Monday, January 5, 2009

[Harris sparrow, copyright Mike McDowell]
This morning I awoke vulnerable and messy, a head full of dreams and memories that did not add up to a coherent life. I thought about how some people really seem to have a stable, existing self on an upward path. They aim toward something, they are purposeful, they get there. They retire and start a whole new life.

I thought of my favorite writer, Terry Pratchett, how he kept writing until he "became a writer," and then wrote book after book for years. As if he was a noun, a thing, an item, that behaved in predictable ways, and that has brought him tremendous success.

Some of the Asian systems of thought describe people as being made of combinations elements, and I am primarily air. It seems to me that I have been blown all over the place, through many lives, friends, interests. Not much gives my life unity except the creative impulse; I kept writing. I had to. After my early plans for my life utterly failed, I wrote fiction and struggled with essays. After my second batch of plans failed, I began writing poetry. These plans: ambitions, rather elaborate, like a heist movie: I will do this, this, this, do it all right, and get the treasure. It doesn't matter whether it's being a good wife and mother, or having an academic career. Sometimes the pile of gems turns to dust in your hands. More often than you'd like to think, in fact.

I turned to Mike's blog this morning, and there was everything I needed to console me. A beautiful picture of a bird. A thoughtful essay in sympathy with another nature writer, who admits he has escaped in nature.

There is some kind of ideal in Zen thought of never escaping; Buddhists talk about always staying in the present moment. But actually, every life has so much difficulty, disappointment, pain that we all develop means of escape, sometimes into religious scholarship, for example. For the unlucky people, alcohol or other drugs work for a while. Others find their way to some kind of work that engages them and offers them peace. They escape into sitting still behind a camera, waiting; or writing poetry; or rescuing cats; or conserving a piece of wilderness. It is very good luck to find work you love, whether or not you get paid for it. When someone does, their good luck becomes everyone else's good luck, too.

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