Day 407, April 28, 2021

Small Versions of Greatness

Tonight's soundtrack: The Miles Davis Septet, Norway, 1971

I woke up early this morning. I'm not sure what causes one to suddenly be awake at 3:30 am. I ended up falling back asleep by 5, and it is not until now that I've started to feel tired. I tried to not look at my phone and read the news, I thought about my morning writing, I considered whether it would be ridiculous to get up and do something. In the end, I read the news until my eyes could no longer focus and then I fell asleep for a few more hours before my alarm called me to the shower.

It has been a strange pandemic phenomenon where I find myself exhausted at the end of the day, nearly falling asleep while we watch our evening television, and then find myself waking early. Not usually this early, but often before dawn, before my alarm, before June Bug begins pawing at my face.

For a short year I lived in a little house on top of a mountain in Colrain and my second floor bedroom window faced east. For that year I woke almost every day at dawn and it was the most marvelous sensation to wake bathed in natural sunlight. Rather than the jarring shock of an alarm, it felt luxurious and indulgent. I also went to bed early most nights too, so that helped. My internal rhythm shifted for the year.

My pandemic alarm is actually an hour later than my pre-pandemic waking time, which is the time I make up by not having to commute. Even so, some mornings seem to pass surprisingly fast and before I know it, the morning chores and writing is out of time and it is off to first meetings, email and so on.

I tell people that I don't worry about growing bored in retirement, I have too many things that I like to do, and I wonder if waking up in the middle of the night is a symptom of some of those things piling up. Maybe it is about not playing enough music, or not writing down the lines of poetry I was thinking about, or transcribing the fortune cookies I ate the other night, or maybe it is the birthday project for a friend that is incomplete, the book with one last short story sitting unread on the coffee table. Maybe it is the plaster that needs patching, the bike ride I didn't go on, the chicken water that needs changing. Or maybe it is just June Bug licking me with her sandpaper tongue. 

I wonder how the pandemic will help us reconsider how we proportion our lives, what we leave to wait for another day, what we choose to do right now. I wonder if it continues to make sense to give all our energy to work and leave so little for our gardens, our poetry, our children, our music making. I wonder if the reality is that I would get bored in retirement, if given no constraints on my pursuits that I would find my days shapeless and indolent. Sometimes, it is the structure, the constraints, the limitations that force us to make unconventional decisions, that cause us to use specific words, that force us to be creative in ways that might not ordinarily occur to a person. 

I have always felt that part of the reason that Shakespeare resonates with his creative uniqueness was the structures he imposed on himself. By writing in iambic pentameter, by writing in sonnets, his word choice was deliberate and measured. It was shaped, in part, by the structure of the medium. It was the limitations that shaped the uniqueness that allows his images and phrases to still standout today.

Over the course of the pandemic, I have learned that I can create a structure for myself. I can have a routine that I follow and that routine helps give shape to my days and my weeks. I can imagine doing something similar, regardless of if I am on a time clock or not. It is what my artist friends call a practice. It is like showing up to work, but just a redefining of what that work is. And over time, the vocabulary for that work grows, is exercised and becomes stronger, and eventually achieves a dexterity that appears something like mastery. One can feel that kind of energy watching The Miles Davis Septet in 1971. They play with such an earnest transmission of self into sound, that one can only imagine the countless hours of practice and performance that each musician needs to play to attain that level, to play so honestly, so earnestly, and so fantastically. Each musician is playing their role, but doing it with wonderful creativity and energy.

Ah, I guess I miss playing music with friends. I look froward to returning to that practice, and our small versions of greatness.

Take care, but take it.


From Our Friends:

From the Vermont Studio Center:

Virtual Artist Talk: Devon Tsuno
Monday, May 10th, 7:00 pm ET
Image courtesy of Devon Tsuno.

Devon Tsuno is a Los Angeles-native. His recent abstract paintings, social-practice projects, artist books, and print installations focus on the LA watershed, water use, and native vs. non-native vegetation. Tsuno is a 2017 Santa Fe Art Institute Water Rights artist-in-residence, the 2016 SPArt Community Grantee, and was awarded a 2014 California Community Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship for Visual Art. His long-term interest in bodies of water in the LA area has been central to his collaborations with the Department of Cultural Affairs, Big City Forum, the Theodore Payne Foundation, the grantLOVE Project, and Occidental College. Tsuno has exhibited at the Hammer Museum Venice Beach Biennial, the US Embassy in New Zealand, the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, and Roppongi 605 in Tokyo. His solo exhibition, Reclaimed Water was identified in Art LTD as a Critic’s Picks: 2014 Top 10 exhibitions in LA, and his exhibition Watershed curated by Aandrea Stang was reviewed in Artillery Magazine and Notes on Looking. Tsuno received an MFA from Claremont Graduate University in 2005 and a BFA from California State University Long Beach in 2003. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Art and Design at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Virtual Visiting Writer: Paisley Rekdal

Featured Reading - Wednesday, May 12th, 7:00 pm ET 

Writing Craft Talk - Thursday, May 13th,
10:00 am ET
Image courtesy of Paisley Rekdal.

Paisley Rekdal  is the author of a book of essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee;  the hybrid photo-text memoir, Intimate; and five books of poetry: A Crash of Rhinos; Six Girls Without Pants; The Invention of the Kaleidoscope; Animal Eye, a finalist for the 2013 Kingsley Tufts Prize and winner of the UNT Rilke Prize; and Imaginary Vessels, finalist for the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Prize and the Washington State Book Award. Her newest work of nonfiction is a book-length essay, The Broken Country: On Trauma, a Crime, and the Continuing Legacy of Vietnam. A new collection of poems, Nightingale, which re-writes many of the myths in Ovid's The Metamorphoses, was published spring 2019.  Appropriate: A Provocation, which examines cultural appropriation, is available now from W.W. Norton.  She was the guest editor for Best American Poetry 2020.

She is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Utah, where she is also the creator and editor of the community web projects Mapping Literary Utah and Mapping Salt Lake City. In May 2017, she was named Utah's Poet Laureate and received a 2019 Academy of American Poets' Poets Laureate Fellowship.

    From Mass Humanities:

    MS+MA: Stories of School Integration

    April 29, 7pm-8:30pm Eastern

    Like much of the country, both Mississippi and Massachusetts have struggled with issues of school integration and educational equity. In this MS+MA program, we will explore stories of school integration from both states. How did government-led efforts to racially integrate public schools play out in Boston and the Mississippi Delta in the 1970s? What was the impact on the diverse communities of both places? And what is the legacy of these struggles for education and racial equity today?


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