Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fortune Teller

The air coils around my head like an animal,
muscular, supple, with a weight unexpected
for so slight a creature. I close my eyes
and feel the pressure building.
A boa constrictor oozes down my skull,
layering its iron bands across my cheekbones,
pressing the back of my neck,
draping its infinite spine across the ridge of my shoulders.
I feel it ease down, settling, squeezing,
covering me like a living mantle.
All day long my head throbs under its embrace.
There is something beautiful, luxurious
about this presence of the weather in my head.

At this season, the climate is my constant,
a companion at every hour, every breath.
The muffled world passes by
while I sit in contemplation of this presence
laid upon me. Like an augur
I can foretell the future from its touch,
the secret snaking through my cranium.
I close my eyes and predict storms,
sunshine, rain and wind, the fate of air masses.
It’s marvelous – this pain that transforms
and makes me live the patterns of the world.
Come, speak to me as I study the space within;
I will tell the secrets of future time. 

***

This poem is a little experiment in tone and immediacy. I get sinus headaches during major weather shifts, and I had a headache for almost 3 days straight last week. The only way to deal with it was obviously to write a poem and sleep extra, so I did both!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Inner Space

Now that I’ve started up my Wednesday Writer’s Sequestration (as I’m humorously terming it to make it sound more official when I describe it to people who want me to do things on Wednesdays), I’ve been feeling amazingly more inspired about writing in general. This caused me to think about space. Not outer space, but inner, I guess you might call it – mental space.

I’m the sort of person who is very good at staying busy. It’s sort of a pitfall, actually. I can always invent a project for myself, even if it’s something more or less trivial, like reorganizing my desk. The problem with that, though, is that when I need to do something I’m not exactly relishing (read: editing novels), I can think of a legitimate-sounding project to substitute.

I was beginning to become desperate about my future as a writer, though.

For a couple of months, I could find no energy to write, and even worse, no inspiration. No lines for poems came to my mind; adding blog posts seemed tedious and overwhelming. The three novels I have to edit were looming over me, somehow shutting down all my interest in doing any writing at all as long as I didn’t face them.

So to console myself, I pulled more and more projects into my life: cooking, preserving, sewing, cleaning, organizing, gardening, and all the while work was getting busier and busier as we entered our hectic summer season. I was even using social obligations as an excuse. The result was that I became so genuinely busy that I no longer had any time to write.

This seemed like a bad situation for someone who decided at age fourteen to be a professional writer.

About two months ago, just as I was starting to wonder if I’d ever write again, I decided I needed to stage an intervention for myself. So I picked a day of the week and told myself that I would get take-out after work, come home and make my lunch for the next day, shower, let the dog play, and then shut myself into my room to eat dinner and write. I would not emerge to talk to anyone or take a break until I’d worked for at least three hours.

I’m happy to say that this plan has been working great. I’ve made it through 9 chapters of House of Mirrors, which had been stagnating for a year. Tonight I’ll do a bit more work on chapter 10. At this rate, I expect to be done with the editing process by early spring next year. I’m actually rather enjoying it. Since the format for this novel was short, vignette-like chapters, I can complete at least one chapter in each editing session, sometimes two or three.

And miraculously, the attack on all that editing has cleared a mental space.

I pushed all my projects out of my Wednesday evenings; I stopped fearing the task of dealing with my waiting novels. There was breathing room for my imagination again. Since starting the writer’s sequestration, I’ve written a poem and a blog post, and now I’m working on my next blog post and another poem. A good trend has been started.

I don’t know if I’ll find it necessary to stick to my Wednesday schedule – perhaps I’ll be able to make space for writing more frequently in shorter bursts – but for now I just feel relieved that I am still a writer. I still have the drive and the ideas that lead to stories and poems. It’s alarming and disheartening to reach a point where one questions the path one chose long ago.

Of course people can alter their directions most dramatically (a blog I once perused was written by an architect who became a restaurateur) but I’m pretty set on the role of writer after all, I think.  It’s a good discovery, in that case, to realize that I need to leave some space in my life and in my mind – space to be a writer. It’s good to have mental boundaries and to realize that I can always reserve a bit of my life for writing and in a way, maintaining who I am.  I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but perhaps it’s true that one cannot be oneself if too much is poured into life. After clearing out a little breathing room, I finally feel like myself again. 

I’m curious, though. Has anyone else ever found that by trying to keep busy and be a productive, social member of society, they actually end up wondering where they lost themselves along the way? I think that was happening to me these past few months and I am glad to be rediscovering I am a writer after all. I’m sure other people have similar experiences. I’d be interested to read about them!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Elevation: 14,411 Feet

‘We’ll pass, thank you,’ they said,
So politely, of course,
And I nodded and held my breath for a long time
While disappointment hammered my forehead
And my lungs expanded with embarrassment.

Staring at nothing, I remembered:
Driving up from the Columbia Gorge,
Cresting a last ridge in the hot sunshine.
There stood Mt. Rainier, a floating monolith,
Looking at me peacefully across the miles.

I had the same feeling then,
As if I’d been struck in the face
And my ribs could no longer contain my lungs.
I wanted to gain the immobility of the mountain
And feel nothing as I loomed over time.

To have absolute greatness in myself,
To change so slowly no one can perceive it,
To have no care whether I am accepted or rejected
Because I am perfect in my enormous being –
That is the happiness I desire.

There are so many things to want:
Success in poetry, money, fame and friends,
All of them equally evasive.
Perhaps it’s better to be a mountain,
To exist with divine disinterest in it all.

One after another, the agents and journals and publishers
Shrug their shoulders and wave me off,
Shaking their heads and saying,
‘Not quite our style, I’m afraid.’
Fifty attempts later the words still stun.

A bible phrase from childhood returns to mind –
‘Desire of the everlasting hills.’
The curious words explain my wish so well:
I want to practice a mountainous stillness
And reach the silence beyond ten thousand feet.  


Monday, September 1, 2014

Re-evaluating

Every time I get a refusal from a journal or agent to whom I submitted a poem or a query letter or what have you, I feel a little shocked. Not so much because I’m surprised I got rejected (my head isn’t that big, I hope!), but just because it’s a reminder that I need to reevaluate my progress and work constantly.

There’s always a tendency to settle into a comfortable routine, after all.

I’ve been going through a long, sort of ‘dry’ spell with writing, where I can hardly work up the interest or enthusiasm to pursue my various story projects and poetic inspirations.  I’ve had lines of poetry floating in my mind for months which I haven’t been able to focus on for the sake of seeing what fleshes out around them. I was sent a blog post by my friend, the Fashionista, which consoled me during my dry period: it reminded me that everything has to happen at the time that’s best for it, so demanding things of yourself when you truly don’t have the energy to pursue them is counter-productive and possibly destructive.

Still, though, it’s pretty discouraging to know that one is a writer, but to feel utterly lacking in inspiration and drive.  I submitted some poems to a journal and a novel to a contest in June, in the hopes that I might get a good response on one or the other and that might jump start my interest again. I’ve not heard back yet on the novel, but the poems were politely declined a few days ago.

I did the only thing appropriate in the situation: I wrote a new poem about getting rejected!

While I was working on composing that, I reflected on my current writing life. A few weeks ago, I decided that I’d start up a ‘Writer’s Sequestration,’ on Wednesday evenings after work, where I get take-out and do nothing but edit for a few hours straight. It’s been quite productive, as I’m working through House of Mirrors at a pretty reasonable rate now, and also it has made me feel a little less like my writing is running away from me.  Things have been looking up, in other words.

Because of that, I was able to take the rejection of my poems with considerable equanimity, but the shock of having someone say, ‘No, thank you,’ did force me to rethink my writing priorities.  See, in the ten weeks between submitting the poems and hearing the answer, I read a lot of poetry from the online journal to which I submitted. I realized during that period that the poems that are accepted and published all have a certain ‘style’ to them.  I’m not criticizing them, actually – I’ve enjoyed and admired almost every poem I read. However, they all obviously follow the current trend in poetry and my poems do not.

So then I had to ask myself, ‘Do I want my poems to follow the current trend?’

I’ve always been fairly good at imitating things. I got good grades on all my writing assignments in high school where I had to mimic the tone and voice of a particular writer. I could probably pretty easily figure out how to write poems which share the same structure and characteristics that I noticed in almost all the poems accepted to this particular journal. In a way, the challenge would be sort of fun, as I would of course then resubmit and see if they got accepted.

However, I feel like this would be selling out, in a way. I like the poetry I write. It has my voice; it reflects my way of experiencing the world, which tends to be more on the analytical side, and which quickly leaps from individual happenings to universal meanings. I don’t really feel like I’d gain anything from training myself to write according to a different trend, other than technical skills, perhaps. So, I’ve resolved to be an amateur rather than a published poet. My novels have always been more important to me, and it’s time to admit that perhaps I’d be happier if I just wrote poetry for myself and my friends, and instead focused on getting the novels published.

With that in mind, I decided to revamp my blog. I’m still going to write posts on balancing the many elements of life, but I think I’ll also start posting my poems (and possibly short stories, when those occasionally happen) here. No sense having them languish in digital files on my computer, unread. It will be better and make me happier to see them posted here for others to read and enjoy. Perhaps they may generate some commentary and feedback.

That being said, I hope anyone who reads my posts will enjoy the change and the new mixture of prose and poetry.  Please look forward to a poem to be posted in the next few days!