As Ideas Go

I had what I thought was a pretty good idea for a blog post about decluttering the mind and life. It was based on a quote of David Allen, author of Getting Things Done:

“Don’t use your mind to accumulate stuff and avoid it. …Don’t use your mind to get stuff off your mind.”

My idea was sort of like The Power of Now meets an episode of Hoarders.

As ideas go, it’s a pretty good one, because I often encounter people who are unhappily trying to use their brains like warehouses, instead of like pianos. I think you get my point.

So I was googling around, trying to confirm the exact quote and its source, when I stepped in something disappointing:

The top few Google search results for this quote are … me.

Dang it, I already wrote the blog post I wanted to write, about a year and a half ago.

https://kimberlin.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/dont-use-your-mind/

Hey, I’ve posted on this blog over 3000 times. Who can keep track of all the effluvium?

The good news is, the post I wrote in 2013 was probably better than what I was going to write tonight.

Has that ever happened to you? Do you ever have an idea for something to write, only to discover that you’ve already written it?

” It’s more like trading the two birds
who might be hiding in that bush
for the one you are not holding in your hand.”

– Billy Collins

Becoming Real

The writer’s job is the job of a clown,
the clown who also talks about sorrow.”
– Kenzaburo Oe


All through the month of February, I had this idea stuck in my head: The Suffering of Things, or
The Sorrows of Things. Not the suffering or sorrow of people or of animals, or even of the insensate entities like trees, but of inanimate objects.

There is something here, I think, that’s an important symbol of shared consciousness. Exploring this idea seems a portal into a creative place, so I’m trying to track it down. If we’re going to write about the emotional landscape of humans, it’s important to understand what else – who else – occupies that ground.

When we were young children, we loved certain things so much that they became Real to us in a way that meant something different than merely existent. There were certain toys that became playmates and not just playthings, and which comforted us in a world we were growing to understand. And for many of us who are perhaps more sensitive or sentimental, or in need of such comforting, that tendency has persisted into adulthood.

My ordeal began about the 1st of February. While drinking my morning coffee, I stumbled over a passage from the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.

Do you know the story? There’s a good summary on Wikipedia. And you can read the entire text online for free. Essentially, it’s the heartbreaking story of a little boy (unnamed, just called the Boy) who loves his stuffed rabbit, and the toy rabbit who just wants to be loved. It ends sadly, though I suppose that’s subjective.

In this passage, the rabbit asks an older and wiser toy what it takes to be Real, to be loved.

What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

the-velveteen-rabbit-what-is-realThe rabbit story reminds me of a favorite comic of mine, Calvin and Hobbes, about a boy and his stuffed tiger. When they are alone, the tiger is Real. When anyone else is present, Hobbes looks like a toy.

ch150103I thought about these relationships for a long time. And what the Boy and Calvin don’t know – but what the Rabbit and the tiger Hobbes almost certainly know – is that Calvin and the Boy are doomed to grow up anyway.

Dragons live forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant strings make way for other toys.

And then what? What magic remains from the childhood world, for those of us now grown up, pondering death and taxes?

  • Are there some things that we love so much that our love changes them?

  • Does our love for them change us?

  • Do these things suffer, hope, or somehow love us back?

  • If all of the above or none of the above is true, does it matter?

grown up calvinOf course it matters. I write fiction and poetry. I use metaphors – symbols. The world I inhabit, if not understand, is made as much of spirit and emotion as of earth and sky.

Come to the orchard in Spring
There is light and wine, and sweethearts
in the pomegranate flowers.

If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.

Rumi

I’ve been told that a writer’s – at least a poet’s – job is to observe the suffering of others and take good notes. And we’ve all seen the survivors of great calamity sifting through the rubble and saying things like, “my aunt’s teapot is gone. A million pieces. She was kind and that was all I had of her.”

I think I see. For the child, it’s about imagination and play, and security. For the adult, it’s about memory and love. When I see the quilt my grandmother made for me, I still feel her love. When I wind the clock that my grandpa wound, I remember our bond.

That was the easy part. The next step is: do some of these things have feelings? Can they suffer? Are they Real?

Velveteen-Rabbit-ArtworkThe second part of my pondering ordeal arrived about a week into February. My bother called to say that his pickup truck, which used to belong to me, was dead. He was kind in telling me, knowing that I was sentimental about the truck we called Old Blue. I drove it for almost 18 years. And just a week before, my brother had sent a photo of the odometer as it passed a milestone.

2015-03-08 13.44.50 (Medium)Of course, it’s just a machine, a tool for transportation. But have you ever spent so much time with a thing, covered so many miles, seen so much sun and fog and cold rain and darkness, that the thing seems to take on a life of its own?

We say that some things that mean a lot to us take on a life of their own. I believe, rather, that they take on our life, simply because our life – our capacity to love – seems to overflow. They are with us so long, or have such a connection to meaning and memory, that they become invested with our emotions.

We don’t want to part with them, or throw them in the trash when they lose their shine. They have become Real; more real than a can opener or a DVD player. They have somehow acquired feelings. But not their own feelings, our feelings. Something of our fleeting time – our consciousness of life in the world – is sitting there.

So when I learned about the blown head gasket, etc., I didn’t think, “That’s unfortunate, it was a useful machine.” I thought, “Oh well, he had a good long life, got to see so many roads. So it goes.”

Old Blue 2013-11-09a (Medium)Old Blue will not be missed, not really very much, because it fulfilled its purpose, accomplished its task, and did not die young. But we can’t just let such things go unremembered, just walk away without appreciation and not look back, because they have feelings. Of course things have feelings because we have feelings.

The universe is consciousness. Everything is aware because everything has the feelings we give away. Everything I touch has feelings. The fact that the truck’s feelings are my own seems less important than the fact that the feelings are Real.

Maybe I cast my feelings into the things around me – sparks into the rain – because I’m an introvert and I spend a good deal of time alone with things. So I find consolation in the memories that I find there. Life is memory and memory is fragments. So it goes.

We loan our emotions to the world around us, whether the world likes it or not. We make friends with some of the objects in ours lives because we love the memories they represent, the feelings they conjure. And they have been faithful, which is a consolation in solitude.

Love is everything. Everything is love.

Besides, imagining a long treasured possession as friend is simply fun.

Finally, I’m looking at a little copper elephant that roams about my desk, keeping papers in place. He came from a zoo. I got it when I was – I don’t know – a little kid, and our family went to San Diego on vacation. I like my little elephant very much.

And there is something you love, isn’t there?  You have a teddy bear or a doll, propped up among pillows or resting in a dresser drawer. Or a family heirloom; something from the life of a parent or grandparent, an item which mattered to them.

There are people that we love and there are things that we cherish. Perhaps because they connect us to those people, or maybe they connect us with memory.

Sometimes the people we love and miss the most are ourselves; we miss our childhood, our innocence, and our peace. We are trying hard to hold on to a world that is rapidly moving on, becoming more tenuous as we grow older. The empathy of suffering things helps, don’t you think?

What remains is just the most important question I still have:

Is it possible, in the time that I have left, for me to become Real?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s some music.

So Many Roads by The Grateful Dead. (And Jerry’s wearing shorts and a blue t-shirt!)

Let Her Go, by Passenger.

Maybe one day you’ll understand why
Everything you touch, surely dies.”

 

That Small Rain

We had rain two days ago; a great big storm of it pushed into southern California. It was great. And all that day and into the next, this little line of old poetry kept dripping through my mind:

That small rain down can rain.

It’s from this fragment of anonymous 16th century poetry:

O Western wind when wilt thou blow
That small rain down can rain —
Christ, that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.

Wonderful, isn’t it? It makes you believe what Stephen King says about writing being a kind of telepathy; that thoughts can be transmitted from one mind to another, across centuries, by means of writing. There is so much longing in those four short lines.

How far we can wander from our purpose, from the home of our hopes, from the elusive moment when we last held ourselves in love and hope of love. Our soul cries out to the God of our understanding to guide us home again.

Anyway, I’ve heard there’s more rain on the way. So here’s a poem I posted a couple of years ago, when we were between storms.

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

Last Words

Do you ever think of the art of leaving the world with a good one-liner? It is an art form, you know, though perhaps generally inadvertent. For instance, James Brown said, “I’m going away tonight.” Lewis Carroll said, “Take away those pillows, I shall need them no more.” Lou Costello said, “That was the best ice cream soda I ever tasted.” And Thoreau said, “Moose … Indian.”

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not expecting to need a good one any time soon. I was just thinking about it, and thought I’d have a bit of fun. so I’ve been making a list of little phrases that might serve on on the way out. Most are original, while some are based on the profundity of great thinkers from Oscar Wilde to Charlie Brown.

Let me know what you think. … Oh, and here’s a poem too.

  • I hid the gold behind the …
  • Well, I sure didn’t see this coming.
  • Aw, who cut the cheese?
  • Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.
  • And now for a word from our sponsor.
  • Excuse me a moment.
  • Somebody wind the clock.
  • I smell pancakes.
  • Time to piss on the fire and call the dogs.
  • Good grief.
  • Don’t tell me, let me guess. 
  • Is there any more pie?
  • Stand back, let me handle this.
  • Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.
  • Now was all that really necessary?
  • I make a motion to adjourn.
  • Has anybody seen my hat?
  • Well, that’s how they get ya.
  • Tomorrow will be beautiful.
  • Get the gate.
  • Did you say wheat?
  • Stop at the next gas station, I need to pee.
    And finally …
  • Don’t laugh, you’re next.

The Last Word

So this is what it’s like
to be alive.  It is all
so difficult; the air and light
resist me.  Even the music
makes me cry or laugh.
I expected we would have wings
and make love behind waterfalls.
I thought there would be
more owls
and elephants fearlessly singing.
I thought I could make you believe
in water running through rocks
between the trees.
You would bend down to drink
and find me living there
with the last word of the first poem
that would ever make you weep.
Then you would love me.  Then
you would return my calls.
But here we are, living
on our oily streets
and the malignant traffic running
between us, helicopters
pounding down the sky.
The elephants are wise
and careful and very shy.
So I am leaving messages
for you:  the last word
of every poem I write.

 

Creative Commons License
The Last Word by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
.

Dread and Sympathy

… On writing into the unconscious.

“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”  – Annie Dillard*

I chuckled effetely when I read this. I know about those visits, those bleak hours in the dim facility. You have to trudge far down the Formica-crusted hall, under flickering fluorescent, to Room 404: cohesion not found, please verify your path.

Get it? … Now that’s a little bit funny, right there.

Some of us write, not just to tell a story that we know and can tell, but to explore the unconscious, to give names and form to obscure emotions, to say the unsayable.

It’s not easy because it’s not fantasy, not entirely. We write ourselves so much, you know? And when the ink flows or the keys clack, we don’t always like what we find.

What can I tell you? Nobody confronts the pit and prune juice of his soul – and takes good notes – while watching puppies in a sunny park. It’s a night shift job, no way around it. So I should quote Cormac McCarthy, from The Crossing, because it happens to be the book on my desk right now.

It had ceased raining in the night and he walked out on the road and called for the dog. He called and called. Standing in that inexplicable darkness. Where there was no sound anywhere save only the wind. After a while he sat in the road. He took off his hat and placed it on the tarmac before him and he bowed his head and held his face in his hands and wept. He sat there for a long time and after a while the east did gray and after a while the right and godmade sun did rise, once again, for all and without distinction.

Keep the faith.

*Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989); Props to Poets & Writers .

Intangible Things

I was clearing a few things out of a desk drawer and found a yellow sticky note with this phrase written on it:

“Intangible things are the writer’s business.”

I Googled it but I can’t find the source of this quote. It used to be the tagline of this blog, Metaphor, and now Google only points back here. (I switched to the quotation from Keats, above, in April 2010.)

I don’t think I made it up. It’s too brilliantly succinct to be me. I believe it though. We are surrounded by a cloud of the unknowable, unnamable, unspeakable and formless. The artist’s job is to give its particulars form and name, color and voice. The rare willingness and arguable ability to do so is the reason why we creative types get the big money.

Probably the first intangible, nebulous thing that comes to mind is my identity. I don’t mean the identity that a hacker can steal and use to buy stuff. I mean my self image. Who am I? Am I a good man or a self-centered jerk? Can questions of identity be that simple?

I remember studying the pathos of self image in college psych classes. I hope it’s not too wrong to say that your self image is who you believe you are, right or wrong. It’s what gets offended and bruised when someone misjudges you. And if you suddenly discover that the image of yourself that you’ve believed for a long time has been wrong, well that shit is really going to hurt.

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas.

If my sense of myself is intangible, isn’t my sense of belonging, of community, even more so? Can we expect our images of self to fit together like Legos? And then how is it even possible to dream, to have dreams, if we know so little about who we are?

“If you want a certain thing, you must first be a certain person. Once you are that certain person, obtaining that certain thing will no longer be a concern of yours.”
~ Zen proverb

I don’t know who I am, except that I go through most days with a vague sense of disappointment and a wariness against pride. I am, as Douglas Adams said of planet Earth, “Mostly Harmless.” I place a high value on Albert Schweitzer’s “Gentle hands and kindly words,” and love the first sentence of the anonymous 19th century Russian book The Way of a Pilgrim:

I am by the Grace of God a Christian man, by my acts a great sinner. 

I can tell you more about my fears than about my dreams and desires. I know what and whom I love, that I have loved and been loved, that I am loved for today. But I’m not sure what I want, except that I’m sure I will always want love in my life. No one wants to be lonely.

At this point, you might want to listen to James Taylor sing Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, just because, you know, I rock at blogging. Smile  

 

If I don’t know myself, I certainly don’t know you. I’m still struggling to understand Kyle and everyone I’ve ever known. William Stafford said it best:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

Do you know for sure who you are? Is that a question you like to explore? I imagine you do. Such intangible things are common among us, being tribal creatures. Perhaps the world’s remaining elephants would nod in agreement and commiserate.

I’ve quoted this passage from Stegner’s “All the Little Live Things” before.

“I am concerned with gloomier matters: the condition of being flesh, susceptible to pain, infected with consciousness and the consciousness of consciousness, doomed to death and the awareness of death. My life stains the air around me. I am a tea bag left too long in the cup, and my steepings grow darker and bitterer.”

The writer’s job, then, is to walk the common thoroughfare, observe the suffering therein, and take a few notes; to reach out now and then and touch the hand of a fellow pilgrim on the way to infinity. Not a bad gig, right?

The problem, fellow pilgrim, is the fog, isn’t it? The blinding, low-down tule fog of the mind. It obscures everything: the road ahead and behind, the ditches by the side of the road, the trees and hills, the reason why your character can’t sleep, never finished building his boat, or became a long haul trucker.

I don’t know about you, but I write to find my way through that fog. This effort to see, to understand, to try to share the shapes forming in the thickly settled gray, is the path of all poetry. Poets are explorers of the intangible.

I remember one early morning in 1985, coming down the Sacramento Valley at Christmas. The fog was so thick, I had to open my door and look down beside me to see the line painted on the road. I survived.

Here’s a photo of me with my grandparents, taken in 1983. The fog in the background was lifting and I was eager to get on the road, back to college, and on with my exciting and promising life. I just had no idea how long the fog would stay on the ground.

foggy1983