Monday, February 23, 2015

that tension life

I love snow, and all the forms
     Of the radiant frost;
I love waves, and winds, and storms,
     Everything almost
Which is Nature’s, and may be
Untainted by man’s misery.

- Percy Bysshe Shelley

This was taken from an article at the Poetry Foundation by Stephen Burt, titled, Snow Days. It seems perfect to begin this post, with photographs from a couple of different snowy days. Winter, in at least a couple of its forms.

"Writing is a very, very unnatural act. Most people are out living—their bodies are, they’re walking and they’re talking and they’re working and playing and they’re interacting. Writing’s very unnatural because you are not living when you write. But at the same time, what a great paradox—because you’re all writers so you all know. You’re all going, Oh but no, no, I’m most alive when I write. So you are more living or less, we can’t use “more” or “less,” it’s just different. And this is the crux of any writer’s life. It is the essential paradox and question and torment and joy. Are you writing or living and what’s the difference and where’s the line and how do we divide those activities? … 
I’ve spent my whole life thinking, Is this unnatural? Shouldn’t someone be parading outside my apartment with a cardboard placard saying, “Insanity’s taking place on the inside”? They really should, there’d be a point to it. And then, in other moods, I go, No, no, no, the insanity’s taking place out there. And I waffle back and forth. And this waffling back and forth, when you yourself experience it, it’s called life. And you are going to experience this waffling back and forth for the rest of your life. And whenever you do, don’t think you’re unnatural or broken or different. It’s life, and we’re living it, and that tension is life."

- Mary Ruefle, in conversation with Alice Quinn at the NYU Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, September 6, 2012. Click through to listen.

- via Books Matter 

Well, I came upon this after working on a new poem-essay for a couple of days, and which I hope to finish (in so far as one finishes such things) this coming week. I've been writing about that space between poems, or writing, or creating. Because sometimes it's a week, and at other it's longer, and it's true that there's this tension, but also that there's so. much. space. Which is why I think I'm always looking into the distance when I might be writing something longer, something that I can work on everyday in a more tangible sort of way. Each is equally heartbreaking, but I sometimes think the work one does on a novel is at least a salve, the work itself.  

"I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no wings, it doesn’t necessarily sit at a cleared table in the evening on a terrace by the sea. It’s despair and not the return of a quantity of insignificant facts like seeds that leave one furrow for another at nightfall. It’s not the moss that forms on a rock or the foam that rocks in a glass. It’s a boat riddled with snow, if you will, like birds that fall and their blood doesn’t have the slightest thickness. I know the general outline of despair."

- excerpt from AndrĂ© Breton’s poem “The Verb to Be” on The Paris Review site

Is it that moment in winter where it's possible to slip, to despair, in spite of one's best efforts against despair. There are no tables on the terrace by the sea for me, and I don't want one, and maybe that's even where the despair lies. I only want to be in this winter, in the tension of this place between seasons, in the insane space between writing and not writing.

So driving to work one day, I heard this on my local station, CKUA. Downloaded it from iTunes, I was so infatuated with it.

Of course, I know nothing about the composer, Kenji Eno, but upon googling, find out he's passed away last year! So sad. Not only was he a musician, but a game creator, which makes perfect sense when you listen to the above piece. I really dig the upbeat but meditative quality of the music. Seems to be doing many things on many levels, not that I'm at all an expert in anything music related, or game related for that matter.

Meanwhile, winter, which goes on and on as winter does, as winter will. And this is when it really tests our nerves.

So how to go on loving it near the end? When it seems the end is endless.

I'm following it to the hollowed spots, to the cups that hold and hold.

I'm seeing what sticks, what holds.

I'm following paths, however irregular.

I'm trying to take in all of winter, and love the ice and the frost and all the various types of snow.

But yes, if you're asking, I too, am lonely.


by Adrienne Rich

You're wondering if I'm lonely:
OK then, yes, I'm lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I'm lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns' first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

If I'm lonely
it's with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning

The Woods 

by Wendell Berry

I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath 
the blessed and the blessing trees. 
Though I am silent 
there is singing around me. 
Though I am dark 
there is vision around me. 
Though I am heavy 
there is flight around me.

"The tree endlessly surges up and there is a rustling in its leaves, its innumerable wings."

- André Suares, quoted in the chapter, "The Aerial Tree" in Air and Dreams by Gaston Bachelard

From the same source as above,

"What better way to learn the dynamic lesson of the pine tree: "Come be upright like me," says the tree to the depressed dreamer, "straighten up."

"A deep sleep does not damage the tree."

"Now let's allow our reverie to follow the images of the tree.
How quickly these images lose interest in shapes! Trees have such diverse shapes! They have so many and such different kinds of branches! The unity of their being will seem therefore all the more striking, as is their unity of motion and their bearing."

"It must be noted, however, that a tree's "shape" is untranslatable in literature."

To continue with Bachelard, who next quotes Shelley, "In the motion of the very leaves of spring, in the blue air, there is then found a secret correspondence with our heart."

And later asks,

"How can a Tree explain the formation of a World? How can a single object produce a whole universe?"

The chapter ends,

"We will see its true meaning if we really dream of the power of the bud, if we go into the garden or walk along a hedge every morning to look at a bud, the same bud, and if we measure a day's activity by it. And when a flower is about to open, when the apple tree is about to produce light, its very own pink and white light, then we will really know that a single tree is a whole world."

I, too, feel as though I'm in a deep sleep. But am trying, like the pine tree, to remain upright. All the lessons the trees have for us.....these I seek. The elms, the birch trees, the black poplars, too.

A couple of last notes on the blog itself. A new header, thanks to my daughter who helped me with the colour coordination. Something spring-like, something hopeful.

You might also notice at the bottom of the post there is the new "you might like" feature via Linked In. I thought it might be fun for readers to visit old posts. Let me know what you think.

I've been asked by a few people if I ever might get back to posting more frequently. And I might, though if I did there would be a LOT of pre-posting :) For example, I could separate a post like this one into 4 posts and just pre-post them for through the week. Something to think about, I suppose. But in all honesty, my general burn-out continues. Perhaps an end of winter thing. General internet fatigue, too, I would hazard. I've been thinking / wondering, if I'd have less fatigue if there had been, were to be, more feedback/comments on the blog. But I never feel I can critique people on this as it's not as though I run around leaving comments frequently on others' blogs. But here, general advice: if you love something on the internet, say so, or it might disappear.

It's also just a nicer way to be on the internet. Be present, rather than being a lurker. Click like on FB when you like something, or if you're IRL friends. Just click the like. You know? Leave a comment when you can, it doesn't have to be every time you visit. But so far as I really know about 6 people read this blog regularly.


  1. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your posts. I did enjoy the frequent shorter posts, but I love these long ones for a rather selfish reason: Monday is my day off, so it's wonderful for me to be able to sip my latte and wander through your musings and links in a leisurely way. Yours is one of my favourite blogs, there's always something that touches me deeply. I look forward to reading your posts as I would a letter from a far-off friend. I definitely enjoy the prompts to your old posts, as I'm a fairly recent reader.

    I live in Quebec, north of Montreal, and we're right in the coldest grip of deep winter, so I feel a kinship with you there, all the way across the land, living the same thing as it goes on and on and we watch for any subtle sign of a change in the season. I love winter, usually more than the other seasons, but the cold has been so bitter that I'd jump at the chance to sit for an hour at a table on a terrace by a warm sea, or any body of unfrozen water!

    Alors, merci for writing! Please know that your work is greatly appreciated, and even loved


  2. I have your blog in my Feedly reader and it appears in my evening (Perth, West Australia and currently struggling through to the end of a hot hot summer). I always save it so it is the last thing I read before turning out the light. And I need not only your images and words but also to share in your reading of other poets and writers. Please keep writing and posting.

  3. (Okay, as an aside, I have written out this comment three times only to have it lost in the ether, so maybe that is why I don't comment more...)

    I just wanted to let you know that I read your blog regularly and I try to comment when I have something to say (although I feel a bit intimidated that my writing may not be up to snuff), but I certainly don't comment on every post. I read a lot of blogs regularly and I probably post on one or two of them a day, but I know what it is like to post regularly and receive no feedback. It is certainly draining. I would sometimes put hours of work into one blog post between the photography, editing and posting and receive no feedback in return. It was frustrating and disheartening. So I tried to adopt the attitude that I would blog for myself, but it is really hard to put a conversation out there to receive static in return. I find that when I am blogging only for myself, I don't do it.

    I have to admit, I loved the your daily posts. I found them to be a respite, almost a meditation in the middle of my day. The longer posts are hard because they require more time to savor and ingest and I don't always have that time, so perhaps pre-posted shorter and more frequent postings would be better. On the other hand, I find that when I do take the time to relax and match my heartbeat to the language of your words, it is sumptuous and calming to my soul. It really does a world of good.

    It is interesting to me that you would choose to limit your internet consumption for meditative purposes while I find such meditative solace in wallowing in the content of your words.

    Anyway, your posts are appreciated and enjoyed!

  4. I read your blog regularly and almost every time print off one of the poems or quotes for my "inspiration" file. I also learn about so many writers when I read your blog. I'm so sorry you wonder if people are reading and enjoying what you do. I'm sure there are hundreds of people who read you regularly. Thank you!

  5. Oops, I didn't mean for my comment above to be labeled "Anonymous"! My name is Mary...I'm in Colorado, where we just today are getting our first real snow of the winter. We're thrilled! I can sympathize with your view of snow by now as well, though.

  6. Hi Shawna, where to begin? Like the pine tree, I too, am trying to remain upright. It's bitterly cold in Toronto this morning, but as I sit writing this, my back to the window, the sun decides to shower me with a bit of warmth, a bit of hope. And then I remember the Berry poem "though I am heavy/there is flight around me." And so I ease into accepting the changing nature of it all -- heart, mind, weather, despair.
    Thank you for this calm space to come, reflect, and walk with you for a while. Short, long, daily, weekly, I'll visit. And linger. I appreciate the links to the older posts. And yes, I agree: if you like something, say so. This response is me clicking LIKE. Best, Rose ( now I'll try to send for the third time, a charm? another reader said, the message disappeared :))

  7. another regular reader here..with thanks for the lovely presence your blog brings to my life.

  8. Hi Shawna,
    I like Fairie Moon above have tried posting comments here several times over the last year or so, and could never get them to show up. Now I've signed in via Google and maybe this will work...

    I love your blog. I actually like the longer posts as I reread it through the week. It seems more crafted, though your shorter posts were very well written as well, as always.

    Your words and point of view have been a guide post for me over the last year or two when I discovered your blog. I am an artist, a painter in the process of moving, downsizing about 90% from a house to an apartment where I'll live with my boyfriend who's had to take a job about 700 miles away. We've been living apart for almost 2 years now.

    Your words inspire me every week to listen to my heart, give me permission to slow down and live a less ego centered existence. They have been instrumental in illustrating a life I've longed for in my heart for some time, but wasn't aware of on a conscious level.

    I look forward to your words every week. Please keep going. I used to keep a blog on my website. I know how much time posts take to craft. I appreciate what you do very much. You do make a huge difference.

    With much gratitude,

  9. Another regular reader here from Ireland! Whether daily or weekly, I appreciate and savour your words and photos - I'm trying to put my finger on why - its one of those intangible things, like an oasis of calm. Thank you for so many insights, beautiful photos, and for making me exhale :)

  10. I realize I ended the post a bit more abruptly than intended. :) But THANK YOU ALL so much for your wonderful comments today. Wow. I'm overwhelmed.

    And also sorry that it's such a trick thing to post a comment on blogger....! Thanks for persisting, everyone. xo S.

  11. I'm a new reader, and I was going to post a thank you for that beautiful Adrienne Rich poem on loneliness. I had read it years ago, and had forgotten how moving it really is. Thank you.

    I, too, have internet-fatigue. And appreciate the difficulty in requesting feedback. We want to be seen, to be understood, but then we feel small for having to ask for acknowledgement. As a writer, and also a blogger, I understand this vulnerable space. And I am heartened that you were able to be honest with your readers, and that we, in turn, are able to let you know that we are very much here. Thank you.

  12. I read your blog regularly.

  13. Your words and photographs have certainly been a calming and inspiring Internet pleasure. Thank you! I would miss your blog if it disappeared.

  14. I read your blog each time you post and always appreciate your way of seeing the world and your way of translating the world for your faithful readers. I don't usually comment on blogs but do not want you to feel that no one is reading your work. I am often in a better frame of mind, helped with my own writing and inspired to see the world differently after reading your words and seeing your photos. I am a fan, a follower and a student of your work. Bless you for sharing yourself this way whenever you can and thank-you.

  15. I wait with bated breath for each post, Shawna. I don't always have time to comment but I make the time to read your blog because I enjoy it so much.

  16. I'm not at all surprised to find you all such an understanding crowd. Profound thanks to you all xo S.

  17. Beautiful meditation on trees and winter..Thank you Shawna for the blessing of your blog's cherished by many who never post

  18. Your blog is a gift that I open and read each time, whether once a day or once a week. It is beautiful, thought provoking and honest. Keep writing and posting as often as is comfortable for you...we are out here waiting to take it all in.

  19. I've never been much of a fan of snow, but it really is quite beautiful isn't it? These photos are absolutely gorgeous!

  20. I think this is a record for comments on CT. Greatly appreciated, every one of them. xo S.

  21. I tend to read your posts all in one long reading session, catching up. They are always beautifully written and I often come back to them to read them more slowly and take them in.

    Even if all I did was look at your photography it would be worth a visit. I love how you capture the beauty of our Edmonton scenery. The sun through the bare branches or on the rail fences are gorgeous. I need to see our long winters as more beautiful and you help.

  22. To be honest, your words have a wonderfully profound effect on me. I find myself sometimes days later thinking of a poem or a paragraph or a photograph I read/saw on your blog. I too print many out and paste them in my journal. Comments from me just do not seem up to par for all that you give me. Although I do understand the need to see comments. I struggle with this a lot on my own blog knowing full well I don't have as much to give as you do...I've been enjoying the longer once a week post. I like how the thoughts meander then come together again...on an entirely different note, I recently went to Florida and so had that terrace on the sea (the gulf). I think some people go to warmer places to flee winter and maybe I do that too but I also know I always return with a great appreciation for winter. When we landed in MN the temps were 6 below and I was thrilled. I admit it was nice to get respite for a few days, enough so to take me to the end of the cold season. Thank you, Shawna, I appreciate your blog so much!

  23. Thanks Manisha and Evelyn. Much appreciated.

  24. I just wanted to say that your posts are wonderful- moments of calmness in my day or week. I'm not good at commenting on blogs either, but wanted you to know how much you are appreciated! Niki ( sorry, to seem anonymous but it's the only way I can post!!! )

  25. Oh dear Shawna, I read you every single time you write a new post and linger over your beautiful words, selected poems and gorgeous photography for days on end. Your blog is the first thing I look at on my computer every morning after I've read the 'meteo'. It fills me with a wonderful sense of calm that enables me to start my day in a peaceful place. Your posts are like moments of meditation for me. I don't often leave a written message because I feel so inarticulate in comparison to your sumptuous writing, but I know how lovely it is to get feedback, so I will try to put my insecurities aside and write to more often! XX

  26. Shawna, I've been thinking a lot about this post this week. So much resonates with me, as it often does. It certainly is that time of year when it feels like a real battle for mental survival against this cold and seemingly endless Canadian winter. I love that line "I'm following it to the hollowed spots, to the cups that hold and hold." good advice, I think I'll join you :) Beautiful images, thanks so much for sharing and for daring to broach the comment topic - it was well received! XO

  27. Thanks, Lynn, and Niki, and Leigh. I'm so glad to have you as readers.

    Leigh, I like how you refer to it as 'the comment topic.' I feel odd having mentioned it, truly, partly because I want whatever this blog is, and whatever is on it, to be freely given. And for it to be felt that way too. I guess every once in a while I'm not sure if it's being received, you know? :) The site meter and google stats say there are so many people but who really believes in stats? :) So anyway, this has been good for my soul and I'm grateful for all the comments and grateful for all those who are silent, too. I know it's awkward if you're not on blogger or have signed onto google to leave a comment. The first comment is always the hardest too, technologically-wise. :)

    I also like that this blog is silent sometimes too - as it's the space I'm trying to create. xo S.


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