Kim Stafford, feasting on beauty

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Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford

 

Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford came “home” to our little town last week to read poetry, tell stories, sing, call up local history, and conjure memories of many Stafford family vacations spent here in a home-made cabin.

It was a lively, friendly, intimate couple of hours. I’m new to central Oregon, but I could feel the great love long-timers here have for Kim’s family, which includes his sister, Kit, a local artist and teacher, and his father, William Stafford, now deceased, one of America’s most beloved and important poets. It’s been a long, cold winter, and Kim’s energy and love resurrected our spirits, a perfect springtime happening.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about David Wallace-Wells’ vision of an uninhabitable earth, followed by a post on A Paradise Built in Hell and the hope Rebecca Solnit discovered when she looked at how people spontaneously come together in the extraordinary communities that can arise in disaster.

It seems a natural progression to next look at how we, as individuals, can cope and thrive in challenging times, and how we can slow down our lives to nurture and sustain our creative work – which may in turn serve as witness to what needs changing and as a catalyst for that change. This is what Kim Stafford’s life is all about, and what his father’s life was about, too.

Kim’s visit happened to coincide with my reading Christian McEwen’s magnificent World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down.    It’s a primer on how living slowly can sustain creative work and allow it to flourish, filled with the words and wise ways of contemporary and past literary and spiritual thinkers – including William and Kim Stafford.

If you want to be uplifted and fed, I suggest getting a copy of World Enough & Time. I didn’t read World Enough & Time straight through, but picked it up between other books, reading chunks here and there, especially when I wanted creative or spiritual uplift.

You’d want to keep World Enough & Time handy on your desk or nightstand to pick up as needed. Its bibliography alone is a gold mine.

Chapters are organized around themes that include: having face-to-face conversations with friends and loved ones; approaching life with the playfulness and imagination of a child; walking; looking; reading; writing letters and keeping journals; pausing; and dreaming. You can read chapters out of order, picking and choosing as you please.

World Enough & Time is a an especially rich collection. For a decade, McEwen interviewed contemporaries; unearthed insights from past poets, artists, writers, composers, and musicians; and culled from her own life experiences.

The passages below are about or by writers, but I think you can adapt their wisdom to your particular work and daily life. Here, McEwen quotes William Stafford explaining his daily 4 am writing habit:

 

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Christian McEwen feasting on beauty. How we can, too.

“I get pen and paper, take a glance out of the window (often it is dark out there), and wait. It is like fishing. But I do not wait very long, for there is always a nibble – and this is where receptivity comes in. To get started I will accept anything that occurs to me.”

McEwen goes on to say:

“Years later, Kim Stafford wrote a memoir about his father entitled Early Morning. He described William’s steady practice as a ‘symposium with the self.’ A particular day’s writing might include images from a recent dream, news of the family and the world at large – and a couple of poems…. by lending ‘faith and attention’ to what he called those ‘waifs of thought,’ a total of more than sixty books made their slow way into print.”

How could I not quote a few of McEwen’s words about Mary Oliver’s creative practice:

“Mary Oliver’s day starts at five each morning, when she sets off on a long, solitary, attentive walk. ‘What I write begins and ends with the act of noticing and cherishing…’ Like Coleridge, who scribbled words and phrases while he was out in the field, Mary Oliver likes to use a pocket notebook, ‘small, three inches by five inches, and hand-sewn.'”

Kim Stafford, William Stafford, Mary Oliver, Christian McEwen, and many others. Feast on the beauty of their work and on the beauty of the world around you. You can’t go wrong.

At Kim’s event, I picked up a small gem of a book for $5, Meditations and Poems for Writers, which you can order from Lulu:

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“Writing could be the door to a new kind of individual life, community life, national life, and earth citizenship. We each could greet the day as seeker, artist, witness.”

In The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft, a favorite of mine, Kim Stafford writes this, which I’ve copied into my daily work planner:

“What is it like to live your life story, to feed on the beauty meant for you alone, to insist on the conditions that make it possible to live the precise, full life you are here to accomplish?

Don’t wait for the right time. Don’t hesitate. Cross into your beauty now. Carry your seeing, your feasting, your selfish pleasures in the art you choose to the place you need to be, and enact what you have to do there. If you are awake, you have no choice.

Life begins with your witness there.”   

 

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Recently, I took part in my first sacred drumming session with 40 other women in a big, old barn warmed by a wood-burning stove, filled with animal skin rugs and sacred objects. I borrowed this drum, owned by a woman whose spirit animal is the wolf.

 

Here is a link to one of William Stafford’s best loved poems, “The Way It Is.”

Do you have favorite books, authors, or pursuits (such as gardening, drumming, hiking) that sustain you in your work and/or feed your spirit? Let us know in the comments.

Excavating a Life

Momphotos-18This is a happy coincidence: I’m starting a new, ongoing theme here at Books Can Save a Life (in addition to my usual book posts) called Excavating a Life on my fourth anniversary, to the day, of blogging.

Excavating a Life will be my informal, occasional, online creative journal: notes and jottings about the writing life as I try to finish this exhilarating and confounding marathon of writing a memoir, which I’m aiming to complete in 2016.

I hope these musings will speak to you who are immersed in a creative endeavor, or inspire you to begin one, and that you’ll share the challenges and high points of your own journey.

For those who follow me primarily for books, I’ll often highlight an author or work that has taught me something about pursuing a writing or creative practice with intention–so books will be a big part of Excavating a Life, too.

For instance, you’ll see a lot of Vincent Van Gogh here. I’m not a painter by any means, never learned to draw (though I’m making attempts to keep a nature journal), but I find Van Gogh’s letters an endless source of inspiration; I have three collections of them.

Here is a nugget of wisdom from Van Gogh. And it doesn’t just apply to painting (or writing) does it?

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“If a peasant painting smells of bacon, smoke, potato steam–fine–that’s not unhealthy–if a stable smells of manure–very well, that’s what a stable’s for….Painting peasant life is a serious thing…”  Vincent Van Gogh: Ever Yours, The Essential Letters, Yale University Press 2014

 

I’m thrilled to acknowledge and thank my longtime friend and writing coach extraordinaire, Debra Marrs, who presented this gift of an idea for Excavating a Life when we met up a couple of times in Florida for afternoon tea and some fabulous Cuban food. We were in Florida to spend holiday time with family–a Christmas quite different from our usual upstate New York kind.

Thanks to my sister- and brother-in law, who have the perfect guest quarters, I started off the year with a week of intensive writing. During my mini-retreat, I was able to add 10,000 words to my memoir–not quite my goal of 13,000, but good enough.

Temple

Wat Mongkolrata Temple

My sister-in law, who is from Thailand, took us to the local Buddhist temple, where I meditated and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. It was a unique blend of spiritualities for me this mid-winter. That, and a change of scene, did wonders for my writing.

Before I close, here is one more tidbit. Have you ever heard of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory of creativity? I hadn’t, but apparently it is well known among many photographers. I found out about it yesterday. I love it and agree with it. Don’t get off that #!?&! bus. And remember, in the first stages of a project, feedback from others or your own emotions “aren’t a reliable indication of how you’re doing.”

Orchids

A different Christmas this year: orchids instead of evergreen. My niece said these look like butterflies, and I agree.

 

Are you immersed in bringing something to fruition? Or would you like to be? It could be anything: writing a book, building a stone wall, starting a business, learning to knit, climbing all the Adirondack mountain peaks, whatever. What’s your biggest creative challenge at the moment?

Journal

I bought this well worn leather journal cover in Florence years ago.

 

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