Magic, yoga, meditation and being the centre of the universe (a 50% deceptive title)

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I.

Monday was my father’s birthday, and he was very far away and I could not hug him and love him and thank him. I have loved him with a particular vehemence this week, for all sorts of complicated reasons. Among them, this: I was, I am the center of his universe. Completely. The most important thing ever. And he taught me to expect to be… the most important thing in everyone’s universe.

OK, this has occasionally made me a challenging lover-wife-friend (uhm, employee).

But on the whole, you know what? I’ll take it over the alternatives.

II.

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True story:

Jane: Cindeeeer! Can you give me my little purse? The pink one? I left it on the table and I don’t want to come into the kitchen in my muddy boots.

Cinder: What’s in it for me?

Jane: My eternal gratitude.

Cinder: I’m sending it by express dog.

Jane: Do. Not. Fucking. Tie. My. Purse. Around… Christ. Why? Why? Why did you tie my purse around the dog?

Cinder: Because it was funny?

Jane: Because you like to antagonize me?

Cinder: That too. Also, with all this yoga and meditation you’ve been doing lately, I believe you need more daily challenges. And that’s MY job.

[insert bad word here]

[delete it, because it’s wrong to call your eldest son an asshole]

[even when he sorta is]

[sigh]

[a loveable, amazing asshole]

[just annoying]

[god, i love him… i love him so much]

III.

Am Reading:

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert—YES! And yes, you should read it too. All of you, any of you. Even if you hated Eat Pray Love—me, I couldn’t make it though that book… first chapter, I wanted to slap Liz upside the face and say, “Stop your fucking whining, privileged white woman. Jeezus, even I’ve suffered more than you.” Um… digression. Point: I did not like Eat Pray Love. I LOVED Big Magic. I ripped through it in a day and a half despite a hundred and one other projects and obligations.

My favourite part:

“Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work anyhow, because fierce trusts knows that the outcome does not matter.

The outcome CANNOT matter.”

The outcome cannot matter.

Fuck. That. Is. So. Hard.

But so necessary.

The most important lesson:

“When I finished that novel, it was not a perfect novel, but I still felt it was the best work I’d ever done, and I believed I was a far better writer than I’d been before I began it. I would not trade a minute of that encounter for anything.

But now that work was finished, and it was time for me to shift my attention to something new—something that would also, someday, be released as good enough. This is how I’ve always done it, and this is how I will keep doing it, so long as I am able.

Because that is the anthem of my people.

That is the Song of the Disciplined Half-Ass.”

My song, too. More or less.

IV.

Am also reading:

Yoga For Real Life by Maya Fiennes, Kundalini Meditation: The Path to Personal Transformation and Creativity by Kathryn McCusker, and A Woman’s Book of Meditation: Discovering the Power of a  Peaceful Mind by Hari Kaur Khalsa

Am re-reading: A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judith Reeves, which is quite fun and useful and playfully inspiring… and also, unintentionally (and it’s clearly me and not the author) depressing (I’m not going to tell you why) (yet).


I am not writing.

This is mostly on purpose…

You: And this blog post is what?

Me: Have we not covered this before? A blog post I can shoot off in 15 minutes while simul-texting with three people is not writing. It’s therapy.

…mostly on purpose. I am trying to reflect, regroup, refocus. Try to listen to that screaming inner child.

BTW, if you think it’s easy to listen to a screaming inner child, you are clearly childless. Those of you who have survived colic, toddler tantrums, and teenage angst know exactly what I mean.

She’s so fucking loud, she’s splitting my eardrums, and I know I’m supposed to love her, but right now? I hate her and I wish she’d move out.

V.

Have tried to read:

Prince Hafiz’s Only Vice by Susanne Carr. I read page one. Then skipped to the last chapter. Spoiler: they got together. True Thing: I really, really, really WISH I had been able to read through the damn thing. How hard could it be? I asked myself. Fucking read it. Enjoy. Relax. Chill.

But I just can’t. Prince Hafiz and his one true vice do NOTHING for me.

On my kitchen table:

Gap Of Time: the Winter’s Tale Retold by Jeanette Winterson. I’m not going to read it. I have opened it and flipped through it half-heartedly. I love Jeanette… I love Shakespeare… but if you’re going to try to one-up Shakespeare, you’ve got to be fucking brilliant. And Jeanette is often brilliant. But this time, she is just… good.

Good enough.

Just not good enough for me to sink into right now. I’m sorry. Jeanette, I’m so sorry. I’m going to try to get Sean to read it, and tell me about it, ok?

Also on my kitchen table:

G.K. Chesterton’s Complete Father Brown. Which I’m re-reading in bits and pieces intermittently to distract myself from the screaming.

(Inner child.)

(In my head.)

(Because listening is hard work.)

VI.

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I’m having a staring contest with something that’s either an idea or a deep-seated neurosis and…

Ender: Mom, can you peel this orange for me?

Jane: I’m busy right now, love, in a bit.

Ender: You’re sitting there staring at the wall!

Jane: I’m thinking!

Ender: Can’t you think while peeling my orange?

It seems like a fair request, right?

It makes me livid.

I peel the orange anyway.

VII.

Sometimes, words—shy words, trite words, words so true they sound clichéd because they have been said in that precise way so often because they are so true (I know exactly I did there, so give your high school English grammar textbook some Fentanyl and don’t resuscitate it until I’m finished)—sometimes, words like to come out only when it’s very dark and very quiet.

Like these words:

My smallest son, tucked
into my right arm pit, a whisper,
“You will never know.”
“Never know what?”
“Never know how much I love you.”
“I know.”
“No. You will never know.”
A kiss. My whisper,
“I love you more.”
“No. I love you more.”
A dark night.
“Impossible.”
“True.”
A heartbeat, rapid,
rhythm of a hummingbird,
breath steady, gentler than a whisper.
A sleep.
Asleep, my smallest son,
In my right arm pit,
I whisper,
“You will never know,”
He answers
with a hummingbird’s snore.

I capture them with my iPhone, left-thumb typing (the right thumb imprisoned under the body of my son).

I think it’s a poem; I call it, “Good Night.”

xoxo

“Jane”

POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: and she asks, is being childless good for a poet?

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“for the women I have
been privileged to
in extreme.”

Today’s postcard is very special. Listen:

 

and/or read… and tell me what you think.

I.

I’m on the verandah, smoking a cigar—yes, again, no, I’m not violating the spirit of our agreement at all—and…

Actually, first this:

II.

I’m in the bathroom, about to sit on the toilet and…

Jane: “Why? Why? Why? Why do you guys always come in and ask me questions when I’m trying to pee? Can’t it wait?

Flora: “Well, it could. But you see, when you’re peeing, you’re sitting down and not moving and not writing, and so it’s pretty easy to get your attention.”

Jane: “Get! Out!”

Cinder: “She’s cranky. Maybe she needs to poop.”

Jane: “Out! Out! Just wait for me outside the door.”

Cinder: “We’d do that, Mom, but we’ve figured out…

Flora: “…that sometimes you go to the bathroom just to hide.”

Well. True that.

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III.

So. I’m sitting on the verandah, smoking a cigar, because…

Ender: “Are you done yet?”

Jane: “No, not yet.”

…they’re good 21st century children and they know second-hand smoke, as well as the smoking act itself, gives you cancer, and so…

…for the time that it takes me to smoke a cigar, I am on the verandah, completely, blissfully…

Ender: “Are you done now?”

Jane: “Not quite.”

…alone.

Well, mostly.

IV.

My reading while here is the Paris Review Interviews, and I’ve now left Ernest Hemingway for Jack Gilbert—it’s okay if you haven’t heard of him, I haven’t either until the interview—and now I wonder how it is possible I have lived a life, at all, without him in it, and so you must meet him too.

A quote from Jack:

“Being alive is so extraordinary I don’t know why people limit it to riches, pride, security—all of those things life is built on. People miss so much because they want money and comfort and pride, a house and a job to pay for the house. And they have to get a car. You can’t see anything from a car. It’s moving too fast. People take vacations. That’s their reward—the vacation. Why not the life? Vacations are second-rate. People deprive themselves of so much of their lives—until it’s too late. Though I understand that often you don’t have a choice.”

I fall for Gilbert but hard. But then, there’s this exchange:

“Interviewer: Is being childless good for a poet?

Gilbert: I could never have lived my life the way I have if I had children. There used to be a saying that every baby is a failed novel. I couldn’t have roamed or taken so many chances or lived a life of deprivation. I couldn’t have wasted great chunks of my life.”

Um.

Er…

Jack, sweetheart…

Actually, it’s not the answer. It’s the question.

Despite the brilliance and aliveness of Gilbert’s responses, I’ve been struggling with the quality of the interviewer’s questions from question two (“Did you ever think you’d live this long?”—what the fuck?), and at this “is being childless good for a poet” question, before I read Gilbert’s answer, I want to throttle her. (What will she ask next? “Is being a man good for a poet?” “Has being a vegetarian affected your writing?” “Do you write better in cold weather or hot weather?”)

After I read Gilbert’s answer, I laugh.

Like most breeders, I find the childless so sweetly naïve.

I would never, ever presume to tell anyone to have children. (Although, to be frank, I have at times been tempted to tell people they should not have children, frequently after they’ve already reproduced without asking me whether they should do so, but I do keep my mouth shut then as well, most of the time.)

If you do have children already, I do want to tell you this: do not use them an excuse to NOT do the things you need to do.

Because… martyrs make terrible parents. Not particularly good lovers or life partners either.

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VI.

I want you to forgive Jack, though, in case you got angry with him when you read that quote—did you, my love?

Listen:

Doing Poetry / Jack Gilbert

Poem, you sonofabitch, it’s bad enough
that I embarrass myself working so hard
to get it right even a little,
and that little grudging and awkward.
But it’s afterwards I resent, when
the sweet sure should hold me like
a trout in the bright summer stream.
There should be at least briefly
access to your glamour and tenderness.
But there’s always this same old
dissatisfaction instead.

Precisely, that, yes. And also, this:

The Great Fires / Jack Gilbert

Love is apart from all things.
Desire and excitement are nothing beside it.
It is not the body that finds love.
What leads us there is the body.
What is not love provokes it.
What is not love quenches it.
Love lays hold of everything we know.
The passions which are called love
also change everything to a newness
at first. Passion is clearly the path
but does not bring us to love.
It opens the castle of our spirit
so that we might find the love which is
a mystery hidden there.
Love is one of many great fires.
Passion is a fire made of many woods,
each of which gives off its special odor
so we can know the many kinds
that are not love. Passion is the paper
and twigs that kindle the flames
but cannot sustain them. Desire perishes
because it tries to be love.
Love is eaten away by appetite.
Love does not last, but it is different
from the passions that do not last.
Love lasts by not lasting.
Isaiah said each man walks in his own fire
for his sins. Love allows us to walk
in the sweet music of our particular heart.

…oh, and just one more. This is one of his first, first poems, from 1962, before he had really lived…

Between Poems / Jack Gilbert

A lady asked me
what poets do
between poems.
Between passions
and visions. I said
that between poems
I provided for death.
She meant as to jobs
and commonly.
Commonly, I provide
against my death,
which comes on.
And give thanks
for the women I have
been privileged to
in extreme.

VI.

You’re not tempted to ask, are you, what any of this has to do with Havana and Cuba? Because the answer is—everything—but I sure as fuck am not planning to connect Jack Gilbert to Che Guavara.

Flora, by the way, keeps on forgetting Che’s name and calls him “That hipster-looking cute guy who’s on all the posters? You know, the one who had the good luck to get assassinated before he got old and ugly? ”

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VI.

Back to Jack Gilbert:

“This is hard—when I try to explain, it sounds false. But I don’t know any other way to say it. I’m so grateful. There’s nothing I’ve wanted that I haven’t had. Michiko dying, I regret terribly, and losing Linda’s love, I regret equally. … But I still feel grateful. It’s almost unfair to have been as happy as I’ve been. I didn’t earn it: I had a lot of luck. But I was also very, very stubborn. I was determined to get what I wanted as a life.”

Me too, Jack. Me too.

VII.

On the verandah, cigar smoke sticking to my dressing gown, Ender in my lap. We watch geckos crawl on the ceiling, and the moon peek over the powerlines and old school television antenae.

Jane: “You ready to read books and do bedtime, dude?”

He nods. Negotiates for the right to light the incense stick. I read, caress, love. Turn out the light and sit beside him until I hear his breath turn to sleep. Something like a poem dances to the beat of our conjoined breaths; it goes…

My son’s breathing,
soft-yet-loud, my lullaby
as my heartbeat is his.

…look, it’s not quite a haiku. I laugh, love. Tiptoe out of the bedroom, and gather up the elder two. Read them their bedtime novel—which is The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau—a post-apocalyptic young adult novel, strangely apropos to be reading in Havana, but more on that in another postcard)… and then, back to the verandah.

Rum. Laptop. Notebooks.

Words.

I’m in Havana

I. Am. In. Havana.

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I am so stupidly happy in this moment, I’m having a hard time breathing.

It’s not the diesel stink from the street, or the fumes from generator that’s just kicked in ‘cause we’ve had another blackout.

It’s exhilaration and gratitude.

I realize this will be in violation of the spirit if not the letter of our agreement… but I think I might… I think I might smoke one more cigar now.

You understand why?

*

LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:

Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.

If you enjoy the postcard project, you can express your delight and support by  sponsoring a Postcard or  making a donation via PayPal:

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Be a patron, not just a consumer.

(All the cool kids are doing it. Truth.)

($1 is about what a writer gets every time she sells a traditionally published book. $5 is over the top generosity. Feel free to add as many zeros as your affluence allows. 😉 )

If you’d like to make a contribution but have PayPal issues, email me at nothingbythebook@ gmail.com and we’ll work something out.

Or, ya know. Just hang out with us and enjoy.

xoxo

“Jane”

NothingByTheBook.com / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook

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The love affair continues: Philip Larkin’s Annus Mirabilis

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It will be over soon, I promise. He only wrote 100 poems and two very short  novels, I have devoured it all. And I’m leaving him, more and more often, for others. But bear with me for a few more verses…

Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me)—
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP

Up until then there’d only been

A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for a ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me)—
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP

 Philip Larkin
High Windows, 1974

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Enjoyed?

“Jane”

P.S. Despite the three-in-a-row Friday poetic assaults, I’m not really here. Nothing By The Book is taking a page from old school un-social media and doing a rerun summer, while I spend the hot days getting a tan, running through sprinkles, selling one book, writing another, reading two dozen more, neglecting my garden, falling in love, jumping off cliffs—you know. Everything but blogging. But, you get reruns of my favourite stuff (and, apparently, the occasional poem…), so everyone wins. Likely keeping up with Instagram—NothingByTheBook—connect there, if you like? Or Twitter—  or/and .

Another Friday gift to you from my new lover: Philip Larkin’s Homage to a Government

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Because… timeless. Apparently. Which is rather terrifying, think you not? Anyway.

Read:

Homage to a Government

Next year we are to bring the soldiers home
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
Must guard themselves, and keep themselves orderly.
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right.

It’s hard to say who wanted it to happen,
But now it’s been decided nobody minds.
The places are long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen
Next year we shall be easier in our minds.

Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it’s a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money.

Philip Larkin, 1969,
published in High Windows, 1974

 

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P.S. I’m not here. Really. You didn’t see me. Don’t tell anyone. Nothing By The Book is taking a page from old school un-social media and doing a rerun summer, while I spend the hot days getting a tan, running through sprinkles, selling one book, writing another, reading two dozen more, neglecting my garden, falling in love, jumping off cliffs—you know. Everything but blogging. But, you get reruns of my favourite stuff, so everyone wins. Likely keeping up with Instagram—NothingByTheBook—connect there, if you like? Or Twitter—  or/and .