So, last week, I hit a rough patch, and I appreciate all of the kind comments and voices of concern that were raised for my well being and in defense of the human. I wanted to take a moment, before I launch into today’s poetry (brought to you by the amazing NCW Writing Retreat I was able to attend) to reach out and say a few words.
I know all humans aren’t assholes. I also know it’s our job (each human) to try and do our best not to be assholes. To not raise assholes. To forgive those who are being assholes. I know these things. But just like holding a weight constantly can fatigue a muscle and cause injury, holding on to this dark while trying to be light can be draining, so it behooves us all to drop the weight once in a while and call out the asshole-ness when we see it. After all, our job as humans is to try to make it a better world and that sometimes means calling on others to do better by one another.
And now: Poetry:
When we break apart
to find the core of iron-will within
or the soft underbelly of a soul
too long denied air
Then we will understand the
driving nature of our force
Lies not in what covers us
but what centers us
When we give in to the churning
burn of a life outside our control
the masticating masses of teeth bared
in anger and fear
Then we will understand that
we only control the product
of our own mind
And we are the owners of
sanctuaries or hells
within our own creation
When we let go
of the idea that its our job
to dictate the perfections of others
to drive their engines
to direct the film of their lives
and focus instead on
what beauty we can leave behind
Then we will find the only
fragile, and faltering peace
a human can own.
One of the things I love most about poetry, especially the words you write in the heat or ache of intense emotion, is that even when you’ve healed up and haired over, reading those words makes that moment real and bright once again in your mind.
Hopefully, when those poems and words are the rock-bottom kind, we can look back, feel the gut-sting, and thank our lucky stars that we wrote the words down instead of burying them inside to fester. Because like trials and hardships, joys and celebrations, everything in life is in constant motion. We live in flux, and especially as writers, must catch the moments on their sharpest edge to be reminded, in the dull lulls between, that life is brilliant and biting, and every moment worth being present for.
I hope you all have some dark words out there, and by out there I mean on a page or in a journal and not sitting still inside your chest. I hope you all are walking in brightness now, with a touch of perspective and an appreciation for the battles that made us stronger.
And now, this:
Dawn breaks and the spectre of you lives in my chest ever-claiming, each cell of my useless heart
I wake and you softly stir the creature in my rib-bone cage a wooden spoon against an empty pot you push my blood to move to exist and though I so desperately fight against the notion, I blink
If only you’d leave me in peace I could go stop fighting, stop pushing stop throbbing heart beats against this useless existence and tissue paper flesh.
It goes on in this way from the rise of the sun cresting over head to when it crashes back down over the western sky
Still you stay
fighting to continue determined to survive against ribs that long to be still and lungs aching to be emptied one last time
Night comes like false reprieve bearing sleep, the closest I can come to separating my soul from your memory a little death where I can close my eyes and pretend the uplifting will finally cut the tie the chain of love, I so stubbornly tied.
But dawn breaks And the spectre of you still wakes in my chest.
I hope that you all find yourselves well and recuperating from a holiday season that seemed more like a mac truck hitting us than a season of joy and light. But now we’re past all of the wrapping paper, and crowds, and tortuous replaying of Wham’s “Last Christmas”, and on to bigger and brighter things. Right?
That’s what the New Year is all about? Starting over, becoming a better, new and improved version of you? Everyone say it in your heads… “New Year, New Me!”
Let the marketing campaign wash over you in brain-addling waves.
Well…I’m not here to crush your dreams, or dissuade you from improving yourself. I don’t want to take the proverbial wind from your sails in the early stages of the month, but I do want to remind you about last year…and the year before that, and the one before that as well…
You know what I’m talking about.
The years where you went in, guns blazing to become the ideal human, clean of diet, kind, financially responsible, organized, and positive to a fault.
Don’t look away, you know you promised those things.
I’m not here to judge or berate your failure…quite the opposite actually.
I’m here to let you know that the old you is a fucking amazing individual.
S/he isn’t perfect, sure. Who is? But think, for a moment, what you’ve survived this far. The battle wounds, the trials, the breaks and heart aches, the falls and doubts. The beautiful human failing that’s left you with regrets and scars.
Why in the hell would you want to change that warrior? That warrior has seen some horrible shit and lived to tell the story. That warrior’s roots run Earth-deep. Don’t discount the strength of who you already are, in this moment.
You want to lose a few pounds or not blow your paycheck at Target? Fine by me…great goals…but don’t look to change the beautiful beast you are. Look to change your perspective on your own imperfection.
Wanting to be healthier is good, but I’m asking you instead of drinking lemon-juice laced vinegar three meals a day, to try taking care of the warrior. Good food, (things that build us up and make us stronger, not limit us or feed on weird ideas of food guilt), exercise (to keep us strong, flexible, and energized), more sleep (put your goddamn phone down at bedtime, lovey). All of these things are important to keep that warrior ready for the next battles they’re sure to face in the coming year.
So stop telling lies to yourself, stop trying to fit your old, battle-scarred body into the cute little New Me box. Don’t be a New Me. Be the impeccable Old You…just aim for a slightly better version…one that eats a salad once in a while instead of a bag of Cheetos. One that goes to bed before ten instead of playing an extra hour of video games. One that forgoes the hard runs once or twice a week to pay homage to the beautiful abilities and flexibilities of the human body in other ways.
Hell, walk to the post box instead of driving.
You don’t have to pin a board of ideas on how to change yourself to be ‘better’. You don’t have to change you. Just tweak some of the things that aren’t good for you.
Good luck out there, you old battle axe. Go find a salad…and a bag of Cheetos (for later).
Distance. One word with a myriad of attached ideas. The space between two points, the play between perspectives, and how it can shift the way we see the world.
As a mom, wife, friend, co-worker, volunteer, writer, runner, kenpoist and all the other shit I personify in life, I get really bogged down in how the world sees me.
We all have responsibilities and I know that I talk about this a lot. But I think that part of the beauty of being human is trying to find a balance between what we have to do and what we want to do in terms of how we create artistically.
It’s generally agreed upon that the have-to’s rarely help out the want to’s. That is, when we are so embroiled in buying groceries and appeasing children, and working the hours, and mopping the floors, we have very little left of brain and body to contribute to our art.
Maybe some people don’t have this problem and the fire in their core burns bright enough to fuel all of their endeavors whether they are necessary or casual.
But I ain’t one of those people.
In our world today we’re seeing a startling trend of human beings snapping.
I think it’s the fast pace. I think it’s the constant technological interconnection and human disconnection. I think it’s the noise that barrages us, nonstop. I think it’s the expectations, and the anger, the powerlessness that often comes when we realize how fragile we are and how big the world’s problems can seem when they’re looming over our heads.
All. The. Time.
No wonder we medicate. No wonder we drink. No wonder we take out our aggression on innocent bystanders and make scapegoats out of whatever group we think could be the root of suffering.
It isn’t right, it isn’t just. But our poor little lizard brains can’t contemplate or find order under such constant distress. Most of us, aren’t self-aware enough to stop and gain perspective on it all.
And that brings me back to distance.
Distance and perspective are fraternal twins. Borne of the same womb but different in their nature. We need one to have the other. Both are vitally important to our survival as a species.
Distance as an artist can be hard to gain. It means dropping the roles we are pegged into, permanently or at least temporarily, in order to have hour proverbial hands free to create, to problem solve, and to ease the process of gaining proper perspective that will, eventually lead to healthier choices, lifestyles and hopefully communities at large.
So stop. For a day. For a week. Hell, for an hour. Disconnect.
Leave behind the have to’s and make it okay for yourself to let go.
Let your overactive, overachieving brain know that this is the time to not.
To not think too much, to not make lists or plans or organize the day. Let your brain know that there’s no shame in stillness. In staring out the window at the snow, or sleeping in. Or writing just to write, and not feeling obligated to anything else. To paint without interruption unless you feel like getting out for a walk.
How many of us have ever let our bodies and brains do just what they wanted, just when they wanted?
Not many. We always have too much shit to do.
So drop the shit. Let it go.
Be okay with just being.
You’d be surprised the calm that will find you. And a calm mind is a happy mind.
A creative mind
A forgiving mind.
An open and accepting mind.
It can become all of the things our world needs.
So go find some distance. Get out of town, get out of your cubicle, get out of your head.
“How often, you wonder, has the direction of your life been shaped by such misunderstandings? How many opportunities have you been denied–or, for that matter, awarded–because someone failed to see you properly? How many friends have you lost, how many have you gained, because they glimpsed some element of your personality that shone through for only an instant, and in circumstances you could never reproduce? An illusion of water shimmering at the far bend of a highway.”
― Kevin Brockmeier
As a fiction writer, especially of the romantic persuasion, it’s often easy for me to get caught up in my own imagination. My writerly brain has been trained to play out scenarios and let them run wild. It’s part of the creative process and the free reign I give these thoughts allows me to write the scenes and stories that cause heart palpitations and fingers to eagerly turn to the next page.
But sometimes, the delicate barrier between the two halves of my brain is a bit too porous. Sometimes the barrier is permeated. Sometimes, the imagination bleeds over. And it begins to skew my reality. What is actually before me can be muddled with the over-active nature of my creative process. Instead of observing at a safe distance, I scoot in closer and start to ask…”and then what if…”
It’s taken me to some interesting and inspiring side roads, but it has also led me this to some pretty dark and hurtful places. Places like paranoia, obsession, depression, and a loosening of the bonds of my reality. It can cause a false sense of what is real and, from that place, I have made poorly founded decisions.
I have been in situations where I lived in an heightened-aware but still fuzzier, reality. Lines get blurred and harmless words and actions became life altering. Sideways glances were sure signs of betrayal. Meaningless banter, the grounds for turning my back on people I loved. I’ve spent a lot of time hurting, in tears, wondering why the path I saw ahead felt so wrong to what my brain was telling me. I was at sea. Lost and drifting with no anchor to keep me grounded.
What’s the cure? What’s the fix? What can any of us do when our brains run away from us and our behaviors follow suit?
Sometimes the consequences of those misguided actions we take, in our obsessive/paranoia state, are severe enough to shake us back into reality. That may be the only way, when we are in too deep, to regain proper perspective.
But it is also the most damaging.
Occasionally it takes someone who can see your reality outside of yourself. Who cares enough about you to point out the cloud surrounding you and who can start asking the right questions. Like snapping spiritual fingers in front of your eyes, breaking through the rosy hue of illusion.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s easy. It’s often a long fall and a hard landing when you come down from your illusion. It’s painful. Reality isn’t usually a fun place to live in. But walking around, shrouded in falsehood, does nothing to better our humanity and the way we interact truthfully with one another.
Take a good look at your life. Be aware of the way you react to situations, be introspective with the perspective you use and step outside yourself to see what’s really going on. Because the further you go down the rabbit hole of the world you want to live in, the worse the consequence, the higher the risk, and the deeper the damage in the world you actually live in.
Sometimes I have to remind myself to keep my mouth shut and calm the creative-brain response, until I’m sure my words and actions are justified and are coming from a place that is true. It requires that I remove myself from being the central character in a story and take a moment to look at the setting, the other characters, their perspectives, the actual thread of what is going on.
Being a good human is hard. But if we truly love, when all illusions have been stripped away, then we owe it to our fellow humans to try to live the most honest, real life we can.
“Meanwhile, the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.
She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly -the thought of the world’s concern at her situation- was found on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.”
― Thomas Hardy