marriage

The Impeded Stream

Excerpts from "Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms" by Wendell Berry:

Form, crudely or stupidly used, may indeed be inimical to freedom. Well used, it may be the means of earning freedom, the price of admission or permission, the enablement to be free. But the connection may be even closer, more active and interesting, than that; it may be that form, strictly kept, enforces freedom. The form can be fulfilled only by a kind of abandonment to hope and to possibility, to unexpected gifts. The argument for freedom is not an argument against form. Form, like topsoil (which is intricately formal), empowers time to do good.

Properly used, a verse form, like a marriage, creates impasses, which the will and present understanding can solve only arbitrarily and superficially. These halts and difficulties do not ask for immediate remedy; we fail them by making emergencies of them. They ask, rather, for patience, forbearance, inspirationthe gifts and graces of time, circumstance, and faith. They are, perhaps, the true occasions of the poem; occasions for surpassing what we know or have reason to expect. They are points of growth, like the axils of leaves. Writing in a set form, rightly understood, is anything but force and predetermination. One puts down the first line of the pattern in trust that life and language are abundant enough to complete it. Rightly understood, a set form prescribes its restraint to the poet, not to the subject. 

Marriage too is an attempt to rhyme, to bring two different liveswithin the one life of their troth and householdperiodically into agreement or consent. The two lives stray apart necessarily, and by consent come together again: to "feel together," to "be of the same mind." Difficult virtues are again necessary. And failure, permanent failure, is possible. But it is this possibility of failure, together with the formal bounds, that turns us back from fantasy, wishful thinking, and self-pity into the real terms and occasions of our lives.  

It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.


Berry, W. (1983). Standing by words: Essays. San Francisco: North Point Press. (library, Amazon.com)

Worse or Better

"The Bed Song": from Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra's album, 'Theatre Is Evil,' get the track FOR FREE / NAME YOUR PRICE at AmandaPalmer.net: http://bit.ly/AFPshop

video script/concept written by amanda palmer. 
directed by Michael McQuilken http://www.qmotionpictures.com
produced by Jennifer Harrison Newman. Filmed on location at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College on August 22-24, 2012 as part of a Live Arts Bard residency. 

Because

Matthew Olzmann from Art X Detroit on Vimeo.

Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem
by Matthew Olzmann, from Rattle #31, Summer 2009

Here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why our marriage
might work: Because you wear pink but write poems
about bullets and gravestones. Because you yell
at your keys when you lose them, and laugh,
loudly, at your own jokes. Because you can hold a pistol,
gut a pig. Because you memorize songs, even commercials
from thirty years back and sing them when vacuuming.
You have soft hands. Because when we moved, the contents
of what you packed were written inside the boxes.
Because you think swans are overrated.
Because you drove me to the train station. You drove me
to Minneapolis. You drove me to Providence.
Because you underline everything you read, and circle
the things you think are important, and put stars next
to the things you think I should think are important,
and write notes in the margins about all the people
you’re mad at and my name almost never appears there.
Because you make that pork recipe you found
in the Frida Kahlo Cookbook. Because when you read
that essay about Rilke, you underlined the whole thing
except the part where Rilke says love means to deny the self
and to be consumed in flames. Because when the lights
are off, the curtains drawn, and an additional sheet is nailed
over the windows, you still believe someone outside
can see you. And one day five summers ago,
when you couldn’t put gas in your car, when your fridge
was so empty—not even leftovers or condiments—
there was a single twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew,
which you paid for with your last damn dime
because you once overheard me say that I liked it.

[Thanks, Jonathan Carroll!]

A Marriage of Marriages

Un mundo (A World), Ángeles Santos Torroella, 1911

The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another. We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way. These hidden human dynamics of integration are more of a conversation, more of a synthesis and more of an almost religious and sometimes almost delirious quest for meaning than a simple attempt at daily ease and contentment.

Human beings are creatures of belonging, though they may come to that sense of belonging only through long periods of exile and loneliness. Interestingly, we belong to life as much through our sense that it is all impossible, as we do through the sense that we will accomplish everything we set out to do. This sense of belonging and not belonging is lived out by most people through three principal dynamics: first, through relationship to other people and other living things (particularly and very personally, to one other living, breathing person in relationship or marriage); second, through work; and third, through an understanding of what it means to be themselves, discrete individuals alive and seemingly separate from everyone and everything else.

These are the three marriages, of Work, Self, and Other. 

A word about this word marriage: Despite our use of the word only for a committed relationship between two people, in reality this book looks at the way everyone is committed, consciously or unconsciously, to three marriages. There is that first marriage, the one we usually mean, to another; that second marriage, which can so often seem like a burden, to a work or vocation; and that third and most likely hidden marriage to a core conversation inside ourselves. We can call these three separate commitments marriages because at their core they are usually lifelong commitments and, as I wish to illustrate, they involve vows made either consciously or unconsciously. 

Why put them together? To neglect any one of the three marriages is to impoverish them all, because they are not actually separate commitments but different expressions of the way each individual belongs to the world.

This book looks at the dynamics common to all three marriages: first the recognition of what an individual wants, then a pursuit, then the hope to circumvent the difficult but necessary disappointments, and ultimately, in the face of that disappointment, the full recommitment to the vows we have made in each of the three areas, spoken or unspoken.

The Three Marriages looks at the way each marriage involves a separate form of courtship and commitment, each almost a world unto itself that then must be rejoined together. The end goal: In these pages I am looking for a marriage of marriages.

The main premise of the book becomes also its final conclusion: We should stop thinking in terms of work-life balance. Work-life balance is a concept that has us simply lashing ourselves on the back and working too hard in each of the three commitments. In the ensuing exhaustion we ultimately give up on one or more of them to gain an easier life.

I especially want to look at the way that each of these marriages is, at its heart, nonnegotiable; that we should give up the attempt to balance one marriage against another, of, for instance, taking away from work to give more time to a partner, or vice versa, and start thinking of each marriage conversing with, questioning or emboldening the other two. As we discover, through the lives and biographies I follow in this book, how each one of the three marriages is nonnegotiable at its core, we can start to realign our understanding and our efforts away from trading and bartering parts of ourselves as if they were salable commodities and more toward finding a central conversation that can hold all of these three marriages together.

The understanding of this book is that the deeper, unspoken realms of the human psyche, work and life are not separate things and therefore cannot be balanced against each other except to create further trouble. The book most especially tries to dispel the myth that we are predominantly thinking creatures, who can, if we put our feet in all the right places, develop strategies that will make us the paragon of perfection we want to be, and instead, looks to a deeper, almost poetic perspective, a moving, more untouchable identity, a slightly more dangerous but more satisfying sense of self than one defined by ideas of balance.

The Three Marriages looks at the way we actually seem to function – as a kind of movable conversational frontier, an edge between what we think is us and what we think is not us…it tries to illustrate the way we can still make a real life even when crowded by other identities, or even when unbalanced and intoxicated with desire, or even when we are disappointed in work or love, and perhaps the way, at the center of all this deep love of belonging and this deep exhaustion of belonging, we may have waiting for us, at the end of the tunnel, a marriage of marriages, a life worth living, and one we can call, despite all the difficulties and imperfections, our very own.

~ David Whyte, from The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship

See also:

How are We Going to Be Able to Live Together?

Excerpts from “Restoring Political Civility,” a conversation between Krista Tippet and Richard Mouw (president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a professor of Christian Philosophy and Ethics and author or Uncommon Decency), Being, October 14, 2010:

Richard Mouw: …to be civil comes from civitas and it means learning how to live in the city. The origin with a guy like Aristotle, the ancient philosopher, who said early on, as little children, we have a natural sense of kinship. We have strong positive feelings toward those who are blood relatives, my mother, my father, sisters and brothers, cousins and the like. And then as we grow up, we have some of those same positive feelings that develop toward friends. So we go from kinship and we build on that to a broader sense of friendship where you have that same sense of bonding or something like it that isn't just based on blood relative stuff.

But he said to really grow up, to be a mature human being, is to learn in the public square to have that same sense of bonding to people from other cities, people who are very different than yourself. And that's not just toleration, but is a sense that what I owe to my mother because she brought me into this world, what I owe to my friends because of shared experiences and memories and delights, I also owe to the stranger. Why? Because they're human like me and I got to begin to think of humanness as such as a kind of bonding relationship

Krista Tippett: So here's another statement from you about just an essential Christian truth, which is, "In affirming the stranger, we are honoring the image of God."

Richard Mouw: Oh, yeah. That's right. Going back to that Aristotle idea that, you know, we all understand kinship and then we understand friendship, but then there's this person who is neither kin nor friend, but we have encountered them. And what is it that links me to them if it isn't just a lot of good feelings that I have about people like that? What the Bible teaches is that every human being is created in a divine image. And this means that every human being is — you know, this is where I've been thinking more about this lately — is a work of art.

Seeing other people is a kind of exercise in art appreciation. I find that very powerful. I come across a person who isn't just a stranger, but maybe represents a strangeness to me that initially I might feel very alienated from that person, and then to think this is a work of art by the God whom I worship, that God created that person. And it doesn't come easy. I'm kind of aesthetically deprived, so I have to work at it, but it's a very important exercise to engage in.

Krista Tippett: You have been very clear and open across the years, for example, about your theological opposition to gay marriage. I could imagine that someone who is homosexual might hear what you just said and feel that in fact that doesn't find expression when you look at them.

Richard Mouw: Well, and — and it should. I have really tried to emphasize the fact that even in expressing our disagreements — and this is a very complicated thing — but that we're dealing with people who are precious works of divine art. You know, I have argued on a number of occasions and actually gotten some very positive response from folks in the gay-lesbian community that maybe — I even wrote a Newsweek piece on this.

You know, maybe it's time to stop yelling at each other and accusing each other in public and maybe we ought to just sit down and turn the agenda into something like this where I would ask my gay and lesbian activist friends, "what is it about people like me that scare you so much? And that you in turn would listen to me when I say, what is it about what you are advocating that worries me so much about the future of our culture and the world in which my grandchildren are being raised? And that we talk about hopes and fears rather than angrily denouncing each other as homophobes or as people who are engaged in, you know, despicable behavior, but could that shape a very different kind of discussion." As we move toward — the really important question is how are we going to be able to live together in this pluralistic society with at least some better understanding of what motivates us beneath the angry denunciations and things?

The Head is an Overstated Organ

Robert Patterson, who has Alzheimer's disease, speaks with his wife, Karen, from StoryCorps:

Robert and Karen Patterson Robert: I feel like I’m the same person, but I know I’m kind of a big load to deal with.

Karen: You know how we talk sometimes about who we really are. What is our essence? Memories are not who you are.

Robert: Well, I think one thing I experience with Alzheimer's is I live in the moment ‘cause I can’t remember what happened yesterday—I can’t remember what happened ten minutes ago, but I’m much more present, I think.

Karen: Do you think about the future?

Robert: I know that there’s probably a bad time that comes in the future. This disease gets more wicked, but I don’t obsess on it. I do a nice job of ignoring it.

Karen: With this disease, you moved from somebody that lived in their head a lot to somebody who lived in their heart.

Robert: The head is an overstated organ; the heart is where all the action is. I remember things that occur in my heart much better than things in my head: having fun with the kids, laughing, our new grandchild.”

Karen: Speaking of this new grandchild, is there something you’d like him to know?

Robert: I would like him to know that I fell in love with him the first time I saw him in the hospital. And every time I see that sweet little face, it just makes me feel good. I’m looking forward to hanging with him and teaching him things that I think are really important. That’s my job for the rest of my life.

Karen: I don’t know if you even remember this, but once we were listening to a book on tape. It talked about the greatest thing you could do if you loved somebody, that you would be the one that was left. And that you would be the one that could care for your lover.

You are not alone. And I’m honored that I’m the one that can care for you. I always will.

Robert: You always have. Thank you.

From Joy to Joy to Joy

for Aaron & Michelle

michelle-aaron

From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee, from Rose 

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward  
signs painted PEACHES.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into  
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

With Liberty and Justice for Many

“I accept this award on behalf of those who have been struck down, beaten up, and — instead of attention and praise — have gotten only intolerance, violence, or — even worse — indifference.”

~ Will Phillips, accepting the award for Outstanding TV Journalism Segment at the 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York on March 13, 2010.

 

Phillips appeared in the award winning segment "Why Will Won't Pledge Allegiance" from CNN's American Morning on November 16, 2009.

Why Should It Be Easy?

TOLSTOY
I’ve become convinced that all the world’s religions have a
single organizing principle. Can you guess what it is? Love! Love! Simple...

 

 

TOLSTOY
I didn’t come for more recrimination. Despite good cause for alienation between us, I have never stopped loving you.

SOFYA
Of course...

TOLSTOY
God knows you don’t make it easy.

SOFYA
Why should it be easy? I’m the work of your life. You’re the work of mine. It’s what love is.

From The Last Station, based on the novel by Jan Parini, screenplay by Michael Hoffman.

What Has the Fighting Been For?

“I am here today because of a conversation I had last June when I was voting. A woman at my polling place asked me, ‘Do you believe in equality for gay and lesbian people?’ I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that. It made no sense to me. Finally I asked her, ‘What do you think our boys fought for at Omaha Beach?’ I have seen much, so much blood and guts, so much suffering, so much sacrifice. For what? For freedom and equality. These are the values that give America a great nation, one worth dying for.”

~ Philip Spooner, Republican and World War II veteran speaking to Maine's Judiciary Committee in April 2009.

Read more at: Philip Spooner VIDEO: WWII Veteran Makes Case For Gay Marriage

[Thanks David!]

Taking Responsibility for Our Own Happiness

From “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” by Laura A. Munson, The New York Times, July 31, 2009:

“I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.”

His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, “I don’t buy it.” Because I didn’t.

He drew back in surprise. Apparently he’d expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind.

So he turned mean. “I don’t like what you’ve become.”

Gut-wrenching pause. How could he say such a thing? That’s when I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn’t.

Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and I repeated those words: “I don’t buy it.”

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

More…

You Might Be Surprised

Benediction
by Daron Larson

Hearth of Our Justice of the Peace, Elizabeth Campbell, Stowe, Vermont, February 7, 2003

Hearth of Our Justice of the Peace, Elizabeth Campbell, Stowe, Vermont, February 7, 2003

While your name continues to be scribbled
onto lists along with addicts,
embezzlers, unfaithful spouses,
and others in need of divine intervention,
by well-meaning people
who refuse to rest until
arrangements have been made
to spend eternity together
in spite of having little to talk about over dinner,
you might be surprised when
a cranky, hard drinking, gnarled,
retired iron worker pushing ninety,
takes your hand and the hand
of the son of his son,
the person who shares your groceries
your gender,
your heart,
and wishes you not only a safe trip home,
but a good life together.