Her latest endeavor since losing her partner has been to continue the art of punchcutting letters in steel, in the ancient method of making and designing types. Taught by the renowned Nelly Gable, from the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris where this craft has been carried on for 500 years. She is carrying on the Foundry & Press, and plans to create an International School of Typography and Letters, to insure that the craft of fine design, lettering, and letterpress bookmaking continues for future generations. "Golgonooza" is from William Blake’s visionary poem the Four Zoas and is the city of Transformation through Art.
You can contact the author through her web blog:— golgonoozaletterfoundry.com/journal
Previous entries in this column are in the archive HERE
This work is copyright © 2013 © 2016 all rights reserved
How Very Rich and Deep our Lives
When we think about our own significant and varied personal history, it can seem as if our lives are the contents of a movie reel, unrolling…with glimpses of some particular event —events that are remembered and treasured, many forgotten … and some better off not remembered in detail, at all. The good ones, those memories we remember with fondness—those are the moments we can hold close. Those moments become a place we can return to in memory again and again, even though as they were being lived they were just ordinary moments passing beneath us. Indeed, there are likely many such moments in which, at the time they are happening, we are unaware that they will eventually become those precious ones.
Another remembered essence was one afternoon, working with my partner, Dan Carr in our print shop. I was working at the composing frame, correcting and justifying type for the book we were working on and Dan was in the casting area, casting type when I suddenly, distinctly felt the moment in time. It was, I believe, in the mid to late 90’s, and we had been doing letterpress for quite some years on a daily basis, five days a week for at least 8 to 9 hours per day. So we were perhaps producing along the order of what a professional metal letterpress print shop might have been doing in the 1930’s or 40’s when the technology was at its prime. (Our equipment is still that of a modern 1930’s-40 ’s shop with the exception of a few much older pieces.) I remember knowing that Dan and I were at the top of our game, that we could do the work with skill and precision, and in a fluid manner. There was a sudden realization, with the sun coming in the shop windows, that we were in that place, doing what we loved…what our hearts and intuition had guided us to, and we had embraced it fully, without reservation, despite all the pitfalls (like no health care, only one [used] car, and no paid vacations. That moment became felt in me as an encounter with the essence of my life and vocation…of the totality of my choices.
Our lives are punctuated by these remembered essences. They are an imprint of our emotional and mental state at that moment, and they often can conjure up the conditions, time and place in a way that the mind-memory cannot. We remember the light and where we were when the feeling-memory struck. Perhaps because these imprints are based on both feeling and event, not simply a recall of factual events, they carry a fuller and richer continuum. Perhaps the whole of our body, mind and spirit are engaged in that moment? Things are not just happening around us, they are happening to us and we are beings that feel and interpret what surrounds us in our own particular ways, based on our particular life history, which is composed of our own facts, but not necessarily another’s. As author Caroline Myss said in one of her essays: “Everything is nothing until we weave ourselves into it.” I believe that such remembered moments are snapshots and sensations of our selves full-woven into our lives.
James Joyce refers to a similar essence in time, referring to them as “epiphanies.” In “Stephen Hero,” Joyce’s autobiographical novel, published posthumously in 1944, he states, an epiphany is a “sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself.” He goes on to say that …”they [epiphanies] themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.”
This is interesting because these memories seemed to me to be something remembered with the body, mind and spirit simultaneously. Perhaps it is a moment of realization not of the mind, but of the spirit, a crowning moment culminating from something larger that is realized, but again not simply with the mind. … Often, critics consider what Joyce meant by an epiphany was — a moment of realization of some sort.
However, in an essay by Boston University student and writer, Navraj Narula, she states that she feels that those moments called epiphanies in James Joyce’s Dubliners are not “revelation” or “realization,” as postulated by some Joyce critics and scholars, but rather “simply an unrevealing experience” or moments of awareness of something not fully understood: “flashes of un-intellectual light” … “a particular moment of time that holds importance but not necessarily a revelation.” I concur that they are indeed flashes, but think it is not necessary to characterize all such moments as “unintellectual,” or “unrevealing” but instead to see them as timeless moments caught within, becoming a state of awareness that dwells beyond the intellect.
Such glimpses and remembered essences are evanescent moments in our lives and minds… gifts of this fragile life we live, once, here, in this time and place. Although I try to practice appreciation and gratitude in my life, my heart still experiences the pain of loss…of family, of friends, of lovers and I see how fast it all goes by…how much we take for granted. Yet as these thoughts cross my mind, I am reminded that I am still here, that I must not just look back, but be aware that this life is still unfolding around me—that these very moments may one day be the ones that I remember fondly—and so, to not miss the current moments that surround me…. As Elizabeth Gilbert says :” Your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous…” How very rich and deep our lives are.
You were here when I arrived
Born 3 years before me
Charting the territory of your life
A hard life
Full of chasms, deep and wide
For a young boy.
Youth opens like a flower
Its hands smooth and soft
Receiving a map to the unknown
Like a gift.
Then it hits,
Some hurled stone
Shattering all simplicity
Cutting our feet
Putting us on a path
That is ours alone.
You walked before me,
Carrying my own sorrows
Hidden in a grey duffle
Till we met.
Then the stars on Orion’s belt
Merged into a sword
And we knew all would be ok
This path through life became shared
Bearing each other’s burdens.
Now that you’re gone
I carry those alone
Yet I find you in the trees that you once loved
The white pine
Rustling its whispered secrets
To the earth.
I find you in my heart
In the well of my understanding.
Beneath all else
You’re still there.
© Julia Ferrari
What In your Life is Calling You?
For the past few months I’ve been stuck in a place where forward motion seems impossible and starting new things feels incomprehensibly blocked. So I’ve slowed way down and allowed myself to solve or be present with only one or two problems while just moving through this time, paying attention to what ails me, to how I speak to myself, listening to my inner critic — seeing myself and my life in a new light.
Pena Chodron in her book “Taking the Leap,” says “… our whole facade, the little song and dance we all do, is based on trying to avoid the groundlessness that permeates our lives. By learning to stay, we become very familiar with this place, and gradually, gradually, it loses its threat… We’re no longer invested in instantly trying to move away from insecurity. We think that facing our demons is reliving some traumatic event or discovering for sure that we’re worthless. But, in fact, it is just abiding with the uneasy, disquieting sensation of nowhere-to-run and finding that— guess what?—we don’t die; we don’t collapse. In fact, we feel profound relief and freedom.”
Many of us are self critical, berating ourselves for our mistakes. We can speak so sharply to ourselves, using searing language to disapprove of anything that irritates or displeases us about ourselves. We would not talk that way to another living soul, but in private we can be our own worst enemies, full of verbal abuse and scathing criticism. But what if we could step a distance away from that…could learn to treat ourselves better. Another author I have recently been listening to is Kristin Neff, and her work “Self-Compassion” She discusses the possibility of being kind to yourself. Imagine that, being kind to ourselves, it sounds so easy, but in truth, we carry around a lot of fear, and that fear influences how we treat ourselves. We base our fears on every past challenge that has happened in our life, and on what challenges we may imagine we might have to confront ahead of us. And we attempt to protect ourselves somehow by criticizing ourselves, a behavior that may have helped in some way a long while ago, but that no longer serves us.
So, as I have been looking closer at my fears, of seeing them for what they are, whether post traumatic stress, or lifelong repetitive obstacles, I am mindful of the idea of just watching, of not being impatient for things to change. Some things take their own time and arrive only after living in the trenches with them for awhile. It seems then that this season of winter cold with life slowed down and frozen will eventually bear the fruit of its own time, its own season: of spring to come.
WHAT IS CALLING
I can feel it
Pulling at my heart with a gravity
Not unlike the earth and all the planets
Being drawn to its star
It appears as an ache in my heart
Which is as much about letting go,
As of needing something.
Our hearts search through the emptiness
For those things that we miss,
Wish and wail for the ocean of our feelings
To touch shore
To find and to know
All the reasons we have
To still breathe
In and out
To be here.
An Encroaching Lawlessness
When I drive lately, I have been noticing an increasingly impatient and lawless road culture. People drive thru red lights, pull out in front of other cars with no warning, and in general drive without much concern or caution for the other drivers on the road. I think this is a small warning sign of changing attitudes and could be a result of our preoccupation with the internet and the overwhelming impatience and distraction that it seems to be producing. As with any new technology, of course, we don’t really know what cultural side effects will arise from it. This creeping lawlessness seems to have as its basis the fact that life within the internet has no conscience, no repercussions, or at least very few. It seems to be dividing us more deeply into separate camps, and impudence, aggression and hate seem to reign more easily. In contrast, when we interact in the physical world with our actual neighbors, we are able to see, in person and up close, those human beings. They are real, and are simply people that we either agree or disagree with… but we are more likely to exhibit some sense of respect and decency when we interact.
A long while ago I had a neighbor who was noisy, disagreeable and cranky. We were from very divergent social and economic backgrounds and saw things differently. She used to cross her arms and stare at me contentiously across the side yard when she’d see me drive into my driveway. At that time, one day after struggling with my feelings about this person I discovered a quote. The quote said something like: “All people, despite their differences, are just trying to find happiness.” I remember this softening my heart about this neighbor. When I read this quote, I realized that in her own way and in her own particular lifestyle, she was just searching for happiness. Harsh opinions become contagious, so it seems best not to demonize people, because in truth, we’re all trying to overcome our difficulties. Those contagious feelings become mob mentality and mob mentality takes us to extremely violent places that do nothing to solve our problems. How easy it is to be hostile when the person you are denouncing is an abstraction and you don’t see them in their full complexity.
Perhaps I’m trying to sweep back the tide with a broom, but if each of us begins to see how we are distanced from each other in these ways we can begin to remove or disable an abstract battlefield. I feel we should perhaps all try harder to see that in our neighbors, not just the ones that live beside us, but the faceless ones who are there on the internet, or in a neighboring state or behind the wheel of the car in front of us. Even the “worst” humans we can imagine (hmm, trying not to be looking at any figure at the top) we can have compassion for. Perhaps their father was mean and controlling… etc. Yes we can disagree with someone, but ultimately, they are responsible for their own life and we for ours. Maybe that will help keep us from all these mad shootings and civil disputes. For after all … we’re each, at the end of the day, just trying to find happiness.
Losing the Garden
The brakes on my 18 year old car started making noise, reminding me that my car needs repair. Like a car, our bodies get older and need care. Things stop working as efficiently, and then eventually they can stop working altogether. Like our cars, our delicate, precious bodies are vehicles for experiencing this life; through them we are given the opportunity to be here, with our feet on the planet, here in our proverbial garden. Yet the garden, ultimately, is of our own making, and we learn through the struggle of all our work—inner work and outer work –what to do next. We attempt to find out who we are, we face who we are not, we take leaps of faith even in fear, and step forward … or not.
I’ve been reviewing excerpts of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” There, through his poetry, the metaphor of our time here in the garden has been touching my thoughts. We taste the beauty of life through the privilege of being here, and the ultimate knowledge of our demise. Our bodies are not eternal, but perhaps the efforts we make, the trials we endure, the paths we take, (meaning the choices we make) will be.
It can be daunting to lose things—people, relationships, family—then to have to face new things,—new challenges, new beginnings. Here we are, developed human beings, with life seeming in control, ambling along, then all of a sudden, we’re not in control. Everything that seemed easy becomes new and (at times) difficult. We’re starting over again, this time with the perspective of our recent life tucked firmly under our arm, hoping that all can continue as it was. It may not, it likely will not. But new things grow to replace what has left. From the perspective of loss, I can speak to the occasions of my not easily embracing change…. when they cut down the willow across the street, my heart sank. No longer could I look out at its lively, swaying ribbons of boughs moving on the slightest breeze. Song birds nested there in that tree which according to legend, embodied Kwan Yin’s compassionate tears. A poet I knew loved that tree, and now both are gone. Then I started to see that everything changes, just like the seasons in moving shades of céladon, chartreuse, olivander, citron, and harlequin, covering the hillsides in green, bearing fruit or leaf, then just as suddenly, in a season—gone, roots hibernating under ground till the cycle begins again.
Times can be tough, and as we used to say during the rough times here at the press, “one foot in front of the other.” Lately, I just keep moving, just keep my eyes open for what I’m supposed to learn next here in this brief incarnation. So far I cannot complain, despite any and all difficulties. Through the thick and thin of sadness, illness, joy and good luck, I simply stumble along, head up, still looking forward at the view on the horizon, through the dark skys of midnight, at the clear moon and its nearby stars.
UNDER a GREY SKY
Trees sway under a grey sky
Wind pushing leaves
Cooled by shade
Light and dark all day
I hear my voice softly even-ing out.
Smoothing out its tensions,
The path as tightly wound as the brittle ice
That surrounded me,
Inched me in,
Almost ended me.
But now snows have melted
And the fragile world has thawed
Turning shades of pale and deepening green
Covering every inch in vibrating textures
So gently moving
So gently alive.
Searching For All the Moments We Put on Hold
I had a glimpse while reading Rilke today, of all the experiences in our lives that are pushed aside, and not felt or fully savored. It reminded me that what I had been doing recently while isolating myself, was searching… a part of me perhaps had been searching for those lost moments through the years, when a thought or idea would cross my mind and quickly, willingly or unwillingly pass away. They were pushed out of reach, while the present with all its immediacy and need erased them, moving them to the back of my brain. It felt like all those thoughts were still back there and a part of me wished to find them again…as if there was a hidden library somewhere deep in our interior that holds all those past moments, and that all we have to do is to open the door and pull them off their dusty shelves, to be able to experience them once again. I remember after my partner died, that I, in the midst of my otherworldly experience of grief, imagined the possibility of a place where all of our earthly experiences were stored. Surely there was a place in the universe where all thought, all deeds, all energy that had gone before— was stored? I remember searching the internet and found that indeed there was a mystical, mythological place where all past actions thoughts and deeds were stored. That reassured me. What is it to live and have it all dissolve into nothingness… shouldn’t the accomplishments and energy of past beings remain stored and valuable in past time somehow?
In William Blake’s mythology:
“… Los walks round the walls night and day.
He views the City of Golgonooza, & its smaller Cities:…
And all that has existed in the space of six thousand years:
Permanent, & not lost not lost nor vanishd, & every little act,
Word, work, & wish, that has existed, all remaining still …
Of all the inhabitants of Earth wailing to be Created:
Shadowy to those who dwell not in them, meer possibilities:
But to those who enter into them they seem the only substances
For every thing exists & not one sigh nor smile nor tear,
One hair nor particle of dust, not one can pass away."
To have lived a life as we all do, with current needs and demands can overwhelm us: for me it was specific lines to set in type each day, soup to be made for that night’s dinner, a need to get the laundry in before the rain drenched it… Always a busy-ness, a purpose, which I see now I struggle to resurrect because the purpose has changed so underneath me. Now I have (at least in winter, when it is often too cold to go into my shop) an expanse of time sitting empty before me, which I must fill. What is purpose? “The reason for which something exists or is done” is my dictionary’s definition. Purpose… the emptiness after loss is not easily filled but instead gaps open in an interminable abyss. Perhaps this is what is called the Hero’s Journey, finding one’s way thru Hell and back…I suppose if it were easy then it wouldn’t have been called the Hero’s journey. Indeed this feels like a bleaching… a pleaching of my soul, a carving out of the wood that I am made of.
Regarding that need to search for those lost moments in my life, I feel almost as if, in finding them I could re-live those moments of vitality and immediacy from the past. I could imagine finding them one by one, and re-living them. That ordinary sunny day at lunch, when the cat stretched in the warm southern exposure, that conversation during a long car ride filled with imaginative ideas about future books. I liked having someone to share my day-to-day existence, giving and sharing purpose. So what is my purpose now? I’m not sure anymore, except to maintain, to stay afloat, to keep my head above water until I see the Island in the distance. Glimpses, glimpses …
IN THE DESCENDING QUIET
In the descending quiet
In the unending room
Time releases it’s arrows
If i am to step forward
When will the Sun return.
Last night I saw a map
With details of where and how
To land from a surrounding ocean
It was a remote place
Ready for us
A place that had the remains
Of a crash, hidden deep in its dark forest
The slow process
If I am to step forward
When will the sun return.
The towers of San Gimignano, visible across a half dozen miles of Tuscan landscape were an intriguing sight. We were in Certaldo for an unhurried daytrip from Florence. I remember experiencing a moment when a voice in my head said “why can’t we go there and have that experience,” and I had to wake myself and bring myself back to where I was, knowing that that would have to be saved for another time (which could be a long way off or never). I was on a three week journey in Italy, with visits to the cities of Florence, Genoa, and Venice among others, and as in all travel, one is limited to where one can spend time on any particular trip. The following day, thinking about that moment I again experienced a slight anxiety, as I imagined other travelers arriving in San Gimignano for the afternoon, having planned the perfect trip, from storybook situation to storybook situation. Dreaming of ideal (or perfect) vacations can prevent us from fully living in the world we inhabit.
That day, as that amorphous anxiety descended upon me briefly, contrasting where I was with what I was missing out on or what others were doing, it suddenly gave me the unsettled feeling of not having it as good as others, or that maybe there was this greener place somewhere else…But then just as suddenly as I had these thoughts, a different thought took hold, and it gave way to a feeling of clarity and acceptance, as I realized that this experience at this moment was just as wonderful as some other imagined “better” moment or situation... that resting here and not running after something else was just as satisfactory as some “perfect” other, as yet to be found, moment.
The habitual questioning of our lives and the need to compete with an imagined better reality is such a common experience… “is this the vacation experience I had dreamed of” …”yes, but is it the best view?” That moment of doubt and envy, of comparing the place or experience (or even person) that we imagine we could possess, that we create within our mind, which is never quite like what really happens to us, robs us of our present happiness. Just walking in a city street and noticing architectural details or in the woods and seeing the simple yet magnificent beauty of the fragile yellow leaves, or a hilltop panorama of a sky full of linear moving clouds, or even time spent with a loved one is an experience as impressive as any, if we are able to see it. In fact every moment contains that potential.
I remember thinking that this comparison of our expectations to our reality happens to each one of us, even to those perfect travelers, who found the perfect place, on the perfect afternoon, in an Italian hill town. That they were very likely having the same experience as I was, of wondering what some other experience just out of reach could have been like. Luckily my unsettled feelings dissolved, as I realized that there is no perfect place, or situation, and that this is true for everyone, even those on the exclusive tours or in expensive surroundings. Real life is full of bumps and bruises, good and bad times, full of imperfect, normal moments, and it is in those imperfect normal moments that we can really feel alive to our life, knowing that it is part of the tactile fabric of all things.
I think that we can also go to this place of expectations regarding our emotional lives. I find myself wishing that I had a more open heart at times. Yet wishing to be emotionally perfect may be the same thing as wishing for other circumstances. Therefore when we find ourselves either berating ourselves for not doing something well, or not responding the way we would have wished, perhaps we should remind ourselves that we may be looking at some far distant illusion, and that the reality of this present moment is good, good enough for now, good enough to be considered progress, so that we can feel at home where we are and in what we are doing, and not expect ourselves to be somewhere else.
LOST IN THE WAVES
I know that place
Of being lost in the waves
Where time and purpose
It is blue/green there
Surrounded by walls of my own making
Fringed with wisps
Of salted ocean lace
Keeping the world at bay.
Whole days I can escape there
As if it were a place
Where I could hide
Where only the warm sun could find me,
Could cradle me, from the world
Where nothing changed
But the beat of my heart.
This week I had a dream in which I encountered several mirrors. This led me to contemplate the meaning of Reflection…and what that word may encompass? When we reflect, we pause to understand the reasons, cause, effect or results of something…we examine or “turn things over” in our mind at length, until we understand it. But we are also a source of reflection. Every day, knowingly or unknowingly, we reflect the status of our inner life and attitude to others and ourselves.
The Latin word for "mirror" is "speculum," which originally meant scanning the sky. When we speculate, we scan the future for hints of what will come. We speculate about our prospects of getting a new job, on the results of a relationship, or on the outcome of a presidency. That state of reflection upon certain sets of circumstances is fed by our own fears and motivations. Even if we want the job, or the relationship, we can find ways to undermine or spoil its prospects if we keep focusing on the negative, instead of actively participating in building something stable through small efforts.
We have to want to succeed, want to receive, want to find happiness… but when we anticipate too much—either good or bad, are we perhaps failing to allow things to simply unfold? Just as our thoughts can and do reflect back at us our interior nature … likewise our reactions to events and people give us clues to the state of our being. Are we angry, disappointed, or resentful when things don’t go our way? Or can we not be as attached to our need for a particular outcome?
The word “consideration” is derived from sidus, a Latin word for star or constellation. So to use con-sider-ation is to view the stars as a whole unit. When we pause to consider the sum total of our life as a whole unit, we can look back at our accomplishments and apparent failures, seeing the path of learning that we have been traveling on thus far. Such contemplation, the looking back as if through a mirror, at all the things we did or didn’t do, at all the times we passed or failed our own life “tests,” (and what we may have learned in the process) enables us to step back in time as if through Alice’s looking glass, to pass through to the other side momentarily where we can see and learn from the past, and adjust our sails for the present and future journey, based on the power of those revelations.
Mirrors intrinsically reflect things at their most essential nature. They have appeared in myths and fairytales, as a way of revealing something hidden or disguised. Narcissus peering into a mirror-like surface perhaps symbolically represented the potential seeking or discovery of the universal or subconscious self.
Jungians such as ML von Franz see the mirror as a threshold between the conscious and the unconscious. The depths of water are not visible and so are symbolic of the depths of our unconscious. It seems our dreams shimmer on the surface of those depths, reflecting through the earth’s pools and bodies of water
human consciousness itself.
The magic nature of the mirror reflects all things in and of the universe, as in the story of Indra’s net—the Indian myth of innumerable mirrors at all the junctures of a fishing net—holding together, reflecting back and bonding each and every thing. This quality of reflection works not only individually but culturally as well. We can reflect on historical errors and past missteps, such as genocide or all unjust wars. Such great evil reflects back our darker side. (I have been watching many movies on the subject of the Holocaust and see new tendencies toward its roots of hatred, rising up through our current needy and difficult times.) We all carry with us the potential for both good and evil action, the light and the dark of the mirror. Ask yourself: what is holier, the holiness of the saint or the holiness of the common within us all? Essentially it all comes down to what we invite in, and what we reflect back.
What is the nature of our self—what do our hearts and conscience see when it is reflected in the mirror of our lives and time on earth? Our reflection, that image we see as if gazing in a mirror…showing our actions, our life history, our thoughts, reflects back both the good and bad sides of ourselves. The value of reflection, as we pause to really look at our actions and inhabit them is in finding ways to seize on, or even just simply to become aware of and notice, the more positive things we do, thus strengthening our more positive potential. We may thus fend off letting our dark or shadow side take over our reflection and with it our self. If we seek to open rather than close down, if we have embraced kindness rather than meanness, if we have sought participation in expansive, caring practices or only sought self fulfillment at all costs…these inner reflections have worth insofar as we are changed by them even in small ways, for in reflection small positive things can expand the heart, and with it the universe.
Julia Ferrari April 26, 2017
After having a dream of mirrors.
Recently I’ve been reminded of the power of fear—our collective and our individual fears: of moving forward, of the unknown, of change. Trauma in life hits us with such unexpected force, catching us unaware or unprepared and sometimes leaving us seemingly incapable of dealing with the after effects: the path ahead, the new normal. Are there ways we can steer ourselves ahead within a state of uncertainty, and still manage to steady ourselves (and others) without putting the brakes on and abandoning our reality? Can we take small steps forward and even watch our potent reactions and aversions to our circumstances?
Life hits us, life hurts. … it can’t be avoided. Sometimes our physical selves just want to stop us from moving on. Armies within us who want to protect us cry out, we panic, we cry, we can’t breathe, we face what seems like the end of the world … we step on the brakes…
Even so, after repeated harsh blows in life we can choose to automatically put up walls to protect ourselves from pain, thus avoiding any chance of undergoing such discomfort again or stretch to step into the unknown without letting the fear stop us. It is our nature to protect ourselves from pain, yet by putting up walls in protection, do we not distance ourselves from who we truly are...sentient beings capable of feeling? When we allow something to get through, allow our deeper selves to be touched by circumstances (as we see in the innocence of children) we allow ourselves to experience the freshness and aliveness of our choice—to react or not, to become overwhelmed or not, to have compassion or not.
Facing the worry
Facing the wall
I pace back and forth
Back and forth
Worrying about the dust, the goddamned dust
Covering the unused places
That once grew life
It’s all in me
The deeper fears
And I can’t quite see the reason for it
This body, my physical body
Has dug in its heels
Has said “enough”
“This is what I cannot do.”
Then lifting my head to the west I see the clouds over the river
Beginning to move over the land toward the light
Their colors like jewels in a hair clasp
All silver and topaz and gold,
Telling me that it’s all on its way
Moving as it should
A part of the process
And my heart lifts with the light
“This is what I cannot do
But maybe, just maybe,
this is what I can.”
poem copyright J. Ferrari, 2016
After a Fire Puja
I recently had the opportunity to take part in a Fire Puja, a Buddhist offering ceremony. It was on a quiet damp day and it made me think about the contrast of what we get mired in, in our lives and how that becomes on one level very real, yet how it is also illusion. Letting go of those patterns we hang onto is not easy. They in some way seem to hold us together, and make us what we are — but to see through all that stumbling around — to simply see that what surrounds us and challenges us is a gift (one that will be here for a short time) is a powerful way to approach life. One of those gifts are all the people we love in this life, and to all degrees — from our parents (which can be a love/hate relationship for some), to our friends, to our heart partners — whether they be companions, lovers or marriage partners… all those who we have been lucky enough to meet, and learn from … and to stretch a bit, that also includes the difficult people in our lives, (such as the mad, tree-cutting neighbor) i.e. those hardest to like, let alone love...kind of like a reverse kick, propelling us into a new perspective.
So how do we begin again? How do we let all the baggage drop and accept without fear what life is offering us? Perhaps by watching for the small things … taking baby steps when we’re overwhelmed, not denying the joy in life, not clinging to things because “that’s just the way we’ve always done it,”... just breathing in and starting over.
PS To Myself
Take the time to look,
As the wind rises
To blow your prayers away
In a swirl of grey-blue smoke
Curling over the land’s edges
Where all things begin again
Take the time to breathe
As the soft rain fills your senses
To dampen this empty field
And moisten your dry, parched heart
When do we see
That all this struggle is just
Our feet getting stuck in the sand
Instead of a choice—
To simply watch as the spirits and beasts
Their eyes closed gently,
Stand at the edge of the wood.
A QUIET RAIN FALLS
We finally got some cumulative rainfall in New England, a downpour, and the day before, a quiet rain overnight. This is needed here for the crops to grow … that slow penetration of water, to mingle and make available the soil nutrients, then sun to warm and energize. I think about how our lives are no different. The essential self is affected by our environment of growing up, just as the wind or drought will affect seedlings. I think that none of us come through childhood or life without those difficult events that begin to shape us. Whether we are presented with the deeply challenging circumstances of thoughtless or hurtful people, significant loss, or consistently unstable, undesirable events, environments or conditions, all these things take the developing self and place restrictions and encumbered shackles upon it. I have come to believe that since most of us go thru this (to differing degrees) that it is actually our opportunity for growth being laid out for our lifetime. I would even go so far as to say that it is perhaps our map (in a reverse way) to finding our way back to wholeness and happiness.
Recently I’ve experienced this type of restricting mindset in my day-to-day life, as I have found myself impossibly behind, trying to catch up to a life that was on hold for the last few years, as I passed through the resolution of grief. I found myself in a repeating thought process: that I’d never get caught up, never get things done, never get everything back to a functioning whole, to a new normal… then one day recently I saw that if I did one thing a day, one thing at a time, that eventually things would get done… not quickly necessarily, not finished tomorrow, but projects begun, things in their proper places, un-needed items given away etc. I saw that it was my thoughts that were holding me back, keeping me stuck.
I have heard it said that we over estimate what we can get done in the short term (for instance, in one day) and that we under estimate what we can get done in the long term, (over a few months to a year or more). This idea has helped me to open my mind to pull away from the restrictions and fears that I carry around with me—some of which go all the way back to my youth.
As we all know, change is inevitable: we may not want it to happen, but it will happen in spite of us. In fact, if we freeze in the face of necessary change, the choices will be made for us, and they may not be what we could have chosen. It’s hard to change ourselves. Perhaps as we each struggle through our own path toward change, I’d encourage the letting go of the absolutes that hold us in place, allowing us to begin to see what happens as we allow the nourishing rain of new possibility into our hearts, to warm the soil of our future selves.
A BOX FULL
I found a box full
Of the possibilities I once was
The fettered and unformed youth,
Whose past held a future undiscovered
Are we the sum of our trinkets?
Empty picture frames & nail files
Marking moments of dawn to dusk
Before one moment that divides the rest
How the heart grows through sorrow
How each and every thing that gets piled up
Gets taken away
And so I sort thru boxes, photos, mementoes
Little things that seemed important
Lifetimes in substance
Yet all of this matters not
For now I carry all my treasures within
Gather up the life
And give it away.
© Julia Ferrari, 2016
One hundred and twenty six years
Feb 28, 2016
Tonight after a full day inside with a cold. I did manage to walk up to the covered bridge in town and a bit beyond, and as I came back in the darkness the lights on the bridge reminded me of the image of the nineteenth century photo I found of the covered bridge as seen from the road I was walking down, one hundred and twenty six years ago. It was that photo that I chose to use when I designed the poster for my envisioned International school of Typography & Letters, exactly 3 February’s ago, the winter after my partner, Dan Carr died. In the poster, the sky above the bridge is distributed with letters like stars, falling all around … an atmosphere of potential, and the few words on it propelled out of me with a propitious vision and hope. That winter I was more alone than I’d been in forty years, alone here in this place where all my surroundings reflected the life I’d previously lived, in happiness and sorrow, making a life of printing books by hand with my partner ... Taking me from a youth who, believing in the impossible, stepped out into an unlikely journey, to a full grown “living the impossible”—life. I was one with my life and work, living the dream.
What I didn’t have to do was to actually start over, not yet, as I was allowed the privilege of time that is sometimes allowed to those of us who have lost something great. It is only now, with a pang of urgency that I struggle with the movement of time and my task to resurrect my craft and work and my subsequent feelings of inability or lack of surety in my capability to take this “ship” ahead. So my byword or ready phrase should be “steady as she goes” as I put one big toe out then another in each new unknowable endeavour. The big things that I know I have to do, that I’m having trouble with now, are twofold. It is bringing a intensive retreat style workshop here for an unknown, untested session that I’ve pictured and structured in some detail, revolving around the act of using the body in craft to set letterpress text combined with words and musical improvisation—and the eventual starting of a new book project. Since I wasn’t completely stubbed out back then, when one would have expected it, I am struggling now with a delayed effect —my belief in myself. Therefore, as the contemporary British composer, Anna Meredith said recently about her newest endeavors:—
“I have to believe in it fully … moving the goalposts as you reach them … you always have to feel as if there’s work to do or stuff to be done … (with commission work) there’s a deadline, players are going to be waiting, a concert’s been booked… and there’s an element of just going ‘ah, fuck it’. But with Varmints’, (her own new work) … I’ve done a bit less ‘fuck it’ than usual because this is my thing so I’m accountable — … for me doing a self starting thing to this scale is quite big in terms of the time and the commitment that you put towards something that nobody’s asked for and nobody’s paid for.…I’m putting myself under quite a lot of pressure, but I sort of have to: if I want to do it, this is the way you do it…, I could never have lived with myself if I hadn’t made it (Varmints) … Anyway, a bit of self-doubt can be quite healthy …”*
*Anna Meredith, Loud and Quiet 74 (Vol. 3) 2016
In terms of good fortune (which I feel I have never lost despite the deep trauma of loss) I have had several providential occurrences come to grace my door. Certainly Kwan Yin came pouring her vase of mercy onto my feet, growing her groves of willow trees here. My newfound friends from the grief world have never ceased to rally round me when I need an ear or a presence to cheer me. And my community of book arts people are regularly helpful when asked, open and understanding of me when I call to discuss a problem with the ink rollers, helping to make needed printing plates, discuss business ideas or recently, offering to come look over a manuscript and discuss the course of a new book. New friends have accepted me and made a place for me at their table. Providential too has been the startling discovery that my heart is not dead, even though it was crushed and pulverized. The opening to newness of getting to know another unique and intelligent person, who finds me interesting to talk to, letting me into their life even a little, is unexpected. I keep having to check my heart and pulse at the door, to see if I am still breathing. And even though I have found that the unexpected can be sometimes quite frightening, when I am frightened I can isolate and focus some of that fear down my arm into my hand, where I press my fingernails hard into my palms, waking me up, calming me down, as newness spills into newness, at an astonishing pace. For you see so much has changed in the world, and so much has not, and I am on that frontier again without wishing for it, steady as she goes.
“There comes a moment in life when the dead outnumber the living.”
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
I recently watched as a charming old house was torn down in my village. Houses like lives, taken down, demolished— no more … so I began to think about what remains of the structure of a life that was built? Each path from birth thru life to death…what is built? and where does it accumulate, and to what end? This forging of the life-force within us is a part of the spiraling movement of our lives where we are given the choice to make from our circumstances (no matter how bleak) something that makes sense or strengthens us (and the invisible energy or force of light we carry) or to deviate away from what makes us whole. I wonder, is darkness the pervading state of existence into which we arrive and to which we exit? … the womb to the ground, with the in-between lit by our ability or lack of it to open our hearts to compassion and let go of the hard walls separating us from others. Those we love are here one day and literally, gone the next and what remains is what the heart contains, the moments when we succeeded or failed to be present to that person and those circumstances. Life appears to be everlasting but like a fragrance is here only while it is here and returns in memory, a brief glimpse of what was.
It is hard to be present with the now—with what is current, yet as I write or speak these words about the past, I need to be careful not to miss the present. All the same opportunities are here again: to open my heart (to love and therefore its opposite, pain); to embrace the moments that I am being given—(as unique, wonderful and deep as what I’ve lost); and to allow myself to find life again, despite fear and uncertainty. The risk of being vulnerable to life, of exposing myself to hurt, rejection, or ultimate loss again, of the things I love, is piercingly frightful but filled with the other possibilities as well—the other side of chance—joy, acceptance, and the gathering in and experiencing of all that I thought was gone forever…
All the Doors of This Life Stand Open
All the doors of this life stand open
And I breathe in this comforting dark
Perceive glimmers of silver reflecting
Off polished floors in quiet hallways
Moving like music once heard & never forgotten
I trust whatever is mine will come
As I move beyond the two directions
Of past and future
Where all that I am is the stillness of now.
While the wind lifts its branches, scattering,
The light of the moon begins to surround the night
And my heart races to touch
The familiar corners of this luminous dusk.
Poem © Julia Ferrari
12/9/15-Jan 28, 2016