I was excited to write to you on Thursday and had emailed myself a blog post I scribbled during lunch to share with you. But I got home late from an invigorating conversation about Nat Turner in Jerusalem (if you see the show at Forum Theatre next Friday, yours truly will be on the panel afterwards) and thought I’d just post it on Friday morning. Except the menstrual cramps started in the middle of the night and I spent Friday having the worst cramps I’ve had since I entered puberty a zillion years ago. I think it was my uterus’ payback for letting me have a month off from menstruating last month. Neither perimenopause nor having a woman’s body in general are for the weak. I’m just saying…
And you don’t need to know any of that to read the post that follows, which is about poetry. But if this is indeed some sort of journal of my 48th year, it didn’t seem right to babble away happily—which is what follows—without ‘fessing up to having spent a whole day wishing I could rip my uterus out of my body. Sigh.
On that disturbing image, here’s the post I meant to share with y’all on Thursday. And yes, all the excitement there within still applies… or will in about another day or two when my hormones are done being monsters.
Several people have told me I should write a book (of prose not poetry), and I think they’re right but I don’t know what to write a book about. I saw this piece this morning about what it means to write what you know as I was flitting around the Interwebs, and I asked myself: Well, what do I know about? And I know about poetry, or I should know about poetry, or I know about writing poems, and anyway, I started writing about poetry. I know what I don’t know about poetry, I know what I don’t care to know about poetry, but I have no idea what I actually do, in fact, know about poetry. So I’m writing from a place of discovery (remember that manifesto of mine?) and perhaps one of the things I will discover is that I’m not writing about poetry at all even as I write about poetry, and that will be fine.
I don’t know if this project will persist, and that’s fine too. Maybe all I will discover is that I do not actually want to write about what I want to know about poetry. Maybe the only true thing will be I am interested in writing poems, but I’m not so much interested in poetry. Perhaps I will discover that when I say “poetry” it does not mean what I think it means. (See what I did there? she wrote, suddenly feeling anxious that she was doing far too much thinking about poetry and what if that was the type of thing that dries up poetry forever?)
More to follow, but obviously not on the blog, because that would defeat the purpose of writing a memoir about writing poetry… or something like that…
In the interest of total and complete honesty, please know that I’d much rather be finishing the last pages of Lisa Kleypas’ Midnight Angel than writing right now. In an alternate scenario, I’d like to binge-watch two episodes of Murdoch Mysteries instead of writing right now. Are you sensing a trend?
All I want to do is read and watch TV. I don’t want to do laundry. I don’t want to eat healthy meals. I don’t want to do my taxes. I don’t want to set up a grocery delivery for this weekend. I don’t want to write this blog.
When I was a child, books and sleep were the only way I could escape from the fear and anxiety that plagued my home life. I generally went to “take a nap” an hour or so before my mother arrived home, hoping that by the time I woke up a couple hours later she’d have sealed herself in her room for the night. The rest of the time I lay in bed or whatever safe spot I could find reading, occasionally age-appropriate literature like the Mary Popppins series or the Little Women series, but generally completely inappropriate literature like the endless stream of Harlequin romances I borrowed from one of my aunt’s friends, Victoria Holt novels, and all of Mario Puzo.
Decades later, in grad school, when starting to write about my difficult relationship with my parents, I escaped again—this time to TV. When I didn’t have to be on campus or I didn’t have homework due, I’d spend hours and hours unable to do anything other than stare at the TV. I don’t remember in particular what I watched, but we had cable so I’m sure it was a frenzied assortment of high and low brow movies and whatever TV shows were popular in the early to mid-oughts. With the help of conversations with assorted friends and after fantasizing a few too many times about throwing myself down the stairs at the place I was working for the summer, I went to see the on-campus psychiatrist who informed me I had “depressive disorder, unspecified.” She put me on Zoloft, which helped me bear the pain of baring myself on the page and helped me to live a life apart from copious doses of screen time.
I’m no longer on Zoloft, and I’m no longer depressed, though, like everyone, I do need a good wallow every now and then. There is something going on with me right now, but I can’t tell you what it is. Not because I don’t want to, but because I simply don’t know. I suspect there’s something I’m processing at the deepest levels—possibly because I’m at the culmination of all the poems about my father, possibly because of the anxiety-ridden zeitgeist we’re all feeling, possibly because my hormones have turned into assholes—and it will reveal itself to me when it’s good and ready. In four pages of journaling, or a new and unexpected poem, or it will just fall out of me during a friendly conversation. Till, then, excuse me, I have some literary kissy face to eavesdrop on.
I have some questions:
How big is my dream?
Am I setting limits on my faith?
Am I making time and space to listen to the Holy Spirit/my gut/my intuition*?
Am I willing to walk into the largeness of my life?
Am I willing to be uncomfortable in service of my growth?
Am I willing to be inconvenienced in service of my growth?
Am I surrounded by iron that sharpens me, or am I weighed down by rocks that dull me?
How do I not stop myself?
Why am I stopping myself?
What questions am I afraid to ask myself?
And finally, in response to this from Phillippa PB Hughes:
“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames. Who fans your flames?
Are you fanning your own flame?
Thinking about all of the women on whose shoulder I stand, and I’m dedicating this to them.
The Makers of Memorials
by Paulette Beete
They sing. The sing blue songs
their mothers wore.
They sing grief, bone-thick & left-handed.
They sing songs cross oceans, cross sidewalks.
They sing skies sealed shut.
They sing men born wearing walking shoes.
They sing women born palms up.
They sing from mouths without lipstick,
charts without notes, pianos without tunes.
They sing back-door songs & apron-
tied-low songs. They sing.
Unmaking the made into something less
teeth-breaking. They sing
dead crops, dead gods, men
put down, men put out,
dreams put off. Off key, off beat, they sing.
Steady. Loud, Relentless. They sing
instead of, in spite of, next door to. They sing
in clinics, in bedrooms, on corners. They sing.
Women in blue & purple, in thorn tiaras braided
from agains & nevermores & never minds.
Songs of children lost, of savings lost,
pawn tickets lost.
They sing. They sing. They sing
blue songs of our mothers,
holler-songs of our blue mothers.
They sing the slow leak that will drown
the world. They call God home
for the re-making.
(This poem has been previously published in Beltway Poetry Quarterly)
I’ve been thinking about rituals, specifically the rituals of adulthood. If, like me, you haven’t gotten married or had children or even bought a house, there really are no prescribed rituals, e.g. weddings, baby showers, bridal showers. And yes, not everyone chooses to participate in those rituals, but they at least have the choice. For someone like me, the only real ritual you have is if you decide to throw a birthday party for a significant birthday, and even so, it doesn’t feel acceptable to register for gifts or send out announcements—Hey, I’m 40!—or any of those little details that are part of those adult rituals.
Especially as I’m working through perimenopause and into menopause, I wish there was some sort of prescribed ritual to go through. Some sort of celebration of wisdom, of transitioning out of the ability to physically create life to inhabiting more fully the role of someone who creates life through the sharing of her wisdom and her spirit. I admit that sounds way too New Agey for my liking, but we mark the other tremendous physical changes a woman undergoes—puberty, pregnancy—with ritual. Why don’t we mark perimenopause and menopause?
I have no idea what such a ritual might encompass, or even if I would actually do something, though I still want that choice. If you had to create a ritual to mark the flowering of the peri-menopausal/menopausal part of your life, what might you do?
My energy plummeted around 6, and I’ve yet to recover though there are things zinging around my brain that I’d love to talk to you about. Sigh… Since I can’t see my way clear to writing anything coherent, please accept as a small token of my esteem for you this peek into my the Saturday mornings of my childhood.
“Let me end here, on a plateau of happiness, rejoicing in my world as it turns inward once more toward creation.” — May Sarton, The House By the Sea
I’m not at an ending, but I am turned inward, and have been since the wind woke me up hours before dawn yesterday morning. It’s been a relief to talk to few people—texts with Katy D. about the nor’easter stealing her power and buying—finally—a digital copy of CMBYN, a few words with my favorite waitress Beze when I braved the wind yesterday for chocolate chip pancakes, assorted pleases and thank yous at Rite Aid, at Starbucks, but no real conversation.
I love being social, and I love sitting on my bed as I am right now in a pool of sunlight, finishing finally the last few days of Sarton’s journal for publication The House By The Sea. She, after all, inspired this project though she herself didn’t write everyday. (I know myself well enough to know I must take the extreme tack of writing every day in order to only miss a few days, as opposed to saying I’ll write every week or every other day in which case I’m sure to give up the project in a month or two.)
I thought I would write more about my daily goings-on in a more concrete sense, but it seems, as always, my concern is the emotional landscape, the past. I often ask artists when I interview them to tell me about their obsessions, the questions they return to time and time again. Mine is clearly how the past shapes us into who we are, and how its fingers—visible or not—have long reached into our futures. I suppose too I’m also interested in the question of forgiveness, and love too, but every artist is interested in the question of love one way or the other, don’t you think? Whether it’s love for a person, or a particular way of thinking and working, or particular materials. Is it fair to say we express who and what we love by the very nature of making art, whether that’s in affirmation or opposition to the beloved?
If I succumb and close my eyes and curl myself into this patch of sun—is it any wonder I’ve taken to describing myself as a cat in some of my poems?—this will be my second nap of the day. It’s occurring to me that allergy season has started and though the immunotherapy has, for the most part, ameliorated the worst of the symptoms, there is still always this lassitude as one season gives way to another, and my body puts up its dukes against new invaders, even as I keep telling it, Stand down, friend. There’s nothing to see here, nothing to fight. My body, as per usual, refuses to listen and/or cooperate.
Have I already told you that my favorite thing to do on a lovely day is to lie in bed with the windows open, the sun streaming across at least half if not all of the bed, lightly dozing and just listening to the world be the world—snippets of conversation, the grinding sounds the freight trains make as they pass through Silver Spring station, clapping and “Happy Birthday” sung at the Tex-Mex restaurant across the street, the burbling of the water feature in front of my apartment building all drifting up to my window in fits and starts, so I’m gently rollercoasting waves and waves of sound?
And you, your Saturday, how is the world being the world for you? Tell me dears, and I’ll like here in my little patch of sun and read all about it. I promise…
It’s been a glorious day and yet I’ve been somewhat unsettled all day. Despite a frigate of clouds, the sun outshone itself, yet throughout the day the wind howled like a banshee and there were so many ominous bumps and thuds as it hurled things around. This weather is supposed to last till tomorrow morning and judging by the way the wind kept waking me up last night, I suspect it’ll be another bumpy night.
Still there were poems written and four packs of submissions sent out, including a set of poems written collaboratively with Jen Rouse. So a good day’s work. Now to sprawl on Big Blue and watch the Murdock Mysteries, eternally grateful that thus far the power and Internet have both lasted.
I wish I had something more transformative to tell you, something revelatory, something earth shattering, but really, this poem-ing thing is hard work and I’m plum out of words.
Allow me please to leave you with this:
I want to tell you more about C. I want to tell you how tall, dark, and handsome he was. I want to tell you how I couldn’t take my eyes off of him the first time I saw him in the dorm where we both lived. He may have been wearing the tri-color windbreaker, which I can still so clearly in my memories. I want to tell you the first time I talked to him it was to ask him if I could borrow a pair of his socks for a Secret Santa prank I was playing on a friend. (We may have misunderstood the premise of Secret Santa.) He did try to kiss me once when we were freshman. I ran like hell. I broke in my American Express card taking him to dinner when we were seniors.
There is more I could say, but it feels, strangely, like I’m violating his privacy, even though there are a few people reading this who know exactly who C is. And though there’s no reason to believe he’d recognize himself in anything I’m telling you. I know now that we all freight our moments, even the exact same moment, differently. That what to me is a rough pebble to be tumbled over and over in my memory until it grows smooth and cool in my palm is for someone else the pebble you kick out of your way while walking without even noticing.
I can still hear somewhat the sound of his voice, albeit like a radio station that I can’t quite tune in without static. I remember that since he’d moved here as a boy, his American accent still had a bit of European polish to it in a way I can’t quite articulate, something about the way he ended his sentences maybe, a certain angularity to some of his words. His athlete’s body was as comfortable in a track suit as in a beautiful double-breasted suit I once saw him wear. At parties he’d wear tailored button-downs, not silk, but something close to it, another nod to the European in him I think, though my memory may be embellishing that detail. I know he was confused by me. And I know that there were many times that all he could do was put up with me.
And I think that’s another reason I can’t fully commit to telling everything. I’d be invading my own privacy, the high fence I’ve built around the girl I used to be, the girl whose actions still fill me with shame even from the distance of decades. The endless afternoon’s wasted walking around a certain part of campus so I might casually bump into him. The times I showed up at his dorm room or his various apartments unannounced, ignoring all the gentle hints—or one memorably not so gentle one from one of his roommates—that it wasn’t a good time, even as I settled into their couch to wait. The time I rummaged through his closet and his personal letters while I was crashing in his roommate’s room over a holiday break.
I’ve been thinking too about why I still feel shame over my behavior. I’ve long since sent apologies for my behavior. (It’s interesting how finally getting your own apartment will teach you a lot about boundaries!) And when friends share their own stalking stories, I laugh sympathetically because I know we’ve all been there. At least intellectually I know we’ve all been there. Emotionally, however…
I’ve never been able to wear my mistakes lightly. Because of how I was raised (as I’ve written about here), mistakes or missteps of any kind flood me with shame. It can feel like utter failure to me to not recognize the correct set of boundaries for a particular situation or person. And though I’ve taught myself to deal more constructively and kindly with failure, and to put failure in its proper perspective (which is generally smaller than I’m feeling it), those missteps from before I came into that wisdom still feel immeasurably enormous to me.
No one died. No one was injured. And, for the most part, as far as I know, no one was seriously angry about my behavior, just annoyed and probably weary. Many young women stalk the objects of their affections, particularly if they haven’t actually dated a lot and don’t quite know what to do with their lust and love. Which is what I’ve told myself over and over again and yet still…