catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 6 :: 2008.03.21 — 2008.04.04


Just show up

The Art of Dissemination
No one will tell you:
go to this beautiful place,
cast your heart
down on the ice floes.
But you do it
anyway, because
it is necessary.

I go to this place. We probably all have one of them. You don’t have to be a mystic or a poetess to need a place of quiet in which to collect your thoughts, although it helps. Fortunately, even the most logical, Type-A personalities of this world have a good dose of mystery woven into the threads of their DNA. But back to the place. People have been writing about this place since time immemorial, although it tends to be a bit different depending on who’s doing the writing. While driving between Michigan and Ontario this winter, my husband and I listened to an audiobook by Stephen King (I refuse to be ashamed!) in which the protagonist, an author uncannily similar to King himself, speaks frequently on the subject of such a place. In this book, Lisey’s Story, King calls this place the “pool,” the myth pool where everyone, since the beginning of time and spanning all races and creeds, goes down to “drink.” Of course, in true Steve King fashion this place is not only figurative but literal as well, and getting there is a feat of fantastical proportions with access granted only to the creative and the insane.  But I’m getting off track.

While the most important aspects of my particular place are metaphorical, it is indeed a literal location, one that can be touched and smelled and, if you really wanted to, tasted. The place where I wander is brimming over with deciduous trees and like a warm arm around your shoulder, embraced by a deep and alive river. On good days, I’ll see multiple versions of wildlife: beavers, loons, woodpeckers, seemingly feral dogs from the local Humane Society. Mostly, though, I see Canada geese (yes, Canada, not Canadian, as the logical portion of your brain would have you believe). Not one or two geese mind you; rather, I see hundreds of Canada geese nearly every morning. Naïve as I was when I first came to Canada, I thought that all nature-lovers would automatically feel warm and nostalgic when it came to these proudly Canadian geese. As you might suspect, I was wrong. In fact, if I were to take a poll, I would guess that four out of five Canadians wouldn’t mind it if these geese suddenly fell into extinction. No, Canadians are not cold-hearted, Gaia-hating scum; rather, like most people, they prefer not to have to steer clear of vast swatches of excrement-covered shore whenever they walk around the local pond. But back to the place.

As I alluded to above, this place is where I go to collect my thoughts. Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? I just can’t get over it, this idea of “collecting” one’s thoughts the same way a toddler toddles around picking up potential Petoskey stones on the shores of Lake Michigan, or the way the plastic-gloved toll booth operator reaches out for your small, sweaty coins. But this is not how my thought collection works. My acts of collection look more like way drool collects on your chin when you’re nodding off to sleep at a time you really should be hyper-alert (like when driving down the highway) or the way lint collects in the dryer: slowly, and without pomp and circumstance. In fact, the whole process of my thought collection is quite pedestrian. One moment I’m trying to remember where I bought those tasty fava beans, and the next, I’m catching the poem that fell from the branch 20 feet above my head. Whew! That was a close one! I look down, and there’s the poem, wriggling in my arms like a newborn bobcat. Did I actually have anything to do with the creation this thing?

Needless to say, this place and these morning walks spent in solitude and unintentional reflection, are important to me. In fact, I’ve heard from external sources that I’m a better person to be around when I’ve taken the time to spread my cerebrum over the dry toast of morning. I’ve even heard that moving one’s body can actually stimulate the zing-zang of one’s neural pathways—a thin but convincing argument for what some call “exercise.” I was discussing the benefits of such exercise with my irritatingly gorgeous and athletic cousin Erin the other day. Notably, this discussion took place atop the rocky crag that marked the mid-point of our day-long hike in the Sonora Valley, near Tucson, Arizona. Throughout our conversation, Erin’s heart pumped with healthful regularity, while I struggled to maintain the façade of a human being who is not having a heart attack. Before I go on I should say that besides my walks, I don’t really exercise. This is not to say that I don’t want to. Okay, actually, it is. I don’t want to. I wish I could just take a pill to be stronger, fitter, tighter than a subway car in Tokyo, but I don’t see this happening any time soon. In any case, through heavy, ragged breaths I asked Erin, How do you do it? How do you force yourself to go out there and run/bike/hoopercize? She responded with a time-tested phrase from the world of athletes: You Just Show Up. Interesting notion, really. Just Show Up. I should probably have this mantra tattooed backwards on my forehead. Don’t over-think, over-analyze, overcomplicate. My cousin is a very wise woman.

Think of how strange and beautiful our lives could be if we were able to do that, to just show up for prayer, for love, for others, for—well, you name it.  Mind you, I know there are people out there who are capable of doing this, but they seem to be few and far between. Most of the ones that I know either smoked too much pot in high school or are suffering from a supreme case of denial. Regardless, I’d like to think this is possible, this just-showing-up way of being. I think that the core of this sentiment is about openness, about being open to what life has to offer without deflecting the things—the ideas, experiences, and people—that come our way.

My faith is something that is constantly under construction. I wish they made hard hats for existential dilemmas. There was a time in my life when I held fast to the poetry of the Psalms. It was late in the last millennium, and it was a good time to be alive. One of my favorite verses was Psalm 81:10: “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” It’s a pretty crazy request, when you think about it, I mean, what a courageous act! If you’ve ever played the game “Close Your Eyes and Open Your Hands” when you were a kid, you know just how petrifying opening anything to another being, especially a seemingly nebulous universal creative force, can be. On the other hand, sometimes you are rewarded for your trust with a tangy Jolly Rancher or a baby cinnamon heart. In fact, I bet if I asked all the people in the world who have ever played the “Close Your Eyes” game, very few of them will have ended up with something horrible in their paws. So, statistically speaking, maybe it’s worth it, this just-showing-up thing.

I think that our hearts, those big iron gates that they are, are always creaking and squeaking and begging to be pried open. I know for me, it’s my morning walks in the forest that do it. There are the days when all I’ve done is written a mental grocery list or enumerated and alphabetized my faults, but those days have their own sweetness to them as well, and I think they’re just as necessary as all the rest. The simple act of talking to myself, to God and to my dog Willow somehow helps me to understand my “place in the family of things,” to quote Mary Oliver in her beautiful poem, “Wild Geese.” Will this help my stock portfolio? My curriculum vitae? I doubt it. In all honesty, it probably won’t make me “better” person in any quantifiable way. On the other hand, how many of us really want to be quantify-able? What I do know is, with every visit to my place, every attempt at reaching out and in and up and down, I’m a little less afraid, and little more open. It’s like I’m letting God get a big old foot in the kitchen door of my heart before it slams shut.

In the end, I’ll probably never be a Fantastic Monastic by any stretch; my walks will remain walks, my place just a patch of land on a big planet in an incomprehensible universe, and I, just a collection of cells and blood and teeth moving slowly and dying quickly. But that’s okay with me, because I have made the choice to risk my fears on a wager that might just end well; I have opened my mouth to the possibilities of both Jolly Rancher and rotten hamburger.  Either way, what is of true importance remains: I opened my mouth. It was filled. If I continue to do so, I will experience the sacred and the profane in a way that I never would have known if I hadn’t the courage to open up. And really? I’m pretty sure there’ll be more Jolly Ranchers than anything.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus