Judy Reeves

In A Writer’s Book of Days, I noted some of the ways famous writers found their inspiration. I thought I’d print that list here, as a way of reassuring any who might consider herself a little odd when she dons a flea-bitten sweater or dusts her philodendron. Mind you, these tidbits are all based on research I found here and there; I didn’t make any of it up. But that’s not to say this is all factually true. Some may be the literary equivalent of urban legends.

This then, is the list, excerpted from A Writer’s Book of Days.

The poet Friedrich von Schiller used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk, open it, inhale deeply, and compose.

Tea was the stimulant for Dr. Johnson and W. H. Auden. Johnson was reported to have frequently consumed twenty-five cups at one sitting. Honore de Balzac drank fifty cups of coffee in a day.

Colette first picked fleas from her cat, then wrote. It’s told she had a dozen of them (cats, not fleas).

While writing The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal began the day by reading two or three pages of the French civil code.

Willa Cather read the Bible.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge indulged in two grains of opium before working.

Alexandre Dumas, the elder, wrote his nonfiction on rose-colored paper, his fiction on blue, and his poetry on yellow. Langston Hughes also used a different kind of paper for each project.

Rudyard Kipling insisted on the blackest ink available and fantasized about keeping “an ink-boy to grind me Indian ink.” (Note: I’ve had this same fantasy.)

Voltaire used his lover’s naked back as a writing desk.


Finding New Life


 Stop looking for perfection – life is perfectly imperfect.

 It’s OK to be different. Don’t let others define you.

 Stop offering up excuses for your own failures and instead work regularly to correct them for a bigger, brighter future. Failures are only signposts on the road to progress and eventual success. They can instruct us on what we should do next, how we should proceed. Never miss an opportunity to learn from them.

 Focus more on your own behaviour rather than others.

 Always do your best but remember: you are not in charge of the universe; you are not responsible for the problems of the world.

 Listen and take notice of the subtle signs the universe is hanging out for your attention.

 Don’t construct an identity around a notion of yourself- you are not a fixed identity. Stop attaching to things and just gaze at the passing show. Become a participant observer of life, including your own. ….stay present, mindfully attending, just being rather than doing.

 Despite all the mental chatter to the contrary you are not your mind, you are larger than this.

 When we are upset – when irritation, annoyance, frustration enters our lives this is the very time to take stock. Come into your centre slowly, switching your attention to the breath…. in-breath, out-breath, in-breath, out—breath, staying with its rhythm, mindfully attending to it smoothing, healing pattern. Fairly soon a relaxing calm will settle. Stay with this presence as long as you can remembering that if you have to undertake some activity you can always return to this spacious stillness.  

 Never feel that you don’t have the time for relaxation, for when you make this judgement – often in haste whilst busily attending to work related matters -that is probably the very time that you need it the most. Stop focusing on external matters and take deep, mindful breaths. Tune your attention to your body and its need for relaxation/healing knowing that your power comes from ab intra – from within.

 Buried deeply in our intense pain lies pockets of acceptance and reconciliation – find them.

 Ultimately there is only surrender, the humility to accept without protest, without resistance, without reservation the deep mysteries of our lives.

 Michael Lewin


Raymond Carver

At Least – Raymond Carver  

I want to get up early one more morning, before sunrise. Before the birds, even. I want to throw cold water on my face and be at my work table when the sky lightens and smoke begins to rise from the chimneys of the other houses. I want to see the waves break on this rocky beach, not just hear them break as I did all night in my sleep. I want to see again the ships that pass through the Strait from every seafaring country in the world— old, dirty freighters just barely moving along, and the swift new cargo vessels painted every color under the sun that cut the water as they pass. I want to keep an eye out for them. And for the little boat that plies the water between the ships and the pilot station near the lighthouse. I want to see them take a man off the ship and put another up on board. I want to spend the day watching this happen and reach my own conclusions. I hate to seem greedy—I have so much to be thankful for already. But I want to get up early one more morning, at least. And go to my place with some coffee and wait. Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.

Denise Levertov

Variation On A Theme By Rilke

By Denise Levertov
(1923 – 1997)


(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem 1, Stanza 1)

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me — a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic — or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.


Pretty Words


Pretty Words –  Elinor Morton Wylie

Poets make pets of pretty, docile words:

I love smooth words, like gold-enamelled fish

Which circle slowly with a silken swish,

And tender ones, like downy-feathered birds:

Words shy and dappled, deep-eyed deer in herds,

Come to my hand, and playful if I wish,

Or purring softly at a silver dish,

Blue Persian kittens fed on cream and curds.

I love bright words, words up and singing early;

Words that are luminous in the dark, and sing;

Warm lazy words, white cattle under trees;

I love words opalescent, cool, and pearly,

Like midsummer moths, and honied words like bees,

Gilded and sticky, with a little sting.

Otherwise by Jane Kenyon



I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been otherwise. I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love. At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise. We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise. I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day. But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.


Saints Bowing in the Mountains

“Do you know how beautiful you are? I think not, my dear. For as you talk of God, I see great parades with wildly colorful bands Streaming from your mind and heart, Carrying wonderful and secret messages To every corner of this world. I see saints bowing in the mountains Hundreds of miles away To the wonder of sounds That break into light From your most common words. Speak to me of your mother, Your cousins and your friends. Tell me of squirrels and birds you know. Awaken your legion of nightingales— Let them soar wild and free in the sky. And begin to sing to God.   Let’s all begin to sing to God! Do you know how beautiful you are? I think not, my dear, Yet Hafiz Could set you upon a Stage And worship you forever! “




What is the difference between your experience of existence and that of a saint? The saint knows that the spiritual path is a sublime chess game with God, and that the beloved God has just made such a fantastic move that the saint is now continually tripping over joy and bursting out in laughter and saying ” I surrender. “ Whereas, my dear, I’m afraid you still think you have a thousand serious moves.

Hafiz (1320-1389), Tripping Over Joy

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Pied Beauty Glory be to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889)


SPRING By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.


What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.