Tuesday, May 26, 2009

keys and words

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books
written in a foreign language.
...At present you need to live the question.
Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it,
find yourself experiencing the answer,
some distant day.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


“Thus I comprehended the need for silence;
for in silence alone
does a person’s truth
bind itself together and strike root.
And above all, Time is what most deeply signifies.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Citadelle

With a slice of unstructured time, I have stolen away to savor momentary solitude. Away from confines of controlled environments and distracting dins, and out to a palpable pea-soup fog. Landscape details are under varying gradations of cover. The sea is in the air, and I am outdoors with rainproofed writing material, making sure to draw deep Atlantic breaths. Answering a built-in alarm prompting me to take the first available instant to mark some thoughts, reminds me of how I’ve learned to maintain a continuum of regathering. There’s no gained ground to lose. And if I can possibly subvert the multitasking- smooth as it may be- with the singular simplicity of collecting thoughts, I will. With imaginings turned to words, I can hear myself think. It’s a treat, and since that is so- I carefully choose where I can savor my sliver of silence.

Acting upon the insight to make opportunities to pause is becoming a cultivated instinct for me. It’s now a necessity. I’m not sure if that makes me a writer, though writing every day does sanction daydreaming and notebook-toting. Recently, I’ve more consciously appreciated maintaining a continuum of articulated thoughts. A tall order, considering the schedules I balance- but a worthwhile order. Noting the journey is an understanding of the vitality of thought. Rather than sedentary musing, I try to give purpose to this adventure- even if simply to savor the road. Indeed, the retreats are rare, so I make the most of short increments where I can find them. In so doing, connecting numerous points through constantly varied days, it becomes possible to notice what has transpired and what is presently before me. Listening to the words of others- as well as my own- and many recalled memories; thoughts stand to be lost or gained. Reeling in the scattered words and thoughts, making sense of them, allows me to realize treasures within the ordinary. When scattered ideas are elusively swept up by interruptions and frenetic paces, just about all I can do with a few minutes is note some words and leaf back through previous entries to find earlier threads. That’s usually when I sense the absence of reflective time. It is as though silence calls to a soul. Much as a gas gauge needle can silently rest over the “E,” while to our eyes it is sounding an alarm.

In the patient recognition of time’s passage, we become able to see transition. Noting these words, while aperch on a rock ledge along the ocean, my attention is drawn by tidal movements. The water is gradually encroaching, though its actual progress will be evident in retrospect. Just as now there are traces of where the high tide had been several hours ago. The quality of meditative observation is found in these words of Exupéry, in Citadelle:

“To be able to sit day by day
on the same threshold,
in front of the same tree,
the same branches.
For thus alone, little by little,
does a tree make itself known.”

A nurturing silence, rather than a desolate void, becomes like water which is both indispensable and unlimited by form. It is in recollective repose that my entrenched viewpoints can be challenged. It wearies me to repeat mistakes, and I hope to barter remembrance for wisdom. Past experiences and adventures ought to be worth something. But that is not the place to affix all my musings, neither is it wise to hasten away time. Careful observing gives place for peripheral vision.

This chilled spring mist blends a housepaint sky with swirled ocean air. The elements’ edges are nicely mixed and undefined. And I am able to enjoy this, having climbed out to a place of seclusion. While driving out here- to neither task nor employment- it occurred to me there’s a history of occasional intermezzos through which my thoughts could be collected. Beginning in childhood, I advanced from long walks alone, to bicycle trips, then to subway rides for more long walks- with camera at the ready. The bigger travels followed and continue to this day; though today it’s a visit to familiar sands and crags. It reminds me of things I used to do, similar yet transformed- much as the sky above the ocean. It also causes me to wonder about retaining so many references to sights and sounds by memory. Perhaps that may be owed to a life of photo images- and now managing archives. It seems I live to worlds that are all far away, yet abide in this one with a navigator’s intent. The unifying aspect is a sense of observation. I cannot imagine ceasing this unfolding voyage, despite the enormous patience required. Another photographic parable: consider how greater depth of field demands lengthier durations of exposure. A sharper picture is made possible by extended- yet finer- openness to light.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

graphite appetite

"On my way to town...
I'm dropping pebbles in my tracks;
I will not get lost when I come back

And when I get to town
I will go straight to market
When I get to town
I will do my best 'til the sun goes down.
And come the end of day,
I'll look for the stones I dropped along the way."

~ Kate and Anna McGarrigle, On My Way To Town

Continuity and presence are what comprise the spirit of pilgrimage. And here, following some sanctified time to recharge strength and soul, I am thinking of the colors of my paths as they wind and progress. For the most part, rations and rests are scavenged between obligations. Once in a while, my errands enjoy the tones of discovery with circuitous steps connecting serendipitous stopovers. For me, the shops, libraries, cafes, and decorated streets are all entwined. “Going to market” is not limited to any purchase (of any particular extent); the gleanings also include sites and ideas. Nourishment, discourse, and perspective.

Darting among mazes of streets and subways, exteriors and interiors, solitude and company, there is a unifying sense of motion. Even the rhythm of moving from shop to shop reminds me of contrasts between these social interactions compared to the passive isolation of so many of our culture’s currents and habits. Along my routes are the blessings of friends, spontaneous conversations, and chats with the shopkeepers who procure- shop talk. Indeed, there are always treasures to bring home- aside from the items sought (or perhaps the surprise find). And among the gems are stories to recount and remember. Procuring provisions of mind, body, soul, and craft always reminds and assures me of the unfathomable wealth of the creative spirit. You have to get out to really notice this. Here are some images from a few of the places that are along many of my journeys.

downtown crossing

Here, in one of the central districts of Boston, is the architectural patchwork of Downtown Crossing- dating back to the early 17th century.
My walks from South Station to the Boston Athenaeum library always follow Bromfield Street, where the Bromfield Pen Shop beckons:

Packed into the small shop is an astonishing supply of inks, writing instruments (note the feather quills in above photo), and notebooks. The photo below shows the workbench for pen repairs.

boston athenaeum

I call this 200+ year old library "my Eden," and the plaque at the entrance to the 1st floor reads:

"Here remains a retreat
for those who would enjoy
the humanity of books."

Part of the thrill of the search for inspiration is in navigating the levels between the floors.

Out to the rooftop terrace.

Downstairs for tea, good food, and fellow readers- to send me on my way via the narrow streets of Beacon Hill.

beacon hill

Across the neighborhood from the Athenaeum is the very busy Charles Street. The shop in the picture below is Rugg Road, another friendly and well-stocked stationer.

Kindred souls along the way- and we each have stories.

Now to Harvard Square, for more browsing and procuring. When I worked at the University Archives, this was the gate I always used. The motto reminded me of going home to Maine and helping out wherever possible.
Below is a fine read, from Houghton Library:

Bob Slate, Stationer- on Massachusetts Avenue

Slate's comprises aisles and aisles of writers' treasures, amounting to a cornucopia of all manner of marking instrument and surface (bound and loose leaves alike). The best selection of notebooks and journals I have seen on this continent.

On this particular occasion I caught up with a fellow writer, and we made one of our errands to Arlington to attend to some typing matters...


This shop is just two blocks north of the Cambridge-Arlington line.

Shop talk and a few minor adjustments with Tom, the shop owner. Tom animatedly recounted how joyous his customers are; much more so, he felt, than the average consumer upon the purchase of a new computer.

Trying out a variety of candidates before Richard makes his choice (below). We all had a great time. The machine is named "Erika," and they're an item now.

copley square

Additional errands (and cafés- for journaling, of course) usually bring me back downtown- to the grand Boston Public Library. Exhibits, the Great Reading Room (below), and the inner courtyard (bottom image) are my stops at the Library.

Having found what was needed, so that I can continue pursuing what is necessary and vital, it's always a pleasure to savor the route with a few recorded thoughts before making the journey home. This is just one stage of travel along a life's pilgrimage. Indeed, the mosaic is all made of jots, words, and images.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

dressed to rest

“When evening comes,
and the day of toil is over,
give us rest, O Lord,
in the joy of many friends.”

~ Monks of Weston Priory, Yahweh