I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.
W.B. Yeats, from “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”
So I was reading Pamela’s blog the other day, Pamela who claims not to know if she’s a real writer, and who says things like, I carry my coffee from room to room like a sword. En garde! and, in the context of birds, what is landing if not forgiveness? and at the end of her post quotes a kick ass poem by Maya Stein, a poet I never heard of,
and so I go to Maya’s site, which is called one paragraph at a time, and find there eight years of kick ass poems, with maybe one or two comments on each poem, but mostly no comments at all, and what really gets to me is the blog’s tag line, a thing that is supposed to be short, but in Maya’s case goes on and on and this is what it says:
this is not about getting it right, figuring things out, or hitting a bull’s-eye. this is not about an obsession with word choice or an exacting eye on grammatical correctness. this is not about pulling out all the stops with tricky literary devices. this is about looking at life one paragraph at time.
and what everything there makes me think of, all the beautiful poems, and the lack of comments, and the purity of that tag line, is the Joni Mitchell song, “For Free,” about the time when Joni was shopping for jewelry and passed by a clarinetist playing in the street, nobody stopped to hear him, and he was “playing real good for free” –
so I went to You Tube to watch a video of Joni playing the song solo on the piano, and couldn’t help reading some of the comments there, almost all of them favorable, grateful, thank-God-for-you-Joni, but one said:
I loved this song as a teenager. Heard it again recently for the first time in thirty-odd years and realised what embarrassing hippie drivel it really is. Christ, now I feel old.
which brought to mind a hip web magazine, if web magazine is the right term, called The Awl, which I recently discovered, and a blog post there called What Books Make You Cringe To Remember, where they asked some fairly impressive literary types what books they once loved but now cringe at the thought of, which everybody sort of went with and listed their literary cringe moments,
and that made for some interesting juxtapositions: Ray Carver and Jack Kerouac, Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein, Camus and Stephen King; all of whom I’ve read and liked and never thought to cringe over until now, when I came on this response by John Jeremiah Sullivan, a guy whose book Pulphead is waiting for me to read in my Kindle library, and this is what he wrote:
This’ll seem like a prissy or joy-killing answer to your question, but I have a no-cringe policy when it comes to books I’ve loved in the past. I just refuse to cringe over them. It’d be like running into an old girlfriend on the street and refusing to speak with her because you realize now that she had a deformity or something. On the Road is the book I always think of in this context. Or really all the Beat stuff. It changed my life when I read it at sixteen—there are hundreds and hundreds of good books I might never have read if I hadn’t read those, if some movie I saw hadn’t convinced me I needed to—and sure, now I look and see that much of the work there was very or in some cases even comically bad, but to cringe at it would imply, I don’t know, regret for the early judgment. That I don’t feel. Some books were written especially for young, pretentious people—Look Homeward, Angel is another—and they have their own strange greatness, one that in order to live requires you leave it behind. What they show us about the evolution of personal taste counsels greater skepticism toward future judgments. Also forgiveness of yourself, which Lichtenberg said is the first duty of every writer.
and I read this and it just brought my mind to a halt, as in, sit down and shut up because you have no idea what you are doing, struck as I was with its generosity of spirit, and also its refusal to be ironic or cynical, and it occurred to me: what a relief to be in the presence of an adult, or at least of his writing, and then the phrase strange greatness, and then the quote by Lichtenberg, whoever he was, that forgiveness of yourself is the first duty of every writer,
which took me right back to Pamela and those birds, and what is landing if not forgiveness, which I still don’t fully understand, but am slowly connecting to the act of casting out remorse, of suspending judgment and lighting, settling, coming back, and somehow I think if I could really get this under my skin it would end my obsession with word choices and bull’s eyes and figuring out, because, I realize, it’s better, far better, to look for what is elusive and strange one paragraph at a time, when I have no idea what I am doing,
which is exactly what I feel like right now.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Brain Pickings is Maria Papova’s curating of strange greatness. Papova likes to connect things, and somehow the rambling nature of this post brought her terrific blog to mind, although she is anything but rambling.
Image Credit: The dove on the telephone wire is a neighbor of Barbara Shallue’s, who took the picture while on a morning walk. I borrowed Barbara’s lovely photographs before in Number My Days. Like so many friends nowadays, we met on the web. Recently I got together with Barbara, her husband Tom, and two of her three children in Austin, where I was attending Dad Summit 2.0. It was the highlight of my trip. You can see more of Barbara’s photographs at Confessions of a Photography Addict, and follow her musings on her blog, Long Hollow.
Okay. What’s your take on what is landing if not forgiveness? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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