Ideas About Thriving

I read a bit of Mary Oliver’s book of essays, Upstream, on a friend’s FaceBook page, and this grabbed me:

And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is an antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can redignify the worst-stung heart.

Reading, difficult for me since electroshock, takes determination and much effort, but Mary’s book is on my Kindle now, and I dip into to it every day. As my cycle shifts out of depression, her words help me open to ideas about thriving.  Here’s what I’m trying so far:

•Commune with the Trees

I have an open invitation from my friend, Martha, to show up in her garden—to wander or make art or write, to breathe in the green and listen, to put my arms around the trees and mend my torn connection to them.

I’m also determined to find green places to walk.  Arthritis and despair have held me back, but today I tried out Cody Creek Trail.  The pain was worth the trees and their bits of discarded, lichen-covered bark that they left for me.


For whatever reason—fear, despair, boredom—lots of projects languish, tucked away so their half-heartedness can’t hurt me.  These pieces deserve my respect and my care.  I deserve their beauty and the sense of stewardship their completion brings.

Today I hung the art quilt I started years ago when a friend in Marshalltown gave me her shop’s old upholstery sample books.  I took those pieces and centered them with a scarf my grandma used to wear wrapped around her head (the reddish cross in the middle).  I love the subtle colors and the way some of the fabric falls apart like melting butter.  It hangs in my sitting room, waiting for other pieces to join it.

I’m working again on a small art journal that I started when I moved to Muskogee.  It’s called The Zen of Bipolar Disorder.  Each spread is a “lesson” I’ve learned and try to practice.  I’ve used lots of natural elements—feathers, leaves, bones, sticks, raw wool—sewn to chiffon or cheesecloth or other semi-transparent media.  It’s wild, and startling, and unlike anything else I’ve ever done.  When finished, this little book (made from an antique Swedish almanac) will be my next submission to Art Journaling Magazine.

Today, I’m going to start the finishing of my Wall of Flowing Yellow.  Not long after I moved here, I found a wholesale fabric warehouse and bought yards of various yellow chiffons and silks (and a shimmery orange prom dress at Goodwill).  The idea was to drape this huge (14 feet by 8 feet) blank wall in the center of the duplex with the Feng Shui-accurate color of Health.  Some panels are beaded, some beribboned.  All that’s left is to sew nine panels together and hem the whole piece.  A few days work.

•Choose to Thrive

This last idea is an experiment in alchemy.  How do I combat the Place Hatred that takes over when my symptoms cycle into the Black?  Hating where I live stops any chance of growth.  It poisons the air and turns people into monsters.

One small shift—repurposing a journal—is the only idea I have right now.  I used this journal to analyze my Place Hatred, to be specific, to sort out what I could change and what I couldn’t.  I used about half of the journal to that end.

Now I will use it to explore Thriving.  What makes me feel alive and well?  How do I stay open to the possibility?  This will be a place to tuck notes and ideas, to jot down little joys and brainstorms.  As I experiment, I’ll practice proper scientific technique, keeping track of results, near-misses, and magic.

Oh, it’s a relief to know that I’m still on an Adventure.

Floating a Little



• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

Big Penny Positive #8

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” — Mary Oliver

The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water

handmade greeting card, collage art


that mud-hive, that gas-sponge,

that reeking

leaf-yard, that rippling


dream-bowl, the leeches’

flecked and swirling

broth of life, as rich

as Babylon,


the fists crack

open and the wands

of the lilies

quicken, they rise


like pale poles

with their wrapped beaks of lace;

one day

they tear the surface,


the next they break open

over the dark water.

And there you are

on the shore,


fitful and thoughtful, trying

to attach them to an idea—

some news of your own life,

But the lilies


are slippery and wild—they are

devoid of meaning, they are

simply doing,

from the deepest


spurs of their being,

what they are impelled to do

every summer.

And so, dear sorrow, are you.

—Mary Oliver


handmade greeting card, collage art


I have been thinking

about living

like the lilies

that blow in the fields.


They rise and fall

in the wedge of the wind,

and have no shelter

from the tongues of the cattle,


and have no closets or cupboards,

and have no legs.

Still I would like to be

as wonderful


as that old idea.

But if I were a lily

I think I would wait all day

for the green face


of the hummingbird

to touch me.

What I mean is,

could I forget myself


even in those feathery fields?

When van Gogh

preached to the poor

of course he wanted to save someone—


most of all himself.

He wasn’t a lily,

and wandering through the bright fields

only gave him more ideas


it would take all his life to solve.

I think I will always be lonely

in this world, where the cattle

graze like a black and white river—


where the ravishing lilies

melt, without protest, on their tongues—

where the hummingbird, whenever there is a fuss,

just rises and floats away.

—Mary Oliver

The Oak Tree at the Entrance to Blackwater Pond

handmade greeting cards, collage art, tree

Every day

on my way to the pond

I pass the lightning-felled,


hundred-fingered, black oak

which, summers ago,

swam forward when the storm


laid one lean yellow wand against it, smoking it open

to its rosy heart.

It dropped down

in a veil of rain,

in a cloud of sap and fire,

and became what it has been ever since—

a black boat


in the tossing leaves of summer,


like the coffin of Osiris


upon the cloudy Nile.

But, listen, I’m tired of that brazen promise:

death and resurrection.

I’m tired of hearing how the nitrogens will return

to the earth again,

through the hinterland of patience—

how the mushrooms and the yeasts

will arrive in the wind—

how they’ll anchor the pearls of their bodies and begin

to gnaw through the darkness,

like wolves at bones—


what I loved, I mean, was that tree—

tree of the moment—tree of my own sad, mortal heart—

and I don’t want to sing anymore of the way


Osiris came home at last, on a clean

and powerful ship, over

the dangerous sea, as a tall

and beautiful stranger.

—Mary Oliver


handmade greeting card, collage art



a black bear

has just risen from sleep

and is staring


down the mountain.

All night

in the brisk and shallow restlessness

of early spring


I think of her,

her four black fists

flicking the gravel,

her tongue


like a red fire

touching the grass,

the cold water.

There is only one question:


how to love this world.

I think of her


like a black and leafy ledge


to sharpen her claws against

the silence

of the trees.

Whatever else


my life is

with its poems

and its music

and its glass cities,


it is also this dazzling darkness


down the mountain,

breathing and tasting;


all day I think of her—

her white teeth,

her wordlessness,

her perfect love.


—Mary Oliver

Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard

handmade greeting card, collage art

His beak could open a bottle,

and his eyes—when he lifts their soft lids—

go on reading something

just beyond your shoulder—

Blake, maybe,

or the Book of Revelation.


Never mind that he eats only

the black-smocked crickets,

and dragonflies if they happen

to be out late over the ponds, and of course

the occasional festal mouse.

Never mind that he is only a memo

from the offices of fear—


it’s not size but surge that tells us

when we’re in touch with something real,

and when I hear him in the orchard


down the little aluminum

ladder of his scream—

when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,


a flurry of palpitations

as cold as sleet

rackets across the marshlands

of my heart,

like a wild spring day.


Somewhere in the universe,

in the gallery of important things,

the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,

sits on its pedestal.

Dear, dark dapple of plush!

A message, reads the label,

from that mysterious conglomerate:

Oblivion and Co.

The hooked head stares

from its blouse of dark, feather lace.

It could be a valentine.

—Mary Oliver


handmade greeting card, collage art

ο ο ο

It is January, and there are crows

like black flowers on the snow.

While I watch, they rise and float toward the frozen pond,

they have seen

some streak of death on the dark ice.

They gather around it and consume everything, the strings

and the red music of that nameless body.  Then they shout, 

one hungry, blunt voice echoing another.

It begins to rain.

Later, it becomes February,

and even later, spring

returns, a chorus of thousands.

They bow, and begin their important music.

I recognize the oriole.

I recognize the thrush, and the mockingbird.

I recognize the business of summer, which is to forge ahead,


So I dip my fingers among the green stems, delicately.

I lounge at the edge of the leafing pond, delicately.

I scarcely remember the crust of the snow.

I scarcely remember the icy dawns and the sun like a lamp

without a fuse.

I don’t remember the fury of loneliness.

I never felt the wind’s drift.

I never heard of the struggle between anything and nothing.

I never saw the flapping, blood-gulping crows.

—Mary Oliver


vincent van gogh

No doubt in Holland,

when van Gogh was a boy,

there were swans drifting

over the green sea

of the meadows, and no doubt

on some warm afternoon

he lay down and watched them,

and almost thought:  this is everything.

What drove him

to get up and look further

is what saves this world,

even as it breaks

the hearts of men.

In the mines where he preached, 

where he studied tenderness,

there were only men, all of them

streaked with dust.

For years he would reach

toward the darkness.

But no doubt, like all of us,

he finally remembered

everything, including the white birds,

weightless and unaccountable,

floating around the towns

of grit and hopelessness—

and this is what would finish him:

not the gloom, which was only terrible,

but those last yellow fields, where clearly

nothing in the world mattered, or ever would,

but the insensible light.

—Mary Oliver

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