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QUINTESSENCE

Savory Lessons

 

 

AND…TIS THE SEASON OF FEASTS & CELEBRATIONS!! To kick off the season here is a recipe for a holiday family favorite, an English-inspired savory cranberry conserve. This cranberry conserve is a robust recipe that balances sweet and tart (and can be made into a dessert tart if you wish). This conserve is so popular in lieu of a standard cranberry sauce in my clan that it is often given as a gift, the beautiful conserve spooned into a festive jar and decorated with a bow on top.

 

THE SILVER PALATE GOOD TIMES COOKBOOK (1984):
CRANBERRY CONSERVE


1 thin-skinned orange (or two clementines*), seeds removed, cut into eights
1 pound fresh cranberries
1/2 cup dried currants
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups raspberry vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

 

* The substitution of clementines is my edit to the recipe.

 

1. Process the orange in a food processor until coarsely chopped.


2. Combine the chopped orange with all the remaining ingredients except the walnuts in a heavy saucepan. Simmer, uncovered, until all the cranberries have popped open, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the walnuts.


3. After cooling, pack conserve not immediately for serving into airtight containers and freeze, or refrigerate for up to two weeks.

 

Makes 6 half pints.

  

I usually double this recipe and cook in one large heavy saucepan; the simmer time is closer to 30 minutes in that case. The vinegar taste will be too intense if you use a raspberry balsamic, so be sure to look for the raspberry vinegar. (Silver Palate now produces a bottled raspberry vinegar you can find in most gourmet grocery stores around the holidays. A doubled recipe will use most of three bottles.) After simmering, I use a wooden spoon to pop open any remaining stubborn cranberries against the side of the pan. A savory tart taste can be shifted toward the sweet with the addition of slightly more brown sugar and currants, but everyone seems to love it quite bold and the chutney-like consistency and tartness of the blend as is.

 

Served best with one or two of Mr. Snell's fabulous "life lessons." Also delicious on turkey sandwiches and on toasted bagels with a cream cheese spread. Hope you love it!  

 

 

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The Last Passerby

ODE AND ELEGY OF THE STREETS

by C.P. Cavafy

 

The footfalls of the first passerby;

the first peddler's lively shouting;

the first windows opening,

the first door--these are the song

of the streets in the morning.

 

The steps of the last passerby;

the last of the peddlers shouting;

the doors and windows shutting--

are the elegiac sound

of the streets in the evening.

 

I am recently back from travel. Hiking and exploring in the Alps of Switzerland and the lakes of northern Italy. There is a rhythm to a faraway journey. First the excitement of planning the journey, then the taking leave and letting go. There is disorientation, a solitude, the opening of heart and mind. Finally, the thoughtful return. In chapters of travel we lose and find and redefine ourselves, along with our sense of the world we live in.

 

Travel gives us our definition of home. In strangeness are found the outlines of self and belonging. Where we are and where we are not. Yet what lingers of our explorations resets the familiar. We are somehow bigger in spirit, more generous, less partisan about our niche in place and time. We have come to know something of the larger world, the connected community of peoples and histories, and the unturned stones and sweet curiosities still to discover. 

 

When I was young, I traveled with my family in the military life of my father's career. I also traveled in books, reading voraciously across history and geography. In my early career I explored every corner of the planet, curious to know it all. To understand new things and to see the places I had only read of in books come to colorful life. Their grandeur, their ruin, their romance. The worn footprints of human history. The bold direction of change.

 

I travel now to understand myself and humanity. Pursuing what connects us to this earth and to each other. Translating the past. How will we engage with the future and our collective presence in the here and now? The Alexandrian Greek poet C. P. Cavafy (1963-1933) was himself a lifelong traveler. His poems of the Mediterranean and its history lead us from fabled Ithaca into the dusty streets of late afternoon in the medina. If you have not read much of Cavafy's work, I encourage you to do so. His is a way of seeing and writing about strangers and strangeness, the sensuality of unfamiliar places, and of the inscrutability of history in a way that, like storytelling, becomes the song of a journey.

 

Journeys are our own, very personal, human myth-making. In our curiosity we find our connectedness. In our solitude we make friends with ourselves. In reaching toward the unfamiliar we find home.

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a call back home

Hans Christian Andersen's LITTLE MERMAID, Copenhagen

 

THE ART OF DISAPPEARING
by Naomi Shihab Nye

When They Say Don't I Know You?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.

Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say Why?

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."

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 any art]: Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a Remembrance.

The promised-to's, the ought-to's...how we endlessly defer our personal must-do's. We shelve for later the experiences, projects, and journeys that call us deeply, explorations that delve into the corners of our being. Do you remember the moment when you knew the shape of your personal life dream? When you crested from childhood into young adulthood, and set your sights on the world's horizon? Do you recall how you felt the truth in your bones that hot August afternoon, lying in the grass under the silver branches, staring up through an endless sky?

That sudden shiver holding a newborn. The life history suddenly recognized in the still, veined hand of your grandmother as she held that 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 resonate with the honest fierceness of Nye's poem. This poet doesn't mince words. I need that. She reminds us that a given day on earth is not about obligation. Being present for our own life is essential. "Being present" is not the denial of relationship, an avoidance of responsibility or connection, but it is practicing our purpose. Inhabiting the originality and truth that is ours alone. Answer the call.

You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bells at twilight.



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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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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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Facebook and Privacy, One Writer's Dilemma

I am a child of a parent come of age in the cold war. My father, with a degree in physics, was an officer in the USAF SAC Command. The USAF paid for his graduate degree at Stanford in computer data statistics, then a precursor to big data metrics. His specialty: metadata analysis. My father was deployed on Russian spy operations frequently throughout his twenty-plus year career in the USAF. In the 1970s, he retired from the military after a long stint at the Pentagon, and then went to work in the booming computer industry, working on designing unified data systems for several large state university library systems. He wrote papers on the implications of massive data holdings. He said to me over and again, “The most important thing in your life is your privacy. Protect it.” He railed against the use of social security numbers as identification, entirely against Congressional intent, and warned me that once private personal data was harvested and loosed in the world, it was irretrievable. Our financial and identity security was forever in jeopardy.

This then, is the ideological framework with which I have watched social media giants like Facebook (FB) and its cohorts leap into the digital world. These companies entice users because their applications are simple and free; they encourage social networks in an era of increasing isolation. Your soccer team schedule is on FB. Your grandma is on FB, because you don’t write her much and she can keep up with you and the Joneses this way. The television station is on FB to build viewership platforms, pushing viewer prizes and advertising contests. Professionals join the platform, and others like LinkedIn, to reach clients and keep the world aware of their product. This is how many writers, including me, found ourselves on FB. Publishers want us to do as much “free” outreach on our work as possible, and what better global media option than FB?

And all so free. Or not.

Interestingly, you cannot have a professional business page on FB without also hosting a personal page. And if you forgo keeping your personal page active to focus exclusively on the business page, FB will hound you about that inactivity. And nothing, but nothing happens on the professional page that you don’t pay for. Your followers will not see 90% of what you post, unless you pay to “boost” it through FB metrics. The method FB uses to push these “sponsored” boosts yield random smatterings of distant likes. No, it makes little sense to send travel information on Ecuador to someone who prefers Asia, and yet this is the deal with FB promotions. I generalize here, but you get the idea. Beyond setting generic categories of interest for people you’d like to receive your information, it all happens behind a curtain.

Well, no more. This week the curtain was pulled back on FB and the back office operations revealed. There stands profit motive. Your information, your privacy, everything about you that you happily or perhaps reluctantly provided FB, under their terms of agreement to use as they wish, has flown out the back door straight into the hands of people who have targeted plans for you. They want your dollars, your vote, your allegiance, your prejudices, and your insecurities. FB made its money selling you and me. We are the product. Facebook, this massive social information sharing experiment, grew and mutated, and the data-mining virus broke out of the lab.

I have thought about my Dad’s words a lot this week. About the pressure I feel to be active on social platforms to promote and support my writing, and to maintain connections with the family and friends who love the interactions FB provides. Yet much of it occurs behind screens. Yes, that “look at us having the time of our lives” picture montage, the two-sentence blast about a promotion. We love FB because it allows us to filter our lives favorably both to ourselves and for the consumption of others. But in return we give FB our identities and access to our private worlds.

While the current FB data manipulation breach is one fast horse out the barn door at this point, it bears thinking about our exposure on the web. The number of bank and credit card companies who hold our data. The online retail sites we have “saved” accounts with. The social media apps we play with, from Tumblr to Intagram and Twitter. Do any of us truly know how secure our information is? Is the convenience of a “pre-loaded profile” worth the risk that it might be someday be breached and our private information drained? Cyber security experts advise us not to open retail accounts: to provide online information to retailers only for the purpose of that sole transaction. To limit credit accounts to those most likely (nothing is guaranteed) to be kept secure and the corporate host committed to consumer privacy. I think about the information on the web about me, posted from me. Do any of us really want our adorable child’s pictures up on Google, and eventually on an advertisement billboard in Denmark? (True story: An American family discovered their Christmas photo on a billboard, selling yogurt in Europe.) Computer science and information technology are an evolving science. Corporations are collecting massive amounts of data on people and we ourselves give it away in buckets. I think the FB situation is fair warning. Bear in mind what you place in the public venue, or on social media. It may be neither secure nor safe from abuse or manipulation.

I’m closing my Facebook account today. I do not think this company is capable of controlling the data beast it has unleashed worldwide. I certainly hope we find more secure ways to connect in the future. The promise of “free” shouldn’t come at the cost of selling personal data to merchants of advertising or bad actors in politics. I want to stay in touch. As a writer living in a remote region of the west, social media is a remarkable avenue of connection with friends, and colleagues, and yes, readers. But I’m planning to be smart about it now, and choose platforms with more privacy and personal control. You can find me on my website still (glendaburgessbooks.com), on Instagram (@gbbooks) and on Twitter (@GlendaBurgess). Family? Text me.

Believe me when I say every post is something I imagine now having lost forever, left face up on the table in a coffee shop.

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Wooden Palace

I don't think I am old yet, or done with growing. But my perspective has altered - I am less hungry for the busyness of the body, more interested in the tricks of the mind. I am gaining, also, a new affection for wood that is useless, that has been tossed out, that merely exists, quietly, wherever it has ended up. Planks on the beach rippled and salt-soaked. Pieces of piling, full of the tunnels of shipworm. In the woods, fallen branches of oak, of maple, of the dear, wind-worn pines. They lie on the ground and do nothing. They are travelers on the way to oblivion... Call it Rest. I sit on one of the branches. My idleness suits me. I am content. I have built my house. The blue butterflies, called azures, twinkle up from the secret place where they have been waiting. In their small blue dresses they float among the branches, they come close to me, one rests for a moment on my wrist. They do not recognize me as anything very different from this enfoldment of leaves, this wind-roarer, this wooden palace lying down, now, upon the earth, like anything heavy, and happy, and full of sunlight, and half-asleep.

- WINTER HOURS by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver's essays in "Winter Hours" contain thoughtful observations, detached and yet deeply intimate, marked by crisp, curious writings of what it means to grasp one's life whole. An organic, evolving theme. Oliver explores the ways human endeavor is a construct. A shelter for creative thought and action.

This idea of settling into one's life. Oliver stands before a cabin in the woods she has hand built. A private retreat she intends for writing but which over time has devolved into a little-used potting shed. She realizes she built the cabin not for work, for poetry, but for the sake of building. To construct something with her hands. The task completed, she lies in its humble shade among the blue butterflies, free to make use of it or not. It matters not at all. Her presence simply is, she tells us. A part of nature. Neither something proven or disproven in construct.

Oliver points out it is instinctive to examine life. To ponder what makes things work, what influences one thing to nurture another. The linking of ideas and experiences creates the future out of the past, and while we understand ourselves as part of the vast natural interchange of what lives and dies, we are still stricken by the secret wish to be beyond all that. Thus, we build, Oliver concludes. She adds wryly, "You can fool a lot of yourself but you can't fool the soul. That worrier."

To have built the house.

We voyage through our days lost in the work of working at life. As another year comes to its close, we take stock of our "constructs." Family, work, home, friendships. These complex symbols of the living we have done. Have we lived up to the soul's expectations? Have we lived strong and true, within the essential principles as nature would have them? Are there places we have followed the blueprints of a construct, not life?

Within ourselves is a potting shed in the woods. There we may rest "upon the earth like anything heavy, and happy, full of sunlight, and half asleep."

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Small Business Saturday 2017

Small Business Saturday, Indies First! - November 25, 2017
Books for the Holidays!

A book is a gift you can open again and again.
-- Garrison Keillor

As many of you know, the last Saturday in November is "Small Business Saturday." Better known as "shop local" Saturday, when we all have the opportunity to demonstrate support for our main street businesses by making our purchases downtown. As the holidays draw near, purchases we make locally support a community business in an important way, which in turn strengthens our communities and hometown economic vitality. Many authors across America will be present in the aisles of local independent bookstores chatting about books, pressing our favorite reads in your hands, making holiday recommendations and hearing what you love to read.

Auntie's is our Spokane city jewel, an independent bookstore since 1978, staffed by knowledgeable and supportive booksellers. For many Pacific Northwest authors (myself included) Auntie's, or a bookstore like it, hosted our debut author book events. Independent bookstores across America welcome and host community author events and special interest book clubs. Our Auntie's Bookstore gives Spokane the heart and enthusiasm that makes our community a great place to live, and this is our opportunity to say how much we appreciate our local bookstores.

Join us at Auntie's Bookstore, downtown Spokane (Main & Washington) throughout the day on Saturday, November 25.
[To see the full schedule of Indies First! authors present throughout the day, visit www.auntiesbooks.com.]

Hope to see you downtown. Let's do some holiday book shopping together! Happy Thanksgiving!
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Threshold Between Worlds

BOTH WORLDS

Forever busy, it seems,
with words,
finally
I put the pen down

and crumple
most of the sheets
and leave one or two,
sometimes a few,

for the next morning.
Day after day -
year after year -
it has gone on this way,

I rise from the chair,
I put on my jacket
and leave the house
for that other world -

the first one,
the holy one -
where the trees say
nothing the toad says

nothing the dirt
says nothing and yet
what has always happened
keeps happening:

the trees flourish,
the toad leaps,
and out of the silent dirt
the blood-red roses rise.


- Mary Oliver

This is a beautiful time of year. Even if you stand, as many do, on the threshold of crisis, unsure of your next step, may you find comfort as I have in the truth of Mary Oliver's simple observation, "out of the silent dirt the blood-red roses rise."

Take a moment. Leave your work, set aside worry, step gratefully into the world. We exist at the threshold of possibility.
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Tunnels of Time

Ostia Antica, Italy
BUDAPEST
My pen moves along the page
like the snout of a strange animal
shaped like a human arm
and dressed in the sleeve of a loose green sweater.

I watch it sniffing the paper ceaselessly,
intent as any forager that has nothing
on its mind but the grubs and insects
that will allow it to live another day.

It wants only to be here tomorrow,
dressed perhaps in the sleeve of a plaid shirt,
nose pressed against the page,
writing a few more lines

while I gaze out the window and imagine Budapest
or some other city where I have never been.

- Billy Collins



This complicated, imperfect, imbalanced journey through life.

To you. To all that is required. To that parenthesis around the ridiculous dead-ends; the difficult, often needless "learning experiences." The self-confidence that maybe didn't arrive until late, almost passing us by. Here we are, arrived at some embarrassing "what-have-you-been-up-to" adult decade, arm-chair fossils of thinking and living. And yet. Your tales of self-discovery, the thrashing near-drowning. The bumbling, insecure, hopeful human being that miraculously aged into self-assurance by sheer survival. Has not time left a thing fine and unbreakable in youth's place?

Time occasionally finds us on the right or wrong side of some imaginary mark in the sand. A bar others seem to vault with greater ease. A cherished goal, unmet. Let the anxiety go. Celebrate victories. Live life on your own terms. This is the true prize. The becoming of you.

We are here, my friends. Lost and found. Here in the raw, relentless beauty of the world.

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