Monday, January 26, 2015

changing, slowing

Changing Everything

by Jane Hirshfield

I was walking again
in the woods,
a yellow light
was sifting all I saw.

with a cold heart,
I took a stick,
lifted it to the opposite side
of the path.

There, I said to myself,
that's done now.
Brushing one hand against the other,
to clean them
of the tiny fragments of bark.

{from The Lives of the Heart}

I was walking one morning last week, and it was like that. The sifting light, the sudden awareness that something has changed. Or, I knew what I needed.

Earlier that morning I'd written a friend an email about a feeling of dissatisfaction. I couldn't name the sources of the dissatisfaction, but there was that feeling. It seemed vague to just say that, so I started to list odd things that might be causing this overriding sensation.

One of the things on the list was the internet and how I was using it. Not as mindfully as I'd like, not as carefully. The thing is I like a lot of things about the internet. I like many aspects of Facebook, but I don't like how much I'm on there looking, scrolling, squinting. A while back, I realized that I had read updates on various peoples' children and new books and the reviews on those new books for years, often clicking 'like' on their posts, sometimes commenting. And that these people probably had me 'hidden.' It's sort of funny, really.

And it's okay, also. Because we get to choose how we operate the internet. We can look at these sites as little or as much as we like. We can choose who we follow and who we hide.

My big 'revelation' last week was really this: I want to spend my mornings off the internet. I want to begin my mornings reading, and writing, and maybe listening to music. I want my mornings to be the way they were before the internet. I don't want to be one of those intrepid souls that give up the internet for a year, or however long. But I do want to institute what I'm calling, 'low internet' days, where I plan on being mindful of how long I'm on, how many times I'm checking this or that and try to keep it to a bare minimum. Checking email twice in the day, staying off the social networks entirely, etc. On the days I do go on Facebook, I plan on setting a timer.

I want to write more, in short. I want to begin dreaming up my next book. I'm nearing the end of edits on Rumi and the Red Handbag. I'm part way through a book of poem essays. I think what I want to write next is a big long old novel. I want to slow down, and dream more, let things arrive.

What does this mean for Calm Things? I'm actually quite excited about this next bit. Instead of posting every day, my current plan is to post once a week, every Monday morning. I'm hoping that the posts will be slightly more crafted and perhaps more thoughtful. More calm.

This is my plan for now. It's going to be quite odd for me, not posting everyday - it's been part of my own practice for so long.

I've been walking around with this thought for a few days now, and it seems the right thing to do. Naturally, I'm the sort always looking for signs, and what better place to look than Pinterest, right? Came across this one: "I give up freely what is no longer serving me. I release it to create space for what inspires me."

I'm not sure that it would apply to every situation, but I think when it comes to thinking about how we use the internet, it works rather nicely. So, with hopes of creating space for what inspires me, I leave you now, wishing you all calm things, until next week! May you also find what inspires you in the week to come.

Friday, January 23, 2015

you need a plant

"I repeat the words freshness, tenderness, softness, the happiness of birds, as if
speaking directly to a plant."

"One day you need a plant you don't know, in order to connect pieces in yourself,
or in a person you're trying to be with."

- Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, from Hello, the Roses

I love the work of this poet. You can read more here, a review of the book here.

At first she might seem difficult, but this is because her voice is so unique and you need to get used to the rhythms and cadences.

Wishing you a good weekend, and of course, all calm things.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

as lovely

"To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June."

- Jean-Paul Sartre

I love this thought. But oh, January in's hard on the soul. We've had rain on top of snow, and it warms, then freezes. Our neighbourhoods resemble ice rinks. Walking is treacherous.

Meanwhile, so much darkness, yet. There's a short interval in the afternoons where there's some decent light, but it doesn't last long.

So, I'm craving light, craving silence, too. An afternoon to sit and read poetry.

A poem like this one, to read over and over:

In Silence

by Thomas Merton

Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
To speak your

To the living walls.
Who are you?
Are you? Whose
Silence are you?

Who (be quiet)
Are you (as these stones
Are quiet). Do not
Think of what you are
Still less of
What you may one day be.
Be what you are (but who?) be
The unthinkable one
You do not know.

O be still, while
You are still alive,
And all things live around you
Speaking (I do not hear)
To your own being,
Speaking by the Unknown
That is in you and in themselves.

“I will try, like them
To be my own silence:
And this is difficult. The whole
World is secretly on fire. The stones
Burn, even the stones
They burn me. How can a man be still or
Listen to all things burning? How can he dare
To sit with them
When all their silence
Is on fire?”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

to be of the snow


By Heather Christle

It is not that you want
to be the one to make prints
in the untrampled snow
It is that you want
to be in the snow
without having touched it
to be of  the snow
not beginning
Everywhere commerce
dictates the shapes
that move you along
that seat you at the table
far from the snow
far from the act
of not touching
It only gets worse
A girl’s gotta eat
And your hunger’s
not even your own

Commerce will usually dictate I spend most of my time away from the snow, but by some luck there are usually two days of the week, where it's possible for me to 'be of the snow.' 

I used to spend ridiculous amounts of time pining for a consistent life of the mind, the life of the writer, uninterrupted.

Quite a long time ago I came across the book, Breathing the Page by Betsy Warland. I wrote a post about it, too. In the book Warland says, "Although we can understandably long for a period of full-time writing, we can't afford to pine too much for this."

I constantly refer to this piece of advice. 

With our daughter now staring university in the face (well, she's a year and a half away), the fact is that I'll likely be working more in the future, rather than less.

It only gets worse
A girl’s gotta eat
And your hunger’s
not even your own

It's so strange and wonderful to come across a poem that says something so exact about your life. I think this is mostly the reason I keep seeking out poems, reading poetry. For a poem like this one, by a poet I'd never heard of before. I'll certainly be seeking out Heather Christle's books.

Strange as it may seem, I'm wishing for a good clean snowfall. Since taking these photos there's been what feels like a spring melt. Everything slippery and the sidewalks and roads full of sand to counteract. Rather unattractive out there right now!

But here Ace and I were last week. In the snow and lovely frost. Out in the field by the highway. And you can see the traffic a little, which I tried to include.

On the way home, a crow. I watched from a long way away, and it seemed it was flying with some purpose, some direction, above the utility corridor. Coming in to land on a light post. And then quickly take off again.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015



by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

I continue to be drawn to these little forests that one finds in the suburbs. They find me, I find them. The trees are not lost. What a comfort that is to me. 

The thought in the poem that I'm drawn to is wherever you are is here, wherever you are you must treat as a powerful stranger. You must be awake to that, here, now. 

I've begun the second round of edits on my novel which is coming out with Palimpsest Press this October 15, 2015. There will no doubt be a third round of edits as well, but it feels as though with this edit, we will be extremely close to the finished product. You might remember that in the last round of edits, the title of the novel became, What We Carry. Which I quite liked. But then I googled it and found another book with the same title. This would have been fine, though at the same time the duplication made me feel uncomfortable. As luck would have it, my brilliant editor had continued to mull over titles and suggested another one: Rumi and the Red Handbag.

As soon as I heard it, I thought: YES. That's the one.

Well. The Wagoner poem reminds me of lines from Rumi, which I'll close with:

"The mystery does not get clearer by repeating the question,
nor is it bought with going to amazing places.

Until you've kept your eyes

and your wanting still for fifty years,
you don't begin to cross over from confusion."

{from The Essential Rumi, translator Coleman Barks}

Monday, January 19, 2015

it is permitted

Da Capo

by Jane Hirshfield

Take the used-up heart like a pebble
and throw it far out.

Soon there is nothing left.
Soon the last ripple exhausts itself
in the weeds.

Returning home, slice carrots, onions, celery.
Glaze them in oil before adding
the lentils, water, and herbs.

Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.
Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.

You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.
Begin again the story of your life.

- poem found via Saveur, in an article by Stacey Harwood, "A Feast for Bards: 13 Favorite Food Poems"

I think far too much about food. (This, too, is permitted). But then, I'm the one who does the grocery shopping, meal planning, and about two thirds of the cooking in our household. I'm not complaining - Rob does the laundry and many other chores. Early in our marriage, the duties were more or less naturally divided, and it's worked for us, very well. So, I spend too much time on Pinterest pinning to my Food board. I still look in magazines for recipes, in books. Always trying to find things we all will like and that are healthy.

But this one was just for me.

I found the recipe for turmeric milk (via Pinterest) on a site called Nutrition Stripped. Totally delicious.

The weekends, Sunday in particular, is for cooking, cleaning, organizing, grocery shopping. Which sounds quite dull, but it's also calming.....I know that the week ahead will be better because of it.

But I also managed a coffee date with C. at Chapters/Starbucks. Rob and I watched Daniel Deronda, which is on my library DVD picks list. I really love Romola Garai - and she's splendid in this one.

A last photo of lunch on Saturday. Which R and I enjoyed, and C had.....something else :)

Friday, January 16, 2015

we breathe

“In difficult times carry something beautiful in your heart.”

Blaise Pascal

I was reminded of this line as I was looking for a book to buy a friend for a birthday, settling on Anam Cara by John O'Donohue. 

He quotes Pascal, using the word 'heart' rather than mind, as it's sometimes translated (if you can trust  the internet at all when it comes to quotations). 

In the book, O'Donohue also notes: "Each day we breathe 23 040 times..."  

He talks about fragrance and breath, as well, and I began to think about the scents and smells of winter. How I've been burning scented candles in the evening, to make up, perhaps, for the narrower range of smells in winter. I re-potted a small plant earlier this week and revelled in the scent of the potting soil. I've been brewing chai tea, and then adding extra cinnamon and ginger, and breathing in the steam from the tea. But it's never really occurred to me how scent deprived we must become in the winter. I suppose because I'm usually thinking about how pared down our seeing becomes. 

I sat at the kitchen table many times this past week, breathing in the scent of flowers. I'd peel an orange and breathe that in as well. The scent of the pear ripening in the bowl was lovely. 

And then there is the scent of old books. Such as the book of poetry C. is reading, below. 

Well, let's return to Pascal's thought. What beautiful thing will you carry in your heart today?

A piece of music that you can hum along to? I've been listening to this. The flautist Emmanuel Pahud plays Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach's allegro from Sonata in A minor. Or perhaps, there is a poem you love. Write it out on a piece of paper, fold it up, carry it with you.

Below is a photo of my workspace. You can see the small plant I recently added to the scene - an aloe vera. Something to breathe along with.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

unexpected beauty


by Linda Gregg

All that is uncared for.
Left alone in the stillness
in that pure silence married
to the stillness of nature.
A door off its hinges,
shade and shadows in an empty room.
Leaks for light. Raw where
the tin roof rusted through.
The rustle of weeds in their
different kinds of air in the mornings,
year after year.
A pecan tree, and the house
made out of mud bricks. Accurate
and unexpected beauty, rattling
and singing. If not to the sun,
then to nothing and to no one.

This is how beauty often is - unexpected, offering itself up to the sun, or the falling snow, or to no one.

There it is in the snow collecting in my Tibetan prayer flags, those that have been set awry by the wind.

There it is on the bells, small accumulations of snow resembling hats.

And in the shadows cast on winter walls, fleeting and mysterious.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

too easy

Do Not Make Things Too Easy

by Martha Baird

Do not make things too easy.
There are rocks and abysses in the mind
As well as meadows.
There are things knotty and hard: intractable.
Do not talk to me of love and understanding.
I am sick of blandishments.
I want the rock to be met by a rock.
If I am vile, and behave hideously,
Do not tell me it was just a misunderstanding.

- read more about Baird here

Perhaps it's true that we sometimes make things too easy for each other. Admittedly, I'm one who would rather slip into silence than tell someone they're vile and hideous. I'm the sort to walk away. Those times when I have expressed dismay at someone's behaviour, it always goes exceedingly badly.

I suppose I prefer to meet unpleasant behaviour with a noisy silence.

Did you happen to look at Brainpickings yesterday? There is a quote from Paul Goodman's book, Speaking and Language: Defence of Poetry.

"Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos."

After reading this, I began to think of all the silences of the digital world and how difficult it is to interpret them, and yet, I think we do attempt to interpret them as we would those silences that we experience in person. The silence in the space between emails. The Facebook posts to which your IRL friends don't respond. Have they missed them, or do they find them dull, inane, uninteresting? Perhaps they are merely busy! And then one must wonder if others interpret my digital silences as apathy when perhaps they arise out of exhaustion? 

In person we have the benefit of using our senses to help us decipher and feel the vibrations of our silences but I think it's extremely tricky and nearly impossible to read into digital silence. 

Well, the silence I seek daily: the silence of communion with the cosmos. And lately, the silence particular to winter days. Winter walking. Which will include the sound of snow scrunching below my feet. 

The silence of snow falling and fallen.

I continue to challenge myself to shoot those things in the suburbs which are not necessarily classically beautiful. The Shopper's Drugmart (in red) across the highway.

I usually focus in closely and omit the road. But I'm trying to allow the traffic into the frame at times as well.

I usually pass by scenes like the ones below.

Not the most amazing shots, I suppose, but I was quite happy with these last two, which I think show what it's like here in Edmonton. The everyday-ness of it. The road which leads to the highway. The 7-11 where many in the neighbourhood stop for gasoline, milk, the newspaper. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

the unseen part

"Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."

- Virginia Woolf

“Clarissa had a theory in those days - they had heaps of theories, always theories, as young people have. It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other? You met every day; then not for six months, or years. It was unsatisfactory, they agreed, how little one knew people. But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, she felt herself everywhere; not 'here, here, here'; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere. She waved her hand, going up Shaftesbury Avenue. She was all that. So that to know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places. Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoke to, some women in the street, some man behind a counter - even trees, or barns. It ended in a transcendental theory which, with her horror of death, allowed her to believe, or say that she believed (for all her scepticism), that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places, after death. Perhaps - perhaps.”

- Virginia Woolf

The first Woolf I read was Mrs. Dalloway, and the exact copy I read was this one with the painting by William Strang "The Harlequin Hat" on the cover, published by Granada, and part of a boxed set. Rob owned it before I met him. The other copies have disappeared because the binding disintegrated, but we kept this one for the cover all these years.

The book opened things up for me, and led me to other books, Woolf, of course, but others, too.

The passage above. The idea or 'transcendental theory' that there is the part of us which appears, and the unseen part of us - which may somehow live on. Who else but Woolf would strike upon such a meditation? And the idea that we must seek out people and places who complete us, with whom we share affinities. How weird it sounds, how true.

And so for Christmas Rob painted the cover of the book for me.

I feel now I'm only missing the hat....