Monday, May 16, 2016

be curious and present

"It was intensely cold without any possible shelter. And the driver of the yellow cab had a bad cold. I forgot to say that, when I jumped out of the first taxi, in the middle of Agenda Rio Branco, people were crying out to me: I looked and saw everything that belonged to me exposed without blood on the asphalt of the street. And people were helping me in the middle of the traffic to gather my secrets. Because my purse had opened and been disemboweled: its entrails and my trampled prayers scattered across the ground. I gathered everything and stood humble and dignified waiting for who knows what." 

- Clarice Lispector, A Breath of Life, translated by Johnny Lorenz

{above photo inspired by Susan Licht}

The theme today, maybe, is "waiting for who knows what." The theme is writing, and waiting. Trampled prayers. The theme is about being humble and dignified. Interspersed with last week's birthday flowers, blossomings, and the beauty of last year's leavings. 

The theme is 'finding your own messy way through it all." "Being a person."

The theme is certainly: "Be curious and present."

Y E S.

“Everyone finds their own messy way through it all. I also think that taking time off from writing is good. Be a person for a while, less single-minded, more spontaneous. Also I keep coming back to this idea lately that writing should be a side-effect of your life rather than the goal of it. The goal should be to be curious and present.”

- Catherine Lacey

Or, the theme is: listen and be tender.

Or, wait and hope and make beautiful things, then share them for those who don't have time or energy or who happen to be sad or afraid or without or temporarily defeated.

"since the thing perhaps is to eat flowers and not to be afraid” 

- e.e. cummings

“Never worry about being obsessive. I like obsessive people. Obsessive people make great art.” 

- Susan Sontag

“If you send out goodness from yourself, or if you share that which is happy or good within you, it will all come back to you multiplied ten thousand times. In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control. The more love you give away, the more love you will have.”

- John O'Donohue, Anam Cara

“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

I repeat,

breathe in this world of light.

“In a time of destruction, create something.”

- Maxine Hong Kingston

When things suck, when you're down, when you make the mistake of 'reading the comments' - counteract this by reading a beautiful poem. Look at a painting that takes your breath away.

Meanwhile. So many people.

The visible and the in-

by Marge Piercy

Some people move through your life
like the perfume of peonies, heavy
and sensual and lingering.

Some people move through your life
like the sweet musky scent of cosmos
so delicate if you sniff twice, it’s gone.

Some people occupy your life
like moving men who cart off
couches, pianos and break dishes.

Some people touch you so lightly you
are not sure it happened. Others leave
you flat with footprints on your chest.

Some are like those fall warblers
you can’t tell from each other even
though you search Petersen’s.

Some come down hard on you like
a striking falcon and the scars remain
and you are forever wary of the sky.

We all are waiting rooms at bus
stations where hundreds have passed
through unnoticed and others

have almost burned us down
and others have left us clean and new
and others have just moved in.


Look as long as you can at the friend you love
no matter whether that friend is moving
away from you
or coming back toward you.

- Rumi

Last week, every morning I got out of bed at 5am, showered, made the coffee (if Rob hadn't already and usually he also gets up and goes to his studio), let the dog out, and was sitting at my desk with my file open by 5:30. Wrote for an hour and a half before it was time to wake Chloe up. When I say, "I wrote" what I mean is sometimes I wrote some stuff. Other times I kept my nice file company. I read it over, I changed a word or two, I talked to it, it talked to me. I transcribed stuff I'd written in my notebook at a previous time. I put things where they seem to belong. I smoothed. Deleted.

I thought about books I wish my book could be like but couldn't because I'm either not cool enough or polished enough or brave enough. I thought about the books I love and wondered if my book could be a bit like them. I read passages from my favourites. I spent a lot of time just screwing up my courage. And vowing to just let it all out and fix it up later. I spent time giving myself permission. I spent time telling myself, just sit here, just wait. Write a few more sentences, quickly. And then it would be over. And though this doesn't sound super productive, in five days I wrote five pages. And this is how it's going to go. Slowly slowly very slowly.

Sometimes I get weary of all those pieces out there or questionnaires asking writers about their process and what their secrets are and how do they find the time to write which reveal all the clever ways they find to stay off social media. I sometimes want to yell at those pieces of writing - stop taking up my time and just let me write. (You see you can blame it all on the internet).

But then. I read something like this and it makes me feel a little less crazy, a little less alone:

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. 
I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. 
But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.” 
- Haruki Murakami, from The Daily Habits of 12 Writers

and likely you've seen this before, from the same source:

Henry Miller's 11 Commandments:

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Keep human. But write first. And number 3, thank you number 3.

"Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly......."

Listen to blossoms.

Don't be nervous.

Work calmly.

Work joyously.

Work recklessly.

Fran Lebowitz in the Paris Review:
I always think when I read interviews with writers that I’ll find the key to happiness. Only write at this hour. Only wear a green sweater. I’m looking for what people look for when they are buying a lottery ticket. The secret of success. The secret of success to how to get a certain amount of work done. I’m very interested in that. If you ask me whom I’d like to have dinner with, the answer is anyone who got a lot of work done.

One of the books I took off my shelf this week is one of my top 10, desert island books.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.

If you know me, you know I dog-ear the heck out of the books I love. And it's strange but this book only has a few. Which is because when I read it, I just fall into it, the voice, the tone, the mood, the people. But there's this passage, near the end, when one of the characters asks Larry why he doesn't write about this couple, these friends, that he and his wife have known since they had kids at the same time. And he tries to say why you can't write about your friends.

"How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these? Where are the things that novelists seize upon and readers expect? Where is the high life, the conspicuous waste, the violence, the kinky sex, the death wish? Where are the suburban infidelities, the promiscuities, the convulsive divorces, the alcohol, the drugs, the lost weekends? Where are the hatreds, the political ambitions, the lust for power? Where are speed, noise, ugliness, everything that makes us who we are and makes us recognize ourselves in fiction?"

He goes on, and then:

"Why are they so helplessly who they are? Unanswered questions, perhaps unanswerable. In nearly forty years, neither has been able to change the other by so much as a punctuation mark."

I read and re-read this book and keep it close to me because it reminds that it's perfectly possible to write about quiet lives, about ordinary courageous and flawed people and to write compassionate, thinking, deep books.

Not everyone will like Crossing to Safety. But this is true of every book, and especially the great ones, I suppose.

Last things.

I'm in the Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau fan club. Unashamedly. But you can read about her here in the article titled: The hacking of tall poppy Sophie GrĂ©goire Trudeau by Neil MacDonald, with the subtitle: She’s amazingly popular and that’s something many Canadians can’t stand. Another take on it by Heather Mallick, yes, I'm also a Mallick fan.

In my opinion, SGT has nothing to apologize for. Which reminds me, check out this poem.

And anyway, haters gonna hate.

Also reading: Shine a Light on the Good and Beautiful. There are plenty of people who will do the opposite.

Digging the temporary tattoos on Tattly.

And that's a wrap on another week, lovelies. May your path be strewn with blossoms....

- Shawna


  1. So beautiful. I love all the life and spring in these posts. I especially love the reflections in the tea cup!

  2. Ah, such a "feel good" post, Shawna! The colors, the light, the tea, and all the inspiring words of wisdom. I agree with Staci, this is so full of life. And speaking of life, I prefer to read about those who lead a quiet, introspective life, the ordinary and the flawed, I can relate to those people. Have a lovely week, friend..and thanks for the mention xo

  3. I think that Shake It Off is SUCH A GOOD SONG. It is my intention that my children grow up with music in their mind that's saying, "It's gonna be all right." Anyway, I love this post.

  4. Beautiful. Consistently beautiful. And Omid Safi...could there be a more humble, wise and loving human being teaching us about what it means to be humble, wise and loving, and Muslim? I will visit Turkey again, next time with him as my guide. Best to you.

  5. Thank you everyone, for being here, and all the good and kind and beautiful things you do in the world.

  6. what a delight to return home to after a month of too-much-stimulation. I appreciate having this restful place to visit. I adore what you did with the reflection in the teacup!

  7. From a fellow Fiat owner, I recognized your key fob...I have a light blue Fiat 500. I have also ridden in the classic 67 model -- when my father was stationed in southern Italy in the 70's-80's. Never thought I would own one myself! Love your blog, poetry and photography!!


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