Monday, January 11, 2016

famous as the one who smiled back


by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

{source - Poetry Foundation}

The above poem reached me at the perfect time, on just such a day when I needed it. You see, I had a tiny bit of attention given to Rumi and the Red Handbag, and not that I let things go to my head much, it was a sweet reminder all then same. You can read about it on my website blog.

Wouldn't it be best to be famous as 'the one who smiled back?' Now that would be something. 

It seems appropriate to lead with flowers at this time of year. These are my favourite grocery store flowers in winter - the mixed rose from Safeway. They usually last quite long, and then they're pretty even when they're all dried out.

Today, Monday the 11th of January, the sun will rise at 8:46 and set at 4:38 in Edmonton. That's not even 8 hours of daylight, and we wonder why we're getting a bit of cabin fever right about now.

So now is the time to look for poetry in winter, even if it happens to be indoors, in the roses on a kitchen table on a -25 C day.

"When I speak of poetry I am not thinking of it as a genre. Poetry is an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality. So poetry becomes a philosophy to guide a man throughout his life." 

- Andrei Tarkovsky


“I see it as my duty to stimulate reflection on what is essentially human and eternal in each individual soul, and which all too often a person will pass by, even though his fate lies in his hands. He is too busy chasing after phantoms and bowing down to idols. In the end, everything can be reduced to the one simple element which is all a person can count upon in his existence: the capacity to love. That element can grow within the soul to become the supreme factor which determines the meaning of a person's life. My function is to make whoever sees my films aware of his need to love and to give his love, and aware that beauty is summoning him.” 

- Andrei Tarkovsky

“Some sort of pressure must exist; the artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”

- Andrei Tarkovsky

How to get through the second half of winter? Drink a lot of tea. Eat oranges and anything you can find with jam. Buy yourself flowers. Start planning a spring vacation.

And when the first bouquet starts to fade, buy another one.

Look for the slivers of light whenever you can, and stay with them.

At work last week, I was cleaning out my desk drawer and came across a poem I'd printed off from a book that's been quite popular among the librarians. So, if you happened to read the article about me and my book, it mentions that I file books and take fines, which was appropriate because we had been talking about how every job has a mundane aspect to it - whether you're the CEO of a company, or the manager of a business. There are the less exciting parts of any job where basically you're doing something repetitive and dull. The secret is to find some satisfaction about these parts of a job, some joy in them, too. Some jobs have more of the mundane about them than others, of course. 

Anyway. I would say that a great deal of the work I do at the library as a library assistant is community building. That's the way I look at it, anyway, and that's where I find the joy in my work. So, while you're helping the young child, or the senior find a book on the shelf or in the catalogue, or whether you're leading a book club, or teaching someone how to use technology, it's also an opportunity to "turn to one another." I really love what Margaret Wheatley says below and what she says about listening in her book of the same title. "Listening moves us closer, it helps us become more whole, more healthy, more holy." But what most draws me back to the poem, is the line where she says, "Ask "What is possible?" not "What's wrong?" Keep asking."I think there's got to be some serious magic in that stance.

Turning to One Another

by Margaret J. Wheatley

There is no greater power than a community discovering
what it cares about.

Ask “What is possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.

Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.

Be intrigued by the differences you hear.
Expect to be surprised.
Treasure curiosity more than certainty.

Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.
Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.

Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

If you've made it this far, I'm just going to say there are a lot of photos ahead. This is because this week there was, once again, all the weather. We had bright sunshine one morning, gray skies with fluffy snowfall, frost - both on gray and sunny days. It seemed everyday there was some kind of weather happening. If you scroll through quickly, or not at all, I'll never know. But if you want to slow down, sometimes just looking can be good for the breathing.

Next, a return to the subject of the soul, which if you'd read Rumi and the Red Handbag, you know that it's a subject with which one of the main characters is obsessed.

The Soul

by Adam Zagajewski
translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

We know we’re not allowed to use your name.
We know you’re inexpressible,
anemic, frail, and suspect
for mysterious offenses as a child.
We know that you are not allowed to live now
in music or in trees at sunset.
We know—or at least we have been told—
that you do not exist at all, anywhere.
And yet we still keep hearing your weary voice
—in an echo, a complaint, in the letters we receive
from Antigone in the Greek desert.


No one can give a definition of the soul. But we know what it feels like. The soul is the sense of something higher than ourselves, something that stirs in us thoughts, hopes, and aspirations which go out to the world of goodness, truth and beauty. The soul is a burning desire to breathe in this world of light and never to lose it–to remain children of light.

- Albert Schweitzer

Next, a dried and frosty sunflower - it broke off out in the backyard, and I brought it in - hoping to photograph it before the frostiness dissipated.....

Some frosty day photos.

The hydrangea in my front yard.

A neighbourhood birch - such a lovely tree.

You've seen this red bird house a few times - it's in the backyard of one of the houses in the dry pond.

I took a walk to the next neighbourhood one day - it's been a while. This stand of trees is very well used, well occupied. In the middle of it, there are frequent gatherings and parties - indicated by leftover beer cans, etc.

Beside the forest is my favourite tree, which you've also seen many times in my photos. This is what it looks like this winter. 

So much frosty loveliness to capture!

And this frost cloud was my favourite find of all:

Summer Again

by Yves Bonnefoy

translated by Lisa Sapinkopf

I step out into the snow, my eyes shut,
But the light knows how to pass
My porous lids and I can tell
That in my words it's again the snow
That swirls and clumps and shreds.

A letter found and unfolded,
Its ink has blanched and in the signs
Is visible the clumsiness of the mind
That only manages to tangle the bright shadows.

We try to read it, we wonder
Who in our memory is thinking of us,
Except that it's summer again; and we can see
The leaves beneath the flakes, and the heat
Rising like mist from the absent soil.

- found in The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry

And so now I bring you to the snow days:

And back to our path along the highway.

Okay, yes, too many photos. But I love the way the snow rests on branches and on leaves. It never really lasts long - it melts down, blows off. But when it's fresh and newly settling - it's so pretty.

I should also say it's been very cold. When I walk, I don't look at all glamorous. Two pairs of pants, 3 shirts, big coat, toque, huge scarf (which I tuck my camera under - which is wrapped in a plastic bag when the snow is falling) and giant pair of Sorel boots.

No one is more cheerful about the cold and snow, though, than this guy. 

Here we are at the last photo :) This odd little winter wonderland right beside the noisy highway. 

I'll end with my usual list of stuff. 

Want to read: Elizabeth Strout's forthcoming Lucy Barton. My interest was piqued after reading this article with the following quote:

Ultimately, the writer’s wisdom and authority might come from trusting one’s talent. As Sarah Payne says to Lucy’s writing class in Arizona, “You will have only one story. You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

I've never stopped reading the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska. Have you?

I do love purses, but have long ago discovered that the best way to collect them is on Pinterest. 

So, I'm going to end with a smallish pressure, honest. But if you've read Rumi and the Red Handbag and are on Goodreads or use Amazon.....might you consider rating it or leaving a short review? Apparently these things matter. Thank you. 

This came to mind partly because of the review the lovely and eloquent Diane Schuller wrote recently on my last book, Asking

Wishing you a calm week ahead, full of poetry, and dreams of what is possible. 

- Shawna


  1. Thanks as always, for saving me with your posts and photos, over and over again. Your blog is perfect just as it is.

    Have you seen this poem?

    And oh, managed to order your book from an Indian online shopping site, infibeam.

    1. Thanks for the poem, Asha! and thanks so much for finding the book! So cool of you.

  2. I love the poem "Famous." I also love your photos of frost and snow and the mental image of you fully covered with so many layers is precious. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, this. I'm so bundled up no one would know me :)

  3. That is such a fabulou interview, Shawna and I hope that wonderful things continue to happen for you. Love the Wheatley poem, hope you don't mind if I share it on FB. Your! And I'm always amazed by your winter images, you find such beautiful, unique perspectives. I'll be back later tonight to check out your links.

    1. I feel like I need to read that poem every day. Xo

  4. Shawna, gosh thank you so much for your kind words. I do have to say I have been quite disappointed to see a few reviews but with no words whatsoever -- it's the words that make a difference and that will entice (or convince) a reader to open the book.

    As usual, so many lovely thoughts and images here but I'm still incredibly drawn to the poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, particularly the final 3 lines. I may have to quote that one day.

    As I was reading this post and browsing the photos I realized something: that I too have a love affair with certain trees. Or maybe it's all trees and that I have some favourites. When I lived on the farm I was always taking photos of the trees but not as much here on the West Coast. Yet I continue to be drawn to the trees. I've begun a 365 project this year to become re-aquainted with my camera so perhaps trees will begin to reappear. Oh dear, haven't I become all wordy. Oops sorry. Until next week. :-)

    1. Not wordy at all! lol. Thanks, Diane. I SO appreciate your review. It's true - I think that a few words about a book make a huge difference. I've been blessed with a lot of word of mouth about this one. Can't complain :) xo

  5. I love the poem you began with, it's wonderful. I have also enjoyed your photos! They're beautiful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and inspirations.

  6. Thanks, Cathy! Thanks for being here.


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