Monday, February 16, 2015

drunkenly serenely

From Tilda Swinton's acceptance speech for the Rothko Chapel Visionary Award

"I believe that all great art holds the power to dissolve things: time, distance, difference, injustice, alienation, despair. 
I believe that all great art holds the power to mend things: join, comfort, inspire hope in fellowship, and reconcile us to ourselves. 
Art is good for my soul precisely because it reminds me that we HAVE souls in the first place. 
We stand before a work of art and our spirit is lifted by it: amazing that someone is like us! We stand before a work of art and our spirit resists: amazing that someone is DIFFERENT! Win-win every which way. 
- These things I have learned from art"

And so, I ask you this morning, what have you learned from art? What attracts you to art? 

But first, a little matcha tea. I finally got a hold of the set from David's tea which I'd seen at the airport in Toronto when I went on my book launch trip, but thought, hey, I'll buy it when I'm back home. Alas, they were sold out. Until now. So I'm very happy to at last have a proper matcha whisk. 

From the jar of matcha I also indulged in:

In Japanese, "matsu" literally means "pine tree." But it's also a term that indicates excellence."

Very nice with a little bit of steamed milk, also.

So I suppose if we were having tea together, and pink wafer cookies, I'd tell you about some of the many wonders I have found on the internet this week.

This quotation found on a blog called, Calm Lunatic, which is really a perfect name, and I'm quite terribly jealous :)

"How do we wander so honestly and tenderly in the pilgrimage of the heart? How do we uncover a personal practice by which to restore our trust in living as the original art? How do we take the sorrow that endures forever—because every one of us will have our share of it—and find the courage, support, love, and skills by which to melt it in the furnace of our heart, so from the everlasting bronze we can shape the pleasure and peace that abides in a moment? …I don’t know how to do this, but by God, I’m devoted to try. I’m devoted to learn. I’m devoted to journey with you and others to discover how. Because this is why we were put on Earth—to hold our turmoil in the fire of transformation until it emerges as peace."

- Mark Nepo
Parabola Magazine

And I like that very much because: so. much. turmoil. Always, yes?

Why, I'm not sure, but it was one of those weeks where I felt I had lost my nerve for all sorts of things, even for this blog.

I was not calm for all sorts of probably lame reasons. In the midst of this I had one of those late night conversations one will have with a teenaged daughter. Where she was full of doubt and anxiety and fear about her future. And there I was giving a pretty good late night motivational speech about sticking with what she loves, going where the love is, and just constantly figuring out what she loves and how to stay with that love. Love - I must have used the word a hundred times.

There's that line from Rumi, "Let the beauty we love be what we do." And a while back there were articles and blogposts about how we should let this idea go, because the fact is we're going to be doing a lot of stuff that is not going to fit into this phrase. Sure.

A longer excerpt from the poem:

"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

And so I was trying to get at this, too, that there are hundreds of ways we can find the beauty we love, and the path we begin on isn't necessarily the one we continue on. The trick is to follow the love, surround ourselves by people who love us, and just make it a habit to gravitate toward those places of love. Also, we should not be afraid to try another instrument. To be open to that.

Maybe I was also remembering the best piece of advice I've ever heard with regards to photography. Which is: "go to the light." Open the blinds, let the light in, and go toward the window. Move the table closer to the window. Get out of the shadows, and move to where the light is, move your subject to where the light is. Go to the light.

Obviously, this is good advice for life, too.

During the week I listened to a podcast, not something I normally do. I would usually rather read the transcripts than listen. However, my desk needed tidying, and I had all sorts of books scattered around my office that needed organizing. So I put this on, titled, "Just a Little Nicer" which is about compassion. I'd been having some talks with myself, earlier, about how to be just that - a little nicer. I mean, I try. But it seems to me that I've had some fails lately.

There's a part where the interviewer says something to Krista Tippet, like, hey you must be a pretty compassionate person etc. And she kind of laughs, and talks about trying and failing and all that.

It's like that, too, with the calm thing, and how every once in a while I feel obligated to remind people of the Rilke quotation from his preface to Letters on Life:

"Do not believe that the person who is trying to offer you solace lives his life effortlessly among the simple and quiet words that might occasionally comfort you. His life is filled with much hardship and sadness, and it remains far behind yours. But if it were otherwise, he could never have found these words."  

Maybe it was part way through last week that I read the story of Rosemary Tonks, of whom I'd never heard, nor have most by the sound of it. And those types of stories always get me.

What else have I been reading.....this actually very funny/scary article about 'friendships you're probably part of' has been shared and re-shared on Facebook.

So that reminds me of this, "Test for Poets" which I have bookmarked, and can't remember what led me to it. But there are some very amusing questions.

"Strange as it may seem today to say, the aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware. In this state of god-like awareness one sings; in this realm the world exists as poem."
- Henry Miller

So it's interesting, having all these things rattling around in one's head all week. And at the same time, feeling a little depleted, spent, and thinking about all the small fails, wondering how to be a nicer person and yet not a pushover, and one day you're walking through deep slogging snow, and then next it's ice and you're just trying not to wipe out, and the next it's slush and snow and ice all at the same time. You're thinking about all the kind and generous and beautiful people you know and the new ones you're meeting. You're thinking about those people who uplift your soul, like beautiful works of art. And this is of course mingling with all the tough stories you hear, people you know who are going through insanely difficult things, and people I meet at the library where I work who are going through rough patches or whose means are meagre, and maybe this also rattles around with the stuff on the news. Through the week my eye starts twitching and won't stop, which always freaks me out.

Meanwhile this feeling that sits about mid-chest, purring, we'll call her 'loss-of-nerve.'

But in one of my early morning poetry reading binges. This:

Self-Portrait, Not Without Doubts

by Adam Zagajewski

Enthusiasm moves you in the morning,
by evening you lack the nerve
even to glance at the blackened page.
Always too much or too little,
just like those writers
who sometimes bother you:
some so modest, minimal,
and underread,
that you want to call out -
hey, friends, courage,
life is beautiful,
the world is rich and full of history.
Others, proud and serious, are distinguished
by their erudition
- gentlemen, you too must die someday,
you say (in thought).
The territory of truth
is plainly small,
narrow as a path above a cliff.
Can you stick
to it?
Perhaps you've strayed already.
Do you hear laughter
or apocalyptic trumpets?
Perhaps both,
a dissonance, ungodly grating -
a knife that skates
along the glass and whistles gladly.

{from Eternal Enemies}

And the poetry helps. It always does. Because as Tilda Swinton says:  "I believe that all great art holds the power to mend things: join, comfort, inspire hope in fellowship, and reconcile us to ourselves."
I was reading this poem over and over, and began to monkey around with some images I'd taken. (Also posted on Crated).

Hey, friends, courage.

And let's end today, with this song, with thanks, Andrew Bird.


  1. Every time your poems, words, thoughts touch me and show me something. Thank you.

  2. Reading this was the best way to start my day today, Shawna, thank you, I'll have fun following the links. Your light quote is one I revisit all the time, maybe because its so simple, and because it becomes such a powerful practice. I think I'll take that quote about " our turmoil in the fire of transformation" and sit with that for awhile - at least until next week :) xo

    1. Thx so much Leigh! It's a good one. Glad you like. xo

  3. That Adam Zagajewski poem is great. I've enjoyed his work and had not seen this one. Thanks so much posting it.

    1. He's one of my favourite poets. I really love Eternal Enemies. Great book.

  4. At one point, I had considered moving my office to the quiet basement, where I have a little suite that's my guest room. Aside from the massive task of moving my trillions of books down there and getting the bed upstairs etc, I gave up that idea years ago. But mainly because it's dark. I have those old not-up-to-code, wartime basement windows that just don't let in enough light. The man who built this house installed a huge window in the room that's my office on the main floor. His rationale was that his wife was so allergic to absolutely everything that he couldn't bring so much as a newspaper in the back door. The door to his study (now my office) was always closed, and he would climb in and out of the huge window so as not to set off his wrfe's allergies. The benefit for me is a big lovely (usually crabapple-splattered) window where I can watch the days and the seasons go by.

    1. I love to think of you by that window, the light on your lovely face. xoxo

  5. Those teenage future talks and how they repeat into old age, good love advice. Hard to be young and old and in-between but if we are covered and shielded by love - that's all that matters. Thank you for all you do Shawna - I read Calm Things everyday at 4 pm and the weekends are empty without it. xo

  6. So much to love here..the pinks and the greens, Tilda's phenomenal speech and that Zagajewski poem. And that late night conversation...doing what you love, being where you are loved and all the self doubt and anxiety about the future. I have had similar conversations with my musician son. I'm off to check out your links but I just want to tell you that your photo of Chloe with those green wings is nothing less than brilliant!

  7. After reading this post, my head is swarming with thoughts intermingled with those beautiful pink and green images. Funny, but I wrote a comment to this last week but must not have clicked the publish button...I think the snow is really getting to me lately. I love Tilda Swinton's speech and the poems here and now I must check out those links. But before I go I must tell you how much I adore that photo of Chloe with her green wings...brilliant!

    1. Thanks so much Susan for the head's up on the posting issue. I've now extended the period so that comments don't go into moderation so quickly. Phew! I'd reduced them because of a spammer and then forgot to change them back. Much appreciated. And thank you for all your beautiful words. They mean a lot. xo

  8. oh good...I thought I was losing it. My mind seems to be frozen lately, just like the rest of me. :)


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