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
in the silence
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.