As a blogger I have been, apparently, feeling rather ursine and gone into something like a hibernation mode for the winter. Which is not to say that I haven’t been writing, reading, thinking, attending—but that I have been recording more in my own diary and notebooks than I have in the public space of a blog. I can only hope that, in person, I haven’t seemed too bearish to friends.
I suspect my sudden hibernation it goes hand-in-hand with my own awakening (yet again) to my own ignorance. It is a periodic occurrence, like that moment when you step out of your own home library, where you are proud of all the books you have read, into the vast collection of a university or state library and realise how much knowledge you will never have. I find these moments incredibly humbling and also invigorating—but they do prompt me to put my head down and just try to get a little smarter rather than running to the keyboard. For all the odd facts I have accumulated and delighted in (eg. that tapirs bare their teeth and raise their snouts when they smell, a move known as the “Flehman response”; that the takin, a goat-antelope, is the national animal of Bhutan; that you can tell the sex of a Little Penguin by measuring its beak) I know scarcely anything of the world. And for all my reading in and around the particular area of literature (gleaning such tidbits as the fact that Christopher Smart was put in an insane asylum essentially for being “too devout”; that according to Euripides’s Helen, the Helen transported to Troy was a fake—the real Helen was secreted elsewhere, virtue intact; that Charles Olson, before he became the author of the Maximus Poems, was obsessed with Moby Dick—just as Dan Beachy-Quick, the contemporary American poet I am spending much of my time studying at the moment, is also obsessed) even there I feel that I have learned very little. Sometimes I even get the basics of prosody mixed up: I know my iambs, my trochees, my spondees and even my choriambs—but will often get my anapaests and my dactyls mixed up. (Lets leave those other feet out of it for now.) It is the same for us all, and I imagine that in such sobering moments of realisation we all want to listen a little more, clamour a little less.
I often return to moments from childhood reading to remind myself of things. In the case of my ignorance I remember, among other things, a moment in Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit give the children gifts to help them complete their quest, and Meg, the central character, is a little miffed when she is gifted her faults. Half the time I will burble on about the odd bits of trivia—mixed in with the moments of insight I have had; but then I go quiet as I remember that above all I am a student. On a daily basis I remember there is much to learn. Among things I would like to learn (or learn about) right now are the names of all the types of trees that grow in the suburb around me, the work of the Transcendentalists, how early explorers experienced the world as they “discovered” it, how to make more things with my own two hands, the basics of sailing, the physics behind the “singing” of icebergs, to navigate by the stars… and… how many other things?
I recently read the new book Quiet: as a study of introversion in a society that largely valorises extroversion, I found myself nodding in recognition at its descriptions on nearly every page. Though I am often loquacious and can “pass” as an extrovert in many situations, I generally fall strongly into the introversion column. One thing introverts need is down time after stimulation: and being the “City Poet” has ensured plenty of stimulation. It’s stimulation I have been incredibly grateful for—anything that provokes further thought is a gift—but that has also left me seeking the quiet conversation that takes place between the pen in my hand and the notebook on my desk.
So I ask that you forgive a quiet spell—and also encourage you to take some quiet time for yourself. I’ve been enjoying taking a book to Sydney Park on sunny afternoons and reading aloud to the ducks and passing dogs. (I clam up when other people are nearby; I don’t want to appear too strange. The animals don’t begrudge me the pleasures of reading aloud, and seem quiet interested in it actually.) On drizzly days I wander around the park with my umbrella, looking over the wetlands and searching along the ground for a four leaf clover. This is slow time, reverent time.
I’ve written before of slow time. Blogging takes place in fast time, but we all need periods of renewal. In her journals Susan Sontag wrote “Work = being in the world.” My way of being in the world lately has been circumspect, but I feel that as a result of this I will have dispatches to send back soon.