Monday, July 11, 2016

how to learn bliss

How I Learned Bliss

by Oliver de la Paz

I spied everything. The North Dakota license,

the “Baby on Board” signs, dead raccoons, and deer carcasses.

The Garfields clinging to car windows—the musky traces of old coffee.

I was single-minded in the buzz saw tour I took through

the flatlands of the country to get home. I just wanted to get there.

Never mind the antecedent. I had lost stations miles ago

and was living on cassettes and caffeine. Ahead, brushstrokes

of smoke from annual fires. Only ahead to the last days of summer

and to the dying theme of youth. How pitch-perfect

the tire-on-shoulder sound was to mask the hiss of the tape deck ribbons.

Everything. Perfect. As Wyoming collapses over the car

like a wave. And then another mile marker. Another.

How can I say this more clearly? It was like opening a heavy book,

letting the pages feather themselves and finding a dried flower.


So, there's a question for us. How to learn bliss?

And because it's rare, fleeting, how to return to it? Having experienced it, how to integrate that back into the rest of your life?

Or, as Geoffrey Rush gets at in the next quotation, how to feel the full value of life as it's lived?

Geoffrey Rush interviewed on The Talks:

Maybe you have to be a devoted mystic to understand the full value of your life at any given moment, as you’re living it. Sometimes you have those little treasured moments of insight and creativity and you think, “That expresses something about the picture of the world and my role in it.” And then the rest of it you are dealing with marketing and disappointments, all of the stuff that goes on around it.

Life as it's lived. How many days, or is it merely hours, that we get to experience bliss? 

From BrainPickings, where she quotes from the book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman:

You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can’t take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower. Two weeks wondering what happens when you die. One minute realizing your body is falling. Seventy-seven hours of confusion. One hour realizing you’ve forgotten someone’s name. Three weeks realizing you are wrong. Two days lying. Six weeks waiting for a green light. Seven hours vomiting. Fourteen minutes experiencing pure joy. Three months doing laundry. Fifteen hours writing your signature. Two days tying shoelaces. Sixty-seven days of heartbreak. Five weeks driving lost. Three days calculating restaurant tips. Fifty-one days deciding what to wear. Nine days pretending you know what is being talked about. Two weeks counting money. Eighteen days staring into the refrigerator. Thirty-four days longing.

There's bliss and then there's happiness. And there are the ways in which we turn away from (or toward) the possibilities.


by Paul Hostovsky

Bear with me I
want to tell you
something about
it’s hard to get at
but the thing is
I wasn’t looking
I was looking
somewhere else
when my son found it
in the fruit section
and came running
holding it out
in his small hands
asking me what
it was and could we
keep it it only
cost 99 cents
hairy and brown
hard as a rock
and something swishing
around inside
and what on earth
and where on earth
and this was happiness
this little ball
of interest beating
inside his chest
this interestedness
beaming out
from his face pleading
and because I wasn’t
happy I said
to put it back
because I didn’t want it
because we didn’t need it
and because he was happy
he started to cry
right there in aisle
five so when we
got it home we
put it in the middle
of the kitchen table
and sat on either
side of it and began
to consider how
to get inside of it


From Bending the Notes

Summer kitchen view. That fleeting light, early morning.

And next, a late bloomer. Or, nearly blooming. 

From around the neighbourhood. I love it when someone nurtures and proudly displays a plant that as   a kid I was taught was a weed. They are really pretty imho. But also, yes, noxious. 

Some wise words:

“When I am stuck, I don't like to force out work/words. If I'm having difficulty, I just walk away from the desk—sometimes not returning for weeks at a time. I find a quiet place in the day and stop. If I’m at home, I lie down on the carpet. Then I do this thing where I just say ‘thank you’ to all the things and people who helped me. I say, ‘Thank you, light, for helping me. Thank you, flowers in the jar, for helping me. Thank you, mom, for helping me. Thank you, Sivan, for helping me. Thank you, Eduardo, for helping me.’ Of course, simply saying ‘thank you’ does not awaken any creative force; it just reminds me that the work I am doing is not validated by quantity, but rather, by the connection it builds between the world and myself. Yesterday, I said thank you to my friend, the poet Mahogany L. Browne. I am not one for hyperbole, but I can honestly say she is one of the few people who can, and does, save lives with her words. So when my own work is not coming along, I stop and think of people like her. I stop and recognize the person doing the same challenging, at times unforgiving, art—and I feel happy. I think it’s hard, in our day and age, not to think: ‘It’s me against the world’ or ‘I have to do this for my career because everyone else is hammering away and if I stop now, I will fall behind and be forgotten.’ But that’s a toxic and self-defeating gaze. I think we are more productive, even in stillness, when we can recognize one another, when we say to each other: ‘Thank you for doing this with me. Thank you for carrying on when I cannot.’”

- Ocean Vuong, author of Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)

{source: Poets&Writers}

Poem without Angel Food

by C.D. Wright

Well, a great many things have been said
in the oven of hours. We have not been
shaken out of the magnolias. Today was another
hard day. And tomorrow will be harder. Well,
that sounds like our gong. But we’ll have
the boy’s birthday and we will have
music and cake. Well, I will think only
good thoughts and go up and talk to the rock.



by Nikki Giovanni

I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn’t
And she scared me
And I smashed her

I don’t think
I’m allowed

To kill something

Because I am


And maybe this is the poem that will next go viral. I think it's on its way.

I don't know what to say in this space about recent events. What I'm doing is listening, reading, thinking. But we need to do more.

From the article on On Being by Courtney Martin:

The only way to “move on” from that reality is to never “move on,” to understand that just as people of color have to spend a lifetime thinking about their own skin color and how it affects the way they are able to walk through the world, you are walking through the world, this country, this city, these streets, as a white person. 
Make it a part of your daily consciousness even when it seems tiring and burdensome (this is not a choice for people of color, nor is it for you). Commit to interrogating the privileges that you inherit and constantly look for creative ways to subvert hierarchies, redistribute power, connect the unconnected. 
Understand that this isn’t about being a “good white person.” This is about being brave and convicted and imperfect and tireless and loving and devastated and sometimes feeling dumb about how to make change and taking it personally. You are not above bias and racism. Apologize when you say or do something racist. Shut up and ask questions.

Next. Thanks for indulging me - a billion photos of the fence we walk along many mornings and the field beside it. 

“The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts, for two forces are at war within him [or her]—on the one hand, the common human longing for happiness, satisfaction and security in life, and on the other a ruthless passion for creation which may go so far as to override every personal desire … There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of creative fire.” 

- Carl Jung

Lastly, some photos taken one night when Chloe was at her life drawing class and I dragged Rob out for a beer at Beer Revolution. Honestly, not normal behaviour for us. But as I said to him, we need to practice doing things for when she's away. Which is kind of funny, but also true. So we went out to a place near her class and had warm pretzels and a beer. And then we checked out the Loblaws in our new Brewery District. Exciting! A grocery store. And actually, yes, we did find it rather exciting.

I really like that the old Molson building is still standing and looks like something cool will be done with it eventually.

The store front is so inviting. We need more of this sort of thing in Edmonton. Loved it.

Right inside the front door.

We walked around outside for a little bit snapping photos. I really need to do more of this. aka: Getting out. lol.

And then, inside!

We bought some cupcakes, I suppose that goes without saying.

Last things. 

The giant ampersand on a building near where Chloe goes to her life drawing class, below. No idea why it's there, but I like it. 

More listening. 

And lastly. I'm just going to shamelessly ask you to vote for Rumi and the Red Handbag. With huge thanks to all of you who've already done so. 


Wishing you all a calm week ahead, a little bliss, some music and cake, and unexpected moments of happiness. May you find a dried flower in a lovely book. 

- Shawna



  1. These images are pure bliss, Shawna. I love that Paul Hostovsky poem and the quote from Brain Pickings...although I think I've spent more than 18 days staring into the refrigerator :)

  2. Oh lord, me too. Eons....And a couple of years deciding what to make for dinner.....


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