Saintly Visions & a Writing Mania Miracle

Quick Note:  It’s been a while since I’ve written (obvs.)—but in my defense, I was having problems with WordPress’ posting/editing interface, and it took me a while to figure out the sitch. Turns out I’m an airhead.  Anyway, it’s squared for the time being.  Now, onto the post!

So, a few months ago I was lamenting my writing.  Or rather, my lack of writing.

This seems to be a typical thing with me.  I suppose it is for many writers, though—you just go through phases, some of which are productive, some of which suck ass.  And of course, my ever-present and generally intolerable BFF, “Deppie,” has made a real nuisance of herself in my life:  that is to say, the dysthymia and anxiety pretty much kick my ass every day. (Sometimes, I tell myself:  just get through the next hour—and that’s the best I can manage.) But this isn’t a post about effed-up brain chemistry, this is a post about writing.

–from makeameme.org

As I was saying:  in February (technically, two posts prior), writer’s block (you know I hate that term, and try not to use it because it always feels like a crutch) was a thing.  I mean, THE STRUGGLE WAS REAL. 

(–from Lucasfilm/Disney)

Poetry and I repelled each other, although there was always kind of a Rey/Kylo (Reylo?) thing going on between us. And while it upset me (not just the least of which had to do with thinking about my writing in terms of the most recent Star Wars trilogy), other more pressing things on my mind (like staying alive) took precedence.  So, I just added “writer’s block” to the list of THINGS THAT MAKE MY LIFE MEANINGLESS O WOES ME. And carried on.

And then I had a vision of Mary Magdalene.

I know this sounds hokey.  Just go with me on this.

Digging through some old files on my computer, I came across a poem I had written years ago about Mary Magdalene—it had been nominated for an AWP Intro Award (which it didn’t win—big shock there)—and it got me thinking.  What could I do with this poem?  Would it just continue to sit in the file in perpetuity?  Or could it be part of a sequence?

The only way to see if a poem will be part of a sequence is by writing another one.  And then another one.  And so on. To help myself focus, I looked at image after image of Mary Magdalene through the ages, remembering the bond I used to have with her (as well as other women from the Bible).  I read hagiographic blogs and articles. I wrote a dozen poems or so, of varying qualities.

The Penitent Magdalene

Caravaggio, The Penitent Magdalene, ca. 1594-95

Some poems were ekphrastic because I believe in THE DREAM (writing a good art poem one day—and I do love me some Italian Renaissance/Baroque paintings), some were my typical narrative poems-with-a-wry-bent, some were just fragments (the Caravaggio poem is in limbo…for my sins). While I still need to revise and complete the sequence, it feels like I’ve accomplished something, and that takes a bit of the edge off.

And then (!!!)—I started another sequence of poems.  I mean, I wrote (and revised!!! OMFG!!) 25 poems in the span of 6 weeks.

I was like HamiltonI worked nonstop.

Or to put it another way, it was as if I had a visitation from The Madonna and she told me to me to get into the groove.  So I did.  And I’ve even started sending them off into the world.  Two of the poems will be published in Soul-Lit: a Journal of Spiritual Poetry in the near future.  Maybe more acceptances will be forthcoming.  (I can hope.)

If I sound amazed, I truly am.  But I don’t want to sound like I’m all, “look at me, look at me, I’m so fricken awesome.”  This is not me espousing a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps approach to writing. (Barf. I would never.) This is not me trying to lure you to my Patreon (which I don’t have—but maybe I should?) or to broadcast an infomercial at 3 a.m. promising that “You too can conquer writer’s block! For six equal installments of $29.99, you can download my step-by-step method…” It’s just me being surprised at how inspiration (another word I hate when it’s applied to writing) works sometimes.

I have slowed my roll somewhat since the middle of April, but I haven’t rolled to a stop.  So that’s a win.

My to-be-read pile                       (from NYPL Digital Collections)

A lot of work is coming my way though—I’m plodding (slowly) through a ton of reading to do for Atlanta Review (now that we’re down to basically only me as the reader/typesetter/social media maintainer), and a pile of research I need to for my next major WIP is accumulating on my bedside table. (Every time I look at it, there’s another book on the pile.) And of course, the new Fall teaching schedule dangles before my eyes, even if it’s still a couple of months away. Not sure I can maintain much rolling at all, with all this going on.  But slow and steady wins the race, or something like that?  I just need to keep trying  (Which is difficult with that beyotch Deppie albatross hanging around, but I’ll try.)

The middle one is “Deppie.”
(from NYPL Digital Collections)

***

Anyway…enough blathering. I hope your writing is going well.  And I hope you, my beloved 5 readers, are staying safe and healthy, even as the world opens back up.

Write About It? I Wish.

From the NYPL Public Domain Collection

Six months ago, back when quarantine was new and more frightening than annoying, I was advocating writing through the boredom like that would be easy.  But what I failed to think about—or even take into account at all—was that, far from having so much to write about that I’d be crazy prolific, churning out poems like a bakery turns out baguettes, I might actually find myself frozen, unable to write anything at all.  And yet, that is precisely what happened.  I’ve written maybe 5 poems altogether.  In six months.  Five poems is usually what I do in a single month.

Now, Writer Twitter is where I get a lot of my anecdotal evidence about writers, but it seems that I am not alone in my frozen state.  Many other writers have struggled to get words on a page, and I find myself taking comfort in that somewhat—like, at least I’m not the only one.  But I feel really quite miserable about it because I always believed that IF I had “unlimited” free time, I would have so much more to show for it.  Granted, I have been working, but I save a couple of hours not having to commute every day (or even getting dressed—heh), and that time adds up.  But when you can’t write, all that ends up as is two more interminable hours, making the days seem even longer, endless.

Of course, there are the nauseating writers who obnoxiously crow about how much they are accomplishing with this time—how they are writing more, submitting more, and publishing more.  Well, excuse me for being a jealous hag, but bully for them.  Take your accomplishments and stick them where the sun don’t shine.  Yes, I know, that’s mean.  I should be happy for them that they are feeling successful.  But mostly it just makes me sorrier for myself.  Why couldn’t that be my experience?

If I’m honest, part of my inability to write is lack of outside stimulation.  When you don’t go outside except once a week to the grocery, your life becomes insular and small.  I get pretty tired of my own company.  (Which, if you think about it, would be a GREAT reason to write fiction—you could make up a wonderful, interesting world and live there vicariously.) (But that would require my imagination to work, and sadly, it’s in the shop and looking like it’s D.O.A.)

The other, more compelling reason, is a depression that has just gotten out of control.  I don’t talk about it too much, because after all, what have I got to be depressed about?  I have a job, a wonderful home, and a loving family.  But when I don’t have my writing, I feel like an utter failure. I miss language.  I miss falling into a poem and feeling that transformation that poetry brings me.  My therapist, who is neither a reader nor a writer, doesn’t really understand this situation and tells me, not wrongly, that writers write, so get off my tuffet and write something.  Which is not especially helpful.

The problem with this depression is that in many ways, it’s quite compartmentalized.  Yay for high functioning! I am taking care of financial business, exercising, cleaning the house periodically, doing my job, teaching my class.  But it’s just so damn hard.  It’s exhausting.  Sometimes, the thought of getting out of bed defeats me.  Of course, I get up, because my cats would slay me if I didn’t feed them.  I don’t stop taking care of them just because I feel miserable.  Which is as it should be. But being compartmentalized like that means that there’s just not much left over to be me.  To be JC the Writer.  Like I can only manage so much, and that’s it.  Anything else doesn’t fit in the compartment.  It takes its toll.

Sometimes, though, I wish I could just fall apart.  Throw my hands in the air and just give up.  Stay in bed all day and cry.  Just be one fucked up mess.  Then, no one would expect anything from me.  And then I could feel justified in my not writing.  Well, I mean, how could I possibly write when I’m a total basket case?  Nobody expects anything from people like that.  Oh, so you’ve only written 5 poems in six months?  Well, you poor dear, of course not, not when you feel absolutely on death’s door.

But being responsible has always been a strength as well as a weakness.  And so I struggle valiantly, doing what I can when nearly every day feels like agony.  And maybe only once in a while admitting to my close friends that I’m not doing too well.  But after all, no one really wants to hear about my depression—can you blame them?—so I mostly just suffer in silence.

And instead of being genuine and honest about it, I make things worse by hiding it—proving to myself (at least) that I am responsible and taking care of things and don’t need to rely on others, who, after all, have their own problems and are struggling in unique ways as the pandemic wears on.

All of this is to say that I know I’m in a really bad place when I can’t write.  (And don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me how much of a fraud I feel, telling my students they need to write constantly, and then not following my own directive.)  I want desperately to write something—even this blog post is a big deal, and let’s be honest, it’s really just a navel-gazing poor-me—but every time I sit at the computer (or face a page of paper), it’s just blank, blank, blank.  Nothing comes to me.  At all.  And all the tricks I teach my students to do to fight off writer’s block seem to fail me.  It’s intolerable.

I really don’t know what to do.  If any of my five dedicated readers have any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them.

Stay safe and Covid-free, y’all.  And keep me in your prayers, if you pray.  I need all the help I can get.

Between 5 Degrees N & S Latitude

With registration going on, my creative impulses have gone right out the window.  You might think the reverse would be true:  that the tedium and minutia of my job that currently preoccupies my lower-functioning mind would allow the higher-functioning part to be working overtime on things creative.  But alas, that is not the case.  I’ve hit the doldrums–though hopefully it won’t go past April 23rd (when registration suspends).

Part of the problem, of course, is the DYPS hasn’t met for several weeks–first it was Spring Break; and then it was the week after Spring Break, but no one but Bob could come; and then this week was AWP.  So three Thursdays have passed and I haven’t been “required” to produce, which is bad–I need that discipline or I’m a slug.  To be fair, I’ve been kicking around a Sibley Sister poem, but I just don’t know about the ending–and I’m not talking about “Best Served Cold,” the poem that’s been futzed with and “tweaked” to death, and still no one likes the end. (Because it’s crappy.)

Everyone knows ending poems (with, if not a transcendent “ah” experience, at least a resolute “yes”) is hard, but they seem especially hard with the Sibley poems.  I’ve mentioned before how I want these poems to do alot, but it’s hard to get it on one page.

But at this point, it’s hard to get anything on a page.  I’m in a rut–and it’s not just the poems (but I don’t want to go into it.)  Maybe it’s just time to do some more reading–I’ve got a ton I could read, that might inspire me.  Maybe I should take a break and write something else.  Or maybe I just need to “put on my Big Girl panties and deal with it”–“write through the pain”– “embrace the struggle”… or whatever other hackney phrase people say when they have to deal with annoying, whiny-ass, self-pitying, self-indulgent, poor-me-I-have-writer’s-block-my-life-is-so-tragic brats like me.

*Sob.*