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QUINTESSENCE

Blossoms from Regrets

A wild thistle of Sicily
I thought of all the pain and how we met
Late in our lives yet lavishly at ease,
Having assumed an end to old regret..."


- from "The Balcony," May Sarton, 1980

Old Regret.

Sorrow chipped away over the passing years by forgetfulness or forgiveness, buried in moments and years we might choose not to remember. Large hearts of darkness. Is there an end to old regret?

These few lines of May Sarton's poem "The Balcony" expose rich layers of meaning. One voice of a couple, of a certain age perhaps, or world weariness, acknowledging the accidental accumulated joys and pains of life. Words that hint to the years past, to damaged relationships, shaded losses. Longed-for opportunities swept away with the passage of time.

"The Balcony" ends with this final tribute, And out of deprivation, a huge flower. What an exquisite image. The heart in its layered translucent suffering, finally and fully comprehended. From the wisdom of acceptance, this extravagant beauty.

There is a thread of durability in the poem's voice. How do we find within ourselves the strength and desire to carry on? To start over from the disappointments of the past? John F. Kennedy described his father, after the elder man's stroke, saying, "Old age is a shipwreck." Yet we feel from Sarton's words that perhaps the collection of years is not limit but context. We are always beginning. Over and again. In life, in work, in love. The passage of time has worn lines upon our foreheads, to be sure. But the times we regret -- lost, burnt, wasted, empty, wronged, violated, wounded, misspent -- needn't be the only melody of the heart. I love the thought that releasing regrets might allow us to blossom, "lavishly at ease."

Here is May Sarton's entire poem. Enjoy.

THE BALCONY
by May Sarton /after Baudelaire

Lover of silence, muse of the mysteries,
You will remember how we supped each night
There on your balcony high in the trees
Where a heraldic lion took late light,
Lover of silence, muse of the mysteries.

The big dogs slumbered near us like good bears;
The old cat begged a morsel from my plate,
And all around leaves stirred in the warm airs
Breathed from the valley as the red sun set.
The big dogs slumbered near us like good bears.

I thought of all the pain and how we met
Late in our lives yet lavishly at ease,
Having assumed an end to old regret
In the eternal presence of the trees -
I thought of all the pain and how we met.

There every night we drank deep of the wine
And our love, still without history,
Yet the completion of some real design
Earned with much thought, muse of the mystery.
There every night we drank deep of the wine.

While out of deprivation a huge flower,
The evening's passion, was about to bloom.
Such intimacy held us in its power
The long years vanished in a little room,
And out of deprivation, a huge flower.

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New Year, New Me

Coming down on the tram after the hike up Gonergrat Peak, Switzerland
Variation on a Theme by Rilke
(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem I, Stanza 1)
by Denise Levertov

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me—a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic—or was it I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew:
I can.

Welcome to a NEW YEAR. I know all of us hope that 2018 will be kinder and more positive than its predecessor. I have spent the first days of this year thinking about the various personal changes I wish to incorporate in my life. I always make January goals, but this year a fresh outlook struck me as critical. Last year felt like an endless struggle, to be honest. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tweak our routines more favorably toward both productivity and joy?

Here, then, are my ten goals for 2018:

1. Back to paper journals
A journal keeper all my life, I have tried in past years to migrate to digital records, that ready-anywhere-laptop-on-my-knee kind of writing, but have found that introspection, for me, runs counter to the charge, reboot, wifi-hunt environment of tech. When I am at my most thoughtful it is the weight of a pen in my hand and the texture of paper, the fluidity of words written in formation with my thoughts, that works best. A notebook is ideal on airplanes, writing in bed, at a café, waiting in an airport, on the deck of a ship… So back to those beloved medium-size Moleskines with their lovely weight paper and convenient elastic band to keep your notebook closed and pages flat in your tote.

2. Slow down first drafts
In keeping with the connection between handwriting and thinking, well documented in science and more than evident to me as a journal writer, I plan to return to handwriting first drafts on yellow pads. I find that while typing a story draft allows for the speed that catches every thought as it fires in my brain, that is also its own problem. Most of my second draft edits could be skipped (straight on to the third, thank you) if I slowed down the writing process and let my mind work through a creative idea, choosing a better thought BEFORE it's written. There will always be drafts, yes; but the first draft could be a better than it currently is for me. Slowing down is the key.

3. Rethinking social media
I find mornings catching up on Twitter timelines or Facebook posts a drain of time I can never recoup. While a FB author page and official website are part of a working writer’s platform, these updates can be dispatched with thoughtfulness and efficiency detached from browsing. I find the beauty of Instagram is that it is quick, a pleasing interaction with likeminded souls. People whose experience of life inspires your own, and whose posts are uplifting. To that end, I intend to roll back my time on Twitter to my evening “Goodnight, world” offerings of natural beauty, and to let FB roll on pretty much without me. I never was much good at chatting anyway, y’all.

4. Self-attunement
It’s time to put my energy and focus into self-attunement. By which I mean, dialing in to that which makes me a better, more happy and productive being, living a better, more productive life. The time is now for “happiness practices.” And in my creative practices focusing on morning pages and works in progress. Not a moment more to bull crap, idiot politics, social media flashes and/or updates, nor moods or moments of blah mental absence. My personal intention is to be fit, and own that energy; to have and follow a daily life routine that gives me joy and a feeling of balance; and to keep my mind focused and my efforts engaged on what matters to me.

5. A year without shopping
Ann Patchett described her "year without shopping" (with the exception of specific requirements related to her family life, her bookstore, and life as a writer) in a recent New York Times Op-Ed. The point for me of a year of no shopping is to reuse, recycle, and rethink our relationship with material things and functioning within a society that pushes consumerism as both a habit and need. I have always been one to travel light; clutter makes me crazy. But I have not always taken the time to think through whether that latest tech invention, fashion trend, or music release, for example, is something worth my money or my time (ownership, after all, requires both mental space and physical space and upkeep). I intend to use this year to reset my expectations and habits on what is truly needed. What, to quote Marie Kondo, “brings joy.”

6. The vegetable and me
To continue my journey as a pescetarian, adding fish occasionally to my vegetarian diet as desired. It is a challenge, cooking for my meat-loving family, but the health pay-offs for me in terms of my annual medical labs and overall health have proven the value to me of a leafy diet. Reducing alcohol intake, upping exercise—all the usual suspects, yes.

7. Books Read List
Time to get back to keeping an annotated list of the books I read each year. This is something I used to do for its personal pleasure, and as a resource for both blog entries and reviews posted online, etc. The first book of this year? Devotion, by Patti Smith, finished over the holidays. The goal is a book a week, and a classic every month, across genres, and as diverse as possible.

8. Off the fence
Warren Buffet recently tweeted that “Sometimes it’s necessary to unfollow people in real life.” Indeed. Toxic relationships come in all mediums—the long-entrenched dysfunctions as well as the difficult and unresolved potboilers, the time-sucks and the time wasters, and yes, the fence sitters. This year I resolve to clean house (decluttering emotionally) the obvious dysfunctional relationships in my life; but more importantly, to deal with fence-sitter issues. Better to be wrong than to continually swing on the pendulum of uncertainty, caught in that rush of optimism followed by dashed hopes. Rinse, repeat.

9. Tech diet
I love my laptop and my smart phone. They “do it all” with minimal fuss and interconnected efficiency. What I don’t love are all the other gadgets and the updating and charging and linking and sharing across devices like iPads, kindles, iPods, or tablets that end up adding tech issues and maintenance (and subscriptions service costs) to my life. Half a Luddite I am, and that’s okay. I can write, blog, and bank as needed on tech, and free the rest of my life for actual people and actual conversations, reading books (paper books) and listening to audible books on my phone while exercising and running errands.

10. Content balance
The goal here is to seek a wide range of input from books, film, television, music, live entertainment (concerts, dance, theater), museums, lectures, podcasts, etc., to achieve a satisfying mix of the best of cultural and critical thought this life has to offer. That means to me continued travel; and time dedicated to the arts and to reading the work of journalists who investigate important issues and speak to us intelligently about them. And let us not forget the painters and the poets. Much is learned in a glance.

There you have it. My list of resolutions for 2018. I’ll check in throughout the year on how this is going for me. But I’d also love to hear from you about the things you're planning to change and the positive routines that work for you. To a GREAT year!

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