I had intended to write a lot during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but the only words I’ve typed out are these. I did write a perfunctory message in a birthday card for my brother-in-law, but I didn’t make any progress on the Europe journal. With luck, this afternoon I’ll write about our arrival in London, but I’m not betting on it. This blog post may be the extent of my creative expression today. The whole weekend has been filled with intentions of accomplishing things only to fall short in some way. I am easily distracted, and this weekend, it’s been poetry that served as the proverbial shiny object.
For example, I intended on running six miles yesterday morning, but it was bracingly cold, both in the “slap-in-the-face” invigorating chill and the need to brace myself with every step to avoid slipping and falling. The iciness slowly relented as I progressed, but my legs had grown weary from the use of muscles not normally involved in running; muscles with names like gracilis and soleus that helped manage my pitching and yawing on the slick ground and keep me upright. In the stretches where the ground was reliably unfrozen, I focused on the cold seeping into my body and recalled a favorite poem, the Snow Man by Wallace Stevens:
While I confess to being easily distracted by poetry and music, I take some solace in, on occasion, setting ambitious goals. Cleaning the house may not seem impressive, but you didn’t see how vile the kids’ bathroom was when I began. It looked like a truck stop toilet. I would also argue that writing another book is no small feat. Progress has been slow, but I’ve made it through Switzerland and Paris. Only London and Edinburgh left to go before the first rough draft is complete.
The other aspiration I’ve been mulling over is staging a coup d’etat at work. It will be bloodless, of course. In fact, I doubt anyone will notice. My boss is out of town for a week, and a colleague and I have been contemplating how fun it could be to take over leadership of the division. “If I were King”-thinking can be deeply satisfying, but executing the plan when the kingdom is an large government bureaucracy is challenging. There’s a lot of paperwork involved in a modern organizational coup. I’m not sure if we’ll truly seize the Iron Throne this week, but I’ll give it a shot. After all, making the effort counts for something. Which reminds me of another favorite poem, a stanza from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Specifically, from “East Coker”:
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres-
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate – but there is no competition –
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
Oops: distracted by another poem. This coup is going to be tough.