Are you a good switch or a bad switch??

I was watching a video this morning about simplifying life, trying to figure out where I put that idea down and walked away from it. I’m curious how other people put life goals into words, and this person had a thoughtful, practical list. What stood out for me was her term for something I’ve struggled with the last few months. I guess I could have guessed there would be a term for it. Task-switching.

It’s not multi-tasking. I don’t. I can’t. I used to. Nope. I’m remembering to drink my tea in between sentences here, and that’s as far as that goes. Task-switchers do one thing at a time, but they jump around too much, too fast, too often. My task-switching mind is frankly out of control and wearing me out.

Part of the problem is the gig economy, even though I like/love my jobs. I try to designate days they will occupy, but the emails crossover, the meetings jump the fence, and my own thoughts run screaming from job to job out of habit. And each switch requires putting aside a ton of thoughts and knowledge before picking up, however briefly, a whole other huge set of thoughts and knowledge.

This is not conducive to creative time and space, is it? Nope. Each job has a variety of tasks and projects, did I mention that? It’s all cramming my brain like that hall closet no one should ever, ever open. Like the ship’s cabin scene in the Marx Brothers’ Night at the Opera. (Watch it if you haven’t. Have a laugh at the highly organized absurdity. Any similarities between it and actual lives is intentional and to be noted.)

As we switch into February, I am going to focus on cutting out the task-switching. This is probably going to involve doing less for, and thinking less about, my jobs, and yet still insisting to myself that I am a good enough person. That’s the other part: I’m driven to task-switch by inner messages I should not listen to.

It’s also going to involve a good switch in perception. Did you ever suddenly realize that your perception of something was creating an actual obstacle in your life? I realized recently that I never reward myself for writing practice, because I perceive my practice AS the reward. For getting everything else done to everyone else’s satisfaction and in their best interest, thus justifying the writing time I am then too tired to enjoy. Whoops. May I just say that? Whoops.

Firsts for the First

I’m thinking about creative first lines for the first, naturally enough for a bookhound. What are the most famous first lines in English? I guessed three. Of course, there’s the one that makes reference to its own place in the book, “In the beginning…” Then there’s “To be, or not to be…”. While not an official opening line, it is the first line of the speech.

I also guessed “T’was the night before Christmas…” That one got me started thinking about time in first lines, and, of course, “Once upon a time” may be the most well-known beginning there is. I assume many languages have their version of it to turn to. It’s interesting that two literary classics begin, or almost begin with it. Poe’s “The Raven” at least starts “Once upon”, if only to plunge us into, not a time, but a timeless “midnight dreary” where Life and Rationality get crept up on by their opposites.

James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, despite being a modernist classic, does begin “Once upon a time…” because the main character’s uncle is telling baby Stephen a story about a little boy and a cow. If you’re a Literary Geek, this is kinda funny.

Of course, Dickens left the timestampers in the dust with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”. A lot of first lines like to pin down time, as if this is the information we want and need first. A personal perennial favorite is: “In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army.” How dull, really. But he will shortly meet an unusual person who might look like Basil Rathbone or Benedict Cumberbatch or my friend Donald. This will shake him up a bit and liven the storytelling considerably.

For the sake of my friend and fab fellow blogger, I have to add to this category “Captain’s Log, Stardate series of numbers I’m sure the Trekkies have sorted out into a calendar”.

I suppose marking time– sunlight, seasons, writing deadlines– is a survival tactic as old as our ability to do it. I almost don’t dare write that I hope today is a marker pointing in some good directions, but I suppose Betty White would want me to do it. And then to say swear words and laugh a lot and say/do something kind.

Another first line I’ve known nearly forever came to my mind, and I’ll end on it. It sounds dire, asking a heavy question rather than offering safe information to hold on to: “‘Where’s Pa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother…” It’s the first line of Charlotte’s Web, and it doesn’t begin to hint at the wonder, writing, Love, and “the glory of everything” to come. I think it’s the first line I need today.

Its author, E. B. White, is a favorite of my dear friend Bob Colonna, to whom this first post of 2022 is dedicated with all my spun-silk love.

(The photo is E. B. White and Minnie.)

Decorrrrrrrr

You know, I literally have five more days of Poetry and Decorating Month, so don’t rush me.

I have seen segments of the British Antiques Roadshow with a host, three similar objects, and an expert in those particular objects. The host and surrounding onlookers try to figure out which object has the highest monetary value. All the objects are aesthetic delights.

I told my friend Sandy (link to her blog post about my blog) that I would post during Decorating Month about the bone we pick with the Boston Globe Sunday magazine “home” features. The theme of our rants is simple: How to Decorate Big Space with Big Money is of little use to a lot of us.

Frankly, I love looking at “real estate porn”, and most simple/edgy/boho/unusual home design fascinates me. I am also a fan of Marni Elyse Katz, who writes these features now. She’s good!

My own object/decor jam is more thrift, gift, and foraging. People write about that, too. I have six books on the topic and counting, and they’re mostly second-hand. And I practice. My glass square that came from an old job when they closed contains a highly curated collection of park tree branches, pond driftwood, and a stick I grabbed out of a community garden compost area. I mean, this thing is curated. It’s an arrrrrrangement.

I have framed book covers, book pages, and postcards on the wall. The pleasing display above my desk contains a thrift-store glass cylinder of stones and shells in colorful layers, a birch log, two ocean stones, a framed collage I made from a beat-up book, and the fired clay figure I made in Sunday School crafts class, who vaguely resembles Buddha in a beret. This is how I roll, and a lot of interesting authors have encouraged my roll.

So let’s play the Roadshow game and decide what is my most valuable work of art in the photo. If the Ansel Adams were the real deal, then yeah. But it’s posterboard in a frame, and someone left it in the building when they moved out. So it cost me nothing, but it is full of value. First thing I hung in this apartment, it connects me to the tree outside, and my gaze often wanders into its deepness when my gaze needs to wander.

The one on the right is a print of King’s Chapel, the wonderful 18th-century historic site where I used to work and hope to work again. It’s likely from a re-issue the artist’s son did in the 1970s. I know this because artist Jas Murray did a lot of local scenes and still seems to be very popular. I found it in a charity shop, hanging there waiting for me, which I’m sure is what it was doing. It fills my heart up every day, like a lover’s portrait.

The piece on the left is by artist and parfumier John Biebel. The pensive woman carries a long-stemmed flower and has a lovely old home growing out of her head. It was gift to me from my friend John. I find it exquisite and inspiring, and it represents the generous kindness of a friend I love.

Cost winner? King’s Chapel at $6. Value winner? Nope. Each one is beautiful to me, makes me happy when I look at it, surrounds me with Creativity. The Creative finding of Creative things is decor my way.

Mixed Messages

The haloed little figure on one shoulder and the little horned figure on the other shoulder, each whispering, is an old trope. Today I feel as if I have various small voice boxes all over me, with all sorts of things to say. Some have birds’ wings, some breathe cigarette smoke, and some are stone. Mixed messages.

How can any decent person think about a blog today, this week, as if it’s important. Creativity, seriously?/How can any decent person not stand up to every type of violence, the empty noise, the knowledge their attention is a product for sale? THIS week, how can anyone not do some human, Creative thing in the face of all this scratching at our skin?

I should have rolled out, not just been awake, before dawn, and taken a walk before I got to my writing. I should heed my priorities because no one else will./I should be gentle and patient with this person who had chaotic, rough dreams and bad sleep, enjoy the quiet time, and not treat my “schedule” like the chariot that needs to pull the sun./I shouldn’t use the word “should” on myself at all, especially when it pushes “need to” out of the way. Why are the “shoulds” so much easier to articulate than the “need tos”? See above: violence, noise, attention as product.

I want to blog./I want to read./I want to look at the yellow leaves out the window sifting the sun, and I want to do all of them all day.

I want to understand the difference between a sense of purpose and a sense of responsibility./There’s no difference./There’s EVERY difference./Isn’t there?

Every poem can be analyzed, played with, followed forever. It’s never done: there will be no sign./Put your poem on your blog and get some more coffee and do the laundry.

 Dreams
  
 Another dream: late to teach, 
 streets stretch, destination
 retreating. My half-run feeds on
 panic never questioned.
 Spaghetti-like stations,
 unfair, shape-shifting
 routes of trains,
 unchallenged because
 the stamina demanded
 I deliver without
 a thought. Finally the door,
 students hanging around
 like a shop full of clocks,
 space used up in clatter,
 time disassembled.
 In some versions, also
 farm animals. Or snow. 
  
 Downstream of chaos, waking
 cramped. Some books rest near
 the weary lamp. Somewhere I read
 that eras ago, the unexhausted
 slept night’s first hours,
 then rose a little while, 
 to rustle embers, sit,
 turn pages, listen to
 the hidden river of the trees.
 Or to love, bodies safe
 from daylight’s flying shards,
 grind-spin of metal on stone.
 Or just to look at whatever
 indoor shapes cast shadows. 
  
 Who first found out that even sleep
 needs pausing, found out it would
 submit? Is there a foxed treatise,
 spell of the old words
 however desired? Or did they
 simply pull chairs closer around
 a remark at table on the moon
 that eased clearly through oak leaves,
 like a shell flown by tides, after
 invisible rain? Didn’t they
 discover what each had
 witnessed alone? Didn’t they
 nod and smile over the hill of rinds,
 the crags of bread, the sea of salty meat?
 Didn’t that moment of empty
 mouths, that pause, become so quiet that,
 before another wave of conversation,
 the candles stood amazed
 to burn that true air, that silence? 


The photo, by me, is of two pieces in the Kindness Rocks Project, seen on The Mall, Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, on Easter weekend, 2020.

Burn

There are books I read every few years. Do you have such books? I circle slowly back around to them like the orbit of Neptune because I’ve noticed interesting change between the first and second, and subsequent, readings.

Some books, read again, reflected back a new (older) reader with different responses. That helped me know my mind and sense of language better, as well as opening the vista a good piece of Art is.

Sometimes I return to writing of my own with the changed perspective of time. I understand them differently. Even the way I want specific words to communicate has changed

This poem started with a round burn on my hand got not long after noticing a small, dark rose in falling snow; it bloomed late, into a tight knot of petals, ready to face winter. The poem slid around on those two images, sort of a narrative about my own observations.

Buddhism likes to say…well, Buddha said….the world is burning. Our senses are burning. This simple, complex statement has to do with the nature of the world and our attachments to things. It’s a wake-up call about how easily we make ourselves suffer. It’s also now a new layer of the word “burn” for me, and there it is.

So what happens when I go back to this poem? The actual hand burn once got lifted into something higher through the image of the rose. Now my hand provides the poem with the metaphorical Buddhist burning the real rose can’t escape. Once the burn “bloomed” like the rose, and now the rose is burning. (If I’m not careful, I will justify the false impression that exists in the world that Buddhism is a real downer.)

The poem before was imagining connections, and I feel as if now it’s reporting a real connection I finally paid attention to. I have another “thinky” poem that is struggling to go in exactly the opposite direction and soak its reporting in imagination, to revel in imagined connections. My smile at this knowledge of my own tangled Creativity is both wry and satisfied.

 
 Burn
  
 The stove’s sharp blue heat
 invaded the pot handle
 you grasped without attention.
  
 The burn asserts itself
 like the red fist of a rose
 opened late, defying snowfall.
  
 Take note. The earth insists.
 The undulation of your palm
 has always resembled a drift,
  
 snow crept upon by claws
 of sunset, bloody hue under bare branches.
 There have always been things on fire.
  
 The body burns to say it. So
 your same grasping hand sets
 it down, sears white paper darker.
  
  
   

So, enough about you…

Big D

I take pleasure in sharing Creativity  I encounter. in our brimming-over world. A couple of things about doing so occurred to me recently. One, I have some lovely photos of local gardens I am just too lazy to sort out of my phone albums. Two, Everyone and their neighbor’s second cousin is putting  Creative Work online because we have to, and although the reasons are awful, the results are often wonderful. And three, I’ve never really put my own Creative Work on my own damn blog. Maybe 2020 is the year to let that hesitance fade into the past with a lot of my former way of living.

Actually, I’ve been writing as steady practice, and I’ve been growing. In earlier heydays of my poetry, there was an intellectual quality to the way I handled language and ideas. Buddhist practice has made me want to let go of that type of hard work, to see what happens when I am more embodied and present in the moment as a writer. Yeah, and vulnerable and open, and all that stuff…

The thing is, it’s working, and I like it. I still falter, as I did with a recent poem that originally had a fixed end point and a prettily written lecture to get it there. Turns out it really is a woefully and wildly personal poem , and I’m letting that happen now in the revision, and it’s like riding surf without a boogie board.

So I will share some of my recent work here. Although I have been published in both journals and anthologies, it’s a somewhat big step to put this here without the ringing approval of a poetry editor’s acceptance.

This is a poem I wrote for an artist friend when she shared on social media that her tough feelings about our times were hampering her Creative energy. I hope it brings some uplift. And yeah, I’m going to link you to her work, of course. It is her poem, after all.

 

Bears in Bad Times

for JPH

 

Antique brown bear observes bad times from a shelf,

ears wide, silent, but flourishing its bronze ribbon,

a bohemian tie. Imagine evening, a half-dressed

painter, youthful and intent, the room’s view

a damp canvas, the sky’s blue hour rising.

 

Another artist, red and green in woods

elsewhere, is photographing bears. Her

bird feeders strain and sink beneath mounds

of starved gravity with long tongues

intruding. Every type of refuge now

seems hollow of all but emptiness. Yet

companions appear, right over there—

the bearings we have lost, the kind bearing

of chaos and grief, and creatures,

too, who are constellations.

 

 

Thank you for the inspiration and for your beautiful jewelry, Jen.

 

 

 

 

 

Sticks and Stones: Metal is Stone-Adjacent

Migration

One of the few words I ban in my students’ writing is “amazing” because we often use it vaguely, to say not a lot. Unless, I tell them, you look it up and have been literally amazed, don’t go near it.

The online dictionary says it means “causing…wonder; astonishing”. It isn’t how they feel about most of the stuff I assign them to read, I promise you. But it IS how I feel about this video on the amazing creation of this mask by my friend kest schwartzman.

Sure, I want to promote artists in these precarious times. But I was riveted watching kest work. And not smash their fingers. And work some more. The beauty and Creative drama will carry you happily through, so please enjoy “Forged Copper Mask”.
Seriously, watch the video. So groovy.

Artist kest schwartzman is here!