Literature That Stops Time
(Entry below was handwritten on 11/3/2012, shortly after Hurricane Sandy)
It’s Saturday, but I can hardly tell what day it is. Having been left in the cold and darkness this past week due to a hurricane that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday night. It’s been a long week of cold hands and feet, wearing several layers of clothes to stay warm, and being away from home.
I spent a full day and night alone with barely any way to contact the outside world, which was more than a bit unnerving. I couldn’t even pass the time by writing because my hands were too cold to hold a pen. And it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to write without any distractions.
So I could not work all week, not even from home. All I could really do was try to warm up under the covers, by the light of my only candle on my night table, and eventually go to sleep. The cold completely incapacitates me. So now I’m here at a friend’s house in Harrison where there is light and power, trying to reconnect with my creative self.
He found some old poetry anthologies for me to read through, even though this week of no light or heat should have provided more than enough inspiration for me. He has the Norton Anthology of Poetry, which I think is the very same one I had in college and kept for years before donating it to a local library. I guess that was a mistake. Some things are definitely worth keeping- like anthologies that hold inspiration within their pages.
I don’t know why it’s become so hard to keep up this inspiration when I’m on my own. It’s not a foolish thing to do, it’s the only thing that really lights me up and awakens me like nothing else does. Some things come close. But reading something like “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman immediately takes me to another place in my brain.
That place that I used to tap into all the time when I was in high school and college. The part of me that enjoyed the challenge of crafting my own poems until I felt that they sang to me. It was work I took very seriously. It was a personal passion project. And even if no one else ever read my words or poems, they gave me some sort of weird, personal satisfaction, and a sense of power.
There is an amazing power and energy in the present moment, when you finally realize you are paying attention to it, and not thinking about the past or the future. It’s such a simple thing but it holds a tremendous weight. That is the spirit in which Whitman wrote “Song of Myself” and the spirit in which all poets have written poetry. Maybe that’s why I love it so much- reading and writing it. You bring your attention there fully.
It’s very satisfying because it seems to stop time. It stops all worry and preoccupation. Whitman wrote “Song of Myself” simply out of the full and complete realization of the miracle that he was alive. It was an astonishment, so much so that he felt himself to be divine. And we are all pieces of the divine, simply because we have the breath of life in us, and the power to alter things. We can alter ourselves, each other, and our environments. We have freedoms and free will to do anything.
And maybe it’s the vastness of choice , the sheer vastness, that keeps us locked in indecision or paralyzed with fear. There is so much unknown to us that the fear of the unknown can be absolutely terrifying. I find that that is often the case with me. Because life is so fragile, every move we make can feel like a risk.
But at times like these, when all distractions are taken away, and we are left with the bare elements, and we slow down enough to do things like read poetry or write, it’s like a release of something, a complete breath of fresh air, and it reminds us of our humanity and the power of the human mind to entertain itself. It reminds us of the power that new thoughts can bring- completely original thoughts that break away from the usual repetitive streams of thoughts that we are used to having every day. The world is so changeable and no one can ever really control anyone else, or have things just to their liking in their lives, and that can be very scary.
Living in this world requires immense inner strength and certainty because too much self-doubt and fear, coupled with too little confidence can really destroy you. In order to drown out all the outside voices and opinions that crowd my mind and my real self- I do whatever I can to slow down, to quiet myself, and bring myself back to the present moment. Several things help me do this, like writing, exercise and especially meditation.
It can be hard to get to and appreciate the core of myself, my heart and personality, when who I am seems to be at odds with what society expects and my family expects of a woman who is 33 years old. I think I have been good and responsible, but I have not fully explored the world and other people as deeply as I should have because of so many stupid fears- fears that have kept me locked inside myself and afraid of really living.
I write as if someone will care enough to read about my thoughts after I’m gone and I will continue to live on through my words. But what if no one cares to read them? I guess ultimately it will not matter. There is so much to be sorted out, mentally and emotionally, and I hope that one life is sufficient time enough for me to do so.
There is certain music that helps me live in the present moment as well, and no matter how many times I may play the same song, it still brings me to a place of total presence with the music and the mood and atmosphere it creates. It brings moments of pure joy and immersion in someone else’s self-expression. But as my own physical being, that can’t be all there is to my life.
It comes down to that very good question I read once: do you want to be a creator or a consumer? A life in which you only consume the thoughts of others isn’t much of a life at all, because you are not contributing anything. And as a unique human being who has never lived before and will never live again, it’s everyone’s birthright to contribute something of themselves into the world.
“There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world”
-Song of Myself
I know, logically, that the carefree mind I had in my college days is gone. I’m a different person. Somehow more hardened by the world and the reality of living in it, and taking care of myself. What I thought would be some grand adventure- going out into the world and living on my own has turned into a chore- or I have turned it into one. I choose not to see the wonder in the every day. I choose to pay attention to the mundane, the grime, the to do lists of errands and chores that fill my days now, and somehow the poetry of being alive- the miracle of that, was left behind.
My books of much beloved poetry and works of literature sit abandoned and gathering dust on my bookshelves. They are forgotten and forlorn and neglected, and in my doing those things, I became someone unrecognizable to the self I had always known and cared for and nurtured. The former self of whom a small portion still remains.
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