Friday, March 22, 2019

Poetry Friday: The strange reason Jane Kenyon's "Happiness" feels like the right pick for this week


A cardinal, singing in our backyard this morning.

After Tuesday's post (in which I talked about the flooding around here), I thought we could all use some good news. And I have splendid news to share about Betsy's Crohn's disease.

She's been on her new medication for six months and has also been following the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) diet (with some food reintroductions in the last four months). Last week, after the latest round of tests/scopes and biopsies, we heard back from her doctor, and she is ...

in remission.

She is in clinical remission (feeling good), endoscopic remission (tests show healing of inflammation), and biopsies did not detect other active signs of the disease, which theoretically indicates that she is in histologic remission. (One can get dizzy trying to decipher the medical literature and jargon, and of course, there's so much about IBD that we don't know.) We've been told that Crohn's doesn't have a cure, but for right now, we know this: she is in remission.

And yet, I have chosen for today this alternately optimistic and bleak poem. Why? (Oh, Karen, you melancholic, Enneagram 4, INFJ rascal, you!) Sorry. This is me. So, let's be honest. Jane Kenyon's brand of happiness is not a whimsical, charming sprite, skipping merrily down a sparkly, rainbow path with you. (Depression, as you probably know, was Kenyon's long-time companion.) The happiness of which she speaks is hard-won, fleeting. Life is hard, Kenyon knows. It hurts. Pain is very real and weighs us down, shackles us, leaves wounds. But as real as the pain is, so is its opposite: streaming light, freedom, elegant, translucent scars that commemorate the wounds ... reminders of what we've endured. Happiness, too, then is tangible: we clutch it, touch it, hold onto it with fierce gratitude and released breath. We know it's never here to stay, not temporally anyway, but neither is pain. They co-exist and, in their symbiosis, teach and shape us.


Happiness 
by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

(Read the rest here, at the Poetry Foundation.)


~~~~~


The round-up this week is at Sloth Reads

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Bits and Pieces of Our Days — The Flood Edition

* The bit, the piece, the lead story is the historic and devastating flooding in my state (and other states in the midwest.)  This article in The Washington Post covers it and there are more pictures here, in The Atlantic. My family was lucky, as was my town. Although roughly 8,000 people (a third of our town) were told to evacuate their homes (we didn't have to — we live two miles from the evacuation boundary), we didn't experience the devastation that many others are experiencing. To say that rebuilding and recovery will "take time" sounds weak and feels inadequate. Lives have been lost. It's horrible.

* I spent an anxiety-ridden chunk of Wednesday afternoon wondering if Atticus was safe. His school dismissed early (he has about a 20-minute commute, to a nearby town) but by the time kids left and he headed to his car, roads were quickly closing. Every route he tried was flooding and he was either told by law enforcement to turn back, or the water itself told him to do so. He told me later that he plowed through some water he shouldn't have, but his only other option at that point was to stay in that spot on the highway and watch the water come at him from all directions. He finally made it back to his school two hours later, and soon all roads in and out were closed. As that small town was flooding, too, the school was being turned into a shelter for those who needed to leave their homes.

* I don't like water. When I was seven years old, we moved to Alaska. My father had been stationed near Fairbanks, and we were temporarily living in a basement apartment until base housing became available. After much-higher-than-normal rainfall that summer, the Chena River overflowed. Fairbanks was inundated. I remember that we had to get out of our apartment (I don't remember packing a bag or even grabbing anything) ... I remember that we headed upstairs, to our neighbors (I don't remember their names) ... I remember seeing the water begin to flow over our feet in that upstairs apartment (I don't remember what my brother, sister, and I said to each other) ... and then I remember someone rowing us away from that apartment. We left our home in a boat.

* Wednesday afternoon was an exercise in both accepting and controlling my anxiety. (Thank you to my dear friend who listened to me cry when I imagined my husband out in flood waters.) Atticus was safe, he had made it back to the school. It was inconvenient, it wasn't perfect, but he was safe. That was all that mattered. I had just taken another deep breath (breathe in slowly through your nose, blow the breath out slowly through your mouth ... again, Karen, again, he's fine) when I heard the garage door opening. (What?) One of the roads out of the school's town had been opened for a short time. The principal told Atticus, "The road's open, at least for now — go!" He made it to the main highway, which was, while not dry, at least not flooded, and then he made it home. If it had been me in that school, I probably would have gone to the library, found a Harry Potter book, and curled up in a corner for the night. Not Atticus. He was going to get home to us as soon as he could.

* I don't like water. But we're okay. My family and friends are okay. Not everyone is, though. It will "take time." Weak and inadequate as it sounds, I'm praying for a lot of other people tonight.


Thursday, March 07, 2019

Poetry Friday: The Journey, by Mary Oliver




This one just feels so right for the first days of Lent, don't you think?

The Journey
By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
What you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
Kept shouting
Their bad advice‚
Though the whole house
Began to tremble
And you felt the old tug
At your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
Each voice cried.

(Read the whole poem here.)

~~~~~

The roundup today is at Reading to the Core.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Ash Wednesday: Rising from the Ashes

We had a priest friend over for dinner the other night, and I was talking about Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I was summing up the ways in which the book seemed prophetic: the electronic entertainment, the way the characters were constantly plugged into sounds, music, and interactive-but-unreal "reality" tv, and the fact that no one -- but a brave few -- cared about reading or critical thinking in a book-burning world.

"And it was published in 1953!" I said, with admiration for Bradbury's foresight.

Father shrugged and smiled, shook his head and acted not a bit surprised.  He said (I'm paraphrasing, but it was something like), "People will always look for the easiest way."

He's right, of course. It's not surprising that Bradbury could look at the world around him and figure out where it might be headed. It's always been true that one could examine just about any current trend and spin it out to the extreme.  With just a little knowledge of mankind's fallen nature, we can assert with a fair amount of confidence the paths we will undoubtedly take. Bradbury didn't have to look far to see people who didn't understand why poetry made them cry, who thought that children were ruinous and that politicians should be elected based on good looks and height.  He didn't have to stretch the imagination too far to predict relentless escapism consuming a culture. Nothing much has changed since the fall of Adam and Eve.

Our first parents had it all, didn't they? Still, they wanted things to be easier. (I get it, first parents. I really do.) They wanted to make the rules, define the world, create their own reality show. And they left us their legacy, left us seeking, always, what's easiest.

And, what is faith?

Faith is an ongoing reaction against what is easy.

Our justification is initiated by God and His grace, of course. Our salvation is impossible without Him.  But,
Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom ... When God touches man's heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God's grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God's sight. ~~ Catechism of the Catholic Church, (para. 1993-94)
We can't be saved by our own actions and free will, but God, having touched us with His grace, does then ask us to employ our free will in His service.

He loves us enough to give us the freedom to reject Him each and every day.

And rejecting a life of faith is easy, really. I know how often I want to dig my heels into the world, avoid the pain of poetry, and seek new ways to forget and escape.

Accepting a life of faith is hard. There is truth, there are rules, the humility of admitting that I don't have all the answers. There is suffering, and the knowledge that God works through pain for our good.

But, having lived a life without faith, and a life of embracing it, I can say that what at first seemed easy — making my own truth, my own rules, and avoiding the bonds of religion — turned out to be a much harder (and unhappier) way to live. And the freedom I've experienced as a result of my faith has been more freeing than anything I tried to create on my own.

Near the end of Fahrenheit 451, a man named Granger explains to Montag, the former fireman, what a phoenix is, how the mythological creature dies and rises again. Civilization, these men know, has destroyed itself. The life that awaits this small band of people will not be an easy one. But, in another way, it will not be nearly as hard as the life they were living.

I think a life of faith is like that.

Like Granger's phoenix, we arise from the ashes of each day, to begin again to do what is hard. And what is easy.

(This post first ran in 2010.)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Poetry Friday: I Can't Get Enough of James Weldon Johnson


Before a Painting
James Weldon Johnson

I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
    What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
    He had created life and love and heart
On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
    Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
    Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

And over me the sense of beauty fell,
    As music over a raptured listener to
        The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
    There falls the aureate glory filtered through
        The windows in some old cathedral dim.

(This poem is in the public domain.)

~~~~~

The roundup this week is at Check It Out

Friday, February 08, 2019

Poetry Friday: Last Minute Effort


Last Minute Effort 
Karen Edmisten 

Life is busy,
(as you know.)
So this week something
had to go.

Poetry Friday?
(Yikes! No post!)
I'll send you elsewhere,
to the host.

Simple solution.
(Brilliant, I know.)
Laura's the best.
Go, now. Go!

~~~~~


Be sure to congratulate Laura on her new book, Snowman-Cold=Puddle: Spring Equations! And, if you feel so inclined, take up her challenge to write an Equation Poem.

Here's mine:

Busy week + Poetry Friday = Last Minute Inspiration 

Friday, February 01, 2019

Poetry Friday: Only This Morning


I love the immediacy of this poem by Dan Gerber, and its simple truth.

Wishing you a good morning, this morning, "the only day that matters."

Only This Morning
by Dan Gerber

In a hundred trillion years—
an actual number
though we can’t begin
to grasp it—the last traces
of our universe will be not
even a memory
with no memory to lament it.

(Read the rest here.)

~~~~~~~~~~


~~~~~~~~~~

*In case you missed it, last week I shared the poem that Insanely Talented Tabatha wrote for me last summer, for the Poem Swap. You can read it here

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Poetry Friday: Tabatha Wrote Me a Poem



Tabatha Yeatts knows how much I love Billy Collins.

Tabatha got my name in the Summer Poem Swap last year and wrote me a poem — a glorious poem — about a discussion with Imaginary Billy Collins.

Imaginary Billy Collins! 

Tabatha gets me.

Thank you, Tabatha, for getting me. Thank you for making me cry a little bit when I read this beautiful piece, when I realized you wrote it for me, that it's mine, and I get to keep this gem and sit down with Imaginary Billy (and you) any time I want to.

Imaginary Billy and Real Tabatha are treasures.



Imaginary Billy and I Discuss the Founding Documents
for Karen

by Tabatha Yeatts 

Did you know that Timothy Matlack
is the clerk who transcribed
the Declaration of Independence?
I ask Imaginary Billy Collins,
who is reading the paper
on the sofa across from me.

Imaginary Billy is polite enough
to put down his newspaper
and he looks at me over his glasses,
He did a lovely job of it,
he says. The title is especially attractive,
with all those flourishes.

I know, I say. People had better
handwriting then. Billy hmms in agreement
and goes back to his paper. I wait
until he finishes his article and say,
Did you know that every year 
more than a million people come to
the National Archives Building to see it?

Billy raises an eyebrow and says,
I didn't know, but I'm not surprised.
I see it every year, in my dreams,
but not everyone has my imagination.

I'm sitting there thinking about
the million and one people who see it every year
as Billy returns to his reading.

I am nervous about interrupting him again
but I do anyway.
Did you know that the Declaration
and the Bill of Rights and the Constitution
are sealed in titanium casement
filled with argon gas?

And they are kept 22 feet underground
when they're not on display?
And the ink is measured every day
to make sure it isn't fading?

Oh, I do that, Billy says,
finally putting his newspaper down. 
With my copy, the one I visit.
Except it's not 22 feet underground
exactly. I keep it in 22 places. 
I keep the Preamble in my mouth,
and I tucked the first amendment
into my fingers so it's there while I'm writing.

I put some of the other amendments
in my shoes so I can figure out
where I'm going. I tend to ramble, 
you know.

I'm not sure whether it is more polite
to agree with him or disagree
so I make a noncommittal head bobble,
which he seems to approve of.

Where do you keep it?
he asks me.

I feel like it's been camping out
in my tear ducts, I say,
wishing I had a better answer.

But he nods, like that's a 
fine answer anyway. 

As long as the ink isn't fading, he says.

It's not, I say. 



~~~~~~~~~~

We're Going to Walden for the roundup this week. Thanks for hosting, Tara! 

Bits and Pieces of Our Days

Whew, it's been so long since I've posted an actual update that I may have forgotten everything we've been doing for the last four months.

Let's see what I can recall.

Much of 16-year-old Ramona's fall semester was consumed by community theater. (Did I just say she's 16? I did. People, I started blogging when she was three. Yikes. May I stop time, please?)

She auditioned for Peter and the Starcatcher and (dramatic drumroll....) got the lead. She adored playing the Starcatcher, Molly, and her British accent was, if I do say so myself, spot on. (Not that I can actually judge, not being British, but trust me. It was perfect. This is not a mother talking. Well, it is. But. Whatever.) There were six performances over two weekends (would have been seven, but one was canceled due to snow), plenty of family made it into town to see her, and overall, the entire experience delighted all involved.

As homeschoolers in a small town, theater opportunities can be a little hard to come by, so I'd been hoping something would work out soon for Ramona. Community theater to the rescue, and long live Molly -- the Starcatcher and the rising star. So happy for her.


                                                             


~~~~~~~~~~

Have I mentioned how much I love having a daughter who's a librarian? It's not only that Anne-with-an-e will pick up or return books for me (and I admit that I exploit that benefit far too often), but she absolutely loves her job, and knowing that I played a part in matchmaking the Anne-with-an-e/Library relationship brings me extensive happiness. 

~~~~~~~~~~

I spent much of the fall semester learning how to shop for and cook meals that are AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) compliant. Betsy's Crohn's disease, as I mentioned last September, was not responding to the drug she was on. She switched to a new one that she has to inject at home (and I learned that I can actually give someone a shot. Who knew? Nurse Karen, here). Then she tackled the daunting challenge of the AIP elimination diet. When people asked what she had to give up and I named all the foods -- grains, nuts, corn, legumes, beans, eggs, spices, dairy -- that aren't allowed during the elimination phase, they asked, "What's left?" Well, mainly vegetables (but no potatoes -- who knew they were a nighshade?), fruit, and meat.

Sourcing can be a challenge, but we've been getting it figured out. I've learned so much in the last few months about how to cook this way. There are loads of gluten-free flours that I'd never used or even heard of (tigernut, cassava.) I learned that you can actually make a pretty tasty orange-cranberry scone without flour, eggs, or sugar, and that you can create a "chili" without tomatoes (which are also a nightshade and therefore off-limits) by creating a stew base with pumpkin. I've been introduced to roughly a gajillion coconut products that I didn't know existed and I learned that everyone actually likes beef liver when it's hidden in a stew created by McAngie at Autoimmune Wellness.

It's still a challenge to balance all the AIP stuff with my vegan-ish leanings and some restrictions that Atticus adheres to, but I'm no longer pulling my hair out. I've been making peace with the kitchen, something I thought I'd never do, and that's been a lovely surprise.

~~~~~~~~~~

Latest reading:

I just finished How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig, and I absolutely loved it. It was so much more than I expected, and now I want to read everything Matt Haig has ever written.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Poetry Friday: Breakage, by Mary Oliver


Such a short poem, "Breakage," by Mary Oliver, is.

It begins, as so many of her poems do, in the natural world, and ends, as so much of her work does, in the life of the mind, in the midst of reflection.

Here are the final lines:


First you figure out what each one means by itself, 
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop 
       full of moonlight. 

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

(Read the whole poem here, at The Poetry Foundation.) 


And that, dear friends, is a tiny glimpse of the wonder that was Mary Oliver.

May she rest in peace.

Mary Oliver, 1935-2019

~~~~~

Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect is hosting the roundup this week.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Poetry Friday: I dwell in possibility




Ah, my Emily!

So appropriate for January —for looking ahead — for being open to interpretation — full of possibility!










I dwell in Possibility
by Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

(Read the entire short poem here, at The Poetry Foundation.)

~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Upping My Goodreads Game

What I read in 2018 

Apparently, according to my profile page, I started a Goodreads account in 2009. (Whaaaat?) That's ten years ago. (I know you can do the math. I just needed to emphasize it.) This is so annoyingly typical of me. I started the account, did nothing with it (although I know I added my 2017 books at some point, but they're not there), and now I look like a slacker. ("I've read 54 books in ten years! Woo-hoo!") Well, actually, it was 54-ish in 2018. (I say "-ish" because I abandoned a couple of these books mid-way through, but read enough each time that I wanted to remember them in my tally.) 

I don't always make New Year's resolutions, but this year, I resolve to up my Goodreads game. I'm still not sure exactly what I want to put into it or get out of this. This is a work in progress. 

I haven't rated any of these books; I'm not a fan of the star system. I want to talk about books, ad nauseum, not slap a possibly misleading grade on them. It doesn't do to say, "It's three and a half stars," (or do I mean four stars??) when what I mean is, "The writing was gorgeous. She made me want to steal a sentence every few pages. But the plot was improbable, and a number of incidents seemed too contrived. I'm willing to suspend disbelief, of course, but I wish (fill in plot point) had gone a different way. But I'm so glad I read it. It had heart and charm, humanity, and writing to die for. Or maybe, from my writerly point of view, to kill for." 

I can't talk in stars. 

If you're on Goodreads and want to friend me, please do! I'm not as slacker-y as I appear. 

Here are a few of my favorites (to get us started), in no particular order, from 2018: 

Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger 
The Wednesday Wars, by Gary Schmidt (middle grade) 
My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead 
Clock Dance, by Anne Tyler 
Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos 
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel 
The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene 
Castle of Water, by Dane Huckelbridge
L.M. Montgomery's Pat of Silverbush books 
Beartown, by Fredrik Backman 
I Am, I Am, I Am, by Maggie O'Farrell 
Tell Me More, by Kelly Corrigan 

All of my 2018 books are here. See you on Goodreads? 

Thursday, January 03, 2019

"I learn by going where I have to go."


It's time to shake off 2018 (and 2017 ... and 2016 ... umm, let's face it, it hasn't been the best run here for a couple of years now) and regenerate, much as a Time Lord does every now and then. Things change; they should, they must.

I put the internet on a much-needed snooze for the last couple of months, but I'm back. Taking my waking slow, but I'm here. And I'm hopeful about 2019.

Shall we kick the new year off with a Pulitzer Prize winner? Yes, let's. Can anyone nail a villanelle quite like Roethke? I think not. This is one of my favorites.


The Waking
by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

(Read the rest here, at Poets.org.)


And let's compare favorite lines, shall we? (I know, I know ... an impossible task. Let's try anyway.)

I learn by going where I have to go.

I'm gonna have to go with this one. As a matter of fact, I might adopt this as the quote for my year. The quote for my life.

I learn by going where I have to go.

I don't always want to go where I have to go. ("Can't I go somewhere else, please?" I often ask or whine.) But I learn by going, I go by learning, and I have to, I have to, I have to, no matter how much I want to go somewhere else. (This shaking keeps me steady. I should know ... Oh, Roethke, stop throwing competing lines my way. I can choose only one.)

Anyway, yes, it's been a difficult couple of years. (What falls away is always. And is near ... Oh, c'mon, stop it, Roethke, I'm choosing only one favorite line!) But I sense that I'll learn by going, as I have to go, into 2019. And the shimmering hope that is a new, uncharted, unlived twelve-months-to-come is whispering to me that sometime in the coming year, I will "I hear my being dance from ear to ear." (Oh, that's a great line, too. But no, I'm not changing my answer.)

I learn by going where I have to go. 

I'm looking forward to finding out where I have to go this year.


~~~~~~~~~~

The Poetry Friday round up is at Poetry for Children. 


Friday, November 02, 2018

Poetry Friday: Billy Collins, W.B. Yeats, MRIs, and Knowing Poems by Heart



I picked up Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process last night and skipped straight to the Billy Collins contribution, "Into the Deep Heart's Core." I decided on the spot that I must (yes, must, because what if I need an MRI someday?) memorize "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."

Don't fret. This isn't a medical post, and I don't need an MRI —you'll get the MRI reference when you read the piece. And, happily, I can send you directly to that piece, because the book grew out of Joe Fassler's "By Heart" series in The Atlantic, and you can find the Billy Collins piece here.

A few shimmering gems:

It’s a powerful, unexpected statement of a simple sentiment: I want to go somewhere better than where I am.

Poetry’s kind of a mixture of the clear and the mysterious. It’s very important to know when to be which: what to be clear about and what to leave mysterious.

And yet I think poetry is as important today as it’s ever been, despite its diminished public stature. Its uses become obvious when you read it. Poetry privileges subjectivity. It foregrounds the interior life of the writer, who is trying to draw in a reader. And it gets readers into contact with their own subjective life. This is valuable, especially now.

And of course, listen to Yeats read "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."


Arise and go now, and read Billy Collins on the joy of memorization.

And memorize something. Because you never know when you're going to be in a "very high-tech coffin," in need of a beautiful and useful distraction.


The Lake Isle of Innisfree
William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

~~~~~~~~~~