Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Statistical Miracle

I like writing occasional poetry...not just poetry now and then, but poetry that marks an occasion. It's like being given an assignment. You have a purpose and a due date.

My most recent occasional poem was for Dave's birthday. I wrote him a birthday poem last year, as well as Valentine's Day poems last year and this year. I guess I'm in for it now.

Once I went to a talk by a Buddhist meditation leader. His topic was loss of a love, as in the break-up of a marriage, partnership or friendship. He was encouraging us to think about the fact that change is a given, and that people will always float in and out of our lives. When someone floats out, instead of grasping at them, think about this: There was a time we didn't know that person. There was a time when we existed, and they existed, separately.

It sounds simple. But I love to think about that. Not only does it help me in terms of loss but in terms of being in relationships. Thinking about our separateness somehow sweetens the fact that others people our lives. That others choose to be in our sphere. That others choose to love us.

And also this: There's the wonderful mystery of how we find others. There are almost 7 billion people on this planet. When we move into the sphere of others, it's a statistical miracle!

So that's what I was thinking about when I wrote this year's birthday poem for Dave.

Birthday Hymn

I envision scenes before we met,
the film reel of my imagination

reversed. A flight attendant
hands you tea. At a gas station

you pump gas into a car I've
never been in. There you are,

underwater, mantas flying by.
And now you walk a faraway

path near a cliff overlooking
an infinity of sea. Now you're

in your father's shop, checking
on something too distant for

me to detect. You were an early
baby, delicate. And once you

floated in the dark, honeyed
womb, and before that the blue

unknown. Today I praise your
storied body, infused with light

I praise the way you pour
into me, and I onto you. Life

is as minute as it is vast
Life is as random as it is designed.

As strangers perhaps we once passed
on the street, your hand brushing mine.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Moving Forward in Art, Music and Life

A year ago, I decided to leave therapy.

I had a wonderful therapist. I think she would have made a good friend (or is that form of projection?). But I realized that going every few weeks to sit and talk primarily about the past was beginning to sap me of energy.
I then realized this: focusing on the past, in whatever form, didn't make me feel good. That feeling was a signal that there was something "off" for me about being past-oriented. Instead, enjoying the moment and being excited for the future gave me energy. I love envisioning all kinds of amazing possibilities. What could happen next that would be great? Playing out possible scenarios in my mind felt so empowering, so evocative, so generative.

That's when it clicked: I love being a writer for this reason. I love imagining the possibilities. Sure, some of writing involves dredging up the past. But what's most fruitful for me is touching on the past not as a way to play it over and over--but as a way to create something new. Creation is the name of the game, baby. It's the life force.

For months I'd been taking notes on this idea, mulling it over in my mind, and finally a couple of months ago, I wrote a poem about leaving therapy. But it's about more that than that. In a way, it's about launching into my life. It's about taking the helm, about steering my ship.

Recently the poem appeared here, in MiPOesias, a fantastic online journal that includes audios of the poets reading their poems.

Other than writing, I've been concert-attending. My guy's favorite group, The Radiators, is retiring this year after 33 years of touring. They are an incredibly talented New Orleans group that creates a big dance party at each concert. We attended four shows in a row--yes four!--at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco--their last four West Coast shows.

Four nights, and they didn't repeat a single song. That's because they know a thousand songs, or so goes the lore. I think this is one fish-story that's not hyperbole. There's a double-entendre there for those in the know. (Radiators fans are called "fish-heads.") It was an incredible time that reminded me of the effervescent, transformative power of music. Love abounded. And of course, so did dancing. Too bad I didn't get to know this band until its last year of touring. It was clear that the true, long-time fans have created an amazing bond borne from years of celebrating life through this particular magical musical experience. Here's one of my favorite songs of theirs: "Sitting on Top of the World."

And other than concert-attending, I've been teaching. Today was the warmest day on campus in a long time. Sun dresses and shorts and sandals debuted. Students had that dreamy "it's almost summer vacation" look in their eyes. Did I say students? Teachers too. I felt a little cross-eyed today, in fact...not only because of the weather but because I've spent days on end grading papers. That's the way of the world: Students write 'em, we read 'em.

I said something in class today I've never said before. It's something most professors would probably never say. No, it wasn't a swear world (I've said those before). It was this: that sometimes it's nice to have no opinion. I said this because of the recent, quite divisive, ways I've been observing people deal with the recent Osama bin Laden kiilling. People are truly fighting over this. Friends are becoming enemies. Ironic, no? In that we're creating a new kind of war through argument. So it feels like a relief to stay out of it.

Mostly. There is part of me that feels like I should have an opinion. And not only that, that I should be voicing it. Having an opinion solidifies me as an intellectual. As a smart, informed person. Then again, if I'm truly going the route of being me without being concerned about what others think I should be, then shutting up has a lovely quality. In fact, the longer I mull (and don't mull) all this over, the freer I feel.

I'm good at rhetoric. I could argue many aspects of this and other issues, all rather convincingly. But my heart's not in it, so my head's staying out of it.

I know "no opinion" is the opposite of what most teachers try to instill in their students. I mean, how do you teach rhetoric without encouraging opinion? It's kind of strange because I do teach composition classes in which I'm teaching the persuasive and argumentative essays. But then, I find in my creative writing classes, I'm trying to beat the didacticism out of them. Why? Because rarely does preaching work in a poem. Or a short story. Or any work of art. Yes, there are exceptions. Generally, though, art requires more nuance. Art thrives on paradox. Oxymoron. Incongruity. Or at a minimum: Irony.

As Tolstoy said, "The best stories don't come from good versus bad, but good versus good."

Life, and art, are more varied, more complex, more fluid and more surprising than one beaten-down side to an argument. And arguing is certainly not worth losing friends over. Then again, what I'm saying here is probably an argument in and of itself. I suppose it's possible that someone might personally or Facebook-ily defriend me for my "I'm staying out of it" stance. Pushing against anything is a habit for many of us (a habit I'm working to ease out of).

I won't worry about all that, though. Maybe instead I'll focus on writing another poem. Perhaps I'll give myself an assignment: Write about recent public events and keep it complex. Instead of arguing, explore. And look not into the past, but into the future. Keep it juiced. Keep it life-giving.