Saturday, September 26, 2009

Questions and Answers

St. Petersburg Painting, originally uploaded by Lynn Park.

This morning I spent two hours figuring out how to send pictures directly from to, because I can't figure out how to pick up my most recent photos with the Browse function, something that would be a piece of cake for any self-respecting autodidact, who would of course have a systematic overview of the field under consideration.

No, I'm more like a terrier--nothing as massive as a pit bull--something smaller that can get down low, dig frantically through the underbrush and dirt, till I get a grip on what I'm looking for. Then again, it's nothing systematic, but more a worrying the problem to death, shaking it back and forth in my "jaws" the way a small terrier dog will till it wrests its prey to submission.

And it occurs to me that in many ways I am worrying something larger than the answer to a discrete technical question. Aging, fragile health, acceptance of solitude only interrupted, plaguing economies when it comes to means--these pose a question I have not yet answered in my heart and in my bones. A purely rational approach, lists of pros and cons, good reasons and bad, even stating the inevitable leave me unsatisfied and afraid of the inevitable and the difficult. And my mind jumps from "jaws" to this quotation from writer Annie Dillard: "I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you," which occurs in the context of an essay on weasels and the fierce purity of their tiny jaws that will not let go.

Sometimes obedience and purity are their own reward and the only near-certain answer.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Making Space

A month ago I woke up without my gall bladder. This morning I woke up to a significantly more serene apartment. As well as letting go of a seriously inflamed internal organ, I've let go of 15 bags of books, 7 large bags of yarn, 8 years of back issues of knitting magazines, 1 garbage bag from each of my 2 desks, 1 small table in the living room, and assorted trivia. I'm not done yet. I still have to go through clothes, costume jewelry, kitchen drawers, the catch-all area around the computer, 1 giant stack of old magazines, 1 filing cabinet, the bins where I store old photographs and collage supplies.

The apartment "looks" pretty good right now--and if I could keep my living space at this level of neatness, it would be an accomplishment. But I want to go below the surface, into drawers and minutiae, so knitting needles are all in one drawer and I'm not keeping any old batteries. I want the same feeling of pleasure when I open other drawers and cabinets that I get when I open my underwear drawer and take out a perfectly folded slip. I want blank note cards all in one place and a modicum of order to old family snapshots.

Years ago, when I lived in Washington, D.C., I read a book about an American woman's experience in Japan with Zen: Sun Buddhas, Moon Buddhas by Elsie Mitchell. Her teacher told her something along the lines of, "You Americans think you care about people and don't care about things. But not possible. Can't care about people until you care about things."

Even then despite my self-image as an aesthete and a bohemian living in a verdant clutter, I felt the call of spaciousness. Taking on my entire apartment felt like too much, so I tackled the bathroom. I made sure to fold each towel and washcloth, to align my bedroom slippers just so, to put the soap in the soap dish so the edges were even--things I would have before criticized as anal and railed against as taking too much time. But contrary to my expectation, just the opposite was true. I felt a sense of lightness whenever I entered that room and found myself taking an easeful pleasure in keeping it orderly.

I don't know what happened. The bathroom got messy again, along with everything else. I was young, and maybe it was too much to ask for a taste of spaciousness to "take," but I think I'm after something of the same thing now, though on a larger scale.

And it does not seem unrelated that the traditional associations for the gall bladder have to do with anger. Certainly I still get angry, but I don't think I'm making it up to say I feel less inflamed, more open inside to the calm I am trying to create around me.