Tania's Words

here is an empty shell- a resonant shadow- waiting

Archive for January, 2009

Persephone, Emily Dickenson, and all that poetic jazz.

I have found that in the last year, year and a half, I have let my creative muscle go completely unused. I know there are several good and not so good reasons for this. However,  now that I am wanting to use it again, I find myself frustrated.  I tried to write a poem the other night which, honestly, kind of sucked.

Do you remember when you were in high school lit class and your teacher would just jabber on and on about Emily Dickenson and the metaphor for death in this or that poem? After class you’d congregate with your friends and roll your eyes, so wise, knowing that there was no way Dickenson really meant to infuse that poem with so much extra stuff.

Wait was that just my school?

When I went off to college, and was privileged enough to get to work with Diane Wakoski for three wonderful, if not brutal semesters of poetry writing,  I was surprised to learn just how wrong I was.  While I am forever grateful to Diane for teaching me that the best poetry isn’t just pretty words (in fact, quite often they are not pretty words at all), but that good poetry is like great irony- saying one thing when you are meaning something else.

The second semester I was in Diane’s class, I wrote a poem about a woman (a specific woman, if you care, although I’d rather not name names) whose daughter is only just starting to realize that there is something very wrong with her mother, even though she doesn’t know quite what that is yet.  Originally, the poem was pretty much a straightforward story, descriptive and almost prosy.  Really it only had a few salvageable lines in the whole thing. The problem was that I was trying to write about something using words when there really weren’t any words to explain what had happened to this young girl. At that moment in time, she didn’t really know what was wrong, or that anything was wrong. She just felt something. She saw something in her mother that tripped a kind of inner switch. No one else saw what she did at that moment, and no one else felt it. But she did and it stayed with her into adulthood. As an adult, she knew and could tell me that what was wrong was that her mother was an alcoholic, and bipolar.   But that’s a story, not a poem. The poem I was trying to write was capturing that moment.

Anyway, I left that poem for a long time. Maybe four or five years. Until one day, completely randomly, I ran into a story about Persephone. Keep in mind that I had completely forgotten that the original poem existed at this point. So I was interested enough in this story to do some research (I am woefully ignorant when it comes to this mythology stuff).    I started to kind of see this woman’s disorders differently. In another life, would she have ended up in the same place? Would she have chosen the life she ended up leading? I started to see her as a kind of Persephone, who was bound to Hades for the majority of her life, able to leave only for a short period of time, all because some guy forced her to eat some pomegranate seeds. Guys can be so lame.

Ok, so it isn’t exactly the same. Still, I could see how this girl’s mother would never have chosen the life she ended up leading.  I knew her daughter well enough to know that her mother tried, time and again to sober up, to clean up her life.  But her life was inextricably mixed up with the alcoholism. It was as if she too, had eaten the pomegranate seeds, and therefore, would never really be able to leave Hades.

So one night, when I was supposed to be sleeping, I was instead kept awake by all of these thoughts. The next day I sat down and spent hours pounding out what has become my favourite poem to date. While I am sure that will change as time goes by (and if it doesn’t, how sad would that be?).

Anyway, I wanted to write about this because poetry, and the art of poetry has been on my mind for a little while now. As I try to get back to a creative and poetic kind of mental state, it is important to remind myself that I won’t get it right the first time, or second, maybe even the third. But also, I wanted to remind myself that it is hard for a reason. If it was just pretty words on a piece of paper, anyone could do it. As it is, I am still not sure that I can do it. Knowing though, how much it takes, and how hard it is, helps.   To me, the art of poetry is the ability to say something true, something important, without saying it directly, because a lot of time, the direct words are the ones that clutter up the true emotion behind the statement. They make it prosy, or over dramatic, cliched or trite.  A good poem will get right at the intuition behind it, even if you don’t see it right away. So, to answer my naive 17 year old self, Yes. Emily Dickenson did indeed intend to put all that in there.

Does feeling it make it so?

I think it must be in the air. I’ve been reading others blogs and there seems to be a general feeling of suppressed creativity.  I think most writers (and I speak for writers because that is the only art I really know. I would say all artists, but I can’t be sure), feel this way at one time or another. As if something is rising up through them, but they don’t know what it is just yet. I can feel this today, inside. I have a story to tell, words to place. They are unfamiliar yet. I don’t know their shape or meaning.

There are times when I love feeling this way. It is a feeling that reminds me that I still have it. I still have the drive and desire to write. That there is still something tangible that I want to grab a hold of. I don’t know if all writers feel this, but I worry that one day, it will be gone. That I will wake up numb and not even realize. Not even miss it. Does that make sense?

Conversely, I dislike this feeling because it feels stuck. Static. I feel like I want to be writing something meaningful and true, but I don’t know what it is yet. And sometimes, nothing happens. I end up crocheting like a madwoman or reading some Sharon Olds and just forgetting about it because nothing comes.

I feel like I know what I want to write-  a story idea that came to me in the midst of a 4 am feeding. It might be absolute lunacy, considering my state of mind at the time. However, I’ve learned that I can do it. I realize that sounds completely hokey. But it is true. Completing my NaNo novel in ’07 taught me that I absolutely can write a book. Before I did NaNo, I was always afraid that I didn’t have enough story in me. That I wasn’t creative enough to write a whole book. Especially after years of poetry writing, during which I learned agonize over each word., when I struggled to learn the art of speaking in four words what should take 50.  Unlearning and allowing myself to use as many as possible (50,000 ideally), was a struggle, but I did do it.

Ok, so maybe my NaNo novel is no masterpiece.  In my defense, it was written on a whim, in 30 days.  And maybe I’ll never complete it, and there is a great chance that no one will ever be allowed to read it, but that is ok. Because I can look at it and know that I have it in me.I feel that I must add though, that all this talk about being a writer is making me a bit self conscious. As if others will read it and think, ” How presumptuous for her to call herself a writer.”  I’m not published, not many have read what I have to offer, and I may not even be great, good or mediocre. Does feeling something inside make it so? All of my life I have known that this is what I love more than anything. That I have the desire to write. Does this make me a writer, or is that insanity and arrogance?

Now if only I had some spare cash and a room of my own. Instead, I think I’ll go make a bottle and plot my strategy for writing during afternoon nap time.

25 things you may or may not know about me.

I saw that Holly had posted a note on facebook with this in it- I liked it. You are to list any 25  about yourself that you want. I found that the more I listed, the more I really thought about where I am in my life and how I have gotten here.  25 sounds like an easy #, but I found myself struggling by about #15.

1- Despite the fact that I think purple is a little girl’s colour, it is my favourite colour. I find this slightly embarrassing.

2- I am a cat person. When I was little and we lived in Mexico City, my mother bred Persian cats. At any given time our house had as many as 16 cats and kittens running around.

3- I am afraid of dogs unless a) they are tiny and b) they don’t jump up on you (such as a chow, which doesn’t have knees and therefore stays comfortably on its feet most of the time.)  No matter how much Dan begs for a lab, I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with getting one.

4- My heroes include Martin Luther Kind Jr. , Abraham Lincoln, Sharon Olds, and my father.  Don’t worry, there are more.  Those just came to mind first.

5- It really irks me when people use religion to judge others.  I’ve seen more judgment coming from professed Christians than anyone else.  I was taught that Jesus wants me to have compassion and understanding, and that it is God’s job to pass judgments because only he can know the true heart of a man.

6- I’ve allowed three people in my life to undermine my confidence and self esteem.

7- If I could do anything at all with my life I would a) become a professional student and b) join the peace corps.

8- I don’t smoke. I’ve lost my father, grandmother and uncle to lung cancer in the last three years. I don’t think it is ever too late to quit and spare your family. Helping a family member through lung cancer is truly awful.

9- I believe that I’ve mad a lot of big mistakes in my life, and despite my desire not to make any more, I realize I will. I think everyone makes mistakes big and small, and the most important thing we can do is to learn from them, and forgive ourselves.

10- I was told that I didn’t make a good middle school teacher because my expectations for how students should behave were too high. I was praised for being a good middle school teacher because my expectations for what they could learn were very high. I am still puzzled by this.

11- I hate unloading the dishwasher. I will do anything within my power to avoid it. I will even wash an entire load of dishes by hand in order to avoid the dishwasher.

12- My toes are extraordinarily long. My second toe (which is longer than my big toe) is as long as my pinky. I have trouble finding shoes that fit due to my toes. Complete strangers have remarked on how long my toes are before.

13- I am watching the inaugural festivities as I type this.  I’ll probably cry about four times today. I am inspired and awed by the changes I see taking place. When I was studying for my history degree, I read a study about how when we examine the US from a global perspective, it is considered one of the more deeply divided countries when considering race.  Anyone who doesn’t think that what is taking place today is a huge historical moment needs to study some American History a little more.

14- my darling son, Parker, is currently fighting his nap. I’ve had to stop typing three times already to get his pacifier which he keeps spitting out because he knows it will make him sleepy.

15- My favourite CD of all time is The Ugly Organ, by Cursive. It isn’t for everyone.  In my humble opinion, it is a masterpiece of song writing and music. It won’t play in my car though, and I don’t know why.

16- I often wish I was taller, or smaller. If I was a few inches shorter, it might be kind of cute. I’d fit in your pocket. If I were taller I’d be able to reach things on top shelves at work. Climbing things to reach some mustard when you are 35lbs over weight isn’t graceful.

17- I tried very hard not to gain too much weight when I was pregnant, but failed miserably. Pregnancy was not my favourite thing. I’m not sure I would do it again. If I have the desire later for more children, I think I might want to convince Dan to adopt.

18- I cannot wait to get back to the gym and continue my Couch to 5K workout. I’ve been looking forward to it since Thursday.

19- I cannot wait to go back to Mexico for some vacation. It might take a few years, but I am determined that I will get there. I will. I will get Sandy there too. I might have to adjust my five year plan (or whatever it was.)

20- I do not like talking on the phone. It makes me sleepy.  So does driving in inclement weather and bright sunshine.  I love talking face to face, and I love the internet, but the phone is not my thing.

21- I’ve worked in food service in one capacity or another since I was 17. I know how to do almost any job at Max and Erma’s. I loved being the office manager because that job required a lot of problem solving and presented new and changing challenges all the time.

22- I am a pansy. I hate confrontation. I don’t like telling people when they have upset me. I will probably talk about something you’ve done to make me mad with friends behind your back before I will approach you. I know this is awful, and I swear I am trying to change.

23- I was born in Brasil. My father was born in Michigan but was raised in Venezuela. Somehow, his being raised in Venezuela qualifies me as hispanic, but my being born in Brasil does not.  I think that no matter what some matrix tells you, you are what you feel in your heart.

24- I am incredibly hard on myself. I was raised in a house with extremely high expectations, and I have carried those into adulthood with me. By my own standards, I am a huge failure and disappointment. It is so hard for me to overcome this feeling of failure in order to move on and succeed (according to my standards of success).

25- The hardest thing I have ever done is tell my father that he was dying and we were no longer chosing to continue treatment, and hearing him tell me that I was killing his hope.  I was with my father when he asked that we not continue treatment if it no longer going to help so that he could have some quality of life before death.  At the moment when the Dr. told us it was over, I felt as though I had betrayed my whole family by standing firm when they wanted to try any other treatment they could find.  I sometimes wonder if that is the last memory he has of me.

The most surprising “Mom Challenge” I’ve faced? Laundry.

Today has been the most awesome day. Not because anything particularly excellent happened to me.  It didn’t.  Nothing great really happened either. But everything seemed to go just right. For starters, I got to sleep in until 9 am. Oh heaven! That was awesome. Then, I got to go out in the arctic cold (-12 without wind chill) and go to the gym where I had an absolute butt busting workout.  I got home, played with the baby and with Dan for a while, and then- the best part of my day- I finally got a handle on the laundry.

People tell you when you have a baby that all these surprising things are going to happen. You’ll be amazed at how much you love him, you’ll be surprised by how little sleep you can function on, you’ll be amazed at how much you have to say about your child’s poop, etc. One thing I wasn’t expecting was how much laundry I would have to contend with. If you don’t have any kids, you’re probably thinking- come on he’s only a little guy, how much more laundry can he generate? Well I do have a kid, and I am still bamboozled by this.

The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know how it is that I always seem to be in some sort of semi-panicked state of laundry mayhem. Today for example, there were three baskets of folded, semi-folded, or just heaped up clean laundry. One basket of dirty laundry, and a floor covered in both. The linen closet was piled with dirty towels , and lets not even talk about the basement. It’s not as though Parker really contributes that much more to my laundry piles, but some how, it the laundry has become a never ending cycle of guilt and work.

Thank goodness Dan didn’t have to work until 4pm, and could watch the baby while I girded my loins and tackled the beast. In doing so I managed to psych myself into a full fledged cleaning frenzy.  Which felt good. Who knew the day would come when cleaning and getting laundry done would feel so great?

And why all the hoopla about some stinky clothes? It must be something to do with all this resolution talk floating around the blogosphere (is that a word? If not, can I claim it is?). Before I went to bed last night, I was writing in my journal (amazing, I know) about all the things that I want to get done. I didn’t even get to list the big things like “write a book” or “run a 5k”. This is because the state of utter madness which has prevailed in my house had finally gotten to me.

Weird I know. But now that that madness is over (until Monday that is. Two days with both Dan and I working always leads to the house becoming an absolute disaster zone), I can focus on cooler things I’d like to do. And how to achieve them.

As far as the 5k goes, I took the advice of Roz and other friends and am doing the Couch to 5k Challenge. I started today- part of that great workout I was chattering about.  That is step one. Step two is to find a 5k in my area to join, so that I will be more motivated toward a goal.

And for the rest, I’ll have to ponder them tonight and present my plan at a later date. It is almost eight, the baby is asleep and there is laundry to be folded!

On why sleep is the anti-craft.

I must have stored a lot up in this lil’ head of mine because last night I could not sleep- I felt as though I was mentally blogging for hours. It was like a switch I could not flip off. This is lame (yes lame) because  not only is sleep a rare and precious commodity in my life at the moment, but also because I don’t remember any of it now. Do you ever wish you had some sort of recording system in your bedroom at night? I often find myself half awake, thinking through a poem that has been nagging at me, tweaking the potential plot of a novel I wish to write, or blogging away. Of course I am much too tired to get up and write any of it down, and come morning- Poof! Gone. Or mostly gone.

As the poet who has not stopped chasing the perfect poetic moment, this is frustrating. The times when I have actually gotten my self out of bed to write whatever it is I have been mulling over, it never comes out quite right, or just the way I was thinking it. This is why I propose the development of some sort of high tech psychic recording device. As you are lulled to sleep by your internal dialogue, just press the button next to your bed and it will all be recorded for you. Of course, the implications of any kind of device that can record or read your thoughts are far to frightening to seriously contemplate. But still. I’m staking my claim in this idea. Along with my theory that new mothers should receive mainline IV’s which supply them with a constant supply of caffeine. Maybe then I wouldn’t have to support this Diet Coke habit. Think how much formula and how many diapers I could purchase with the leftover money.

As is only natural, I have the feeling I’ll be in here a lot in the next few days- I haven’t blogged since April of 2008, so there is a lot stored up in here. After a while I am sure I’ll slow down.  I hope this won’t become tiresome. There are so many things I feel like I have to say. I love my son completely, but the majority of my day is spent talking to a darling 13 lb bundle of joy whose repertoire consists of “ahhh”, “baaa” and a strange noise characterized by squeals and growls which has no real phonetic counterpart. After a while, one starts to seriously long for adult conversation.  And if one is me, this longing often translates into an ongoing internal monologue.  Forgive me if I feel the need to share this internal monologue several times a day.

I’ve added some new blogs to my blog roll today- Kudos to Roz for getting me thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. I am not a resolution girl. I’ve always just tried to promise myself to be the best person I could, and to never stop growing and learning.  That is not to say that I don’t make, set and occasionally accomplish goals for myself. It is more that new goals are constantly occurring to me, and I prefer to set my mind to working on them as they come to me. For example, after I had the baby, I decided I would try to lose the massive amounts of baby weight I gained by Parker’s first birthday.    In December, after some honest self-reflection, I realized I needed to do some serious work in forgiving myself for mistakes I have made. Other things that have occurred to me recently- I’d like to read and write more poetry than I have been, and I would really like to attend some sort of creative workshop this year. We will see how that goes though.   I wonder, if, in the end, it all amounts to the same thing. As evolving, growing people, don’t self evaluation and the promise to do something better/different/new amount to nothing more than a resolution to change? Does it matter what time of the year this revelation falls at?

On Blogging

It has been a while now that I have contemplated whether or not to restart the old ball and chain I so fondly called my blog. A part of me has long thunk, eh, why bother? My blog rarely served as anything more than public therapy at best, and/or a detailed recounting of the daily minutiae I like to call life, at worst. Not the stuff of greatness.I really made few new connections as a result, and I doubt that anyone who read it really got much from it (other than a chuckle or two at my expense). A good friend of mine recently wrote a three part series surrounding her desire to get back to a more creative life.  Her words really had an impact on my whole  start-the-blog-up thought process. The more I digested what Emily had offered, the more I realized how much more or less I could do with my blog.  I could keep blogging the way I had for years- recounting my day, the things that aggravated me that day (and there are many), the small victories.  I’m not sure there is necessarily anything wrong with that, and to be honest, with a new baby at home and a thriving marriage I want to keep tending too, I must ask myself if I really have time for much more. Some days, I am so tired from the non stop cycle of 4 am feedings and constant baby-talk that I have little to no brain power left.  And I can’t speak for anyone else, but at least I have always enjoyed my blog.  Is that enough though?

I guess it all has to do with intent. And desire. Do I want to be just another of the millions of random bloggers out there who think that their word counts for something? Does it count for something just by being? Or does it count when I make it count, when I come to the table with something to offer?

Big questions, I know. Well maybe not for you. Depends on who you are. If you are anything like me- insecure, doubt ridden, and paralyzed by a fear of failure that keeps you from ever reaching as high as that highest bar (just in case you might come short of actually reaching it), then you probably understand what I mean when I say, I just don’t know. I don’t know if I have something to offer that anyone else will want to read. I don’t know if I can inspire, educate, interest others.  But I do know that the last four years have been marked by such an intense fear of failure, that I have just stopped reaching.

The truth is, this blog could very well be just a reinvention of the old.  But for the first time in years, I’d like to try. I’d like to take a chance at failure- how else could I be giving myself a chance at greatness.

Now, now, calm down. I realize that a simple blog is hardly the realistic forum for greatness.  But I am not.  Hopefully taking one step will lead to another and then more. Hopefully this is the first step in realizing so many goals I have talked myself out of- finishing that first book, writing more poetry again, going back to school, becoming more active in my community- so many things.

It is interesting how the details of our life are so interconnected. The first blog I ever had was inspired not only by self-doubt and insecurity, but by a few girls who, in the time since, I have greatly come to admire and respect. So thanks Emily, Roz and Lorraine. It seems as though somethings remain the same.