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Halcyon Days and Doing Nothing

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The Halcyon is a bird of Greek legend and the name is now commonly given to the European Kingfisher. The ancients believed that the bird made a floating nest in the Aegean Sea and had the power to calm the waves while brooding her eggs. Fourteen days of calm weather were to be expected when the Halcyon was nesting - around the winter solstice, usually 21st or 22nd of December. The Halcyon days are generally regarded as beginning on the 14th or 15th of December.

Katrina sent me this info as a way to help me think about doing nothing as a positive thing, adding that she loves watching the kingfishers in Maine. I'm not sure what they look like there, the one on the R or the L? 

I hate to admit that I'm more apt to think of the Horse Latitudes when thinking of doing nothing. Tossing the horses overboard when there's no wind in your sails . . .  Not to sound too depressing! 

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What do you want to create?

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So that's the question the counselor asked. Earlier that day, a friend asked me a similar question, Why did you first want be a poet? 

I can never answer questions like that. Is want the operative verb? Is it even a poet I want to be? The questions make me feel caged somehow. I am not sure why. 

Maybe because I just don't have an answer. I know what I want to experience, but not what I want the end to be. Or look like. 

I imagine that if I were an artist, say a painter, I might have a goal in mind, perhaps to get into a certain show or sell my work or just paint a tree or something simple. I don't even know what I am going to write about most of the days when I sit down . . . 

Instead I mostly just try to dive in. I want to be like the third one in the Ritsos poem. 

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Doing Nothing?

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I am still thinking about the concept of doing nothing. And I'm not sure exactly what it means. To sit and contemplate. Is that nothing? To wait before acting, to think deeply before making a move or writing. Is that nothing? 

How often I do one thing when meaning to do another. Doodling for example. Instead of writing.  Doodling instead of doing nothing. Doodling when listening. 

These particular doodles with triangular shaped bodies --I began drawing when I was taking piano lessons in grade school. The music book had little triangular-bodied people to demonstrate the liveliness of the music. Or the lack thereof. I fell in love with the triangular people and drew them all over my music notebook. I never practiced the piano. 

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Still thinking about the idea of doing nothing

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I am still thinking about the idea of doing nothing as I rush madly about. I thought today, before sitting down to write, I'd do a few knee bends. Rather, I wanted to see if my knees still bend . . .

Tis the season for doing too much. I was listening to the radio, and there was this long story about a man who, in haste, went up on the roof to fix his 900th Xmas tree decoration and fell onto the pavement, shattering his pelvis. Who needs 900 decorations? The poor guy went on to talk about his obsession with decorating--how even after his pelvis was shattered, he had to keep decorating. I imagined how it happened . . .  him up on his roof for hours, arranging his blow-up Santas and Snoopies and candy canes, all of them blowing wildly about until one of them turned and bopped him off his ladder . . . 

It happens. I think so anyhow. Our obsessions, whatever they are, one day turn on us.

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Warming up to doing nothing

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Today I had a counseling session, and one assignment I have now is to do nothing. Just for a few minutes. So now I am thinking about doing nothing, and well, I am thinking about all the things I will do today including doing nothing and after doing nothing. And I am thinking about my thinking about doing nothing, and thinking about not thinking about the list of things I don't want to think about doing today while doing nothing including doing nothing and thinking about doing nothing and the list of things that are not nothing that I am thinking about before doing nothing. . .

So now I am thinking maybe I need a little warm up before I do nothing so maybe then I will actually do nothing, assuming my not doing anything body will be warmed up to the feeling of doing nothing and maybe my mind will  follow my body as minds do--and not keep doing what my doing mind is doing now when I say lets not do that, whatever it is you are doing . . . 

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Rumi

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened.  Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading.  Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

 

Thomas R. Smith sent me this lovely Rumi poem in response to my last blog post. I think I will memorize it.

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STRESS!!!!

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Moving! It's so incredibly stressful! And sometimes I think how badly I handle stress, how small things like leaky washing machines, stoves that don't fit in the space designed, DMVs with long lines and unhelpful service agents, and well, the long list of decisions and things that must be done  . . . Seriously, these are not life-threantedning events or decisions, but they drive me nuts. And well, sometimes they make me unto someone I don't want to be  . . .  

In the midst of all this, just last week I received a wonderful collection of poems by Thomas R. Smith, and I was stopped by this one poem:

YOUR INNER FACE

     Like everyone, you have two faces: One of them others see, in restaurants and banks--it's only approximate, the probable cause when you feel misjudged by the world.

     On the inside there's another face through which you reach toward that world: Pure gesture, it registers instantaneously each nuance of feeling, like a film star of Mother Teresa, an interior sky. When you weep, clouds darken with rain: when you laugh, all the pigeons fly up in to the light. 

     It's this face you'd prefer to be known by, so true to its desires, unbelievably beautiful. When two people glimpse it in each other, we call that love--and if someone should see all the secret faces at once, heaven. 

 

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I love this poet, Ulalume González de León!

But I wish I could find her work in English! 

Her poem, "Anatomy of Love," appearing in the long out-of-print anthology THE PROSE POEM and translated from Spanish by Linda Sheer, begins:

1

TO THINK ABOUT ONE THING

Why can't I think, with the left half of my head the same things I think with the right half?

      or why is there a thought a the nape off the neck that doesn't prop up the thought at the forehead, and belies it by making signals from behind?,

      (You ask me: what are you thinking about? --About less than one thing: about so many things!--I answer: about nothing.)

      or why do I think with more layers than an agate of an onion?

      : a thought from the inside grows and pushes until the last shell exploded, and it is also in immediate danger, made thin by another thought which pushes from further inside.

      But I think of you in the inside of the inside, with a thought that grows contrariwise, in centripetal wonder, like a figs flowers: there, where to think about one thing is more than to thing about only one.

And then there is this one . . . 

Problema

Calcular
(dado el producto de la multiplicación de las caricias
el número de golpes de ala por segundo con que la pasión
compensa el peso de los cuerpos
la velocidad adquirida al pensarnos
la resistencia del aire a todas nuestras iniciativas voladoras
el intervalo admisible entre la temperatura máxima y la
temperatura mínima del deseo
las intermitencias con que fabricamos nuestra continuidad
el margen de error tolerable para un ingreso simultáneo
en el olvido que sabes
las probabilidades de reincidir por falta de recuerdo
la mayor o menor necesidad de un postre metafísico al
banquete carnívoro
el porcentaje de limaduras virutas rebabas que pueden ser
recicladas in situ
y la fuerza de gravedad de toda alegría
y la trayectoria asíntota al más estrellado techo)
la condición necesaria y suficiente de este amor.

Even the google translator lets you see how lovely this poem is ---

Problem

Calculate (given the product of the multiplication

of caresses

the number of wing beats per second

with which passion compensates for the weight of the bodies

the speed acquired when thinking

the air resistance to all our flying

initiatives

the permissible range between the

maximum temperature and the

minimum temperature of desire

the intermittences with which we manufacture our continuity

the margin of error tolerable for simultaneous entry

in oblivion you know the chances

of reoffending due to lack of memory

the greater or lesser need for a metaphysical

dessert at carnivore feast

the percentage of filings chips

burrs that can be recycled in situ

and the force of gravity of all joy

nd the asymptotic trajectory to the most starry ceiling)

the necessary and sufficient condition of this love.

 

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Poetry --unreal?

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I keep listening to the news, thinking I should be doing something logical, something "real." But what?  Certainly not writing poems.  I so often think of poetry as unreal. And of course, in many ways, it is. I notice this esp. when I try talking about it to non-poets and well . . .

I mean, today I was talking to a repairman who asked me what I write about. I didn't want to say--- I am writing about a stink bug who turns into a man.  And the bug is horrified to be human. Yeah. Right.

But the fact is I kind of agree with my stink bug. (Losing reality here, admittedly.) But just thinking about what people do to each other and the planet, it's hard not to be horrified. And, well, like my imaginary stink bug I keep hoping I am just having a bad dream. That some day I will wake up and Trump and the KKK and the White Supremacists and Nazis and the Koch boys and  . . . yeah, so many in the current administration, will all be banished. Exiled to some distant planet where I never have to hear about them again.  I envision them on a space ship traveling to some distant galaxy.

Often at night I fall asleep, hoping I will wake up to better news. I was thinking of that and, well, Kafka, when I wrote in my piece:

"Perhaps it was just a nightmare," the stink bug reasoned, and with that, he closed his eyes, lay as still as a statue, and tried to fall back asleep.

A while later, he heard birds singing through an open window and he cringed, remembering how a bird once devoured his fellow stink bugs. But then a soft yellow light filled the room, and he felt a brief moment of peace as he remembered that he was safely indoors. 

The idea of safety, of being separated from the nightmare, is key in my psyche. As if death and evil is only out there. And reality. 

Maybe it was the thought of safety that got me wondering -- trying to decide whether I wanted to be writing about a stink bug or just a boy who suddenly wakes up as a man. Or a girl who suddenly becomes a woman--

remembering how terrifying an adult can appear to a child. And not just physically.  

I remember thinking, back when I was a kid, how creepy adults were, always obsessing about power and money and fame and I don't know--so many boring things. I hated how grownups sat around drinking, never moving much, never really playing, never being any fun, never seeming to have much fun either.  

Maybe that's one thing we get to do as poets--have fun, imagine, dream . . . I mean, seriously. I sometimes think it should be illegal to have this much fun. 

 

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Metamorphoses

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It's that time of year--stink bugs and ladybugs coming in to stay warm and to cozy up with us. Even when I close my eyes for a minute, I see stink bugs. They are so disgusting, and they plop down on my page, and one somehow managed to find its way into my printer. The stink of cardamon and bug juice, nauseating. 

They remind me of Kafka. How it might be to turn into stink bug, or vice versa. 

And how painful and exciting any metamorphoses is. And all the assumptions one has about transformation. I like how we assume the butterfly is naturally more lovely and happy than the worm. But does the worm think so? The worm might love its simple sleek and pink body. Its  moist, youthfulness. His simplicity. And being so close to the earth . . . 

Here in lovely Virginia, I think of Ohio.  

And so today, writing, I was playing with a version of Metamorphoses:

Opening his eyes one morning, a stink bug was alarmed to see that he had been transformed into a man. Clearly some terrible mistake has been made,” he thought, looking with horror at his soft skin, the huge dome of his belly, and worst of all, what hung between his thighs. What happened to his sleek rectangular form, his neat angular legs, his lovely pointy proboscis? he wondered.

 

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Seriously Alice!

   

 

 

We finally moved to Virginia, and after months of planning the move--boxing our life up and then unboxing, we are finally here. And I have this feeling (fear) that I am losing touch with my creative self. Days go by and I don't get to the computer or have an interesting thought in my mind. I don't mean to complain too much. After all, so many good thing have happened this fall. We live in a magical house on top of a hill that backs up onto miles of woods. At night it's so dark, we see only the stars and the moon. No street lights, no neighbors, nada. Sometimes the coyotes howls and wake us the middle of the night. But some days, in the mornings I find myself looking in the mirror and asking, where's Alice?

Okay, that needs some explanation, but I think of Alice as my creativity, my magical side, the girl who dives down rabbit holes day after day. There's no place like a rabbit hole. But sometimes Alice goes down there alone while I go about my business. And she begins to shrink. Alice being Alice likes to shrink. 

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How do you process the news?

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I've had a hard time working lately, and I don't think it's just because of the big move that is underway. Not to downplay how overwhelmed I feel by the prospect of starting over again. Not to mention the hours of packing up the mess in this house, and well, everything else that goes into moving. But it's also the news that I can't  process anymore. So much bad news. I find myself trying to tune it out, and feeling guilty about that. But today I turned on NPR just in time to hear Ai Weiwei talk about his new documentary, Human Flow, about the current refugee crisis, and I was so moved by his compassion and authenticity. Just his voice put me in a new place. 

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Moving!!

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I always knew moving would be hard, but it's mind-boggling, all that's involved. I feel completely overwhelmed! As I pack things into containers, I feel as if I am folding myself up into so many boxes, wondering how I will unpack in another place and time.

We are moving back to Virginia, the state where I grew up, and the state which is the backdrop of my latest book, Miss August--although Miss August is from another decade. I am beginning to wonder what this decade will look like to writers in the future. 

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Moving to Virginia!

We are moving next fall! This will be our backyard come October. Between then and now, we have so much work to do, but I have to keep this image in my mind--hills and fields and blue sky.

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My Next Book!

 
 

My next book, Miss August, is coming out in May!  The description written up by the press:

In her latest collection, Miss August, Nin Andrews takes on difficult topics: racism, segregation, child abuse, mental illness, and sexual identity. Told from the point of view of three different characters, the poems take place in a small southern town in the Jim Crow South where opposition to racial integration is still strong. The book presents a tale of a boy’s discovery of his sexual identity, of profound love and friendship, and is also a portrait of racism in a specific time and place in American history. 

The name of the book, the inspiration for the book, comes from an experience that happened when I was eight years old and was playing at a friend's house, and we came across his father's Playboy magazine. My friend opened it to the centerfold. I still remember staring and staring, feeling suddenly nauseated and terrified. THAT is not happening to me, I announced.  To which he answered, I like Miss August. She’s what I want to be when I grow up. 

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Patrick Henry

 

"It is through… Art and Art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence. " Oscar Wilde

Reading this quote, I was reminded of an experience I had in third grade ---

One day in the middle of recess, I realized that I had forgotten to do my history homework,  a written report on Patrick Henry.  Worse, I was supposed to read my report aloud in class. In a panic, I snuck into the art room and quickly drew a picture (in crayon) of Patrick Henry in a black and gold (or rather, orange) tricorn hat, which I later presented to my teacher in place of the essay. I so admired his hat, I said, though I wasn't sure if Patrick Henry ever owned a tricorn hat. Then I added that I also liked his curly long  hair. Miraculously, my teacher, Miss Tab, was, delighted with what she called my creative spirit, and she hung the picture up for all to admire. 

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