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I’ve been feeling a bit stuck lately.

No. I don’t mean physically stuck. It’s still possible to get out and about a bit here in Pittsburgh, though I do miss the act of going out to the movies and theatre, eating a box of Movietime popcorn, and laughing or crying along with at least a minyan of real people. (I always prefer partaking in these endeavors as part of a group rather than as a nation of two), but in this time of public distancing, we have found a consolation prize. The internet, we have discovered, is brimming over with archived productions from some of the finest theatres in the world, and we also have endless movies waiting patiently for us to bring them up on Amazon Prime or to stick the pile of DVD’s we bought and never got around to watching into the slot in our little player.

No, it’s my brain that’s been spinning its wheels in this muddy rut. I especially notice it on Tuesday mornings when I sit down to write you this weekly letter. I keep finding myself going back to the same thoughts that have been coursing through my brain over and over again. I have the feeling that I may be obsessively writing the same piece over and over again railing about the same cursed problems over and over again, and I am unable to get down to the depths of that place of centered stillness and quiet where the new-thought fish swims way down beneath the surface before arising to the surface in the afternoon of sun to take my bait. To continue with my fishing analogy, I keep restlessly making new casts instead of just tying the line to my big toe and waiting for the little tug that lets me know it’s time to reel ‘er in.

It’s at these times that I can hear the voice of my mother telling me, “Go read a book.”

My friend Frank told me the four that he was reading. I sent off to Amazon, they promptly arrived and I retired to the reading room with my catch. Taking care that they wouldn’t let the others fall into the sink, I opened A Book of Luminous Things, a collection of poetry edited by Czeslaw Milosz.

There I found “Epiphany is an unveiling in reality…. Epiphany interrupts the everyday flow of time as one privileged moment when we intuitively grasp a deeper more essential reality hidden in things or persons.”

Got it.

In Brooklyn I had found the possibility of almost limitless epiphany lurking in the people who passed my outdoor table or settled in next to me for a few sentences of greeting before we each retreated to our respective newspapers, books, or laptops. As I sipped an accompanying glass of ice-cold water, he insisted were a vital part of the coffee ritual, I listened to the French music of his playlist and the ideas jumped out of the water like trout leaping into my waiting net.

Now, guided by Milosz’s advice I am inspired to engage in the struggle to find the new epiphany needed to reactivate my mind and spur my thinking, The shortage of people is requiring that I concentrate on the “things” aspect of the quote.

“Things” have been a bit more difficult for me to be affected by. People are easier. What are the things Milosz speaks of? Anything that’s not a person? That’s pretty wide open. Barbara gets very stirred by the great outdoors and, like Shakespeare’s Duke Senior, “Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything”. Me not so much. But we’ve discovered a terrific hiking mapping app and have been using it to get in our daily two or three miles while exploring terrain and views which I had no idea were a part of the Pittsburgh Park system. And how’s this? Yesterday, while walking in the middle of such woods, we came upon a poet friend of hers sitting under a tree like a dropped acorn reading a book. As she said, “a miraculous surprise.”, Was he a person or a thing? Matt or a god taking on a human form for the purpose of providing us epiphany? I’m still a bit intellectual and objective about such things. I’m not yet at the epiphany-in-things stage, but with Barbara’s assistance I am inching in that direction. I’m even starting to look more at the woods than my map. I do love my maps.

And by the way the name of the app is Alltrails.


Jim Niesen


Author Irondale

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