Archives

Making a Date With Beauty

“We have art in order not to die from the truth.” — Nietzsche

Afternoon Dreaming, Hugues Merle (1823-1881)

Afternoon Dreaming, Hugues Merle (1823-1881)

One of the things I love most about home schooling is that we have the flexibility to make art a priority. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as it should. The sad truth is that the day-to-day of life often gets in the way, leaving art and creativity to fall by the wayside. This isn’t to say that there are no moments of beauty in the minutiae of our days — there are many, not the least of which is being able to attend daily Mass. But more days than not pass with work and errands and housecleaning and core subjects and appointments and everything else which occupies the day of a busy family taking up time and crowding out space that might be spent drawing, building, making and listening to music, walking in the park, strolling through a museum, or taking in a dramatic performance at a local theater. Too long without a beauty break, leaves us feeling bereft, weighted, hungry for something simple and pure and a space to breathe it all in. (Read more . . . )

Changes and Something To Celebrate

Womanhood, 1925 (oil on canvas) by Mostyn, Thomas Edwin (1864-1930); 127.5x101.5 cm; Private Collection; © Christopher Wood Gallery, London, UK; English,  out of copyright

Womanhood, 1925 (oil on canvas) by Mostyn, Thomas Edwin (1864-1930); 127.5×101.5 cm; Private Collection; © Christopher Wood Gallery, London, UK; English, out of copyright

To everything there is a season . . .

Lots of changes have been taking place in my personal life which have encouraged me to re-examine and reorient my priorities such that regular readers will likely see less activity on one tiny violet in the near future.

My newly increased teaching schedule is taking up the majority of my time, leaving precious little to devote to my writing. Finishing my novel is a priority (I’m so close!), and since some of my health issues have improved, I plan on directing my energy to finishing my book. To assist with meeting this goal, I enrolled in a writing class/workshop which comes with its own demands for my diminishing time. All of which means I have had to choose to spend less time and energy writing for both my blogs.

In addition, I have cause to celebrate a new opportunity to explore the interplay between faith, beauty, and living a writing life. Recently I was invited to be a regular contributing writer to Deep Down Things, the blog affiliated with the gorgeous quarterly literary/art journal Dappled Things. This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I am excited to work with such an inspiring, enthusiastic, and devoted group of writers and editors. The entire Dappled Things project is truly a labor of love — all of the time to produce the journal and website/blog is donated by individuals committed to reinvigorating Catholic arts and letters. The combined effort of these talented people results in high caliber prose, poetry, and art, an unusually beautiful print edition of the journal, and a growing, engaging online presence. I hope you will celebrate this new opportunity with me and follow my writing on Deep Down Things and perhaps even consider giving yourself the gift of a year of Beauty Breaks by taking a subscription to this unique literary journal. My first essay, a meditation on living the writing life inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux, can be found here.

I do plan to write here when time and energy allow, and I’ll definitely post updates to my pieces published on Deep Down Things. But my intention is to take something of a sabbatical and use it to focus and quiet my mind to make progress on those larger projects which are very important to me. I hope you’ll continue to stay tuned . . .

On the Road to BEAUTY: William Morris

“Beauty, which is what is meant by art, using the word in its widest sense, is, I contend, no mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they choose, but a positive necessity of life, if we are to live as nature meant us to; that is, unless we are content to be less than men.”

William Morris, 1880

William MorrisBEAUTY

A Poem For Your Pocket

It’s Poem in Your Pocket Day! Celebrate by choosing and sharing a poem you love with others. My choice: the first poem I was ever required to memorize and which I’ve never forgotten, a selection from Sonnets From the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

“Sonnet 43: How Do I Love Thee?”

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love the to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose 
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, and tears of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
— Elizabeth Barret Browning
 

Poetry can be a reminder of the beauty and range of emotion words can convey. It can remind us of a special person, place, or time in our lives. It can open our eyes to a new way of seeing or being in the world. It can set a musical rhythm to the simplest human experience and elevate it to greatness. Once learned by heart, a poem can rarely be unlearned and will be forever “in your pocket,” a valuable treasure that cannot be stolen.

The Academy of American Poets has other suggestions for celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day, listed below.  And if you’re late getting the memo, don’t worry. Every day is a good day to share a poem.

* Hand out poems in your school or workplace.
* Teachers: reward students “caught” with a poem in their pocket.
* Local business owners: offer discounts to those carrying poems.
* Start a street team to pass out poems in your community.
* Add a poem to your email footer.
* Mail a poem to a friend.
* Post a poem on your blog or social networking page. Use #pocketpoem on Twitter.

Which poem will you choose?

Beauty Break: A Found Poem

Skippy’s up to almost 2 hours a day between piano, electric guitar and acoustic guitar. The house is filled with music and I love it. My favorite part of it all is when he just relaxes and it becomes something other than a practice session. I call it “plinking,” meaning he just goes into the zone and composes or picks a favorite song out by ear. Simply lovely….

Today, I heard strumming on the acoustic behind a podcast I was listening to while cooking in the kitchen, and next:

“Mom, did you hear what I was playing?”

“Yes…it’s a little noisy out here, so yes, vaguely, and it sounded good.”

“I found a new favorite song. . . ”

“You did?” Me, semi-distracted. . .

“Want me to show you?” And he starts singing a song that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. “And the leaves that are green, turn to brown. . . . “

Skippy playing Simon and Garfunkel's "Leaves That Are Green"

Skippy playing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Leaves That Are Green”

And he proceeds to sing and play Simon and Garfunkel’s song of the same name, nearly impeccably, by ear. My boy and I are kindred spirits when it comes to music and I love that he appreciates and hears the poetry in a song like this.

If you’ve never heard it, or have forgotten it because its been too long, do yourself a favor and listen now. There isn’t enough poetry in the world today, and we need to grasp it and hold onto it when we find it, wherever that may be.

Beauty Break: “The Red Balloon”

This is a lovely little film which I only just saw for the first time, at the suggestion of a good friend. It’s elegant simplicity and innocence provide the perfect vehicle for suggesting the ways we take ordinary beauty for granted and how the effort to recognize and preserve this extraordinary beauty in the every day pays off a hundredfold. It’s also a reminder about the need to be more childlike, humble, and trusting in our approach to life. Enjoy!

The Sacrament of the Present Moment

The Holy Grail, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

One of the very best books I read this summer — perhaps all year — was Christian McEwan’s lovely World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down. I posted an excerpt here that really spoke to me. Christian points true north in her recommendation that we reclaim quiet and slowness, and relearn to savor awareness in lives too often gone awry by speed, haste, and multi-tasking, our creativity and imagination suffocated by the noise that attends these harried, unfocused but increasingly “normal” behaviors. I have an intrinsic horror of chaos and I do not believe it is possible for me to live a truly creative life, in either a spiritual or an artistic sense,  in an environment that seeks to encourage chaos instead of order, harmony, and balance.

The truth is, I don’t have to participate in the chaos. I do have a choice, though I may be made to feel as though I don’t, or that in exercising my choice to slow down and swim on my own side of the stream I am somehow “not with it” and need to “get up to speed.” I’ve been struggling with the sense that my life, my mind, my health, and my world have all been unravelling with greater speed and urgency over the last couple of years, so Christian’s book was just what the doctor ordered. I took quite seriously her encouragement to “Choose to refuse,” and have been practicing the simple art of saying “No,” along with the attendant art of not apologizing or feeling guilty for saying it and using the resulting new-found time to be more available to the opportunities God is offering to me in the sacrament of the present moment.

Being more present to what is happening in the moment is necessarily going to look different for each person. It all depends on how plugged in or overextended you are. A good friend of mine is experimenting with unplugging from the Internet each weekend to allow for quiet spaces to process her writing. One thing I’m doing is trying to stay with the task at hand and resist heartily the urge to multi-task — meaning if I’m helping my son with his math lesson and the phone rings, I let it ring. This is extremely difficult to do because as a full-time mother and housewife, full-time home schooler, and part-time high school teacher I’ve got my hands full and there is rarely a moment when someone doesn’t want or need something from me. How do I meet everyone’s needs and still have something left over? Prayer is essential, but so is slowing down and making a place for quiet and a more moderate pace through the day.

One of the things people praise our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, for is his ability to make the person with whom he is speaking feel like the only person in the world. This is a tall order. But should it be? Why is it so hard for us to pay attention to who or what is right in front of us, without being distracted by something or someone else? Obviously, prudence and discretion is required: if I’m driving and my son wants me to look at or listen to something that requires too much of my attention, well, he simply has to wait. Keeping us alive and safe in that moment is the most important thing. But in this time of instant gratification and self-centered social interactions, this kind of patience is difficult to acquire and practice, for others and for ourselves. Yet it seems to me essential. Rather than whipping myself and others into higher speed, I must learn to be OK with allowing myself and others to move slow, appreciating the time it takes to be on task and do a job well and thoroughly before moving on to something else, and allowing the person I’m interacting with the gift of my full and undivided attention. Because God is present to me in the moment, not in the next thing on my to-do list, not in what I could be doing instead. But right there, in what I am doing NOW, in who I am with NOW.

Michelle Aldredge at gwarlingo has taken up the clarion call issued in McEwan’s World Enough and Time and has an article today about Christian and her book as part of her new series on creativity, which I highly recommend following — it’s worth every minute you’ll spend reading. You can also hear an interview with Christian on Writer’s Voice with Francesca Rheannon. Christian’s book is worth seeking out and reading slowly. Treat it like a personal retreat, a gift to yourself, a promise to take back some of what you might be allowing to be taken from you. Reading it may be a step towards reclaiming a more creatively aware, spiritually intuitive self. Not everyone is going to be happy with your choosing to refuse and not everyone will understand the grace that will be revealed to you in each moment that you choose to pay attention and focus on what is happening NOW. But you’ll be better for it and the inner change it will work in you will be evidence that you’re on the right path to living a saner, more peaceful, more present life.

What have you got to lose?