Today’s Poem: “Cheating at Cards With Jesus”

Cheating at Cards With Jesus

The Lord is a pain in the ass when He’s had too much whiskey.
But then, so’s anyone, so I couldn’t fault Him for it.
He leered over the rim of his cards and winked.
The table had cleared out. It was just him and me.
He sipped on the dregs of His drink and belched.
“Well,” He said. “What’ll it be?”

“I thought people bet their souls with the Devil,” I said.
Jesus yawned. “It’s cliché,” He said. “And you’re stalling.”
He fingered the card that I knew was a queen of hearts.
“And anyway, the Devil sucks at cards. Only a poet can play poker properly.
The Devil’s a numbers guy.”

“Hit me,” I said. Jesus paused.
“You sure?” He said, thumbing the top card.
King of clubs. I already knew it. I had marked it myself.
Or Jesus had marked it.
After all this time, the cards were well-worn and as readable as faces.
There were no more surprises, and I was about to go bust.

“Hit me,” I said again. Jesus nodded and filled our glasses.
The whiskey burned its way down until my whole body gleamed.
Jesus held His glass next to his drink-flushed face. He closed His eyes.
“A poem works, not for what it says, but what it does not say,” He said.
“A poem speaks from the empty spaces; silence brings light to the gloom.”

“Your point?” I asked. Why drag it out? I snatched His drink and gulped it down.
“A game is the same way. Just when you think you’ve won, you’ve lost,
and just when you think you’re lost, you are found.”
“I think you’re confusing your words,” I said.
Drunk asshole, I thought.

“I fold,” Jesus said. “You win.”
A boozy smile. A hard stare.
Two bright eyes,
hot and old as nebulas,
burn across the table. I wince.

“So,” He said. “What are you gonna do about it?

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Once A Poet

I’m stunned.

After a – hell, I don’t know-  like a ten-year hiatus from writing poems, I actually wrote poetry today. It felt awkward at first, and insubstantial – like flexing the phantom tendons and imaginary bones of a hand that had long since been amputated. They were ghost poems.

Do they actually exist?

Here’s one (unedited, I might add. And not particularly good.)

STUMP POEM
The last remnants of stubbled skin
cling brutally to the side.
Grey torso –
grey flesh –
In the glare of the sun,
the memory of shade.
 
 

As I said, not particularly good, but it felt good. To write it I mean. And I didn’t start today with the intention of writing poetry. I wrote poetry because I was at a meeting.

A business meeting.

For work.

One of the best perks of working for an arts organization is that, every once in a while, you get to hang out with a bunch of artists. As many of you know, I work for an organization called Compas, which, among other things, schedules artist residencies and intensives in schools around the state of Minnesota. My colleagues are storytellers, poets, potters, accordion players, puppeteers, rappers, drummers, dancers, painters, actors, singers, spoken-word artists, and every other kind of art practitioner that I can’t even think of.

And they are wicked cool.

Anyway, we don’t get to see one another all that often, so I really look forward to our yearly business meeting as my one chance to say hi, drink coffee, gossip, swap stories and revel in the fact that I get to be associated with these folks.

We met out at Dodge Nature Center on an astonishingly beautiful morning. I parked far away on purpose just to give myself the opportunity to walk the trails and experience a moment of thick green and birdsong and bugsong and still ponds and damp, quiet breathing. We met in the education building, right next to the barns.

And after sitting in a meeting listening to the abysmal state of arts education in our state-

(did you know, for example, that there are districts that have removed all music instruction, from elementary to high school?)

(did you know that there are districts whose ENTIRE ARTISTIC CURRICULUM centers on a couple artist residencies?)

(did you know that there are districts who do not integrate the arts into their curriculum, despite the fact that the business world is desperate to find creative people who can think spatially and in interdisciplinary modes?)

But that was neither here nor there. In any case, when it was time for the break-out sessions, I was so filled with rage over the short-sightedness and mean-spiritedness when it comes to the arts, that I just couldn’t go to the grant writing workshop.

Instead I went to the nature poetry workshop. With Diego Vasquez – a terrific poet, a great teacher and a hell of a nice guy. He took us outside and charged us with writing poems. Short poems. About the things that surrounded us – dead things, living things. Things that move. Things that do not move. So, on this absolutely beautiful day, I wandered around and wrote short poems. And it felt REALLY good.

Like I-need-to-keep-doing-this-or-I-might-die good.

Here are some of my efforts, along with pictures of the things that inspired them. And I’m thinking that I shall have to continue writing poetry with my amputated poet muscles. I think I shall continue to write my phantoms – my inklings of the writer that I used to be. Because I kinda need to.

And perhaps I’ll post them on this blog.

Here are the poems:

PLOW POEM
 
Two seats
one horse.
 
Am I a tool
or a metaphor?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SHED POEM
Whitewashed slats let in the breeze.
A hail-knocked tin roof. 
A dark, windy, hiding-place.
 
 

SIGN POEM
All my life, I 
looked
for 
sign.
 
“THIS WAY!”
it said,
tilting towards the ground.
 
 
SILO POEM
 
I once had a dream that I drowned
under a crush of ripe grain.
 
The silo’s roof is a geometric bite 
on a pale blue sky.
 
I hold my breath and shiver.
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
TURTLE POEM 
 
(for Leo)
 
Come
closer.
 
My mossy shell.
My bright eye.
 
Come
closer.
 
My spiked tail.
My waiting mouth.
 
Come
closer.
 
I’m in the mood for a snack.
And fingers are delicious.
 
 
 

All Memory is Magic; All Magic is Memory

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When I was three years old, I walked out into the yard. It was a cicada year, though I did not yet know what a cicada was. All I knew was that the air hummed, and the sky hummed, and the grass and trees and flowers hummed and hummed. I knew that the hum was visceral and alive. It moved and breathed. It had substance and texture and mass.

Which is to say, magic.

 

At three, I did not yet know what magic was. I didn’t know what electric was, either. I simply walked out into the grass, into the green, green grass, and heard a sound that filled me with wonder. Later, I would remember it as hearing magic. And still later, I would remember it as hearing electricity. And even later, I would remember it as hearing bugs.

But the memory of me at three (of unkowingness) has been fused with the memory of me at ten (of intra-knowingness), which is fused still with the knowledge of myself now at thirty-seven (of post-knowingness). Beauty becomes magic, becomes science, becomes philosophy. Now, they are all the same.

Which makes the construction of fiction – particularly fiction with magic in it – a tricky operation. Fiction, you see, relies on memory in which to operate. And this is true for both the writer and the reader. In Story, our memories are gathered, bound, altered, re-formed, re-purposed and re-named. Every story is built again and again in the minds of the reader – an amalgamation of the writer’s memory and the writer’s invention, and the reader’s memory and the reader’s invention.

It is a process that is alchemical, transcendent and infinite in its possibilities.

Which is to say, magic.

Which means that now, as both reader and writer, these fused selves must be parsed out, separated and laid bare. I must remember the magic without the bugs, and I must remember the electricity without the magic. I must rely on my readers to make those connections on their own.

And GOD gaveth her a SON to teacheth her HUMILITY

In honor of the recent anniversary of the King James Bible, I’ve been thinking a lot about admonishments – from clergy, from doctors, from teachers, from little old neighbor ladies, from televangelists, from uptight uncles, and from moms. This mom, specifically.

Because holy hell, do I ever admonish.

Just to illustrate this point, here is a list of the admonishments from today given by me (THE MOTHER) to Leo (THE SON).

1. Do NOT punch your sister in the face.

2. Do NOT punch your sister in the butt.

3. Do NOT punch your dog in the butt.

4. Do NOT rip the picture out of that book.

5. I do not care if it would look good on your wall.

6. Do NOT bury my cell phone in the garden.

7. Tell me where my cell phone is THIS MINUTE.

8. No, you may NOT play video games.

9. No, not even if you give me a hundred bucks.

10. No, I will NOT give you a hundred bucks.

11. Do NOT dump that can of paint on the floor.

12. No I will NOT help you look up instructions on how to build a bomb.

13. No you may NOT feed the toothpaste to the dog.

14. Tell me where your dog is THIS MINUTE.

15. No you may NOT stick that screwdriver into that outlet.

16. Do NOT turn on that stove. I MEAN IT!

And so forth.

And that was just today. And he was at school for six hours of today.

I remember once having a discussion in a Theology class about biblical God-as-Father metaphors as opposed to God-as-Mother. Mothers, the thinking goes, nurture. Fathers oversee. Mothers forgive; fathers admonish.

But that’s not been my experience. I admonish. I admonish a lot. I think admonishment is a form of nurturing. We admonish when we need to stop danger, foolishness or downright stupidity right in its tracks. We admonish when we need to give our children a vigorous and no-nonsense view into the consequences of the very, very poor choice they are about to make.

Admonishments are nurturing on steroids. They are the things we yell, wail, yodel and screech to keep our children from hurling themselves over the goddamn cliff.

Is this an argument then, for the adoption of the God-as-Mother metaphor as opposed to God-as-Father? If three-quarters of the bible is a list of don’t’s, can’t’s, don’t-even-think-about-it’s, and OH-FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-PETE-WHAT-DID-YOU-JUST-DO, then I am well on my way to godishness. Because, in the end, as much as we’d all prefer the whole big, fluffy, amorphous marshmallow in the sky, the fact is that much of the world’s population is built like Leo, and actually needs an admonishment or two along the way. So maybe we all need to channel our inner nosy-neighbors, our inner strict teachers, and our inner royally pissed off mothers and start admonishing the hell out of anyone and everyone who needs it.

I think we all need to start admonishing. Today. Tomorrow. Every day.

For example:

1. No you may NOT publish racist pseudo-science studies. (That means YOU, Psychology Today!)

2. No you may NOT negate the fourth amendment. (Supreme Court, I’m giving you the stink-eye)

3. No you may NOT write bigotry into our state’s constitution. (That’s right, Minnesota. You’re on my list.)

You know? I actually feel better. Admonishing is great! Who would you people like to admonish?

Why I love teaching

I can barely hold my fingers steady over the keyboard at present, and will be soon, and gratefully, folding my tired little carcass into my covers and sleeping for something in the order of one thousand years, but I wanted to take minute to write about how very, very, very much I love teaching.

And, of course, I’ve written before about my secret joy in corrupting the youth of America,  as well as the benefits in having a legion of minions in the quest for my ultimate goal of one day ruling the world, but I’ve never written before about the world’s best kept secrets of our culture’s most over-worked, under-valued and precious profession.

Actually, you should come a little closer, so I can whisper it to you.

No, closer.

You ready? Here’s the secret:

Teaching is a pleasure.

“WHAT?” you say. “But what about standardized tests? What about behavior problems? What about paperwork? What about nasty politicians who demonize you and claim that your meager salaries are the cause of our economic meltdowns and lousy job markets?” [Author’s note:They didn’t.]

And yes, that’s all true. Teaching is a difficult and wrenching job, unnecessarily burdened by pointless forms and interminable meetings and the by-products of a society that has effectively ignored and punished its poor.

But still.

Those children!

Those beautiful, grubby, snarky, graphite-smudged, over-sugared, silly, curious, responsive, smart, creative, lovely, lovely children. After only one hour in their classroom, they were already ready with damp hugs and furtive whispers of, “you’re coming back tomorrow, right?

Yes, my darlings, I’m coming back tomorrow, I assured them. And they grinned their gappy grins.

The reasons why I am no longer a full-time classroom teacher – well, they are many. The crummy job security for one. The hours for another. And my career at present allows me to balance my passions as a writer with the needs of my children, and I appreciate that very much. But in any case, I do love the way my life is currently, that I have this opportunity to, every once in a while, access my teacher self. To remind myself of the indescribable joy that I had while managing a classroom.

Teaching requires patience, kindness, an iron will, and  skin thicker than a rhinoceros’. It requires a willingness to endure logic-less exchanges with one’s superiors, to make books and resources and supplies appear out of thin air like magic, and to leap tall buildings in a single bound (well, I can’t do that, but I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen the teachers who do it every day – despite what Certain Documentarians have to say about it).  It requires you to bear the pain that some of your students must bear every day – to witness it, feel it, and fight like hell to make it better. It requires one to accept foot aches, back aches, ulcers, kidney infections, gray hair, and wrinkles the size of canyons between the brows and around the mouth. It requires late nights, early mornings, hollowed out zombie eyes.

But in return – moments of grace, moments of clarity, moments of joy and love, love and love again. In teaching, we love the whole child – the child they are, the child they were,  and the adult they will become. We get to see the future in this job, and that ain’t nuthin’.

Teaching is an act of love, and we’d all do well to remember that. And I’m glad that, in my sporadic return to the classroom world, I get a chance to remember it, and re-remember it. Because it makes me appreciate all the more the men and women who have dedicated their lives to teaching my children. And your children. And my neighbors’ children and the children who may one day read my books, and the children who will one day drive my busses and fix my plumbing and heal my illnesses and run my country and lovingly bury me when I’m dead and gone. Each one of those kids had legions of teachers who guided them, worried about them and loved them.

So I feel pretty lucky. And happy. Despite the fact that right now, I’m so tired I feel as though I’ve been sapped utterly – I am dry leaf, dry grass, a papery husk in an insistent wind –  it’s been a pretty good day. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

DSCN0308.jpg

I’m pretty sure I just squashed the dreams (and possibly the souls) of a bunch of college students.

I just got back from a student/alumni networking event for Liberal Arts majors at my alma mater, St. Catherine University – a small, Catholic, all-lady college in Minnesota. I had agreed – foolishly, yes, I see that now – to sit down and chat with a bunch of current students about my career trajectory, my past experience, how my academic grounding prepared me for where I am today, and…..I don’t know. Some other stuff.

And I told them the truth.

And their faces fell.

And honestly, I’m not (entirely) sorry about framing the things I said the way I said them. No one really prepares college kids for the directionlessness of the post-college years. The uncertainty. The self-doubt. No one tells kids how much utter re-invention their life paths will require of them, how much they will have to rely on their creativity, their vision, their willingness to change paths, change thinking, change everything. And that’s okay – it’s just good to be prepared.

I told them that graduation really sucked for me. That I floated in a state of ennui for a couple of years, without direction, without spark, without a sense of the shape that I wanted my life to be.

I told them that they’ll never feel like a grownup. That they’ll always feel like a learner – and that’s actually good. If we feel like we’re one step behind where we want to be, it means we’re moving. Life requires motion, and action and response. We can coast when we’re dead.

I told them that they needed to be flexible and creative and innovative with their career choices, that they had to be willing to research and analyze, that they need to be able to apply their skills to one day do jobs that may not even exist now. And even more – that they’ll have to do that again and again and again. I told them that the world is dynamic and changeable and there was very little that they could count on, so they’d have to build a life with their own two hands.

I told them that my career – hell, my entire life -was built on a precarious structure of duct tape, string, popsicle sticks and gum. And fairy dust. And prayer. And a couple hocked loogies. And that was okay, because it is the life that I built, which means that I can claim it – even the wobbly bits and the annoying bits and the guess-what-kids-we’re-only-eating-ramen-noodles-this-week bits.

I told them to be prepared to work jobs that they hate, to take orders from people they despise, and to do it with a smile. I told them that they well may be fired one day for reasons totally outside of their control, that good jobs can go suddenly bad, and that things that seem like scraping the bottom of the barrel can turn into the opportunities that define their careers. I told them to take chances. And that self-employment is a terrifying, exhilarating, nail-biting and beautiful, beautiful thing.

I told them that being a writer required masochism, a thickness of skin bordering on delusional, a willingness to be simultaneously separated from the world and integrated into it. A willingness to go to a place of not me. When I’m writing, there is no me. There is only the book. Indeed, when someone reads my book, there is no me there either. The only thing that exists is this: characters, place, story, and the reader’s relationship with the three. Being a writer is both prestidigitation and vanishing – you see the thing I make, but I disappear.

But mostly, I told them to lose everything that they should be doing. Should is a word that has driven many a twenty-something (including myself, once upon a time) straight into the waiting arms of their therapists. Not to knock therapists, or anything, but it seems that we could all save ourselves a lot of trouble if we forget about shoulds and forget about the standards by which our eighteen year old selves judge our twenty-eight-year- old selves (or thirty-eight, or forty-eight) and simply focus on the paths that we’re on, and pouring our hearts and souls into each blessed (and sucky) day.

Once upon a time, I was a starry-eyed co-ed too. The life that I had assumed that I would have was radically different from the life that I had. And honestly, thank god. Because I was kind of an idiot in college. Much of the turns my life has taken, have been entirely accidental. I didn’t mean to fall in love, for example. And then parenthood kind of presented itself when I least expected it. These things dramatically altered my course – away from the shoulds of my college self into the doing the best I can of my adult self.

I didn’t mean to become a bartender. Or a homeless youth worker. Or a janitor. Or a park ranger. Or a receptionist. Or an activist. Or a journalist. Or any of the random jobs I’ve held in my life. Sometimes you get to seize opportunities, and sometimes you take what you can get. All the same I’m glad that I did the lot of them, because each step brought me to where I am now. Novelist. Mom. Teacher. It’s not a comfortable life by any means, and it’s fraught with uncertainty, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

It’s a pretty good life, actually. And I’ll keep it.

What I Need to Turn My Teacher Into A Toad

Confession: I have done this.

 

Okay, fine, I haven’t really.

In my defense, I never really tried,  but that has more to do with a healthy respect for magic and the many laws of unintended consequences. Writers who write about magic know all about unintended consequences. Indeed, it’s one of the few things we excel at.

But the reason why I bring it up at all is because of my current obsession with checking the dashboard page of my blog, which tells me the search engine terms by which folks arrive at my little corner of the internets.

(Hello, by the way, to those of you who are new. This is a quiet little corner. Unfashionable. But comfy, in a old-wool-socks sort of way. I have snacks and grog and a ratty chair that moans pleasantly when you sit on it.)

(The chair, incidentally, tells stories too.)

Now, most of the time, people arrive here because they’ve googled my name, or the name of one of my stories. Sometimes people arrive looking for information on yoga or nautical history, or taxidermy, or Billy Collins – all of which I’ve written about on this blog from time to time. Every once in a while people arrive looking for, well, yucky things. Pornographic things. I can’t help but think they’ve gone away horribly disappointed, and for that I’m mostly sorry. But only mostly.

Today, however, someone stopped by after googling: “What I need to turn my teacher into a toad.”

I stared at it for some time, mouth open, breath halting in quick, short gasps. How did they know? I asked my computer. My computer, as always, was silent. How did they know?

You see, in eighth grade, while raging and fuming over some perceived injustice by one Mr. Trajano, my English teacher (who, incidentally, was a marvelous teacher, and utterly blameless in my adolescent cataloguing of wrongs. Lou Trajano! If you’re reading this, I’m terribly sorry that I ever wanted to turn you into a toad!) I went into a quiet spot in the schoolyard during recess, opened my notebook (my dark notebook. My secret notebook. My notebook that held every inkling towards wickedness, every yearning for wrongdoing.) and wrote the following words:

WHAT I NEED TO TURN MY TEACHER INTO A TOAD

1. String (Magic, as everyone knows, is practical. It needs no store, no catalog, no special order. String can be both net and noose. It can be both ladder and snare. It can be woven into a bag, give direction to the blind, tied in a knot that can’t be loosened. Anything that can be more than one thing at once is magic. Everyone knows that.)

2. Crayons (Magic is the alteration of substance – big to little, rough to smooth, red to green, white to black. Crayons, therefore, are ridiculously magical.)

3. Baking soda (for indigestion.)

4. Honey (to sweeten the sour.)

5. Vinegar (to sour the sweet.)

6. Wax paper (to keep it from sticking.)

7. A small mirror (A mirror doesn’t show us what we are. It shows us what we were. A moment ago, when the light hit your body, hit the mirror and came back again. A mirror shows you what you’ve lost.)

8. Gum (always useful.)

9. A toad (that’s the tricky part.)

Now, in my original list, I only had the items, not the explanations. But as I remember it, the explanations are close – or mostly close – to my thinking in eighth grade. In any case, I provided myself no instructions, believing that magic can have no instruction. Magic is intuitive. An instruction can be manipulated, distorted, bent. Intuition is the child of intention and resources; it is practical, decisive, industrious, and, above all, useful.

Even when it is not used.

I chose to refrain from turning my teacher into a toad. But I kept the list, just in case. And I list them here, not because I want you to use them, oh toad-turning reader. No! But to know that you can, but won’t. There is a marvelous power in won’t.

 

I had the power to turn my teacher into a toad. I didn’t. But the power remained, and it, like magic, transformed into something else – a poem, a painting, a story, a song. What is the thing that you won’t do? What is the power in you – running under your skin like electricity, buzzing in your fingertips, frizzing your hair, dazzling your eyes? And what will it be next?

Want to save Literature? Support small presses.

I’m not kidding around. For all the bellyaching lately about the Endless Deathknells of Literature (and Life!) as we know it (yeah, Garrison, I’m talkin’ to you), not nearly enough attention is being paid to the vigorousness and vitality abounding in the small press world. The small press world is populated by millions of profoundly brave souls who deeply care about books. They stake their futures on books and leverage their livelihood on books and sometimes even mortgage their children’s future on books. And it is this willingness to risk everything that has fueled a renaissance in literature – one that’s happening right now –  that is recharging, re-invigorating and resuscitating the Book.

It’s the small presses, the independent booksellers, the indie zines, and the micropresses who are pushing boundaries in literature. For those of us who are constantly on the lookout for books that inspire us, challenge us, books that push language and concepts and ideas into uncharted territory, we know better than to search out the old standbys on the bestseller list. Instead, we look to the vanguard – where books rethink and recreate the world.

I’m thinking about this right now, because I have a new story up on Shimmer’s website – one that you can read for free (did you say free?) for just signing up for their newsletter. Now, this is something that we should be doing anyway – because we can’t always afford to buy every book we want nor can we subscribe to every journal that we think is awesome. But, what we can do is stand up and be counted. We can say, yes! I value this! I support books and thinking and language and image. I believe that literature is a living thing, a world unto itself, one that expands and greens and fertilizes all who touch it. I believe in the power of stories and the power of great books.

Anyway, if you feel like reading the story, head over to Shimmer, and show your support. And in the meantime, here is my question for you folks: Who are the small booksellers and book makers that are currently revving your booklust currently? For me, PS Publishing, Subterranean Press, Graywolf Press, and Small Beer Press get my vote.

What are your favorites?

Right Brain, Left Brain: Or, How My Shaky Yoga Skills Made Me Re-think My Writing

I was at yoga class last night, breathing deeply and stretching my sweaty body from one end of the universe to the other, when I realized something: I am entirely unable to balance on my right foot.

When I’m on my left side, my balance is rock solid – my Tree Pose isn’t just a tree. I’m a freaking redwood. And my Warrior 3 would have stopped Genghis Khan in his tracks. But on the right side, forget it. I wobble and sway. My breathing becomes ragged and panicked as I utter little yelps of oh-my-g0d-I’m-going-to-FALL. And then I do.

But, you know, it wasn’t always that way. When I was young, I kicked with my right leg in soccer, and led with my right leg in the 300-meter hurdle race, and used my right leg as my launch for the high jump. You’d think that my leg-preference wouldn’t change as I got older, but it did. And when it changed, my writing did too.

So, I was thinking about this as I walked home, and my mind wandered to one of my favorite poems of all time:

(Sonnet CXVI)

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare

My dad read that poem at the grooms dinner right before I got married. I was twenty-five, pregnant, happy, and terribly, terribly in love. At the dinner, my dad’s point was that my marriage to Ted was one step beyond the idea of true minds, but was rather the union of two halves of one mind: Left brain (Ted) and right brain (Kelly). Ted, analysis; Kelly, language. Ted, logic; Kelly, intuition. And so forth.

The thing, is, I’ve never seen myself as much of a right-brained person. Firstly, I’m right-handed, which would lead one to believe that I’m left-dominated and not right. Secondly, while it’s true I’m a bit of a language freak, I’m not at all visually inclined. I don’t think in pictures, nor have I ever. Art, though I appreciate it and am moved by it, doesn’t have the same language for me that it has for my artistic friends. I know people who are utterly fluent in the language of images. I don’t even have a rudimentary vocabulary. And, even more: When I was a senior in high school taking Calculus, I became instantly aware that becoming more adept in that sort of interconnected and nuanced mathematics was making me a better writer: My papers were more precise, my arguments more delicate and reflective. The language of mathematics made the tools of written language more available to me.

So wouldn’t that make me left-brained?

And I thought about that as I made the final preparations for the wedding the next day. Ted, with his growing exploration of architecture and design, was becoming far more fluent than I in the language of images. Meanwhile, my writing was lodged in the norms and mores of graduate school pedantry. My paragraphs were numbered, my arguments laid out with bullet points. I spoke the language of institutional logic, and finished near the top of my class using writing as a tool to cut, slice, lay the matter bare. Perhaps my dad was wrong. Perhaps Ted was the right-brain.

And I probably would be thinking that same thing even now, if it weren’t for a major event ten years ago.

Ten years ago, I was in the passenger seat of a car. My sister was driving, my eight-month-old baby was in the back, as was my dog. And a large, white van smashed into us. I was the only one hurt in the accident (thank God!), but I was hurt. Right ankle broken, bruised jaw, the skin of half my face ripped right off (thanks, airbags!).  My right ankle has never been the same: It’s still swollen, the joint’s unstable, and it has about half the strength of my left ankle.

And starting then, I came to prefer my left leg over my right. It’s the leg I lead with when I start to walk; it’s the foot I kick with; it’s the foot I use while hoisting myself up a ladder. And you know what’s weird, once I started favoring the left, my writing changed. I began thinking in images. My use of language became more intuitive, impulsive and rhythmic. Metaphor made more sense to me than explanation. I embraced surrealism, fabulism, the fantastic. I became this writer. And, barring any more car accidents, I’ll likely stay this writer. I am right-brained. I go cross-eyed at forms, I can do the same equation fifty-seven times and get fifty-seven answers and cannot logic my way out of a baseball cap.

Which brings me back to the poem: The heart of that poem is alteration, that we are buffeted and tossed on a vast and undulating sea, and it is Love that guides us and sets us right again. But we are always in motion. We cannot not be in motion. I am not the same person that I was when I was twenty-five. I think differently, I speak differently, I reason differently. I think in paradox and speak in poetry. I care little for precision and instead embrace ambiguity and organic gesture. The one thing that has remained? My ever fixed mark? That would be Ted. Because he is magnificent and I am, after eleven years of wedded bliss (and a few more of non-wedded bliss),still terribly, terribly in love.

Right brain, left brain. All that matters is the heart.

A Great Reluctance

You know in Lord of the Rings, when Bilbo – and then Frodo – are asked to hand over the Ring, and they are overcome and kind of crazed by a sudden unwillingness to part with the wretched thing, despite how it has taken over their lives and made them miserable?

I am in my last bits of Novel edits. The last little things before My Dear Editrix sends the manuscript off to copy editing. And as difficult as the last few months have been, despite the sheer number of times that I’ve bashed my head against the keyboard and torn drafts to shreds and delayed relaxation and having fun and life in general, and the number of times that I’ve seriously considered setting my hair on fire……despite ALL THAT……*sigh*  I just don’t want to let it go.

And I’m dragging my feet. And I’m trying to find major problems that are going to need a month at least to fix. But no. I’m going to have to send my little book into its next phase. And I’m panicking.