Authentic Grace

I was a bad poet in 1998, but rather than hoist up that particular piñata, which I have whacked all to hell in my own head (no goodies therein!), let me concentrate on the differences.

I spent a decade discovering the whole notion of a formal imagination, learning to recognize it in what I read and trying to figure out what it meant that my nerves and my words were in some weird and potentially saving sync with each other. Then I spent another decade certain that the only authentic energy in art was the energy of absence, that even an aubade was made of pain. “Light writes white,” as the saying goes.

Then I got a tidal wave of real pain that tested all of my ideas pretty severely—and found them wanting. It wasn’t as if I had to relearn how to write poems. It was as if I had to finally deploy the whole arsenal, which includes abundance, extravagance, and inexplicable joy.

But are the poems actually better? I feel freed from having to worry about that. I take that freedom to be an act of authentic grace in my life, for which I am immensely grateful.

–Christian Wiman interviewed by Anthony Domestico in Commonweal Magazine

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Do As You Should Do Now

The first characteristic of a plan is that it won’t work. The bigger the plan and the more far-reaching and ‘futuristic’ it is, the less likely it is to work.

There isn’t a person who is alive and who has any appetite for living, who doesn’t make plans. I make a plan for every day I live. I’ve got certain things I want to do that day, and if I didn’t, I suppose I wouldn’t do anything. But I can’t help but notice, and I’ve been noticing for a good many years now, that my plans almost never work out. The day almost never exactly fits the plan. Some days depart wildly from the plan. So I conclude that even though you’re going to make plans, if you’re a live human being, one of the things you must learn to do is to take them lightly.

A plan really is useful for signifying to yourself and other people that you like living, that you’re looking forward to living some more, that you have a certain appetite to continue the enterprise. But one’s real duty to the future is to do as you should do now. Make the best choices, do the best work, fulfill your obligations in the best way you can, and work on a scale that’s appropriately small. Make plans that are appropriately small. If you do those things, then the future will take care of itself. But if you don’t do those things, then you build up a debt against the future, which is what we’re doing now.

–Wendell Berry, interviewed by Jordan Fisher-Smith

At Perfect Attention To The World

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Cutting wood means losing yourself – the way you do in meditation… Zen monks long ago learned the meaning behind woodcutting. ‘I pump water, I cut wood. How wonderful!’ Their texts are full of such quotes: ‘When chopping wood, chop wood. When breathing, breath.’ My favourite is attributed to a particularly venerated sage: ‘Before enlightenment, I chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, I chop wood and carry water.’

Perhaps we woodcutters are all students of the Catholic monk Saint Benedict of Nursia, who said, ‘to work is to pray.’ Cutting firewood, moving fluidly yet living inside the cave of the body, is a kinesthetic meditation. Every log holds the possibility of enlightenment – the moment the blade drives through, following the grain, splitting its linear universe. It’s the poetry of the everyday, the kind those monks preach; the ability to find the extraordinary in ordinary life – like a wolf on the hunt, at perfect attention to the world.

— Brian Brett, Trauma Farm, p.245

Into Great Silence

We get a lot of movies about noise these days: gunshots, screams, explosions, fist thunks, thunderous roars, revving engines, squealing tires and those deafening sonic swooshes that accompany nearly every corporate logo before the feature even gets started. But we don’t experience many moments of silence at the movies (and I’m not just talking about the audiences). “Into Great Silence,” though devoid of narration, musical score or much at all in the way of dialogue, encourages us to listen closely: to the sound of snow falling in the mountains, a nocturnal prayer whispered in a small wooden cell with a knocking tin stove, a bell rope pulled in a chapel. Nobody yells. Nothing detonates.

— Jim Emerson reviews Into Great Silence

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

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“Once you decide on your occupation,” says Jiro, “you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Jiro himself is enormously happy with his work; he is a blissful craftsman who truly enjoys his work, which keeps him vital in his old age.

However, it’s crucial to note that he doesn’t say “find work that you love,” as if suggesting one goes on some romantic quest in search for the perfect job, but rather he tells us to love the work we have chosen.

Loving your work requires sacrifice

If we stick for a moment with the “passion work” scenario I mentioned earlier, I notice that some people tend to assume that doing work you love is free of difficulties and that everything will be well in your life if you just switch careers. It is not. Doing work you love may cost you dearly, especially in the initial stages, and everyone choosing such a path should be willing to pay the price of admission.

— Maximiliano El Nerdo Nérdez reviews “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”