An Unanticipated Hiatus

Dear Commonplacers,

Firstly, I write this to all of you realizing that I have failed at getting you The Sunday Book newsletters for many, many weeks now. For this I apologize. But I wanted to reach out now to tell you that this is what my nightstand has looked like for several weeks now, four months to be exact:

My nightstand

My nightstand

And so this is the reason for the unexpected hiatus. The little person growing inside of me has been working diligently to become as healthy as possible, and this means that I have had dwindling energy to give to all of you here, The Commonplace Living community. This unexpected hiatus has caused me to slow down and simplify, and for at least the first four months that meant that slowly Commonplace Living came to a halt. The morning hours, evening hours, and weekend hours that I had been excitedly devoting to Commonplace soon were filled with very, very long naps, sleeping in as late as possible before getting to work, just sitting and taking it in (all the joy and wonder, but also the fear and feeling of being overwhelmed).

So if you’ve been waiting for the next wonderful poem by Beth Kephart, I apologize. If you’ve been waiting for another book recommendation or poem from Mr. Peasley’s desk, or painting to explore, I apologize. Instead I’ve been sleeping, trying to eat, resting, getting advice from dear friends and family, processing, dealing with back pain, avoiding the smell of shellfish and also getting a chance to catch up on The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (I feel very connected with Lady Constance this time around!) and I owe the inspiration for the title of this email to the wonderful mind behind this series, Maryrose Wood.

However, this post is not to say goodbye, or to say that the project will be halted forever, instead it’s to fill you in on what’s been going on this side of the web, to apologize for the absence, but also to let you know that I do hope to continue, particularly as the summer and my second trimester are finally here! Here’s to more posts in the near future! (and do know that I have tried to continue posting on social media even during these last few months, so there’s always gathered articles and paintings there for you too!)

All the best,

Jess

Wick Inside Flame: A Poem

Wick Inside Flame

Later, the seahorse,

Long-snouted and swooned

Into its green corset of glass,

Dangled from a nail

In our kitchen window,

And when the sun

Eclipsed the horizon,

It pinked.

It had been what we’d taken for ourselves,

From a room of fragile things,

In a shop on the river on a day

When again it was the three of us,

And we were accumulating time

For after this.

We’d walked the canal first,

Behind the poet’s house. Walked

Lambertville and the bridge

Above the Delaware,

And we’d called the white geese

Swans, for the romance of it,

And leaned to catch a feather,

And said to each other,

Or I said to you,

I remember snowdrops.

Last night, washing my hands

Of the lavender I had planted

And watching the seahorse pink

Above the sink, I stole this image

Of ourselves from the day we had

Squandered so that we might be saved:

You brushing my hair from my face

For a kiss, our son too tall to tame.

“When the Children have Gone to Bed,” Carl Larsson (1895, Sweden).

“When the Children have Gone to Bed,” Carl Larsson (1895, Sweden).

This is the second of five poems shared specifically with Commonplace Living’s readers written by award winning author Beth Kephart.


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Beth Kephart

wrote poems before she wrote books. Then she wrote poems while writing books. Now she writes poems because they force her to find and say the one singular thing that she still hopes to find a way to say. Her essays, books, teaching, and thoughts can be found at bethkephartbooks.com

Why it is May!

The Frog and Toad stories are some of my favorites from childhood. They are playful, of the earth, adventurous tales that simply sweep you up. Here’s a nice reminder I came across recently, that it is in fact May!

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Enjoy the May flowers and showers. The gray days and blue skies. May is a time of transition, with new life emerging and a season dying away. Maybe pick up a Frog and Toad story and settle in.

The Inevitable Resurrection: The Way of All Things

What is this atomic gift of a body, hands, eyes, feet and ears, a seed of? We’ve inherited the cells that make up our being as a mysterious gift from the universe: what we give back in our lifetime can be the fruit of that seed, the fruit of the seeds sown by the parents who suffered to bear and raise us. And now, our free acts of love and reconciliation might bear fruit that we might not even imagine. This is the tiny seed of faith that can grow the enormous mustard tree.

The Way governs all things, so whether we love others or not, whether we like it or not, nature will turn us back into a new gift: blades of grass in which the grasshoppers rest, or branches from which birds proclaim their songs. No matter what we do, the universe will extract its once invested love back from us. But we all have the freedom to increase the yield, not just yield a zero sum game. Therefore the call to love one another is not a choice among many. Rather, it is the inevitable course of all things. Our submission to the Way, then, produces an abundance of good things, not just a sustaining of the status quo of biological life, but the presence of the resurrection here and now.

To quote Hieromonk Damascene from Christ The Eternal Tao :

"What was this course that all things followed? No thing existed for itself. Each thing humbly, patiently fulfilled its designation, without thinking, without possessing, or rebelling, or complaining, or laying blame, or taking credit, or seeking honor. One thing dies, without thinking, that others may live. A seed falls to the ground and dies, and from it comes a tree bearing fruit and more seeds beyond counting. If the seed is preserved whole, nothing will come from it. Only if it dies will it give life. This is the Way, the Pattern that all things follow...If each thing that is made serves another, And all things serve the whole, Does not the Way serve, also? If all created things (save man) humbly, patiently fulfill the designation of their existence on earth, Should not the Way ['Christ' the 'Logos'] do the same?"

painting:   Doroga   (translated, The Road), by Konstantin Kryzhitsky, 1899.

painting: Doroga (translated, The Road), by Konstantin Kryzhitsky, 1899.


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Jonathan Peasley

didn't know that he loved poetry until he heard Bjork sing "i will wade out" by ee cummings when he was a sophomore in high school. Since then, he has been on the hunt for those who capture in words those lightning flashes of the liminal and sublime that a moment presents. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his wife, two children, and an idiosyncratic cat and dog. He teaches junior high and high school humanities classes at a private school.

The Ministrations of the Moon: A Poem

The Ministrations of the Moon


And then it rained no more,
Save in the domes beneath the leaves,

And through the tin of downspouts

And from a stranger’s sleeves.  The birds

Had seen it coming — the finch

And morning dove, the ordinary robin—

And the squirrels had gone off

Like slingshot ammunition, hurtling

Between trees. The storm interfered

With the dying of the day. There was dark

Without the benefit of dusk, and then those star

Tattoos and, last, the ministrations

Of the moon. If you were anywhere you were

Watching from your own kitchen window

Through your own green eyes,

For that’s where the likeness is between us:

In the jewel set of our eyes. I learned

Watching from you: Yeast to rise,

Sun to set, rain to rinse,

Forgiveness.  


This is the first of five poems shared specifically with Commonplace Living’s readers written by award winning author Beth Kephart. Four more poem posts to come.

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Beth Kephart

wrote poems before she wrote books. Then she wrote poems while writing books. Now she writes poems because they force her to find and say the one singular thing that she still hopes to find a way to say. Her essays, books, teaching, and thoughts can be found at bethkephartbooks.com

Girl with Peaches: A Painting Reflection

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Girl with peaches. Valentin Serov, 1887.

Serious eyes. What have we interrupted? This little girl sits at a table, simple white cloth, the sheen of the butter knife, the pressure of her fingers on the ripe peach. And yet, she has paused, no juice has spilled out of the fuzzy flesh of fruit, or slid down her wrist onto her pink sleeve. The day, the leaves with light shining peak in behind her to, trying to see what is happening, or maybe illuminating it for us? There is a serious sadness in her eyes, does she want to whisper secrets to this piece of creation? Or is she waiting until we leave so she can devour it herself? Within this frame there is the whimsy of childhood in the polka-dot bow and pink blouse, the newness of life, but also the passing of time, the day is ending, life moves forward, can she resist the sadness of the miniature soldier at her shoulder? What do we tell her?

On Rock Hunting and Not Looking for Anything In Particular

Rock-hunting on the shores of Lake Michigan occupies a fair amount of my time each summer. With pails, buckets, strainers, and sifters, I set forth on the search. And I set out again and again, day after day, summer after summer, never tiring of this search.

I started thinking about my fondness for rock-hunting while re-reading Josef Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Culture and  In Tune with the World. How, and why, was I still so fond of such a futile activity? Hours and hours of time in exchange for rocks, the majority of which are still sitting in the buckets I used to collect them.

Pieper notes that the world of leisure (also the world of festivity) is outside the realm of utility and calculation; he says that it transcends the workaday world. What does this mean, exactly? It means that during experiences of true leisure, we stop thinking along the lines of “I have to do this because...” or “I need to do this so that...” and just settle into being. It means that we lose track of time. It means that we are spending our time in a way that is not useful or convenient. We are not ‘at leisure’ for the sake of anything else.

Leisure is just good in and of itself; in this sense, it is futile. In addition, Pieper says it is time that we cannot earn through hard work or deserve through superb diligence. It is always a gift that we receive (Leisure the Basis of Culture, 62).

My earliest experiences as a rock-hunter had some of the characteristics of true leisure. I started rock-hunting because I heard a story about a special kind of rock that could be found on the northern shores of Lake Michigan and I had seen these rocks in the many gift shops that lined the streets of the small lakeside towns. The rocks were called Petoskey Stones; and legend had it that the stone was named after the Indian Chief Petosagay; the sun had shined on his face when he was born and his face beamed with a radiance. The chalky white sunburst pattern that covers the grey surface of the Petoskey Stone is easy to see when wet; but, when the stone is dry, it looks like an ordinary, gray rock. Intrigued by the story, I wanted to find one of my own.

One way to find these rocks is to ask the locals who regularly hunt for the stones what beaches they have recently scoured with success. But even with that information, there is no guarantee that you will find a stone on a particular day. If it’s overcast, the rocks’ pattern becomes hard to see even in the water. Sometimes the waves caused by a windy thunderstorm will toss buckets of the stones up onto the shore. Sometimes the waves will gather the stones back into deeper water. The texture, color, and shape of the rocky beach surface can vary slightly by the day, and dramatically by the year. So, finding a Petoskey stone is largely a matter of luck. It is something you almost have to receive. And if you asked me why, when I initially started to rock-hunt, I rock-hunted I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I didn’t do anything with them once I had placed them in a jar, except look at them. I didn’t make jewelry out of them. I didn’t even polish them. My rock-hunting was pointless.

Nowadays, my rock hunting is even more futile than that. I no longer rock-hunt for rocks. And, I think that Pieper would say that this is for the better because I am more ‘at leisure.’ Ultimately to be at leisure, he says, means to contemplate, and to contemplate means “to open one’s eyes receptively to whatever offers itself to one’s vision, and the things seen enter into us... without calling for any effort or strain on our part to possess them” (Leisure 27). I wanted to limit my vision to a particular kind of stone and did undertake efforts so that I could collect, in other words possess, them. For Pieper, such love is too limited for true leisure. True leisure requires receptivity and receptivity, great generosity. He explains that once we have received the things that have offered themselves to our sight, we respond with joy, with an affirmation of reality, saying, “everything that is is good, and it is good to exist...For man cannot have the experience of receiving what is loved, unless the world and existence as a whole represent something good and therefore beloved to him” (In Tune with the World 26).

I started out with the desire to scour all the beaches I could make it to in order to find Petoskey stones and would alas, feel a tinge of disappointment when the day had not rewarded my efforts. Now, my summer rock-hunting looks more like taking a leisurely stroll along the beach. Sure, I still look down on the shore. Sure, I still enjoy finding them. But, I appreciate more all the other things that come into my view along the way: other kinds of rocks that I have come to learn about – Leelanau blue (a beautiful cobalt or aquamarine blue stone), quartz, chert, smooth pieces of beach glass… there are things even beyond the rocks I set out to find and enjoy finding---the marvelous palette of color along the shore, the soft lapping of the waves and their seemingly endless stretch into the distance, the wild, messy foliage stretching up sandy hills into a forest behind, the soft and knotty pieces of driftwood that toss up with the waves, the conversation of friends and family pacing along with me, or the breathtaking quiet of it all... I went from asking, ‘What can I find?’ and ‘How can I get what I’m looking for?’ to ‘What is here for me to see? and ‘I know there will be something good waiting there...I wonder what it will be.’

The act of not-looking-for-anything-in-particular allows for a more expansive love.

If we are going to truly be at leisure, we cannot set out to look for anything in particular and we cannot set out with a desire to acquire, accumulate, or possess. But, we can and should still set out, resting in the knowledge that what awaits, although we are not sure what it is, is surely going to be good.


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Colleen Coleman

is from Michigan but is still learning how to survive the winters in Minnesota. Admiring birch trees and ferns, talking with friends over tea, writing letters, making music, rock-hunting on Lake Michigan, book browsing (and reading), and cooking are a few of her favorite things. What is she hoping to learn in the near future? How to make kombucha and how to acquire a green thumb. She lives in St. Paul and teaches at a private school.

The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher in Defense of Civilization

Mr. Jeremy Fisher is a frog with a diverse set of friends which includes Mr. Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise and Sir Isaac Newton, who is a newt. Mr. Jeremy Fisher lives in leisure in “a little damp house” by the edge of a pond. One day his fancy strikes him to catch fish, and being a sporting toad, he challenges himself: if I catch more than five minnows, I will invite my friends The Alderman and Sir Isaac Newton over for dinner. 

The day does not go as planned, however—though, as we will see, it ends as expected, with a merry repast with friends in Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s little damp house. 

First, the fish won’t bite and it is raining. Then, a giant water beetle nibbles Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s toes. Then, he hears a rustling in the grass and suspects a rat is nearby, so he is forced to move. Things are looking up when he feels the telltale tug on the line, but up he pulls not a minnow but a spiny stickleback, which cuts Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s fingers and wriggles around on Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s lily pad, “pricking and snapping until he was quite out of breath.” 

The blood on his fingers still wet, the stickleback’s pricks still store, and the minnows’ mocking laughter ringing in his ears, things go from the frying pan of pain to the fire of mortal peril when an enormous trout stealthily surfaces and swallows Mr. Jeremy Fisher whole.

This is not the end of Mr. Jeremy Fisher however, and we know this before we even get to the happy ending, because Beatrix Potter soothes our nerves by explaining that this latest peril would have been “a really frightful thing…if Mr. Jeremy Fisher had not been wearing a macintosh.” 

A “macintosh” [sic] is a raincoat, more commonly called a Macintosh or Mackintosh. Scotsman Charles Macintosh invented a method of waterproofing cotton fabric with rubber in the early 19th century, sold his first rubberized cotton coat in 1824, and transformed British outerwear forever. Beware imitations. You can still find the genuine article.

The trout could not abide the taste of the macintosh. The otherwise delectable frog, armed with his macintosh, was a frog set apart, not merely a frog but Mr. Jeremy Fisher, a frog with a name, invulnerable to the slings and arrows of those impersonal powers of nature which swim without proper names: trout, stickleback, minnow. With this garment of industry Mr. Jeremy Fisher wrenched open a link in the food chain which had him, and would have had him forever, subject to the stealthy predation of submarine foes. 

The trout “spat him out again.” Jonah, we are told, spent three days in the belly of the great fish before he was rescued by God. Mr. Jeremy Fisher by contrast spent just “half a minute” in the belly of his fish before he was rescued by his macintosh. 

Mr. Jeremy Fisher made his way home. His friends joined him that evening for supper. Sir Isaac Newton wore his black and gold waistcoat, and Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise brought a salad. They dined on the salad and a roasted grasshopper with ladybird sauce. The macintosh was in tatters after his encounter with the trout, but not Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s nerves, or his commitment to dining with friends. For technology, such as a macintosh, is the frame but not the picture, the soil but not the flower, of civilization. 

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(The article was previously published here, February 2019.)


Thomas M. Ward is assistant professor of philosophy at Baylor University. He sometimes blogs at www.thomasmward.com.

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