Monday, January 28, 2019

Essays on the quality of "Enough"

Over the past few days, I've been reading the new collection of Heather Havrilesky's essays, What If This Were Enough?

It's a subject I've talked about before here, the tension between sufficiency and lack. With the rise of Marie Kondo's tidying-up empire, it seems like everything is about asking whether the things in your life spark joy, and to unload them if they don't. Not a bad thing entirely, in our consumption-driven world. After all, if you've read as much 19th century literature as I have, you know that consumption is deadly in all its forms.

This is Bandon Beach in Oregon. It sparks joy for me. Not that I have a trash can big enough to throw it out.

Havrilesky's book could have a slightly different title, though. In many of her essays it seems as though she's asking, What if you were enough? In a world driven by clicks and likes, where it's easy to feel isolated and ignored because everything moves so darn fast, sometimes the vortex pulls you down. It's especially true for creative types. At our best, we're laying open our wounds to the world or trying to spin beauty out of our daydreams or our day to day existence. When the universe yawns and moves on to the Next Big Thing with nary a glance . . . well, that raises some questions about meaning. About life choices, and whether we maybe should have gotten a 'useful' degree and some of those sweet, sweet corporate dollars.

There are essays in What If This Were Enough? that remind me of Anne Lamott's wry spirituality, and others that take a more polemical tone. But the quiet musings about little things--her marriage, her childhood home, the importance of having a sense of adequacy--really struck home for me. She writes:

 We are called to savor the process of our own slow, patient development, instead of suffering in an enervated, anxious state over our value and our popularity. We are called to view our actions as important, with or without consecration by forces beyond our control. . . Here is how you will start: You will recognize that you are not headed for some imaginary finish line . . . You will see that you are as much of a miracle as Mozart was. (p. 217)

Today, I set out to write a sestina. It's a particular poetic form that I've found both enjoyable and challenging to write in the past. So I asked if anyone could suggest a few words for me to use as a basis. Two friends sent me lists of words, and I culled out the ones that spoke to me. When I finished, I sent them a draft of the poem because I was pleased with how it had turned out. Reading the concluding essay of Havrilesky's collection reminded me how fortunate I am to have friends who participate joyfully in the work with me. I am so fortunate to have met people who encourage me and celebrate the things I create. What a gift it is, when friends treat you as if you are indeed enough, a blessing to them in spite of your flaws and shortcomings.

This is what enough means.

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