Today, as it was when I was your age, and will be when you are mine, the news is full of personal tragedy, global violence, racial, gender and sexual prejudice, religious intolerance, injustice. What does it have to do with us? We need to know what path the world is on, whether we want to join it or redirect it. But there are other things we need to know, maybe even more.
The good doctor, William Carlos Williams, also, by the way, a poet, said:
“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
What could he have meant? What, in mere poetry, could be more important than media reports of war, suppression, or corruption, so that for lack of this “news” we become miserable and even wither away? Since you asked me, a poet, to speak to you today, I’m going to tell you what I think he meant.
For me, because I love poetry, I can take his meaning literally. But since poetry is not everyone’s creative plaything, let’s take Williams’s warning figuratively. He is talking about whatever sublime practice you love and need that awakens YOU to the experience—the suffering, the thrill—of being alive, here, now—and at the same time brings you the peace with which you can better take on that sometimes overwhelming life.
You know what it is. The scientific invention. The junk sculpture. The dismantling of car engines or computers. The spray on your face of powder from a ski slope or of dirt from a diving catch. The structure of a building, a dinosaur, or a story. The composition of a symphony or a souffle. It is the creative act YOU do that slows you down and reminds you who you are, not what you do for a living but what you do to live.
Like the weather, the news we get from the creative source is ancient and always new. It reminds you of what you knew instinctively when you were five and still playing in the sandbox: that inspiration—staying connected to your soul—is not a luxury, a whim, a selfish distraction. It is a dire necessity.
If you neglect to get the news from whatever serious, fun play you MUST do, do all alone and conscious enough to both feel and forget your own breathing—you risk complacency or fanaticism; you risk blind consumerism or addiction meant to fill the emptiness; at the very least you risk undefined dissatisfaction and misdirected anger, and loss of control over the direction and meaning of your life.
But if you remember to get the news from creative playing every day of your life, you will never lose the lifeline between yourself and your world. You may become the hero of some child who needs to know how best to grow up—maybe your own. While you may not win the Nobel Prize, you WILL hear the joyful voice of insight, humor, and love. And you will recognize that still, small voice as the one no one can take away from you, the unique one you always had and always will have, no matter what path you are on.
Let’s start walking.