Kindness

Today, a wise friend read this poem to a group I was with, unaware that she was actually reading it just for me.  As she read the poignant lines, I felt my heart-strings pull before tears I could not control, spilled out of my eyes, subsequently ruining my mascara.  Poet Naomi Shihab Nye has a message of kindness that perhaps will resonate with you too.  For this reason, I feel compelled to share it here.  For you.

Kindness  By Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing
inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

 

 

A letter to an aspiring writer…

Last week I was aiming, hoping and aspiring. My inner dreamer was wide-awake and I was willing to follow her for a change. In one week I submitted applications for two big dreams I’ve been harboring. Frankly I’m exhausted, but there is a quiet satisfaction in my weariness. I applied for graduate school at USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. I have my fingers crossed on that one, and I still can’t believe I did it. But even bigger news than that is I applied for a Los Angeles literary fellowship program for new writers that could launch a professional writing career. These were not easy endeavors. The application process for both was lengthy, time-consuming and stressful. But my most difficult obstacle is overcoming my greatest enemy, myself.

Believe it or not the fellowship was harder for me to apply for than grad school because I am familiar with the world of academia. If you put all my years of school together I think I’m in like 20th grade or something. I was successful last time I was a graduate student and will be again should I be admitted.

On the other hand the fellowship for writers, well that one scares me. I was so afraid in fact that I sat on the link for the application for three months. A week before it was due I glanced at it and found that the application was not just a form. I needed to answer nine short essay questions, collect twenty pages of writing samples, obtain a summary of my tax returns from last year, and get two compelling letters of recommendations. My inner critic immediately piped up, and these are some of the things she said:

  • Drop this idea, it’s too much work.
  • You procrastinated all summer and now you wont have time to get this all together.
  • You don’t know anyone who will write you letters of recommendation on this short of notice.
  • You don’t have writing samples. You’re an essayist. 20 pages is like 5 essays… Um, do blog posts count?
  • You’re not good enough.
  • You aren’t going to get it.

She was right about all of that and I really did want to give up! But here’s the thing, if you never try, the answer is always no, and you can’t really argue with that logic either. In my life I haven’t taken many risks. In fact I over think EVERYTHING!! I think this is some subconscious thing we do as humans to protect ourselves from disappointment and heartbreak. Sadly, I decide the answer is NO probably too often. I haven’t really taken a risk in a way that really mattered to me since… um yeah, I can’t remember when, which is my point here. Realizing this, it became important to me to try for this fellowship.

I chose twenty pages worth of my favorite short stories and essays and spent the next three days editing my work. I stayed up past 2 a.m. answering and editing those short essay questions for three nights. I called my tax guy and when he didn’t call me back, I just made copies of my W2s and hoped that was enough. I asked my dear writing teacher and a good friend who is a journalist to write me letters and they did, same day. Once I had all the parts of the application, I had to make five copies of this huge packet! Just putting the packets together took me hours but eventually, I got it all together and sent it overnight mail on the day of the deadline. How’s that for cutting it close? Yesterday I received a post card notifying me that they had received my package.

Winners will be notified in October. I hope I am chosen, but if I am not, I feel like the lesson for me here is that I tried. I didn’t listen to my inner critic who I believed was right. By finishing I proved to myself that my critic doesn’t always tell the truth. Perhaps next time she pipes up, I’ll remember this lesson. It wasn’t easy but I did it! And even though there is still a part of me that feels like my essays are silly and not polished enough, I submitted them anyway. I’m surrendering and I’m going to let someone else give me an answer for a change.

It’s like Steven Pressfield says in his book The War of Art. I’m adlibbing here and I hope I get this right, but he says something like when you fail it is actually a win because it means you are putting yourself out there which is what makes you an artist. Getting rejected means you are trying. You are showing your work. It’s easy to sit safely on the sidelines and never get rejected, but there is a price for that too. To actually feel disappointment and get dismissed over something you created, well, that means you’re an artist, and by the way congratulations! You are actually in the game! Thanks Steven Pressfield 🙂

I follow this blog that features interviews with various writers. Every writer answers the same five questions. Their answers are inspiring, artistic, and even juicy sometimes. Today the featured writer was a poet named Juliana Gray. Even her name sounds like poetry right? Anyway, I loved her answer to question number five. It was exactly what I needed to hear and wanted to share it with you writers, artists and dreamers out there.

What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Dear Aspiring Writer: I hope you’re prepared to fail. In the meantime, read everything you can get your hands on. Have opinions about it. Write lots. Imitate the ones you love. Listen to your teachers. Know that improving means changing. And keep writing. xoxo, Juliana.

Happiness Floats

Oh to be a poet… I love poets. I always have. I’m pretty sure it all started with Dr. Seuss, who made books and language fun for me. Although I still adore Dr. Seuss, my tastes have evolved from the days I would beg my Daddy to please please please read me Green Eggs and Ham just one more time. In my budding adolescence I recall discovering Edgar Allen Poe. His beautiful Annabell Lee, his raven, and his ever creepy tell-tale heart had me thinking that he was the coolest most clever writer ever! Even then I had a thing for the dark, shadow side of humanity. In high school, I came to appreciate Shakespeare’s stories of love, betrayal and life lessons though comedy and tragedy, which I can say mirror my own experiences in love and life. In college there was the whole coffee house scene complete with complaint rock and emo spoken word performances describing harrowing anguish and the ever calamitous state of our world as only youth from the 90’s could tell it. I found validation, solace, and amusement in Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Maya Angelou, ee cummings, T.S. Elliot, John Keats, Pablo Neruda, Rumi and others. But not all poets are from a time long before my own. Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Steven Patrick Morrissey, Jill Scott, Tori Amos, and Prince are a few more of my favorite word magicians. Profound, prolific, thought provoking and inspiring… This is why I love poets. They use words to translate love, pain, loss, joy, apathy and every sentiment really. They mix language and emotion and string together sentences that can deeply touch the human spirit.  Poets help us understand life the way only art can. To be a poet is to be able to experience life, and then write about it so that the rest of us can feel it.

This week I was given a poem written by Naomi Shihab Nye. I drank in this poem with a writer’s thrist. Its been with me since I read it a few days ago. I feel compelled to share it here. If I were a poet, I’d wish to write like Nye.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I expect you will.  Oh, and to all the poets out there, thank you for writing.

So Much Happiness by Naomi Shihab Nye

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.

With Sadness there is something to rub against, a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.

When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up, something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.

It doesn’t need you to hold it down.

It doesn’t need anything.

Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing, and disappears when it wants to.

You are happy either way.

Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house, and now live over a quarry of voice and dust, cannot make you unhappy.

Everything has a life of its own.

It too could wake up filled with possibilities of coffee cake and ripe peaches, and love even the floor which needs to be swept, the soiled linens and scratched records…

Since there is no place large enough to contain so much happiness, you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you, into everything you touch.

You are not responsible.

You take no credit,

as the night sky takes no credit for the moon, but continues to hold it,

and to share it, and in that way, be known.

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