Saturday, October 24, 2015

Never Mind.

I think about my choices in writing. My predilection for antiquated language, ornamentation, complexity of syntax. Formal poetry, for gods' sake. Gah!

I think of D.G. whose own choice brought her prosperity during the time she knew she couldn't invest more in her writing than a shallow but marketable voice (when baby spit-up and diapers called to her more loudly than her art, which happens to all we who bear children and commit ourselves to raising them with love).

She wrote under a pseudonym until that time that she knew she could take the time to be herself on the page. Her eventual foray into authenticity was less lucrative only at first (everyone loved those books she had written under the pseudonym and which sold at the market near the magazine section). Eventually the new books sold too, and she bloomed into her authorship unfettered by fear or uncertainty. She had the approbation of the industry, however it had first been gained, and she let it grow her.

Now she is a bestselling author writing under her own name, and although she once advised me not to self publish and never to reveal to a prospective agent that I had once done so, her fourth novel as herself, as the real writer she is and wants to be, I see is published by no less than D.G. herself.

But her path, so different from mine, was carved by a woman who knew a thing or two about business and who let that knowledge guide her. That woman is not like me. I have the heart of a poet, which is of course pathetic. I determine not to say it, not to speak it and thus make it true, but it seems I am not motivated by anything but the word itself. Which will make me a writer only to myself...and to the few individuals who will stumble upon my books by chance (fate?).

I teach my students about Dostoevsky, the existentialists, free will. I teach them about how our need to exercise that free will will subvert even the most basic of our needs so that in order to assert it, fulfill it, we will act even against our own best interest. Such irony in myself embodying the purest example of such a tendency. Human indeed.

I think of my inability to be inauthentic even for a moment, a quality that in my idealistic youth I thought of as a positive trait. How even if I resigned myself to writing in a way that didn't honor my self, my intellect, my truth, I would be unable to muster even a single syllable when in moments of silence I sat down to the page. Knowing that my idealism won't pay the bills, won't eradicate debt that hovers like a low fog, I wonder whether it is stubbornness or ineptitude that keeps me from writing what I know would be consumed greedily by the industry, by its constituents. Never mind.

Because where I always land is here: awareness of the privilege of this variety of problem. How sitting down to my school-issued laptop in front of my fireplace in the beautiful home where I live, I am lucky to have this as the topic of my preoccupation. Though it takes some effort to keep other worries at bay, these too are the forms of my privileged life. To have the luxury of contemplating my worth, as a writer, as a human, this is the greatest luck, really, and I am grateful for every other worry that does not belong to me.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Leaning Into What Aches So We Can Be Saved...

I read haiku aloud to the group of seekers who have gathered here; they are the group that has assembled for my first creative writing workshop in the Vail Valley. They are perfect, and they are gracious, each of them strong in his/her own way, each of them vulnerable, me. Like every one of us who opens their mouth to speak, lifts their pen to write.

I want to keep them for another hour, but of course I must honor their time, and this is the last exercise we have time to complete. I have told them they can start writing as soon as they are ready, and for now a single haiku drifts to their ear at intervals of about 30 seconds. It's a beginner meditation, a beginner visualization...from a beginner human. If I had lives before this one, I don't remember them, so yes, I am a beginner at being human, and I assume the appropriate humility (now that I am 44 and have spent more than half a lifetime being fairly egocentric). Hey, at least I know what I know (even if it isn't very much).

What I do know is that what we are doing here is important. With time ticking (like always I have tried to cram too much into this small collection of means so much, after all), each of them continues to listen, lips lifting up almost imperceptibly at the edges, soft foreheads and smooth, gentle breath. I love that they are present. That they are receiving each tiny poem as it comes, lands like a sparrow on their gently rising and falling breastbone, lifts off again. Finally, as gently as I can, I tell them it is time to come to the page.

We all begin writing, keeping in mind the word, the abstraction we have each drawn from a miniature deck of cards. My word is HEALING, and I re-enter this space, the yoga studio at Dogma--where I have used that word more times than I am able to count. I have talked about "creating the optimal conditions for healing" in the body, in the mind. I say it as we sink into Savasana, having breathed, moved, balanced and stretched into spaces we didn't know existed.

"Rest," I say. This is how we heal ourselves, and like in asana, we lean, mindfully, into what aches, what makes us afraid, what challenges us completely. We just lean into it, try to love it. Breathe it. Ardha Chandrasana, Utthita Trikonasana, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. Oh. We soften into these ways of moving or being still, try to claim them as our own.

This we can also do with disease. Heartache. Fear. Lean into it, receive it, acknowledge it. How can we begin to send it light, to heal it, if we simply deny and reject it? These are my cells, these are my tears, this is my hurt, and by softening into them, I can begin to attend to them, to heal myself.

In the same way, I bring what aches out of darkness and onto the page. Lean into it by giving it voice, letting it be the truth that it is, here, in front of me. Where I can see it and where others may also see it. Perhaps only in this way, in daring to allow what is to fully BE, as I give it language and expression, can I begin to address it. Send it the loving, healing energy that it needs. Rest. Softness. Acknowledgment. Healing. Om.

I look around the circle and some of us are beginning to wind down, letting the pen lift from the paper across which it has been busily moving. Eyes begin to lift, too, and there is a softness there, as well. I am overcome with the importance of this work, which requires no special gift on my part, but rather a holding of sacred space for each of these who would come here and lean into their own stories, their own impressions and memories. Those who would "give voice to what is inner," so that indeed, they may "survive what is outer" (Nepo).

I know that I will continue to do this work, with anyone who wishes to "dive into the wreck" of memory, to explore their "dreaming place" and to learn what it is they think or believe or wish--by seeing what they have to say.

When we close the circle, gratitude hangs in the air, and wonder--at our own authentic voices, more beautiful than we could have imagined them, simply because they are our own. We lean into our stories, into the sensations and memories that grew them, and we know that what aches can also save us, if we can only soften into it, acknowledge it as our own.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The River Fear

There was a period of silence. A period of undulating urgency, where one importunity spilled and rolled into the next like the troughs and crests of a river wave. Something I knew nothing about before I moved here, and something about which I am bound to learn a great deal more. How can one live without water after all? Not just drinking it, but being in it.

The silence was because of a fear that felt in my body like an electric current (which never mixes well with water).  At times we were rushing down the rapids of a current we had willingly entered, with our children no less, and hanging on to the raft (and our sons) for dear life. At others it felt easier, more mellow, but we knew that what lay ahead might be worse than what was behind us. It was pretty terrifying. How could I produce words during a time like that? How could I tell a story?

And even in the calmer moments, the fear was there. It baffled me, paralyzed me at times. But I knew that it was born of creating, of making esssaie. It was a response to the turbulence that comes when one risks everything for a change that feels necessary...not just unavoidable but absolutely critical for moving forward. We were making a place for our family in this valley. I had to love even the fear.

Knowledge of surfing gives you no advantage in a river. None. And it would take a much greater knowledge of river lore and language for me to extend the metaphor any further, but let it suffice to say that it was a year that challenged us. Slowly, slowly we got our heads about us. Things began to open for us, began to support the wild and risky choices we'd made. We began to feel that we would eventually be safe. And we had each other. We had our gratitude.

I have lived long enough (and written long enough) to know that you can't really write something real until you've finished living it, and with the uncertainty of how this story would end, or at least segue into the next chapter, I was wordless for over a year. Voiceless. There was fear in that, too.

Mary Ruefle once spoke about the fallow periods of a writer. Periods where the soil from which one's stories and poems grow is at rest. Things germinate, and the soil prepares itself to yield something alive and unfurling, but until then, it seems like nothing is happening. But it is. I still don't know what it is, but I feel that it is time to write and "see what I say" (Forester).

I will start slowly. As the fear falls away, there is peace, and there is language. There are stories and verses that want to give themselves to me, and I am safe enough to receive them. I let them arrive from the mystical world that generates them and projects them against a cloudless sky. I transcribe them from there. Live their heaviness. Their lightness. They are who I am, and for the first time in over a year I am not afraid.