The teapot in the coffee shop

I noticed the texture first, the graininess, that is. Then the color or rather colors, especially the white light coming from the viewer’s far left, the lantern lit up like a gig lamp. Then the wooden chairs with their swooping, semicircular backs. And finally, behind the traced-out line, my eye came to rest on the glistening teapot. There it is–so porcelain, so clear and distinct.

The reality of the teapot is most evident in the slightly tipped lid. Like us, the teapot is not ajar, not irregular, not alone but turned and hinting, nodding, winking. It is winking quizzically at life.

Thanks to one conversation partner who sent me this stunning picture. About now, I imagine he is in mid-flight, gazing down in wonder at prairie and city.

A philosophical guide to transitions: 2nd draft

First off, Dark Mountain is now seeking funding for the publication of its third book. Paul Kingsnorth speaks well about the project in this 3 min. video.

Second off, I am including a second draft below on making the transition into philosophical life. Conversation partners: I hope you find the revision useful. More soon.

1. Limit contact with all individuals with stern voices. Nay-saying individuals do not say No to a single proposal. They have already said a primordial No to life. Let go of them for a while, ideally for good.

2. Who are your kin? Who will be necessary to help get you through the transition? Reflect on this and tell them you need them. You will need them and you will never be able to repay them. Never mind the latter: the gift is the highest form of debt.

Know who and who are not your kin. Surround yourself only with those who have survived or with those who are radiant. These and no others. Most of these people should be older and wiser than you. (Know the difference between “old” and “wise.”)

3. Let go of the idea of helping others. For now, it is time to save yourself and your dependents by ignoring all others, by ignoring everyone but yourself, your dependents, and your kin.

4. Inventory all of your possessions–your physical and mental ones both. Inventory your capacities. Then remind yourself that this will be a long winter of life. Do not deceive yourself; it will be long.

5. Give yourself some time to grieve for this past way of life. Cry a good deal. Cry when necessary. Grant the importance of this past way of life, acknowledge how well it served you for a time, honor the gifts it bestowed upon you. You will go on but it will not.

Remember that it was necessary for a time. Recall how it provided steps on the path to philosophical life. Without it, there would have been no possibility of a radiant you. But you cannot stay there, not anymore. Hence, it was necessary, its time was well-served, but its end was always inevitable and it could not go on any longer. Grieving says all this in fewer words.

6. Hope small for this radiant way of being. Grab hungrily onto any sign that you’re getting closer. We will point together, gather the seashells and smell the reminders of seawater, the oceanic breezes.

7. Are you beating yourself up? Then listen to the sound of my voice. Listen to the voices of kin and radiant beings. Remember how to hold good converse with yourself, with yourself in and through your conversations with radiant others.

8. Some days will seem a wasteland, long and unendurable. Put precious stones, momentos, pictures in place beforehand in order to remind yourself that there were days that went on with considerable ease. “Pain has an element of blank,” writes Emily Dickinson. In light of this, let’s aid good memory by external means.

9. Some moments will feel restricted and restricting, unfree, world-closing, as if you had nothing and nothing were ever possible again. Despair and anguish may wash over you but both, I assure you, will subside. Do not fight them but relax into them. They will pass like sirens and then they will take their leave.

10. Learn gratitude for the small moments of joy, of relief, of unexpected love. These moments will come daily, will flow like water. In addition, admire those who have served you well along the way and be compassionate toward those who will no longer be lovers.

11. Each day should have a telos. So aim at something and also have something to look forward to, however insignificant that something may be in the grander scheme of things. The end (telos) of the day is therefore the end (closing) of the day. The two converge like lovers.

12. Exercise good judgment: keep moving when stasis seems a temptress and be still when change is all around you. Movement returns us to living, to our bodies; stillness keeps us ensouled.

13. Remember patience and courage and humility. This transition will go slowly (patience), you will need to be stronger than you have ever been so far (courage), and you will need to remind yourself that a good human life changes form over and over again (humility). Just when you thought you had figured things out, life has led you onward. This is good.

14. A life’s coming into radiance will require many stepping stones along the way. Learn to identify them when they appear, learn to leap off the last one onto the next, and always be OK with the one you’re on. Hope small and be patient, courageous, and humble.

15. A radiant life is like a mantra: we repeat good words to ourselves. We mumble, we chant, we sing the hymns together. Radiance is our home.

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, “A Philosophical Guide to Surviving the Transition from an Old Way of Life to a New One”

A mean case of arthritis

A long day can be relieved by a rooftop breeze or even by its memory. The humidity created its own atmosphere over the City. The Park smelled of warm Fruit Loops and my hair was a puff pastry. I believe I am coming down with a mean case of arthritis. In the morning, one conversation partner told me she saw a dragon fly that was unable to lift off. Evidently, its wings were stuck together. She took her pinkie and slid it between the two wings. Releasing both, she released the being to air. Elizabeth, our longtime Hungarian housekeeper, was surprised when she saw me walking up the stairs. “You’re walking like a cat. Very quietly.” I had a book beside me all day. I read, “To know that one does not know is best. To not know that one does not know is worst.” You would think it was Socrates but, no, it is that old Daoist Laozi.

A pastoral dirge

Dearest A,

My god what a beautiful day. On leaves with filtered light, goddess spiders, succulent wine and caressed notes. Words just don’t suffice.

Merci mon beau ami for being in my life.

Love,

C

*

Unspeakably beautiful our day together. Thank you, dearest C. And how lovely your new picture.

More tomorrow once my internet returns to life.

Love,

A

*

Dear C,

Well, I’m sitting here in that wickery corner chair you know. The bamboo one crisscrossed with blond bone and red berries. On my left are your photos; on my right the outdoors, I suppose. I’ve perched my computer on my thighs flattened by my tippy toes. In this spot, I can get good–OK, fairly good–internet reception. Good, good, blah blah vibrations.

I’m reminded of young boys holding up those tinfoil bunny ears. The TV antenna might work all right until you took your hand off and tiptoed back to your carpety seat. With the crash came the fuzz. So there you were again, gentler or less patient or both.

It’s just after 2 p.m. and I’m still waiting for my new modem to arrive. Hence my tippy toe window seat. (My ass is starting to hurt something fierce.) Earlier, I sat in the dark of the dining room and spoke with P by phone. I’m sure I sounded the fool. Before that, I’d moved the last plant out into the courtyard. That bugger was SO heavy and large, those fat billowy leaves reminiscent of Arabian Nights. I thought I’d break something: the wall, an antique painting, my back.

Today is nothing like yesterday, is it? Then the pastoral, today the Gothic. Then the bucolic, now the sultry. Now I feel itchy. I ate the rest of the chocolate. I want to go for a run in the rain. Or maybe I want to cry a little.

Last night I slept fitfully. Half-awake, I’m brushing my hair. Who does that? I do I guess, and I’ve no idea why. I’m half-awake and detangling, my head a quarter off the pillow. What’s that all about? Is this my sign that says I’m concerned about others?

Good Lord do the leafy trees sway! I’m sure I had something important to tell you but, while scribbling away, I must have forgotten it. Oh yes, this simple truth: I’m thinking of you…

A

*

Dear Andrew,

Fell asleep last night around 9:30, my head reeling from the day, the wine still coursing in my blood and the sun’s heat radiating from my skin. I slept strangely, awaking with a start at 12:50 a.m. thinking of P. I opened my laptop and she was there. Now I know the full story and hope to be of some comfort.

When I woke up this morning I was almost thankful for the rain. Washing, cooling the intensity of yesterday. I’m still marveling how time was suspended, 15 minutes felt like a lifetime. My head on your lap, your hand on my shoulder: I don’t remember the last time I felt life coursing so loudly. Yes I think I could cry a little too.

Imagining you on your wicker chair, the one I remember dragging out on your roof, with glass in hand, hoping not to tip over your plants in the doorway. This Baudelaire quote came to mind when reading your post from this morning: “One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.” There are not many people I feel Iike I could get drunk with. But with you yes.

C.

*

Dearest C,

How did you guess? Yes, I am still sitting in my wicker chair and feeling just as out of sorts now as I was when I first wrote you. The contrast between yesterday and today is still jarring: the beauty of mere being, of being in friendly, fecund fields (where was the shepherd? where the traveling goats? where the midsummer night?), of loving lightly skin and sun, of– juxtaposed with the infinite sorrow of world-sundering change.

(O brave woman…)

I think often (and just as often misquote) Frost’s poem about the country boy who lost his hand and died. My version of the final line reads, “And they, since they were not the ones dead, returned to their affairs.”

And how do we return to our affairs, how after the fields and the forests, the hay and the lake? And how do we return when another–our mutual beloved–is reminding herself to breathe? What do we owe her–what words, what thoughts, what caresses?

I guess, far off in New York, I do my part by running around in search of modems. Do not fret: I have my case number, my little billete, my confirmations. (Did I mention that the old modem worked just fine? Oh, but upgrades! We must have upgrades!) Or by not taking showers for 2 (or is it 3?) days straight and feeling as gross, as encrusted, as greasy as can be. Or by eating cocoa and frozen blueberries and agave nectar together for most every meal. (I think I am getting sick and jittery from the chocolate. My tendons are all quivery and my eyelids refuse to close. Is this a problem?)

Goddamn it: it’s just so still out there right now. I ask only that you leafy trees breathe.

O let’s go back to the fields. Let’s write in praise of lassitude. Let’s sing a song to drunken love. Or will it be enough if we listen to the 6 o’clock church bells and cry a little or a lot–as much in joy as in sorrow?

With love,

A

New York is not New York

When people ask me whether I like living in New York City, I can only answer in the day by day, the block by block. The city writ large is not a home. My treetop dwelling is my home and so is the northern half of Central Park and so is being with Joan. So.

To live well in New York is to find one’s rare and excellent spots: the little gardens no one knows of, the hideaways and stowaways, the stretches lying far from tourist stops and hipster startups. The landmarks most people associate with New York are not mine or my friends’; the reasons most come to New York have never been mine; the desires that most indulge do not attract or tempt me. My New York is a secret.

My New York is the day by day, the block by block, the glimpse by glimpse. Do I like Chelsea? Well, which street, which set of houses, which adjoining tree? The Upper East Side? Not around 2nd Avenue, that’s for sure. Did I see this exhibit? I saw the hydrangeas start to bloom in a garden I fear to publish. I saw my ailanthus tree in winter when the doves came and in spring as the rains began.

I suppose I am a New Yorker if by this one means that I love of my neighborhood, my sanctuary home, my retreat, my cloister, my garden. I do not know how one can flourish here unless this is also the case for you. Would I defend my city? I do not know, but I do know that I wouldn’t want to escape from my New York.

In New York, one’s home must be a secluded sanctuary, an enchanted world. Then also, as I say, the places you frequent must be nooks and enclaves where few others roam.

Last, you must get out of New York as often as possible. You must go into the woods and walk through bucolic fields, smell hay alluding to cow and summer, take forest paths opening onto dragon fly lakes. You must sit in the pasture, beneath an overhanging tree branch, and get drunk on the slowness of life: on the moments as they come to pass and pass away.