Friday, December 2, 2011

Awake

I Imagine the Gods
by Jack Gilbert

I imagine the gods saying, We will
make it up to you. We will give you
three wishes, they say. Let me see
the squirrels again, I tell them.
Let me eat some of the great hog
stuffed and roasted on its giant spit
and put out, steaming, into the winter
of my neighborhood when I was usually
too broke to afford even the hundred grams
I ate so happily walking up the cobbles,
past the Street of the Moon
and the Street of the Birdcage-Makers,
the Street of Silence and the Street
of the Little Pissing. We can give you
wisdom, they say in their rich voices.
Let me go at last to Hugette, I say,
the Algerian student with her huge eyes
who timidly invited me to her room
when I was too young and bewildered
that first year in Paris.
Let me at least fail at my life.
Think, they say patiently, we could
make you famous again. Let me fall
in love one last time, I beg them.
Teach me mortality, frighten me
into the present. Help me to find
the heft of these days. That the nights
will be full enough and my heart feral

There is a scene in The Kids Are All Right where Annette Benning's character is checking on the state of her daughter's Thank-You notes for the high school graduation presents she just got.  As a mom, the character comes off as somewhat of a nag. But she has a great point about not letting too much time to go by.  "I mean, you don't want to start them with an apology," she says of the required notes. 

That's a little bit how I feel this morning, a snowy twilight blue morning in Colorado, where I drink my newest indulgence - very hot, very milky coffee with two spoonfuls of sugar - and think about how much I have missed this time to visit with you, to sit and explore divine grace, and hear from you about your own life. 

So hello, old friend, dear heart.  How is your morning, this December day?

Yes, it is Christmas time - on the internet, on the calendar, and in my nostalgic little heart.  Yesterday I willingly listened to Christmas songs on Pandora, perhaps ruining the chance for giddiness when I happen into Barnes & Noble or Williams-Sonoma later on this month. 

By the way, did you know there are, like, 5 Christmas songs in the world?  It's true.  I got to hear them all yesterday, a million times.  Dione Warwick, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby...and those Coles - Nathalie and her dad - really have a corner on the market.  It was fun to discover the voices behind the names I have heard for years, or behind the faces I have seen on faded LP covers in Goodwill stores across the nation.

Speaking of Goodwills, I read this great little post about style yesterday that I share here because 1. It's a semi-tribute to her dad, and I have lately been thinking about how great dads are, and 2. I think her points about style are so true, and 3. because I am a little conflicted about my own style lately; in particular, my love for second-hand things.  I mean, no one wants to go around looking like an orphan, right?  Maybe some people do...maybe if I were in a different band, looking like an orphan would be perfect.  The band I'm in, by the way, if you can call it that, is making a cd this weekend.  Complete with rented studio and catered food.  But we're singing songs about divine love.  Which I really do believe is what everyone is singing about anyway - Old 97s or Krishna Das.  But everyone has their own channel they have to dial into.  Which is, I think, the real beauty, and hopefulness for the world. 

I know I was talking about clothing.  And I know this relates eventually.  And goes back to my love of mutts, too.

When we came home from Thanksgiving vacation at my sweet brother's home in Atlanta, and scooped up our doggy from my husband's generous cousins who watched the dog for us, we left his proper food and water bowls at their house.  So the little guy has been dining out of Cool Whip bowls all week.  First, you may be asking, what the H are you doing letting Cool Whip past your front door to begin with, let alone eating enough of it that you can rinse and use the bowls?  But my husband is from the Mid-West and I am from the South.  We know people who serve Jello salad with marshmallows at fancy meals.  Don't judge.  Second, our classy little pup (okay, grey-haired and pushing twelve) has taken to dragging his food bowl to his bed and licking off it there, just because he can lift it in his teeth, thereby elevating an already elegant Cool Whip dining experience to true, trailer-trash status. 

I read an article last weekend at a coffee shop I discovered nestled in a neighboring town between horse pastures.  This sounds very Colorado, and it was: everyone inside the shop wore Patagonia clothing.  But the decor was rag-tag and elegant, and the coffee table weighted down with New York Times Magazines.  I know I am saying nothing new here, nothing that hasn't been explored or turned into a movement, like Shabby Chic.  But I like old stuff and I like things a little worn.  My hair generally fuzzes out from my ears like an electrified squirrel the minute it is dry and I am conflicted about this. 

But the article was in Rolling Stone, a place where I had a great internship once, and the article itself was great.  It was a feature on Zach Galifianakis, and painted his warmth, honesty, and comic genius without distorting into celebrity worship.  One of the things that really stuck with me, besides the fact that the actor is from North Carolina (thank you), is that he reportedly still lives in the same dinky bungalow he bought when he was a struggling actor.  After seeing The Hangover, it may be no stretch of imagination to picture this.  And, granted, I would probably be the first person to buy a house on the beach if I ever struck oil, but I love this essential - I don't even know what to call it.  Philosophy?  Indifference?  Maybe integrity.  Honesty.  Or laziness.  Don't know.  Okay, I just love this fact (if it's still a fact.  The magazine may have been a year old).  It pleases me. 


I remember answering a question in graduate school, posed by a favorite teacher.  I don't remember the question itself but I remember trying to explain that the reason I write is to redeem my characters.  My professor said something like, Um, isn't that totally not what you should be doing?  I think she meant, in fiction especially, aren't we supposed to punish our characters, put them through as much hardship as possible, so that a) the reader has something to worry and care about, and isn't bored to tears by an orgy of good cheer, and b) Flannery O'Connor would not approve.  (Okay, I still don't know what she meant by her reaction.  I must go and ask her about this now.) 

But what I meant is that I write, not to redeem my characters, but to redeem the world--to myself.  And to lift that unveiled vision up for others to see.  So that we may start to see things as they really are - not as we need or want them to be.  In writing about details, I start to pay close attention, and learn again and again how to break through my judgment.  Instead of brokenness, I see tiny miracles.  Instead of despair, I feel the okayness of every moment.  When I am willing to look at the world from the small distance and renewed perspective which writing gives me from my obsessive, harmful judgments, I accept how it differs from my expectations.  Then my great fantasies melt into prayers of gratitude for what I already have. 

When I took my teacher training for yoga in graduate school, I taught my first class about accepting whatever it is that really makes your heart happy, whether that makes sense to your identity about yourself, i.e. how you want to think of yourself, or not.  Every week I teach a gentle class at a chiropractic office in town now. And every week I realize, Well shoot.  I am still teaching the same darned thing.  I'm not teaching the same poses, or series of them, or using the same words.  But I am essentially saying, Learn to see yourself as you, and accept, accept, accept.  And I guess that's what I care most about in this life - learning to do that for myself, and offering the space for others to do the same. 

Lots of famous writers have said things about the healing qualities of writing.  Here are just two:

Anais Nin: We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection.

And Anne Lamott, in Bird By Bird: "So why does our writing matter, again?"...Because of the spirit, I say.  Because of the heart.  Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation.  They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.  When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored.  We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again.  It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea.  You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
 
So it is. 

For the pleasurable hour of being here with you - on this ship - I am grateful.  May you have a day full of whatever it is you love, and may you taste the blessings fully!  
Kara

P.S. A guest post is coming soon by a great friend (and so far non-blogger) about, yes, chickens!  And, here is a guest post by me on a site called Mystery Moor - a post about bats and kitchens (with a picture of me in an apron).  It would have been way cool to post this around Halloween.  You know what?  It just didn't happen. 
xo

4 comments:

  1. I am a broken record, but there are so many things to love about this post. 1. I read it while drinking very hot, very milky coffee with two teaspoons of sugar. (The BEST!) 2. That Anais Nin quote opens up a book I just read. And I love reading about why you write... I feel like my reasons are very similar--the world makes sense when we put it down on paper. There's a Virginia Woolf quote I really like about this. Lemme go Google it. OK, can't find it right now. OH and the poem! you find the best poems!! You should author an anthology! OK? OK.
    In short, thanks for writing. Enjoyed every word.

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  2. Last week, I found myself trying to Apple Z (undo) a doodle I made on a piece of paper by hand. My brain went, Oh, nope. Don't like that. Undo please. And then I realized, I can't do that! My hand and this paper do not make a computer! etc etc

    In similar technological confusion, I looked for the Like button after I read your comment. Thank you so much for sharing! And when the V. Woolf quote makes its way across your desk (sounds so official, no?) I'd love to hear it!

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  3. Lovely! (As always, of course.) I know just what you mean about writing to redeem. The book I'm in the middle of right now (the one that may or may not be going off the rails as we speak) is--I'm finding out--mainly about redemption. I don't know that I intended that, but it is happening, and I think the reason is that it's what interests me, what drives me. So of course it's going to weave its way into my writing.

    But I think that drive works perfectly well with the "punishment" angle of fiction too. What I mean is, for redemption to truly have oomph, characters must experience darkness first. So in effect, they do experience the punishment of life, and that's necessary for the redemption to mean something. (This makes me feel better, somewhat, about the whole suffering-in-life conundrum. It just is.) So, I don't think you're doing it wrong at all.

    Oh! And I love that you're in a band! How can we hear your music? Do you have anything online yet?

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  4. Erin! I let this comment slide. I will send you a copy of the cd, along with another that makes me think of you.

    Yay!
    K

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