Monthly Archives: January 2017

Selfishness

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How far am I willing to go to save my life?

Last week, I stood in front of a small group of poets and read a selection of my work for 25 minutes. It was the Monday after the inauguration, and many of the listeners had spent the weekend marching. I knew that later, at the open mic, many of the poems would reflect current events. I worried that my work, particularly at this time, would be judged self-absorbed and turned too far inward when external things are so urgent.

Here is what I said to the audience at the beginning of my reading:

“I cannot do justice to these times. Part of me wanted to attempt to assemble a body of work about what is happening to our country and society. But trying to do that would have been dishonest. I was invited to feature here, and that means I was invited to share who I am as a poet.

The truth is, one might say that I am a selfish poet. While many of you are trying to save us all with poetry, I am often only trying to save myself–and, perhaps, someone else who doesn’t think they deserve to be saved. 

The truth is, I mostly write about the things that keep some of us bound and silenced on the sidelines. I write about what I know. I know about being a drug addict. I know about being a mental patient. I know about being a woman, and a mother. I know what it is to want to die. I know what it’s like to decide to fight to live.”

When I am thinking clearly–when I am not drowning in a miasma of depression and shame–I believe that writing, reaching, fighting for those who share these experiences is important. I believe it is a contribution. I believe that helping someone wake, even for a moment, from the nightmares inside their skull helps the world.

Do not think I don’t feel anger and outrage. Do not think, ever, that I don’t care. But I can’t afford to keep worrying about what you think of me. It’s going to kill me.

So I must accept the truth. This–this writing, this poetry, this exploration and celebration of our inner worlds–this is my playing field. This is my way of fighting the oppression and sick culture that wants us bound, silenced and unconscious. This is what I have to give.

If this is what I have to give, I want to give it wholeheartedly. This means learning to let go of hoping for approval. This means not fearing the labels of selfish, self-absorbed, and all of the others I want so desperately to refute.

I want to help. Perhaps if I manage to improve my health I will find small ways of helping in the external world. But what I want most is to support others in their fight against despair. If you are out there, as an activist and a warrior, I want to offer illogical hope when you are burned out. If you are in bed, paralyzed with depression or pain, I want to help you hang on until a slightly better day. By sharing my inner world, I want to help others explore theirs. I want people to have an inner world that sustains and strengthens them through anything.

Not Time For Hunting

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I don’t generally do trigger warnings, but here is one for you: this essay goes into detail about thoughts of suicide. Not intentions, not plans, just thoughts.

“I am going hunting,” an old man might say, during a long winter in a year when food was scarce. His family would not try to stop him, if the situation were dire enough. They would hold back tears and wish him luck, he and they both knowing he would not come back.

Sometimes I think that if I were braver and less selfish I would “go hunting” too. The harsh equations I solve in my head tell me that I can’t contribute enough to make up for the resources I use. In the last couple of months, as I watch those around me react to the election and gear up for battle, the part of me that wants me dead uses this argument at an ever-increasing volume.

Here’s the thing, though: I know it’s not time for me to go. I know it, no matter how awful I may feel about myself. There are very specific things I’m doing that are important to people I love, and they need me to keep doing them. I am providing services, though it is hard to remember that when I get overwhelmed. Perhaps there will come a time when I must consider going hunting. Things are bad, and they are going to get worse before they get better (if they do.) However, for now my decision is clear, even without considering that illogical and transcendent part of me that believes we are all worth something.

Acting on that decision means taking care of myself physically and generally treating myself with respect. It will come as no surprise to my readers that I haven’t had much success with that lately.

What if the old man, although not leaving for his final hunting trip, constantly hung out in the doorway of his hut? Stayed on the fringes of his family, never sitting before the fire? Ate his food but did not allow himself to take any pleasure in it?

I spend a lot of my life hanging out in that metaphorical doorway. Maybe you do too. What would I say to the old man? Surely I would say: Grandfather, come away from the door. Eat, get warm, play with the baby. If you’re staying, stay. Enjoy being here while you are here.