Oh, mother

Writing is a confidence game, and while generally I can play it with the necessary brio, occasionally I drop all the cards.

In many ways, I’m having a great spring. I love this new essay on Radioland by Athena Kildegaard in Bloom. I’m happily tinkering with fall syllabi, but I still have a few months before September hits, hallelujah.

I also have some cool events coming up. One is a long weekend with my spouse on Martha’s Vineyard (attending a wedding then just hanging out). Others are work, but the fun kind. With the usual ambivalence–feeling both that my work deserves attention and I am a total impostor–I applied last fall and winter to various series, and some applications resulted in invitations. See my Events page for details on May-June readings In D.C., Maryland, and CT. It reminds me that when you throw out lots of filaments, like Whitman’s spider, a few catch.

So with all that busy-ness ahead, plus a visit with my mother next week and picking up my daughter from her first year of college, I thought: I need to stay focused on the time-sensitive work, which mostly involves tying up the threads on big projects and getting them under consideration. I tried, with some success. I worked, got sick, recovered, worked some more. Then, last weekend, I froze.

I don’t know why I’m having trouble moving ahead, although I always find it harder to send stuff out than to write it in the first place. I know why I write and always will write–building a little world is joyful, healing work. Marketing a little world: less fun. Maybe I don’t want to finish these projects, at some level. Maybe I’m experiencing biochemical chaos, pollen allergies, unresolved anger. I’m worried about my mother, who face-planted in the radiologist’s office recently and knocked out her top front teeth. I was also disheartened by being laid up on the couch all weekend. I’d been so relieved by improved health in the last couple of weeks–I finally seemed to be on a path toward physical well-being, able to take walks again!–and then I twisted my heel and reactivated my plantar fasciitis. Painful for a couple of days, but trivial in the long run. What’s harder is being reminded that all my plans are basically imaginary and can be swept away in a moment.bookcase

At any rate, after that Saturday morning injury came several very low days. Honestly, I’ve gone into deeper holes, and for much longer. I know how to manage an unhappy brain, just like I know the regime of heat, ice, rest, and gentle stretches that helps my foot. I just slow down and do whatever work seems possible; trying to force progress on a project I’m discouraged about doesn’t get me anywhere, so better to clean out a closet or just read. (Although I’m not yet ready to face reorganizing my books–why did I once think all my contemporary poetry would fit in one bookcase?)

So this week I tinkered with writing that felt outward-focused, not self-aggrandizing. I know some people don’t see reviews as acts of generosity, but I receive them that way, and writing them feels like service to poetry. Having finished a couple of tardy reviews, I already feel better. A little.

One obstacle to feeling a lot better is, paradoxically, my basic sanity. A failure of confidence is actual a rational response to the literary market. Most people don’t want to read what any of us is putting out there. Yet, oh my god, am I grateful other writers persist. I need to immerse myself in their consoling fictions when my own imagination fails and I confront the stark truth of things.

Well, my lunatic desire to seek audiences has always resurged before. I just have to accept this latest highly symbolic health problem, that my feet don’t want me to move. Work on it gently, and wait it out. I hear I may be getting breakfast in bed this Sunday with some homemade blueberry muffins. My feet, honestly, ought to calm down–they have it pretty good.




10 responses to “Oh, mother”

  1. Sorry for your health set-backs and self-doubt. Be kind to yourself…the writer you will return. There is no one right way to juggle this crazy life and I think when we listen to our bodies they take us further (and farther – if I can equate distance and time) in this life.


    • Thanks so much for the good words, Lisa. I just came back from a helpful but rather painful massage, and as the muscles in my foot released, I realized, “Oh, I WAS angry,” and let it go, at least as best as I was able. Bodies….


  2. If you decide to “clean out” your library, would you set aside your disposables for me? I carry out a raffle each Fall for my UVA/OLLI course attendees! Now, a question: If you could (and maybe you do already?) have a conversation daily with your described greatest living writer, who would that be?


    • Emily Dickinson–see “Dead Poet in the Passenger Seat” in Radioland, p. 53. She talks back! And yes, your book is on top because I read it recently–I enjoyed it very much!


  3. “A failure of confidence is actual a rational response to the literary market.”
    Well, that sounds accurate to me!
    I cannot tell you how many uncompleted writing projects I have begun, imagined, initiated, and stalled…I like to think that is fairly normal (wouldn’t it be nice to be “normal” in some way?). Motivation waxes & wanes no matter what the “market” may be. Your body may be telling you things your brain hasn’t processed yet.
    By the way, reviewing is an important thing to do for the poetry-reading community and for individual poets. Thank you for the prose.


    • Ah, good to hear that I’m not alone! I’m particularly bad about drafting essays and then letting them fester in corners. Maybe I’ll have a busy retirement, cleaning up the trail of good starts left behind me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As a nonacademic writer I feel as if I have three kinds of writing work. One is actual writing, another is reading, and the third is sending out. They all require a different kind of energy and levels of confidence. As long as I am doing one of these things, I try to be easy on myself. On a good day. But sometimes it’s just enough to get out of bed.


  5. “What’s harder is being reminded that all my plans are basically imaginary and can be swept away in a moment.” Yes. I am also being reminded on that, on a large scale.
    Good luck with not only the writing but the sending out as well. It does feel harder than the creation. And yes, I do believe writing reviews is a type of service, especially if done thoughtfully and well (like you do!)
    I’m hoping you and your mother receive some breaks health-wise soon!


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