IT’S FUNNY WHAT EMERGES from the fog of a languorous week, a week when the ordinary cacophony of work and self-made busyness is dimmed, a week when the wet blanket of a cloudy sky obscures the nuances of time passing.
On the one hand, the weather makes you feel like you are dragging a drogue around behind you. A single days passes in a blur of stingy daylight hours: By the time you sleep in, have your coffee, read a gazillion year-end features on your computer, tackle de-ornamenting the Christmas tree, vacuum, and eat the rest of the holiday chocolate candy, it’s almost dark. You just manage to squeeze a walk in under that haunting pewter sky. Oh, and it’s still hunting season, too, so finding and donning the orange hat, orange vest, orange doggie vest, orange everything, means the machinations of walk preparation move in slow motion.
On the other hand, if it is possible to be both dazed and stimulated, this is the week. As we reach the bottom of the calendar (I always visualize the months stacked up on top of each other) and jump back to the top again, it’s hard not to be both reflective and projective. Especially when one message seems to emerge out of the gumbo of commentaries and obituaries and films and documentaries and novellas that simmer in your skillet of inspiration this week.
The message seems to be clear: Carpe diem. Seize the day.
Joan Didion, you might have heard from a thousand sources, has died, yet she seems to be speaking (or writing) from the grave at every turn. This showed up on @nytbooks this week:
“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.”
Not only that but Robin Williams came back to life this week, too (at least on Amazon Prime video), to star in Dead Poet’s Society and to whisper carpe diem in our ears. And to recite Walt Whitman (“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”)
Whitman is everywhere it seems, including in the final scene of a remarkable film called Nine Days (also on Amazon prime video) when the character played by Winston Duke, a man charged with choosing a soul to come to life on earth, recites the final section of Whitman’s 52-part poem, Song of Myself, as a tribute to humanity and its unbreakable connection to the life-giving (and taking) force of nature. (“… I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.“)
And this morning the latest edition of the most excellent newsletter, The Marginalian, written by Maria Popova, arrived in the inbox with an absolute treasure: Resolutions for a Life Worth Living: Attainable Aspirations Inspired By Great Humans of the Past. (Life-tested wisdom on how to live from James Baldwin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Leo Tolstoy, Seneca, Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman, Viktor Frankl, Rachel Carson, and Hannah Arendt.)
Popova includes this from Whitman (from his preface to Leaves of Grass):
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
Meanwhile, downstairs Kenny Chesney is singing “Don’t Blink” on our Spotify wedding playlist, followed by “Live Like You Were Dying” (Tim McGraw), two songs my rock-and-roll loving husband chose for his country-music loving wife but that he now plays on repeat while washing the dishes, tiny tears appearing in the corners of his eyes if you look closely.
We are at that age when a constant reminder of the passage of time is enough to scream carpe diem at every turn. On New Year’s Eve, we sat side by side in the near-dark a few minutes before midnight (only the dim glow of a few remaining fairy lights to light our Dickensian faces) and said aloud to each other what our hopes were for the new year. Not goals like weight loss or more exercise, but dreams like creating a life where spontaneity and creativity and maximum immersion in nature are the norm.
The next day — New Year’s Day — we ventured beyond our usual walk (hunting season finally over), heading through the thick fog to the South shore, where we found the ocean raucous and alive and the sea air so invigorating that breathing it in and out felt like filtering out the cobwebs and dust bunnies from our winter weary bodies. Reminding ourselves once again that it does not take much to seize the day, to move a muscle — to rage against the dying of the light as Dylan Thomas wrote.
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13 thoughts on “Seizing the (Grey) Day”
When you quoted the preface to Leaves of Grass, I was reminded of a speech by the Indian leader, Chief Seattle, more than 100 years ago:
The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. Buy our land! But how can you sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
If we sell you our land you must remember that it is sacred. Each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’ s murmur is the voice of my father’ s father.
This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all.
Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
One thing we know: Our God is also your God. We both know that the earth is precious to Him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt upon its Creator.
One thing we know; There is only one God. We are all brothers.
So inspirational and pure. I read part of this to my husband. Happy New Year to you.
Thank you sooooo much for these words. I have been reading your blog since you restarted. Every post, without fail, you speak to my soul – or, rather, you voice my soul. (I think you and I are very similar and would be great friends 🙂 ) You are such a fantastic writer and photographer.
I appreciate you, your thoughts, your writing, your openness all so much!
Happy New Year!
Sarah in Vancouver, Canada
I believe this may have been your loveliest post to date , my friend. Well done. Thank you for reminding us …. to Carpe all the Diems.
Happiest of New Years to you and yours.
Hi there! Just want to congratulate you both on your recent marriage. So happy for you!! Also, can’t quite make out from the photos where you have been walking, Any hints?
Thank you, in particular, for Joan Didion’s words, which may have been just what I need to hear this morning and this year.
Claudia — I know, she pretty much says it all right there, doesn’t she? Here’s to diving in! All best to you.
Hi Sadie, we actually did two walks on New Year’s Day – our first was our usual route which takes us to Short Cove preserve around Flat Point Farm. But later on we drove down to Quansoo, and that’s where the photos of the bridge and the ocean were taken. It was pretty wild. I only had my camera phone with me and I got stuck with a weird blue filter — in fact it was incredibly foggy and many, many shades of grey!
Oh that’s so nice Cindy, thank you. I don’t think I quite got there in terms of digesting a lot of incoming info and extrapolating the message, but I can only give myself a certain amount of time for each blog. It’s sort of a time-limited writing exercise, but it’s a really good challenge! Nevertheless, glad you enjoyed it. And yes, we can probably never be reminded too often to Carpe all the Diems!!
Dear Sarah, I’m so very glad that you are finding a familiar voice in the blogs. I’m so grateful to hear that. I know that I probably disappointed a lot of people when I ventured away from the cooking blogs, but, in the spirit of Carpe Diem (!), there are so many things I want to write about and I didn’t want to wait! I’m glad to know the words are resonating with you. I wish you a very happy new year all the way across the continent to Vancouver!! Susie
Happy New Year Kathy! I’m glad these were welcome words and I wish you and your husband both a great 2022!
Oh my, Linda, that is so moving. It makes me sad to think how connected Chief Seattle and his people were to the land, and how disconnected we (speaking generally as a country) are. It’s so fundamental. I will save this and put this next to my Wendell Berry quotes. Be sure to watch that movie Nine Days — something else. See you around soon I hope and Happy New Year to you all!
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