An Article About Poetry

I was scrolling my Twitter feed yesterday and came across this article, which happens to discuss one of my favorite poems, WS Merwin.

To participate in Mental Health Awareness Month last month, I read a biography of Sylvia Plath. This month I read a revised edition of her Ariel. What I did not know was that Merwin and Plath were contemporaries. And since I had the amazing opportunity to meet Merwin in 2011, transitively I also met Plath. It counts, right?

I digress.

The article analyzes one of Merwin’s shortest poems, “Elegy.” And author Devin Kelly hooked me with this gem:

I’ve learned things from poems for the same reason people learn about anything: because they’ve spent quality time with it. When you sit with a single poem for a long time, when you type it out, when you speak it, when you try to unpack a line or feel the way a phrase fills your mouth, you begin to notice more about what the poem offers outward. When you pay attention — to anything, really, that has also been paid attention to in its creation — then the act of attention does not serve as an act of narrowing. Rather, it’s an opening — a givingness, to use that word again. All these doors open up the more you pay attention. They open out to light. They open to other rooms, other floors. They open to a hidden staircase. Another door.

Quality time is one of my love languages. Sitting with someone or something and letting it unravel, or actively unpacking it is one of my favorite things to do.

And I haven’t come across a single poem in my very limited experience with them that hasn’t invited me to spend time with it. I wouldn’t call them friendly nor aloof, but perhaps … alluring. And there hasn’t been a single poem I haven’t learned from.

Poems offer a chance to choose your own adventure. Or at least to hang on for a ride.

Read the whole article. Pay attention. You won’t regret it.

Fifty

Today’s the 50th day in a row that I’ve blogged. Not that a lot of those posts actually said anything important. But it seems significant to form a thought and write it down. Real action. Sort of. Whether those thoughts develop into something more substantial is a different story, but looking back at the past 50 days, all those posts had potential to become more. It’s encouraging to see the potential in things.

I can’t decide whether the past 50 days passed slowly or quickly.

The next 50 days are summer days.

Should be interesting enough.

Ten minutes left in the day. Cutting it close.

Here’s another clarinet video. Still in the mood for cheesy love songs. I’m a real sucker for those.

A Park Today

A family of old trees stand together. Their trunks shoot straight up before branches spread out the sky. I love their shade. Their calm presence. Their steadiness.

These trees help obscure an old house adjacent to the park. The house looks scary. Signs along the fence read, “No trespassing.” The trees in that yard are also old. The other foliage is overgrown. Branches gnarl and twist and canopy what might be a lawn.

Large arches signal entryways (NO TRESPASSING), but simple chainlink lines the perimeter. Between long, stamped-down stretches of rusty webbing, it stands somewhat upright.

The family of old trees serve as sentinels. They warn against going past them. They are a much more effective fence than the janky wire barrier. I do not go beyond them.

The straightness of the trees gives me strength. Bestows courage. Grants power.

The will to stay away from that creepy, old house.

Forgetting

Back when I was blogging regularly in NYC, I kept a notebook or journal to jot down my ideas wherever I was. I’d sit in a coffee shop or a park and observe my surroundings and write down any write-worthy thoughts that came to mind. I’d go to a small cafe that had live music and write while the scheduled gig performed. The energy of the city and finding my love for writing fueled the process. I started blogging back in 2003, and I’d often post more than once, most days.

I’ve fallen out of practice writing my ideas down. An idea pops into my head, I make a mental note to write about it when I blog, but when it’s time to write, I have completely forgotten what the idea was. And now I’m blogging about this lapse of memory. I mean, it’s a natural thing to forget, especially if I don’t write to remember. That’s a huge reason I started blogging to begin with.

This is my personal history. An artifact for those after me to get to know who I am. Or was. They’ll observe some sort of evolution, as people tend to change some things over their lives. The core stays core for the most part, but opinions, attitudes, perspectives transform with experience. I’d be embarrassed if I read many past entries and noticed how much has changed. Maybe not embarrassed. I don’t know. Surprised? Disappointed? Maybe. Impressed? Proud? Also maybe, but leaning toward Yes.

A few years ago a friend sent me a little notebook for keeping ideas to remember. We supported each other’s desires and passion for writing. I currently use that notebook to keep track of reeds that I’ve broken in–which ones are good, better, best. But I can also write my thoughts in it. Which is what I should do. So that I don’t have to keep writing about unremembering things.

Damn, This Album: Blue Heron Suite, by Sarah Jarosz

A friend recommended this album a couple weeks ago and added her own warning of its emotional impact. This morning I finally played it. The songs carved out my flesh and left my soul bare.

This album is a song cycle Jarosz created to contemplate her mom’s cancer diagnosis coinciding with the destruction of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (See story here.) Jarosz explores place and nostalgia in a Gulf Coast town her family frequented during her childhood. She employs symbol in a blue heron fleeting the coast.

These songs are well-produced, yet its rawness rekindles (revisits? revives?) some of my own grief. It’s not the same initial process of mourning, though: every opportunity to remember death of loved ones lets me see how my grief has evolved over time.

I may try providing commentary of individual songs later. Sarah Jarosz is indisputably talented, both as an instrumentalist and songwriter. She can tap into the heart of our most cherished experiences, our precious memories, our suppressed and neglected heartbreaking moments.

This one’s going into the rotation.

My Plan for Returning to Society

Isolating from people for over a year has been quite an experience. I’m not an extrovert by any means, but for the most part isolation has been voluntary, not mandatory. In the past, I’ve gone to parties because I’ve psyched myself up to go. I would have a fun time, but then I’d home, unwind for about an hour, then sleep unbelievably well.

But I do love people. I especially love being around people I consider close friends and family. That’s not saying I don’t like making friends, but that process is navigating new territory. Some people are easier to befriend than others. I generally have a very accommodating personality. I observe body language and facial expressions and tone; I listen and can often meet a person at their comfort level or on common ground. One of my greatest contributions to humanity is getting people to open up, to have people be ok with vulnerability. And have them feel connected to others, even in ways that seem fleeting or insignificant. Those ways have impact.

When I lived in New York, the deep desire to connect with individuals in countless, nameless mobs sometimes prompted spontaneous conversations about heavy things. The urgency to relate on deeper levels cut through a lot of the small talk. I remember waiting for a crosstown bus, and one other lady was at the bus stop. Somehow we struck up a conversation, and before I knew it, she was talking about her feelings about a daughter getting married. We boarded the bus and continued the discussion. I remember looking at her face. Although the openness came more from her, I also felt seen. I felt a connection.

I blogged a lot more when I lived in NYC, through the heart of the Oughts, almost seven years. When I look back this habit of writing likely helped with my social skills. In 2008 I had made a goal to write every day. Didn’t have to be substantial content. Didn’t have a word limit. Just had to think of a thing to write about and write. I do believe I lasted the whole year. (I’ll have to double check the blog.) That daily routine prepared me for social situations, because I had practice quickly forming opinions about various topics. I had practice going through my day observing everything, storing ideas and writing prompts. Learning to look and feel beyond myself.

And now, I’m reading a lot more, experiencing the privilege of living vicariously. Seeing the world through diverse lenses in books and other media.

And while reading has done wonders for my empathy, it’s not quite the same as writing. I mean, both are different ways of listening, or at least processing the world. If I can find the words to write something, I can usually find a constructive, correlative action. Even if that means more listening. Which is the case, most of the time.

I think this post puts me on a 10- or 11-day streak of writing. And as parts of the country start opening up more with increased vaccinated populations, stepping out to interact with other humans seems really important. Looking people in the eyes as they relate their lives of the past year in isolation. The cabin fever, the anxiety. The sensitivity to light. The reflex to cower away from someone going in for a hug.

I don’t know: writing about it has helped me get to a more stable emotional place. I would like to think that it can help me help others to feel seen or listened to. Or cared about. Or loved.

Teacher Appreciation Week

My husband has been a teacher for 11 years. He works really hard to give his students quality education. He got his master’s degree while teaching (and while I was pregnant). He’s created new courses and curricula. He is well-respected among his colleagues.

He teaches a range of related subjects: English, Creative Writing, Literature in Film. He accommodates students with a wide range of interests and motivation. His students like him. They appreciate his efforts to hold their attention and present memorable lessons that develop critical thinking and communication.

Respect from students would seem difficult to gain, especially among junior high youth, where the apathy emerges alongside the abrupt puberty. But Reilly has taught long enough to navigate these waters gracefully. Also: he was a teenager and remembers how he and classmates behaved at that age. He knows what he’s dealing with. He comes home with stories of the challenges and victories kids today face. Every day inspires to some extent.

Everyone: show some love to our teachers, past or present. Remember how they helped us grow, to become the people we are now.

Thanks, Google, for the reminder.

https://g.co/doodle/hjchhys

Letter to Zinger, 7 Years and 8 Days

Dear Z,

Remember that tooth that you were waiting to lose? The one I thought you might lose on your actual birthday but didn’t? You lost it, five days ago on April 11. The terrain along your toothline is varied and fun, and you own every single bit of all the smiles you flash. It salves my soul.

I’m about to pick you up from school. I saw on the news last night that police shot a 13-year-old child. A child. I also saw on the news last night that eight people died in a mass shooting in another state.

This is not the country I want you to grow up in. I don’t know what to do.

Every day I drop you off at school I try not to worry. Your classroom is close to one of the building’s exits. Your class has a number of adults who can hopefully guide you to safety in the event of an active shooter. Let me tell you I just hate the possibility of that idea becoming a reality. Would you or any of your classmates know to keep quiet? I know your teachers would do what they could to protect you. The risk is a lot. The thought is unbearable.

I’m so glad these scary thoughts are the furthest thing from your mind. I’m grateful you take every moment of your life to find joy and fun, to give affection and friendship. To share love with the world around you.

Let me be the one to worry. You keep on being precious and spirited and happy.

I love you and your newest goofy smile,

Mom

P.S.

It goes without saying I worry endlessly about Dadda, too. I hope we can all figure out how to make this better.

Making the Metal Clarinet Playable Again

Bought an old metal clarinet a few weeks ago. 1930s-’40s. When I received it, it was semi-playable. Notes above a certain point would only squeak. After the trial/error process of pressing on certain pads and blowing into the mouthpiece, I discovered that air leaks in the left-hand region of the instrument kept those higher notes from playing. The pads are in decent shape, but I removed what I thought were the problem keys and inspected the springs. Increased their tension. Better, but could be better still. Applied key oil to the joints so the springs wouldn’t have to work so hard. Even better! Then I ordered a cork replacement kit. Replaced my first ever cork today in my burgeoning hobbyist’s career. Now with the clarinet having proper seals, its performance: *chef’s kiss*

A few lessons emerge from this experience. Find the leaks. Address them. Make the seals tight. Take your time, get it right. The overall playability improves significantly. I mean, it’s still a second/third tier metal clarinet from the World War II era, but it’s been fun working on. And it’s fun to play.

I said a few lessons can come from this. I’m sure the analogies will become clearer at a time that isn’t now. I’m tired today.

I’ll still take my wood clarinets to the shop for tune-ups and repairs.

Feelings Friday

You know when you’ve slept well and you awake refreshed and it’s gonna be a great day, no matter what? That’s today.

Like it’s mostly puppies and rainbows today, but layers of the other stuff, too. The add-perspective stuff. A cross section of all the strati is beautiful, and it’s important to see.

Reviewing posts from the past couple of years has revived my desire to write as an outlet. To journal feelings for my own mental health.

From June 2019 I began documenting some grief, which still isn’t complete. Which also isn’t a thing that doesn’t really arrive to completion. I’ll definitely revisit that.

Then: a long break to November 2020, when I got upset because it was the election, and emotions were running so hot, both from my cozy echo chamber and friends whose opinions differ, and I didn’t know how to navigate certain relationships. And the immediate reaction was to withdraw from facebook, and unfriend toxicity. I still think that was the right thing to do.

Then this month. With Hilary Hahn’s new album release, and me being a total fan. And today I’m being an unapologetic fan. This album is the bomb. Do they still say that? This album is the shit? That feels weird, though I have taken to swearing more. My official review: Paris is perfect.

AND, my little Zinger’s birthday is coming up next month. My brother’s, too. Gosh, my heart is so full.

See you soon.