Monday, September 5, 2016

the sweetness of it all

"Books choose their authors: the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one." 

- Salman Rushdie

“Writing is a job, a talent, but it's also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”

- Ann Patchett

I wanted to sink 
into the cool water of literature, 
to drift and rest among the pages for a while
not to think about my own life

- Tony Hoagland

“That is one thing I've learned, that it is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later. I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its truth would shine on forever. Now it's pretty obvious to me that more often than not the batteries fade, and sometimes what you knew even goes out with a bang when you try to call on it, just like a lightbulb cracking off when you throw the switch.” 

- Ann Patchett, Truth and Beauty

“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.”

- Helena Bonham Carter

It's September, the mornings are cold, and it's been grey and rainy again. Our daughter is settled into her college dorm across the country from us and we're settling into new routines, processing all the many feelings, and also, discovering new joys. (Skype, for example).

I miss her like crazy of course, but so proud of her for taking this new adventure in stride.

The week before she left, I took advantage of a last bit of hand modelling/holding.

The life of an artist is inspired, self sufficient and independent (unrelated to society).

The direction of attention of an artist is towards mind in order to be aware of inspiration.

Following inspiration life unfolds free of any influence.

Finally the artist recognizes himself in the work and is happy and contented. Nothing else will satisfy him.

An artist's life is an unconventional life. It leads away from the example of the past.

It struggles painfully against its own conditioning. It appears to rebel but in reality it is an inspired way of life.

- Agnes Martin

So she is off to study art, and I have resolved to dig into the novel I'm writing again, and so far, have spent some time each morning re-reading what I've written, adding words. Writing in my notebook. Thinking about what is next, collecting images.

Part of what had stalled me, is the form. As Rushdie has said, books choose us. While I suppose in the back of my mind I'd been telling myself to write something 'saleable' (as if any of us quite know what that could be), something more conventional, the book that has chosen me whispers otherwise. I'd been fighting the form that seems to have found me. You see, I'd like to write like Marilynne Robinson or Wallace Stegner (in Crossing to Safety), or like Meg Wolitzer in The Interestings. Or like Elizabeth Strout. But it's not going that way. More fragmented, more odd. Less saleable. Why am I surprised?

The only thing one can do, though, is to follow inspiration.

To embrace these meetings with the imaginary friend.

And as HBC says, to make of all of one's life, art.

Since returning from dropping off our daughter at her college, I've been also doing a bit of cleaning, paring down. And I want that to be my theme for this next season.

I had the great idea that I would clean up my Flickr page and maybe start using it again (the only thing I've been posting for ages is my bird series). I started to unfollow people who haven't been on Flickr for years, and to remove myself from groups etc. But eventually realized it would take a full day to reset the thing entirely. I know it's not necessary per se, but I really wanted a fresh start there. Not sure what I'll do about it.

And then there's Facebook. We all do this, curate our FB page - hide this, and ask for less of that, etc. I've spent years hiding every radio station, and really almost everything that anyone shares that's not original content. This helps a bit, but it's not perfect. I try to curate a 'close friends' feed. This helps, too. I try not to think of the strangeness of FB any more - the way friends you had IRL don't ever react to anything you the point where you question their IRL friendship. And maybe inadvertently I'm doing same? Who knows, the mysterious algorithms and all that. Does one often not feel very silenced by the goings on on FB? Is the secret to post more? or less? To comment more? And then, what does one have time for? energy?

In any case, I've been thinking quite a bit about a post by Maria Shriver: "I'm Giving Up Complaining." I think perhaps that's the answer I need. Just stop complaining, you know? Be grateful.

Three Gratitudes

by Carrie Newcomer

Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I'm grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It's a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight, and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father's good health,
My daughter's new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The stories you told me,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.
And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,

Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.

{source: On Being}

The sweetness of it all: let's be drawn to that.

The fall light, the last blooms.

I know you've seen all this all before.....but it's different too, at the end of the season, yes?

And next, and lastly for this photo-filled post. Hay. Beginning with a poem by Paul Muldoon:


by Paul Muldoon

This much I know. Just as I'm about to make that right turn
off Province Line Road
I meet another beat-up Volvo
carrying a load

of hay. (More accurately, a bale of lucerne
on the roof rack,
a bale of lucerne or fescue or alfalfa.)
My hands are raw. I'm itching to cut the twine, to unpack

that hay-accordion, that hay-concertina.
It must be ten o'clock. There's still enough light
(not least from the glow

of the bales themselves) for a body to ascertain
that when one bursts, as now, something takes flight
from those hot and heavy box-pleats. This much, at least, I know.

The week before we dropped Chloe off, they mowed the field which we often walk beside.

If you'd like to read more poems about hay, a worthy subject, there's an entire website devoted to "Hay in Art." What a wonderful time to be alive, yes? I've always loved hay, the whole idea of hay, the smell of it, the layers.

And then it rained, so it took a bit before they baled it.

And so this next run of photos is on a day that was quite foggy and gray and a bit dewy as well. Same field, different weather.

For a bonus, the spider webs were suddenly apparent.

Last things.

Reading: Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar. From a  review in the Globe and Mail:

"The idea about a fictional account of the relationship between the famous Stephen sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, came when Parmar was reading some of Vanessa Bell’s correspondence. It was well known within the Bloomsbury Set, who were famously promiscuous and documented much of their lives in diaries and letters, that Vanessa’s husband, Clive Bell, had an affair with Virginia Woolf. “I didn’t know if the sisters ever acknowledged [between them] the affair … and it’s all over Virginia’s and Clive’s correspondence and yet completely absent from Vanessa’s. When I was researching this, I realized what my book was about – about this choice this woman has to make: whether or not to forgive her sister.” 
Deftly told through Vanessa’s fictional diaries and letters from members of the Bloomsbury Set in prewar London – including Virginia and Vanessa’s brothers, Thoby and Adrian Stephen; Clive Bell; Virginia’s husband-to-be, Leonard Woolf; and writers E.M. Forster and Lytton Strachey, among others – the novel captures the youthful, bohemian mood of the time."

Quite honestly, it's the sort of book I usually avoid like the plague...but there it was in the airport bookstore on the bottom shelf, covered in dust, and I thought, yes, that's probably the book for me. I'm only halfway through and thoroughly captivated.

Watched: Love and Friendship. Finally! I loved it, though I can't say I LOVED it. I've heard that some people loathed it, though it's been given generally high marks by the critics. I think the thing is that it's based on an unfinished novel and so there's something just odd and off-kilter about it for me. However, when I watched it I was in the middle of moving my only child into college, in a different time zone, and stressed out, tired, and wildly hopeful as a general mindset. I think I need to see it again.

Want: the new issue of Kinfolk. Two of my obsessions: the photos of Sally Mann and the art of Cy Twombly converge.

And that darlings, is all for this Monday. Wishing you a calm week ahead, much sweetness, and an abundance of inspiration.

- Shawna


  1. Dear Shawna. Yes, it is different at the end of the season. Have you read M Train by Patti Smith? I just read the last line this morning - the book has changed me; inspired me. And now I am finally embarking on Rumi and the Red Handbag! Personally I cannot find any balance with Facebook, but I feel regularly rewarded with real fruits from not being on it. I love your Helena Bonham Carter quote – it reminds me of your blog, how you write and what you write about. ‘And that darlings’.... made me smile. Happy cleaning/clearing/reconfiguring xx

  2. I wonder if you know Harold Rhenisch's The Art of Haying? Lovely -- as is this post...

  3. Such lovely images of your sweet daughter before she left for college. I have recently tried to get back on Flickr myself. Mostly because I am tired of FB. We shall see how it goes.

    1. I really need to work to pare it down...but Flickr doesn't make it easy....

  4. Thank you Monday, and holiday Monday as I am here :) - so much to love in this Shawna, and to delightfully devour every morsel, your writing, your sharing, your pictures, your lovely daughter spreading her beautiful wings to life, Anne Patchett!, those apples!! ♥ Everything Wonderful! I am very much feeling many of the same things, and I am ever so grateful to have found you to travel with ♥

  5. Some beautiful quotes. "Life is art." So wise. Photos - the one with the dahlia and the arm of the chair. That empty arm waiting so patiently, to welcome or help you up, send you off, or to just let you rest. That's the photo for me (with it's bit of spider web adding to the magic). Thanks as always.

  6. Well, and thank you everyone for being here.

  7. Oh yes, the sweetness of all of this! I am stealing..umm, borrowing many of these wonderful quotes and poems. So very inspiring and just what I need right now. And I've always loved hayfields.

    Happy to hear that Chloe is off to a great start. Funny, but when my first son went off to college I felt the need to clean, organize and simplify around my home. Strange how when we get ready to give birth, they refer to that as nesting...I wonder what they call it when we get ready for them to leave the nest?

    1. Glad you like :) Steal / borrow away :)

      I'd not thought of that - so true - how it's the reverse of nesting. This decluttering thing....

  8. I love those hidden cobwebs made visible by beaded rain droplets... hidden gems

  9. Fledging, is the word, I think. . .
    Yes, a lot of emotion in here. Like the pictures of the hay field, all different dressed in fog, dew, sun. You are going through all that weather, too. Exciting times.


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