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.

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”

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”

To Commemorate the “Lost Day” of April 17th

The next device from William Packard’s The Poet’s Dictionary:  A Handbook of Prosody and Poetic Devices:

Prose Poetry:  Poetry having a high incidence of sight and sound and voice devices, but with no formal line arrangements; prose poems resemble loose paragraphs and are sometimes called vignettes.

So many, many, many poets do prose poetry well.  I am not one of them.  Still, this is what I signed on for, so we shall suffer together, dear readers.

I share a prose poem that has found its way in and out of a full length manuscript of mine over the last couple of years.  Thanks for reading! Continue reading “To Commemorate the “Lost Day” of April 17th”

I Cheated the Prompt, and then I Cheated Myself: April 14 Poem

There is only one entry under “J” in William Packard’s The Poet’s Dictionary: A Handbook of Prosody and Poetic Devices, but all is well.  My inability to write anything illustrating the particular tradition described therein has led me back to an old mountain song my grandmother used to sing, to Peggy Seeger’s website, and, ultimately, to a new poem … and maybe even a series of new poems.  Today’s device:

Jongleur:  Roughly from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries, throughout France and Tuscany and northern Italy, Jongleurs were entertainers (acrobats, actors, musicians, singers) who originally wandered from town to town offering their arts for a fee.  Later, these Jongleurs became official fixtures of the various European courts as jesters, clowns, and  reciters of poetry.

At first the Jongleur did not create his own poems but drew from a repertory of ballata and canti and chansons de geste, but by the twelfth century the minstrels or trouvères or Troubadours of Provencal and Tuscany were writing their own poems to be sung.

So, the Jongleur tradition is a tradition of sharing poems through song.  Packard further explains, about the Troubadour:

The Troubadour poet (from tobar, to invent; also from trouvère, to find) usually sang of courtly love – the ethereal, extramarital praise of any Lady who inspired the poet to virtue and to moral excellence and achievement.  Sometimes the Troubadour’s songs followed specific conventions, as the following list indicates:
canzo – song of love
balada – story in verse
plante – elegy or dirge for a lost lover
serenade – evening song
alba – dawn song, when lovers realize day has come and they must part

Continue reading “I Cheated the Prompt, and then I Cheated Myself: April 14 Poem”