Monday, October 19, 2015

three small kindnesses

Let's start today with small kindnesses:

In Praise of Small Kindnesses

By Siri Live Myhrom

Today’s is a soft meditation
in praise of the enormity
of small kindnesses.

Like the café worker who waved enthusiastically
to my father as he walked in the door of the coffee shop
like she was expecting him,
like he was a regular in this hipster enclave
instead of a septuagenarian
in khaki shorts and white tennis shoes.

{continue reading}

It's election day in Canada, this Monday, October 19th. Whatever happens, I'm going to remember this article in the Globe and Mail by the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, who is a bit of a hero around here. Not that he's running, he would make a great Prime Minister of Canada. Some day, perhaps. An excerpt:

"The real answer to crafting the Canada we aspire to build lies in engaging muscularly with both the past and the future. It means undertaking a thousand simple acts of service and a million tiny acts of heroism. It means acting at the community level: on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, and in our schools. It means refusing to accept the politics of fear. 
And then it means exporting the very best of Canada, that ideal and real Canada, to the rest of the world. Yes, I’m naive to believe we still have something special to share. In my city, we have a program, 3 Things for Calgary, that challenges every citizen to take at least three actions, large or small, using their own passions and resources, to make their community better. Let us start 3 Things for Canada and dare each other to take actions that will build our local, national, and global communities with our true, aspirational Canadian values."

Good People

by W.S. Merwin

From the kindness of my parents
I suppose it was that I held
that belief about suffering

imagining that if only
it could come to the attention
of any person with normal
feelings certainly anyone
literate who might have gone

to college they would comprehend
pain when it went on before them
and would do something about it
whenever they saw it happen
in the time of pain the present
they would try to stop the bleeding
for example with their own hands

but it escapes their attention
or there may be reasons for it
the victims under the blankets
the meat counters the maimed children
the animals the animals
staring from the end of the world


So I've been thinking this week about goodness, kindness, compassion, decency. About being nice. Which seems to have also been what I've been reading about. Crumbs put directly in my path, I suppose.

I was thinking about how that's what I wrote about in Rumi and the Red Handbag - both the possibility and difficulty of acting on our compassion. And then, how we can write about these things, think about them, know how we should be, but then in our own lives, things might break down, we're busy, and we're distracted, and have our own feelings of powerlessness, maybe. There are the dishes to wash and the floor to clean. We haven't slept very well of late. We have our own worries. Our own goals. People to look after. We are flying around trying to get things done and to also carve out a small amount of time in which to be creative, to write, or make things, paint, or photograph. Some people are letting us down and others are lifting us up. We are trying to be nice, but sometimes we accidentally become irritable, impatient. There is so much going on and we, too, are just trying to get through.

Still, we must try. We must.

It's important to concentrate on what's before us, what's possible. On those simple and tiny acts.

And so this week there was the first part of a conversation between President Obama and the one and only Marilynne Robinson in The New York Review of Books. It seemed everyone was sharing and re-posting on social media. That in itself was somewhat wonderful.

The President:—emergency rooms, and in school buildings. And people are treating each other the way you would want our democracy to cultivate. But there’s this huge gap between how folks go about their daily lives and how we talk about our common life and our political life. And people describe it as the distance between Washington and Main Street. But it’s not just Washington; it’s the way we talk about our politics, our foreign policy, our common endeavors. There’s this gap. 
And the thing I’ve been struggling with throughout my political career is how do you close the gap. There’s all this goodness and decency and common sense on the ground, and somehow it gets translated into rigid, dogmatic, often mean-spirited politics. And some of it has to do with all the filters that stand between ordinary people who are busy and running around trying to look after their kids and do a good job and do all the things that maintain a community, so they don’t have the chance to follow the details of complicated policy debates.

{I've started one of those "Pin Now, Read Later" boards on Pinterest, btw, where I can return to these types of articles when I need them}.

And I think that whatever our politics are, we can often come together on what Obama calls our "common endeavours." Because most people are decent, and they don't want to see their neighbour suffer. I think most of us are trying our best to be decent.

But being nice can be complicated, too. I'm thinking about the differences between being nice and being kind. I often come back to some words by Joseph Campbell, which I'm taking somewhat out of context, but which can be useful from time to time:
"I'm not the Dalai Lama, who's supposed to have unconditional love for everything in the world. Even God doesn't have unconditional love. He throws people into hell. I personally don't think that unconditional love is an ideal. I think you've got to have a discriminating faculty and let bastards be bastards and let those that ought to be hit in the jaw get it."  
So, you know, be nice, have compassion, but at the same time, don't be a sucker. This is actually good, real life advice, which you have to put aside while you're out there, just file it in the back of your mind. You sort of have to be all in with compassion, give people the benefit of the doubt, and move forward that way. But also, you have to keep a discriminating faculty.


by Marianne Boruch

I can be nice. I can put my body
flat, down straight, and pull
sleep from somewhere deep

in the brain, that no-weather
thing, that blank page-
after-page thing. I can be

nice enough and say nothing, drift
to the cool room under
a blanket, under all the things

I have to do. Count them. Count
forward or backward: glue
broken things, fill the feeder,

work for a living, make supper, go
anxious unto guilty unto
anxious, full circle. I can love

humankind. I can do that.
I can close my eyes on the bright
windows my neighbors have

framing their big TVs. I can understand.
I can be nice when others decide, steeling
myself, but not as well as my tiny

grandmother did, the tallest person
in the room for a moment. I can, mostly,
drive past Burger King, its Good Luck

Staci (oh, Stacy with an i!) We Miss You!
on whatever the marquee’s
called now, be touched and sweetened

or nice enough not to notice. And bite
my tongue. Good doggy. Be nice now, be
nice. I can sacrifice muscle

and bone to sit longer, showing
interest (show interest, my mother warned
as we walked through any really large

set of doors). I know German has
a word, nett, for nice. I can put myself
in that net, drop down so close

to what is underwater
that the fish know me as small,
silent, as sleek and shiny as

they happen to be. And so
weightless there, blue
beyond thought. One would hardly

guess how nice it is, those fish
suspended next to me, their mouths
opening and closing.

I first read about this poem on The Rumpus where Julie Brooks Barbour says, 

"I love a poem that understands me. Most of the time, when I’m not reading poetry to inspire my own work, I read it as a reminder to appreciate the world, or some small space within it. Some days, I don’t want that. Some days, I want a poem that knows exactly how I feel."

Last week I launched the book you've all been hearing about for some time. So it was life as usual all week, walking the dog, going to work, making food, sweeping the floor. But midway through it, there I was reading to who knows how many people. Feeling ridiculously grateful. I wrote about it a little more here. But am, in short, just blessed with the words and flowers and hugs and support I received. 

Speaking of flowers. 

And this one, clipped from the garden, one of the late bloomers.

Another reminder to myself:

“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”

-Virginia Woolf

Every day the vine in our backyard changes. The light is lower, more golden. At certain times of the day there is such clarity in the light, too.

With my camera, I kept circling back to the vine in the backyard, then on our walks, I was drawn to the leaves scattered in the dry pond near our house. I go from the flowers and stone bowl on our kitchen table, to the coffee cup, and back outside again. Circling, circling.

I take in what's there, what I'm given, and am glad for the repetition, the sameness with all its variations.

And lastly, back to the sunflower, which the birds have lately discovered.

And one last poem. Which I think is rather a delight....

Please Don't

by Tony Hoagland

tell the flowers—they think
the sun loves them.
The grass is under the same
simple-minded impression

about the rain, the fog, the dew.
And when the wind blows,
it feels so good
they lose control of themselves

and swobtoggle wildly
around, bumping accidentally into their
slender neighbors.
Forgetful little lotus-eaters,

hydroholics, drawing nourishment up
through stems into their
thin green skin,

high on the expensive
chemistry of mitochondrial explosion,
believing that the dirt
loves them, the night, the stars—

reaching down a little deeper
with their pale albino roots,
all Dizzy
Gillespie with the utter
sufficiency of everything.

They don't imagine lawn
mowers, the four stomachs
of the cow, or human beings with boots
who stop to marvel

at their exsquisite
flexibility and color.
They persist in their soft-headed

hallucination of happiness.
But please don't mention it.
Not yet. Tell me
what would you possibly gain

from being right?



  1. Congrats on the book! I haven't been here in a while because life has overwhelmed me so to visit today was a great treat and exactly what I needed to read. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Manisha. Hope life has calmed down a bit....xo!

  2. I love this. I read the Obama/Marilynne Robinson interview last week, which led me to finally pick up When I Was a Child I Read Books, which I'm reading now, so this whole post seemed very much in keeping, serendipitous. Speaking of which, your book arrived in the mail today. I am so excited to read it.

    1. I do love it when things converge like that. And so cool that you have my book! Thank you!!

  3. Lots and lots of wonderful goodness in this post, in both words and images. I'm afraid that I have to agree with Joseph Campbell...some people are just not deserving of kindness. On the other hand, plenty of people are, such as yourself :) I was so happy to receive my copy of your new book! Trying to quickly finish up another novel so I can start on yours.

    1. It's always good to concentrate on the good people whenever possible. Like you! Thank you!


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