Friday, April 24, 2015

Stand and Stare

     There was a portion of my life several years ago when I felt as if I was continually rushing from one event to another with no time between to absorb any of it—no time to process the daily data. The fuller my schedule, the emptier I felt. As I was driving with my family to the next item on our schedule one evening, gazing out the car window and feeling a little forlorn, I whispered to myself:

Hurry scurry rush and flurry
Gotta get there, gotta start
Gotta finish then depart.

     I knew it wasn’t the kind of life I wanted to lead, but, at the time, I didn’t feel as though I had any other choice.

     How thankful I am that many aspects of my life have slowed down to a turtle’s gait. There are all kinds of people in this world, and I am glad of it, but some of those people would be bored to sobs with the pace I like to keep.

     God made critters that skitter and scuttle and scoot, but he also made snails…and the sloth, and pronounced all of them good. I used to feel guilty for sitting still when there was so much to be done. I don’t anymore. There is always more to be done and, the reality is, it is never going to be done. Meanwhile, I have often shredded my soul trying to finish it. Work is good. Work is necessary, but so is rest. So, while I do not advocate sloth, I do recommend slow—the periodic kind of slow that enables one to breathe.

     I used to dream of possessing whole handfuls of days in which to think, to write, or to linger; and now I have them. They are a gift. The circumstances that make the gift possible can sometimes carry a weight of loneliness, but I don’t feel emptied by them. How could I when I finally have time to stand and stare?


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

               ~ William Henry Davies ~

Song of the Lark by Jules Breton - Art Institute of Chicago

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Pretender

     “Be yourself,” said the famous playwright, Oscar Wilde, “everyone else is taken.”

     The idea of being authentic isn’t new. It isn’t pop culture, although it appears to have gained momentum in the last hundred years. It echoes the ancient Greek aphorism: know thyself. It appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when the obsequious, posturing Polonius gives the ironic advice to his son: to thine own self be true.

     To be honest, I have occasionally wrestled with the maxim of being one’s self. There are just too many times, throughout my life, when I have pretended to be someone else. Besides pretending to be a princess who has fallen on hard times in order to exude the poise and confidence to get a job I felt unsuited for, and pretending to be an artist in order to come to terms with my new glasses, I have repeatedly pretended to be a younger, slimmer, nearly chic Mrs. Claus at Christmas; a British woman named Jane who works in a bookshop on Charing Cross Road; a novelist like Charles Dickens, or storyteller like Isak Dinesen; a friend of Miss Marple’s who has come to tea at Danemead Cottage; and countless other characters from novels and film.

     I must have spent half of my childhood pretending to be somebody other than myself, but I don’t suppose that is anything out of the ordinary. It was later, when I crossed some invisible line drawn in the sand that I began to feel the pressure to either look and act like everyone else or just be myself. The thing of it is, I am both. And I am neither. I am a pretender. Isn’t it ironic, that being myself often means imagining I am someone I am not?

     But I am not alone. I recently heard pop singer, Meghan Trainor say to a nervous young artist on The Voice: “When I get nervous before a performance, I pretend I am Beyonce.”

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Drop Everything and Read

     Nowadays, there seems to be a national day of observance set aside for nearly everything under the sun from the sublime to the ridiculous. I don't think I will be observing International Talk Like a Pirate Day in September, but I recently read about a day set aside that, for me, is too charming to ignore.

Beverly Cleary

     Today is Drop Everything and Read Day, a national celebration of reading held on April 12 in honor of Beverly Cleary's birthday. This beloved author wrote about D.E.A.R over thirty years ago in her book, Ramona Quimby, Age 8. One of my favorite books from childhood was her book, Ellen Tebbits, so I am delighted to drop everything (or nearly everything) and read this afternoon and evening in order to honor such an internationally acclaimed children's author. Besides, just look at that face.

     Typically, I cannot read from more than one book at a time, but today I will be reading from three: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dicionary by Simon Winchester, and The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.

Perhaps you might care to join me.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Wings

The Disciples Peter and John Running to Sepulchre
on the Morning of the Resurrection
by Eugene Burnand

Easter Wings

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more
Till he became
Most poor:
With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My  tender  age  in  sorrow  did  begin:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sin,
That I became
Most thin.
With thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day thy victory;
For, if I imp* my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

                                                             ~ George Herbert ~

     When I first read this wing-shaped poem, I thought it was just a clever bit of seventeenth century kitsch, and I dismissed it. That is one reason why poems should be read more than once. Later, after reading it over and over, I began to get a better sense of its movement, the beat of wings, the fall and rise of man and the death and resurrection of Christ; until, finally, the rhythm and sense of the whole beat some sense into me, and I felt the brilliance and the praise in it.

     This I have learned: One should not dismiss too quickly what, at first, makes no sense.

*graft; repair a damaged feather in a wing by attaching part of a new feather 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Passenger's Photo Album - Peru

     I like photos of older people. I like their faces and their hands. I like their wrinkles. I like their stories. When the Passenger brought this photo home to me from Peru, I wanted to frame it and put it on the bookshelf. What are you thinking? I ask the woman in the photo. What kind of life have you led?