Tribute

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 | hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it – Lana Del Rey (Aaron Darc Remix)

Six days ago, Lana Del Rey released her newest song.

I’ve been tearing around in my fucking night gown 2/47 Sylvia Plath

It’s a sheer, luminous ballad with her perfect voice echoing in a wash over barely-there piano chords.

Writing in blood on the walls ’cause the ink in my pen don’t work in my notepad

The sparse, elegiac lyrics pierce the hard shell I require in place in order to function at the moment.

Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not but at best I can say I’m not sad

But they can’t crack it.

‘Cause hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have
Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman with my past

A friend remixed it into a deeper orchestral version with a percussion beat. A feeling of foreboding in the verses is emphasised by the addition of cuts from Marilyn Monroe’s last interview. A repeating piano melody makes melancholy look good.

‘Cause I’ve got monsters still under my bed that I could never fight off

This is the most extreme depression I’ve battled in some years. I am empty.

Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have
But I have it

And yet, there is hope. Because history tells me it will pass.

 

If you want to listen to the original, here it is.

Musicless

Many Mondays have passed without music. As have all the Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. There is little solace and much grief. I’m trapped inside a free-falling elevator plummeting to the bottom of the shaft and I don’t know when it is going to stop.

The heat of the day has been swept away by the storm. Light rain is spattering on the roof. And I am going to bed, again, to not sleep.

 

 

Today I Met A Lighthouse

birch-2The silver birches, white trunks gleaming against the blue grey sky, stand in a sea of daffodils. They are early this year, the daffodils. But everything is. Our winter has been unseasonably warm. The magnolias have bloomed. The irises are unfolding. We are barely in August and already it feels like Spring. I noticed them today because I was out walking. I was out walking because an earlier accident had rendered my car undriveable.

I’d been leaving to meet a friend for coffee when perfect alignment occurred. Somehow, while reversing down the driveway, a garden light became lodged between my front wheel and the bumper. I did not realise this at first, subsequently dismantling the front bumper, the fog light, parking sensor and associated electricals. But the incident did not negate my requirement for coffee, only increased it, so after making the necessary arrangements for repair, I set out on foot.

park-2Our acreage is several kilometers out of town and in order to shorten the journey, I took a path through the park. A shirtless, tattooed man was playing a didgeridoo. Two teens were skateboarding in the amphitheater. Four youths were swaggering towards me, scowling. I could have created narratives about all these people. Imagined who they might be, how they might hurt me. It would have been easy, particularly considering I had already had “something go wrong”. A self-destructive, anxiety-inducing spiral could have eventuated. And in the past, would have.

sky-2

Instead, I noticed that the sky above the bare trees was a thick blanket of grey. But parts of it were glowing, lit from behind, where the cloud cover was thinner. The air was cool and still, a perfect walking temperature. The water in the creek was flowing gently, rippling as leaves fell to become little boats, floating to a new port of call.

trees and sky-2

I arrived for coffee with Crystal. We ate, drank. Wandered around. I bought some tops I had spotted earlier in the week, and vowed not to purchase until I finished the book. We parted, heading for home in opposite directions. At the corner of the highway, a woman wheeling a walking frame stopped me.

“Excuse me,” she said, “do you know where Pat’s Sewing and Alterations is? I’m sure it used to be around here somewhere.”

“Oh, um. I’m not sure, do they sell sewing machines as well? I think there is a sewing store on the next block over.”

“Yes,” she said, “they do.”

“Ah, ok. I think it’s on Post Office Place around the corner.”

“Thank you,” she said and went to walk away. She turned back towards me and said “you know, I was out walking the other day and a lady approached me. She pointed at my walking frame and said ‘I’m supposed to use one of those. But I don’t, I don’t like the look of them, even though when I was walking a while ago, I rolled my ankle and broke it.'”

She paused for a moment, leaned closer, then said “She wanted sympathy from me. But I said ‘Oh, well. That’s your problem.'” She laughed. “It’s not my problem. And I didn’t need to make it my problem.”

“It sure isn’t your problem!” I chuckled as she shifted her walking frame forward and went back to her day. Here was a woman who was not creating narratives around other people or their problems. In all likelihood, she wasn’t creating them around herself, either. It was a much-needed reminder that other people’s problems are not mine and I do not need to make them mine. I don’t even need to make my problems “problems.”

A long-time favourite web comic Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand recently posted this:

my-problems

A debunked urban legend does the rounds occasionally, billed as an ACTUAL transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995.

Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”

Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”

Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

The thing is, lighthouses can only shine the way, they cannot make you follow the course.

He’ll light your way but that is all
Steer your own ship back to shore

Humans love to create stories. We are masters of narrative. But who would we be without our stories?

Without your story, you’re perfectly fine.

Byron Katie has a process called The Work which teaches us how to question the stressful thoughts that cause suffering. I won’t pretend it’s easy. We are often far too into our own stories to want to give them up. But it is simple, and anyone with an open mind can do it.

It consists of four questions and what she calls a turnaround which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. You put these questions up against a stressful thought, such as “I’m too fat” or “My husband should listen to me” or “Life is unfair.” The questions are:

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?

I could have created a story about my accident. About the money it will cost me for the repair. About the inconvenience it will be to have my car off the road. About how I’m going to get to work for the next few weeks. But would those thoughts be true? How would I react if I believed them? And who am I, without those thoughts?

An invented narrative is not worth my energy or my sanity.

lit from within-2

Because without the accident today, I’d not have met my lighthouse. And without my story, I am perfectly fine.

Music Monday | Hunger – Florence + The Machine

“At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness”

Songwriters: Tobias Jesso / Thomas Wayland Bartlett / Emile Haynie / Florence Welch

I was fourteen. But felt the same. So for the next 20 years, I filled the loneliness with many things. Hunger, food, marriage, alcohol, sex.

One day, I filled the emptiness with myself, and found I’d been whole all along.