Why I Opened a Book Shop in the Midst of a Pandemic
2020. Quite a year.
The word unprecedented continues to be the word in fashion. And it was a year that was like no other. I feel we can all agree on that point. But the year had very different meanings and outcomes for many people.
For most, it was a devastating and heartbreaking time of loneliness, loss, anxiety and fear; for others, it was a time of rebirth and renewal, riches and freedom; and for some, it was a mixture of many elements that was sometimes unidentifiable but that slowly shaped our time with each other and our selves.
For me, it was a little bit of all of these aspects but most importantly, it was a year of great clarity.
2020: A Year for Clarity or Confusion?
Sure, I was lonely and scared at times and wondering what was to become of all the isolation and the overwhelming fear of illness. And then, I would be grateful for all the practices and teachings of yoga and meditation and journaling that I had integrated into my life over the past 30 years. Practices that comforted me and guided me and kept me disciplined and thoughtful and compassionate and hopeful.
I reconnected to my writing in a new way. I reestablished relationships with many people and renewed teaching yoga again. This time we had Zoom to reunite us. I had a big rebirth and renewal and I learned a deeper acceptance and understanding of "be here now" and "carpe diem".
I cherished the travels and journeys that I experienced through my lifetime and valued the time and money spent on those excursions even when they felt too expensive or too far to go or too demanding.
I became more grateful from a place of heart and the little treasures of memories of times-gone-past often fueled my bittersweet loneliness and I vowed in those moments of emotional discomfort to remain constant to connection with myself and others with a grace and humility and a renewed intention. Time and patience were now the gifts of my learning and remaining healthy in spirit, mind and body seemed to be the bedrock to the foundation of my life.
Time and Health Share a New Focus
We shifted. We changed. We got used to traveling in public with masks and venturing out again to be a part of civilization as we were accustomed. Social distancing was a new normal. No more handshakes or hugs. Stand apart and keep your cool. A new world order. Mouths shut. Bodies still.
I would say to myself, "Keep moving forward."
As soon as the quarantine order to "stay at home" was given, I spent a lot of time visiting the Sonoma Coast. Through the weeks starting in April, long walks with Bianca along the rugged shoreline comforted my wanderlust and the smell of salt air and oyster shells stirred by soul. When the parks closed for a couple of months somewhere in June, my heart ached and I experienced a loss of community that I had never felt before in quite the same way. I would still drive to the coast to see the ocean and rocks and listen to the waves. There was no place to pull aside and partake in the beauty for any extended period of time, however, so I got creative in my pursuit of nature. The little town of Duncans Mills offered a place of respite and the General Store remained open during the required lockdown. Bianca and I would walk the village daily. It seemed the only place to go that was safe and comforting.
The bench where we would sit and enjoy the sunshine, listen to the mooing cows and view the magical mountain looked upon the little red house shop that sat empty. For weeks, I would look at it and wonder what was to become of it. And then in August, I received a request from my college professor that changed my course.
Between what I see and what I say,
between what I say and what I keep silent,
between what I keep silent and what I dream,
between what I dream and what I forget:
A Change in Direction: A New Vision for Building Community through Books
It was around mid-August 2020 when I received an email from Michael, my professor from my undergraduate college, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where I studied Literature, Photography and Art Gallery Management from 1986-1990. He had reached out to me and asked me if I had wanted to be a part of a retrospective project: reflections on the ways that reading and writing poetry influenced my life over the years since graduating. I took a deep breathe and cried when I received the email.
I'm not sure exactly what the tears were about for me, but somewhere in the depth of my soul, I felt seen and acknowledged and remembered.
The pandemic continued raging through the country and so much had changed over the last couple of months and yet, the core of my sense of calm and purpose had been the continued presence of writing and reading poetry and offering stories through teaching yoga. And yet, I still felt very much alone and isolated.
"It is with great humility and gratitude that I share these reflections on the ways that reading and writing, and living poetry has been a companion for me these last 30 years.
Studying poetry at St. Mary’s College of Maryland changed a paradigm for me. I remember when a space between the space opened for me and the world shifted. Since then, poetry has continued to serve me in many unexpected and delightful ways.
At present, I consider myself more of an artist than a writer. Writing is certainly an art, but the way I personally use writing is like a part of the whole to the way I design my days. It is a foundational aspect to my process of co-creating all other pieces, and it is quite important to my clarity and curiosity.
It is within the genre of poetry where I most align as a vehicle for exploring feelings and unearthing memories, for healing difficulties and past wounds, for self-reflection and self-awareness, for redefining and reshaping reality, for sharing experiences and for engagement and deeper insights. Quite simply, it’s my oxygen with sparkle dust. Poetry makes everything glitter and shimmer.
Reading and writing poetry invites a perspective of clarity that can be viewed from many different angles. It is a kind of portal of perspective where I can share and witness life patterns and experiences with a kind of mystery and inquiry that is particularly unique. Poetry uses language in a way that is both precise and ambiguous which always takes me on a delightful journey rich in the tapestry of the moment. To write about an experience or a thought or an object of delight or a moment as if …. is refreshing and liberating.
Something shifts in my mind and body when I drop into this special place that rests just beyond the veil of reality and I can feel this ebb and flow of life energy that resides deep within. It is as if my soul rides the energy of life’s spirit and words pour through me like a channel. Then, the magic of this fabric is in the unraveling of the patterns and feeling into the texture and sensuality of each thread. It is as if a collective of the most mundane objects, places and people we call life experiences dissolves and emerges again with new richness and fascination.
Over the last couple of years, I termed the phrase “the art of living poetically” to capture the essence of my teachings, my spirit and my life path and choices. This phrase embodies my intentions to live with grace and beauty and wonder under all circumstances, and to trust in a life source power that is bigger and bolder and delightfully powerful to move me in the direction of goodness and wellness. This path is not always gilded with gold and can oftentimes be rocky and sharp, but the struggles are sweetened by the connection to process that is allowing and accepting and appreciating. The art of living poetically is a practice.
The Birth of Poet's Corner Book Shop
After sending this message along to Michael, Bianca and I went for another walk to the coast and visited Duncans Mills and from this place of awareness and connection, sitting on the bench by the little red house shop in Duncans Mills, I had a vision for a community gathering place and a desire to create this place with books and things of time past for time future. It seemed like the perfect time to open a book shop and truly tap into the meaning and practice of living poetically.
What does it mean for me to live poetically? It means to take in all that is available to me in nature and nurture and be present, be mindful, awaken the senses to take what is available and feel, to embrace the beauty and any suffering that comes with our daily compassions to resonate in the heart with depth and breathe.
To be present
To endure the days of loneliness and joy with the same equanimity of grace and hope
To extract the beauty in the simplest of ceremony
To live a life of inquiry and curiosity and wonder
To be an example of inspiration to someone
To love fully and unconditionally
To create moments as memories
To remember kindness and manners
To be available
It is a journey of expression and the art of living poetically is the action of expression in ritual and routine that is shared not only in words and verbalization but more specifically in the daily practices of paying attention and reflecting on everyday moments with sincerity and grace. To be aware of awareness itself and capture as many moments in time with the same joy and freedom as chasing butterflies in the springtime.
To savor the shifts of seasons in nature and within my person as I change subtly with each year and witness my life as an artist, and a writer.
And from this renewed commitment, I opened a book shop in Duncans Mills to honor a time, a place, a memory. Some people call me courageous. Others call me brave. I can sense they may mean foolish. I simply rely on my intentions, even though they may seem romantic and I remain steadfast with the foundational intentions to be a part of community, to serve that community in a purposeful way and provide the opportunity for growth and inspiration through the education and writings and teachings that have been graciously gifted to me.
I hope you will find a treasure in the words that have been shared and will join me on this journey to explore the little shop for your self or someone else, either in-person or online.
There are two avenues to purchase books and gifts. You can visit the shop, browse the shop online, or buy books through the online bookstore partnership with bookshop.org. (Bookshop.org is like the Amazon for independent bookstores.)
You can check out the curated selections here, as well as search books that may not be listed. As long as you see Poet's Corner Book Shop in the upper left corner as your shop of choice on the platform, all purchases will support the continued efforts of Poet's Corner Book Shop.
I look forward to welcoming you.
To learn more about Stephanie and the Art of Living Poetically, visit stephanieculen.com