Reading the yield signs

Since I've gone back to school--or back to dissertation, I guess--there's been this constant, nagging nudge that haunts me through the day: you should be reading something academic, should be writing, could be researching. While, sure, it's helpful to be motivated to work, I've noticed the constant internal preoccupation ends up robbing me of enjoying other good things in my life, including being present and attentive with my family. 

This week it feels like everything I see/read/think has been urging me to snap out of it already. To show up, slow down, and pay attention. 

photo origin unknown

photo origin unknown

There was that post On Slowness I read that referenced an art history professor who requires her students to look at a painting for three hours before writing about it. Despite initial grumbling, the students come away "repeatedly astonished by the potentials this process unlocked." She proposes that such deep attention and patience needs to be structured by teachers & professors (and, I would add, parents) since it's not cultivated "in the wild" anymore.   I loved that. And also: when was the last time I looked at something for three hours?

. . . 

A book I was reading ended with this quote: "I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride" (William James) 

. . . 

Finally, the ever-fantastic Billy Collins just released a new book of poems and this one captures this well:


This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

 - Billy Collins

Okay, universe. Aye-aye. Message received. (Of course, the irony is that I'm writing this as my kids get ready to head to bed and G just got home from a business I'll sign off now.)


A transcript of Billy Collins's recent conversation with Diane Rehm. 
 - A copy of Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems would make a great gift, by the way.
 - G and I went to the movie About Time last weekend. It's funny and sweet and sentimental (some might find it overly so but not me! bring on the sentiment!) and I came away inspired to relish & fall in love with the wonderfully mundane moments that make up our lives. The music was really good, too, so I made a playlist.   This song is especially lovely. And this one