“I’ll write my way out, write everything down far as I can see. I’ll write my way out, overwhelm them with honesty, this is the eye of the hurricane, this is the only way I can protect my legacy…”
So, my 18 year old daughter has infected me with the “Hamilton” virus. I’m not one of those lucky rich folks or lottery winners who have actually seen the play, but thanks to her I’m nearly letter and note perfect on the soundtrack.
The words above come from the song “Hurricane,” in which the Hamilton character recalls how his writing after a hurricane’s destruction helped him win support from the townspeople to get to New York and an education. Now he’s resolving to use his writing skill to find a way out of a scandal threatening his career.
At any rate, I think most writers identify with parts of this song. I certainly do. The power of writing, of storytelling, is sometimes the only power I think I have. Maybe some writers don’t feel this way; maybe they feel powerful and successful in other aspects of life too. But when we’ve failed at other things, when we’ve been to some dark places, we can start to believe that our creativity is the one power we possess that no one can take away and its products are the one unique thing we have to offer the world.
In the end, our best shot is to “overwhelm them with honesty.”
When my drug addiction was at its worst, the stakes were life or death.
Many years later, the stakes are still life or death.
But it’s different too. Back then, in the state of despair I was in, losing my life felt like a numb inevitability. My major regrets about the idea had to do with how it would hurt the people I loved.
Now, I feel as if there’s a lot more to lose. Through a process that has taken years, I’ve come to value the things I do have to give. I feel at least somewhat useful to my family and even my community. I have things I value so highly, and so sharply, that the thought of losing them makes the idea of dying before my time suck. Especially my writing.
I’ve been clean for more than seven years now, but I recently had a couple of brief bouts with overeating after being relatively sane around food for the past 2 years. Each only lasted a day or two, thank goodness, but it was enough to remind me of the insanity it brings. One thing I really noticed was how frustrated I felt not to be able to write or even think effectively about writing. The obsession, the fear of gaining weight, the shame…they were all there, but there was also the sharp awareness of a wall the binge eating had put between me and my creative self.
I have a richer life now; a more precious life to be destroyed if I make the choice to use drugs again.
Last post, I wrote about being flooded with old memories as a result of nonfiction pieces I am writing. Fortunately, I know one remedy to feeling overwhelmed by a project: Write on something different for a bit. It won’t fix everything, but it helps.
So I took advantage of a little writers’ gathering to focus solely on writing poetry; specifically, the kind of writing that strives to be uninhibited and often leads to brand new drafts of something. Very raw drafts, but a thing exists that did not exist before.
A short project to rest from a long-term project. A project done for simple joy of creativity instead of the more purpose-driven work. And two brand new poems, hurray!
A change, a breath, an infusion of fresh energy. Checking in with the poetry part of myself that has felt a bit neglected for the past month or so.
I don’t know what the difference between a writer and a poet is. Maybe there really is none. But my psyche relates differently to what I think of as my poetry from the way it does to my prose. Both are vital; neither appreciate neglect.
There’s more work for me to do. I still feel shaky and vulnerable and craving. But I did one positive thing, used one positive coping mechanism. Go me.
Readers who don’t live in California may still already know this, but just in case–we’re on fire. Worse than ever before. Hundreds are dead and more hundreds missing. Ash and smoke have rendered the air bad enough to close schools and other things; masks are being worn for hundreds of square miles.
What do poets do at a time like this? We write, of course. We write about what’s going on–and sometimes, for our own survival, we go on writing about other things too.
Or we write about what’s going on, but indirectly. We write things that come from ourselves after we strain current events through the cloth of our psyche. Odd inspirations that come to us, or characters inspired by people we met or heard about.
I had an experience like this a couple of nights ago when I read a wildfire-related poem at an open mic. It was a strange one–for some reason, what came from my psyche was a poem about visiting a friend in the psych ward while the fires were burning, and about the way his mental illness was severe enough to cut him off from being able to feel or care about them.
But strange can be good sometimes–as I know I’ve said before, writing about the same basic things from a million perspectives is what poets do, because you never know which angle will touch somebody.
As you know, I am relatively new to the concept of showing my writing (especially prose) to people who actually express opinions about it face to face. It’s scary and empowering at the same time, it motivates me to complete writing goals, and it gets me excited about future projects.
Sometimes it does something even more important: when I share a piece with others, their response shows me positive things about it I didn’t see. I come away realizing it’s a better piece than I thought it was; that I’d blinded myself to some of its merit because of insecurity or lack of perspective.
Yesterday I brought another of my memoir-style prose pieces to the writing circle. I had struggled with this one; the kind of struggle where you sit, stare, type a sentence, stare, erase the sentence, repeat ad nauseam. I thought the completed chunk was not bad, but perhaps not up to the standards of some of my others.
They fucking loved it. One said it was their favorite so far. Okay….
So why didn’t I like it that much? And who is right? Ultimately, I have to be the final arbiter, because I’m the one who stands by the words and claims them as mine. But it’s good for me to give it a chance, to see if other perspectives help me warm up to something.
I’m finally feeling creative again after a days-long crash following my exciting reading. Creative–but wildly unfocused.
My brain is trying to think of the following things simultaneously:
- The status of my fellowship application to a writers’ community
- What to enter in a Bay Area poetry contest coming up
- Plans for compiling my first full-length poetry manuscript, and whether I could get it together in time to submit to a certain press by their annual deadline
- Which memoir-style piece to tackle next for my nonfiction project
- Two different ideas brought up recently for collaborative pieces with poets I know
- Bits and pieces from pretty much all of my old poems, thanks to recent work of pasting them into a new format
- Submission to a women’s magazine whose reading period just began
- A community chapbook I have been thinking of getting together and whether I should go ahead and send out calls for submissions.
And…Hamilton lyrics, which are awesome poetry but an immense distraction when they keep popping up during any of the above.
For the first time, I have exchanged poems I wrote for money. What a trip.
When I was the featured poet at a reading on Friday night, I brought copies of my first chapbook with me. Chapbooks are simple, low-budget productions, usually containing between 10 and 15 poems. I didn’t think I would get it done in time, because my date for the reading had been moved up, but with the help of my spouse I did.
I was looking forward to the feature, and determined to focus on enjoying myself at the mic and not worry about whether anyone would want a copy. Realistically, I expected to sell 5 or less to the modestly sized audience. I sold ten, so I’m very happy.
Anyone who’s been reading this blog, or my old one, knows that me writing and then beginning to join the writing community has been quite a process of change. You might have read an entry two years ago describing my first attendance at a poetry open mic. or my first submissions.
So if you write, and long to develop your writing more, I hope you will take encouragement from the things I share. I’m a messed up person, but I took one step at a time and I did these things. I think you can too.