bike: 30 minutes
run: 1.75 miles
outside: 13 degrees / feels like -5
Yes, you read that correctly. It feels like 5 below outside. And, there’s a thin coating of soft snow and ice on every sidewalk. Maybe if we didn’t have a 20 mph wind too, I might have gone outside, despite the cold and snow. But, I can hear the wind howling from my desk and see the shadows of the branches swaying. I’m staying inside.
Watched an episode of Emily in Paris while I biked. I’m not sure I like the show — Emily is mostly likable but a little obnoxious, and I’m not interested in her job of protecting her clients’ brands while making them compelling for American consumers — but I’m giving it a chance. I listened to a Ruth Ware book as I ran. No deep thoughts or insights, just the chance to move my body and get away from my desk.
I had been planning to do some sort of workout yesterday, but I ran out of time. Early in the day, I wrote the following:
tree outside my window: update
Yesterday, because of the mild 45 degree weather, Scott and I decided to deal with the big branch of the tree that had fallen from our neighbor’s yard on March 6th. The branch stretched from the sidewalk near their front door, across their front yard, to the edge of the south side of our house. It wasn’t too cold outside, and the task wasn’t too difficult. My part: stripping off the ugly berries and breaking up the small branches to fit into a lawn and leaf bag. Scott trimmed the tree until all that was left was the thickest part, which he estimates is 6-8 inches in diameter and 6-8 feet long. We left this part because it looked heavy and I didn’t want either of us injuring ourselves as we tried to lift it.
Yesterday I saw a bird on the branch, this morning Scott saw a squirrel frantically attempting to recover some hidden nuts. I’m hoping our neighbors leave it where it is so I can see what else comes to visit — maybe a woodpecker?! — as I work.
James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 7
Begins with Simply looking, and ends with A friend waving from a small window.
Simply looking. A car goes over a rise and there are birches snow
Twisted into cabalistic shapes: The Devil’s Notch; or Smuggler’s
Gap. At the time you could not have imagined the time when you
Would forget the name, as apparent and there as your own.
Simply looking at a car and the twisted trees. Did Schuyler name these shapes, or did someone else?
Reflecting silver skies, how many boys have swum in you? A rope
Tied to a tree caught between my thighs and I was yanked headfirst
And fell into the muddy creek. What a long time it seemed, rising
To the surface, how lucky it didn’t catch me in the groin. That
Won’t happen twice, I imagine.
The boys are back — he mentions boys throughout the poem. I don’t think he ever mentions women.
Won’t happen twice, I imagine.
A reference to Heraclitus and the river. You can find paraphrases of his statement all over the web. I wanted to find a more accurate version, so I went to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and found this:
Plato’s own statement:
Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river. (Plato Cratylus 402a = A6)
The established scholarly method is to try to verify Plato’s interpretation by looking at Heraclitus’ own words, if possible. There are three alleged “river fragments”:
B12. potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei.
On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow. (Cleanthes from Arius Didymus from Eusebius)
B49a. potamois tois autois …
Into the same rivers we step and do not step, we are and are not. (Heraclitus Homericus)
B91[a]. potamôi … tôi autôi …Heraclitus, 3.1 Flux
It is not possible to step twice into the same river according to Heraclitus, or to come into contact twice with a mortal being in the same state. (Plutarch)
I’m partial to the second, Yoda-y version (B49a). Interesting — it’s not that we are not the same, and the river is not the same, BUT we/the river are both the same and not the same. They’re both true. Very cool.
One more thing about this line: I love how poets drop references without direct citation. It’s much more fun (rewarding? interesting?) when it’s not spelled out — Like Heraclitus said… In an early poem for my chapbook You Must Change Your Life, I admit that I did this:
Heraclitus claimed you can’t step into the same river twice.
Did you know you also can’t
run beside the same river twice?
I like recognizing a reference. I also like when I don’t recognize it, and all that I learn when I look it up. The trick, I think, is to reference something in a way that isn’t alienating. To make it easy to be found, if you take the time to search for it.
That summer sun was the same
As this April one: is repetition boring? Or only inactivity?
Repetition can be boring, but it’s more comforting to me. Usually I’m too restless to be inactive — maybe that’s why it isn’t boring to me, but novel, wanted.
And, what’s wrong with boring? This reminds me of the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and his book, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored, which I know I read a decade ago, but don’t remember much about. The Marginalia has a helpful essay to remind me of what Phillips wrote. In terms of Schuyler and his poem, I’m thinking about boredom as emptiness, being in a state of doing nothing with (too much) time to think and reflect, to look at yourself. On page 6, Schuyler offers the line:
Yourself? You know you’re here, and where tomorrow you will probably
A few things are boring, like the broad avenues of Washington
D.C. that seem to go from nowhere and back again. Civil servants
Wait at the crossing to cross to lunch at the Waffle House.
What’s the difference between boring and ordinary? And, is boring the opposite of interesting?
This twilight Degas a woman sits and holds a fan, it’s
The just rightness that counts. And how have you come to know just
Rightness when you see it and what is the deep stirring that it
Brings? Art is as mysterious as nature, as life, of which it is
This just rightness makes me think of a quote I like from Oscar Wilde, which I wrote about on my trouble blog in 2012:
It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
Good = just, right Not sure how/if this totally fits, but Schuyler’s discussion of boredom, then his mention of just rightness made me think of it.
Under the hedges now the weedy strips grow bright
With dandelions, just as good a flower as any other.
Again, I’m amazed at how Schuyler predicts, or does he set me up for, some of my questions. On March 14th, looking at page 5 I asked: What is a weed and what is a wildflower? The implication: which plants do we value as flowers, and which do we dismiss as weeds? And now here he is, two pages later, answering my question!
You see death shadowed out in another’s life. The threat
Is always there, even in balmy April sunshine. So what
If it is hard to believe in? Stopping in the city while the light
Is red, to think that all who stop with you too must stop, and
Yet it is not less individual a fate for all that. “When I
was born, death kissed me. I kissed it back.”
Death, a common fate, but felt uniquely by each of us. The same river twice, and not twice.
Is bridge, and solitaire, and phone calls and a door slams, someone
Goes out into the April sun to take a spin as far as the
Grocer’s, to shop, and then come back. In the fullness of time,
Let me hand you an empty cup, coffee stained. Or a small glass
Of spirits: “Here’s your ounce of whisky for today.” Next door
The boys dribble a basketball and practice shots. Two boys
Run by: high spirits. The postman comes. No mail of interest.
Another day, there is. A postcard of the Washington Monument,
A friend waving from a small window at the needle top.
Life — the fullness and emptiness of time — is both ordinary (cards, calls, door slams) and extraordinary (spirits, spirited boys, postcards of the Washington Monument). The empty, coffee stained cup reminds me of a line from page 6 that I don’t think I mentioned:
Comes out from behind unbuttoned cloud underclothes—gray with use—
Gray. Stained with use. Used up. Old bones, old bodies.
Wow, this exercise of slowly reading Schuyler’s poem, a page a day, is so much fun! It does take time, which can be difficult to find.