The Violence of Too Much

The incredible poet (and all-around amazing woman) Wendy Willis wrote on her blog today about what she considered “not her best day in parenting.” As an attorney, mother of two teenagers, wife and poet, she’s got her hand’s full. Too much of everything.

I’ve written about this syndrome of too much before on this blog, but it’s a chronic issue. Especially those of us whose hearts are longing to devote more time to our art. For us, it’s not just the drive to swim practice, potty-training the puppy, taking on one more part-time gig because we’re not sure when another will come along. For us, it’s every moment that we’re not writing, or preparing to write, or reading so that we can learn to be better writers. And our lives are important, we don’t want to sit all day at our desk (or maybe just some days…). We realize that our lives fill our art.

But sometimes we wish it filled them a little less. That there was a bit more breathing room. Then I read this excerpt on the On Being blog by Parker Palmer:

Thomas Merton wrote these incisive words in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander more than fifty years ago, but they are no less true today than when he wrote them.

“There is a pervasive form of modern violence to which the idealist…most easily succumbs: activism and over-work. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.

The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his (or her) work… It destroys the fruitfulness of his (or her)…work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

And then I know, this is what Wendy was feeling. This is what I routinely feel. The swirling chaos of the modern world will fill with dreck the well from which you draw your vision, artistic or otherwise. And we must be willing to choose to save our art (which will in turn, save our children, our environment, and probably our sanity).

Noise Versus Music

Can the world be too loud for some people? This question has been in my heart this week.

Although Robin Williams could make me laugh so hard I thought I’d wet my pants, I was always drawn to his less explosively humorous moments, to his work in the Fisher King, Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting and What Dreams May Come. There was a gentleness about him that shone in these roles, a fragility and deep knowing of the darker paths. A spirit open to connection with others.

That almost skinless connection to the world is dangerous.

There are plenty of people walking around acting outgoing and gregarious who are in fact taxed by the tumult of the world. That overboard humor or bossiness or totally pulled-together mask takes a toll on the real person, the one who wishes rather to work in the quiet, alone at a window or easel or desk.

I don’t pretend to know anything about Robin Williams, his life nor his pain. But I do know that very creative people are very creative because they are open to the world and paying close attention to everything. That’s a lot of stimulus. At what point the music turns to noise is different for each person. But if you are one of those people who is traveling with all of your nerves exposed, be gentle with yourself.  Ease the uproar until you hear the world’s music again.

You, Reading This, Wake Up and Be Thankful

snowdusk2This time of year is filled with contradiction: the holidays speeding everyone up, adding on piles of work, worrisome quantities of obligation — the weather turning slow, static. The grey skies sliding by in subtle gradients, darker grey in the morning, lighter grey at noon, shading back deeper and deeper into darkness. The brightest moments of the day often happen right before sunset.

Too easy to be lulled into a shadow sadness; a scratchy irritability; a limited-horizon, dark-infused bleakness. Instead, a chance to be thankful, to remember this huge gift of awareness. Wake up!

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around? 

~William Stafford