Glorious Impersonality

For several years now my Sunday mornings have begun with the anticipation of reading the weekly email from Andrew that arrives in my inbox around 7am. I have saved every one he has sent to me, and for good reason. Both he and his wife Kathryn, in addition to being two of the wisest and most generous people I know, have PhDs in English literature and write with a gifted effortlessness. No one can offer life’s primal wisdom with such a silky touch as these two dear friends.

This morning Andrew excerpted a paragraph written by Kathryn who is spending some time in Cumbria. Currently she is researching the life of Hartley Coleridge, the eldest son of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for an upcoming conference. Her words about journals speak to so many of the feelings I have been having recently about how we witness our own lives and, in turn, share that witnessing with others. So many of the blogs that move me speak to this.

I do wonder whose imaginal dream we are. I’ve come across that Mary Oliver poem* before–and read it again with assent and wonder. I had a new understanding yesterday of the importance of keeping journals. A journal is a seed–not to insure the survival of the personhood of any one life, but just the opposite–to allow creation to happen again and again in many more minds from this one seed of the vast universal. To let go of one’s attachment to the “story” of one’s life and allow it to be whatever it is in any other’s mind is like allowing the body to decompose into nutriment for other life forms. I got a sense of that glorious impersonality in Mary Oliver’s poem.

Kathryn in Cumbria

*The poem by Mary Oliver, When Death Comes, was posted here a year ago.

5 Replies to “Glorious Impersonality”

  1. I have thought about this a great deal over the years and feel very ambivalent to this day. I’m not sure it’s so terrible to merely have visited this world. All my life I have felt compelled to be a living memorial to many relatives who were burned to ash in the Holocaust, never getting to nourish the soil and simply polluting the air. And now, after all these years, I am feeling it doesn’t really matter. They are gone. I’ll be gone. The only thing that matters to me is that my children are not prematurely gone in a war. For me, it’s not about journaling, as much as I have compulsively blogged in the last year. It’s not about planting seeds. It’s about remaining alert to imminent destruction of my childrens’ future world and be ready to take action, literally and absolutely whatever it takes, to keep them safe.

  2. Maybe it’s the seemingly inevitable ossification of age is that’s keeping me writing now, but the creation that happens again and again can also be exhausting. I prefer my protean life to the static (and stagnant) lives of some people I know, but its price is high too. I can’t help longing for a story sometimes, a sense that life isn’t made unpredictably, moment to moment, in words, but follows some sense from somewhere.

  3. G, I know the elemental plane from which you speak. The sheer survival of our children should be foremost in our minds as this mad world spins out of control. But like Kathryn I have a strong mystical vein in me that pulls me into a detached optimism that informs my creative and expressive life. I dont’ know if those two energies will ever be aligned; it may be that they cannot be, ever. But I keep wanting to hold both, in a kind of perfect paradox.

    D, In your usual humble way you have said that it is the “ossification of age” that keeps you writing. Not my experience of what I have read by you–words so well placed and so full of wisdom–but I do acknowledge living far from its inception and what that feels like to you. I’m just glad you are there, sharing a strain of seeds I can’t find anywhere else.

  4. Elatia Harris says:

    I don’t journal, and never have, but I’ve always wondered — do people who do write in the expectation of no reader or in the hope of a reader? Depends on the one doing the journaling, I know, but to write intending not to be read seems like making oneself visible the better to hide.

    I once encouraged a woman not to dispose of her journals — decades and decades of them — as she was preparing to do. “Here, you read them, then,” she said. Oh.

    My mother wanted her notebooks never to be read, or so she said. But she never threw them out. There is no mystery, finally, like your mother. Reading what she left would not have cleared anything up.

  5. E, great line–making oneself visible the better to hide–which is much like my favorite line from Winnicott about artists in general: “Continually torn between the urgent need to communicate, and the still more urgent need not to be found.”

    Maybe Kathryn can see the seeds since the journals she’s researching are about life and people who have long since passed. Knowing Coleridge as well as she does, his son’s writings would be full of insights for her scholar’s eyes. As for the stacks of studio logs I’ve been keeping for years, I think they are primarily for me.

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