I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.
Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”
“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”
“No artist is pleased.”
“But then there is no satisfaction?”
“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
~ Agnes de Mille, The Life and Work of Martha Graham
When I was young, and for a long time afterward, Sunday afternoons were melancholy. I used to blame it on memories on my father retiring alone to his study to listen to classical music. I didn’t like classical music. It made me uneasy…I didn’t like the closed door.
But I think something else was going on. The span of a week is a reminder of the finite, even to the young. And powerful Sunday, which starts out fat and lazy, stretching endlessly ahead, dwindles to a wisp, and just like that, it’s over.
~ Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir
Quiet has many moods. When our sons are home, their energy is palpable. Even when they’re upstairs sleeping I can sense them, can feel the house filling with their presence, expanding like a sail billowed with air. I love the dawn stillness of a house full of sleepers, love knowing that within these walls our entire family is contained and safe, reunited, our stable four-sided shape resurrected. But those days are the exception now, not the norm.
~ Katrina Kenison, Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment
Poetry approached me in that chaos of raw inverted power and leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder, said, “You need to learn how to listen, you need grace, you need to learn how to speak. You’re coming with me.” I did not walk off into the sunset with poetry, or hit the town with a blaze of gunfire with poetry guarding my back. Rather, the journey toward poetry worked exactly as the process of writing a poem. It started from the inside out, then turned back in to complete a movement. And then on and on in the manner of a ripple in water, a song in the air.
It’s raining this morning.
That hopeful sounding on the roof.
I can almost hear the roots
suck water through their fragile hairs,
raising it through the tough trunk
into the cloud-shaped canopy of the live oak […]
Can’t you remember being a child,
opening your mouth to the rain?
— Ellen Bass, “Sometimes I’m frightened”
Let’s walk around outside
and forget it is raining.
Let’s get soaked in all that noise.
Let’s be water all day,
and breathe like low tide when we sleep,
breathe like dew, and grateful faucets.
Let’s be the ice melting at the top of mountains—
that kind of clear.
~ Sophia Holtz, “Prayer to be Said on the Evening of a Terrible Day”
A couple of years ago my sister Judy and I were each given a box of truffles. The tiny print said two pieces contained 310 calories and there were six pieces in each box. We were seating in the bus heading downtown, quietly downing our calculations. Judy was dividing by two and I was multiplying by three. When she realized what I was doing, a look came over her face that was hard to describe. “I lost all hope for you,” she says now. The difference between us could not have been more clearly defined at that moment. There are people who can eat one piece of chocolate, one piece of cake, drink one glass of wine. There are even people who smoke one or two cigarettes a week. And then there are people for whom one of anything is not even an option.
~ Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir