Shepherded by museum guards
we wait in a zig-zag clump
to be allowed into the inner sanctum.
Like eager travelers at airport security,
we quietly hope to be transported somewhere else.
This time, our vehicles are squiggly shapes
of colored paper gathered in
rectangular arrangements on the wall.
Our captain and water-lily Hallmark card
luminary: uber-artist Henri Matisse.
to file through as supplicants,
paying homage to the relentless
production of his fecund scissors.
Horses and sword swallowers,
endless repeating and precisely
carefree seaweed shapes –
silly blobs of color and women’s bodies
that had taken up residence in his mind,
now cut in colored paper –
floating in multitudinous relationship –
Technicolor windows into worlds of wonder.
A walking-through teenager,
whose first choice for his day in New York City
certainly did not include this MoMa Matisse show,
pronounced to his mother who only had
his best interests at heart: ‘I could make
these things in my sleep.’
He’s right, but the hard part
is to be awake enough when you are asleep
to function clearly and then to care
enough to continue following
something you can never fully understand.
his fierce attention expressed again and again.
Caring for a lifetime whether the blue blob
tilts to the left or the right –
is cut from medium or light blue –
devotedly tending these brilliant shapes
that now illuminate the walls of these crowded halls.
With grand scissors,
he labored in old age
to cut the slender woman
out of the blue sky of his mind.
but I bought three—
white diner mugs
from the antique dealer
in the big barn that
we hoped had a bathroom
along the long road to
We didn’t intend to
but these were a bargain.
Lovely lessons in early industrial design
for only ten dollars each
(and one on sale for eight.)
I loved their sloping sides and chubby handles—
the fat lips that promised to meet mine
with unapologetic thickness.
The grace of unrestrained function.
Designed for demanding conditions—
big hands and thoughtless treatment
from men more natural than me
sitting on stools nourished
with greasy eggs, sausage links and
coffee without self-consciousness.
three mugs seem like too many.
They vie for space in the crowded cupboard
with others equally worthy—
one on top of the next
like tumbling ceramic acrobats
caught in dangerous moments of balance.
I must stop
bringing home stray mugs
from every roadside attraction.
Someone’s bound to get hurt
in the jumble of everyday use
unless I sort through them sometime
but I’ll probably just find
another shelf somewhere so
I don’t have to decide—
don’t have to let go
of any fat or skinny handles
we threw acorns
into the lake of my childhood—
my mother and I.
Both of us old enough
not to be persuaded
I had come to help,
but we paused from the packing
at her insistence
the small round missiles
from the blue bucket
into arc and splash.
at our shared silliness,
then turned from the
back toward our now separate journeys
when we might be together
again throwing acorns
into their perfect circles—
radiating and diminishing like us,
that we have gown old
in this place
where once we were young.
Going through some old files, I came upon a newsletter article I wrote for Dynamy in 1997. (Dynamy is the experiential education school where I was Executive Director from 1991 to 2003.) In the article, I introduced ‘three assumptions that underlie experiential education,’ but in re-reading them this morning, I see they are also three assumptions about being human. They are not principles to be obeyed, but rather potential starting points to help us live our lives with as much grace and ease as possible.
Reading the words of my former self, I was surprised and inspired by what I used to know and thought I would share it here. I’m also a sucker for these lists that boil down the wisdom of life to just three or four things, somehow they make me feel like life is actually quite simple and perhaps even manageable.
So, in case you didn’t read your newsletter in 1997:
1. We can only be who we are. Most of us feel like we should be smarter or more talented or more attractive or more something than we are. But, from one perspective, we have everything we need already. Our real challenge is not to live up to some set of external (or internal) expectations but to find out who we really are. We each have unique gifts and a purpose that only we can fulfill. True success comes from uncovering the valuable internal treasure we already posses and using it to enrich the world and ourselves.
2. The present moment is our best teacher. The art of paying close attention to what is happening in our lives is essential if we are to learn and grow through our experience. Too often we respond more to our hopes and fears of what should be rather than to what is actually occurring. A friend who is a Fortune 500 corporate trainer claims that 90% of all our problems would be solved if we learn to listen more deeply to others and to the situation in which we find ourselves.
3. There is no way to avoid discomfort. We all spend a lot of our time seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. There is actually a much more interesting way to live in which we dive deeply into each experience to learn what it has to teach us. Authentic growth comes only when we are willing to leave behind the safety of what we think we know. Learning and engaged living require that we venture into unknown waters where the outcome is uncertain.
PS – the photo is from a walk I took on Sunday on the Asnebumskit Ridge Trail here in Worcester. It doesn’t really pertain to this post, but the glowing ferns in the morning sunlight were so beautiful I wanted to share them with you.