Living, Practicing, at the Kitchen Sink
So much happens in the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, there are countless poems that reference kitchens, late nights at kitchen tables, cooking, and even the kitchen sink. Because we recently installed a new kitchen sink (and by we I mean Rob and some excellent friends when I was away in Ontario last weekend), I've been thinking a lot about them. The time we spend standing at a kitchen sink! Whole books could be written in this time.
Ages ago when I was reading a lot about Buddhism, I found the book Cave in the Snow by Vicki Mackenzie about Tenzin Palmo who secluded herself in a cave in the Himalayas for 12 years. She talks about 'The Kitchen Sink Path' – so, when you are just an ordinary human being, trying to develop a practice, you can get quite far by fitting it into the rest of your life, when you're washing dishes, doing kitchen work, etc. But of course, this path, the kitchen sink path, is going to have its frustrations, its limitations. Tenzin Palmo compares going into a cave and retreating, to food going into a pressure cooker: "You have to put all the ingredients into a pot and stew it up. And you have to have a constant heat. If you keep turning the heat on and off it is never going to be done. The retreat is like living in a pressure-cooker. Everything gets cooked much quicker."
I think writing is a lot like this. Most of us are on some sort of kitchen sink path in whatever creative endeavours we happen to be involved in – writing, painting, photography. We're fitting it in whenever we can, however we can. In the book a woman is interviewed who is a practitioner of Buddhism, and also a mother. She gets out of bed at 5am and is in bed by 7:30. She's given up on going out in the evenings. In fact, she has given up many things to maintain her practice. She's on the kitchen sink path.
It's like this too, with writing. We're thinking about it while waiting – at the grocery store, in line-ups at the bank, or airport, while washing dishes, cutting vegetables for dinner. There are very few of us who can afford to devote all our time to writing. Instead of yearning for a year or two (or twelve) to just write, I've learned to focus on fitting in as much as I'm able into the time I do have. I've learned to be attentive to the ordinary and every day. And there's art there, that I know.
What the Living Do by Marie Howe has to be about my favourite poem which references a kitchen sink. It's about living, it's about loss, and it's about longing. It's one of those life changing poems that every poet wishes to write.
(If you're reading this in the newsletter you'll need to either read in the browser or click on the link to the poets.org site above to see the whole thing).
And it's amazing to me how we can get caught up in the crush of things, the too-muchness of life, the demands on us, and we're tired, and dragged down, but then at certain moments, divine moments, we are made aware that our ordinary lives are art, we are art. We're in it. Remember the old dish soap commercial? Madge, you're soaking in it.