await your reply 5: parceling out your life

And you wipe the snow out of your hair and get back into your car and drive off toward an accumulation of the usual daily stuff–there is dinner to be made and laundry to be done and helping the kids with their homework and watching television on the couch with the dog resting her muzzle in your lap and a phone call you owe to your sister in Wisconsin and getting ready for bed, brushing and flossing and a few different pills that help to regulate your blood pressure and thyroid and a facial scrub that you apply and all the rituals that are–you are increasingly aware–units of measurement by which you are parceling out your life. (92)

This passage from Dan Chaon’s 2009 novel, Await Your Reply, reminds me of so many things:

Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  

  Mark Strand’s “The Continuous Life”: Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,/That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;”

the Zen saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Michael Cunningham’s The Hours: “Laura reads the moment as it passes.  Here it is, she thinks; there it goes.  The page is about to turn.”

that surely there is more than this

and just as surely, no there’s not.

What are the units of measurement by which you are parceling out your life?

await your reply

~last in a series
~cross-posted at Contrary Blog

the continuous life

1990 back cover photo by Denise Eagleson

1990 back cover photo by Denise Eagleson

One of my all-time-favorite poems is “The Continuous Life” by Mark Strand from his book of poems, The Continuous Life.  Here’s the beginning:

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,

The poem in its entirety can be found on The Writer’s Almanac.

I was rereading the poem again yesterday and was surprised–although by now I guess I shouldn’t be–that the things I liked about the poem had changed since my husband gave me this book in 1990.

What I loved this time:

Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;

That one thing leads to another. I guess that phrase is like anything you notice and then begin to see everywhere. It was there all along; it’s just that I wasn’t paying attention or it had no meaning for me before or I wasn’t ready for it. Now, sometimes, I’m able not to impose order but to let myself be led here and there.

that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed.

I’m trying to catch days, to make sure they stick. Sometimes a week goes by in a blur anyway. And I’m writing, writing, writing. Still, some days it does feel as if nothing is completed. I think of my novels–do they have to be published to be completed?

learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave,

To be still enough to hear the sound of the earth. To pause long enough. To wait. In Mari Strachan’s novel,  The Earth Hums in B Flat, which I mentioned a few posts ago, little Gwenni at 12 1/2 already knows to lean down close to listen for this hum. To recenter.

Enjoy a poetry moment today. See what catches you–or what you can catch.