Alexandria Peary

This Moment is Already Perfect for Your Writing ... idly flipping through bins of calligraphy samples in their see-through slip jackets, you search for just the right one for your cubicle/study wall/gym locker/suite/booth/dormitory/jail cell and/or mantelpiece at headquarters. These calligraphy samples for sale are like vinyl records at a flea market/boutique/specialty shop/yard sale/fire sale and/or charity auction. You have stepped into this booth out of the chilly rain, and a faint stain of warmth juts from the bare bulb hanging from the rattling ceiling. Hearing the tires of traffic cut through puddles of rainwater, you tighten your overcoat sash or draw a collar closer to your neck or pull your chin deeper inside a winding scarf. At the back of the booth, the clerk sits in the dark, half seen, his back to you, his profile at three-quarters obscured, grinning, smoking, staring off into space. He’s sitting on a low crate or a pile of some accumulation of writing (old newspapers, vintage documents, unfiled reports and poems, poems, poems, poems). He’s smoking a homespun cigarette or a bidi, flicking ash onto the slab floor. You flip distractedly through the samples until you come to This Moment is Already Perfect for Your Writing.
Suddenly the rest of the calligraphy for sale—Breathe, You’re Online; Present Moment, Only Moment; Peace in Every Step; Tomorrow Never Comes; In the Beginner’s Mind, Many Possibilities, In the Expert’s, Few; Your Ability to Write is Always Present—makes sense in light of the calligraphy your index finger touches, this item that benefited from the wisdom of the other slogans that proceeded it in the bin. Or maybe each calligraphy was of equal weight, none more enlightening than the other, and it was merely the effect of their accumulation, ticked through almost at a second-by-second rate, at a rate calibrated to three seconds per slip jacket, about the length of a conscious breath, that made you notice this particular one, made you suddenly aware of your breathing, actually, your posture, the warmth or chill of your fingers, the crude wooden bins with splinters for fingertips, the peeling green paint inside the bins, your left arch in this particular non-orthopedic shoe, the background noise in the shop, the metallic smell of rain puddles near the curb, the slightly rubbery feel of the plastic slip jacket, how it’s like Plexiglas at a bus stop that’s imprinted with countless arcs, loops, and whorls. It’s as though a garage door opener had just been used on your awareness.
How is it that such a small bit of language has changed your mindset? This little phrase is in cursive and in the middle of a thickly brushed and uneven circle, an ensō, a hoop like a jewelry clasp that’s not been closed. The whole is like a stop sign or yield sign holding up a command. It summons you out of a stretch during which you weren’t particularly aware of anything but were instead going about seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting as well as being entertained by passing images, daydreams, and bits of inner talk. The whole time, you weren’t actually around in a realized sense. You were on auto pilot and, you’d admit, not really around even for yourself. The next moment, because of something triggered by this calligraphy, This moment is already perfect for your writing, you’re conscious, alive, alert, and present. Where did you go during those other moments? The calligraphy is a rescue dog.
… ticking past, one sample of calligraphy at a time, your pace gradually slowing until each calligraphy occupies a moment that lasts as long as a single full breath, slowing like a rapid pulse once the breath is watched, one thought per paragraph, until as a roulette wheel settling on the golden number, your mind settles on this calligraphy which you parse out, This moment already perfect.
This moment is already perfect
parsed out. This:
for your writing
All these collectibles… How ironic that a series of framed statements about detachment has been collected. For the mindfulness calligraphy came after a series of music posters followed by vintage postcards, famous people’s signatures, followed by political campaign advertisements, relics carefully sealed in baggies, baseball cards, first drafts of famous mildewed and bloodstained documents, locks of a person’s hair at different ages in life, baby teeth for an entire surname (in this case, Paula), a series of bills of sale, leases, contracts, user’s agreements, parade of business cards, Post-Its from a decade of to-do notes and grocery lists, the cuff links of dictators, the false eyelashes of actresses, a dog-eared collection of moments. Like a sentence switching subject or style mid-stream, from lists to statements about the present, these collectibles/souvenirs and/or memorabilia switch to a series of calligraphic statements about detachment / about mindfulness / about presence. The bare bulb sways in the humid and chilly breeze, and a few more cars can be heard parting the waters on the street outside the stall and / or ploughing past its snow. Take this one, for instance, This moment is already perfect for your writing, there’s some quality about the silence inside the hand-drawn circle, a circle which is like a set of prongs holding up a white paragraph or a blank billboard, like a snowy roof on a quiet winter dawn held up by its beams.
After a moment’s charm, you regain the skepticism of your earlier self. “The naiveté of the sentiment…Namaste bumper stickers and people who prattle on about their yoga instructor” and “What exactly is so wonderful about this moment?” you think. After all, my feet hurt in these shoes. My relationship worries me. A big project at work is looming. I feel stuck in a piece of writing, a poem. I’m hungry. I need a cup of coffee. I’m chilled to the bones. I’m sweating like a pig. I’ve felt bored, harried, overwhelmed, lonely all afternoon. I have too many responsibilities. No one needs me in the right ways. I’m getting over a chest cold. My acid reflux is kicking in. I don’t care for my new haircut. A motorcycle passes outside with the yellow, zipper-shaped sound of a Harley, blaring Janis Joplin, “Tomorrow never comes,” and trails off into an ellipsis of distance.
“Yes,” the shopkeeper says from the isosceles triangle of dark, “Time moves from present to past.”
You put your hand back inside the bin.
…but then, maybe it makes sense. Take writing, for instance, your constant preoccupation. It’s what made you leave your home office and head to this stall. You think of the effort it takes to write because you have a lengthy project on your mind, the reason for lingering over the bins, fighting off tugs of anxiety and the slight nausea from procrastination. Here The present moment is already perfect for your writing makes sense, you’ll admit, because most of us never rest easy in the moments in which we are writing. You muse with your Muse, We always think that we have to change as writers, that we’re not good enough writers or our content and approach isn’t good enough and we’ll need to revise. Come as you are. Funny how most adults don’t feel the same way about walking, driving a car, or even reading, an activity closest to writing, you reflect. We don’t feel the compunction to keep polishing our ability to walk, drive, or read. We’re just fine with how we walk down a street or signal to turn into a driveway. Few of us know what is like to cease trying to change ourselves as writers. Yet who are we constantly upgrading ourselves for? Audience, what a joke, well, there’s usually no one actually around in the moment we’re writing…
Suddenly, the smell of ink drifts into the stall like magnolia blossoms (blue ink, ballpoint blossoms drop from the etching of a tree).
A feral guest cat walks into the stall and moves under the bins. You recognize it as the cat from the cover of Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat.
In a fairly large sales bin / mark-down area / rejects / returns/ damaged goods / reduced-for-quick sale / of unsorted calligraphy, sentences in various fonts, then round sentences and circular sentences, underlined titles and phrases acting as titles or important passages, imperatives and sentences acting as mock /faux / designer rip-off imperatives though they are authentic, taking on an air of authority, spiritual or legalistic, along with ones stenciled and looking officious or industrial, plus repetitively done phrases for decorating home or office (of the Home Sweet Home or Family First or A Mother’s Job is Never Done or God Loves a Republican or One for Santa variety), for sprucing things up, and most of all lettering that tries to return to being only pictures, more image than symbol. Amid this pile, you did indeed, it is a fact, spot This Moment is Already Perfect and its erased subtitle A Calligraphic Essay, apparently only one copy of this piece is available. Priceless.
And who is “you” exactly? You see the words that comprise this writing that contains you, that holds you in its palm, that supports you with the floorboards and rafters and I-beams of sentences. You suddenly notice the fabrication of your reality, this second-person address that’s propped up like a jewel for display by an elaborate set-up, this “you” that keeps being mentioned, drawn with a pronoun, and framed inside a circular essay. Or you see the words that have guided you for what they are: marks and lines on a page or screen, vertical or horizontal, that there is nothing else besides these words, no vitality of voice, presence of an author’s mind, warmth of exchange of feelings and ideas, just these drawings that come in twenty-six shapes, times two for capital letters, and the scattered wildflower seed of punctuation.
This clerk who has now turned ninety degrees and is looking at you has something vaguely Bedouin about him, something Tibetan, something Mongolian, something Sicilian, something North Dakota. He’s faced the weather, gone long distances seldom speaking or continuously chanting, carrying nothing from this world or carrying the burdens of others’ packages and preconditions, all the while scaling zeniths and spelunking nadir, at once very familiar, the deepest kind of familiarity, and also strangeness, the deepest type of strangeness, like the edge of the two in a dream.
“Many people trying to write carry around a stone backpack,” the clerk says from the bright darkness in the rear of the shop.
It seems a millennium / chapter / thousand separate moments and/ or paragraphs passes before the clerk finishes, “a stone backpack of perfectionism.”
If you sit very still, you could catch a glimpse of the toy train of words in all caps that races around the perimeter of the room, a room it turns out which has been made by your breathing. It boxes in your mind with a wainscot of negativity. The words are pretty negative—judgments about your condition, your ability, even what will happen next. The train makes the drilling noise of a mosquito. Although the train is moving, you sense that you are the one who is restlessly driven onward. The words of the incessant train affect your body, accelerating your breathing, slightly hurrying your pulse, infusing adrenalin often mistaken for how it should feel to write. Because the person behind these words is thinking so intently about the activity of writing, so are you. Your mind turns and turns again toward writing like an immense cargo ship of decisions. In fact, you’ve operated this long that you think that writing in a state of calm and tranquility must mean that you are indifferent or bored, and if you’re bored by it, so too will your readers feel. You’ve also been creating stories about your writing with imaginary characters called “audience.” Often this audience is a composite of several individuals and reduced to the metonym of “a reader,” a stitched-together ogre of scraps made of readers from your actual past and best guesses about readers from the future.
“It is, huh?” Your mood turns again like a Mobius strip and you’re back to feeling open to the suggestion, willing to entertain this idea. If something is said to be perfect, your curiosity is aroused, you like a challenge, you are after all what is described as a perfectionist, a person with the sensibilities to appreciate craft, design, power, and smart choices, and you lean in to inspect, looking for those elements of perfection.
So, okay, you peer into the moment to see what’s so perfect about it. Near the front is a thought, relatively nondescript, as innocuous as an end table in a hotel lobby, but you take a second look. The thought sparkles a bit. You keep pacing around the perimeter of the moment, the moment like a room, the room made by breathing. As is the nature of searches, you find what you were looking for because you were looking for it. You find more and more ideas which seem a bit interesting, maybe very interesting, and as the number increases, your overall attitude toward the time at hand seems to become more optimistic. At some point, you are more aware of details of yourself or you begin to attribute the contents of the moment to your own thinking. “I’m not so bad,” you confess. “Look, I see a few ideas for writing, and they are mine, ones I generated, which have potential.” Maybe I can do this work after all. Maybe I actually really want to do this work. Let’s get started on it.” You feel inclined to return to your office.
This moment is already perfect for your writing. In a way, you scoff, it’s silly to think otherwise. You’re back to scoffing. Why would anyone need a reminder that nothing about the moment needs changing? It’ll change regardless of what sorts of chairs, heavy objects or mental furniture I use to block the Exit, you think. If you take a look at one moment or one sensation, within seconds, it has altered in some perhaps minor way—a crack here, a warping into a new mental image, a chameleon color shift, a different wave length of emotion. “Needing to change” (how one thinks, acts, looks, speaks, etc.) is different from the change that inherently happens. “Needing to change” seems like the ego’s attempt to organize and claim experience ahead of time. Yeah, you think, it seems I carry a burden of the wish that everything was different. It can be refreshing to suddenly be join the present and not be in opposition.
What exactly do you feel should be changed about this moment? Thich Nhat Hanh speaks from inside a dog-eared 99 cent paperback on a shelf over the bin near some mysterious bottles, I have eyes that work and see the blue sky. I am dressed warmly for writing, my clothing and chair feels comfortable, I am enjoying the palimpsest of bird song, I have an aging laptop that still works, an alphabet that has functioned for millennia to help people communicate, those three breaths, the ability to write a sentence, the ability to write something about this topic, a working mind and imagination, a hope to connect with others over my words, the very opportunity to connect in the future with others through words, the rules of grammar and punctuation that I can use to effect. I can breathe calmly. I can think pleasant thoughts about friends, students, colleagues, and other writers I know.
Splashes in the rain. The sound of traffic moving through puddles can become a chant much like any repetitive and dull sound, especially industrial ones. Vintage prints of the rain. Drawings of yellowing waves. Bamboo letters of Ikkyū, Nobutada, Isshi, Fūgai, Hakuin, Shin’etsu. That’s what you originally entered the shop looking for—the way fresh language arises like a splash. A faint meow from one of the splashes. Big Moments, Small Moments are equally framed as the end of this essay starts to resemble more and more a series of splashes. Much less preconception. More observation of the present. Raked garden. Non-verbal. Big mind, not small mind. Facing emptiness:

Alexandria Peary serves as New Hampshire Poet Laureate and is a 2020 recipient of an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship in support of her mindful writing workshops for survivors of the state's opioid crisis. She is the author of seven books, including Prolific Moment: Theory and Practice of Mindfulness for Writing. She specializes in mindful writing, the subject of her 2019 TEDx talk, "How Mindfulness Can Transform the Way You Write":