Monday, February 22, 2016

to be in it with all your heart

Things are not difficult to make; what is difficult is putting ourselves in the state of mind to make them.

- Constantin Brancusi

Over against the world with all its turbulence, distraction and worry, one should cultivate a style of mind that can reach through to an inner stillness and calm. The world cannot ruffle the dignity of a soul that dwells in its own tranquility. Gradually, this serenity will begin to pervade our seeing and change the way we look at things.

- John O'Donohue, from Beauty

“In difficult times carry something beautiful in your heart.”

- Blaise Pascal

Only in the beauty created
by others is there consolation,
in the music of others and in others' poems.
Only others save us,
even though solitude tastes like
opium. The others are not hell,
if you see them early, with their
foreheads pure, cleansed by dreams.

- Adam Zagajewski

The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.

- Auguste Rodin

I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart. 

- Vincent van Gogh

"Our life is marked by trials and tensions, but also by indescribable moments of grace. I always aspired to Bonnard's example of joy, even while experiencing its vanishing and neglect."

"Perhaps that's why we're such fervent believers, because of the certainty of light and its revelation that I've often worked for, trying to grasp its dazzlement. That's why painting is a state of grace. No one takes up painting with impunity. One must be worthy of it. Accepting of the obligatory sacred injunction. Just listen to the brush's dull, dry, and sweet sound upon a canvas stretched as tight as a drum, and approach the light. The requirements are unique, insatiable, and tyrannical."

- Balthus

Perhaps you are one of those who know how difficult it is to get into that state of mind needed for writing, for creating, painting, photographing. There is no secret to it, no magic words, though magic words can help. Small rituals, too. I usually begin by reading favourite lines and passages from books I love. The book on Balthus I have often works quite well, because he's not afraid of talking about his process in profoundly spiritual terms. He's not afraid to talk about the mystery, the wonder, and the astonishment that one encounters. "Painting," he says, "must be prepared to accept magic." He talks about working as "an extreme, solitary adventure." He feels an obligation to his gifts, and feels: "One must overcome one's own dejection, suffering, and doubts, and buckle down to the immense job of painting, which is a baptism, an immersion in God's beauty."

So maybe I am not a great artist sitting in my chalet in France, but in my own small room in the suburbs of a Northern city. And still one can feel that one is on a rather extreme and fierce and certainly solitary adventure. How to feel worthy?

Or rather, how to immerse yourself, plunge into those necessary depths, so that you are in it with all your heart, so that there is a call, and the only response is to answer.

How to be in love with the work, with your own work? How to buckle down, overcome doubt.

Begin by following the beauty in others' work.

Like this:

Tonight I Am In Love

by Dorianne Laux

Tonight, I am in love with poetry,
with the good words that saved me,
with the men and women who
uncapped their pens and laid the ink
on the blank canvas of the page.

I am shameless in my love; their faces
rising on the smoke and dust at the end
of day, their sullen eyes and crusty hearts,
the murky serum now turned to chalk
along the gone cords of their spines.

I’m reciting the first anonymous lines
that broke night’s thin shell: sonne under wode.
A baby is born us bliss to bring. I have labored
sore and suffered death. Jesus’ wounds so wide.

I am wounded with tenderness for all who labored
in dim rooms with their handful of words,
battering their full hearts against the moon.

They flee from me that sometime did me seek.
Wake, now my love, awake: for it is time.
For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love!

What can I do but love them? Sore throated
they call from beneath blankets of grass,
through the wind-torn elms, near the river’s
edge, voices shorn of everything but the one
hope, the last question, the first loss, calling

Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears.
Whenas in silks my Julia goes, calling Why do I
languish thus, drooping and dull as if I were all earth?

Now they are bones, the sweet ones who once
considered a cat, a nightingale, a hare, a lamb,
a fly, who saw a Tyger burning, who passed
five summers and five long winters, passed them
and saved them and gave them away in poems.

They could not have known how I would love them,
worlds fallen from their mortal fingers.
When I cannot see to read or walk alone
along the slough, I will hear you, I will
bring the longing in your voices to rest
against my old, tired heart and call you back.

Write a poem, or an essay, or a diary entry about all the poems you love. Quote them, read them out loud. And then read it back to yourself some day when you need to. Add in all the paintings you have seen and truly loved. The photographs that have made you gasp a little. Remind yourself how much you love that one short line in a poem, that paragraph in a novel. That sentence you underlined in that one book you keep taking off your shelf.

If you can remind yourself what you love in the work of others, you will remind yourself why you need to write, paint, etc.

Well, again, a week of mainly indoor photography inspiration. (With thanks to Chloe, who modelled the temporary tattoos we got at Simon's quite nicely, I think).

She also took the trouble to make me this sweet little snowman. (Already melted and gone).

The search for small happening, clingings. Solitary leaves...

There was a small amount of fresh snow, and thus, fresh tracks.

The neighbourhood magpies are always out and busy. No time to waste.

And still with the too early signs of spring....

After the slight snowfall, it was possible to see all the places that cup and hold. 

Lastly. The birds have found the red berries in our tree in the backyard and have begun ravaging it. 


Watched: The most recent movie version of Northanger Abbey. I've re-read the book a couple of times, but have never watched the movie - I'm not sure how it slipped by me. 

Made: Salmon Corn Chowder. It was amazing.

Read: "Where Have You Gone, Annie Dillard?" An interesting take on her writing, though not mine. The article served to remind me how much I would love to read another new book by A.D. 

Wishing you a calm week, a week where you are in it with all your heart.

- Shawna


  1. Such beautiful contrasts and words.
    Thank you xx

  2. As usual, so much beauty here. Thank you. xo

  3. My heart is full. Yesterday I was looking for a poet but couldn't for the life of me remember her name. Today I read her name on your blog: Dorianne Laux

    This is the poem I was looking for:

    On the Back Porch
    by Dorianne Laux

    The cat calls for her dinner.
    On the porch I bend and pour
    brown soy stars into her bowl,
    stroke her dark fur.
    It's not quite night.
    Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.
    Above my neighbor's roof, a transparent
    moon, a pink rag of cloud.
    Inside my house are those who love me.
    My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
    And there's a man who will lift my hair
    in his hands, brush it
    until it throws sparks.
    Everything is just as I've left it.
    Dinner simmers on the stove.
    Glass bowls wait to be filled
    with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
    on the cutting board.
    I want to smell this rich soup, the air
    around me going dark, as stars press
    their simple shapes into the sky.
    I want to stay on the back porch
    while the world tilts
    toward sleep, until what I love
    misses me, and calls me in.

    "On the Back Porch" by Dorianne Laux, from Awake.

  4. i look forward to coming here on mondays, to this gentle start to the week, and to having my awareness heightened to all of the small beauties that surround us always. thank you!

  5. I am completely smitten with that photo of Chloe and the steaming tea cup (8th one down). "cup and hold" ... yes, and not just trees in winter "cup and hold". I love that.

  6. I'm always in search of that inner stillness, your words and images help me find it. Love those images of Chloe and that little snowman is adorable!


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