Poetic Rhythm, Part 2: The Antidote

I’ve been thinking a lot about my post last week, Poetic Rhythm. Mostly about how depressing and defeated I felt when I wrote that. I’ve been writing more fanfic lately–which I enjoy–but it bothers me that I haven’t worked on anything original in…honestly, I’m not even sure how long it’s been. So, after nearly a year of bad mental health issues and half a dozen family deaths, I did what I should’ve done ages ago–I turned to Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman
I don’t know him personally, of course; I’m just a huge fangirl.

I’ve spent the morning indulging in graphic novel adaptations of some of this stories, namely “Snow, Glass, Apples” and “The Price.” If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend both. “Snow, Glass, Apples” is a re-telling of “Snow White” from the queen’s perspective and there’s something wrong with Snow White, and the latter is about a stray black cat with treacherous nighttime activities. Reading his work reminds me of why I love stories; he’s so talented at creating a world that I’m never fully prepared to leave. But even more than that, I was reminded today of a commencement speech Neil Gaiman gave at the University of the Arts in 2012.

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

 

If you’re unable to watch the video at the moment, Gavin Aung created a comic version you can view by clicking here.

This commencement speech is the pep talk I needed, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before now. I’ve been so caught up in my own thoughts bemoaning a lack of originality that I forgot to actually do the thing. I forgot to make art.

So, I’ve started making art.

The other night, I sat down and wrote out the opening scene for a novel that’s been in my head for over a year. Is it perfect? No. Am I going to probably end up editing the bejeezus out of it? Yes. Did it feel so fucking good to actually put the words on paper?

Absolutely.

I’ve also started working on mapping out a nonfiction project over the past few days and for the first time this year, I feel that real creative spark again. The nonfiction project is very research-heavy and is going to be a huge undertaking, but I’m really excited by the topic and I’m looking forward to it. I’m planning on sharing tidbits of my new projects on my Patreon as I start working on them, but mostly I feel happy that I’m actually doing something for me. That isn’t to say that I don’t also enjoy writing things like fanfic, because I definitely do and I don’t intend to stop. But to feel like I’m creating something new and original and like I’m making good art…I don’t know. It’s something else entirely and I’m happy to feel like that aspect of my life is returning. I’m doing the thing and making good art and I’m remembering why I love writing in the first place.

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Poetic Rhythm

I’ve been rewatching Mad Men recently and during season one, my feminist rage at the overt misogyny took a break during the scene when Don Draper accompanies his girlfriend, Midge, to an open mic night in the village. A young woman gets up on stage and recites a poem she wrote about how she had a dream that she had sex with Fidel Castro in the Waldorf Astoria. The first time I watched this scene, I pretty much ignored it. Now, watching it again twelve years later, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Not because I’ve watched this show before, but because I’ve been to that same reading–over and over again.

Have you ever noticed that when poets read their work aloud, they all have the same poetic rhythm when they speak? It’s a lilting ebb and flow of sound, rolling like waves in a way that can be so seductive, but lately it’s begun to feel canned and unoriginal. It’s as if everyone, upon writing their first poem, was sent a guide on how to properly read your work in public.

I don’t read my work like that. I don’t mean that to say that I think my style is better; frankly, I’d probably be better off with some coaching. One of my therapists once recommended I join a local Toastmasters group to prepare for readings. It’s good advice, but I haven’t followed his suggestion as of yet. I don’t have a good excuse, I just haven’t done it. But this post isn’t about the ways in which I self-sabotage.

So what is this post about? I think what I’m getting at is I feel disenchanted with the literary scene. That isn’t to say that I don’t go to readings and feel inspired, because I do. I’m fortunate to live in a very creative town and I know some incredibly talented individuals who, if they are reading somewhere, I will rearrange my entire schedule to hear them talk for ten minutes. But other times, I do feel like I’m going to the same readings over and over and over again. I thought it was just because I’ve been in the same town for too long, but watching Mad Men reinforced that it’s not just my own swimming pool–the whole fucking ocean is like this.

I don’t want to shit on people who are brave enough to read their work in public. It’s terrifying and it takes more courage than I usually have. But I do sometimes feel like I’m listening to the same pieces on a loop. Everyone wants to express themselves but not everyone knows how to do it without falling back on canned phrasing. I also can’t stop thinking about a line from David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day: “She mistakenly though that because her pain was significant, her writing was also significant.” I fall victim to that all the time, and then I remember that quote and I feel like quitting writing altogether.

How do I move past this? How do I shake the feeling that I’ve heard every poem before? The authors I hear today might not be reading about dreaming they’re fucking Fidel Castro in the Waldorf Astoria, but there are always attempts at being provocative. White boys are always writing about cigarettes and broken women who don’t love them and we still praise them like they’ve created something revolutionary. Someone is always taking a poet by surprise, getting under their skin, setting them on fire, making them feel things they can’t express any other way, but in tired language that leaves me exhausted and ordering another beer because I fear I sound the same.

I do sound the same.

I’ve tried to break out of my rut so many times that I feel like my rut breaking is in a rut. It doesn’t help that it feels like every story has already been told. At their core, there’s only one story: the hero’s journey. Sometimes the hero is an anti-hero, but they’re still the hero of their own story. I psych myself out and I freeze up and do nothing. People ask me what I’m writing these days, and I have to admit that I’m not working on anything. Then I go to readings and I hear the poetic rhythm and the same, tired phrasing, and I get wrongfully annoyed with these poets because they’ve managed to create something, regardless of my preference for it, and I’ve created nothing. Instead, I sit at the bar and drink another beer like that will fix anything as I continue to not write, terrified by my own inadequacies.

So instead I’m blogging. I’m hoping that honesty will earn me some kind of credibility, but even my ramblings are starting to sound like something I’ve heard before. I think I put too much pressure on myself to create something new and innovative, when instead I should just write something. Anything. Maybe those white boys and their cigarettes are on to something. They might be producing the same poem over and over, but it’s new to them. The core language and phrasing is the same, but no one has ever put the words in the exact same order that they have. At some point, I think I have to get over my fear of moving forward and write the poem about fucking Fidel Castro in the Waldorf Astoria and the broken women with the cigarettes who will never love me back.

At least I could say I’d made something instead of watching Mad Men until my brain caves in on itself.


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Eulogy

On April 14th, my friend, Kyle, died in a tragic rock climbing accident. Two weeks later, I flew to Oregon for the celebration of life and I stayed with his wife and daughters in their guest room. At one point in time, I spent so much time with them that their guest room felt more like home than my own house. However, I’d never been to this particular house since they’d moved to Oregon. I’d always meant to, but I hadn’t made it before now. I foolishly thought I’d had more time, but that’s just a lie we tell ourselves until it’s too late.

Being surrounded by the possessions of a dead person both helps and hurts. Staying in the guest room amongst Kyle’s stuff was…strange. So many things were as he left them and it felt like at any time he’d stick his head into the room to let me know he was going to “grab something off the bathroom counter real quick” like he had so many times before in other houses. I guess he did assume he’d be back for the stuff he left behind.

Didn’t we all?

I couldn’t bring myself to move or touch his possessions. I kept almost knocking my own stuff into the sink due to a lack of counter space, but I just couldn’t disturb Kyle’s things. Or I didn’t want to. In grief, those two are the same.

Everything was so familiar despite the fact that I’d never been to that house before. The wedding photos were the same as they always were, the ones I’ve seen hundreds of times, but instead of their old dog keeping me company, there are only photos of that dog’s friendly face. She’s nothing more than photographs and memories, and now I guess Kyle is, too.

Aren’t we all? In the end?

When someone dies, some people make comments about the difficulty of coming to terms with one’s own mortality, but that’s not really an issue for me. Suicidal depressives are very aware of their own mortality. It’s more that I feel my life will slip away into nothing, an inaudible whisper of the universe. I sometimes think my depression enlightens me like the Buddha beneath the bodhi tree, but then my brain goes too far. “Nothing matters because NOTHING MATTERS LET’S END IT.”

Depression comes and goes and cycles, an ebb and flow of pain and numbness. But lately, whenever I start to dip too far below the water, I’ve been thinking about a message Kyle sent me years ago. In 2016, I finally reached out for help with my mental health and I outed myself on Facebook as someone with depression, anxiety, and mild PTSD who went to counseling and needed medication. Within an hour after posting, Kyle sent me a message.

“Fuck I love a good honest fb post. Most posts are pointless. You are brave and bad ass.”

His message reduced me to tears because I don’t feel brave or badass, but even something so short made me feel loved and supported and like I was on the right path. I’m clinging to that now because most of the time, I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing or which way is up. But I know Kyle would believe I can keep going, so I do.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “blood is thicker than water.” Mostly, I’ve been thinking about how that quote isn’t quite the whole story. The full quote is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” which means that the bonds you choose to forge with others can be stronger than the ones you’re born into by biological chance. Kyle, his wife, Aimee, and their two daughters are a family I’ve chosen. They are all indelibly marked on what’s left of my dark, twisted soul, and life without one of them feels wrong and empty. I’m grateful for the time I had with Kyle, but it also feels like complete and utter bullshit that now we all have to keep going without him, especially Aimee and the girls.

There’s so much I want to say about Kyle, but everything I think of feels inadequate to fully describe the kind of person he was. People more eloquent than me have talked about his kindness, his generosity, his humor, and the way he believed we could all be better people. The world is a little darker without him and although I feel like my words aren’t enough, I need people to know he existed and that he made the world, my world, better in the short time he was here.

Kyle was here. And he was amazing.

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