READING EDWARD HIRSCH

His son was named Gabriel, and when esteemed poet Edward Hirsch decided to write about his son’s untimely death, the elegy grew into a book-length poem. Of course, it is called Gabriel.

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For me, this was a captivating piece of work. Like an artist painting a portrait with features so very real, Hirsch describes his son in vivid detail, often including snippets of conversation. The words exchanged with Gabriel are telling. I sensed the energy of the continual “trying” that seemed to envelope their relationship; Gabriel’s restless behavior patterns encumbering them like an unwanted third party in their familial relationship. Attempting to  connect with someone in this context can be exhausting. Like trying in vain to see a person’s face through a dense fog. Like imagining personal lifelines that are frayed, or nonexistent. I also sensed the love that existed between father and son. Despite it all, there was enormous caring and concern. I hope you’ll read this book. Offering profound insight into the human condition, Gabriel: A POEM, is much more than a wonderful literary contribution. It is a story of loss that conveys the tragedy of what can’t be fixed or healed for reasons unknown. And many things in life are like that. Human limitations abound. It’s just who we are: all of us. ~ dh

Edward Hirsch has published eight books of poetry, five books of prose. He is also president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. From the book jacket (Knopf, 2014): “His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer’s act of witnessing and transformation.”

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Has grief shaped your artistic efforts?
Has loss found its way into your life?
Can poetry help us to better understand the fragility of the human condition?
 
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
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NOTICING THE HIGH NOTES

I always start a new blog post with only a whisper of an idea. I could never plan it all out in advance. Nor would I want to. Creativity, for me anyway, demands a certain willingness to allow my subconscious to deliver something unexpected … something I hadn’t even fully considered myself, until  sitting down to put words on the page. Eagerly awaiting fresh insights makes writing its own reward: the unique puzzle that offers endless potential for discovery. Today is no different. Though I began to casually remind myself earlier this week that I would be writing a new post today … I left it at that. No outlines, no brainstorming, no purposeful pondering.

  • So what did I come up with?

Something that seems to fit the month of August — a series of pictures that express summer’s high notes in a way that words might not convey. I’ll let you find the take-away in each, imagining why a certain photo was a high note in its own right. Seemingly small things can be “high notes” when we are truly present for the moment. We are inundated with endless streams of information on a multitude of subjects each day. It’s extremely important to consciously allow more “open space” into our lives. Photos without words of explanation are simply one small way to do this. A breather before we head into autumn …enjoy!

— how often do we miss the “best” in life because we are waiting for the “best” to arrive?

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AND … if you care to leave a comment sharing why you think a certain photo was a “high note” (definition up to you!) … I will send the BEST comment received a complimentary copy of my new memoir (see cover below), THE SILENCE OF MORNING: A MEMOIR OF TIME UNDONE.

Have a little fun with this!  (NOTE: You’ll have until September 1st … ) 

If you already have a copy of my memoir, I’m happy to send you a copy for a friend or to donate to a relevant nonprofit. 

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What high notes have come into your life this summer?
Why do they feel like something a bit out of the ordinary?
How deeply did you notice, and appreciate, the high notes?
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
 
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DISCONNECT FROM UNCERTAINTY and CHAOS

YES, the world seems a vast sea of uncertainty and chaos. We clench our teeth and hold our breath. We mutter about “how bad things are” and we worry about tomorrow. We wonder if it has always been “like this” or if the world is tilted in a vastly new direction of unseen consequences. And, often, our customary reaction to the next crisis (or shocking development) launches yet another cycle of concern, anxiety, or even … depression. All of this hand-wringing clouds our vision, though. We don’t see the rose in our path. Not really.

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“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
–Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden                                                               

Yes, we’ve heard this sort of thing before. And we know we shouldn’t let external events fog our inner vision. But … we do, don’t we?

At least most of us do.

I watch the tide go in and out with every new media story hyped beyond reason, and I marvel at just how easily we tend to give up our personal equanimity. And, for what, exactly? We literally have no control over 99% of what the media focuses on; our level of personal involvement is slim to none. Still, we watch, we listen, we react, while squeezing in our own precious lives around the edges. I guess I just don’t get it. Are we so bored that we are willing to pretend the nightly news is “truth?”

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“I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday sweet and fragrant, between its leaves.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

During the month of July … my suggestion is simple.

Refuse to be drawn in. Stay intent on your own life. Let most of it go by, because a reactionary posture is exhausting for one thing. It merely drains the life from your day … from your soul. At least pause long enough to realize that external events will always fall short of our expectations. And if you must turn to external events for entertainment purposes, please limit your gazing, inhibit your ruminating about any, or all, of it.

What good could it possibly do, in the end?

Yes, we need to be informed … to a point. Yes, we are concerned about the human condition … so we want to “know.” And, yes, we have issues that are close to our hearts for various reasons. All of this is understandable. But too often we are simply gazing at life from afar instead of staying focused on what is right in front of us. The cost is enormous. We feel agitated, annoyed, and perplexed. The peacefulness we felt is suddenly gone. We also put useless energy into a constant cycle of reaction. Step away in July. Step back and see if anything changes. 

roses“It’s amazing how confused and distracted and misdirected so many people are.”
–Stephen Covey

When I wrote ALWAYS RETURNING: The Wisdom of Place (first edition, ’99; second edition, 2014), I was already contemplating these things. I’d grown up with open spaces and generous landscapes that seemed “complete” and “life-sustaining” without anything more. This book, my first, resonates with me more and more each day.

“In a place where very little stands between an individual and his or her innermost self, the chances of a genuine encounter are greatly enhanced, and it becomes incumbent on a thinking person to do some soul-searching around the issue of happiness. Contemporary society, with its many bells and whistles, offers a different fare, and while it can create an image of abundance, its impact is faint, more like a mirage.”  —d.a. hickman, Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place

Always_Returning-SmallAnd then when I wrote my memoir, not surprisingly, I found myself returning to my roots — geographically, spiritually, and emotionally. Loss is like that. It shakes us about like a rag doll, drops us back at the beginning of our remembered history. Without the simplicity of open spaces and poetic grasslands standing tall in my memory, I’m not sure how I would have had the courage to confront the greatest life mysteries … the ones that loss seems to suggest and point to. In a chapter called “The Way of the Sage”, I wrote:

“Windows open, we listened for a red-winged blackbird, relished the smell of fresh air, its absolute freedom as it connected with our weary, time-bound faces. Maybe we would spot a stunning blue heron in flight. It was the way of the sage. To perceive deeply, to acknowledge the divine oneness of the universe, our inherent, ever-changing role as imperfect life custodians. The life that we are … in countless forms. Temporary yet timeless. And when I am fully aware, not absorbed, or sidetracked, by the dictates of mind, time, or circumstance, I not only see beyond this paradox: I see into it.” —D.A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning:
A Memoir of Time Undone

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SPECIAL NOTE: The Kindle version of The Silence of Morning will be offered at reduced prices from July 3rd through July 10th. Happy 4th of July everyone! And please remember that while uncertainty and chaos may seem like reality, only our inner dimensions tell a true, personal story. So if you prefer calm and knowing and peaceful, tune out the endless steam of external events for a while. It’s amazing what a profound difference this can make.

Paint the day … stay inspired … look for the deeper story of landscape, art, and daily life. Even the challenge of sorrow and loss can lead us to a deeper life story. –dh

My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog, can be found here WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, August 5th.

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THE SPIRIT OF SUMMER

THERE is something about summer that frees our spirits. Something that insistently beckons us to look at life and nature more closely, more intently. And, indeed, more extensively. The lake we’ve never visited. The trail we’ve never walked. The plant we’ve never grown. The important project we’ve managed not to “see” or acknowledge. The book we’ve never read. The artist we’ve overlooked. The recipe we’ve wanted to try for the longest time. The daring article or poem we suddenly want to write. You have your own examples, I’m sure.

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Feeling freer, less confined and withdrawn, we seem to almost merge with the spirit of summer.

Growing … doing … exploring … experiencing … creating.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,
just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning
over again with the summer.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

But sometimes things happen that dampen our spirits, and we struggle to find our usual enthusiasm for summer’s endearing vibrancy. It can make us feel pretty miserable to want to do the usual things (or new things) without the energy or desire to make it happen.

Who hasn’t been there?

Unless you live a one-dimensional life on a one-dimensional planet … you’ve been there.

We lost our beloved schnauzer, Noah, in June of 2015. My beloved son, Matthew, in June of 2007.

So I’ve been wondering about this fanciful month of June. Why has it delivered such harsh blows amidst the greens and blues and pastels that flow like rain during a month when many parts of the world seem reborn. Promising, comforting, and certainly pleasant. And then I noticed a quote on a good friend’s (thanks, Cynthia!) Facebook page that gave me pause yet again.

  • “I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.” ― L. M. Montgomery
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NOAH … the Zen master
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If the world was always June … yes, there would  be the magic of nature … but, for me, there would also be poignant and powerful reminders of loss. Days very difficult to peacefully, and fully, remember; days when beating hearts grew still: the silence deafening. But June takes me there anyway, even as I resist, cringe, try to run away.

So do I turn away from the lovely month of June, or embrace it?
What would you do?

“It was June, and the world smelled of roses.
The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”
Maud Hart Lovelace

To say I have mixed feelings about June would be true. The calendar, the season, draw me closer to events that feel “outside of time” … but the days of June also sharpen those painful memories anew, serving them up like a sad story ending one can never quite escape. Matt_FruitFarmOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA_Matt_Lake

I guess the only thing I can do is broaden my view, allowing June to merge with my memories of summer, in general. By acknowledging the month of June as intrinsic to summer’s spirit, I can consider it from a slightly different vantage point. Reflecting on this … I am also reminded that summer’s spirit is not entirely blissful. When summer ends, it takes with it warm, carefree days, and announces the arrival of a new season. Cooler weather, a more subdued season, less fresh and invigorating. By framing June this way, it becomes part of a bigger story—one less focused on daily events, specific time frames, and so on.

  •  ” … the final twist descended like a malicious fire. An unyielding weapon and an uncompromising shot shredding time, and all variations of hope, as it penetrated and absorbed the utter fragility of a precious human life in a secluded meadow on a faded summer night. An unbearable image. An anguished landing during the seductive month of June–nature in full bloom–made death even more startling, incongruent. I wanted to hate the sixth month of the year.” —D.A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone

When painful memories surface, try to frame them anew … bring them into a slightly different light, look at them from a perspective that isn’t quite as personal. After all, nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected. Dreaded days on a calendar can be looked at in a broader context … allowing for space around the event, the moment, the feelings we instinctively shy from. So here’s to the breezy days of summer, the tantalizing mix of life and loss the season ultimately delivers. Matt and Noah, for me, you ARE the spirit of summer. ~

How do you feel about June, about summer?
Any complications around this particular landscape of time?
What memories do you shun, or treasure … or simply not understand?

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, July 1st.

“Drugs and guns aren’t the real problems; they are only symptoms.
The deeper issue is the human condition, the trauma of life on this planet.”
9780990842361-Front-TheSlienceOfMorning13_RGB_300dpi_6x9“Despite a crushing loss … here we have a warmth of spirit,
understanding and compassion in a distancing world.”
Madeline Sharples, Leaving the Hall Light On
My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
can be found here
WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!

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A WORD ABOUT WRITING

HAVE you ever written a long essay, a poetry collection, a book? I’m assuming nearly everyone reading this has written something of some length. It’s a curious process, isn’t it? Some love it, many don’t. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer. To suggest it takes tremendous patience, dedication, skill, and trust is not doing the work justice, is it? Because, in all reality, it demands much more. Writing also requires the willingness to take every daily interruption in stride. Creating art via thought, intuition, and sentences takes enormous focus and concentration–a keen ability to listen for the words, the message–yet, in this world of constant “something,” interruptions are the norm.

The doorbell rings. The cell phone chimes. The dog barks. The cat wants attention. The nagging to-do list thwarts progress. The yard needs water. The shrubs need trimming. The floor needs vacuuming. The wall needs paint. The kitchen blinds need an update. The important phone call must be returned. The book you’re reviewing for a friend must be read. The delivery truck wants a signature for an item you forgot you ordered. The dinner must be purchased, planned, prepared. The new wine must be tried. The lawn must be mowed again; overgrown trees must come down, new ones planted. The article you’ve worked on diligently (the one with an urgent deadline) seeks a final paragraph late into the night when the speed of life slows down ever so briefly. The printer jams, and how long will it take to get it fixed; who can fix it? What about visiting an aging relative, the friend in the hospital, the neighbor moving to assisted living? Maybe you volunteer for a nonprofit; maybe you crave more time “to be” with the universe without any kind of agenda …

YET … a spring sunrise takes your breath away, and you must spend a few minutes gazing at it.
A memory takes you by the throat, holds you to the fire, as you dare to remember, deeply so, someone you’ve loved and lost.

In my case … the son I wrote about in my memoir, THE SILENCE OF MORNING.

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As author Annie Dillard wrote in one of her many books: “It takes years to write a book–between
two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant.” — The Writing Life (1989)

During the seven years it took to write and publish my memoir, the interruptions, the distractions and diversions, were plentiful. Even abundant! But a true writer somehow perseveres. Somehow believes so much in the journey, the book’s message, the pain and the joy of writing itself, that giving up isn’t an option. If you set out to climb a mountain, those who are serious about it … climb it. One way or another.

Music helped me a lot. Helped me delve into tangled emotions that weren’t easy to describe. When the book was in the editing phase, for instance, I often listened to a CD called Songbird Sunrise.

I like to get up around 5 a.m. and work when the house is still quiet, and somehow, the simple, sincere sounds of birds (in the spring and summer, you can just open the window, but I was editing and proofreading in the winter) helped me tune in to each sentence anew. When a book has been worked on for many years, it’s easy for even the sharpest eyes to skip over details. So I needed music that allowed me to really see each sentence … in the moment. I had to open an internal space for a task that many dislike, because the creative fuel that takes the process from a tiny seed to a full-grown tree is low by this stage of the process. Authors are exhausted when a book is completed. At least the authors I know. But a serious book project has many stages and phases and getting a first draft written is barely a scratch in the surface.

Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.
– Henry David Thoreau

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For perspective, I grew these hollyhocks back in 2008; they helped to inspire me to even begin the memoir. I remember writing about them in the book–how somehow, they also had fueled the journey. Beginnings are interesting, aren’t they? If you are a writer, what inspired you to take the first step … often the most critical of all? Sometimes it’s good to look back at those first steps to appreciate the hardships, the joys, of the climb. It’s also good to pause deeply when a project comes to fruition.

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.
Ernest Hemingway

Most of the authors I know write because they care. Care deeply for the work, the ideas, the creative journey. For the deep and powerful personal commitment it takes to sustain the work … building invisible bridges from paragraph to paragraph, from chapter to chapter. In this blog post, I want to honor the work of authors. I can’t image a world without “us.” It would be a dark, futile world. One extremely short on inspiration, connection and understanding, and most of all, one with less beauty. For even from the darkest shadows, the deepest sorrows, beauty can be found. And shared.

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A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer.
– Joseph Conrad

As I wrote in The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone: “Our minds rush to interpret events as good or bad, positive or negative, as we eagerly watch for the ‘good’ and, more cautiously, for the ‘bad.’ But when darkness descended into my world with absolute force and determination, abstract concepts became fiercely personal, and I was drawn to profound life questions as never before.”

  • Being drawn to profound life questions is utterly important. A tremendous gift … when understood and acted upon over time. So, despite Matthew’s loss, ultimately, there was beauty in my path … a path suggested by the white and pink hollyhocks that stood tall before me while I sat on our deck to study them, to seek solace in their upward flight — their show of color, their subtle optimism.
  • The light of life may not look like we think it should; it may not be the light we think we want or need. Fortunately, as an author, I was willing to explore what I’d been given, was willing to deeply consider the profound mysteries we are born into. Mysteries lodged in silence. And ambiguity. My memoir somehow penetrates that silence, however, as I initially survive its fierce echo after my son’s sudden death, and then when I realize I must, one day, embrace it.
  • Even though I wasn’t remotely prepared for the curious demands of loss, I dared to wonder: who is?

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
― Robert Frost

Pay attention to beginnings. Dare to wonder about the most perplexing life mysteries. Care deeply about humanity and your work. Find the stamina to go the distance. Authors are stunning athletes in a world that often misses this reality. Believe in what you want to explore, and discover. Know that being an author, a writer, is one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do. And clearly, the most rewarding. You set out on this rocky path armed with very little, knowing almost nothing. Yet, you are filled with a sense of possibility. Guided by questions, random thoughts, a shaky desire to create something out of nothing. And … you understand courage, you know patience, and you believe in magic. Deep in your soul, and this might be quite surprising to some of you, you even know what it is that you must write before you ever set down the first line in a book. Become one with that place of knowing. It will lead you through the early morning, the late nights, and well beyond those who don’t understand, or value, your mission. And that is a where you must be, and stay, to find your story — the one with the potential to reach the hearts and minds of others. Godspeed. — dh

If you are a writer … what has sustained you?
What has helped you face the blank page, the muddled page, the final page?

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, June 3rd.

I will always be a student of society looking for the deeper story and the universal message
to derive a better understanding of the human condition.
— D. A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning
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HOW … do we better understand the human condition, the quest for inner peace?
HOW … do we tap into the deeper mysteries, embracing challenge and loss as we go?
HOW … do we distance ourselves from a malcontent culture focused on excitement, escape, and excess?
AND … despite it all, how do we deepen our perspective … commit to sustained personal growth?
My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
can be found here
WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!

favicon Blog by SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.