Sumptuous destitution

Our dear friend Kyo came to visit for the weekend, which was a real delight, as he always brings a lot of levity and thoughtfulness to every conversation. One of my favorite conversations oriented around this Emily Dickinson poem, which he shared with us:

In many and reportless places
We feel a Joy —
Reportless, also, but sincere as Nature
Or Deity —

It comes, without a consternation —
Dissolves — the same —
But leaves a sumptuous Destitution —
Without a Name —

Profane it by a search — we cannot
It has no home —
Nor we who having once inhaled it —
Thereafter roam.

It has been rolling around in my mind all weekend — the fluctuating, dissolving nature of mundane joys. I have been thinking of these vanishing delights as I light the beeswax candles or repaint the grout on the bathroom floor or pick up Moses in the morning from his crib.

Perhaps it is fruitless to dissect or name these pleasures, as Dickinson suggests, or even to try to replicate them. They come and go as they please, and we’re left in that ineffable state, resting in our sumptuous destitution. As summer burns away and fall approaches, I find that I am more mindful of these domestic, everyday joys. It shall soon be time to stay in the dull, reportless places, and yet even there, we are experiencing the richness and fullness of life.

moses-blenheim
Kyo, Guion, and Moses at Blenheim Vineyards.

The poem hits me strongly because of autumn, but also because of baby.

Now, in month four with Moses, I sense a return to old ways and old pleasures. I didn’t think I’d feel this way in those traumatic early days. I kind of felt ruined, if I’m being honest. And now, things are forever different, of course — gone are the days of spiriting away to a restaurant on a whim! Ne’er shall we leave the house without a tremendous amount of infant paraphernalia! — but the small activities that buoyed the spirits are now capable of being rediscovered. Such as: Painting one’s toenails. Reading a book. Making oatmeal the slow way. Writing words down in a notebook.

Yesterday, for the first time since Moses was born, Guion and I enjoyed one of our “quiet nights” — a screen-free evening for reading and writing. In our recent childless days, we used to enshrine them in our week. These evenings are much harder to come by since we’ve added this little person to our home, but I felt last night how deeply I have missed and needed them. I read a little of Nell Zink’s new novel, Doxology, and tried to get through John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara but couldn’t (it’s almost too lyrical) and felt a vast pleasure wash over me. The days with Moses are full and heartwarming, but the evenings without him can be also (especially now that he’s sleeping through the night!).

(Upon copying the text of the poem, I’m also reminded that Anne Carson has played with it in Men in the Off Hours, splicing Dickinson’s letters to Thomas Higginson with some thoughts on the way we read women. Have you a little chest to put the Alive in? Dickinson! What a bone-chilling genius! I have come off the weekend convinced that we do not talk about her nearly enough and feel that I need to read the giant tome of her complete poems daily, like a liturgy.)

. . .

Obligatory baby photo: Enjoying his first flight! Visiting dearly beloved (and missed) friends in Chicago.

moses-plane

Lead me to water

Garden updates, 4 May 2015
Columbine in the front yard finally bloomed.

Some of our best friends in town are getting married tomorrow, and we are flush with excitement, almost as if we were getting married again. We are so happy for them and we have been anticipating this day for years now. Guion reported that when someone asked him to make plans this week, his first thought was, “Oh, I can’t do anything this week; it’s wedding week.”

Late April

One of my chief pleasures is eating lunch during the work week on the back deck, with the dogs milling around the yard and the carpenter bees and wasps congregating near the table. I think I have already written about this, but this practice provides my mental and emotional state with so much energy and relief. It is probably just the benefit of being outside, after four hours in a cube, staring at a screen, but my outdoor lunches can improve the gloomiest mood. I eat slowly; I drink a LaCroix; I read a novel; I throw a stick for Edie; I watch the chickens; I listen to the birds; I feel like a million bucks. (And then I go back to the office.)

We saw Sufjan play in Richmond this week (a moving, excellent show; I’m always in the mood for him). One of the memorable, nonmusical delights of the evening was spotting an old friend from college up in the balcony. We texted from afar, confirming our identities, and I waved repeatedly. We shouted to each other briefly, him from the balcony down to me in the orchestra level, but we weren’t able to meet up afterward. Still, just seeing him filled me with this satisfactory nostalgia. Here we are, after so much time has passed; happy and complete in our adult lives.

I keep a little notebook now, to ease myself back into the practice of keeping some form of a handwritten diary. After about 16 years of daily journaling, I abruptly stopped once I got married. It was as if keeping a diary wasn’t important anymore, now that I had a spouse — which admittedly is a very odd psychological conclusion. But I’d like to get back into the practice, if only to keep up the habit of composing sentences by hand. Even if they’re not very good sentences. The notebook is a hodgepodge of loose diary entries, vocabulary words, and notes on what I’m reading.

I am usually writing about what I am reading there, but I realized the other day that I am only taking notes on fiction. I mentioned this to an acquaintance, and he remarked that that was a very odd habit. “Why wouldn’t you take notes on nonfiction instead?” he asked. “To, you know, remember actual facts and information?” I didn’t have an answer then, but I think I record fiction passages and resultant thoughts because I am often so much more moved by a novel than by a factual account. I am impressed by the beauty, and that is the sensation I don’t want to forget. Data will ebb and flow. But it’s the art that’s worth remembering.

Singing for the pleasure of the song

Click for source.

“Learn the psalms and ponder the ways of the early church. Know what must be known. Ancient fathers taught their ancient children, who taught their ancient children, these very things. Puritan Milton with his pagan muses. It is like a voice heard from another room, singing for the pleasure of the song, and then you know it, too, and through you it moves by accident and necessity down generations. Then, why singing? Why pleasure in it? And why the blessing of the moment when another voice is heard, dreaming to itself?”

Home, Marilynne Robinson

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