It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I wanted to write an update about what’s been going on for me.
I’ve been struggling lately with the direction in which I want to take this blog. I’ve often felt like it’s disjointed, that it lacks a cohesive subject matter or at least a unifying voice. This makes it more difficult to come up with content, in addition to the blog being, I think, a less useful resource. And I get very frustrated when I write those fluffy, straightforward posts (10 tips for whatever, How to Reach Your Ultimate Potential.) It just feels unnatural to write, somehow inauthentic. . . I think maybe the positive, self-help sort of moralizing is not a good fit for me. I don’t even know why I do it. Is that what I think people want to hear? (Maybe they actually do, but you wouldn’t know it based on my number of blog subscribers! *waves*)
Many, many times I’ve thought about quitting blogging. Maybe it’s not for me, maybe I don’t understand how this works. Most of the blogs I find on WordPress are pretty formulaic and uninteresting, even the really popular ones. I especially hate the Creative Commons images that I continually put on each and every post because I’ve read over and over again that YOU MUST INCLUDE PICTURES ON YOUR POSTS. Seriously, who is clicking on my blog to see a generic picture of a latte and a laptop?!!? Thinking about it, it’s definitely possible that blogging is just not for me.
This coronavirus period has been a useful excuse to step back and reflect on my priorities, research new directions, and plan for the future. I’ve decided, for starters, that I’m not quite ready to quit this blog yet. Even though I haven’t found my niche. I think it’s a useful exercise to experiment with form, and it gives me a good reason to write regularly. I like having a digital home for my unpublished writing. And somewhere deep down I feel like this blog has the potential to be interesting, useful, and whole. Something that more accurately reflects who I am.
So that’s the goal, in a nutshell. I have no concrete plans for where I’m going to take this yet. I just wanted to verbalize some things I’ve been thinking about.
Last summer, I visited Anne Sexton’s grave. I touched the cold stone, traced my fingers along the etching. Bore witness to the offerings others had left behind: coins, ink pens, jewelry. I hadn’t expected to be in New England, hadn’t quite wanted to go to New England in the first place, but, since I was in New England, I went to Forest Hills Cemetery to see Anne Sexton.
The last time I was in New England, life was very different. Supposedly, it was a happier time: It was the first plane trip I took with my family after my daughter was born. She was about 6 months old. It was the first time I had ever been to Rhode Island or Cape Cod. I remember thinking that everything was so outlandishly beautiful–the Breakers, for example–but I couldn’t quite feel the excitement that I usually experienced traveling. Instead, I felt a mix of anxious, worn down, muted. The entire trip felt like a dream, something I only have a vague recollection of.
Of course, I couldn’t put it to words at the time. I was still breastfeeding and was thick in in the midst of postpartum delirium. I don’t think I even knew that I was struggling–with my body, with motherhood, with the changing circumstances of my life. It was only two years later, when I came back to New England, that I was confronted with the memory of how detached I had felt. The bewilderment. The strange sense of loss. I came back two years later, feeling suddenly like I saw my life more clearly. And I began to take some small solace–in this truth and the expression of it, in poetry and those of women who came before me, like Sexton, whose unflinching gaze towards suffering and loss continues to inspire me.
I could not get you back
except for weekends. You came
each time, clutching the picture of a rabbit
that I had sent you. For the last time I unpack
your things. We touch from habit.
The first visit you asked my name.
Now you stay for good. I will forget
how we bumped away from each other like marionettes
on strings. It wasn’t the same
as love, letting weekends contain
us. You scrape your knee. You learn my name,
wobbling up the sidewalk, calling and crying.
You call me mother and I remember my mother again,
somewhere in greater Boston, dying.
I remember we named you JoyceFrom “The Double Image”
so we could call you Joy.
You came like an awkward guest
that first time, all wrapped and moist
and strange at my heavy breast.
I needed you. I didn’t want a boy,
only a girl, a small milky mouse
of a girl, already loved, already loud in the house
of herself. We you Joy.
I, who was never quite sure
about being a girl, needed another
life, another image to remind me.
And this was my worst guilt; you could not cure
nor soothe it. I made you to find me.
Everyone is staying inside here in Washington, as in many other places around the world. Whether you like it or not, we’ve all been forced to slow down in one way or another. Perhaps this is an opportunity to go inward and become reflective. I’ve been wanting to write a poem, but for *some reason* I can’t get the words right. I’ve made my peace with this. Now’s not the time to be judgmental or harsh. It’s a good time to step back and let go.
So instead, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a very beautiful poem by Mary Oliver called “At Loxahatchie” (from her book Dream Work). What can you loosen your grip on today?
the water whispered: And now, like us,
you are a million years old.
But at the same time
the enormous and waxy flowers
of the shrubs around me, whose names
I did not know,
were nodding in the wind and sighing
Be born! And I knew
whatever my place in this garden
it was not to be what I had always been–
Everywhere the reptiles thrashed
while birds exploded into heavenly
hymns of rough song and the vultures
drifted like black angels and clearly nothing
needed to be saved.
I’ve been practicing my poetry lately, and I’ve been having a hard time coming up with anything that sticks. So, I’ve resorted to my old book of poetry exercises, The Practice of Poetry. This particular exercise asks you to write about a memory from childhood–one that is not often thought about but maybe has some recent significance to you. Pay particular attention to how you use tense, how you cope with the passage of time as it effects your understanding of the past event.
Here’s what I came up with:
Lost in the woods
We found ourselves finally
at the side of a road,
the crossroads between
camp and wilderness.
The sun bent towards setting,
reflecting the blues in everything:
blue the mountains, menacing
blue the feral eyes, darting
blue the lone car passing,
then gone. Then silence.
There was no one looking for us but
we came back anyway
sometimes we still hide in trees
hoard our tears like sapphires
This is an old poem I wrote that appears in revised form in the Blanket Stories anthology by Ragged Sky Press. It’s inspired by a place I went as a kid, Washaway Beach, Washington.
I remember I've been here before.
On a family vacation
I saw the beach washed away.
We couldn’t drive further.
The highway dove straight into the Pacific,
pavement disappearing under waves.
Chunks of grey concrete,
crumble in the murky surf.
We terrified onlookers witnessed the
broken homes and scattered possessions,
worn-out and weather-beaten.
An empty bathtub, a lifeless bassinet
cradling its driftwood cadaver.
Corroded plumbing stuck out of the sand
like grasping, skinless fingers
pointing desperately towards heaven.
I was ten years old when I saw
those seconds swallowed up.
My home is nothing but a ghost town,
filled with sand. The silent spirits:
those I never really knew,
those who hunted me.
Their death-scent followed me here
as vultures surround me like a halo.
I sit on the shore, the water
darts around my ankles, a new, live birth.
All these grains of sand— uncountable and unaccounted for—
memories I want so desperately to forget,
secrets I know I can no longer keep.
Scatter the remains across the ocean. Walk away.
We will never speak of it again.
Anything that we fully do is an alone journey. No matter how happy your friends may be for you, how much they support you, you can’t expect anyone to match the intensity of your emotions or to completely understand what you went through. This is not sour grapes. You are alone when you write a book. Accept that and take in any love and support that is given to you, but don’t have expectations of how it is supposed to be.Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones, p. 170.
People frequently mention the importance of community for writers: writing critique groups, conferences, social media connections. Writing is necessarily a solitary act, and community can be a valuable antidote for despair and self-absorption–neither of which are conducive to good writing.
Community is important. But so is the solitude. Being alone is not only necessary for writers, it can be comforting.
There’s a particular kind of joy in being alone. There’s freedom. An expansiveness. A wholeness, even. Only you can completely know yourself, the sheer totality of your existence, all the bits and pieces that comprise you. This deeply rooted authenticity is a sort of sanctuary. When alone, you can exist in a place without masks. Beyond the anxiety and the loneliness there is something liberating and protective:
I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.Kahlil Gibran, The Madman
That is one of my all-time favorite quotes. I always want to be understood, more than I think I want almost anything else in the world. I suppose that’s why I write too. And yet, in my ongoing struggle to be understood, I sometimes lose my perspective. I lose myself. Maybe I don’t have to strive to be understood, maybe if I found acceptance in the way things are, I might feel my throat open up. My words might feel lighter, more natural. And I would be closer to saying exactly what I need to say.
Inspired by the Art and Craft of Novel Writing by Oakley Hall.
- Write every day, no matter what. When you don’t write, write the next day.
- Fill your life with inspiration, and know that everything is inspiration. Keep it close to you.
- Write with bravery and confidence (write what you want and how you want). Don’t stop for anyone.
- Write happily, even though writing is work, it is also joyful. Work with pleasure only.
- Have a space set aside for writing, but don’t be bound to it. Writing is everywhere.
- Write the Truth, not the facts. Authenticity is everything.
- Be precise.
- Finish one story before beginning another. But horde story ideas like gold.
- Don’t be afraid of anything, nothing is off limits. Don’t censor, but do write spaciously, leaving room for symbolism and metaphor.
- Relaxing is invaluable. Use your unconscious mind, do things that appear mindless to find solutions when stuck.
- Don’t focus on finishing, just take it one day at a time. That’s how work gets finished.