...to get to me crawl out of my introverted cave and into the spotlight. From February 14 to 16, 2014, I will be a Writer in Residence for Oregon Writers Colony at their Colony House facility in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. My topic for the weekend? Reading as a Writer, Writing as a Reader. Hoping to offer insights into how to recognize and develop your personal literary aesthetic -- for both what you read and what you choose to write. Sure hope the winter skies are that dazzling that weekend!
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. —Annie Dillard
Another autumn is upon us. It was a glorious summer of the best tomato crop in decades here in Western Oregon. I put poetry aside to weed and harvest and plant a spate of fall crops. But I still found time to recently take another stroll through Annie Dillard’s book, The Writing Life.
Twenty-four years—yikes!—have passed since its publication in 1989. That was right around when I re-opened the writing Pandora’s box in my own life and put pen back to paper, fingers to QWERTY keyboard again. Not long after, I headed to graduate school part-time, feeling for the first time in forever that I’d been reunited with my creative tribe. Sing hosannas—wait, not so fast.
In the years since, hairs are grayed, waists have thickened, and more words than I may have time left on earth to count have accumulated in assorted notebooks and MS Word files, in and out, under and through, above and below my living of daily life. On lesser days, I ask myself, what do I have to show for it? A few awards, dozens of publications, two chapbooks and, increasingly, a nagging ache in my lower back.
With prescience and hindsight, Dillard wonders if that’s ever a useful question to ask:
“The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells good. Writing is mere writing, literature is mere…This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else.”
The Writing Life is a dense, smart, hard-to-summarize reckoning of what a life of writing has meant for one Annie Dillard. It’s not a cheery, gung-ho tract. In fact, it’s often the opposite with its talk about the years spent writing a single work, the pointlessness of so much of what we write, the absence of anyone much caring we even do this work except the writing us. Blah blah blah. Even Dillard-as-misanthrope wonders if it might have been better to learn a more useful trade!
And yet, The Writing Life offers a welcome if, at times, depressing reality check. Dillard isn’t afraid to be blunt as she dissects sacred cows of the profession, telling it as it more often really is. It’s funny, too, especially when she asks questions: Is it reasonable to sit in a small room with the company of pieces of paper? Why do we do this writing if we hate it? Why these days would anyone read a book if they could see a movie instead?
Writing as a miner’s pick, or a hammer. Writing as scaffolding, a ladder. As fiber optic, a cranking flywheel, a lifeboat, a calculus of page creation. What you read is what you write. What you learn is what you know. The art must enter the body. Every book is an intrinsic impossibility.
Dillard even writes about the sneaky way time passes as you fumble to make sense of the writing life you believe you are fashioning for yourself.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days…it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later still living.”
A lot of turf gets covered in The Writing Life. The troubles you can encounter when you are thick into a book and discover it has hairline fractures maybe even fatal mistakes that require you toss it aside and begin again from scratch. The myth that any of this work we attempt to do is, in the end, easy. Plus it’s brilliant, thoughtful, and poetically written; this time, I ended up marking passages on page after page, ones I want to further reflect on as I “spend” my own writing days.
I think maybe this one, below, spoke to me the most. It’s Dillard’s response to one of her readers asking, who will teach me to write?
“The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write.”
But wait, there’s more:
“There’s another way of saying this. Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block.”
I returned to writing poetry in 2004 after years in the prose wilderness, writing short stories and the inevitable attempt-at-novel. While I’d never abandoned the reading poems—a love from way back when—in graduate school, my workshops and classes were focused around the craft of fiction. Oh, I waded into the deep waters topics like the Erotic, the Body, and the Other in Shakespeare, of course. And took the very unfashionable “Epic Poetry” seminar when everyone else was talking Barthes and Foucault and Derrida. Homer, Virgil and Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, yes!
Still, my serious and focused “book-learning” when it comes to poetry—the mechanics, the critical essays, the theory, even the names of schools and historical periods—remained just about nil until, five years ago, when I unexpectedly found myself wanting and needing to write poems again. That’s when I found myself to be way “behind” on reading widely and deeply in contemporary poetry, a rich, eclectic, and thriving scene for certain these days. All this means is that I’ve had lots of catching up to do—on terms of art, tricks of the trade, finding the proper tools in my personal poetic toolbox and keeping them sharp and clean.
Still, as part of my attempt to “catch up,” I’m most delighted when I stumble upon an essay, an idea, a book of poetry, or a recommendation of a particular poet whose work speaks to what it is I find myself attempting to do here and now. There is, as we all know, nothing new under this sun.
That’s what happened a year or so back when I pulled Robert Bly’s slim 1972 volume, Leaping Poetry: An Idea with Poems and Translations from my shelf. (Another book I’d been reading, The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser had made a reference to it.)
Part critical essay, part anthology, I was surprised to find that, apparently, I’d read it once before. Faint pencil checkmarks in the margins where I’d experienced my aha! moments were still visible, testimonial to that fact. But truth to tell, I have no memory of that. Maybe it was one of those books that I read too soon, before I had any frame of reference to really get, to really understand the fuss of what Bly was really talking about.
Here is one of the first bits of text I’d pencil-checked:
“In many ancient works of art we notice a long floating leap at the center of the work.”
Leaping is the ability to associate fast, and, in Bly’s view, associative freedom is desired and desirable in both the form and content of a poem. By the end of the nineteenth century, poetry had already began to come more from the unconscious; the world of dreams—the only remnant of associative freedom from ancient times according to Freud—had begun to be set free.
Deepen the range of association in a poem. Increase its speed. Fly.
William Blake—another icon I need to further study—was an early practitioner of such flights. Rainer Maria Rilke as well. In Leaping Poetry, Bly also celebrates the Spanish poets, García Lorca and Vallejo, two exuberant exemplars of this bounding wildly on the page. Contemplation of the powers of wild association also returns us to García Lorca and his idea of duende, imagine that. Bly also suggests that the French and Spanish surrealist poets would be worth of study as well.
When this book was written in the early 1970s, Robert Bly was convinced that only a handful of poets in our more hidebound, black-or-white-with-no-shades-of-gray western tradition had already made this leaping and associative seismic, psychic shift. See John Ashbery, Hart Crane, Gary Snyder, even some Wallace Stevens for starters.
“When the poet brings to the poem emotions from his thought-life and his flight-life, emotions that would be intense whether the poem were written or not, and when he succeeds in uniting them with the associative powers of the unconscious, we have something different from Homer…which we could call the poem of ‘passionate association,’ or ‘poetry of flying.’”
What was I looking for when I opened Bly’s little book? A reminder of just what this crazy notion of leaping really was? Yes. Guidance as to how to recognize and cultivate such leaping in my own work? Yes, again. How to make those leaps, maintain faith in them, willingly follow them as they reconnoiter in and around and out? Most definitely. Reassurance that I wasn’t touched or crazy or suffering from an acid flashback whenever I noticed my own words heading fast and furious for such improbable loop-de-looping and occasionally unintelligible leaps and associations all on their own? Of course.
I suppose it ought to bother me that something I instinctively migrated toward in my own work was actually given a name—Leaping Poetry—so long ago that fashions have moved on once, twice, dozens of time since in pursuit of the Next Big Thing. But you know what a real benefit of coming to an engagement with poetry late? I really don’t care. It’s all new, all news to me. And if the shoe fits…why not take it off and leap?
So, which is it—leap before you look? leap after you look? Hell, what about simply leap and don’t look and see where you end up?
“Possibly, then, writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out to the light.” -- Margaret Atwood
Every one of us has one of those books—assigned in a class, passed along from a friend, found in the bottom of the box you bought for a buck at the annual Friends of the Library book sale in Ithaca, New York, the one where some people waited in line for days, camped even, you’d think it was the second coming of the Fabulous Four. One of those books that, once read, you can’t believe you never read it before, let along knew about it existed because so much of it is the stuff of already familiar. One of those that shows up when you need it or want it or both, and speaks your peculiar dialect of life and confusion. One that you’ll press into the hands of a friend, lose track of, buy again, loan, repeat.
Surfacing by Margaret Atwood was that book for me. By all rights, it should have been one that came into my life when it was originally published in 1972, my high school senior year. But I was too preoccupied proving my high-falutin’ literary tastes in A.P. English what with Chaucer, Milton, and Dostoevsky, to name a few. A brand-new, feminist-leaning novel by an unknown Canadian who was also a woman—as you can imagine, my snobby literary nose stayed high in the air and I missed it completely. So, ironically, this book that rates as one of the ones that changed something about my life didn’t find my way to me until eight years later when it was assigned reading in a Women’s Studies class at Cornell University.
Since then, I’ve read just about everything Atwood has written. Which is how I came to read her 2002 book about writing itself, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. After all these years being reader novels as wildly diverse as Cat’s Eye and Oryx and Crake, I finally wanted to know a bit more behind-the-scenes about what makes this amazing artist tick.
Originally written and delivered as a series of lectures at the University of Cambridge, Negotiating with the Dead offers a friendly invitation to peer inside the sensibility and creative processes that, in part, make Margaret Atwood tick. Like a few other books on the subject of writing by acclaimed authors (Annie Dillard and Stephen King come to mind), she pulls no punches and isn’t concerned with editing her sometimes frank tongue. She asks the Big Questions:
Who are you writing for? Why do you write? Where does writing come from?
And then offers a list of answers to the question of motives she compiled from a whole host of sources— it’s close to three pages long!
In some ways Atwood wants to warn—maybe even warn off—the unsuspecting young, as she calls them, who seek writing as a life, a career. Even as she realizes that her words may fall on deaf ears she cautions that “dangers multiply by the hour, you never step into the same river twice, the empty pages of the blank page appall, and everyone walks into the maze blindfolded.”
With chapter headings such as orientation and duplicity, dedication and temptation, communion and descent, Atwood leads us through not only her philosophizing on these somewhat lofty subjects but through her own somewhat peripatetic life’s story of making her way to words as well.
She pokes fun at the academy, at the ironies of success when one is finally published and acquires fame, at the ongoing tug-of-war between “the rock of artistry and the hard place of having to pay the rent.” She explores the notion of the sacrifice required to be an artist—especially for women—and reminds us that, indeed, “the bodies dead at the foot of the altar of art are numerous.” She delves into what if any moral and social responsibilities exist we bear when it comes to making art.
Not forgotten, too, is the age-old question, do you have to suffer to be a writer? Atwood’s conclusion? “The suffering will occur whether you like it or not.”
OK, let’s face it, that sounds a little more than downbeat. Still, it’s not sufficient reason for you to ignore this book. In my view, it’s rare to get a fresh, intellectually smart, yet downright humble and humbled look into the mind, heart, and (dare I say) soul of an accomplished, seasoned writer at the peak of her game. Margaret Atwood was born in November 1939; she’ll turn seventy-four this year. Check her Wikipedia page alone to find out how broadly and deeply she’s waded in the many rivers of the literary world.
I mean who doesn’t want to read more from and by a writer who is willing to put out there that she has come to believe—from reading widely, deeply, and constantly, and writing as well—that “all writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated deep-down by a fear of and a fascination with mortality—by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead…The dead may guard the treasure, but it’s useless treasure unless it can be brought back into the land of the living and allowed to enter time once more—which means to enter the realm of the audience, the realm of the readers, the realm of change.”
Admit it: Wouldn’t you, the writer, pretty much willingly follow the author of this statement just about anywhere?
Eight or nine years ago, I took an online class through that was all about getting past writer’s block. I’m not even sure that I had a case of writer’s block at the time; I’d been writing away fairly regularly, with the usual peripatetic ups and down but somehow something felt—and kept getting—stuck.
Looking back now, I think what I mostly needed at that moment was someone other than me, myself, and I coming up with simple strategies that would act as a jumpstart, “homework assignments” to jolt me past complacency and back to getting interesting and lively words on the page. Every week for a month our instructor, Allegra Wong, offered up deceptively simple even fun exercises that freed me to range and roam, dance and sing, rend and wail however I pleased on the page. And, amazingly, I’ve since taken some of that raw material and turned it into poetry and creative non-fiction. But, for me, the absolute best thing I “took away” from the class was learning about The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon.
One week, our assignment was to write a simple series of lists in the manner of Sei Shōnagon. I don’t think I was the only person in the class who immediately thought, Sei who?The Pillow Book is Shōnagon’s vast—some might say obsessively compulsive and fanatical—collection of personal notes from the ten years she spent as lady-in-waiting to the Empress Sadako in tenth century Japan. A contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, the author of The Tale of Genji, Shōnagon’s worldly and, at times, promiscuously playful “belles-lettres” offer insights into the daily lives of upper class Japanese women during this middle Heian period. Essentially, The Pillow Book is a compendium, an almost-encyclopedia, of what attracts, displeases, or interests her in the minutiae of daily life, lists she composed at night when she returned to her living quarters from her duties at the court.
The book is 185 numbered sections that don’t form any kind of ongoing, linear narrative at all. I have to confess—I’ve never read wanted to actually read it straight through. Rather, I find its value in dipping into the curiosity and strangeness of her many idiosyncratic topics. She covers a lot of turf, in equal measure shallow and profoun. What annoys, surprises, embarrasses, distresses, or shames her. Gossip heard in the court on a particular afternoon. Her take on proper manners and etiquette. And lists—many, many lists, often quirky and amazingly detailed and inspired just when you least expect them to be much of anything.
Descriptions of trees, flowers, clouds, winds, and then wind instruments. Depressing things, hateful things. Things that lose by being painted. Things that gain by being painted. Things that are distant though near. Things that are near though distant. Things that have lost their power. Things that make one’s heart beat faster.
Shōnagon’s lists are full of surprises to savor, too. I particularly love this item under #99, Adorable Things: “The face of a child drawn on a melon.” Sweet.
It turns out that the very titles (in translation by Ivan Morris) of many of Shōnagon’s sections—or your own 21st century adaptations of them?—make the best, and I mean the best of writing prompts and springboards, ones guaranteed to catapult you from your doldrums and back to the glorious specificity of vivid writing.
Here’s one of my experiments writing in this easy-breezy manner of Sei Shōnagon:
Things That Belong in a Home:
Windows without curtains.
Soft yellow light from a lamp with a stained glass shade.
Pots and pans in colors of the rainbow.
The smell of leeks and shallots simmering in a chicken broth stock.
A coffee table made from an old ice chest painted summer cottage green with a clear glass top that looks down on the piazza in Siena, Italy.
Black-and-white photographs of long-dead family members you may or may not resemble.
Rugs made in the Turkish mountains with wool dyed from vegetables and roots.
An oil painting inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”, the only light a twist of yellow paint that hints at a face.
A fireplace or a stove where you can watch the changes in a piece of burning wood and who knows? maybe even see the face of the Virgin Mary.
A bed with a firm mattress and plump feather pillows and worn cotton sheets and a patchwork bedspread in the log cabin design quilted by my great-grandmother Charity and her sister, Olive, before the start of the 20th century.
Wicker chairs owned by Sinclair Lewis, scored at an estate sale, bequeathed to me when he returned to Alaska, they aren’t practical in Fairbanks weather, he said.
A bookshelf and books, one with the inscription “may we meet one day in a free Tibet.”
I don’t know about you but I can already feel the glimmer of story, the pulse of poem, lurking below the surface of what was a fairly easy-to-jot-down list.
So three cheers for The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. For me, it’s a reminder that any and every thing can be generative for writing. It teaches me to (again) notice and take the time to get down details, the marrow of strong writing. Make your own lists of things. Or riff on the ones in The Pillow Book—for starters, maybe Different Ways of Speaking or Things Without Merit or Things Worth Seeing—and see where such pillow talk might take you. I guarantee you it will likely be somewhere you haven’t journeyed before. At least that’s what happened to me.
After learning of Roger Ebert's passing earlier this evening, I am resurrecting a blog post from oh, maybe 2008?
The answer you desire is within you.
That was the fortune in my cookie after a tofu curry noodle lunch a while back. There are days when it definitely feels true that words are all we have. I have Samuel Beckett’s pronouncement on the subject featured prominently on my website’s opening page. And then there are other days, when it’s painfully apparent that words will never be enough.
For me, this seems to come particularly true whenever I cling not only to words but the writing “dream”—which translates to some myth of all the wonders that are “life-as-writer,” I guess—in large part because I can’t figure out what else to do with (the rest of) my life. All this time invested, all this study, work on craft, learning to self-edit, finally claiming my identity as someone who writes, blah blah blah. How could I possibly give all that up?
Lately, I’ve been realizing (yet again) that “life-as-writer” is much easier to announce and put out there as a pipe dream rather than make an actual reality. There’s so much to discourage, to dispirit even the most stalwart and self-confident of our tribe. It’s not only because of the rejections, the mass mailings from small-press publishers and literary journals of yet another contest they want me to enter (and, of course, pay a reading fee for) when I have my next poetry manuscript done. It’s not that I don’t want to work hard, even harder, to get better, to be the best I can be. And it’s not that I don’t want to keep writing, to have words be a touchstone in my life.
These days, there sure seems to be a word glut. The world is overflowing with information from published and emerging writers who have come to inhabit all manner of print and virtual niches: bloggers, commenters, experts, pontificators, pundits, blowhards. Words, words, words. It’s all too easy to find myself drowning in a scribbled sea of words—la, la, la, la, la, la, I can’t hear you let alone get around to reading you these chit-chattering days.
I can’t believe I’m the only person who feels this way.
This lament has been voiced before. In Becoming a Writer, a wise little book originally published in the 1920s, Dorothea Brande urges us to keep our own counsel, in solitude and fairly close to the chest:
“The writer is at a disadvantage shared by no novice of the other arts. He [sic] does use the medium of ordinary conversation…when he exercises his profession; and he has no impressive paraphernalia to impose respect on the layman. Now that everyone has his portable typewriter, not even that badge of his profession is left to the young writer.”
Other issues bubble up as well. I am troubled by the existence of so many writers even as there appear to be fewer and fewer readers. Add to that the growing cult of the writer as celebrity/performer, as marketer of her or his work to a shrinking yet devoted (if you are lucky) audience. Given the emphasis on self-promotion, it’s easy to grow weary of the egos, and, at times, the sense of entitlement that now seems to accompany literary folks who make their livings in the academy teaching yet more others to write. And I haven’t even touched on the issue of standards and quality. That is a whole other proverbial “can of worms.”
I guess I always wanted this choice of mine, this dedication of my days to words, to feel more joyful and less catch-as-catch-can and, at times, so darn hard. Which takes me back to that fortune cookie: The answer you desire is within you. OK, I want to believe that. So what’s the trouble then?
I’ve even begun to wonder if it’s the way I’ve conceived of and practiced my engagement with the so-called “writing life” that’s really the issue. There are days when it seems like it isn’t generous enough, large enough, interesting enough, moral enough, stimulating enough, brave enough, bold enough, connected enough, good-crazy enough, calming enough let alone meaningful enough to warrant spending so much time alone in a garret or an indoor/outdoor-carpeted basement, a coffee shop or a cubicle fiddling with words. That it’s too far from that feeling you get in those pure-hearted moments of living when you simply be rather than do. Instead, there’s so much striving along with the forever need to work harder and do more, more, more. So much trying and trying again. So much learning to live with some version of continuous failing—does anyone have a better word for all those rejections?
Allen Ginsberg’s famous Mind Writing Slogans start with Chogyam Trungpa’s adage (which may or may not be related to a similar comment about art in general from William Blake)—“First thought, best thought.” If only I could believe that my best work could grow out of that!
Dorothea Brande offers a way to navigate these contradictory tempests, these inevitable vulnerabilities so many of us experience when we embark on a writing-focused life:
“It should not be your sensitive, temperamental self which bears the burden of your relations with the outside world of editors, teachers, and friends. Send your practical self out into the world to receive suggestions, criticisms, and rejections…Criticism and rejection are not personal insults, but your artistic component will not know that. It will quiver and wince and run to cover, and you will have trouble in luring it out again to observe and weave tales and find words for all the thousand shades of feeling that go to make up a story.”
Which leads me to the answer within: Surely there is a more lively and joy-giving way to be working with the written word. Change the how, not the what is the way Eckhart Tolle sums it up in one of his bestselling treatises on how to fix what is broken with our lives.
What is the what, for me, anyway?
I turned to writing when I was a kid. Why, I must have liked it, right? I turned to it again when older to try to make sense of the wreck I thought I’d made of my life. I turned to fiction to capture all the characters I’d let into my life, to share their stories with the world. I turned to a novel to tell the saga of the peculiar and left-behind place where I’d grown up, the people who endure there, the ones who get away, the ones who stay. I turned to memoir to write about one of the most important people in my life after I learned, belatedly, of his death. I turned to (really returned to) poetry to write about that person and that death when I realized I needed what only poetry has—music and shadow, echo and painting—to tell the story of how his presence constantly undid me and how his absence had rattled me so. I continued with so much of this writing for all these years because people outside myself—teachers and classmates, partners and friends—told me I was good at it. I sometimes wonder: Did I once ever ask if it was what I actually wanted to do?
At this juncture, I’ve begun to wonder if maybe I’m too private to ever be brave enough to make my way with words. Maybe I can’t take the numbers, the competition—all the strong, increasingly younger writers being churned out of the writing programs that have sprouted like dandelions, or mushrooms after a winter of Oregon rain. Maybe I can’t take the uncertainty one has to learn to live with—as W.S. Merwin wrote, if you have to be sure don’t write—now that I’m up close and personal to what I said I wanted to do. Maybe it’s all the recent news of cancer deaths and diagnoses and treatments with a sudden heart attack thrown in to remind me time is running out. Maybe I simply want to do something else with the rest of my life.
Maybe I’m bored.
Then there are the other times. Sun coming through my writing room window and an empty day in front of me to read, dally, live in the luxury of finding what I’m wanting to say—the proverbial courting the muse. The surprise of an unexpected verb that makes its way into a line in a poem that unfolds onto the blank page. The way I can lose myself for hours, finding a word, fiddling with words. The sweetness that rushes in when people tell you they’ve read your work and it touched a familiar nerve, or spoke to their hearts.
The answer I desire is within me? I want to want this, want to love doing the work, want to feel joy and challenge and soaring when I’m writing. For most of my life, I believed writers had the answer, no, I believed writing did. Lately, I guess, I’ve started to doubt even that.
All of this fretting starts to seem self-indulgent and pointless, especially when I re-read a series of essays by Michael Ventura from the Austin Chronicle in November 2005.
Ventura’s writing about the looming convergence of Peak Oil and global climate change could have been lifted from an issue of Stewart Brand’s CoEvolution Quarterly, a magazine I read with religious devotion thirty or so years back. How did we all get so derailed from those idealisms and truths? How did people who came of age in an energy crisis, let alone the injustices carved in sharp relief by the Vietnam war and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, convince themselves it’s OK to live totally absorbed in our precious and protectionist—as well as too-precious literary—worlds?
His words echo with a truth that I, for one, am needing to hear right about now:
“Look...I’d like my cozy, convenient writer’s life to continue as uncharacteristically tranquil as it’s been lately, writing my novels and poems and columns, downsizing as gracefully as I’m able, living with a truly delectable slowness, testifying to the truth of Caroline Casey’s sentence ‘Beauty is abundantly available to the unhurried mind.’ But I look at the facts as I understand them and can come to no conclusion but that these too-convenient days are numbered, and I’d best enjoy the present, behave alertly, and be ready for a storm, always remembering the three qualities that Henry James noted were most important in a human being: ‘Kindness, kindness, and kindness.’
Life is about to become both slower (with more opportunities for beauty) and more urgent, governed by necessity rather than desire...We will be called upon to do more, and be more, than we thought ourselves capable of...Once upon a time wasn’t that all I asked of life?”