Friday, June 19, 2009

Hours Passed : Forlorn Chairs

I wonder if any one else ever sees their days as a series of chair sits; as a movement from one sedentary session to another. One sits in one's car or bus or subway or boat. One moves to one's desk before one's computer or snags a seat at the back of a classroom. One maybe takes a bathroom break... One shuffles on to one's lunch and sits at the corner cafe or on a cafeteria bench. One moves back to one's desk. One gets back into one's car or bus or subway or boat. One lands home at the dinner table and passes another meal. One plops down on one's sofa to catch a sitcom or into one's bed to read a chapter before falling into the longest sedentary session of all... sleep. And the cycle of sitting begins the next morning, just as it did the day before.

In all these stages, are we missing out on an opportunity, is our time better sat elsewhere? As Billy Collins observes, we're in need of some pause for the sake of remembering...
You see them on porches and on lawns
down by the lakeside,
usually arranged in pairs implying a couple

who might sit there and look out
at the water or the big shade trees.
The trouble is you never see anyone

sitting in these forlorn chairs
though at one time it must have seemed
a good place to stop and do nothing for a while.

Sometimes there is a little table
between the chairs where no one
is resting a glass or placing a book facedown.

It might be none of my business,
but it might be a good idea one day
for everyone who placed those vacant chairs

on a veranda or a dock to sit down in them
for the sake of remembering
whatever it was they thought deserved

to be viewed from two chairs
side by side with a table in between.
The clouds are high and massive that day.

The woman looks up from her book.
The man takes a sip of his drink.
Then there is nothing but the sound of their looking,

the lapping of lake water, and a call of one bird
then another, cries of joy or warning—
it passes the time to wonder which.

- The Chairs That No One Sits In

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cloudy Symbols : Dormant Dream

Print by Ellie Annan

Until recently, I thought a dream might die, might pass like the shedding of a skin or the molting of a feather - natural, painless. When your dream becomes exhausting, you have to wonder whether it isn't just the most giant relief to finally release it into the ether.

It seems, however, the death of a dream is rather like the Master's visit to Moscow - an inescapable debt that eventually must be collected. The dream demands to be mourned and the shallow hole it leaves behind must be acknowledged. You can't pretend it was never there. The letting go of the frustration and rejection also means the letting go of living in the richness of creative space; means letting go of dwelling with the muse. The acceptance of surface-scratching victories in the day-to-day means you've given up somewhere else. No one would argue it wasn't necessary. In our tight-lipped circle, preservation of sanity is something done behind closed doors in a controlled environment. A sound bite over coffee or a confession between forkfuls of salad is fine. But no one really wants to see you hanging by a thread.

And then the question is, what now? Presuming most people want to find a way to leave their positive mark on the world before their time is through, you have to get a new dream when the old one doesn't work out. The greatest poet who ever lived was younger than I when he died, yet his understanding of the treacheries of time were far beyond what his 25 years permitted. He wondered aloud the fears we face and touched upon an age-old race to figure it out and gulp it down as time marches on.
WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And feel that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
- When I Have Fears by John Keats (1818)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Voila! : My Scars

My appendicitis scars turn a year old today. With the unlikely set of events the particularly pesky appendix yielded, this was a perilous journey but what a difference a year makes! Thus, an offering from literature's smallest, most fearless heroine seems particularly apropos. Like Madeline, we should all be so brave as to look fear in the face and say "pooh-pooh."
In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. In two straight lines they broke their bread and brushed their teeth and went to bed. They smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad. They left the house at half past nine in two straight lines in rain or shine — the smallest one was Madeline.
That's all there is. There isn't any more.