why do you keep writing?

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Earlier this month, Lost Balloon published “Opening Chapter,” the first of my Gertie pieces to make its way into the world. In 2022, other Gertie pieces — one poem and one microfiction — are forthcoming in Voices in the Attic (Madwomen) and Moon City Review. I’m delighted these micros/poems are resonating with editors, and so it is, of course, the perfect time to experience a crisis of confidence.

The recently accepted work is part of a manuscript (poetry? microfiction? hybrid?) on clumsiness, grief, disembodiment and the strong pull of pleasure/joy/vigor as forces that (we hope) make life worth living. I’m trying to explore those themes through a speaker and her “Gerties,” imagined versions of herself.

I’m having fun considering how other selves may be more (or less) suited for the world than I am and experiencing how a project takes on a life of its own: the Gerties talk to me even when I’m not actively writing. The manuscript keeps opening and opening to me along with my fears about it: I’m not sure I can do it justice.

This crisis of confidence isn’t the kind that asks others to chime in with reassurance. The short walk through the halls of “Is It Worth It” is just an invitation to check in with myself and affirm that I’m still here for it. Not just for Gertie but for Writing At All. I’m simply being asked to reacquaint myself with the landscape of my writing life, to see it anew, much like I’m being offered fresh looks on some amazing views right in my backyard.

On this trip, I seem to be thinking of how I both support and sabotage my writing. (Let me count the ways, LOL.) I’ve read enough Natalie Goldberg to know that when I sit down to write and “suddenly” sense a thousand other things requiring my attention — the laundry, my phone, the grocery list, hunger, bathroom needs, etc. — it means monkey mind is at it again. I experience mixed results shutting it down, but I’ve made lots of progress recognizing it. Where I’ve been getting stuck recently is wondering why I care about writing so much in the first place. I know the crisis is temporary. I know it’s just another iteration of monkey mind. But I’m also stuck for an answer. What is The Pay Off?

Why do you keep writing?

I’ve been re-reading “The Starship,” the long poem that concludes Sarah Blake’s Let’s Not Live on Earth (which I wrote about here). The gist of the poem — written in sections — is that a starship comes to Earth, where it hovers for a really long time. After refusing to head to “safety” with her husband (who represents the voice of doubt in the poem), the speaker boards the ship. Eventually, the starship departs.

I’m studying The Starship not only because I deeply admire it and enjoy it but also because it has things to teach me for the Gertie manuscript (and also for a second manuscript I’ve so far only called TLPP: The Long Prose Poem). What’s resonating for Gertie is the way the option of the starship exposes different versions of the speaker: who she is with the husband, who she is with a neighbor, who she is with a lover and who she is on her own, plus who she is on Earth then on the starship then on another planet. I’m also intrigued by the traces of Earth and prior selves that exist in all the future selves.

And since I haven’t quite figured out what kind of redemption may be possible in my Gertie manuscript, I’m also interested in how Blake resolves the speaker’s journey. This section isn’t the conclusion or the redemption, but I think it offers some clues (of note is that I read the husband here as a foil for the prior version of the self that the narrator didn’t particularly care for):

Now you know which time was the last time
you saw your husband. You can’t help
crying even though you hardly like him anymore.
How funny how different a person he was
in the different lives available to him.
How you might never have known that.
How the ship revealed him in a way you never
needed to know. How you might think the ship
cruel if you didn’t feel, with some certainty,
like you were being saved.

“The Starship” by Sarah Blake.

Like you were being saved.

Do alien planets and their promised fresh starts save the speaker in “The Starship”? You’ll have to read it for yourself, but it’s worth making note of how travel to new places reveals ourselves to ourselves — or at least reignites the romance we hold for transplanted versions of ourselves. As Blake writes, “If you could just get far enough away / then you wouldn’t be here anymore.”

Every place I travel, I imagine myself settling there permanently “living my best life,” as they say. For example, I visited Tucson in September. As a girl from Maine living now in Upstate NY, the landscape in Tucson was alien to me, but I quickly became enamored with both the Southwest and the writer/artist I envisioned I could be there.

Thanks to the Madwomen in the Attic (out of Pittsburgh), I recently had the opportunity to hear Denise Duhamel read from Second Story (her newest collection) and to participate in a craft talk/Q&A with her. As a result, I took a walk down memory lane to 2009 when I was still a baby poet attending a generative workshop Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City.

The hope I tended back then about who I may become as a writer and what I may accomplish is a sure cousin to the self I pictured in Tucson and BFF to the writer who opened this blog post with a question about why we keep writing.

I haven’t achieved half of what I imagined back in 2009, and that’s ok. I still hold a flame for that earnest girl. The self I love now is the self who creates for its own sake. That’s the thrill. I still want to publish book after book after book, but for me, in this dreary world, it’s enough to make things new — to discover new selves and new worlds in which they may live. The self I’m constantly chasing is intoxicated by wonder and tension, by words and bodies, by questions and heat. That self can’t contain curiosity and passion. They spill onto the page.

Like you were being saved.

I desperately need the version of myself who believes that she can survive, that she can thrive. She’s even ready to entertain the incredible possibility that, as she approaches 50, she’s the one doing the saving. If that’s not reason enough to keep writing (and spend time with Gertie), I don’t know what is.

And so we keep writing. Instead of sabotaging ourselves, we make space.

As I’ve written before, part of making space for writing now is settling into a new house and new life stage. I’ve been testing out various routines to make space daily to write, revise and submit. I’m finding what works and where I struggle. The recent crisis of confidence was a chance to quit or re-up, and I’ve decided to double down.

I realized that, when setting writing goals for 2021, I’d pledged to pause the day-to-day entirely and hide away somewhere alone to write. Since it’s already mid-November, I won’t manage three DIY writing getaways (as I’d hoped when imagining the year). However, after much hemming and hawing (hello there, Monkey Mind), I’ve booked one solo retreat at a nearby but top secret Air BNB in early December.

It goes against every fiber of my being to do anything but hide under the covers in December, but I’ll have three days and three nights alone with Gertie. I can’t wait to see all the ways the short trip is going to reintroduce me to myself.

We’ll start by saying thank you to the part of me that’s honoring, not sabotaging, what it means to me to be a writer.

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