Making Room: May It Be So

I started out today expecting to write the usual laundry list of ambitions, both petty and profound, and compose my thoughtful, well-intentioned game plan of  self-improvement, neatly ordered into checklists that can be efficiently scotched or unscotched as the days go by.

Instead, I found myself thinking about my grandmother. She died in July. It wasn’t COVID or anything dramatic. Time got her. She was 94 and lived independently in an apartment of her own until the final, frail weeks. My parents took her in, setting up the hospice bed in my old bedroom. My mom and dad and aunt and uncle and cousins took care of her. We visited most every day. My brothers came in to say their goodbyes. So did my cousins’ kids, my grandmother’s great-grandkids. During the 15ish months of relative isolation during the peak uncertainty of the pandemic, I saw my grandmother infrequently for fear of carrying the virus into her home.

And so it was tremendous relief when our families were able to gather together and help each other help my grandmother through her final weeks, days and hours of life. She died peacefully surrounded by people who loved her, the people she loved.

And I am thinking of her today instead of making my resolutions. I am thinking of the way she was able to love people so well. She was filled up with love, so much that it spilled out constantly. Her love was a bountiful abundance. She could not keep it to herself. She could not keep it inside.

None of us ever needed to wonder how she felt. She told us. She took interest and asked questions. She was curious about our lives and our doings. She was proud when we did something worthwhile and liked to celebrate every small success.

I am thinking of her today because her way of loving is my inheritance. It is the way I want to live my life. To spill over with curiosity and kindness for the people in my life. To give generously without reservation, nothing held back, nothing set aside. She was all in, always.

It doesn’t matter what goals I set myself for the coming year. I will set them and I will see them through. But the meditation is not for what I will do but for how I will do it. With kindness. With generosity. Ever curious. Ready to celebrate. Opening, always opening. Making room for everyone and everything.

This is my new year’s day meditation.

May it be so.

Document

Life is slippery. Even before the dying, the disease, the breakup, the catastrophic loss, there is the forgetting. The constant, unstoppable erosion of moments, hours, entire days washed out to sea. The shoreline is fragile. Even while standing in the shallows, looking up with occasional awe, thinking we must always remember this exactly as it is, entire months and years are pulled away from us and lost in dark tides.

Even as we tell ourselves we must bear witness, we cannot keep the sand at shore. The mind is not made to remember. The mind is made to forget.

Thus, the notebook. The notes we scribble ourselves. The journals. The commonplace book. The photographs. The social media posts. The stories and poems and jokes we share. The blog post. This blog.

The friends we find and those we keep. Communities. The document that is our lives. Reminding ourselves we were here. In this place. At this moment. Together.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Goodreads Review)

The Blind AssassinThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A book within a book within a book. A family history wrapped in newspaper headlines. A love affair — real or imagined? Family dysfunction and obligation. The dead sister brought back to life through storytelling. A meditation on old age. Oh, and an alien planet of lizard people and torture porn.

Only Margaret Atwood is granted the indulgence of pushing these threads 450 pages before delivering the payoff. It does payoff.

I enjoyed this less than expected but an excellent example of the masterful storyteller as plate-spinner. No one spins plates like Margaret Atwood.

View all my reviews

Most Days It’s Dirt

Here’s a thing that helped me today:

“Songwriting’s a lot like being a miner. It’s solitary work. You’re alone in a dark cave, and you just chip away everyday and most days it’s dirt and sometimes it’s gold. But with songwriting you don’t always know.”

Jewel. “Jewel — You Were Meant for Me.” Song Exploder. 2020.12.02. https://podcast.app/jewel-you-were-meant-for-me-e123314125/?utm_source=ios&utm_medium=share

B.

My friend B died today. We hadn’t spoken in years, having lost touch in the way one does through job changes, life changes and the vagrant tides of social media. B struggled mightily with adversities large and small. She struggled maybe sometimes more than she ought to have struggled but she was always quick to celebrate good news, to offer small, sincere encouragements and to smile when there was absolutely no good reason to be smiling.

When you find yourself sitting in a moment of contemplation, prayer or meditation, take a moment to be thankful with me for the kindness and friendship of a person in your life who is like B. And then, take another moment to send love to the families who are sitting with that enormous hole in their lives, that space the gigantic heart of B and people like B once filled.

A Secret Room

I have spent an inordinate amount of my lifetime trying to write my way into stories the same way that I read them: in a straight line. Only just now does it occur to me to try getting into a story the way one gets into a secret room newly discovered hidden in one’s house: punch holes in the weakest parts of the wall until you find the beams.

Watch This Space

I published my first Ubiquitous. Quotidian. blog post in December 2010. At the time, I was halfway into what would be my 20 year career as an academic librarian. I was father to a three year old child and the first generation iPad had just been released. I was fascinated by the emerging importance of mobile computing as I watched smartphone ownership transform the way everyone I knew worked, played and related to one another in real time. Being an idealist and informational professional, I was hopeful about the ways widespread (ie. ubiquitous) internet access might unleash and amplify creative capacities of all people in surprising, useful ways in everyday life (ie quotidian).

It did. Looking back these 11 years, I hardly recognize the place.

I thought of my blog as a place to chronicle observations about transformations in my personal life and society at large. I did some of that and captured milestones of my own contributions to that work at my college, library and home.

Looking back 395 posts doesn’t seem a substantial document of everything that happened in those 11 years. I also notice that, with time, I have written less and less about information technologies and more about the emotional and intellectual developments of my own mind. This is a thing, I am told, that happens with maturity. As we age, the world begins to make less and less sense to us and we begin to turn inward. In middle life we turn inward to gather resources for the work of making sense of our own selves. I call it “going into the forest”, which is a phrase I took from an author I read (James Hollis?) or a therapist I once worked with or a wise, long-bearded elder I once met sitting in meditation at the crossing of many roads. (Note: it was James Hollis.)

Photo by Samuel Theo Manat Silitonga on Pexels.com

I have been quiet here in recent months because I haven’t known how I want to use this space. Several years ago, I changed the tagline from “Have Internet. Will travel.” to “Evolution of a Curious Mind.” The tagline feels right but the title no longer does.

My work here is about sense making. It is about protecting my own sense of wonder, inquiry and curiosity against the dulling effects of this never-ending, all-you-can-eat conveyor belt buffet of sensation, information and voice we have made of our 21st century lives. It is about the life and times of a digital magpie. It is about keeping one’s self sane.

I am thinking a lot about the idea of palimpsest:

  • Palimpsest definition 1: “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.”
  • Palimpsest definition 2: “something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.”

The word fascinates me. Palimpsest evokes the realization that nothing new exists except in its relationship to everything else, everything that went before and everything that came after.

We don’t have thoughts really. Our thoughts have us. If we pay attention, we can see traces of our thoughts echoing up to us from the deepest past and echoing also away into the world and spreading toward future. Our thoughts are created from the interactions of thousands of other ideas, notions and expressions reaching us everyday. They penetrate and pass through us like radiation.

And we radiate our own thoughts, ideas and perspectives through interactions with one another every day.

It seems to me a confluence of the Buddhist notion of karma, emerging lines of information theory and the poetic possibilities of quantum physics.

That last sentence is embarrassing. It doesn’t actually mean anything except to say I am wanting a new way to make sense of things and your eyes on this blog matters because it means our lives have intersected, these thoughts I am having are touching some of the thoughts you are now having. And your thoughts, perhaps, are touching mine.

I am tired of my old habits of sense-making. I am going into the forest to find some other way of understanding. Something akin to scholarly rigor, spiritual awe and the feeling of “understanding without understanding” one gets from making poetry.

If you will continue to read, we can enter the forest together.

Improper

A proper Buddhist would not call oneself Buddhist,
would not think so much about having
proper meditation posture or
dwell so long with the framework of self we call
meaning.

A proper Buddhist would not call oneself anything,
would not think about posture as a thing one has
or the self as being a framework for anything at all.

And yet, here I am. Sitting. Mind veering as it does,
stubbornly having posture and drawing lines
from myself to everything and from everything
back to myself. Wrapping everything up in language,
to bend it into a poem.

Avoid all Isms.

I am no Buddhist. There is no Buddhism.
I am no Person. There is no Personism.
I am no Poet. There is no Poetism.

An improper Buddhist doing Buddhism improperly.

Commonplace

I set aside my writing because I could no longer understand the world and, thus, could no longer properly hope to describe it.

I left social media because it was making that swelling sense of tumult and incoherence even worse.

I even left reading for a time because it felt hollow and unconnected to things that were happening in my life. I realized, after a while, that I was no longer reading well. Words and ideas were blowing through me, and I was making no effort to catch or keep them. I was losing them and allowing them to be lost.

And so, I turned my attention to learning to read differently. To capture what I read. To annotate, denote. I am creating a practice of commonplacing, a habit I am still trying to cultivate and deepen. Commonplacing helps me hold those fleeting moments of insight called inspiration. Commonplacing helps me connect ideas together and find ways to allow my own thoughts to intersect and interact. Commonplacing is reintroducing myself to my own mind, which has grown weirder and more mysterious with time, to be sure.

I am getting weirder, but I no longer feel as frightened by my inability to catch ideas, to find relationships among thoughts, which is to say I no longer feel as overwhelmed, no longer as convinced I have nothing of particular use to say.

The words no longer simply blow straight through me.

I feel myself become weird and getting weirder.

For a time, I thought this must be middle life.

I am going to allow it keep happening. This is maturity.

I am telling you this because I want you to know.

I am writing.