Here and Now and Change

I am here. It is now. Now has challenges. The climate changes and devastations, the ways we’ve been misusing the earth. There is a price to pay. Civil unrest. Political themes and schemes. A pandemic that seems to be ongoing without an obvious resolution.

There are things that bind me to life. There are times when part of me wants to escape. I have no wisdom for others. None. Today looks like winter due to the cast of smoke. I find myself craving winter. Winter like an oasis in a too hot, too fiery, too smoky, too long summer. We’re coming to dread summer in the mountains and in the lowlands of the west coast of California. Carefree times–no more.

How can I impose happiness these days? Where in my psyche is there an understanding of how to be in these very risky, uncertain times? I can’t feign happiness.

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“The Only Constant in Life Is Change.”- Heraclitus

This seemingly opposite quote was coined by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Translation: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

There are times in our lives when we choose change. They are choice points and there can be an easy flow towards the choices. When I met the man I was to marry, it felt like I was in the flow–grown up, living at home, working at a steady job, meeting a man who wanted to marry me…accepting his proposal, moving away, having children. All of these seemed to be in a natural flow. However, in retrospect, I realize that I didn’t give a great deal of thought to the choices. I followed the strictures of a too restricted childhood. Everything was virtually mapped out for me and I complied without a great deal of thought. So while I made choices, while they seemed natural, in many ways, they weren’t my free choices.

At other times in my life, change was forced upon me it seemed. “Grow or die” sort of imperatives. I can look back and see where I made choices that supported growth. Returning to college in my thirties, taking creative writing classes through a woman’s re-entry program. These were self-empowering choices that helped me to make the next changes in my life. Through the creative writing class, I became enamored of poetry. Poetry became the connecting force to my deepest feelings and desires. This deepening of self-knowing helped me to make the choice to leave my marriage, finally. A change, a leap that I knew I must make.

How are you with change? If it is a guarantee that change is the only constant, why do we fight against it? I suppose it is a fear of the unknown. We have the familiar…it’s like the security of the womb before we’re pushed out into a larger world. What awaits us? We want to know something before we can really know it. This then calls upon our adventuring spirit. The admission of: “I don’t know. I am curious. Let’s find out what’s next.”

Then the second quote, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” One understanding is that yes, change can be thrust upon us by outside circumstances, turbulent times. However, in order to truly go forward, we must meet that change with our own deepest understanding and heart-wisdom. All of this is easier said than done.

I am, you are, we are enigmas to ourselves, aren’t we?

Frolicking

Frolicking in my fool’s paradise

How long can this go on?

The air quality had been so pure

Now the wildfires have begun north of here

I plug in the air purifier

and pray it cleans the air

fools paradise

head in the sand

feet in the air

or head in the clouds

feet on the ground

which is preferable?

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Another summer of smoke.  The wildfires began in June in the forests and mountains of northern California, USA.  And in the flatlands south of here.  Then, there are new ones cropping up to the north, east and west.
Yesterday was a pure air pristine day.  We are dependent upon the direction of the wind.

Earth, air, fire, water.  What is your relationship to them?

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Living in the mountains for twenty-two years now, my connection to the earth has been amplified.  Although, before this, I grew up and lived by the ocean.  I would never say that I understood the sea.  I had an intimate relationship with her nonetheless.  I sought her out for comfort…and found it.  Her dynamic qualities captivated me…they do today too when I visit.

And the mountain has its own trance.  As I continue to write this post, it’s now mid-August and we’ve had two months of smoke.  Waking to smoke daily, a pall over the new day.  The spirit descends as I pull back the curtains to yet another day of smoke…

But today, the sky is blue and a smile wraps my face…we are so dependent upon our elements.  Across the planet, weather–the elements–is the media star these days.  Floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes–we are bombarded.  The earth certainly is demanding our attention.  Is she giving us feedback for the ways in which we’ve disrespected her?  Can we see this as feedback, learn from it and do some things differently, more respectfully, reverentially?

Global warming, media fact or fiction?  Where I live, I have no doubt of climate change.  I don’t need to read the news to know that.  Why is there an argument…what sort of lens are people looking through that they don’t see this?

Assimilation–some thoughts

It fails…everyone.



“Cultural assimilation is the process in which a minority group or culture comes to resemble a society’s majority group or assume the values, behaviors, and beliefs of another group whether fully or partially.”

Wikipedia

Alchemy of flowers, spices, vegetables and a drop of wine makes an all too wonderful sauce. Melting pots are different because they separate the one from her identity. The things which make her and him unique dissolved into a stew. What advantage is there in homogenizing immigrants–what is lost to them, to us, to the wholeness that loves variety?

What remains is the longing for what you’ve abandoned in yourself–grief, you bet, yes!

Assimilation has also been referred to as Cultural Homogenization–It is an aspect of cultural globalization intending a reduction in cultural diversity.

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What then is the story that wants to be told through anyone’s uniqueness? through me? through you?
Weren’t we all once immigrants?
Weren’t we all once hostile invaders?
Weren’t we invaded?

I was never really ‘white’ never really wanted to be that generic, one-size fits all milk-toast identity grouping on applications. Applications for jobs, apartments, housing, surveys, sundry forms, what have you. Checking ‘Other’ didn’t cover it for me either. Other planet? Other Galaxy? Other sexual orientation, other dimensional, another type of animal, homo-erectus or feline. Yet, doesn’t someone love to classify, label, name and segregate disorienting one from their origins/ancestry and the wonder of diversity?

I can agree that I’m female, belonging to the largest and least represented category (along with children), the culture of woman. Doesn’t that culture span the globe? Don’t we have more in common than not? We search for the exotic and foreign through travel and outside of ourselves, when, in fact, the terrain within is vastly foreign, exotic. Carl Jung was one of our navigators through this landscape but he died and we were left stranded in a sea of distractions and technological advances. All of these diversions from what is going on inside and in the larger world over which we feel helpless to make a difference.

I would have felt more shame had my ancestors been the first to arrive on the Mayflower. I wouldn’t have wanted to claim that perceived glory. It was too close to the extermination of a race of people with whom I feel empathy. The indigenous ones only wanted to protect their lands, their people and the pristine quality of their lives–their connection to the earth–indigenously wise.

Nov.16, 2015
My ancestors came over from Italy and Ireland a few generations ago.
I am third generation here not so long–
Immigrated, assimilated–
but the dreams persist and
I resist the memories they convey.
I am here–America–
born in America.
Why then this strange chanting
in a language that makes me tingle
yet I don’t understand?

Nov.17, 2015
Because when she let go of her heritage, she let go of her birthright and the inherent magic.

Skin–shades of various tones. Beneath it, ah, bones, blood, organs–skin, what perceptions do we have based on shades of skin?

What perceptions do we have based on how much money? Having more money, or with less money, or without money?

Years–accumulation of years–what perceptions do we have based on how many or how few years one has lived on planet earth?

What perceptions do we have based on sexual orientation?

What perceptions do we have based on physical appearance? Height, weight…

On and on it goes, our limiting perceptions.

Once upon a time, I married a young Hispanic man. I gave birth to two daughters. They resemble their Mexican heritage physically. They are also Irish, Italian, French and German. Their father did not grow up speaking Spanish although both of his parents were fluent native speakers. Was there a shame in bringing the language forward? The dream was to have your children be assimilated, an American, and it was presumed that the native language would link them to something undesirable.

Today, when my daughters are in the company of other Spanish-speaking Hispanics and it is discovered that they don’t speak the language, they are looked down upon by the native speakers. Yet, because of their appearance, they are devalued by the “White” ones. It’s all very peculiar, isn’t it?

Poetry and the Common Ground

Poetry takes the everyday events and elevates them. Poetry takes the extraordinary events and translates them into something relatable. Poetry can be anything from passion overflowing on a page to a quiet meander beside a forest stream. Poetry is inherently an avenue for self-discovery and deepening. It fosters relationality with the reader.

Where do poets come from? Years ago, in my late thirties, I returned to college. I signed up for a women’s re-entry program with a designated curriculum. Creative Writing was one of the classes. Within this writing class was a segment on poetry. Poetry had always seemed unattainable–both in deciphering what the poet intended to say and in writing my own pen-to-page poem. I hadn’t realized that at this single moment in time, poetry was exactly what I needed. In the morning, I’d roll out of bed onto the floor. Poems gushed from me into my notebook! I was astonished. Suddenly, I who had been brought up to be seen and not heard couldn’t stop writing poetry. Poetry provided an opportunity to write about my life and to integrate the experiences of my life. The poetess in me was born!

Awhile later, I read some of my poetry in intimate circles, then in front of larger audiences. Typically, the women in the audience connected with my words, with me through my words. While the poet and/or writer writes alone, the words of one woman’s experience, my experience, created a common ground–a place of recognition for the listeners. When shared, the poetry became a link between me and other women who know what it is to be a woman in these times. The struggle to claim one’s own identity, to find her voice, to grow out from under the societal expectations of what it is to be a woman–i.e., the common ground. Bringing light to what has bound us, vanquishing the inner shackles that don’t encourage our wholeness, our truth–now laid out before you and me through a poem. How grateful I am to have found this voice in me.

Writing poetry, we don’t merely look and see something objectively. We become deep see-ers. The writer connects with her subject in a visceral way. The poem then has the capacity to bring the reader into the experience. Another crucial thing, when we see deeply and connect with something outside of us, we establish a relationship with it. From that perspective, we begin to see it’s value and the part that it plays in our lives.

Poetry has the capacity to connect us to the themes of our lives–and there lies the common ground once again. We each have life themes that we share in common–birth, death, love, angst, hope, freedom, faith, fear, trauma, renewal, grief, quandaries, and more.

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What is the value in claiming your inner poet in the world today? Your inner poet is a soulful creature. Engaging soulful awareness of yourself widens the opportunity to do so with others and of what we name as inanimate. Everyone and everything becomes more than merely players and props. The inanimate is then valued and we begin to care more deeply. Things are not there only for our pleasure, entertainment or consumption. They are appreciated for what they intrinsically are. And then, there’s the possibility of fully embracing the earth that is our very sustenance.

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What is the poetry that connects you to yourself, your neighbor, to other women or men, to the earth, to life? Trust poetry to provide the common ground.


Art in Your Life

How many times have you said (or heard someone say) “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body?”

My reply is “I don’t believe that.”

We are all artists in some sense as we imprint our life upon the blank canvas of each new day. The fact that the arts have not been stressed in a world of academia, resigns many of us to the theory that we are not creative. We see art as the territory of an elite group of eccentric individuals, not for “the common man.” And the number of these individuals who make it to the respectful ranks of successful artists, supported monetarily by their art, is even smaller. So if you can’t make a living at it, the competition is stiff, the chances of positive recognition are slim, then what’s the point of integrating it into an academic curriculum? What benefit could it possibly have? How could it improve the quality of life?

Big questions with lots of diverse theoretical answers. Some answers have been researched in a structured way; many have personal experience to back them up. What has been your experience with art? How has it influenced you? Have you discovered that ‘creative bone’ or allowed it to lay dormant? Time and money are often factors. Who has the time to take an art class or go to see the art show? And making art can certainly be an expensive hobby.

We are all artists to the degree that we choose to be. An artist and one who appreciates art become one in synchronistic moments. Practicing an art form or experiencing someone else’s art can be life enhancing. Who sets the table with a vase of arranged flowers and pretty place settings thereby elevating herself and her guests? Who stands in awe of a stunning sunset? Who becomes breathless over the blue sky brushed with wisps of white clouds? Who admires the evergreens and bare deciduous trees frosted with white snow? Who witnesses the burst of flowers in spring and laughs with birdsong? Who is revitalized by the last nectarine on the tree, untouched by bird or bug. If you are among any of these, you are a lover of the arts.

For what is art but a capturing of one moment in a photograph, on a canvas, on film, in a poem, a dance, a sculpture or acted in a play? How fortunate that some of us can take what nature has provided and transform it into our own individual expression. Why wouldn’t we want to experience this pleasure in as many ways as possible? Art viewed, participated in and discussed is a forum for communication with other viewers and/or fellow artists. Whatever emotions it might touch–love, anger, joy, grief or passion, it achieves the purpose of opening us and providing an opportunity to share with another.

There are a variety of mediums to choose from. We each have unique tastes and we begin with a curiosity to explore one of them. One person might enjoy molding clay, another plays with paints and yet another loves words. Experimenting and experiencing are the best teachers. When was the last time you attended an art exhibit? When was the last time you listened to classical music during dinner? Have you always wanted to take a photography class? On a sunny day, picture this–you, watercolors, a paint brush and canvas sitting in the backyard giving yourself permission to come out and play. For today, why not place a vase of your favorite flowers on the kitchen table? See what opens up for you and those who live with you. The artist in you is longing for recognition.

Enjoy!

I genuflect

I came across this poem I wrote back in 2009…my dad was resisting allowing in-home-help for my mom.  When we were finally able to get someone in to help my parents, when my father finally acquiesced, I wrote a poem of gratitude for this corps of helpers.  Caregivers are underpaid and unsung heroines and heroes.  They do women’s work which, as we realize, is undervalued across the globe.

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I genuflect
before all life
and the caregiver who
washes a sink full of dirty dishes
and changes diapers
or empties bedpans
bathes my parents
–to those who wash urine-soaked mattress pads
with grace.

I revere the life
which enters in a bloody burst
catching its first breath in a cry
and releasing its final breath in a shudder
and everything in between
–especially women’s work
which great corporations
like hotels, restaurants,
the hospitality industry
model themselves after.
Women have always
prepared our food,
cared for the sick,
done the laundry,
and not been paid for
their necessary labor.
i.e., my mom
–now my dad has to pay wages
for her care after sixty-six years
of her unpaid service to him.

To pay for women’s work
is a tough pill for him to swallow
wash it down
wash it down
and cough up the money
for these worthy and necessary chores
from worthy givers of care
to my more than deserving mom.

****
Ultimately, my parents moved to a care home.  Their needs were met by caregivers making minimum wage. There is a real humility in accepting help as we age.  And caregiving is a humble profession that deserves to be elevated.  Where does any one society place its value?  This becomes obvious in what they put their money towards.
My father passed away in 2010 and my mom died six months later.

How to work with the “Malaise”

Malaise: “…a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”

How are you coping with it? The long stretch of not being sure how to proceed? The risks, the frustrations, the doubts and uncertainties, the news, the misinformation, the truth that “no one really knows for sure.” What are the long-term consequences of getting the vaccine? How long does it last? What’s the best one for you? What’s the best one for me? Who can you go to for answers? What if you are one who chooses to wait and see before you get the vaccine, if ever? What is the underlying cause of this virus? Where did it actually originate? What’s the best preventative? Can we gather or not? How many feet apart? Wearing masks, indoors or outdoors? Double-masking? Whaaaaat?

And do we have to face more of this in the future? Is it a result of climate change and what we’ve been doing to our planet? The virus goes to the lungs…are the lungs of the earth sending us a message as we carry on with our deforestation…the trees, the lungs of the planet? A good question–is the earth giving us FEEDBACK? How are we interpreting this?

Some of my friends are trying to live their lives with business as usual. There are others who are working around the curtailments. There are others who go between the malaise and working on one or another projects. For them it’s like swimming against the currents. Progress is slow, if any. Sometimes they go sideways, detouring into a mindless distraction. Some have a new addiction to the news, their computers. And they are suffering for it. As for me, I’m trying to sort through a lifetime of writing. And to maintain the little cottage where I live better. A little garden. The goal is to bring some order to the world that immediately surrounds me. The one I think I have some control over. In incremental ways, daily. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or overnight.

What about you? How are you coping?

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I wrote this poem in March of 2012. I don’t remember what was going on in my life at the time. It was a year after my mom had died. A year and a half since my dad had died. I’m guessing I was rousing myself and redirecting my life after the challenges of their final years. The thing is…perhaps we’re always rebounding from something or other in our lives. Yes, it’s true, the magnitude of what has resulted from the virus is different because it’s global, not only us. Yet, we do know some of what it takes to rebound.

Betweenland
by Christine O’Brien

Footing is precarious
The old, familiar ledges
eroding beneath my feet
before I have something
solid in place
If trust were substance
I’d stand upon it
finding safe ground
in the midst of dissolution
From there,
I’d look out upon inner continents
–the old ones disappearing
as the new ones surface
The discontent and yearning
from which they’ve sprung
in my own sweet soul
calling more of me into being
The woman that I am
standing on this plot of land
looking across the horizon,
now so close,
to see the other one
stretching out his hand
towards me


Responding to the Call or not…

Fear of being judged.

Sometimes I don’t respond to the call.  Sometimes, the universe delivers precise messages that it’s time to do an art show.  Locally, invitations come to me.  I find a reason to say “no, thank you.”  I make excuses that seem true in the moment… “I’m grieving.”  or “It’s too costly to get frames and prep the art for a show.”  or “I’m mostly self-taught–I haven’t gone to art school.”

In retrospect all of these reasons (excuses) seem false, constructed to protect myself in some way.  Our art is, after all, our progeny and we protect it accordingly along with our fragile artist’s ego.  Behind all of this, is the fear that others are going to judge me and my art unfavorably.  Time to get past that.

You cannot be discovered and invisible at the same time!

Recognizing and making opportunities.

Think about the attention that has come your way through your art or writing or poetry–when you deign to share it.  That old “don’t hide your light under a bushel” parable comes to mind.  Given a gift, it is meant to be shared.  I have to remind myself of this when I humbly dismiss an invitation to have an art show or decline to read a poem publicly.

Notes to self:  1)When someone says that they like my art…that they want to purchase something because it speaks to them or that they’d like to see more of my art, say “Yes”.  2) And, when they say that a painting is something they could live with comfortably and appreciate daily, don’t dismiss that.  Share more of what you do with them.

I’ve been thinking about the unlikely places to share my art as well as the generous offers from a local hotel and a gallery.  Take a little expedition within a thirty mile radius of where I live.  Who could host a piece or two of my art.  I’ve made  up those business cards–but I could give them a fresh look.  And then, actually hand them out!

If not now, when?

Truly, can any one of us measure the length of our lives?  We didn’t come here to be invisible.  We are each an expression of something that the universe has brought forth for a good reason.  We are meant to be seen and heard.  With due respect for others of course.  It’s not a competition.  It’s more like an ARRAY.  What a beautiful word.  In an array of flowers, there is not one that has to be the most beautiful.  Again, reminding me of the word “synergy” where the parts aren’t greater than the whole…they work together in a harmonious array.

STOP PLAYING HARD TO GET!

So it is with your art…joining the league of artists, each a star in his/her own orbit.  What a brilliant idea!

Another quote I love and refer to time and again:

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”   – Audre Lorde

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What I’m saying is:  Any one of us is being called on in some way to express ourselves at this time.  I heard the phrase recently “You are here on purpose.”  Wow, that’s a good one to contemplate.  What you are working on or creating in your life right now, what would it be like to share it with another, others, the larger community?

Mary Oliver

“Who made the world?”  In one of her famous poems, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks this question.  Like a young child’s voice asking her parents “Who made the world?”  or “Where did I come from?”  or  “How did I get here?”  The young, if allowed, ask those existential questions.  And like this and many other poets, Oliver follows the thread of her thoughts and goes from the broad to the specific.

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

****
I want to know
WHO MADE THE PINEAPPLE?
I mean this pineapple
the one delivered with my food order
this past week?
Who designed the layered, tufted top
the prickly, hexagon designs
outlined in yellow-green?
Who conscribed it to be juicy sweet
a treat

pineapple

Who made the pineapple?

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Can you find something to be amazed by today?  Something that causes you to stop in your tracks and really see and admire it?  One definition of admire is “to regard with wonder, pleasure or approval.”  If I took the time, I’m guessing that throughout the day, there would be many things that I could admire.  I could dwell in amazement.

The Unbeautiful

The question I asked in an early journal (2012) “Can I bring beauty to the perceived as unbeautiful.”

For some reason, this question seems as timely as it did when I asked it in 2012. In the last blog, I mentioned being present and pondered why it seems unsustainable.

I live in a beautiful place. I look out the windows and there is INSTANT BEAUTY surrounding my cottage. Within five minutes, I can be walking beside a pristine lake. We are saying farewell to a winter that sparkled with white snow, tree branches etched with snow, unique snowflakes whirling then landing. We are turning towards the first crocuses, daffodils and tulips–the heralds of spring.

I am always stopped by a spring flower. I pause to acknowledge it. Yet, how quickly I leave that beauty behind and retreat into my head. Into the same old annoying thought patterns. That nowhere land around which my mind circles. I am resisting the beauty that surrounds me. Why? Why do I choose these thoughts over this present beauty? Why this incessant need to solve what is insoluble.

As far as bringing beauty to what I perceive as unbeautiful, I think that’s not really the question. The real question seems to be why am I once again missing the beauty that is. If the unbeautiful represents the shadow in humanity, in you, in me, then as I understand it, it needs acknowledgment from me. “Yes, you’re there too. I welcome and accept you.” And then there comes a time when the fascination with the shadow desires to lessen. Isn’t there?

Our media, in case you haven’t noticed, gives weighty attention to the mess that humans continue to make of things. The media is often a fear monger. I have heard that it takes seven uplifting thoughts or things of beauty to counter one negative message. Yet, we are bombarded by a media that perhaps knows exactly what it’s doing–keeping people in fear and immobilized. An amnesia for what is beautiful takes over.

Some of my friends don’t read or listen to the news. They seem generally happier for it. Is it sticking one’s head in the sand not to read the news? Is it irresponsible not to stay up on world affairs? Some would say so. How much better off am I for reading the news, the conflicting news, the reporting that creates dissension and division? There are things in the realms of politics that have been set in motion that I don’t seem to have control over. There are certainly decisions that I don’t align with…and yet, how is my dread of them going to change anything?

What if I could go out today and really be with the beauty that is around me? What if I could wander in the wonder of what it is to be alive today? What if I could hold the mystery of our being-ness closer and worry less about the uncertainty?

Can I make the unbeautiful beautiful? No, but I can meet the unbeautiful with it’s counterpart of beauty. For everything has a counterpart.

While working on a painting, I remember what one teacher said “work with what’s working.” That’s a good reminder for life. There is a lot that is working and that I can easily take for granted.

Rejoining the Beauty
by Christine O’Brien

The chief beauty of the world
pattern of patterns
To tap into that beauty
to let it be the motivator
of this day
Jane’s tree, Crissy’s flowers,
the amethyst ring,
a smile, the cuddly cat
These things know
what I only surmise
A creator who
set this world in motion
where I join with this source
in my own creation
a masterpiece in the making
Within the stumbling,
the waywardness–
beauty
In the lost or
unlit places–
beauty
There is no waiting for me
to reach that highly evolved state
in the present incompleteness–
beauty
In what’s for dinner and
who I met for breakfast yesterday–
beauty
In the unknown tomorrow
the tentative step forward, the risk–
beauty
In the potential for love,
the yearning for peace–
beauty
The stone in my shoe set free,
rejoining the beauty

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Music is certainly a way to engage beauty. Remember to listen to music.