Friday, March 13, 2015

On Spring Break and Being Present

"Toward an Unknown Mountain," Clive Powsey

Recently, a friend and I were talking about poetry readings, and what makes for a strong reading. The thing I’m always craving when someone reads their work is to see that they are present—that they are here, with us, bringing their words to life in the space between us and them. It’s harder to do than it seems, I think. It’s easy to allow ourselves to get distracted or to switch into autopilot, especially if we feel nervous. (This is true of life in general, isn’t it?)

When I read my poems out loud, before I begin, I imagine poking myself in the shoulder and saying “WAKE UP! Are you here? Be here!” I look at people in the audience. If there’s natural light coming in from the windows, I look at how it already looks different than when I entered the reading. I feel the paper between my fingers. I change the order of poems as I read. I share something brand new that I feel a little scared of. I want to keep myself on my toes.

I value this quality of being present so much in others. I love people who are alive to their surroundings. This is a mood-altering quality, isn’t it? I think about the driver, Luke, on the route I used to take in college. He was notoriously cheerful and zany, yelling faux-siren sounds out the window while rushing through a yellow light (“WEEEEEOOOOOO WEEEEOOOO!!”), laughing uproariously, and greeting every person like he knew them. I remember that when stopped at red lights in the freezing winter, he would sometimes open the bus door, letting the heat out over the shivering pedestrians, and shouting, “FREE HOT AIR!!”

Sometimes I play games with consciousness (my philosophy minor is showing). Being present, seeing a moment (from the inside) happen as it happens—this is a game, in some ways. One morning this week, I was stuck in an awful traffic jam on my way to teach. I stared at the time going past, minute by minute, but for some reason, I didn’t care. I knew I was running late, but I had no alternative. I realized that I had Paul Simon’s Graceland in glove box, and popped that in. Somehow, I was suddenly having FUN.

It made me wonder…how much of the stress we feel is somehow self-imposed?

It’s a hectic time in the semester, but blissfully, it’s spring break at one of the schools where I teach next week. The relief in the room was palpable as class let out yesterday, out into the March air which has thankfully turned mild.

In just the last few days, the snow has evaporated. I saw a patch of white in the park yesterday, and I looked at it, trying to identify it (poodle hair? paper?). I realized it was a tiny patch of what had (only days before) been stubbornly piled up there, loitering.

This weekend, I will try to extricate myself from the piles of busy-ness. I will switch the autopilot firmly off. I will play a game called “be here now” and see every place where there is no longer snow.

And I wish the same for you.

[Image above by Clive Powsey. View more of his work here.]


  1. Hannah, Thanks so much for this. Clive's work and your words suffuse each other somehow. I'm very happy to have found both today.

  2. Thanks, Audrey! I really like the mood in his peaceful.

  3. Wonderfully said! Have a great weekend playing "be here now"!


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