The good find

The beauty of life’s good finds — a great bargain, a good book, a perfect café — is, of course, the thrill of the find.

The internet, with all its complicated connections leading down dark alleys of data, encourages the wonderfully imperfect art of stumbling. For example, the other day I finished Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s one of those fascinating reads that leaves you sated with a good story, uniquely told, and fascinated with the details. Frankly, as so often happens, I wanted more.

Longing led to Google. Once there, I skipped through a verdant field of daisy-chain connections. Junot Diaz led to Julia Alvarez (another writer raised in the Dominican Republic), which led to a commencement speech she gave at the University of Vermont, which led to a wonderful passage from writer Seamus Heaney:

History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

from The Cure at Troy,
a play written by Seamus Heaney

In my wandering, I stopped here at Heaney. He seemed to say it all, and just when I needed it. And that’s all — and everything — a good find brings.


Heavy-hearted, ballot-ready

It’s the season of division. I’ve been here before and each time I arrive weary and bedraggled. With only a few weeks until the election, we have parsed and dissected every issue and idea, every offhand remark, every canned refrain. There’s not much left to examine, and so the tone turns divisive and ugly. And I turn inward.

I’ve reached the point in which I can no longer discuss the candidates. Not with friends. Not with family. Not even with the young writers I mentor, many who are voting for the first time.

The other night, during the weekly gathering of the Young Writers Group, I inadvertently entered the political waters. It was a jolt and a disappointment.

It began when one teen — not yet voting age — proudly showed me her Obama button. The girl standing next to her — also not yet voting age — showed her displeasure with a sneer and a sigh.

The three teens in our group who can vote, when pressed for their opinions, said they wouldn’t. They didn’t care. Politics didn’t matter. They didn’t know who to pick.

“I guess I’ll just talk to my friends and see who they want me to vote for,” said one young woman.

“Oh, I don’t really like politics and that kind of thing,” shrugged a young man.

I entered, then, with a bellow.

“Do you like to breathe clean air?” I asked. “Do you like to come here for the Young Writers Group? Because these things in your life are affected by politics. Decisions are made on your behalf. Funding for this organization, for schools, for parks, for this city. These things are decided by elected officials that you can put in place.”

The subject quickly turned, as it often does with a roomful of teens, and we reclaimed our normal — and less volatile — routine of writing and laughter.

My friend Auburn McCanta, who writes for the HuffingtonPost, recently penned a piece that touches on the inability to reach those we love. Its sentiment echoes what I experience with many of the teens I know whose minds and opinions are so young, yet so fixed.

In these last days of the election season, I won’t change your vote. You won’t change mine. I will not spar as sport. I will not debate in passing. There’s no apathy in my silence. It is simply fatigue.


Trying to Pray

This time, I have left my body behind me, crying
In its dark thorns.
There are good things in this world.
It is dusk.
It is the good darkness
Of women's hands that touch loaves.
The spirit of a tree begins to move.
I touch leaves.
I close my eyes and think of water.

James Wright
from The Branch Will Not Break


Sunny side on dark days

Who believes in horoscopes?

Sure, they’re fun and fascinating. I read at least three forecasts each morning. It’s not so much for direction but for entertainment value. The what-if, the fresh fiction, the potential a few lines can deliver.

Yesterday’s horoscope was such a lift that I needed just a half-cup of coffee to get a hitch in my giddy-up. (I don’t know who comes up with these idioms but I like to sprinkle them about in happy moderation. I mean, who doesn’t love to say She’s the bee’s knees, or He melts my butter, or That dog don’t hunt).

But back to the forecast. It’s a gem. Who wouldn’t be happy with this?

You may discover a new way of seeing who you are as the Full Moon activates your 2nd House of Core Beliefs. There's no need to hang out in the dark shadows today; walk on the sunny side of the street and let your positive thoughts set the tone for the days ahead.

And, indeed, the day was bright: A dear friend pulled through surgery strong and healed. A young woman offered sincere thanks for guidance and help. A teen girl opened her heart and shared a poem. And my mailbox brimmed with both a package of goodies and a handwritten note.

So, today, I’ve decided to stick with yesterday’s horoscope. I’m living it all week long.

While stocks crash and soar and dive again. While death penalty appeals are denied. While jobs are lost and families flounder. While bills rise and money sinks. While politics reach a screaming pitch. While nothing seems to make much sense, I will walk on the sunny side, setting the tone for days ahead.

Pollyanna? Sure. But what, really, is the alternative?


Poetry & the Postman

Poetry, letters and movies are a few of my favorite things so my heart was lifted when the three came together this weekend in one fabulous, forgotten film: Il Postino.

Set on a remote Italian island, Il Postino is the fictional story of a tender-hearted mailman whose life is transformed by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who offers lessons on love, life and poetry.

I’d seen the movie before — in 1996 when it was first released and hailed by audiences and critics alike — but I had forgotten the details of the quiet tale. So, it was a wonderful surprise to enjoy the film again a dozen years later, and from a fresh, poetry-loving perspective.

I won’t give away the details. It’s too much of a gem to let the magic loose. Just find it, watch it, and see your own ordinary life anew.


Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age . . . poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, not silence,
but from a street it called me,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among raging fires
or returning alone,
there it was, without a face,
and it touched me.

I didn't know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind.
Something knocked in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first, faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing;
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
the darkness perforated,
with arrows, fire, and flowers,
the overpowering night, the universe.

And I, tiny being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss.
I wheeled with the stars.
My heart broke loose with the wind.