Then it occured to me that driving is a linear, objective task, a left-brain task, and for weeks I'd been waltzing in a right-brain ballroom of swirling words and limitless inner pictures and ideas. Even taking daily walks, very early or very late in the day, I didn't "do" straight lines; mostly I took gorgeous photos of gorgeous summer butterflies and wildflowers, and did only the barest minimum of anything else. Too swirly even to follow a DVD; Lost in Translation sat on the top of the player for three months and when I watched it, it made no sense. House was a wreck. I tried to construct and sew a simple skirt: disaster, thrown in trash. Presence in one place meant absence in another. Then I wondered if it was just the way things are for writers. Most of us have had a writing hangover. Binge on writing and you get a skull-buster of a writing hangover. It's not a joke; it can really impair you.
The problem was the transition from one type of task to another, and given one day and one night I got better at making the switch. I read an article that said it would have helped to do crosswords, Sudoku, or math problems. But I'd really like to live the high life in that right brain all the time.
About five years later I meet and talk with famous poets and see them just about every day. They were the most insensitive, self-absorbed, preening, neurotic, swaggering, and jealousy-ridden candyasses I had ever seen outside of high school. (Think not that I was unaware that it takes one to know one.) I met some other famous poets: brilliant, hard-as-bunions cynics, spouters of poisonous jokes and legendary put-downs, authors of some of the most gorgeous and sensitive poetry of their time. And I thought, Denise was right.
So there's the quotation (two entries down) by Pearl Buck, Nobel-winning novelist now dismissed as a pulp-fiction writer, and it seems to me that hers is a quite 19th-century view of creativity as a sort of rare, terrible and wonderful spiritual commodity, like being born with a caul, permitting the owners to exist in perpetual spiritual infancy. I still buy what she says, believing it's true of everyone, particularly in this highly self-aware day and age. Name somebody you know who sees everything from a balanced, reasonable point of view, whose injuries and transports are merely physical. Those are the rare ones now.
Walter Bargen’s critique of a poem I brought to the St. Louis Poetry Center Workshop shifted my philosophy of revision. He said, You use too many words. Get it going with the first line. Make sure that in every line something happens. Shorten your sentences. Cut every word and phrase not absolutely needed. With these in mind I revised and think I improved the poem. Its first two stanzas will illustrate. See what you think:
Seekers and pilgrims leave rosaries and coins
at each of the seven grottoes engineered
like sand castles, frenzied
in conception and scale,
each begetting another, life-sized, more sensual:
a stone tent for the slumbering plaster disciples;
for the satiny skins of the plaster Pietá
a stone canopy inlaid with bottle glass and scallop shells;
Seekers and pilgrims leave rosaries, coins.
The seven grottoes engineered
like sand castles, frenzied
in conception and scale,
shelter strangely sensual scenes.
Plaster disciples slumber
beneath a canopy of masonry
chased with beach glass and scallop shells,
1. Words are the whole world.
2. All words are equal.
These assumptions mean I agonize not only over my own work, but at scarifying length over all words ever spoken or written to me. I can spin up whole rainbows of agony out of a lone "Sorry" scrawled on a rejection slip, and fury, too, because whoever wrote it doesn't seem really sorry! I can't seem to weigh and sort words according to their source or context or tone. Some people say that words are mere hot air, or can be ignored! Not I! To me, all words are serious! You can imagine how I fare in a culture that is jerry-built on kidding and banter. For example:
Hi there, Eagle Beak!
It's a joke! Just a joke! (Punches ME on the arm.) Can't you take a joke?
Ha, ha! I was just kidding. (Pounds ME on the arm repeatedly.) Geez!
You're a f-----g a--hole.
A-ha, ha, ha!
"One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better."And I sent my 6 best poems and felt the rightness of it, the healthiness of having set them free, trusting that I will write even better ones. Thank you, Annie.
1. Formerly eager writers now consider creative writing a burden or hassle.
2. Too busy, tired, or sick to write.
3. Challenges such as deadlines are cited as sources of unbearable stress.
4. Socializing trumps writing.
5. Wine trumps writing.
6. Begins to feel one has transcended the form of worldliness known as ambition.
7. Unable to complete a 12-page essay, begin to talk about writing a book-length murder mystery.
8. Oprah is always present in word or spirit.
9. Books most often read or cited are self-help books.
10. Nobody says anything about any of this, because it wouldn't be nice!
*See also: Entropy, Spring Fever, Menopause, Gettin' Old, and Unconscious Privilege.
Hands/wrist/fingers/forearms hurt or tingly? You cannot fix this by yourself. Contact dr. and demand referral to a physical therapist. Yes, it costs money, but trust me, you cannot live without hands. (Try to worm out of the "nerve conduction test," aka the "nerve crucifixion test.") The physical therapist can show you how to prevent future injuries.
Gettin' flabby? Walk for 30 minutes a day. It's like keeping a journal: hateful for the first few days, then addictive. Now that I am older, a walk, like, gives me an actual buzz, man.
Backache? Get a back-support pillow, and/or a "kneeling chair." This latter will force your back muscles to hold you up and thus stay strong. Lots of backache? Give a chiropractor a chance. They do not cost as much as MDs and will not invade your body nor prescribe poisons for it.
Stressed? Go alone someplace strange or do something you've never done. Once I went to a solo drum concert. Another time walking in an unfamiliar field I found a teepee and hid inside. Once I forced myself to have tea at the Adams Mark Hotel. Once I went to a psychic fair & there I got a photograph of my aura (it's red).
Soothe eyestrain with "computer glasses," aka "single-vision lenses." The eye doc will know what you mean.
Depressed? This isn't for everyone, but a really stubborn case that does not respond to therapy may respond to piercing. No joke. I got through a horrible passage of my life by having my ears pierced with an 18-gauge needle at a heavy-metal tattoo and piercing parlor. I was the only customer wearing a Kasper suit and pumps and pantyhose. BTW, this is why kids get piercings; the more and grosser the piercings, the sadder their lives.
If writing is making you suffer, there's something that needs changing!
Wearing her trademark rhinestone pin saying "Bobbi," Smith sat with us, read us some early efforts and told us she writes Westerns because NYC says no romance fan wants to read about the Midwest, or even any Western state except Arizona or Texas. Wyoming does not cut it. We talked about digital, about vampire books, about agents. I don't think I've ever been so close to someone so creative as to invent 54 full-length novels, even if they're not the lit'ry kind I read (exclusively, mind you!). She said a romance-writers convention had once held a Hunk Contest, and the winner got to be on the cover of a romance novel, and it happened to be Bobbi's, and she did her book tour with him, drawing tons of fans smitten not with the novel but with the Hunk.
Above all, she said, "You have no control." Luck. Publishers' and agents' whims. Audience whims. Cultural and technological shifts. Her new book is digital only, and not by her choice; by her publisher's.
If you have ever sought an audience, doubtless the little-to-no audience has happened to you. I have seen a poet at a bookstore bravely reading to empty chairs. Once I read poems in a restaurant on a night raining cats & dogs. There were no diners. The audience: a friend from work and a man who had a crush on me (note: I later married this guy). I have given "workshops" on the topic of, say, writing tone and style, and had two people show up. I have taught classes of two (who stuck with me after others dropped out). Each time I doggedly went through with it. Slightly sick at heart, but it was my own expectations that did that. This happens at last to everyone. But show up and do your job (or your show). We can control only what we do; we can't control results.
Next, a project I almost forgot about -- to arrange my writing group's next book. And when that's done, maybe I'll hear about the manuscript I sent out in mid-June. And then -- how about harvesting some newer poems and putting together a poetry chapbook?
I didn't realize it, but over the years I had just kept writing and writing, sometimes articles and reviews only for the pennies they might bring me, always grumbling and berating myself: "This isn't the best I can do," "Wish I had more time," "It's the deadline, I have to finish now," and "One day I'll do some real writing." Darned if it wasn't all real writing. I'm only seeing that now, and only now respecting myself for doing it. You, of course, will be smarter, and take pride in all the writing that you finish.
From Wikipedia. I got a genuine thrill reading this, and hope you do too:When the book was first published, Whitman was fired from his job at the Department of the Interior after Secretary of the Interior James Harlan read it and said he found it very offensive.Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was said to have thrown his 1855 edition into the fire.Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote, "It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote 'Leaves of Grass,' only that he did not burn it afterwards." Critic Rufus Wilmot Griswold reviewed Leaves of Grass in the November 10, 1855, issue of The Criterion, calling it "a mass of stupid filth" and categorized its author as a filthy free lover. Griswold also suggested, in Latin, that Whitman was guilty of "that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians", one of the earliest public accusations of Whitman's homosexuality. Griswold's intensely negative review almost caused the publication of the second edition to be suspended.Whitman included the full review, including the innuendo, in a later edition of Leaves of Grass.
On March 1, 1882, Boston district attorney Oliver Stevens wrote to Whitman's publisher, James R. Osgood, that Leaves of Grass constituted "obscene literature". Urged by the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice . . .Stevens demanded the removal of the poems "A Woman Waits for Me" and "To a Common Prostitute", as well as changes to "Song of Myself", "From Pent-Up Aching Rivers", "I Sing the Body Electric", "Spontaneous Me", "Native Moments", "The Dalliance of the Eagles", "By Blue Ontario’s Shore", "Unfolded Out of the Folds", "The Sleepers", and "Faces".
P.S. Whitman's title Leaves of Grass was a veiled way of saying "this is trash written by a hack or unimportant person."