Since the beginning of the lockdown, if you have the privilege to be safe at home, you will have noticed the productivity brigade go into overdrive. As if staying home because of a global pandemic is an opportunity to pack in more achievements. And if you’re anything like me, the gremlins that sit on your shoulder telling you how you can do more, can be especially loud right now.
It can be tempting to let the gremlin take up this space to tell you about all the ‘shoulds’ – continuing on the hamster-wheel of self improvement, learning the piano, volunteering to help the vulnerable, smashing productivity at your job, talk to all your friends on Zoom, homeschool your kids, keep informed on the news, get to know your partner and family at a deeper level, baking insta-worthy recipes for every meal, optimising your calendar for the time you save from not commuting, getting fitter, leaner, stronger. Phew.
It can be exhausting. This rhetoric leaves no room for what we actually need to focus on – surviving through a reality none of us know how to fully grasp. For today’s issue I wanted to share a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, who is an Arab-American poet and songwriter, she writes through the lens of many cultures that have influenced her work. She is The Poetry Society’s Young People’s Poet Laureate for 2019-2021.
by Naomi Shihab Nye
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
I wanted to include this poem especially because of that last stanza – and the way it sees the everyday as worthy of fame, rather than us having to do anything “spectacular” to deserve it. We often take all that we do every day for granted to a point that it becomes invisible to ourselves. While I don’t expect the rhetoric around productivity to die down any time soon, we can instead choose to think about what we are already famous for.
BUT WAIT, instead of just leaving you with my thoughts, this time I want to invite you to a dialogue. I’ve created a template based on Naomi’s poem above. I invite you to fill in these blanks and share them with me, either directly as a response to this email or on social media with the below prompt.
Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself, maybe you’ll write a poem, maybe you’ll surprise yourself. I hope you’ll give it a try and share it with others.
Stay home, stay safe.