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Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

For 2009

Books

– May there be space in my life for books and poetry and art.

– May there be abundant health for the ones I love.

– May my heart expand fully to embrace our little one.

– May I become more aware of the earth, of humanity, of the spiritual.

– May my soul be at ease just enough to be able to write.

– May the richness of love and family pervade our home.

– May I be a good friend.

– May I always choose softness of heart.

– May I encounter beauty, peace, goodness, and hope in the world.

– May I be thankful each and every day.

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Summer flowers:

Summer bouquet

And Mary Oliver’s Winter Hours:

Just a day or two after I finished reading this unseasonal book, my favorite person in the world brought home the citrus-colored bouquet “just because,” and I felt so very lucky to have two opposite seasons collide so beautifully in my world.

Oliver’s collection of prose, prose poems, and poems is worth reading, if only for the final and title essay, which is wide-ranging in subject and profound. In it the poet says:

Now I think there is only one subject worth my attention and that is the recognition of the spiritual side of the world and, within this recognition, the condition of my own spiritual state. I am not talking about having faith necessarily, although one hopes to. What I mean by spirituality is not theology but attitude….

I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves–we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.

Breathtaking, as is most of the rest of the collection. I will admit, however, that I skipped one entire essay. “Swoon” was ostensibly all about spiders, and when I got to the part that detailed a spider slowly devouring a cricket, I started flipping pages. I was trying to eat my lunch after all. This reveals, I suppose, the difference between the poet who has the patience and honesty to witness the reality of nature… and me. There are some things I’d rather not know.

But Mary Oliver is braver than most. And wise. Unblinking. Willing to see. Really see. Embracing. This is why we need her. And why her winter writing can stun and illuminate even in the summer hours.

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Welcome

I’m back from a quiet, introspective summer interlude. I didn’t exactly mean to take a vacation from blogging, but books, a much-needed rest, and time shared with family and friends have filled our days.

I’ve been reading, for example, Wendell Berry’s collection, Given:

The exquisite poem “How to Be a Poet (to remind myself)” is included in this book. In it Berry says:

There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
I think the poet speaks wisdom.

Cut fruit

Certain concepts, no doubt influenced by my reading, are on my mind this summer: respect for life, natural rhythms, found beauty, ritual…. I want to live with intention, but also freedom; with words, but also people; with simplicity, but also richness. I want my home, my life, my interaction with others, this blog, to be a sacred space.

What are you thinking of this summer?

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Nine Gates

After several months of intermittent reading and contemplation, I finally finished Jane Hirshfield‘s exquisite collection of essays about poetry-writing. I found the closing essay, “Writing and the Threshold Life” particularly profound, or at least, particularly meaningful to me at this point in time. In it, Hirshfield proposes that the writer must enter into liminality–a threshold between individuality and community, a constant state of inbetweenness, and a space outside of conventional relationship to language and society.

In Hirshfield’s threshold life, the writer becomes transparent, transient, empty of self, in such a way that she is opened to a deeper awareness of others. In this threshold connectedness, the writer identifies with all people, all things, and cannot help but speak on their behalf.

For the writer to write at all, he or she must cultivate a heart that opens in tenderness to all things.
– Jane Hirshfield, from “Writing and the Threshold Life,” Nine Gates, p. 211

This concept is further explored in Hirshfield’s poem, “Late Prayer.” Hirshfield says, “The poem is called a prayer because in writing it I was asking, during a time of difficulty, for such a mind and heart…. A writer cannot identify only with the rabbit, or with the hawk—standing squarely in the threshold, one must include both. A ruby is no more valuable than a nail; the sound of one in a shaken metal bucket is no different from the other. Both will be needed, if we want to include the world in our words. It is up to the writer to recognize everything that happens to her as gift, to love each thing that comes under the eye’s contemplation, inner or outer.”

According to Hirshfield, this idea of liminality is woven into the work and/or lives of writers such as Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Galway Kinnell, Pablo Neruda, ancient Japanese poet Ono no Komachi, and Henry David Thoreau. Of Thoreau’s journey to and from the threshold and Walden, she says this :

Entering the threshold is not a matter of going into literal woods, though that may help. It is a matter of mind, of leaving the trail of convention and norm, whether in the city or the wild.
– Jane Hirshfield, from “Writing and the Threshold Life,” Nine Gates, p. 221

Hirshfield is careful to differentiate between the writer’s life of liminality and a romanticized view of those forced to the fringes of society by unchosen paths such as poverty or mental illness. The life of liminality, she concludes, is one of reverence.

To speak, and to write, is to assert who we are, what we think. The necessary other side is to surrender these things—to stand humbled and stunned and silent before the wild and inexplicable beauties and mysteries of being.
– Jane Hirshfield, from “Writing and the Threshold Life,” Nine Gates, p. 221

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Cherry blossom floating candles

These cherry blossom floating candles, tiny and sweetly-scented, arrived in a package from my very dear friend in Japan. She and I have been friends since high school, and as the years pass, we’ve only grown closer in spirit. She is my “all-weather, all-season friend,” and someday I would like to live next door to her in the Napa Valley so that we can have tea and conversation together every afternoon. For now, from time to time, we send each other packages filled with loveliness from our respective corners of the world.

She sent me so many beautiful gifts in shades of pink and lavender this time:

Gifts from Japan

The coin purse is from Kazurasei in Kyoto, established in 1865 and most famous for artfully-crafted combs and hair ornaments to wear with kimono. The moment I saw this coin purse, I knew what I wanted to do with it. When the rain stops, I’m going to carry some loose change in it and walk to Starbucks for a cup of tea. I’ll wish my friend were with me, of course, but at least I’ll have these books and magazines to keep me company:

Reading

I’ve already started reading the little book on the left with its title that translates to something like Thinking of a Gentle Spring. My friend first introduced me to its poet-author in the early days of our friendship, and this volume opens with a simple, sweet tale of a friendship between two young girls named Milk and Cocoa.

One of the gifts came in this packaging the color of cherry blossoms. Like a fortune cookie, it reads, “If you understand nature, then you’ll be able to live a long happy life.”

Thank you, dear friend, for knowing me so well.

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Roses

Happy Valentine’s Day, Blissful readers!

Today, I want to share with you a few blogs I’m loving right now:

Nordljus
Keiko’s stunning photography captures the beauty of food, destinations, and everyday objects. I can only dream of taking photos like these. (Be sure to click on the thumbnails on the left sidebar on Keiko’s blog to see more photos.)

My Inner Edge
I discovered this blog just recently. With a photo and a daily offering from poets like Galway Kinnell and Mary Oliver or, alternately, a meditative quote, My Inner Edge soothes and nourishes my soul.

Colors of the Garden
For me, visiting Kerri’s blog is like an armchair excursion to the countryside via photos of a lush garden and adorable kitties.

The Artful Parent
The idea of family life that celebrates art is so inspiring to me. The Artful Parent reminds me that creating art is a simple, natural, and joyful act.

The Style Files
I’m interested in living spaces that are both functional and artful, and this Netherlands-based blog is a collection of charming ideas for interiors.

Enjoy!

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Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to read fiction, but the summer I was thirteen, my brother came home from boarding school and left his paperback copy of My Name is Asher Lev. Naturally, I read it secretly.

It was the first novel I’d ever read, and Chaim Potok’s powerful use of language shocked and nourished me. I had known since I was eleven that I wanted to be a writer, but that summer I decided I wanted to be a writer like Chaim Potok.

That paperback copy of My Name Is Asher Lev followed me through high school and college. I read it at least a dozen times, marking in the margins and underlining my favorite sentences. When I was working at my first job out of college, as a designer and assistant editor for a magazine, I met a young artist who did a cover for us. We had a lot in common, and I told her she absolutely had to read this novel about a gifted artist trying to reconcile his gift and his religious tradition. And you already know what I did: I loaned my book to her.

Since then, I’ve acquired a first edition hardcover edition of My Name Is Asher Lev, but I still miss my original tattered copy. I wonder what I penned in the margins, if my favorite sentences now are the same ones that initially pulled me in and held me in a state of suspended magic.

I’ve been trying to locate that young artist ever since, but a lot of time has passed. I know I may never see my book again, but a couple of years ago, I saw a newspaper article about an old man who went into a used bookstore in his childhood town and found his long-lost favorite picture book with his name scribbled on the inside cover. It could happen. It happens, sometimes.

This painting is in honor of the book that changed my life, the book for which “I am still looking.” If by some miracle, you find it, please let me know.

See the next painting in the series.

“I am still looking” is part of a series titled “Lost Along the Way.”

4″ x 4″ acrylic and ink on canvas

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