We write to heighten our own awareness of life.
We write to lure and enchant and console others.
We write to serenade our lovers.
We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection.
We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal.
We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it.
We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth.
We write to expand our world when we feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely.
We write as the birds sing, as the primitives dance their rituals.
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.
When I don’t write, I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in a prison. I feel I lose my fire and my color.
It should be a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing.
February 1954, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5
Love the message of the song below–I’ve had so many of those long dark nights myself…
On a not-so-related note: ran into an old friend at the gym tonite–someone that I hadn’t seen since I started grad school. She said I looked radiant and happy (more so that when she knew me before). That that make it a bit easier to reply when she asked a few moments later about how “John was doing these days.” Oy. That’s happened twice this past week–I never do know quite how to reply to such questions. Any advice?
I’m a huge fan of Quaker songwriter Jon Watt’s and his latest (above) resonated with me even though I haven’t been too active in the “Occupy” movement. For me, I’m occupying my life rather than participating in a protest. Being fully present to my own experiences and to the economic choices that I’m making is what I can do right now.
A colleague recently turned me in the direction of Wendell Berry’s writings, so I’ve been reading Hannah Coulter on my iPad while traveling. It’s such a quiet, easy book–one that makes me feel connected to land and family. Perhaps, so far (about halfway through), it paints too pretty a picture of Hannah’s world, but I think that’s the point–to enjoy the perspective of a woman looking back on her life and making meaning of it all. I suspect that my mother and her friends might tell similar-sounding stories and I will someday, too.
And now that I’m knee-deep in his novel-writing, I’m also exploring Berry’s poetry:
The Peace of Wild Things
By Wendell Berry
Lately I’ve been thinking about my priorities and goals and focus (or occasional lack thereof of all three things). This poem resonated with me on many levels because of that, and because of the ever-present gnawing insecurity that I’m just not good enough or committed enough to see my projects through to completion.
An excerpt from “For the young who want to” by Marge Piercy (and, by that way, I want to add that her book Circles on the Water is worth every penny–her poetry is thought-provoking and substantial):
Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting[…]
The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
boy else’s mannerisms
is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re a certified dentist.
The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better then being loved.
Was so hungry for poetry today, that I ate two books of it for lunch (along with some very tasty steak that was just barely pink in the middle and so-juicy and a strong cup of coffee).
If they come in the night
by Marge Piercy
Long ago on a night of danger and vigil
a friend said, Why are you happy?
He explained (we lay together
on a hard cold floor) what prison
meant because he had done
time, and I talked of the death
of friends. Why are you happy
then, he asked, close to
I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me only
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.
Sun and moonshine, starshine,
the muted grey light off the waters of the bay at night, the white
light of the fog stealing in,
the first spears of the morning
touching a face
I love. We all lose
everything. We lose
ourselves. We are lost.
Only what we manage to do
lasts, what love sculps from us;
but what I count, my rubies, my
children, are those moments
wide open when I know clearly
who I am, who you are, what we
do, a marigold, an oakleaf, a meteor,
with all my senses hungry and filled
at once like a pitcher with light.
This song came on in the cafe where I was eating lunch last week, and I absolutely could not help but sing along. Millions of peaches, peaches for me…(plus, there are ninjas, and what could be better than that?)
This seems the perfect poem to ruminate on as I’m headed out the door for a morning swim (especially that last stanza). There have been times in my life when swimming was the most important thing I could do–I’m thinking of the night after I learned that my father had terminal cancer. I swam 100 laps then, despite being 8 months pregnant. Swimming until I’d lost every ounce of strength left in me. Because I thought I could swim away the hurt and the reality of what was happening…
And one more thing: I’m looking for a local who’d like to do some ocean swimming with me. If you’re interested, drop me a line.
The Swimming Lesson
by Mary Oliver
Feeling the icy kick, the endless waves
Reaching around my life, I moved my arms
And coughed, and in the end saw land.
Somebody, I suppose,
Remembering the medieval maxim,
had tossed me in,
Had wanted me to learn to swim,
Not knowing that none of us, who ever came back
From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace,–
How to survive in any place.
West Wind #2
You are young.
So you know everything.
You leap into the boat and begin rowing.
But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment,
without any doubt,
I talk directly to your soul.
Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water,
let your arms rest,
and your heart,
and heart’s little intelligence,
and listen to me.
There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
~ Mary Oliver ~
I went to the beach last week to chase the setting sun, but I was wearing my bionic leg so I couldn’t even dip in a toe to the water (for fear of shorting out my circuitry). Such an ache I felt to leave leg and clothes in a heap on the beach and just swim…
The Mary Oliver poem below, especially the first stanza, reminds me of the day a few years ago when I received the pathology pictures from the hospital where I had my cancer treatments–including the images of my amputated limb. It was tougher than I thought it would be to look at those images, and afterwards I went for a long swim. As I let the water support me I ‘felt’ my leg there with me, for the first time in a long while. It was a powerful moment to reconnect with something that I’d lost and mourned for so many years, my body truly re-membering itself as I moved through the water…
And this poem also reminds me of how I struggle against gravity, where every step can be a huge effort…and how I long for the ocean–knowing that at sea is where I feel more free and comfortable (and alive) than I ever do on land.
by Mary Oliver
body remembers that life and cries for
the lost parts of itself–
opening like flowers into
the flesh–my legs
want to lock and become
one muscle, I swear I know
just what the blue-gray scales
the rest of me would
in that motherlap,
in that dreamhouse
of salt and exercise,
what a spillage
of nostalgia pleads
from the very bones! how
they long to give up the long trek
inland, the brittle
beauty of understanding,
become again a flaming body
of blind feeling
in the luminous roughage of the sea’s body,
like victory inside that
insucking genesis, that
roaring flamboyance, that
conclusion of our own.