A few key dates in William Stafford’s life: born in Kansas in 1914. A conscientious objector in World War II. A man whose habit was to write something daily, who would rise at 4.30am to ‘sit and wait’ for what he knew lay within to be written. His volume West of Your City published by Talisman Press in 1960; Allegiances published by Harper in New York in 1970; the author of over fifty books, he died at his home in Oregon in 1993.
William Stafford thoroughly understood that once we have tasted far streams … / found some limit beyond the waterfall, / a season changes, and we come back, changed …
And therein lies our hope for this old world in our own time and season.
Dreadful elves, goblins, trolls and spiders have always existed. Some of them, some of us too, have sought to be ‘heroes’ – fenced around by their and our own ignorance. It is time for all the heroes to go home.
How then may I and we locate ourselves by the real things / we live by – ?
Perhaps – having tasted – it has always to start with me, with what I now clearly see: that instead of kidding myself it’s my job to change the entire world (whoever I am, whatever my place of birth, gender, skin colour, creed or lack thereof, and wherever on earth I think myself called to be the hero, the unsolicited ‘saviour of the world’) my best contribution to that same world will be to allow seasons and experience to change me.
While strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.
Note sturdy. Not wimps without cogniscence of – or willingness sometimes to act upon – right or wrong. Not people who turn blind eyes to goblins and trolls. Not people who do not grieve, or hope, or offer healing or hospitality, or pray, or live and die. But sturdy. Believing in the possibility of being positively changed. Experienced in the quiet and slow methods and the poetry of seasons.
Writing can be such a joy, on so many levels. A regular highpoint for me involves getting together with my local writing group, comprised of an inspirational tutor and a number of very different people who write about anything and everything.
There’s always something new to learn and, as ever, inspiration is drawn from listening deeply to, and / or reading others’ work. Often we celebrate this among ourselves and some of us occasionally reflect upon the truth that among the best gifts we humans can give one another is the sharing of our real selves – and allowing others to share themselves, in intentional and purposeful space.
How often I surprise myself when I read what has flowed from my own pen!
Hans Christian Andersen by Anne Grahame Johnstone – see art.co.uk
Green velvet smoking jacket
svelte and warm and treasured
the pool of light that quickened
the grain in his oak desk was
as much a portal for him
into other worlds as was the
oak door through which he entered
his library at every
Sometimes the desk supported
the console of a racing carriage and
at others the cockpit of
a spaceship from the pen of
Leonardo da Vinci and
at others still the pool of light
upon the desk resembled that upon
the spectacles of a tiny Rumpelstiltskin
or the chestnut hair of Lydia
the one and only he’d ever
And his pen added a carrot-nose
to a snowman fashioned
by his father and the slowing
pace of his seventy-five year
old legs was rejuvenated as
his pen pointed brighter than
candle flame into the
archives of an always fertile mind
His eyes could appear as blank
black discs in a handsome patrician visage
when observed at the desk from
eventide street window but
only because there they gazed
inward, remembering, rejoicing
resurrecting realities borne of
fairy tales of wingéd truth
Light with glad purpose shone from an
echo in the firmament. This
one’s for you as you wait here to
do homage to eternal word
within, and rest awhile to hear
the writer’s modest voice and art’s
vocation take honoured seat that
pen sets and honestly repeats
for community here above
Rydal’s poetry. The bowl heals
as it calls and the tone is home
within the heights of a reborn
We begin life in community from the time of our earliest awareness of family members and our chosen friends. It’s a special joy to watch grandchildren begin to sense wider belonging, and celebrate it.
For my part, continuing contact with innumerable people I’ve encountered across a lifetime, some of whom I actually meet only rarely, is one of life’s richest gifts. Handwritten letters are treasures. I can still ‘see’ some such letters that passed into history years ago, and often something as simple as a distinctive hand restores huge swathes of detail and story to my mind one might have thought long forgotten.
Always something of a daydreamer in my schooldays (and since!) I wasn’t overly keen on learning penmanship and writing exercises. How glad I am today for those who persevered in teaching me the joys of the written word. I cannot imagine life, or story, without them.
I was delighted this evening to encounter the writings of a thoughtful fellow blogger who describes herself as ‘a citizen of the world’. My local (somewhat smaller!) writing group is a forum that seems to me similarly keen to do away with unnecessary walls.
Perhaps my lifelong attraction to care-full writing – the act of writing, and reading that of others – has to do with deep-seated desire to be a ‘citizen of the world’ whilst, at the same time being naturally cautious of imposed noise and hot-house opinions and rhetoric. Many years ago I asked a then-church-attending gentleman how he stayed calm beneath the vigorous protestations of a particular preacher he used to tell me about. ‘I always take a book’, came his peaceable reply.
The wonderful thing about writing is that we’re able to choose, either to ignore, or to come to it quietly, and return to it later, perhaps many times. In unencumbered quietness the writer has tools to hand with which to express depth, and in reading to approach respectfully and openly the expressed inner lives of others.
We’re just back from a whirlwind tour of old friends – North to South down one side of the country, and South to North up the other side again. And by way of the miracle of the iPad I was in touch with another treasured friend in the US via our car’s front passenger seat, whilst in a traffic queue on the M1!
Old friends have the patience of Job. One recently gave me a beautiful greeting card with the message
The best mirror is an old friend …
And I’m immeasurably grateful to friends old and new, and often wonder whether they know what a life sustaining presence they have been and are in my life. The travelling to meet with friends becomes mirrored by the travelling through shared history. And writing, for me, is an old friend too. Reflecting this evening upon a happy couple of days away I turned again to another journal …
Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe. It is a huge language, but each of us tracks his or her particular understanding of it.
That’s absolutely it! Whether talking or listening to persons or to paper (and I do both) – we’re engaged in dialogue with the divine – and enriched again and again by another’s “particular understanding of it”.
Porridge with sultanas and good coffee; watching our neighbour dismantle Christmas lights; signwriters at the gym adorning the white walls with “stay focussed, adjust, adapt”; half a dozen inspirational blogs; greetings from writing friends in the USA; encouragement from a fellow sketchbook artist in Australia who also feels “like a kid in a sweet shop” whenever she encounters art supplies – and is fab at her craft; wonderful salad of red onions, couscous, strawberries, capers, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado pear, sultanas, tomatoes – with cheese on toast; logs delivered – with an eating-out recommendation; being entranced by thirty or more small birds at and around the garden feeders – in a pause to watch of just five minutes; mince pies; a visit from our friendly electrician; knitting needles; lightly dusted haddock and tartare sauce; phone call with Mum; photo-collage of family gingerbread houses “competition”; books and music; meditation; reminiscing; prayer; evening fireside; poetry; thanksgiving.
Yep: it’s the little things that are really the big things.
Our latest grandchild was born in October 2014 so was a tiny babe in arms last Christmas. Now, at fourteen months, she’s crawling around her home as though it were a racetrack, shouts out for Mum, Dad, or anyone else on hand to stagger behind her – supporting – so that she can stay upright on tiny – though fast-moving feet. She’s a wonder and a delight in every way, of course, but what I’m surprised about most of all is her early fascination with – and frequent calling out for – a notebook and a pen! Already.
Perhaps she’ll follow in her agronomist / journalist daddy’s footsteps? My memory is doubtless that of a grandfather – not as sharp as it was, if it ever was, but I’m as certain as can be that, at the same age, I didn’t bypass other toys in pursuit of a pad of paper and a pen. What might have happened, how might life have turned out differently, had I done so, then?