Monday, January 25, 2016

souls who are fully lit

The Light

by Charles Simic

Admittedly, yours is an odd
Sort of work, galactic traveler.
I watched you early this morning
Get on your knees by my bed
To help a pair of my old shoes
Find their way out of the dark.

- from The Lunatic by Charles Simic

(Some library books will be harder to return than others....)

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.

- Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever changing, ever dying, there is underlying all that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and re-creates. . . . in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists.

- Mahatma Ghandi

One winter day
something will shine out
from an everyday object
and the darkness will flood with light.
Something we have seen
a thousand times
suddenly becomes
the sentinel of
another world.

- Marv and Nancy Hiles

So, yes. Trying to find those objects I've seen a thousand times and see them anew. To see anew. To continue to move toward the light, in these dark winter months.

All week, I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 to write. Me and my best friend, coffee, hanging out in front of the bright computer screen for an hour and a half before it's time to wake up C. And then on Sunday, I thought, I'll sleep in. But no, the body is now accustomed to 5:30 and likes (apparently) 5:30.

Here's what I know so far. This thing is going to take a long while to write. I need to read many more books. Also, thank goodness for the internet. I seem to stop every three sentences and look something up. A person should really keep track of their weird google searches when writing a novel. That could  be an entirely different book beside the book you're writing. I ended up reading a lot about wow and flutter, for example, which will probably not have a direct appearance in the work. But that all these little excursions and forays, the delving and digging, the tangents and tangles, these are all part of the sediment of the work, the invisible underpinnings. Again, I'm talking like I know what I'm doing, but I'm making all this up as I go along. I'm dragging Woolf's A Writer's Diary off the shelf. I'm opening it to all the dogeared and underlined pages. My edition is falling apart a little. I've had it so long I don't remember where I would have bought it. A secondhand store perhaps? It has a painting of Charleston on the cover by Vanessa Bell.

"At the worst, should I be a quite negligible writer, I enjoy writing: I think I am an honest observer. Therefore the world will go on providing me with excitement whether I can use it or not."

- Virginia Woolf


"A note: despair at the badness of the book: can't think how I ever could write such stuff - and with such excitement: that's yesterday: today I think it good again. A note, by way of advising other Virginias with other books that this is the way of the thing: up down up down - and Lord knows the truth."

Which is something I've always found to be extremely comforting, even if I can't quite put myself in the category of Woolf. Who can.

I picked up a couple of extra shifts at the library this past week and so find that life is a bit off kilter right now. Which is not a complaint. I'm grateful to work in a place where I have the opportunity to pick up extra shifts, and it might be something I do more next year. So this was a good trial run, though in future I'll be careful to arrange it so I don't work nine days in a row. (Not all full shifts, mind, so that sounds more heroic than it is).

There was still some time for tea at the kitchen table, time for writing. (With wishes for more time to read).

What I guess must seem strange to those who don't write, is how much time you need to just sit. To let the thoughts swirl around, ideas to form, to create the unseen layers in a work. To let things arrive, in their own time. The necessity for dreaming. For not worrying. The utter slowness of it all.

So one of the many nice things about working at a library, and having had one's photo in the newspaper and one's book talked about, is that a lot of people come into the branch and say nice things to you about it all. Really lovely things. 

There was one kind of funny conversation I had, though, where someone, after saying the nice things, also said, 'but you're still struggling. You haven't made it.' Which was kind of funny on a couple of levels. It was honest, matter of fact, not spoken out of malice. And kind of how I feel. (Though, really, what does that mean: to make it). So, I do feel kind of like I'm still struggling. That's the process. It has to be. Financially, too, yes. And anyway, a creative person doesn't ever want to feel necessarily, that they've made it. Though I guess you could say someone like Margaret Atwood has 'made it.' But most of us writing, don't, per se. 

There's comedy in all this, of course. After writing for nearly 30 years, you get a tiny bit of attention, and someone is standing there saying, hey, don't think you're anything special. This is actually good, right. I like to keep my perspective on things, and this made me smile. It seemed to me a kind of recognition of how things are rather than a put down. 

Well, let's head into the trees now.

"Few things are more directly beautiful than winter trees: stripped of all ornament, clearly etched against the changing sky, moving in the stiff manner of wood into and then back against the wind. If leaves can be compared to clothing, then the deciduous tree in winter is naked. If clothing can be deceptive, then the tree in winter is true. If leaves represent an extreme profusion of form that is more finally articulated than the eye can register, much less language describe, then the form of the tree in winter is stark, particularly against the steel gray monochrome of the sky as snow comes.

But the form of a winter tree, though it may be stark and withered, is liable also to be extraordinarily complex. The bare bark is channeled and cracked, and the directions of growth frozen into the form of each branch include saggings, twistings, splinterings, angles at which the branch has reached out or up. The form of the tree is a register of its history. The coloring, too, becomes as subtle as our approach is proximate: all the grays, blacks, and browns of wabi, with perhaps the weathered white of dead lichen or the blasted green of last year's moss."

-- Crispin Sartwell,  Six Names of Beauty

A Stillness Expanded

by Karin Boye

A stillness expanded, soft as sunny winter forests.
How did my will grow sure and my way obedient to me?
I carried in my hand an etched bowl of ringing glass.

Then my foot became so cautious and will not stumble.
Then my hand became so careful and will not tremble.
Then I was flooded over and carried by the strength from fragile


I came upon this tiny feather, frozen, near the edge of one of the stands of trees near the utility corridor. And the line, 'a stillness expanded' is perfect to describe the way one gets lost in trying to capture a small and delicate thing, in the cold, in the sunny winter forest, such as it is.

I swung the branch around and tried to come at it a couple of different ways. I think this next one is my favourite. The silvery light, the mood.

Just a little way down from the feather, these guys, sunning themselves:

And then, this happened. The sun pouring down golden through the gorgeous green of the fir trees. How amazing the colour green seems at this time of year.

Another day. After a snowfall. A minimalism.

Looking toward the highway:


In the low and swampy area in the middle of the stand of trees by the highway.

And then, humour me, a tiny obsession with capturing the small flakes, clinging, the graceful branches and their quiet ballet. 

On the way back home.

Right in my front yard.


The return. 

(And wishing you all a lovely calm week. May your souls be fully lit.....)

P.s. If you'd like to read a recent interview I did with Open Book Toronto on the theme of titles, you can find it here


  1. "What I guess must seem strange to those who don't write, is how much time you need to just sit. To let the thoughts swirl around, ideas to form, to create the unseen layers in a work. To let things arrive, in their own time. The necessity for dreaming. For not worrying. The utter slowness of it all."

    I think of this often, Shawna, and feel such a paradox. Who has the luxury of this: to sit and think and unspool. And when the time arrives, or I carve it out like a cobbler repairing a worn shoe, how to manage the guilt of "laze", the rack of unproductivity?

    As always, your provide ample things to think about, to feel through. Thank you.

  2. Each one of your images is like a tiny poem. I particularly love the feather and those amazingly detailed! I've been getting up early these days, sometimes not by choice but it's such a lovely quiet time. I sit and listen to the owls calling to each other. It's very calming.

    Another wonderful interview, congratulations! Have a great week, Shawna.

  3. that frozen feather was utter magic. Oh and I do adore that portrait of Ace (the one with just his head against the snow; snow falling -- superb).
    "But that all these little excursions and forays, the delving and digging, the tangents and tangles, these are all part of the sediment of the work, the invisible underpinnings." --That's the bit I used to love when I was writing. The adventure and discoveries.

  4. I was captivated by the same words, "To let the thoughts swirl around, ideas to form, to create the unseen layers in a work. To let things arrive, in their own time. The necessity for dreaming. For not worrying. The utter slowness of it all." YES! I write but I am not a writer, I am a metalsmith/jewelry designer but it's the SAME process. I am currently in Portugal taking classes and the past few days have felt the pressure of producing something - having it all figured out but I don't. I found so much peace and understanding in your words. Things are still swirling and I am to just soak it all in and wait for it's arrival. Thank you.

  5. Just lovely. Thank you for the feather and the snowflake and the dog's face; the stillness (there is a storm raging outside, here) and the chance to sit and look up close at beautiful things.

  6. so many things to ponder, as always. i agree with alicia that the process is much the same for all creatives. we have a need to step away from the demands of everyday life and deeply engage with our thoughts and follow them wherever they may need to go.
    i appreciate the links that you provide within your writing-- they allow me to go deeper rather than walking away from the computer and disengaging from becoming a soul fully lit. i just walked over to my secretary and took down my copy of A Writer's Diary. the Bloomsbury group has been a constant source of inspiration for many years-- when i stand in the still of Monk's House i can hear the reverberations of intelligent discourse quietly ringing from the walls. i finally feel that this is a place were such feelings are understood.
    for what it's worth, as seen through my lens you have "made it". i appreciate the thought and effort you put into each of these posts. and those feather photos...

  7. Thanks everyone for the comments - means a lot to me....and keeps me going....xo to you all.

  8. This post makes me want to take out my camera again. Thank you for the inspiration and for your beautiful eye on the world. I don't love what the person in the library said to you, but you received it gracefully; I think too often we are asked to declare ourselves successful or unsuccessful based on measures that don't actually relate to the work we do, especially to its value in non-monetary terms. Have you made it? Haven't you? You've made so many beautiful things for others to enjoy, including this post. I know that's not what the person meant, but there, that's what I think.

  9. What a great comment - thank you, Carrie. And I hope you take out your camera :)


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