Last night, I attended my second open mic for the week. This one was Caffé Lena’s monthly poetry reading (the first Wednesday), and it was packed: something like 22 readers and two features (Paul Pines and Stu Bartow)! I hadn’t been able to attend since I featured there in November.
It’s always a wonderful time, a supportive crowd with diverse styles – both rhyming and free verse, both seasoned veterans and new-comers. As a bonus, it felt like spring in Saratoga (as in the rest of Upstate), and there was a new seasonal Sam Adams on tap at the Irish pub just up the hill.
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In my natural state, I am a sea creature. This landlocked locale is a bit too much for me to take. Land on all sides? Dear God, I’ll go mad. Sometimes the only way I can breathe is to find a horizon with two features: sky and water. I am dreaming of summer, already, and planning a couple escapes to one of my happy places: Ogunquit.
The boys love it, too. They really love it. And so I’m using a week’s vacation to take the boys to the house we’ve rented a few times before as a family of five. They’re excited to be going, but worried about their father not coming along. Their delight is tempered with sadness. I hate that it’s something they’re having to learn at 8 and 10 and 12.
They’re greeting this change (separate vacations), this part of the process, as they have all the other parts — with suspicion. Though they say sometimes they can see that I am happier or that my ex is, they’re not happier yet. And what else is there in a kid’s world? Not much.
I know my job isn’t to do whatever makes them happy, and I know my job isn’t to shield them from all difficulties. It would be far easier to tell them it could be fixed than to tell them, the only thing we can do is go through it. And we will be fine, of course. More than fine. But they don’t know that for sure.
Fortune cookie with today’s lunch:
Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.
I call 2011 my “Year of Not Writing,” because that’s what it seems like to me. I did absolutely no revising and no submitting. I did manage a few dozen poems, I think (I haven’t counted officially), but it still felt like I “never” wrote or that most of the time I “couldn’t” write.
I’m learning now that maybe it was more likely that the rhythm of the writing and the writing sessions was changing, that the energy for the process was either less plentiful or more scattered. But my perception of it as a year of not writing holds. Despite that, something I never gave up was poetry readings and open mics. I kept at them even if I had to read older stuff or repeat myself as I did this week (reading the same pair of poems on Wednesday that I’d read on Monday). Being around writers and hearing their work made me feel like I was still “in it.”
I was partly worried that I was so frustrated with my own process that if I retreated from readings I would be able to convince myself that it was all a ruse, this business of being a poet, that it was a fleeting, foolish endeavor. And so I knew to keep putting myself in places full of creative people pursuing their work. I knew they’d keep reminding me that I was one of them.
I am going through a divorce, I announced at the microphone last night. It may have been the first time I’d strung all those words together (out loud, anyway), and I did so in front of an audience. I am going through a divorce. Over every mountain there is a path, though it may not be seen from the valley. I am a sea creature. Sky and water remind me that I was one of them. The only thing we can do is go through. Shiver all night. Dear sons, dear poets: we’re more than fine.
We’ve had a couple really beautiful snows. Enough to cover the ground. Pretty, but not burdensome. I took the picture to the right on my apartment steps yesterday. We had a few intense bursts of snow, the giant flakes. Giant! And then the sky cleared. It was so beautiful.
And the temperatures? So nice! We’ve had a couple of cold days, but not the unbearable long stretches of single digits/below zero we usually get. Today, in fact, my car said 55 degrees (a highway billboard said 49; I’ll take either one).
It almost doesn’t matter to me what that groundhog does: I can survive six weeks of winter even if it regresses to our traditional winter. Winter last year seemed like six months, so six weeks? I can do this.
Of course, everything’s a metaphor. This winter, which is easier than last winter. A fraught commute to work. Flowers on my kitchen table. Even the sun (maybe especially the sun), which my ex has claimed as the symbol representing his new life.
When I allow myself to be really angry, I slam things around and grumble about him ruining the sun for me. I imagine screaming across the river, “You can’t own the sun, m-expletive f-expletive!”
(That probably wouldn’t be a bad therapeutic exercise, come to think of it.)
The photo above is from our Annual Tom Natell Tribute and Beret Toss. Once a year, the monthly Poets Speak Loud open mic is a memorial for an Albany poet I never had the chance to meet. I can say it’s quite a shame: if he was anything like the rest of them, we might have been friends. This poetry scene is part of my extended family. I adore each of them. And you, too, of course, dear poets of the interwebs.
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It’s just a poem bit. Just a piece. That needs work. But it’s something I’ve been trying to do when I want to vent about something on Facebook (what a terrible habit) or whine in my notebook: turn it into fodder for a poem. It’s nothing new to poets, of course, but the exercise at this particular time in my life — and at those exact moments in which acting like a 13-year-old would be incredibly satisfying — is instructive.
It gives me a chance to pause and reconsider. I don’t mean change my mind about how I feel. I mean sit with it a bit. And make my own fucking metaphors.
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The photo in this post is from one of the coffee shops in my neighborhood. (Sorry for the wash-out in the coffee mug; with my iPhone, I couldn’t capture both the reflection in the window *and* the color of the drink.) It still seems so strange to say, “my neighborhood.” I’ve never lived in a neighborhood before. Not really. Always rural areas with people scattered about instead of clustered.
And now? I live not only in a neighborhood, but in an urban neighborhood. I’m loving it. It’s been almost six months. Can you believe it? I love having everything within walking distance, including half a dozen or so poetry readings/open mics each month. I love seeing people out and about. I love the park. I love being near the state museum and the capitol. And the river and its bridges just beyond.
I got in 30 minutes of exercise tonight. It’s the first time I’ve set aside an official time and followed through. I used to say that I wanted to learn to write from my body, having such extreme doubts about it, having experienced some really messed up shit. But you know what? When I was writing most prolifically, I was exercising at an intense level several times a week. There’s something in that. Maybe I was writing from the body all along. It’s clear with my back issues that my body holds onto stress and difficulty (that’s true for lots of people). Maybe I can’t access it like I want to unless I’m moving. Moving. Moving. Moving.
Every Monday evening, they haul the garbage cans out to the sidewalk. Their wheels rumble by my window, thunder that for a moment drowns out the sound of snow and ice dripping off the roof as it melts. Winter’s been easier for everyone this year, but we hold our breath waiting for the deep freeze that must come or the snow that will surely pile up. Neither stands a chance this week, though, and we enjoy more days of mild temperatures. Another grace period. Such unexpected tenderness.
Moving. I’ve always been a restless person. Now? I feel settled. And it’s so strange. Things are very difficult, but I’ve made a space for myself. I’ve protected and enhanced a connection with my kids. As goofy as it sounds, I’m living authentically. That sounds like such crap. Except that it’s true. My life with my husband was a lie. We did not love. We hadn’t for a long while. I was very much alone. We were pretending. We were playing roles. I don’t have to do that anymore.
And so that part of me, the searching part, the longing part, is quiet. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel the need to run. I feel safe. That’s good, of course, but I think I got a lot of energy for my work from the part of me that needed to leave.
So I’ve been going to the coffee shop a couple times a week in an attempt to re-establish my writing routine. My old writing life was built on marathon sessions in the middle of the night. On top of that, I had these great, inspiring writing dates with friends. But the backbone of my writing took place during the wee hours. I could sleep in to recharge. I exercised during the day and in the evening to give me energy.
Life is different now. I work full-time. I have my kids solo three or four nights a week. I’m tired by 9 o’clock at night and nearly worthless by 10:30 — the time I used to just get going. I’m lucky if I can find enough energy in my day to write for 15 minutes. I find it hard to sustain any creative momentum.
I’ve done a lot of whining about it here at the blog and also among friends. A couple weeks ago, I took a leap of faith and signed up for a 6-week session with a writing/accountability coach of sorts. Here’s the latest: The new writing routine isn’t going to look like the old one. Let it go. What can the new one look like? What steps can you take to make your writing life, your new one, productive and satisfying?
Though you can’t prove it by the weather, it is mid-winter. Change is difficult. Starting over is exhausting. It’s why so many people never attempt it.
I pour the new year’s first cup of coffee,
gather eggs and bread for breakfast
and think of you.
May we love one another
for many years to come.
For all its bullshit, 2011 laid the groundwork for the biggest beginning of my life. It’s the chance to require more of myself and of the people in my life. I enter 2012 missing several attachments/layers (may it make me more agile). I enter 2012 hoping to care less about what people think about me and shatter some myths I hold about myself. Among them – that I can’t cook, that I am destined to be a fat girl, that I don’t know how to love.
No, this isn’t a belated New Year’s posting, though I can see where you may be confused. I am just pushing things out there at the snail’s pace that they come to me.
Never in my life has my mind been so unfocused. It’s extremely unnerving. I can’t write. I can’t make art. I can’t see the connective tissue between things that I used to be able to see. I don’t trust my imagination anymore. It’s impossible to concentrate on anything. I lose interest after just a couple breaths.
One of the most terrible things a person can do is make a woman feel like a bad mother. It took me a long time to recognize that the story being fashioned had nothing to do with me. Thank goodness I figured out how to stop contributing to it.
The photo in this blog post is taken from the inside of my car on a morning before work. Just a light frost on the windows. Deb has this really terrific photo of frost in which the ice crystals look like birds in the sky. And so I try to capture the same thing here. But I get something different.
And I like it in its own way. It occurs to me I have several pictures from the past 12 months or so that capture light. They have an abstract quality to them. Maybe I should line them all up and see what I have.
It occurs to me as I write this that right after saying, “I can’t make art,” I said, “I have several pictures … maybe I should line them all up and see what I have.” This has been on my mind: document whatever unfolds instead of predetermining what it will be. I have been so afraid to say what’s in front of me. I have been terrified to represent *that* pissed off woman whose marriage has failed.
And so I have been censoring. And prejudging: “No one wants to hear about that.” And “If you say that, you’re going to hurt someone.” One of the reasons I had to leave was because my art/poetry was resented. What a ridiculous irony that I am holding back now, shushing myself.
So it’s the year of the dragon. And apparently, the year of the girl with the dragon tattoo. That’s me. Not that other girl. This is my year.
You can’t make this stuff up. As I am writing this post, my youngest son, who is painting his clay sculptures in the kitchen (small apartment, limited workspace) says, “It’s really hard to paint them.” I can see how disappointed he is. He first draws his creatures, and then he sculpts them. He spends a lot of time imagining what they’ll be like and what he can do with them. He’s the kind of kid that dives into worlds of figures and manipulates them and names them. They have hierarchy and competition and family.
And so in painting them, they aren’t quite meeting up with how he imagined them. I tell him, “It’s tricky because you have this idea and it’s glorious in your mind. But then you take imperfect materials like clay and paint and even your hands and it’s impossible to use those imperfect materials to make it identical to what’s in your mind. So what you might do is think about how you can decide the sculptures are different than what you imagined but not any less interesting. If you think of them as something new, they don’t have to be exactly like what you imagined for you to enjoy them.”
Sounds good when I say it to someone else.
After a sentence like that, there should be no question whom I was going to see. The poets, of course! Only the poets go out in the rain and end up at a dive called Valentine’s. There was some amazing poetry. I love this shot of Shannon and Kevin. (And you can see Elizag’s head just beyond Shannon’s shoulder.) I’m impressed by the new work that is being generated by this newest event from Albany Poets, and, always fascinated by the hundreds of lines these poets have memorized.
November was a month of tears. I spent much of November pouring out to everyone everything that was wrong with the life I have started. The result seems to be that I am able to repair some of it. With help. I asked for help. It felt like I was losing my dignity at the time, but I see it now as putting myself out there for a better outcome. It’s an art I’m actually practiced in. Putting myself out there. I wish it felt like an asset more of the time because I do feel like it can be. Anyway …
December feels like a month of strength, of establishing myself. As a single person. As a mother. As a daughter and sister. As a friend. Even as the kind of “ex” I want to be and don’t want to be. It’s interesting stuff, this reinvention. I’d handled the logistics over the summer and into the fall (and of course experienced much of the pain), but I had no energy for the emotional work.
I could claim its path has something to do with the solstice. That all of it was preparation for the light to return. But that’s a poet’s foolish heart speaking. The only lights so far are the giant white globes strung around a tiny tree on a wooden box as I type this. Nonetheless, *I* put those lights there. With help. The actual work was done by three beautiful young men who make me feel like I have everything I need.
I’m finishing up The Chronology of Water. Deb gave me her copy of it when I was in Portland last month. It’s an amazing memoir. Full of refrains. Full of poetry. Fragments. Made-up words. And brave. Brave. Brave. Brave. I’m beginning to figure out why it’s been so hard for me to write poems. I’ve been afraid.
But what’s the point of writing at all if I am not willing to be brave? I’ve been so hesitant to write The Truth. When did that happen? It’s almost embarrassing that it happened. I mean, who can’t say, after a break-up, that she’s angry with her ex because he wasn’t the same person she married? Pretty standard stuff, right? Hardly a betrayal to say so. It’s kind of what’s assumed. I’m not saying it’ll make great poetry, but I’m saying I’m tired of being afraid of it.
I’m pissed off. I’m hurt. The love was gone from my marriage long before I pointed it out. He gave up on me long before I left.
“… Happy as can be
I got my babies by my side.
One day I will turn around
& they will all be grown.”
~Edie Brickell in “Waiting for Me”
Something I’ve rediscovered since living on my own is an interest in following a handful of TV shows. I’ve never been a television junkie, but I always had a couple of shows I didn’t want to miss. Over the years, the TV became my husband’s domain (it got so bad, I couldn’t even use the remote properly), and I’d dive into my computer while he watched or I’d leave the house entirely.
But now, I’m remembering the magic of finding some characters you love and following their stories. I really want to like Grimm (set in my beloved Portland), but the formula is already wearing on my nerves and I didn’t enjoy the detective chasing a goblin-thing through Multnomah Falls as much as I thought I would. What I’m really loving are two shows: Once Upon A Time (so many entanglements!) and Modern Family (laugh out loud funny!).
It seems ridiculous to count TV viewing as an emotional victory, so I won’t go that far. And I’ll certainly admit it would be nice to have someone to share them with. But … it’s nice. That’s all. To make time for leisure and diversions. And to have my own remote.
I started poem-a-day for November using the Poetic Asides prompts. My plan was to write one long poem, a section each day based on the prompt for the day. I did very well at first. Writing every day. Posting most days, November 1-16. But I was writing a poem about my separation from my husband, and it was tough going. I didn’t stop writing because I couldn’t fit it in logistically. I didn’t stop writing because I lacked inspiration. I stopped writing because the subject matter started messing with me.
Readings and open mics have been getting me through the periods of 2011 in which I didn’t or couldn’t write. These last couple weeks are no exception. I get lots of inspiration from my fellow poets, and my peeps offer me unconditional support as this next phase of my life unfolds. Monday I was at Poets Speak Loud at McGeary’s in Albany, and if you can believe what you read on the internet, the kick ass hostess introduced me as “single girl in the big city.” Sounds exciting, right? Well, we’ll see. In a couple weeks, I’ll be “single girl” at a big holiday shindig for my office. We’ll see if the big girl can handle the solo gigs. It’s on the list of things that feels insurmountable.
I will get back to the long poem. Life gets wonky sometimes, but poetry will sort it all out. Eventually. I just have to get brave enough for it.
Speaking of getting brave enough, speaking of insurmountable, navigating the boys’ emotions, along with my own, along with politics in a community where everyone used to be friends has been more painful than I ever imagined. And then there are things like this:
When I was home for Thanksgiving, the boys helped throw an early celebration for my dad’s 62nd birthday. There is joy, in this new life, yes? Just one year ago, just two years ago, three years ago even, I never would have believed he or my sister or myself could have attempted, let alone enjoyed, this kind of openness to happiness.
I can tell you that scene, that day, happened because my dad’s new lady had a great deal of courage and because my dad had a great deal of courage. In part, me and the boys were there as part of a feat of strength, as well. I don’t claim to know much about the “right” path to happiness, but I am trying to keep this fresh and accessible in my mind: Stay out of its way. Be open to it.
That goes for poems, too.