Monday, May 13, 2013

Instruments of Grace

by Frank O'Hara

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn't need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn't want to be faster
or greener now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days

Dear friends

Spring has deigned to show her fine self in Northern Colorado after all.  Tonight I walked the dog, a little dazed after a yoga class, and stood dreamily in front of a branch trying to ascertain why I was suddenly so happy.  Lilacs! I realized, my nose inches from their new buds.  It's not that I had given up on spring, exactly.  I had just not seen the point in waiting around on her. 

It's like my college roommate used to say about dating: If you keep your expectations low, you'll be pleasantly surprised. 

It's been a while since I wrote.  I've been averaging a post a month, I realized today, which is a wee sad.  I'll try to do better - in case you are just dying without regular poems in your diet.  (Older brothers, that's exactly what you were thinking.)

Speaking of poetry, I've been wanting to write about May Sarton on this blog, both because she has a fascinating perspective on the writing life, and because my friend Amelia wants to read a book she wrote called Journal of a Solitude.  It's a book I've read over the past two years, picking it up and putting down intermittently, a bit like you might read scripture (if you read scripture). 

But first, a warm-up to Ms. Sarton's exacting prose.  Ladies and gentlemen...I give you...

Another Quote From My Own Journal

The artist's job is to raise to the surface, to the consciousness around them, that which needs to be addressed.  What makes art good or bad?  Sometimes it is healing to the maker.  Sometimes it wrecks him in the making.  But it is about revealing that which is hidden, or that which wants - needs - to come to the surface.

I wrote this in the middle of March, and later wrote on the same page, It's amazing how dogs think and talk with their paws, so please do with this what you will.

The above job description for an artist is skewed, for sure, leaving out qualities of entertainment, connection, communication, yada yada yada.  But it is, I think, why I write - both to pay attention to what is happening inside the rush of my days, and to call out the uncomfortable, the unformed, and unhealed, and integrate them all into my life.

It's time for May Sarton who says this all way better than I do.  In her book Journal of a Solitude, Sarton wrote, "I feel sometimes like a house with no walls.  The mood is caught in a photo Mort Mace took of this house all lighted up one March evening.  The effect is dazzling from the outside, just as my life seems dazzling to many people in its productivity, in what it communicates that is human and fulfilled, and hence fulfilling.  But the truth is that whatever good effect my work may have comes, rather from my own sense of isolation and vulnerability.  The house is open in a way that no house where a family lives and interacts can be...It is poetry, then, that lights up the house, as in Mort's photograph." 

In addition to being awesomely productive, and having obvious chutzpah publishing many many journal entries in books, Sarton intrigues me because she deliberately chose to isolate herself both physically and romantically so she could write, but was often not able to concentrate anyway.  I find this comforting as a modern writer, with many responsibilities and needs I must attend beyond my own artistic ones.  It takes the pressure off a little, on days I berate myself for having little energy left for writing at the end of the day.  There's no perfect scenario, I think to myself.  Then I make a hot chocolate and sit down to work, a bit friendlier toward myself.

On the subject of productivity, and the question of how to find the time and space to create, especially when one is married, Sarton writes, "It is harder than it used to be because everything has become speeded up and overcrowded.  So everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow cycles of nature, is a help.  Gardening is an instrument of grace."

Again, the idea that a woman who lived by herself fifty years ago felt rushed and harried makes me think we've all got it either really good or really bad - however you want to look at it.  And maybe it is how we look at it that matters.  Maybe life hasn't changed that much on the basic, human level.  Maybe the essential desires of an artist are the same across centuries.  It takes focus, renewed diligence, and a sort of deranged hopefulness to snatch moments and quilt them together, all those pieces like downy little chicks, peeping things that will hopefully grow someday and make it out of their ugly cardboard box.

I don't garden.  I even wrote a mini-essay about this fact for a friend of mine, who has yet to collect it.  It's ready and waiting, if anyone needs a guest gardening column.  Don't everyone speak at once! 

My gardening - my instrument of grace - takes any number of forms, depending on the day.  Yoga, walking, drawing, writing, baking, and sous-chefing slow me down, force patience, and take me back into cycles of nature, as Sarton puts it. 

Sandra Cisneros posted a charming interview on her website, where she answered questions about her writing life, put to her by middle-school students.  I admire a lot about Cisneros and especially love when she says, "I no longer look as I did when I was younger, but I would never want to be young again. When I was younger I had more energy and was beautiful in the way young woman are, but too often my energy was wasted on silly things and silly people that weren't important." 

This is a topic my friend Lukis and I talk about a lot in our new podcast - which I really can't wait to share.  I know I keep saying that, and need to follow up my enthusiasm with a link to our site.  In the meantime, know that we are giving technology our all, in between day jobs, child-rearing, dog-photographing, and trying to eat more than just mac-and-cheese occasionally.  (Child-rearing happens in his house; mac-and-cheese in mine.) 

Here, I leave you with a quote by the incomprehensibly wise, caring, and daunting J. Krishnamurti, whose books, speaking of scripture, I like to pick up, open to a random page, and have my mind blown. 

His talks are kind of like the I-Ching, without so many fox analogies.  In Meeting Life, he says:

"Truth is not something to be attained, to be experienced, to be held.  It is there for those who can see it.  But most of us are everlastingly seeking, moving from one fad to another, from one excitement to another excitement, sacrificing...thinking that time will help us come to truth.  Time will not do that."

Weird, right?  Good weird, though.  Just the way I like it. 

Keep cool and keep the lilacs blooming!  Or, as the woman's shirt in New Orleans said, when Tim stood in line for Crawfish Monica at Jazz Fest last week: I can't keep calm, I'm Creole.

With love,



  1. Ohhhhhhhh Kara, this is such a joy to read. Laughed a couple of times too. If you had your own talk show, you would hit some sort of siren button before quoting your journal. But lest you be mistaken, I love what you'd written! (The line about dogs and their paws too.) (Obviously?)

    Also, looking VERY forward to your and Lukis' podcast!! xoxo

  2. Dear Amelia

    Thanks for always being my First Responder! AKA, my Matt :)

    SO glad for your eyes here.