The Outer World

For some days, I’ve been working on a post for this blog. It’s about my writing practice, as it has evolved over the past couple of years. It’s a struggle. Hard to focus. I mean both my writing practice and the writing of the new blog post. The world is too much with me. Then tonight I was re-reading an article by Kim Stafford, a poet and son of William Stafford; the latter being one of my favorite poets and a true inspiration. In this article, Kim Stafford outlines the 4 elements of each entry in his father’s daily writing practice. He would date the page, write some prose notes on his experiences, write an aphorism or something to elevate his thoughts, and:

Then he would write something like a poem… or notes toward a poem… or just an exploratory set of lines that never became a poem. To write in poetic lines, rather than prose — this can begin a process for distilling from ordinary experience the extraordinary report of literature. For this day, again, you give yourself a chance to discover worthy things. Nothing stupendous may occur… but if you do not bring yourself to this point, nothing stupendous will happen for sure… and you will spend the balance of your day in blind reaction to the imperatives of the outer world — worn down, buffeted, diminished, martyred.

Yes, that’s it. That’s where I am. Buffeted. I feel like my mind has been dragooned into service of the national psyche and its soul-sucking obsessions. You know the ones I’m talking about and it’s not Game of Thrones. Well, it’s sort of like that. There is an army of the dead and a lot of guys cheesed off that their slaves have been freed. But I digress.

Of course it’s good to be informed, but not influenced. And these days, we are all a’swimmin’ in opinion and very little objectivity. It’s good to be aware of the situation, so long as the situation isn’t fraught with anxiety and exaggeration – cognitive distortion. Is it possible to be prepared for an uncertain and potential chaotic future without being constantly worried – terrorized? I think we owe it to ourselves to try.

“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives.”

Tomorrow there may come cold wind and rain. That doesn’t mean we need to sit in our homes tonight, soaking wet and shivering. Instead, heads on a swivel and eyes on the path, right?

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone.

Yes, I need to follow my path. I must discover worthy things. And take a few good notes.

Wish me luck.

Oh, and one more thing, lest I be accused of ambiguity:

Don’t Read Poetry

I am a poet. When I forget that, I wander off into thickets of entropy. I think about poetry, often and a lot, and I think maybe you should not read it. I mean you should do something else with it. Because reading poetry can lead to thickets of attempted comprehension, and poetry isn’t about comprehension. Poetry isn’t just about top to bottom, left to right. Metaphor is not the same as enigma or secret code. It’s certainly not about that Robert Caro quote perhaps you know, “The only thing that matters is on the page.” That’s true, but it means something else.

The essential thing that makes poetry work, if and when it does, is not on the page at all. It’s in the reader’s mind. It’s waiting in the mind for a poem to appear, or a phrase of music, or a smell of food cooking, or a moment’s image of people from a car window. It’s not an understanding, it’s a recognition, a resonance. It is at best a meeting of minds across time and space.

“I think there is a general misconception that you write poems because you “have something to say.” I think, actually, that you write poems because you have something echoing around in the bone-dome of your skull that you cannot say. Poetry allows us to hold many related tangential notions in very close orbit around each other at the same time. The “unsayable” thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it.”– Rebecca Lindenberg

So I suggest do you not read poetry. Listen to it. Pick it up and hold it like something that belonged to someone you love, or something they made for you, and run your hand over it. If you can’t do that, swallow it hole and let it swim around inside you like a fish.
Whatever you do, never ask a poet what a poem means. It means the taste of that cake your mother made for your birthday. It means the cold fog rolling in.

Get Lost

Creators focus on outputs rather than the general populace who focus on inputs. In their free moments, creators utilize their subconscious breakthroughs. Their days are filled with creative bursts, making them incredible at their craft.

If you want to have more creative flow in your life, stop checking your social media and email so much. Check them once or twice per day. Detach from the addiction to numb your mind and escape reality. Instead, get lost in the creative projects you’ve always wanted to do.

~ Benjamin P. Hardy, The Mission, 2017

The Doldrums

It’s quiet in here, too quiet. I haven’t heard the music of words lining up and thumpimg together for quite some time now. Writing makes me happy and I’m not writing. But I don’t get writer’s block. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in the horse latitudes. If I don’t keep the little boat of my consciousness out in the trade-winds, in the shipping lanes of language, I wind up windless and adrift. Becalmed.

I know what I have to do. Just as horses were sacrificed on sailing ships becalmed on their voyage to the New World, thrown overboard to save water for the men and lighten the ship, I need to make a change.

No one needs to have their forelegs cracked and be tendered to the vast, insensate Deep. I just need to find some time in my day for reading. Those who are artists understand; no planting, no harvest. No peace, no art.

Let Them Alone

 

If God has been good enough to give you a poet
Then listen to him. But for God’s sake let him alone
until he is dead: no prizes, no ceremony,
They kill a man. A poet is one who listens
To the nature of his own heart; and if the noise of the
world grows up around him, and if he is tough enough,
He can shake off his enemies but not his friends.
That is what withered Wordsworth and muffled Tennyson,
and would have killed Keats; that is what makes
Hemingway play the fool and Faulkner forget his art.

 

– Robinson Jeffers

Don’t Use Your Mind

I have a table in my home that is not supposed to be cluttered. It’s a rule I have for myself, which I only occasionally break: Don’t put stuff on the dining table. Books and magazines belong elsewhere. Snail mail (can you even believe it still exists in 2013?) goes in a basket in the home office. Despite the rule, I recently found myself needing to clear off that table. The only way to do that is to remove things. Moving them around on the table does not help.

That table is a lot like Mind. Well, it’s hard for anything not to be a metaphor of Mind, but take my word for it. It’s impossible to solve problems with a cluttered mind. And you can’t solve problems with the same state of mind that created them.

David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, says that the main issue of a stressed out, non-productive life is the lack of bandwidth (table space) “… to be able to engage appropriately. Worse is that our creative energy is being used to fix and handle, remember and remind. We use our psyche to do this, instead of a system.”

Allen says, “Don’t use your mind to accumulate stuff and avoid it. Don’t use your mind to get stuff off your mind.” And, “Don’t keep anything in your head for the rest of your life.”

If I understand, he doesn’t mean don’t let certain things stay in your head that long. He means for the rest of your life, don’t use your mind for storage. It has better work to do. He says that our thinking has to be captured so that it can get out of the way of our problem solving or creative efforts.

“Capture your thinking. Get it out of your head. Anything and everything that is potentially meaningful – big or little – write it down.”

It seems I am constantly encountering people who are stressed out by problems but have no system for dealing with them. They have a mess to clean up but no space to work on the mess. Their mind is full of everything they need to keep remembering and there’s no bandwidth left for problem solving.

The worst part is when they blame the table for the mess that’s on it. They blame technology. Their computer or their phone, that’s the problem. Modern life is too complicated. It was better when it was simpler. The forget that any system, whether it employs sticky notes or Evernote, requires some planning, practice, and maintenance.

Well I remember the days before computers, when the phone hung on the wall and had a dial. The people who could solve problems were the ones who knew where their tools were: shovels and wrenches, glue and scissors, and the first aid kit. A place for everything and everything in its place. And if you needed to learn something, it helped to know the Dewey Decimal System and how to use the index cards in the library. There was a system, and it was not accessed by memory or luck. It was not kept inside of anyone’s head.

Ray Kurzweil is a prominent futurist, author, and a lead engineer at Google. He predicted the Internet, search engines, speech recognition, etc. He says that humans are becoming non-biological, that we are merging with our technology, and that our smartphones are extensions of our brains. So be it. Our forefathers had their parchments and notebooks. Da Vinci and Jefferson didn’t try to keep their projects in-between their ears.

We have better tools now. Whether what works for you is a desktop computer, a mobile device, a Moleskine and a pen, or some variety of tools, we all need a system to keep life from overwhelming us.  Even the humblest of intellects needs to prioritize their thinking to keep from overloading, stressing out, and teaching a colleague how to roshambo.

Since the invention of written language, Humankind has kept the bulk of its knowledge, wisdom, poetry, history, calendars, etc., in systems outside the damp confines of the brains of humans. They wrote stuff down. The difference now? We can carry it all – the entirety of amassed human information – around in our pockets. And Twitter too.

Right now, I’m thinking about these words and their best order. My Google Calendar knows when my doctor’s appointment is next week. I don’t. My technology will get me there, and remind me to pay my insurance bill and water the ficus in the living room, and what I’m supposed to pick up at the store. I’m not trying to remember it, is my point.

I hope you have a system that works well for you.

The next time someone asks me why I always have my phone, I’ll tell them it’s for thinking. I’m not playing bloody Angry Birds or laughing at grumpy cats. I’m thinking. Just like a notepad and a pen, this machine does mental work and is an extension of my consciousness. And someday, when I’m gone, you can download my consciousness into a Roomba, and I’ll quote T.S. Eliot while I vacuum the rugs.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown          
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.