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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Crossing the Line

Lately, a dear friend and I have been chatting about balance. What does it look like in our respective lives filled to the brim, overflowing even, with home and family, workplace or the absence thereof, the raising of children or gardens or dreams?

Today, we talked about crossing the line between idea and carrying out, between thought and action, between dream and fulfillment. Sometimes bringing an idea out from the safe nest of the mind into action, into our own messy hands, is the most difficult step. But like birthing a child into the world, it is only by crossing that line that we allow our dreams to breathe and grow.

Tonight I cleared my desk and office of clutter and brought out my notebooks. I’m going to write again.

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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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DSCF2408

Wendell Berry:

You need to realize something else: that you can lead a perfectly good and satisfactory life even if you’re not a writer. When I figured out that I could be perfectly happy and not be a writer, I became a better writer.

I don’t think you ought to let your happiness depend on writing. There are a lot of worthwhile things you can do. The unhappiest people in the world may be the ones who think their happiness depends on artistic success of some kind.

I’m working on my book again, and this quote echoes where I’m at in my thinking. I want to live my life, really live it, and out of that richness will come a river of words. That’s what I believe.

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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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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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It was one year ago that I started writing this blog. We had just moved into our new home and planted flowers in the garden. Here’s what some of them look like now:

Hydrangea:
hydrangea

A patio pot of pink flowers:
pink

Lily of the Nile:
lily of the nile

Much has happened in this one year of blogging–life events like our ten-year anniversary, the 8th grade graduation of a niece I’ve known and loved from the beginning, the adventure of new friendships and the deepening of old ones, losses, and journeys both internal and external. A full set of seasons passed by, documented sporadically and inadequately on this blog. What has made this experience extra rewarding is the connection with you, Blissful reader–whether I’ve known you for years, or whether we’ve only met through our blogs.

A good friend said so very generously that this is the “most beautiful blog on the net.” I know he’s totally exaggerating, but it pleases me nevertheless because this blog is about taking note of blessings and seeking to live life fully. For me, that entails recognizing and cherishing beauty.

In this season–the same one in which I started this blog a year ago–I often find myself looking out through the windows into the light and color in our garden. Outside, a few fruits are ripening on the dwarf lemon tree. The Japanese maples are flourishing. The hydrangea, alyssum, and lobelia are in full bloom. As the garden matures outdoors, so I hope that Blissful Begonia’s roots will grow deeper and that it will bloom as I continue to blog.

Thank you for a Blissful year of blogging! Let’s hope for many more. 🙂

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Notebook, found!

Does this old notebook look vaguely familiar? It’s the blue notebook in which, at age 11, I started recording my autobiography! I found the notebook tucked away in a box filled with old letters, school papers, and certificates. Can you imagine? I’m still in shocked euphoria. I hadn’t seen it in years, and I really believed it had been “lost along the way.” In fact, I have a faint memory of having thrown it away. But here it is, in all its blueness and sophomoric prose.

Remember the painting? It’s interesting to me that it’s both somewhat true to the actual notebook and inaccurate:

When things like this happen, do you question the fidelity of your memory? It’s a fascinating thing, isn’t it–memory? A few years ago, when my Fibromyalgia was at its worst, I suffered memory loss. Illness extinguished entire chunks of time from my brain. Details of significant memories vanished. Some of those lost memories eventually came back; others did not.

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

Right now, I’m reading The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. In this novel, Mark Schluter wakes from a coma with Capgras Syndrome, a rare condition in which a person believes his/her loved ones have been replaced by look-alike imposters. It’s an Oliver Sacks-like neurological case and more philosophical than thrilling, but interesting nonetheless.

And in another exploration of memory, last night, we watched the 1942 film, “Random Harvest,” in which an amnesia patient and a beautiful woman fall in love and marry. When the man is hit by a car, he recalls his prior life but loses all memory of his current life, including his wife. The man’s two lives, two sets of memories, are mutually exclusive.

Then there’s the woman with perfect memory who can recall minutiae from decades ago.

Our perception of self and other is rooted in the flawed memory of who we are, where we came from. How can our perceptions be at all accurate or meaningful amid the distortions of fallible memory? If we lose memory of ourselves, who are we? Alternately, if we were to remember everything in perfect clarity, would we know ourselves any better? These are some of the questions I’m asking myself lately. What do you think?

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