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QUINTESSENCE

All Things Made New

Ostia Antica
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 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 English writer Julian Barnes defined it, of an ending. Opening to wisdom. Aged, reflective, and questioning still, Sarton seeks an elusive muse. A bolder, nobler inspiration. Answers.

"Of the Muse" reveals a distilled personal truth from Sarton: that her lifelong art has not been the gift of inspired flights of stark originality but the gift of incidental moments of awareness. Found truth along life's most ordinary path. Leaning in is looking closer. "We do not thank the light,/ But rejoice in what we see/Because of it."

Truth, not appearance or form, defines meaning; unvarnished and unaltered. Whether one speaks of the heart or the earth, ambitions or sins, perceiving honestly is the beginning point. "There is no poetry in lies," Sarton writes. Listen in, the poet advises. Hear the tighter, deeper, stronger, resonating beat of experience. There is no mantra or magic. No easy hack for enhancing creativity or making a life.

There is only this: honest awareness. A raw truth. "But in crude honesty/There is hope for poetry." Can the essence of understanding be put more beautifully or simply? Sarton lays aside the ego and its masks. Only comprehend, she asks. See that which is before you. Bow to the pre-eminence of what lies in all things, and therein, find wonder.

To see the snow fall, all things made new.

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Into the Next

Actium, western Greece. Where Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius came in from the sea
THE NEXT TIME
BY Mark Strand

Nobody sees it happening, but the architecture of our time
Is becoming the architecture of the next time. And the dazzle

Of light upon the waters is as nothing beside the changes
Wrought therein, just as our waywardness means

Nothing against the steady pull of things over the edge.
Nobody can stop the flow, but nobody can start it either.

Time slips by; our sorrows do not turn into poems,
And what is invisible stays that way. Desire has fled,

Leaving only a trace of perfume in its wake,
And so many people we loved have gone,

And no voice comes from outer space, from the folds
Of dust and carpets of wind to tell us that this

Is the way it was meant to happen, that if we only knew
How long the ruins would last we would never complain.


There is a deep truth about this poem. The poet, Mark Stand, has taken the idea of time and its passage and said something interesting about passage. Time is both a physical and experiential transition, a flow of moments here and gone, a cosmic bookmark continuously placed anew. We think of time as dynamic. But do we also experience time as architecture, nested windows of life, sometimes a ghost? Strand envisions time as the inexorable tumble of what was into what is. That "then and now" coexist, ever so briefly, before what is is then no more. THE NEXT TIME is a poem of moments. A poem that says be now. Let go.

The last sentence of Strand's poem is particularly poignant:
It is the way it was meant to happen, that if we only knew
How long the ruins would last we would never complain.


The architecture of time is beautiful. A long and vaulted hall. A soaring, columned esplanade forever arcing into the distance. Strand writes of the pull. We cannot stop, nor begin, time's flow. Time loosens our grip even as we claim it; pries loose our fingers. We struggle, lament, and then finally abandon our monuments, let go our losses, release our loves. The ring of footsteps swallowed in silence. The culmination of expired tomorrows behind us.

Measured hours lean into the next and the next.

A trace of perfume. How long the ruins last.


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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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Against A Sure Winter

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
WINTER TREES
by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.


'Tis is the season of quiet. We slip deep into the heart of who and why and where we happen to be. This lovely small poem, like so much of Williams's work, frames nature in mideas res. In the midst of narrative, without preamble. In "Winter Trees," Williams sketches an orchard, emptied of fruit. Nature at her turning point in the cycle of do and done.

Activity and rest. We enter the deep cold months of waiting in stillness. The silver season of the "liquid moon."

I invite you into winter. Into the space between moments and years. The break among days, marked by small distances between stars. I invite you to the quiet and the stillness, to stand comfortably with me in this fallow space; in the geography that is love, both present and gone. As many of you know, the place others hold in our lives and the space our feelings occupy is important to me. I believe we find ourselves and welcome truth into consciousness in the pause between event and stillness. All life requires space to rest and regroup. People in particular need a pause to gather and consider, and most of all, breathe beauty. Breathe in the essence of the present.

Bone-white moments of clarity, fragile barrenness, lush extravagant joy, tenuous fulfillment. We take our experiences up even as plants absorb oxygen, slowly. We absorb living on the broad leaves of our soul. And with growth, even as the wise trees, we collect ourselves in stillness. An expanse of stillness.

Do we know where we stand as this year "disattires" of its days? I am not sure that I do, not yet anyway. The time is now, to stop and abide the hours. In the quiet comes the story of what has been, and what we hope will be. Barren branches fill with winter moon as we celebrate or lay to rest what has come before. Tomorrow seeps into awareness. Now, in the time to dream.

To all my readers - dear friends one and all - thank you for a rich and meaningful year. I am grateful we travel the stars together. See you in the new year.

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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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How Much Still Remained

And the longer he thought
the more plain to him how much
still remained to be experienced,
and written down, a material world heretofore
hardly dignified.

And he recognized in exactly this reasoning
the scope and trajectory of his own
watchful nature.


- from "Roman Study," Louise Gluck

Fog has filled the valley and spilled over the rim of the bluffs I live on, threading, gray and impenetrable, through the bare trees. In this shifting uncertainty of cloud and cold I take my early walk. Through the neighborhoods, past houses with families gathered at breakfast tables in kitchens that spill yellow light. Harried parents load preschoolers into warming cars, bundled against the cold. The asphalt sparkles with frost and I push my hands deep in my pockets, thinking about this year, 2017. The past year has been both wonderful and extremely tough on some of those I love, difficult overall for our country.

Are these twists of luck and suffering part of a larger meaning, or simply accidental? Life so often feels composed of chance, of fortune both good and bad. Surely this mortal journey is more than a grand roller derby of messy and spectacular collisions. How in the midst of a careless random are we to make successful choices? Seek right outcomes, make peace with the truly awful?

My late husband Ken used to say of his outlook on life, "I work at the art of reasoning away bad luck." I think about this often now. He was teasing me to some extent, as I tend to cling to a faith in greater things to come, especially through sorrows or tragedies I do not understand. He pointed out you can't change what is, but you can choose how to deal with it. Your way. Even now, I still throw prayers out like a fisherman's net, hunting meaning in misfortune, convinced there must be an eventual breakthrough into a wiser, if not better life.

The best I've come up with is life is a sailboat tacking across open waters. The seas and winds change, and with shift, the set of the sails and tiller must change as well. We are at our best if our hand stays steady, gaze fixed on the horizon regardless of the conditions we navigate.

I embrace the spirit of the poem. Life is lived forward. The fog lifts. How much remains to be experienced.

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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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Warrior, Monk

Bust of Alexander, Museum of Athens

Some things
you know all your life. They are simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter, and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.


- from "The Simple Truth," Philip Levine


I have shared this stanza of Philip Levine's poem "The Simple Truth," before with you. If you are not familiar with Levine's work, please, when you have a moment, read through the entire poem. And then, perhaps, browse the complete poetry collection by the same title. Levine's poems are pithy, fibrous. Earthy and powerful. They sear in your brain. They move your heart.

Distinct and subtle, Levine is sometimes referred to as the working man's poet. A tribute to his attention to the ordinary hours, to working lives, his curiosity and empathy for the fates of others. The stanza above speaks to me as a reflection on loyalty, fidelity, love. The musculature and the power of attachment.

The human heart is capable of great patience, tremendous tenacity. It stretches, builds ever so slowly like bone in the body. All is a journey, this life. Connection and partnership. The hand-bricked construction of that we define as family. Our layers of self, like the rings of the oak, evolve continual ways of being. It is the simple truth to say that living is about ever-becoming. And while neither easy, nor pristinely unmarred, and certainly never perfect in process, for each one of us becoming is whole and perfect intent. Perfect in joy. Grounded in earth, heaven, and the unending soul. The human heart is a warrior and a monk. And speaks a simple truth. Belong.

As we enter the quiet months of winter, listen to the song your life is singing. Speak the things you know to be true. Make these truths the pillars of conscious living.

Let the beauty we love be what we do - Rumi



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2017 Nobel Prize in Literature

Kazuo Ishiguro, signing copies of "The Buried Giant" - Nobel Prize Foundation
Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature today. In an interview in today's New York Times, Ishiguro is quoted as saying he was sitting at his kitchen table in London writing an email when he got the call from his agent relaying today's announcement by the Nobel committee, what will surely become a life-changing phone call. The name is not unfamiliar to readers around the globe. I imagine many of us have read one or more of his exceptional, genuinely splendid novels. Or perhaps watched a public television series or a film, like "Remains of the Day," adapted from his work. Ishiguro, born in Japan but a long-time British citizen, is a writer of prodigious and wide-ranging interests and talents, and his work reflects this remarkable breadth. If you haven't for some reason read any Ishiguro lately, I sincerely hope you will do so soon. Ishiguro's writing is a joy. His stories will stick with you long after the final page.

Some of Ishiguro's commendable works:
Novels
A Pale View of Hills (1982)
An Artist of the Floating World (1986)
The Remains of the Day (1989)
The Unconsoled (1995)
When We Were Orphans (2000)
Never Let Me Go (2005)
The Buried Giant (2015)

Screenplays
A Profile of Arthur J. Mason (Television film for Channel 4) (1984)
The Gourmet (Television film for Channel 4)(1987)
The Saddest Music in the World (2003)
The White Countess (2005)

Short fiction
"A Strange and Sometimes Sadness", "Waiting for J" and "Getting Poisoned" (in Introduction 7: Stories by New Writers, 1981)
"A Family Supper" (in Firebird 2: Writing Today, 1983)
"The Summer After the War" (in Granta 7, 1983)
"October 1948" (in Granta 17, 1985)
"A Village After Dark" (in The New Yorker, 2001)
"Crooner", "Come Rain or Come Shine", "Malvern Hills", "Nocturne" and "Cellists" (in Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, 2009)

Lyrics
"The Ice Hotel", ""I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again", "Breakfast on the Morning Tram" and "So Romantic" on Stacey Kent's 2007 album Breakfast on the Morning Tram, and "The Summer We Crossed Europe In the Rain", "Waiter, Oh Waiter", and "The Changing Lights" on Kent's 2013 album The Changing Lights. *Source credit: Wikipedia

Can we just say, Congratulations! Well done?
Yes, we can.
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