Tag Archives: Creative writing

Moving

After feeling very stuck for a while, I’ve made a decision.

I have two web pages, Not This Song and Not My Last Words. Lately, whenever I want to write, I am getting paralyzed because I can’t choose which site draws my focus more.

Life and art are blending. I can’t write about the conditions I live with without writing about how they affect my writing or how my writing affects them.

So here’s the deal…this page is migrating. Soon, Not My Last Words will be my only site. Over the next month or two, I will cross-post what I see as the most important works from here so that they will continue to be available in the Not My Last Words archives.

I request any loyal followers to follow notmylastwords.com and let the journey continue!

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.

Reunion With Words

I sometimes over-intellectualize. When people call me on it, they use my speech and my love of words as an example. I see their point, but I wish I could explain that my relationship to words is not just about the intellect! Words are so much more than a mental construct or a means of description for me. They are spiritual. They are ritual. They have saved my life more times than I can count; one phrase and one moment and one sheathed blade at a time.

During the worst and most suicidal times of my life, words had the power to reach me when nothing else did. Not through logic or even eloquence, but because of their mystical charge. Phrases that had become sacred to me would echo through my thoughts. Even when my depression was so profound that everything else lost its psychic juice, the words remained. I don’t know why. I know I have much to learn about being embodied and exploring the non-verbal, and I hope to do some of that learning. Words, however, will continue to hold their place of honor in my psyche as long as I have the capacity to understand them.

Words were my earliest love. I spent most of my childhood alone, and words were the soundtrack, the Greek chorus and the invisible partner in my adventures. Certain words and phrases seemed fraught with significance. When I got some experience writing stories and essays for school in my teens, I tasted a new degree of pleasure in running my own words through my head and having a few of them take on that mystical quality. I cried over Cyrano de Bergerac and shivered over Heart of Darkness. By high school, I was convinced that writers were magical beings.

Even so, I never thought in terms of becoming one myself–I was on track to a math and science concentration, having decided that academic success in this field was my best ticket to getting away from my background and having a chance for a different life. Despite urging from my English teacher, I never seriously considered majoring in English or writing. When I look back, I wonder if I felt on a deep level that I wasn’t allowed to pursue something that flowed so naturally and was so pleasurable. I had to do something hard.

I still had letters...

I still had letters…

So I broke up with my first love. We drifted apart, and I obsessed over new loves that became former loves in the course of time. Then I started to fall in love with things that shared some of my first love’s qualities: teaching, counseling, other roles that allowed me to be expressive with words again.

Yes, writing is “the one that got away.” During these last few years, it’s come into my consciousness more and more. When I thought I was going to die soon, one of my greatest regrets was not having written more. It wasn’t about having something published, it was just the thought of leaving nothing behind me. No papers for my daughter or my friends to go through; no record of an entire other life that had been lived inside my head. The drugs had my mind and my imagination, and it was too late.

Or so I thought. Lately I’ve not only been living without drugs but without food as well. Eliminating both of them as coping mechanisms seems to have been the final blow to whatever represses my creativity. When I can’t use my accustomed ways of damping down the energy that flows through me, I have to do something with it. When people suggested that my experience as a dual diagnosis person in recovery might be useful to some, it helped push me over the edge into starting Not This Song.

I hope Not This Song will be of service, but I have to admit that the writing is for me first. I’m writing letters from the present to the future; from one version of myself to another, from hope to despair. I’m writing because I have finally admitted that I need to write whether I think it’s worth anything or not. I’m writing because I am fucking sick of carrying whatever creative thing is inside me; sick of arguing with it and beating it back down and trying to manipulate it away with fear and insecurity.

If I stop fighting it, there comes forth a fierce desire to create. That fierceness doesn’t care what comes out or how it will be judged. I just want to rip something real out of myself, throw the wet, pulpy mass of it on top of the Oxford English Dictionary and watch what happens. I want to see many, many new creatures born before I die. I want to learn to smile indulgently at the raw and amorphous messes that wriggle away, and wait patiently for those moments when I catch my breath at the sight of dark and luminous wings.