Beans and Rice: Power and Control

I am still thinking about my experience making the mandala Saturday, still puzzling through my various responses and resistences to the challenges of that activity. Last summer at VONA,¹ I worked with Junot Diaz.  I haven’t written anything about that experience yet.  I’ll give the short-hand answer now and say it was an incredible week.  The longer thing I want to say tonight is that my mandala experience reminded me of the week with Junot.  During the critique of my story, Junot called me out, accused me of being a control freak, of maintaining such a stranglehold on my writing that the story couldn’t fully squeeze through.

I denied this, of course.  How not?  I was in no way prepared to admit to being so domineering.  That seemed so unlike me, after all.  I’m pretty much never the one to jump up and be all Alexander Haig about things, step in with my big ideas and have my way with whatever process is on at the moment.  Really not me.

Cut to Saturday and my struggle to work with Kathy and Lenore on that beans and rice mandala.  I suppose most people like to control some things, or to at least control something.  That strikes me as a natural impulse.  My reaction to not having control over what the other ladies were doing was a little stronger than that natural impulse, however.  What is it that makes me want to keep such a tight rein on things?  And how have I let that need get in the way of my creative expression?

Oh, there can be so much going on here.  There are all kinds of things that can set someone on the slippery slide to controlling behavior.  I’m a recovered compulsive over-eater, and we eating disorder girls are notorious for craving tight-fisted control.  And, too, as the child of an alcoholic parent, control freakiness is practically in my DNA.  I can see all of that and still be surprised.  I thought that was all inward focused, all centered on keeping my own self on the choke collar.  I would have imagined that a) other people were safe and b) I’d leave my creativity alone and let it act as a kind of pressure valve.  Yeah, not so much.  I think about Junot and his comments on my story, think about the story I’m working on right now and how hard it’s been for me to let myself go and just write what comes, let the violent, angry character I’ve been avoiding live on the page so I can figure out how or if he needs to be incorporated in the main narrative.  The idea of giving the story its head is pushing all my buttons and getting in the way of my ability to sit with the character and get him written.

Forcing myself to move past my struggle on Saturday was good because it helped me work more freely and comfortably on the mandala, but I’m seeing bigger benefits.  Realizing that I’m able to do that — acknowledge that I’m struggling but set it aside and just get on with whatever needs to be done — may also help me access a part of my creativity I’ve been holding back.

Yesterday, when I visited Jone’s blog, I was introduced to a new poetic form, the Zeno.  It was, apparently, created by J. Patrick Lewis and is a 10-line poem with a repeating syllable count: 8,4,2,1,4,2,1,4,2,1.  It also has a rhyme scheme: a/b/c/d/e/f/d/g/h/d.  What’s that, you say? Another form poem?  Another imposed control?  Yes, yes, but this is different … isn’t it different?  Part of my difficulty with writing poetry is not knowing how to shape it, how to juggle the things I want to say with some amorphous free form that’s supposed to have some kind of meaning but which I can’t quite wrap my head around.  A set structure frees me of that, let’s me just write.  Think of how much fun I had with the tanka.  (Still, maybe I need to think more about my fascination with form poems.)

In the mean time, here’s this new form, and I want to try it out.  Can you hear April scratching at the back door?  Yeah, I’m considering this one for my month of poem-writing.  We’ll see.  For tonight, I’ve written one for my beans and rice experience: 


fighting against my own control
how to release
creation flows
in that
in the silence


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You can find the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers.

¹ VONA is Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation. Every summer, VONA Voices offers a series of workshops for writers of color. I’ve been lucky enough to be selected each of the last two summers to participate.

13 thoughts on “Beans and Rice: Power and Control

  1. Paul

    You’ve made this form fly and sing. Bravo!

    We need control, but not over-control. We need to be Hamlet in the end of the play, not the beginning — finding his “perfect conscience” and acting, taking action and letting go, realizing all the consequences of his actions are not ultimately at his fingertips.

    In addition to your fantastic, graceful poem (you manipulate the rhyme embedded in the form wonderfully) — “jump up and be all Alexander Haig about things”? HA! Can I leave five gold stars in this reply? Next best thing:

    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂


    1. Totally dating myself with that Alexander Haig remark, but I couldn’t resist! I’m glad you like the poem. It’s an interesting form. I’d love to know how it was developed, why that pattern with the heavily-syllabled first line. I think I’m going to play with it for a while.


  2. I’m so glad you revisited this experience with the mandala – and trying to process it in a new form is commendable. I like your poem and thanks for the photo. Especially with art – I like to process my art in words (as you may have noticed!)


    1. I’m glad I came back to this one, too. Lenore, the woman who lead the mandala-making, asked if I’d send her my thoughts about the experience, so I think I’m going to pull from these blog posts and put something together for her (in other words, there may be one more post about mandalas on the horizon!).


  3. Doesn’t it amaze how sometimes the only way to get control of one’s self – is to let go? Your experience reminds me of this. Let go, let God applies to more than when it seems life has it in for us. It works just as well for the simpler things we tend to hold so tightly to.

    Loves the photos of the mandala; beautiful intricate work. I can fully understand your fascination with form poetry. The challenge of expressing your own creativity within the confines of syllables and rhymes. Especially with a short form such as your beloved Tanka and this Zeno.

    Wait… doesn’t someone owe me a SuperTanka from last year? 😉


    1. Oh, Miss Raivenne, how will I ever pull off a SuperTanka? It does intrigue me, however. The one you gave me last year was so perfect. Maybe I’ll take a look back at that one and start playing …


    1. You read that right. A weeklong workshop with Diaz. It’s funny to realize that I’ve never written much of anything about my VONA experiences. How strange. Have to get to work on that.


  4. Control, who has it? That is an interesting concept to muddle around in your brain. Which leads to you feeling freedom with structured poetry. Interesting thoughts. I have to read and reread the poem to get the feel of it. Nice! Love the pictures.


  5. Pingback: The Lady and the Tiger – if you want kin, you must plant kin …

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