I don’t know whether it was Jerry Colonna or my therapist who recommended this to me, but I listened to David Whyte’s Midlife and the Great Unknown yesterday on my evening run.
As part of my acceptance of midlife, which I define as the transition into the stage where you know you have fewer days to live than the number of days you have already lived, I’ve been exploring a bunch of different things. One of them is poetry, which has always been extremely difficult for me to read.
So, I decided to try a combination of poetry, memoir, and reflections by David Whyte on Audible. I usually run without headphones, but I’m trying to reacclimate to the roads around my house in Boulder after spending the summer on the trails in Aspen, so I thought I’d listen to a book on tape. I’d downloaded Midlife a few months ago and it was at the top of the Audible list on my phone, so I just rolled with it.
About two miles up St. Vrain, as I was approaching the left turn on 47th, I settled into a groove where everything fell away. Whyte has a beautiful voice and I realized that listening to poetry is a lot easier for me than reading poetry. And, as I transitioned into the flow state that is a good run after the first 20 or so minutes, a smile crossed my face.
When I finished my eight miles, I was almost done with the two-hour-long Audible recording that I listened to at 1.25x speed. Amy was downstairs watching the US Open so I made my recovery smoothie, got in the hot tub, and had a wonderful half-hour phone call with my dad where we just talked about life as the sun went behind the Flatirons.
As I get comfortable with midlife, I see more poetry in my future.
At the end of another intense year, after two weeks fighting a difficult cold, surrounded by snow, light, and quiet, this poem by John O’Donohue made its way to the surface, sent to me by my beloved soulmate. Happy new year.
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
While Amy loves poetry, I struggle with it. I find that I generally skim it and don’t really absorb it, unless I read it aloud and slowly. Yesterday, as I was listening to Jerry Colonna read a poem as part of something I did with him and a bunch of other Boulder entrepreneurs and I thought of a poetry book I read recently that I loved.
It’s Odes by Sharon Olds. Since it was poetry, and I knew I wanted to read it slowly, I bought it in hardcover instead of Kindle. I decided to read it in the bathroom so it would take me a while. Like a lot of guys I know, I enjoy sitting on my throne for 15 minutes reading – it’s a quiet place for me. So, I put Odes on the shelf in my master bathroom and read a few poems each time I emptied myself.
Sharon Olds deserves her Pulitzer Prize. She’s awesome. I think I noticed this book in the New York Times Book Review when I talked about all the dirty, sexy, human body part, and object odes she had written. My curiosity got the best of me and it was well worth it.
Who can resist a book that starts with an Ode to the Hymen. While there are plenty of other body part odes, we also get Ode of Broken Loyalty, Wind Ode, Ode to my Whiteness, Ode to the Condom, and an Ode to the Last Thirty-Eight Trees in New York City Visible from This Window.
I typically read two to three odes on each trip to the bathroom, but every now and then found myself finished with my business with the desire to read one more. Sexist Ode. San Francisco Bay Dawn Ode. Sick Couch Ode. Toxic Shock Ode. Ode to My Fat. My Mother’s Flashlight Ode. Merkin Ode.
There are seven sections. I have no idea how Olds segments these sections – there was no rhyme or reason from my frame of reference. Trilobite Ode. O of Multiple O’s. Donner Party Mother Ode.
It ended with ABRACADABRA Ode which I thought was brilliant.
Henceforth, I will read poetry on the toilet. Any good recommendations?