I had to read this passage twice:
“Once I put my face against the body of our cat as she lay with her kittens, and she did not seem to mind. So I pursed my lips against that full moon, and I tasted the rich river of her body.”
That’s Mary Oliver, and she wasn’t writing fiction. It’s from her 2016 essay collection Upstream.
My first thought: who the hell does that?
My second thought: who does it and then writes about it?
Apparently, the answer is 81-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning poets like Mary Oliver.
I started reading her after Katrina Kittle’s “Leap and the Net Will Appear” class (we were lucky enough to host her at the company where I work a few weeks ago — photographic evidence below).
Katrina ended her session with a quote from Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
It’s a profound, unsettling question. But it’s a liberating one, too. It’s a reminder that your life is precious, that it’s yours and yours alone.
If you want to drink cat’s milk (and the cat doesn’t care), no one will stop you. There’s plenty of milk to go around.
Let me tell you about my first business (a business that never made a cent). Here’s how it started: I was sitting on the couch beside my girlfriend at the time. “I wish I could start a business doing x,” I said (I’ll tell you the actual business idea over a beer).
“Why don’t you?” my girlfriend asked.
I opened my mouth to tell her all the reasons why, and I realized I didn’t have any. I started working on it later that night (spending months — and eventually years — learning about LLCs, copyright, e-commerce, web design, Photoshop, online ads and a thousand other little things).
That single question and my lack of an answer changed everything. I realized there was nothing I couldn’t learn or at the very least attempt.
The older I get the more I realize life doesn’t get in the way of what we want; we do. Feel tired? Go to fucking bed earlier. Feel overwhelmed? Start turning down invitations. Want to write more? Sit in a chair and tell yourself you’re not getting up (not even if you have to piss your jeans) until you scrawl 100 words.
“I did not give to anyone the responsibility for my life,” Oliver writes. “It is mine. I made it. And can do what I want to with it. Live it. Give it back, someday, without bitterness, to the wild and weedy dunes.”
Here’s a way to measure your happiness: Look at the gap between what you want to be doing and what you’re really doing. I’m unhappy (miserable, mean-spirited) when I have no time to write. So, I spend my days stealing minutes here and there, pecking at them like a greedy hen.
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work,” Oliver writes, “who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
The walls in our house need painted. There’s mold in the barn attic. The toilet needs leveled.
And the walls will go on needing paint. The mold will grow. The toilet will rock when you climb off it. But I will finish this draft of my book, dammit.
Writers write. There is no other definition that matters.