Of docks and churches and libraries and love

Over the past few weeks, promises that once tethered me to the dock of my life have been released, and I’ve found myself flailingtreadingchurningdrifting through open water–a place that, at this age, I never expected to be. A place I never wanted to be. Still, here I am.

Some people, when they find themselves unmoored, seek grounding in a church. Me, I go to the library.

It has been a long, long time since I’ve believed in the Catholic god of my childhood. The other day in the car, as I listened to the litany of suffering and suffering-to-be that is every newscast now,  I realized that I find much more solace in the idea that there is no god controlling what happens to us. Such a god would be a pretty mean bastard, it seems to me. I prefer the idea that life’s unjust cruelties occur randomly or through the will of damaged people. It feels more kind.

For me, God–if I can even call something that–has to do with love and truth and how they intertwine and grow among and between us, here on earth, a phenomenon both intangible and real that deepens life’s joys and carries us through its miseries. I find and feel it often in public libraries and schools, where we humans offer up freely to each other all that we do and know and wonder and imagine and dream. If there isn’t something holy about a space in which all can enter and seek, in the company of others, what they need to survive and understand their experiences, then I don’t know what holiness is.

So the other day, after Facebook blind-sided me with a memory of a time six years ago, not long after those promises were made, when the pleasures of my life–light, nourishment, security, love–shone through everything in my posture and face as I gazed at the person taking my photo, and I suddenly understood in a visceral way that the foundation of that life (as well as many of its pleasures) is gone, I sought shelter, answers, communion, and comfort in the library.

All those rows and rows of books, with their multitude of words capturing myriad lives through time and space, affect me the same way that mountains and oceans do:  My smallness in the face of their immensity reminds me that while my own life is everything to me, it is also, in the grand scheme of the universe, nearly nothing, a mere speck of being passing through whatever our world is, which existed long before I did and will long after I do not. In the midst of an existential crisis, this comforts me as much as my belief that the God of my childhood is a fiction.

I wandered listlessly for a bit through the new book shelves, the fiction and home repairs and self-help, even the cookbooks, searching for something I wouldn’t know I’d been seeking until I found it. It wasn’t until I drifted into a section I long ago lost faith and interest in–poetry–that anything called to me. (You know what they say about atheists and foxholes.) It was there that I found Dorianne Laux’s The Book of Men, and in that book was Staff Sgt. Metz, a character who reminded me so much of my son, “alive for now…/…in his camo gear/and buzz cut, his beautiful new/camel-colored suede boots” that I had to keep reading.

Three stanzas in, I found a version of me, too– “a girl torn between love and the idea of love”–and in that girl’s experience of hating her brother for leaving her to fight a war “no one understood,” I heard echoes of the one that has frayed to a few threads the promises I’ve been holding so tightly to, the ones I’ve had to finally admit have not been kept.

It wasn’t until the closing stanza that I found the words I didn’t know I was looking for:

“I don’t believe in anything anymore:
god, country, money or love.
All that matters to me now
is his life, the body so perfectly made,
mysterious in its workings, its oiled
and moving parts, the whole of him
standing up and raising one arm
to hail a bus, his legs pulling him forward,
and muscle and sinew and living gristle,
the countless bones of his foot trapped in his boot,
stepping off the red curb.”

Somehow–look, I don’t know how it works and trying to explain it wouldn’t–some alchemy fused these words with my questions and pain to form an understanding that might contain a seed of salvation:

Love is not, as I’ve thought for most of my life, the dock. It is the water.

How I have lived 53 years without seeing this bewilders me. Maybe, if I had understood when I was the age of Staff Sgt. Metz and that girl and my son, what was dock and what was water, I would not find myself where I am now. But maybe not. What I am learning–in truth, what I have been learning over and over again, throughout my life–is something I might not have been able to bear knowing then:  There is no permanent solid ground. We are always just one loss away from the necessity of reinvention. At any moment we could step off the red curb and into an intersection from which we can never step back.

All that matters to me now is the fleeting body of my one life, so perfectly made and mysterious in its workings. What matters is that the bones of it not be trapped, and that the whole of me stands up, and that my legs keep moving forward.

 

 

 

Adulting. And stuff.

My daughter’s biggest challenges in the last year have come from learning how to adult. I feel her pain.

Although I am firmly into my 6th decade of living, when it comes to adulting I feel I could be the Imposter Syndrome poster child. I look like a fully-functioning adult. I know all kinds of things about a lot of things–you don’t even want to debate me about the Oxford comma–but I am sometimes shocked by how little I know about the basics of maintaining a life. You really can wing it/kinda fake it for a lot of things. For a really long time. Or, at least, I’ve been able to so far.

This is not an adulting desk.

But it bothers me that I don’t really know how a lot of things work and feel I have very few practical life skills. If the zombie apocalypse comes or the grid collapses or the bottom of privileged, western life falls out in some other way, I’m toast. I can function pretty well in a world with big box stores and electricity and YouTube and take-out, but I will definitely not be the fittest in any kind of basic survival contest.

I’m not really worried about doomsday scenarios, but I descend from farmers and fishermen and machinists–all self-sufficient people who knew how to grow and make and do with their hands. It bothers me to have so little skill in taking care of my own needs. I’m tired of feeling mildly (or majorly) incompetent a lot of the time, especially when it comes to feeding myself and keeping house. Also, I really like it when I occasionally do something well in these arenas.

I didn’t grow any of this not-organic food, but I made this grown-up meal all by myself.

So the other day I checked this book out of the library:

At first I thought it was going to be another lifestyle porn kind of book–and it does have gorgeous pictures with rustic tile, simple linens, and lots of things in glass jars–but it’s got a lot of substance to it:  philosophy, practical strategies, and concrete tools. Most pages look like this one:

There are a few things I particularly enjoy about Erica Strauss’s philosophical approach to food and home. The biggest one? “…don’t be afraid to take it slow at first.”

This is one of the few books I’ve read that makes me think I could actually learn how to do food and home, which makes me want to jump all in. I want to do it all–grow vegetables, can, make my own household cleaners, revamp my household routines–and I want to do it all right now! But this is what my kitchen looks like right now:

And the only way it’s going to look better is if I spend a substantial amount of each day for what’s left of the summer working on it. I’ve also got family to love, and some work to do, and….  I appreciate Strauss’s stance that “this is not an all-or-nothing thing” and that the “ultimate goal of a hands-on homekeeper is to be proactive about shaping your own healthy domestic life.” In other words, she’s not an insufferable purist about the whole thing. In fact, she’s pretty damn funny (as you can see in this post from her blog).

So I’m starting with something simple:  making natural household cleaners. I’ve wanted to do this before, but I got stymied by not knowing where to find borax and castile soap in the store. (I kid you not. I still don’t know where to find them, but if I can’t figure it out this time I’m just going to break down and order them from Amazon.)

Baby steps, baby.

Once upon a time I wrote a blog in which our basic premise was that how we do home is how we do life. I still believe that. For three years, life has been an on-hold, up-in-the-air, what-the-actual-fuck, one-transition/calamity-after-another affair. Home has been slap-dash, make-do, get-through-the-day-however-we-can-and-call-it-a-victory sort of thing. Making my own household cleaners might be only the first step on a thousand mile journey, but at least I’m finally moving, and it feels like the right direction. George Eliot wrote that “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I generally think that’s a crock of hooey, but when it comes to this I think she’s right.

Now this is a guy with practical life skills.

 

Because “love” is a verb

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Somehow, the events in Orlando made me mute. Maybe it’s that I was feeling so wrung out by the emotional roller-coaster I’ve been riding for the past two weeks months years, or maybe it’s that I am so weary of the ways in which we humans are so very horrible to each other, but I just felt that there was nothing meaningful for me to say.

And then I read these words from Jen Hatmaker about what it does to those who are terrorized by violence in their community when those of who are not in it say nothing:

“What my black friends taught me is that the ancillary offense, where grief is compounded and loneliness sets in, is when their friends and colleagues outside of their tribe say NOTHING. When their churches don’t stop and grieve. When their coworkers are silent. When their neighbors look the other way because they aren’t sure what to say, so they say nothing.”

And so, I wrote something about Orlando on Facebook. It still didn’t feel like enough, but it was something. I still felt demoralized and beat down and just so very, very sad–and as if words are not enough in the face of these incidents which I feel myself becoming numb to.

That feeling intensified when I watched this clip from Stephen Colbert, who reminds us that love is a verb.

I wanted to DO something, but I didn’t know what.

As is so often the case, I got my answer from a librarian. Librarian Arika, to be specific.  Librarian Arika reminded me of one of my bedrock beliefs–that stories have the power to save lives. That words matter.

(It is easy to lose faith in the face of horrible, bewildering events.)

Arika reminded me that when it comes to building acceptance of humankind, “literature can help.” She wondered,

“What if it was as simple as this: commit to read, promote, share, and purchase books that promote tolerance of race, gender, identity, religion, ability, and sexual orientation.”

And suddenly I knew what I could do–the thing that is my thing to do. I can join Arika’s movement (#BooksBuildTolerance). For the rest of the month, she is sharing one book a day that promotes tolerance and understanding.

Me, too.

I’m starting with a book I read last month that I adore: George by Alex Gino.

From the publisher:

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

So, that’s what it’s about. I love this book not because it’s about a girl who is a boy, but because it is a tender, true, and important story about being human–which means being vulnerable, and scared, and brave, and bold. The characters are so real, from George/Melissa’s teen-age brother to their loving-but-not-completely-accepting mom. (“I always knew you were gay,” she says, “but not that kind of gay.”)

I love this book not because it is ground-breaking (though it is that) but because it is good writing. It’s not a book I chose for our elementary libraries because we needed a transgender book; I chose it because it’s a book any child who has ever felt different in some way could relate to. (And because it’s a transgender book and we have children in our schools who are struggling with that particular issue and they need to read a story in which they see themselves. And their cisgender friends need to see them in books, too. But first because it’s just a great book.)

This is not a very compelling review because I don’t have a copy with me and I’m tired and it’s late, but I think that doesn’t much matter.

Sometimes we’ve got to just do the best we can–because love is a verb and it’s important not only to not say nothing, but also to not do nothing. If you haven’t read George, check it out.

#BooksBuildTolerance.

To kill a demigod

 

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To Kill a Mockingbird was the last book I read aloud to my children, in 2009 when they were in the 6th grade. Sensing that our beloved read-aloud ritual was ending, I chose the one book I most wanted to share with them.

I wanted them to love the book I’d loved since I first read it at the same age. Whole swaths of it flew over my head in 1976, but I revisited it about once a year for the following ten. With each reading I understood more, and the more I understood, the more I loved it. Although I knew it was considered an unsophisticated and unoriginal choice, To Kill a Mockingbird has for decades been my answer to the question, “What is your favorite book?”

It’s not any more.

When I first heard news last spring of the impending publication of Harper Lee’s long-lost manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, the novel she wrote before Mockingbird, I was first curious, then concerned. Like so many others, I wondered what the true story of this story was.

It was hard for me to believe that Lee truly didn’t know where that manuscript had been for so many years. It made no sense that after such a long silence as a writer, she’d finally consent to publication of another book–especially one that was a rejected prequel/sequel to Mockingbird. When I read conflicting reports about its circumstances, I decided I wouldn’t read Watchman. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to spoil my love of the first book (although there was that) as it was that the writer I am wanted to be loyal, somehow, to the writer I imagined Lee to be. I couldn’t be sure she wasn’t being taken advantage of.

After Watchman was published last summer and so many people lost their shit over the revelation that Atticus, our hero of demigod proportions, held views that were (whaaat???) racist, I changed my mind. That, to me, was a hugely interesting development. It suggested to me that the original book might contain complexities that I, in my so many, many readings of it, had never grasped. It suggested to me that there might be more to the story of Harper Lee than I’d ever imagined. I bought and read a copy soon after its release.

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As a work of literature, it was a disappointment. So many of the things I loved best about Mockingbird were missing in Watchman:  Lee’s masterful use of language, her deadpan humor, her fully developed characters. Watchman was uneven, didactic, and–dare I say it?–boring for long stretches. It was clearly the early, unedited work of a less-experienced writer.

As a piece of social commentary and an artifact of a writing life, though, it was fascinating. Through much of the book, the narrator, an adult Scout, excoriates Atticus and any other character who defends a way of life in which Black Americans were denied the rights and privileges given to whites. Given the time in which Lee attempted to publish the book–the 1950s of the Montgomery bus boycott and Brown v. The Board of Education–I understood why her original manuscript might have been rejected and Lee counseled to tell the story that became Mockingbird.

Reading Watchman, in which Atticus does, indeed, voice beliefs that most today would consider racist, my mind raced with questions I’d never before considered:

Is it possible that Lee wrote and published Mockingbird because a palatable story with a white hero was the only way in which she could publish any kind of “race novel”?

Is it possible that Lee never published another book because she felt unable to tell the story she really wanted to tell?

Is it possible she was disappointed that none of us could see the limitations of the Atticus she knew–not the heroic white champion of equality, but a man who was doing his duty more from a love of law and sense of fairness than anything else?

Was it possible that she fully knew and understood that Watchman was an inferior book, but she wanted it published as-is because she wanted us all to question our complete adoration of Atticus and Mockingbird? Is it possible she wanted all of us who’ve loved Mockingbird to lose our innocence about it so that we could grow up about race in America, just as Scout’s loss of her childlike love for her father in Watchman transforms her into an adult?

Such a loss of innocence is exactly what what I experienced while reading Watchman. How to reconcile the character I grew up so admiring in Mockingbird with the one who, in Watchman, says these words?

“Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?….

“Now think about this. What would happen if all the Negroes in the South were suddenly given full civil rights? I’ll tell you. There’d be another Reconstruction. Would you want your state governments run by people who don’t know how to run ’em?….Zeebo’d probably be the mayor of Maycomb. Would you want someone of Zeebo’s capability to handle the town’s money?” (245-246)

How could Atticus, the man who stood up to a whole town to defend a Black man, say these words? Well, because, as I finally saw when Watchman sent me back into Mockingbird for the first time in seven years, he wasn’t standing up to defend a Black man. He was defending an innocent man who happened to be Black. He was upholding the law and our system of justice, something I can now see quite clearly. In a conversation with his brother, Jack, Atticus explains why he’s taken the Robinson case:

“You know, I’d hoped to get through life without a case of this kind, but Judge Taylor pointed at me and said, ‘You’re It.” (100)

Atticus argues the case fully not because he is hoping to change the state of race relations in Maycomb, but because it’s necessary for him to be able to live with himself:

“This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience….before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.'” (120)

I just didn’t see it because, as is always the case with literature, I saw it through the lens of my own experiences and needs. Although Mockingbird is absolutely a criticism of overt racism, only now can I see that it is full of the kind of racism that is so often invisible to white people in America. It’s also full of dubious, unchallenged messages about social class, gender, and disability.

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Look, for example, at chapter 12, when Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to her church. A Black woman, Lula, questions Calpurnia for bringing white children to her community’s church, saying, “‘–they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal?” But then Zeebo, the garbage collector dismissed as unfit to rule by Atticus in Watchman, steps from the crowd and dismisses Lula and her “fancy ideas” by attaching to her the words “contentious,” “troublemaker,” and “haughty.” (And let’s not overlook attachment of the word “nigger” to her, which is the one Calpurnia, implied to be superior because of an education that seems to have come from the generosity and graciousness of the Finches, uses to address her, and which prompts a discussion between Calpurnia, Scout, and Jem about why Calpurnia doesn’t “talk right” when she’s with Black people.) Lula is swept aside by her congregation as the “solid mass” of them welcomes the children of Atticus.

As a younger reader, I understood this scene through the filter of my own (limited) knowledge and values. I knew it was unfair to exclude someone, especially children, from any place because of their skin color–so, of course, Lula was wrong. It was right for her to be pushed aside and for Jem and Scout to be welcomed in. I had no understanding, even as late as 2009, that for Lula the community of her church was a safe sanctuary within a larger society that the novel shows us so clearly is unsafe for her, and that allowing white people into it (even children) could destroy that for her. I didn’t understand that her need for such a space and her anger over such a breach could arguably trump my color-blind doctrine of fairness. I saw Lula’s scorn over the idea that Jem and Scout were Calpurnia’s “company” (“‘Yeah, an’ I reckon you’s comp’ny at the Finch house durin’ the week'”) as evidence of some kind of impolite, trouble-making contentiousness, rather than as evidence of how unfair it was that the Finch children could enter into the Black community’s church when Calpurnia would never be allowed to enter theirs.

I’m embarrassed to admit that in all my many readings, I never saw these things; they seem so glaringly obvious now. But I didn’t, so blinded was I by the light of Atticus’s goodness and my own, relatively privileged life.

Lula

I think part of the reason I loved Mockingbird so was that it allowed me to feel OK about being white in a country where Blacks have been treated so cruelly and brutally. I could look at the town of Maycomb and think:  That’s not me or my people. That was another time (years before my birth) and another place (the South, a far more racist region than mine). I could look at Atticus and think:  We’re not all bad. I can be like he is.

I was worried that my children would first encounter this book in school, and that their experience with it there would ruin the love I hoped they’d develop for it, but I can see now that I was worried about the wrong things. Only now can I see the messages they might take from it, ones I internalized without even realizing their existence:

  • That Black people need white people to save them because they aren’t capable of saving themselves.
  • That some people are inherently better than others.
  • That white people outside of the South are superior to those in it because we aren’t racists like they are.

And look at where we are now. America’s long-simmering racism has come to full boil, and I cannot help but wonder if Lee “found” the manuscript for Watchman and had it published without any editing to soften the edges of the Atticus she first imagined because she could sense that what has been coming for years was about to erupt. I wonder if she knew we can no longer afford to blindly worship at the altar of Atticus.

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In order to finally grow up, the Scout of Watchman had to “kill” the idealized version of Atticus that lived in her head (265). So it has been with me:  In order to see painful truths about depictions of race (and class and gender) in this novel, I’ve had to let die the idealized vision I’ve held of it for so many years.

As much as I once loved Mockingbird, as important a book as it was in opening peoples’ eyes to one level of racism, I think it is time for it to be retired as our “national novel” (as Oprah once called it). We need a new national narrative about race, one that isn’t a book by, for, and about white people, with a white hero at its epicenter. While we certainly have our own stories about race, and racial matters impact us, too, ours are not the most important stories to know and tell about race. We need to listen to those who are telling stories that white people can’t tell, and we need to lose the idea that being color-blind is the best way to see each other.

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Lee’s final act as a writer–putting this lesser book into the public sphere–has forced me to grow up as both a reader and writer. All those questions I had about what really happened with this manuscript and what her possible motives for publishing it might have been? Other questions I’ve had about Lee and where she really stood on issues of race, class, and gender? I’ve realized that the answers to them don’t really matter.

We writers like to think we can control readers’ reactions to our work. We think that if we labor over our words long enough we will get them just right so that no one can misunderstand us. We cannot. We can only tell our truth and release it to the world and let others make of it what they will. What any work means is something created between the words and the reader who brings to them their own truth. That’s the terrible and wonderful thing about any creative art, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about that. Or should, even if we could.

We need to create and share for our own reasons, and let go of the outcomes. I like to think that’s exactly what Harper Lee did, and I will be forever grateful not only for the lessons both her books have taught me about reading and race, but also for what she’s taught me about how to be a writer.

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Page numbers refer to these editions of the books:
40th Anniversary Edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, published by HarperCollins, 1999
1st Edition of Go Set a Watchman, published by HarperCollins, 2015

Trump photo from Gage Skidmore (https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/5439997505/in/photostream/), adapted by me.

See this post for other photo attributes.

If you would like to further explore issues of race in literature (especially if you’re white), I highly recommend the blog Reading While White.

Wednesday Words 3.2.16: Finding my oxygen mask

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One of my day jobs is coaching teachers. It’s sort of like being a life coach, but I only work with teachers and we only (mostly) talk about their teaching practice.

Last week, I met one of my coachees first thing in the morning, which is how I happened to be there when she was putting away her lunch, made by her partner. I mentioned how nice it would be to have someone make me lunch and that I’d most likely be having another drive-through meal later in the day.

She gave me one of her sandwiches and an apple. (Because:  teacher.)

I protested, she insisted, and then we got to work.

Later that day, I bit into the sandwich, and tears came to my eyes. It was just so nice to eat something homemade, and I couldn’t believe what a difference it was making to eat a simple ham sandwich. It was hard to feel how hard things have been through the contrast of real food to what my diet has been so often lately. It was hard to feel how long it’s felt since someone took care of me. (To be clear:  Cane cooks dinner more often than I do when he’s here. But breakfast and lunch have gone by the wayside, and…I dunno. I just felt cared for in a way I haven’t for a long time. And tears are just under the surface all the time lately. We’re still adjusting to the huge change in our family life and my babies are getting ready to leave the nest, and everything feels raw and momentous, all the time.)

Yesterday, I met with that teacher again, and again she had a sandwich for me. In my own bag with my name on it and a bottle of juice. (Can you even?)

So, even though my last post was all about my pledge to do frivolous creative projects for the fun of it, I came home (to take care of a sick kid) and made the thank you card you see above, so that I can properly thank the maker of these sandwiches.

But it was like that card was a trap door to a land of creative fun–because after I made the practical card, I made frivolous stuff (also above).

I have long been interested in juxtapositions of words and images, which is really what started Wednesday Words. And I love love love with all my heart old books.* I’ve also long loved collage, the creating of something new with the parts of many somethings old. I like to remix.

The first three images above are all cards, which, I suppose gives me some kind of permission I needed to make something as frivolous as collages. It’s really kind of silly, though. I can’t think of any real occasions for which any of the cards other than the thank you one might be appropriate.

That’s OK. I know I’m just working my way into this. I’m playing, and I like the small scale of the cards. It means I can start and finish in short time. There’s no big commitment. Lots of shorter works means my learning curve will rise faster than it would with fewer big works.

I love how messy my work table is now–filled with real mess, from real stuff, not just clutter because I haven’t put things away.

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I love how good it felt to lose myself in it for a while. Doing that felt as nourishing to me as a homemade ham sandwich. It filled me up enough that I was able to make a grilled cheese (and chicken soup) for the sick child with nothing in my heart but joy and gratitude for the chance to mother him just this way for a little while longer.

We really do need to put on our own oxygen masks first. This is mine.

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*All book images and words came from gutted books (which you can read about here), so I didn’t have to cut intact books. I’ve lost my source for such pages, so I’m not sure what I’ll do when I’ve used them up. It’s really hard for me to cut books that are still books!

Wednesday Words 2.10.16

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When You Are Old

William Butler Yeats

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

I guess this is my idea of a love poem? What can I say–I like ’em on the sad side. I don’t know why, but this poem haunted me in my younger years. I found it again looking for some Valentine poetry. If you’re in the market for some, I suggest this page from Poetry Foundation. A great mix of work.

I found this particular poem in the article “Poems to Send the Person You’re Crushing On.”I had great fun looking for just the right image. You can find images with a creative commons license here. Many of them allow you to remix or adapt the images. I’ve always been interested in the juxtaposition of word and image–the reason for this little Wednesday series.

So tell me:  What are your favorite love poems?

Photo: “Couple Walking Away on a Dirt Road” by simpleinsomnia via Flickr with a creative commons license. http://bit.ly/20UIc7V

Wednesday Words 1.27.16

"Libraries raised me."
 --Ray Bradbury

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Photos taken from the ground-floor lobby of the magnificent public library in Vancouver (WA).

Let’s talk about libraries. Do you have a favorite one? Do you have a good library story? A favorite quotation about libraries? What do libraries mean to you?

Wednesday Words 12.16.15

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December 14, 1969

From “Snow-bound: A Winter Idyl” by John Greenleaf Whittier

What matter how the night behaved?
What matter how the north-wind raved?
Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
Could quench our hearth-fire’s ruddy glow.
O Time and Change!—with hair as gray
As was my sire’s that winter day,
How strange it seems, with so much gone
Of life and love, to still live on!
Ah, brother! only I and thou
Are left of all that circle now,—
The dear home faces whereupon
That fitful firelight paled and shone.
Henceforward, listen as we will,
The voices of that hearth are still;
Look where we may, the wide earth o’er,
Those lighted faces smile no more.
We tread the paths their feet have worn,
      We sit beneath their orchard trees,
      We hear, like them, the hum of bees
And rustle of the bladed corn;
We turn the pages that they read,
      Their written words we linger o’er,
But in the sun they cast no shade,
No voice is heard, no sign is made,
      No step is on the conscious floor!
Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust,
(Since He who knows our need is just,)
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.
Alas for him who never sees
The stars shine through his cypress-trees!
Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
Nor looks to see the breaking day
Across the mournful marbles play!
Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
      The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of Death,
      And Love can never lose its own!

Wednesday Words 11.11.15: Juxtaposition

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Spring and Fall

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 18441889

              to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

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Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 18441889

Glory be to God for dappled things--
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.

There is much I might say about both of these poems–and even more about them as a pair–but I am more interested in what you think. Let’s talk in the comments?

Poems via Academy of American Poets. Images mine.