Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wasted Day, Part 2

I've already taken The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl, back to the library, shortly after it renewed itself for me, so to speak. I remember getting a wee bit bogged down in the middle--somehow fitting, given my preoccupation with possible laziness, and more my fault than Hampl's, I'm sure--but then personal details about Michel de Montaigne (all the deaths he'd experienced, and how his retreat into essays was to contemplate death) and her marriage brought me back, as did a second pot of coffee...

"The job of being human is not figuring things out, but getting lost in thought," says Hampl, contemplating all the contemplative writers, thinkers, and born daydreamers. On Augustine's Confessions, Book 10, a meditation on Genesis, she writes, "Reading, therefore, is concentrated life, not a pastiche of life or an alternative to life. The soul, pondering, is experience." Yes! That is indeed what it feels like when I read.

Randomly, I used my diary to record some of my thoughts on her book. In my reading journal, I recorded some of her reflections on her marriage, noting its similarity to my own. In The Art of the Wasted Day, the "you" she addresses is her husband. "In a moment of great tenderness I once confessed...that I loved living with you. It's like being alone, I said happily. You cocked your beautiful head and said mildly, I gather that's a compliment?" That reminded me of our side-by-side lives in a long marriage, a double solitude for which I am grateful but that has sometimes left me sad. It is, though, the perfect marriage for two artists. Hampl also quotes Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, saying, "Rilke describes the ideal relationship as a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other."

All through the book, Hampl is aware that the contemplative life, the life with enough leisure to daydream, is a privileged life. She's aware of Rilke's desertion of his own wife as he spent his solitude in the homes of the wealthy. But back to her own marriage, and its similarity to mine! "After a whirlwind courtship of eight years, you liked to say, we got married." I say "courtship," too! And we "courted" for eight years before we married, as well! And that makes it a Random Coinciday!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Right Book at the Right Time

I love it when I read the right book at the right time...and when it automatically renews itself at the library for me! Right now that book is The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl. I'm reading it as I waste this particular day, the day after Christmas, which feels meandering and slow compared to yesterday (cooking the dinner) and the days before (preparations, small as they were, for this year's holiday). It's the right time in the sense of following upon my Laziness vs. Diligence blog entry, comforting me by affirming me in my "laziness" that is not quite that, and in my slatternly ways on a Slattern Day in the blog. 

In her Prelude (brief introduction), Hampl is speaking of Michel de  Montaigne, creator/practitioner of the personal essay, whose father engaged a lute player to follow him around the house as a child, encouraging his son's imagination, daydreaming, indolence. "There was fugitive genius in this indolence," says Hampl, ultimately praising Montaigne as "the first modern daydreamer."

"He divined early the value of being sluggish, lax, drowsy..." I needn't worry about my own bouts of sluggishness! As an aware, daydreaming child, sitting under a beechnut tree, Hampl, too, committed early to "the life of the mind," her italics. 

Revising my own previous worries, as someone who, like Hampl, later in life, makes relentless to-do lists, I can concur in regard to late-stage laid-backness: "This isn't sloth, it isn't laziness. It isn't even exhaustion. It is a late-arriving awareness of consciousness existing for its own purpose, rippling with contentment and curiosity. One's own idiosyncrasy reveals itself as a pleasure, without other value--but golden, amusing, integrity hard-won and now at its leisure. Hand on heart, this life of the mind, lolling--tending to life's real business." 

I'm comforted, too, by Montaigne's own thoughts on essayistic writing, liberally quoted by Hampl: "If it doesn't go along gaily and freely, it goes nowhere worth going." This is how I feel about my ephemeral blog writing--it goes along gaily and freely, usually composed on the spot, though sometimes I take notes--say, in my reading journal, if I want to quote something (as I have done here), and both Hampl and Montaigne are/were note takers! The spontaneity of blog writing is good because (Montaigne again) "the anxiety to do well, and the tension of straining too intently on one's work, put the soul on the rack, break it, and make it impotent." So far, my soul is not on the rack, it is not broken! 

Oddly, Montaigne doesn't look all that gay and free in his frilly ruff!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Laziness vs. Diligence

When I get cold or melancholy, a kind of laziness overtakes me. At bedtime, I don’t want to take off the layers of t-shirts under my clothes to put on my jammies. (Fortunately, I am good at taking off a bra under my clothes and out through a sleeve like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.) On sad days now, when I look at the Christmas tree and know my kids aren’t coming home, I don’t want to get up from the couch, where I am bundled in a soft, blue blankie, reading a book, even though I know I should get up and move every hour—to keep warm, to keep the body moving, not sitting, because it’s wiser, healthier, not as sad.

And then I do it, because I am in the habits of diligence. I hear the washing machine stop, so I go put the clothes in the dryer and start a new load. I hear the mail carrier come, so I get the mail, then put on a coat, and re-deliver a mis-delivered piece of mail to my neighbor next door. I diligently write down who sent a Christmas card, and when, on my little list, and commit to writing a card back, if I haven’t sent one already, during this especially good year to maintain connection with people…. 

I wondered if the more precise word was lassitude, but I don’t think so. Lassitude is a weariness, a lack of energy, and so is lethargy. Laziness is a disinclination to work. At these sad, cold, lazy moments, I am disinclined to get up and do the necessary bit of work, but, once I do get up, I have the necessary energy. I do a lot of small, steady tasks, all the time. I have patience and perseverance. I keep to-do lists. 

Yes, my laziness is temporary, cold-induced, connected to melancholy. I’m aware of this…and of the way sadness can clutch at me sometimes. I can feel the pull down. I have various ways of saying no to the pull, even as the tears fill my eyes and start their spill, even if it’s just getting up from the book I’d rather read than do anything else, to do anything else. 

And then, back to the book. And on to the next book. So far this year—and there are two weeks to go—I’ve read 155 books. These include plays, poetry books, chapbooks, and graphic novels, as well as novels, memoirs, books of essays, books of short stories. My coffee table is stacked with books ready for a second lockdown, books not yet begun, finished books not yet shelved elsewhere, books in progress with bookmarks sticking out, library books that will automatically renew. Clearly, these books, these stacks, represent my combined laziness vs. diligence, conflict resolved. And a Slattern Day in the blog.


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Christmas Movies 3

Well, 1) I did watch The Shop Around the Corner, and it was charming. The scene in You've Got Mail where Tom Hanks has his friend (Dave Chapelle) look in a coffeeshop window to check out the blind date waiting there (Meg Ryan) is just like the one in The Shop Around the Corner, down to the dialogue, but with Jimmy Stewart, Felix Bressart, and Margaret Sullavan. 2) We saw two more not-really-a-Christmas-movie Christmas movies in the tradition of Die Hard: Peppermint and Olympus Has Fallen. I love 13 Going on 30 and Juno so was happy to watch Jennifer Garner be strong and vengeful in a Charles Bronson kind of way; yes, it was sort of a Christmasy Death Wish. Sigh... 

I also watched Miracle on 34th Street and its remake, and I'm sure I'll get around to It's a Wonderful Life. Because it is a wonderful life. On Thursday it was sunny and 60 degrees, and I took an extra walk on the trail, after walking to work and back. I ran into Santa!! At first I didn't recognize him, because he was wearing sunglasses and he wasn't wearing his Santa suit. But he will be! I saw him back in May or June in his Santa suit, waving at cars on Vernon Avenue, and he plans to do that again next week, bringing lots of joy. He's sorry he can't have kids on his lap at Santa Station, as in past years, but this will be good, too.

That same day I walked the outdoor labyrinth and ran into a live concert, sort of. In the bandshell, a group of guys with guitars and one harmonica were sitting in a socially-distanced circle, playing music. Lovely! I was a bit worried for them, as there was some singing, and their circle faced in, but I am hoping they are OK because they were outdoors. I was at a distance on a bench, with my eye also on an adorable toddler Husky out walking his man.

And today I did some holiday baking: chocolate oat bars. This is something I baked for my husband 39 years ago--what?!--dating during our first holiday time together. Now it's almost our 31st anniversary, so they're here to go with the champagne, which is already purchased (on "datenight," our weekly early-morning grocery shopping trip) to remind us to celebrate. **runs off to put champagne in fridge** So it's a Fat Tuesday (on a Saturday) in the blog, thanks to the chocolate chips melted with sweetened condensed milk and buttery cookie base. Good thing the oatmeal makes it healthy! 

And also a Slattern Day, because my work is done! Ta-ta and toodleoo!

Update: Speaking of Die Hard, you might prefer the lesbian Die Hard mentioned here.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Day Got Away

Yesterday I had plans, a to-do list, et cetera. Nope. And also, yes. I did change the sheets. I did get 75 letters to my precinct printed out, stamped, signed, and addressed! It was a letter thanking my precinct neighbors for voting, reminding them that we have an election April 6, 2021, wishing them Happy Holidays, and reporting that we were the best precinct!--with 87.26% voter turnout! Wow, right?! I had planned to send the letter in time to say Happy Thanksgiving, but the individual precinct results weren't posted yet, so I waited. I had planned to walk into town in the sunshine yesterday to mail these letters at the post office, but the day got away from me, and dark was falling as I signed the last of the letters in red and green, drawing holly exclamation points. 

Before that, I had planned to meet a friend for a hike in the woods. But first I had to check my email... 

Yesterday's email contained a poem acceptance. So first I attended to the contractual details there. Then I updated all the files (physical and digital) related to that, because, these days, if I don't do it in the moment I might not do it. The poem was part of a 4-poem submission, and I wondered where the other 3 might go next. Again, I have to do this in the moment, or the moment gets away. For example, I had been thinking of a particular place to send these poems if they came back, but that deadline had just passed 6 days before. I looked at another journal I've wanted to send to--and, yay, they look at only 3 poems at a time. Perfect! But was it perfect? Was this the right place to send these 3 poems? Now I'm following two roads that are diverging in the woods I was supposed to be hiking--one road has poems I might send, and the other has places I might send them to. While I'm on the one road, I keep going down little unfamiliar side paths that turn out to be poems I wrote in April, or, when did I write that? Finally, I give up and fold the sheets fresh and warm from the dryer.

A few years ago, I joined other poets in trying to get 100 rejections a year, because to get that many rejections you have to do a lot of submissions. Then we'd report on our stats. Now it feels like I can barely count, that I don't remember how I tallied things. Yes, I sent out 20 submissions in 2020. That's all! I got 13 rejections, 6 acceptances, 1 pending response. Carrying over from 2019, my work appeared in 9 publications--a total of 16 poems, newly published or reprints. The more recently accepted work is forthcoming in 2021. I can do the figuring, but I can't quite see how it all adds up. Or, in an existential way, why I'm doing it, or, since I do keep doing it, and thus it must be valuable or important to me, why I'm sometimes forgetting the actual poems. Yes, I'll get back to them, see what they were about, revise them or leave them alone, but it's odd to feel so disconnected from a previous practice, one that I do in the privacy of my home, anyway, that doesn't depend on the previous human connections. The disconnect has entered my brain. 

Now, perhaps, the same thing is happening again, the day getting away as I write this blog entry, as I tally my statistics for the year, as I look back at things I forgot I did, poems I forgot I wrote. 2020 has crammed my brain full of worry and details and strange little poems...and to-do lists of things that do and don't get done.

And yet, I am glad of the voting stats, the super local turnout. I am glad that my tiny chalkboard poems reached the hearts and minds of those who saw them. I was connected that way, during the disconnect. Someday I may look back on 2020 with the cliched hindsight...and understand things I'm not understanding now. Sigh... I already wear tri-focals.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Goodbye Poem

In November, I resumed my one-month-on, one-month off, poem-a-day practice, writing a poem a day on a chalkboard, posting a picture of it on Instagram, plus the picture and poem text on Facebook. 

I also posted in a Facebook group dedicated to 30 minutes a day of creativity for the 30 days of November, to help creative people through that difficult month, including several performing artists who cannot perform in their usual ways. I was inspired by all their new and unusual ways of being/staying creative and the small daily ways we can be creative and keep our spirits up. 

And I was touched again by how many people enjoyed and responded to my tiny chalkboard poems. I did this in July and September, too, and I was moved and delighted then by the outpouring of love and appreciation. People are sad when I say goodbye.

My last few poems in November became people's favorites, as if I was finally warming up just before I had to stop. That's how it goes sometimes! But I knew I needed a rest and a shift in December, and to move the chalkboard down to the basement again. I yearned for a Christmas tree, and that might mean a furniture rearrangement. Yes, indeed. Where the chalkboard once stood, in front of the poetry bookcases in my home office, I have put a nice rocking chair for reading, moved from the living room to make room for the tree. Decorating the house and the tree has been one of those small, daily ways of being/staying creative!

Lots of people liked my tiny poem about singing to my kids:

Grown Children

I sang to them,
their whole small lives,
and sometimes now
they burst into my wild
hilarious songs!

November 25, 2020

And lots identified with the blues in this one:


Sad in a cozy
little way, wrapped in a blue
blanket, reading a blue
book of short stories.

November 27, 2020

A co-worker painted watercolors in response to two of my poems--one about wind, one about the wind blowing a "sideways mum" into my yard--and someday maybe we can hang her paintings and my poems along with other staff art in the little art gallery in our public library! Someday when people can return and the gallery isn't full of quarantine bins of returned library materials...

History Lesson

Yesterday the wind
rode thuglike through, disbanding
the organized leaves.

November 16, 2020


The wind blew a sideways mum
into our yard, pulled from its pot
still blooming, the way my mind
tips out sometimes, lost and unlikely.

November 22, 2020

People liked this one a lot, often mentioning the image in lines I almost cut!

All the Way Light

It’s all the way light now,
even a sheen of light
frost on the grass, grill, picnic table,
like the ghost of summer caught napping,
soon to wake invisible.

November 28, 2020

I almost cut "the ghost of summer" in case it was too cheesy or unclear, though somehow that was exactly what I was seeing out the window. Glad I trusted myself and my readers! Likewise, the colors in this little poem inspired a variety of responses and moods, and several locals had stood as transfixed by the sunrise as I was!

Before Breakfast

the sky was striped pink.

Softly, then, suffused by gold,
it slipped into tangerine peel,
then sliced peach
on a pale blue china plate.

November 29, 2020

"The Goodbye Poem" came out blurry, captured my mix of feelings, and seemed to provoke a similar mix in my readers. I do think I'll be back--in the spring or sooner--and hope that most of us will also be back. What times of grief and loss we are going through. And what times of hope for joy and change!

The Goodbye Poem

I want to say I’ll be back
in the spring—or sooner!—
but who knows anything now?
Still, I think I will…

November 30, 2020