The three best things that happened to me yesterday happened before 6:30am: 1) a line in a poem that wouldn’t come right seemed like it would; 2) I thought of a way to return to a writing project that I keep abandoning; and 3) my 4-year old son walked into the kitchen in his penguin pajamas with his armload of sleeping paraphenalia and said, “Hello there, my friend.”
Category Archives: poetry
Last night I was on a panel about self-care, talking about therapeutic writing. Luckily two other smart, insightful people with useful things to say were on the panel too, because the idea of self-care seems like a big load of nonsense to me. I like the idea of being kind to ourselves, but take a good look around folks, and ask yourselves if what we could all stand is a tad more self-regulation.
What I am against in particular about the marketing of “self-care” is that it always seems to involve flowers and bathing in candlelight. The message is that, done properly, “self-care” is supposed to magically make you happier, calmer, more comfortable, and most importantly, a better person.
Folks who’ve dropped by here before may recall references to my frequent bus riding companion. I love seeing her in the morning and in the evening and sometimes find myself smiling with so much relief that she’s just THERE. Like bookends to my day. This little human connection, odd as it sometimes is, adds so much.
Recently I heard about this super cool project called Humans of New York (HONY) that posts quotes and photos about everyday people in NYC. With over eight million followers on social media, HONY now provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers in New York City. It has also become a #1 NYT bestselling book. It’s such an amazing example of how connection feeds and nourishes us, and how belonging is like oxygen.
Wanting to belong, to feel connected can come out in such weird, trivial ways. I recently started using this Google Chrome extension called “Momentum” that you can personalize as your home page. It asks you what your main focus for the day is. It also says, “Good morning [insert your name here].” I personalized my page on my home tablet to say “Good morning sweetie!” and it’s absurd how happy this makes me feel. For my main focus of the day on my home machine I’ve been writing things like, “love everything about yourself today,” or just “love everything.” It’s a tiny act of self-love, supported by goofy technology.
So back to my bus friend. She was recently telling me about some work stressors, and usually I tune in and out because I’ve heard them all before, but part of me is always waiting for “the line.” The line is the thing that she’s going to say that suddenly shifts the conversation from a litany of complaints to something major, and worth taking in. Towards the end of her last description of irritants, she said, “So I decided that all I could really do was to just take a deep breath and do nice things.” And there it was. The line.
Just take a breath and do nice things. Of course. Of course. My own personally-delivered version of John Wesley’s famous admonition. My hope for you is that you are on both the receiving and giving ends of this deeply lovely sentiment as often as possible. And as always, that you stop by to tell us about it.
Today’s poem is again by David Whyte. Note how he moves towards suggesting that what we truly need may very often be seeing the reflection of ourselves in the eyes of another; feeling our own bodies through another’s touch. Just our real, physical, tangible presence is all we need and all that’s required.
Sometimes, you need the ocean light,
and colors you’ve never seen before
painted through an evening sky.
Sometimes you need your God
to be a simple invitation,
not a telling word of wisdom.
Sometimes you need only the first shyness
that comes from being shown things
far beyond your understanding,
so that you can fly and become free
by being still and by being still here.
And then there are times you need to be
brought to ground by touch
and touch alone.
To know those arms around you
and to make your home in the world.
just by being wanted.
To see those eyes looking back at you,
as eyes should see you at last,
seeing you, as you always wanted to be seen,
seeing you, as you yourself
had always wanted to see the world.
– David Whyte
©2012 Many Rivers Press
for Gabe at the start of his season
When he was about 7, Gabe said to me, in his odd, precise way, “Well, you aren’t often wrong.” He wouldn’t say that now. Just shy of 9, he’s seen many things go wrong. Yet there is a growing sense that some important things are being set right. Being made new, made whole. Leaves are falling, but there is also a harvest coming.
Hello friends, and happy change-of-seasons! A small story for you, and a hope that you will read and perhaps even write in to share your thoughts!
I ride the bus to work with a lady who has a very odd conversational style. She tells me long, tedious, repetitive stories, the subtexts of which are that she is easily overwhelmed by relatively simple things, like how to pay her Comcast bill (mail it and waste a stamp or drive it to the office?), or figuring out how to use the printer at work. Yet the sub-subtext is that she is really trying to stay positive in the face of these tasks, and to pass this positivity on to others.
Often, in the middle of her long stories, she’ll pause and say something totally stunning and totally out of context. For example, we had been talking about some film she was having developed at Walgreens (does anyone actually do this anymore?), and she stopped, looked at me and said, “You are making exactly the right choices you need to be making for yourself at this moment.” I briefly wondered if her eyes were going to roll back in her head or if she would start speaking in tongues, but she just carried on with the film story.
Sometimes her messages aren’t as abrupt, but they still feel a bit like unexpected and useful rays of clarity. A few weeks ago, she was describing, in great detail, where she was going to have her new TV installed (by Comcast), and as we got off the bus to walk to our offices, she said, “Today is going to be a positive day and we will feel good about helping other people!”
A day or two ago, she was relating an experience involving an evening of Scrabble, a person with paranoia, and a disgruntled family member. Then she just stopped and said, “It was like, we were all okay. And…and that was…really nice.”
These odd semi-non-sequiturs are like small, clear bubbles of human truths that rise up from mundane narrations of everyday life, and I appreciate them each time. Yes, I could easily imagine how all of a sudden, in the midst of a game of Scrabble with some only questionably sane people, one might be struck by the feeling that, no matter what, we really are all okay. And not only is that feeling very nice; sometimes, it’s all you need to keep you going.
What small experiences cause you to pause and remember what matters to you? Strange, odd, funny, poignant, moving, simple…whatever they might be…what recent moments have given you perhaps just the briefest glimpse of something that felt real and important. I’d love it so if you cared to share!
In this spirit, today’s poem is by Mary Oliver, from her 2006 book, Thirst. This collection is something of a deviation from previous works, and definitely worth checking out if you’re a Mary Oliver lover. I hope you enjoy it, and, as always, I love hearing from you!
by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Poetry, like God, does not dwell in the periphery of life. And like God, poetry is “a street-fighter, with sharp elbows” (David Whyte). Both poetry and a relationship with something greater than yourself demand awareness. And awareness is essential to staying alive.
So when I ask, “When was God present in your life today?” it is an unsentimental question. I am asking you when you felt the shared woundedness of being alive and the rawness of connection, without which, we don’t have a chance.
Was it when you got into a cab, and the driver, a woman you know, said, “I apologize for being late. I lost my son. I mean, he died. I mean, he was shot and killed. Two weeks ago. And I just, you know, can’t wrap it around my head yet. So just bear with me.” Was it then, when you prayed for something–anything–to come in and fill the space around such a precious, agonizing, searing expression of human experience?
Was it in the persistent kindness of a friend, someone whose insistence on reaching you finally made it through your self-absorption and woke you up, again, to the awareness that our most disastrous fuck-ups and heartbreaking struggles are also the openings that allow us to be on the receiving end of extraordinary kindness?
Was it when you confessed some huge, complicated, emotionally overblown nonsense that had taken up residence in your head, and the friend who was listening looked directly at you and said, “Girl, that is some sick-ass shit you’re doing to yourself. Just stop it.”
When did God show up and make it possible for you to stay here, right here, today, awake and aware? And where do you need help with this? Is it in the phone call to a sick friend you’re afraid to make? Is it in all the small things that, when combined, make your state of mind become a state of mindlessness?
Ask for help. Ask for courage. Ask boldly, as a “child of the king.” Help comes, breathing space into the impossibly tight corners, the frozen lungs. And in your own inhaling and exhaling, you will help someone else remember to breathe.
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life/
We have refused
Again and again
by David Whtye
In what Alcoholics Anonymous folks call “The Big Book (1945),” there is a lovely passage about how life changes in recovery. These changes are referred to by AAs as “the promises.” One of the promises is that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.” You really don’t need to be an alcoholic to get a leg up on this.
Of “the promises,” The Big Book says, “Are these extravagant promises? We think not.” The purpose of this statement is to reassure people in recovery that recovery itself is not extravagant, i.e., not beyond the bounds of reason or of what is deserved. That it is possible.
But recovery is in fact extravagant, in the very best sense of the word. In the same sense that Sacha Scoblic uses the word “lush” to describe her sobriety (her pun very much intended). Any life not deadened by apathy or constrained by fear is lush, luscious, extravagant.