From a Full-grown Sphinx

Come along in then, little girl!
Or else stay out!
But in the open door she stands,
And bites her lip and twists her hands,
And stares upon me, trouble-eyed:
“Mother,” she says, “I can’t decide!
I can’t decide!”

First canto of “From a Very Little Sphinx”, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Oh, hello there.  It appears I’ve decided to come in.  Just, before you ask “Does this mean you’ve finished your book?” I’d like you to imagine a woman seven or eight months pregnant, and think really, really hard about the likely outcome of asking: “When are you due?”  Only, the length of time I’ve carried this particular book seems so absurd I’ve started to feel like Gandhari in The Mahabharata…  If I give my head a good hard whack, will the damn thing finally come out, a monstrosity that turns into 101 books? Gods no, no, no…  I’m already looking forward to retiring from novel-writing and doing nothing but playing music for the rest of my life.

Don’t take this to mean that I’m in any way sick of my novel(s).  I love this world and these characters with a passion that burns in perfectly inverse proportion to the hatred I bear for a little thing called cognitive dysfunction — and its even more pernicious partner-in-crime, depression.  It’s been a while since I’ve written an “FU, MS” post; this is partly one of those, but I have a lot of friends here in the depression community — and artists galore — so hey, I have something for everyone!

Last year, one of the keynote speakers at the writers’ conference I attended made a bold, if unoriginal statement: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block.”  (I’m pretty sure Terry Pratchett said it first.)  I’ll admit my first thought was: ‘I’d like to lend you a few brain lesions, sister, and dare you to say that again.’  But then I looked around at the attentive (even hungry) expressions of the others in the room, and was struck not only by the number of people who believed they suffered from the same supposedly nonexistent affliction, but my own feeling of solidarity with them in their suffering.  Because it’s not just about the brain not being able to make connections — about working on a single chapter for months because the words will not obey their proper logical order — or the sickening screen twisting your vision in knots.  Those are all physical manifestations of disease.  What everyone could relate to in that room was something psychological, and it does exist; we’re just calling it the wrong thing.

I personally haven’t used the term writer’s block, ever, because it sounds vaguely disgusting, like something you might fix with a suppository.  I don’t know that I call it anything at all; I just say ‘I’m unable to write’.  But it’s human nature to describe and classify everything, so we need a better term…  And if I didn’t have MS, I could come up with it!  Just kidding; my brain fog isn’t that bad today.  Wait a minute…  How about ‘soul fog’.  Honestly, it’s shorter and snappier than ‘a crisis of literary self-confidence’?  It’s more specific than depression, which I suspect is ultimately at the root of the problem.  And it doesn’t limit it to just writers, because I’m pretty sure artists and composers experience the terror of the blank page, or canvas, or soundscape.  We need something that applies to self-expression of all kinds.

For me, it’s the thing that makes me physically ill every time I open up a blank blog post.  Or a blank message on email or Twitter.  Or try to type a comment on the blog of someone whose work has moved me.  I am unable to get past my own voice, my own identity, all the things I know about myself that I despise, that no one must know, the deeper illness that will make anything I have to say insignificant, unclever (or too clever), and superfluous, no matter how many people ‘like’ it.  My most terrifying blank page is the mirror.

I do not believe I’m alone in this.  But no matter your medium — writing, music, sculpture — how you break through the fog is the same.  You make a mark, anything. You set down one word, one line, one note, and the others follow until you say the work is done.

There, that wasn’t so bad.  I would have liked to return bearing verses, but I’ve not been sufficiently motivated to write poetry for some little while.  At the same time, other people’s poems slip into my head constantly, including many of yours.  Thank you for that.  In fact, I’m happy to close this post as a Valentine to all the writers and artists here on WordPress who help me get out of bed and elect to forgive myself and live another day.  It’s wonderful that there are far too many of you to list; I hope you know who you are!  And to the readers who have yet to share with the world that first word or line or note…  Well, at this point I usually just play a song.

 

 

 

“Unless There’s Magic, the End will be Tragic…”

…and echo the tale that’s been told so often…

If I was Scratch, the phonograph in Catherynne M. Valente‘s The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, these are the lines I’d be playing for you right now (most likely, Annette Hanshaw’s version).  I’ve been thinking of that and many of Valente’s books quite a bit ever since the outrageous outcome of US presidential election, mostly because when I was compulsively scrolling through Twitter in a futile attempt to make it all seem real, I found myself taking solace in her reactions.  She was expressing so much of my own angst that I hardly needed to say a word of my own.  But there was one particular statement that she made that I’ve decided to borrow for my own personal manifesto for these coming years:

“I find myself thinking: how can I write about magic now? But I think maybe I have to write about magic more fiercely than I’ve ever done.”

In my last post, W.H. Auden was kind enough to contribute his thoughts where mine were scattered.  Today, I offer one more:

“In so far as poetry, or any of the arts, can be said to have an ulterior purpose, it is, by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate.”

I like this Auden fellow more and more. (The Fairy glints in the last scarlet leaves of autumn.  I knew I’d get a rise out of her.)

One might think that this view jars with my new manifesto.  If you write fantasy, and your readers are not enchanted and intoxicated, you’re not doing your job very well.  But it’s in the moments of disenchantment — the realities nestled within the unreal like matryoshka dolls — that you will find the most powerful, subversive truth-telling to be told.

So for the next several months, while I’ll be visiting my fellow WordPressers whenever I can, the Fairy and I will be on sabbatical — working exclusively on ‘The Beast‘, and magicking the hell out of these times of ours.  Wish me luck, keep up the struggle, and “always keep a sapphire in your mind.”

Thank You, Fog

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Some timely lines from one of my favorite poets, W.H. Auden, to accompany a serene, misty autumn morning:

No summer sun will ever
dismantle the global gloom
cast by the Daily Papers,
vomiting in slip-shod prose
the facts of filth and violence
that we’re too dumb to present:
our earth’s a sorry spot, but
for this special interim,
so restful yet so festive,
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Fog

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(You can read the full poem here.)

Hang in there, American voters; for better or worse, at least one little corner of global gloom will be dismantled soon.

Them There Eyes

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They sent you to live with a strange family for half a year,
rich enough to care for a cross-eyed girl, but not as fun

as your real parents or the brother you loved and terrorized;
the story is cinematic but the part I can never quite shake is

the horror of knowing
that you were wide awake
during the four-hour procedure
that I can’t even mention,

that gave you double-vision for a year and never liberated
you from a lifetime of cats-eyes and Coke-bottles; I cringe

at your inner canthus stretched by an epoch of spectacles,
even as the mischief that glints through the glass makes me

remember when we read
Colette and Maupassant,
and drew up ambitious blueprints
for houses beyond our means.

Those eyes recognize me sometimes, but I confess
I prefer the times when I’m a total stranger, and worthy

of your unconditional smile, the one that seems to say:
“Get me outta here, kid, and we’ll go find some trouble!”

I can’t help but suspect
this was the very same look
you gave that boy from the wire mill,
that lasted seventy-five years.

I think of the forty-two addresses, across eight states,
you’ve occupied; your visions of buildings rising and falling

must put mine to shame.  I wonder if you’ve finally settled
into the one you loved best, or if it’s one that we designed.

I’m never there to see it
but I know you take them off,
and smile like I do, solaced
by the blur of the world.

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One for my 96-year-old grandma, Madeline, for no special occasion or cause beyond her own sweet little old self.

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Note for the Jansens and the curious: Madeline had three sisters in addition to her brother, but those girls were a terror together. Again, whole ‘nother poem there. ^_^

Via O at the Edges: “You Say Cicada”

I’m delighted to share Robert Okaji’s poem inspired by the seasonal serenaders of my previous post.  Three words are about all I can spit out most days lately, so the 30/30 Challenge came at a perfect time: I could just get Robert to do the heavy lifting!

A new favorite of mine, RO.  Look to the ground.

My poem “You Say Cicada” will appear among today’s offerings of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project (9 poets have agreed to write 30 poems apiece in 30 days, to raise funds for Tupelo Press, a non-profit literary publisher). I am grateful to Sunshine Jansen, who sponsored the poem and provided these three words: instar, ecdysis, and sap-sucking. You Say Cicada […]

via Day Twenty, Tupelo Press 30/30 Project, August 2016 — O at the Edges

The mud of the Rio Grande does not easily release

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The mud of the Rio Grande does not easily release;
it anchors the ankles cold as the current rushes, directs
every liquid molecule to the source, even as the horizon
bruises beneath a veil of rain, spurring the heart to flight.

 

The kick of wind does not ruffle the birds; unhurried
they call from the basalt cliffs, careless of the spidery bolt
that severs and sutures heaven and earth. Untethered
in time, dry-feathered, they dive and catch while they can.

 

When at last it does fall it will come in savage sheets
of wetness and light from across the gorge, but in the midst
of violence the hail will gather soft among the cottonwoods,
and the essence of sage will suffuse the smallest of souls.

 

The mud of the Rio Grande clings to the toes, cleaves
to the moment, won’t relinquish its hold though you’ve flown
to the safety of cities, beheld yourself in mirrors less murky.
The absence in every storm returns you to the source.

 
 
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