A Place of Peace

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Photo courtesy of Caitlin Podemski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publishing my novels is still my dream, but twice now I’ve submitted my writing to Word of Art, the creative brainchild of In Print Professional Writers Organization, an affiliate of the Chicago Writers Association. Each time I’ve had something chosen for publication. On Friday, September 4, my husband and I drove to Illinois for me to read my very short descriptive essay for the book release reception to a packed room of artists, writers, and their guests.

At last year’s reception, I read a poem about my son leaving home to go to college. I was terribly nervous to read, partly because I had never read anything I had written out loud to my peers before and partly because the poem was so deeply personal. Also I am not a poet, but that was the form that piece wanted. I felt then and still feel at times blindsided by my children growing up and becoming independent adults. Through that poem I relived the emotions of letting go of a child, so I was off-balance and aching. Even now when I read it, I choke up. I managed to finish reading the poem last year after stumbling only once.

This year was different. My essay, “A Place of Peace,” was about a grassy area beside the river behind my house where I can see both the river and the surrounding grassy prairie and marsh, a place I’m lucky enough to visit every day. Though the room was very hot and I was one of the last people to read (third from last),  I didn’t stumble over the words or the title even once. A feeling of quietude came over me before I even began.

Sometimes when we write, a confluence of events come together, serendipitous moments that seem to have been arranged by God. I felt that as I read this year. When I was working on this piece for submission, the snow was on the ground and the bitterly cold winds of winter were blowing outside my window, but I was standing by the river in the heat of summer beneath the shade of the oaks and basswoods. I saw the summer sunset and was surrounded by birdsong and the sound of running water. I was enveloped by the heat of a summer day rather than the heat generated by man. That same feeling of inhabiting two places at once happened again as I read. Seldom am I able to overcome being present in the room by being present in the writing. Often I’m too aware of my own shortcomings to do that, but at Word of Art 2 only the writing and the place it evoked mattered, and I managed to be there in both places at once.

Writing transports me. I experience the place and time of my imagination. At the podium in Illinois on September 4, I relived quiet moments by my river, experienced anew the place and its atmosphere. I didn’t see my audience, only the natural world of my memory and imagination combined. Last year I read a deeply personal poem which carried the emotional weight of a mother’s love for her grown son. This year I read an essay which transported me to a place where a river runs, washes away the weight of the world, and leaves behind the peace of reverie.  Even in a crowd.

Here is the beautiful art that Sarah McCashland created to go with my words:

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Here is the essay, “A Place of Peace.” The book is so popular that there is a second printing of it. You can order a book here.

A Place of Peace
On summer evenings the river gurgles past boulders and trills over stones. On the riverbank, damselflies light on my sandals where I stand amid rushes and purple irises. The breeze slides down the riverbank setting the tall grasses atremble with a sound like rain. Behind me oaks and basswoods climb the rise toward the collapsed line fence that separates the river from the prairie. Bluebirds streak across the dusty grassland, where goldfinches roller-coast toward the river. The last rays of the sun sparkle on the water and gild the treetops.
Then the light grows soft. Mayflies hatch, a sylvan spectacle. Trout feed in arcing, splashing frenzy. Cedar waxwings, like the bandits they resemble, swoop and dart, giving chase to escaping flies. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee echoes in the canopy behind me as twilight arrives.
No longer spangled with sunlight, the river mirrors the shift to early evening, its surface the murky greens and browns of the brook trout beneath it. A tender pink sky glows above me, intensifying summer’s green. By the river I think no frenetic thoughts, worry about no deadlines. Time passes, but the river remains the same, a place of peace, true and beautiful.

Many thanks to Kristin Oakley, my sweet friend, president of In Print, and award-winning author of Carpe Diem, Illinois, who told me about this opportunity, and to Mary Lamphere, super creative and talented writer and artist who designed and took the pictures and everything for the Word of Art books. Check out her very clever blog here.  You ladies rock!

Incidentally, this last photo below is near the spot beside the river I wrote about. It is never as beautiful in my photographs as it is in my imagination.

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Practice Art to Be Forever Young

A fellow blogger and wonderful writer, Paula Reed Nancarrow, has been taking a break from writing posts for the month of August and has instead complied a number of quotes from writers about different topics. She has used the using the hashtag #AUTHORity to  highlight authors’ views.  If you haven’t yet, you should follow her on Twitter here. The first week she posted about family, but the second week she posted about aging, a topic I readily identify with both at this time in my life and because my mother is currently struggling with some issues related to aging. This particular quote below fell at number 33, particularly auspicious number I thought for a particularly auspicious quote and one which rings true for me.

On the whole, age comes more gently to those who have some doorway into an abstract world-art, or philosophy, or learning-regions where the years are scarcely noticed and the young and old can meet in a pale truthful light.

―Freya Stark

To have age arrive more gently is a wonderful reason to practice some sort of art, especially if it allows us to scarcely notice our advancing years. I think I know why this is the case. Art gives us access to a collective consciousness. Those who don’t practice writing, music, art, or some other discipline that requires intense concentration and intense thought can neither know nor understand the attraction to it. Once you’ve been there, it is impossible not to experience again that place where creativity and inspiration live. It is the place we meet our muses.

Practicing art–in my case writing–allows me to enter into the doorway of the abstract, to spend time outside my body and outside time. I experience the world anew and from a perspective other than my own. It renews my spirit and somehow keeps me young and passionate about life and its mysteries. Writing also allows me to discuss with my students, or  anyone who cares about the written word, something which defies time, an abstract at once mysterious but accessible.

I’ve thought so much about Freya Stark‘s words since I read them in Paula’s post, especially since I’ve begun another year of school. I’m of an age that I am beginning to see some of my former students join the faculty of the school where I teach. That happened last year and this year. One of my colleagues who was hired with me and whom I enjoy immensely, could be my daughter.  Juxtaposing those two parts of myself–my aging body and my still agile mind–at times poses problems. You see, even though I realize I’m aging, I still think of myself as a young person. That can be awkward at times. However, my art, my writing, is what keeps me young, keeps me dreaming, keeps me thinking of when I’ll achieve my dreams.

That’s one of the things I love most about writing. Writing makes me feel limitless, something I try to communicate to my students. When I’m writing, I can be anyone, do anything, live anywhere. In fiction, nothing is impossible. That is the place where I hope to meet my students, the young people with whom I try to forge a connection, a place where they see me not as I am but as I want to be. That’s what I try to see in them also. And it can happen through writing.

If we practice our art, whatever that might be, we remain forever young and free in that “pale, truthful light.”