You—like us—great for an instant

Forgive me, I am someone who seeks out synchronicity—that is, confirmation that I am where I am meant to be, in this exact moment in life and time.

It’s silly (is it?), but I need it (why?).

Last night, driving away from Portland, Ian turned the radio to a local station playing jazz. “Do you like jazz?” he asked. Almost ten years we have known each other, yet still some things to know and remain unknown. He told me about a college class he signed up for with this very radio station, a sort of internship where he’d learn the radio ropes and how to present a show, how he didn’t know anything about jazz and stayed up late at Powell’s reading and researching. But (alas, alack) it was one of those harsh winters and (oh, poor student) he didn’t have a car and wound up missing some classes and thus ended his career in local jazz radio before it had even begun. “Oh baby,” I laughed, “you could have been somebody.”

I was teasing, but it’s true—I think about it all the time: all the roads not taken or only half taken, all the somebodies we could have been and might still be. I can (and have) spend hours tracing back all the things that had to happen in order to find myself, here, now, in this place. And, though I am happy in this place, I am one of those people who can’t help seeking confirmation that all is as it should be, that there isn’t another place I’m supposed to be. Even the smallest of ‘signs’ can set me at ease for, oh, whole hours.

Last night, when we arrived back at the house we are watching for friends this month, the sky away from the city was clear and crisp. It has been so foggy lately and, so, we took a stroll up the back fields, in search of shooting stars. He saw three and I saw one and a bit. He deserved it. He gets up earlier than I do, works harder and longer, lights the fire before he leaves, leaves a teabag in a mug for me…

These things are important and real and good. And yet, I wake this morning thinking, Are we doing enough with our lives, should we be traveling or building or making, we should see more live music, we should write more, I should really learn an instrument—or to drive—I thought we’d have our Christmas shopping done by now, why do we procrastinate, are we wasting it, missing it, why did we just sit by the fire half the day? 

And then, as it seems to go, I stumble across some words that still me, that seem to have been written in the stars for me, today, this morning, when thoughts and anxieties shoot and fire and fizzle across the fearful, doubtful spaces of my mind. A small synchronicity, a poem by Galway Kinnell, makes me forget the creeping daytime thoughts and focus on last night, and all those time in which we are great, and happy, as long as we are arm in arm and looking up.

 

On the Frozen Field

We walk across the snow,
The stars can be faint,
The moon can be eating itself out,
There can be meteors flaring to death on earth,
The Northern Lights can bloom and seethe
And be tearing themselves apart all night,
We walk arm in arm, and we are happy.

You in whose ultimate madness we live,
You flinging yourself out into the emptiness,
You—like us—great for an instant,

O only universe we know, forgive us.

 

Frozen Field

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More alive than you’ve ever been.

Ordeal

I promise to make you more alive than you’ve ever been.
For the first time you’ll see your pores opening
like the gills of a fish and you’ll hear
the noise of blood in galleries
and feel light gliding on your corneas
like the dragging of a dress across the floor.
For the first time, you’ll note gravity’s prick
like a thorn in your heal,
and your shoulder blades will hurt from the imperative of wings.
I promise to make you so alive that
the fall of dust on furniture will deafen you,
and you’ll feel your eyebrows like two wounds forming
and your memories will seem to begin
with the creation of the world.

by Nina Cassian.

finland floating

What’s A Weekend?

It’s Friday!

Not that Friday signifies what it used to.

In an episode of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess (played to haughty, privileged perfection by Maggie Smith) asks “What’s a weekend?” For a lady of leisure, every day’s the same.

When we were walking in India, the days melded and Mondays and Sundays lost all meaning: Hindu worshippers are not dogmatic with their days; we knew it was Friday if we happened to walk through a predominantly Muslim village and the mosque keened out the call to kneel and pray.

Since coming home, every day and evening has been weekend-like, with dinners and drinks and hikes and bikes. Slowly, though, we are returning to a rhythm and I am desperate for a day and week with structure and a predictable – but flexible! – pattern.

I think I work best, and more, with a routine.

In my old job in Ireland, I had a strange set-up where I worked sleepover shifts, one week on and one week off, in a house with adults with intellectual disabilities. In my ‘week on’ I worked a lot of hours, including a weekend where I started work at 5pm on a Friday and finished at 9am the next Monday.

I was also doing my Masters part-time during the day.

The crazy thing was, I achieved so much more in the weeks where I had college classes and working at night. I had to go to the library during my lunch-break because I had to catch the bus by 4pm to get to work by five. And I had to read those books and articles on the bus and any spare moment because I had to not sound like an idiot in class the next day or get into shit with my teachers.

On my week off – or should I say, my off week – I had so much time to read and study, to get on top of things or do extra. But, my name is Deborah Rose and I am a procrastinator. It has been four minutes since I last procrastinated.

This is me:

The thing is, life looks quite different now from Ireland two years ago. Transitioning to a life where I supposedly work for myself comes with many challenges, not least of which is how I manage my time. I don’t have an external motivator – like a boss who might sack me or a teacher who might fail me if I don’t show up or don’t get the work done. It’s all on me and I am my biggest obstacle!

And it’s not like I’m watching videos of baby hedgehogs* or something.

There’s this great piece in The New Yorker on What Was Revealed When the Lights Went Out in India. That’s important.

And this one that asks: What’s a Metaphor For? Which is something I need to know if I were ever to write one.

Or these words of wisdom and affirmation about How To Find Your Purpose And Do What You Love. How about that?!

Except I already have a hunch what my purpose is and I know what I love. It’s a case of getting the cuss on with it.

But not before I read Dani Shapiro’s much better piece on the subject: #amwriting. I should really download that Freedom software. Oh wait! I did! I should really use that Freedom software…

This blogpost is an example of procrastination I suppose… But it’s also placing words upon words in a way that I like, so I count it.

I know it’s cheating, really. (And I lied, I do watch baby hedgehog videos, and baby sloth bears too!) But it’s Friday and the sun is shining. I’m bunking off. I’m playing hooky.

See you bright and early on Monday! I’ll be good next week, I promise.

The day I did something I said that I would do.

Last January, right here, I said I would read one hundred books.

(Not to mention that every minute of every hour of every day since I was seventeen I have said that I will write one).

I told myself I’d be fluent in Spanish by now, that I would know how to sew my own clothes and knit and bake a cake and swim.

I tell myself I will drink more water and eat more kale and volunteer and learn one new thing every day every day.

That I won’t worry so much or care how I look.

That I will sleep less; do more; play piano.

I don’t know what happens….

Me, I guess.

So.

Imagine my surprise when I said that I was going to walk from the southern tip of India one thousand miles north… and I did.

This is me. The day I did something I said I was going to do.

 

Thank you so much to everyone who cheered me along and followed the journey on loafe – it really did mean so much. In fact, I think saying it out loud and to so many people was part of the reason I got up and walked on those days I didn’t want to.

It’s not about self-promotion or even being held accountable so much as reifying the claims we make. When our wishes are only whispers in our heart it’s so easy to ignore the niggling voice that says: “You’re not doing it. You’re not doing the things you said you’d do. This is your one chance at life and you’re wasting it.”

So.

This year I am going to write a book.

You may never see it of course; publishing is another story. But I am going to write like I walked. One step at a time through the pain and heat, awaiting that sweet breeze and sunset that makes it so leap-in-the-air worthwhile.

 

Street Books: a bicycle-powered mobile library for people living outside

Walking to work today, I passed a paper memorial on the steps above the Eastbank Esplanade: RIP Coop Dog, it said, You Will Be Missed. It was written with a black felt-tip in bubble writing and taped to the concrete with a piece of electrical tape. Six or seven wilted roses and yellow irises lay around the meager monument along with some small grey rocks and two empty beer cans: Old English 800 and Rolling Rock. The words Christian Cooper May 11th 1973 to July 2011 were printed at the top of the page and a childlike drawing of a man in a baseball cap beneath a tree filled the remainder of the white space.

I don’t know for certain but I’m assuming Christian Cooper was one of the many homeless people in Portland. Living in Chinatown, our loft looks over Transition Projects and every day dozens of men and women queue around our block for food at Blanchet House. It’s impossible not to notice but noticing is different than seeing, and seeing is a long way from understanding let alone caring.

I do care but I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to help. Thankfully, somebody in Portland is thinking outside the box and in ways that go beyond the issue of core survival needs like food and shelter. When I heard about Street Librarian Laura Moulton and her mobile library, it was one of those of course! concepts that seem so obvious in retrospect but I know I’d never have thought of it. Me! To whom books and reading are so important, so vital, so unthinkable of life without.

I was struck by the makeshift memorial for the same reason I am moved by Street Books: the humanity of it. The universal need to place stones and roses around written words and say You will be missed. The need to read, to escape, to discover, to explore, to feed off of language, to nourish the mind and soul. When I try to contemplate the experience of a homeless person, I never think much beyond base needs and necessities. And yet, why should reading be less of a necessity or a priority for someone who lives out of doors?

I love that the people who frequent Street Books have very distinct and specific tastes and preferences and aren’t afraid to request more of what they’d like. They’re not willing to settle and their librarian is doing her best to get them what they want: Book Requests include Louis L’Amour, Stephen King, Tim O’Brien, Johanna Lindsey, Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows, Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement, Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Native Son, Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, On the Road and Subterranean Blues, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath and any Philosophy/Psychology books.

Ben borrowed a James Patterson.

This project makes me so happy and inspired to think beyond the obvious and the assumed. Street Books reminds me that each of us has a face, a name and a favourite book. And, hopefully, someone who’ll think of us when we’re here and miss us when we’re gone.