On Introspection

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“My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery – always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What’s this passion for?” Virginia Woolf

There are a few reasons I haven’t written here lately. I’ve been working on long-form pieces to submit elsewhere for publication. The dark and cold months of winter have left me feeling sluggish and I’ve had to relinquish any unnecessary demands and just be OK with that. Also though, I’ve grown a little tired of reflection and introspection.

On Friday morning, I had a new mom friend over for tea. After we spent some time in conversation, she said, “You live your life so thoughtfully. I just kind of go along!” to which I replied something like, “Trust me, I’m exhausted!  I wish I could just go along…”

I carefully chose the subheading of this blog, “A close reading of the everyday” because I feel that’s what I do with each day. I don’t just live it—I try to extract meaning from it. English Lit majors are taught to do this—look for meaning and symbolism everywhere in a text (even if what they come up with was never the author’s intention). We are all meaning-hungry creatures, and the poet-minded are the worst. T.S. Eliot put it this way:

“When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet these experiences are always forming new wholes.”

As a writer, I feel like I carry an invisible basket around. In it I deposit newborn ideas, quotations, other pieces of writing, stories and words. While they’re in there, some of them find each other and become the skeleton, the bones of a piece ready for its flesh—its incarnation. Sometimes though, I tire of this close reading, of looking up the etymology of another word, or ruminating on every possible symbol or connection. Sometimes it feels like I’m holding life by the throat, strangling it with my own introspection, holding it behind locked doors for questioning like a criminal. Sometimes, it would be nice just to “go along.”

On Saturday, we had a simple day. In the warmer temperatures, we took a two mile walk, followed by a visit to another town’s library. Browsing the new nonfiction section as I usually do to make sure I miss nothing, I stumbled into new poetry and pulled out a new compilation of Mary Oliver’s poems called “Devotion.”

I have to admit, I haven’t ever checked out a book of Mary Oliver poems, partly because she was so popular, and also partly because the few I had read seemed rather simple. I usually prefer more concentrated poems that really have to be unpacked to be understood. But another writer I respect a lot, Parker Palmer, just keeps sharing them so I was drawn to her new collection. Sitting in the library reading through poem after poem—something that one can’t do with the denser work I usually gravitate towards—I discovered the beauty in her simple, digestible words. In her words, she marveled at life, rather than holding it in a chokehold. Instead of tying intricate knots, she untied them and let them loose.

One of them, about her dog called Percy, reflected my own desire to rest from introspection and close readings of life, not only in its form, but also in its content, and I wanted to share it here:

PERCY (NINE)

Your friend is coming I say
To Percy, and name a name

And he runs to the door, his
Wide mouth in its laugh-shape,

And waves, since he has one, his tail.
Emerson, I am trying to live,

As you said we must, the examined life.
But there are days I wish

There was less in my head to examine,
Not to speak of the busy heart.  How

Would it be to be Percy, I wonder, not
Thinking, not weighing anything, just running forward.

I too, would like less in my head to examine. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other: an examined life or just the running forward.  Both are valuable and have their place. Living mind-fully, not mind-achingly. The counterpart and the balm to so much thinking is the creating. The dangerous thing to do would be to keep consuming ideas and thoughts without molding them into something to offer up on a consistent basis. With that said, I’m going to aim for more consistency here, not less. I will share a shorter thought/writing here every Tuesday.

What about you? Are you living the examined life or just running forward? Do you need to make an adjustment to keep things balanced and healthy? 

Photo credit: Nicole Crystal- You can follow Bowie on Instagram at doodnamedbowie.

 

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8 thoughts on “On Introspection”

  1. I am one to run forward constantly. Even when I have a moment to examine I forget what I’ve thought of and continue running forward. The constant running can also have its woeful introspections albeit short-lived. Thanks for sharing! Always good to hear another human being’s thoughts 🙂

  2. “Living mind-fully, not mind-achingly.” Love it. Good thoughts! But I don’t want to think about them too much.

    My problem is putting thoughts to rest – or having them keep me up or even wake me up. For example, last night an idea for a poem came to me just as I crawled into bed. Then, some images – and nicely turned phrases – some internal rhymes – then an angle I really liked. After 30 minutes of trying to put off thinking about it anymore and trying to convince myself that it was not worth getting up, I finally did. And I wrote it in a few minutes. I haven’t looked at it since then, and probably won’t for a while. Time will tell if it was worth all that.

    My muse needs to get on my time zone.

    1. Haha, yeah, don’t think about it too much. I think the ideas at night thing is just going to happen because we get the best ideas when we’re doing things unconsciously- like driving, walking, showering, or in a state between asleep and awake. Maybe keep your phone nearby and dictate it into the voice notes section. I do this esp. when I’m walking. I have about 90 voice notes though and then I have to go back and listen to them and figure out what the heck I was talking about! So, maybe not that.

  3. Most days I’m just running forward, though I find myself longing to be more mindful. Even pausing to read your blog helps me slow down and examine what goes on a little more carefully. I feel like a lot of it stays in my mind though… so maybe finding ways to express what I have processed and hopefully create something with it?

    1. You’re so right Christina. Thanks for making that important point. Creating helps me, but maybe I also need to really put the thoughts I process to use in my everyday life. Thanks for reading!

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