A Dent in a Bucket
Hammering a dent out of a bucket
answers from the woods
~ Gary Snyder, “A Dent in a Bucket” from Danger on Peaks, 2004
Hammering a dent out of a bucket
answers from the woods
~ Gary Snyder, “A Dent in a Bucket” from Danger on Peaks, 2004
“The cure for boredom is curiosity.
There is no cure for curiosity.”
~ Dorothy Parker
I’m not a Dorothy Parker buff, but I became intrigued with her when my brother-in-law purchased a sprawling house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania that she had owned with Alan Campbell in the late 1930s and 1940s. Listen to Helen Beer (daugher of Dorothy Parker’s Bucks County caretakers in the 1930s) recollecting Dorothy Parker swimming in the buff.
Dorothy Parker skinny dipping? Hmmm… Curiosity trumps boredom every time. And – albeit a somewhat insidious elixir – there’s absolutely no cure for curiosity.
A good thing too!
Here’s a poem by Dorothy Parker that reminds the reader that there’s no cure for curiosity. Except, perhaps, the absence of curiosity altogether.
A Certain Lady, by Dorothy Parker
Oh, I can smile for you, and tilt my head,
And drink your rushing words with eager lips,
And paint my mouth for you a fragrant red,
And trace your brows with tutored finger-tips.
When you rehearse your list of loves to me,
Oh, I can laugh and marvel, rapturous-eyed.
And you laugh back, nor can you ever see
The thousand little deaths my heart has died.
And you believe, so well I know my part,
That I am gay as morning, light as snow,
And all the straining things within my heart
You’ll never know.
Oh, I can laugh and listen, when we meet,
And you bring tales of fresh adventurings, —
Of ladies delicately indiscreet,
Of lingering hands, and gently whispered things.
And you are pleased with me, and strive anew
To sing me sagas of your late delights.
Thus do you want me — marveling, gay, and true,
Nor do you see my staring eyes of nights.
And when, in search of novelty, you stray,
Oh, I can kiss you blithely as you go ….
And what goes on, my love, while you’re away,
You’ll never know.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver (“The summer day”)
Will you spring up from your pillow in the morning, heart racing, mind wild with questions and dreams? Will you sing softly then louder – to your spouse, your child, your dog, your view – an extemporaneous anthem of wants and wills and when’s and why’s?
Will you step into a steaming shower and listen to the raindrops and streams and oceans as you suds yesterday from your skin and hair? Or will you stride past the shower, the bathtub, the sink and dance directly to the lake? Will you dive in and swim until the shore calls you home again.
Will you pluck swollen raspberries from the brambles, grapes from the vines that wind through the fence around the garden, an apple from the gnarled tree in the first meadow?
And then, rested and clean and sated, how will you live this wild and precious morning?
Good luck! (And thank you, Mary Oliver.)
Life is poetry.
Except when it isn’t. Like when it’s more of a broken record or an abscessed tooth or a tropical storm with hurricane potential.
But at it’s best, today for example, life is poetry.
Sometimes life rhymes. The message may be as difficult interpret as a summer mirage, but for a glimmering instant we stumble upon mesmerizing clarity.
And when I glimpse the poetry I’ve learned to step aside. Or sing along. Or dance.
I’ve learned that ignoring the poetry is all too easy, but unhealthy. Unhappy. It’s alright to sing off key or dance to my own rhythm. What’s important is diving in. Or yielding. What’s important is being open and receptive to the poetry. What’s important is embracing the poetry.
Each of us lives a life that expresses… Every thing we do, everything we are, expresses… What message are you giving the world, through your actions, how you live, how you treat others, what you accomplish, how you choose to be, every moment of every day?
Are you an angry rant? A ballad? An epic poem?
Perhaps a sonnet, a limerick, a haiku?
If your life is a poem, what do you want it to say? What would you rather leave out? (zenhabits)
Here’s one poet’s answer:
What’s your answer? If life is poetry, what are you expressing? What’s your song? What’s your dance?
Be driven, but be realistic, and create a culture based on flow, process and collaboration, not work heroism. (Medium)
Sometimes life rhymes. And sometimes it’s difficult to explain exactly why. Why did I stumble across Stef Lewandowski‘s thoughtful reflection on the heavy costs of overworking, “What gets done is what gets done“, and why now?
Why did I just happen to dip into this while scanning the Medium Editor’s Picks? Right as I’ve been deep thinking this whole matter of triumphal solo workathons (and shortfalls, setbacks, etc.)? And why did it coincide with a couple of spontaneous social media exchanges with peers on the very same topic?
Poetry. Sometimes life rhymes. The message may be as difficult interpret as a summer mirage, but for a glimmering instant we stumble upon mesmerizing clarity.
A little more than halfway through the year isn’t such a bad time to reevaluate priorities and goals. Maybe even to rotate the map slightly. Or turn it upside down to doodle a fresh map…
Stef@stef) is cofounder of Makeshift (@makeshift), a cool “new type of company that makes digital products that ‘give a leg up to the little guy’“. Smart concept. Smart team. London-based. They built Bitsy to make it easy and affordable for you to sell your digital stuff, Help Me Write so you can tap your audience for guidance on what to write about, and Hire My Friend so can explore new work possibilities with help from your friends.
It’s all the more compelling to be reminded by a smart, hardworking overachiever who thrives in perennial start-up mode that we need to unplug. That we need to work smart. And that means that sprinting 24×7 because we have to (and because it often yields ace results, and because everyone has come to expect Energizer bunny tempo from us, and — let’s be 100% honest — because it’s a really addictive!) isn’t such a good idea. Not in the long term. Nor even the sort of middle term. It’s a fast track to burn out. It’s taken me most of my life to acknowledge this. To accept this. And to envision (and begin drafting) a new map.
The frustration and drive that you feel around what you’re working on is a good thing – it gives you motivation and direction, but it’s important to be grown up about it too. There is only so much that humans can achieve in a period of time, and by accepting this fact I’ve found that I’m able to create an environment where I feel more relaxed, creative and inspired than I’ve managed to be in before.
The result is that I, and my team are being smart about how we spend our time, rather than back-filling with a resource that we shouldn’t be using up—our personal time. (Medium)
Time. Timing. It’s one of the essential ingredients in poetry.
So are flow and process. Ideally. Though not always. Thanks, Stef, for the timely reminder. And thanks for building tools that help out with the collaboration part too.
Time for fearless flow, process and collaboration. Time to add bold lines and colors to my new map…
Last week I shared one of my favorite Billy Collins poems, “Marginalia”, with my reading group. I was surprised how few had heard/read it before. Billy Collins has enjoyed the poet equivalent of rock star status over the last decade, and yet nobody seemed familiar with Collins’ meandering reflection on one of my favorite subjects.
While the poem’s charm and much of its aural appeal resides in the specific instances of marginalia which Collins includes (calling out Kierkegaard, dissing Dickinson, bravo-ing Baldwin, etc.), there are three excerpts that contribute handily to the universal notion of marginalia, and I’d like to pass them along.
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
~ Billy Collins, “Marginalia” (Poetry Magazine, February 1996)
Spot on! One, two, three perfectly captured truths about marginalia.
Collins is a member of your family, your best friend, sharing everyday moments and feelings so vividly they become your memories as well. (Jason Weisberger, Boing Boing.)
I’m still slightly perplexed by the almost combative bent of the marginalia scribblers early in the poem. While there’s a steady evolution toward less antagonistic marginalia penned by students and admirers, a shift accentuated by the love stained finale, I don’t completely grok the poet’s intentions. Perhaps hostile marginalia is sufficiently foreign to me that I lack the requisite context. I’ll work on that!
But the notion of challenging the author on his/her own playing field (or just off the edge of the playing field) is familiar. As is the curious human instinct to plant a personal flag. I was here. I staked this ground. I exist… For me this latter category often falls under the category of reminders. Can I find this passage or that reference easily later? Let’s make sure.
Marginalia was first published in Picnic, Lightning and later included in the collection Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems. If you’d like to read the whole poem now, you can access it online as reproduced from the February 1996 issue of Poetry Magazine. As with most of Billy Collins’ poems, this deserves to be read aloud. Once you’ve heard the poet read aloud, you’ll forever hear his voice when you read his words. But even in your own voice, you’ll bring the words to life in a way that they deserve. Enjoy!
Dare to start your day with a lullaby? Good luck!
Victor Kossakovsky’s poignant three minute documentary about homelessness strips away all but the most most critical narrative elements: several simple shots of vagrants sleeping in a bank’s ATM foyer, three brief scenarios with ATM clients, ambient urban street noise, and an evocative “lullaby” which simultaneously soothes and mocks. The result is subtle, disturbing and captivating. I’ve already watched Lullaby twice this morning. I’ll watch it again.
The film poem’s location (Berlin) and music (sung by Nadezhda Utkina, an ethnic Udmurt) are foreign, but the theme is universal. Unlike the preachy, precious and shock mongering poverty diatribes with which we’re familiar, Kossakovsky’s Lullaby offers a more complex snapshot of the problem.
I biked around my neighborhood and started filming. In one of my favorite moments, a woman opened a door leading to the A.T.M.’s and, when she realized that there were people sleeping inside, slowly closed the door and tiptoed away, saying, “Sleep well!” ~ Victor Kossakovsky (NYTimes.com)
Seen through the eye of the camera we don’t initially know why the woman stalls. I imagined her deliberating, calculating the risks of entering. Is she in danger? Will she be mugged? And then she turns slowly, quietly and leaves without using the ATM out of deference to the sleeping homeless people.
Victor Kossakovsky’s nuanced approach, enhanced by coupling a gritty urban scenario with a tender and innocent lullaby, leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. No tidy takeaway here. The mark of a gifted storyteller.
Returning to the NYTimes.com post I was surprised to discover no comments about Lullaby. I’ve primed the pump with the hope that it will prompt deserved praise for Victor Kossakovsky and perhaps prompt some debate among viewers less smitten. My comments won’t appear until moderated, so here’s what I wrote:
Subtle, poignant and haunting. I’ve watched the video twice driven by the same instinct that often compels me to read a poem twice, to perpetuate the experience and to swim deeper into its message. Victor Kossakovsky’s “Lullaby” offers a fresh (and overdue) look at the complexity of homelessness without preaching or reducing his message to a precious Helvetica slogan. Bravo!
Perhaps you’d like to share your reaction with Kossakovsky too? Let’s jumpstart the discourse!
More accurately, I started my morning with Sarah Salway. She read her dusty poem. Aloud.
You might consider starting your morning the same way. If it’s not already too late. Or even if it is…
I’ve listened to the poem — from her newest poetry collection, You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book — three times so far. In fact, I’m afraid I may have inhaled some of the dust while listening. The idea of hording and absorbing a bag of dust, all that remains of a departed spouse, won’t abandon me. Salway’s lines stride — cloying yet tear-jerkingly poignant — toward a horizon that never arrives.
At less than a minute and a half, listening to this audio clip just might be the best invested time of your day. But fair warning: you might listen three times. Or more.
I tip my sombrero to to Nik Perring (@nikperring) for his post “Dust. And Sarah Salway” which opened my ears to Salway’s bag of dust tricks. Want more? Recent stops on Sarah Salway’s virtual poetry reading tour include blog posts by Tania Hershman, Danuta Kean, and Lia Leendertz. Enjoy.
“Projects are fun to start, but part of the deal is that they don’t last forever.” ~ Seth Godin
A year after Seth Godin launched The Domino Project he’s calling it quits. He summed up the takeaways in his post, “The last hardcover” which merits more rumination (preferably with several friends including an author, a publisher, and editor, an agent and a bottle of eighteen year old Laphroaig,) but absent the minds and the bottle of Scotch at 9:00am in my study, I’ll limit myself to an invitation and a few amuse-gueules.
First off, why’d he quit? What did he learn. And why’d he do it in the first place?
Right. So it was an experiment, Godin’s a laboratory for testing “what could be done in a fast-changing environment. Rather than whining about the loss of the status quo, I thought it would be interesting to help invent a new status quo and learn some things along the way.” (“The last hardcover”) Did you catch that? Godin stepped away from the traditional publishing world which had become increasingly bogged down in neigh saying and resisting the rapidly evolving publishing industry in order to help reinvent the publishing industry! That’s an ambitious experiment by my yardstick. And by his own estimation, it was a largely successful experiment.
It’s worth noting that even envisioning, announcing and launching The Domino Project was a successful experiment. The impact was real and the aftershocks are still tickling the tummies of the publishing industry. But catalyzing debate, driving change and incubating/publishing “twelve bestsellers, published in many languages around the world” is only part of the equation, you can bet on that. Savant Seth’s projects are rarely so tidy. They have tentacles and afterlives… He’s experimenting again. Authors need closure. Start a book; finish a book. Go on to the next. You can be sure that the phoenix already incubating amidst The Domino Project ashes will rise again, will rise soon, and will awe/shock many.
“There are plenty of things that I have trouble understanding, so I write poems to figure things out. Sometimes the only way I know how to work through something is by writing a poem. And sometimes I get to the end of the poem and look back and go, “Oh, that’s what this is all about.” And sometimes I get to the end of the poem and haven’t solved anything, but at least I have a new poem out of it.” ~ Sarah Kay
I understand this as if I’d written it, spoken it, myself. I wonder, wander and write to figure things out, to discover and ponder and sometimes even untangle the mysteries and adventures which swirl around me. Sometimes, not often. But at least I have the poem, the story, the journey. I suspect that Godin nodded his shiny pate when he first heard Sarah Kay explain what compels her to create poetry. I suspect that he realized Kay’s poem was the perfect way to conclude an experiment that had succeeded before it began, an experiment that discovered more mysteries and more adventures than it untangled or resolved. Whether a book, another project or a still unfathomable experiment, I’m confident that Godin’s next experiment will both awe and shock in the tradition of the best poets and oracles.
Until then, I offer you several remaining bite-sized-but-brain-busting amuse-gueules to challenge your own experiments.
“The ebook is a change agent like none the book business has ever seen. It cuts the publishing time cycle by 90%, lowers costs, lowers revenue and creates both a long tail and an impulse-buying opportunity. This is the most disruptive thing to happen to books in four hundred years.” ~ Seth Godin
“There is still (and probably will be for a while) a market for collectible editions, signed books and other special souvenirs that bring the emotional component of a book to the fore. While most books merely deliver an idea or a pasttime, for some books and some readers, there’s more than just words on paper. Just as vinyl records persist, so will books… because there’s something special about molecules and scarcity.” ~ Seth Godin
“If you’re an author, pick yourself. Don’t wait for a publisher to pick you. And if you work for a big publishing house, think really hard about the economics of starting your own permission-based ebook publisher.” ~ Seth Godin
“Publishing is about passion and writing is a lifestyle, not a shortcut to a mansion and a Porsche. Bestselling authors are like golfers who hit holes in one. It’s a nice thing, but there are plenty of people who will keep playing even without one.” ~ Seth Godin
By the time you read this post, the publishing industry will have already changed again. It’s changing that fast. Faster! If we learn nothing more from The Domino Project it is to stop lamenting, denying and resisting. Start inventing.
“This world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to reach out and taste it… never stop asking for more.” ~ Sarah Kay
I invite you to stop whining and start inventing!
Michael Ondaatje‘s words resonate for me in ways unlike any other living English language writer. In my perfect world daydream, I am always accompanied by Ondaatje, like a translator or a tour guide for the world’s many mysteries. His vision and his use of words is simply unrivaled. The Cinnamon Peeler is no exception!
In Ondaatje’s poetry as in his prose — even in his unrehearsed, spontaneous conversation — music, meaning and perception are inextricably intertwined. He speaks as a chorus with layers of voices, layers of stories, harmonizing and enveloping the reader, the listener. I can imagine no finer companion for a walk in the woods, a long train trip through a snowstorm or a tin of tawny port by a popping campfire!
I happened to meet Michael Ondaatje about fifteen or sixteen years ago in New York City. Accident. An embarrassing accident, in fact. I’d been invited to “crash” a filming of Literati in the Playbill Suite at the Algonquin Hotel. I was fresh out of college, and I was trying to decide whether to follow my undergraduate studies in Spanish and Latin American literature with a doctorate. Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman was being interviewed on Literati, and I’d convinced World Affairs Executive Producer Larry Shapiro to let me ask him some questions in the green room after filming. I’d studied in Santiago, Chile while Patricio Aylwin was reinventing Chilean democracy, and I’d read (and/or seen performed) everything Dorfman had written up until that point. I was certain he could advise me on my studies…
Today I remember virtually nothing about my conversation with Dorfman. But while sitting in the green room, waiting and rehearsing my questions, I chatted with some of the crew who were setting up for the next filming session. A bearded fellow sitting next to me asked why I wanted to speak with Dorfman, and then chatted lightheartedly about Literati and his interview. His interview? Yes, it turned out he was being interviewed next. He introduced himself as Michael Ondaatje. I’d never heard of him. He talked about working with Anthony Minghella on a film adaptation of a novel he’d written called The English Patient. Unfortunately my mind was so focused on Dorfman that I mostly enjoyed the magic of Ondaatje’s voice. I recall telling my girlfriend later that I would have been happy to have him read me the phone book.
A couple of years later I would see the film and remember my conversation with Ondaatje. The film was spellbinding. I watched it twice. And then I went out and bought the novel. And read it twice. And then I bought and read In The Skin of the Lion. Twice. And so on until I’d read all of his fiction, nonfiction and poetry. My appetite has endured through Anil’s Ghost andDivisadero and I’m looking forward to The Cat’s Table which will be published this autumn.
A warm thank you to Michelle Rummel (@shellartistree) for bringing this video to my attention. And thank you to Tom O’Bedlam who’s YouTube channel SpokenVerse offers up many more delicacies if you’re interested. And thank you also to Roger Ebert who chronicles the bizarre backstory for this video.
If you would prefer, you can also watch Michael Ondaatje reading The Cinnamon Peeler.