Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Robert is happily recruited again. The Reading Man reads on.

The Arrow Collar Man, illustration by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, from this grand Pinterest board.
The reading aloud of David Copperfield at the Billington's Cove Library was going swimmingly for Robert and his audience, which he was somewhat surprised to find contained children by the dozens, even though he knew this was a summer program for students.  He'd pictured them, the barefoot-on-the-foggiest-days beach youngsters, squirming and asking "Do I have to?" when told some old guy was going to read them some old book at the library and that Mrs. Ripley was expecting them to show up.

They not only showed up, they arrived and sat, on chairs or the floor, with mothers and aunts (no dogs in the library, at least not when it was so crowded), visiting cousins, grandparents and anyone who had no irreversible demands on his or her time.  And they were attentive and, it seemed, interested.  He hoped his voice wouldn't catch in the most poignant parts, though it wouldn't be the worst thing if it did.

When that day's reading concluded, Irene Ripley waited until audience members had offered their greetings and thanks to The Reading Man and approached with what he was coming to know, after very few encounters, as her Asking A Favor face.  She was a stealthy force of nature and he but a flimsy inland creature.  "Thank you, Robert.  That was moving and beautiful.  They'll be back next time, I expect along with all the town's business owners who've put up their "gone fishing" signs so they don't miss the fun."

Robert was still absorbing the warm response, trying not to let his ego puff like a baked good at Gloria's, trying not to feel like some minor rock star on a very small stage, when Irene mentioned the library was also offering a writing program that summer.  "I think hearing their stories read in front of an audience, hearing their thoughts come to life in a new form, would be so encouraging, don't you?"  Robert tried to look agreeably non-committal, waiting for what was to come.  Irene took his elbow and led him to her office where she handed him a manilla folder of notebook pages, covered in determined block printing or penciled cursive, a name and grade level posted in each upper right corner

"My thinking," she said, "is to have a special event, separate from the Dickens, with a printed program, the student's name included along with the title of the story.  You can see they are only a page long, just twenty authors.  Will you help me?"  Robert looked at the first paper, the work of Lewis, grade 5.  "Warren Westover was a worm," it began, "with the mind of a genius giant."

"Of course," he told her, as his own secret child aspects began to hop and giggle with anticipation.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Word of the Week - 8

“Let us remember...that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”
Christian Wiman

Word of the Week:  INHABIT

The word, read this morning in Maria Popova's Brain Pickings article about Alan Watts and the antidote for anxiety, suggested to me aspects of comfort and ease, shoes off, shoulders relaxed, what my son calls "chilling," being at home, being home.
Artist Kate Pugsley's woman, I believe, inhabits that coat as I once did a cardigan.
To inhabit our own lives, not sit like visitors on the edge of the sofa but sprawl, widen our understanding of ourselves, spread like water into every corner, dark or gleaming, is how presence begins.  To inhabit is to spend time without squirming inside our own skin, in our own company, with our own thoughts.  The painting above and the word reminded me of being 17-18 years old, the degree to which I was lost and estranged and without hope only slightly diminished by recklessness and excess, yet I had a black cardigan in which I could simply be.  It was long enough to reach the middle of my thighs, had deep pockets and an abundance that wrapped me up, sealed in as the woman appears to be in her fur coat.  I was a walking blanket fort, undetectable, temporarily at peace, able to be in the world, an inhabitant.

Being present requires inhabiting the moment.  I can't even bear the phrase multi-tasking, let alone the practice of it.  Distracted and divided, how do we inhabit, for which we need the whole of us and not fragments, parts that can be spared from what seems more important.  I know a number of friends with whom I talk on the phone are otherwise engaged while we converse.  I don't take it personally, it is the way of things.  But without being here, how do we claim the territory of our lives?  Like homesteaders, we have to be on the land to call it ours.  I will think further about the dimensions of inhabiting, the ways in which it demands a wholeness, an entirety, an awareness focused only on now.

The scope of the Brain Pickings article is much broader than this week's word, though they share the same road.  I love being in a world where wisdom lingers behind a headline, behind the columns in the parking garage, waiting to entice me with its eternal shiny newness, adjusting my perception.


How we begin to fill

Reposted, reminding myself that what seems slackerish behavior may not be.  I'm sticking with that.

Monday, December 19, 2011

To the doodlers, the daydreamers, the lost

Copyright M. Kelly

Some words to ponder from Henry David Thoreau:

"Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves."

In my land of curious synaptical leaps, this, of course, connects to doodling. I believe unshakably that our best focus comes down to the point of a pen or pencil. There are others who share and support this notion. One of them presents her thoughts here.

Between staring out the window, my splendid view being of treetops and the sky, and doodling, I am never more than inches from a pen and paper, I could easily be chosen Least Certain to Pay Attention in any group. I maintain it is more likely that our very best ideas and interpretations come from inner-generated concepts rather than from those forced upon us by the outside world.

Doodling, or sky gazing, connect me to a fluid mental state where the obsessive and compulsive no longer exist. I am afloat on a vast Jules Verne-esque subterranean sea of imaginative no-thought. With no credentials whatsoever, I propose that we are the better, the saner, the more tranquil for time spent outside the company of conscious, purpose-filled thought. There are no lists in doodling, no clocks. The notion of here is in a state of flux, for we are free-wheelingly transported by a mind no longer under the influence of nine forward gears. (We seemed to get along very well with four, maybe five speeds, four plus overdrive in a 1956 Austin Healey 100-4. More has never meant the same as better.)

We may become lost through denial, avoidance, illness, forgetfulness, apathy, indifference and life being life. We get thrown off the bus, drummed out of the corps, abandoned, rejected, ignored, shunned and snubbed. We can also choose to be lost inside our daydreams or within the lines and shapes of doodles. Once removed from our thinking, ordinary-reality selves, we have time and space to encounter spirit. It is my theory that spirit always seeks to connect with us, to reach us beyond all that is busy and distracting, and will use whatever means are necessary. In my experience, spirit finds us through health-crises, through seismic shifts, through reversals of fortune if our attention can't be caught any other way. Or we can volunteer as doodlers and wool-gatherers and see what happens.

In her TED talk, Sunni Brown explains how doodling assists in retaining information, demonstrating how it is not a wasteful activity. Beyond that, I believe it aids us in uncovering information, allowing us access to collective knowledge or our own greater, undiscovered wisdom. By wandering away from ourselves, we are returned but at another level. Lost does not equate with emptiness. Lost is how we begin to fill.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

As National Poetry Month starts packing its bags

Reposted, because I have given Poetry Month short shrift.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"...this must be the premiere"

We are already eight days into National Poetry Month with no time to waste.  Here is a gift sent by friend-poet Melissa Green, thank you,  by Polish writer and Nobel Prize-winner Wisława Szymborska.  It restates a theme explored in an earlier post here.  No false humility; the poets always say it best.

Life. While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it's mine, I can't exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play's all about.
Ill-prepared for the privilege of living.
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can't conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for hammy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.
Words and impulses you can't take back,
stars you'll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run--
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.
If I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven't seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn't even clear my throat offstage).
You'd be wrong to think that it's just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I'm standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there's no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I've done.
Wisława Szymborska

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy 1st Birthday, Gloria

One year ago today, with a brilliant Sarah Saunders figure as inspiration, Gloria was born.  That she and I and those who've joined the party since are still on this adventure makes me dizzy with gratitude and wonder.
Photo, with thanks here.
Dear Gloria, may all your wishes come true.  xo

Monday, April 21, 2014

Word of the Week - 7

Art by Edward Gorey.
Word of the Week:  SKITTISH

Jumpy, nervous as in the skittish horse.  In my case I think of it more as appropriately wary.  Take nothing, or very little, for granted.  It can be exhausting.  The week past that had me resetting passwords all over the known virtual universe due to hacking or spamming of my address book causes me to approach my mailbox as though it might hold a nest of pit vipers.

Vigilance or hyper-vigilance are not desirable states.  Excessive production of cortisol and other stress-related bodily responses is unwelcome not to mention unhealthy.  I don't believe any living creature becomes skittish for no reason, as Mr. Gorey points out - frequent ghastly happenings.  Reversing skittish tendencies, there's the task.

The antidote for skittishness is, I suppose, peace, tranquility or the ability to find and hold onto them in the midst of life being life.  The waters cannot be trusted to grow still enough for a long enough time to count on that being the the norm, the reliable, irrevocable norm.  In the absence of which we must create our own calm or be forever tossed like kindling in a tornado.  If we don't become our own placid centers we are at risk of rattling ourselves to bits, one bolt at a time.  Soothing words spoken in gentle voices, reassuring touch, consistency, freedom from jeopardy or something else wearing its clothes, all help to sand smooth raw nerves and a tendency to yelp or tremble.

It is, we are or I am, like water in the locks of the Panama Canal, rising an increment at a time, making the transition from chronic jumpiness to a steady hand, no tea spilled in the saucer.  How many movies have we seen where something spooks the horses, causes the herd to stampede?  One of our broadcast channels shows John Ford's RED RIVER about every 17 hours so I've been freshly reminded of the tendency to bolt at an unexpected sound, a sudden movement.

Human existence is rooted in the unexpected, which does not have to mean the alarming but merely that for which one has not planned.  There have been and will probably continue to be long stretches when everything feels like a detour to me.  Sink holes, landslides, X Files-like events, find another route.  Unflappable is the goal - "Be cool, my babies," as Conan O'Brien says - from stampede to serene in one lifetime. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Puddles and sky, some of Gloria's favorite things

Photo credit here.
Photo credit here.
Gloria wondered what people did who didn't daydream.  Where did they take their minds for rest, other than sleep, to step away from elbows on the sidewalk, sardine conditions on the subway, tedium at their desks or simply too much, for the moment, of everything that wasn't quiet.  She lived a life that looked close to perfect and it was a pleasing existence, one in which she made her own choices, kept a schedule that she set, breathed the scent of the sea and fresh air, had days that never wanted for beauty.  Even in the almost-perfect, one needed to slip outside the tent.  We can be, she thought, truants in our own minds and no one would ever know.

Puddles and tide pools knew her name, just as though she were one of the fairies who perched on their edges, letting them mirror on unruffled surfaces what ordinary sight often failed to detect.  She found the reflection of sky in a puddle, especially with fast-moving clouds revealing expanses of blue, to be a small miracle.  Tea in a teaspoon, lifted to the lips for a temperature reading, seeing into or beyond the tiny, fragrant pond, asking questions of your own eyes.

Back to as young an age as she could remember, Gloria loved in equal measure puddles and clouds after a rain.  The summer squall that lingered beyond forecasters' expectations made her want to squeal with glee.  Instead, to maintain her disguise as a grown-up while at work, she bustled.  Every movement was quickened and exaggerated with what could be called flair, like a dancer's hands.  She was already borne along by the wind that stirred the curtains, could feel herself grow light, lighter.  All concerns scattered, everything open to the air, unencumbered.  Wind is the best broom, she told herself, no cobweb can withstand it. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Word of the Week - 6

Since this is still National Poetry Month, the Word of the Week is WORDS.
Illustration by Kai Pannen.
Today's author of Poem-A-Day is Gregory Orr, who said, "When I write a poem, I process experience. I take what's inside me — the raw, chaotic material of feeling or memory — and translate it into words and then shape those words into the rhythmical language we call a poem. This process brings me a kind of wild joy. Before I was powerless and passive in the face of my confusion, but now I am active: the powerful shaper of my experience. I am transforming it into a lucid meaning."

Those of us who are not poets still face the task of wrestling, shoveling, wrangling and subduing words to do as we would have them do, to speak our truths.  Recent experiences with upgrading land lines and internet connections made me acutely aware of being precise about the questions I asked, about verifying what I had been told and then, when bits went awry, of explaining the situation unambiguously to the next representative.

Caring about words can be burdensome.  When only THE word will do, not finding it in the memory bank causes distress.  Second-best is not good enough in wordville.   As a girl, my mother had taken elocution lessons.  In those days it seemed to matter more than it currently does whether or not one could speak clearly and confidently.  As a result, my sister and I grew up following her patterns of speech.  Many a caller on the other end of the phone could not tell one of us from another.  It was once pointed out to me that I leave spaces around my words.  Yes, I do.  Without those space, I am more than capable of just blurting out any old thing, which can happen even with the spaces, but the chances decrease.

My admiration for poets is without limit.  They are my magicians, well, along with musicians and those who write songs for they have their own language, a version of words unknown to the uninitiated.  There is an aspect of writing that I think of as akin to moving furniture, if one had all the furniture in the world to choose from.  Words arranged just so become image, metaphor.  What the poets possess, the rest of us aspire to.  It is not different than the alchemy of cooking, knowing what a pile of ingredients will taste like when combined.  Words have their own alchemy, are their own alchemy, a wizard's tools, the wonder of letters stirred together to make this, Gregory Orr's "lucid meaning."  We can always hope.

Rave on words on printed page.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A gift? Are you sure? It doesn't look like one.

Illustration by Shaun Tan.
Today's unanswerable question:  will we always know the gift when we meet it?

The thought that landed on me as I left an art project in the glue-drying stage was this:  what if all that we feel is most shameful, unacceptable, unwelcome, self-destructive and just ewwwwwww about ourselves is THE thing that somehow managed to keep us here so that we could grow into the people we were meant to become, people who have more than a vague sense why we are here?  Yes, I think and talk to myself in rambling, run-on sentences.

Some of us, and I count myself among them/us,  once found human existence more than we thought we could bear.  Depression was diagnosed but inefficiently treated and its poisonous swamp gas continued to swirl for years, decades, adding to the sense of despair and, mostly, of having done everything wrong.  Apathy and addictions do not enhance self-esteem.   One addiction, even two or three, faced down and surrendered still leaves the bunkhouse crowded with shifty layabouts.  Will I ever meet a shortbread cookie I don't like?  At least for me a combination of flattening medications and advancing age have kept me from continuing to take up with men with whom I, perhaps, ought not to have taken up.  But here is what I ponder.  What if the cookies and other foodstuffs that do not promote optimal health and what if the drama and sometimes danger of unsuitable companions blunted the pain just enough to make it possible to go on when without them I wouldn't still be here?  That could be true, couldn't it?  What if those sources of seemingly enduring shame were actually gifts, temporary life preservers, not intended to be used forever but only until no longer needed?

I feel that I'm approaching a crossroads, or maybe it is a summit, after which I and my path will no longer look the same.  I have been coming to it, at it, for some time, in the growing company of writing and art and love.  There is so much I want to do, so much about what I do that fills me with awe at my good fortune.  And that's with various, let us call them limitations.  I can imagine what all this would be like with restored or at least enhanced strength, vitality, agility and options.  I absolutely believe, whatever IT is, it takes as long as it takes.  A great benevolent hand has gotten me this far.  How much easier its job if it didn't have to carry quite as much of me, if I could get back to something more identifiable as self-propulsion. 

To see shortcomings not as failures but as training wheels, part of the process of becoming, necessary until they're not, what a revelation that would be.  I am still, in a way, thinking out loud in answer to my question.  I feel there is truth in it, not just an easy out for not yet having become entirely moderate and sensible and consistent.  I may never be all of those at the same time or I may.  I didn't believe I could do many of the things that are now part of me.  Yes, I expect miracles.  I have experienced too many to stop now.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Word of the Week 5

Word of the Week:  PALIMPSEST
Palimpsest art by  Marie-Therese Wisniowski
A simplification of the noun's meaning is: a manuscript (usually written on papyrus or parchment) on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing incompletely erased and still visible.  The word speaks to me of a more personal rewriting, of how the people we used to be bleed through the strata of time, how the scrims that occlude our past selves are thinner, more revealing in some spots than others, how remnants of our histories allow us to reinterpret the parts we can decipher.

My ruminant tendencies are heightened in the middle of some nights.  They may be prompted by dreams or, more likely, result from a sudden awakening that leaves me vulnerable to previously unrealized possibilities.  I have sanded and scraped away bits of 28 years in two marriages, the first begun when I was 18, and even through gesso and acrylic washes, decades of becoming,  I find those younger selves waiting, looking to me for enlightenment.  In a palimpsest, what had been recorded is not quite here, not quite gone.  I observe with eyes either more knowing or more kind.  The boys/men benefit from these gauzy revisits, as though some of what has been eroded is a hardness of heart in response to pain.  There is greater forgiveness for all that I could not have known, appreciation for being not only still here, but softened rather than steeled.  Blame and fault grow more faint on the page.  Where the words can't be decoded, they appear as dots and blotches.  Love's great speckled egg.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dreaming 101: Gloria and Robert

Among the yet-uncounted overlappings that Gloria and Robert held in common were vivid dreams.  Not that they occurred each night yet were present often enough and for enough years that each of them was never unaware that what they dreamed was as specific and detailed as a topographical map.  Instead of elevations and land forms,  they were shown the contents of drawers down to the shortest pencil stub.  Ink colors on the 80-percent-used book of matches from a once favored club in San Francisco were bright and true, the phone number with word prefix legible.  In dreaming conversations secrets were revealed in a way that didn’t alarm or even surprise but explained the why of what had been a mystery.  As participants and on-lookers, each was aware of the fabric print and weave, the cut and fit of a garment, along with the radiating warmth of the companion who wore it.  They had not spoken of this simply because they had not yet gotten around to it, or perhaps because they already knew.

In the past Gloria kept a dream journal, as did Robert, where they recorded as fast as they could write the details of each forest and pond, suitcase and hotel front desk, take-out food order and bird’s-eye view of an Asian river, every word spoken or thought.  Each hoped preserving the minutae of these unconscious excursions, however baffling they were as first experienced,  would grow the collection of tools needed during waking hours.  They wished to know themselves.  Even more, they wished to see behind the veil.  In their once distant and separated lives, they both half-suspected they might have simply been making it all up.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Catching up - Word of Last Week - 4

Cut off from the internet and unable to meet my own deadlines for nearly a week, I will eventually catch up.  Or close to it.

Word of Last Week:  UNMATCHED

“I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything - other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion - that standing within this otherness - the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books - can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.”
Mary Oliver
Illustration by Sarah S. Stillwell.
For me it was occasionally socks of two almost matching colors, there is more than one shade of brown, or the skirt and sweater in differing, incompatible shades of blue, or so Sandy Lansdale told me in the 7th grade.  She didn't use the word outre which would have been my mother's choice but her vehemence kept me from ever again wearing those two garments together.  Thinking then of unmatched, it never suggested without peer, special,  rare, stand-alone.  In sets of paper dolls, girlfriends who looked to be the same age but not related each came with a plaid dress.  As I mentally wrote the dialogue for their imaginary conversations, they once agreed that all would wear a plaid dress to school on the same day.   They viewed this as a unifying statement, proof of a superior sameness.  They stood in for the real girls, born around 1944 or 1945 who owned at least two plaid dresses each, replaced when outgrown but often kept as the hem and waistline crept up and up  until perhaps the fourth grade when, for me, clothing from the children's department no longer fit.

Even in my Brownie or Scout uniform, I felt the moved-off-to-the-side separation of the overbaked Cheerio or ill-formed animal cracker.  The cheese stands alone.  I suspect it is the rare child who finds true, deep comfort in being the only one to see how much Aunt Dorothea resembles the actress on the magazine cover when everyone tells her, in so many words, that she's crazy, there is nothing the same about them.  An ability to see or know beyond is not welcomed in most families.  Time and its grace change that, replacing isolation with attachment to what is unmatched or unequaled within its own sphere.  There is such majesty in being the only one of us that will ever exist, a singleton, not relegated to the small table near the door to the kitchen but a presence, embodiment of grandeur, beaming with unique yet universal light without which the world, the galaxy would be too dim and cold to bear.