...Look,/boats of mercy/embark from/our heart at the/oddest knock...
Kay Ryan, The Niagara River (2005), from "Chinese Foot Chart"
So when a wave recedes, and you’re standing there with your ankles moored, it’s best to close your eyes against vertigo…or risk losing your balance, confusing your body’s point of anchorage and giving in to the headlong return to the sea.
That’s how it has felt this month to write against the rest of my life and its responsibilities.
Over hazelnut decaf mocha, I discussed happiness with two of my favorite mom writer/artists. (See Jessica Powers' recent review (Can women be smart, empowered, AND happy? ) of Ariel Gore’s latest book, Bluebird: women and the psychology of happiness, on this very subject). Are we to only be fulfilled by our children? On the other hand, I asked my friends, “Will our kids think we are narcissists for pursuing our writing?” We each hoped not, because the few hours away are worth the recharge (the ability to return to our families having tended to ourselves). We each hoped we could deepen our artistic/writerly endeavors, while mothering our children with love and poise. Is it possible? To do both well? That’s what I’m after; it isn’t easy.
The retreating wave feeling descended this month for a number of reasons:
1) the holidays—though we had harmony at our Thanksgiving table and did not, after all, as was suggested in this week's NY Times article (Food, Kin and Tension at Thanksgiving), resort to playing “cruel comment” Bingo, which you win by running into another room to dial a friend with news you’ve heard a row’s worth of wretched, time-worn remarks from family members. I love my family and love time with them; fitting everyone in becomes the mind-scramble, on top of the pandemonium of the kids loose from school and schedule.
2) changes in my husband’s schedule for the coming year
3) my tiny laptop (seven years old) finally crashing (was it the frayed, duct-taped power cord? No, said the employees at Radio shack, in their loyal, customer-ethical way, both talking me out of buying their $100 power cord. “Try moving everything using a flash disk”, they suggested sagely. Tilting the greenish line-warped laptop screen just so once the kids and the husband were safely snoring, I salvaged my files).
4) loss of a writer friend (see last post)—lovely Barbara Robinette Moss, 54, artist, writer, in full bloom with her work. Over the last ten years, while she bravely battled her illness, she furthered her work and her skills, and had the time to look at whatever essay or poem I mailed off to her. Every time I talked to her she had a new conquest: “just finished a screenwriting course in New York,” “took an acting class,” “just opened an art-gallery with my Duane,” “will be teaching in Taos this summer.”
Inspired by Barbara’s daring, I am starting a new project for the New Year—poetry recordings with music. As soon as I learn how to get the right widget on the blog, how to get the microphone to talk to my computer, transform the wave file to mp3 etc, I will be posting these new collaborations—poetry set to piano music with my father Steve. We are looking at the Egypt series—debut poem, “Nefertiti Among Us.” It isn’t that I’m giving up on the world of print or on-line journal submissions (though these poems have been passed on three times so far) it is just that I don’t want to wait to play any longer.
I have kept a journal since I was five, and when life gets hectic, that is often the only connection I have to my writing. When I am feeling tired, when that retreating wave feeling comes and I fear I will never finish writing the words I am meant to write in this lifetime, I tend to feel journal writing is not enough. But I’m coming to see one’s writing truly is a mosaic, and it doesn’t matter if you write words down on a candy wrapper, in a journal, as a prelude to a poem, call it what you will, you do not know where it might end up years from now when you finally figure out where it belongs. Francine du Plessix Gray speaks to this in her essay “Black Mountain: The Breaking (Making) of a Writer” from the Collection Adam, Eve, and the City.
du Plessix Gray writes: “by 1926 I had two children. I lived in deep country and in relative solitude, encompassed by domestic duties. The journal was becoming increasingly voluminous, angry, introspective. The nomadic tomboy, finally denied flight and forced to turn inward, was beginning to explode. One winter day, I felt an immense void, great powerlessness, the deepest loneliness I’d ever known. I wept for some hours, took out a notebook…(p. 331).” She goes on to describe how the re-workings of those writings became the first chapter of Lovers and Tyrants, and how her mentor Charles Oslon had encouraged her to faithfully keep a journal. I can relate to the intense feeling of isolation and motherhood she describes, as well as the power of steady journaling. Inevitably you reach the core, your potential.