If my life in books counted off the page, I could boast quite a social life. My diverse bibliodiet of fiction and fact includes Pulitzers I study, tracing the contours of the words for clues to their savoir-faire. Best thing is when I fall in, pestled upon a page of genius. I feel ridiculous. Don’t try to fool me into thinking it’s doable. High art is not five feet three. Art at its best shows me the by-ways behind the crags. It cuts and bruises. In The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr shares some questions she asks to “help students diagnose their own blind spots” ~
1. What do people usually like and dislike about you? You should reflect both aspects in your pages.
2. How do you want to be perceived, and in what ways have you ever been false or posed as other than who you are?
1. My friends usually like me because I’m tenderhearted, blunt, salty, and curious. I’m super loyal, and I laugh loud.
2. People don’t like me because I’m emotionally intense and often cross boundaries….Small talk at parties bores me senseless…I’m a little bit of a misanthrope. I cancel lunch dates because I’m working.
She believes we are to bring to the page the best and worst of ourself, that is, our full and authentic self. Yes, I think you see me in clear color and dimensions, in fact more than the people in my life, at least those outside my family, do. One tempers into social roles and expectations, especially by middle age. These socks have to match. I also feel muted in the rituals we call socializing, not able to talk books or art in the circles that motherhood have circumscribed for me. I’m happier in company with the immortal dead and fellow hermits in the cave of their mind. When the tea party is over, I invite a wordsmith over for some wine – and days I need it, the scotch. Ah, the way good prose jolts, even in its beautiful ache. I want to drive under the influence – and once I’ve stepped out into fresh air, start climbing.
First Grade, NYC
I imagine people don’t know what a recluse I am. I socialize at church and in the homeschool gatherings stand tall, take initiative, make announcements. My parents, struggling to piece together a life in a country where they were Other, taught their little girl to write large and speak loudly. That’s me in the school play, mike in hand. (My husband would now like me to lower my voice by 20%.) I’m usually the one to notice inefficient or unjust ways things are done in our different communities and the one to speak up. So I can pull off extrovert and can be sociable because I know it’s rude to sit next to someone for half an hour and say nothing. But all I want, oh all I want is to bolt the door and write. Bury myself in what novelist Dani Shapiro calls the Cave to give attention to the voices in my head, meet myself on the page. Because inside is where so much of my life is.
I would probably long for love and community if I were granted the hermit’s wish (er, I think). ‘Tis human to want what is out of reach. Look at me glaringly not in step with the vogue practice of being present. No, I can’t be fully feeling the current of the moment around my feet when my head is in books, ideas, memory. In my defense: we women are wicked multitaskers.
Speaking of tasks, I asked Husband to scrape the stovetop stains last week. With equanimity he announced that he had just vacuumed and was done for the day. “I’ve done enough,” he declared pleasantly. I marveled at the male self-preservation mechanism in action. Granted, that was a lot of carpet. But it was the question corporate executives, business owners, moms, students knot themselves in angst over. When is enough? And he had solved the cosmic conundrum with such ease. Buddha Man just might be able to undo the problem of world peace. I laughed, “Done enough. Imagine mothers saying that. The world would stop.” No skin off his nose, he agreed – feet up, on the couch. I shouldn’t grouse about the responsibilities. It’s a blessing, not a burden, to have places to go, people to see, (aaalll these) things to do. George Eliot debuted at 50, Laura Ingalls Wilder at 65. There are others enjoying their second life publishing in their 70s and 80s. I don’t plan to wait another 30 years to go and to see all that’s in my head but in the meantime, I show up where I’m needed. Whether or not I can show up for myself, I will keep writing large and speak to be heard. Poor Husband.
Mr: So if I start blogging would you proof my posts and promote my site?
Mrs: *Disbelief* You gotta build your own readership.
Mr: Hey, being married to the Holistic Wayfarer must come with benefits. I provide the house you live in.
Mrs: I gave you Tennyson. *Wild card never fails*
Mr: I contributed half. *Shoot*
Mrs: I slaved to build my blog. You think you can just ride on my coattail? I never mentioned A Holistic Journey in my vows.
Mr: *Ten minutes later* I want a cut of the blog royalty later. I’ve given you post ideas.
Mrs: Man does have a point.
I noticed something about the colors of the words that streamed from my head when I started blogging two years ago. The spectrum had many light, bright hues. Looking back at the single young woman from this side of time, I was a little startled at the levity in the beloved writing that I had picked up again. Because for much of my life, I wrote from a very dark place.
There is a creative force to the darkness, hence the archetypal artist whose work is an expression of his inner drama. In high school when my writing was a way of repainting and processing grief and anger, I was drawn to poets and writers like Sylvia Plath who spoke out of emptiness and flat despair. As my faith and hope in God grew into my 20s, I recognized a troubling truth. While my work was reflecting more light, an enduring spirit of despondency continued to inspire my art in both poetry and song composition.
And I didn’t mind.
I was tasting the addictiveness of writing under darker influences. The dynamic is fascinating to me. But it was remarkable that after a decade of sporadic writing that had gathered dust, I saw the sun on my words. I don’t think the glad divergence could be distilled down to my faith, which was in many ways stronger in my younger days. Deep faith, in any case, does not leave us immune from crippling self-talk or depression, as many spiritual giants in Christian history have shown. Nor could it be a straight matter of the joy I have experienced with my family through my 30s because life has been imperfect there, too. It is more the rawness, the edginess the Great Potter has abraded and sanded of my spirit. The keen knowledge of my own weaknesses and the awareness that everyone is a work in progress so I can relax and forgive and enjoy my life more was the posture from which I started to blog. I now feel it was a cop-out to depend on the spirit of encumberance to fuel my creativity. Certainly life is a mosaic of the great occasions of surprise, happiness, and pain and it is the helpless business of the artist to paint these colors in his chosen medium. But I no longer gravitate to the dark hues in my storytelling – because I don’t have to. I have found myself enjoying the beauty, redemption, transformation of my art as I discover these very elements in the poetry of life.
this epicurean sea of wildflowers and opus
white blossoms stirs beneath a rising day
she spills seminal secrets as the bees and
winds drive pollen grains and promise past
the velvet parting into stigma and style
with the marksmanship of knowing.
this field, voluminous womb, awash with prose
drinks the sun that climaxes overhead. a rain
of white sapphire upon silken spires that
indemnifies last night’s shower,
and the dandelion memories too much
for me in the wind perish in a panoply of filaments
but here i lie on my earthen bed pregnant
with poetry, the story under stories of the grass,
translating the anatomy of nature’s mystery and
indulge myself upon this, my field of words.
I don’t like having more than one of anything. Feels wasteful. I mean, one hairbrush will do. My wedding dress and cake had no decorations, no ribbon or flower. Nothing. In my day-to-day, I map out the most efficient route for errands. Lose time and you’ve lost what’s irretrievable. I like to keep on the spare side of things.
It hit me that the way I relate to money and time is how I write. I try to work each word full tilt. I love having guest writers see they can toss two, three hundred words to find the heart of their story. Of the 42 who have come through these doors, virtually all have sworn they have “cut to the bone” and just can’t reach the word limit I set. I plunge my knife, head straight for the marrow, send them the bloody remains. Yes, laughing like Cruella De Vil. My toughest critic, I stripped a short February post of a dozen words last night, nodding in approval. Cleaner, tighter. I do my best to preserve the unique voice of every contributor, which is why we have had 42 different voices in the repertoire. No one has to or should sound like me. Goodness, not with the literary greats to emulate. But I believe we can apply principles of efficiency no matter what our style. Because we writers and poets love our words so much, we tend to err on the side of overstating and in our earnestness, try too hard. We all know less is more but my guests still scrounge for the anesthesia when they see the knife. Which reminds me. I need to wipe that blade.
HW, in cahoots with the Mafia
Calling all readers! Yes you, if you want. Tell me about a moment when you were happy, so happy you could hardly see straight. You couldn’t have been happier if you’d won the Lottery.
A few months into the blogging last year, I realized truth and beauty were what I was drawn to exploring on this blog. We looked at some hard truths this year. Of race, culture, boundaries, loneliness, guilt. I’d like to turn our attention to beauty. No matter the size of your blog or whether you even have one, you are welcome to submit up to 50 words in answer to my prompt. That’s just a few sentences. Those who’ve featured here are welcome back. I will post my favorite responses with a link back if you’re a blogger. Remember, what strikes me will depend on the other answers that come in. If you find yourself spilling over the word limit, you can take it up as a challenge to save spit.
Send your snippet to firstname.lastname@example.org with HAPPY in the subject and a link to your blog. If you don’t end up on the grand list you can always run with it and share your memory on your own blog. =) I’m working on the guilt fixation. I refuse to feel bad for the stories I can’t take. No one wants to read a list 100 items long. If you’re serious about stepping up on this platform please send me your best draft.
The window for submissions closes 11:59 pm PST this Sunday, September 28. Please give me a week to get back to you. Comments are disabled because you will write me or you won’t.