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Warning: this post contains gratuitous Mary Oliver references and poems.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

Earlier this week, I posted two pictures on Instagram as part of the #10yearchallenge that is making its way around the interwebs. In the caption, I mentioned that I haven’t posted a selfie in a while because all I see are the same tired, empty eyes and the same strained smile as 10 years ago.

I had forgotten what it felt like to be this depressed. How nothing feels like anything and everything feels like nothing.

The difference, I said, between the two women was that one of them — thirty-year-old me — didn’t know she’d survive the depression she was in. And she didn’t want to. Forty-year-old me, on the other hand, knows that she can survive anything, and she will.

But I left something out. Something critical. There is also another major difference. Forty-year-old me has support that thirty-year-old me never had.

In late May 2014, I met G at a work conference. I flew out for the USA at the end of that week and, for the six weeks I was away, we somehow managed to find up to five hours a day to Skype. At one stage, while we were chatting, I was in a library, looking for a book of poetry.

“Poetry?” he repeated, as if I’d spoken another language (and perhaps I had).

“Yes,” I said. “Mary Oliver.”

I found what I was looking for and sent him a picture of the page. It was The Uses of Sorrow.

The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Mary Oliver

When I arrived back from my holiday, instead of going home to Sydney, I jumped on a flight to Melbourne. We needed to know if this thing we had developed and nurtured was Real. True. Lasting.

Picking me up at the airport, he gave me two gifts; a set of pens from my favourite stationery store, and a copy of Thirst by Mary Oliver, containing the poem I’d been searching for.

I Did Think, Let’s Go About This Slowly

I did think, let’s go about this slowly.
This is important. This should take
some really deep thought. We should take
small thoughtful steps.

But, bless us, we didn’t.

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver died this week. She was 83. I cannot remember how I first came across her; which poem it was that struck me, in all the ways her poems have struck me since. But I have a number of her books, and read them when I need reminding how to be human.

Poets, I find, know this intrinsically. And I am still learning – how to be a poet, and how to be a human. Because being human; being gentle, kind, loving, compassionate, and patient in this world is hard. Knowing death comes for us all is hard. Feeling dark things is hard.

When Death Comes

When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me,
and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes like the measle-pox
when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver

Although Mary Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1984, the National Book Award in 1995, wrote 15 books of poetry and essays and was described by the New York times as America’s best-selling poet, she was still largely criticised as being too simplistic, too accessible with her plain verse and lack of typographical gimmicks.

As if that’s a thing.

Where most people find poetry confusing and convoluted, never fully grasping what the poet is trying to say, Mary Oliver used the natural world, interior revelations and small, daily observances to reach the reader. In a radio interview, she said that “poetry wishes for a community”. She wanted her words to find us.

Tonight, G found me struggling with anxiety. It was a state I’d hoped he’d never see me in. Not there. Not like that. And while it must have been a shock for him, his compassion and gentleness in the face of it made all the difference. He doesn’t yet know how much he helped.

There are things other people can do for me right now, and there are things only I can do for myself.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver

It is fair to say that Mary Oliver, much like Leonard Cohen, has shown me how to live. Her words speak to you directly, straightforwardly, kindly and earnestly.

In sixty-nine days, G and I will stand in front of our friends, say some lovely words to each other and commit to continue to nurture this incredible relationship. We both know what it is to be betrayed and it makes us all the more grateful for second chances, love, and joy.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Mary Oliver

tell me, what is it you plan to dowith your(1)

 

 

Music Monday | Meet Me in the Middle of the Air – Paul Kelly

I cannot find a reference for the following verse, so if anyone knows who to credit for the below words, please let me know. I’d appreciate it.

“The Measure of a Man”

Not “How did he die?” But “How did he live?”
Not “What did he gain?” But “What did he give?”
Not “What was his station?” But “Had he a heart?”
And “How did he play his God-given part?”
Not “What was his shrine?” Nor “What was his creed?”
But “Had he befriended those really in need?”
Not “What did the piece in the newspaper say?”
But “How many were sorry when he passed away?”
Was he ever ready with a word of good cheer, to bring back a smile, to banish a tear?

These are the units to measure the worth,
Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

Music Monday | Friends – Michael W. Smith

Suitcase wheels whir and grate as I haul the rollaboard along behind me, running for the train. Two minutes to departure. And I still have to make it up a level, over the bridge and down an escalator to platform 15A. A lyric pops into my head as my feet beat against the white polished concrete floor of the bus terminal.

And friends are friends forever.

Conversations play out in my head, both real, and imaginary. Constantly. Mostly, I let them create scenes of their own accord and don’t pay much attention. But as I run, I replay the discussions I had over the weekend. I’ve been in Newcastle and Sydney for four and a half days, and due to my recent engagement, most of my talks with friends have centred around relationships, dating and marriage.

A question I used to ask prospective dates, I said to the friend I grew up across the street from in high school, was “How many close friends do you have, and how long have you known them?”

The answer was often indicative of how well a person could create and maintain relational bonds and boundaries. How well they could manage a relationship over time and all the challenges that came with it. How good a friend they could be. No close friends was always a worry. Short-lived friendships were a worry. But not making new friends was a worry, too.

Of the people I connected with this weekend, the range of time for which I’ve known them is between eight and twenty-eight years (or my entire life, if you count my parents). Long-term friendships require work from both parties; they need trust, respect, vulnerability, kindness and love to flourish. And I’ve always found that if you can be a good friend, you can be a good partner. But most of us don’t consider what makes us a good friend, nor what makes a good friend to us in return.

Although I don’t resonate with all of this song anymore in the same way I used to, it’s the one that popped into my head as I ran and the message is still meaningful.

A lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.

And I’m exceedingly grateful for mine.

Quantum Mechanics

1.

The First Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.

The light filters through the window earlier each day. Mornings are cold but spring is here and it hasn’t been a bad winter. Not like last year when we lit a fire every evening and the cat melted in front of it, becoming liquid. There has been little rain and very few frosts. The ground is hard. Dry. Bushfire season will be dangerous, according to the news.

I stand at the kitchen counter and pop a coffee pod into the Nespresso, slide my Tinker Bell mug under the spout and wait for the thick, black liquid to pour from the nozzle. Outside, the daffodils stand tall declaring winter is at its end. Buds are sprouting on the bare trees and some of the magnolias have dared to bloom. A kookaburra laughs in the gum tree at the front of the house. The whir of the machine stops and the pod clunk-clunks down into the receptacle, breaking my reverie on the garden. I grab my coffee and sit down at the table with my computer. It’s been months since I’ve written, months since I’ve thought about writing.

Years ago I blogged regularly, an almost daily habit of recording my life, of making meaning out of madness. But my storyline changed and I didn’t know how to segue into the next scene. I was leading a new life so divergent from the previous incarnation you’d suspect I wasn’t the same person. And I wasn’t. Which had kind of been the plan all along. ‘If I’m not different at the end of this,’ I wrote early on, ‘I won’t be better.’

We all have two lives, a dubiously attributed quote begins (really? Confucius? I think not), the second starts when we realise we only have one. (Tom Hiddleston? Perhaps.)

I’ve already lived more than twice in this current span of time. And yet, my handwritten journals would suggest that little has changed. Things look different now, sure; daily tasks and duties, responsibilities reshuffled and realigned. So much chaos from the past has settled out but my desires have not changed. My humanness – my energy, although transformed – is the same.

2.

Heat is a form of energy. It always flows from the hotter body to the colder body. Heat can be transferred via conduction, convection or radiation.

In bed, my partner snuggles behind me. Dialogue from my old Bikram hot yoga class pops into my head. ‘From the side you should look like a Japanese ham sandwich,’ the instructor shouts during Pada-Hasthasana, the forward fold, ‘no gap anywhere’.

‘I’m very tactile,’ I tell him when we first meet, ‘you’ll probably get sick of it after a while.’ He laughs, eyes sparkling. Every night, going on four years, our bodies touch from head to toe. His chest against my back, breath on my neck, legs pressed against mine, feet tangled. No gap anywhere. The heat radiates between us and eventually drives us to roll over and reverse the position. We dance like this for most of the night.

3.

Pauli’s Exclusion Principle says that every electron must be in its own unique state. In other words, no electrons in an atom are permitted to have an identical set of quantum numbers.

You might be reading this on your phone, holding it in your hand. Or on your computer. You pressed some keys to access it. You touched them.

Didn’t you?

Atoms are made up of three particles. A nucleus that contains most of the mass, protons, and electrons. Electrons are negatively charged and can exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves. Particles are attracted to particles with the opposite charge and repel similarly charged particles. So electrostatic repulsion prevents electrons coming into direct contact with each other in both an atomic and literal sense.

This, and Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, also prevents you, me, us…from touching anything. Instead, we hover above things at a microscopically small distance. Gaps everywhere. The sensation of touch is simply our brain’s interpretation of our electrons’ interaction with other electrons in the electromagnetic field, the medium through which electron waves propagate.

4.

Electromagnetic fields are physical fields produced by electrically charged objects. They affect the behaviour of charged objects within the vicinity of the field. Electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field which radiate through space-time, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy.

The human heart is the first organ to function during fetal development at approximately 20 days. The brain doesn’t begin to function until about 90 days. First the heart, then the head.

The heart generates an electrical field of up to 60 times greater in amplitude than that created by the brain and the electromagnetic field of the heart can be measured up to several feet away from the body. When individuals are in close proximity, their electromagnetic fields interact.

5.

Perhaps, in the end, all we can touch is hearts.

Music Monday | Still Fighting It – Ben Folds

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It’s so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We’re still fighting it, we’re still fighting it

This week, I am finalising my manuscript. Progress paused last year when I commenced an intensive work training program but that was completed last Friday. Now I have a few chapters left to write and have set a daily target of 3,000 words which will get me to the end by the weekend. Looking back, writing scenes from years ago, it’s all so obvious. There are visible patterns to behaviour and the underlying beliefs that drove it.

This month, I’ve been separated from my ex-husband for longer than we were married. Time bends and stretches. The last eight years have flown. The last eight years, I’ve grown. It hasn’t always been easy. At times it’s been incredibly painful. But that was what I wanted when I started this new life. I wanted to feel. I wanted to love. I wanted to know myself. I wanted to grow up.