Tag Archives: inspiration

Capturing Eruptions: examining catharsis again

My poetry was recently described by a friend as “[capturing] the moment feelings erupt.”

That striking (and much appreciated) description must have become imbedded in some bit of my cerebral cortex or drowned in neurotransmitter soup, for as I’ve continued to throw those feelings onto my phone and create still more poetry, I’ve also become acutely aware of the process again.

Her statement made me question why both the intensity of the writing and the recollection of its inspiration don’t leave me in tears in these moments of creation.

Writing drafts has never done so. Going as far back as childhood when I wrote about the deaths of pets and fears of nuclear war, there was no sobbing, raging, or even quiet despair as I composed.

The reason, I determined in the last few days, is two-fold:

One, the words themselves are the grief, the anger, the healing, not just symbols or metaphors for these emotions. As I place these expressions on the screen, I am literally doing just that. I am not just representing those feelings, but allowing my thumbs to transfer “here is my anger/hurt/pleasure” to a screen. It is the electronic equivalent of hitting the person I’m angry with, hugging the person I ache for, reveling in the presence of beauty. It is just as real and tangible to me as those physical actions.

Two, when I am creating something, a poem or a blog entry (which can often be as emotive as a poem), I am focused on the process. It is somewhat akin to how we say we get our best ideas in the shower, while driving, or taking walks. The focus on the screen, on the words, on finding the precise word that best expresses something, is meditative. It is the honing of a fine blade or the counting of cross-stitches. The mind is working a task, but the form is not yet whole.

Surely, some writers experience this process a la Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give: blubbering and raging while they scribble or type. There is no one-size-fits-all for creators and no right or wrong way. I am simply observing that for me, the outward physical expression only comes when I survey the entire work. I have assembled the puzzle and in seeing the complete image, can step back and realize, oh yes, this is what that experience did to me.

Once the entire work lies before me, my feelings can erupt, and often do, in response to those words, just as they did at some point during the actual events.

Care to share your emotional response with regard to your process?

Writing in a Mobile Age: A Dinosaur Learns a New Trick

I am fifty-seven. I grew up in a time of pencils, ballpoints, fountain pens, and typewriters.

I have, in the past, used (preferred) pencil or pen on legal pads to compose stories or poems. I felt that push and pull of the writing instrument on the page to be inspiring and rewarding.

In recent years, I would hear about young people composing entire chapters of novels on their phones and think they were absolutely insane. How can you track, mentally and mechanically, your ideas on a tiny screen? How can you be connected to your words and their taste, smell, texture, when you are clicking on glass that has almost no tactile feedback at all?

Then, in 2019, I had a crisis in my twenty-nine year marriage and couldn’t sit still. Couldn’t watch tv. Couldn’t read a book. Couldn’t write a letter. Yet, the emotions of the crisis were vast and overwhelming. How do I deal with them?

I picked up my phone one day while out on the deck overlooking the beach and allowed my thumbs to skip over the glass.

In moments, I had the first poem I had written in years. The next day, another. Then a blog entry. Then another. Then more poems.

So many words I had contained for months (in some cases years) were spilling out of me. I was feeling, if not full relief, at least not so bundled up in pain.

I was surprised at just how much I connected with the words. How quickly they fell onto the screen and how cleanly they fell. At times, they felt (and still feel) much like they had in my youth, as if I was not the one writing them at all but some greater force had taken over (and I am not the spiritual sort).

I still write with my pens and pencils. I edit with my favorite fountain pens and bright, cheerful inks. However, the best flow comes on the little 3”x 6.25” computer in my hand.

This blog entry began its life just so. All my blog posts now begin and are fleshed out on my phone, move to my laptop, are sometimes printed for review/editing, then are posted.

Somehow, it connects. Somehow, I still sense these words as I did when writing with pen and paper. I still feel as linked to the words, ideas, and emotions as I ever did through a nib on fiber. I am a bit humbled by this realization. I am fifty-seven and I have been forced to recognize that art is not lost or bastardized in or by technology despite the protests of many of my generation (I am on the Boomer cusp). At the same time, I hope this also shows that we are not all floundering dinosaurs, insisting that “the old way is best.” Nor is the new way superior. It’s the typewriter vs. computer argument of old which was once the pen vs. typewriter argument. And that was once the quill vs. fountain pen argument.

Ultimately, the way that works best is the way that works for the individual in the moment. When my heart was calmer I could sit in a quiet room with those seemingly gentler implements and “compose.” Now, in this moment of my life, my heart is panicky and wild and my thumbs need to spatter my creations across the glass instead.

Chaos & Growth: An Auspicious Anniversary

In short order it will be the anniversary of “leaving.” I left my former home (and by extension, my second husband) in mid-March of 2020.

What should have been a rush out into a new life with new possibilities, was, instead, a rush from one form of isolation and loneliness into another.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a whining post.

It was a bit of a shock, I’ll admit. Leaving a person who wanted me to be as housebound and uncommunicative and as much of an introvert as he, only to have a virus force me into being very selective socially — introverted and uncommunicative. Ha!

It was still an improvement, and in some ways, that continued isolation was a positive thing. In many ways it was awful, but I want to steer away from that. Many of us have experienced the awful of 2020 and early 2021.

The good stuff:

I spent a lot of time on the phone with my brother who is also, necessarily and unfortunately, isolated and grieving. Our different griefs, shared in long conversations, allowed me to see my circumstances through his lens and not just through my self-involved pain. This has been an empathy-building experience, not just with him but with others, as well. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in that regard, but learning to balance my needs with that of others is a process, not so much a goal.

Another advantage of the solitude: I didn’t immediately go nuts dating. (not that I didn’t immediately go nuts looking.)

Here’s my history: I went straight from High School to my first marriage within a year and dated only my first husband in that time. We had two dates before he proposed. Yes, I was young and stupid. Why do you ask? 🙄

After our divorce, I immediately fell in love with my second husband who I had known at work for well over a year.

Fast Forward to 2020: the year of living slightly less stupidly, if only because that’s what universal chaos made me do. I couldn’t date after this divorce—because COVID! I have a little job and I meet a lot of lovely people, but they are brief and transient exchanges about the work, the village, beach life, etc.

I did not meet anyone with which to fall in love. I did not date and decide to give away my autonomy again out of loneliness. I worked, I wrote, I flirted, and I felt the sting of rejection here and there. Though it did require meeting/dating some in recent weeks, I learned rationally and viscerally, I really don’t NEED men. I do enjoy a man’s company and perspective (among other things), but needing anyone right now is a disquieting idea for me, especially needing a dedicated companion. This is my take on companionship and not a reflection on how I think others should behave. See here for key points.

All of this points to a single, fundamentally positive notion about 2020 and early 2021 from my selfish view. While it had its hellish days, days I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, I grew.

I had to go through a bit of the “boy crazies,” because I never had that chance as a young adult. I had to experience being completely without another human being in my home for months on end, because I have never had to do that. I had to relearn to be open and friendly like I was thirty years ago, because it is a normal and healthy part of life that I require. I had to relearn how to interact with others without the fog of self-hatred. (Still working on that one)

I have to heal these things, and more, for me to move on and start the real work of determining where I want to be this coming year and the years after that, if Universal Chaos allows.

I have ideas but lack a plan. I’m winging it and winging it is scary. But, when I left that house (and by extension, the order and planning the man within it brought to everything), I knew I was walking out into something unpredictable at best.

And that was the beauty shifting subtly under the pain of leaving and isolation: escaping suffocating order and expectations to greet chaos and growth with joy.

It’s Not Too Much to Ask: Revisiting and Requesting Respect

(Dec 18, 2018). I reach into myself—my past, my present, my imagined future—and find emptiness.

From the time I was small, I have sought [men’s] approval and rarely received it. I am so very tired of failing them and feeling the need to meet their expectations as if they were god(s). That includes God—I hear he demands fealty, supplication, bowing and scraping—like my [ex]husbands, boyfriends, and other male friends who knew better than I about damn near everything. Men who felt the need to “protect” me when I was in no such need.

(March 2021) I am still tired, but may be gaining strength.

It’s clear to me from the above entry, discovered when I unearthed a journal a couple of days ago, that in December of 2018, I felt my marriage and my connection to my faith were falling apart in a substantial way.

It’s also clear that I stopped myself from thinking any further on the topic should it take me down a more painful path. The only entry after that is a blog composition about Big Dog.

I have met and clung to a couple of perfectly pleasant men since my divorce. They placed their value to me in how they could help and comfort po’ little ol’ me. I don’t deny they have helped me in various ways. However, they placed my value to them in the predictable arena; I am a walking, breathing, please-don’t-talk-too-much sex toy. I offer nothing in terms of intellect, care, or actual companionship. They demonstrate this by treating my time as their commodity, not my precious resource. One of them gets sullen and distant if he asks a question (apparently rhetorical) and I answer with knowledge I earned in college or on the job.

I’m too old for this game and I’m not going to pretend I have no brain or heart. I did that enough in my marriages: 1) was told I was using “big words” to talk down to my exes when in fact I was talking to them as equals because I presumed they had the same pliant and ready mind I had, open to learning and growth, 2) was expected to take on the lion’s share of care for my child while my first husband partied all night and picked up women.

I’m not brilliant, but I am not scared of someone else’s intelligence. When I meet intelligent and confident men (and I have recently, thank goodness), I revel in it. They are never intimidated by me and only challenge me politely.

I used to be angry that my parents pushed me to be precise with my language and open to all knowledge. My most punishing memory of my father is of him throwing up his hands during my 2nd grade math homework and barking, “Oh, come on, Karen! You’re smarter than that!” (I recall, with great regret, saying this to my daughter when she was small—ugh! Legacies.) That meant, to eight-year-old me that, of course, I wasn’t smart at all. When I married men that reflected this in their actions, and often their words, I lost all faith in myself.

I realize now, having spent the last year in divorce recovery, that my dad was expressing his frustration with his inability to teach me. It was his failing, not mine. I also realize my ex-husbands were reflecting their failings and fears of their own weaknesses, as well. Easier to make me feel small by telling me I had no common sense or no motivation or was forgetful (and reinforce small human errors until these statements became true(r) in many respects) than to face that they were afraid of their own intellectual or emotional shortfalls.

I can’t say the men I’ve known recently don’t think they have valid reasons for being disrespectful of my mind or my time. You would have to ask them.

I can say I have valid reasons for wanting to be respected. I’ve received two degrees, both of which required long hours and significant mental and emotional commitment. I’ve lived through two marriages, both of which required significant mental and emotional commitment, and both of which drained me of a great deal of my self esteem. I raised a child, held jobs at which I performed well, and helped my 2nd ex-husband build products for and run a home business for twenty-two years. I may be struggling right now to find my place in the universe again, but I am trying. That said, even if all of the above were not true, I am human, have feelings, and responsibilities and, on those counts alone, I deserve respect. I deserved that respect when I was married. I deserve it now.

Distressed table. Distressed books. Fossil shells.

The Thing: Compartments, Poetry, and Brain Soup

My ex always said he could compartmentalize his thoughts. This allowed him to set aside external stresses and go about his day. It allowed him to simply close his eyes and sleep at night within seconds. Another man recently expressed this to me, as well, in reference to his own daily stresses and trauma.

I used to think it was just a way to excuse not showing concern for others or not consider my feelings in conflicts, but probably it is a real thing. Some people can just shut off parts of their life or mind and focus on the less emotional tasks at hand.

I can’t. I have a mind that is the opposite of compartmented. If something gets in there—if something worries me, hurts me, or even brings me great joy—it saturates everything I think and do. I will think about that concern, hurt, or joy throughout my day, whether it be personal, political, or spiritual. As I wash dishes, fold laundry, walk the dog, work, attempt to sleep: every task is bathed in a soup of “but what about this thing that is pressing on or filling my spirit?”

I don’t know if this is the bane of the writer or if this is what makes writers, painters, etc., turn to their craft in the first place. I only know that, try as I might, I can’t set aside these thoughts. They turn into words. For some writers they turn into voices or characters. Lately, they have spilled onto the page or screen as poems in a vain (both meanings) effort to rid the mush that is my brain of these racing, raging, craving thoughts.

Poetry thus has become a highly selfish exercise for me. I might spend days honing a single poem of a few lines, not because I care what others think, but because it must express exactly what I am trying to communicate. I don’t care if you understand what I have written. I care that what I have written completely expresses the bath of hot confusion in which my brain is swimming.

If I write:
“This love is—lacuna”

I didn’t write “this love is an empty space” because I don’t mean it is an empty space.

I meant, “this love is an empty space, a hole in my bones, holes in my every tissue.” Lacuna.

Bone structure. Bone tissue close-up. Osteoporosis.

If someone has to look up “lacuna,” I don’t care.

If they don’t want to look it up, I don’t care.

I am not writing my poetry to please others. I am not writing my poetry to make the world a safer place for readers of poetry. If I’m lucky enough to reach anyone, that’s lovely. But that’s not my goal.

I am writing my poetry because I have no lacunae in my brain. I have no spaces or compartments to stash how I feel about someone or something. I can’t simply lock those things away and go on with my day. The closest I come to that is when I’ve had a couple of beers and, even then, it’s all I can do not to crawl inside myself and think of the thing that is in there, whatever that thing may be.

I sometimes envy the two men mentioned above and anyone else who puts the events of their lives in neat, little boxes while they function seemingly normally.

But, sometimes I wonder what will happen if all their neat boxes suddenly break open.

Art & Grief: Finding the Perfection in the Imperfect

biscornu1_2

What is that odd-looking, white object in the picture? What does it have to do with grief or art? What have grief and art to do with each other and why am I writing (struggling to write) this at this moment?

That object is a biscornu which, if I recall correctly, is French for “quirky.” These objects at this size are mostly used as pin cushions and the one in my photo is indeed a pincushion made using traditional Norwegian Hardanger embroidery techniques (as opposed to modern techniques).

As to what it has to do with art and grief:

A few months ago, I struggled with my writing process and wrote about it here. You can see in some truly helpful comments that it was suggested that I exercise my creative mind through other art forms. I thought this an excellent idea although I am the furthest thing from creative in any other way other than writing. I can’t draw a straight line, I failed miserably at the various doodle crafts, and I have long since given away my sculpting supplies because I would have to invest in learning how to do it rather than winging it. I do, however, love to do Hardanger embroidery. I thought I could perhaps design my own.

I can’t. So, I gave up.

2018 waned and my writing continued to stutter like a lawn mower in overgrown St. Augustine. The holidays arrived along with the U.S. government furlough including much time for my husband and I to spend together. I decided to try “new to me” traditional Hardanger as a creative endeavor and to make a Christmas gift for someone, the above biscornu.

Through all of this, the Big Blind Dog was lumbering through his days and nights, taking his medications dutifully, eating heartily, begging for scraps always, peeing the Niagara (diuretics), and growing that snore-and-sniffle inducing lump on his cheek without complaint. He and I sat on our couch together, tv on and spewing the horrors of Investigation Discovery or tv off and only the Gulf waves in our heads. Occasionally my husband left his cave, poured a soda, gave the old gray snoot a pat and a biscuit, gave me a kiss, and wandered back into his hideaway.

I stitched.

I stitched and the dog snored and life was sweet and warm. I finished the biscornu and in all those stitches and waves and snoring came words for the page and these pleasant, if bittersweet, blog entries here and here. Writing was a thing again.

Then I looked at the biscornu and really saw it. I’d failed. While it was pretty, it was wrong. Something I’d planned from the beginning that could not be undone was a major flaw within it. Others couldn’t really see the flaw but I knew it was there. It ate at me.

Finally, rather than wrap it with other Christmas gifts, I decided I would keep it. Better to make a better gift for that person later—something not so obviously flawed, even if only to my eyes. I left it on my desk with a mix of sadness and disgust.

We packed up and went to see family out of town and had a perfectly nice visit.

And on the morning we were to return home, we awoke in our usual hotel room and our beautiful, sweet, old Big Dog with his one great flaw, his useless eyes, had left us.

Somewhere in his dreams, he decided he’d had enough of being lifted and guided and medicated and diapered. Somewhere in his sleep he’d decided those last pets from family, the last sniffs of our granddog, the last bites of Woody’s barbeque beef, and his favorite dog biscuits were a good note to end on.

So it goes.

Twelve and a half of his thirteen years.

And a five-hour drive of tears and emptiness and silence.

And furtive momentary pats to the still form in the back seat as if he would miraculously come back to us.

When we arrived home that evening and I walked into our office, there was the biscornu, that silly, imperfect thing, and I realized why the Universe had me keep it. Nothing at all to do with its imperfection—an imperfection I no longer see—and everything to do with the fact that it is a symbol of those long luxurious days next to him, his paws pressed against me. Of those last few days when he’d taken to lying with his head on my leg as he had when he was younger, as if he was trying to tell me goodbye. I wondered then, but had chosen not to be certain.

I am grateful for that time.

I am grateful for that quirky object I kept that had a major flaw, like the flaw of the Big Dog’s blindness. Flaws that are visible but meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Now, the biscornu is perfect in that it reminds me of him. He was perfect in his love.

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Our Beautiful Yao Ming. Big Dog. Boo Boo. Young and happy.

Porpoises and Purposes

You might have noticed (you probably didn’t, so I’m telling you) that I haven’t written an entry in quite some time. That isn’t strictly true. I’ve written multiple entries. I simply haven’t posted them.  Most were typical writerly whining: grief, new house, more grief, lots more new house, topics too topical to discuss (Politics! Yuck! Outrage! Yuck!) None of what I wrote seemed to belong here. Either it contributed to the bile that everyone else was spewing or it was self-serving schlock. (Well, it’s a blog; all of it is self-serving shlock.)

We have a new home. It’s small and sweet and near the beach and I’ve never prayed through hurricane season so much in my entire life. It’s a joy and I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of money.

july1.JPG

A pod of porpoises often comes close to shore near our new home. It seems, if you’ll forgive the anthropomorphism, that they are making fun of the fishermen on shore. At times one pod member performs something similar to a gymnast’s tumbling line, making its way through the trough between beach and sandbar with one leap after another. It’s not all fun and games, I’m sure. The pod is likely snacking in their high tide hijinks, mixing purpose with their play.

My purpose has finally shifted back to writing to a point.

The stressful and time-consuming process of setting up the house has slowed. I no longer spend my days looking for stuff for the house or ways to stuff the stuff we already have into the much smaller place.

The grief flutters in and out several times a day. Little reminders arise that I won’t see or hear my parents ever again. Momma and Dad come to me in my dreams in various ways—good and bad—that leave me near tears upon waking.

The national and international topical topics grind away on my sanity daily. Politics and its cohort Societal Entropy are driving me to wish I drank. I am attempting to cope with them by reading a book that stretches me considerably. Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy by Susan Neiman. It’s a bit like drinking vinegar to cure acid indigestion, walking on hot concrete to heal stone bruises, or hiring someone who bankrupted his own businesses to balance your books. Neiman poses these questions: “Can there be meaning in a world where innocents suffer? Can belief in divine power or human progress survive a cataloging of evil? Is evil profound or banal?”

Meanwhile, my news feed tells me about earthquakes killing hundreds in Italy, chlorine bombs dropping on innocents in Syria, and my fellow citizens arguing over how many flags one must wave to be a true patriot and whether one can sit during the national anthem. Nothing has changed in fifteen years. (“I’ll take ‘Banality for Beelzebub’ for $400, Alex.”)

Still, I have this idea, perhaps unrealistic, that at the end of this book, I’ll better understand a purpose for evil, unfairness, and complacency, or at least be better able to stomach it.

My best response might be to retreat to our little island home and watch for our pod of porpoises. I think they know the answer to the questions that book poses. Evil is just a function of being an animal on this planet and must be lived through (or not). Move on to the next shore. Play and dine in the waves.

There are wonderful days ahead in this sweet home by the beach. I do know that. Purpose and play, not just politics and banality. I am grateful for, if yet baffled by, my world.

Ghosts, Dead Heroes, and Subatomic Particles: A Short Essay on Inspiration.

I’ve been grieving since Monday, August 11. In this time, I’ve written and rewritten a short-short ghost story, but the ending eluded me. Without an ending, there really is no story. I don’t mean putting it in a nice box and with a bow; I mean just giving it words that inform the reader, “This is all I have left to say.” I couldn’t find those words no matter how hard I stared at the two pages of story, or meditated on it, or lay with eyes closed trying to picture its scenes. Nothing said, “Here! Right here! These are the words for which you are looking.” So I put my story aside and wallowed in grief some more. I watched some wonderful old videos and some bad, distracting television. I did some hardanger. I tried not to think about those two pages.

Wednesday night Husband and I went on our nightly two-mile walk and I asked him for input on the story. He talked about the ghosts in the story and how sometimes ghosts haunt people “in a positive way.” That didn’t help me directly but I liked the theory. I’ve certainly thought about it plenty of times and I’ve written stories in the past that have drawn on it though I’ve never made much of those stories.

We arrived home and I took one last look at that danged short-short. As I read it, I thought of Husband’s comment and of a “good haunting” and thought how I hope Robin Williams could look down now and see that thousands of schlubs like me thought he was amazing and inspirational. I carried these thoughts in parallel as I read through those two pages, thinking of ghosts and death and trying to find the clue in my piece to finish that damn story.

Suddenly it was there. ending edit

Two or three words in the piece jumped out at me and I knew how to end it. They had nothing to do with ghosts or haunting (or comedy) but were entirely independent of those thoughts. I raced to get a pen, scratched the ending on the page and set about cleaning up for the night.

I was struck, however, by the strong sense of not having found the ending but having it presented to me.

It isn’t a new or unique idea, the thought that when a person dies, their energy goes out into the world. Different belief systems have embraced it for centuries. As I got ready for bed I had to ask, why not? Why couldn’t the energy of someone brilliant be making its rounds throughout the world, touching the fevered creative minds of those trying to paint pictures, sculpt forms, write plays or books? Why can’t that energy be a catalyst in the universe: a spiritual butterfly effect in which it bounces off one particle in space and from there spreads out and makes its way to League City over three days where a struggling writer says, “Damn, I’m going to miss that guy. I wish I had one-tenth of his genius. Maybe then I could finish this damn story.” Poof! That particle tweaks a neuron where the idea has been hiding and the neuron fires and the idea is ready to go on the page.

Why the hell not?

About twenty more pages of thoughts followed from that thought but I will spare everyone. Besides, as I said, these are not new ideas: positive thinking, getting back what you put into the universe, blah blah blah. Much of it is just downright controversial and I’m no philosopher, just a writer thinking about how I got my story ending.

Well, I have my ending. I had, I know, Husband’s help most of all. Perhaps I also had a stray subatomic particle that leapt from the bounds of that wild, brilliant soul and, in a roundabout way, struck a nerve.