Please Do Not Disturb: That’s how I’ve felt these past few months, and even more so these past few weeks, so immersed in the work of finishing up my second novel, that I can’t spare the time to do anything else. And when I must take time away, I feel somewhat distraught or guilty, as if I’m cheating on a lover, or playing hooky from school. Even writing this now, feels like that, although I’ve been working eight hours straight since this morning.
I do this 7 days a week now and am making enormous progress. So I’m not complaining. I’m happy, if exhausted, at the end of the day, and looking forward to the next day of writing—revising mostly now, polishing, tying up loose ends, getting it ready to send off. My husband can’t understand how I can feel so exhausted sitting in a chair all day! It’s mental exhaustion, I try to explain. My mind feels washed out after 8 hours.
Even so, it feels good. There were many years when my problem with writing was the inability to find the time to write or the discipline to stay with it so long. So this is progress.
I wrote another blog post a few years ago about being “Immersed In One’s Art” using the same image of Frankenthaler. This is what I wrote then:
There’s something immensely satisfying to see Helen Frankenthaler immersed in her art this way. I found this image on Facebook, along with the following quotation:
“I’ve seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write . . . and you know it’s a funny thing about housecleaning . . . it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectabilty) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she ‘should’ be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.” ― Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Why is it we women (is it only women?) too often put our personal passions last in line behind all else?
I’m trying more and more to put those passions (my writing, painting, music-making) first on my list of to-do’s. But it’s hard. Somehow even blogging comes first, although it too is writing, a kind of art-making. Or at least I try to make it so.
Perhaps because I’ve set firmer deadlines for my blog, or I see it as a commitment I’ve made, to keep this up and running, to not let readers go too long without hearing from me. And blogging is just another way for me to “riff and rapture” about the things I love, to share what inspires me with the world.
Still, to imagine myself immersed in my art as she is in this photo, surrounded by bright splashes of color, my bare legs curled beneath me on the cold floor, and that Mona Lisa smile, that dark gaze . . . it does my heart good.
Yes, it does do my heart good, to be immersed in my writing this way—Finally. But it means I’ve been blogging less these days and will probably be doing less in the coming weeks as well. But I’ll be back to “riff and rapture” again before long. I promise.
Like many, I’ve been finding it difficult to write my normal New Year’s “Looking Back, Looking Forward” blog post. Looking back at 2021 is just too messy and confusing with so many conflicting emotions and dimmed expectations. And looking forward . . . ?
“This year, I’m resolving to find the joy in the work, and to embrace that joy the way a person in the ocean would cling to a piece of floating debris.”
I’m with you, Chuck. Now has never been a better time for living in the present and squeezing every ounce of joy out of everything that comes our way.
“If not now, when? If not us, who?” Remember that old activist chestnut?
I never thought to apply it to embracing the here and now of joy. But honestly, it works. And it’s not as selfish as it might seem. If we fill our hearts and minds with the simple joys at hand, and stick with it despite all that would tempt us to turn away, the joy that fills us is sure to spill over to all around us.
My simple solution to a world gone awry! But hasn’t it done so again and again over the ages?
Maybe in times like these our purpose should be to focus on the joy at hand and multiply it.
Last week I was questioning whether my blog had become too serious. To even ask such a question, of course, reveals one’s insecurities—about myself, about my blog, about my own serious take on life. Which is what humor does best. It pokes fun at ourselves, helps us to back away and take a longer view, a lighter view, about whatever is troubling us.
In one of the humorous posts links I shared with you last week, about bears and death, I was poking fun at some very strange, troubling dreams I’d been having lately. By the time I had finished writing the post, that sense of fear and anxiety had ebbed away in laughter. The second link poked fun at the mixed feelings I had when “selling my babies,” short stories I had labored over for so long. Making fun of those anxieties helped me to not take myself or my stories so seriously.
This isn’t the first time I’ve questioned how serious my posts had become and wondered if I should lighten up. In 2014 I humorously dissected the whole Serious VS Humor dilemma. Rereading it recently is helping me again to make peace with myself. So I thought I’d rerun it here for other bloggers who wonder if they should hu-more or less. Enjoy!
Humor, It’s Serious Stuff
Recently I’ve come across several blogs that use humor (the ironic, tongue-in-cheek, tending toward the ludic, the whimsical, the carnivalesque) to great effect. And I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them. But it’s made me realize how serious my blog has come to sound, and to question that.
I’m not sure I want to change it. But perhaps I need to diffuse it now and again. For I fully realize all this seriousness is seriously undercut by the great jest played on all of us: we really don’t know what the hell we’re doing and if any of this (me, you, life, blogging, etc.) matters at all.
Serious is my milieu. I feel more comfortable swimming there. With Serious I joyously jump head first into the deep end. I do backflips from the high dive. With Humor I test the pool with my toe. I find the steps and go down slowly. I keep my head above the water.
Perhaps that’s why people who know me well comment on my “gentle sense of humor”. I used to take that as a compliment, meaning “not unkind” or “unassuming.” Not loud or obvious.
But it could just as well mean “unassertive,” or even just plain “wimpy.”
This could be true. I am shy. I don’t tend to flaunt or assert myself in crowds or public conversations. You would never call me the life of the party. I don’t leave people in stitches or elicit belly laughs. I stand in the shadows. I observe. I take note. And occasionally I let loose a zinger or a well-placed (gentle) barb.
I tease. I poke. I play. At the edges.
It’s the way I diffuse all the seriousness that comes more naturally to me. Playing with things—-people, ideas, words, life.
Humor, after all, is the great diffuser. It reminds us not to take ourselves, or each other, or life itself so seriously all the time. It lightens, softens, disperses, deflects the serious side of life that can, quite literally, crush us under its weight if we’re not careful.
That is humor’s great gift, why it is so needed, and so welcomed. Everyone loves humor. Serious, not so much.
Humor makes you feel good. It lights up your endorphins. It puts a smile on your face and a giggle in your heart. It can even make cancer cells go into remission, or so they say.
Serious is not so warmly welcomed. It’s viewed as suspect and makes you wary. You frown and say things like “Say what?” and “Get outa here.” It gives you heartburn and indigestion. Your head starts spinning, your eyes glaze over. You start looking for the door.
That’s the risky side of Serious. You splay yourself open, heart and soul, for the whole world to view.
Serious is like streaking down your old high school hallways naked. Humor is safer. It wears a helmet and shoulder pads and carries a hockey stick. People back away. They let you pass.
Being Serious is like burying yourself in sand with only your head sticking up. Anyone can ride by with a large stick or sharp sword and lop it off. Humor often carries that sword.
Which brings us to the dark side of humor and its soft underbelly. Humor can be a weapon. And it can hurt.
But more often what humor, the great diffuser, is diffusing or deflecting, is our own insecurities and uncertainties, our fear of the unknown and unanswerable. Humor is a way to keep people at arm length, unsure how to take us, afraid to challenge us. It can help us avoid the serious stuff and make others less likely to talk seriously to us.
Humor also can be a cop-out. It allows us to say, if challenged: But I was only kidding!
If people don’t know whether to take us seriously or not, they might tend to back down, back off, pull their punches, reserve judgment. And they may do so because they want to avoid that zinger or well-placed and not-so-gentle barb we are prone to fling when challenged. They don’t want to become the brunt of our jokes.
The best humor though is serious stuff.
It isn’t used to harm others or to protect ourselves, but to expose ourselves and our society to critical examination.
Humor holds up a mirror so we can see ourselves more clearly, including all our faults and foibles. It makes us laugh at ourselves, our families, our society, our leaders, our politics, our lives, in a way that’s helpful and healing.
It reveals the hypocrisy and vanity, the pettiness and meanness, in a fun way. We feel the sharpness when it strikes too close to home, but we laugh anyway.
And by laughing at our faults, we are more likely, perhaps, to find ways to be and do better. That’s what I love about humor. Being able to laugh at myself. It’s so freeing!
Being buried in the sand up to your ears is no picnic!
I keep thinking about that head-lopping image I used earlier. That poor helpless fool, buried up to her ears in all that serious sand she finds so important, and WOP! There goes her head bouncing down the beach.
That’s me! My head bouncing down that beach, blood squirting everywhere, and I’m thinking, “My God, What did I do? Why did I stick my head out like that? Why the f— did I take myself so seriously?”
But then I have to laugh. Because I realize: This is just a metaphor!
Right about then, another head comes rolling along, the head-lopping Joker’s.
“What happened to you!” I ask.
“Seems I was taking myself way too seriously too!” he replies.
Then we both have a good, serious laugh, rolling down the beach together.
I’ve been struggling to find something to blog about this week. Actually I spent half a day yesterday working on a poem I wanted to get out. But it just didn’t feel ready yet. It’s tentatively, intriguingly titled “Forgive Me My Whiteness,” or less intriguingly, “A Prayer for Peace and Justice.” About race, I’m sure you’ve guessed. But do any of my readers really want to read a poem about race? By a white woman?
This raises the thorny question, of course: For whom do I blog? You, or me, or a little of both? I’m quite keen on the poem so I’ll probably post it eventually when it’s “done.” So there’s that.
Then I started looking back through my archives for inspiration. Maybe I could find something to tweak and repost. That’s always an easy fix when I’m stuck. But I’ve been doing that quite a bit lately, and if you do it too much, it feels like cheating. So drats to that.
During my search I did find a couple of humorous posts I wrote back in May 2014 that I enjoyed. I don’t do enough humor. I’d like to do more. I think that’s why I’m struggling to blog. Lately it’s all been soooo serious—introspective, philosophical, spiritual. I write where my head is, and that’s where it spends a lot of time these days. It’s not a bad place to hang out, actually. In fact, I rather enjoy it. But then I get to feeling sorry for my readers. Do you really want to read this stuff? All the time?!
So instead of blogging a poem about race, or one about linear and nonlinear ways of thinking that I’m working on, or another I’m keen to write about David Boehm’s theory on the Implicate and Explicate Orders (quantum theory + enlightment, yikes!), I’m going to go easy on you this week.
I’ll just post these links to two fun posts I wrote six years ago. When I was, it appears, a more fun person.
The year 2020 may have been the most turbulent year any of us have ever known. Blogging in such a year was challenge enough. Trying to recapture that whirlwind may be beyond any of us.
But I will try. And at least it ends on a note of joy.
Looking back at my first blog post of 2020, I wrote about how challenging 2019 had been. My wish list for 2020 was the same as my 2019 list, as one year had not been enough long to bring the happy endings that I had hoped for. My wish list for 2021 would be a repeat of the last two years, except I’ve put wish lists on hold for the time being. Things are too uncertain, and the turbulent times are still with us.
In April I wrote about The Joy and Grief and Everything in Between that came with Covid, the mixed feelings and emotional turmoil so many were feeling as we tried to survive the initial lockdowns and isolation. We did not realize then how long all this would be going on, the horrendous death toll it would bring, or the economic disaster.
In May I wrote about Poetry in the Time of Corona. It must have resonated with a lot of readers as I saw it move into my :Top Ten Posts” list and rise to number 4.
In June during all the racial strife, the police brutality and protests, I began a series of posts about my “Brushes with Blackness,” how Black lives and Black culture colored my whiteness, and helped shape my sense of justice, fair play, and compassion for others.
In August I wrote the unsettling and surreal world in which we all were living in Still Waiting to Land . . . . I wrote: “Clearly we live in interesting times. A curse? Possibly. A cleansing? Hopefully. No wonder we feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under our feet. And we haven’t quite landed yet.” I still feel that way.
I followed that with Wildfires Everywhere, Politically and Literally about watching wildfires gobble up California and cast an eerie and ominous red glow over the land, even while the Democratic National Convention was providing a glimmer of hope midst all the devastation.
Unfortunately the political turmoil did not end with Biden’s victory as hoped, and perhaps even has gotten worse, which seems unimaginable. Yet, for me personally, 2020 has still ended on one ecstatic note.
At the beginning of this year I wrote: “The one gift 2019 gave me (which is huge and fills my heart!) is hope for my granddaughter when she came to live with me. Hope that she will remain in my care, happy and safe, healthy and strong, responsibly cared for and dearly cherished as she grows into a young woman.”
That gift kept growing in 2020. Everything I had hoped and planned for concerning my granddaughter’s welfare came true, as I wrote about in My Arms Are Empty, but My Heart is Full. She is happy and well and living the life of her dreams with her aunt and uncle: surfing, hiking, biking, movie nights snuggling on the couch, reading the Harry Potter series together before bed, laughing with her new best friends at school, and telling me all about her fun-filled days on our weekly video-chats. She was asked recently what the best thing about 2020 was. She answered, “Moving here. Else I wouldn’t have this life I love.”
So for all the turmoil of 2020, and whatever upheaval 2021 might bring, I can comfort myself with that huge gift of joy.
I’m finding it harder to blog these days, harder to paint, to play piano, to clean house, to do most anything but write, rewrite, and write again.
And yet, despite this, I’m trying to keep the blogging going at least. The painting is on holiday until I start an acrylic and oil class this summer. But the piano, the poor piano! I feel guilty each time I walk by. She so wants to play.
And the house. Well, let’s not talk about the house.
I’m explaining more than complaining. I set this rigorous writing schedule myself. A “scaffolding” Annie Dillard calls it. A “blurred and powerful pattern.” It is all that.
Here is her full quote:
What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being: it is a life boat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.
She also writes about the writer’s precarious relationship to a work in process which I’ve found to be quite true:
I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.
This tender relationship can change in a twinkling. If you skip a visit or two, a work in progress will turn on you.
A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight . . . . As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room.
Another quote relating writing and dying strikes at the heart of the writer’s task:
Write as if you were dying . . . write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. What would you begin writing if you knew you should die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?
Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art. Do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength.
Who but an artist fierce to know—not fierce to seem to know—would suppose that a live image possessed a secret? The artist is willing to give all his or her strength and life to probing with blunt instruments those same secrets no one can describe in any way but with those instruments’ faint tracks.
One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.
I read the above quote daily as a reminder: Push, pull, probe, go deeper, page by page. Leave nothing unturned. Don’t do what’s easy. Do what’s hard.
And finally, another reminder when the writing seems so slow and never-ending:
You are writing a book. . . . you do not hurry and do not rest. You climb steadily, doing your job in the dark. When you reach the end, there is nothing more to climb. The sun hits you; the bright wideness surprises you; you had forgotten there was an end.
I turn to this one often, for the captivating images as well as the inspiring quotations. Two I enjoyed most recently were by John Muir, the first enticing us to saunter reverently rather than “hike” when we are out among nature. He tells us how the word “saunter” comes from pilgrims who are traveling through France ‘A la sainte terre’, or ‘To the Holy Land.’ Another reminds us that we are kin to everything
When we try to pick out anything by itself,
we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell,
and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals
Then there was Wild Elegance, which speaks to why I named this blog Living on the Edge of the Wild. John O’Donohue from The Invisible Embrace, Beauty writes:
When we acknowledge the wild beauty of God, we begin to glimpse the potential holiness of our neglected wildness. As humans, citizens and believers, we have become domesticated beyond belief. We have fallen out of rhythm with our natural wildness. What we now call ‘being wild’ is often misshapen, destructive and violent. The natural wildness as the fluency of the soul at one with beauty is foreign to us.
The call of the wild is a call to the elemental levels of the soul, the places of intuition, kinship, swiftness, fluency and the consolation of the lonesome that is not lonely. Our fear of our own wildness derives in part from our fear of the formless; but the wild is not the formless – it holds immense refinement and, indeed, clarity. The wild has a profound simplicity that carries none of the false burdens of brokenness or self-conflict; it flows naturally as one, elegant and seamless.
Beauty invites us towards profound elegance of soul. It reminds us that we are heirs to elegance and nobility of spirit and encourages us to awaken the divinity within us. We are no longer trapped in mental frames of self-reduction or self-denunciation.
Instead, we feel the desire to celebrate, to give ourselves over to the dance of joy and delight. The overwhelming beauty which is God pervades the texture of our soul, transforming all smallness, limitation and self-division. The mystics speak of the excitement of such unity. This is how Marguerite Porete describes it:
‘Such a Soul, says Love swims in the sea of joy, that is in the sea of delights, flowing and running out of the Divinity. And so she feels no joy, for she is joy itself. She swims and flows in Joy… for she dwells in Joy and Joy dwells in her.’
This blog satisfies my longing for travel, art, photography, soulful writing, and that fearsome urge to trust oneself in exploring the unknown. Here a young woman tells about uprooting herself to move to a new city, Istanbul, which she explores through photography and storytelling.
In her favorite posts of 2018 you can taste some of the many flavors she has to offer: joyful wisdom, finding home, writing about place, Istanbul street art, and more.
But where I fell in love with her blog was when I read Home is Where the Heart Is, where she converses with a stranger she meets in a medieval courtyard and writes:
We talked about how everything at its core is fluid and he talked to me about the Tao Te Ching.
And suddenly we had left the party and were slowly meandering down the road of a deep conversation. And by deep, I mean that reality started to lose its edges as we both came to an agreement on certain points other than what is conventionally accepted.
I admitted to him that I had lived in so many places that I no longer could relate to home being somewhere outside myself. That secretly I was building my home within – letting go of the stuff of this world and instead focusing on the things that I can take with me when I die – the wisdom and knowledge of the world that may (or may not) serve me in the next life.
You see, I don’t believe that we die because what is there to die into? Everything is alive and remains alive in one form or another.
And something tells me that I have lived many lives because from time to time I remember something unusual. I will have a dream that will take me to another place so real that I must have been there before.
I hope you will fall in love with these blogs I discovered this past year as I have. And, please, share some of the favorites sites you’ve discovered with me too in the comments below.
I have so many things to be grateful for, not least among them the ten-thousand people who, for whatever reason, took a moment to click “follow” on my website. I reached this blogging milestone just a few days ago.
Each follow I’ve received over my 7 years of blogging has been received as a gift of love, a “micro-moment of positivity resonance,” as Barbara Fredrickson defines love in her book on the subject. Each click translates into a smile, a hug, a friendly wave, a nod of encouragement, a cheerful thumbs-up, a coin of appreciation tossed to a fellow blogger, a way of saying I see you and like what you are doing.
I know most of those clicks were from friendly people who in their breeze through the blogosphere stopped for but a moment to wish me well and rarely returned. I certainly do not get 10,000 views on my posts each week, not do I expect to. But the fact that they took the time to make that click, for whatever reason, is deeply appreciated.
Many who are following this blog have become part of what I think of as my blogging family, a mutual admiration community I meet with online. It is you who I am “breaking bread” with each week when I send out my posts, read your comments, and visit your sites to see what you are up to.
My first blog post featured in the “Freshly Pressed” column was about “Blogging and the Accident of Touching“, which is how I see blogging, a way to reach out and touch others and be touched in return by your responses and posts.
Thank you for helping me reach this blogging milestone.
Today I am blowing ten-thousand kisses back to you.
Gertrude Fiske (1868 – 1961) American Impressionist
Love After Love
by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Many thanks to Ken Chawkin and the bread crumbs he left that led me to this poem on his blog Uncarved Block.
Reading it moved me deeply. One wonders if the whole purpose of our life journey is to lead us to that place where we see ourselves, finally, “face to face,” and greet ourselves with love and elation in this ultimate homecoming.
Ken describes his own tender home-coming on his website and provides many interesting links about Walcott, the Nobel Prize winning poet and artist.
In the video below you can listen to Walcott reading his poem from his island home on St. Lucia. You don’t want to miss this.