Inspired by the 2015 Key West Literary Seminar, I’ve been thinking about these Leonard Cohen lyrics for months now. So few literary attempts ever achieve perfection! The Shakespeares among us are rare. Most of us are embarked on foolish, impossible, and yet strangely and ultimately worthwhile projects. “What matters most in our lives is unsayable,” Mark Doty said. “We’ve got to attempt to make meaning… Of course it’s impossible, but if we don’t, we despair.” (more…)
Arnold Lobol writes a cautionary tale about a housefly who one day wakes up to see all the dirt in his house. He diligently begins sweeping. When he pushes the pile over the threshold, he notices the dirt on his front path, and then on the road. He’s a good way down the road when Grasshopper comes along and inquires what he’s doing. Poor Housefly; he’s taken on cleaning up the world.
I am that housefly. Not that I’m a compulsive cleaner—far from it. But I can’t look around me without seeing what needs to be done. A moment spent admiring the (glorious) flower garden with Gwyn turns into a to-do list: weeding, transplanting, pruning, seeding. Cleaning the kitchen after dinner, I’m acutely aware of all I’m not cleaning: the grease on the kettle, the spills in the refrigerator. Clearing out my email, I berate myself for not writing to my senator to stop the Keystone pipeline or to the Security and Exchange Commission to make public the disparity between CEO- and worker-income. I have trouble living in an incomplete world.
Oddly enough, the one arena where I feel peaceful and even passionate about incompletion is in writing. I advocate revision; I’m the spokesperson for the slow evolution of creative work. As Mark Doty writes, “the longer we can stay in the state of uncertainty, of unfolding possibility, the better.” In other words, to be a fully engaged creator, we have to cultivate an enormous tolerance for incompletion. We must see what we’ve done as well as what can be done—with equanimity, with a peaceful heart.
Most of the time, I’m halfway down the street with a broom before I realize this isn’t how I want to live. Each day is a new creation, as is a home and work and this society we all participate in making. My prayer is that we might learn to thrive in the midst of a messy, beautiful becoming.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew