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QUINTESSENCE

Herd Me Homewise

 

AMEN
by Ellen Dore Watson

I believe in trees. Sun-stunned,
forking, house ofshade and moan
and burning. I don't want a god who
bleeds, I want a shepherd to herd me
homewise, toward wood and stone
and making. Tomorrow is the place
we put what we're afraid of. Today,
lists. Give me a now where whispers
come bidden and unbidden, visions
follow. Give me belief not outward
but in -- I want what's waiting to out.


Here we are, one third into 2018. As promised, time to revisit my resolutions and see how I’ve fared implementing these changes to date.
Welcome to the New Year. I know all of us hope that 2018 will be kinder and more positive than its predecessor. It seems fair to simply state we know this not to be the case thus far. This morning the news is filled with distressing photographs of Guatemalan refugees held at our southern border with Mexico. The last weeks nothing but a Scrambler ride of government and White House scandal that make me wonder if, indeed, civility is dead. Or perhaps, abroad. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tweak our routines more favorably toward both productivity and joy? Here’s to trying.

Let’s revisit my ten goals for 2018:
1. Back to paper journals
Returning to journaling and drafting book notes on paper has been relatively simple, and I can report, productive. Folding together my morning cup of tea with time at the kitchen table organizing the day has made my writing goals come together and also helped me to step back and find a mental center. I added a Lemome bullet journal specifically for mapping writing goals and progress, and am happy to report bullet journaling is as productive as those of you who use one told me it would be.

Slow down first drafts
The plan was to return to handwriting first drafts on yellow pads. The flexibility of a notepad has opened up many more writing opportunities in impromptu places (waiting on a delayed flight anyone?) and freed me from the usual outlet hunt. The process of later translating handwritten pages onto the computer has resulted in draft pages that feel stronger and more clarified, and help target the following sections of work.

2. Rethinking social media
Hello, Facebook, privacy anyone? Deleted my Facebook account (as I detailed here in an earlier post). I find Twitter and Instagram offer excellent outreach and connection. You are all so creative on Instagram! I think we connect more meaningfully than ever, honestly.

3. Self-attunement
Certainly the return of spring has made daily exercise an easier, more pleasurable outdoor pursuit, and after having read the nutritional, eye-opening fact-fest of “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger with Gene Stone, my commitment to a more thoughtful vegetarian diet has resulted in genuine better health. Cutting social media and television out of my late evenings in favor of reading has also been good for a solid night’s rest.

4. A “year without shopping”
Ann Patchett described her year without shopping (with the exception of books and a few requirements related to family life, her bookstore, and life as a writer) in her 2017 New York Times Op-Ed. I intend to use this maxim to reset my own expectations and habits. To strive to own or purchase only what, to quote Marie Kondo, “brings joy.” To date that has meant the purchase of books (of course), support for the arts (museum and all varieties of performance), cuisine (the pleasures of dining out), travel, etc.

6. The vegetable and me
The health pay-offs in terms of my annual medical labs and health have proven the value to me of a fruit and vegetable 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 books read each year. This has proved to be more of a challenge than anticipated. I discovered how many books I keep going and stashed in different places. One for travel, one by the bed, several in my study… Getting organized and finishing books and entering them into the list will require more focus. I'm on it!

8. Off the fence
Warren Buffet recently tweeted that “sometimes it’s necessary to unfollow people in real life.” Time to clean house (declutter emotionally) the obvious dysfunctional relationships in my life, and deal with fence-sitter issues. Initially tough, the aftereffect is a true tranquility. While a work in progress, I am taking steps to release the not-good and nourish the good.

9. Tech diet
So tired of life on screens! I gave away the iPad. I reduced my devices to my laptop and my smart phone. They “do it all” with minimal fuss and interconnected efficiency. I've freed the rest of my life for actual people and actual conversations, reading books (paper books) and listening to audible books on my phone while I exercise or travel.

10. Balance
The goal 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 balance of the best of culture and critical thought this life has to offer. Working on it!

I’d love to hear from you about things that you've changed, routines that work for you! Send me your comments here or on Twitter. Here's to more joy!

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sacrament, mystery, light

"How to Build a Cathedral," Cildo Meireles, 1987 copper pennies, cattle bones, pavers, wafers, black cloth. The Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin

 

Does a poem enlarge the world,
or only our idea of the world?

- from "Mathematics" by Jane Hirschfield

This image is of a 2013 art installation at The Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. The installation occupied (at that time) an entire room of its own. A room within a room, in which the art work, "How to Build a Cathedral," filled the entirety of the subdued space.

The light dim, the atmosphere quiet. The visitor is permitted to step inside the installation, which is curtained on four sides by filmy ceiling-to-floor black mesh curtains. Inside the closed mystery of the curtains, one may stand or walk the square perimeter of the installation upon an interior border of plain gray pavers. The ceiling within the space is constructed of a mammoth "chandelier" of cow bones suspended in uniform order from the ceiling and lit from above. The white bones funnel downward to join with a thin central cord constructed of stacked Eucharist wafers, and downward still into a sculptural seabed of shiny new copper pennies.

This art space has all of the sacramental hush and reverence we associate with the interiors of cathedrals, composed of the metaphoric elements with which we erect them. Rock. Bone and muscle. Ritual. Money. And death.

Sacrament, mystery, light.

Cildo Meireles has conceived an experience for us that improbable as it would seem, is made profound by our innate human inclination and worldly cultural intention to honor what we believe to be sacred. A space for contemplation. A space constructed of the elemental world. What is sacred, born of the ordinary.

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Days in Goodness Spent

Gardens of Kyoto

 

SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.

- Lord George Gordon Byron, 1780


I have always loved the opening lines of Lord Byron's poem. There is honest praise in the words, She walks in beauty. To walk within virtues both given and borrowed, appreciated by others, or rough-cut and unknown. Byron's poem celebrates an ideal, certainly. An ode to qualities pure and principled as the stars in the sky.

Romantic love is believed by many to be the opening toast of a lifelong dance. Like beauty, the first blush akin to bubbles of champagne that break on our tongues; a heady intoxication of light and delight. It is also the first step toward the tempered partnership. That which grows to become strong and steady, solid in its core. A union but not a transformation.

So here's to the blush and the confusion, the yearning and its bliss. Indeed the old poets are right. Let us not forget to dance. For within the heart's folly lie the seeds of a good life.
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Eyes of An Observer

Harbor, Malta


Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematicians subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend.
- Francis Bacon, essays, "Of Studies"

Acts themselves alone are history... Tell me the act, O historian, and leave me to reason upon them as I please; away with your reasoning and your rubbish! All that is not action is not worth reading.
- William Blake

History, as an entirety, could only exist in the eyes of an observer outside it and outside the world. History, only exists, in the final analysis, for God.
- Albert Camus, "The Rebel"

I have been musing on the distinctions lately between fiction and history. History is most often defined as a factual narrative, a narrative based on defined action and without speculation. Perhaps as Francis Bacon declared, "history" is a particular reasoning applied to aspects of human life in order that we may define a meaningful past. A greater understanding of event and consequence than the restatement of a simple timeline. The writer Jorge Luis Borges argued in "Other Inquisitions," that Universal history is the history of a few metaphors. Is there a worthy difference then in how we understand ourselves through history versus narratives of fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction? Do these ways of telling bleed across lines?

Take as an example "narrative nonfiction," sometimes called creative nonfiction, and defined loosely as creative embellishment without factual distortion of the structure of true information. This is how many of us think of classical history. The past relayed to us by the ancients in essay, epic or ballad, in religious texts, song and theatre. And then there is the truly personal narrative. Memoir differs from biography beyond its intimate focus and use of dramatic structure. Memoir is inherently less universal a narrative form than biography, more personal. What may or may not be true is accepted for its subjectivity. We have wandered some distance from pure event and into its interpretation.

Many have argued the metaphor is the doorway into fiction. The fable, the parable, the psalm. But what is fictitious is not necessarily untrue though it may not be fact. The parenthesis of information in any given story may only be that of one perspective, or a subjective retelling. Does an oversight differ from a lie? A misrepresentation from an omission? To look at the question sideways for a moment, if fiction lets us view life through an artful staging of inventions, does that form differ from the craft of a reasoned essay, an interview, or newsprint bulletin "from the front" if the basic premise of truth-in-telling is observed?

Truth in telling. Consider always the filter of the narrator. These events are, what is, what could be, might have been, or surely were once upon a time. The beloved preamble to all narrative, "Once upon a time" pardons the telling. My favorite histories of the world weave fact with interpretation, story with reflection, event with consequence. Day after day we lay speculation across fact and spark an invention of story. We retell mystery, catalog observations of crumbling or evolving culture, make sense of old tragedies and recurring dreams in our use of story.

As a human, I sympathize with Blake. Let us deem for ourselves the meaning of things. Yet Camus hit the nail squarely on the head. Who but some being who is not us will ever know the complete history of mankind and what meaning it may possess?

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