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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

About the Oranges

Grace, 2014

I've been picking up and putting down Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch for quite some time now. Although I once started and stopped Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, I decide to give his Big Sur book a look. I like the title and think I might enjoy reading about Big Sur in the 1940s.

Perhaps strangely, what I find most appealing is his epilogue. I read it word-for-word. No skimming. In short, it is about distractions and how dealing with them can become a way of life.

While living in Big Sur, Henry Miller has no email, blog, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram, but he receives letters, newspapers, books, magazines, and pamphlets by mail, three days per week. And although Big Sur is very remote at the time, he has visitors--many.

So it seems there is always something to distract, no matter place or time. He does not need the internet to get lost in consumption, know he should get to work, and look up to find the moon rising.

Despite his entertainment of distraction, the ideas continue to arrive. He jots down words or phrases to jog his memory later, but returning to those notes is always a challenge.

He plans to work at night, but then decides rising early is a better idea. When he rises early, going for a walk seems more productive. Walks always produce new ideas. After walking he looks at the beautiful day and thinks it is too beautiful a day to write something that will only leave him open to unwanted criticism. He paints instead. And what about meals and time with family. He enjoys his family. Then the mail arrives.

He considers chucking it all.  

Just live. But what does that mean, to just live?

There is the pile of letters and all of the people who require his help. And the books he has not read and the places he has not yet visited. And then he hears the horn. Mail day, again.

He admits a large part of his problem is in his fondness for the act of writing letters. He thinks back to the many letters he's written, before finding himself in this predicament, selfishly awaiting a response. How wonderful it would have been, had I known it then, to write and say: "Don't bother to make an answer. I simply wanted you to know how indebted I feel to you for being alive and spreading creation."

Eventually he decides to devote himself to his works of creation. From now on I intend to devote the best hours of the day, the best part of myself, to the best that is in me. And to enjoy a few hours of leisure, to loaf in peace. No letters. He will no longer sacrifice his work, leisure, family, and friends. Yet it is clear his devotion is not complete, he is still open to a better solution being proposed. If, however, you can propose a better solution, I shall not spurn it.

He ends his epilogue in an apparent state of acceptance--walking, thinking, dreaming of the future, and enjoying the beauty of Big Sur, the place he calls home.

After writing down these notes to share with you later, knowing I have a tower of books at home, and a variety of other things requiring my attention, I decide purchasing Grace Paley's Fidelity is vitally important. Simply reading a library copy in 2012 is not enough. It is a book I need to own, now.

I'm not sure how Grace Paley popped into my mind, but I toss my pencil and notes into my tote bag and march straight to the bookstore, up the stairs to the poetry room, find the only copy of Fidelity on the shelf, and buy it.

A wave of tiredness washes over me. All of my weekend work has left me depleted. I think a walk will wake me up. So I walk. I decide to make a quick call to my father and see how he's doing. One hour and twenty minutes into my "quick" call, lost in my father's world, his phone battery dies. I start to think about dinner, tax documents, several words I want to look up in the dictionary, email, and all else waiting for me.

I sit on the sofa and write down these additional notes. I realize I am still wearing my jacket and take it off. The best hours of my day are gone.

Is this living? I think so. For now.

I look at the bold new tulips on my table, the fading ranunculus in my bay window, and smile at the good light bouncing off the windows across the street and landing in my apartment.

33 comments:

  1. "In short, it is about distractions and how dealing with them can become a way of life." Very insightful of you, Denise and very true.

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  2. point taken.
    life is that, and all its occupations in between, regardless. and frankly. that's both cool, and uncool. really.
    n♥
    thank you for drawing attention to grace paley. i may catch myself bringing her to my home too...

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    1. Yes. Cool and uncool. I hope you do bring some of Grace Paley's work home. She's always cool.

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  3. I so enjoyed the distraction this morning -a bit of break at work- of reading your writing.

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    1. Wonderful. I enjoy being a pleasant distraction.

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  4. i was comforted to hear that "distractions" are not only of this era, they have always been around. And i am impressed at Henry Miller's will power to stay "undistratcted". I sometimes procrastinate what i "have" to do for what I "want" to do, and then play catch up. But that's ok, otherwise i would get to the want... and speaking of which, thanks for reminding me that I need a walk. See you later.

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    1. Balance can be such a struggle. I hope you enjoyed your walk. I always feel so much better after mine.

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  5. Is it that writers, artists, creative types, are somehow more prone to these distractions? This 'hyper' awareness and need to do a million things. So many things excite, entice, entrance. So many paths beckon.... Is it procrastination, anticipation, a search for the perfect destination?

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    1. I think you make a very good point, Kate. A search for the perfect destination. Yes.

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  6. "Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans." I've always like that observation by John Lennon.

    Whether you meant to or not, you have added a new word to my vocabulary. Whatever the vogue, I enjoy wearing pleated skirts. And I am a picture thinker. So the idea of weariness leaving you depleated rather than depleted is too descriptive to ignore. I will never spell it the same way again.

    Language is fluid.

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    1. You may have noticed my own little typing omission. It happens, doesn't it, no matter how careful we are. Yours, however, needed no correcting. I loved it.

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  7. I love Grace Paley's short stories (there are times, often at the playground, when I feel like I might be living in one of them) but I've never read her poetry - could easily be my next distraction!

    Maybe the link - Henry Miller to Grace Paley - was that great thing she said about why she hadn't written more: “Art is too long, and life is too short.” She had kids to raise & politics to participate in: a life, with all its distractions, to live.

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    1. I love her poems and have not read her short stories, although I've been meaning to do so for a long time now. I like what she said about art and life. Let's make the most of both.

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  8. I really needed to read this today, a day full of distractions already by 9:50AM. A day like most others, it seems, and particularly for the better part of two years now. This book sounds fascinating and I'm going to check it out for myself, soon hopefully. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. :)

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    1. I'll admit to doing a lot of flipping around, so I cannot confirm the entire book is fascinating, but I did read the epilogue in full and, as noted, enjoyed it.

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  9. I read your post a few days ago, and I had to go away and mull it over for a while. I like Miller's intention of devoting the best part of the day to the best in oneself. When it comes down to it, the work of life is all that we have, right? And with that in mind, I restrained myself from adding Miller's book to my reading list, and chose instead to attend to "being alive and spreading creation," as he so succinctly put it.

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    1. I understand the mulling and believe you made a wise decision. I gave the best part of my day away this morning and afternoon. Now it's just about evening and time to make banana bread with dark chocolate chunks for the rest of myself.

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  10. Thank you for your sweet comment on my dreadfully neglected blog! With our recent move life has been overwhelmingly busy, hence the lack of blogging. Your post on Henry Miller is so decidely apt - my days are a muddly blur of many distractions - each in their own way enjoyable, yet on some level lacking in that certain satisfaction of having 'done something' with the day. How odd that the mind perceives this to be the case, as things are indeed being 'done'. Perhaps it is because there is still so much that I want or need to do, that the mind and focus is very much on the 'still to do' rather than the 'have done'. Your post is a timely reminder to make time to reflect on the here and now. :)

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    1. I hope life starts feeling somewhat settled soon. Transition periods can be tough. I very much understand the mind focusing on 'still to do' rather than 'have done'. My husband seems much better at this type of focus. Wishing both of us more enjoyment of the here and now this week.

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  11. Hi Denise, Lately I have taken to making lists because there are so many things that need doing, to get out of the way, so that I can focus on my real work. It's the best way for me to manage all the distractions, that are ever-present. Days fly, don't they? Some days I feel have been creative, productive and other days I feel guilty because I have piddled around and accomplished little. But I tell myself that those piddly days are as important to help fill the creative well.
    Insightful post, great read. Thank you!

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    1. I used to be an avid list maker, but have gotten away from it. I drifted away because I rarely crossed off all that was on those lists and felt I was always highlighting what wasn't done. What I need to do is make a nice realistic list, do everything on it and cross everything off, and then enjoy my freedom. Right? Now, to make this happen... Yes, days do fly. Years fly. I like the way you see the piddly days. They do fill the creative well. Cheers to those days!

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  12. I'm reading over these comments and thinking about what thoughtful people you are. Thank you for taking the time to be here. I'm happy to know you.

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  13. I keep returning to read this post. There is so much in it that resonates and it is so beautifully expressed. I like to think of you still in your jacket, writing notes. A funny thing: I dreamed last night that we met in a cafe in San Francisco. Sitting with a book I glanced up and just knew that it was you at the table across from me...Although I've been very silent for a long time, I read all that you write. It's always a genuine pleasure.

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    1. Kate... You melt my heart. I'm so happy to know you've been visiting and reading. I hope to read some of your writing again soon.

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  14. Like Kate I have aslo been back to read this post several times. Beside it being a distractions from my everyday life tid bits, it has made me think or be more contious about how I use/spend my time.

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    1. Thanks for letting me know, Anne Marie. I am currently working out how to best use this afternoon. I hope you are spending your time well.

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  15. "...his entertainment of distraction" - his and yours and mine. This post left me smiling from start to end. Yes, I know about the book that needs to be bought that very instant, to be read that very day. That phone call that I might as well make before I start work. Or the day that is too grey to use, or too sunny to waste. Ah, well.
    I'm glad you have new tulips.

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  16. We've talked of visiting Big Sur this year. Now I have a book to further inspire. I took a rest today, in the middle, of a very, or not, so busy day. I rested beneath a layer of fleece, hoping for warmer, brighter, blue sky days. And then I travelled here. Good thing.

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    1. Big Sur is supposed to be a pretty magical place. I believe we camped in the area, years ago, when I was still new to California. I wish I remembered more. I'll just have to return and make some new memories.

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