In a recent personal rejection from The New Quarterly, the editors noted that while they often publish work “engaged with the dark side of the human condition and family” those works typically have a “point of balance.” It got me thinking about my tendency to gravitate towards that darkness, to the exclusion of the light. It’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember; there was a time where I was sure I wouldn’t have kids because how could I raise kids in a world I had no hope for? These feelings have been exaggerated lately, to the point where I actually feel paralyzed to write anything at all (I do, though, continue to write daily).
I feel like it’s disingenuous to write pretty things, all light and air, when the world is dark and getting darker. Even in the microcosm of family life, I feel like it’s a disservice to the truth if I don’t talk about my struggles. Parenting is hard. Marriage is hard. If we don’t talk about it, everyone continues to suffer in silence, alone in the dark. But it seems like my devotion to the hard truths of life has become an unhealthy obsession: if I’m not writing about hard, sad things, I’m not writing. I can remember this being a part of my writing life as early as my teens. I wrote in my journal most often when I was going through heartbreak, either romantically or with friends. Writing through the darkness was how I made, how I continue to make, sense of things. That is a part of my depressive nature, I suppose. So maybe a part of my practice must be to continually choose to turn towards the light. To document the neutral times, the happy times. To learn the language of levity.
In the days since Trump’s election, I’ve seen it suggested by a few different artists that to continue to make beautiful things is, in fact, a radical act. I feel this responsibility to the truth; to not look away from all of the horrific things happening in the world. I feel like, as artists, we must witness and document. But people need to rest, too. I write so often about self-care, and for me, self-care is sometimes turning away from the endless feed of news and towards something so beautiful it takes my breath away: a favourite poem, the light on the hillside at sunset, my kids holding hands as they play. This leads me to wonder if my power as a writer might be in creating things of beauty. Safe places to rest the mind for a while. Because we can’t afford to look away. We have to stay engaged in order to fight what is coming, what is already here and has been here beneath our notice for decades. But to look for the beauty in each day, to turn towards the light, is the balance point I need right now. It’s a gift I can offer, first to myself, and then to my kids, and then to the rest of the world.
This morning, as I was about to get Aedan dressing for his first day back to school, the power went out. The house, the whole town, went as dark as if a curtain had been pulled. The kids were all scared. I remembered a turtle nightlight they’d been playing with, on the floor by the chair. I felt around for it and clicked it on. Instantly, their fears were forgotten as they marvelled at the green stars flung across the ceiling. Paul lit a few candles, and we sat in the dim until finally, the power came back on.
I got Aedan dressing himself, packed his morning snack into his backpack, and before I knew it, he was out the door with his daddy. As the door closed behind them, I picked up my phone, absently checking my email. A submission response came in from Mom Egg Review, a magazine I submitted to months ago. They want to publish one of my poems in their Spring issue. I felt a momentary thrill, followed by a little pang of regret that I haven’t been writing much poetry lately, haven’t submitted anything new since last fall. I wonder briefly where my writing life will go in 2017.
And just like that, we’re back to our normal. School days, a quieter house, soggy Cheerios, late morning sunrises and poetry.
Well, my month of blogging every day is pretty much in the toilet. I’m not beating myself up over it, I just feel a bit sheepish. But the point of this space is honesty and accountability, right? So here I am, being honest and accountable. I’ve been feeling sick the last few days, both a cold and my period hitting me with a one-two punch yesterday. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep. And I have been doing a lot of that, when I can.
I have still been writing daily, just not here. I’ve been writing with my two-week writing group, a ten minute prompted freewrite every day. There are some beautiful, brave women in this group. I read their free writes and in awe, I think: “this is your first draft?” And I feel small and insignificant but the point is just to write in spite of the inner critic, and I’ve been doing that, at least.
If I were to attempt a daily poetry practice, as I’ve been contemplating these past few weeks, I would have to make provisions for sickness and for monthly cycles. I would have to be sure to honour myself when my mind is foggy, find a way to still come to the page without much pressure on those days. Ten minute free writes are good, manageable. It’s something to think about, or maybe I should just leap and trust the net of inspiration will catch me.
We’re off to Vancouver for a two nights, to take both the boys to see specialists at the children’s hospital (for routine things that we just can’t do in the territory). I will try to make my way here over the next few days. I’m not promising anything, though.
Hi, friends. I don’t much feel like writing anything today. I’m bloated and I can’t figure out why, and the bloat extends to my brain. So foggy.
As luck would have it, though, a poem I wrote and submitted ages ago has finally gone live. I’d be so grateful if you went to check it out! “Going Back” on Petal Journal
Have a lovely weekend!
I didn’t write anything yesterday that I feel like sharing here, and so I’ve missed my second day of posting this month. I’m a little more than halfway through my commitment to post daily, and I’ve been thinking a lot about daily practice and what I’d like it to be, for me.
This daily writing practice taunts my inner critic and causes me to challenge that nasty voice constantly. Right now, even, it whispers “delete, delete, delete. Nobody cares.” But here I am, showing up anyway and it’s like pulling teeth, as the cliche goes.
The 4:30 am wake up calls since the clocks went back are sapping me. It feels as though I’m trying to dredge these thoughts and words up from a great depth through some viscous sludge. All I can do is hope this passes. Keep showing up anyway. Because this will pass, and all that will remain will be the habit. The words will flow again and I’ll be grateful. Am grateful right now, to the sleepy baby, the quietly playing 3 year old, the kindergarten teacher. To myself, I suppose, if I have to, for being here.
I contemplate a daily poetry practice. As it coalesces in my mind, it would be writing something new, even a few lines, each day. For a year. Without trying to pin down when I would actually do that. Just doing it. And I also think about not submitting my poems anywhere for that year. I want to see where that steady, single-pointed practice might take me. Like being in school: an immersion in poetry, my own and others’. In craft books, in taking in interviews and podcasts with poets, about poetry and process. I wonder if I could do it, really. Through travel and ever-changing schedules, through moves and work and summer vacation, could I find the time every day for 365 in a row?
I want to find out.
Image via Flickr user Dafne Cholet