- We who choose to be owls watch all this, blink our yellow eyes slow…
— Joseph Boyden, Wenjack
This morning I walked down to the lookout point near my house. The lookout is perched on a hill and points across Lake Ontario. On a clear day like today, I can see a thin stripe of New York State across the water. I could paddle there in a canoe; we’re that close.
- Admire the world for never ending on you — as you would an opponent, without taking your eyes away from him, or walking away.
— Annie Dillard
We’ve had a supernaturally warm November, downright summery, possibly a sign of climate catastrophe. Yesterday, I closed my eyes and imagined it was spring. Honestly, the air smelled like spring. I pushed up the sleeves of my sweater and felt the breeze on my skin. When I opened my eyes, the orange leaves in front of me were a shock.
For a moment, just because I believed it was spring, it became spring. Then it wasn’t again. I felt shaken. What is real?
In light of recent events, how to think? How to be a thinker and writer, right now?
- In this time of copious and sophisticated distraction, one of the most subversive things we can do is pay attention.
— Erin Robinsong
I’m still reeling from the US election results. This has made me slow way down. I can’t just go about my daily activities as though nothing has changed.
How do I write again? I don’t feel like my novel is important, anymore.
I find myself staring, noticing the way sunlight shines through running tap water. How lucky I am to live where I live, to be able to see the water sparkle at this angle. The sun is so bright, my water is clean. Oh, and it comes out of a tap. How?
I am thinking but not thinking. I am reading, but not the way I usually read. I am reading and re-reading a handful of poems and koans. I’m reading the way I run my fingers over a stone in my pocket — touching it, but not in the way I usually touch things.
I am teaching myself a poem by John O’Donahue. I’m memorizing it, so I will have it wherever I go from now on. I copy the words over and over in my notebook, so I can see them in my mind and know them in my body.
My favourite line of the poem is: “The quiver of the seed awakening in the earth, unfolding in a trust of roots.”
Memorizing, I feel calm.
- I feel a bond with every word I pick up. I feel affection, along with a sense of responsibility. When I can’t remember words, I fear I’ve abandoned them.
— Jhumpa Lahiri
I want to pay more attention now than ever.
In my attention lives my capacity for love and awe. My attention enables my adoration for nature, animals, and people. Without attention, my heart can’t be open.
When I’m distracted, I know I’m trying to escape what’s real by consuming something: Netflix, worry, chocolate, being busy.
- The first people that dictators try to get rid of are the poets, and the artists, and the novelists, and the playwrights. They ban their books. They’re terrified of what poetry can do. Poetry encourages you to think for yourself and to disregard church and state.
— Michael Longley
My attention strengthens me.
- When I write, I give people access to their own emotions.
— Gord Downie
There is a koan that John Tarrant writes about in his book, Bring Me the Rhinoceros.
The koan goes like this:
One day, Yanguan called to his assistant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”
The assistant said, “It is broken.”
Yanguan said, “In that case, bring me the rhinoceros.”
What is the rhinoceros?
As a woman, I feel compressed by today’s news. My spirit feels kicked until the wind was knocked out of it. All I can do is read poetry and cry and copy it down and try to memorize it.
But when I go slow like this, the world actually opens up with my attention.
A strip of white cloud turns hot pink as the sun sets in front of it. The United States elects a president who leads with cruelty, ignorance, and fear.
I have a pen that writes in erasable ink. I’m typing this on a computer that runs with no wires. I had a headache for a week, and then it was gone.
- Remember that nothing is ever, ever as good as you hope or as bad as you fear.
— Susan Piver
I understand very little about most of what is happening.
What if I stopped trying to fix the broken fan? What would happen if I made space for the inconceivable?
After John O’Donahue, I want to memorize poems by Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, Basho, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, John Berryman, Jack Gilbert, Ursula K. Le Guin.
- For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.
— Mary Oliver
Tomorrow, I will wake up early, and I will write again. I will keep writing.
- This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
— Toni Morrison
Writers, let’s speed our healing and begin our love in action by writing together. Please come to a free SOS call — a guided writing practice with me — on Wednesday.
Get details and sign up for the call here.
Resources and recommended reading for writers right now
Don’t Bite the Hook: 5 things to remember post-election by Susan Piver
No Place for Self-Pity, No Place for Fear by Toni Morrison
Wenjack by Joseph Boyden
Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh
Bring Me the Rhinoceros by John Tarrant
In the comments section below, please offer any other poems, koans, stories or books that have given you a sense of meaning and hope right now.