The Big Listen


Today I am not dashing off anywhere again. I've been not dashing more regularly than usual. I have been trying to givie myself more time for staring out windows and painting what passes for an art journal these days (a watercolor sketch pad) and thinking about my past, present and future. Not necessarily in that order. And writing things down as they occur to me. But here's the hardest thing of all--HARD HARD HARD: Listening. All by myself listening. Oh it’s so hard. I think it's harder than giving birth, or being lonely, which is also hard but in a good-bread kind of way. Harder than frozen groves of mud in my mile long driveway. Harder than missing my grandchildren because I don't live nearby. Harder than missing my mother, whom I still miss a lot.

The listening thing. That's the REAL hard work. I did it for about 5 minutes a few days ago. I mean REALLY did it. The 5 min was all I could manage honestly, before the flood of lists and people, old resentments, fears, wonderings rushed in like spring tide backing up the Kennebec river in March; crunching up all the ice floes and stray flotsam of worry; the wreckage of despair, the miniature betrayals wedged between the pilings. A FULL five minutes of JUST listening is, for me, an Olympian feat. But I think I did it. It was soul serving, humbling, actualizing and afterwards I felt cleansed, smoothed out and confident. Sure. Sound. More whole. Aligned. That tells me I might have done it.

It felt a little bit like how I feel in the months when I collect light in the fall-- when the year dims, semi-permanent dusk falls and I become Persephone in the god's dark cave of winter. My self-prescribed antidote is to sit still by the window in my round room every morning at dawn and document the exact moment when color appears:  minuscule moments when lavender tinges the ground, a branch sketches an ink-line onto the morning. The woodshed door slowly gapes open, revealing the mass of potential inside. Contours return to the landscape; colors conspire to surprise. It all dares me to be happy.

I figured real light was my best defense. Better than drugs. Better than a light box. Real Light at that time of year is more precious than water in the desert. A wet autumn road slithering along like silver ribbon. Felted green wool with white frost clinging. The glint of sun in the corner of a blue eye. Those things were my treasures. I MADE myself collect them like some miserly Sultan and later counted them up in private. Small gains, but part of my Light-Account upon which I lived until February. Which, is now, of course, over.

Oddly enough, now that the light has begun to return in earnest, it's pissing me off a little. Strange that it should be so. Its the same feeling as being left on the steps outside my piano lesson that time my mother was hours late picking me up. What do you do? You are a child. You wait. You can't do anything else. But when she finally shows up all sweet and honey eyed and I'm so sorry-ish and gathers you up in her arms, even though its the first time she's ever done such a thing, you still feel something difficult you can't really name as a child. That's what it's like now. Mother light has been very late in my book. Very late indeed. Oh she's rosy and lovely about it all, but damn. I mean it was a freakin’ long wait. And now that she's here I'm still trying to forgive her for being gone.

Which is another reason the Big Listen is sometimes thwarted. Listening and pissed off don’t go together. The kind of listening I'm going for is clean page type. Not a scrawled up one. So stilling the tempest, even if it's just within an inner teapot, only comes when I DEMAND silence.

Only then do I begin to hear--the call of the bird...the creak of the wood stove, the cat lapping milk. Then, with deeper intention...the patterns in robin's song; the repeating purr of chickadee wings; the whoosh of a raven swooping down to gawk at me. Inside-- the groaning tones in the creak of the wood stove; the rhythm of littlest cat’s tongue lapping milk. I attend to the melody of sound around me, the churr of cedar waxwings in the maple, the lilt of the snow buntings racing on the march wind, the pen scratching on rough watercolor paper. I begin to hear blood pumping through the veins in the back of my hands. I begin to hear the sound of ideas, delicious as waves, heaving and calibrating themselves--curling and sloshing against forming convictions. That's the kind of "hearing" I want to live in. 

The kind where listening takes on a lift of its own. I don't lead it anymore. It leads me. I suppose that what Daphne DuMaurier and J.M Barrie and those other early century writers meant when they talked about dreaming on the page. Almost trancelike but not, because one must be so conscious and present to catch it. It’s what great spiritual leaders, artists, writers, dancers, thinkers, scientists and teachers all are after.

So I'm practicing this when I can muster the courage to get the self-talk out of the way and open my heart.  Admittedly the writing...the singing, the art, can be an avoidant--an escape from listening. Maybe all art is a supehidingplace from oneself. I don't know. I suppose doing both at once would be the ticket. I'm working on it....

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