Life’s Essentials: Upstream by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is one of those writers that have successfully transformed me, in a way good writers do. Her literature takes me to a world far  from the grey-urban world I’m used to and into the wildness that is nature. Her influence was subtle. With continuous exposure to her work, I found myself wondering about the movement of birds and their songs. Walking then became more than just an exercise for solitude and thinking, but a journey of noticing the smallness in the world. So many poems later, I found myself fascinated and taken aback by the natural world.

Upstream, while not a collection of poems but rather Oliver’s prose, succeeds once again in transporting me to the smallness and ironically big-ness of the world we live in. I rarely read essays, if I do, most of them following a narrative line or a philosophical thread in this case I felt I was journeying through a wilderness of mind and nature.  Oliver’s writing didn’t read like an academic essay nor was it self-reflective, it felt more like field notes written prosaically while succeeding to be poetic.

Not everything, however was about nature, a section was dedicated on writers, another on building a house and another on Provincetown. Yet, the ramble and tumble of words–carefully placed and yet seemingly stream of consciousness—begs the reader to stop, observe and take stock. There is a keen-ness required in reading Oliver. I find, each time, she forces me to look, to truly stare at the words and discover their meaning.  There is nothing much more I could say about Upstream, except maybe share a few quotes and my thoughts on them.

“I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim to save his or her life. I wrote the same way too.”

I couldn’t help but pick this up and sort of put it in my pocket. It reminds me the desperation I felt in my own reading and writing—as if the urgency was there. If not urgency as sense of knowing that this was what it meant to live.

” They fight over food, and the strongest eats more and more often than the weakest. They have neither mercy nor pity. They have one responsibility–to stay alive, if they can, and be foxes.”

Oliver’s observation of nature reminds me of how different we are to animals. There is no malicious intent here, merely being. The focus is to survive and live as much as they could as they were built to do.

” And  you must not, ever give anyone else responsibility for your life.”

This resonated with me the day I read it. While I do not deliberately give the responsibility for my life to anybody, I do allow them to affect me—to shape my life to a point that I can’t recognize it anymore as mine.

There are more that I have noted down, but as I write this post, they all seem unnecessary. If anything, Mary Oliver’s Upstream left me with an understanding of  myself and the life I am in search of. More and more I feel the shackle of possession, of owning things and of being part of this urbanity. Maybe its age, maybe it’s something else, but my desire to be one with nature grows. My desire to see life, accept it for what it is and not be troubled by the fleetingness of it grows uncomfortable within my soul.

(This books was read also for Modern Mrs. Darcy 2017 Reading Challenge. 1/14)

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Here & Back Again

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Literary Dumpsite has been neglected. My Read Harder Challenge abandoned. And yet, here I am again promising myself to keep this site updated and hoping to take on a new reading challenge.

It wasn’t that I had not read anything in 2016, rather my leisure reading had to take a step back as I found my footing as a new teacher. I didn’t expect teaching to eat up a lot of my time, but it did. I had to study what I was teaching, check papers, and adjust my teaching methods to fit my high school students. Hence, as the year ends, rather than my average of 60 books a year, I found myself having read only 31 books this year. I could, if I wanted feel terrible about this sad state of my reading life, but there is nothing to wallow about this. I can only say despite the 31 books, I read well, whatever I read in 2016, I enjoyed.

In celebration of surviving 2016 and all the arrows it shot, I welcome 2017 with hopefulness both for my life in general, and my reading life. In good faith I enter Modern Mrs. Darcy 2017 Reading Challenge. The challenge was recommended by my friend Blue (My Bookish Reverie) and caught my attention as it felt more feasible than the other reading challenges I have entered.

MMD’s Reading Challenge offer two tracks: Reading for Fun and Reading for Growth. I chose the latter. Keeping up with the idea of feasible (therefore simple) I tried to fill out the challenge with books in my TBR pile. Without further ado, here’s my Reading for Growth List.

  • A Newberry Award Winner or Honor Book: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • A Book in Translation: Sanshiro by Natsume Soeseki
  • A Book that’s more than 600 pages: Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky ( While I started this a few eyars back, I haven’t made progress)
  • A Book of Poetry, a play or an essay collection: Upstream by Mary Oliver
  • A Book of any Genre that addresses current events: I am Malala by Malala
  • An Immigrant Story: Inside out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
  • A Book published before you were born: The Once and Future King by E.B. White
  • Three Books by the same Author: Ransom Riggs/ Murakami or Stroud (still undecided)
  • A Book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author: If I was a Girl by Meredith Russo
  • A Book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • A Book nominated for an award in 2017: Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (Nominated for Cybils)
  • A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Since this challenge only requires me to read 14 books, I hope to keep you updated on my progress for each book and my thoughts and reviews on each of the books I have read.  I’m crossing my finger that 2017 will be kinder to me and I once again find myself reading an average of 6o books, otherwise I’ll be happy enough to have read all 14 books on this challenge.

Are you joining in any reading challenges for 2017? How many books have you read this year?