The Ultimate Illusion

What do you think the ultimate illusion is? I recently referred to control as the ultimate illusion. In the days since, I’ve changed my mind. Control isn’t so much the ultimate illusion as it is a kind of paradox. There are things over which we have some control, but I doubt we really can ever know the extent of that control. There are other things over which we only appear to have control. Finally, there are things over which we definitely do not have control. The events and encounters that fill our daily lives all fall into one of these three categories, but I submit those categorizations change all the time — whether daily, hourly, or by the second.

I’m always fascinated by hearing or reading artists, writers, and other creatives discuss their process. Everyone wants to know, “What is your process?” I’m amazed and a little curious when the process described is assumed by the audience to be always the same. I’m even more curious when the process described is presented by the artist as being always the same. Same time of day, same amount of time a day, same desk, same chair, same window. I’m amazed because that isn’t how process happens for me. To my way of thinking that isn’t process, so much as it is routine.

I recently came across a quote by Toni Morrison from a 1993 interview in The Paris Review in which, when asked about her writing routine, she answered, “I have an ideal writing routine that I’ve never experienced…I am not able to write regularly. I have never been able to do that—mostly because I have always had a nine-to-five job.” Morrison was also a mother. After she lost a grown son, Slade, to cancer, she stopped writing for awhile, setting aside an unfinished novel. Eventually, however, she took up her pencil again and did finish it. Ms. Morrison was a writer, you see. And she was many other things.

I think most of the people who are interested in learning about a creative person’s process eschew a “one-size-fits-all” approach to most things, and when I read Morrison’s words I was reminded of a fear that was triggered in me more than 20 years ago by the words of one of my most beloved and early writing mentors. She encouraged her students to find our writing routine. I was the mother of a toddler at the time. “Routine” was the goal every day, for my toddler’s sake as well as mine, but I knew what a tenuous grip I had on “routine” from the moment I awoke in the morning. When I expressed to my mentor that I was doomed if it came to pinning all my writing hopes on routine, we talked through it. She didn’t want me to mimic her routine, or anyone else’s. All she wanted me to do was always to be open and “available to the Muse.” She was advocating that we be familiar with our process. For her, a regular routine was very much a part of that process, but I have learned that just isn’t true for everyone.

I move through this world not only as a poet and writer, but also as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, dog owner, neighbor, and citizen who is not always organized, clear-headed, articulate, or inspired. We all have different roles to play at different times, and they require something of us. Similar to Morrison, I have an ideal routine, and unlike her I actually occasionally have experienced it. For several years, I would take myself away from my family and all other connections for a few weeks about once a year. A few weeks once a year. I could not sustain such a routine, however. It would have been irresponsible to do so, in fact. Still, I wake up every day with the outline of a productive routine in my head or down on paper. I also wake up every day knowing we live life in relationship with things and people over which we have no control. Mostly; sometimes; usually; never.

Recall my first post of this year. In it, I wrote it is time for me to claim my agency, and it is. I have also admitted being obsessed with my own habits and how to alter some of them. It’s difficult not to ponder things like control and choice when you look at your own habits. I’m discovering how habits differ from routines, just as routine differs from process. And thanks to Toni Morrison’s rediscovered words, I’m ready to accept the fact that routine need not always be part of my process; the truth of that last statement is proven by the fact that it hasn’t always been a part of it.

My process, with or without routine, ultimately requires me to be open and available to all my muses: Aggravation, Love, Fear, Grief, Mystery, Laughter, Pain, Forgetting, Pride, Uncertainty, and all the rest. We live it. Then we write it.

The Work of Being Dormant

Before January, I had been absent from my own work for a little over a year. I bowed out of my poetry group for most of 2019. I rarely went into my office. I wrote very little. Why? Because I didn’t feel like it. Why not? Many, many, many reasons. Distractions of every variety, good and bad. I could write for days on the distractions; maybe I will at some point.

As it says in 2 Corinthians 9:7 (that’s second Corinthians, not “two Corinthians” as anyone who has spent any amount of time in church very well knows, but we’re all supposed to turn a blind eye to THAT too — welcome to my lengthy parenthetical wherein I allude to the biggest and ugliest distraction of them all), God loves a cheerful giver. The blank page is like God that way. It doesn’t require a cheerful giver, thank heavens, so much as a willing one. I wasn’t willing for a long time. We’re talking about good old-fashioned honest to goodness “writer’s block.” It is my opinion that the phrase “writer’s block” is used too frequently and very often incorrectly, but I believe I’m using it correctly here. I can’t say I enjoyed it very much, but I can say I learned a great deal. And I did a great deal of work without even knowing it.

Continue reading “The Work of Being Dormant”

"Habits change into character." – Ovid

Beginning a couple of years ago, I have tried to start every day the same way. On waking, before I even sit up, I set an intention for myself (be calm, be kind, be productive, be present, be funny, etc.). Then I either meditate on that intention or I pray. The prayer is always the same. I ask for help in meeting my daily intention. I ask for healing for a list of people whom I know are dealing with illness. I ask for continued blessings and protection of all my families. I ask for comfort and blessings on all those whom I know are grieving some loss or another.

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Hindsight is 2020, Right?

Happy New Year, y’all. Yes, I’m still here. But I’ve been elsewhere and otherwise occupied for a longer while than I intended. I’ve been on a kind of sabbatical, I guess. We’ll call it “a sabbatical” because that sounds official, although I don’t know that I garnered much rest, and the only new skill I might have acquired for purposes of writing was fostering a deeper, more seething method of creative fermentation. Well, one hopes it will prove to be creative. Too much seething can make for a bitter brew. Time will tell. Check back in a couple of weeks and we’ll see if I am creating or sitting on the couch ruining the touchscreen TV remote with Dorito dust-stained fingers. But I digress. Naturally. Those of you who know me personally know how I like to remark that my life is just one long interruption of itself. But before I go too far astray … Continue reading “Hindsight is 2020, Right?”

Doing Something, Even If It Is Wrong? Not This Time

My grandmother used to say, “Well, I’m gonna do somethin’ even if it IS wrong.” That’s a philosophy I’ve tried to live sometimes. I think it’s a good motivator if you’re letting fear hold you back. It’s a way to verbally shrug off fear. But doing something wrong because fear actually is pushing you into it? No. Continue reading “Doing Something, Even If It Is Wrong? Not This Time”

Wherein I almost (almost) quit writing poetry forever. Or, alternatively, “Thank you, Arthur Chu.”

Toodles, Poetry! And Humankind?

Some weeks ago, it occurred to me that I have no place in the world of poetry anymore.

I have spent much of the last year devoted to finishing a first draft of a lengthy historical novel. I have continued to interact with my beloved poetry group, but I cannot say I truly was interacting with my own poetry. When the question “Should you still be writing poetry?” arose from the depths of my subconscious, my first instinct was to tamp it down, and hard, but it just wouldn’t go away.

I’ve taken extended vacations away from “poetry world” before and I’ve also been frustrated at times with all aspects of what we call “poetry,” from writing to revising to submitting to publishing, etc., but this time felt different.  So I decided to look that persistent little query in the eye and, behold, I watched as it morphed into, “WHY should you (or ANYONE) continue to write poetry?” Wait. What? Me or ANYONE? Oh, no, I thought. So it’s not, “I have no place in the world of poetry,” it’s “poetry has no place in the world.” Hang it up, Natasha Tretheway. As brilliant and brutally beautiful as your work is, it’s no use. Have I really started to buy into the “Poetry is dead” tripe? Ugh, I thought. Am I nihilist? Has Game of Thrones done this to me? Of course poetry is dead! EVERYone’s dead except the assholes! Damn you, George R.R. Martin!

Continue reading “Wherein I almost (almost) quit writing poetry forever. Or, alternatively, “Thank you, Arthur Chu.””

If You Are My Friend, And You Are a Man, You’ll Read This

The confluence of the death of Maya Angelou, a strong woman with a strong voice, just the kind of woman we need now, and the Elliot Rodger rampage brought on by his hatred of women (yes, as well as his mental illness), has prompted me to take an afternoon and write this out to you, my male friends.  Because this tragedy could give us opportunities to talk about so many important things, like reasonable gun control, the state of mental health care in this country, and/or the disgusting epidemic of celebrating infamy in our culture (the Kardashianization of America, if you will), I encourage you to think about those things, and discuss them amongst yourselves.  However, let me be clear:  I’m going to use this space to talk about the way women are treated in this culture.  Before you go all “Not ALL men” on me, or make fun of the social media phenomenon of #YESAllWomen, just go read some of these “manosphere ideas” *  and tell me whether you’d feel comfortable being thought of and discussed this way.  I’m thought of this way, as is my daughter, and my mother, and all the women I know, by men just like those quoted in that last linked article, and those sites that Rodger frequented.  Now tell me you don’t know any men who think of women that way.  If you say you don’t, you’re either very lucky or very lying.  I’ve known some men who think like Elliot Rodger thought.  Plenty, in fact.  Now let me tell you a story.

The first time I visited New York City, I was 22 years old.  I went with some friends from law school.  We were at a bar early one evening before dinner.  One of my friends and I went to the restroom, and walking back through the crowded bar to rejoin our friends, someone behind me grabbed my hair, and jerked me back hard, at the same time, demanding loudly, “Where the f**k have you been?” Continue reading “If You Are My Friend, And You Are a Man, You’ll Read This”