Facts and Poetry
Thoreau always had two notebooks—one for facts, and the other for poetry. But he had a hard time keeping them apart, as he often found facts more poetic than his poems. They are, he said, translated from the language of the earth into that of the sky. Thoreau knew that the imagination uses facts to fabricate images and even delicate architectures. One summer night, looking up into the sky at a particularly beautiful, scintillating star, he thought perhaps another traveler somewhere else along the coast was, like him, looking up at that same star and said, ‘Of what unsuspected triangles are stars the apex?’”
— Jean Frémon, “Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Gloves”
“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”
— André Gide
108 // Mind and Pen in Hand
It was a slow start to the morning, but the day is picking up speed fast. I feel good, in general, but there is the threat of falling into a funk. What I mean is that the details of the day aren’t so bothersome, but the overarching essence is dull and irritating.
There’s very little work to do and sometimes that’s nice, but sometimes it can be worse than a full schedule. There’s less reason to feel motivated, and the empty hours tend to drag. There are two things I can do now. I can fill the empty hours with tasks and to-dos, or I can enjoy the privilege of long and languid time. Not everyone has hours they can relax in, hours they get to feel.
I think I’ll try a bit of both. The Pomodoro timer has gotten me through the morning, but I think this afternoon I’d like to cultivate and savor as much silence as I can, while I can. Instead of doing, I’m simply being. Instead of social media scrolling, I’m letting my mind and pen wander together hand in hand.
I’ve been rethinking the way I write here. I’ve been reevaluating my reasons why. I love my little blog, but lately, it has felt too static, too directionless, too impersonal when it was meant to be the very opposite. It was meant to be more.
I’d like to share more of my personality. I want this to be a place I run to again, a place that is mine. Recently, I stumbled across the concept of a “digital garden” and the ways one may differ from a personal website or blog. I’m interested but intimidated. I’d like to have something similar, but simpler. An intermediary between this and something that could grow.
Of course, I have other wide and varied interests. My ego is but one, and that’s what this place is for, but I often think of bigger things too—of humanity, of philosophy and physics. I want to have a place to run to for those thoughts, too. That’s a post for another day though…
On the surface, this is only a repackaging of old ideas and pursuits of mine that I’ve become disillusioned with or distracted from, but not quite. An incremental change, a small shift in perspective, can mean everything, I hope.
I thought my little dream was too small, but now I think small is exactly what I need. That small thing means everything. Now I think that growth is only the process, one that has no end or is an end in itself. An end to which the self is only the beginning, the rest is all exploration of life, day after day, minute by minute, with mind and pen in hand.
Great New things
“It seems a great new stage for me—whether it will ever be recognizable by anyone else I don’t know, but I feel that great new things are happening very quietly inside of me.”
— Sister Mary Corita Kent (via Austin Kleon)
Currently // December 2021: Peak Unproductivity
“It is December, and nobody asked if I was ready.”
― Sarah Kay
The end of December, and 2021, find me satisfied in some ways and, admittedly, deeply disappointed in others. In my work and my relationships, my home and my hopes, so much progress has been made.
I feel leaps and bounds beyond where I was this time twelve months ago, but the anxieties and uncertainties are still weighing just as heavily. That isn’t even accounting for the griefs that hurt all the same and I fear may never diminish.
Still, December is only a month, not a year, and perhaps should be counted up alone.
It’s been a strange winter so far and this December is unlike any other. Normally, I’d be well into a seasonal depression. The end of December is a time of hopelessness, a time of bitter and biting cold that feels as though it will never end. I had expected to be struggling through that usual despair and fighting pandemic fears, but this winter has been kind and this December is among the happiest of my life.
Autumn settled in months ago and simply never left. It seems, sometimes our wishes come true, and, I’ve learned, sometimes when we get what we want we find we never really wanted what we thought we did. All month we’ve been well below snowfall averages and shockingly high of average temperatures. At first, it felt good, but as the autumn warmth wears on, I become increasingly disturbed. I never thought I’d say it, but I hope for snow soon, and lots of it!
The threat of Covid and the rise in gun violence across the city have me more afraid to leave the house than ever. I’m happy I took time away from work this holiday season to be home, with people who matter and doing the things that make me feel good. It’s necessary to shut out the world every once in a while.
A year of stress and fear cumulated to burnout in December and I have been running a peak unproductivity. Not that I have been doing nothing at all. Besides the holiday festivities spent in the company of friends and family, December has been a month of relaxing, reflecting, and reevaluating. You have to know what went wrong to do it differently next time, right?
I have plans for the turn of the year, much more modest and manageable expectations this time around. Politics and pandemics make it hard to focus and personal griefs have left me disoriented and directionless. This coming year I want to get back to basics and learn again who I am and what motivates me.
This year I’ll be giving more of my attention to the present rather than letting the confounding future paralyze me. I’ll let the past inform the future rather than dictate it. This year I’m giving space to the person I become day by day, hour by hour…
But before I do, here is what I am currently:
Writing all the time. I have come back to my focus by means of timers and stimulants, mindfulness, and a complete abandon of purpose. Letting go of grand goals has allowed me to feel joy in writing again. It’s easy to forget that writing is my passion and I do it for myself before anyone else.
Making entries, notes, lists, and records of my daily thoughts, discoveries, comings and goings. I have four notebooks now (a fifth if you count the new sketchbook) each with its own purpose. To aid in my memory and remind me of all the things that are important to me. These notebooks are an extension of my mind and they provide a path forward.
Planning for another self, my future self. She is often selfish. She loathes to concern herself with past wants. Still, the present must allow the future to be its own time. What does she owe me? My job is to give her all the tools and motivation I can, but she has to do what is best for her when the time comes. I am planning not to want the same things I want today.
Reading The Mirror of My Heart: A Thousand Years of Persian Poetry by Women translated by Dick Davis, Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert, All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks, and The Odyssey by Homer translated by Emily Wilson. That’s a lot of books, but it works for me. When I get bored, I can move to a different read rather than quitting altogether.
Watching a lot of shows that feel like guilty pleasures: Gossip Girl, Legacies, Evil, and A Discovery of Witches. I had a small Spiderman marathon and made it to the theater for No Way Home. It was genius and I highly recommend everyone see it. Matrix: Resurrections was everything I thought it would be and Don’t Look Up was a surprising discovery.
Learning about Human Behavioral Biology, from Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky, again, still. I haven’t been able to get past some of the more complicated lectures and I admit that when it got hard; I quit—a common pattern with me. I’m picking it up again today.
Anticipating a fresh start. I don’t believe the turn of the new year is any special time to start over. It’s only a time that we all start again together. Knowing you aren’t on the path alone makes the going easier. When you can’t be accountable to yourself, it helps to be accountable to others. I’m looking forward to sharing my start with you.
Reflecting on the last 12 months, of course. What else is there to think about come the last day of the year? I’m doing my best to hold on to all the good and let go of all the bad. I did some things right, that is the truth, and I like who I have become overall. That being said, I see a lot more clearly now what needs to change this time around.
Fearing what the next year will bring. We only ever plan for the best, but these past years have taught me there is as much unhappiness as there is happiness waiting just out of sight—oftentimes more. I’m afraid of the coming losses and the inevitable disappointments. I’m afraid of adding to my grief.
Hating capitalism. They say you get more conservative as I age, but the older I get, the more radical and socialist I feel. Life is just too precious for us to spend it laboring, producing, and fooling ourselves into thinking we are so individualistic. Meeting our basic needs universally makes happiness achievable for all.
Loving this feeling of contentment I have finally found. I have made a place that is truly a home. Home, I have learned, is only a place of safety. It is the safety you can make a life in. You can’t love, create, or change unless you feel safe. I wish I had known this sooner, but I am happy to know it now.
Needing more months like this. More months with more time in them. More chances to shake off expectations and obligations and get to what I truly need for myself. Other months have their days but those days are largely spent before I can even flip the calendar page. Decembers have whole weeks!
Hoping 2022 will be a little less painful than 2021, and a lot less than 2020. I’m hoping for less disappointment, less fear, less uncertainty. I’m hoping that everyone I love starts to find their footing. I’m hoping everyone in the world finds hope again, especially me.
All in all, despite the holiday stress and the end-of-year regrets, December was a good month and there was a lot of good in the year to look back on, too. I found time for my friends and family and for myself. I made time for celebrating and withdrawing, for looking back, and for looking forward.
But what about you? How did you spend the holidays? What has the weight of 2021 come to for you? What has the second year of the pandemic taken? What has it given back? Do you have someone to kiss tonight when the clock tricks 2022? Have you listed your resolutions yet?
Let me know in the comments.
Currently // October 2021
Take What is Offered
“October is nature’s funeral month. Nature glories in death more than in life. The month of departure is more beautiful than the month of coming—October than May. Every green thing loves to die in bright colors.”
― Henry Ward Beecher
There are warm days still but as the season waxes on they are growing fewer and farther between. It’d be easy to spend the season sulking, but that only leaves so much less for me to enjoy. No, it’s better to seize what warmth and sunshine that is left. Soak it up and save what you can through the dark months to come. October is teaching me gratitude.
It’s hard, but this year I really am trying to see October in a new light. Autumn has never been among my favorite seasons. Just as the worry of a thing is always worse than the thing itself, the cool breezes and color-changing trees are worse than the winter they warn of.
Instead, I’d like to think of Autumn as just another kind of Spring. Not a season of death, as it always feels to me, but another season of change. It’s best to accept the shortening days and the cooling nights. It’s better to marvel at the leaves and find warmth and safety inside rather than out. There can be good this fall but you have to take what is offered and not lament what is lost.
And the truth is, a lot was offered. Some big changes happened this month and nearly all of it was good, nearly all of it was earned. This Autumn certainly is a time of reaping the rewards of sacrifices and hard choices that were made month over month this past year. I’m grateful beyond measure for what is given.
With that being said I’m taking the time to prepare not for the death of a thing, but for reflection and strengthening. Like trees pulling chlorophyll from the leaves, I am consolidating my resources. I am growing hard and readying for the worst of the winter. I’m making improvements. I’m making repairs. I’m preparing for a long season with myself. This fall I am letting myself change.
But before I do, here is what I am currently:
Writing in my own space again. Our spare bedroom is slowly being turned back into my old office space again. It’s a slow process, but it has meant making it easy to get away from distraction and make some real progress on my writing goals. I’m looking forward to a new month of prolific output.
Making poems and pictures again. I haven’t posted much yet but I am finding new ways to be creative with Instagram again. Going through my old photos on my phone and giving them a monochromatic make-over has been deeply satisfying and with my desk space returned I’ve gotten my old tools out and readied to make more poems and collages again.
Planning a new newsletter adventure. I’ve got a template and the start of three drafts already going. It’s been a long time since I’ve sent one of my old letters but I’ve missed the more intimate space of inbox to inbox writing. It’s so much more freeing but also so much more terrifying than a blog or Twitter feed. Check it out, subscribe, and let me know what you think?
Reading All About Love by bell hooks. I had a good run of reading motivation back in August but since finishing The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, I’ve lost the drive again. Reading about trauma was draining and though I learned a lot about myself through it, it’s been hard to want to go back to such deep introspection.
Watching Y the Last Man, though news of its cancellation has left me somewhat subconsciously uninterested in finishing the season. Like many of you, I also binge-watched Squid Game on Netflix and found it both horrifying and exhilarating. My favorite film this month was Dune from Director Denis Villeneuve. I suspect the novel will be my next fiction read.
Learning about Human Behavioral Biology from Standford Professor Robert Sapolsky, still. I blew through the first videos quite quickly but I had read a couple of his books before watching. Unfortunately, I have been stuck on video 12 on Endocrinology. I think my issue is that Sapolsky does not teach this lecture himself and he’s the entire reason I’m interested at all.
Anticipating a year of big changes ahead of me. There has been reaping this harvest season sure, but the sowing is far from done. My wife and I are finally feeling like we are coming into the lives we’ve been meant to lead all along and though it’s taken us some time to arrive, on coming into ourselves we feel the timing feels right after all.
Reflecting on what it means to make meaning and whether this very human impulse serves us well at all. I’m sure it has its uses, but moving away from the pressure to have so much purpose all the time sounds freeing. I am reflecting on where the meaning I have made for my life or the purpose I hope to serve comes from. Are these my impulses, or impulses that my culture has imposed on me?
Fearing the uncomfortable feeling that comes with growth. I’m feeling well beyond ready, and I can even say I am excited too, but there are fears that are hard lost and I will have to fight through some of my worst and long-standing. I’m confident I can do it, but the little voice in the back of my mind that has only ever wanted to protect me has her doubts.
Hating how little the Democrats have been able to accomplish in the year since Biden’s election. I knew then Republicans would obstruct his every endeavor and I make no excuses for them, but I had no idea how much our own party would blockade the way. These are reasonable benefits we all should be fighting for like paid parental leave, free community college, or expanded healthcare coverage. What should our taxes be paying if not this?
Loving the resilience I have seen from the people who mean the most to me. It can be easy to judge another person’s position in life or to resent the hardships your family put you through but when you learn to look past your pain, you can see how hard it was for everyone. You can see how each person did the best they could given their pain too. It makes it easier to see the strength you come from. It makes it easier to love.
Needing help. I have healed quite a few of my old wounds just fine on my own over the years. That isn’t to imply it was easy, only that it was done. Recently I’ve accepted there was more damage done than I was perhaps was willing to admit and there is still a long way to go. These next steps are more than I can do on my own and though I’ve known that for a long time now, I admit the time has come to make the call.
Hoping to see a change soon in the fight against Covid-19. There are still people dying every day and there is still so much more we can all do. I’m hoping those who are hesitant on getting the vaccine are able to find the clarity they need and those who refuse to wear masks consider those who are vulnerable around them. I hope this winter will not bring the same level of loss we had over the last.
All in all, this October was a month of extremes. My family has seen some terrifying times these past weeks but found time for laughter and memory-making too. I worked more hours than I have in a long time, but found a whole week in which to rest and take time for me and my loved ones. I’ve been up. I’ve been down. I’ve been all over the place! I’ve been scared, but I’ve been oh so grateful too.
But what about you? What ups and downs have you been through this October? What did you choose for your Halloween costume? What new memories have you made? What old fears will you face? Are you ready for the stress of the holiday season?
Let me know in the comments.
The Worst Way
Out of the dark subconscious, a chant echos along the many hollows of the mind—I need, I need, I need! Sweating with shame, ego drips sweetly from the mouth—I love you, I love you, I love you. You think you found the best way to have both, but you only found the worst way to do either.
Currently // August 2021: Settling Down and Settling In
“Some days in late August at home are like this, the air thin and eager like this, with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar…”
― William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
The heat of summer is still raging, but it’s not the same heat we’ve seen since May. The heat of August is an aggression. The heat of August is an insistence. Summer has not left the northern hemisphere and will not until she is ready, no matter our contention or complaints.
Despite the heat, we can feel Autumn rising over the horizon. The days are growing noticeably shorter now and with the late sun and early moon, the cool air comes too. The breaks between heatwaves are increasing and the smell of crisping leaves is on the breeze. There is a sense of settling down and settling in. It’s time to reap and ready ourselves for the long wait of Spring’s return.
I’d hoped to begin the school year feeling safer than we did this time 12 months ago but Covid is raging still and even the sense of security that the vaccine brought is waning. The “Delta variant” is tearing through populations and the uncertainty over my own vulnerability makes it all that much harder to work and to socialize. I’m almost happy the summer is ending. At least I won’t be so preoccupied with what I can’t have, who I can’t see, and where I can’t go.
So, this August, more than any of the others, is a time of letting go. I’m releasing expectation and desire. I’m releasing the carefree days and warm nights. I’m releasing the world as I once knew it and opening myself up to what could be, and what has to be. I’m moving on with the world.
But before I do, here is what I am currently:
Writing regularly again, sort of. Longer work hours mean longer lunches and more time at the peak of my day to call my own. I’m using the time to rebuild old habits and reconnect with my thoughts and interests, my curiosities and convictions. The first step was reorganizing my notes, task, and fragments. I have half-written drafts and threads I’ve yet to follow but they are in order now and the plan is to follow them one by one and one to another a little each day.
Making changes. I’ve made it to the “late-thirties” and I’m finding the age another era of metamorphosis. What sets this time apart from all the others is this time I’m learning about myself through others. Nearly all recent revelations have come from off-the-cuff comments and constructive criticisms. I’m making an effort to let down my defenses and take it all in. There is truth in the way I am seen and much as the way I see.
Planning for my weaknesses. With great revelation comes a great revolution, and changes to who I am have to be complemented with changes to how I live. I’m relying more on lists, calendars, and timers to keep me on track and doing what I know I really want to be doing. I’m working on writing as a way of exploring, accepting, and planning how I can change the way I work and interact in this world. I’m planning on a better version of myself and she is coming along beautifully.
Reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. This year has been my worst yet for reading goals but I haven’t given up. Books never venture far from my heart and now that I am moving to ebooks it’s a little easier to make time in between life’s moments for a chapter or two. This is my second time around with wily Odysseus, and I find him as confounding as ever. Is he meant to be good, or bad? Or perhaps it is only my idea of good and bad in this time that makes it so hard to decide?
Watching Marvel’s What If…? on Disney+. The series is essentially an exploration of what might have happened if things had gone differently in the movies. If different characters existed, swapped places, or never existed at all. Some other favorites are HBO’s The White Lotus, a fictional series following the interactions between rich hotel guests and their rather less privileged staff, and The L Word: Generation Q, a new take on an old queer favorite.
Learning to accept. It’s hard to let humans be so human, but the reality is though my beliefs work for me, they aren’t for everyone and unsolicited advice is never welcome. I’m learning to listen, be supportive, and lead by example. I’m learning to prove through actions rather than assertions that I am as intelligent, patient, and thoughtful as I know I am. I’m learning to let people come to me. I’m learning that I don’t have to be so insistent. I don’t have to be so right.
Anticipating some big life changes. My wife and I have been putting off the future we know we want in exchange for the comfortable now simply because change is scary. We’ve been working together to overcome our fears and our habit of procrastination to make some big steps forward. I’m looking forward to what I know we can accomplish when we work together.
Reflecting on how easy it is to be completely wrong without the slightest inkling of the possibility. I’m thinking about how easy it is to hurt someone, even when you hold the best of intentions. I’m remembering all the ways I thought I deserved something I didn’t and the times I gave someone a part of myself I’d thought they’d earned. Boundaries are hard to set and we can’t be everything to everyone, no matter how hard we wish. The key is, after reflecting, you go and make it right. You acknowledge and you change.
Fearing for the people of Afghanistan. The United States has never had the best interests of any other people in any operation, but these years we’ve spent over there half-assed destroying them and half-assed supporting them has left the country almost worse off than when we arrived. I feel for the people in harm’s way now and I fear for the people who will be harmed in the years to come as the clock ticks backward and old rules lead to new oppressions.
Hating the lengths people in this country will go to protect perceived freedoms of the welfare and security of not just their fellow citizens, but other human beings living all over the world. I’ve been learning a lot about why we are so divided and why we can’t seem to see past the color of our skin or our origins of birth to care. What will it take to love thy neighbor? What will it take to finally see that to save ourselves, we have to save someone else? I hate that I am living through the beginning of this end.
Loving my simple little life. I look around at the lives and loves and losses of others and I know that I am where I need to be with the person who is just right for me. I’m madly in love and happy beyond words with the world we have built. There’s more to do, sure, and more I want, always, but I’m on the right path, there is no doubt, and feeling more confident and loved than ever. I know it’s going to be ok. I know it’s going to be good even if it’s never perfect.
Needing time, always time. It’s always moving too fast and running out before I know it. There’s always less of it left and looking back the waste is overwhelming. I need time between, time at the end, and time away. I need time for me, time for her, time to live. All I seem to have is time to work, and the work is growing more insistent. Of course, there can never be more, but there can be a rebalancing. I only need it to be a little easier to do.
Hoping for clarity. I’m hoping for a spark. I’m hoping for the old obsession and motivation. I’m hoping for a sign and a chance to make something of my own. I’m hoping a way will open and a path will clear. I know it takes work but wouldn’t it be nice for something good and easy to come along for a change. Wouldn’t a little talent, a little privilege, and some hearty support make all the difference? A girl can dream. A girl can only ever dream.
All in all, this August was a good end to the summer. Through the chaos and the fear, I have been able to find my own way. Autumn has never been good to me, but I know I can be good to myself. These last months of 2021 will be better than the first and instead of lamenting, I only feel a great and beautiful gratitude. Everything is going to be okay.
But what about you? Have you been vaccinated yet? If not, what is it that makes you hesitant? How have you fared through this latest Covid wave and how have you learned to cope in such uncertain times? What does the end of this summer mean to you and what are you most looking forward to in Autumn.
Let me know in the comments.
How Description Leads to Understanding
Describing something with accuracy forces you to learn more about it. In this way, description can be a tool for learning.
Accurate description requires the following:
- Curiosity about what you are witnessing
- Suspending assumptions about cause and effect
It can be difficult to stick with describing something completely and accurately. It’s hard to overcome the tendency to draw conclusions based on partial information or to leave assumptions unexplored.
— How Description Leads to Understanding // Farnam Street