To The Lighthouse —

Lighthouse, Japan Sea

“If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

—– Anne Lamott

Hinomisaki Lighthouse

Hinomisaki Lighthouse, Shimane prefecture

High above the Japan Sea a little farther on the trail to the right in the photo stands a tall white lighthouse. It doesn’t pick itself up and run about, looking for readers, er, boats to rescue. It’s just waiting there for boats out in the dark and in the storm, boats that need to know where the land is. Just so, when we’re seeking, when we’re climbing and clambering, in our own dark and storms, we need words that shine for us, that guide us to safety. At times of great gratitude and thankfulness, we may even long to write such words for others. How to do that?

Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life tops my very short list of must-reads for for anyone who writes, or wants to, or wants to write better.  Also on my personal short list are Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Do you have your own list of writer-lighthouses? And if so, who’s made your list?

Posted in Japan, Quotes, Reading, Writers | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

Winter Closet

Thanksgiving arrived along with the first winter storm of the season here in the Northeast United States. Biting cold, snow, wind — please, Mother Nature, I’m not ready yet! The older I get, the less ready I am for the arrival of winter.

New England is mostly a landscape of pastels at the best of seasons. From November on, that palette dwindles to brown, beige, charcoal gray, misty white. My front closet — the one that holds my winter armament of coats and gloves and scarves — reflects that palette.

In my winter closet ---

Leather and down and wool, pretty dull, huh? But then an anomaly leaped to my eyes. Here it is:

Summer Straw

A summer straw hat with its jaunty sunflower, perched atop a garment bag cheek by jowl with umbrellas and scarves and those drab winter coats —

Why haven’t I put this away, I wondered. And then I realized why. That straw hat is my token that winter is not all there is. Spring will come eventually, and not simply spring, but summer.

There is a time for everything under the sun, a time for leather and down and wool, for gloves and hats and scarves. That time is now. But there is also a time for sunlight and warmth and straw and sunflowers, and that time will come. We take our signs of hope where we find them.

Do you take winter (whenever that comes for you) in your stride? Or do you, like me,  have to work with it?

 

 

Posted in Color, Flowers, Nature, winter | Tagged , , , | 37 Comments

Fear Not!

Yesterday the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico netted a cool $44.4 million at auction for one of their masterpieces, O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed. That more than doubled the amount ever paid for a work by a female artist, and was much trumpeted for that fact.

Jimson Weed, Georgia O'Keeffe

I love that painting. It’s worth the money, if one’s got the money. But there are a couple of points that bother me about all this. A lot. First is the fact that the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum exists to guard and preserve the works of the eponymous artist. So they’re selling what is one of her greatest paintings? This is to guard her legacy? How?

The stated purpose of the sale was to increase their acquisition fund. Acquisition of what? Paintings by Lucian Freud? (In case it just slipped your mind, he’s the male artist one of whose works went for the most money ever paid at auction for an art work.) Which brings me to the second bothersome point.

News stories prominently headlined the word “female”. The most money ever paid for female art, they proclaimed. Like paint tubes perform differently for male and female artists? Or brushes? Or canvas? Hmmm? I thought by the 21st century we were past this “men are the artists, women are the muses” nonsense. Guess not.

Okay, rant over, because what I really want to do in this post is to pass on some inspiring and challenging words spoken by the artist herself:

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Georgia O’Keeffe was one tough lady. She lived to 98, and lived the life she wanted to. The quote surprised me, though. I knew her biography, and knew how strong she was. But I had thought it was a piece of cake for her to live her own life, because she was so strong. Until I read her words, it never occurred to me that she paid a price for it. That maybe I was reading things backward; that she was so strong because she lived her own life!

For me, inclined to timidity and people-pleasing, bedeviled by phobias (elevators, locks on bathroom doors, heights), terror often stops me from doing what I want to do. Sometimes it even stops me from being fully aware of what I really want to do. That this was the case for one of my heroines never even occurred to me.

Now that it has occurred to me, I wonder if it will make a difference?

How is it for you? Is fear a stranger to you? Or do you, in the words of the adage, “feel the fear and do it anyway?” What part does fear and trembling play in your life, and how do you deal with it?

Posted in Art, Challenge, Flowers, Paintings, Quotes, Wisdom, Wonderings | Tagged , , , , , | 32 Comments

THIS MORNING —

“Early to bed and early to rise

Makes people healthy and wealthy and wise.”

That’s the folk wisdom, anyway. I kept thinking about “Late to bed and late to rise…” but couldn’t come up with anything at all, let alone anything inspiring. And yet that’s my modus vivendi, I’m afraid. I may pop into bed early, but ETA on my actual sleep time is guaranteed to be 11 p.m. or later. Much later, sometimes.

So when sunrise comes around, despite the impassioned descriptions of my early-rising friends (Pauline? Jen? are you there or are you outside already?) the beauties of the early morning sky tempt me not.

This morning, though, I’d been passing one of THOSE nights, you know, sleep a few hours, wake a few hours, sleep and wake, sleep and wake, won’t it ever be morning? THAT kind of night. So in desperation, about 5 a.m. I decided if you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em, and I staggered into the front room to see the morning sky.

The Sun Also Rises ---

The streetlight’s still on — A few lights at the neighbors which burn all night — And a quite lovely turning-to-blue sky — Day is breaking. And to think it happens every single morning!

(How about you? What do you think of daybreak? Are you a lark or a night owl?)

Posted in Nature | Tagged , , , | 25 Comments

Second Guessing: The War Within

I have a tiny whisper that goes in and out with me,

And what can be the use of it is more than I can see.

(with apologies to Robert Louis Stevenson)

My tiny whisper goes in and out with me,  such a steady companion that I’m rarely conscious of hearing it. But I react to it, oh, yes! I react to it. What I wonder — before I tell you about it — is whether you sometimes go about accompanied by your own tiny whisper. This is what mine says to me:

How do I feel? How do I feel about this?

An innocuous little whisper, no? And then I dutifully stop, and ponder, before I go to the gym, or begin exercising, or even brush my teeth (full-scale version, with tiny pick and floss as well as paste and toothbrush): How do I feel? How do I feel about this? My tiny whisper is second-guessing me. Giving me another chance to decide something already decided..

And as often as not, my response to the whisperer is to take off the sneakers, to put down the brush and toothpaste. Later. I’ll do it later. I don’t feel so terrific, I don’t feel like doing this right now.

I’ve teased it out for you here, but mostly it goes automatically. The voice, the second guess, the response, mostly negative. Mostly working to reverse an action I’ve already decided on doing. That’s the killer, of course, that’s why I want to bring that tiny whisper’s existence into the spotlight. I, the conscious thinking I, has pulled myself together to do something I think is a good idea. But between the idea and the execution falls, not T.S. Eliot’s shadow, but my whisper.

Which actually is a shadow, of course, at least in the sense that Carl Jung, that great anti-Freud, posits that everyone has a shadow side. It’s our dark side, that’s turned away from our rational good sense and straightforward actions and best intentions. The dark side harbors ugly thoughts, ill-wishes and ill intentions, and hurries to sabotage both others and oneself.

Yetzer hara, yetzer hatov

Monoprint, Judith Bruder

Quite a long time before Carl Jung, Hebrew folklore posited two basic impulses that dwell within each person, the yetzer ha-ra and the yetzer ha-tov, the evil impulse and the good impulse. I’ve always pictured them as two tiny angels, one sitting on each of my shoulders. My better self, my worse self,  arguing back and forth: Do this, no, do that. The war within, a civil war, in effect. And which one wins is a toss-up, every time.

More frequently than I’m happy to admit, it’s the yetzer ha-ra that prevails. The cutting remark that didn’t need to be made. The generous word that was never spoken. The stint on the treadmill that didn’t happen this morning, the teeth quietly accumulating some more plaque — those purely physical phenomena are the tip of a much larger iceberg.

I once was given very sound words of wisdom by a spiritual advisor. “Follow your instincts,” he said. “You have good instincts, so follow them.” But it’s amazing how difficult it is to follow such a seemingly simple instruction! The tiny whisper, always there, below the level of my conscious attention, always second-guessing those good instincts, often subverting them.

It’s only in the past few months that I’ve really become aware how omnipresent this tiny whisper is. It’s only recently that I’m learning to recognize it,  to coax it or chase it into the light, and thereby learn to manage it, and regain the freedom to say yes or no with an undivided heart.

Always a late bloomer, I wonder if I’m the only one. Do any of you have your own tiny whisper? Your own second-guesser? If so, what imaginative shape does it take?  How do you fight your own war within?

And those for whom this is a non-issue, know how fortunate you are, and rejoice!

Posted in Angels, Challenge, Doubt, Failure, Freedom, Mindfulness, Personal Essay, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , | 27 Comments

AUTUMN LEAVES

It’s late October. We’re past the blue and gold, and into the fallen, fading autumn leaves of ocher, beige, dull red and brown. They’re EVERYWHERE!

Autumn Leaves

On the patio:

On the Patio

Sitting on the chairs:

Patio Chairs

It’s clearly time to wrap up outdoor living for the winter, so we took advantage of hale and hearty visitors to do so. Now we’re prepared, until springtime comes around again:

A Melancholy Sight

A melancholy sight!

To solace ourselves — music. Sweet, melancholy music, the strains of Autumn Leaves, originally written as Les Feuilles Mortes by French surrealist poet Jacques Prévert. There are about as many versions of this ballad available on Youtube as there are fallen leaves on our porch. There’s Natalie Cole’s and Frank Sinatra’s and Barbra Streisand’s sophisticated rendition. There’s Edith Piaf, singing in French, with her tremolo working overtime, and the incredible French version by Yves Montand. Nobody could hold a cigarette — or a note — like he could. But I’ve chosen for you my very most favorite version. Snuggle down in a comfortable chair and let the inimitable Nat King Cole break your heart a little bit:

 

Posted in Autumn, Loneliness, Memory, Music, Nature, Pioneer Valley, winter | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments

After the Deluge

October being what it is, autumn in New England, we have mild days and cold, gold and gray. We also have not infrequent deluges, and yesterday was one of those. The rain approached Biblical proportions. Worcester, not so far from us, broke 50 year records. Ours was not bad either, what the Hub calls “dancing rain”:

The Rains Came ---

But at sunset time the weather began to clear, and turned mild and amiable, as if it had never raged during the day:

A Mild Sky, After the Storm

The crimson of the tree next door survived, mostly intact:

Mostly Intact!

And even the fallen leaves metamorphosed into a kind of mosaic that cheered my heart!

Nature's Mosaic

Not for the first time I understand just how two-faced Mother Nature is, giving with one hand and taking away with the other.  It’s a struggle often to appreciate both faces, but worth the effort. (And what choice do we really have?)

Posted in Autumn, Color, Nature, Pioneer Valley | Tagged , , | 18 Comments