Monday, June 27, 2011

Successful Aging

This is Ksenia, with lilacs a little while back.  Her mother, aunt, and grandparents are all painters.



Successful aging then means we let
our visionary Self drag our resisting,
comfortable, stubborn self that hates
change, far enough to see a new landscape
and join in the general rejoicing. I do
love to be here, work, write, rest, see to
the hens and the crops. After years the
wider world beckons, not this time
to explore and learn from, test myself
against, but to win the friends of
my books, my private visions and
secret knowledge set afloat in a place
"of sufficient depth." My words, too,
like Proust’s, will have to win their way
in that farther world that stretches way
beyond what even I can imagine. Yet
out there are souls hungry for food I’m
able to prepare, feasts few have tasted,
and no one enjoyed to the full. I
wanted fame after my death, not before,
but time has ripened both me and my words.
My vision self is ready to show herself
more widely, to take new risks. If any one
thing is getting lost in our time, it is
integrity, being an integer, a whole,
knowing leaf to stem to root what one
believes, who one is, and practicing
always careful attendance on the Deep Source
of our human wisdom. Each day is
full to overflowing. Yet I keep up.
Even postponed tasks eventually get
done. Aging tempts one to be lulled by
routine, and the memory, too, is dulled
by repetition, by having no new tasks.
We may acquire new brain cells and keep
all our cells and their telomeres happy
and thriving, if we can bear to consider
change, upset what is familiar, uproot
ourselves now and then for good reason,
be persuaded to try the new for the sake
of our oldest, truest, deepest knowledge
and conviction. It’s no good to see visions
if you can’t help others see them, too, or
have words pour freely out upon the page
if no one ever reads those given words.
You have become rich, and it is time now
to give your riches away. Don’t worry.
This won’t impoverish you. Rather,
the little pot will continue to boil up
porridge, the caldron fill and fill again
with the gleaming gold of true words,
sincerely spoken, memorable, necessary,
and lasting longer than you yourself
will last. Do it, be it, cease to worry.
Whatever comes, in whatever disguise,
will bless you now and forever.
[I don't think I've posted this poem before.  My son has been visiting, and I can't say I'm on top of my life yet, but soon.  JH]

Sunday, June 19, 2011


This is my nine-year-old dog Wag, in her homemade box safe house.  If she's in it, nothing can hurt her.


Every day I mustLeyline 13
risk or die, care or grow stale, earn my place
on earth or yield it to others. To live well
is to love and to labor, else we leave behind
no sweet, flesh-ripened fruit.

Excerpt below from Proust and Pears, written in late 2010.

I’ve been looking over the earlier parts of this book. I haven’t looked back much as I wrote it because the momentum of my Muse and what I wanted to say has carried me forward like a stream of water after a good rain, but, even browsing now, I see that it all fits together. It makes a whole. I am producing fruit, and this particular year has been especially propitious for fruit. Just as the pear tree produced its hundreds of pears, so have I written so many hundreds of new pages.

I laughed in places–over my visit to Anna White and her choosing the wrong foot to diagnose. Over thinking that Proust, living in his cork-lined room, would not have had the privilege of opening the hen house door to see a hen in a foot deep hole she’d dug looking for tasty bits on the coop floor.

My life is all adventure. Since I began this journey of "my own self," I have had many adventures.  I’ve challenged so many people and situations, but I’ve had what it took to do it, to risk poverty, disapproval (of parents, friends, children, teachers, and other authority figures).

A professor at Indiana University, whom I liked, when I told him I was dropping out of my graduate courses in Comparative Literature, said I was asking to be run over by a steamroller. I don’t know how many times people have told me something couldn’t be done, and I’ve done it. Recently, at Central Carolina Community College, in 2008, the administrator in charge was sure there was no way there could ever be a Creative Writing Program there. Then she herself seemed to be the biggest obstacle, but we did it.

Go to Russia without money? Travel alone? I remember sitting with my too heavy duffle bag in the Leningrad train station at 8 A.M., in 1995, on a cold September morning, before me the mural of Lenin arriving in Moscow in 1918, to declare that the Revolution had succeeded, while I waited, cold, hungry, and getting sick (the train had been chilly and drafty) for Larissa to fetch me to her apartment. She did come and then everything was okay.

I’d had to call her, and the person on ticket duty told me I had to have Metro tokens to use the phone. In despair, I asked the policeman, and he got me the tokens. Thanks goodness. Then I could only leave a message with Larissa’s daughter. Would she get the message?

How Larissa nursed me with sage tea and hot milk with butter and honey, once we got to her apartment. No one bothered me while I waited for her, and yet I felt so alone, so alien, and yes, so scared.

When you take the risks I take, you come at times to such moments of doubt, even torment. Yet I’ve passed through them all and been a better, stronger person for it. I think of going to Robert’s, next door, when finally this house had closed, twelve years ago, and I had the key, to tell them I finally had the land, and being met at the door by his son, a big, burly young man who seemed both hostile and angry. Earlier, there had been Emma, Robert’s wife, who had said, "She’s like us." And her three-year-old grandson, Demetrius, who had run up to me and hugged my legs. I got through that.

I’ve had so many good people help me over the years, believe in me, respond to my writing, my spoken words, my efforts to do something worthwhile.

It doesn’t matter now that some people hated or distrusted me. Robert’s son smiles on me now, and his family have been so good to me the last twelve years.  The administrator writes to thank me when I help publicize the Creative Writing courses at the college. I sometimes change people’s minds about me. Some I never do, but so many people have loved and valued me that I would not have had reach out to me had I not taken the risks I took and encountered the hostility I encountered.

I call it transformation, when you go into difficult situations that need healing and have an effect–often by treating people well and sometimes by fighting with them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Proust and Doctors, Me and Doctors

My new meadow from May 2010, with bird feeder.  30 pines came down to put sunlight in my orchard.

 It is a marvelous thing that medicine should be almost as powerful as nature, should force the patient to stay in bed and, under pain of death, to continue a treatment. By this time, the artificially introduced disease has taken root, has become a secondary but true illness, the only difference being that natural diseases can get better, but never medical ones, for medicine knows nothing of the secrets of cure.

There is in our body a certain instinctive sense of what is good for us, as in our heart of what is right, which no doctor or medicine or theology can replace

We may acquire new brain cells and keep
all our cells and their telomeres happy
and thriving, if we can bear to consider
change, upset what is familiar, uproot
ourselves now and then for good reason,
be persuaded to try the new for the sake
of our oldest, truest, deepest knowledge
and conviction

If we build
our ordinary life so as to honor Her,
[our Muse] won’t be able to stay away.

If your conscience is clear and you remember
your own story, even after interruptions and
delays, the Muse will unlatch your back storm
door, left open to take in cool morning air,
stroke the cat rising to her touch, and settle
at your computer to add her own two cents
to every written word.

Once, when younger, we could fling
caution to the winds and cross those
boundaries of common sense and good
health: stay up all night, neglect our
teeth, luxuriate in rich desserts, be lazy
when we felt like it. Age teaches
consequences, the sooner the better.
Some gates are locked now, and we
venture out at our peril. Extra exertion
is possible if we rest well afterwards.
Our body will assist more than once in
reminding us with twinges in our knees,
toothaches, flashing lights where they
shouldn’t be, or indigestion after rich
food. Be grateful for these flashing
yellow hazard lights. Use your whole
self, think hard, work at those weeds,
plant more seeds, water burgeoning
fruit, relish fresh beets in butter,
blueberry pancakes swimming in syrup,
a fresh herb and onion omelet with
cheese. To be blunt, aging means dying,
a slow process in a healthy being–
inevitable, but nothing to fear, in fact.
Our whole life is one amazing process.
We arrive at fruit-bearing age, acquire
nourishment and water, the gardener’s
care and attentiveness, else no small
knobs that signal figs break forth as
summer pours down hot sun and enough
rain to give us hope. We guess at our
trees’ needs and our own. Tree or self,
the inward working lies hidden, but
we have healing light in us as well as
clouds that send no rain. "The body heals
itself," one doctor told me. If we let it.
If we calm our frightened heart and wait.
That Inner Circling Sun. XIX.
That Inner Circling Sun XII.
. –That Inner Circling Sun XI.
. –Proust, The Prisoner, p. 168.
–Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, translated by Carol Clark, p. 165

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Divine Breath

Nadya's apples (growing in a village near the Volga, in Russia)


The Divine Breath?   I found an interesting passage in Maslow.

.... it looks as if there were a single ultimate value for mankind, a far goal toward which all men strive. This is called variously by different authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, but they all agree that this amounts to realizing the potentialities of the person, that is to say, becoming fully human, everything that the person can become... 1
 He says that some of the objectively describable and measurable characteristics of the healthy human specimen are:

1. Clearer, more efficient perception of reality2***

That’s all I’m doing, becoming the best person I can be. To do that, I must attend to my intuitive sense of what it is possible for me to do and to be. I must do my best, not run away or have false modesty.

Both Dante and Proust had had major visions–perhaps coming to them a little at a time–and the unconscious or Muse was giving it to them. They had, originally, in some sense, "seen" the whole.

That has happened to me, too, now, and is why I’m writing these books. What else can I say about that? What is it like? How is it different from my poems and my novels and how I’ve written them?

I was thirteen when I began self-consciously to write about my feelings–poems and diary–when I felt inside like a writer, when it became less of a choice and more of a necessity. I still didn’t fully believe I was a writer until my mid-twenties, when I resolved it by saying, "A writer is one who writes."

Now I know that a "great" writer is one with a vision, with a "call" so strong that other things must take second place, while I do, as Proust believed, "what only I can do." It is also one with a "hexis," as Jacques Maritain calls it, or a Muse: an inner state of being, a Gift as Lewis Hyde names it, or in Maslow’s framework, now that I have this ability to create, I must use it, and that is far more urgent than publishing it, or even typing it, and also more urgent than political activity or most of my social life.

I don’t know what will be in each chapter. I wonder if Dante knew who would be in each circle of hell before he wrote it. Maybe. Proust seems to have had a design for his cathedral book. I can’t say that I have a specific design. I’ve chosen titles for the books and the chapters, sometimes before I knew what would be in them. I never knew exactly. I take a phrase sometimes from a poem. I’ve done that a lot with this book.

When I wrote "The Divine Breath" as the title for this Chapter Twenty-One, I didn’t know what I’d write about for sure. My whole activity here is because of a mysterious and divine "breath," spirit, wisdom, deeply planted in me, which knows better than I do what I need to write about, what I have to say, and what other people need me to say. I need to write these things, and I trust that other people need me to write them for them. I am a messenger of this "divine breath" or Muse/Understanding/Flow of Words and Insight.

The Breath fills me and spills over. It makes me happy. I have been happy a lot and supremely happy on many occasions, but this is a fairly rare kind of happiness. I’ve felt happy before, and often, when words flowed, when enlightenment came to me as a gift, I had no way of predicting or forcing. I could only listen and wait, but when the words came to me, I must write them down. It was easy to rejoice and be fed by the experience itself, as well as by the new insights.

Sometimes it happened when writing a short poem. Sometimes, when writing a longer work, a diary novel, or a scene in a novel. What’s different now is that it’s bigger and more inclusive. It’s also a fusion of my daily life, including some of the interruptions, worries, reassuring moments, and surprises I experience day to day with a whole lifetime’s accumulated way of framing my experience and seeing the world. I can’t evaluate it from the outside, but, I guess, Proust couldn’t either, and his book got rejected by all the publishers, so he paid to have it printed, and then he won the prestigious Goncourt Prize, and Gide, one of the editors who’d rejected it, realized his mistake, his very stupid mistake.

I can’t know if other people will appreciate what I’ve done, and appreciate, I mean, in Henry James’s sense, to "appropriate, to make one’s own."

But I can do what I feel I have to do, which I have my whole life long. I’ve made errors because of inexperience or trusting people I shouldn’t have trusted, or because I was blinded by my own suffering, but I have followed my heart, my deepest sense of what I should do, even when it made no rational sense to me, even when it flew in the face of other people’s advice or pressure or attempts to control or change me.

Now I am rewarded. My whole experience and the wisdom that has accrued from it rests like a kind of sunken Atlantis in my mind, and I am writing it out, lifting it into the light of day, floating it a little at a time, and relatively effortlessly, to the surface, where everyone can see it–a task not unlike Proust’s or Dante’s, and yet my very own.

As I said before, I am now that writer I wanted to be. This may take me years, but the work is very worthwhile.
Excerpted from Proust and Pears: The Fourth Farm Book (unpublished)

2. More openness to experience.
3. Increased integration, wholeness, and unity of the person.
4. Increased spontaneity, expressiveness; full functioning; aliveness.
5. A real self; a firm identity; autonomy; uniqueness.
6. Increased objectivity, detachment, transcendence of self.
7. Recovery of creativeness.
8. Ability to fuse concreteness and abstractness.
9. Democratic character structure.
10. Ability to love, etc.