Thursday, November 27, 2008
"Live ever in a new day." -Emerson
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -Emerson
Being thankful has to be about more than one day a year pausing to see the blessings we have. We need to learn to make it a daily event. No matter the pain, lose, heartache, unfortunate circumstances we find in our lives, every single one of us can also find blessings and moments of joy. The choice is ours, is always ours, for what we focus our lives on.
This time of year has extra meaning for me since it's when my age becomes another number higher and a year of my life begins.
What am I thankful for? I've been asking myself that over the last few days. Of course there's always the obvious things like health and home. I am very thankful for those things. But what specifically about my life in this last year am I thankful for? This is the harder question. There haven't been any concrete "wow" events or major changes to pinpoint. In fact, I feel like I've lost more than I've gained recently. So, I am thankful that there seems to be something new on the horizon. For those things I've lost, I will gain something new.
Additionally, I have been challenged to write out something I'm thankful for that I don't feel thankful for right now. Trusting that God has a purpose for it in my life. This is even harder. Maybe you could try it too.
Happy thanksgiving. Today and every day.
Friday, November 7, 2008
This started out as a blank page. It has been given to me as a gift to be able to fill it with my own thoughts and feelings. Much in the same way my life has been given to me as a gift and in every experience another paragraph is added. Someday that story will end, but the words, thoughts and experiences that I fill this page with have the potential to live on well after I have ended. That is what is beautiful and dangerous about words. I have never started with a blank page in writing before. Usually, when I begin to write I already have a thought or phrase from which I build upon and around. This is a gift still wrapped up waiting to be opened with somewhat anxious anticipation. There is always the chance of excitedly tearing into a gift only to find inside the dreaded, embarrassing gift of underwear. This gift could very well turn out to be that. But there is always the chance that you open it and find that one thing that you can’t imagine how you have lived without. I hope this is that kind of gift.
I don’t know how or when my connection with words and the sounds of putting them together began. Certain lines and phrases I read would seem to explode somewhere deep inside me, almost creating a music of their own to form the soundtrack of my life. When words fit together and create intricate harmonies and counter-melodies I get excited. I learned quickly that it isn’t like that for everyone. Some people like the sound of words and some people breathe them. Some people like to read and others live what they read. I think I live and breathe words and books; they become a part of who I am.
In school I studied psychological biology. Not something you would normally expect from someone who just went on about her passion for the written word. But I was also fascinated with how the mind works and the relations between that and our behaviors. One semester I found myself in a class called Why Modernism being the only science major in with English majors. To this day I don’t think I understand what I was supposed to have actually learned in that class, but I remember the things we read. It was in this class that I was introduced to Wallace Stevens. We had to read an essay written by him called The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words. Perhaps this was the fist time that I realized that someone else experienced the same excitement with turning words into music as I did.
On the list of “things to do in my life” that I keep in the back of my mind is to write a book. I’ve written many poems, only a few of which I consider to be any good and several essays, written mostly as assignments, but there is something monumental about writing a book. If poetry is a window into my soul, a book would be the revealer of my mind, my thoughts, opinions and perspective on the world. I always thought I would write it on my research of dolphins and already had a title for it: I Wrote This With a Porpoise. Still might someday.
There isn’t a lot on my list. Life has already surpassed my expectations. Growing up while most of my friends were going to Florida or the Bahamas, the farthest I ever got outside of my home state of Michigan was a school trip to Toronto, Canada. I never thought my life would have taken me the places I’ve been in the years since high school. In spite of my mother’s anxiousness, I moved to Southampton, New York for school. There was a 6-month stint in Honolulu where I worked at a dolphin research facility before returning to New York to finish my degree. I know I was there – I have the pictures to prove it, but the memory of it seems like a movie now from another lifetime. Last summer a friend and I drove across the country to California and back. Most recently I took a two-week missions trip to South Africa. It was my trip there that inspired me to sit down and begin writing that book.
I tend to be a perfectionist. While that can on many occasions be a good quality to possess, there are just as many downsides as well. Finding that perfect word or phrase to convey an idea, writing and rewriting a paragraph until there is nothing left of what you started with can be extremely frustrating. In preparation of writing a book, I have been reading many books to get a taste of different styles and setups. What I found was that most often in a book, the author takes one thought and repeats it as many times as he can think of different ways to say the same thing. Not only am I a perfectionist, I am practical. I have a hard time seeing a purpose in saying the same thing over again. I think in school the one consistent comment on my papers was that I didn’t expand on my ideas. I simply stated them and moved on. But I am learning to expound on my ideas simply for the sake of writing and making sure the point is firmly made, if not implanted into the readers head. Ironically, when a something is well written you don’t even realize the repetition, and that is what is considered to be great literature. Of course I want to write “perfect” literature, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be perfect. I am willing to settle for something that is worth reading.
There are other things on my list. I would like to have a least been in all 50 states. At almost 32 years old I only have 15 states left. I would assume that Alaska will be a challenge to get to, but I would never have thought I would ever go to Africa either. In addition to that I would also like to visit at least one place on each continent. Mostly I just want my life to have meant something, to make a difference. As each thing on the list comes and goes and others are added, I am busy living now.
There are those days that I don’t feel alive or even have any desire to be. But as Flaubert says, “The most glorious moments in life are not the so called days of success but rather those days, out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life and the promise of future accomplishments.” When I’ve spent time in the dark, the light becomes all the more glorious and all the joy and wonder life holds is renewed. I’m thankful that I preserved and came out better for the struggle.
Like most people, I am always trying to become a better person, whatever that means in practicality. I find it fascinating that when I reflect on my life, it’s as if a whole part of my past was lived by another person altogether, but in the present I am completely unaware of the changes occurring. At the same time I still see myself as the same person I was. It’s hard to convince my mind that the person in the past isn’t me while it still remains a part of me. When I was little, we had a table and chairs that were painted green. I don’t know much about painting, but I do know that when you want to change the color of something often you first remove the paint that’s already there. Well whoever painted these chairs didn’t do that. Over time the red paint underneath the green paint began to show in places, specifically those places that got bumped and banged the most. I look like those green chairs. On the outside I look different but underneath are all the previous coats of paint. Where life bangs and bruises me, different parts of me begin to show through. In the end, both the chairs and I have a pattern made of many layers different from the look of any one color. That is what makes us all unique.
A friend of mine had a similar revelation shortly after hearing me talk about my green-chair life. She recalled getting a new dining room table with chairs that scratched if your legs weren’t covered. There was one chair that had a screw coming out of it. Everyone knew about the chair and tried to avoid it. For ten years that screw continued to poke whoever might be sitting there. In the end it turned out that all that was needed to fix the problem was to turn the screw a couple more times because it wasn’t in all the way. That’s how my friend saw her life. Sometimes there is a simple solution and all that’s needed is a few turns and the problems are fixed, but for whatever reason we don’t look for it. So we suffer through things when we really don’t need to.
I mentioned Wallace Stevens great American poet. I thought I would include one of my favorite poems by him.
The Poem That took the Place of a Mountain
There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.
He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.
It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go in his own direction,
How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,
For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:
The exact rock where his inexactnesses
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,
Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.