The Second Quarter

The schedule is shot. Obliterated. Smithereened. Kaput. Things look bleak. Shall I despair? Don’t be stupid. My “schedule,” like my “plan,” is a phoenix that has arisen from the ashes so many times I’ve lost count. Things fall apart; we put them back together. Suffice it to say, for the last two months I’ve been in the falling apart portion of the program. Maybe you have as well.

April: When the new normal due to COVID19 started, thanks to the current administration’s criminally negligent failure to adequately prepare, I was like everyone else: determined to make the best of it. I tried to stay on task and did for awhile. During all of April, for National Poetry Month, I posted an original poem on my Instagram feed every day. Sometimes I posted poems that were previously published. Most days I either dragged out old drafts of poems that needed revising and revised them, or I wrote new poems. At any rate, it was a poem a day every day for 30 days. Maybe some of y’all write poems that you’re going to immediately allow other folks to read every day. I don’t normally write a poem every day, much less one I’m going to be ready to share every day (and I’m sure in some of those IG offerings, it shows). At the same time I was doing my bit to celebrate poetry month I was also working on my novel. As a result, I had no writing energy left over for this blog during April. Sad, but true. Anyway, when the calendar flipped over to May 1st, I was pretty tired.

May: About this time, I noticed many people were writing entertaining things about working from home and the challenges it poses. At first I was, “Welcome to my world,” but then I grew resentful. I’ve been writing (and by “writing” I mean “alternating between writing and TRYING to write what with the incessant interruptions and intrusions on my time because WRITER isn’t the only hat I wear and when you work at home but don’t have an editor, agent, or publisher for your current project so ‘deadlines’ are open-ended and people start to make jokes behind your back because you’re ‘still working’ on that novel EVEN THOUGH you’ve written a ton of other things since you first conceived of ‘the novel’ and it’s not like you’ve been working on it NON-STOP the whole time, everybody thinks it’s okay to interrupt you because, hell, that novel has waited this long it can wait some more, and that includes you, Moose, and if you aren’t vigilant you stop setting your own priorities because you don’t have an editor, agent, or publisher for the novel or any current project”) at home for a long time. Are people interested in stories about working from home now? ‘Cause I got stories. I decided I probably had missed the boat on that one, dammit.

I also had a Reimagined Love Story hanging over my head. I blogged back in March to expect its appearance here. I toyed with it off and on in April and early May. I couldn’t get it done. I couldn’t capture my concept with my words. Nothing I tried gave this unlikely couple’s story the breadth and depth required. Self-doubt is a powerful drug, and not in a good way. When it came to my writing, I was in a period of constant frustration. It’s easy to de-prioritize a source of frustration. At the same time, I was experiencing the pandemic shut down with the rest of you with its requisite anxiety, worry about loved ones, uncertainty, and sadness. Even though I am a hermit and I stay home most of the time, I don’t stay home ALL the time. I go places and, like you, I miss it. I miss going out to eat. I miss going to the pub. I miss hugging people when I greet them. I miss dropping by a friend’s house, sitting close by my mom or daughter, being in the physical as well as spiritual company of my poetry group, going to the movies. I love going to concerts and all kinds of live sporting events … I hadn’t realized how much my relatively meager social life means to my self-care. So we’re talking frustration, anxiety, and the slow but sure erosion of self-care and routine throughout May. The days started to run together and everything seemed more fragile …

Then on May 25 we together witnessed the horrific murder of George Floyd.

June: Nationwide, an already emotionally vulnerable citizenry was begged AGAIN to finally own up to our nation’s most deadly and despicable original sin: racism — the kind that’s baked in to the system; the kind that has allowed with impunity the killing of unarmed black citizens over and over and over all over this country. I became obsessed with the news, the updates, the marches, the speeches, the mourners. I marched in my little hometown. And I watched with hope and elation as people from all demographics stood up to be counted on the right side of history in numbers that are staggering; even in the face of the same old missteps and mistakes of well-meaning white people; and, in spite of the backward, ignorant, ancient, virulent, irrational, active hatred of the white cob rollers. They’re still standing up. Of course, being obsessed with the news made it damn near impossible to filter out the daily onslaught of chaos brought to us by the most corrupt president and administration in modern history, and we were still in the midst of a worsening pandemic. Still are. So my June was spent crying and grieving and planning and hoping and despairing and fighting and learning and scratching my head and sometimes just being paralyzed. It’s likely my June was much the same as your June.

And now comes July. My 2020 plan has not changed. The goals for the year have not disappeared. I’ve just added new goals. A poet friend, Dede, and I are starting a new project to confront racism (ours too: see “White allergies”). We don’t really know what the project will end up being. Maybe a book will come from it; maybe a series of blog posts; maybe it’s simply a “salon” devoted to exploring the issues that matter to us. Whatever it turns into, we hope to inspire conversations that improve race relations because it’s a subject we each have cared deeply about for a long time. We had begun our discussion about such an undertaking in March after I heard her read a poem she had written that so beautifully described a brief and subtle moment in the mind of unconscious white privilege. The poem hit me hard. Last year, a friend of mine had told me a story about a recent racist encounter she had experienced. I shook my head and said, “I’m so sorry,” to which she replied, “Don’t be sorry — just talk to your peeps.” Dede’s poem was, for me, a great example of how to do just that. Soon after Dede and I started to talk about a mindful sharing with one another, more details emerged in the news about Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in Georgia and law enforcement’s criminal negligence regarding same. And then came George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. Dede and I didn’t speak about any of it until the middle of June. The need to “talk to our peeps” had gone from compelling to urgent in a short period of time for us. For our black brothers and sisters, the need for real and lasting change has always been urgent.

And now you know: I took some time to fall apart in quarter number two. Now I am reassembling myself. It happens all the time. What’s different this time, though, is everything else. Look at the world. It’s falling apart too, and I think it needed to fall apart. I believe even as the dust settles, we will reassemble it together. We’ve already begun. In a new way. A better way. Selah.

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.

Continue reading “The Ultimate Illusion”

Besides that, what am I supposed to wear?

Today is February 24th.  It is 72 degrees and muggy, and there are flying insects swarming and dancing above my front yard.  This is not the kind of winter day that inspires a poem.  It inspires a head scratch.  It’s just plain weird.  Got me grasping at my roots…

Last Winter

Damn cold.
My bones’ wrappings rendered worthless
and the chill goes all the way through.
I marvel that my blood doesn’t thicken
and slow in my very veins.
But here it is December
and the air is as it should be:
stinging and cracking.
The Indian Summer, another typical Carolina autumn,
has abandoned us just of late –
stayed right up through Thanksgiving.
My fingers are blue.
Thank God for Mammaw’s quilt.
Continue reading “Besides that, what am I supposed to wear?”

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 …”

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”