Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
— Mary Oliver, “Sometimes”
Each year on January 17th, I pay tribute to my friend Shannon. Sometimes in a blog post. Usually in solitude. A quiet thought, a walk alone, among trees if I’m lucky. My steps, my thoughts, my gratitude — all of it an offering to her life, her death, and the change she inspired in me.
This year on the 17th, the world said goodnight to another wonderful soul: the poet Mary Oliver. Oliver was a rare modern elder. I didn’t realize how many people Oliver’s work influenced until after she passed. In a world where “Influencer” is a career aspiration — a fickle, fleeting status based on the social platform of the minute — Oliver was a deep influencer, shaping the world from the inside out. Slowly, subtly, over decades. Like a glacier.
Paying attention. Being astonished. Telling about it.
Telling about it. That’s probably the hardest part for most writers. Maybe most people, period. We can share a photo on Instagram from our amazing holiday. But how easily can we really speak truth about what we’re seeing and feeling?
The first time I started writing I was on an adventure. I almost couldn’t help but share what I was uncovering, seeing, experiencing, learning about the world and myself. Finally, it felt like I had a story worth sharing – Shannon, my sabbatical, my 7 month wandering. I was paying attention. Astonished daily. Telling about it.
Lately I haven’t felt much on an adventure. And lately, I haven’t been writing. Truth is, I haven’t felt inspired enough to share. No deep insights. No grace from the universe. Nothing deep and meaningful to share with my people. Meaningful to me, but not the sort of stuff I feel compelled to share. Life happenings. Not poetry. Not adventure.
And yet, THAT’S ALL BS. Here’s how I know.
I didn’t feel inspired to write this. But I did feel compelled by Mary Oliver, her death, and her work to share one of her poems. Which led to captioning the photo. Which led to the kernel of this post.
Writing is a tool for noticing. It’s acknowledging that there’s an adventure out there, and you, the writer, are living it.
It’s been said that “inspiration is for amateurs.” Well, Mary Oliver was a professional. Instead of waiting for inspiration, or getting frustrated when it didn’t show, she simply opened her eyes and found it. She showed up first, decade after decade, no matter who was reading (or not), paid attention, allowed herself to be astonished, and told us about it.
And maybe that’s what Mary Oliver teaches us: the adventure is always there. What’s missing are the poet’s eyes to notice it.