Sunday, November 22, 2015
Another week will mark ten years of writing here. Will I ever stop? I can’t answer that question, but I do know that the time is not yet. And I also know that I always regretted the times I did stop, and always rejoiced when I started to write on this page once again (today is such a day). My love of books and reading has waxed and waned and waxed again, over the years. I have always written diaries, but I began to write here because of my bookshop. Then closed the shop. I loved it and still think of it fondly and often, but I’m so very glad I’m no longer sitting in it from day to day. Life has opened up in ways I never could have foreseen and I hope this continues indefinitely. And of course I continue to read, and hope that continues indefinitely too!
Speaking of reading. As we do around here. I went away for a painting residency at the end of October and took nearly a carton of books with me. The residency was three weeks long. Did I read any of those books? Among them many old favorites and some brand new can’t-wait-to-read-THIS-ones? No, no I did not. I painted and painted and painted some more, and during the dark evenings inside, after painting outside all day in the clear, slanting late-fall sunshine, I turned on a clip light with a full-spectrum lightbulb and kept right on painting. Then I only wanted to write about those paintings and nature, and my feelings – and how they all intersect – in my diary, and then maybe look at a book about Maine trees and books about bird identification, since I wanted to know more about the birds and trees I’d just been painting and gazing at. Thus I read much of Forest Trees of Maine, which has terrific color pictures, and browsed in Birds of Maine Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (Adventure Publications 2002) and the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region (Knopf 2003). And that was it. I did not open the new book I was most excited to start, M Train by Patti Smith (Knopf 2015). Or the second new book I was most excited to start, Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder (Counterpoint 2015), who have been writing to each other for decades, which I did not know. And, when the residency ended, and I returned home, I still didn’t want to read anything. I did pounce on my job-well-done-Sarah gift, a wordless book that arrived in the mail while I was away. A Yorkshire Sketchbook by painter David Hockney (Royal Academy Books 2012). I gazed and gazed at this gorgeous little facsimile watercolor sketchbook as if it contained all the most important news of the day.
Speaking of the news of the day. Everything is almost unbearable, isn’t it? Terrorist attacks around the world. Refugees. Ridiculous political situations in this country and elsewhere. Guns. Climate change. I don’t even know what to say about any of it. Other than this: I cannot live an effective (much less happy) life while feeling continually appalled and fearful. So I take in what I am able to, then take small active steps toward peaceful change, and determine within myself to be at least twice as kind as usual with everyone I encounter in life. And I keep trying to add to the sum total of beauty and meaning in the world. By painting, writing - any means necessary. It seems so futile, but I believe in beauty and goodness and peace and I refuse to stop believing, despite evidence to the contrary.
I’ve been home for well over a week now. And a few days ago, when I finally had the urge to pick up a book, what was it? I looked through the massive stack of wonderful reading material that’s been waiting so patiently for some attention from me for months now, and what did I do? I went back to a familiar bookshelf, gazed at The Letters of Horace Walpole, saw my own bookmark in the middle of Volume XIII, pulled the book off the shelf, carried it off, and began to read once more. Returning to the drawing-rooms of the eighteenth century, after three weeks of living outside in wild nature, was, in a word, a trip. He writes about the contemporary scene so beautifully, and I missed him so much! And I realized again with a shock just how far we’ve come in some arenas, in some countries – here for instance, I, a middle-aged woman, was just able to go and live alone on public land (in a national park), and spend my days exactly as I most wanted to. Working at my art, wearing what I want – work pants! warm clothes! blaze orange! – making no concessions to anything other than nature and the limits of my own body, skills, and knowledge. How completely different than the lives of Walpole’s female friends! Card-playing dowagers, minor royalty, married nieces, and in-laws – I just read about one dying after having thirteen children, for god’s sake. And yet Walpole’s take on politics and wars and violence is fairly close to my own, and his writing on those subjects, during that volatile time in world history, is full of sketches that sound utterly modern. More despair on my part – will the human race ever learn? Anything?? I will answer these questions myself, and I know where the answers are to be found. Yes. In art. In books. And in the making of these things, and in the experiencing of them. Not that I have any inside track on what might be the right thing to do in life – far from it! I wouldn’t presume to speak for anyone else – all I know is what works in my own heart, to keep despair at bay and keep gratitude in bloom.
Speaking of gratitude. I have a great deal for the few long-term readers of this blog. It's been a tremendous pleasure to engage in a shared literary life with like-minded souls, over the past ten years. As you may know, I am a homebody who enjoys solitude, perhaps too much, and finds it difficult to speak easily about all sorts of things in person, books among them. As such, writing here has been a great blessing. Thank you, so very much. I hope we continue to read and discuss books and life for years to come.