Sunday, December 4, 2011

Contents Fragile: Please Handle With Care

Compassion.

That word is my new mantra. I've been working on having self-compassion since I realized that my daily anxiety is totally normal, considering the combined stress-level of experiences I've jammed into the last six months. Cross country move. Starting a new career. Moving in with my partner. It's amazing I'm not curled in my bed trembling right now.

One of the things I love to make myself feel horrible about is writing. Not writing. Writing crap. Writing the wrong thing. Not devoting my life to writing. Sure I've been writing here, using this as a salve for the fact that I can't access my poem-room at the moment. But this here, it's not real writing, I said, it's just promotion. This is not being devoted. Because I can't be. I have to devote myself to teaching and paperwork and paying bills and travel and buying gifts and being present with friends and family. I can't just hole up and write some immaculately perfect poem. But when do I do it? Why aren't poems coming to me like they used to?

Compassion, Laura.

While flying back to San Francisco, I caught up on journal reading. In particular, I read some pieces from the latest Los Angeles Review (which I highly recommend), including Jeremiah O'Hagan's essay about writing essays entitled, "Essaying." Normally I am not drawn to meta-writing, but this piece pulled me in with the balance of research and reflection, personal and universal. O'Hagan recalls his discovery of the essay in high school, while also reflecting on the history of nonfiction writing and the process of writing as exploration, beginning without an end in mind, allowing ideas to emerge organically.

At some point while reading his words, I realized that while I've not been writing poetry, I've been writing nonfiction, right here in my letters to you, Outer Space. O'Hagan reminded me that the essay is a form that can sing like the villanelle or spiral and return like a sestina. It can meander like free verse. It can say something in full sentences, without metaphor. Fragmentation, exploration, discovery. Why had I not realized that my prose was rising to the surface and my only outlet was this virtual space? Why was I not giving it the attention it deserved? But before I judged myself, I whispered compassion. compassion. compassion.

I'm not sure why I didn't hear my essays. Perhaps they've been whispering oh-so softly amidst the loud, overlapping thoughts and lists that my brain loves to recount each night, keeping me awake. It hasn't gotten any louder, but by giving myself a break from my constant ambition through compassionate reminders, I managed to quiet the noise just long enough to hear the stories rising up to the surface as prose.

It's possible I've been experiencing the effects of a small trauma. I imagine myself as a swinging church bell that's reverberating from an especially forceful hammer strike. How could I expect myself to hear much of anything with that loud humming in my ears for the last few months? I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but I like to think I can trudge forward constantly, unaffected by changing environmental conditions or physical needs. Sleeping and eating? That stuff's for wimps! My move across the country is like the winter I believed I could drive in a blizzard. I just pressed harder on the gas and wondered why I wasn't moving as fast as before. Or when I've deprived myself of sleep and I can't figure out (or refused to acknowledge) why I'm so tired. Go go go. Do more more more.

Seriously, Laura. Compassion.

I did write a poem on the flight back to San Francisco. I wrote a poem using phrases from 20 of my finished (i.e., abandoned) poems. It was a good starting place, a place of compassion. I gave myself familiar words, safe words, used words, my words. Because no matter what I'm writing, it's still writing, trailing the words behind me and in front of me as I cross this creek, stepping on word-stones, reaching the trail that I hope will be there waiting for me on the bank. Each word, phrase, line, sentence helping me arrive at a new word, phrase, line... Stopping for rest when I need it. Listening, observing. Breath. Picking up my stones and moving again. Waiting for a rainstorm to pass. Letting myself realize the rain. Handle with care. Breath. Listen, observe, rest...

Say it with me. 
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