instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

QUINTESSENCE

The Honey of Life's Busyness

Our lives were stored in our heads.
They hadn't begun, we were both sure
we'd know when they did.
They certainly weren't this.

We read, we listened to the portable radio.
Obviously this wasn't life, this sitting around
in colored lawn chairs.

- from "August," Louise Gluck

The tension between imagined life and reality. The dream and the truth. What we dream our lives to be and the way we see them unfold; our tomorrows, construction projects of the imagination. Poet Louise Gluck's young narrator is confident she will be sure when actual life begins. When life, as imagined, will spread in technicolor across the white screen of summer days. The poet observes, "Our lives were stored in our heads."

Some of us wait, and are lost in the waiting. Some of lost looking longingly over our shoulders.

Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, and so the struggle is everlasting. Who am I today? What do I see today? How shall I use what I know, and how shall I avoid being victim of what I know? Life is not repetition."
- Robert Henri

We are not meant to abandon our futures absorbed in nostalgia, lost in musings, in fixation upon the past. Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, philosopher Robert Henri warns. Life is found within the common hours of our days, here in the honey of life's busyness. The vanishing moments that link days to years, that hang like droplets of dew in the throat of an iris.

This universe of one is a universe of many. And it is beautiful. And ordinary. A summer of books, the radio, and colored lawn chairs.

 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Rhythms

THE NEWS
by Joshua Mehigan

What happened today? Where did it go?
The raindrops dot the window and roll down.
One taps the glass, another, three at a time,
warping the view of black trees limbs and sky.
Long hush, quick crescendo. Wind leans on the sash.
Behind me in the shadows sleep two cats.
Nearby, like something small deposited
tenderly by a big wind on the bed,
my wife sleeps deeply through the afternoon.
The sky is gray. What color is the sky?
Rhinoceros? Volcanic dune? Moon dust?
Breast of mourning dove? Gray butterfly?
Blank newsprint. There's no news, no news at all,
and will be none,
until, at long last, in the other room,
one light comes on, and then another one.


Much of 2017 has unfolded for me as though it were an existential play. We are now somewhere in the middle act. A startled audience, debating amongst ourselves if this violent dramatic arc in world news, and personal local news, is growing exponentially more unreal and negative, or if our minds have simply not yet grasped, This is the way things are now.

I remember childhood conversations with my father as he told me the stories of his father, an army commander, a prisoner of war killed near the end of the second world war. How everyone around him in those days felt confused, dazed by the news of the day. This cannot be real, they said. No, this cannot be real. This falling of nations, these public squares of screaming fascism, plans for calculated genocide, squads of fanatic teenagers, dirt mounded on the unmarked graves of murdered children. An entire planet finally pressed by a horrific enormity of events that "could not be real" to take up arms against the most human of aggressions, power and hatred.

When we walk in the footsteps of the wars across Europe, these ghosts are never far. The wars before, and since. When we turn on the news of the day, the media box foments back at us with rage and hatred and murderous prejudice. Can this be real? Has nothing changed?

I don't have answers. I can't begin to foresee the future for our next generation. The world is rapidly and continuously changing its geography, cultures, and concepts of its own humanity. I sometimes feel as the poet above -- the news of our times is lost in translation. Is hatred a shape? Is that volcanic or stone disbelief? Rose red graves? Or the garden, there, half touched with dew in the midmorning sun.

I listen to the rhythm of the rain; of the dog, breathing heavily, stretched out on his side and asleep by the back porch door. The fast-beating fury of the hummingbird as it plunders the lavender. That unhurried galleon of trailing cloud tilting and slipping across the sky. Rhythms. The half-phrased poems of life. The heartbeat of the world, the word. The news.

 Read More 
1 Comments
Post a comment

Rewaking

Ladyslipper
THE REWAKING
Sooner or later
we must come to the end
of striving

to re-establish
the image the image of
the rose

but not yet
you say extending the
time indefinitely

by
your love until a whole
spring

rekindle
the violet to the very
lady's-slipper

and so by
your love the very sun
itself is revived.


- William Carlos Williams

The theme of renewal this month - of spirit, heart, and mind - has a beautiful resonance. The limning of new green on the tree branches outside my study speaks to the budding within of hope and expectation. There is something about spring that nudges us to get on with it. To pluck our rusty dreams up and tinker them back into play. To rethink the impossible or the challenging and build a bridge to somewhere. To throw the window open and breathe deep of sunshine and the dazzling colors of spring.

This poem by William Carlos Williams is a favorite. "The Rewaking" reminds me that some essential essence of life and joy may be re-found through the mysteries of love. That perceived reality and the invisible real dance in many robes of perception, and the presence of happiness reshapes all things. The poet speaks of love as a force of nature, capable of reviving even the sun. And so we pause, and notice the new violet in the garden. We rekindle joy, restore what weariness may have caused us to believe forever lost, and come again to "the image the image of the rose."
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Solitaire


BEARING THE LIGHT
by Denise Levertov

Rain-diamonds, this winter morning,
embellish the tangle of unpruned
pear-tree twigs; each solitaire,
placed, it appears, with considered
judgement, bears the light
beneath the rifted clouds -- the indivisible
shared out in endless abundance.


I love this poem for the imagery -- rain-diamonds -- and the concept of light, intense and undeniable, a force or perhaps presence, cast freely into the world. Light, magnified and scattered with considered judgement through uncounted natural solitaires. One thinks of not just literal raindrops sparkling on naked pear-tree branches in the winter light, but of each living thing. The prism of light cast into the world. Our human presence, each solitaire embellishing the universe with our brilliant, bright individual lives. In the coming weeks, in the slow limning of the bare branch in tender green and velvet bud as the sun returns from the south, let us hold close this pure and simple imagery. Rain-diamonds on tangled twigs.

In every day of every month, in each corner of sky and earth, seek the light and praise the solitaire. Let us gather the joy, share it widely, be light-filled and welcome light into our lives, the indivisible shared out in endless abundance.

 Read More 
Be the first to comment

A Floating Transparency

Runner in the clouds. The Jungfrau, The Bernese Alps, Switzerland
At work on the novel in progress at my desk, editing and rewriting from revision notes, I chanced to revisit a post written near the beginning of an earlier project. At that time I faced the challenges of the blank page. Much of that novel was worked out on the trails that cut across the bluff near my house. Three years and a novel later, after laying down several drafts and as many complete revisions on this new writing project, I have the added benefit of two draft reviews from outside readers, each read from different but complementary perspectives.

There are manuscript questions for the writer anchored to grammar, plot, and character distinctions, and there are matters of intent, the art of language, and theme. I deeply appreciate both perspectives. I gleaned the most however from an insightful read by a national book critic. This kind of wholistic review, from a professional who reads widely and with an eye to what makes a book work, proved invaluable in understanding the big picture narrative. And yet, and yet. The final answers are found on the bluff.

Some thoughts from January 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."

- W. H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

This essay by Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray, collected by Steven Pressfield in a little gem of a creative kick-starter titled, "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles," explores the mystery of the power of commitment. When we choose, we accomplish. When we commit, we begin. We undertake the necessary steps to move forward from intention to deed.

Many poets and writers -- Wordsworth, Whitman, Yeats, and of course Thoreau, Emerson, and Oliver -- understood physical movement as preparation for deep thinking. A preamble to engagement. Walking through hoar-frosted grasses beneath an oyster-colored sky of low cloud this morning, I caught myself problem solving, working a tenacious creative dilemma, unaware my conscious mind had defaulted to autopilot. A floating transparency linked my body and winter and movement through space. Far down the trail I had my problem solved simultaneous with an awareness of a nearby crow, the knowledge hawks actively hunt crows, and appreciation for a grand pine frosted in white, its clustered needles encased in frozen fog.

In running, a calm inner balance rises from the primary focus on breathing and stride. Like meditation, this single and simple focus, running, restructures the overburdened, fragmented mind. As concentration relaxes into a rhythmic groove, we release actively piloting the run. Mental chatter falls to the wayside, big ideas step forward, stress seeps away. On a vigorous extended walk, the rhythmic physical groove finds us sooner, with less effort. The mind leans back, trusting in the body's instinctual balance, and begins to surf the mental intranet. In this state the mind observes, pages through phrases and ideas, and effortlessly connects the random and mysterious. For me, running is a form of mental strength training while a walk is a free-climb.

How does this insight impact productivity habits? I begin with this straightforward question: What is needed? A break or a reboot, inspiration or new thinking? Beginning a work project has multiple entry points, with differing yields. Am I facing distraction? Do I need to open my thinking and push through a creative block? Pace my focus through a long haul effort?

I believe there are patterns within all of us that enhance thought and breath, movement and idea. What works for you?
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

One Certain Day of Autumn


VARIATION ON A THEME BY RILKE
[The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem I, Stanza I]
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.


Autumn in the northern latitudes is my favorite season with its brilliantly hued afternoons of slanted light, the warmth of the earth slow to rise and long to linger. The sun is bright but scraped of its blistering heat, the days crisp at the edges. September skies can be so hard a blue the light deflects and skitters away while white nimbus clouds pile into low slow banks on the horizon on their stately march.

This is a time of preparation, renewal, and focus. Monarch butterflies begin their global migration to Mexico. The field mouse scurries to gather seeds, the squirrels stuff nuts into holes excavated about the yard. Overhead the Canadian geese are on wing, their southern flight marked by a chorus of honking. The singing birds dart to the feeder, building fat reserves, their summer songs set aside. Nature offers its harvest bounty and we gather it in.

Feel the gathering of energies, the tingle of change in your bones.

Levertov's poem speaks of acute wholeness, aliveness, presence. I feel this exquisitely in autumn. Now is the season of epic journeys. The new school year somersaults childhood forward a year, the days of rest and play set aside. The change in seasons signals an accounting and an assessment, a refresh of goals, and plans for tomorrows yet to come. We gather and tend and set aside. What is there yet to do? What is there that must be done? What do we dream of?

Autumn strikes a bell that all may hear. If we listen, we hear the tone within ourselves. What does the sound of your whole self ringing sing to you?
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Synchronicity With Mystery

Mt. Shasta, dawn

WAKING THIS MORNING DREAMLESS AFTER LONG SLEEP
by Jane Hirschfield

But with this sentence:
"Use your failures for paper."
Meaning, I understood,
the backs of failed poems, but also my life.

Whose far side I begin now to enter -

A book imprinted without seeming reason,
each blank day bearing on its reverse, in random order,
the mad-set type of other.
December 12, 1960. April 4, 1981. 13th of August, 1974 -

Certain words bleed through to the unwritten pages.
To call this memory offers no solace.

"Even in sleep, the heavy millstones turning."

I do not know where the words come from,
what the millstones,
where the turning may lead.

I, a woman forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples,
putting pages of ruined paper
into a basket, pulling them out again.


On our last morning at the lake this year, the unmistakable honk and beating wings of silver-bellied Canadian geese rose from the far cove. The geese were not straggled loosely, aligned casual arrows heaving across the sky as is customary, but carved in their flight close to shore. Low to the water, their V formation tipped on its side, they skimmed beyond the shore pines above the water's edge as the bats at twilight do.

And again this morning in the city I awoke to the call of geese breaking across the dawn. How is it these migrating birds infallibly mark the new crisp in the air? Do they taste the coming wet cold I have inhaled deeply on my early morning hikes? Season after season the geese know when it is time to veer southward. They keep synchronicity with mystery.

It is here: the changing of the season.

I was born in the autumn and it has always been my favorite time of year. I am partial to the slant and slow mellow gold of light, the deepening colors of the earth. But as I age, and turn over longer pages of days, and life, writing and rewriting on the backs of other days and discarded moments, I notice I've begun to tune to the subtle change of seasons. Particularly the glide from summer into autumn. Before winter.

I too, have turned from late summer into fall, and stand at the edge of winter. Each passing season, which once I believed I possessed in abundance, now feels quite precious.

I take my fill of the hours of each day. I linger. I do not rush them onward and into the next. I hold back a little. Try to draw the days and weeks and months closer. I have just begun to understand how to use this life I have been given. And I am grateful.

 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Seclusion

Priest Lake Moonrise

Back to the archives today, my friends. This post is from August 26, 2013. Tomorrow I head to Priest Lake for a vacation of mountain hiking, huckleberry picking, and that mellow glass of wine on the deck in the company of a gorgeous sunset.

My favorite time of day at the lake is early morning. Out on the deck with a mug of coffee as the mist and loons drift away across the bay under a pink sunrise.

I'll see you back here at the end of August. Enjoy these last days of summer.


MONDAY MORNING, LATE SUMMER

On the fence
in the sunlight,
beach towels.

No wind.

The apricots have ripened
and been picked.
The blackberries have ripened
and been picked.


- Robert Hass, from the poem "Cuttings"

The opening of the chest, the heart chakra - literally opening to the deep breathing and calm rhythms of a lengthy period on break - profoundly affects the mind as well as the body. When we step out of the box, the stress-filled, demanding, unrelenting responsibilities of the 24/7, the break from routine can begin the restoration of the soul. As an observer of my own fifty decades of living, the wide empty stretches on life's blue highways are far and few between in the 21st century. It's no news we live in a plugged-in, high demand, ever-changing, constantly stimulating world. The irregular dry spells, down time, wayside adventures, lags in scheduling all seem to have disappeared along with party-lines and land lines. We are "on" and plugged-in every moment of the day: pinged by messages, expanding lists of to-dos, global information, and social media even when we sleep.

Small wonder we find peace walking in the silence of tall cedars, lulled to sleep by lapping waves on the lake shore, listening to the creak of wind in the trees, bird call in the quiet dawn. Thoreau was a relentless champion of "disconnect and rediscover" for the human soul, and frankly, so am I. I found it interesting to watch my family, traveling to our rustic cabin on the lake shore with four smart phones, two laptops, three iPads, two iPods and one Shuffle, slowly adapt to first making the long trek down the trail to the nearest wifi center for internet signal, to eventually, mournfully, accepting there would never be more than one half-bar of cell service off the lake, to at last letting the devices sit in their cases, untouched. Withdrawal from the digital world was both painful and amusing - catching ourselves automatically engaged in a pointless click to check email, Twitter, FB. The urge to connect releasing, ever so slowly releasing its grip, to be replaced by long naps sunning on beach towels on a gently rolling dock, acoustic jazz guitar on the porch, long conversations by wine and candlelight at the picnic table, delving into not just a chapter but an entire book, board games and cards accompanied by a crackling fire and mellow whiskey.

We learned the nurturing quality of quiet. The sweet richness of intimate conversation. Walking the mountains, taking in the whole of life.

We disappear to the cabin every year, coming from wherever we are in the four corners of the world, from whatever education, work, or travel schedules occupy us, ready to find our way back to ourselves. To recharge in the power of tranquility, the open spaces of daydreams, sunny contentment, the deep truthful night and undisturbed sleep. We reconnect not just within, but together. And when the last spider is slapped with a sandal and tossed out the door, when the last huckleberry has made its way to a pancake drenched in maple syrup, the last pot of camp coffee poured to the dregs, we pack up our beach chairs and book bags and return to the world.

Halfway down the road to civilization the electronics buried in our duffles ping on, buzzing and downloading in a bursting hive of fury and we have to laugh. The world. It doesn't wait, and it doesn't matter.
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

In Our Heads


Our lives were stored in our heads.
They hadn't begun, we were both sure
we'd know when they did.
They certainly weren't this.

We read, we listened to the portable radio.
Obviously this wasn't life, this sitting around
in colored lawn chairs.

- from "August," Louise Gluck

Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, and so the struggle is everlasting. Who am I today? What do I see today? How shall I use what I know, and how shall I avoid being victim of what I know? Life is not repetition.
- Robert Henri

I have been rethinking a post that I wrote in 2011 on the tension between imagined life and reality. The fantasy in our heads and the truth. What we dream our lives to be in contrast with the ways they unfold.

In Louise Gluck's "August," her young narrator is confident she will be certain when "life" as she imagines it will spread in blazing technicolor across the white screen of summer days. Future selves dormant like ungerminated seeds within the ordinary hours. "Our lives were stored in our heads," the narrator observes, unaware life spools by even in the time spent imagining it. Can we not relate? How we grow lost in daydreams, absorbed in nostalgia, frequently swept to the banks by unbidden musings. "Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday," Robert Henri warned. For what would we have then but a hall of memories? Of recollections like mirrors, arrayed in an endless vision of the past.

We are now in the summer of another year. We may indeed sit in lawn chairs. But if we do so in the company of a friend, perhaps turn a page in a book, enjoy solitude in the pleasure of a favorite tune on the radio...it is all genuine, all everyday living. The ordinary hours produce the honey of life's busyness. Days to years rolling into a swell of gathered sweetness that rests in our hearts like morning dew in the throat of an iris.

This. This universe in the universe of one.

Beautiful. Ordinary. A summer of books, the radio, and colored lawn chairs.

 Read More 
Be the first to comment

The Dissonance of Change


MORNING POEM
by Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches—
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead—
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging—

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted—

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.


I have just spent the last six days in the company of my daughter, a new MD, on a cross-country drive from Seattle to Cleveland - where she will begin her surgical residency training. The interesting thing about road trips is that changes in life circumstances - the process of shift - are richly reflected in passing landscapes. The pitch and roll of mountain ranges and valleys, the changing color of dirt and rivers, vistas opening to prairie then to lakes, the populating of wilderness by farms, and those wide, cultivated acres narrowing to industry, cities rising upon concrete overpasses, the towering downtown skyscrapers... These are all echoes of personal relocation.

All we travel through echoes what we feel inside the midst of great shift. One known thing gives way to a new and unfamiliar thing. The translation between experiences gaps. We stand, stranger in a strange land, "grokking" as Heinlein would have it, the essence of all that looms before us. There is real dissonance in change. We thrill to the adventure and call of new challenges and stimuli: and we step back, trembling at the edge of our comfort zone. The new world is both attractive and unsettling at the same time.

Yes, we grow when we adapt and challenge ourselves to conquering unknown circumstances. But we also experience a poignant sense of loss stepping away from our established lives. The known is familiar, perhaps even beloved; the past represents the most grounded we have felt in recent memory. What lies ahead is a question, and the potential to fail, to find life wanting, or severely disappoint ourselves is achingly real.

Arriving in Cleveland entailed a profound geographical shift, a cultural shift, and an immersion in learning to navigate on the fly. Nothing is known: not routes nor directions, location of services or grocery stores - not even whether the nod in the elevator is ritually feigned or sincere. Does one say hello or keep a respectful peace? Mistakes abound. Amusement frequent. Surprise and alarm a daily occurrence. All of this shift: the dissonance of change. What is familiar, surrendering to the strange.

Moving from one part of these United States to another is difficult. The goodbyes to friends, paperwork hoops, proofs of identity and legality, even the establishing of credentials - finances to vehicle licenses - it's all just huge. But here's the fun thing: every step in life that enlarges personal boundaries in fact enlarges the self.

So, hang on little tomato, as Pink Martini sings it, and grow. Let it be in your nature to be happy.

 Read More 
Be the first to comment