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Transactions with Beauty.
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– Shawna



Writing Prompt – How to Live

Writing Prompt – How to Live

In a very recent post, Islands of Sanity, I talked about that constant question, "how to live?" And today, I'd like to share a couple of poems, and pose the question as a writing prompt. 

tibetan prayer flags

The first poem is by Ron Padgett and is titled, "How to Be Perfect." You can read the whole poem on the Poetry Foundation site, but it starts off with an epigraph by Jack Kerouac, "Everything is perfect, dear friend." The poem begins:

Get some sleep.

Don't give advice.

Take care of your teeth and gums.

Don't be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don't be afraid, for
instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone
you love will suddenly drop dead.

Eat an orange every morning.

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes
four or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.

Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression
of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.


Some of it's tongue-in-cheek, and some of it's dead serious. But the accumulation is so voluminous, that the reader quickly realizes the impossibility of perfection. 

You have perhaps heard the quotation that goes: "When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.” This is often falsely attributed to the Buddha. However, fake news though it may be, there's something in it. Let's also remember though, what Pema Chödrön says, “As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find compassion." 

She also says, “Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

So, the world is a mess, but how do you want to live? What's your version of being perfect? 

prayer flags

The second poem I'll share is by Charles Harper Webb, and it's titled, "How to Live." The entire poem can be found on The Writer's Almanac. It begins:

Eat lots of steak and salmon and Thai curry and mu shu
pork and fresh green beans and baked potatoes
and fresh strawberries with vanilla ice cream.

and it ends:

Don't be too sane. Work hard. Loaf easily. Have good
friends, and be good to them. Be immoderate
in moderation. Spend little time anesthetized.

What are the instructions you'd like to give to yourself? What would you like to pass on to your loved ones? If you had the chance to tell a stranger "how to live" what would you like to share with them? Address the poem to a future or past self. What would you like to remind yourself? 

prayer flags 2

I like the specifics of these poems: "eat an orange every morning" and eat "mu shu pork." And I like that the Padgett poem begins by saying not to give advice. Which is really good advice. The poems, in the end, say more about the poets than anything else.

How does your poem begin? Perhaps the title is: how to live imperfectly? (I think that's how mine begins....). 


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