I’m a new convert to Mary Oliver. I wonder why it took me so long anyway? I’m not sure exactly, I just know that I’m a late bloomer, but hey, when I bloom, I BLOOM.
Actually, this poem by Basho (1644-1694) resonates with me (and probably is me most of the time):
The temple bell stops–
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
Anyway, back to Mary Oliver. She’s got a cunning little book on writing poetry that I’ve been savoring this fall (part of my English class for my freshman year of college of real/brilliant). It’s short, sweet, and packed full of feeling. Her first chapter had something that I can’t quite stop pondering.
“The part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem—the heat of a star as opposed to the shape of a star, let us say—exist in a mysterious, unmapped zone: not unconscious, not subconscious, but cautious. It learns quickly what sort of courtship it is going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself—soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all.
“Why should it? It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime.”
That last line makes me shiver. It is horrifying to me to think that if I don’t show up, risk or not, what I should be writing—poem, fiction, non-fiction—would just wait and then might even wait in vain for the rest of my life.
I believe that it takes much courage to show up, to risk, to take it so seriously that you say to the world, “I’m a poet, writer, novelist” and then show up, with no one watching, day in and day out. While the world can parse the meaning of last night’s DWTS episode, or knows the color of the wretched dress Claire Danes wore to accept her Emmy for Best Actress, you showed up to meet the Muse.
Or, more importantly, you showed up to meet yourself. Because that’s what it always is for me. My Muse is the best part of me, the part that sings to me in the dark, soothes me when I’m frazzled, makes sure that I always recognize a good story when I see one, and gives me the words I need to accomplish my day. But if I don’t show up to meet myself, the Muse must expend all her energy into calming me down, sorting through my angst. There is no time for anything creative when I don’t show up for myself.
So I take Mary Oliver’s advice to heart.
“Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself—soon it begins to arrive when you do.”
It’s the goal every single day.