Not Done with My Changes

April 19, 2016

Ribbons of tulips, layers of colors

Ribbons of tulips, layers of colors

Cascade Mountains

Cascade Mountains

Layers of blue fabric

Layers of blue fabric

The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz, from Bill Moyers Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel in heavy wings.
Oh, I have made a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

 

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

November 14, 2013

The dawn of a new day

The dawn of a new day

I wish I could take credit for the title of today’s post, but it’s the creation of Arnold Bennett, who wrote a self-help book with this title in 1910.  (The book is available for free download from Project Gutenberg.)

If you have been following my blog, you know that I sometimes lament the lack of time to do all the reading, painting, writing, photography, traveling, etc. that I’d like to.  Well, Bennett has the answer.  The secret is to have something — some meaningful project that cultivates the mind in some way– to look forward to and then take 1-1/2 hours every other evening to work on this endeavor:

“. . . when you have something definite to look forward to at eventide, something that is to employ all your energy — the thought of that something gives a glow and a more intense vitality to the whole day.”

Committing yourself to this project requires an attitude adjustment.  Instead of marginalizing the hours before and after your work day (your outside job), you make your private hours beginning at the end of your work day (say 6 p.m.) to the start of your next work day (say 8 or 9 a.m.) the primary part of your life that you give your fullest energy to.  Then make those 1-1/2 hours every other evening sacred.  Half of those hours should be devoted to careful reflection, serious thinking about what you are learning and doing.  The pace will be slow.  But the accretion of this dedicated time will add up to something important — your growth as an individual.

Bennett has other ideas for finding even more time, for example, using 30 minutes of your commute to focus and think about a single topic.  Quite serendipitously, I just read about this same thing — the benefits of focused reflection and attention — in Brainard Carey’s book, Making It in the Art World where he says:  “Small steps get you very far.  This is the beginning of a big step because if you can get used to managing thirty minutes of your time, five days a week, you can begin to manage other portions of your time as well.”

Bennett warns that failure happens when you try to do too much:  “Most people who are ruined are ruined by attempting too much.”  I have these tendencies myself!

I think Bennett is right in pointing out that there is enough time if we first decide what is most important and then give sustained daily (or every-other-day) effort — in seemingly small increments — to that one thing.  For those of us who are “constantly haunted by a suppressed dissatisfaction with your own arrangement of your daily life,” he says, “the primal cause of that inconvenient dissatisfaction is the feeling that you are every day leaving undone something which you would like to do. . . ”

I have already been taking this piecemeal, but sustained, approach to watercolor painting.  I am slowly learning by trial and error and building a body of work.  It’s validating to hear that this way of working has a history and other champions.  It seems to be working for me.

“How shall I live?”
—  Jeanette Winterson, Art [Objects]:  Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery

Watercolor sketch of sneezeweed

Watercolor sketch of sneezeweed

“To live for art . . . is to live a life of questioning.  And if you believe, as I do, that to live for art demands that every other part of life be moved towards one end, then the question ‘How shall I live?’ is fierce.  The choices I am making are choices that allow me to go on working at maximum output and with utmost concentration.”
—  Jeanette Winterson, Art [Objects]:  Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery

Here are the choices I am making right now:

  • To blog only when I have something that I consider of value to share.  To stop straining to fill the calendar with daily posts.  (If I strive to live a more thoughtful, artful, imaginative life, then I hope to have lots to share.)
  • To buy good running shoes and resume my long defunct practice of running around Green Lake every morning.
  • To eat smaller portions and lose 25 pounds.
  • To paint something on each of my days off work.  (It’s still a challenge to maintain any momentum even painting these three days a week, but I believe steady practice will be productive in the long run.)
  • To eat from the freezer and pantry and then restock lightly and thoughtfully.
  • To get rid of stuff.
  • To begin a year of reading about art and artists.

What choices are you making these days?