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Forced to the side
Margins and poetry and time
I want to write the day like a poem, with pauses, and space, and long silences before a rush of invigorating enthusiasm. A poem makes you step back and slow down. It leaves room, and I feel like I need more room these days.
I want to frame my time with wide and beautiful margins, basically. Poems can be economical or epic, a short haiku or meandering journey from Troy to Ithaca. Even if it’s a long story, I want a gracious edge along each beginning and end of day.
I spent four days this month in the company of other women-artists at the Refine Retreat in Ohio. The retreat itself is organized like a poem, even in years when the theme isn’t Poeima, and every bit of it was a shot to my imagination. You can attend the sessions If you want. They are nicely spaced, there is never a rush, and if you’d rather, you can go for a walk or read in your private room or make art in the Art Room. No one is forcing an interpretation on you, telling you what this time of retreat is supposed to be. If you are in the middle of a great conversation over dinner and the next session is starting in the meeting room, you can carry on. Or you can pick the conversation up later. Everything is buffered by margin.
Coming home from the retreat was exactly what you would expect—good, and also a lot of work. That I was able to leave my family and business for almost a week is a miracle of teamwork and grace, and I am very grateful. But the week since I’ve been back has been a bit grueling and my small margins have been spent horizontal on the couch—not very poetic. I have lists of things to do in a half-dozen different formats—my phone, my big notebook, my little notebook, my whiteboard in the office, my head, and post-its. I don’t dare consolidate them. That would be overwhelming.
Refine was an excellent reminder and encouragement, and even though it’s been hard to catch up, I’m so glad I made the time to go.
I’ve stopped reminding God what life was like before this deli project, for the most part. I’ve stopped looking back and longing for some fabled past in which life was supposedly “easier”. Life is different now, but not all parts of it are harder. I realize I did not use my margins the way I could have in the past because I thought they’d always be there, that life would go predictably along and the margins would be ever increasing. Funny, right? I am prone to this delusional thinking.
Here’s what I’m living hopefully for, at this moment: narrower margins will increase my focus.
I could write the day like a free-verse poem, flowy and loose and meandering, with a few stylistic devices thrown in to make it poetic. Sometimes this way of writing (living) feels more liberating, less stuffy and stifling. I can do what I want; I get to decide. On rare days where I have nothing planned, though, I can piddle away hours and not really make progress on my goals. Sometimes that’s fine and necessary, but I struggle with those days.
But if you told me there was only space for haiku, I would delve deeper for meaning, paying attention to each syllable individually. Or if you assigned a sonnet, I would carefully study some master of the form and be mindful to craft each line according to prescribed methods. I don’t even know what those are, but I would learn. I would focus.
In the same way a deadline imposed by some outside force suddenly makes me productive (good grief I just remembered my taxes…), narrow margins can focus me on the most important things. I have little time these days for creative projects but my creative hopes and dreams are bigger than ever; therefore, I have to use the margins well. If I have an hour and some energy, how will I spend it?
But in addition to squeezing creativity into the margins, I want to spread it throughout the work I’m already doing in a day (how to creatively make that spreadsheet for our accountant…). That sounds nice—to approach all of life like a poet—but we all have parts of our day that are anything but poetic. Stupid stuff has to be done. Hard stuff. Dirty stuff. I’m sorry.
I don’t know exactly how to approach all of life like a poet and maybe this metaphor is all wrong, but I do know that mindset matters, and by the grace of God, today, my mindset is to write the day like a poem, even if the pauses are small and cramped spaces.
May you do the same.
We have a short time Burning candles on the earth to work. Get to it.
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