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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Number 277: Louise Erdrich "Advice To Myself"

Advice To Myself

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

-- Louise Erdrich

Hap Notes: Of all the "advice" poetry one reads about being grateful or wearing a purple hat or taking time to do that grandmother of all the clich├ęs –"smell the roses" – this is the poem that strikes me as most gritty and practical. Life is messy and we have a tendency to sweep away the clutter and the mess, sometimes at the expense of our own awareness of life.

The poet is making a point about the vibrant, the real, the spirited and the important things in life. There is certainly a value in keeping things well ordered and trying to hold back the chaos that is the life force. It, however, will always leak through. Why not celebrate it, embrace it, invite it in to have a cup of tea in a couple of cracked cups?

This, by the way, will not always be easy, fun or comfortable. It's not particularly about being comfortable or clean or even confident. It's about being brave enough to be uncomfortable, slightly soiled and vulnerable in life. Remember that all the folks on television who appear to be efficient, confident, well-groomed, successful and in command of their lives are fictional characters – they are illusions, and, evil ones, now that I think on it.

The Japanese have a term I like that describes the beauty of the transience of life: wabi sabi. It's about being fully awake and aware and seeing the extraordinary in the imperfect, the impermanent and the incomplete. Life is very much like that. Things will be left undone. Stuff breaks. The pieces are as beautiful as the whole, maybe even more beautiful. The mud grows the lotus. Dust bunnies may be visiting spirits to show you the worlds that exist around you (did you know that your living quarters probably contain millions of dust mites? You'll never get rid of them all- it's practically impossible.)

The Japanese feel that the flaw or imperfection in a thing reveals a meditation on life. A dead leaf can speak for all of nature, can bring your awareness to to the delicacy of the life cycle, can urge you to live with awareness right now. The disorder of the world can help you to find the authentic – the things that are nearest to your heart, the engine that makes your world go– the most important things that are often swirling in the chaos with no words to define them, just an intuition that your now is both vital and worth experiencing.

Here is where we have talked about Erdrich before:

and here:

Today's masthead illustration is a kaliedoscopic photograph taken by Carolyn Ricks of one of her "junk" drawers. Thought it was fitting for today.

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