Category Archives: Uncategorized

The gift of summer traffic

Driving to the office today, I got stuck in a traffic jam on 28. This is a fairly typical occurrence in the summer here. You learn to live with it, or stay home. The slowdown often begins around St. Anthony’s, continues past the pond, then up the rise past Dunkin Donuts to the new big traffic light at Davisville and Old Meeting House Roads. After that, it’s usually smooth sailing into Mashpee. Today was unusual for the persistence of the jam. And I was unusually patient…perhaps because I’ve been meditating the last few days and listening to podcasts of Tara Brach.

The jam did start somewhere around Dunkies, where I found myself more than willing to pause and allow cars in and out of the portals to and from the drive-thru. Did I imagine the relief on drivers’ faces when they saw a car stop to let them pass? Did I imagine the throb of pleasure I felt in having the spaciousness to offer generosity? Offering kindness rather than gripping the steering wheel, hellbent on getting where I was going, a bittersweet pulse rippled through me.

Beyond the traffic light, down in the dip just past Rocky’s Gym, beside the cranberry bog, I noticed a dirt road I’d never seen before. A few feet further, stopped again, I had moments to look right and discover a river opening out toward the Sound, green marsh grass growing in soft curves banking the water.

Up by the entrance to Green Pond Fish Market, I let more cars in and out, met their waves of thanks with my own. I felt that throb once more, a wild throb of sadness for all the times of rushing and rigidity, a quiet throb of gratitude for this moment of grace, in which generosity came easily. Stuck by some unknown cause further down the road (an accident? road work?), anything but patience would have been absurd.

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. How it can feel so small and worthless in this current political and social moment. How easy it is for doubt and fear to trump kindness. Whether kindness actually does anything, has any life past its initial moment between two beings.

I can’t measure the impact of those waves, can’t research the energy exchange between two humans in their cars on a summer Tuesday morning and determine whether giving way to another person made a difference in their day. I can, though, feel the gorgeous opening of my spirit, the slightly fearful but also sweet wash of energy when I fulfill what my best self always longs to do. I can hope that, as when kindness is sent my way, the recipient feels a moment of lightening, a sense that all is not lost, a renewed capacity to believe that we human animals can still act beyond our own interests.

 

 

 

Appreciating the gift of one’s work

Sometime this summer one of my poems will appear in Salamander Magazine. This is, I think, the fifth poem of mine to be published, and feels very different from other times. Actually, it may be the sixth, if I count that one that was published in the high school newspaper. And one of those other poems I initially published by taping a hand-written copy to the door of the dining hall at Indralaya (anonymously).

At any rate, I’m noticing how different this time around publication feels. The overriding feeling is an increasing sense of detachment and at the same time a feeling of the poem coming back to me as a gift from the creative ether. Somehow seeing it go out into the world, I’m now able (or encouraged) to step back and see what was given me in the process of writing the poem. (This may also be feeling different because it is the culmination of a decade of writing, a decade of working through layers of thought and feeling all called into consciousness by a moment in a hospital. Then taken through several workshops, where it was held and palpated with varying degrees of attention and care.) Now that it has been accepted, with one final edit, and now that I have seen it arranged on the page by other hands, I can begin to enjoy it in a way that I enjoy the writing of others. I can see in it parallels and images and connections I hadn’t seen before.

Most of all, I can relax into the truth of its birth through creative collaboration — that yes, the initial impulse came from my encounter with a very different kind of poetry in an oncology waiting room, and it was my continuing awakening to that encounter, my choice to make time and room for the chemical reaction that ensued, and to continue working the irritations that arose. At the same time, I see the support and input and guidance of various teachers and readers, and the faint impression of something I cannot name but know that it comes from the creative energy we are always surrounded by and too often don’t see or mistake for our own ego’s brilliance and invention.

Speaking of ego, news of this poem’s publication initially sent me into a flurry of shoulds — you should publish more, you should write more, you should send more out — but when I felt into what I really wanted, beyond the ego’s constant itching for validation, into a playful, excited energy of desire and curiosity, it was to spend more time with this poem, to fully receive what had been given to me and to more fully appreciate the gifts of this partnership with…whatever it is out there. So for now I’m learning how to do letterpress so that I can create a broadside of the poem, and that process is leading to its own series of creative gifts and new ideas and humorous blunders and healing learnings. And the space created by moving into a different creative endeavor is, perhaps, refreshing me for a later dive back into depths that will yield more poetry.

Spring Pools at 4 a.m.

I can’t sleep, and I’ve tried all the usual solutions: warm milk, melatonin, hot bath with Aura Cacia Tranquil Chamomile (Roman Chamomile, Lavender, Patchouli). So I decided to stop fighting the insomnia and consider the possibility that something wants to be written and it’s that something that is keeping me awake. When I did a little asking around, the answer came back that Robert Frost’s poem, Spring Pools, raised its hand. So here’s a little post about Spring Pools.

I found the poem this week while diving into The Ecopoetry Anthology (and you can even find a PDF sample online, I just discovered), a book I bought while I was still living in Seattle. I pulled out the book this week because I’ve been working on a recalcitrant little (or perhaps book-length?) poem that has me asking lots of questions about trees, bogs, swamps, brambles, thorns, mud, loam, etc. and I figured some sidewinding into other poems might help shake out a few words. I was stunned when I came across Spring Pools:

These pools that, though in forest, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods–
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

Why was I stunned? First, I’d never known about this poem, never read it before, never even heard of it. It’s not one of the big Robert Frost poems that people always refer to.

Second, I forget how dark Frost can be, and I forget about his fascination with darkness and light. There’s the tension throughout Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, the speaker wanting to stay and watch the woods fill up with snow, wanting to stay in the lovely, dark, deep woods, but having to wrest himself away from the pull of the dark to resume his life in the world. And in Design, the line: “What but design of darkness to appall?” A line that gets even more interesting when you realize that in the root of “appall” is “pale”, the word describing the physiological response of going pale in the face of something disturbing, troubling, horrifying. The poem describes a white flower, a spotted spider, and the moth captured by the spider, and the speaker is troubling over the amorality, I think, of nature. The darkness in nature’s design turns the speaker pale.

I like the way that Frost turns the seasons around in Spring Pools, seeming to prefer the clarity of late winter. In the early spring, before the buds have opened, the pool can mirror the “total sky” nearly perfectly, “almost without defect”. The unfurling and surge of spring seems almost sinister, the thirst of the trees draining away the pools. The “pent-up buds” seem almost criminal, their hunger for life, Frost separates, puts at odds with “nature” although of course the trees and buds are part of nature. But he casts them as figures that “darken” nature. Summer isn’t typically thought of as a dark season, but in this poem it is. Those thirsty leaves are destructive as they “blot out” “drink up” “sweep away” the preferred pool. I love the way that line hammers home the speaker’s view, perhaps his anger or sense of loss or futility or inevitability, with not one, not two, but three verb-adverb phrases.

Other stuff I love in this poem:
1) the parallel in the first stanza: “And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver, /
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,” the daring internal rhyme and rhythm of that move, and the way that the parallel construction also underscores the sense of everything whisking away, the unstoppable change and loss in the movement of the seasons.
2) the parallel of adverbs in the last two lines of the first stanza: “not out by any brook or river” “but up by roots” and the subtle suggestion that the former would be preferable or more natural. Why would “out by any brook or river” be preferable to “up by roots”? Maybe it wouldn’t. Why is the thirst of a brook or river less disturbing than the thirst of tree roots? I don’t know. And maybe this preference isn’t there. But there is something in the “And” and “But” that suggests a preference to me.
3) the hidden source of the angst. For what anguish is all this loss a metaphor? There are no humans in this poem. Even the speaker is less present than the speaker in Stopping By Woods (besides, there’s that horse and the owner of the woods, presumably tucked up in his house in the village), and certainly less than in Flower Gathering. Who is the speaker and what is going on in his life that has him turning summer into a season of death and longing for pristine early spring to stop in its tracks?

Well, this may have done the trick. I feel my eyelids getting heavy. And I certainly feel deeper inside the poem than I did an hour ago.

I have some thoughts that this might be a fun exercise to pursue. So maybe you’ll see more of these posts in the near future.

For now, good night. Good morning.

“Wholly Consort with Mirth and Sport…

…to drive the cold winter away.”

This line comes from a carol called The Praise of Christmas. The author is anonymous, its origin dated sometime before 1625. The carols first came to my attention almost 20 years ago, in an instrumental version on a CD called New England Christmastide 2. Their arrangement of The Praise of Christmas combines it with Adeste Fideles, with Praise coming in quietly after a few lines like a rider on horseback in snowy woods. The first time I heard it I was so moved I burst into happy tears. Today it occurred to me to investigate it a bit, and I found the lyrics:

All hail to the days that merit more praise
Than all the rest of the year,
And welcome the nights that double delights
As well for the poor as the peer!
Good fortune attend each merry man’s friend
That doth but the best that he may,
Forgetting old wrongs with carols and songs
To drive the cold winter away.

Tis ill for a mind to anger inclined
To think of small injuries now,
If wrath be to seek, do not lend her your cheek
Nor let her inhabit thy brow.
Cross out of thy books malevolent looks,
Both beauty and youth’s decay,
And wholly consort with mirth and sport
To drive the cold winter away.

This time of the year is spent in good cheer
And neighbours together do meet,
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire,
Each other in love to greet.
Old grudges forgot are put in the pot,
All sorrows aside they lay,
The old and the young doth carol this song,
To drive the cold winter away.

When Christmas’s tide comes in a like a bride,
With holly and ivy clad,
Twelve days in the year much mirth and good cheer
In every household is had.
The country guise is then to devise
Some gambols of Christmas play,
Whereat the young men do the best that they can
To drive the cold winter away.

Handwriting Rules!

This research confirms something I’ve long known from experience — writing by hand helps the thinking process and allows us to access parts of the brain that typing does not. I love typing. (I’m doing it right now.) But working on a keyboard leads to and supports a different kind of writing than what results when I take pen in hand. And writing by hand sometimes brings back those memories of learning cursive (oh, the existential angst of the 6-year-old — “will I ever learn how to do this???” and the wonderfully pulpy yellow paper with blue lines that we practiced on). Handwriting takes us into a more soulful level, and allows us to connect to our physical environment, in an increasingly device-driven world. Check out the research: http://www.washington.edu/news/blog/uw-prof-handwriting-engages-the-mind/

Why I Call it “Let Yourself Write”

I am a woman who has taken years to learn how to listen. I am the woman who has taken years to recognize her own voice. To wake up to the slight stirring in her ankles that tells her something of import is on its way. The woman who struggles to listen, and sometimes succeeds in listening, in sitting down and listening through her pen. The woman who took a long time to recognize the irritation that signals the need to sit down and write, the irritation that signals, “it’s been too long.” The woman who struggles to sit down, to settle, to calm herself and surrender to writing. The woman who must learn over and over again how sweet that surrender can be, and almost always is.

It takes a long time to listen, to feel how your body responds to images like those limbs out there, the limbs that, in mid-November, still hold pale green yellowing leaves. Or the bare pale white lichened trellis leaning up against the fence, that had been there all the busy golden days of summer and autumn, obscured by the deep pink flowers of Autumn Joy now browning and bending to earth, not to mention the purple Columbine and scarlet Peonies of June. It takes a while, and lots of repeated looking, to notice how good that feels, the looking, especially the looking at the passing. And it takes a long time to recognize that that good feeling is worth paying attention to, that you deserve to feel that good. That the feeling good and that the looking, the beholding, may even be the best kind of prayer. And it may be a kind of work, a scrying over this creation that is longed for by both seer and seen. It may be a kind of communion. You may even hear something like a sigh of consummation, not knowing whether it comes from seer or seen. Only knowing that the sigh signals a job well done, a settling of bones, a celebration from on high.

Writing as Container

I love the ideas Ruth Ozeki conveys here (found in a recent newsletter from the Hedgebrook Writer’s Retreat, on Whidbey Island, Washington State):

“For me,” Ruth commented in an interview with the Guardian, “writing is a way of thinking…I’m a very impatient person, so writing and meditation allow me to slow down and watch my mind; they are containers that keep me in place, hold me still. Language is something that’s been passed down throughout human history. I love the Japanese notion of kotodama – the spirits in words.”

Now my struggle will be to resist Googling “kotodama” and to try to stay focused on my day job. <sigh>

“Not Art”

My attention has been grabbed lately by the appearance of a stenciled, spray-painted, two-word at various places around the Cape: “NOT ART.”

The first time I saw it, adjacent to a sign for a big national kitchen-and-bath store, I laughed, appreciating the wry commentary on advertising and promotion, that it isn’t art, that art is something else without a purpose, or without the purpose of driving traffic and collecting money.

The second time, on the back of a traffic direction sign, I wondered. For a few moments while whizzing along at 50 miles an hour, everything in my field of vision became art — the vivid reds and yellows of traffic signs, the deep orange reflectors along the road, mailboxes, Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms blowing in the wind, the guard rail. Suddenly it was all elevated to something mysterious and powerful, raised by a two-word phrase and the question it posed (what is art?) out of the mundane and commonplace.

And of course that is what art does — the very phrase itself while denying itself to be art is in fact art, at least to me, because it caused me, if even only briefly, to see anew my surroundings, to look at them again with wonder and even reverence.

Whoever is applying these phrases may well have different ideas and intentions. But that is true of art and artists as well — they make things for their own reasons, and those things go out into the world to stand on their own and interact with others and those others will inevitably have a different relationship with the art than its creator did.

Courage, Creativity, Community

Writing takes courage. It takes courage to meet our inner creative energies. Writing with others, in a safe, stimulating, structured environment, can ease the process of embarking on the inner journey, and even take us to new heights and depths we hadn’t known lay within us.

In the writing groups that I lead, participants generate new material in response to prompts that I give. Prompts may be spoken or written, visual (such as postcards or books), aural (music, sounds of nature), kinesthetic (texture, taste). Writers are also free to write from their own inner prompts, if they aren’t inspired by the prompts provided. We write for timed sessions of 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes, and then read our work aloud (writers are always free to skip this step). Following clear and simple guidelines we share the impact of what we’ve heard, telling the writer what was strong and what we liked.

This process works for new and experienced writers. As we gather, go within, then share what emerges, and risk knowing and seeing, being known and being seen, we create a community of depth and kindness.

The Emergent Properties of Writing with Others

Every time you sit down to write, you have an opportunity to play with a different set of possibilities — the weather, your mood, your energy level, whatevesnowflakesr you’ve been ingesting and digesting lately (books, food, scenery). Even if you were to write on the same topic every day for a week, chances are, your writing and what you discover about the topic and yourself in the process of writing would be different every day.

Those possibilities are multiplied exponentially when you write with others. I think this has something to do with the phenomenon of emergence. Here is a nice description about emergence:

“In science (particularly physics), the sum of the parts can be greater than the parts themselves. This is emergence, and emergent qualities are elusive little devils because they aren’t intrinsic to their parts. They only ’emerge’ when the parts are brought together as a whole. For instance, everyday millions of people use the words ‘not,’ ‘be,’ ‘or’ and ‘to.’ Yet when you bring these words together into the combination ‘To be or not to be,’ you’ve created a meaning that not one of those four words actually possess. Suddenly and mysteriously they’ve become worlds of images and meaning.”

When we write together, we each contribute an invisible, undefinable, but palpable something that enriches the field in which we gather. We all benefit from this enriched field — every person I’ve ever written with has commented on how much deeper and further they travel with their writing when writing in a group. With companions, I find the dive into creative spaces even easier. It becomes easier to surrender, to let my writing go where it wants to go, and to be surprised and delighted by where it takes me. Somehow, this private, mysterious journey is influenced and enhanced by the presence of others. People who have meditated with others will know what I mean — the struggles or fears that may be present when alone on the cushion seem to dissipate when we sit with others. The presence of others seems to lift us, leads us more easily to the depth and beauty and truth we seek.

So, come write with us. And see where your writing takes you.