showing up with all my objections at the writing desk

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by carolee bennett

i tell anyone who’ll listen: i’m not writing anymore, and it makes me sad. it makes me angry. mostly, it makes me afraid. but i’m no spring chicken. i know that all the well-meaning reassurances won’t help me get it done. i know all my wishing won’t put words on the page. i just have to set aside all my objections and spend time at the writing desk.

so here i am. and what comes to mind is the advice of my therapist: “maybe it’s not poetry anymore,” she says. “the unconscious mind is a powerful thing. you keep trying” — and yes, i can honestly say i have made several running starts at it — “and you keep bumping up against something. instead of telling yourself you only want this one thing, why don’t you listen? try to hear what you really want. it might not be poetry right now.”

surely, no more blasphemous words have been spoken. i spent weeks scoffing at them. i tried saying them out loud to a few friends to see how they sounded coming from me: “my therapist said… but i don’t think that can be so” or “my therapist said… and maybe there’s something to it.” i am hard-headed and intend to hold onto poetry as “my thing” as long as i live. they’ll pry it out of my cold, dead hands, ha ha.

but then it’s time to submit my packets of poems for my MFA’s summer residency. i don’t have anything new that’s done. i have hundreds of lines. i have dozens and dozens of stanzas. but i don’t have one single finished poem. so i go back through some recent-ish pieces — some that have been rejected, some that i’m still developing — and assemble two packets that i hate. i’m frustrated. i’m disappointed. and this is what i struggle with the entire weekend before submitting them: “maybe my thing isn’t poetry anymore.”


tonight, i finished reading the great failure by natalie goldberg. its subject matter makes it a difficult read, and my reactions to it feel very private. however, what stands out to me most is how i imagine natalie not knowing what the story was until she wrote it, how i imagine it was the act of writing that helped her find a path through all of it.

it’s a process i’ve known since i was a kid: there are lots of things i can’t understand until i write them down. writing creates a sacred place i’ve protected with such ferocity my entire life; it even played a role in the end of my marriage. what’s happening now? what am i afraid of?

we all know the cure: the hair of the dog that bit you. if writing’s the way i make sense of my world, it’s the way i make sense of the world. there’s only one way.


on sunday, i submitted the packets to my summer residency despite  the embarrassment it makes me feel now, despite the embarrassment i fear when i arrive on campus. but i’m going to ohio for two weeks this summer, like it or not. i’m convinced there’s something on this path for me. i have no idea if the lesson is in getting through the dry spell and the doubt or if the lesson is giving into it. i’ve done both things in my life: persevered and quit. each time, it’s been the right thing to do.


out of the blue last week, my boyfriend razzed me: “how’s the blog coming along?” he knew the answer: it wasn’t. but i’ve felt it waking up, that desire to journal and document and create. it may not be poetry right now. but i need something. and i have this blog just lying around. it’s a tiny little spark, but it’s where i’m starting. again.


  1. Eugene O’Neill said, “the hardest thing for a writer to do is to attach the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” (I get around that by not wearing any pants.)

  2. Huh. I had an epiphany of sorts the other day, in the same line: I was feeling like I should make up my mind and tackle some new writing project, and was feeling stymied, and unwilling, and I found myself saying, “really I don’t need to decide what has to happen at all. I just need to make space for it to happen. Which means — yes — attaching seats (trousered or not, your choice!)

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