“Begin”

Seat yourself next to your joy.” — Rumi

We all have to start somewhere. Truth is, the beginning is often the hardest part of any worthy project, whether we’re talking about writing books, designing clothes, breaking a habit, or plotting a garden. Before we can meet a deadline or plant the first seed, we have to face the proverbial blank page or fallow field.

So what the heck is stopping us?

Always a good excuse: kids to raise; dogs to walk; bathrooms to scrub; naps to take; debts to pay; day jobs that wring us dry. Fear can be a factor, too — fear of failure or fear of success. Maybe we can’t top the last amazing thing we did. Maybe our friends and families will resent our attempts to bloom or grow or shine (as if there’s never enough good stuff to pass around the table). Maybe someone will point out our mistakes and try to shrink us back down to size. Or maybe we’ll have to break free from the sweet safety of an old comfort zone.

Rumi’s poem challenges us to forget the excuses — and to weed the naysayers from our gardens. We’re called to do what makes us happy. To wake up and begin, right now. — CL

BEGIN

By Jalal al-Din Rumi; translation by Coleman Barks

This is now. Now is. Don’t
postpone till then. Spend

the spark of iron on stone.
Sit at the head of the table;

dip your spoon in the bowl.
Seat yourself next to your joy

and have your awakened soul
pour wine. Branches in the

spring wind, easy dance of
jasmine and cypress. Cloth

for green robes has been cut
from pure absence. You’re

the tailor, settled among his
shop goods, quietly sewing.

–Reprinted from The Soul of Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks (HarperCollins); 2001

— Garden photo by Cindy La Ferle —

“Against Hesitation”

Make music of what you can.” — Charles Rafferty

I always knew I wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid, I perched in the gnarly apple tree in my backyard and scribbled my own adventures in a ruled notebook. In college I majored in English and journalism, but it took years before I found the courage (not to mention the income) I needed to begin a real writing career.

The long path that led me here was marked with detours and littered with excuses. The poem below is the wake-up call I needed 25 years ago — but Charles Rafferty hadn’t written it yet. Today I keep it in my back pocket and read it whenever I need a creative kick in the pants.

What dream would you launch if you had all the time in the world? Where would you travel if you knew the road was wide open? What’s fueling your hesitation? –CL

Against Hesitation
By Charles Rafferty

If you stare at it long enough
the mountain becomes unclimbable.
Tally it up. How much time have you spent
waiting for the soup to cool?
Icicles hang from January gutters
only as long as they can. Fingers pause
above piano keys for the chord
that will not form. Slam them down
I say. Make music of what you can.
Some people stop at the wrong corner
and waste a dozen years hoping
for directions. I can’t be them.
Tell every girl I’ve ever known
I’m coming to break her door down,
that my teeth will clench
the simple flower I only knew
not to give … Ah, how long did I stand
beneath the eaves believing the storm
would stop? It never did.
And there is lightning in me still.

Reprinted from A Less Fabulous Infinity, by Charles Rafferty (Louisiana Literature Press; 2006)

–Photo: detail from a mixed-media collage by Cindy La Ferle —

This post is part of a weekly series of poetry appreciation.  To read more, please click on “Poems to inspire” in the CATEGORIES column at right.  I welcome your recommendations, too.

Shifting creative gears

Enjoy a tiny adventurous moment close to home. It changes your perspective, reminding you that the world is deep and rich and full of color and miracles.” –SARK

A lot of us are stumbling over creative blocks lately. Those who live in the wintry Midwest and Northeast blame it on lack of sunshine. Or cabin fever. Even if things are going reasonably well in other areas of our lives, we might gaze out our windows at the icy moonscape that once bloomed with roses or black-eyed Susans and feel twinges of ennui, or even despair.

Whatever the cause, it’s hard to get inspired when you’re sluggish and blue.

Last month I tripped over a huge creative block and hit a wall. For starters, what began as a satisfying home renovation project was abruptly stalled by a carpet order gone wrong, thanks to the evil Home Depot. (As a result, our master bedroom stayed torn apart for weeks.) Meanwhile, my elderly mom’s dementia-related health problems took a turn for the worse, requiring several trips to her doctor — and the hospital — for tests. As her sole caregiver, I felt helpless and exhausted.

Worst of all, I couldn’t seem to write or talk my way out of any of it. It was time to work from another side of my brain. Time to shift creative gears and to make something tangible and fun.

Bead therapy

Just in time, I received a clothing catalog featuring one of the coolest fetish necklaces I’d ever seen. Strung with African trading beads, brass trinkets, and a wild collection of charms, it evoked long walks on Caribbean beaches and cabana cocktails under the stars. A summer-fantasy vacation on a string!

I was tempted to pull out my credit card and purchase the fetish necklace online or over the phone. Instead, I decided to treat myself to the pure fun of making it myself.

Things were slow at the local craft store when I arrived on a gray Wednesday afternoon with the catalog photo in hand. The salesclerk working in the bead section was just as intrigued by the necklace, and eager to help with the project. Taking my time, I chose a few imported beads that had special meaning to me: a wooden bead with a butterfly motif (symbolizing transformation); another with a Celtic spiral; others that simply caught my eye.

At home I played with the beads until they became a necklace, stringing them together one by one and finding myself in a sunnier frame of mind. Of course, our master bedroom was still in chaos, beyond my control. And my mother’s dementia-related “episodes” were still unresolved. Regardless, I’d made something cheerful and new. The necklace wasn’t exactly like the one in the catalog — but I’d made it my own.

I often tell my workshop students that writing an essay or a chapter is a bit like stringing beads to form a beautiful necklace. Like the right bead, each word or sentence must do its share of the work to bring meaning or sparkle to the whole piece. You need to take your time, choose carefully, and take pleasure in the process.

That said, no matter what you’re working on, you could find yourself getting tangled up in “the process” at some point. When that happens, it helps to take a break. Or try making yourself a real necklace. — Cindy La Ferle

— Fetish necklace in photos by Cindy La Ferle —