Posts Tagged ‘Writing’


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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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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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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Hello again, and how are you, Blissful reader?

While I’ve been away from this blog, I’ve been hard at work. My book is finished. Yup. I’ve mailed queries to my list of favorite literary agents, and now I’m sending out partial manuscripts (and one full) as requested, but mostly I’m just waiting for news. I feel strangely maternal about sending my book out into the world. Good luck, my book! Be safe, be beautiful, be magical. I hope one of the agents will love you as much as I do.

I suppose I’m now in a transition period of sorts, creatively. I’m coming up for air before diving into the next ocean. I’ve started gathering materials and inspiration for my next book, and I’m starting to read about poetry, the brain, the craft of writing, leaves, and everything in between.

I have lots of hopes for this year, some having to do with my writing, of course, but also aspirations about how I live. For example, I want to find balance.

Thomas Merton:

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.

I imagine it as similar to painting a picture. Somehow in the impulse of putting brush to paper, the artist finds a rhythm, a harmony, between cool and warm colors, wash and detail, light and shadows. Art transcends when it’s a cohesive whole, when a thread–sometimes invisible–runs through its disparate parts and holds it together. I think the same must be true of life too.

(And speaking of painting, I hope to do more of it this year.)

Blissful reader, what are you planning for, hoping for, this year? Whatever it is, I wish you courage and inspiration for the journey.

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“All is as it should be.”

Anne Frank:

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.


Today was a gorgeous day, just perfect for a picnic lunch in a little park near our house. We live in the middle of suburbia, and sometimes I crave the wide open spaces and rolling hills of the countryside or alternately the visual stimulation of urban landscape. But today, this was perfect:

Saturday afternoon park

A meandering bike path. Sun-roasted fields. A bench. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Just a lazy Saturday afternoon to spend with my favorite person in the world.

I’ve been stressed out about my writing lately. It’s already November, for goodness’ sake, and the holiday season is bearing down upon us. Meanwhile, there’s so much I want to accomplish before the end of the year, and I’ve been afraid of failing. My writing is going well, but oh, so slowly. Some days, I have to remind myself to breathe.

And then there was today. Rejuvenating, restorative today. Somehow I’ve been brought back to peace, as though, as Anne Frank phrased it, “all is as it should be.”

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