Wednesday, October 22, 2014

the antidote to exhaustion

So you know how it is when you read a book you love, and then you read that book again the very next day. You're soaked in it, and you don't want to leave the world you were in and you don't want to read anything else, maybe ever. Though you know you will. The writer part of you starts making promises to yourself. About how you will write after this, how you will think, and mostly feel, and how your next book will be. This is the way it's been for me with Marilynne Robinson's Lila. (I've put it on the recommended shelf above). I don't want to talk about it, and I don't want to read any of the reviews. If you haven't read Gilead, or Home, you might want to read those first. And I can tell you her books aren't for everyone. Well, what decent book is.

So last night I came home from my library shift, a bit before 10:00. I needed something to peruse before bed, so picked up a book I'd already read to dip into. Diane Ackerman's Dawn Light. (Also on recommended).

And I must have read this part before, but in this reading, it just jumped out at me. Page 152.

She's talking about fatigue, exhaustion. She's quoting from a passage in David Whyte's Midlife and the Great Unknown, where the author meets a monk to whom he confides about feeling "bone-weary, waterlogged, and windless."

"His friend listens with concern in the dwindling hours of the night, and then says something that still gives me pause: "You know the antidote to exhaustion is not rest. It's wholeheartedness." "

Okay, that's so wonderful, I'm going to repeat it.

"The antidote to exhaustion is not rest: it's wholeheartedness."  

Coffee, I think is also nice.

And yesterday, because it was Ursula Le Guin's birthday, this quotation popped up on the all the social media sites:

“I think sometimes about old painters—they get so simple in their means. Just so plain and simple. Because they know they haven’t got time. One is aware of this as one gets older. You can’t waste time.”

So I have Robinson's Lila, rattling in my brain for three days, and then I come upon the line about wholeheartedness, the line about not wasting time (which is my longtime personal writing advice to myself). I'm thinking about old painters, I'm thinking about the time I have left. I'm so bloody exhausted. But also, suddenly, not.

The night before last, I went outside after dinner, and the light was that old and tired and glorious light we get in mid to late October. And I drank it in. I tell you, it doesn't last long at all, not in my yard. It reaches into the low spots only selectively. Eases through the apple tree and onto the bits we still haven't cleaned up yet and maybe won't.

When the light had gone, I looked up and there was this bird singing up in the neighbour's tree. Illuminated, just so. 

And I don't know what to say about it either, but you can imagine how it made me feel. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

for nothing but joy

The Dogs at Live Oak Beach, Santa Cruz

by Alicia Ostriker

As if there could be a world
Of absolute innocence
In which we forget ourselves

The owners throw sticks
And half-bald tennis balls
Toward the surf
And the happy dogs leap after them
As if catapulted—

Black dogs, tan dogs,
Tubes of glorious muscle—

Pursuing pleasure
More than obedience
They race, skid to a halt in the wet sand,
Sometimes they'll plunge straight into
The foaming breakers

Like diving birds, letting the green turbulence
Toss them, until they snap and sink

Teeth into floating wood
Then bound back to their owners
Shining wet, with passionate speed
For nothing,
For absolutely nothing but joy.

{more by Ostriker}

There was that foggy day last week you might remember. It didn't wait for me though - by the time I reached the entrance to the field it had burned off. But here are a few shots of it off in the distance, along the highway, along the tree line. 

And then it was gone and we were in the field. The sun had come out in the east, but toward the west, clouds. This made for a rather eerie lighting effect.

We've been staying out of the field for quite some time, and others have too. But lately I've noticed the path is worn again, and people are going in. Rumour has it that the coyote family has moved on. But who knows, perhaps they'll be back when the snow flies.

Ace races around, nose to the ground, hunting, for what I know not. It's pure joy though, for him, you can tell.

He's damp from all the morning dew. Still willing to pose a little for a biscuit.

It's good therapy, always, watching Ace bound through the grass, his experience, pure joy. As I often say, he's my personal trainer and my mental health practitioner. Worth his weight in gold.

Monday, October 20, 2014

the changing light of a room

"I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room."

- May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude

I still give thanks for the writing of May Sarton, though she may not now be in vogue. She must still have her readers though, and books like Journal of a Solitude will always find a simpatico soul. And what more can we as authors hope for our books.

Well, it's Monday, and if we were having tea at some point today I'd tell you that I ran out this weekend to buy Lila by Marilynne Robinson and read the first 100 pages last night and made myself stop so that it wouldn't be over in one reading. She's without a doubt my favourite living novelist.

The night previous we watched Bill Moyers interview her on PBS and this deepened my regard for her.

I've added another movie to my DVD list at the library, titled, Elaine Stritch: Just Shoot Me. I knew next to nothing about Stritch before coming upon this wonderful documentary and I'm so glad I watched it. To see someone so utterly unique and full of life is an inspiration.

In general, I've been on a novel reading binge. Have lately read Olive Kitteridge, which apparently is being made into a movie starring the incomparable Frances McDormand. Also read, Ellen in Pieces by Caroline Adderson.

Rob heard a BBC show while painting one day recently where they were talking about tree registers in Britain, which I thought was pretty fascinating. So have been looking around at various tree registers and which countries have them.

Previous to this I'd been writing about Enzo Enea's tree museum, which is also very interesting to me.

Maybe it's this time of year, when they draw such glorious attention to themselves as they change colour, that one can spend a great deal of time in reverie with regards to trees.

I'll leave off this morning with more tea, and some green tea pocky. Wishing you a quiet moment or two today to sip a cup and treat yourself to something biscuit-ish.....and to enjoy the changing light of a room....

Friday, October 17, 2014

filigree and scrollwork

"You become things, you become an atmosphere, and if you become it, which means you incorporate it within you, you can also give it back. You can put this feeling into a picture. A painter can do it. And a musician can do it and I think a photographer can do that too and that I would call the dreaming with open eyes."

- Ernst Haas

“The artist's vocation is to send light into the human heart.”

 – Robert Schumann

"What do I make of all this texture? What does it mean about the kind of world in which I have been set down? The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek."

- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I looked out my study window yesterday morning as Rob and Chloe were getting ready to leave for her school drop-off. I can see a sliver of the highway out my window, a sliver of the utility corridor. And there was fog. Which is rare enough here, so I hurried to ready myself and the dog. By the time I made it out there, fifteen minutes later, the fog had mostly burned off, and as I walked toward the entrance to the field, had vanished. I continued on, expecting nothing then. Emptied. I had no thought  to photographing anything. I dawdled, I let my eyes wander, I kept a sharp eye out for the coyote. Which is when I reached a point in the field where the sun had risen high enough to make it over the tall houses.

I kneeled down on the damp and dewy path I was on, I looked and squinted.

I received.

I began what seemed like a daydream, photographing the filigree and scrollwork of the world. Letting the light into my camera, into my heart.

On one of the photo sites I read, I recently came across the advice to take fewer photographs. Which generally I agree with. The idea is to slow down, to compose, and take fewer photos that you'll only need to delete later, saving you time. But the light was changing every minute, and it was so bright I couldn't at all see the preview screen. So I just clicked and embraced the light and was happy. I let myself daydream.

Is this a vocation? I don't know. I only know that some mornings, beauty calls, and I am obligated to answer.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


"Fecundity is the creative person's natural state. The more pertinent question is that of what inhibits it. Why does one get periods of broken productivity? What causes these interruptions? Productivity, it has to be said, has no reason to be broken except through adverse, exterior circumstances."

- Helene Cixous in White Ink

I was re-reading the above this morning, wondering if productivity was the subject of this morning's blog post. Creativity, the conditions which must be met so we may be creative, so we may work.

And then. Somehow magically came across this blog post, titled: "daily rituals: how artists create (and avoid creating) their art."

In my wanderings, also this quotation:

“You need three things to become a successful novelist: talent, luck and discipline. Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just have to hope and trust in the other two.”

- Michael Chabon

So many creative people have small rituals to take them into the mental state needed to begin. There is little time to waste, and it's true as Chabon says, discipline is everything. 

My biggest ritual is to begin by writing in my diary, but also with a notebook nearby, the one that contains the jottings for the thing I'm writing. 

Which leads me to this quotation also by Cixous:

"It's rare for someone to manage to keep within the narrative the spontaneous, frothy quality of the notebooks and diaries."  


"The most beautiful, the most free, the least cleaned-up thing we have to say will have been what came before the work. The workshop. And what was it that Joyce did if not find his way back to his own workshop in the end?"  

Maybe this is why artists' studios are fascinating to me (and to many others if you can go by all the images collected on Pinterest). The 'before the work' is often still visible. I've collected images myself there, on this board

Things are winding down quite seriously now.

Some images from a few days ago, the late autumn light, the last of the leaves.

We've not yet removed the sunflowers. Maybe they'll stay all winter....