Walking Thoughts: Why Bother Writing?

While Pearl was at her piano lesson, I went for a walk on the country roads around her teacher’s house. I’d been holed up all day against a wild wind, and although the temperature has swung a full fifty degrees since this time last week, it felt good to move my body.

After five minutes or so on Station Road, I turned onto a small side street with a view of the mountains that are really more like hills. The sun was getting low in the sky and my ears burned with cold. It was right about then that I heard it. The tinny voice of doubt. The swimming thoughts, so familiar, old and worn:

There are so many voices. What do I have to add? Why bother writing? 

If you look very closely and the light is just so, you can see the faintest blush of red in the treetops this time of year. It’s not even a blush yet, more like a tease. Easy to miss, and easy to doubt what you think you just saw: Color. As I walked, bare hands stuffed in coat pockets along with my wallet, keys, and phone, these lines came to me:

Oh, just love your restless heart. Love it the way the wind whips the craggy apple tree and the solemn birch. Love it like the light lowers before snapping you back to attention.

And it was then that I said hi to God.

(Some folks will stop reading now at the mention of God. That’s ok; it’s none of my business what “God” evokes for you. If it smacks of white patriarchy, I can assure you that’s not it for me. I could not describe God if you asked me to. All I know is that in that moment on my walk, I realized God and I have not been hanging out as much lately, and that’s exactly what I said. Out loud.)

“Hi, God. It’s me. We need to get together more often. Want to walk together?”

In the next part of the walk, a new series of thoughts came rolling in like waves. I looked at the still-bare trees, the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t hint of spring color, and got super existential all of a sudden. (Sometimes talking to God gets me way down in the microcosms, but today was the opposite.)

The sky I was looking up at, the ground where each footfall landed — none of this will be here forever. The word “forever” echoing into infinitude, impossible to grasp.

I took out my phone and sent myself a text.
Whirlpools in a vast ocean. The radical suggestion of not having to hurry. The suggestion of loneliness. A pull to stillness and movement and the paradox of these together. And the question of “why bother” now subsumed by wind, the kind that swallows even silence whole, like prey.

Earlier in the day, I had written a poem after Wind, Water, Stone by Octavio Paz:

WIND, SKY, SILENCE

Wind swallows silence,
sky lashes wind,
silence scolds the sky.
Wind, sky, silence.

Sky conspires with silence,
silence is a bowl of wind,
wind shapeshifts to sky.
Silence, sky, wind.

Sky keeps its distance,
wind moves carelessly,
sharp silence, deep slice.
Sky, wind, silence.

These refuse to be contained:
always becoming each other
and changing form.
Wind, silence, sky.

There really is nothing to figure out. In fact, as a phrase, “figure out” is a dicey one-two punch guaranteed to tumble me deeper into tiny whirlpools of even smaller thoughts. I could stir them with a stick from the woods all day long and discover nothing; all the really exciting stuff is happening out in the open waters where I live and love and work every day.

I’ve always gone through cycles with my writing, as well as with just about everything else in my life. I imagine we all do, in our own ways.

Clarity feels fantastic. It feels like power and momentum. Depression is a weighted blanket that makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning. The smell of thawing earth and warm rain makes my whole body want to run, like a dog in an open field. I favor periods when I’m focused, when ideas are flowing, and when I feel confident and loved. I’m still learning how to relax into and during times of relative quiet and calm. It’s easy to get addicted to emergencies or reliant on periods of prolific, if inexplicable, creative urges.

Here’s the thing: The internal landscape changes. The external landscape changes. The writing is sometimes an anchor, other times a buoy. It’s both a constant variable in my days and an ever-changing one. Kind of like God. Like love.

As a kid, one of my favorite books was Amos & Boris by William Steig. Amos is a mouse and Boris is a whale. They become the best of friends during an ocean crossing. They experience times both peaceful perilous. In the end, each saves the other’s life, and though one must live on land and the other at sea, they remain dear friends for all time. It is truly a love story.

What stays? Why bother writing?

Our time here is so short. Your voice — that singular vehicle for the stories only you can share and the thoughts only you can reveal — ripples like so many waves in this vast impermanent ocean of love.

I am sometimes Amos and sometimes Boris. Boat and water. God and walker. Silence and wind. Ocean and ground. When I’m starting to get swirled into questions about purpose and meaning, it’s usually a good time to just walk. To just talk to God. To not know. To settle into that, letting the questions rest and the answers come and go as easily as the wind, the light around the bend.

23/30 Poems in November: Every year around this time

photo-1470165511815-34e78ff7a111Every year around this time
I turn into a small animal,
circle myself into a sunken nest
protected from harsh winds
and conditions too stark to bear.

If you look, you will not see me
there beneath the knee-deep leaves,
nor will I poke my head out
without the cover of darkest night.

When the sun grows so meek,
resigned as a child who can’t win
his own game, the tip of my tail
will reach round to the tip of my nose
and the light will throw itself back
to its meager source.

Here I shall stay, still and unmoving
until some spring day when ice
cracks like battered glass, begins
to flow again as I unfurl, remembering
the other shapes I make, with legs
that run, and tail uncurled.

Then I’ll sniff and see who’s come
to search. I’ll lurch at first on all fours
before my stride returns. I’ll gnaw
on the tenderest greens, call out
to the northward birds and back,
and meet the world again,
after this underground season.

23/30

#30poemsinnovember

What Darkness Does

before-darkLike when you are camping and slip inside
your sleeping bag as night falls, let’s say it’s late
and October brings ankle-deep leaves and hush
of woods behind barn.

Sure, you could turn the lights on in this little house.
Choose instead the rhythm of darkness

as you wonder what verb could describe
its way of moving, if you can even call it movement,
though “falling” is wrong and it doesn’t exactly take
the light away, either.

No, it just comes. A kind of absence of light
we need a name for, and with it, the reminder:

You, too, are an animal whose body would find
a warm hollow, a den, a place to burrow in,
close and curled around her kin.
We are not designed to stay up past dark,

nor is sleeping alone exactly survival.
Oh, but instinct would have you build walls.

Walls to show your love, inside of which you fire
up the stove and stretch cotton blankets
over winter beds. Come sleep with me now.
I’ll wake you with coffee,

I’ll touch you with sprigs of something green,
at the first signs of an early spring.