Today I facilitated a short haiku workshop at my office job. It’s part of a more-or-less monthly series of self-care events led by various staffers who volunteer to share a skill or a practice they find nourishing. We all work at a trauma counseling and education center, so it’s just one of those practical ways of making it work.
My manager was the only one who came. We read Basho and Richard Wright, plus selected haiku from Nick Virgilio, Robert Speiss, and Alexis Rotella. I liked Alexis Rotella’s best (“Just friends” from After an Affiar. Merging Media, 1994.). We talked about seasonal words, cutting words, karumi and sabi and wabi — those senses of lightness and happy-aloneness and reverence for the commonplace which are so hard to describe. And after a few minutes, we wrote some of our own, shyly sharing them and talking about active meditation and how to use haiku as activities for teen support groups. Here’s one from me:
Guests walk to their cars.
Clean dishes sit by the sink,
Steaming and draining.
Of course — of COURSE — after it was over and I distributed the handouts to the rest of the staff, I found out that three other co-workers were waiting in another room just down the hall for me to show up and lead a haiku workshop. Dang! I (and my manager) had misread the location in the original email. We laughed about it and planned to meet up again, despite my urges to kick myself.
Isn’t that always how it is? (I think of Frank Gaspar: “…the sparrows disguise themselves as leaves in the hedge waiting/for their moment. Isn’t that how it is with you?”) The workshop finds a little magic and your brain makes a few new connections, quietly, then you find out you left someone out. You saved the whole afternoon to write and the baby wouldn’t go down for her nap. You wake up and fry an egg and think, “ok, maybe the depression is in remission.” And then you burn your hand and someone calls to cancel dinner plans and you go back to bed.
Internally, I’m always reaching an extreme position — or just leaving one. Externally, I’m fine, nothing to see here, I got it, thanks all the same. And yet the people I read the most (Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Ursula K Le Guin, Mary Oliver, Gwendolyn Brooks and (inexplicably) Charles Dickens) all seem pretty honest and fearless about those extreme heights of hope and depths of nevermind-it’s-not-important-anyway.
As a member of this collective, it seemed good for me to name my intention of writing out those extreme positions. Just putting it out there, as a way of holding myself to those ongoing tensions that writing honestly represents. After all, hope — that thing with feathers, thank you Emily — is more extreme than we like to think. We don’t hope in a sunny corner just for the hell of it; we hope in the face of something else. Hope’s a thing with teeth as well as feathers, I think. The better to snarl at you with.