Earlier today, after failing a bunch of times to get off my ass and clean the kitchen, I decided music might motivate me. Scrolling through playlists, I realized it had been ages since I blasted the soundtrack to RENT, so that’s what I did. I sang every word at the top of my lungs while scrubbing away the ick. The stove top. The sink drain. And more.
Lots more. I’ve been accumulating too much emotional and spiritual ick, and over the summer, I lost the ability to clear the decks, which isn’t my usual pattern. I typically don’t get bogged down ’til early November, but I started sinking in June or July. I’ve been saying it out loud (“my mood’s in the toilet”) and seeking/getting lots of support, but I’ve also been frozen in place, unable to do much to help myself.
It’s unnerving (and untenable) to feel so icky and low going *into* the part of the year that’s hardest for me, so I’ve been doing my best to spot moments when the universe offers me salvation. Today, I found respite in disturbing the dog and the husband with the loudest performance of RENT either has ever heard.
I’m moved by that play’s story, characters and music every time and without exception. I’ve adopted several of its songs (hello, Take Me or Leave Me) as personal anthems. There’s always something in the soundtrack that saves me, and today it was “The opposite of war isn’t peace; it’s creation” — a line from La Vie Boheme (Jonathon Larson, Rent).
It’s pretty clear based on the news (including recent mass shootings in my home state of Maine and terror/devastation in the Middle East) that we have zero imagination addressing — let alone *preventing* — violence/conflict. Zero imagination building peace as something other than the absence of war. Making something entirely new could be better in so many ways, but even that raises questions: better according to whom? I don’t have any good answers. My imagination isn’t better than anyone else’s. It fails this.
Personally, however, creation *is* the answer to what ails me. I always feel better when I’m making something, and today’s soundtrack was an essential reminder. It’s time to refocus and it’s time to shift and these seasons I loathe (fall and winter) may be the perfect opportunity. For once, I’m thinking they could be good for me. Perhaps I can use them to get my feet back under me?
Two winters ago, I wrote about lessons on wintering, and I’d tried to embrace them. It’s a work in progress, but the idea that there’s a season for everything sticks with me. And here’s the creative season I’m in: unable, for the most part, to write or paint or collage. I’ve recognized this the last couple of months and have been trying to fill the gap by submitting work to journals/presses, doing research and gathering inspiration.
That’s been somewhat productive but not entirely satisfying. Because here’s something else about poetry and art-making: aside from trial by fire (and I’ve had plenty of that), poetry and art are the only tools I’ve ever really had for accessing my own wisdom and the intelligence of the universe. They’ve been really good to me in that regard, but I’m desperate for other tools. (And honestly, at 51, I feel behind-the-curve on developing skills I can use to tap that other wavelength.)
The depression that’s sitting on my chest has been chiming in for weeks, telling me that I’ve tried and failed (tried and failed, tried and failed) to create breathing – or wisdom-based rituals for myself outside poetry. It’s warning me that nothing will stick and scolding me for bothering with foolish attempts.
Its voice has been winning out, and so I’ve stayed on the couch and under the covers. For me, depression is partly an inertia, an object at rest that wants to stay at rest. The voice of depression, then, is interested in its own self preservation. It wants to stay put, and so it tells me I’m too stuck to get unstuck. So stuck, in fact, I may *never* get unstuck.
But today, with creation-as-the-opposite-of-war (this war, other wars) in the air, I saw through it. I saw proof that I don’t always fail at attempts to create new habits and rituals.
Sunday is plant care day at my house. Not too long ago I couldn’t keep a houseplant alive for more than a couple months. But look now.
Over the last two years, I’ve learned to be more attentive to them, and they’re flourishing. I currently have nearly 20 houseplants, and they’ve absolutely taught me what they need. When they struggle, I change their location or light or water or food ’til they’re happy. It’s trial and error, and most things are fixable.
So I guess I do have another access point to wisdom besides poetry and art. And I came to it 1000% on purpose. I decided I wanted to learn. Then I did. Turns out, I absolutely have the capacity to develop new tools for accessing wisdom, to learn how to pay attention, including in ways I’d previously failed.
So here’s what’s next as a 51-year-old poet and artist learning new tricks.
First, I’m reclaiming homemade bread. Not in the pandemic-homesteady way but in the f*ck-our-fear-of-carbs-and-f*ck-the-patriarchy way. I have had some missteps in the past both with baking bread and with telling diet culture to f*ck off. But, just as with my houseplant journey, I can learn the kind of attention that’s required.
What interests me most are no-knead, rustic loaves that bake in a dutch oven, and I’ve already started. It’s a way of creating and listening, and I think the ritual of it has something to teach me (not unlike my houseplant journey).
Second, I am hoping to embrace other types of rituals/habits that help me access wisdom. Specifically, I want to find my breath and let some sh*t go so I can hear and challenge my thoughts. I’m using the meditation journeys of pals (like Jill and Jason) as inspiration, and I’ve been Googling things like “witches on Instagram” and “self care during the thinning of the veil.” I’m not sure what will stick, but I’m reminding myself to play and experiment and give myself grace.
And finally, I’m turning to the wisdom of the writing community. I’m keeping up my Morning Pages (approximately 300 days under my belt so far) and getting into Substacks by fellow writers. It’s substack-a-palooza. A substack-stravaganza. I’m currently reading Liz Gilbert’s “Letters from Love,” Emily Mohn-Slate’s “Be Where Your Are,” Suleika Jaouad’s “The Isolation Journals,” Nancy Reddy’s “Write More, Be Less Careful” and Jami Attenberg’s “Craft Talk.”
Yes, I do also plan to write more consistently again. My Gertie manuscript is partly about the power and wisdom of having a voice, including how being a writer offers chance after chance to create (and re-create!) our worlds. The manuscript showed me that along the way, and I miss having it as a teacher. I’m sure the next poems and manuscripts will have lessons of their own to teach, and I’ll get there.
In the meantime, let’s celebrate a few small but mighty wins.
Fall Win #1 / Since I last wrote about writing wins in August, I’ve received nearly 25 rejections. In. A. Row. Zero acceptances. This includes six manuscript submissions and 18 journal submissions. This is a win because it means I’m submitting my work.
Fall Win #2 / My Gertie manuscript was a finalist for the Press 53 Award for Poetry.
Fall Win #3 / Rachel Zucker’s team sent me a review copy of The Poetics of Wrongness. Watch for a post in the coming weeks. I can’t wait to share some thoughts with you.
Fall Win #4 / I’ve been in conversations with a poet I really admire about the possibility of assisting her with some workshops/writing sessions in the new year. More to come!