Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The love of bare November days

I love this scene. The fleeting days when leaves like flames and gold dust scatter along the ground, where breathing in the Georgia air does not feel like a tourniquette clamped around your chest, where everything seems just a little more free and a little more alive.

There is something in these days which captivates the mind and allures the spirit; I cannot exactly explain what work these November days does in people, but I can say that I see it everywhere. I cannot recall ever meeting a person who would not admit to having some sort of love for the fall--even though the daylight hours grow shorter, even though the temperature is dropping, even though the falling leaves create a mess that many people insist on trying to "clean up" (not seeing, I suppose, the futility that I see in trying to counteract nature's instinctive and inevitable cycles). How many people get out during the autumn months, to go for a jog early in the morning, to attend fall festivals and corn mazes, to go for hikes, to do yard work, or just to get a breath of the fresh crisp air?

So many artists find the need to express their feelings about this time of the year--particularly writers, as I have observed. I cannot begin to enumerate the poems I have read which center around fall, the stories whose autumn settings do so much more than merely showcase the physical wonders of the season but connect them to the depths of the human soul. And even though it has been written about to the point of triteness, I still find this magnetic pull toward writing about autumn, and the things that it makes me think and feel. I have talked to countless other writers who have said the same thing; one girl said it best when she was explaining to me how she had come to write a poem about autumn and said, "I just couldn't not write about it."

Why is that? Why are we unable to not write about this season? Even though so much of it has been expressed before, why do we still feel compelled to express it again, in our own way?

I think that autumn presents a challenge to writers, because it does evoke something deep within us that we have a difficult time expressing. As someone who continually strives for mastery of verbal expression, I find myself constantly drawn to attempt to express the things which are so challenging to express, the things which are inexpressible. The things which are so beautiful and so complex because they are so simple and so natural, yet at the same time so inextricably tied to my heart that my mind has a difficult time sorting out those ties and composing a verbal arrangement of the sway they have over every detail of my life. I think that visually, metaphorically, spiritually, and on any other level you can imagine, autumn brings out a heightened sense of awareness and contemplation. It always represents a challenge to me, because I feel there is still so much that has been unsaid about the profound and symbolic beauty of the fall.

I know there is much that will never be said, can never be said. The most precious thoughts and feelings to me are the ones that are inexpressible, incomprehensible. I think that is something which is very dear to a writer; it means that there is something that I cannot master, something which I must be content to hold in humble reverence. It means there is a place in the human spirit to which I cannot lead others--to experience it, to know it, one must search and find it for oneself. I always say that I feel more alive during the fall than during any other time of the year. This, I think, gets at the heart of why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
the love of bare November days...

(Robert Frost, "My November Guest")

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

4 November 2008

I was sitting on my living room couch last night, my television set tuned in but muted, as the poll results were coming in. I knew the next president of the United States would be decided soon, and I was ready for the answer... though I knew that the results would not be solidified until late into the night, even perhaps during the early hours of the morning.

I was writing my novel. It was about eleven o'clock at night, and I was deeply involved in some serious character development--when I happened to glance up at my silent television set. I was not ready for what I saw. It was too early in the evening for the results to be definitive; more than that, though, I was not mentally prepared to process the gravity of what had occurred. But there, as plain and authoritative as anything, was a smiling picture of Barack Obama against a blue backdrop, and underneath in regal white letters: "44th President Of The United States."

Of course, I had voted for Obama. In my mind, he was the only choice. Given the national and global state of affairs--a devastating economic crisis, a war nearly as unpopular as Vietnam being waged for all the wrong reasons, a climate undergoing utter destruction, low morale at home and little esteem abroad--I could not have considered voting otherwise. I don't love Obama and I never have, but when all was laid out on the table, I felt very strongly that Obama was the one who had the ability to bring about the hope that America so desperately needs.

I truly felt that Obama would win this election. Nothing could have prepared me, however, for the landslide victory with which he swept across the country. I was sure that it would be a close race, and that people all across the nation would be hovering around their televisions for hours, awaiting the poll results from every precinct, every state, which would be the deciding voices in this race. But when Florida was called in his favor, the race was over--and yet the results still kept coming, until he reached some 338 electoral votes, far more than the 270 he needed to seal his victory.

But what ended up hitting me even harder than his decisive win was the realization that history was made that night. For this man to be elected to the highest office in the land--this black man, this Barack Obama--something must have truly shifted in the minds of the American people. I think the reason his candidacy and ultimately his election did not strike me as inherently historical at first was that, in my mind, it was never about race. It was about the hope that he offered for a more peaceful future, for great social leaps, restored relationships with other nations (whether free or still entwined in systems of oppressive government). It was not about electing the first black president. The question of whether America was ready to elect a black president never registered to me; the only question in my mind was whether America was ready for change.

And America is ready for that change. That, to me, is the beauty of what happened on 4 November 2008. America judged this man not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character--and it was so seamless that I very nearly missed the historical significance. Yet the significance is obvious. Americans came together and accomplished something that many people never would have thought possible only a handful of decades ago. They came together in record numbers from every background, every socioeconomic status, every faith, the elderly and the young generations and everyone in between, and they said that they had had enough. Just when I was becoming disillusioned with who we are and what we as a nation stand for, America stood up and declared that it is strong, it is eager, and it is ready to overcome a divided history and look toward a united future.

I have much more to say, but I will have to say it another time. Let me just wrap up my initial thoughts on the election by saying that the struggle America is facing is far from over. One man cannot bring about the changes that we need to see, nor can an entire body of elected officials. Only a nation can change a nation--only we, the American people, can effect the change. I am so thankful that our next president will be a man who can inspire hope for this country, because hope is the first step. But once we grasp the hope and the possibility of all that is opened up to us, it is our decision. My decision. Your decision. I have been so hesitant throughout this election season to rally behind one candidate or the other, because I feel so strongly that it would be a very easy trap to fall into, that we would elect our next president, our next Congress, and then become complacent once again. My hope and my prayer is that this will not happen--because if it does, then we will have very little to show for a moment in our nation's life which could have been a great opportunity to really change the course of history. America needs us now, more than ever. I hope we are ready to respond.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

All I Really Want...

I've been listening to a lot of Bob Dylan these days. Something about his lyrics really resonates with me--in his prime, he had a way of cutting right to the heart of all the things that were (and still are) wrong with the world.

Take the following lyrics. This song appeared on his 1964 album, Another Side of Bob Dylan. It speaks deeply to me, showing me that the same problems I run into with interpersonal relationships have existed for quite some time... and also helping me realize that I am not the only person who has been frustrated or disgusted by all the meaningless undercurrents that lead us down dead-end streets along the roads that could lead to truly great personal connections. We miss out on so much because we cannot just let go of our differences and give one another the benefit of the doubt.

Take it away, Bob.

All I Really Want To Do

I ain't looking to compete with you,
beat or cheat or mistreat you,
simplify you, classify you,
deny, defy, or crucify you.
All I really want to do
is, baby, be friends with you.

No, and I ain't looking to fight with you,
frighten you or uptighten you,
drag you down or drain you down,
chain you down or bring you down.
All I really want to do
is, baby, be friends with you.

I ain't looking to block you up,
shock or knock or lock you up,
analyze you, categorize you,
finalize you, or advertise you.
All I really want to do
is, baby, be friends with you.

I don't want to straight-face you,
race or chase you, track or trace you,
or disgrace you or displace you
or define you or confine you.
All I really want to do
is, baby, be friends with you.

I don't want to meet your kin,
make you spin, or do you in,
or select you or dissect you,
or inspect you or reject you.
All I really want to do
is, baby, be friends with you.

I don't want to fake you out,
take or shake or forsake you out.
I ain't looking for you to feel like me,
see like me, or be like me.
All I really want to do
is, baby, be friends with you.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Breaking point

Right outside of my apartment there is this tall, skinny, awkward tree that grows up right in the little nook where the two adjoining buildings opposite mine meet at a right angle. It is an unobtrusive corner, walled in by spiny hedges all around. There are strings of ivy creeping up the building, even right over the window-shutters. And standing only inches away from those tucked-away walls is this tree--perhaps a birch, though it is hard to tell from where I sit and observe her. But her scrawny limbs sag just slightly, as if the leaves which are her lot in life are just a bit too heavy. She strains, not wishing for anyone to learn of her secret weakness, to lift those limbs with a sort of dignified grace. But at the very ends her limbs droop, only just--discrete but unmistakable.

I like to sit out upon my porch in the evenings and look on while she stands there, quiet and proud, even in her odd place in the world. On still, tranquil summer nights she would stand motionless, statuesque. As the thin ribbon of light in the blue-gray sky would descend lower and lower, her limbs would become entangled deeper and deeper with the darkness. Yet she always remains unmoving, watchful, attentive.

Her name is Eleanor, this tree, and she and I are kindred spirits in some ways. Both of us know something of isolation, of not really fitting into the hole that has been made for us. Both of us are strong, strong enough to stand against many storms and face the aftermath with some reservoir of grace that we are able to find within ourselves. Both of us, Eleanor and I, stand before the world proud of who we are, even when the winds of adversity threaten to tear us from the ground. And the world doesn't see what goes on inside.

But all creatures have a breaking point. Eleanor and I are no different, though our breaking points have not been identified yet. I have come dangerously close to breaking, but I have not broken. Some days the world seems heavier than other days; some days I droop a little more, betray a little more of the screaming, trembling little child who lives inside of me--the side of me that I don't let anyone see, the side that stings my heart knowingly whenever someone tells me how strong, how resilient I am. The weakness in my heart knows that the strength is just a front I put up for the benefit of the world, the world where I am supposed to be strong, because people would rather not have to deal with the weakness of their fellow human creatures.

We're going to be alright, Eleanor and me. Life is a hell of a thing to be charged with, day in and day out, and it is a wonder that any of us on this earth can make it. But somehow we do. And we come out alright. If we don't break first.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Boy's Will

I think, once all is taken into account, my favorite poet is Robert Frost. His connection to nature, and the metaphors which he so eloquently draws, are familiar to me. Few people understand my take on the world, but when I read his poems that are so richly laden with beautiful language and imagery, I feel assured that someone, somewhere, has understood the things that I see all around me. His words remind me that everything is lovely in some way--even sorrow, even grief--and that is a comforting thing, because the world is filled with sorrow and grief, yet its loveliness remains.

One of my favorite poems was published in Frost's first published book of poetry, A Boy's Will. Here on the first of November, I find this poem quite appropriate in so many ways.

My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walked the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Atlas Fallen

I watched you hoist the world above your head
and make them all retreat in holy dread.
Hero in a world fallen far from grace,
martyr for those who've been frozen in place
and handed to the whims of great unrest--
a savior's role you played, and played your best.
But 'neath such weight you were bound to crumble--
never too infallible to stumble.
And as the fateful wind sliced cleanly through
and whispered of the pains reserved for you
your body buckled 'neath a timeless dread;
as I looked on, the world crashed 'round your head.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


I wrote the following several weeks ago, as I lay in my bed late one night, listening to the rain. Times have been up and down lately for me. I guess that could probably be said for most everyone, most of the time. Still, it's comforting to remember that some things in this life are constant. Amid all this madness, we all need to find our safe haven... like rain on a summer night.

The rain is sort of peaceful and lonely tonight. Peaceful, because it is steady and soft and life-giving. Lonely, I think, because it haunts me--because it brings to mind traces of other days, days that were happier, more carefree... and some days that were uneventful or lonesome or painful. Other days. Days which are not this day. Days which are not this day are days that are already behind me, or else they are days which have yet to unfold beneath my feet. One way or another, I am not in the midst of living them and suffering them today.

But the rain also tells me that I am strong. Because the rain comes and goes... and to experience anything coming and going as the rain comes and goes, one must be alive for a span of time. To be old enough to recollect many of those comings and goings means that one must have been alive long enough to grow that old. One must have opened one's eyes to many, many new days. And to continue day after day to open one's eyes and blink into the harsh, punishing daylight, to stumble through each hour perhaps without direction, perhaps even wondering if all paths do not lead to nowhere--to survive this means surely that one is equipped to survive. Though one may feel insignificant, ill, the weakest being on earth, one may and ought to take solace in the mere condition of continuing to live, because it means that one is inherently strong enough to live. None of us are very strong, it is true... but neither is any of us condemned to be prohibitively weak. All humanity is strong enough, barring physical disease or deformity or deprivation, to get up out of the bed another day and move and breathe within the circles of fire and earth and life. We are created with the mechanism to stand and bear living's pain and oppression--not always with dignity, but to bear it nonetheless... to continue to draw breath though it crushes our chest and rips through us like a thin red flame, to cry out for help even when our throat is cracked and raw from the heaving, choking sobs that we have cried in our loneliness and fear... and to lie down to sleep at night in anticipation or dread of what tomorrow's sunlight will illuminate before us and within us. That is real strength. That is the unfettered and untainted beauty of the human spirit.

When the rain comes, it washes everything and sets all it touches back upon the road to health and growth. It soothes a feverish earth and brings comfort to a troubled spirit. Tonight it works these effects in my own heart. And even now, as my eyelids droop and my consciousness rolls in and out like the ocean tide, I know that I will wake up in the morning and have the wherewithal to exist tomorrow--and exist well. Exist as I am meant to.

Sometimes every spirit needs to feel the rainstorm.