It’s hard to believe that nearly three weeks have passed since I returned from England. My time away was a welcome and needed break, but regular life hit me full force when I returned to the States. My father’s health has been tenuous and I have continued to travel between Boston and upstate New York as much as possible to see him and help my mother. I’ve also been planning the two sections of Writing for the Media I’ll be teaching at Lasell College starting January 21, as well as the one-on-one capstone project I’ll be working on with a nonfiction student in Lasell’s Creative Writing Program. At the same time, I’ve been networking for new freelance assignments to replace the work that was taken in-house by the California agency I worked for until December.
This week the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing, my alma mater, is holding its winter student residency at Pine Manor College, just 20 minutes across town, and I have been unable to attend one class or reading. I’ve simply been too overwhelmed with family matters and work issues. The same goes for my writing; I started a new essay based on my experiences in England, but I’ve found it difficult to focus while my father is going through so much. Still, focus I must — I’ve often heard the statement “Aging isn’t for sissies,” and I guess you could say that “Writing isn’t for sissies,” either. You have to keep forcing yourself back to it during the times in life when fitting it into your days doesn’t come naturally. Otherwise, time drifts by without new work.
At the same time, someone said something to me today that made sense: “Be gentle with yourself.” I’m pretty hard on myself in virtually every aspect of my life; I drive myself relentlessly, hold myself to high standards, and sometimes exhaust myself with what some might consider perfectionist nonsense. If my father’s situation doesn’t teach me a lesson about what’s truly important in life — being there for others, especially the ones we love, and making peace with our lives, ourselves, and what we contribute to this world — than nothing will. When I think about it I realize that for me, writing helps with the “making peace with our lives, ourselves, and what we contribute to this world” part.
Do you remember the old prose poem, “Desiderata?” I used to have a framed version of it hanging on my wall in some bedroom, in some apartment or home where I lived for a time during my nomadic years. I’ll reprint it here, to remind myself (and perhaps you, gentle reader) of its message.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
© Max Ehrmann 1927