Saturday, 30 May 2015

"The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman" - Denis Thériault

Most of the way through this book, I didn't get what the fuss was about. A friend recommended it. Somewhere along the line, we found ourselves talking about haiku and she brought up this book, stuffed full of Japanese stanzas.

The poetry is integral to the whole pace, structure and plot of the story, and initially I felt a little like I was reading an educational guide thinly veiled in fiction. I was frustrated by the sparse character detail. The lack of direct speech seemed like a barrier to really entering into the action, and the action seemed like a secondary interjection to the main feature: haiku after haiku, then tanka (the haiku's five-lined counterpart), then back to haiku. I was tempted to just not finish it but it's a pretty short book to quit on, so I ploughed through.

And then. Then I got it.

For me, the closing pages elevated this book from a fairly odd read to a confirmed work of genius. I don't want to spoil it for the uninitiated, but it was so surprisingly satisfying. Thériault's smashing of storytelling convention, like his complete disregard for the cardinal rule of "show, don't tell", is perfectly attuned to such an unconventional tale. At the end of the 101 page journey, everything and nothing makes sense.

I would love to have the language skills to read it in French. Although the translation fully paints the story's excessive passions and unsettling, fantastical events, I imagine the rhythms and romanticism within its original language take the craftsmanship to a whole new level of sophistication.

But I think the thing I'm the most grateful for from my experience of reading the book, is that it's played its part in the "wow" I feel about the world again. Its rekindled my sense of wanting to write, wanting to share, wanting to appreciate the artistry of others.

It's reminded me of the magic in the mundane. So thank you, Thériault.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Pollyanna Project

I started another postcard project a few weeks ago at a point when I really needed to challenge myself to change my thinking.

It's called the Pollyanna project in honour of the slightly annoying heroine of the self-titled books and film: an orphan who is seemingly able to see the bright-side of absolutely everything. I found myself counting down the days left in this particular life-season in a really unconstructive way, and decided I needed to take a leaf out of Pollyanna's book and "count my blessings" instead. 

As a fresh way of tapping into that old cliché, I am writing a thank you note at the end of each work day to acknowledge the positive things I've gained during this whole phase, despite the difficulties. Things like integrity, resourcefulness and the overwhelming kindness and support of others. Things like financial stability, opportunity and a greater capacity to persevere. By the time I've found another 63 reasons to be thankful, it will all be over. Somehow, seen from that perspective, the end doesn't seem so far away.

The best part about the Pollyanna Project is that I am finally, finally, FINALLY making peace with the way the last couple of years turned out. I am making peace: I am constructing it with effort and deliberate focus, building peace out of gratitude and the humility to accept that life is bigger than my whims and agendas, but I am cared for at all times anyway.

I'm finding the truth in what others discovered before me:

"Whatever is true, 
whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable
- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -
think about such things...
And the God of peace will be with you."

(Philippians 4v8)

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Attention Please! Emily Dickinson and Being Invisible

(available for a limited time)

Emily Dickinson is hardly a secret: she's one of the American poets whose name might spring to mind alongside Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson - a classic voice that people feel passionately about.

What I hadn't appreciated, until recently, is just how much of a recluse she was while she was alive. Listening to 'The Poet and The Murderer', I learned that Dickinson didn't publish a single poem during her lifetime. It was the posthumous discovery of her poems that released them, in their hundreds, from the confines of a locked box into the waiting world.

I listened to the programme over a week ago - it's about much more than Dickinson's approach to writing. But those introductory comments have stayed with me, as have the echoes of her poem "I'm Nobody! Who are you?".

There's something so brave and so rare in her defiant indifference to being noticed and celebrated. That level of personal contentment feels like a lost skill, maybe even a luxury that our age just can't afford anymore. We have musicians who have to moonlight as social media marketers. We have models who are not only expected to look a certain way, but also to be brands themselves with followers in the millions. We have politicians who are required to take a break from the business of running the country so that we can have a stream of selfies taken with them. 

It's not to say there aren't positives in all of this: transparency, power-shifts away from institutions to the individual...

But being recognised has become so important. 
Do we do anything for its own sake anymore? 

Thinking about Emily Dickinson makes me tingle all over with the realisation that I can write because I love to write, not because I need to be read. I can love because I'm learning to be loving, not because I want to be loved. We can escape the clamour for external validation and just relish the act of the doing the things that make us come alive. We can choose to share selflessly, as a byproduct of being the people we want to be.

We might be noticed. We might not. But we will definitely have lived well.
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