Posts tagged poetry
And YOU may contribute a verse.
Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Just now. Like, five minutes ago, I was shocked out of my bloggy silence by the news of the death of Robin Williams. I know, people - and even celebrities - die all the time. But this one, this news? Was the signal that I really need to end the silence I've held here for so long.

It isn't that I haven't thought about writing here in my blog. It's been my journal for years. It isn't as though I haven't laughed at something or thought of something and thought - I should ... but for all this time it hasn't gotten further than that. 

Confession: I've been hiding. 

Granted, lots of things have been going on this summer - with getting the kids out of school, the agonizing experience of selling our cute house (44 showings. That's right. 44.) Organizing endless repairs. Visiting grandparents in Idaho and Oregon for 2 1/2 weeks. Finding a new house to move to. Getting the kids settled into their new year-round school. Trying to make a list of all the stuff we have to do before we close on August 28 (my birthday!). And pain. And the always, always tiredness.

Whether they're reasons for silence, or excuses, the fact still remains: I've been hiding. It's so much easier to just disappear, don't you think? You don't have to talk to anyone, be responsible to anyone, and if you set no goals and account to no one, you don't have to face failure. Oh, failure and guilt niggle in the back of the mind, of course, but if you hide, nobody can see. And if you don't blog, you don't have to think about it.

Part of this has been the confusion and turmoil of slowing down teaching classes at JessicaSprague.com. If I am not this anymore (or not all the time), then what am I

Cue identity crisis. The resulting tailspin. The desire-and-yet-not-motivated-enough-to-overcome-the-fear of finding (creating?) something new in myself put on hold over and over again. And instead of facing the lack of answers with humility and care, cue hiding. From you. From myself. A lot of knitting. A lot of Sudoku. And a lot less introspection.

And then, (Mr. Keating) Mr. Williams. And one clear call for me. 

Is there anyone here who saw Dead Poets Society and whose life wasn't changed forever? I know Robin was talented (they're saying it all over the world now). And I know he played other roles. But his performance as Mr. Keating changed me. He was Mr. Keating, he inhabited that role. And as terrible as it is, his death made me remember: 

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. 

How, in the face of this, can I stay silent? How can I keep from singing?

I've only got a bit, a little bit of life (relatively speaking) - to be on the stage, and I've been pretending I don't exist, hoping that people forget and don't look for me too closely. Well, just like always, no matter what I've ever done, there comes the point where I can't pretend anymore. Where the words and thoughts, the beauty and poetry and patterns and photographs and fonts have build such a pressure behind my heart I have to let them out, have to write it or glue it or cut it or edit it in Photoshop. Have to make the marks. Risky business, that. But it is the creative life. It demands attention, and it can never be completely ignored. (And I'm not the only one, mama: you feel it too, don't you? And if you ever doubt, please watch this video. As many times as you need to. Take two, call me in the morning.

And so I'm called up by this today, called to come back to the creative well and dip in again:

You are here ... life exists, and identity; ... the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. ... The powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

After so long afraid of whatever the answer to this might be (or maybe even more afraid that I actually had no answer), I've decided I don't care. Doesn't have to be great or grandiose, or even worthy (this whole idea that what we write has to be worthy of a post has held a lot of us back, hasn't it?) It does have to be spelled right, and it does have to be honest and earnest. here I am.

R.I.P Maya Angelou

I was sitting here at Panera this morning (escaping my house and my broken a/c which they swear they have ordered parts for and I am praying sweet mercy please every moment that this ends really soon), when I opened my browser and read the news that Maya Angelou has passed away. She was one of those people who needs a whole paragraph just to describe "what" she was. A pure example of the power that one single individual can have, no matter her race or gender or where she was born. She rose, and rose, and rose again, and left us with her legacy and especially with her wisdom.

A few months ago, I created a poster for Wisdom Wednesday with some words of hers:

And I'm currently writing a project that features a poem of hers: 

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

She was a civil rights activist, and a director, and a dancer. And she wrote words oh so beautiful. And she was right. Nobody can make it out here in life in the universe alone. Rest in peace, Dr. Angelou. You've earned it.

-JS

On Waiting.

Does it feel like there have been long gaps between posts around here? It feels like that to me. Feels a bit like every time I get some momentum going, someone gets injured or sick or hospitalized. That’s Rowen (who fell while balancing on our sawhorses and spent 12 hours in the ER), me (you already know about that), and Elliott (who had an asthma attack and spent the night at the Children’s hospital in Raleigh last week). All within the month of February.

But it’s March now. Yay March! I have so much optimism for 2013, and despite some evidence (see above) to the contrary, I refuse to believe that this year will be anything but GREAT. So I’m back.

Over the past 6 weeks or so, I’ve gotten really good at waiting. Well, not REALLY good, but better. Waiting to feel better. Waiting in waiting rooms. Waiting for meds to kick in, and for tests to be done. Waiting for my child to feel better. Waiting to hear good news. Always waiting to start the next chapter of wellness and productivity and getting back to ‘normal’.

I am probably the world’s most impatient person. Really. I think it’s partly the ADD, and partly just a personality thing - when I’ve made up my mind to do something, I have to start RIGHT NOW. Oh the whims of the whimsical! I love learning and experimenting and trying new things, and above all, I love starting. Hope is in the starting! The momentum, the newness, the excitement, the wind in your hair for a journey unknown but most assuredly awesome. This is going to be AWESOME!

But after the beginning comes the middle. There comes a point in every journey - class, workout, road trip, project, hike, blog post… when the excitement has worn off, and the momentum is gone, and you can’t see the beginning behind you (thereby to give up and go back), and you can’t see the end ahead, and this little creeping of despair settles in. I can’t do this. I won’t make it. I’m sick, and sore, and tired, and bored, and hopeless, and I just can’t go on.

This is the waiting. The slog. And sometimes just waiting - for the light to break, the dawn to appear, the glimmer of hope on the horizon - just waiting for the something that will bring your courage back and show you that it’s worth going on - this is the toughest part of the entire thing.

I have the last verse of Longfellow’s beautiful Psalm of Life as the lock screen on my iPad. You’ve probably seen it before. I see it multiple times a day, and it is always a reminder.

    Let us, then, be up and doing,
        With a heart for any fate ;
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
        Learn to labor and to wait.

This verse - ah! I have heard it in my mind so many times, especially the past 6 weeks or so. Let us then, be up and doing! So inspired, and inspiring. But the very last line is a lesson so subtle it’s easy to miss unless you’re in the circumstance. Learn to labor, and to wait.

Here’s the text of the full poem - filled with lessons and inspiration for “the slog”:

        A PSALM OF LIFE

      WHAT THE HEART OF THE YOUNG MAN
                    SAID TO THE PSALMIST

    TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
        Life is but an empty dream ! —
    For the soul is dead that slumbers,
        And things are not what they seem.

    Life is real !   Life is earnest!
        And the grave is not its goal ;
    Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
        Was not spoken of the soul.

    Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
        Is our destined end or way ;
    But to act, that each to-morrow
        Find us farther than to-day.

    Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
        And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
        Funeral marches to the grave.

    In the world’s broad field of battle,
        In the bivouac of Life,
    Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
        Be a hero in the strife !

    Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant !
        Let the dead Past bury its dead !
    Act,— act in the living Present !
        Heart within, and God o’erhead !

    Lives of great men all remind us
        We can make our lives sublime,
    And, departing, leave behind us
        Footprints on the sands of time ;

    Footprints, that perhaps another,
        Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
    A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
        Seeing, shall take heart again.

    Let us, then, be up and doing,
        With a heart for any fate ;
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
        Learn to labor and to wait.

 

Here’s another one from John Milton, called On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Milton certainly knew what waiting was about. By the time he wrote this poem, and his great epic poem Paradise Lost he was completely blind, and dictated the verses to his secretaries. But this faithfulness, that although without sight (“how my light is spent”), he would serve best by simply staying faithful (“bear God’s mild yoke”). And then that last line, that gorgeous last line:

They also serve who only stand and wait.

I think the fact that there isn’t more description to this waiting makes this line so relevant down through the long years (~400) since it was written. Serving isn’t always labor. Greatness isn’t always done on the run. Faithfulness isn’t always shown in flight.

And one last one from the 40th chapter of the Book of Isaiah, with a promise from God himself:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary, and they shall walk, and not faint.

What better promise to someone waiting can there be than this?

If you’re waiting (like I have been) for the light to break, the sun to rise, the end to appear, there are promises given and there is hope to be had. The darkness doesn’t last forever - it can’t.

There is labor (to “post o’er land and ocean without rest”), and then there must be the hopeful waiting for the God-given energy and courage and ability to begin again.