Monday, March 23, 2015

life seems glorious

 "Life seems glorious for a while, then it seems poisonous. But you must never lose faith in it, it is glorious after all. Only you must find the glory for yourself. Do not look for it either, except in yourself; in the secret places of your spirt and in all your hidden senses."

- Wallace Stevens

"Every person, in the course of his life, must build — starting with the natural territory of his own self — a work, an opus, into which something enters from all the elements of the earth. He makes his own soul throughout all his earthly days; and at the same time he collaborates in another work, in another opus, which infinitiely transcends, while at the same time it narrowly determines, the perspectives of his individual achievement: the completing of the world."

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin from The Divine Milieu

I found the two above quotations in a book by Thomas Moore called A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born To Do. The book came out in 2008 though I've only come to it now. There's an interview with Moore about it here.

So this past week, I found myself thinking about work a fair bit. The first four photos are from the first day of spring, and even though it doesn't look much like spring, one can't help but think about new beginnings, possible changes. I'm not talking about big changes, but more like a change in my thinking, or new approaches. It's interesting to think about our life as an opus - one that feeds into the completing of the world. 

The Wild Geese

by Wendell Berry

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.


“Nothing is so beautiful as spring.” 

 – Gerard Manley Hopkins

Well, I certainly agree, but. I suppose there are two springs, here, where I live. There's the vernal equinox, and then there's the arrival of green, the waking of the frozen world.

Below is a shot taken before the latest snowfall. Just when the sidewalks had cleared and walking was at last lovely. The snow mounds on the front lawn had begun to recede nicely. And this is what they looked like:

There had been a day of frost, after all the melting. Just a light frost, but sweet and hopeful.

So, yes. I've been thinking about work, which is something that anyone trying to do something creative and also hold down a day job likely fixates on to some degree.

I came upon an interview with the poet Maryann Corbett (whom I'd not heard of but whose work I'm now tracking down) where she talks about Philip Larkin's relationship to his work. (I'd not known he was a librarian).

From the interview:

"And by all the accounts I’ve read, he was good at what he did. I, being an indexing manager as part of the day job, honor and bow to librarians. But Larkin is a model in another important way, besides having written poems that will last. He seems to have made peace with fitting his writing into the margins of his nine-to-five life, which is what most of us have to do. He wasn’t thrilled about it (unlike Wallace Stevens, for example, who apparently liked his prestigious position at The Hartford). Larkin wrote tellingly about his frustrations in the poem “Toads,” lamenting that he wasn’t “courageous enough/ To shout, Stuff your pension!” It’s interesting to me that he also pointed to the pension, in his Paris Review interview, as a reason for continuing in the library job even when he had reached the point of being able to support himself by poetry, fairly late in his life. But in the same poem, he faced up to the “something sufficiently toadlike” in all of us who would like to have both security and freedom and who have to find a balance. 
Of course what Larkin left out of that balance was family. I think most of us would rather not leave that out. It was my excuse for not writing at all for thirty years, with the result that I’m now trying to make up for lost time."

In my undergraduate degree, I took a class which now seems laughable, taught be a professor who loved Larkin's work, and hated every other poet on the syllabus (possibly the planet) especially T.S. Eliot. Everything we read was related back to Larkin, so that by the end of the class I couldn't even think about Larkin or read his work. Whenever he uttered the name, Larkin, several of us had to keep ourselves from bursting out laughing. The professor had a weird cruel streak, and nearly everyone came close to failing the class. It became clear that the only way you might receive a good grade was to write an essay on the greatness of Larkin. Naturally my last paper was on Eliot. And I did pass, but barely.

So when I start to feel unmoored, when I feel like I need to make big changes quickly, I know it's time to take my Pema Chodron books off the shelf.

From an article on the web, titled "Waking Up to Your World":

"When you are working, it’s so easy to become consumed, particularly by computers. They have a way of hypnotizing you, but you could have a timer on your computer that reminds you to create a gap. No matter how engrossing your work is, no matter how much it is sweeping you up, just keep pausing, keep allowing for a gap. When you get hooked by your habit patterns, don’t see it as a big problem; allow for a gap."

From her book, The Wisdom of No Escape:

“Life's work is to wake up, to let the things that enter into your life wake you up rather than put you to sleep. The only way to do this is to open, be curious, and develop some sense of sympathy for everything that comes along, to get to know its nature and let it teach you what it will. It's going to stick around until you learn your lesson, at any rate. You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can only go where people are going to praise you, you can manipulate your world until you're blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you."

One more poem by Denise Levertov:

The Thread

by Denise Levertov

Something is very gently,
invisibly, silently,
pulling at me - a thread
or net of threads
finer than cobweb and as
elastic. I haven't tried
the strength of it. No barbed hook
pierced and tore me. Was it
not long ago this thread
began to draw me? Or
way back? Was I
born with its knot about my
neck, a bridle? Not fear
but a stirring
of wonder makes me
catch my breath when I feel
the tug of it when I thought
it had loosened itself and gone.

The thread which is a stirring of wonder....

This is the interesting thing about life isn't it - that each day is very often the same. And some days we're quite deadened to the wonder, to what is glorious. I've often talked about how as writers, we must constantly be in training, so that when the thing arrives, we're ready to receive. We need to be in good physical shape, need to eat well, sleep well. But it's like this with life, too, isn't it? 

Some days the light coming in through the blinds is an amazing thing - and others, we just walk right past, barely noticing.

The ordinary, two paper bags from the bakery, on the kitchen table one morning seemed rather lovely to me.

Having enjoyed photographing the above so much, I thought to try another type of paper bag. To see how much light it might absorb.

And lastly, in this meandering post of mine, some tea, some pain au chocolat. Black tea for a change.

If we were to be having tea together, I'd tell you about all the TV I've been watching. I've had to make a second 'DVD Picks' list at the library as there's a limit to how many you can add. The latest series we've been watching is Scott and Bailey which I love for a lot of reasons but mainly because there are three, yes three, really strong female characters.

I'm always reading at least three books at once. Just finished Barbara Pym's A Glass of Blessings. She's so understated. So sharp. A line from the book:
‘Sometimes you discover that you aren’t as nice as you thought you were – that you’re in fact rather a horrid person, and that’s humiliating somehow.’

Maybe I'd ask you to peek in on my 'recurring bird project' as a sort of weather report.

At work I'm one of two photographers involved in another project, Humans of EPL. Check out the album on Facebook, and click on an image to read the story.

And let's end then, with some music, Max Richter's "On the Nature of Daylight."

Wishing you all a week of calm things.


  1. Perfect thoughts, sparks and images to start my week and come back to as it progresses, Shawna. Thank you. Wishing you a week of calm things too :)

    1. Thx Leigh. So glad there were some sparks.

  2. I love the bird project. Seeing the photos always give me ideas that lead to some fantasizing about doing something similar. I leave it at that because the fantasizing is a great spark of creativity that leads nowhere concrete for me. And yet I feel refreshed.

    1. I sort of just fell into the bird project - just started noticing a recurring theme. Maybe you're working on something like that without even know it :)

  3. Some how your words are always perfect for me, and I wanted to thank you (this is my second try, I hope this one doesn't go into thin air as well). Your blog does make my day so much brighter even if as you say "each day is very often the same."
    Thank you!

  4. Oh, and I love the brown bags pictures :)

  5. Thanks so much, Giova! And thanks for persevering with the comment form.

  6. what a treat to receive your book Shawna. Thank you. How lucky am I!

  7. So much to ponder here, I had to come back several times to take it all in...a wonderful opus, Shawna. Had to laugh at that story about your professor, guess we won't be reading much Larkin here on your blog :) Love all your images, especially the light on that paper bag. I love how you see!

    1. You're a doll :) Thanks for coming back more than once! And yep - people will have to search out Larkin on their own, lol.

  8. So wonderful again to read Levertov's "The Thread," and lovely, it's setting here within these photographs of sustenance. Thank you Shawna.


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