To Be Of Use

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30 October 2014
21:05
Edinburgh

My dear T.–

A few months ago, you asked me: “How do you go about your writing, or your PhD? I sometimes imagine you standing in front of a labyrinthian master plan, your very own Ariadne.”

God. That question was so intimidating. How do I go about my writing? These days, I don’t so much go about writing. At least not as much as I go around it. Or as much as I go on ignoring it. How do I go about my writing? I have no idea. I don’t: is the short answer. If there is a labyrinth involved, it is not my master plan. If anyone’s a labyrinth, I’m standing lost within one.

I didn’t ever want to get to this place: this place where I rarely write. Years ago, I would have been appalled at the idea that days could pass — weeks, months — without writing. Not writing to you, not writing here, not writing poems, not writing research. Not journalling. Not taking personal notes. Not carrying around notebooks. Not waking up in the middle of the night to write things down.

I have been notating some of my dreams. I was writing bits and pieces in the morning, first thoughts upon waking. But I couldn’t really stretch them out. I couldn’t encourage them to carry themselves over into making sentences, into building paragraphs, pages. They were just disjointed ideas with no limbs. I have notes on my phone of dreams on dreams, but I can’t even bring myself to copy them into my notebook.

I asked Andrew about my notebooks today. The question didn’t start off with notebooks. It started off with a problem (which is Andrew’s favorite part of problem-solving. Let’s look at the problem from all angles. If you can’t find a solution, you haven’t properly defined the problem). I said, “I’ve been going through all my things before we move.”

“I know,” he said, “You’ve done a great job.”

“I’m not finished,” I said.

“I know, but you’ve done well so far.”

“No,” I said, “I mean: I’m not finished. But I’ve stopped. I’ve come to an impasse.”

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I want to have half of what is left now.” I said. “I only want to have half of these things. But I’ve already done the culling, and now I can’t find the means to keep getting rid of things.”

I told him the story of the school photographer who would help you narrow down the eight shots to the final photograph. He would hold up two photos: 1 and 2. Choose one, he would say. Which is your favorite? Your favorite would become number 1, and the reject would be replaced by another number 2. The process would go on. A 50-50 narrowing of options.

But I could never choose that way. I said to Andrew, I can’t just hold two books side by side and make myself choose one. It’s not even the books that are the problem area. Where I get really stuck is in the drawers: my notebooks, my papers, my stationary.

He said, “Working at Paperchase is the best thing for you. It’s a great exercise about restraint, and patience.”

It’s true. My 50% staff discount doesn’t kick in until after Christmas. And so, buoyed with the knowledge that I can have all of these papers and notebooks and pens for 50% less if I wait, I am happy to wait. I get to know all of the products on a daily basis. I help other people find what they are looking for. I help other people choose between papers, between folders and scrapbooks and wrapping paper and tissue. Decorations. Gifts. Cards. And in the meantime, I keep my eye on a few things that I like.

With three months on my hands, I have so much time to consult with these items before I buy them. I have time to know them on a deeper level. It’s not just about instinct or impulse anymore. I’m not going to run off and buy them off the shelf. I am not this store’s perfect clientele. I am a considered, considering, reflective buyer. And the longer I sit and hold these things in my awareness, the more I can tell that they are just things. A notebook I thought would make me so happy doesn’t hold the same resonance the next time I come in to work.

A few things do keep me. Obviously. There is a line of £3 notebooks that I do love. I can tell, because I have been courting them with a slow, respectful, quiet attention, and that attention has been sustained for weeks. I love them. I do. And all of the notebooks in my house have been brought here because of that reason. At some point, I fell for them. I knew when I picked them up that they might be something magical. I was captivated by the potential in their blank pages.

I even told Andrew: “T. and I talk about this all the time. We’re writers. We keep notebooks for all sorts of reasons. List notebooks, idea notebooks, draft notebooks, journals, letter books, endless categories.”

He said, “Are you using all of them?”

The answer is: no. I have a backlog of notebooks. I don’t know what they are yet, or why I wanted them, or what drew me to them in the first place. I don’t know why I need them. I don’t know why they’re still here. But I’m not ready to let them go yet. The same is true of old papers, of essays, letters, stationary, notecards, flyers. But paper weighs heavy. And it’s weighing heavy on me as a writer to be swimming in a sea of all of these pages. They don’t feel inspiring anymore. They feel overwhelming.

Andrew said, “And seeing them there, on a shelf, empty, sitting, waiting… does that ever hurt you to know they’re not being used as they should be used? To know that their utility is at a standstill?”

It does hurt.

It does hurt because I know that I’m not even using the tools I am using. There are notebooks I am writing in. Sometimes. But I’m not writing in them right now.

There is a whole backlog of letters here that we have written to each other. But I haven’t even been writing the letters I’m writing. My hands have been writing them. But my heart hasn’t. My computer uploads this text, but my voice hasn’t been in it.

I don’t know what’s different. Maybe the willingness to look at it now, to see this deflection and watch the urge to turn away. Maybe I know I don’t want to be left with handfuls of empty letters, shelves of empty notebooks and stacks and stacks of useless paper. Maybe I know I want to be of more use to my life.

More soon.

Goodnight,
M.

Place and Belonging

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8 September 2014
6:12 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

Three things:

  1. I’ve learned that Bloom is exceptional at owning her place. She claimed the bed this morning because it was prime “pigeon-watching” real estate. She sits politely, pretends to be afraid, while we blow up the air mattress for guests. And as soon as we make it up with sheets, blankets, pillows, all the accoutrements of comfort — she claims that too. She was unafraid all along. I wish I could be so in my own space as she is.
  2. I’ve learned that every errand is a journey. I’ve learned how little I know of the outskirts of my city. How little I know of the character and the backstory of the places I’ve lived. How I’ve gotten by on a currency of “present time” rather than history or context. 
    .
  3. I’ve learned that all rules are made to be bent. I asked Andrew: How much could I budget to buy books this weekend in Amsterdam? You know, at the book market? There is one book market I’m thinking of in particular. It’s in a tunnel. Or underneath a bridge. Over by the university. It’s where Andrew found me a beautiful old copy of Peter Pan, and a book of Dutch children’s stories, translated into English. It’s where I found my big beautiful paperback of John Steinbeck’s letters. He said, I think the key word is: budget. If you make a budget before we leave, you can buy books. I will be honest with my budget. I don’t want to break my rule completely, because my rule was made to protect these neglected books in my home, to help me clear out my space, to give me a reading project to focus on. I want to be honest with myself: I am only bending rules because this is Amsterdam we’re talking about. Amsterdam is the exception.

We’re going to Amsterdam this weekend, in case I forgot to tell you. I’m insanely ready to be there, and a little hesitant to be back. It makes me think of what John Steinbeck writes about Paris:

Before very long I must go away, first to Italy and to Greece and then to New York. But I strongly suspect that the elastic string of Paris is tied to me and that for all my life I will not visit Paris. It is other places I will be visiting, while Paris will be a very special home to me.

– from One American in Paris (Thirteenth Article) by John Steinbeck

One question I still have: where is to be my next home? What type of person will I become within its walls?

Goodnight,
M

3 Things and a Question

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6 September 2014
1:44 pm 
Edinburgh

T.– 

My grandfather died in 2011, while I was living in Amsterdam with Andrew. Andrew never got to meet him in person, but they did share a conversation over Skype before Gran died. It was the last time I saw him smile. I had never spoken to him on the computer before.

When I was in middle school (probably about 11 or 12 years old), my grandparents came to visit us in New Jersey. We were in the car on the way home from school. Gran turned around from the front passenger seat and said, “I want to know three things you learned today, and a question you still have.”

*

Over the years, I’ve kept that as a writing device. In college, I finished three notebooks full of those types of daily reflections. I think, for the next while, I’d like to use it here. Three things I’ve learned, and one question I still have. 

  1. I’ve learned that I have hundreds of books in this house. 285 books, exactly. I never meant to collect books here. I still have hundreds of books at my mother’s house, and I’ve always assumed that was the bulk of them. But, as we’re getting ready to move flats in the next six months, I look around and realize how many books I actually have. 
  2. I’ve learned that I haven’t read any of these books, proportionately. I keep buying new books. I keep taking books out from the library. But these books remain unread, and sitting here, and I feel I have neglected them. I don’t even know where all of them came from, or why I’m keeping them.
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  3. I’ve learned that I like to have space around me. I love books. I really love books. But years and years ago I promised myself that the only books on my shelves would be the ones I was currently reading, and the ones I adored and had to keep. I’ve already attempted to stop collecting books for the sake of having pages all around me. Now, I want to have space. I want to share these books with other people. But in the meantime, I want to read them all.

So this is my mission: I’m not buying one more book at least through the end of the year. I’ve set myself a goal of reading 50 books for 2014 on Goodreads, to push myself forward into reading through these shelves. I have this fear that we’re going to move, and these books will still be in boxes because we won’t have the shelf space for them. That’s something I have never wanted.

The question I’m left with: when will I start to retain the lessons I learn, instead of having to relearn them all over again

I’m off for a cup of tea and a book.

Good afternoon,
M

Bio-rhythms

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1 July 2014
9:35 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

This was our room in one of the many places we stayed during our US trip. It’s one of the two places — AirBnB apartments in Massachusetts — where I really felt like home and wanted to stay. Something about the light, and the trees, and the air, and the space. It felt like a poetic life.

*

I think the best compliment I’ve ever received came from my PhD supervisor. He’s not always one for flat-out compliments, so I’m surprising myself by even saying this. The only reason I remember it is because I notate our meetings sometimes, and I found this while I was doing revision yesterday on some old poems.

It’s about the poem I wrote called “Release,” which I basically took word for word from my post here, in our blog.

He said,

It’s good, and so is release. The poems are very tidy, and you air towards too many adjectives and abstractions. But these last two just let it rip, let the rhythm go.

Can you write all your shit out first and then climb up the mountain?

[Natural rhythm and sounds]. You have that. I would call it bio-rhythms. That’s 70% of poetry, just getting it down.

There’s a rage there for release and freedom. Don’t spell things about about freedom and limitations.

*

It’s the reference to bio-rhythms that gets me. I’m sitting here trying to remember why I always come back to writing, why I care so much about having something to say, why I judge myself for not getting to the point and saying it, why I read to lose myself in what other people have to say, and what they say so elegantly. But ‘bio-rhythms’ makes it seem like there is no logic to any of it: it’s just in my blood. I feel happier with that explanation, with that meaning running through me.

Goodnight,
M

A Marker for Change

Lighthouse, between Craignure and Oban May 2014

Lighthouse, between Craignure and Oban May 2014

22 May 2014
10:20 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

A quick note today. It’s 20 minutes past time for bed.

This lighthouse — I don’t know the name of it. All I know is that this is one of the last pictures I took on my Iona adventure, on the ferry from Craignure (Isle of Mull) back to Oban (back to mainland Scotland). It has become this icon to me: this representation of moving between states of things. A marker for change, for transition.

*

My list of books from Iona:

  • Orkney by Amy Sayerville
  • Otherwise: Poems by Jane Kenyon
  • Ordinary Magic: Everyday Life as Spiritual Path by John Welwood
  • A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
  • Earth Elegy: Poems by Margaret Gibson
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  • Something Understood poems compiled by Beverly McAinsh
  • Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
  • Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World by John O’Donohue
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner
  • S by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst (not finished. I’m taking it to America with me)
  • Eternal Echoes by John O’Donohue
  • Selected Poems by David Scott
  • Horizontal Gatherings 9 by Jan Sutch Pickard
  • Collected Poems by Kathleen Raine
  • The Patient’s Eyes by David Pirie
  • The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Collected Poems by Norman McCaig
  • The Bone-Collector’s Daughter by Amy Tan
  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

*

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

– from When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

*

I’m packing for the US and trying to get ready for bed, and dealing with to-do lists, and I’m thinking: what happened to the minimalist life?

More soon,
M

Between Comings and Goings

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21 May 2014
10:48 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

It has been a day to consider excess and the quantity of things. I’m trying to finish reading some books (I owe you my Iona book list by the way… I’ll add it in my letter tomorrow), as well as sort through papers, letters, write letters, print pictures, pack for our US trip. All these things.

At the same time, it has been a day to consider lack: I’m starting a new fitness ritual with a jogging club, and I’m trying to be very mindful of moving into it slowly, as well as keeping it up while I’m away.

It’s funny to be in the middle of things like this, between comings and goings, but I think I’m used to it. I’ve been thinking about all of my moves today, all the places I have come to and gone from. And also thinking that this is where all the things have come from, the safe comforts to hold onto, the books and blankets and clothes that fit me when nothing else in the world will. I’m also wondering if this is where the lack came from: the losing a sense of my own body, my physical existence, when I moved so fluidly through the world. Anchorless.

I feel much more present in recent years than I ever remember being. Not just physically, not just mentally, but in the alchemy of where all those aspects collide. I keep coming back to this, even when the transitions still feel strange and haunting. And even when I see where the holes still exist. I wrote a letter today that ended: it requires courage to take things apart thread by thread. To learn to say no. To know that I am more than the sum of my past habits.

I really missed you.

Goodnight,
M

P.S. We’ll be in the US until the 21st of June (leaving on Saturday). But let’s be honest — it’s not anything to be considered remote. I’ll definitely still be here. I’m back now, back to our letters. Thanks for waiting for me.

Certainly Elsewhere, Ambiguous

20 May 2014
6:08 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

I’ve been elsewhere, but I’m back. I’m here now.

*

The final statistics from my time on Iona:

I wrote 115 letters, sent 35 postcards, and read 19 books. I received 73 letters/cards/postcards. 

I’m really happy with those numbers.

*

I had turned it into a ritual: letter-writing. I had wanted to write you letters of all the various reasons why I went to Iona, because there are so many, and because some of them are contradictory but no less true. I know I only wrote you two. I’m sorry it fell through. I’m sorry this fell through.

But I did turn letters into a daily ritual. I wrote at least a letter a day. And that was something I came to rely on: a marker for how my time passed there. I kept a small notebook and turned it into a letter ledger in between the daily notes, so that I knew who I wrote to, and at least a brief idea of what it was about. Postcard to MacKenzie: The sunset I don’t expect to see. Some of the phrases are stories in themselves.

*

I’m thinking a lot about stories, and how we tell them, and who we tell them to, and why we share them. I’m missing writing my letter every day, and so I’d like to come back to our letters here, and I’d like to carve out time to write letters on paper.

I’m feeling contemplative, but I’m rusty at figuring out what to say or how to voice it.

*

I’m sorry you’ve been going through a lot, and I haven’t directly been here. Some things I’ve wanted to echo back to you:

You no longer have to feel this way. You’re right.

You will be okay. You are okay.

Life is all about the difficulties we have processing things. There’s nothing new or unusual about that. The point is to keep working through it.

*

Yesterday, I went out to coffee with a new-old friend, and he said Do you always speak this way? I tried to get him to clarify, but all I could answer was Yes. Since yesterday, I’ve been turning it over in my head, trying to figure out what speaking this way means. At first I thought it was about delivery, about the way I move my hands to dance the words alive on the table, the way I literally lay things out in front of me. A miming, a gesture of meaning and narrative. But today I think it was more a comment on the questions I ask, the way I look at things. Later in the conversation we were talking about children, and he said I know you won’t coddle your children when you have them. I just get this sense of how you are, and that isn’t going to change. You just continue to be how you are. I do try my best at continuity. I try to be assured, and when certainty isn’t possible, I am assuredly amenable to living with some doubt.

*

About stories that continue to open up
You would expect my story to end sooner than it does, and I would have expected this as well. But I was wrong, as it turned out, about the doorway being closed after the incident with Mordechai Akiva. It was still wide open and only seemed to be getting wider. If at some point in your life you should experience such a confluence of events as I experienced in the time of which I speak, it may seem as though you are a tuning fork or magnet, as if you’ve found your way into a lucid place where many things appear at once and you can see how close you are and have always been to all these things and then you’ll wonder why it is that they have suddenly been revealed. Some of what you see in such a time will change your life and some of it will be forgotten. It is not my intention to speak in riddles, but I will suggest that it is very natural to see all of these things as a big puzzle you must assemble. I will suggest, as well, that certain pieces will not fit, not now or ever, and that you must learn to live with these ambiguities. You must also learn to trust these ambiguities. This is perhaps the most important thing I know.’ (313)

– ‘Day For Night’ by Frederick Reiken

*

I need to give you a list of the books I read.

*

This Morning I Could Do/A Thousand Things
Robert Hedin

I could fix the leaky pipe
Under the sink, or wander over
And bother Jerry who’s lost
In the bog of his crankcase.
I could drive the half-mile down
To the local mall and browse
Through the bright stables
Of mowers, or maybe catch
The power-walkers puffing away
On their last laps. I could clean
The garage, weed the garden,
Or get out the shears and
Prune the rose bushes back.
Yes, a thousand things
This beautiful April morning.
But I’ve decided to just lie
Here in this old hammock,
Rocking like a lazy metronome,
And wait for the day lilies
To open. The sun is barely
Over the trees, and already
The sprinklers are out,
Raining their immaculate
Bands of light over the lawns.
*
Keep moving.
*
More soon,
M

Unsaid: Fear the Poet

Things unsaid on Rose Street

Things unsaid on Rose Street

3 March 2014
8:25 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

There are things we don’t say. These are things that we think too hard about, or cannot say out loud. Things we don’t want other people to see, or don’t want to actually admit to ourselves. Things that seem unimportant, or get swept under the rug as the day runs past like a train about to careen off the rails.

The things we don’t say are things that have already been said, at least once, at least a few times, until we are tired of repeating ourselves and are worried we will never learn. I was going to suggest a trial: of posting pictures instead of letters here, to take some weight off of the unsaid things. But the trick is: I don’t need any more reasons to avoid saying what needs to be said.

Today, I owned my profession, and not in a sarcastic way. I re-decided, last minute, to apply for a poetry prize. I had previously decided to apply, and then last week I un-decided. This morning, with the deadline looming, I took out all the stops, gave up almost everything else on the schedule today, and committed to getting it done.

What I told myself: Emma, professional poets have one major skill: the ability to hustle.

What I told everyone else: I am trying to be a professional poet who professionally submits manuscripts instead of an amateur who misses deadlines.

This role of writer has been unspoken for so long that it’s almost hilarious that I’m doing a PhD. I mean, what on earth did I think it meant to study creative writing? How on earth could I turn into anything but a writer, after wading around in it for this long? This isn’t said to limit my possibilities: I have so many things I want to do in this life, and I’m interested to see which other unexpected things emerge. What I mean is: Stephen Dunn came into his poetry reading wearing a baseball cap that read “Fear the Poet”. And I have never been able to admit to being one.

It is difficult to change our lives because we constantly tell ourselves stories about who we are and what we’re capable of. However, your story is often changing, so you may feel compelled not to mention anything until it is certain or has already happened; we aren’t something, until we are.

Answering the Dreaded “So what do you do?” Question by Sarah Kathleen Peck

Things are only unsaid until they aren’t.

I need a baseball cap like Stephen Dunn’s. I bet I would never forget to hustle after that.

Goodnight,
M

My Mark of Meaning via Sandra Bullock

25 February 2014
6:50 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

Some letters deserve titles. I know we title all of our letters on here, but I want to use that title to pull out a phrase or theme. The official title of this letter is:

What I Learned About Myself When Sandra Bullock Googled Herself.

  • I love Sandra Bullock. I love her because I think she’s an incredible actress, and a strong woman. But more than that, I love her because she is sharp and witty and honest, and because she is articulate, if not a little self-deprecating.
    .
  • I think a lot about my movement and physical actions, but none more so than when they are not working. My mouth feels big and clumsy. These hands aren’t moving with grace, but with tiredness. I wish I hadn’t shifted that way. I can sympathize with how those movements feel or come across when you are giving a speech with the rest of the world watching. They’re hard for me on a day to day basis. And yet, I have never felt more connected to my own body than when I am dancing, when my movements are a performance. Sometimes I find those two perspectives difficult to reconcile.
    .
  • “Maybe time to go back into therapy, maybe.” <– I’ve never recognized how much life is my therapy. Letters are my therapy. Discussion and philosophy and poetry and exploring the world with other people and examining perspectives is my therapy. Meditation, unpacking thoughts, taking space to be by myself and to sit with my stuff… that’s all my therapy now.
    .
  • I admire people who think outside of the box and come up with innovate ideas, and that’s one of my biggest secret goals:
    .
    To invent more that is true and unusual and unexpected and previously unseen.
    .
  • Sandra’s version of remembering what is important is watching movies, watching her friends, watching incredible stories, watching characters being created, watching history come alive in front of her eyes. As visual as her mark of meaning is, mine is visual too, but my meaning is in words, in writing, in reading, on pages instead of in images.
    .
  • She uses her friends to remember why she is in this business, and I have been busy these past few years drawing my tribe up around me: those creative, intuitive people who are horrendously interesting, who may be like-minded, or like-hearted, but also bring up enough unique perspective to draw me out of myself. I used to think where are all of the artists? Where are the people who I will look back on and recount memories about because they have always been my contemporaries in the art field and the writing field, who will have achieved great successes and either forgotten or cemented our friendship? I don’t ask that as much anymore, because these days, I am trying to choose my connections better, to nurture the ones I have, and to deepen the ones I love. Let’s pause and hopefully welcome a new entry to the tribe: The Quiet Rabbit. You would love her, T. She would love your writing. I don’t even know her yet, but I think I’m getting there.
    .
  • Just like I admire Sandra Bullock, and Mary Oliver, and Naomi Shihab Nye, and Emma Thompson, and Cheryl Strayed, all of these women have their own heroes as well. They all have women that they deeply respect, who have shone a light to help them navigate the world a little better.
    .
  • I know how to recognize the ‘opportunit(ies) of a lifetime’, and I am determined to meet them with open arms.

Goodnight,
M

The Mountain Keeps Up With the Mountain

Isle of Skye, 2013

Isle of Skye, 2013

20 February 2014
9:00 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

I’m putting off writing about ‘Her’ for one more day, because I’m trying to organize everything for the trip down South this weekend to visit my Granddad. Granddad’s place is such an amazing, contemplative, reflective space, that I have no doubt the evenings will be conducive to some good writing.

In the meantime, here are some great quotes from ‘Practice of the Wild’ by Gary Snyder that I finished reading this week:

Language meanders like great rivers leaving oxbow traces over forgotten beds, to be seen only from the air or by scholars. Language is like some kind of infinitely inter-fertile family of species spreading or mysteriously declining over time, shamelessly and endlessly hybridising, changing it’s own rules as it goes. Words are used as signs, as stand-ins, arbitrary and temporary, even as language reflects (and informs) the shifting values of the peoples whose minds it inhabits and glides through. We have faith in ‘meaning’ the way we might believe in wolverines — putting trust in the occasional reports of others or on the authority of once seeing a pelt. But it is sometimes worth tracking these tricksters back. (8)

*

The rocky icy grandeur of the high country — and the rich shadowy bird and fish-streaked southern swamps — remind us of the overarching wild systems that nourish us all and underwrite the industrial economy. In the sterile beauty of mountain snowfields and glaciers begin the little streams that water the agribusiness fields of the great Central Valley of California. The wilderness pilgrim’s step-by-step breath-by-breath walk up a trail, into those snowfields, carrying all on the back, is so ancient a set of gestures as to bring a profound sense of body-mind joy.

Not just backpackers, of course. The same happens to those who sail in the ocean, kayak fjords or rivers, tend a garden, peel garlic, even sit on a meditation cushion. The point is to make intimate contact with the real world, real self. Sacred refers to that which helps take us (not only human beings) out of our little selves into the whole mountains-and-rivers mandala universe. Inspiration, exaltation, and insight do not end when one steps outside the doors of the church. The wilderness as temple is only a beginning. One should not dwell in the specialness of the extraordinary experience nor hope to leave the political quagg behind to enter a perpetual state of heightened insight. The best purpose of such studies and hikes is to be able to come back to the lowlands and see all the land about us, agricultural, suburban, urban, as part of the same territory — never totally ruined, never completely unnatural. (101)

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Mountains also have mythic associations of verticality, spirit, height, transcendence, hardness, resistance, and masculinity. for the Chinese they are exemplars of the “yang”: dry, hard, male, and bright. Waters are feminine: wet, soft, dark “yin” with associations of fluid-but-strong, seeking (and carving) the lowest, soulful, life-giving, shape-shifting… The two are seen as buddha-work partners: ascetic discipline and relentless spirituality balanced by compassionate tolerance and detached forgiveness. Mountains and Waters are a dyad that together make wholeness possible: wisdom and compassion are the two components of realisation. (108)

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There’s all sorts of walking — from heading out across the desert in a straight line to a sinuous weaving through undergrowth. Descending rocky ridges and talus slopes is a specialty in itself. It is an irregular dancing — always shifting — step of walk on slabs and scree. The breath and eye are always following this uneven rhythm. It is never paced or clocklike, but flexing — little jumps — sidesteps — going for the well-seen place to put a foot on a rock, hit flat, move on — zigzagging along and all deliberate. The alert eye looking ahead, picking the footholds to come, while never missing the step of the moment. The body-mind is so at one with this rough world that it makes these moves effortlessly once it has had a bit of practice. The mountain keeps up with the mountain. (121)

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Goodnight,
M