what the living do


Random quote of the day:

“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid.”

—George Orwell, “Reflections on Gandhi”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

It’s a funny thing about having all the time in the world: there still aren’t enough hours in the day.

As of October 1, I am no longer a working woman. But after a lifetime of holding down a job it’s been surprisingly difficult to turn off the internal dictator who berates me regularly with what I should be doing with my time. She doesn’t listen when I tell her that I’m allowed to do whatever I want. Her shoulds revolve around both working on the house and creative work and it’s a never-ending cycle of guilt.

As a friend pointed out, it’s only been a month. I need time to depressurize from what was frankly a difficult few years of forcing myself to get up and go to work when I felt lousy. I was so completely drained of energy that my Saturdays were usually a full body collapse and Sundays the only day of the week when I could accomplish anything. Now I have a whole week of weekends. At first, I did the full body collapse and it was difficult to get over the feeling that I was on a prolonged vacation and would have to return to the unbearable slog eventually. I’m just now beginning to get over that feeling, but I’m still not completely there yet.

I’ve utterly reset my body clock to my natural state of being up until the wee small hours and sleeping in late and I’m finally to the point of not needing 11-12 hours of sleep a night. I’m getting by on a mere 9 hours now and hope to get back to a conventional 8. Curiously, the dictator has never berated me about that (well, hardly ever). Even she recognized that I desperately needed the rest.

But as soon as I am out of bed, she starts with the shoulds. Clean this, write that, pick up this, finish that craft project, on and on and on.

What she doesn’t realize, and what I’ve only recently realized on a conscious level myself, was that I needed to completely dismantle the old structure of my life. What worked then is not going to work now. Once that is thoroughly dismantled, I can start building it back up again from the ground floor. Structure and schedules are necessary things for any kind of productivity. But I have to rebuild them to match my new reality.

Oh reality, you’re such a tricky bastard.

Another friend of mine retired July 1 and we’ve had many discussions about this. Like me, when she first retired she berated herself on a regular basis for not using the luxury of time in a better fashion. Like me, she’d been longing for years to get back to a place where she had enough energy to do her creative work. Because she didn’t immediately jump into the fray and start doing, she sent herself many hate messages. I’m happy to report her creative life has come back online—but it took a while of not doing anything, of stripping herself down and rebuilding herself to get that going.

The thing about having all the time in the world is that it takes time to be able to use it well. It’s a process like anything else. Artists are supposed to understand about process, but sometimes we fool ourselves, or forget, or get locked into a way of doing things that no longer works for us. What nobody tells you (because it’s not a conspiracy of silence but something you have to discover on your own) is that every artist who wants to keep doing art will periodically have to reinvent themselves. And it’s not as if I didn’t know this! I’ve had to reinvent my reason for writing and doing art a couple of times in my life, and I had conveniently forgotten that birthing a new process is painful. (One does tend to gloss over the icky bits.)

As my friend said, “There’s most likely growth going on subliminally that will manifest down the road.”

Ah yes, the growth thing. It’s so hard, I whine.

Being is becoming, as many a philosopher has pointed out. We are in a constant state of being until we be no more. That’s what the living do, taking it day by day, trying to build a productive life on the ash heap of illusion and ticking time. I don’t know why I thought having all the time in the world would make that any easier. Because, really, we don’t have all the time in the world. That is the biggest illusion of all. The trick is, I think, not to fear time running out so much that it freezes us in place or makes us set up panicky structures that don’t work for us.

Being is becoming. Becoming is taking the time to find that golden thread that pulls us along our true path.

Random quote of the day:

“Let the hard things in life break you. Let them effect you. Let them change you. Let these hard moments inform you. Let this pain be your teacher. The experiences of your life are trying to tell you something about yourself. Don’t cop out on that. Don’t run away and hide under your covers. Lean into it.”

—attributed to Pema Chödrön

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

—Joseph Campbell, quoted in Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“all the things we are
taught, all the loves we chase, all the deaths we
die, all the lives we live,
they are never quite right…”

—Charles Bukowski, “Cut While Shaving”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything: somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.”

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Being is burning, in the truest sense, and if there is to be any peace it will come about through being, not having.”

—Henry Miller, “The Wisdom of the Heart”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Happiness an illusion we kid ourselves about on a regular basis.

Oh yes, it exists, in bubbles and baubles—like pearls on a string, sometimes many pearls together, sometimes stretched out with mundane filler or truly ugly bits and bobs.

But as a permanent state, no. Happiness is always in flux. It’s not something we can achieve and hold onto if we just cultivate the right attitude of mind. I don’t care how much positive thinking you try to stream through your existence, life will always throw something in your way that trips you up. The power of positive thinking is a good thing, a great thing even, but there are also times when it’s just another form of denial.

Or narcissism: “The world revolves around me and I control all its forces with my Powerful, Positive Mind.” Then it becomes something of a cult, and those are never good.

Happy times are blessings that shouldn’t be taken for granted, but the pendulum always swings the other way. We have to accept that and walk through the shadows.

I try to cultivate an attitude of hopeful acceptance: accepting that the pendulum has swung into a dark place, but hoping that if I go through the dark and allow myself to fully experience it without telling myself I don’t feel it, without beating myself up with toxic “shoulds,” without haranguing myself about my bootstraps and their potential lift, that eventually I will walk through and emerge into light.

There isn’t any easier path. And telling people to cheer up when they’re struggling is another form of toxicity. I will say, in my experience, that the path of walking the shadows can be a peculiarly satisfying path—if you survive it. You walk, you survive, you’re ready to start again. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t a straight path, and hard not to lose your way and head in the wrong direction. But even the wrong direction can be part of the path.

Nothing puritanical here. I’m not talking about clinical depression. Everybody needs help sometimes and there is no shame in asking for it. Only fools—as intransigent as the “always positive thinking” fools—believe they can do it all on their own.

I’m trying to convince myself of that even as I write this.

I have faith in sunshine, though. I catch its faint glint far down the tunnel and believe I am heading in the right direction.

WHAT THE LIVING DO

by Marie Howe

 

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, 
  some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, 
  and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. 
  This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, 
  and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high 
  in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries 
  in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. 
  And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee 
  down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: 
  This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. 
  What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come 
  and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want 
  more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse 
  of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and 
  I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and 
  unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Random quote of the day:

“The heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.”

—Stanley Kunitz, “The Testing-Tree”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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