Reminders to be myself

A couple of weeks ago, I found this poem. It brought me tears and the greatest feeling of freedom. I don’t usually think of myself as a big poetry person, but I felt compelled to type this one up and post it on the wall right by my computer. Throughout the day my eyes will turn to it and the words will touch me all over again.

Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

The poem immediately made me think of Kimber’s workshop, especially the lines “You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves.” I asked Kimber about it, and found out it is one of her all-time favorite poems and she actually had it in the lesson plan for that day’s workshop, only we ran out of time to read it.

O Magazine Cover

The Poetry Issue, April 2011

A few days ago, I was reading the latest issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. As it turned out, it was a poetry issue, and the main story was an interview between Maria Shriver and the very poet I’d just fallen in love with, Mary Oliver — who apparently gives interviews and public appearances only rarely. The universe makes such lovely connections! I hadn’t known anything about Mary Oliver prior to reading the interview, and now I know that she is 75 years old and was recently inspired (after hearing Eve Ensler speak) to become even braver in her work. It was a beautiful and lengthy interview, accompanied by gorgeous photos, and Shriver’s favorite Oliver poem, “The Journey.”

I really love reading artist interviews. Some are more interesting than others, of course, but I devour the good ones as if they were cake… or garlic bread. 😉 I especially love hearing about everyone’s different ways of being and of creating. I need so much constant reassurance that my way is okay; it really helps me to read that others who’ve “made it” also do things their own way and it works for them. It reminds me that there are as many ways of art-making as there are artists, so there’s no need to compare myself to anyone. I still do assume, far too often, that there’s only one way to be an artist. (My powerful self-declaration of yesterday is only a recent development!) So it gives me immense hope whenever I find out that artists I admire don’t fit into that mold. It sounds stupid, but it blew my mind to read Cancer Vixen and see that a shoe-loving girly girl can be a professional cartoonist. Up until then I had thought my love for fashion was incompatible with being a “serious” artist. And it equally blew my mind that Oliver says she tries to only think about good things while she’s writing, and that she doesn’t seek out fame at all. Her interview gave the impression of a life lived in a singularly individual fashion, and I eat that up.

(Also: I was going to post this poem two weeks ago, when I discovered it, but it didn’t feel like a complete entry. So I shelved it, but chastised myself for starting something and not finishing it. Then when I found the O interview, I was so thankful I’d waited, because now I could round out the entry with the stuff about the magazine interview. Reminder to self: don’t beat yourself up over things left undone. Sometimes there is a good reason that you don’t know yet.)