By Robin Lippincott, Spalding School of Writing Fiction & Creative Nonfiction Faculty
One of the benches overlooking Spy Pond, Arlington.
Here is my third attempt at writing this blog post, which gives you some context for what follows. The first two efforts were completely different and unrelated, on subjects having nothing to do with this one. Finally, I realized there was really only one thing I wanted to write about here; it was so obvious that I’d missed it entirely.
I recently heard a talking head lamenting how unusual and just plain wrong it is that a politician (he who shall go unnamed here) should be so deeply and disturbingly embedded in our psyches that he regularly and persistently interferes with our daily lives, not to mention our sleep. This struck me as so true, obviously so, that I then began to wonder what others in our community are doing to try to stay on track, to keep your focus, to keep your head above water, to stay relatively sane?
I and many people I know follow the news closely, relying on not just one source; but then periodically just about everyone I know has said that they reach saturation and need to take a break, myself included—er, make that “breaks.” But it’s important to stay tuned in, too, to try to be an informed citizen, right?
A friend of mine once advised me, long ago, in a very different time: Do whatever you need to do to get through. I’m writing this blog post to tell you some of the things that I do, now, to get through the day, to soothe my soul, to try to stay sane. But this is also an invocation, inviting you to respond and tell me, tell us (the Spalding community), what it is you’re doing to help yourself navigate these deeply difficult and troubled times.
I take a lot of long walks (and I also bicycle), sometimes enjoying music as I do so but at other times simply listening to bird call, crickets, and other sounds from the natural world.
Being as generous and as kind as possible helps, specifically as a counteraction to those taken by the Narcissist-in-Chief.
Being immersed in a book-length writing project can also help.
As can being active, doing something, by which I mean taking an action or actions that in any way are in direct opposition to the policies of he who shall go unnamed here (and his ilk), i.e. playing a part in the Resistance. It could be something as bold and brave as what young Greta Thunberg or old Jane Fonda are doing, or something as seemingly small (yet vital) as addressing postcards or answering phones.
Some other things I’m doing:
Reading and rereading James Baldwin, and/or watching his famous debate with William F. Buckley, on YouTube.
Reading Rebecca Solnit, for example Hope in the Dark (and/or Men Explain Things to Me, for that matter), or re/reading Toni Morrison, or Ocean Vuong, or John Keats, along with so many other purveyors of truth and beauty.
Something my partner and I regularly do when he’s in town (ours is a long-distance relationship) is get a coffee to-go, then walk to Spy Pond and sit on a bench in the sun. Simple, right? But so nurturing. And healing. Occasionally, all of the benches are occupied, and one of us will ask the occupant if s/he would mind sharing. No one has turned us down yet, and generally a conversation ensues: Talking to strangers can also be a very good and positive thing to do.
The ‘Virginia Woolf bench’ at Fresh Pond, Cambridge
This mention of pond and bench reminds me of another pond and bench: At the end of September, 1994, a red granite bench (the granite is from India) with an inscription from Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando, suddenly appeared—overnight—in a pine grove on a hill overlooking Fresh Pond, in Cambridge. The passage on the bench reads, in part:
“Indeed, she was falling asleep with their wet feathers on her face and her ear pressed to the ground when she heard, deep within, some hammer on an anvil, or was it a heart beating? Tick-tock, tick-tock, so it hammered, so it beat, the anvil, or the heart in the middle of the earth….”
Of course, Cambridge city officials immediately had to get to the bottom of how and why it was that this bench suddenly appeared, not to mention who had placed it there, and whether or not they should let it stay or if it had to go. One day later, an attorney came forward stating that she represented the donor of the bench (who wanted to remain anonymous), reassuring authorities that the donor had delivered the bench and that it wasn’t stolen or anything of that nature. City officials decided that the bench could stay, and it is still there today, twenty-five years later: I visited it this morning after writing a draft of this blog post.
At the time, some Cantabrigians referred to the sudden appearance and donation of the bench as “a random act of kindness” and “a senseless act of beauty”—both things that we need so much more of in this world; never more so than today, this moment.
I look forward to hearing what some of you are doing, the ways you’re living, now.
Robin Lippincott has been teaching in Spalding’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program since its inception in 2001. He has published six books, most recently, Blue Territory: A Meditation on the Life and Art of Joan Mitchell. He lives in the Boston area.