I want to shake you like a criminal:
when we could be so happy happy,
oh, why why do these things you do?
Why count my every not-you syllable,
deem every time I nurse my babies
as time I could have spent with you?
You who are as motherless
as I, as longing to be rocked—
How can’t I know you? How do I
evade this empathy, suppress
lactation, hold my will intact,
once startled by your tragedy?
But, sometime, I should wash my face.
And, sometime, I should write this book.
When I go out, my dog knows I’ll
Be back. He doesn’t fret and pace
With one eye on the dawdling clock.
He lets me go. (It took a while.)
“I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that “for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.” This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting. A man must find his occasions in himself, it is true. The natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove his indolence.” –Henry David Thoreau (from Walden)
(above: Agatha Christie)
[The paragraphs that precede this part of today’s entry aren’t really important. They’re just the usual details. But this part, below, is about “being a writer,” so I’ll share it.]
March 28, 2016
…So now I have to calm down, and separate myself. I’m playing classical music, I’m burning incense. Door closed, water glass full beside me. Just put on headphones, which don’t work anymore on my computer, but at least make me feel cocooned. That’s the trick, in a nutshell: You have to become a separate self, to be a writer. You can’t sit listening at your writing-room door for a sigh from downstairs. Plug your ears. Close your door. Lock it if you can. It’s okay if the dog comes in, coz he’s your muse, and he just sleeps with his chin on your ankle, and he can leave whenever he wants to. Someone else will let him out when he needs it. Someone else will feed him, just as they all will feed themselves today—for, it turns out, they know how.
And nobody will clean the house. The vacuum will sit in the middle of the room, clogged I guess, and we won’t put it away I guess because we’re waiting for someone to fix it. Which—don’t tell anybody–I actually know how to do, but I guess they don’t, though they could learn I guess, just like I had to, once. No more. The dishes can stack up in the sink until, again and again, the weight of them breaks the handle off a coffee mug at the bottom—some of our favorite mugs we’ve lost that way. We’re also losing plants. And a couple of neglected bills have found their way to collection agencies, though we have $10,000 in the bank, which we never seem to deplete because the only things we ever buy are food and books and emergency room visits [again, not important right now]. And no one does the shopping either, till one of us (sometimes it’s me, sometimes B, rarely H) finally does it. No one’s taking care of this house anymore. It looks like it’s been ransacked because it has been, many times, when B loses wallet, credit card, keys, paychecks, glasses, phone. Or H loses glasses, prescriptions, phone numbers, medicines, mind. I’ve even had to ransack the place myself, especially after coming home from my trips to the mess, and having, at the very least, to get the income taxes ready.
I won’t go there again today, I swear—won’t join their world even if they get all crazy because they’ve made themselves sick or hate their jobs or don’t know what the future holds. They still stumble, somehow, under the weight of thinking me wise. I don’t know why they persist—well, yes I do, because sometimes I am wise, at least in contrast. If anyone finds the check-prescription-eyeglasses-keys, it’s usually me, and often in the very first place I look. It’s like living with mole-rats. “Where’d you find it?” they ask in relief. “On the counter,” I tell them, or “In your coat pocket.” I’m tired of being this person. I don’t mind doing my share of the daily maintenance—I cleaned the toilets this morning, just in passing, because honestly it’s not that big a deal, and takes two minutes, and because I knew no one else ‘knew how.’ But I have a job of my own right now—don’t I?–and though apparently it requires incense and silence and (occasionally) drugs, that doesn’t mean it’s not relatively real. It’s just that I’ve finally discovered my work method—and who’d have thought it entailed pleasure??? That’s what I’ve been missing all these years—fun. The fun of finally taking myself seriously.
Above: “Street Crossing” (1992) by the American artist George Segal (1924-2000)
Robert Pinsky’s “Genesis According to George Segal”
The Spirit brooded on the water and made
The earth, and molded us out of earth. And then
The Spirit breathed Itself into our nostrils—
And rested. What was the Spirit waiting for?
An image of Its nature, a looking glass?
Glass also made of dust, of sand and fire.
Ordinary, enigmatic, we people waiting
In the terminal. A survivor at a wire fence,
Also waiting. Behind him, a tangle of bodies
Made out of plaster, which plasterers call mud.
The apprentice hurries with a hod of mud.
Particulate sand for glass. Milled flour for bread.
What are we waiting for? The hour glass
That measures all our time in trickling dust
Is also of dust and will return to dust—
So an old poem says. Men in a bread line
Out in the dusty street are silent, waiting
At the apportioning-place of daily bread.
At an old-fashioned radio’s wooden case
A man sits listening in a wooden chair.
A woman at a butcher block waits to cut.
What are we waiting for, in clouds of dust?
Or waiting for the past, particles of being
Settled and moist with life, then brittle again.
Extra cool thing: Robert Pinsky reads this poem aloud here:
If we have ambitions—even if our aim is enlightenment— then there is no meditation, because we are thinking about it, craving it, fantasizing, imagining things. That is not meditation. This is why an important characteristic of shamatha meditation is to let go of any goal and simply sit for the sake of sitting. We breathe in and out, and we just watch that. Nothing else. It doesn’t matter if we get enlightenment or not. It doesn’t matter if our friends get enlightened faster. Who cares? We are just breathing. We just sit straight and watch the breath in and out. Nothing else. We let go of our ambitions. This includes trying to do a perfect shamatha meditation. We should get rid of even that. Just sit.
—Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
“Half the time I hate Black Swans, the other half I love them. I like the randomness that produces the texture of life, the positive accidents, the success of Apelles the painter, the potential gifts you do not have to pay for. Few understand the beauty in the story of Apelles; in fact, most people exercise their error avoidance by repressing the Apelles in them.”
–Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan
“Maximize serendipity: “A strategy of seeking gains by collecting positive accidents from maximising exposure to ‘good Black Swans’.” (p. 307, Taleb) Taleb calls this an “Apelles-style strategy”. Apelles the Painter was a Greek who, try as he might, could not depict the foam from a horse’s mouth. In irritation he gave up and threw the sponge he used to clean his brush at the picture. Where the sponge hit, it left a beautiful representation of foam. –James Lawley (source: http://www.cleanlanguage.co.uk/articles/articles/218/2/Black-Swan-Logic/Page2.html)
July 7, 2004
When I say goodbye–when I try to say goodbye—they put their arms around me, one from one side, one from the other. And they cling there. Henry says, Okay Beck, here’s the plan—we don’t let go and she never gets away.
Becky had a dream–she and Henry were chasing me.
It takes such courage to let me go—I must have done something wrong. It should be easier than this. Their lives shouldn’t suspend themselves in midair when I’m out of sight. It all makes me very nervous—I hate the goodbyeing. The long drawn-out process, the hug I have to wrench myself away from, the sad faces, hurt faces as if I’m betraying them by wanting something separate. I can’t walk into a room without their watching my every move. Today Becky tells me her tale of woe. Then Henry walks in and says, “When she’s done complaining to you, I get to be next.”
(a found poem: Henry’s description, verbatim, of what he’d just noticed out our window)
There was a young man crossing Excelsior from
east to west, and he was—first, he was in a
t-shirt and shorts in this weather; then, he was
limping, so that, I don’t know if he had a cast
on his foot or sprained or something, and, then,
he was carrying a large bag of ice. Um, so he’s
obviously going to a party to get drunk. So you
had a whole little story just in watching this guy
cross the street. It’s a story I know well from just
having finished grading their personal narrative
essays in composition, so I really was in that
world, for hours and hours, yesterday.
Part of a letter I wrote to my friend Will today:
I love ephemera–as much as you do, I think, and for the same kinds of reasons. It’s as if we walk our lives through a heavy, debris-laden wind that leans us forward, bows our heads against its force, so that we can hardly tell where it is we’re finally going. Even so, we keep our eyes squinted open, our fingers poised, ready to grab at whatever fragment of life we might notice flying by, anything viable, readable, anything with a heartbeat, anything that isn’t merely dust. We grab at each little shard of paper or thread or somebody’s tossed-away keepsake. Clutching to contain it, we study it from every angle, view it through each lens, put it through x-ray machines, decoders, translators, machines that test for DNA and carbon-dating. We compare and combine it with our other fragments–our modest collection of worn-out, tattered, wind-stolen things. Finally we catalog and curate our new find, then tuck it away like a kitten beneath our coats to keep it, and us, alive and warm.
We could have been archaeologists, I think. Well, except for the part with the kitten. That doesn’t quite go, I guess… Okay, then: We could have been collectors of lost souls.
We are both log and fire, both noun and verb. Time devours us, yes, but it’s as true to say that we devour time. And the odd thing is, I can’t think of any way this simultaneity can’t go on forever. Our cyclical natures–the perpetual balancing act of matter and energy, growth and dissolution, birth death birth death birth death birth–will keep us caught in their back-and-forth until the universe ends, or the laws of physics change. How could it possibly be otherwise? Frankly, there’s just nowhere else to be but here, and no other time–no time we can taste–but now.