If It Breaks

Was it ever the case that the times weren’t hard and the money wasn’t short? So asked Emerson, friend of Henry by the Pond, gentle scold and scholar. I remind myself of this when the times feel too hard, the money too short.

The cicadas thrum in the humid August evening and the air conditioning kicks in. Luxury.

A decade ago this fall, as I approached a Significant Birthday, I was hard at work on a book. It was to be my first, and I was determined to publish it before that birthday. It didn’t need to be great, or even good. It just had to be real, and it had to be done.

It got done.

Two others followed, poetry collections. All self-published, because why not? When I was younger (so much younger than today) I dreamed of being a writer, and so I am.

I am not famous. I don’t care about fame. I like words, strung out along the page, making meaning where they can, meeting up with a reader and making yet another meaning. Different, because we are all so very different.

And yet we are so much the same, in our love for words and our desire to inhabit a creative life.

What is that, a creative life?

My friend Eric carves bears out of giant logs. Every so often he and his spouse load up a trailer and take his chainsaw bears to a flea market in Louisville to sell them. I don’t think he’s motivated by the prospect of a sale when he’s carving. I think he carves to carve. And then there are suddenly all these bears, and a trip to Louisville is in order.

I think it’s like that with words, too. That there are suddenly so many of them, and a book is in order.

When I was painting more, my paintings would accumulate until there was no room in the house for them. What then?

I don’t know what you might do, but I opened a little gallery. In it I put my own paintings, and the paintings and artwork of friends. Chainsaw-bear Eric contributed a sculpture of a bird. With an egg. When he brought it to me I didn’t realize the egg was an actual egg, it’s innards blown out through a tiny pinhole, leaving only the perfect, delicate shell.

Which I dropped.

Yes.

He came back with another egg. Because that’s what you do.

Times are always hard. Money is always short. So? Make the art anyway. If it breaks, you can make it again. There’s always another egg, somewhere.

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As I Get To It

So I didn’t go dark, exactly, except for a couple weeks when I set about remaking my website and didn’t want you to see all the nail-holes in the walls from where I moved things and hadn’t yet applied the patches.

Still applying patches. Yes.

But I did go away, which is sometimes the best (only) thing to do.

The plan when I left off blogging a few months ago was to work on my fiction, and I have. Progress! But in the midst of it all, a bit of nonfiction sprung to life, as well. An ebook-shaped attitude adjustment for art-makers, called Set It Free.

We write the things we need to read.

It’s coming out in September, with print to follow a bit later on. As I get to it.

No Time at All

Bodhichitta practice. Slow.

Not striving for. Not reaching for.

We breathe into the heart center
and find it armored.
Of course it’s armored.
We breathe anyway.

Like making friends with a feral cat.
We sit nearby. For a day, or a week.
Then we sit alongside.
No demands.

A day is a long time.
A lifetime is no time at all.

It rained overnight.
The snow fell this morning.
Now the wind blows.

Preppers

It took longer than any of us expected,
our children were older than we were
and theirs were older still,
I remember when the fortune in your cookie said
be like water and you said who has that kind of time?

The soles of your boots are worn now right through
at the place where the weight of the world
met the road that carried us here, all those footsteps,
all that leather, all those people we used to be,
they cling like shadows and hide when we turn.

Did you ever think, I ask, and no, you never did,
we blink like mole people, blinded by the light,
both of us knowing we got it all wrong,
you with your gun, me with my bowl,
you with no bullets, me with no spoon.

Linda’s Little Bookshop

Does it pay to own a small bookstore? It’s a bit like asking if it pays to be a poet.
Seth Godin, The Domino Project

My friend Linda runs a used bookstore at the Zion center where my café is located.  I  envy her that shop.

Two slow weeks back-to-back at the cafe have fed that envy.

Books can wait in ways that a plate of food cannot. Books won’t go bad if allowed to sit out overnight. You can stock a wide variety of books to accommodate differing tastes.  Sampling is easy, and doesn’t require napkins or toothpicks or little plastic pill cups.

A book that’s been on your shelf for a year is as fresh as it was the day you brought it in.

And the health department won’t cite you for an inadequate number of sinks in your shop or the improper placement of the trash can.

So what if it doesn’t pay? Aren’t you tired of every choice hinging on whether or not it pays?

(Yes. Yes, I am.)

Seth Godin again: “(B)ooks are an excuse to have a business, but they’re not a business.”

I don’t care.

In my next incarnation I’m going to run a little shop like Linda’s. If nothing else, I’ve got all kinds of experience with things that don’t pay.

February

Snow crusted garden, last year’s coneflower
grey as old bones, q-tipped and stiff in the wind,

the neighborhood scoundrel cat passes through
the damp and molder in search of a wren to kill,

cowl mane the color of gravel and thaw,
the color of February, the color of the shadow

that followed me home, one that still clings
to the soles of these worn out winter shoes.

And Unaffordable Luxury

From Umair Haque:

“Extreme capitalism has blown apart American society so totally that people cannot even care for one another as much as they do in places like Pakistan and Nigeria. Social bonds, relationships themselves, have become unaffordable luxuries, more so than even in poor countries: this is yet another social pathology unique to American collapse.”

Here is a story. One day, during my brief tenure as a classroom assistant in a Montessori school, I was admonished by a school administrator for giving a crying child in the nap room too much of my time and attention. Let him cry, I was told. My presence was required outside on the playground.

I hesitated. She insisted. I got the sense this was not the hill on which to plant my flag, if I wanted to keep my job. I went outside.

I realize kids on the playground need to be supervised. Realize there are regulations, and the regulations aren’t frivolous. In their absence, an institution charged with the care and feeding of these young people might be tempted to cut corners, make do with a smaller staff, overstretch their resources, and put the safety of these kids at risk.

It happens.

But the crying child was all of two years old. He was homesick, in despair over the long hours spent away from his parents. His need for comfort and reassurance was not frivolous, either. It was understandable and urgent.

A caring response — a compassionate response — would have been to find a way to meet that need. To allow a bit of leeway, to take a moment. Just a moment, to see him not as impediment to the orderly operation of the system, but as a person in need of the smallest thing: a soothing presence, so he could get to sleep.

The institutional response was to deny the urgency — the reality — of the need in order to keep the system running smoothly.

Our culture — the culture of extreme capitalism — demands that we prioritize in this way.

To borrow Haque’s phrase, within the system of extreme capitalism, my relationship with that child was an unaffordable luxury. Even at a luxury school.