For a Lifetime

The March 18th, 1998, entry from from Ted Kooser’s Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Poems to Jim Harrison, a day the poet, writing from Nebraska, notes as being gusty and warm:

I saw the season’s first bluebird
this morning, one month ahead
of its scheduled arrival. Lucky I am
to go off to my cancer appointment
having been given a bluebird, and,
for a lifetime, having been given
this world.

I didn’t even know this book existed a month ago and reading it has felt a bit life changing. Beautiful.

Books & Beer in Missoula

This one is for Missoula area folks who check in here. This Saturday (October 21st) I’ll be at Imagine Nation Brewing — one of my favorites — from 5 PM to 8 PM participating in an event called Books & Beer. It’s in support of the Awake in the World anthology I have an essay in. Basically, you come hang out with us (I think a couple other contributors will be on hand, as well as Daniel Rice from Riverfeet Press, who published it), and if you buy a copy of the book you get a free beer. Fact & Fiction will be on hand selling the book. I remain on a mission to sell at least 50 of these things and I’m a little over halfway there. If successful, the book has a shot at making the top 10 in sales for the store for the year, and that would be awesome.

Unassailable Dignity

From The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen:

On the school veranda, Jang-bu and Phu-Tsering build a fire to dry sleeping bags, which are turned each little while by Dawa and Gyaltsen. Like all sherpa work, this is offered and accomplished cheerfully, and usually Tukten lends a hand, although such help is not expected of the porters and he is not paid for it. The sherpas are alert for ways in which to be of use, yet are never insistent, far less servile; since they are paid to perform a service, why not do it as well as possible? “Here, sir! I will wash the mud!” “I carry that, sir!” As GS says, “When the going gets rough, they take care of you first.” Yet their dignity is unassailable, for the service is rendered for its own sake — it is the task, not the employer, that is served. As Buddhists, they know that the doing matters more than the attainment or reward, that to serve in this selfless way is to be free.

“It is the task, not the employer, that is served.” I love that. I know I will read wonderful books in the future, but I don’t know that I will ever read a better book than this one.

The Mind Does Not Like To Be Alone With Itself

Writer Brooke Williams visited Fact & Fiction last week as part of the tour in support of his new book, Open Midnight: Where Ancestors and Wilderness Meet. It was an interesting discussion and I enjoyed it immensely. One particular topic piqued my attention the most: hermits. I wish I could remember the specifics, but Brooke mentioned something about reclusive Chinese poets (part of his talk was about his recent trip to China, which is another discussion entirely) and how someone had mentioned that one of the interesting things about America is we really don’t have a tradition of hermits who are important contributors to our culture. That’s kind of a hamfisted way to put it — fault for that being entirely my own — but that was the gist of it.

That discussion led me to finally reading The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Bozeman author Michael Finkel. Here’s a short synopsis of what it’s about:

“This is the fascinating true story of Christopher Knight, who lived in the Maine woods for 27 years and survived by stealing supplies from vacation cabins while living in extreme conditions to avoid detection. After more than 1,000 burglaries, he was finally caught and partially reintegrated into society. His story is told together with the history of hermits and those who have sought solitude in order to have insight. Chris defies psychological profiling, and it’s amazing Finkel was even able to interview him to write this book. This level of solitude would drive most people insane, but for Chris, it seems like an almost pure contemplative state. An excellent read.”

— Todd Miller, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI

I found this book fascinating. I was also mildly surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, with the number of personality traits I share with its subject, Christopher Knight. In particular, this passage struck me:

A large majority of men, and twenty-five percent of women, a University of Virginia study found, would rather subject themselves to mild electric shocks than do nothing but sit quietly with their thoughts for fifteen minutes. Unless you are a trained meditator, the study’s authors concluded, the “mind does not like to be alone with itself.”

That boggles my mind. I’m no “trained” meditator, though my morning practice is one of my favorite parts of the day. Beyond that, though, I bet I sit with my own thoughts for spans of fifteen minutes or more multiple times a day. I find as I’ve gotten older, silence is my preferred state. I rarely listen to music anymore. The list goes on. I’ve never considered myself particularly unusual for that, but perhaps I am. Particularly among men, it would seem.

I love quiet. I love the ambient sounds of the world uninterrupted by human-introduced noise. I love solitude. I’m convinced I could live perhaps not entirely secluded, but far more than I am now. I think I would thrive in that environment.

Brooke Williams said he too was fascinated with the idea of hermits, and that might be the subject of his next book. If that is the case, I await it with enthusiasm.

Friday Reads: The “It’s What Goats Do” Edition

From the “Fabrication and Impermanence” chapter of What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse:

Consider cooking a hen’s egg. Without constant change, the cooking of an egg cannot occur. The cooked-egg result requires some fundamental causes and conditions. Obviously you need an egg, a pot of water, and some sort of heating element. And then there are some not-so-essential causes and conditions, such as a kitchen, lights, an egg timer, a hand to put the egg into the pot. Another important condition is absence of interruption, such as a power outage or a goat walking in and overturning the pot.

I love that last line. Freakin’ goats….