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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Today is Tuesday; Tomorrow is Not Guaranteed

The issue of “priorities” is always a bit of a bear for me, but lately …  Since May, I have lost two friends who were writers.  When I say “lost,” I mean they died.  They were both writers who left things unfinished.  Not because they were careless in their work or undisciplined or anything else like that, but because their time here was cut tragically short.  They both left behind unfinished projects they loved and longed to complete.  They left behind goals they had not yet achieved.  Is there a writer living who doesn’t have incomplete projects and goals?  I don’t see how there could be, because writing is an ongoing process, just like living.

Importantly, here is what neither of them left behind:  people in their respective lives who now are in some doubt about whether they were loved by one (or both) of these women.   When it came to caring for their friends and their families, they left nothing unfinished.  I want to tell you things about each of them, but I can’t bring myself to use their names simply because I cannot do either of them justice.  I don’t want to disappoint the people who knew them, but I have to write something down about them.  Something that must be shared.  Forgive me in advance for all the ways this effort will be lacking.

I’m not going to go into how each of them died – the sheer unfairness of both their situations will overwhelm me, and I might spin off into a rant as I am wont to do.  Made for cliché, right? “Life’s not fair.”  Yes.  Check.  Knowing that life isn’t always fair, and being able to say those words out loud doesn’t make it easier to take.  The phrase is a crutch for us when we don’t know what else to say.  I don’t know what else to say about either of their deaths, and I refuse to resort to that phrase.

My two friends were the same in many ways, but also quite different.  I don’t even know if they knew each other, but they had quite a few friends and acquaintances in common.  One (let’s call her “L”) had golden hair that was always doing its own beautifully curly thing, and ice blue eyes that were like tractor beams. Continue reading “Today is Tuesday; Tomorrow is Not Guaranteed”

And She’s Off! Again …

I like to renovate and redecorate, so welcome to the new space.  I have moved some things around here and also put some things on my website, which I hope you will visit.  I changed the name of this blog to “Talking to Myself” because, honestly, I do that all the time.  For those of you who previously have been eavesdropping, let’s review: I was toying with the idea of trying to develop a “virtual poetry group,” but after talking to some other folks and taking into consideration my other commitments and goals, I had to let the idea die.  It was a nice service with some lovely flowers …

Something strange happened to me last April, during Poetry Month, which brings me to this next bit.

After taking a hiatus from the act of submitting my poetry for consideration for publication, I am back in the “Po Biz,” or, as I like to call it, the “Mostly No Biz.”  Just kidding. Not really.

Look, “no” is a huge part of what poets do, and I am all right with that aspect of writing.  With poetry – and forgive me if you’ve heard me say this to myself before – I take rejection as an invitation to revise.  I read and re-read and re-read the poor little poems that come back to me, unwanted.  Sometimes, I readily accept that invitation to revise, feeling embarrassed that I sent my poem out into the big world with its clothes on wrong side out.  And sometimes, after I read and re-read and re-read,  I think my perfectly appropriately dressed poem just needs to find the right adopted home.  Continue reading “And She’s Off! Again …”

December, December…

Yes, I am on the couch trying desperately not to come down with a full-blown cold.  Yes, I could be addressing Christmas/Holiday cards.  You’ll get yours.  Keep your shirt on.  Right now, I have wreaths and a garland on the outside of my front doors.  That’s it by way of Christmas decor, so far.  Oh, wait.  I am drinking my coffee these days out of Christmas mugs, so I’ve got that going for me.

Now, maybe you’ll think it’s because I am a superb procrastinator.  Maybe you’ll think I just like taking baby steps when it comes to holiday stuff.  Maybe you think it’s just me being out of step, as usual.  You can think what you like.  I prefer to think I’m just “old school.” Do sit down, and I’ll explain.

We are currently in the season of Advent.  Advent is supposed to be a quiet time; a time of anticipation.  I thrilled on Sunday morning when, during the Children’s Sermon, the pastor asked the children to be as quiet as they could, to illustrate one of the ways we get ready for Christmas.  The whole church was still.  Everyone was silent.  I don’t even recall hearing traffic outside, or the heat kicking on, or any sound at all, until one small boy whispered, “I can’t take it anymore,” which, naturally, brought the house down. Continue reading “December, December…”

Dreams and Whatnot

Hello, blogosphere.  Sorry for the extended absence.  There hasn’t been much of a response to my virtual writing workshop, but I am hopeful that some folks are just waiting to see what the final proposal will look like.  I myself am waiting to see what Diaspora will look like, so, here we are.

When last I left you, I was preparing to send my only child off to college.  She seems to be faring well – the usual adjustment bumps and bruises.  I wish I could say the same for yours truly.  Honestly, I wish I could say anything for yours truly with some degree of certainty, but I cannot.  I have managed to keep myself extremely busy, and when I’m not busy, I’m sleeping.  Uh-oh.  I expressed this whack-a-doodle state of affairs to a good friend and fellow writer yesterday, and her advice to me was, “Take some time.  Sit with this, and just let yourself feel what you feel.”  Of course!  Insert smack to the forehead here.  I confessed to her that I see the wisdom of such a course of action, and probably just needed somebody to tell me to take it!

As  poet Jennifer K. Sweeney and I explored in an interview I did of her a few years ago [Main Street Rag, Spring 2007], a poet doesn’t so much “move on” from painful things as “move through” them.*  Frankly, we often move through them when the rest of you cannot bear to do so, and we do it because you cannot bear to do so.   We hew the rough underbrush of the path, and hope that you will follow because we know you will feel better if you do.  We know so because we feel better for having cut the trail; and, we are also readers, so we also feel better when we follow a painful path that someone else mapped first.  Such knowledge of this process, however, did not help me see that I was running away from my own feelings about this personal milestone.  It took someone else articulating it to make me realize what I was (am) doing.

Continue reading “Dreams and Whatnot”