Sunday, April 24, 2016
Living in the Present
This photo is of Mikhail's family gathered when I visited in 2007
In the summer of 1990 I made my first trip to Kostroma, Russia, as the first exchange visit with the Writers’ Organization there, and my Carolina Wren Press here in North Carolina. This was part of a Sisters Cities exchange Mikhail Bazankov and I did 1990-2007.
After that first six-day visit in August, I went to friends in Devon and spent three weeks writing my reflections on what that visit had meant to me, and I called that writing: Change of Life. I was fifty-three. I’m in the process of preparing my Russian writings for publication, and this will be in the first book, Baba Summer: Book One. I was also in the process of giving Carolina Wren Press over to other people.
September 6, 1990
The present is perhaps the greatest mystery of all, and if I’ve learned anything at all it is how to live in the present.
There was a time when I tried to wrest meaning out of the present. I wanted to understand why I was suffering so much, or why I was in love. I wanted the present to enlighten me about itself, but I desired this in vain. It wasn’t possible. I found an idea that helped me in an astrological book by Dane Rudhyar. He said that often we must wait for some time to pass in order to understand what is happening to us in the present. I also found an image in The Way of All Women by Ether Harding that helped even more. She said that in situations full of conflict, one could only work one’s way forward like a plant finds its way through a wall toward the light on the other side. Trust one’s intuition each day. Do one’s best with each stage forward, and one would look back and marvel at one’s cleverness.
This works. I’ve now been in countless difficult,”impossible” situations, and unable to see my way forward, nor to understand what was happening, what it meant. Yet I’ve trusted to the deepest impulses of my heart and kept moving.
This got me here. I have lengthened the time I give to my writing and to my time off from my regular work. I need sometimes a way to get completely out of one kind of life with all its activities and schemes and worries, and into another.
When I left North Carolina mid-July, I still had a list of the bills we (Carolina Wren and I) needed to pay, and the various moneys we could expect to receive in my head. I was waking up early worrying about money. This was intensified when I discovered that I had made a mistake in arithmetic in my checking account, and instead of having $1000 in it, I had $0. I had just bought $1500 in travelers checks and thought I might have to trade some of them back in. By working on the bank book carefully, and planning smaller amounts on some of the monthly bills, and asking Carolina Wren (I had been editor/publisher since 1976 and was now giving it away to others) to pay back some of my loan earlier, and also receiving over $300 Saturday night before we left from the group of people I was leaving behind in charge of Carolina Wren, I was able to work through that crisis, which had given me a leaden feeling in my stomach.
Then there was my friend E., to whom Carolina Wren owed money, and we were late paying her, and I had to call her and say it might be still later, and she was not patient. She was angry.
Then my youngest child decided to break up with her boyfriend the day before we left and wanted to come home. Before I could leave to go get her, she had called back to say they had made up. Perhaps she needed to know she could stay in my house and use my car in my absence. In any case, I told her she could, if they did, in fact, break up.
Many of these things would have kept someone else from going. They might have kept me from going, if I hadn’t been following an inner directive. It is easier though for me now to see in my own mind the legitimacy of taking time off than it was ten years ago. I had even borrowed money from my mother again. I didn’t like to ask, but I had this urgent something inside me saying to go, both because of Mikhail, my new Russian friend, whom I felt I must meet (He had done his part and sent the official invitation–I must now get there.) and because I was at a crossroads with my writing. I must put my full weight on it for awhile, even if, when I got back, the various money problems again descended on me. They will. Other people are working on it in my absence, but even if Carolina Wren is doing okay, I have the rent to pay when I get back. Some work is lined up, but I’ll have to find more. Most people wouldn’t do that either: leave, not knowing how they’ll get the money together when they get back. I’ve gotten good at calculating risks in the past nineteen years. I can get some kind of a job if worse comes to worst. I have friends and a friendly landlord; I won’t starve. I’ll pay the rent. I have a class lined up to teach, so I’ll have those fees. And Carolina Wren still owes me $500.
The thing I do that’s unusual is to work from what I feel I must do–hold onto that–and then use my ingenuity to solve the problems related to persisting toward my goal. Things don’t always fall neatly into place. Arranging my trip to Russia turned out to have many snags. Communication was so difficult, and then the local Sister Cities group that was my link for information on how to do this was preoccupied with their own first ten-member delegation to Kostroma. Perhaps their leadership even resented my having popped up with an official invitation in the middle of their plans. They helped me, but half-heartedly and distractedly. I remember my rage at the person I needed most to help me. It took him forever to get through on the phone to Kostroma, but then he forgot to ask my urgent question. My rage did no good. I needed patience.
Looking back I see that I did the main and necessary things, and so did Mikhail on his end. We worked–both of us–from this faith in the other. With so little knowledge! He and I both did what we needed to–a remarkable combination of faith and ingenuity on both sides.
I got the cable from him a few days before I left and figured out all the Russian words but one with my Russian-English dictionary. I had already written to him the number of the train car for my arrival in Moscow. It turned out, that that was the missing word, the wagon or train car. He wanted to know the number. I had answered his question before I got it, but that letter hadn’t arrived for him even when I left Russia.
I had learned it was very difficult for the Russians to telephone outside of Russia, but he called me in Finland. My Finnish friend answered the phone and said someone was speaking a language she couldn’t understand. She hung up.
I said, “Maybe it’s Russian. Next time speak English.” She did, and sure enough I was being called. I talked to the woman I would later know as Natasha, and she asked me the train car number, and I ran to get my ticket. So all worked out. They found my son and me in car number nine.
At so many points I could have given up, admitted defeat. So, I’m sure, could he have. One of the funniest of my obstacles occurred on the very last day. I had had to take a car radio Tim had borrowed back to his friend. The friend had proved himself untrustworthy for Tim, as far as I was concerned, over and over. Tim got angry at him but persisted in the friendship.
The friend, B, was trying to manipulate Tim into coming to town on the pretext of the radio, and I put my foot down. I would take the radio when I went to town in the morning to do other errands. I got excited. I yelled. Notwithstanding his knowledge that I was upset, B called back, disguised his voice, and asked to speak to Tim. Then he asked Tim if he could come get his radio. I again said no. Tim got very unhappy over this fight between his friend and his mother, and said, “Here, you talk to him.”
So I said, “B, I’ll bring your radio at eight in the morning. You be there to get it,” and I hung up. B called back again to say their Doberman pincer would be loose in the morning.
I left for town that last morning in North Carolina, wondering if after everything else I’d been through, a Doberman pincer would eat me up and stop me from going. I put the radio and speakers in a box and approached the house cautiously. No dog. I opened the car door and pushed the box out. Then B appeared. I pointed toward the box and drove away.
So the Doberman pincer, the fiercest dog in the U.S., by reputation, didn’t keep me at home, didn’t prevent my getting to this window in this room where I am happy to sit and look and think and write all day long.
Being here though, doing what I’d planned to do here–is a tougher challenge than the effort to leave so that I would have this time to write. Jacques Maritain, whose book Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry I’m reading refers to the “self-abnegation and the ordeals imposed by poetic creativity.” (161). “The road of creative intuition, however, is exacting and solitary, it is a road to the unknown, it passes through the suffering of the spirit.”
It is so much easier to plan to write than to write; to plan and arrange time, not-withstanding impatient friends, bank book errors, and Doberman pincers, than it is to do the inward searching and groping that writing means, for me anyway. Some days it comes to me relatively easily and quickly what I will say, and then my mind signals that’s all for awhile, so I go and do other things: read, write letters, walk down the lane. I make apple crisp. I enjoy chatting with my hosts. I catch up on letters I would put off at home. I do mending or washing. Little chores are a welcome relief from the slow turning of my mind as it wrestles with feelings and meaning. I can’t say I know where this book is going any more than I know how this new love I feel will work out.
Two mysteries I’m living with and laboring with in the present. Both, I guess, are in a kind of birth process. Yesterday I labored, and slowly but surely words came to me. Today I labor and the words seem so elusive, or perhaps it’s the dance of meaning under the words. I guess my being here is not unlike my being in Russia because of a bond I felt with another soul. I’m here because of a promise to my own soul.
Judy Hogan, April 24, 2016