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Archive for the category “Inspiration”

celebrating waking up

breathing (2)


the worm’s waking

Rumi

this is how a human being can change:

there’s a worm addicted to eating
grape leaves.

Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he’s no longer
a worm.

He’s the entire vineyard,
and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
a growing wisdom and joy
that doesn’t need
to devour.


throw yourself like seed

Miguel de Unamuno

Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit;
Sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate
That brushes your heel as it turns going by.
The man who wants to live is the man in whom life is abundant.

Now you are only giving food to that final pain
Which is slowly winding you in the nets of death,
But to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts
Is the work; start there, turn to the work.

Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,
Don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death,
And do not let the past weigh down your motion.

Leave what’s alive in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself,
For life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;
From your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.


95

e.e. cummings

if up’s a word; and a world grows greener
minute by second and most by more–
if death is the loser and life is the winner
(and beggars are rich but misers are poor)
–let’s touch the sky:
with a to and a fro
(and a here there where)and away we go.

in even the laziest creature among us
a wisdom no knowledge can kill is astir–
now dull eyes are keen and now keen eyes are keener
(for young is the year,for young is the year)
–let’s touch the sky:
with a great(and a gay
and a steep)deep rush through amazing day

it’s brains without hearts have set saint against sinner;
put again over gladness and joy under care–
let’s do as an earth which can never do wrong does
(minute by second and most by more)
–let’s touch the sky:
with a strange(and a true)
and a climbing fall into far near blue

if beggars are rich(and a robin will sing his
robin a song)but misers are poor–
let’s love until noone could quite be(and young is
the year,dear)as living as i’m and as you’re
–let’s touch the sky:
with a you and a me
and an every(who’s any who’s some)one who’s we


This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

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celebrating a few beloved books

BD1234-001There’s something wonderful, both comfortable and exciting, about rereading a favorite novel. I know people who claim never to read a book (or watch a movie) more than once. I believe them, but I don’t understand them at all. It’s impossible to get all there is to get from a really good book after a single reading. You might as well say you’ve heard that piece of music before so you’re never going to listen to it again. That makes no sense.

I’ve read all of these books more than once. In the case of One Hundred Years of Solitude, I’ve lost count of the number of rereadings. (But I can remember some of the physical locations I was in when I read it.) The writing still entrances. The characters still live. The story still captures my attention.

But first…

Early November. It’s nine o’clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don’t know what they want that I have. I look out the window at the forest. There is a reddish light over the trees by the lake. It is starting to blow. I can see the shape of the wind on the water.

—Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses

Birdsong strikes up and musters in the first soft press of dawn. Starlings, sparrows, magpies, meadowlarks, blackbirds. There is the flush and shuffle of feathers. Throat tunings. The hollowing chitter of beaks. Bursts of flight. Wrens, flycatchers, cowbirds, crows. Complaint. Exultation. They work the meadow grass, the cottonwoods along the creek, the open barnloft, alive in tilting sweeps of hand-size shadows. The raptors float silently a thousand feet above, turning, spiraling atop the early-morning thermals, hunting the edge of the ebbing night.

—Mark Spragg, The Fruit of Stone

The accused man, Kabuo Miyamoto, sat proudly upright with a rigid grace, his palms placed softly on the defendant’s table—the posture of a man who has detached himself insofar as this is possible at his own trial. Some in the gallery would later say that his stillness suggested a disdain for the proceedings; others felt certain it veiled a fear of the verdict that was to come. Whichever it was, Kabuo showed nothing—not even a flicker of the eyes. He was dressed in a white shirt worn buttoned to the throat and gray, neatly pressed trousers. His figure, especially the neck and shoulders, communicated the impression of irrefutable physical strength and of precise, even imperial bearing. Kabuo’s features were smooth and angular; his hair had been cropped close to his skull in a manner that made its musculature prominent. In the face of the charge that had been leveled against him he sat with his dark eyes trained straight ahead and did not appear moved at all.

—David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. Every year during the month of March a family of ragged gypsies would set up their tents near the village, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettledrums they would display new inventions.

—Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.

The nights are clear, but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation.

—Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

In order to pay off an old debt that someone else had contracted, Austin King had said yes when he knew that he ought to have said no, and now at five o’clock of a July afternoon he saw the grinning face of trouble everywhere he turned. The house was full of strangers from Mississippi; within an hour the friends and neighbours he had invited to an evening party would begin ringing the doorbell; and his wife (whom he loved) was not speaking to him.

—William Maxwell, Time Will Darken It

Glorious! Now I just have to decide which one of these stories to delve into again next.

How do you feel about rereading books? Do you have favorites that you’ve reread more than once?

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating bright things redux

sparkleThe world is full of poetry.
The air is living with its spirit;
and the waves dance
to the music of its melodies,
and sparkle in its brightness.

–James Gates Percival

One cold, dark winter afternoon when the temperature never rose above freezing all day and I felt trapped inside my office in front of my computer, I looked around the room at all the bright things I’ve put here.

I won’t go so far as to say say my world is full of poetry right now, but there’s a hint of its brightness here and there.

Butterfly

Butterfly

Lizards

Lizards

Suncatcher

Suncatcher

Tiger

Tiger

Mandala

Mandala

Vase (underwater upside down)

Vase (underwater upside down)

Reality (ala Brian Andreas)

Reality (ala Brian Andreas)

Good Advice!

Good Advice!

A bit of brightness landed on that one. Happy Saturday!


Note: This was originally published in January 2013. If anything, my office (a/k/a my playroom, at least on a good day) is filled with even more bright things.


This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

to celebrate the waking, wake

Muriel RukeyserIt’s National Poetry Month!

To celebrate, here is a poem by Muriel Rukeyser.

She’s the author of my all-time favorite quote: The world is made of stories, not of atoms.

Song

Make and be eaten, the poet says,
Lie in the arms of nightlong fire,
To celebrate the waking, wake.
Burn in the daylong light; and praise
Even the mother unappeased,
Even the fathers of desire.

Blind go the days, but joy will see
Agreements of music; they will wind
The shaking of your dance; no more
Will the ambiguous arm-waves spell
Confusion of the blessing given.

Only and finally declare
Among the purest shapes of grace
The waking of the face of fire,
The body of waking and the skill
To make your body such a shape
That all the eyes of hope shall stare.

That all the cries of fear shall know,
Staring in their bird-pierced song;
Lines of such penetration make
That shall bind our loves at last.
Then from the mountains of the lost,
All the fantasies shall wake,
Strong and real and speaking turn
Wherever flickers your unreal.

And my strong ghosts shall fade and pass
My love start fiery as grass
Wherever burn my fantasies,
Wherever burn my fantasies.

I’ve written (very little) and written about poetry fairly often on this blog, which is named after some lines in an e.e. cummings poem. You can check the posts by clicking the Poetry category link.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

for writers: use your brain to make writing a habit

(Note: This article was first published in the September issue of the SouthWest Sage newsletter.)

writing daisyYou probably already know that waiting for inspiration to strike is a sure way to get little or no writing done. If you want to produce a body of work—and be prepared to welcome inspiration when it does show up in your neck of the woods—you need to write regularly. The best way to do that is to turn the act of writing into a habit.

In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration.  —John Steinbeck.

Habits are a labor-saving device for your brain, which needs all the help it can get. Your brain weighs only about three pounds, yet it consumes 20% of your body’s energy. Habits allow your brain to streamline some of its operations by powering down and switching to autopilot. Essentially you’re wired to have habits. And your brain isn’t interested in your opinion about your habits (whether you think they’re good ones or bad ones). A brain’s going to do what a brain’s wired to do.

When you perform any activity on a regular basis—brushing your teeth before going to bed, snacking in front of the TV, going to the gym after work—your brain takes note. It then “chunks” that behavior, beginning with the cue or trigger that initiates it, and turns it over to your basal ganglia. The cue could be time of day, a particular feeling such as loneliness, or even another activity. In the case of writing, it could be sitting down in front of your computer at the same time every day or with your favorite hot beverage.

engage the habit loop

Once a behavior has been chunked, each time your brain encounters the cue or trigger for it, it switches to autopilot while you go through the motions of performing the activity. After you complete that chunk of behavior, your brain turns autopilot off and powers back up.

In addition to the cue and the behavior itself, the third part of what’s called “the habit loop” is the reward. The reward is the feeling of pleasure you get during—or after—engaging in the behavior. The pleasant feelings you experience are the result of your brain’s release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that also activates emotional and learning circuits. The reward is positive reinforcement that motivates you to repeat the behavior. Although it’s a critical part of the habit loop, the reward is the part people are most likely to skip when trying to create a new habit. If you aren’t writing on a regular basis but think you ought to be able to do it without having to reward yourself, your basal ganglia beg to differ.

Until you’ve developed the habit of writing, you’re needlessly taxing your brain by forcing it to operate at full power while you debate whether, when, where, and what to write. Once you’ve turned writing into a habit, you can channel that brainpower into your actual writing.

Start by choosing a time and place to write, preferably daily. Decide on a cue so your brain knows when to switch to writing mode. Try hooking your writing habit onto an existing routine, such drinking your first cup of coffee or tea or returning home from a walk or the gym, and using that as a cue. Then choose a reward. You can give yourself a smaller reward each day or a bigger one after, say, a week. Just make sure you reward yourself often enough that your brain associates the reward with writing.

There is no magic number of days it will take before sitting down to write at the designated hour becomes automatic. It varies from person to person and habit to habit. Your brain responds to consistency, however, so it will eventually get the message. In fact, once you’ve developed the habit of writing you may find it hard to resist the siren call of your writing cue, even on days when you’re sure you don’t have time to write.

If you find the blank page a daunting place to begin, avoid having to face it by stopping in the middle of a scene or a passage. By the time you get back to it the next day, you not only won’t have to think about whether or not to write, you won’t have to think about where or how to begin, either. As a bonus, you will have given your unconscious the opportunity to make connections and see patterns that may not have been evident the day before. That’s how to use your brain.

P.S.: It’s a myth that we only use 10% of our brain. We don’t use all of it all the time, but we use 100% of it during the course of a day.

To learn more about using your brain, be sure to check out Farther to Go!

the periodic table of storytelling

periodic-table-storytelling

Please check out the periodic table of storytelling, created by James Harris. It’s fascinating, fun, and even useful for both writers and readers.

I found this gem through Open Culture.

deep in december

a winter dream of spring

a winter dream of spring (2)

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a new leaf

a new leaf

This plant (a variety of aglaonema) has thrived from the day I brought it home more than two years ago and repotted it into a square red pot.

On Sunday, the late afternoon sunlight streaking its leaves caught my attention. I picked up my camera and walked all the way around it, getting shots from every angle. This leaf was hidden from my view until I nearly came full circle. It’s the last shot.

The older leaves are darker–and dusty–but the new one unfurling is bright and pristine.

awake!

Being Awake

Being Awake (Photo credit: Celestine Chua

My keyword for winter is awake.

awake: conscious; not asleep

A counter-intuitive choice for the time of year, perhaps. And perhaps it sprang to mind because of this amazingly, awesomely invigorating song that I’ve been addicted to for some time that just forces me to get up and dance whenever I hear it. (There are witnesses.) Turn up the volume to listen.

It’s always such a joy that you wake up in the morning
and there’s work to do.

–Jerome Lawrence, author and playwright

What’s your keyword for winter?

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the silence of himself sang like a bird

As I was leaving Michigan thirty-nine years and one month ago, I gave myself the gift of a book: Complete Poems, 1913-1962, E. E. Cummings.

It was totally impractical. I boarded the plane to begin again in San Francisco with only two suitcases, but one of them contained the 866-page hardcover book of poetry.

Very few things from that time in my life are still in my possession. So it’s safe to say this book with the yellow pages, numerous scrap paper bookmarks (one with the words “grass” and “picnic,” another with directions to someplace in Marin County, and a third with a woman’s name in red crayon, a phone number, and “day after Easter”), the torn cover, and multicolored Post-it flags has stood the test of time.

One of the poems in that book even generated the name for this blog. And this is it:

one winter afternoon

(at the magical hour
when is becomes if)

a bespangled clown
standing on eighth street
handed me a flower.

Nobody,it’s safe
to say,observed him but

myself;and why?because

without any doubt he was
whatever(first and last)

mostpeople fear most:
a mystery for which i’ve
no word except alive

—that is,completely alert
and miraculously whole;

with not merely a mind and a heart

but unquestionably a soul-
by no means funereally hilarious

(or otherwise democratic)
but essentially poetic
or ethereally serious:

a fine not a coarse clown
(no mob, but a person)

and while never saying a word

who was anything but dumb;
since the silence of him

self sang like a bird.
Most people have been heard
screaming for international

measures that render hell rational
—i thank heaven somebody’s crazy

enough to give me a daisy

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