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The Inconvenience of the Spirit

November 3, 2011

When you say that “the spirit moves you” to do something, are you saying you feel like it for no apparent reason? My father always had something to say about that kind of turn of phrase—he said that he had premonitions, and they never once came true. Which is, you know, kind of making fun of the whole idea.

I see a similarly mocking tone in the title of the final poem I want to share with you from Michael David Madonick’s volume Waking The Deaf Dog.

The Inconvenience of the Spirit

Sometimes it just wants you to take a train ride, a long
walk in the woods, a ride in the country. It wants you

to see deer in the mist, bats circling the pagoda shapes
of fir trees at dusk. It wants you to kick acorns down

some dirt road behind the corn field. It has the nerve
to move you from the corduroy couch in the den

to your feet when all you really want is to sit, be still. It tells
you when someone dies before the phone rings, when the wind

is bringing the big storm. It talks to you when you don’t want
to be talked to, in places, in situations, where talking isn’t

apropos. It is a loud voice, and such an inconvenience. Sometimes—
and you’re not sure if this is the worst,

it will take a trip by itself.

I don’t attribute desire to “the spirit.” I think sometimes a person wants to kick acorns, and gets restless, and can spend months thinking someone has died before the phone finally rings to confirm it.

I called our cell phone provider yesterday and hooked up a new (used) phone for our “home phone” number, since the old one had stopped working a couple of weeks ago. It was nice to have it quiet for a while, but I might say that my spirit was uneasy, thinking that someone could have died, and we wouldn’t know it. Then when we checked the messages, it turned out all we had missed was a prospective chess student trying to call Walker.

Perhaps the “loud voice” in my head is me, telling myself things I already know. Do you think the “inconvenience of the spirit” might be another way of saying that you can really annoy yourself sometimes?

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2011 8:54 am

    I probably would not use this phrase, but if I did, it would be to explain something that has maybe happened to me twice or three times in my life: a feeling, powerful but apparently irrational, that I simply HAD to do something that was difficult/ridiculous/likely to be humiliating/painful. And every time it turned out to be pivotal – a definite fork in my road that altered the whole journey.

    So that’s a whole Thing by itself, but the moments the poem talks of? I don’t ignore those either; I figure it’s my heart talking to my brain saying, “Give me food, please.” (I can haz cheezbrgr?)

    • November 4, 2011 10:50 am

      That’s a good way to think about it–the heart talking to the brain. (And as we said on FB, getting a cheezbrgr is not really a question!)

  2. November 3, 2011 9:04 am

    Sometimes I have to kick the spirit’s ass and do the thing I don’t feel like doing. Like writing instead of slacking off, or taking that walk and kicking those acorns. I’m usually glad I did it but the spirit is in my own head.

    • November 4, 2011 10:51 am

      That makes “spirit” a synonym for “soul,” doesn’t it? With some “team spirit” mixed in?

  3. November 3, 2011 9:11 am

    Growing up Mormon, the words ‘the Spirit’ had a very particular import (the Holy Ghost, basically), so when people said ‘the spirit moves you’ in other contexts, I always had the idea that this was a sort of divine prompting. This was a peculiar thing since the closest I ever had to a still small voice whispering in my ear generally murmured things not appropriate to a good little church going boy. I think that’s the inconvenience of the spirit – that it murmurs the pieces of living we’re not allowed.

    • November 4, 2011 10:52 am

      Divine prompting, as in the angel on one shoulder, and the devil on the other, maybe?

  4. drgeek permalink
    November 3, 2011 2:24 pm

    This poem seems to be such a mundane incarnation of the word “spirit”. The “movement of the spirit” is not the desire to change (or remain unchanged) in a meaningful way as it is to, say, walk the the dog. It almost seems like he’s not talking about the “inconvenience of the spirit” as the “ennui of the spirit”. It makes me think that “man, his spirit is bored with whatever he’s actually doing at the time”.

    • November 4, 2011 10:52 am

      A mundane incarnation. That phrase might just sum up the entire poem!

  5. November 3, 2011 3:00 pm

    I agree that the feeling he’s describing is more the spirit of being bored with whatever you’re doing at the time. It’s a restless feeling I sort of like.

    My mother tends to use that expression, but more in the context of, “Would you mind, when the spirit moves you, taking the laundry up, or unloading the huge bags of dogfood from the car, or sweeping the walk.”

    The spirit, apparently, should be moved to do chores.

    • November 4, 2011 10:54 am

      “when the spirit moves you” was sometimes a motherly circumlocution for “do this soon” at my house, too.

  6. November 3, 2011 3:47 pm

    To answer your question at the end, YES!

    Spirit talk generally bugs me, and I’m not entirely sure why. When I hear churchy people talk all breathlessly about the spirit, I just want to say “Oh put a sock in it.” And since I’m basically a churchlady, I want to say this A LOT.

    Since I think the “holy trinity” is ridiculous, I don’t put much stock in the spirit as 1/3 of this perfectly sliced pie, where the other 2/3 are God and Jesus. Ugh. I have a much bigger rant on that, which I’ll spare you from. I’ll just say that I much prefer the aboriginal notion of spirits as being akin to elements, maybe even companions to elements. Or maybe spirits are more like dark matter and dark energy. We don’t really know what they are, or even how they work. We can’t see them, but we see their effects everywhere.

    And yes, sometimes you CAN annoy yourself. Like I am doing rightnow!

    • November 4, 2011 10:55 am

      Saying “we see the effects of spirits” is very different from saying “we see the effects of the spirit,” isn’t it?

    • November 7, 2011 7:11 pm

      Joyhowie, spirit talk bugs me too. The last time I was subjected to it in any quantity was when I was taking yoga–which taught me (in spades) you can take the Church Ladies out of the Church, but you can’t take the Churchiness out of the ladies. A long time ago I decided to mentally replace the out of favor term “Holy Ghost” for “Holy Spirit.” I figure I’m going to mess with religion at all, I might as well own up to it’s ooky spooky roots–elementals and ghosties and long-legged beasties–and go on from there. The word “spirit” just makes me think of animated air freshener commercials–cartoon swirls and flowers you spray out of a can, convincing yourself you are covering up the nasty!

      I appreciate the poem more for picking such a hot-button word to treat. “Spirit” seems to be one of those for a lot of people, religious or non or somewhere in between–this post provoked really interesting comments.

  7. November 3, 2011 8:46 pm

    Ha! Your last line made me laugh. Very true.

  8. November 4, 2011 10:56 am

    When you annoy yourself, it’s probably time to seek out other company.

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