Monday, December 28, 2015

if you don't shine you are darkness

Out of Nothing

by Tom Hennen

Snow began slowly. Only one flake fell all morning. It was talked about by everyone as they gathered for coffee. It brought back memories of other times. Dreams of ice skates, long shotguns waving at geese, cities lighting up somewhere off the horizon in the cold gray day. Only one snowflake, but if fell with the grace of a star out of the ragged air. It filled the day with a clarity seldom noticed. It stood out sharply as a telephone pole against the skyline of the winter we each keep to ourselves. 

- from Darkness Sticks to Everything by Tom Hennen

Looking for the Differences

by Tom Hennen

I am struck by the otherness of things rather than their sameness. The way a tiny pile of snow perches in the crook of a branch in the tall pine, away by itself, high enough not to be noticed by people, out of reach of stray dogs. It leans against the scaly pine bark, busy at some existence that does not
need me.

It is the differences of objects that I love, that lift me toward the rest of the universe, that amaze me. That each thing on earth has its own soul, its own life, that each tree, each clod is filled with the mud of its own star. I watch where I step and see that the fallen leaf, old broken grass, an icy stone are placed in exactly the right spot on the earth, carefully, royalty in their own country.


by Charles Wright

The metaphysics of the quotidian was what he was after:
A little dew on the sunrise grass,
A drop of blood in the evening trees,
                                                         a drop of fire.

If you don't shine you are darkness.
The future is merciless,
                                      everyone's name inscribed
On the flyleaf of the Book of Snow.

via Whiskeyriver 


It's true, the future is merciless, but what a line, what a line: 

"If you don't shine you are darkness."

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

- Howard Zinn

These words are speaking to me, especially right now at the end of the year. The season has been busy, but not madly so. And I've started to lean into those end of December thoughts. Toward resolutions for the new year. Tiny goals. By now everyone will have heard of the idea of choosing a word for the upcoming year. One that you will keep in the back of your mind, and perhaps orient certain projects around. And maybe it's one that just hovered in the last year, one that you want to bring to the foreground.

Who knows, maybe we should choose a word each month, even if it ends up being the same word every month. And maybe every week.

I'm thinking right now, for myself, words like: hope. optimism. kindness.

Have you read the article by John Leland which was posted on December 25, on the NY Times site? Titled, "The Wisdom of the Ages."

The project:

"Since the start of the year, the photographer Nicole Bengiveno and I have been visiting Mr. Sorensen and five other New Yorkers over the age of 85 — in hospital rooms and at birthday parties, on family vacations and at readings in nightclubs — and through it all, some version of Mr. Sorensen’s question has lingered: What is reasonable to ask of old age? Beyond the assaults of poverty or illness, to what extent can people shape the quality of life in their late years?"

One of the subjects:

“I would say, that I am applying the ‘butterfly wing’ theory to my everyday life,” he wrote. “It’s a kind of moral dictum, moral responsibility to keep in mind that whatever I do this second affects what the next second will be. So I try not to do anything negative, which is my best insurance that the world will be better next second, or at least not worse. But of course, my positive action may be undermined by 100 negative actions of others and so it may mean nothing. But I still have to follow that dictum. You can call it optimism.”

From an interview on On Being with the poet, Paul Muldoon:

MS. TIPPETT: OK. The question is, how would you think, how would you start to talk about — because this is an answer that would have no end — what your life as a poet, now that you’re 64, as the song predicted, [laughs] but you never thought it would be about you — what has your life taught you about, revealed to you, about what it means to be human? How would you start to start to think about that? Maybe what you’re continuing to learn. 
MR. MULDOON: What it means to be human? 
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. That large, existential question. 
MR. MULDOON: Well, of course when one’s 16 and looking at the 64-year-old, one imagines that he knows something, is certain of something, that his experience really adds up to something, that his experience may be brought to bear on some — not any task, particularly whatever area of focus might be, if he has one. And in my case, the thing I know now, and I’m sure this is true of many, is how — not even how little I know, but how I know nothing, in fact. You know? And I thought, I know nothing about anything. And the things that we thought indeed were verities, I think I’m right in saying that, you know, ranging from Pluto being a planet... 
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right. 
MR. MULDOON: ...through E equalling MC squared, about which there seems to be some question, never mind the notion of the universe, which is a phrase we used when we were — from time to time. In fact, I think there was a Catholic newspaper called The Universe. At that stage, I’m pretty sure I’m right in saying we had no idea that it should really be called “the universes,” the millions, or is it billions, of universes. So I think to try to take that in is almost impossible, yet, I suppose, we must try, on this tiny planet, which I have sailed around, circumnavigated — to be set down here, however, to try to, one would hope, do our best while we’re here. And I think, really, our impulse is to do our best, however often we might lose sight of it, and try to be kind-ish to one another while we’re still here.

You can see the repeating themes in the quotations and poems, so far. That big question: how do you want to live? And you have to keep repeating it, and coming back round to it. And not forget it.

I like to return to Pema Chodron's chapter, "Enthusiasm" in her book No Time to Lose. You've heard me talk about it often enough. Her advice to "go forward with curiosity," and to cultivate enthusiasm. She says, "I can tell you from experience that when there's a shift toward eagerness, life takes on a whole new meaning." "There will always be challenges, but they need not be seen as obstacles."

Curiosity, enthusiasm, as a sort of antidote to "loss of heart."

" I crave uncomplicated 
quiet, and the sky."

- Marilyn Hacker, from Winter Numbers

It's time to be quiet now. Time to be soft, like the snow.

Time to write and dream and think and be alone for a while, too.

Time to look at the bones of winter, the world, and see what holds us up.

Admittedly, I'm very tired as I write this. I'm very much craving the uncomplicated quiet that Marilyn Hacker speaks of.

And it will come. January is always so cold and so perfect for daydreaming.

In preparation, I've done my annual closet purge (a bag of clothes taken to the local charity box). I've take a couple of boxes to the library for donations. I've cleaned up my study, at least a little. I've shelved all the books.

There are a few drawers and cupboards left to be gone through. And then that will be good enough. It will be time to forget these things, and get writing again, filling a notebook, first, before I'll feel ready to move back to writing on the computer.

As you can see, we've had some lovely snow this holiday season. 

And the berries and rose hips in the utility corridor are plentiful and a lovely contrast to all the white and brown.

I'll leave you this week, with a few photos of Ace in the utility corridor (which is back open now).

My joke for this series has been that while he doesn't do many tricks, he does know how to balance snow on his nose. He runs for quite a stretch and then comes up quite proudly with a face full of snow :)

Wishing you a calm week ahead, and a beautiful ringing in of the new year. Hard to believe it's nearly 2016.

Some poems to read in celebration of the new year.

Just watched Series 5 of Vera on DVD (from the library). Love the character, Vera. Miss the character, Joe. Always refreshing to have a female character who's not "dependent on lipstick." From the interview I've linked to:

Brenda Blethyn:  I just think it’s a wonderfully conceived character. It’s not your usual, run of the mill detective and the fact that’s she’s so ordinary in every respect apart from her incredible intellect at solving crime. She’s someone anyone can relate to – old, young, clever, dunces – everyone can relate to Vera. She doesn’t look like she’s walked off a catwalk. She’s not dependent on lipstick. I think the viewers appreciate that the whole family can watch Vera.
Listening to: Bach Flute Sonatas.

One last list for Rumi and the Red Handbag. Very sweet, indeed. And sincere and hearty thanks to everyone who bought the book, read it, gifted it, helped me spread the word about it, since it came out. You've been marvellous! It's a short book, a small press book, and a poet's novel, (I think this combination means it's a total underdog) and has already surpassed my hopes for it. I owe this to so many of you. Heartfelt thanks.


A toast to you! (Apparently it's good for our health).


  1. Thank you for this post, the words of others and your own, the photos, the hope for some time, quiet and peace-filled to come. You are such a gift in my life and I don't tell you that enough. Thank you for sharing yourself and your wisdom, the beauty of the ordinary and the grounded-ness of being a writer.

  2. Lovely & so very very real. This has been on my mind quite often, as I've been trying to rebuild my life & self after tragedy 3 years ago. There begins to be a glimmer of promise, which I desperately try to hold on to, though it only appears in glimpses yet. Nurturing enthusiasm & doing my best to contribute compassion & something better to my small world -- these are wonderful focus points, thank you!

  3. I'm struck by how beautiful the snow looks in all the subtle gray and brown tones...and then wow, there's those striking red berries that are so eye-catching. So many beautiful words to ponder here, I'm looking forward to some good quiet time myself. As we begin a new year, I raise my glass of champagne to you, friend. I so appreciate all the gifts you give...this blog and now, Rumi and the Red Handbag. Cheers!

  4. With thanks to you all, and wishing you all the best in this new year. xo

  5. Ace is such a handsome, dear one. The hoarfrost is perfect. Lovely, lovely . . .


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