“…fields everywhere invite you into them.”
I set this afternoon aside for reading, a whole glorious seven hours of it, and reading always makes me want to write. So here I am, blowing the dust off this dear old blog. I neglect it for weeks at a stretch because I spend so much of my day writing other things, and when I open this tab I often feel drained or blank.
There’s also an aspect of blogging that feels like homework—combing my photos for the right image, choosing tags, looking up books on Bookshop.org or Amazon to add links, the kind that send a few cents my way, defraying the costs of maintaining the site. Chores I find tedious and sometimes embarrassing. The book links aren’t as necessary as I tell myself they are—you can Google anything that catches your interest—but money’s as tight for us as it is for most everyone else right now, and omitting the links always feels, in the end, a bit irresponsible. Even now I’m staring at the word Bookshop up there, feeling internal pressure to stick my affiliate link in place like a sensible blogger.
But this is my magic week, when I don’t have to be sensible. I try to reserve the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day for combing through the year’s notebooks, revisiting, panning for gold. It’s mostly iron pyrite so far, but that’s often useful in its own way. I gave yesterday afternoon to a single notebook, distilled now to a page of notes and asterisks. Today, as I mentioned, was hours and hours of reading other people’s work. Twyla Tharp’s Keep It Moving, a packet of poems, a Mary Oliver essay that cut me to the quick. Lordy, I love her. Both of them. Twyla shakes you by the shoulders and Mary raises her eyebrows at you until you cry uncle. You’re right, I’m constantly shouting back, of course you’re right! I’ll go for a walk! I’ll try to enter the long black branches of other lives! More birds, less Twitter!
The line that made me gasp tonight—it was like an adrenaline syringe to the heart—was in her essay “Of Power and Time”:
In creative work—creative work of all kinds—those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward.
She writes about her three selves—the child she was, who exists now in remembered experiences; the “attentive, social” self who makes dentist appointments and remembers to buy mustard; and a third self, “occasional in some of us, a tyrant in others.” A self “out of love with time,” a self that “has a hunger for eternity.”
The shock of recognition was severe. These past several months, my capable, responsible second self has—out of necessity—run the show. I’m a bit sick of her, to be honest. My third self, more tired than tyrannical in this bizarrest of years, is stretching her limbs and wondering when the prime minister took over running the kingdom.
I’m being a little unfair to the second self: someone had to get the FAFSA done and the health insurance renewed, and it certainly wasn’t going to be the poet queen. Mary Oliver’s delight was in lying down in the grass, as though she were the grass. My delight has been in showing the grass to my children and teaching them how to find its secret name. We walk in different fields, is what I’m saying.
But. Sometimes the second self tumbles or leaps into the whirlpool of distractions—most of them connected to the internet—and promises the third self her turn will come “as soon as.” As soon as the election is over, as soon as this assignment is turned in, as soon as the bathroom floor is mopped. The as-soon-as train has an infinite number of cars.
Twyla Tharp would say: you must make a pledge to the third self. Promise her time on the throne. Mary Oliver says to put your foot into the door of the grass and to sit down like a weed among weeds and rustle in the wind!
Every day, I get up before dark to give the third self a little time in the chair. I’m dedicated to this practice and it bears fruit on a long, slow timeline. But here at the end of an infuriating, stupefying year, those morning hours already feel like a distant memory by the time breakfast is over. The poet queen refuses to compete with Twitter. She won’t come back until all the tabs are closed. That’s Mary Oliver’s point.
“It is six a.m.,” she writes, “and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be.”
This last week of the year, I invite the third self to occupy the chair not just in the dawn hours but for a string of entire days. The second self can go jump in a lake, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, jump! urges Twyla—there is literally a chapter about jumping in Keep It Moving, in which she recommends four different kinds of leaps you ought to fold into your day. Beside her, Mary is calling: Fall in, fall in!
booknotes, creative practice, Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches, mary oliver, Twyla Tharp
I’m stealing that “my magic week”.
I’m going to just keep doing my art and start playing the piano again (played all through the pandemic until the final rush of Christmas…it is calling me now).
I am thrilled that I never have to fill out a FAFSA form again (OMG…. 14 years of that, I think! Yikes — not fun.) So you would think I would have more magic weeks. But there are always to-do lists….
But we can take a step out of time and enjoy this season, even if we can’t do the things we normally would. Thank you for that.
On December 30, 2020 at 5:52 am
Gosh. What an essay. You may not write often but you are really, truly, and seriously worth the wait.
I didn’t even know there was a third self… I’m going to work on that!
On December 30, 2020 at 6:18 am
Melissa Wiley says:
Penny, you always know what to say to make my day. Rereading this comment months later, I’m smiling all over again.
On March 19, 2021 at 3:08 pm
Exactly why I quit worrying about affiliate links years ago. If somebody really wants to follow up on a book I mention they can do the work of cutting and pasting into search. Not to mention all the value judgements involved in deciding where to link to. It all gets in the way of writing, and the point of a blog is to write.
On December 30, 2020 at 7:58 am
My second self quakes at the thought of relinquishing her time, sure that problems will arise. I am pleased when I can squeeze Old Lady Third in. (She sharpens her elbows when necessary. I guess I don’t really need to worry about her.)
My daughter requested an Anne of Green Gables theme for her upcoming birthday decorations, so I am trying to figure out what to do. How to get the house to look like PEI?
On December 30, 2020 at 1:02 pm
Kortney Garrison says:
Ah, the “long, slow timeline.” I know it well. Just this morning I was copying quotes into my notebook from an article by a man whose first collection was published when he was 71.
On December 30, 2020 at 2:38 pm
Melanie Bettinelli says:
I love this.
I love the idea of Third Self.
I’ve also been taking this week off– well, except there were some necessary appointments that slipped in and those library books that are due…
But I’m trying to get back to writing poems about paintings. Once again ekphrasis is filling my well. I’m not sure why but there were months and months when I’d look at paintings which seemed perfect and no words would come, at least not the right words in the right way. But now, slowly, they’re coming back. Like an end of year gift.
Tonight I’ve been dancing with Georgia O’Keefe and finding her simple lines are helping me find my own simple lines. Architectural, strong, unfussy. Georgia and Japanese woodblocks.
I told myself I was going to write an end of year book post, but those are so fussy with links and I don’t feel like reviewing. So I’m putting that one on the back burner again. You’re right that’s the kind of blogging that feels a bit too much like homework Sometimes I do enjoy it, but I need something more like a frolic day. Even if it feels too cold to venture outside.
Maybe the problem was that the ekphrasis had started too feel a bit too much like an assignment. I’m not sure what has shifted or why or how. Maybe it was hearing children singing like angels on the solstice and blogging about that? Maybe I needed to get back in touch with that inner child?
Thank you thank you for giving me some lovely new metaphors to try on and, yes, permission to play.
On December 30, 2020 at 8:39 pm
Eek. This is beautiful.
On January 2, 2021 at 3:38 pm
Thank you for blogging. My heart smiles as you spill thoughts for it to marinate in today. So thank you, affiliate links or no
On January 3, 2021 at 7:05 am