“The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.” ~ V.S. Naipaul, from In a Free State

Clyfford Still, “1957-D No 1,” (1957, oil on canvas)

“I seriously consider the possibility of giving up . . . am I capable of what I dream? If I am not capable of it, what good is it to dream?” ~ Albert Camus, from Notebooks: 1951-1959

Monday (2/11) afternoon, overcast, warmer temperatures, 50 degrees.

I slept well last night; it was a nice change. I’ve been falling asleep before 11 and then waking initially between 7 and 8. I listen to the dogs play for a while as they try to make me get out of bed, and then I feed everyone. This morning, though, I actually fell back asleep while listening to a podcast.

Clyfford Still, “Jamais” (1944, oil on canvas))

I’m enjoying podcasts lately. I realize that I’m late to the game, as usual, but my initial interest was spurred by Rachel Maddow’s podcast on Spiro Agnew. I know a lot about Nixon, but knew virtually nothing about Agnew besides the fact that my 7th grade history teacher had a Spiro Agnew watch, a la Mickey Mouse. So I listened to all of the “Bag Man” podcast, and I was hooked. If you don’t know anything about Agnew, I recommend this particular podcast because even though it was decades ago, the circumstances are all too similar to the current state of the country.

So my latest podcast is “Serial,” which is about the case of Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee. I saw a promo on HBO for a series about it that’s coming in March, so I wanted some background. It’s an intriguing case, with many people believing that Syed was unjustly convicted. I’m also interested because it has nothing to do with politics, which I am currently in overload on; it’s all just too ridiculous and does nothing for my blood pressure; so a break is definitely needed.

“I’ve been told quite
a lot of things. They hover — some more unbidden than
others — in that part of the mind where mistakes and torn
wishes echo as in a room that’s been newly cathedraled,
so that the echo surprises, though lately it’s less the echo
itself that can still most surprise me about memory —” ~ Carl Phillips, from “Wild is the Wind”

I’m trying to apply the approach that I used yesterday, which was to sit down and just start writing, before tumblr, before messing with my over 100 pre-prepared drafts, before anything. I’m hoping to find my groove again, as it were.

Clyfford Still, “PH-385 ( No 1),” (1949, oil on canvas)

So now it’s Thursday (2/14), and mostly overcast and colder, 39 degrees . . .

Admittedly, I left this post for almost three days ago. I got up to do a few things, and then never came back, and then I forgot where I was. I have such good intentions but such bad habits . . .

I won’t even begin to apologize because truthfully the person I really need to apologize to is myself; not writing here hurts only me. Not writing at all affects me: I feel such disappoint in myself for not keeping my promises to myself, and then all of those feelings about being inadequate come flooding back. It’s such a freaking vicious circle, one that I’ve been caught in since I was a child.

“I should do three things every day, but instead I sit, paralyzed in front of my computer, beating myself up for not doing three things every day like I promised myself I would. I’ve determined this is more time-consuming and stressful than actually doing the three goddamn things a day, and, therefore, I’m entitled to my fury.” ~ Jessica Knoll

The following Monday afternoon (2/18), blue skies for a change but cold, 39 degrees.

Yes, I know. It’s ridiculous that I’m only finishing this post one week later. I have no excuses or explanations; actually, I have a ton, but the only one that matters is that I find myself paralyzed. For weeks now, I sit down at this keyboard in my tiny little workspace in the corner of the living room, and I play Spider Solitaire. I tell myself that it’s a warmup, for my fingers, for my brain.

Clyfford Still, untitled (1945, oil on canvas)

Then, when that doesn’t work, I turn on a podcast (already finished “Serial” and moved on to more), usually about some unsolved crime or particularly weird murder. Again, it’s to get my juices flowing . . . Then about five hours later, I realize that I have not a) eaten b) bathed c) paid any attention to the horses d) gone for a walk (right, not in this cold and mud), and then finally e) written one frigging word.

So as a result, I continue to play Spider Solitaire and click on podcasts. Listen, it’s so bad that most nights lately, I don’t even watch Ari on The Beat (MSNBC), but I do try to fit in Rachel Maddow at 9, only because I’m probably eating a late dinner and getting ready to go to bed, at which time, I will continue to play Spider Solitaire and listen to another episode on my phone as Corey begins to snore softly.

I’m completely disgusted and disappointed in myself at this point. I had such big plans for returning to this blog with so many things to share. But then the self-doubt kicks in, and I think to myself that nothing I have to say could possible interest anyone, and who am I fooling anyway, and I still haven’t gotten my book published, pick one—the one with poems and photographs (which actually does exist in draft form), or the memoir about surviving grief (which exists only in my head), or the mystery (which exists only in snatches written down in various places that I can no longer find).

“Today, mid-February where the wind is full of snow
that will not fall, brown leaves
curled against the blanched grass,
I suspect there are no gardens in you
You suspect I am brimming with vast shadows,
the way the mud and sky are brimming with snow.” ~ Joanna Klink, from “The Wonder of Birds”

Truthfully, I have been doing one other thing to try to jump start my brain: I’ve been looking at things that writers have written about their writing process or writing in general. It helps, and it hurts. Helps because I can see plainly that everyone has periods in which the words simply will not come, but hurts because these people have such good ideas about how to conquer that wall, and I do not . . .

Clyfford Still, untitled (formerly self-portrait) (1945, oil on canvas)

Anyway, I wanted to share just a couple of quotes here: In an 2004 interview with Poets & Writers, poet Adam Zagajewski said the following about the relationship of beauty to being a writer:

I become deaf to beauty for a week or two or three. This coming and going of the inner life—because this is what it is—is a curse and a blessing. I don’t need to explain why it’s a curse. A blessing because it brings about a movement, an energy which, when it peaks, creates a poem. Or a moment of happiness.

And later in the interview, he says,

Remember that the act of writing is a tiny part of a bigger something . . .

They [autobiographical essays] tell you: Look how miserable I was and how well am I doing now. I’m not saying this. For me, not the healing is important, but memory and thinking. And poetry.

Poet and editor Dalton Day said in a 2014 interview with banangolit:

Write because you want to communicate with yourself. Write because you want to communicate with someone else. Write because life is weird and tragic and amazing. Write because talking is difficult. Write because it polishes the heart. Write because you can. Write because you can’t. Write because there is a blackbird outside of my window right now and oh my god isn’t that the best start to the day? Write because you’re trying to figure yourself out. Write because you might not ever figure yourself out. Write because there still aren’t enough love poems in the world.

“I snake toward myself only to discover I have disturbed no one’s nest but my own . . . Darling,  I work by the hourglass. I write songs so that someday you may sing.” ~ Hala Alyan, from “Upstate II”

One other thing that I’ve been doing in the midst of this great nothingness is looking at online literary journals to which I might/could submit my work. This is an exercise in which I participate at least once a year. Having said that, I should now clarify that I have only submitted my work a few times. That’s a few times in many years. In other words, an exercise in futility . . .

Clyfford Still, “PH-950” (1950, oil on canvas)

A poet who once taught in the same English department once told me that I need an assistant to send out my work. She was serious. She also received a grant from the NEA, so she could afford an assistant to send out her work. Those of us who are penniless cannot afford such luxuries, so we have to rely on our own steam, as it were.

I have no steam.

I am steamless.

I am without steam.

There is no steam anywhere in proximity to my brain.

No steam, vis-a-vis, productive time that does not exist in my life.

Yep. Meh.

More later. I hope. Peace.

All images are by first generation abstract expressionist Clyfford Still. I felt that this post deserved abstract images. To read more about him, go here.

Music by Dakota, “Bare Hands”

 


Poem for Nobody

an apprehension for reality, the death of the flower,
the collapse of hope, the crush of
wasted years, the nightmare faces,
the mad armies attacking for no reason at all
and/or
old shoes abandoned in old corners like half-forgotten
voices that once said love but did not mean
love.

see the face in the mirror? the mirror in the
wall? the wall in the house? the house in the
street?

now always the wrong voice on the telephone
and/or
the hungry mouse with beautiful eyes which now lives in
your brain.

the angry, the empty, the lonely, the
tricked.

we are all
museums of fear.

there are
as many killers as flies as
we dream of giant
sea turtles with strange words carved into
their hard backs
and no place for the knife to go in.

Cain was Able,
ask him.
give us this day our daily dread.

the only solace left to us is to hide
alone in the middle of night in some deserted
place.

with each morning less than zero,
humanity is a hammer to the brain,
our lives a bouquet of blood, you can watch
this fool still with his harmonica
playing elegiac tunes while
slouching toward Nirvana
without
expectation or
grace.

~ Charles Bukowski

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Coming Home Again to Poets & Writers

I just finished writing a paper on Poets & Writers for my journals class, and it’s hard to believe that the magazine has been around for over 20 years now. If you have never picked up this magazine or visited the website (www.pw.org), then please don’t wait too long to do so. Poets & Writers is a nonprofit organization that was started in 1970 as a resource for writers, and it has never swayed from its original mission. Throughout the years P&W has given thousands of dollars to writers to conduct workshops or hold readings through their Readings/Workshops program. They also sponsor the Jackson Poetry Prize, and the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award. Whether you are just starting out or you have published several books, you can appreciate what this organization and its publication has to offer.

I was introduced to the magazine when it was still in its infancy by none other than my best friend Mari. The format hasn’t changed all that much. It still features a profile on a literary figures as its lead story, and then other stories related to the craft of writing, whether they be interviews, how-tos, or a feature on trends in the industry. You’ll always find lots and lots of information on grants, writing retreats and colonies, MFA programs, calls for papers, manuscripts, submissions, etc., and the classified section is a veritable treasure-trove of information. Published bi-monthly, the subscription is very affordable, even for those on a limited budget, and if you cannot afford to subscribe, you can read the online version, which has its own content.

If it sounds as if I am a big fan, I am. I used to go through with my pink highlighter and carefully circle all of the retreats that I wanted to go to, and all of the deadlines that I wanted to try to get submissions into, and then I would just as carelessly procrastinate until all of the dates passed me by. It was a game that I played with myself, and I played it very well. Some of you may already be familiar with this game. I believe that it even has some sort of name, something like “fear of success/fear of failure.” Anyway, this went on for a number of years, for as long as I taught at ODU, and then when I stopped teaching, I stopped reading Poets & Writers Magazine. I mean, what was the point? I was never going to be published anyway.

Then the really ironic thing was that I began to write in earnest for the museum and to have my articles published in their journal, but it wasn’t my poetry. Life’s funny that way; isn’t it?

A few years ago, I started to read Poets & Writers Magazine again, and it was as if I had become reacquainted with an old friend, only this one had aged very well. Stylistically, the old black and white  newsletter format on white paper had progressed to a nice coated stock, perfect bound. But the content was still there. The prizes were still there, and a few new ones too. It’s nice that you can come home again to some things.

Anyway, as I said, if you’ve never sat down with a copy, go to Barnes & Noble, and buy one this weekend. Make yourself a nice cuppa tea, and peruse the pages. Don’t forget to have a highlighter nearby, just in case. You never know what you might find between the pages . . .