How To Gift Yourself With Inspiration Without Drowning

I should really re-title this post and add a question mark, because sorting through all the inspiration available on the web is as daunting as it is delightful. I’m still a novice. So I’ll tell you what I do, and then I hope to hear back from some of you with even better strategies.

I limit the springs of inspiration I drink at, as much as possible, to the following:

  1. a daily poem, read first thing in the morning (before other stuff gets clogged in there). At first I used Poetry Daily, but, finding I wanted my poetry less random, I later switched to favorites like Mary Oliver and Brian Doyle, working my way through their books one poem at a time. But who knows? I may go back to randomizing just to see who appears.
  2. Brain Pickings, by Maria Popova. I became a subscriber this year, and after a few months I became, out of sheer gratitude, a paying subscriber. But Maria is so incredibly wide-ranging that I’ve had to learn how to pick my own Pickings. Survival tip to avoid inundation: assign myself ONE article per issue to read, then share with a friend or relative, including my own question or comment to create a real connection/dialogue. 
  3. On Being, the podcast by Krista Tippett. Survival tip to avoid inundation: listen to one episode per week while exercising.

Drink deep…but take time to savor and swallow!

This is what I try to hold myself to. Then there are BOOKS. How to limit the stack that grows beside my bed, and the list that threatens to run right off the notes-page of my calendar? Uh…gonna have to wait for one of you to advise me on this.

So…daily inspirations: how do YOU control the flow, pick your Pickings, or otherwise keep your sources of empathy and joy and motivation from drowning you? Please share your strategies, Wise Ones.

 

Picking Your Pattern: On Dishes, Color, And Marriage

This morning’s poem from Poetry Daily got me thinking about small daily pleasures. I’ll share the poem in a minute. But first I want to talk about color, and dishes. And then, maybe, marriage.

For Christmas two years ago I asked my Mate to buy me a set of eight plates made by a wonderful local potter. Of course I wanted to choose them myself, or commission them, rather, and here’s what I asked Lydia the Potter to make: two green, two gold, two blue, and two red plates, all with different designs on the rim. Here’s what she made me:

I KNOW, right?

I KNOW, right?

Why not matching? Because, #1, I LOVE color, so how could I possibly choose? And #2, Lydia, like me, is an I-love-it-all gal, so how could I possibly choose ONE of her patterns?

Right??

Right??

That intense color, those simple-but-varied designs–they make me happy every single day.

My original “dish pattern” makes me happy too, but only when I think of the story behind it. first of all, here’s all that’s left of the set, which my Mate has owned since 1978:

Dictionary definition of "plain."

Dictionary definition of “plain.”

Okay, whoa. My Mate owned these dishes first? Almost 40 years ago? And yet I’m calling it my pattern? There’s a story here, right?

Right. I first met my Mate when I was 16 and he was 31. I was a high school student; he was a young law professor at Carolina who happened to be a good distance runner. He joined my parents’ Sunday morning running group and, being both incredibly magnetic and also very far from his own family, was soon adopted by mine. (I had a huge crush on him, but that’s another story.)

My Mate lived alone in a weird, cavernous house furnished with a hammock and one wicker chair. He owned a single set of dishes. All his possessions easily fit into his Tradesman van. Very convenient for a bachelor; not so much for a bachelor who has befriended a family of five. If we came over to his place for dinner, we had to provide our own dishes.

One day my dad told my sister and me to take his credit card and go to Best to get Ken some dishes. “What kind?” we asked, baffled. “A whole set,” Dad told us. My sister and I looked at each other. “You want us to pick out his dishes? What if he doesn’t want any?” “Oh, just get him something plain,” was Dad’s breezy reply.

So…we did. Good, basic, cheap stoneware, as plain as possible.

Fast-forward a year and a half. This man is now my boyfriend. Fast-forward another eight and a half: now he’s my Mate. And another 29 years later…he still is.

So, those dishes my sister and I bought our family’s friend? Turns out I was picking out my own wedding pattern. Who knew?

Now, back to that poem, by Nina Lindsay:

My Bare Feet

on the floor of our house, early morning 
make me immeasurably happy 
the slight chill counterbalancing the heat

of coffee spreading through the brain. 
Nothing, I think, could make me happier 
except—my bare feet

on the tight-wove wool pile of our faux-antique 
Persian rug, or my hands on this bowl 
or this bowl

or this one, 
or my lips on your lips, soft 
as air rushing out of the oven,

or my fingertips 
across the oven’s white enamel, 
its one nick.

Each morning I review my evidence—
and the floorboards turn imperceptibly darker 
and my hands keep the settling dust alight.

Should I talk about marriage now? Do I need to?

Starting My Day The Thoughtful Way: A Poem To Keep The Buzz At Bay

I have more than one friend who has made the commitment to disengage from social media and screens last thing in the evening and first thing in the morning. While I admire the impulse, I found myself unwilling to make the same commitment, but feeling vaguely uneasy about my resistance. This internal conversation followed:
Me: Well, why shouldn’t I check email or Facebook before I go to bed? They connect me to people I love!
Myself: Yeah, but they also connect us to outside currents like ads and political struggles. Or they focus us way too much on the details of certain commitments, like articles we have to write or trips we’re planning. Is that really what we want to be thinking about while heading for bed, or clearing our mind from sleep?
Me: Nothing wrong with staying current, or being focused. But yeah, it’s true, I do get easily entwined in details–work and personal–at the expense of contemplation. So maybe what I need is not less social media, but more contemplative time.
Myself: Aha! And since we’re automatically drawn to the screen with that first cup of tea, why not make the screen our portal to deeper thought?
So that’s when I put Poetry Daily on my Favorites bar. Note: I did NOT subscribe, because then I’d only access it via email and distract myself again. These days email takes a back seat to poetry.
So now, I read the day’s poem. I think about it, and I think about what it makes me think about. As I used to tell my students to do, I notice what I notice. Sometimes I like the poem, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I send it to a friend, or my mom. Sometimes the poem disturbs me. Sometimes I think about their images or themes along my whole dark, hour-long ride to work.
Today’s poem, which I read on Memorial Day, made me think of the first time I visited the Vietnam War memorial in D.C.
Memorial from a Park Bench

Here’s an opened book.
Stranger you greet like a friend
with reciprocated kiss.
Here, touch is required.

Visitors descend to meet
names arranged in order.
A word loses its ability to conjure
trapped inside a black mirror.

The names could be lines
of poems or a grocery list.
They could be just lines
but even before
you’re close enough to read
you know they are names
because everyone knows
the names.

Here is name
stacked on names stacked
on panels of more.
Here are names and black stone
and your only reflection.

 

BROCK JONES

Cenotaph
The University of Arkansas Press

Each poem might not be "lovely as a tree," but they still make me feel like this.

Each poem might not be “lovely as a tree,” but they still make me feel like this.

Here’s what I noticed especially about Brock Jones’s poem: that last line. Sometimes, in a life full of busy detail, the morning’s poem is my “only reflection.” It is starting to feel as necessary to me as that first cup of Earl Grey.