In 1990, I read a book that made me think about my life in a different way. The book was Composing a Life, written by Mary Catherine Bateson. In Bateson’s first paragraph, she writes:
“This is a study of five artists engaged in that act of creation that engages us all–the composition of our lives. Each of us has worked by improvisation, discovering the shape of our creation along the way, rather than pursuing a vision already defined.”
I had never before allowed myself the luxury of thinking of my life as improvisation (now, I think of my life as nothing but). Under pressure from parents and (certain) friends, I had always felt the need for some kind of plan: college, grad school, job, family. When our first child came along in 1991 (before I finished grad school, yikes!), I realized with a shock that she didn’t come with an owner’s manual. Rely as we would on the advice and wisdom of other parents, it dawned on us that, for much of the way, we would be making this up as we went along. Thanks to Bateson, I could actually embrace, rather than recoil from, parenthood as improvisatory art. Our daughter was brand new to us (and us to her, I suppose), but I still had classes and students, and my wife still had her job, and bit by bit we cobbled together a life.
And thus it goes: at each turn in the road, we take the familiar that abides and the unfamiliar that has arisen, and we combine these components to compose what is now popularly called “the new normal.” Marriage. Childbirth. A car wreck. The results from a biopsy. My deepening (though often troubled) faith has further empowered me to release any notion of “a vision already defined.” Have I ever really been in any kind of control to begin with?
So I have also decided to embrace a conception of a website that is in a more-or-less permanent state of construction. All I want to do is write about what’s important to me. The beauty of the English Language. Books that have moved me. Poetry that has inspired and challenged me. Recipes I’ve enjoyed creating and sharing. And a stippled faith in a God who loves me, who annoys me, and who will not leave me alone.
Why “The Heron Rises?” One thread you will see woven throughout the site: I am drawn to works that explore the paradox of human existence. People are limited, finite, broken, and yet many of us share a sometimes desperate need to access that which transcends our material existence. Hamlet described this paradox perfectly in his phrase “quintessence of dust.” In the end, we are nothing more than a handful of dirt, and yet we are the pinnacle of creation, eyes always up, seeking that which lies beyond the stars.
In several of her poems, Mary Oliver describes the moment when a great blue or white heron slowly, sometimes awkwardly, rises into the air from the bleak environment of a black, muddy, often frozen swamp. In my first blog post, I explain how I have been inspired by this image, through which I believe Oliver intends to say something to us about our human paradox.
My new book, I pray in poems: Meditations on Poetry and Faith, comes out in November 2015 (Morehead Publishing). So I’ll share some text from that forthcoming manuscript as well. If you read anything you like (or dislike) I hope you will let me know.
Thanks, and peace.
cover photo: Kesipun/Shutterstock.com