Some weeks feel particularly bad, harsh, frightening, alarming, chilling ... fill in your own blank. And I think we can all agree that this past one has been one of those weeks. I’m not here to speak about politics or the state of this country, because, frankly, I don’t have anything new or insightful to say. We’ve been hearing it all, and we’ve been hearing it a lot. What I do want to talk about, though, is how we’re taking care of ourselves during these kinds of weeks. No, not that kind of self care. I’m not going to recommend a green juice or a face mask or a thai massage, although all of those things are wonderful and not without merit.
What I’m trying to get at is figuring out how to let ourselves feel vulnerable and human in a productive way when there are scary things outside our windows and on our TVs and probably even inside our own heads. I think, often for good reason, we tend to put on armor and act tough and say “you can’t hurt me.” But really, we are very delicate, aren’t we? And what’s even more terrifying than being delicate, is how a person or a group’s actions can affect our own ... how it can invade our peace of mind and push us into territories we’d rather not know.
There are things I’ve been coming back to, time and again, since November. Pieces of writing, poetry, radio, etc., that keep me soft and hoping for some mediation. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we all have to come to the middle, that we all have to be soft and open, but some of us do in order for this all to be ok. I’m going to share a few of my favorite bits with you, in hopes that they’ll touch you the way they’ve touched me.
First is something I know I’ll never forget. If you don’t have time to listen to the 19 minute interview, I’ll paraphrase. Maurice Sendak, at the end of his life, chatting with Terry Gross about all manner of things. Close to the end, he begins to cry, and says these beautiful words: “And almost certainly, I'll go before you go, so I won't have to miss you … I wish you all good things. Live your life, live your life, live your life.” This is the most tender moment of all the tender moments I have heard on radio. It hits right at the center of what it means to be alive. To be honest, to be vulnerable, to tell our friends we love them, to be sometimes sloppily kind. This moment instructs me to gush, because it will never be wasted. If not received by my intended party, just the act of doing so is good medicine.
Second, the poem Celestial Music, written by Louise Gluck.
I had the honor of memorizing this poem for public speaking club my freshman year of college. I wasn’t wise or even particularly good, but I always loved getting to see people’s faces when I spoke this poem. Many of them looked as though they were being given gifts they weren’t expecting. Let it sit on you for a while.
Third, Wendell Berry’s Twitter.
I cannot say for sure if this is actually Wendell Berry, but I can say that five minutes scrolling through his feed will fortify you in the sweetest of ways.
Fourth and final, a conversation I found healing in ways I cannot describe. Michael Longley lived and wrote his way through The Troubles, a time of immense political strife and death in Ireland. If you don’t have time to hear the whole interview, I’d like for you to to read his poem, Ceasefire.
"I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son."
IN TWO DAYS...
I'm not quite sure what will happen. It'll be my first eclipse experience and I'm a mix of emotions. In some ways I'm setting a low bar, just to be safe – it'll be cloudy, or we'll be stuck in traffic. But I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I'm also expecting to be changed forever, to weep openly in awe, and to abandon everything I have to chase eclipses for the rest of my life. The point is, we have no idea. And that's precisely why I love pondering the universe and it's mysterious power over us. As I said in our first issue of STATE of Mind, I've been reading a lot about the magic of solar eclipses and wanted to share some with you here.
To get you emotionally ready, read Annie Dillard's piece on witnessing her first solar eclipse. She describes the experience in such stunning, painterly detail it'll give you chills.
"The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world."
See what I mean?
Along with the basics – the moon covering the sun – there are a host of other mysterious phenomenons that occur during an eclipse. Like, did you know that there will be a 360 degree sunset all around you? If you're seeing the eclipse in the path of totality and look at the horizon, you'll see sunsets in every direction! There are also a host of other side effects – temperature change, Shadow Snakes (?!) and more. Read more here.
GABRIELLE HAMILTON ON MIND OF A CHEF
Gabby is brazen, impassioned, and surprisingly and humbly ecclesiastical about food. Watch her truly unique take on food in the first episode of MOAC and you won’t want to stop.
SU WU's APARTMENT
Su Wu is one of the most important cultural catalogers of our time. She’s our generation’s Susan Sontag, and you’ll always always want to know what she’s thinking, reading, and looking at. See her apartment on SightUnseen. Follow her blog, I’m Revolting, here.