I came across this wonderful article on Angler's Journal this weekend entitled "The Gospel According to Jim". It's an interview of sorts with Jim Harrison, the great writer. When I say interview, I guess I mean it's a recollection of taking the dude fishing in Montana, along with David James Duncan. The article is beautifully written, filled with perceptive descriptions of the fishing and landscape peppered with great insight from Jim. I encourage you to read it.
There is one line in particular that stuck out to me. Jim mentions to the author as they drive by a ramshackle shack that it's saying to us, "...don't let your life become the sloppy leftovers of your work." This is a declaration to all of us, something that we will all need to face at, more than likely, many points during our life. So what's the solution to this? How do we not let our lives become the remains of our work? How do we not let ourselves become handicapped or torn down by our work instead of lifted up and freed by it?
"...don't let your life become the sloppy leftovers of your work." - Jim Harrison
The answer is different for everyone. For me, it's more of a process than an answer - a continuous questioning and reflecting of life, contentment, passions. I like work, I thrive off having a job to do and doing that job well. However, I've found that I need fulfilling work, work that doesn't tear down the cross beams holding me up or rip off the roof that's keeping me sane, work that in some way gives back to me on some level. Good work. I've had plenty of shitty jobs, and in the end, they left me feeling shitty. At the end of those days, my life was simply the sloppy leftovers of whatever motion I was going through. Life became part of the work that I was living.
On the other hand, I've had jobs that, while may be very demanding on some levels, are "good" in my eyes (and that definition of "good" differs with each person). By doing work that is good in my eyes, I find that my life embraces the work instead of becoming the bystander of it. Good work becomes a part of the life that I am living and pushes me to live a fuller life.
The "solution", if there really is one, is an individual finding whereas the problem is a universal one that we all have to face at some point. This is what a great writer does, presents us with a universal problem tied to an image that we all can relate to (a house in disrepair, slowly falling back into the earth), and lets us figure out the "answer" in our own way. A series of koans for us to mull over while engaged in our story.
Two poems that I should read every day, like prayers.
I met Wendell Berry once and was stunned by the sheer magnitude of his self. He read his poems like he was tilling this fields, with rough hands, a deep voice, and a plaid shirt and jeans. He hadn't shaved that morning; he read his poetry like he was working, like they were as much of a part of him as was his daily chores around the farm, like he had just come down from his bedroom and was sipping his coffee, looking out at the day through his kitchen window. He helped me realize that poetry should be a simple extension of your self, of what you do and what you are and how you breathe.
The Peace of Wild Things
BY WENDELL BERRY
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I first heard this poem on NPR's A Prairie Home Companion on my little wind up radio, sitting in my cook cabin at Kidney Pond in Baxter State Park. I had just finished eating some home made pizza and was sipping a cold beer, staring out at Katahdin. Bly came on and read from his most recent book, Turkish Pears in August, with a violin accompaniment. "Wanting Sumptuous Heavens" has stuck with me ever since. I had been feeling pretty lonesome up there in Maine, wondering what was next, what I was doing, where everyone went. Then this poem came to me and I sat there, transfixed by his voice and the violin, by the pond reaching out to Katahdin, by the loons and the canoes, and was content. At times when I feel overwhelmed by life, when I feel like I'm being pulled into places I don't want to be in, I try to remember to recite this poem, to go back to that moment and to take a few deep breaths. Good prayers, these poems be.
Here is the link to the poems he read that day along with the audio file - http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/2008/03/01/scripts/bly.shtml
Wanting Sumptuous Heavens
BY ROBERT BLY
No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.
Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous Heaven.
But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.
One of the best albums of 2014 was Damien Jurado's Brothers & Sisters of the Eternal Son. It's folky, it's surreal, it's metaphysical, it's psychadelic, it's unique. Damien can easily carry a song with just with voice and guitar playing, but this album is both sonically & lyrically layered so beautifully that I keep coming back to it.
Just last night I found myself enamored with the song "Jericho Road".
Here's a performance of it -
This particular performance is pretty powerful. Jurado includes a lot of Christian imagery in his songs, and "Jericho Road" is no exception. My wife has a much stronger Biblical understanding than I do, so I had to have her explain the story associated with this place called Jericho Road. According to her, this is the road in which a Samaritan helped a man who had been beaten and robbed and was culturally his enemy. This after men of religion had passed over this downtrodden man. Hence, where we get the term "Good Samaritan". Please forgive my paraphrasing of the story, I know I probably left out a lot.
I can make fair interpretations of most of the lyrics (at times it feels like a conversation between two men instead one single narrator), especially in the context of the Biblical story. However, one line stands out that I'm still rolling around in my head like a koan -
"We are secrets sold"....
For some reason I find that line pretty powerful; I just don't know why.
That's OK to me. I'll let it roll around in my head for a couple of weeks or years and maybe something will eventually click.
Sketches & scatterings. Rooted in Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River.