Curses and Blessings, reprise

What can happen when you’re given time and space alone with your ideas? When you’re sent off to a little cabin and someone else is cooking your food and tending to the day-to-day management of your comfort and well-being? When you’re told that the only thing you have to do is whatever you want to do?

Well, any number of things can happen, I suppose. I’ve had very different experiences with writing residencies and retreats. The similarity across all of them — the DIY and the formal ones — is that I’ve come back to my “real life” changed in some way, come back with some new understanding of the writing I went away to work on, which is precisely what I go away for. So … excellent!

How that realization or understanding happens isn’t at all similar. My first DIY retreat, I spent all day every day writing out one character (I was mostly a fiction writer then). I wasn’t working on the story that character was part of. I was digging into his history, trying to understand how he became the man who showed up in the story I wanted so badly to finish but which I couldn’t finish if I didn’t understand that man.

In the end, I wrote so much about him that I realized he was the main character, that the story he’d stepped out of wasn’t the central story at all, as much as I love my original protagonist. That was definitely not the place I’d imagined finding myself at the end of the retreat. Not even close. But I learned a lot about how I feel my way into a story and how to work with story elements and more formal tools to shape a successful arc and land sure-footedly at a conclusion.

At my first formal residency, I’d planned to write scripts for my comics project. I started a script, and it was a solid start. But, but the end of the two weeks, what I’d done most was learn more about how comics work, how sequential art moves with and without words and that some of my ideas were feeling awkward and clunky because I was writing scripts that were at odds with the medium I’d chosen. I did a lot of drawing, which I hadn’t expected, and learned some things about my drawing and what I want from my artwork.

And now …

I came to Alaska with a plan. I decided a while ago that I want to turn my “Fat Talk” essays into a collection. I had an outline of what pieces were needed to complete the arc I’d imagined for the collection. All I needed was time to really sit and focus, time to start building those missing pieces.

Except that’s not what my time has been here at all. I’ve been writing, yes. I wrote a whole new essay that is at least a strong skeleton for what I want the finished version to be. I’ve done some bits of other, not-part-of-the-collection writing. I’ve read through all of the existing essays and made notes for things that need revision, places where I need to go deeper or where I need to steer back on course.

So … productive. But also … not. Everything has felt a little off, a little not quite what I needed to do.

And then Sunday happened. Sunday, I ran up hard against the wall of: what even is this project? what’s the point? what am I trying to say, anyway?

It’s not an unfamiliar wall, but slamming into it is never welcome. And, to be clear, this isn’t La Impostora creeping up on me. She’s always lurking, but this question, this wall, is different. It’s more the realization that I don’t have the clarity about the project that I thought I had. Similar to the realization during that first DIY retreat that I’d been focused on the wrong character, that I was supposed to be writing a very different story.

What do I do when I run into the wall? Well, this time I did some good and some annoying things. I slept. A lot. I hung out on social media. A lot. And then — finally — I started journaling, writing out the conversation I needed to have to get answers to the questions the wall was asking. I made notes. I made lists. I asked and answered the same questions a few times. I just kept writing.

Slowly, and then more quickly, an answer — the answer — began to come clear. I fought it a little, falling immediately into the control freak role that sometimes creeps into my writing, trying to force things to go the way I want them to rather than the way they actually need to. Because, if the answer that was taking shape was really the answer, most of the writing I’ve done has to be undone and then rebuilt in profound ways … if it’s usable at all.

So here I am, halfway through my residency, with a project that’s totally in shambles.

And this, this is what can happen when you strip away the distractions of work and daily life and spend oceans of time with your ideas. This right here. The curse and the blessing.

Time to pick up my pen and get the fuck to work.


It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of the slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Undertow

Here’s the second of the poems I wrote while on my way to Homer. I had a L-O-N-G layover in Anchorage, more than seven hours (!!), which gave me a lot of time to do something to keep myself awake. I was ridiculously tired, up for almost 24 hours by the time I got in from Seattle, but I knew I couldn’t curl up and take a nap as I saw so many other people doing. I’d have slept right past my departure time! So I listened to music, listened to The Read, walked around … and wrote some sleepy-brained poetry.

Undertow 

The ocean decides: swim or drown? Water carries you.
She can wave you to safety or suck you down. Water carries you. 

You trust her with your breath, your fragile, breakable bones.
Your body is both lost and found. Water carries you.

In my heart, fear and love are coupled for the sea.
She smiles, swirling her gown – water carries you.

I could live in her, tell stories of her beauty –
cajole her out of her frown, water carries you.

And I, Stacie, hold my fascination for her --
stand ready to polish her crown. Water carries you.

This might be the last of the ghazals that I post. I have one more that was written during that layover in Anchorage, but it’s sooo rough, so clearly written with the most exhausted part of my brain. We’ll see.

Choices, Decisions … Defiance

I didn’t write 30 poems in April. Trying to get ready to leave my job for two weeks and then spending the last two days of the month traveling added to the fact that the ghazal was driving me crazy meant not hitting my mark. I did write more poems than I posted, however. I had over nine hours of layover time between my stops in Seattle and Anchorage, and I wrote a little. So here’s the first poem. I started this one in the Seattle airport and finished it on the flight to Anchorage.

Oscillation 

Indecision is my middle name, up in the air.
The road not taken calls my name, up in the air.

What's the secret to choosing a path, staying the course?
Choices delayed are a losing game, up in the air.

Today I felt my mind drain, blanked of every thought:
abject panic, time I can't reclaim. Up in the air.

Everything I'm doing feels wrong, leaves me rootless, at sea.
I need some kind of structure, a frame. Up in the air.

If I, Stacie, could break this code, find clarity, peace.
I'd be changed, never again the same up in the air 

Even after letting it marinate for a few days, I’m no closer to being enamored. The ghazal is really, really and truly, not the form for me. I was so sure we would click because I love a form with built-in repetition … but no. Running head-long into a form I can’t take in is when I feel it’s most evident that I’m not a poet. Which is silly, of course, because there’s no generally-accepted idea that all poets must be able to write all forms. I mean … of course. But there’s something about hitting that wall that feels like being told to stay in my lane.

But I like not doing what I’m told, so … I guess I’ll keep writing these bad poems. See if I don’t.

Right Down the Line

Uh-oh. Slipping, slipping, slipping … when I fall behind, I fall. I do have a crazy-long set of stopovers on my way to the residency, and I could (in theory) fill those hours writing poetry to catch up with my 30/30, but will I? Oy.

I was two poems behind, and then it was three, and right now … it’s four! That’s too many. I wrote last night … and then was too tired to actually post.

Here’s last night’s poem:

Excavation

Holding steady, keeping hopes aligned ... just in case.
Searching my past -- unsure what I'll find -- just in case.

Hiding in all the dark corners of memory,
stories and secrets fully entwined just in case.

This sort of digging opens too many doors,
like a river flowing through my mind. Just in case.

If the answers aren't here, there are no answers.
Stop hunting fruit in a dried-up rind, just in case.

I, Stacie, keep mining -- my stories, my missteps --
I lose the drift then start again, grind. Just in case.

But the title of this post is borrowed from the song that’s been playing in my head for weeks at this point, Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line.” I think I liked that song when I was a kid. I certainly haven’t given it much thought since then. But suddenly it was back in my brain, floating up from somewhere deep. And it hasn’t left. Other earworms have cycled through, but this one just stays in rotation. So I made a poem out of it.

Right Down the Line

A steady backbeat I can't ignore, an earworm.
Bubbling up from deep in my core, an earworm.

Your Northern Star was so much kinder than Joni's,
ripe with connection, with hope to explore, an earworm.

You said "I love you" in a song, just like Croce
gratitude and respect sung gently for an earworm.

I don't recall -- did I love this song as a child?
Maybe ... not? But now I hear so much more. An earworm.

So I, Stacie, sing along with Mr. Rafferty.
Sing commitment, sing love. It's you. You're an earworm.

National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal

As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.

The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):

“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”

Should be interesting!

I want …

Friday I had tickets to see James McAvoy in Cyrano. Way back before we could have imagined two+ years of lockdowns and mask mandates, the National Theater offered up a live simulcast from London of a performance of Cyrano. I saw it in a giant, sold-out movie house in lower Manhattan — all of us sitting so close to one another, maskless, talking to strangers, laughing in each other’s faces. A whole other world.

The show was great. Better than great. I will distress many a James McAvoy fan by saying that it wasn’t until I saw that performance that I realized James McAvoy was attractive. He was so stunningly compelling in that role, I had a whole scales-falling-from-my-eyes moment in the movie theater. (This is a repeating issue with me. Ask my sister about the heartthrob men I’ve never noticed until, suddenly, I see them. She still teases me about Keanu Reeves. No, really.)

I am a lover of set design, and this production has a fabulous set that is both barely there and insanely flexible. Seeing the ways the cast moved around and over the set was fascinating.

So, when I heard that the production was coming to Brooklyn, I knew I wanted tickets. All that fabulousness live in front of me rather than on a movie screen! I had to go.

And I’m so glad I did. Live theater is so amazing. My friend and I weren’t in love with our seats. I asked an usher if we could be moved. I suggested some chairs at the back up the upper orchestra … she found us excellent seats in the front row of the upper orchestra! (More evidence of what a good idea it is to ask for things you need.)

McAvoy was amazing. Despite my inability to see him clearly before Cyrano, I had been fully aware that he was a good actor. He smashes the dial and turns it up to 20 in this performance.

Oh dear. Just noticed that it’s already midnight! Now I’ve officially missed two days in a row! I gave myself a pass last night because I was so late coming home from the theater … but I definitely wasn’t feeling inspired to fight my way through two ghazals today. Sigh. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.

Into the Darkness

Tired of bumping up against what I can't see,
unable to avoid things unsensed, what I can't see

All the fears and catastrophes run in my head,
every uncertainty condensed. What I can't see.

There's a reason to be here, a reason to stay.
The work and the new worlds it presents. What I can't see.

My steps are small, hesitant, almost creeping.
The invisible path keeps me tensed -- what I can't see.

I, Stacie, want to take full strides, stretch my gait,
push myself further, all fears dispensed. What, I can't see.

National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal

As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.

The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):

“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”

Should be interesting!