Search Results for: Christian McEwen

It’s been a long day

donatella-marraoni-enough-is-enough

There is joy to be found in the most minuscule of choices, in the pockets of slowness concealed inside each ordinary day: ten minutes in the morning in which to write down our dreams, five minutes in the late afternoon in which to stand by a window and watch the changing colors of the sunset, another pause before bed for a brief moment of prayer. Such things do not demand an inordinate commitment. From outside, our lives may look much as they have always done. We alone will recognize the small, rejuvenating pleasures, the invisible sustenance: the difference between skimming a text and taking the time to read it slowly and in depth; between emailing our friend, and making time to sit with her and talk; between rushing through our days, and honoring “the space between,” allowing space to muse and brood and wonder and exult, to bask in our accomplishments.

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down.


Notes:

No other warm-blooded creature lives this way. We alone keep working 24/7, under the false suns of our fluorescent lights.

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38 percent of Americans describe themselves as “always” feeling rushed. No other warm-blooded creature lives this way: ignoring seasonal patterns, ignoring rest. We alone keep working 24/7, under the false suns of our fluorescent lights. It is as if we hope to rid ourselves of the natural world entirely: discarding not just our own circadian rhythms, but also the larger cycles of the moon and stars, the tides, the solar year. And yet, it is useful, surely, to have some grasp of what the experts call “chronobiology”—to recognize the ways in which our bodies are in fact entrained not to clocks or computers or our weekly schedules, but to the ancient, powerful rhythms of the larger universe. In the course of a day, our hearts will pound out a quiet drum of sixty to eighty beats per minute, speeding up as we race to catch a bus, slowing down when we take a nap. Our body temperatures will rise and fall by a degree or two, reaching peak efficiency late in the afternoon. Our cells will multiply and divide and replace themselves as necessary; hormones and enzymes will be produced. Women in their child-bearing years will move with greater or lesser ease through the different stages of their monthly cycles. Meanwhile, rain or shine, our attention will ebb and flow throughout the day: an hour and a half of concentrated attention, a short break; another hour and a half, another break.

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down.


Notes:

 

No longer so tightly wound. Little shards of self fly off into the wind.

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Art, attention, gratitude and grace. A quiet healing, ordinary joy. I know these things in my own body. For several years now, my head has felt loose on my shoulders, and I too have felt oddly permeable, no longer so tightly wound. Little shards of self fly off into the wind, and frankly, I am glad to see them go.

In the same way as one pulls the petals from a daisy, she loves me, she loves me not, so too one can pluck one letter at a time from familiar words, revealing the core beneath. Verandah Porche (who invented the term “pluck words”) is especially fond of examples like “slaughter” and “laughter” where the missing letter not only transforms the meaning of the word, but alters its sound as well.

My own favorites center on a little cluster of words that seem, like koans, to conceal a deeper meaning. It is as if one bit into a juicy peach to find its wizened stone, or broke apart an egg to show its golden yolk. For example, when where is plucked, it reveals the answer here; less is the hidden wisdom crouching inside bless; your gives way to the more generous-hearted our; and the small domestic hearth expands into the cosmic earth. Most miraculous of all, perhaps, eyes open into an all-confirming yes. [Read more…]

Oryoki

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“Stay here forever,” said the little girl in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. We were in the Japanese Pavilion, leaning over the rail to watch the fish.

Cherry blossoms swirled like confetti in the dark water. “No,” said her father. “Gonna see more fish—” and he dragged her away from the ones she was already looking at: their shadowy bodies, their smiling mouths, their multicolored scales. Black and gold and pure albino white; cadmium yellow/charcoal; silver-blue-green-gray. The little girl protested, but her father didn’t listen. “More fish,” he said, as if more and different were always, unquestionably better. More fish. Again more fish.

Oryoki, the Japanese word for a begging bowl, means “just enough.” The Irish word go leor (anglicized as “galore”) also meant “sufficiency,” at least at first, sufficiency being a synonym for plenty. But over time, “plenty” has metastasized into “more than enough,” and finally into “too much.” There is nothing wrong with having “too much of a good thing” on a feast day, or for a celebration. But when one comes to take that “more” for granted, requiring excess on every ordinary day, then its celebratory aspect is destroyed.

“Stay here forever,” said the little girl. All she wanted was to watch the fish: to dissolve into that moment of enchantment.

~ Christian McEwen, “Slow is Beautiful.” From World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down


Photo: faungg’s photos with fish in Japanese Garden, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

to let silence spiral deeper into silence

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All of us, child or adult, need time to find our way to that heavenly gate, time to sit back and listen to the sounds outside, and to our own, half-formed thoughts, to attend to the call of the birds and the roar of the air conditioner, and to our own interior voices as well: to let silence spiral deeper into silence. Mary Oliver writes about this beautifully in her book, Winter Hours.

In the act of writing the poem, I am obedient, and submissive. Insofar as one can, I put aside ego and vanity, and even intention. I listen. What I hear is almost a voice, almost a language. It is a second ocean, rising, singing into one’s ear, or deep inside the ears, whispering in the recesses where one is less oneself than a part of some single indivisible community. Blake spoke of taking dictation. I am no Blake, yet I know the nature of what he meant.

The speedy modern reader may not realize it, but poetry comes to us like the holy infant, wrapped in swaddling bands of silence. There is silence, often, in the place where it is made, or at most, a slow heart beat. There is silence in the thought that greets particular words and phrases, and in the care with which they’re weighed and pondered, and again in their particular layout on the page. And finally there’s the silence that surrounds the reading of the poem, and in the quiet intake of breath with which, so often, the poem is received. For all the emphasis that is placed on words and imagery, poems need that silence, as a painting needs the naked canvas, or music needs the pause between the notes. Most poets know this, in however inchoate a way. They slow down, they listen, they learn to pay attention. They root themselves in what the Celtic bard Taliesen called “the cave of silence” from which all words are born.

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down


Notes:

 

Monday Morning: An Insistent Beat

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Where was I when it started.
At my desk?
Scribbling in a notebook?
On the bus?
I don’t remember.
Just the sense of something bubbling up from underneath,
not words so much as information:
an ache,
a rhythm,
an instant beat.

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down


Notes:

 

Protect those early mornings: A symposium with the self

handwriting-light

Kim Stafford’s father was the West Coast poet William Stafford, a man whose “rich beginnings” lay in the calm and quiet of his own sleeping house. Every morning for more than forty years, he would get up at 4 a.m., at least two hours before the rest of his family, and settle down to work. Stafford himself described his practice in terms of “just plain receptivity.”

When I write, I like to have an interval before me when I am not likely to be interrupted. For me, this usually means the early morning, before others are awake. I get pen and paper, take a glance out of the window (often it is dark out there), and wait. It is like fishing. But I do not wait very long, for there is always a nibble—and this is where receptivity comes in. To get started I will accept anything that occurs to me.

Years later, Kim Stafford wrote a memoir about his father entitled Early Morning. He described William’s steady practice as a “symposium with the self.” A particular day’s writing might include images from a recent dream, news of the family and the world at large—and a couple of poems. Often, these first drafts didn’t seem to amount to very much. Stafford himself said that they were “often so colorless, so apparently random, so homeless and unaccountable,” that most people wouldn’t have bothered to work with them. But by making time for them, by lending “faith and attention” to what he called those “waifs of thought,” a total of more than sixty books made their slow way into print.

“A good life is partly a matter of luck,” wrote William Stafford. “I can look for it and cherish its intervals. But I can’t control it.” Still, he could choose to set aside that time: to protect those early mornings. “To get up in the cold, then make a warm place, have paper, pen, books to hand, look out at the gleaming rain, shadows, the streetlight steadfast. You could stay awake all night, not give away those hours.”

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down


Notes:

 

Intense Rendezvous: An eye blinks, a muscle shifts, a hand reaches up to turn the page.

arnold smulders

Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time, Chapter Six: Intense Rendezvous – The Joy of Reading:

Compared to drawing and carving, the making of pots, and the weaving of baskets, reading is a relatively recent human accomplishment, dating back no more than fifty-two hundred years. Unlike speech, which is acquired by easy osmosis, reading is not something that comes naturally to most of us. Instead, it must be learned, slowly and painstakingly, by each successive generation. The eye works its way across the page in little jumps, known technically as “saccades,” pausing at intervals like a frog on a lilypad, in order to ingest the next new word. As science writer Simon Ings explains, “The eyes literally cannot see stationary objects; they must tremble constantly in order to bring them into view.” Whereas listening is relatively fast (one needs only a hundredth of a second between sounds in order to distinguish them), looking takes far longer (one needs at least a tenth of a second between two images if they are not to blur), and reading takes longest of all, requiring a full quarter second for each individual word. Reading, then, involves a considerable amount of work. Literate Greeks and Romans preferred to have their books read aloud to them by slaves, and Saint Augustine was actually startled when he first saw Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, reading to himself in silence. “When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart explored the meaning, but his voice was silent, and his tongue was still.”

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Such reading is especially effective in the case of poetry, which by its nature has much to do with slowing down. The poet Mark Strand writes of the pleasure of “reading the same thing again and again, really savoring it, living inside the poem.” Because there’s no rush to find out what actually happens, the reader can luxuriate in the texture of the words themselves. As Strand explains, “It’s really about feeling one syllable rubbing up against another, one word giving way to another, and sensing the justice of that relationship between one word, the next, the next, the next.” [Read more…]

Saturday Morning

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It is an attitude Thoreau would have applauded. As he notes in his journals, “Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie, amidst the pines and hickories and sumacs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.”

From sunrise to noon is a considerable stretch of time, especially at the height of summer. One cannot imagine a contemporary writer squandering even a fraction of those hours. But Thoreau had a tremendous capacity for patience, as his friend Emerson understood. “He knew how to sit immovable, a part of the rock he rested on, until the bird, the reptile, the fish, which retired from him, should come back and resume its habits, nay, moved by curiosity, should come to him and watch him.”

~ Christian McEwen, “Searching & Dreaming” in World Enough & Time


Notes:

I’m listening.

moon-full-moon

There are many such assignments one can give. When Janet Fout’s daughter was a little girl, the two of them used to spend time together out of doors, playing and inventing nature games. My own favorite was listening for the sounds they could not hear, which Fout called “The Sounds of a Creature Not Stirring.” Examples might include: sap rising, snowflakes forming and falling, sunrise, moonrise, feathers, dew on the grass, a seed germinating, an earthworm moving through the soil, an apple ripening, wood petrifying, a spider weaving its web, a leaf changing colors, a salmon spawning.

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time


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