by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
Apologies, Dear Readers, I am in the thrall of a head cold this week, and so this edition of Word Cloud will be brief. As the New Testament says, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
In keeping with Native American Heritage Month,
I give you a poem by Louise Erdrich (1954 – ), but one which speaks to everyone who writes, about the paradox of a life where some hours of every week are spent wrestling with words, hours apart from family, friends, social obligations or more gainful employment.
The writer’s dilemma, especially for writer who is also a parent, is how to fit together a ‘real life’ and a ‘writing life’ when they are both so time-consuming and demanding. Here Louise Erdrich offers her solution.
Advice to Myself
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.
When she was asked if writing is a lonely life for her, Erdrich answered:
Strangely, I think it is. I am surrounded by an abundance of family and friends, and yet I am alone with the writing. And that is perfect.
Louise Erdrich grew up in North Dakota, where her Chippewa mother and German-American father taught at a boarding school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She describes the land as a place where the “earth and sky touch everywhere and nowhere, like sex between two strangers.”
Erdrich’s father came to the Turtle Mountain Reservation as a brand-new teacher. He had gone to college on the G.I. Bill after getting his discharge from the Air Force. One of the first people he met at Turtle Mountain was tribal leader Patrick Gourneau, whose name in Ojibwe was Aunishinaubay. They were both gifted talkers and born story-tellers and hit it off. Then he saw Patrick Gourneau’s daughter.
“My mother has always been the reserved beauty to his smitten schoolteacher. I was born when she was nineteen and I’ve always loved having a young mother—she is often mistaken for my sister.”
Erdrich was the oldest of seven children. Raised Catholic, she spent some time in a Catholic School.
“I was very young when I started reading, and the Old Testament sucked me in. I was at the age of magical thinking and believed sticks could change to serpents, a voice might speak from a burning bush, angels wrestled with people. After I went to school and started catechism I realized that religion was about rules…It all seemed so dull once I realized that nothing spectacular was going to happen.
I’ve come to love the traditional Ojibwe ceremonies, and some rituals, but I hate religious rules. They are usually about controlling women. On Sundays when other people go to wood-and-stone churches, I like to take my daughters into the woods.”
- “Advice to Myself” from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems, © 2003 by Louise Erdrich – HarperCollins Publishers
With Thanksgiving Day rapidly approaching in the U.S., the pull of family and friends is even stronger than usual, so I am going back to bed to recruit my strength for next week, both to offer you a more complete Word Cloud, and for the First Event of The Holidays. Thank you for your understanding.
Whether you celebrate this holiday, or your gathering with family and friends happens at another time of year for other reasons, I wish you good health, and good cheer.