Friday, March 30, 2012

Current Reads

This week I’ve been finishing Exile and the Kingdom. Camus is amazing. I felt strongest about “The Guest” and cried most at “The Renegade”. I wanted so much for “The Silent Men” to speak, and “The Adulterous Woman” reminded me so strongly of a good friend that I almost disliked it. I am reading e.e. Cummings aloud to Petka while we dance around the house, actually enjoying him. In the evenings I’ve been picking up Taproot magazine, a new independent magazine about living in the natural world. I ordered it as soon as I heard of it, and anticipated it eagerly, but when it came I found myself reading just a bit at a time, digesting, and coming back after a day or so to read again. It’s not a journal to devour, but one to consider, discuss, and reconsider. I’m thrilled to have it.

Through the day, I’ve been listening to the radio. NPR is fantastic, and in the afternoons I tend to migrate to the ‘funky’ station, where “different is good”, and where I can hear everything from John Prine to Kate Bush, from Ani deFranco to Counting Crows.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

50 Days..: Day 21

What 3 songs have affected you most this week, and why?

Shake it out (Florence and the Machine) - the imagery. It’s haunting, and rich and dark. The imagery fills my mind with bonfires and disturbing night shadows. The music is infectious, really. It makes me want to dance.

Let me down Hard (John Eddie) - I’ve never been through a break-up, but this song makes me almost wish I had. The attitude is everything I’d hope to express, the lyrics are fantastic.

Perfect (Pink) - this song makes me cry every time. I feel like she wrote it for her daughter, and I think of mine every time I hear it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Mundane Wilderness

"Go to your cell, and your cell will teach you everything."
   ~Desert Fathers

"I wish to be with those who know secret things, or else alone."
  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Mr. Pond’s response to last weeks discussion particularly interested me. He writes, that "the act of writing itself is an act of seclusion, a turning away from speech and community into the solitary, silent voice of the writer." We are at odds. Writing is not an act of seclusion, it is an act of reaching out, of embracing, challenging, or calling forth. It is an outward act which requires silence and seclusion, but then calls to the world it meets, embracing it and welcoming it in. Silence and seclusion are essential, but they are essential in the same way they are essential to the prophets and to the desert fathers - we retreat so as to find our voice, but our voice is not meant for the wilderness, it is meant for the community, which is not a community of comfortable tradition, or those who write and think and see as we do, they have their own voices, the community is anyone and everyone who can hear, and who will listen.  

Perhaps we disagree because I consider this to be the role of the poet in the world, among the people he meets and among those whom he will never meet, except in bits of writing or fragments of thought passed along. In this he is active in the community, he doesn't need to fill his life with running about. His writing is active, it is interactive, and it is a living voice for him to raise up. 

Jenna's response is encouraging though, she gives me the eyes to see Mr. Pond's post in a holistic way, as one aspect of the writer's otherness, expressed in a rejection of the mundane things of neighborhood block parties, activism, and other distractions, and an embrace of the solitude that leads to writing.  But I would like to follow this discussion with clarification, if my friend's don't mind dwelling a bit.

 Mr. Pond's statement: " I know of no other way to write than that Romantic vision" brought to my mind the romantic tradition, and it's effect on the image of The Writer. I would like to probe a bit into the act of writing as it relates to daily life.  Is there a value in mundane life for the work of the artist? How can the writer in the romantic ideal combine the demands of daily life: family, bills, housework, and physical labor with the dramatic aloneness of the writing life.

I am very much convinced that daily chores are a grounding, inspiring, and essential aspect of my own creative process. My best writing came during a time I spent working long hours at a dairy farm, it was constant, heavy labor, and I know I've never been healthier physically or creatively than I was that year. Now, with the direction that comes from consistent, physical chores, I am beginning to come again into an active creative period. I'm grateful for the demands of my life, there is less time to write, more time to feel and know the world around me. Ora et Labora, the blessings of balance. It is what the Romantic's lack, balance, aching muscles, roots, and the soothing resistance of bread dough. Not everyone is suited to physical labor, but the presence of mundane tasks is an essential to creative wholeness.

Friday, March 23, 2012

St. Joseph

The feast of St. Joseph on Monday gave us a much needed break from Lenten fasting. I had cream in my coffee and beer late at night. I always feel as though St. Joseph must have been a bit exhausted, being the only imperfect member of the Holy Family, and now, as the patron of nearly everything, he is equally exhausted. We even ask him for help finding the things we’ve lost, as St. Anthony can’t be trusted not to hide them himself. St. Joseph doesn’t have time for games like that, though he sometimes gets distracted. When we want something particular, we tuck a note behind his icon, so the reminder is always there.

On his day, Petka and I gave him a special place at the table, and a candle all his own. Petka tasted a corner of his icon and waved to him while I prayed; the sun shone down through the dome. I put out new candles around the house and realized later that they were all bright red - a good color for luck, for new life, and long, happy days

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Solitary Voices

“Artists discover as childern that they have inappropriate responses to events around them, they also find..that these oddities are what constitute their value to others.”
~Kathleen Norris

Last week I tried to direct the discussion toward understanding the motivation of the reader. Not necessarily the dedicated reader, but the consistent reader. Last week Mr. Pond and Jenna agreed that we read because we read, and Jenna's conclusion "I put a pen to paper and pray for magic" was simply beautiful. This week I am able to truly draft my discussion post, and I’d like to try continuing to connect the writer to his audience. It’s the Equinox, and Petka is napping long and heavy in her cradle under the window. She’s been asleep for an hour and a half, despite Luba’s best efforts to wake her. I’ve been short with Luba, who gives me wounded looks now, when I come to the door to shush her. The Cure is on the radio, and I feel as though an old friend has surprised me with a visit. There are pussy willows anticipating Easter on our table along with all my scattered books and papers, my coffee cup, and now, my computer.

My commitment to writing is less than it ought to be, but even in my distraction, I can see that writing well takes a good deal of dedication, almost as much as it takes talent; it also takes a particular calling - a vocation to ‘otherness’, to take up the voice of the community, and in writing to “make us look at the way things really are,” refusing to let us “deny our pain” (Kathleen Norris), and our glory. Like the prophets, who filled the Old Testament with warnings and insistence, writers can’t stop at pain, they reveal again and again the richness and beauty of our humanity.

Often, we have a mistaken view of the nature of writing. We cling to the “nineteenth-century image of the poet-as-romantic; the lone rebel,..seized by holy imagination” (Kathleen Norris). It is a dangerous and isolating image. The writer is denied his voice - his words no longer have the power to call the community tnot deeper understanding, because the community cannot see beyond the enjoyment they receive or fail to receive from his work.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

50 Days of Self Reflection: Day 19

If you were a tree, what sort of tree would you be?

I would be a beech tree, if I could choose, with smooth bark and leaves that turn bright gold in the autumn and rattle away in the winter wind. Beeches comfort me. They're grand, but homey, common, but each one seems exceptional in it's own way. We have a beech at the head of the property, gracefully curved from some storm long ago, with wide branches that reach out across the road, and a look of welcoming in it's leaves.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Early Morning Art

Recently I spent the afternoon cleaning the desk my husband and I share - putting away books, dusting, tossing papers in the stove. I put fresh paper in my typewriter and a clear notebook beside it, with the good pens in a jar. I went about my day, waiting for a moment to sit down and write. Ideas came and went, but the opportunity eluded me until late in the evening, watching the moon rise above the trees, I was able to fall into the work, while my husband read, Yarrow crawled off in pursuit of danger, and Luba followed her, sniffing nervously. Since the I’ve been rising early again to eat up more time writing at the window, and typing it up in the evenings when the clack-clack of the old machine won’t wake the household. My husband is grateful, as an early morning for me insures him a warm house, hot coffee, and oatmeal by lamplight. I am grateful because the mornings are mine.

Friday, March 16, 2012

No Place to Hide

I don’t like big houses at night, or on dark days, or even on bright sunny days. There are too many rooms and too many corners. There are stairs to walk up, with your back to the dark room below, and stairs to walk down, into emptiness. There are noises - creaks and shiftings that only get louder the longer they go on. I’m grateful for the roundness of our little home, the room with no corners, where the Icons can watch everywhere and the moon can shine in on clear nights. I like knowing that there is nothing walking upstairs, no small space where blessings have yet to be flung. Our household devils have nowhere to hide, they’ve been forced out among the beeches and pines to shiver in the cold night air. True, it can make for a frightening walk to the outhouse, but I know my saints are resting in the birches, watching to keep away harm. It’s an interesting balance, and my dreams at night are full of people on both sides, perhaps Petka’s are as well. She wasn’t sleeping for a while, her naps were brief and hard fought, her nights restless. I started to wonder if her dreams were frightening her, and so St. Anna, protector of little girls was invoked, her oil dripped on Yarrow’s head, and blessed salt sprinkled in her cradle. I was impressed with how completely it worked. That night she slept with a little smile, long and well, woke happy and the restfulness of sleep is back. I don’t know what she dreams, but I imagine happy ones, full of warm milk, Luba, and laughing times with the wind in her face.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

50 Days of Self Reflection: Day 18

What are three things you hope to accomplish this year, and why, and how?

I have such a long list of things to do. I have to remind myself to take the year as it comes and not let myself get wrapped up in projects that belong to the future. I’ll try to keep it realistic here.

1. Create the poetry-photo compilation my husband and I have been planning for a while. I’m really excited about the project, I love my husband’s photography and I think they would make a fantastic pairing. It just takes time, which I’m generally short on, and discipline, which I’ve never had much of.

2. Get goats. I want regular access to good, raw milk. I want to make goat cheese. Besides, goats a a nice, easy way to ease further into a full-fledged homestead, and I have fantastic names all ready for them! I’m hoping to start with two or three and build from there to a little herd of five or six over the next few years. What will I do with all the extra milk? “Drink what I feel like and throw the rest to hell,” as E.B. White’s neighbor did, living alone with two milk cows all to himself, or share it with friends, or make yogurt and cheese and then share that with friends, I suppose.

3. Have truly successful gardens this summer. Big ones. Enough to can the abundance and eat enthusiastically each day in season. Cleaning out the chicken coop this week,I realized I’ve got a decent amount of our own manure aging in the snow-covered garden right now, and with some work, some pest (read that - Luba and the chickens) control, and the hopeful early start I’m looking for this year, I have high hopes our gardens this year will give way more than I could ever hope to use!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Reader

..With Jenna & Mr. Pond

“Why are we reading if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?…Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness..?”
~Annie Dillard

Why are we reading? What readers do we write for? And why, and how? Annie Dillard is an interesting writer. I don’t always like her and I don’t always agree with her, but she is interesting. I sometimes think she takes her art too seriously though. I have a taste for bad fiction, like a taste for sugar it intrudes on my good intentions and leads me down the candy aisle of bookstores, towards the books I love to hate. When I read them, it isn’t with any hope that beauty will be laid bare, or that life’s mysteries will be probed, I’m just looking for a good time. I’m not always the junk-food reader, in fact, I’m usually not, but I have to take that time into account when I look at why I read. It isn’t just in hopes the writer will magnify my days and inspire me with wisdom, sometimes books take the place of television for me, and I look for the literary version of reality t.v., sometimes reading takes the place of sleep and I want to recreate my dreams - mysterious and surreal, sometimes I really am looking for illuminating, life-lifting beauty and meaningfulness. Am I too fickle a reader or am I indicative of the norm?

“The body of literature, with its limits and edges, exists outside some people and inside others.”

~Annie Dillard

If this is true, then the reader is attempting to absorb a bit of the body of literature, to allow it to fill and form him. The reader reads to bring the body into himself. But I don’t know. The ability to create art is inside some people and outside others, but “the body of literature” - the stories that some people can shape into art, are within everyone. They’re the shared experiences of humanity, in some people they live forever within, unable to be formed into literature, and in others they burst out, unable to resist becoming literature, but they belong to each person because of our shared humanity. Maybe I read to experience another person’s vision of life, good or bad, literature or trash, it’s interests me because of the person behind the words.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

50 Days of Self Reflection: Day 17

What would you hope to be remembered for by those you love?

I have an image in my mind of my grandmother, my mother’s mother. In my mind, she is the giver of things, warm, loving, generous. The maker of good food, the matriarch of her family. I don’t care so much about being a matriarch, but I would like to be remembered for love, joy, generosity, and really good food. My grandmother - bushia - haunts my imagination, whispering recipes as I cook and helping me grow into the woman I want to be remembered as.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Daily Things

      I love to hear the wind beating around the yurt at night. Spring is on it’s way, I can feel it in the warm days, and even the cold days smell different - fresher, as thought the whole world is just being born. Lenten penitence is difficult on the warm days. I want fresh cream in my coffee and a croissant with a poached egg for breakfast. Or crepes with cream cheese and blackberries. The blackberries won’t be ripe for months though, and crepes are off the menu until Easter. I have black coffee, or red tea, oatmeal or eggs. We couldn’t give up eggs, not with at least a half-dozen being laid each day.

I caught a tiny spider lurking near the mugs this morning and brushed him off onto the floor. It won’t be my fault if Luba finds him and licks him up, if I step on him, or if he gets swept up and thrown in the fire with the rest of the burnables. If he survives, all the best to him, if not, at least my luck is undamaged. I’ve been bitten too many times recently to have much fondness for spiders in my house.

This week I’m reading Exile and the Kingdom when I have the time to read, and envisioning my land free of snow and full of growing things. Wander through the leafless trees, it is easy to see the open-spaces in the woods that are often hidden in summer. I’ve found so many places for fairies to hide, reminding me of when Petka seemed so much like a changeling - small and secretive and elfish. We are wandering to collect wood for kindling, and for boiling sap into syrup. My husband does most of the firewood - felling trees, cutting, splitting, and stacking - Yarrow and I do the small collecting, finding kindling and supplemental wood on our walks.

It’s Monday. We are allowed no oil on Mondays. I’m making lentils and na’an for dinner, with red tea in my blue pot with the broken handle. When spring truly comes, I will make myself a new teapot and bake croissants in my new oven.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Discussion Delayed

"The three of us began with some diverging ideas which I believe we still hold, but we go on growing in our own thought and in understanding and respect for each other. None of us, I think, holds any hard feelings, and in this world of bloodshed, that's reason enough for gladness."

I want to continue the discussion of discussion for one more week, primarily because I really want to give Mr. Pond a chance to add his thoughts, but also because my parents are coming into town tomorrow, and I'm busy.

Jenna's response reminds me of the differences that inspired our dialogue to begin with. We do have some serious ones - ones which might have, given different treatment, divided rather than united us. As it is, I think our discussions have given me a fuller sense of the people behind the ideas, and people are much harder to reject. I like the distinction she makes between changing minds and developing ones.

It's easier to notice dehumanizing language when you know someone on the other side of any argument, whether relatively light, or very serious. I'm learning this all the time, and I'm realizing that one of the most refreshing things about this discussion is it's freedom from artistic evangelism and the inspiration our discussions give me to try new things. We will probably never agree on Harry Potter, Twilight, or mediocrity, but, to paraphrase Mr. Pond, I like and respect my blogging friends. That tells me there is something worth considering, a reason to keep the conversation going.

But that isn't the only way to avoid falling into the "us vs. them" trap of argumentation. It's the easiest way, another way is to see the world with eyes of love and assume the same of others. After all, even if some of the critics are right, and Twilight was written under the inspiration of demons, it's not likely the author conjured them up intentionally, to seduce young readers. Common understanding, a beautiful thing to build.

Don't be disappointed, next week I'll be back with a different topic, until then, Mr. Pond, I'm looking forward to your response, and Jenna's if she has anything else to add.

Friday, March 2, 2012


      Maple syruping has begun, and this year we’re determined to keep up on it. I think we’re planning to limit ourselves to six trees. We have six buckets and nine spouts, and last year we used all nine with old milk-jugs to collect the sap, but we ended up with more sap than we had time to boil down. This year, I think will start slow. Though since we won’t be headed to Vegas for a weekend in the middle of the season, we’ll hopefully be able to keep up with out supply. I’m planning a visit to the tattoo-artist this month, I’ve finally settled on a design, and perhaps a theme for all future ink, and I’m ready to commit. It’s exciting, I think Yarrow will like him a lot and enjoy examining my new art as much as she enjoys the old ones. I feel like a living picture book for her.

I’m alway cleaning. Right now I’m It’s-Almost-Spring cleaning, the woodstove creates a lot of dust, so the majority of it is dusting, cleaning out drawers and fighting off the mice that are attempting to make the outhouse their own. Thankfully, Yarrow is much better about being deposited on a blanket while I run around the house. She crawls around after things she shouldn’t have and practices her words: “Luba,” “dada,” “hi” and “Jesus” - though the “J” is more of a mumbled “d” right now, and is reserved for the Infant of Prague in the outhouse, who she loves.

Besides cleaning, and the as yet unsuccessfully pursuit of a way to convince Yarrow that sleep is in fact not over-rated, what do I fill the days with?  Writing, a bit, resenting the new snow-fall generally making life good.

If you haven’t heard Florence and The Machine yet, you should. She reminds me of Kate Bush, but generally better, I think.