have worked well for you. Let's get productive!
January 6, 2014
The clock doesn't have an amygdala
so it doesn't worry, it tells
its own quick trickle-down story
of now and now and now until
neither yesterday nor tomorrow
is where it should be.
You might as well stay a while
and kneel to Happiness
and its hymns and its cross.
- Catherine Barnett
As we re-engage today with the world after the long holidays, return to our work and routines, put away the festive decorations and clean up the party platters and fold away the guest laundry, many of us feel neither recharged nor ready for re-entry. The in-box awaits, filling daily. New budgets and projects and meetings fill the weeks forward. We are worn-out with the busyness of the holidays and ready for simple days, yet crave mental space to rekindle both anticipation and energy for a new year.
This feeling is both replete and overflowing, empty and odd, all at the same time. I used to think of this period after the holidays as the inevitable "celebration burnout," but in truth it's about the need to take real time
This year my husband and I planned an immediate trip to the Hawaiian Islands after New Year's Day. Many variables in our lives came together to make this possible. No children (all grown) or extended family to arrange for; no invited colleagues, or groups. Just the two of us. With an agenda equal parts work and play, we book-ended the work part with solid days of rest and recreation. A serious experiment in meaningful personal downtime in the aftermath of the hosting and travel and parties of the holidays. Primed for swift re-entry to work but seeking balance to the dark cold hours of our northern winters (which we find depressive and muting), this island week has been a blessing. Much as Catherine Barnett's clock ticking through the "now and now and now," the fatigue of the soul drops away.
More than a vacation, this break has been about slowing everything - including me, work, and the daily to-dos - down to the fulsome completeness of a given, measured day. Discovering what it means to absorb the happiness of the present, its freedom from urgency, planning, and anxiousness. We walk warm sands and talk, float in a lengthening and sustained present sense of time. We hike clouds on a crater and stand in the shimmering sunset. Wake, after deep restful sleep, heartbeats in keeping with the surf rolling against the shore. Experiencing now and now and now what it is to exist one moment to the next as Barnett's clock, "until neither yesterday nor tomorrow is where it should be."
Although we are (happily) at work here in our paradise, the days swell from sunrise to sunset complete unto themselves. And within each day, the seed of serenity and industry, celebration and reflection. May we keep tranquility in our pockets long after we return to the daily grind. And may this New Year be one of gentleness and joy, friends. A trickle-down story for you and yours of days well lived.
December 31, 2013
HERE, THERE ARE BLUEBERRIES
When I see the bright clouds, a sky empty of moon and stars,
I wonder what I am, that anyone should note me.
Here there are blueberries, what should I fear?
Here there is bread in thick slices, of whom should I be afraid?
Under the swelling clouds, we spread our blankets.
Here in this meadow, we open our baskets
to unpack blueberries, whole bowls of them,
berries not by the work of our hands, berries not by the work of our fingers.
What taste the bright world has, whole fields
without wires, the blackened moss, the clouds
swelling at the edges of the meadow. And for this,
I did nothing, not even wonder.
You must live for something, they say.
People don't live just to keep on living.
But here is the quince tree, a sky bright and empty.
Here there are blueberries, there is no need to note me.
- Mary Szybist
I don't love the media end of the year reviews, the summations, the lists - the best of, worst of... These were not merely days, months passing, but the end of a period of history. The end of a shocking, fabulous parade of surprise and pageantry that is the conclusion of a year. Mary Szybist's poem, from her complex, rich, 2013 National Book Award collection "Incarnadine," evokes the inconsequential angst that sweeps through us when our world turns once more on its axis without thought or note of the human narrative. We are all of us small parts in the machinery of time.
In another poem, "Entrances and Exits," Szybist writes a line that has echoed in my thoughts for days: Duccio's subject is God's entrance into time: time meaning history, meaning a body.
God steps into time through flesh and bone. Do we not wonder at the truth of this? That what is true of blueberries and sky is deeply essential to being human?
Consider the signature artistry of narrative history, of evolving thought
. Is this not a footnote to the universe? Are we as individuals of note, or do we merely note ourselves? The vanity of the self, singing its odes of self discovery. Birds, so to speak, on branches of our own making. The one and the wave. Atoms studying themselves. But here is the quince tree, a sky bright and empty.
My thoughts on the last year are quiet: 2013 was a hard and incomprehensible year. Wind-twisted disasters, fires and floods and incomprehensible violence. Families struggling across the globe with loss, tragedy, war. My wishes for the new year are simple: I hope for blue skies. For moments of serenity; the grounding of commitment, good work. Goodness that pulses like breath from our chests, easy and true. I hope 2014 is good to you. Blessings.