Tag Archives: writing

Night Shift: the anxiety of staying put.

Last night, the world was silent, still, and dark in the state park I camped in with Sammy, Blanche, and Betty.* So dark I couldn’t see the RV parked next to me just fifty feet away.

If I walked to the edge of the lake, lights from small-town enclaves pierced the darkness at the lake’s perimeter and stars punched holes in the sky, but to see the ground in front of me required a bright flashlight beam. Thus far, parks and roadside campgrounds have been blessedly light-free.

Trees in Lake Whitney

Tonight, I am “camped” outside a business in a suburb of Dallas. (Permission of the proprietors) Brilliant security lights make reading possible through Blanche’s largest window and freeway traffic noise is as constant and thunderous as a storm day on the Surfside revetment. But I have power, a full water tank, and safety, and I am only a thirty-minute drive from my grandchildren.

I appreciate this brief way station and the reduction in costs it allows. Dallas isn’t exactly a haven for campers. Campgrounds I might have chosen were either priced higher than I prefer to pay currently or had, shall we say, issues. Add to that the significant distance from my family and the idea of setting up in those places was unappealing at best. Nor would Blanche fit comfortably, even for a short time, in East Dallas neighborhood streets.

So here we are, listening to the traffic storm and looking at the patterns in the ceiling carpet.

Ok, so there’s no pattern. It’s just beige carpet. There’s not much to look at, it turns out. Sleep would probably come if I were actually sleepy.

Sleep might come if I could shut my mind off and stop worrying:

  • About all the things I cannot do and have not done. 
  • About all the people I have disappointed or have disappointed me.
  • About time and the cruel forward motion of it. 
  • About his moss agate eyes.
  • About how none of this really matters. Not him. Not time. Not my failures or that of others. Not traffic noises in a lot behind a business. Not stars nor darkness nor silence. 

None of it matters. When I am dust, I will simply be dust. 

Cheerful meandering, eh?

I awaken to brilliant North Texas sunlight and blue skies, a brisk breeze, and the kind of space within which I can take care of life’s tasks that get set aside on the road: my old phone needs attention, Blanche had an injured turn indicator, I need items from shops not available in tiny rural towns that have only convenience stores and local diners.

My mood shifts slightly if only because to survive, to keep going yet another day, I have these things to do: little errands that hopefully won’t smack my back account too hard.

It isn’t being alone that strains me or even lost relationships or love. Those are the rocks and potholes on the road. It is the inevitability of failure drummed into me since I was a child: “Come on, baby. You’re smarter than that.” “You’re intelligent. You just have no common sense.” “Darling, you forgot x again.” “You’re so intelligent. Why aren’t you more motivated?” That last while putting constraints on how I could use my education.

It isn’t the road I’m on that beats me down. It’s the road that came before.

I’m exhausted from the voices of my past. The voices of my future don’t stand a chance.

Unlike all the people around me lecturing me on how to move forward and how to find strength, I can’t quiet those voices. I try every day with new efforts and goals, but every night the darkness (no matter how well lit by security lights or stars) reminds me I am still me and I have only come so far and have so far to go with yet so little time left ahead.

I want to end this entry on some pithy, upbeat note. Some motivational preciousness that will redeem my mood for those of you who will tell me to put on a smile or “let go and let God.” Compartments, again.

I am, perhaps, a writer for the very reason that I can’t do those things. I can’t pretend I have no discernible income. I can’t pretend my heart isn’t scarred. I can’t pretend I believe I will survive despite staring down the barrel of 60 and having nothing to show for it save a higher education and a dog companion.

So I wrote this and y’all just have to take the agonizing posts with the pithy and hopeful.

*I’ve finally named my bicycle: JT (based on the brand and model). Now all pets and vehicles are officially named and as such are dependents that require I keep going.

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.

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.