David James Duncan on Paper:

“Love Paper.

A tree gave its life for what you are about to attempt. Don’t let the silicon chip or computer monitor cause you to forget this. That ex-tree material stacked in your printer is so dead as you begin to write that its bark-skinned, earth-eating, oxygen-producing, bird-supporting, squirrel-housing body has been reduced to an inert blank expanse of white. To find the life of language and lay that life down on the paper is to redeem the sacrificed life of the tree.

In order to do this, we must see paper as clearly as Inuits see snow. Our language is the second greatest living proof (actions being the greatest) of what we do and do not see. Listen to how Inuit people see: apun (snow); apingaut (first snowfall); aput (spread-out snow); ayak(snow on clothes); kannik (snowflake); nutagak (powder snow); aniu (flat, hard-packed snow); aniuvak (packed snowbank); natigvik (snowdrift); kimaugruk (snowdrift that blocks something); perksertok (drifting snow); akelrorak (newly drifted snow); mavsa (snowdrift overhead, about to fall); kaiyuglak (the rippled surface of snow); pukak (sugar-like snow); pokaktok (salt-like snow); misulik (sleet); massak (snow mixed with water); auksalak(melting snow); aniuk (snow for melting into water); akillukkak (soft snow); milik (very soft snow); mitailak (soft snow that covers an opening in an ice flow); sillik (old hard crusty snow); kiksrukak (glazed snow in a thaw); mauya (snow that can be broken through);katiksunik (light snow); katiksugnik (light snow that is deep for walking).

Love paper. Paper is writer’s snow (apun).

Paper is the blank white element we live upon: element that receives and records our every step. The receptacle of our lives and nuances deserves an Inuit depth of respect. I lack names for the many kinds of pages I see here in my study, but looking through drawers, shelves, wastebasket, manuscript boxes, I find:

virgin paper, still in the ream. (Apingaut—first snowfall.)

I find paper at which I stare long, unable to write a word. (aniuvak—packed snowbank.)

I find a scrap of paper upon which, in the middle of the night, I write down an urgent message from the heart, but leave the light off so as not to wake my wife, only to find in the morning that after the words, “And when a prayer fails to…” my pen ran out of ink. (auksalak—melting snow.)

I find paper at which I am staring when, between the words, a door opens, and inside is an imaginary Room, and inside the Room are People; I find paper on which I write what the People are doing in the Room, and paper in which the People lure me clear into the Room, addressing me now as one of their own. (mauya— snow that can be broken through.)

I find paper upon which, in the midst of an intimate disclosure from an elegant Room Woman, a phone rings (my phone, not hers), and then a neighbor stops by (my neighbor, not hers), and I am so long distracted that when I return to the paper and Room Woman I begin to spill my own thoughts, not hers, failing to notice that for hours I have not only cut her off in mid-disclosure, stood her up, treated her terribly, I have lost the way back to her wonderful Room. (kimaugruk—snowdrift that blocks something.)

I find paper on which I write so stupidly, aimlessly, roomlessly and unimaginatively that at the end of the day I wad it up and throw it across my study, then wad and throw a few blank sheets for good measure. (mitailak—soft snow that covers an opening in an ice flow.)

I find blank sheets unwadded in shame, and spoken to rather than written upon, paper I audibly promise that—during the hours and in the place foresworn to the People of the Imaginary Room—I will spill only their thoughts, not my own. (aniuk—snow for melting into water.)

I find paper at which I stare long and stupidly, unable to write a word—paper that at day’s end leaves me filled with shame even though, by not writing upon it, I have kept my solemn promise to the Room People. (aniu—flat, hard-packed snow.)

I find the dismayingly small stack of computer-printed pages on which I earlier wrote with self-effacing skill of the Room People, pages I begin to idly edit, after the People once again refuse to appear. (sillik—old hard crusty snow.)

I find, on these same computer-printed pages, a space between two words—a space no wider than the head of an ant—yet as I trying to smooth an awkward phrase in that space(kannik—snowflake), two tiny hands rise up out of the paper, a new Room Person climbs into sight, and this Person begins singing—to the glorious ruin of my earlier draft—the true and living story hidden behind everything I had written and not written so far.

I find paper on which I have so faithfully written not what I want but what is there to be told(be it ayaknutagak, or akillukkak) that when I read it again days later its doors still open, the People in its Rooms still laugh/struggle/shout/hate/love/die, and a silent voice hidden in the next sheet of white tells me as I touch it whether it is kiksrukak or auksulak we must watch for now.

Addenda:

A straight line in the right place can bring you to tears. – Frederick Sommer (as overheard by Emmet Gowin)

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix ‘inter-’ with the verb ‘to be,’ we have a new verb, inter-be. – Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step”

step.

“…write and write and keep on writing…” -Kimya Dawson

 
“Happy Home (Keep On Writing)”

There was a time in my life that I felt so all alone
That I never thought that someday I would have a happy home
A family and a four track radio shack microphone
A backyard and a hammock and a paid off student load
A backyard and a hammock and a paid off student load

So if you see me and I’m dreaming
About selling socks on ebay
Shake me hard till I’m awake
Stitches will unravel, the stitches will unravel
The stitches will unravel if you knit with fishing line
Though your cast will be refined
You’d be better off with twine

When I was a kid we would play Annie at recess
I was always Sandy because I was the smallest
From all that crawling on the blacktop
There were holes in all my jeans,
In the toes of my bowed shoes but I never complained
Because I didn’t think that I could sing
See I never perfected that nasally thing
All the kids sang in the school play
Now I know it’s better if we don’t all sound the same
Now I know it’s better if we don’t all sound the same

So if you hear me and I’m screaming
About auditions for Annie
I hope you will try out with me
There are parts for everybody
And you don’t need to be the dog unless you like being the doggy

He’s up against a team that he has never seen before
And they march into the outfield like they’re marching off to war
It’s a good one out to right field but they’re quick and make the play
And as the curtain closes he just bows and walks away
Singing, “If you’re breathing you are living
If you’re living you are learning
So write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting”

So if you see me and I’ve joined the roller derby
Know that I’ve become something I always wanted to be
Fast and strong and part of a team

Teacher, thanks for everything
You said “If you’re breathing you are living
If you’re living you are learning
So write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting

 

step.

“The Parable of the Trapeze” by Danaan Parry

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.

I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.

But every once in a while as I’m merrily (or even not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.

Each time, I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars. I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. So, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”

It’s called “transition.” I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a noplace between places. Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real, too. But the void in between? Is that just a scary, confusing, disorienting nowhere that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible?

NO! What a wasted opportunity that would be. I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

“We cannot discover new oceans unless we have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
–Anonymous

So, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapezes. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.

 

step.

“Today” by Poe

Standing in the doorway
Of my life in this house
Trying to find a way to get out
Looking for a sign
That I should open the door
This craziness is getting me down

But today is the day
We break free

Walking down the stairway
To the traffic below
Anything could happen
I know
But I’m sick of everybody
Telling me what to do
I hear you
Hey but I already know

And today is the day
We break free

It’s clear in my mind
After all of this time
What I feel my love

There are so many times
That the sun doesn’t shine
But I’m here my love

And today is the day

Maybe I should wait
Just a minute or two
It’s getting cold now
I feel so insecure

The future is a mistress
That is so hard to please
And the past
Is a pebble in my shoe

 

step.

The Little Prince and the Fox

It was then that the fox appeared.

“Good morning,” said the fox.

“Good morning,” the little prince responded politely, although when he turned around he saw nothing.

“I am right here,” the voice said, “under the apple tree.”

“Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”

“I am a fox,” the fox said.

“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”

“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”

“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.

But, after some thought, he added:

“What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“You do not live here,” said the fox. “What is it that you are looking for?”

“I am looking for men,” said the little prince. “What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”

“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”

“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower . . . I think that she has tamed me . . .”

“It is possible,” said the fox. “On the Earth one sees all sorts of things.”

“Oh, but this is not on the Earth!” said the little prince.

The fox seemed perplexed, and very curious.

“On another planet?”

“Yes.”

“Are there hunters on that planet?”

“No.”

“Ah, that is interesting! Are there chickens?”

“No.”

“Nothing is perfect,” sighed the fox.

But he came back to his idea.

“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat . . .”

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.

“Please–tame me!” he said.

“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”

“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .”

The next day the little prince came back.

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–

“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”

“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“Then it has done you no good at all!”

“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.” And then he added:

“Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.

“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”

And the roses were very much embarassed.

“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.

And he went back to meet the fox.

“Goodbye,” he said.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . .”

“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

***

From “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

step.


Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

step.

“oh, darlin’ don’t you ever grow up…” -Taylor Swift

Your little hand’s
wrapped around my finger
And it’s so quiet in the world tonight
Your little eyelids flutter
cause you’re dreaming
So I tuck you in,
turn on your favorite night light
To you everything’s funny,
you got nothing to regret
I’d give all I have, honey
If you could stay like that
Oh darling, don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up,
just stay this little
Oh darling, don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up,
it could stay this simple

I won’t let nobody hurt you, won’t let no one break your heart
And no one will desert you
Just try to never grow up, never grow up

You’re in the car on the way to the movies
And you’re mortified your mom’s dropping you off
At 14 there’s just so much you can’t do
And you can’t wait to move out someday and call your own shots
But don’t make her drop you off around the block
Remember that she’s getting older too
And don’t lose the way that you dance around in your pj’s getting ready for school

Oh darling, don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up,
just stay this little
Oh darling, don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up,
it could stay this simple
No one’s ever burned you,
nothing’s ever left you scarred
And even though you want to,
just try to never grow up

Take pictures in your mind
of your childhood room
Memorize what it sounded like
when your dad gets home
Remember the footsteps,
remember the words said
And all your little brother’s favorite songs
I just realized everything I have is someday gonna be gone

So here I am in my new apartment
In a big city, they just dropped me off
It’s so much colder that I thought it would be
So I tuck myself in and turn my night light on

Wish I’d never grown up
I wish I’d never grown up

Oh I don’t wanna grow up, wish I’d never grown up
I could still be little
Oh I don’t wanna grow up, wish I’d never grown up
It could still be simple

Oh darling,
don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up,
just stay this little
Oh darling,
don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up,
it could stay this simple
Won’t let nobody hurt you
Won’t let no one
break your heart
And even though
you want to,
please try to never grow up
Oh, don’t you ever grow up
Oh, never grow up,
just never grow up

“Never Grow Up” by Taylor Swift

step.