Staying with the Soul
9 August 2022 | 10:59 am

There’s something telling me to just stay with the soul work, and that the answer is there somehow. Or maybe, and possibly better, there are questions to ask.

Sunflower in a beam of sunlight in an outdoor setting

The soul, even the word, has always been something I’ve been interested in. And when you have an interest, it’s amazing how many times it will surface. I’ve heard that this is true for readers of my book Everything Affects Everyone — the prevalence of angels after reading — references in songs, books, conversations. When I see the word soul, I always pause. And so today I’m sharing a short poem from the beloved poet, Adam Zagajewski, from his book Asymmetry.

Wake Up

by Adam Zagajewski

Wake up, my soul.
I don’t know where you are,
where you’re hiding,
but wake up, please,
we’re still together,
the road is still before us,
a bright strip of dawn
will be our star.

Thanks for reading today and thanks to those of you who also join me as subscribers over at my Patreon, Beauty School. I don’t want to be an infomercial about it but it’s there if you’re interested :)

It's Not Having What You Want
29 July 2022 | 12:58 pm

I was pretty obsessed back in the day with the album The Very Best of Sheryl Crow It was in heavy rotation in my household when it came out, and recently is again! 2003 is when it arrived — how can that even be?? What I love is that both my daughter, who is another city, and I are right back into it. (She would have been five years old in ‘03).

One of the epigraphs to my book Red Velvet Forest (which was also my creative thesis for my MA in English) is even the line by Crow, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Probably from one of the best songs ever — Soak Up the Sun. And this is going to sound pretentious, but I think I came to these lyrics then first, via a book titled The Essential Mystics, which quoted Rabban Gamliel: “Desire only that which has already been given. Want only that which you already have.” I mean, a lot of people have said similar things, it’s all good right? I don’t own the book any more, but the vibe is out there in the universe. And Sheryl Crow is still the best.

A vine reaching toward a branch on a summer day

My advice to everyone this summer has been to enjoy summer, enjoy what you’ve got, soak up the sun. Especially if you live at latitude 53 which is where I am, because we all know how sparse the sun is at other times of the year. I know very few people who haven’t had a rough time this past year. A lot of stuff has just really sucked. I recently had a really big laugh when I backed my car into a pole after a particularly not great day where I guess I was having what we will call “a moment.” It’s fine. But who can afford to fix things these days? I need therapy from my therapy but who can afford that either? Other stuff currently is a priority. So like regular people, I just get my therapy from books and poetry and from playing Sheryl Crow and Bruce Springsteen extremely loud in my now banged up car. I’m good, you know?

What I love is when you receive a message, like in Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun,” and then you start hearing similar messages, or maybe sidelong ones, or adjacent ones. So, now you’re on a frequency…and how can you NOT tune in??

So let me share some of what has been coming to me on the airwaves, the poetry-waves. It’s all about wanting….

What We Want

by Linda Pastan

What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names—
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don’t remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.

What Do Women Want

by Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.

The Light

by Timothy Donnelly

Isn’t it the work of those of us who work to make new tools
with the tools we are given, hammering matter
into matter more adapted to the hand than to the memory
of a hand, less to the past than to the path to what comes next?

And isn’t it the work of the next adaptation in part to evince
specifically by being what it is, regardless of detail and whether it
wants to or not, the matter of persistence through change,
the hammering of being into time, which is itself the work?

And so it was I took myself downriver, early in the midst
of the worldwide sickness, the light on me knowledgeable
as all light is knowledgeable, silent archive
of everything that happens—it puts you in your place, the light

put me in my place. Light on the surface of East River in March,
light July through October, light at noon on slopes of undulations
pearling for a moment till it gleams up on the peaks, the light
like melon ribbon, light dribbling from the mouth of a mythical

beast like Blake’s dragon, but in effect, closer to a nebulous
walrus made of fire. I am the nebulous walrus made of fire. I walk
among you unrecognized but laughing. There is so much beauty
left to see in this world. And I became what I am now to see it.

It’s not the worst thing to make what you can with what you’ve got. It’s perhaps a good time to ask yourself what you really want. But, too, let’s soak up the sun. I’ve been holding the things I used to want up to the stuff I want now. It’s not all that different, but I’m seeing things differently because I’m not quite who I was. Which also isn’t all bad.

As Donnelly says at the end of his poem, “there is so much beauty left to see in this world.” And I want to see as much of it as I can while I still can.

July 29, 2022

Light, Patience, Your Life as Art, and Other Urgencies
14 July 2022 | 7:44 pm

I often get in the right frame of mind, as you know, by listening to or reading an On Being program. Today I tuned into the Listening Party celebration. Kind of hard not to get teary-eyed listening but as always, worth the emotions. I’ve been inspired by On Being and so grateful to Krista Tippett et al for what they have shared. I’ve been inspired to share things here in part because of that whole mode, you know? And of course by other stuff too. One can’t work in a library and not be a person who shares. Also inspiring are book blogs, like Kerry Clare’s, and blogs like The Marginalian, and then while social media can be a lot, it also offers up some beautiful inspiration for me in the form of poetry, quotations, etc. Today’s post is just going to be a selection of things I’ve found lately, thoughts inspired from my online wanderings, and maybe a couple of poems thrown in for good measure, alongside the backdrop of this photo of a mix of peonies from our garden, and some flowers from our favourite florist.

Let’s start with a quotation from Susan Cain’s book, Bittersweet.

“If you’re having a great day and don’t feel like plumbing your depths, write down something that elevates you. Over my writing desk, I keep a post-it note that reads: “It’s urgent to live enchanted.” It comes from a poem by the Portuguese author Valter Hugo Mãe, and it reminds me to focus on the wondrous.”

So, to repeat:

“It’s urgent to live enchanted.”
— Valter Hugo Mãe

A poem:


by Anna Kamienska

Patience it is music
unfolding slowly
It must play out until the end
without committing anything
like a quiet happiness that comes
climbs up a path and descends
down the hills of days and nights
difficult fragile unaware

In a dream I was reminded of this by Brahms
with a finger on his lips

And by the same poet:


Tell me what’s the difference
between hope and waiting
because my heart doesn’t know
It constantly cuts itself on the glass of watiing
It constantly gets lost in the fog of hope

Emily Dickinson has kept me company with her words:

“I am out with lanterns
looking for myself”
— Emily Dickinson

From Lucie Brock-Broido:

“Earth is heavy, & I made no wish, save being
Merely magical. I am magical

No more. This, I will remember well.”

And who but a poet could have said that? To wish to be merely magical. And then with the line break and stanza break…she both is magical and magical no more. Which is how it goes.

Joan Didion:

“I'm not telling you to make the world better, because I don't think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I'm just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.”

Leonard Cohen:

“Do not be afraid to be weak. Do not be ashamed to be tired. You look good when you’re tired. You look like you could go on forever.”

Next I’m going to quote myself quoting Ernst Hass in a post from 2016:

The photographer Ernst Haas said, “A picture is the expression of an impression. If the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognize it?” In a practice of photography, one cultivates an inner light. I don't suppose I can really prove that statement but it seems true to me. For the impression of a photograph to come through to the viewer, it's something the photographer had to wait for, to create, to seek out. If the light is not in us, how can we recognize it?

I think I always have this quotation in the back of my mind:

“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.”

— Helena Bonham Carter

To return to the On Being podcast, there was an excerpt of an interview with Robert Macfarlane. And he’s been similarly quoted elsewhere: “The question at the book’s core is: “Are we being good ancestors?” Mostly, I found the answer to be “no”. But I did find hope too. I found it in people visionaries, altruists, scientists, activists – and in their refusal to settle for despair.”

There’s a theme running through this collection of words by others, and it must be: how to live now? How to be a good ancestor? How to make of your life art? How to live recklessly? How to find light, magic, enchantment? Let’s not forget patience, wild or otherwise.

I hope these questions are good for you and help you lean toward the answers, even as we might be continually modifying what those answers happen to be.

I hope reading through these words by others have helped re-calibrate your soul a bit, filled you up with some of the good juice, which is what I’m trying to do for myself these days. I think that the good beauty of the world helps us to reset our souls a little, realign our spirits. And who does not need that right now?

And on that note, just a reminder that if you become a patron / subscriber to my Beauty School, you’ll get an email in your inbox each Monday morning (if I can manage to hit the dials properly…bit of a learning curve on that platform still haha) which will help you do just that. If you’d like to seek beauty through your week and would like a prompt and some ruminations to go with, I think my Beauty School might give you a bit of a boost in that direction.

July 14, 2022

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