I squinted through previews of blind old age,
a hop and skip from life in a cage–
So I put into port, my vacation on hold.
I miss aspects of the younger me.
That mixture of brass and anxiety.
One minute riding with Aldrin and Glenn,
The next falling into bland misery.
What shall I encourage?
The naive fancies of youth?
The cautions of age?
The search for the truth?
Do I have to decide?
Can’t I take the easy way out,
hop the freak train, savor the ride?
Smiling eyes of absinthe green,
make me mush, a stuttering sixteen.
Not to complain; I like this just fine.
The heart never tires of love’s blush divine.
(I just read about someone doing yoga on a ferris wheel. Two good things don’t necessarily work well together.
But I’ll admit, she looks good in Spandex,
And sex does sell, as we know too well. . Still, this just proves that any good thing can be ruined by the venal machinations of marketers– the modern source of most human misery now that we’ve killed off all the wolves and smallpox.)
And right there we have it, our abnormality.
Instead of reveling in that sublime unsanity–
that carries its victims away happily,
the passions that make life worth living, in actuality–
someone, somewhere, somewhen, without fail,
gives into the low-rent impulse’s to ruin simple things like love and luck,
with the smarmy impulse to make a quick buck.
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always
think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.
Self-doubt Can Be An Ally
Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
You Must Read Everything
You must read everything, and you must let it all the way into your life, all the way into the part of you that makes writing, and you must let every good thing in — none of this reading a few lines of so-and-so with the hope that you might write something that sounds like it.
The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.
I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.
And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,200 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.
It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.
These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.
The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead—
On the bright side, someday I’ll get to see
what they’ve been doing the last 65 million years.
This sorting and patching and filtering
feels like when you fall asleep on a hot, muggy
afternoon in a bad mood and wake up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.
The Work, though, goes on like a lazy creek.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)
The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
I read once that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.
So I’m putting the finishing touches on my life,
Essentially sewing my shroud. I’m not unhappy about this,
Mind you. I’m luckier than most, and get to do the
Necessary sifting and sorting. I have time for the Great Work.
Then it will be time to dismantle it all, brick by brick,
Board by board, while I have the strength.
I’m not panicking or being morbid, either. Just realistic.
I have the luxury to know what it is I need to do.
I’ll pack it in neatly labeled boxes and files. I’m lucky. I know that.
I get to tell my story, leave these words behind as an affidavit
And testimony in my own very ordinary voice—which will last
About as long as a certain pile of stones, I suppose. But
It’s the effort that counts. The making use of a life
To learn what one can. To leave a small mark behind.
And then to let go, and see where the current goes from here.
Everyone but God, if you believe, is
Innocent of tomorrow.
Caesar, full of swagger, innocent of the daggers of friends,
Mary innocent she’d see a son murdered, slowly, while she watched.
Me, innocent about everything, including
whether a satellite will fall on me, or
I’ll get a certified letter that
immortality, six virgins and a chocolate cake
will be delivered on Saturday by 10 a.m..
I struggle to reconcile ignorance and innocence.
Do I care about what I can’t, don’t know?
Do I need more than this one, infinite moment?
Meanwhile, they say the snow will stop soon.
In a world of white, quiet and cold,
finches empty the bird feeder
and wait for more.
I am still innocent of Spring.
This is a hoot. I just got an email from the Austin International Poetry Foundation that another poem (the one below from last year) was accepted for the “Di-vêrsé-city Anthology” and they invited me to go to the festival in April to read it. (I probably won’t be able to go, unfortunately. Maybe someday.)
I tried skipping in and out of a
And learned I could not
Touch the same water twice.
Asleep for 50 years,
More or less, and, now awake,
I fear there is not enough time for the work.
We don’t have time to be clever,
Show me what I have missed.
We use the idea of time
To pretend everything
Doesn’t happen at once,
And judge it by our own puny lifespans.
Barely able to cry “I am here”
And we are gone,
Like fireworks shot to the stars
On a cloudy night.
“Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned.
Tune us the Sitar neither high nor low,
And we will dance away the hearts of men.
But the string too tight breaks, and the music dies.
The string too slack has no sound, and the music dies.
There is a middle way.
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high.
And we will dance away the hearts of men.”
—Sir Edwin Arnold, “The Light of Asia” (often misattributed to a saying of Buddha)
“Writing is like being in love. You never get better at it or learn more about it. The day you think you do is the day you lose it. Robert Frost called his work a lover’s quarrel with the world. It’s ongoing. It has neither a beginning nor an end. You don’t have to worry about learning things. The fire of one’s art burns all the impurities from the vessel that contains it.”
― James Lee Burke
“For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.
Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”
–– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”
I self-published a book of poetry recently.
(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)
Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.
It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.
An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.
It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.
Practice. That was one reason. But for what?
Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?
I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.
I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.
I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.
(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)
So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.
I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.
Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.
Please call if the Nobel Committee tries to reach me. 🙂
I’m happy to announce that Hemmingplay’s alter-ego has published a collection of poems under the title “I Came From A Place of Fireflies.” It is available on Amazon and a Kindle version is at Kindle Link. Buying the paperback version entitles that person to download the Kindle version for free.
It would not have been possible to get this far without the support of everyone here. Even when the pieces weren’t very good, you still gave encouragement. I am grateful for you all.
I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down.
Without fail, monthly, the full moon sheds
her inky cloak of night and stars
and slips a leg and then the rest into the lake,
her cool fire subtracted from the sky.
She leaves the nights more lonely, barren.
But her life is not extinguished,
merely hidden, recovering, re-energizing.
She must withdraw from sight,
make herself desirable, let her belly be lush and fertile again
so she may breath passions onto the world, be
drunk with the reckless, raucous, ribald dance of life. Continue reading “Song of the Hidden Moon”→
I need the grace of solid things
some days—wood, glass, stone;
I need to see below the surface,
with my other, equally blind eyes.
I need to feel for each unique song composed
and locked away long ago by water, earth and fire.
What I can conjure, sometimes,
free-floating and insubstantial as air
from the squishy gelatin
of this fragile and yielding flesh,
needs the balance of solid things
that give up their compositions
only on their own terms.
Solid things that come alive
when plucked by a humble hand.
Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
up in the branches of a tree and not peek
out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
willows along the irrigation ditch out back,
a safe place to remain unspoiled by the filthy
culture of greed and murder of the spirit.
People forget their spirits easily suffocate
so they must keep them far up in tree
branches where they can be summoned any moment.
It’s better if you’re outside as it’s hard for spirits
to get into houses or buildings or airplanes.
In New York City I used to reach my spirit in front
of the gorilla cage in the children’s zoo in Central Park.
It wouldn’t come in the Carlyle Hotel, which
was too expensive for its last. In Chicago
it won’t come in the Drake though I can see it
out the window hovering over the surface
of Lake Michigan. The spirit above anything
else is attracted to humility. If I slept
in the streets it would be under the cardboard with me.
I was 21 when I took the official vows,
but had really taken the important ones
some months earlier. When I proposed
on April Fools Day and she said ‘yes.’
And like two fools,
we thought that was just fine.
Turns out, nearly 50 years later, it was.
But vows are merciless things, and they don’t
tell you the whole story. You can’t listen, anyway,
with your eyes full of hunger for each other’s bodies
and your ears full of music and laughter and dreams.
It’s easy to make promises when you
don’t know all that will be asked of you,
the blood and the bone and the griefs.
You find out the truth bit by bit,
day by day. You find out
where you’re weak and where strong,
and whether you’re someone people
can count on.
But you never learn these things unless
you have solemnly vowed, and keep the promises
made in hope and ignorance.
You learn the lessons that come
only with walking a long road,
until your feet are worn as thin as paper
and the dust of the road is your new skin.
And, if you’re lucky, keeping promises
has, with much practice, become second nature.
I found all this out the hard way,
and not until I listened to a still, small voice
and started writing again.
I was asleep for 50 years, more or less,
but when I awoke, it was
to shorter days and cool nights.
And I wasn’t sure
if I was fully awake or not.
Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you will.
I’ve been reading some of yours…
So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Conflations of attraction and connection,
So many confusions of sex and love
So many dear diary’s, soulful sobs, self-pity,
So many anguished tears on so many pillows.
So many tearful gazes over the waters,
Like so many before, like your great-great-grandparents,
As though tears alone justify, define poetry.
As though that’s enough.
So many odes to aimlessness,
So much self-indulgence,
So much teenager-like angst,
So many assumptions that
The most common feelings in the
History of the planet… the galaxy, maybe…
Are at all insightful, fresh, helpful.
I write younger than I am,
but my voice cracks on the high notes now,
and I don’t know how much longer I can fake it.
I wish I had a daughter, who would sit and listen,
and forgive me in the way only daughters can.
Instead, I sit with my laptop facing a bank of windows
with a view of a mountain, snow flurries in the sun.
I’m encountering many me’s, from many times,
in various stages of becoming.
It’s as though I walk into a Greek amphitheater
in Corinth, and my many selves are sitting
on the old blocks
of stone, twitching, and I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.Today’s your turn
to whine about your life.”
And we all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.
Ah. What to make of the coming year? War, pestilence, famine, chaos, Donald Trump, uncertainty.
But it’s not all gloom and doom, either. A macabre old joke has it that at a certain age, any day you wake up on the top side of the dirt is a good one. Or, when someone asks how you are, you are supposed to wink and say, slyly, “Well, considering the alternative, I’m great!”
Too dark? I’m sorry. That’s not my intent and I really don’t think this way very often. But keeping it real is the real point of doing these little exercises. It keeps one focused. Pauper or king, the final destination is the same, and there’s the end of it. If you are young, you probably don’t think this way, nor should you. There’s plenty of time. Just make each day count and the final amount will be taken care of.
So why worry? We can’t see the future anyway. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Prepare for what you can.
Feel free to ignore these: Don’t take easy paths, or indulge in cheap diversions. You’ll just end up growing donkey ears. Hone your inner steel and crave the edge, but also keep your heart open, childlike and reachable. Find things that matter, find your passion, don’t mope when things go wrong (and they will) but get up and live each day out loud.
It’s simple, really. It just takes all you have, and that’s the joy of it. 🙂
That’s a way to live, and considering the alternatives, it’s not too bad. Let the pale, creeping dampness of depression, doubt and insecurity go down the drain with the next shower. Any day can be a turning point. As Picard would say, “make it so.”
Show the way to others, love deeply and truely and never miss an opportunity to be kind.
“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones
Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.
Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.
Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.
Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.
Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).
It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.
And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.
When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.
That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.
You know how this is: if I look at the crystal moon, at the red branch of the slow autumn at my window, if I touch near the fire the impalpable ash or the wrinkled body of the log, everything carries me to you, as if everything that exists, aromas, light, metals, were little boats that sail toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
Well, now, if little by little you stop loving me I shall stop loving you little by little.
I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow
by I don’t know what:
not the usual undiscovered bird in the cold
snowy willows, garishly green and yellow,
and not my usual death, which I’ve done
before with Borodin’s music
used in Kismet, and angels singing
“Stranger in Paradise,” that sort of thing,
and not the thousand naked women
running a marathon in circles around me
while I swivel on a writerly chair
keeping an eye on my favorites.
What could it be, this astonishment,
but falling into a liquid mirror
to finally understand that the purpose
of earth is earth? It’s plain as night.
She’s willing to sleep with us a little while.
[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb. ]
It has just struck me that I have left my old house
But have forgotten where the new one is.
Let me stand here for a moment,
Have a drink and pet the dog. Maybe
It would do me some good to
Listen to the sound of the big creek,
Scraping patiently along the banks
In November when the land is bare,
Not caring where it goes, or why,
Just going along according to it’s nature
Carrying secrets and dreams we toss in
Whispering its own deep ones back at us
Washing the fish and mud and secrets from here to somewhere else.
Maybe, if I listen hard enough, it will tell me
Where–or how– it is I need to be, to be more fully myself.
These things we write are not fundamental necessities for life, after all. They are not food, water, shelter, safety, or love and belonging. And they certainly can’t do much about a parking ticket, or to cure cancer.
I’ve never entirely trusted the “I write because I must!” declaration. It seems a bit vague. Maybe a little lazy. Well, yes, there’s an element of compulsion, but we’re not mere oxen yoked to someone else’s whip, are we? There’s more.
When something wholly new emerges on a page, or screen, almost in spite of our own inadequacies, it adds a kind of magic and light to life. It becomes a small gift that quivers in the palm of the hand, a tender proof of hope. And if not specifically fundamental to survival, It becomes something important, without which the rest is less rewarding.
But we–well, I do, at least– come to this thinking that we’re just looking for butter, and bread to spread it on. Too easy.
Instead, I sit down and am reminded over and over that I am merely told to milk the cow and given a churn; to harvest the grain and fire up an oven; to churn the cream into butter, to bake the bread. There’s no other way but to take the elements and love them into something more with patience and respect.
But oh, the warm bread and melting butter is wonderful.
“There is the image of the man who imagines himself to be a prisoner in a cell. He stands at one end of this small, dark, barren room, on his toes, with arms stretched upward, hands grasping for support onto a small, barred window, the room’s only apparent source of light. If he holds on tight, straining toward the window, turning his head just so, he can see a bit of bright sunlight barely visible between the uppermost bars. This light is his only hope. He will not risk losing it. And so he continues to staring toward that bit of light, holding tightly to the bars. So committed is his effort not to lose sight of that glimmer of life-giving light, that it never occurs to him to let go and explore the darkness of the rest of the cell. So it is that he never discovers that the door at the other end of the cell is open, that he is free. He has always been free to walk out into the brightness of the day, if only he would let go. (192)”
― Sheldon B. Kopp, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him: The Pilgrimage Of Psychotherapy Patients
The nights have gone cool, the days not as warm. Sundown slips backward,
Dawn awakes late by minutes, shivering… Does it think we don’t notice?
The summer has been rainy, more than usual, “Can’t complain, wouldn’t do no good,” my neighbor says. We squint up at the sky –as if a moment of somber nods would make a difference– Shake our heads wisely but think the same thing: Another year has almost gone, hasn’t it?
Regrets chitter, time races faster. We don’t dwell on it, or talk about it, but it’s in the backs of our minds.
We mark it most when the hours of darkness lengthen, When the nights are cool. When the sun rises behind stubborn clouds and Fog blooms between trees, sits in the valleys, Blankets the highways with obscurity.
We know what’s coming, near and far. It connects us For a moment, then it’s gone, lost in thoughts of Winter’s chores, and sins unconfessed
And the sweet, sweet days that slip through Our fingers like the strings of a child’s balloon, We cherish it, even as it floats away.
Everything changes. Everything must pass.There is deep contentment in that, if we take it.
It was just after dawn, at the edge of the woods. I stood in the hazy boundary light, breathing in the musk of damp leaves and Pine needles, listened to critters scurrying through The careless litter of oak and maple and locust and walnut trees, Feeling the big pause.
The forest felt it too, and lay hushed in the mist. The fog came last night on its little cat feet, Conjured up from the ground and the air. I hesitated, taking in every detail.
This moment, this place, the path ahead, hidden, but inviting, The textures of the rough bark on the railings, the lichen and moss On the trunks, spots of green and brown and grey and muted reds and yellows.
A great feeling welled up and tears Ran down my cheeks unnoticed, unchecked. I was one with the moment, joyful and melancholy, One with the world, on the edge of the wood filled with mist and mystery, Like any path. Any of thousands I’ve traveled. With something new up ahead.
What was is ending, as always. Every ending is a beginning.
The place from which we start anew.
The rough bark of the railing scrapes my palm, Grounds me in the Now,
I step onto the path, leaves crunching quietly. “Where does the path lead this time,” I ask…the trees, I guess?
They don’t speak, but a thought whispers through the mist:
I am very gratified that Spillwords.com has published the feature above this morning, and hope you forgive me sharing it like this. I’m not the only WP blogger here who has been lucky enough to get some additional exposure on the excellent literary site ( @Spill_words ), and hope you’ll all give it a try. We all get paid mostly in compliments, but it’s motivation for us poor pedestrian poets to keep plugging away.
Bless this boy, born with the strong face
of my older brother, the one I loved most,
who jumped with me from the roof
of the playhouse, my hand in his hand. On Friday nights we watched Twilight Zone
and he let me hold the bowl of popcorn,
a blanket draped over our shoulders,
saying, Don’t be afraid. I was never afraid
when I was with my big brother
who let me touch the baseball-size muscles
living in his arms, who carried me on his back
through the lonely neighborhood,
held tight to the fender of my bike
until I made him let go.
The year he was fourteen
he looked just like Ray, and when he died
at twenty-two on a roadside in Germany
I thought he was gone forever.
But Ray runs into the kitchen: dirty T-shirt,
torn jeans, pushes back his sleeve.
He says, Feel my muscle, and I do.
It’s a rant. A rant about poetry. But I guess it hit a nerve. @Spillwords made it a featured post this morning…AND put a trigger warning on it. 🙂 That made me smile. But be warned: it might bruise your peaches.
I think you can handle it, though. (Photo: Pat Mansell)
“American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are
forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”
― Pat Conroy, Beach Music
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
Luck was all we ever had
You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
You looked so good I didn’t care
What side you’re fighting for
It wasn’t all that easy
When you up and walked away
But I’ll save that little story
For another rainy day
I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light
You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
You’re tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage
You always said we’re equal
So let me march with you
Just an extra in the sequel
To the old red white and blue
Baby don’t ignore me
We were smokers we were friends
Forget that tired story
Of betrayal and revenge
I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed
I cried for you this morning
And I’ll cry for you again
But I’m not in charge of sorrow
So please don’t ask me when
There may be wine and roses
And magnums of champagne
But we’ll never no we’ll never
Ever be that drunk again
The party’s over
But I’ve landed on my feet
I’ll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street
Everywhere, “People wish to be settled,”Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us,“but only insofar as we are unsettledis there any hope for us.”
I’ve been a full-time writer now for 34 years.And the one thing that I have learnedis that transformation comes when I’m not in charge,when I don’t know what’s coming next,when I can’t assume I am bigger than everything around me.And the same is true in loveor in moments of crisis.Suddenly, we’re back in that trishaw againand we’re bumping off the broad, well-lit streets;and we’re reminded, really, of the first law of traveland, therefore, of life:you’re only as strong as your readiness to surrender.
Most of the traffic is pickup trucks
caked in bentonite from the methane roads,
or one-ton flatbeds with dually axles
and blue heelers balancing on the back.
But the blacktop slicing through rabbit brush flats
and weather the color of heated steel is perfect
for opening up a highway-geared American car
from the days of cubic inches and metal.
You could wind that Detroit iron up
to a sweet spot well above the posted limit,
where torque will casually pull the grades.
The car would rock on the springs, and growl
from deep in the carburetor throat
yanked wide open, gobbling down pure light.
Shared because I’ve spent time in Wyoming, and this is good description, and because I love the lines “But the blacktop slicing through rabbit brush flats and weather the color of heated steel is perfect for opening up a highway-geared American car from the days of cubic inches and metal….”
“We dye our hairs under many colors to disguise our gray souls. My girl, we don’t mature by merely growing old, but by the damage time causes in our lives. When there are holes in our hearts, scars on our souls, and patches on our wings, then we know we have grown.
I just happened on this quote this morning, and thought it summed up the sometimes-aimless nature of my writing the past couple of years, wherein I fail to hit what I’m aiming at more often than not. But this defines my goals:
–to pare the words down to the minimum
–to find the balance point in any thought or situation
–to make my peace with the nature of things.
“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
I’ve been having some enjoyable conversations-via-blog-comments this morning with a couple of people I assume are young-ish. One is in the UK (although it’s sometimes hard to be certain), and the other is in India.
Both are wrestling with the oh-so-common problem all writers and creatives encounter, namely the existential pain of doubt and self-criticism, and the frustration and procrastination that infests us all. Welcome to the big-leagues, fellow-sufferers. If you turn pro, this is a daily battle. Stop worrying about that, and get busy.
I’m putting on my grizzled veteran hat on for a moment.
I’m kind of ancient now, but I know the struggle when you’re young to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
And when you’re older.
And when you’re ancient, like me.
I wish I could say it gets easier. It doesn’t. But if you keep at it, kiddos, you do learn to do the work anyway. That’s the difference between an amateur’s “dear diary” narcissism and a pro’s calculation and skill. I’d like to slap high school English teachers who lie to prospective writers and tell them that they’re wonderful, that they will take the world by storm. I know it takes something to motivate students, but lies don’t really help them face the real world. The real world is a cold place. Sorry.
It takes practice to be so goddamned compelling that people will read what we write. Because the ugly truth is THEY REALLY DON’T WANT TO READ WHAT WE WRITE, because they’re busy and are already inundated by oceans of mediocre crap. They assume our deathless poetry/prose/Facebook update is just more of the same. Admit it, we all do the same thing. It’s not fair, but it is certainly quite rational. We have to earn trust. It’s like walking on broken glass some days, but that’s the only way. Keep walking.
One of my favorite authors on the subject is Steven Pressfield. He wrote “The War of Art” a couple of years ago, which single-handedly got my butt back onto the chair. He’s got a new one out, “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t”, which I’ve downloaded and am reading. (hurry. It’s free for just a short time.) This piece is an ad for his work. I get no royalty, but hope that you find out how to deal with the only real problem you have, which is your own brain’s resistance game.
And just realize that you’re not going to change the world. No one wants to read your shit. Once your accept that, you can actually do the work necessary to get good enough to change the world. Just be prepared for that to take a long time.
Sometimes young writers acquire the idea from their years in school that the world is waiting to read what they’ve written. They get this idea because their teachers had to read their essays or term papers or dissertations. In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written. Sight unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why? Because they might have to actually read it.
Nobody wants to read anything. Let me repeat that. Nobody— not even your dog or your mother— has the slightest interest in your commercial for Rice Krispies or Delco batteries or Preparation H. Nor does anybody care about your one-act play, your Facebook page or your new sesame chicken joint at Canal and Tchoupitoulas. It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy. Nobody wants to read your shit. What’s the answer?
1) Streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form. 2) Make its expression fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it. 3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.
So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two.
As for the one, a man would
praise her when he came to understand her;
but the other is blameworthy:
and they are wholly different in nature.
For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel:
her no man loves; but perforce,
through the will of the deathless gods,
men pay harsh Strife her honor due.
But the other is the elder daughter
of dark Night, and the son of Cronos
who sits above and dwells in the aether,
set her in the roots of the earth:
and she is far kinder to men.
She stirs up even the shiftless to toil;
for a man grows eager to work when
he considers his neighbor,
a rich man who hastens to plough and
plant and put his house in good order;
and neighbor vies with his neighbor
as he hurries after wealth.
This Strife is wholesome for men.
And potter is angry with potter, and
craftsman with craftsman,
and beggar is jealous of beggar,
and minstrel of minstrel.
Perses, lay up these things in your heart,
and do not let that Strife who delights
in mischief hold your heart back from work,
while you peep and peer and listen
to the wrangles of the court-house.