Uitwaaien is a Dutch word which means to take a brief break in the countryside to clear one's head. It literally translates as “to take a walk in the wind.” (Pronounced as out-vye-in)
I don't know about you guys but uitwaaien sounds really good right now. I had a terrible last few days, one that started with me crying at a train station in the rain, to spending Thursday evening inside a friend's car while we drove around a couple of blocks because it was too cold and I couldn't remember where I had parked my car.
I kept reminding myself to just let go, there will always be miserable and angry people who will treat others badly, and I can't do anything about that. To focus on gratitude and what brings me joy instead.
Spending time by the ocean, climbing up and down sand dunes, whilst watching the last of the sun disappear on the horizon. Hanging out next to a little greenhouse, thinking about my mom, and how much I miss her rooftop garden filled with all kinds of tropical plants. Taking inspiration from Jane Eyre, and these lines.
One of my best friends sending a hilarious photo of someone we both love, with a subject line that says: "To get through a sucky day, you just need to grasp at anything that can make you smile."
And some days, it works.
Hello friends! It's been awhile, a lot has happened in-between, I feel like I'm barely keeping myself afloat these days. Sometimes I'm so overwhelmed all I could do is drive somewhere beautiful so I can take pictures and forget about the craziness, if only for moment (hence the frequent updates on my Instagram). Though it doesn't go away, it does help some. As do binge-watching Sherlock and The Hollow Crown, or running to my neighborhood bookstore at 9 in the evening to pick up a book, even if I have stacks of unread ones on my nightstand.
I guess the one good thing about all this is how desperately I've been clinging on to words, as if they are my lifeline. One night, I spent hours writing down a rough sketch of my manuscript, and demolished the first chapters that I worked so hard for months. When I finally came up with a beginning chapter that I was satisfied with, it felt like I had won a battle. Of course, it's not always like this, and life is so hectic that I barely even have time to write. But I do find myself reaching for passages from books that I love, reciting poetry I know by heart, even certain phrases from prayers I memorized when I was young.
Here is a poem that especially speaks to me now. It reminds me of the main characters of the story I'm writing, of myself, and life in general:
by Richard Wilbur
(listen to audio)
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.
I really love the metaphor of the dazed starling in this poem, because that's how I often feel lately. But I'm also very hopeful that just like this starling, I too will find the right window, and 'clear the sill of the world'.
(Photo above is a screencap of Jo March, one of my favorite fictional characters, from the film adaptation of Little Women)
I had a really long meeting today and was so exhausted when I left work but as soon as I stepped out of our building, I saw the gorgeous sky in the distance, and reminded myself that the ocean is just 20-some blocks away, I could still drive there and catch the last light. And I did.
I only stayed for a little while but it was enough to give me a space to breathe. Just a few minutes, in a place that you love, is all. Took a photograph for you, because it was too lovely, and I wish you could have seen it.
And here is another inspiration for the day: Nabokov's words, a gorgeous facsimile from a poem in Pale Fire. I haven't read this novel yet but I've always found comfort in his prose, and this one is no exception. I love the part about his eyes taking photographs because that is what I aspire to do as a writer -- take mental pictures of a moment, and later, try to recreate it with words, as truthfully as possible.
All colors made me happy: even gray.
My eyes were such that literally they
Took photographs. Whenever I'd permit,
Or, with a silent shiver, order it,
Whatever in my field of vision dwelt--
An indoor scene, hickory leaves, the svelte
Stilettos of a frozen stillicide--
Was printed on my eyelids' nether side
Where it would tarry for an hour or two,
And while this lasted all I had to do
Was close my eyes...
-- Vladimir Nabokov, from "Pale Fire: A Poem in Four Cantos by John Shade"
Last Saturday, it rained for the first time in weeks. It wasn't the heavy rain we had longed for, to counter California's lingering drought, but it was much welcomed nonetheless. I met up with an old friend, a fellow Capricorn, whom I haven't seen in a long time, and we had coffee and brunch to celebrate our birthdays. We also went to one of my favorite places in the city, the backyard garden at the General Store, and its lovely little greenhouse.
This greenhouse just makes me so happy. But it was especially magical that morning, surrounded with twinkling fairy lights and misty rain on the windowpanes. If I wasn't feeling cold, I could have stayed there longer, just watching the rain.
I decided to treat myself for my birthday and spent a long time mulling over which item to buy, since I pretty much want everything in the General Store. In the end, I picked a beautiful hand painted mug by LA-based artists Kat and Roger (you can see photos of their pieces here). It may have been a bit of a splurge but it is also something that I will take delight in using everyday, when I drink my coffee or tea, and a reminder to surround myself with the things that I love.
I always pick a poem to welcome the new year, and for the past week I've been gathering some pieces, but none of them felt right. Then I read this poem and I instantly knew it is the one. I love its quiet sureness, how simple and profound it is at the same time. The first four lines really touched me to the core. (You can listen to the audio here).
All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning
-- W.S. Merwin, from The Shadow of Sirius
I was first introduced to W.S. Merwin through reading his translations of Pablo Neruda's poetry when I was still in college. Although he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice (1971 and 2009), he is one of the lesser read poets of our generation. I'm really looking forward to reading and sharing his poetry this year. Also, I found out from his interview for The Kenyon Review, that every line in Rain Light is composed of nine syllables. Isn't that amazing?
“Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”
― Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea
On the first day of 2014, I wrote a postcard to myself from Half Moon Bay. I simply wrote how I felt in that moment, how luminous the light was, how the ocean was so majestic, it seemed as though it contained everything that is good and true in this world. I wanted to remember that day and remind myself to be present, and to always hold dear those that are important to me.
I didn't make any resolutions but main wish for this new year is this: to take better care of myself. I tend to do so many things all at once, and try to be there for everyone, I often forget that my body needs to rest, too. (Most especially, sleep!)
So yes, here's to a year of being kinder to ourselves, in all ways that matter.