It did not occur to her to fly downstairs and right out the open screen door while I took the laundry down from the clothesline outdoors. There are days... There are lifetimes we insist on seeing just the frame in front of us.
The father tongue breakfast, lunch and dinner is over. A diet of pure pundritry is killing me as surely as I was killing myself in my marriage. It wasn't the marriage per se but whom I was being in it. The tension in the truck was thick that ink-black night. The verdict: I am too slow getting ready. On the road too late. It's all too late. You drive.
I drive. Hours in the deafening silence. Deer were scattered on Highway 89 like bowling pins.
A fawn died that evening.
I've been hungry for poetry lately. (Oh dear she's not going to write poetry on the blog, is she?) Yet the skeleton of poetry isn't necessarily the answer.
Even if it’s true, which I doubt, that the people who bother to “get the news from poems” [referencing William Carlos Williams] die better deaths than, say, their local Cadillac dealers, no one will believe it. Not with poets everywhere hanging themselves, sticking their heads in gas ovens, drinking themselves to death. At this point most people take a miserable death as the mark of the poet. - Michael Lewis, "How to Make a Killing Writing Poetry: A Six Point Plan of Attack", Poetry, July 2005
In 1929, in A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf proposed a solution to the paucity of women writers: a room of one's own, and five hundred pounds sterling a year. In 1941, Woolf, who had both of those and produced some of the most exquisite writing of the twentieth century, committed suicide. I am neither Virginia Woolf nor suicidal, but I have come to understand her life and its ending....
Rooms can close you in at least as easily as they can empower you; that the women's movement worries about the outside a whole lot (and that's fine, and necessary), but that what's really held me back is the inside, and no legislation is going to change that.
I have hardly been discriminated against in such a way as to be able to file suit, yet there has been a pervasive and deep discrimination in my life, in which I have cooperated, in the hope of being loved, and not causing pain. The way to repair the damage this does is not so much by wider opportunities (which make me more conscious of my inability to meet them, and of my own complicity) but by deeper ones - by relationships that carry different values and different pay-offs. I need, we all need, people who will applaud our strengths and forgive us (but not too readily) our weaknesses - most of my childhood it was the other way around. We learn to conform, to mask, to speak softly when we are depressed by our own rage, to assent, and to lie. [A good time to mention I'm inspired to write this post from Shelley's speaking out post. Later in this essay Bolker shares an angry poem about how she really felt at Radcliffe; it was rejected by Harvard Magazine.] Such learning kills our voices, and ultimately our selves. One can stay in hiding only so long, unnourished, without starving to death. And feeding the false self is of no use.
How does a woman grow a voice? - "A Room of One's Own is Not Enough" (1997), Joan L. Bolker, essay in The Writer's Home Companion edited by Joan Bolker
Joan Bolker could better have asked how does anyone reclaim the native tongue? While Bolker doesn't identify, I understand suicidal. No I'm not. Anymore. But we're masters of slow torture: the drip-drip-drip method.
Bolker continues: "[Voicelessness] is the inability to write or speak our central concerns. Or, to write, but as disembodied personae who bear no relation to our inherent voices: We say only what we think we're expected to say... "
Voicelessness. A rampant infliction. Even in blogs. Even in poetry.
Instead of sticking our heads in the oven can't we imagine other uses for ovens? Maybe baking bread? And follow that with breaking bread? Together? If not the kitchen, can't we gather around the campfire (via Groundhog Day)? Speak the language of mutual admiration for blazing flames?
In the same speech in yesterday's post, Ursula Le Guin says: "As I've been using the word "truth" in the sense of "trying hard not to lie," so I use the words "literature," "art," in the sense of "living well, living with skill, grace, energy" - like carrying a basket of bread and smelling it and eating as you go."
One of the main aims in writing practice is to learn to trust your own mind and body; to grow patient and nonaggressive. Art lives in the Big World. One poem or story doesn't matter one way or the other. It's the process of writing and life that matters. Too many writers have written great books and gone insane or alcoholic or killed themselves. This process teaches about sanity. We are trying to become sane along with our poems and stories. - Natalie Goldberg, "Writing as a Practice", essay in The Writer's Home Companion edited by Joan Bolker
I haven't seen Enrique in a while. He has a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude on the table at B&N. He's a third through. I smile. Last year you'd only run into him on the business book aisle. Last year you'd only find me on the business book aisle. He tells me he's surprised by how much he enjoys his art history class. I smile some more. In college he survived a bout with cancer. One day a fellow patient groans loudly in the room. Apologetically he explains while hugging his belly in a vice grip: "The ulcer is real bad." Enrique said nothing. He looked his mother. He looked again at the sign. It still read: Cancer Ward.
We are scared that becoming sane as Goldberg suggests is bullshit. Bottom-line insane in this big, bad jungle.
I can only offer more "insanity":
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
- Rainier Maria Rilke, "Sonnets to Orpheus," Part Two, XXIX
The native tongue is ancient. So ancient it is in our bones. Though forgotten.
I read Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus. He speaks of the poppy, the symbol of sleep. Oblivion. Death. On the sixth day of the meditation retreat I was bored to tears. On the ninth day of the meditation retreat I rekindled my capacity for awe.
Even in those surroundings I'd manage to begin to sleepwalk in my daily morning hike. Seen those trees, that path, already jumped that steam crossing. The turkey babies were darling maybe the first two times. Now I barely glance at their teetering tawny bodies.
I went on my last hike at lunchtime.
A saffron California poppy struck me dumb. I saw the violet thistles and wild oats rustling through the field.
I am shattered to learn I regularly run past the same type of terrain, the same wild oats, the same poppies on my regular running route in Rancho San Antonio. So where have I been?
Buddha chose for his sannysins [his disciples, the monks] the yellow robe. Yellow represents death, the yellow leaf. Yellow represents the setting sun, the evening. Buddha emphasized death, and it helps in a way. People become more and more aware of life in contrast to death… Three months’ meditation on death, then coming back – that was the beginning of sannyas. – Osho, Buddha: His Life and Teachings
California poppies are cloaked in the same color robes, hooded, of the sannysins before they fully bloom.
If what you write, what you do, who you are being doesn't infuse you with saneness, nativity, naturalnesss, primal wholeness, vitality, life....then...why? Find at least one space where you can. It need not be for the entire public. Nor squirreled away in a room of one's own.
Oh, the bread is ready. Fresh out of the oven. A reader tears a piece from the loaf. Makes some scones. Please, sit for tea...(Thanks, Romy):
"Sometimes I wonder, maybe, just maybe, a connected voice doesn't need to do somersaults."
The painter Ben Shahn said, "The universal experience is that private experience which illuminates the private and personal world in which each of us lives the major part of his life. Thus, in art, the symbol which has vast universality may be some figure drawn from the most remote and inward recesses of consciousness; for it is here that we are unique and sovereign and most wholly aware. I think of Masaccio's "Expulsion from the Garden", so intensely personal that it leaves no person untouched. I think of a di Chirico figure, lonely in a lonely street haunted by shadows; its loneliness speaks to all human loneliness. As an experience, neither painting has anything of the average; both come from extreme limits of feelings and both paintings have great universality."
My thoughts are that the voice of the artist can only be drawn from the more inward recesses of consciousness because it is there where he is more wholly aware. Wholly in the sense that he no longer perceives within the boundaries of opinions, conditionings, memories etc. These are the stuff of the outer layer of consciousness, that is called the "smaller mind" in Zen, the individual or outer self that Jorge Luis Borges once called the "other Borges".
I think that the more wholly aware we are, the more unique the configurations of our experiece would be. We somersault into greater solitude. And yet the more universally connected we would be at the same time. This primal awareness is what we intimately share with everybody. And the artist proclaims this primal and universal awareness by mirroring it on the personal and unique expressions of his art. Allen Ginsberg was talking once about the mind but I think he was referring to this primal consciousness. He said, "If you can show your mind, it reminds people that they got a mind. If you have a vivid moment that's more open and compassionate, it reminds people that they have those vivid moments." I look at Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and I hear his unique voice and I also know that sometime, somewhere I had been aware of life in the same way too.
p.s. This little outpost is Crossroads Dispatches - so the father tongue, mother tongue, native tongue will be spoken here. A few of those languages had nearly gone forgotten, but certainly not extinct.
p.p.s. Sometimes I don't use real names for my friends.