All right. I think everything is up and running at sarahclarkson.com, so from here on out, all writing will take place at the blog over there.
If you signed up to get blog updates by email, you will continue to receive those unless you reply to one to let me know you’d like to opt out (which won’t hurt my feelings – I’m sure you needed to know that).
This dear space will remain live for awhile, but eventually it too will point to the new site (where all the old posts are archived anyway).
So friends, follow me on over. I’ll see you there.
Well, it was supposed to be yesterday, but being new to all this DNS redirecting and stuff, the internal workings of things beyond my ken took longer than I thought they would so here we are at Tuesday. I apologize.
The new website is ready, and the cottage door of sarahclarkson.com is thrown wide open!
Here’s the hysterical thing though; it’s clear that some of you have been able to access the new site at sarahclarkson.com no problem…but I can’t (at least, the public side). I think it may be because things haven’t updated on the servers here in England…? (I speak above my pay grade.)
So. Do hop on over and come on in!
But also let me know if you have any problems doing so.
Pretty soon, I think we’ll all be on the same page.
Oh life. You’re fun.
First off on this late autumn day of limpid blue skies and mild breezy air and burnished leaves, I am delighted to say that the new website will launch on Monday. I’ll post the link here and you can follow it to a welcome post on the new site or, just type sarahclarkson.com and it should take you there (at the moment the link just leads here).
I am honestly, downright excited.
I’ve found the process of creation rather amusing. I have no coding skill whatsoever and couldn’t manage a thing without a helpful website-building platform. Even so, I ended my first day of design in utter despondence. Details are not my strong suit, and the sheer number of small things to tweak and new shortcuts to learn left me bewailing my state. I think Thomas was trying not to laugh. I took a day off to write handwritten letters as a corrective to the oppression of online reality, and started again the next morning.
And then I began to delight. A quickened creativity and joy came to me as I found myself able to shape an online space to more fully reflect the world in my heart and imagination. It’s basic – I know – like when you first move into a house and you put up all the pictures and arrange things and the rooms are simple and new and straight, if perhaps a bit bare. But this website, which I feel is my small Rivendell of a corner on the internet, will grow and ease and burgeon, as homes do when you live in them and the corners fill up with things you love and you figure out just the right place (or word) for that picture or table (or post) and you realize there’s scope for a new room – maybe a library, maybe a place dedicated just to friendship – and you begin to dream.
I think this new website is just the beginning of what I will create and the new conversations or friendships to begin. The joy is that there’s space now for new things to grow. I look so forward to welcoming you in.
I’ve taken too long to finish this post and now it’s late on a Friday afternoon here in England. The shadows are climbing up the golden old church tower out my window, my three jolly candles are lit, and the radiator is ticking to life as the evening chill pools in the room. It’s the first quiet night in with just the two of us that we’ve had in quite a few days, so I’m about to draw the curtains (such an English thing to do) and brew some tea (my goodness, I’m becoming a Brit) for when Thomas gets home.
Before I go, I’ll leave you two poems about the Annunciation to ponder. I have more to say about these – and our poetry group had a lively discussion on them yesterday – but I’ll let you read them, soak a bit in what they evoke before I tell you what I’ve been thinking on their subject. Besides, I think a good chat about poetry and Advent, accompanied by tea and art and general coziness might just be a good way to begin in my new little cottage (I mean, website).
See you soon.
I’ve been stomping through Oxford wearing my warmest scarves and listening to Handel’s Messiah. I highly recommend this combination in whatever place you find yourself. The air finally has that chill that is both sting and exhilaration. We had three weeks of startlingly balmy days – high blue skies, gemmed leaves lingering, and air that just felt… kind. Now it feels sharp and suspicious. The days draw down to darkness right about 4:30 and the urge of body and soul is to seek warm, candlelit corners, to fend of the shadows with music and a woollen blanket.
I find myself tired as well, weary after what feels like several years of nonstop work. My body and soul need it, but I find it hard to rest, as if I’ve lost the skill in these last months of needing to just work straight through. As I make myself sit in the hush of my afternoon living room with the shadows already gathering, as I resist the impulse to work, to seek distraction, as I assent to the almost unwelcome hush of my own need, I find myself really heartened by the reading of Advent poetry and the aching beauty of the Messiah’s music. Advent is so much about learning to assent to the fact that there is a great waiting quiet we must acknowledge. Whether it’s our own limitations or weariness or the need for redemption that we, in a broken world, still wrestle with even amidst the knowledge of Christ’s love, the liturgies and poems of Advent help us to acknowledge the fact that we do wait. Which, impatient, hungering soul that I am is the very thing I don’t prefer to do.
Though Advent proper is still a month away, I’m turning my thoughts in that direction because I’m leading a weekly poetry group at Wycliffe. I’ve been part of this Advent reading group every year and it has been such a place of nourishment and friendship. We read aloud a couple of Advent poems each week, sit in quiet as long as we like, and then explore the thoughts that rise in each of us as we savor the woven words. Having found such strength myself in the reading of Advent poetry this week, I thought I’d share the poems we discover here over the next month. Perhaps you can glean, even a little early, some of the wonder and sharpened insight that we are gathering as well.
And I love the thought of friends sharing words across the world.
We’re following a different theme each week as we progress through the journey of advent. This week was our opening, where we looked at poems that evoke the haunting cry of Isaiah, ‘those who have walked in darkness’ before they have seen the great light. (I used the delightfully titled Haphazard by Starlight: A Poem a Day from Advent to Epiphany collection to find this week’s selections.)We looked at poems that evoke the themes of watching and waiting. I have loved what we explored this week because as I read the headlines that sometimes feel relentless in their exposure of what is worst in the human heart and in the world, it helps me to remember that we live in the tension of the now and not yet, the kingdom come in our hearts in a world that still aches and cries for redemption.
That’s what I think R.S. Thomas’ poem, ‘The Absence’ describes:
It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter
Someday, I will meet a book or essay deadline with a week to spare. I will be calm, having lost no sleep, and having also kept life at a fairly ordinary rhythm in the meantime. I will also have maintained a normal round of blogging and email answering, thus giving evidence of my continued health and capacity to write to begin with.
That day has not yet come. I tend to meet deadlines in a writing vortex; I eat, breathe, sleep, and think the book to completion and all else falls by the wayside until the moment the thing has to be sent off. But meet my deadlines I do and I submitted the Book Girl manuscript at 3AM last Friday morning, with my husband nearby plying me with water and gummy bears (you’d be surprised at how effective these can be in maintaining mental strength) and all the candles in our little living room lit to keep me awake and inspired. My friends, Book Girl is on her way into the wide world.
And having emerged from the vortex I can greet you here again. As I write from my spot in the Wycliffe Library on this relaxed afternoon, the sun, a blessed sun that feels like a gift in the midst of autumn’s growing grey, flickers over my hands. Leaves shimmer gold in the wind, the air is easy and cool and my mind turns afresh to the grace of this moment, the gift of the ordinary splendor in such wild play out the window of every day. I think I see with even a little more gratitude than I did before because of the books I’ve been reading over the summer of writing, and the way they have shaped my idea of what it means to be a writer, and what I receive every time I read.
One of the books I discovered is Robert MacFarlane’s slim little bound essay The Gifts of Reading. I first read MacFarlane several years ago when I found a copy of his The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. The book was part contemplation, part real-life novel, part history, part literary ramble centred on the his fascination with ‘landscape and the human heart’. In ordering his little essay I discovered his most recent book, a glory of a children’s picture book written to help modern children reengage with the fading language and ever-present mysteries of the natural landscape. And it has won my heart.
The Lost Words is a luminous, lyrical book of illustrations that evoke the movement and essence, the ordinary miracle of things like ‘dandelion’, ‘otter’, ‘bramble’, and ‘acorn’. I’ve seen snippets of it online and perused it at the bookstore (it’s on my ‘please-someone-get-me-this-for-Christmas-list) and what I find in its pages is the sense of something created as a gift. It reminds me of the Millais painting of a blind girl sitting under a rainbow and the girl beside her describing it (an image that was deeply meaningful to me). This is, in a way, MacFarlane’s and his illustrator Jackie Morris’ way of ‘writing the rainbow’ for the children who can’t see it and in that description, beginning to heal the blindness.
Books like that are acts of generosity. Many books, I believe, are. After a summer spent revisiting old classics, exploring new beloveds, crafting lists of the books that formed the way I see the world, I’ve realized that often the books I love the most are an offering rooted in an author’s sense of responsibility and thanks for some goodness or truth deeply perceived. It may be grace glimpsed in sorrow. Acceptance sprouting up in disaster. But there is a rich sense of Denise Levertov’s affirmation that: I believe poets are . . . makers, craftsmen: it is given to the seer to see, but it is then his responsibility to communicate what he sees, that they who cannot see may see, since we are ‘members one of another.’
In writing Book Girl I have become deeply aware of the fact that as a writer, I speak from what I have been generously given. I am a lover of books, a student of theology, one who can wonder at the world because so many people before me – my parents, my favorite writers, the friends who pressed good books into my hands, the tutors here at Oxford who were faithful to communicate what they had discovered – were generous with their words. They spoke me into wonder. They startled me awake. They took me by the hand of mind and soul and pointed at the rainbow.
My great hope for Book Girl is that it will be the same. A giving of thanks that begins the vision for another reader. If that could be the case, I think the vortex would be worth it.