I keep experimenting. I’ve been posting these over at my Tumblr. Follow over there if you’d like.
So I’ve been experimenting with various ideas about what to do with the tetrameter that I’ve been writing each morning for over two years. For the moment, I’ve decided to pull fragments out and create panels experimenting with text and texture. I’ve got lots to learn visually, but it feels like there’s potential here.
I’ll be posting most of these over on tumblr, but I’ll be dropping them off here as well. Would love feedback.
Admittedly, this next one’s dense and hard to read. Click on it to enlarge it.
Creative stuff on the move…
I posted a question on my Facebook page this morning: “When you hear the word delight, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?” Not unexpectedly, the winners were things related to children, laughter, music, and culinary treats. And “Turkish.”
I experienced something this week that has me thinking more seriously about this seemingly airy notion.
Delight. It’s not something I seek out intentionally. I’m known as a serious guy who champions beauty, but in a capital “B” sort of way. Serious stuff, you know.
I think I may have something wrong here. Or at least unbalanced.
If someone were to ask your advice in moving delight closer to the center of their attention, what strategies would you give them?
Last Tuesday night, having been inspired by the Academy Awards, Anjie and I decided we’d watch one of the nominated/winning films, most likely via Comcast. We’re thinking 12 Years a Slave or Dallas Buyers Club. So I’m sitting there with my remote, punching away, looking at choices, and somehow, I inadvertently hit a combination of buttons I didn’t intend to, and next thing you know, the little window appeared saying “Thank you for your order.”
In a panic, I couldn’t figure out what I’d ordered, and frankly wasn’t very happy about it. Six bucks for something I didn’t intend to buy. It took me a minute to figure out I’d ordered up the compilation of animated short films nominated for the Academy Award. Well, close enough, I thought, and though animation is not my wife’s favorite, after I’d apologized profusely, we settled in to see if there might possibly be something worth watching in these little cartoons.
The first film up was a French film, Mr. Hublot, about a man who takes in an orphan puppy and the lightweight difficulties that come when the dog begins to grow. Simple story, simple characters.
My heart leapt from the very first frame.
Truth is, my mood’s been a bit sour lately. Trust me, you don’t want to hear about it. But suddenly, it was as if the sun had come out, bursting my cloudy world into full shine as this brilliantly executed steampunk city came whirling into my living room. Cogs and counters, wires and whirlygigs, bolts and buckets—the whole design was…well, delightful.
What struck me later was that this simple story delivered in this very particular way in one moment swept the sourness right off my face and out of my mind. My mouth opened in proverbial slack-jawed, wowie-zowie wonder. I laughed from my belly, I leaned forward in my chair, I clapped my hands, and as the other animated films spun out in front of me, I kept thinking, “Wow. Just wow.” Color, wit, hours of work, the risk of the sheer thought of the subjects, the structures and execution, all coming together in a moment to lift this 54-year-old out of my depressive chair.
Yes, the films ended, and life went on, and there are still clouds hovering. But when I think of Mr. Hublot, I smile and see the sun every time.
If delight has that kind of power, I wonder why “delight-carriers” are not intentionally closer to the center of my attention.
A couple of questions: does “delight” have that kind of power in your life? If someone (me) were to ask your advice in moving an intentional pursuit of delight closer to the center of things, what strategies would you give them?
Why do I write?
Popular wisdom says to “start with the end in mind.” So often, I write without much of an end in mind at all. I start from where I am, the movement of forces inside me, and work out from there. Usually, it begins with a scan of attention across my inner landscape, which includes the mood of the day, the emotional weather, the intellectual teasings that are rising out of the gray fog of sleep and waking. Perhaps thoughts of writing itself come along, or political issues nudge me, fussing at me to get busy. Theological musings, poetic flashes, or theatrical ideas begging to be wrought into plays—all of these, like unruly children starving for affection, grab at me, hassle me as I sit poised to write. It’s a pick and choose sort of affair, the plucking of notions and ideas on which to put my attention at the start of the session.
Attention is a limited good, and the phrase “pay attention” has always meant to me that there is a cost to directing my gaze intentionally toward this or that. Looking in one direction means turning your back on another. This is hard. The inner life and the exterior worlds are spheres of colossal possibility and attraction, and the fact our limits bind us is so frustrating. Nothing new there, of course—you no doubt feel it. It took years, but I think I’ve finally resigned myself to these limitations, convinced that frames are good things. They keep us from flying into nothingness, allowing order to rise in at least one small part of our world.
So I scan my internal horizons and inevitably begin to turn my attention outward, letting the external world invade. In ever-expanding concentric circles, beginning with the closest to my skin, I begin to see my world one sensation at a time, letting my senses receive what they will, as if warming up to the practice of noticing. A bird’s single note call, the steam from the cup at my right hand, the gradients of shadow as they spill across the clutter of my desk, or the thickness of my tongue as it flicks about, trying to catch the last slip of sweetness from my sipping. And then a suggestion comes from one of those images, a felt response of emotional connection, perhaps with memory or hope. As if chancing on a special, rare penny on a neighborhood walk, I pick up the thought and carry it awhile, turning it over and over, and it perhaps leads me to more coin, and the internal walk, so surrounded by the external world, becomes a place wherein I can remember what it means to breathe, and look, and renew.
A note: this “why I write” is not meant to be exhaustive. I have other “whys,” certainly. Sometimes it’s a specific communication, some justice question I’m wrestling with, or a particular person that’s grabbed me by the imaginative throat and said, “Look at me.” And obviously, specific forms like plays and novels don’t yield their results by means of all this moment-to-moment wandering around. How I wish they did. But I will say that what I’m describing here, this “get up and meet the world” first through the warming up of attention and imaginative sensation, is the first move behind almost everything.
One other thing…thankfulness. Somewhere in my daily practice of writing, to which I seem to be applying the metaphor of the neighborhood walk, I usually (though not always) find a moment when I feel the world and my spirit begin to lift, as if light was pouring in after a good spring rain, and I stop the walk, stop the scanning of landscape. Standing still, I close my eyes and bask, grateful for whatever it is I’m standing in, and whoever is here standing with me. For I do sense a Presence, and perhaps it’s just a story I tell myself, the result of enculturation and my need to not be alone, but still…the Presence is there. I generally refer to that Presence as Father (sometimes lately, as Mother, too), and think of him as God, and why such a being would deem a walk with me worth his time, I don’t know. But since I was young, this Presence and I have been on these walks together, and I think, in the end, when all is said and done, this is why I write.
Here, and in all my other creative endeavors, is where I’m most likely to get a glimpse of what my Father is wanting to show me. Teaching me, one day at a time, one word at a time, how to see.
It may not be the best “why I write” out there, but for now, it’s mine…
I’ve read several times not to blog about your blogging. Cardinal sin, that, mostly because people want to know how to do things: how to achieve bliss, how to find happiness, how to discover God or orgasms or the next big thing, each of them in five easy steps (or less). And a blogger talking about his blogging is going to pretty much torpedo any of those enterprises. Not helpful. Not helpful.
So what might be the worth of me admitting that I’m a little bi-polar (this is a metaphor, just to be clear–irony intended) given that there are times when I literally sit in a stupor at my computer, staring (though thankfully there’s been no drool yet), and then next day, I rush at the work of the day with the energy of a terrier, pounding at my keyboard like a literary Rachmaninoff? I surf, I troll, I read, I research. I fall in love with Tweetdeck, then Flipboard, then Hootsuite, then some piece of theological or aesthetic writing that makes my head explode, and then I’m off to hang out with my latest writing project (eighth draft of a play entering its third year of work), my camera (I have pictures to post, but I don’t for some reason), some random piece of poetry or music I’m preparing for who knows what reason, and finally, I run to my wife, who thankfully, blessedly, interacts with me in ways these other things just don’t.
So no, this post is not about blogging; its about process. I just need to start tossing out a thought or two without worrying too much about things. I used to yearn to be insightful in some unique and brilliant way, or at least a bit linear so people can follow along, but these days, I can barely get from A to B, much less from A to wherever else A might want to go out past K or L. Nope, the world is doing quite nicely, thank you very much, without any insight on my part, and that will continue to be the case. The world in which we live is a spinning top whipping along in dizzying rounds, and I count myself fortunate to just catch mundane glimpses of beauty, sense, and rational thought as best I can, and chat about them over coffee. The spinning is its own kind of post-modern lovely, though frankly, the sensation-slapping overview doesn’t tell me much about how to go about living a good life, a godly life, or for that matter, a life of love, which I think, in the end, is the point.
So throw hands up in the air, and get to it, I say. A little subject here, a little commentary there, and the ongoing confession that I don’t know much and have a bad case of what Francis Spufford calls in his great book Unapologetic, the “Human Propensity to Fuck Things Up” or HPtFtU for short, (yes, a Rubicon has been crossed, I suppose—never liked the “f” word, and still don’t particularly, but there it is). And–full disclosure– I continue to wish (I’m hanging my head, Mark Demel) I was a big deal of some kind. Will God ever save me from that stupid, ongoing, moronic idea? Well, maybe not, so I’d better just get rid of it myself.
Halting starts at sharing my process as I try to figure things out is all I’ve got. You can join in as long as you don’t get nasty about it. I need to talk about God and how not to talk about him (Peter Rollins), about the HPtFtU (see above), all manner of sexual things (breaking out in a sweat now), and theology and Jesus and art and church-going and non-church going and all the ways in which I’ve got to figure out how to move forward into the kind of life I think I was maybe born for. It’s a life I can see from here…sort of…and yes, I know, I know, it’s all a story I tell myself anyway. But all I know is…it’s time to go. Time to get on with it. Join in the fun if you’d like. Just don’t bother getting nasty about it. I’m pretty sure all my readers (both of them) know more than me, so I’ll be looking forward to being instructed. But know this–I’m all about civil conversation, and haven’t got a thick enough skin to really deal with people virtually shouting at me. I have enough trouble when people do it in person. So please, have mercy. Oh, shoot…say what you want. Maybe I’ll take a page from Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology (One of the great blogs on the planet, if you don’t know about it) and post the best of the worst, foul-mouthed comments, and we’ll all have a go at deconstructing them. I’m not sure I’m that brave. But we’ll see.
I’m sure curious about a lot of things. Confused, perplexed, even tormented. I’ll see if I can come up with a list of questions (I’ve done that before) that we can all salivate over. Of course, huge swaths of the planet are quite sure about the answers to each and every one of them. Which is a relief. Sort of. Well, not really.
Okay, that’s done. Said and done. A first step. That’s enough. Back to work.
Time to speak…
I wrote a second day’s worth. It’s not poetry, really, but here it is. We could do this sort of thing everyday, and never run out of counting. Just thankful. Especially for this beautiful bunch. Not together this year for Thanksgiving, but they’ll always be with me, whichever holiday table finds us.
Count the beautiful things.
Morning synapses chasing out depression,
Stories fresh from the night’s sleep all of hope.
The manic chatter of optimism,
The anticipation of a lunch with a like soul,
And the sweetness of strawberry jam on scones.
Hands clapping at delightful rhymes,
The hanging silence of a community’s shared depth,
The embrace of one particular priest once a year.
The moment when complaining stops
And sun streaks out from behind those damn clouds.
Journeys at thirty-five thousand feet,
Where there are hardly any clouds, ever.
Retreats God comes to, loving poetry as you do,
Tapping feet to tunes built on rhythms of your own heartbeat.
Anthems and symphonies, and kid’s songs,
And the kind of music that leaps out of who you are today.
The letting go of “better this and better that”
And coming into the present now, the present wow,
Which is always present if we see it.
The acceptance of ear’s ringing and sight easing,
The ongoing assault of time nothing to bother with.
Old books that delight, hoarding them,
Or letting them go, each for comfort and clarity.
The “of course I can” that is such a relief
After the damned hells of yesterday.
Tears that rise from a thankful place,
Soul opening rather than shutting down.
Fog catching street lights, and wives of wide smiles
Who day after day love you as if they love you.
Italian ceramics, mandolins, small beards on small chins,
Hobbit movies and romances that tease us,
The warmth of wall heaters at our feet,
And the remnant film of of fine breakfast and coffee.
A smile of “I like you” given to a new friend,
A hug for those near crying,
The silent sitting when no words will do,
And the lingering at the grave of a father,
Knowing that he loved you as best he could.
Heart pounding courage, the step out the front door,
The step to the microphone, the step onto the field.
The next pass after the interception,
The touchdown after the fumble,
The fold in the origami seagull,
The smooth skin of the marble masterpieces of Michaelangelo.
For Popes who rewrite things toward God,
The hand raised to kill that stops, the why unknown.
The resistance to the impulse that would destroy,
And the sacrifice of a long life so others soar.
Soap, and the cleaning of old teeth,
And the tight embrace of love that cares not of scent or purity.
The lack of hells to go to, and the mystery of death.
God’s name, and its mysterious power,
And the power behind that,
And the power behind that.
Our many times removal from the final reality,
And our comfort with it, His will be done.
Sighs, neighborhoods walks with intimates,
Fences and gates with golden hour light streaking.
And yes, Christmas tales and songs,
Wassails and ribbons and memories of Christmas Tree Cookies.
Writing “O”, and meaning it.
The taste of Shakespeare in your mouth,
And sweet breathing on the other end of the phone,
As your children decide to let you in a little more.
Times Square, and lights to head us into wonder,
Slack jawed standing at the corner of forty second and anything,
Tall beauties, mirrors of old age, and the fart that’s a laughing relief.
Veined hands that grip a crooked stick,
And steady, reach out for the great-grandchild toddling toward them.
The low breath of a wife at her ease,
The low beat of the music of renters,
And trifocals that let me see in sharp lines or fuzzy, as needed.
Count the beautiful things.
A church filling with dysfunctional folks,
Them absently grasping fellows’ hands,
Stuffing the Thursday night pizza into their mouths,
As they resolve to beat the addictions that wrecked them.
Songs of praise with sharp sopranos and dull tenors,
Uneven beats of poor musicians loving God for all they’re worth.
The clanking of trays with Jesus’ blood going by,
And the small crackers that say “I’m with You Lord.”
Dollars leaving pockets, destined for other countries.
For other countries, for lives lived unlike my own.
Fishermen knitting nets on middle eastern shores,
The bowed bodies of pray-ers, who want God more than anything.
The kindnesses of shared meals and tones of love
In Asia, in South America, in India, in Africa.
Bugs as protein, not for me, but still, good sustenance.
The wealthy who spend down to share it all.
Entrepreneurial energy that will not take no for an answer,
Not when the world is in such need of goodness,
Shoes, and warm jackets and houses.
Vegetables in lawn gardens, and neighbors who don’t mind.
Productivity that means a poem a day,
Or a song of love once every ten years.
Is there a beauty uncounted?
Count that one too.
It’s just a list, really, an off the cuff exercise from a few days ago. Seemed like a good thing to share on a Thanksgiving Day. May there be too many beautiful things (read “moments”) in your day to count…
And I should say…this girl is the first of my list, always… (I know the writing below doesn’t start with her, but still…)
Count the beautiful things…
The wings of gulls in sea light on ferry mornings,
Your fresh eyes hovering there, seeing his horizons.
Your lover at lunch caught in an afternoon bounce of high key glare,
That teen smile still there, all for you, thirty years later.
The banter of friends over fraying theologies,
A old eye’s jumping stopped for a few minutes,
A letting go of old obsessions,
A day in the mountains, crisped aired climbing.
Candles lit in a theatre,
And a unexpected friend welcoming you,
The invitation to “sit with us,” and enjoy.
An actor with an audience, though no one applauds,
And the eyes of listeners softening, hearts open.
Old battles left off, and wide faces safe to speak.
Glass colored red and yellow, meant for flowers.
Silence at midnight, moon high.
Baptism, wet forgiveness, body slam embraces,
Droplets with worlds reflected there.
Blonde toddlers wrapping arms round legs,
Or scuffling toward us, cozy smiles effervescent.
The inside of a beat, to sit a groove,
To rest there, playing, the pulse a morning’s heartbeat.
Praising, wrapped in a thought of God, joyful.
Lenten bells at seven, and the swish of robes.
Sweet scents of bakeries, breads dawning from ovens.
Sins forgotten, nowhere in mind, laughter chasing them.
Count the beautiful things, holding close touches of divinity.
Glancing rainbows off beveled glass in windows,
Colors tracing arcs on red leather couches.
A black face, smile miles wide, through tears.
Comfort of strangers allowing you in.
Forbidden lace, guitar strings, the open mouth of ecstacy,
Single dark hairs on a woman’s forehead,
The first stirrings of arousal,
The wings of birds, the redness of Cardinals, The blues of Bluejays,
The hovering hummingbird, wings abuzz,
The loft of bees in nectared daffodils,
Fields of tulips, children playing there.
New voices discovered, singing powerhouse anthems,
Poets heard for perhaps the only time,
Justice done when false accusations shame,
Shame dropped like a rag from old shoulders.
Enemies turning into friends.
Anxieties set to rest, enough money for bills,
Quiet evenings with books and teas,
A near hand that grasps yours.
Conversations with soul shorthands,
Where each nuance is a easy pitch and catch,
And delight makes hours fly.
A son’s long bear hug after his marriage ceremony,
The one you got to preside over.
Playing guitar for the daughter’s third grade talent show,
Her small frame etched in spotlight as you pluck a song,
Holding back tears as you realize what you’re doing.
Decisions not to betray,
Decisions to walk away from the betrayals made.
Decisions to give lifetimes for lifetimes to come.
Old church chapels where faith lives,
Classes of aged believers crazy with beliefs.
Last breaths of saints, the ones who see the door,
And the saints on the other side.
Hands held on other continents,
And the dancing worship of children unfazed by death.
Pumpkins in fields, soccer in fields,
And small boys and girls running, kicking, searing joy.
Did I say guitar strings?
Christmas lights, hunting for trees, the old tradition,
The good dishes of great cooks,
Tuscan light on gray September hillsides,
Small stone chapels with dusky evening light,
And vespers sung by a dozen monks.
Poetry of women who don’t care how they look,
And cancer beaten, remission of years.
The sex of good marriage, no worries.
Lovers in slow motion, careful pleasure.
Crab and butter, live jazz with low dresses,
The good voice of Psalms on consecutive mornings,
Milosz’s poems, the spirit’s wooing of moments caught.
Hawaii’s winds, Idaho snows,
Footballs arcing through November nights,
Cashmere sweaters with holes, and comfy blankets.
The clear tones of ten-year-old voices
Singing songs you wrote of longing.
The conviction that what you’re doing matters,
And the good feel of doing it.
The turning of addiction, fierce grit streaming down faces,
And each beautiful step toward freedom.
Slavery killed is a beautiful execution,
A just ending of brutality.
And with that last thought, I came to a screeching halt. Don’t know why, but the searing beauty of that crushing injustice ended…just a place to stop. There are more beautiful things. So many more. This was just an opening rush…
Are you counting yet?