Hello Reader and happy Friday. There is a pile of boxes in the corner of my bedroom, evidence of Christmas coming — none opened. There is one batch of Christmas cookies, overdone. The neighbor brought over some holly boughs (so nice!), so those are on the mantel. There are some greens waiting to go into a pot on the front porch. Waiting. Waiting. There is a tree decorated and lit! (I have an outsized sense of accomplishment about this). And there is poetry. I’m going to try to make this quick because I have an appointment at the rheumatology clinic — or as I like to think of it, The Dansko Capital of the World — in a bit. Let us commence:
the deep-breath of the brain Last week SF Weekly published an interview with Brittany Perham (whose work I love). She said, “Everyone one can and should make art.” And I have to agree. She talked about the creative process and how the making of art is a transformative act for the person making it.
“The business of writing — the publishing, the applying, the prize-winning, the networking — gets in the way of the joy. These are all based on judgment. When I was young, before I knew anything about that world, I wrote (and drew and painted and made linocuts and designed clothes) because I felt wholly absorbed by the process. The regular me — the one that was often fastened down by anxiety and fear — would disappear, and a different me — the one that was attentive only to what I was making — would take her place. This was an amazing, transformative act for me. A life-changing, and life-saving act. It is the single reason that I am a writer. So I’m working, too, to reclaim that feeling. As part of this, I’ve gone back to the visual arts, forms that are freer for me because they are freer of my own self-judgment. By returning to the visual arts, and by talking to my students in class, I’ve also been able to return to my writing in a new way. Or maybe I should say, an old way, because I’m trying to approach writing as I once did, and to access that intangible thing — call it joy, or stillness, or the deep-breath of the brain.”
where the magic mountains begin From the journals of Sylvia Plath, a plea for the concrete:
“The artist’s life nourishes itself on the particular, the concrete: that came to me last night as I despaired about writing poems on the concept of the seven deadly sins and told myself to get rid of the killing idea: this must be a great work of philosophy. Start with the mat-green fungus in the pine woods yesterday: words about it, describing it, and a poem will come. Daily, simply, and then it won’t lower in the distance, an untouchable object. Write about the cow, Mrs. Spaulding’s heavy eyelids, the smell of vanilla flavoring in a brown bottle. That’s where the magic mountains begin.”
“God came ripping through” Regardless of one’s creed, I think it’s fair to say that there is a thread of the sacred running through our lives, and that this time of year — in the bleak (not-quite-) midwinter — we, as human beings, tend to face it a bit more directly. Here’s one of my favorite poems for this time of the year, which I think captures the amazing duality of life — the sacred and the ordinary — as well as the deep vulnerability that comes with being human.
Silent Night by Jeanne Murray Walker
for Marjorie Maddox
The holly bush stands by the peeling door
she stumbled through last night, under the stare
of curious eyes. She didn’t make it far
beyond the first stall, so she lay down there
to let her body have its way with her.
Rubbing her back, he braced himself against the door.
Maybe she wished that she could give it up —
the greeting of the angel on her stoop,
her yes, the thousand future paintings. She would swap
it all to stop this lava. Not to erupt
with God. To halt the bleeding of the Infinite
into that barn. Peaceful? Silent? It was abrupt,
loud, violent. She was blown apart. Body went
one way, she went another. Just to keep her blunt
place in the world, she sent her eyes hunting
the holly: that woman, sister, aunt, waiting
patiently outside to help. As God came ripping
through — a wild train — her eyes kept holding
that tree. She rests now. Wind is leaking
into the barn; the animals are sleeping.
Outside, the holly bough is breaking.
This poem is from Jean Murray Walker’s book New Tracks, Night Falling, another good one if you’re looking for something to read over the holidays.
I hope you can give your brain some time to do some deep breathing sometime soon. Now I must go dashing through the — okay, not snow — Peninsula traffic. Thanks for reading and happy holidays to all.