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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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I bought this blue notebook when I decided to start writing my autobiography. I went to the bookstore, carefully studied all the blank notebooks, and selected this one because it opened flat, had thin lines, and looked studious. I was eleven.

For a while, I wrote in my notebook with a brand-new blue ink pen. Then I started editing my writing–crossing out words, adding descriptions, rearranging phrases…. My neat lines of careful cursive deteriorated into wild revisions, circled paragraphs, notations to see a different page with an addition, and pages and pages of scribbling. My heavy editing completely took over my original drafts.

After a while, I realized that I hadn’t lived long enough to have enough material or perspective to write an autobiography. I was overwhelmed by both the scarcity of material, and the time it would take to preserve what little I knew on paper.

I never finished that autobiography. Sometime during my teenage years, I became terribly embarrassed by my scribblings. I decided that there wasn’t anything in that notebook that was worth keeping, that everything I had recorded I would remember for the rest of my life.

It wasn’t true, of course. “I thought I would remember,” but I don’t. When I threw away that notebook, I lost a written record of my childhood self. Much of what I write now is, in a way, an attempt to remember the details of those days.

“I thought I would remember” is part of a series titled “Lost Along the Way.”

4″ x 4″ acrylic and ink on canvas

Series -

This concludes my painting series, “Lost Along the Way.” I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that it has evoked for you some meaningful recollections of your own irreplaceable belongings. For this series, I mostly chose objects from my childhood, because I think children have the capacity to treasure and mourn with a purity that too is slowly lost over time.

Ostensibly about loss, this series is really about cherishing, for we only mourn what was precious to us. We lose our irreplaceable belongings in many ways. Sometimes they break, sometimes they’re misplaced. Sometimes they vanish, sometimes they’re thrown away. Sometimes we give them away, sometimes death takes them from us. Most often though, we simply forget.

This was an exercise in remembering, because when we hold in remembrance what was precious to us, our hearts crack open just a little more, allowing the territory of our affections to expand. By remembering, we regain in part what was most important about what was lost along the way.

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When my best friend moved away, we promised we would write each other often. We were young, too young, I think, to realize that our friendship was extraordinary or that a promise like this is easy to break. Apart, you drift into new lives, grow up, and all the while, you don’t know how to bridge the miles in between.

I waited for letters from my friend. One or two arrived, and I wrote him back, but that was it. We lost touch for many years during which we grew up, married our respective spouses, and both became writers.

My friend and I got back in touch a few years ago, and now we exchange emails, manuscripts, and memories of our childhood neighborhood. I asked him once about the letters–the ones that never came–and that’s how I found out that he had written a dozen letters or so that I never received. He had always wondered why I had never written him back. Somehow, our letters, our best attempts to keep a childhood promise, were lost in transit.

What did my friend write in those letters? He doesn’t remember, and I’ll never know. This painting commemorates a friendship. Those letters, “they never came,” but our friendship survived even so.

See the next painting in the series.

“They never came” is part of a series titled “Lost Along the Way.”

4″ x 4″ acrylic and ink on canvas

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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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