Sunday, July 28, 2013

Picture This

Special thanks to Shutter Sisters for featuring this photo on their Instagram Feed last week!

Picture This

You live in a foreign country,
except to you
it isn't foreign
because it's where
you were born
in this, a different life--
pears grow there
on your very 
own tree,
or maybe--get wild--
they're figs,
and you can use
the word pluck
for the first time
in your whole life,
at least this life,
but in that one
you pluck practically
every day:
harp strings, heart 
strings, whole mornings,
and the figs, of course--
but only what you need.
You never horde.
each fig is the first,
the last--
pollinated by the tiny moth
that has climbed inside
the fruit's tiny mouth,
laid her eggs
and waited 
for her prince to pluck
her out.
inside your mouth
for one moment
you hold seed
and flower
and egg,
all that you 
could ever want,
the world--
its birth,
its death 
your mouth.

Copyright 2009 Gigi Thibodeau

Today I have reposted a poem I wrote back in 2009.  My life was headed in a very different direction then.  I was the Jack Kerouac Writer-in-Residence at the University of Massachusetts Lowell; I'd just had a collection of poetry published by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and had just won a couple national writing awards; I was preparing for a more permanent position teaching poetry writing and children's literature at UML after having taught these and other classes there for nearly a decade as an adjunct professor.  I knew who I was, where I was going, what I would do when I arrived there.

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley / An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain / For promised joy" (Robert Burns, "To a Mouse"). 

And then, everything that was supposed to happen did not.  Namely, I lost the newly created position at UML--in the most spectacular and ugly way--due to hideous campus politics.  I lost many friends and colleagues.  I lost all belief in myself.  Every last bit of it.  And I lost all sense of who I was.  I had been a teacher for a very long time, not just at UML, but before that, too, in many other places.  Suddenly, I felt like that life had been a lie.  

This lie brings me full circle back to the poem.  I'd crafted it while I was writing my Kerouac lecture and poetry reading.  It was full of hope and excitement about the future.  When I read it now, I feel empathy for the woman who wrote this, for what she was about to experience.  I also feel a small sense of relief that nothing I hoped for came true.

Instead, with the support of my husband, I picked up the shards and shattered bits, and I began again.  We moved back to Maine, the place we both loved.  I started working one-on-one with writers, helping them shape their work and their words into stronger and stronger finished drafts.  I began selling more and more photographs.  My own writing grew richer.  The whole world split open.  Isn't that always the way when we keep our commitment to the muse, even in the midst of despair?      

We rented an apartment for two years while we saved our pennies.  Then we found a little cottage with enough land for gardens, and we scooped it up as quickly as we could.  We'd learned after many trials and disappointments in life to act quickly when it feels right in our hearts.  Here over the last year we've dug and planted several gardens . . . and have plans for more.

And we bought our first fig tree.  A Brown Turkey, it's called, and it's not cold hardy all the way up here in Maine, so we will have to coddle it, bring it in each winter to go dormant, coax it back to life each spring.  Already it's been fruiting like mad, though, and, yes, that photo above is of our very first ripe fig.  
And, yes, I plucked it myself.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Bit More Mist . . . and a Few Thoughts About Solitude and Togetherness

Do you mind a few more photos of fog?  These are shots I took at Willard Beach in South Portland.  It's a lovely neighborhood beach in any weather, but I do love a good rolling fog for a walk. 

I also wanted to say thank you for all the wonderful comments and emails about my last post.  They made my week.  

I can't help it; in my head I've named this shot "The Happy Couple."

I've been writing a great deal lately, and helping clients work on their writing projects, which is a process that brings rewards of its own.  Often when people ask me for advice about how to become a writer, I am hard pressed to give them any one answer.  Of course, reading heaps of books is up near the top of my list, and writing every day--or as close to every day as possible.  But I think maybe the most essential trait a writer can cultivate is a love of solitude.  Social butterflies are not suited to the task.

When you do seek companionship, it is helpful to find others who love solitude, too.  Then you can be alone together.  They need to be people who don't fret when you wander off for hours to stare at leaves and shells and rocks and twigs.  They need to feel very secure in their own ability to be alone when you lock yourself away for hours to write. They need to not wait for you to come out of hiding.  Instead, they must have their own quiet obsessions that occupy long stretches of time.  In this way, when you do come back together, it will be out of a mutual joy in the work and play you are both pursuing.  There will be much to share, much that sustains both. 

And there will be no petty jealousy.  Each will support the other in his or her pursuits.  I'm not saying this is an easy path to choose, but it is certainly a more joyous and productive one when we can share it with like-minded spirits.  This all seems like an obvious thing to say, but I know what it's like when a writer (or an artist of any kind) tries to share her life with someone who does not understand the need for solitude.  This leads to a silent pen, which leads to loneliness, something utterly different from solitude.  The latter nourishes, the former leeches one dry. 

Are you someone, writer or not, who needs solitude?  If so, how do you find it?  I think it is increasingly rare in our relentlessly "connected" world.  One trick I have is that I don't watch television . . . at all . . . ever.  I'd love to hear some of your strategies for finding solitude.

Wishing you a week of beauty and lots of creative energy, my friends!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Way Life Should Be, or, How to Think Like a Mainer

If you've ever driven into Maine, my home state, you know the sign: Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be.  Mainers (pronounced Mainahs) take this slogan very much to heart.  It's true that our state is unique.  Time and space are different here.  Where else can you go upta camp (If you click on this link, audio about camp starts at 3:50) and downda wharf all in the same afternoon?     

If you're from away, I'll tell you that in order to travel up the coast in Maine, you've gotta go Down East.  And if you don't know where Down East is, then I'm sorry, but you can't get there from here.

Mainers are proud of many things about our state: our wild forests, our rocky coastline, our blueberries (the wild, low-bush ones), our potatoes, our lobstahs. I have the distinction of being the only person I know from Maine who doesn't like lobster.  I mean, I'll eat it, but give me a basket of fried clams or a bucket of mussels steamed in white wine and garlic, and I'm a happy camper (especially if I'm upta camp).

Mr. Magpie and I live in southern coastal Maine, which is wicked good, but we love the whole friggin' state.  I shot these photos last weekend when we were visiting friends on Mount Desert Island, which isn't a desert at all, and which most Mainers I know pronounce Mount Dessert (a lot of us are of French origins, so we tend to pronounce things kinda funny up here).

But thinking like a Mainer has less to do with how we talk, and more to do with this place itself.  

It gets under your skin.  I've lived in many states over the past couple of decades, and I've loved so much about each one of them, but I always longed to come back to Maine.  Life is a little slower up here in the most Northeastern state.  Even in the age of the interwebs, it's easy to unplug and unwind here.  I know when a patch of wild blueberries is near just by the scent of lichen-covered rocks baking in the sun in a clearing in the woods.  

And then there's the fog.  Sit by the ocean on a driftwood log and let it roll in.  If there's a foghorn in the distance, all the better.  It doesn't matter if you're from here or from away.  Pick up a sea-polished stone, breathe in.  Salt and pine and beach rose.  You can barely see beyond the end of your nose, but you can hear the waves and the sand is cool beneath your toes.  This is home.