Wednesday, May 7, 2014

the obligation to be at peace

“Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.”

- Karen Blixen

"Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace will be in our troubled world." 

- Etty Hillesum

This morning I'm grateful for the way a flower brings peace at the end of winter when spring refuses to arrive. I'm also grateful for the words of advice from Karen Blixen. For a writer, this is the way to peace, I think. When I'm feeling unmoored, out of sorts, I know it's because I haven't written anything for a while. It's the dailiness, the work, the work without expectation, the work for the sake of the work itself, that steadies one.

The Obligation to Be Happy

By Linda Pastan

It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.

And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.

Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,
bump into things.
Only Midas himself
would understand.

{via Poetry Foundation}

Perhaps many writers have a secret fidelity with sadness - I know I do. A sort of pact to honour whatever sadness might arise in me.

But of course there is the felt obligation to be 'happy.' What a burden this can be.

I've come to think that our obligation is, rather, to be at peace.

Happiness is such a strange concept anyway. I like what O'Keeffe says about interest:

“I think it's so foolish for people to want to be happy. Happy is so momentary - you're happy for an instant and then you start thinking again. Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.” 

- Georgia O'Keeffe

The way to be at peace, I think, is to be interested.

It helps, also, for me, to think of the work as continuous, ongoing. Yes, there are books, the (lovely) interruptions of publishing and promotion, but the writing itself is continuous. The thinking is continuous.

And speaking of being interested, of interests: these flowers. Flowers, again. Always. I only begin to understand the debt I owe to flowers.....


  1. How refreshing to be reassured that happiness is an obligation that probably no one has a right to expect of us. Back in another life, when I worked as a server in a restaurant, I was told repeatedly to "smile," "be happy." As if thoughtful concentration on the task at hand - providing customers with good food - was not enough. Worse, as if the absence of a bright smile was an offense. Had those good people expressed even the smallest interest in me, as a person, the smile would have come readily enough. Even better, if they had offered me a flower! I agree that flowers touch something deep within that longs to grow and to be beautiful.
    Thank you.

  2. Shawna, what a lovely post today followed up by a lovely comment, too. :)

  3. A fidelity to sadness, yes, which nevertheless does not preclude peace. Some wonderful thoughts, merciful too. As are your flowers.

  4. Thanks for all your good thoughts, everyone.

    Isn't it awful when someone tells you to be happy! Not the approach to produce results....Edna - I love what you say: If they had offered a flower. Wouldn't that have been beautiful....

  5. o'keeffe ... her words as simple spare and profound as her paintings.
    i've always liked her.
    and i like what you've both said about happiness. interest. peace.
    and... as always your own still lifes through the lens of your camera! so beautiful!


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