Live in the Layers

Japanese Fisherman’s winter jacket

Much as I love this semester’s batch of students, I am looking forward to wrapping up this semester this week, and getting started on the new schedule.  Many of my first years will continue on with me into second semester, but it will be in different configurations of classes, and this coming semester I will teach Drama and Creative Writing instead of Academic Writing and Writing Skills.  I like fresh starts, new plans, tabula rasa.  Part of me really resisted the fact that we still have a week of first semester to finish when we return to school, but a looser, more flexible part of me loves the rolling start, the fact that we don’t have to do it all at once, the beginning of the new year and the beginning of the semester.

I have recently become a little obsessed with Japanese boro cloths.  Traditionally, this was a mending process used by workers to create durable and often beautiful fixes to torn and worn-out clothing.  Instead of trying to create a look of new perfection, boro mending created a new cloth by layering patches and scraps with distinctive stitching, and the results maintained the integrity of the original cloth while making it a whole new thing.  It reminds me of the sense of layering in a palimpsest manuscript: the old part shines and twinkles through to the new.  Come to think of it, living in an area with layers and layers of history is sort of like a boro or a palimpsest–some days when I drive across the bridge, I am acutely aware of how this River was once the home and highway of the Susquehannock peoples, or how it was one of the waterways that people followed to escape the torment of bondage in their flight to freedom in the north.

As Stanley Kunitz’s “nimbus-clouded voice” suggests: “Live in the layers, not on the litter.”  May your new year be full of fresh starts and new dreams, but may the new be stitched and overlaid artistically and pleasingly upon the past that has birthed this new beginning.

(Tomorrow is the eve of Epiphany–what is the Aha that is awaiting?)

Gratitude List:
1. Rhythm and Schedules
2. Envisioning possibilities
3. Starting fresh
4. Layers
5. Choosing every day to live the life that I would love.  (That’s a John O’Donohue reference)

May we walk in Beauty!  May your possibilities be endless.



I have written before about the feathers.  Two years ago, it began in mid-July: I realized one day that I had been finding a feather every single day for about two weeks.  I kept watch, then, and realized that, until early September, I found a feather almost every single day.

Last year, it was longer: early July through the end of September.  I needed feathers then.  I was jumping off a cliff into a new and unknown wind, and I needed the reminder that my wings would carry me.  They did.  I used the idea to talk to my students about how we make the meaning in our lives, how the Science me said, “Yes, there are owls hard at work in the holler, and the little birds are feeding the next generation of owlets.”  But the Poet me said, “Yes, I needed an affirmation from outside myself that I had wings that would catch the wind, and the message was feathers.”  I get to choose the meaning for my own story.  And both meanings carry a certain truth, enriching each other.  We all choose our meanings, even when we’re not aware of consciously doing so.

This year, back in early August, I had a run of about a week of feather-finding.  I thought I was back in business, but then I didn’t find any for a couple weeks.  Now again, for the past ten days or so, I have found a feather every day, sometimes at home, and sometimes at school.


Another shifting meaning story that came my way again today is that of the Palimpsest, the old vellum manuscripts which were scraped when one text was no longer necessary, and new words written on the pages.  Highly valued by modern researchers, the re-appearance of the “under-text” gives historians not one but two texts to work with.

When reading a palimpsest, you must look beyond the surface text to read the deeper meaning.  A colleague of mine today showed me his journal, an altered book, in which he is using gesso to white out old text and writing his own text on top.  We got to talking about how people are palimpsests, too–how important it is to read beneath the surface to the deeper “text” that shines through the surface layers.

Gratitude List:
1. Challenging conversations.  I am learning to balance the speaking and the listening, I think. Still, there is so much to learn, so much to practice.
2. The miracle of the heart, of the heartbeat.
3. Collaboration.
4. Feathers and flight.
5. Palimpsest.

May we walk in Beauty!

Dancing on the Cliff

mossSo here we are again, dancing on the edge of the cliffs, Fools that we are, watching the sun set on an old year and rise on a new one.  Like Janus the Roman god, two-faced, we look back at what has been and look forward to what will be, simultaneously embodying the present moment.

What amazing creatures we are, Bright Ones!  We carry within us this unbounded capacity for hope and healing, for starting again at tabula rasa, that old blank slate.  Oh, the old stuff lingers, like those lines of ancient vellum documents that re-appear after they’ve been scraped clean and re-written, ghosts of past that linger, but don’t overpower the new text.

One of my first remembered dreams of 2013 was a word rather than an image, the word Palimpsest, the term to describe those old re-used vellum texts that have given scholars the delight of being able to research two texts in one.  I won’t deny that this past year’s fresh text has had its bumpy bits, its painful plot twists at times, but there has been so much light and love, there have been so many epiphanies and mountain views, so many new friends and thoughts and ideas.

(In these twelve nights of Yuletide, I have again been listening more acutely to my dreams.  So far, the thing that stands out most clearly is something vague about The Wild Boys of Raccoon Hollow.  I’m not feeling the spiritual depth of that one just yet.  I’ll keep listening.)

Thank you, Bright Ones, for sharing the journey, for reading my lines here and there.  I wish you many bright spots of sunlight on your path, and challenges enough to make you know your true strength.  Oh, and dreams that give you vision for the next step.

Gratitude List:
1.  This phrase that someone used today: “The intimate magic of motherhood.”  Isn’t that satisfying?
2.  Joseph Brodsky, and Alex Estes’ review of his “1-Jan-65” poem.  It enlivens the literary critic within me.
3.  Knowing my work.  Refining the vision.
4.  All that we have been and all that we will be, but mostly, who we are right in this exact moment.
5.  I have said it before, but it bears repeating on the cusp of the New Year: You.  Oh, Bright Ones, You.

May we walk in Beauty!

Palimpsest: Song for a New Year and an Old

I have already received a private message from a friend who wrote a marvelous Palimpsest poem.  Feel free to type in your own in the comments or on my FB thread, or in my email or FB messages.  Here’s mine (the phrases on the right-hand side are random quotes pulled out of my Facebook archive):

The fiery sunset of the old year gives way to

salt. . .balsam. . .ratatat cat feet. . .green

a silver gibbous moon gives way to

not sure the sun is ever coming back

this rosy sun shining through a gull’s wing.

too many trinkets in the trees already

This new morning climbs down the northward hill,

a new bubble wand and a madcap two-year-old

washes the fields above the orchard in golden glow,

can’t get enough mulberries

slips downward into the frosty pear trees,

amazing person, that cat

illuminates the weather vane rooster on the roof,

my brain is filled with compost and my poetry is green

and suddenly crests the southern hill.

I think when I was born I was a baby

The puddle of night in the bowl of the hollow

keep talking, keep loving

dissolves into the new year.


Good Morning, 2013!  Such a fresh-looking number, that.  I love the movement into a new year, no matter how arbitrary the choice of day may actually be.  As my friend Carol said, Let each day be a new beginning, a chance to begin afresh.  Now, this moment, I am a new person.  And now, in this moment, too, I begin anew.  Always.  There’s that phrase again: Always we begin again.

I went to sleep last night asking for a Word to come to me, a word that would be my focus word for 2013.  What with all the restlessness of a recovering-from-flu six-year-old next to me, and the aches and pains in my own muscles, my sleep was disturbed enough that my dreams haven’t given me clarity on a word.  So I suppose I have to do some actual work on this one.  I think I am going to go with the word I chose for my journal last year.  Perhaps it was unofficially last year’s Word of the Year, but I want to bring in into this year with focus: Palimpsest.

It’s the term for an old manuscript or scroll (usually made of velum) in which the words have been scraped off so that it may be re-written again.  In many cases, remnants of the original documents show through.  I think it was Margaret Atwood who expanded the meaning when she described Canadian cities as palimpsests, new places in which hints and pieces of the older times could be seen.

So Palimpsest is my Word for 2013.  Writing the new chapters of me, I will also read the ways in which the past and memory continue to live in the present, becoming part of the current writing of my life.  Layers upon layers.

I had intended to avoid New Year’s Resolutions this year, but it feels appropriate to me, in conjunction with the word I have chosen, to continue to resolve to scrape away the bits of the story which I no longer need.  So I will continue to resolve, and strengthen my resolve, to de-clutter.  To clean up the spaces in my home and my head which hold the unnecessary bits.  But whatever I miss in my scraping away, instead of resenting, I will look at with wonder at the way it shines a light from the past into the present.

Oh–so Palimpsest will also become today’s poetry prompt.  Anyone care to join me on this one?  I’ll post before I go to bed tonight.