Thursday, June 30, 2005

You Know You're Doing Something Right if You Make Someone Cry

(Residency Day 8)

Which I did today, in the best possible way. I turned in a poem for workshop that actually caused someone to be so moved as to cry while she read it out loud for the group (FYI: workshops usually involve either the poet reading the poem out loud before critique begins, someone else reading it out loud, or both--can give you more depth and understanding by hearing it out loud, or bring to light inconsistencies between written and aural presentation that need to be addressed). Which in turn got me starting to cry, although I held back pretty well. You see, as I may have mentioned before, one of the biggest criticisms I've gotten since joining this program is that my poems are unnecessarily emotionally detached....talking about highly-charged subjects, but effectively removing myself from the poem, which leaves it coming off cold. Sometimes understatement is an effective tool to get at something larger than words can express, but sometimes too much is too much.

Anyway, I wrote a poem while I was here about "the summer of '99" which is yet another euphemism and I really don't feel like explaining here why that specifically was a horrific, terrible summer for me--those who know will just know, and those who don't can feel free to ask me in private--because I decided that I needed to dig down deeper and write about something that I simply cannot brush off or speak of lightly. I went for gut-wrenching and I got it, seriously. It was a huge breakthrough for me. All the poetry spilling out of me this week has been so charged, so messy and beautiful and emotive. Like a dam breaking.

Paula told me that she thinks the second residency and correspondance semester is probably the biggest for most students, because finally you can stop focusing on the "how do I do this program" and focus more on yourself, on your work. You know the ropes now. You can just go with it. I am beginning to agree with her--no, wait, I already agree, and have been since, like, Monday.

I really am starting to miss home, though. All this personal growth and no one to hug me through it. And do you ever notice how powerful it is for two people who are in an intimate relationship to use each other's names? So often you just fall into "baby," "honey," "sweetie," etc. and then when the REAL name is's huge. Just a thought I had the other day.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Darkness: A Personal Discovery (Residency Day 5)

You never know what to expect when you're here, I swear. You come to Poetry Camp (can you spot a euphemism when you see one?) and expect only to work on poetry. Didn't know I'd also be working on myself. To make a long story short, I workshopped a poem today that I thought was simply breezy, light, summery, happy....a poem about being a newlywed. Imagine my surprise when someone says it's "dark." Dark? WTF?! I was almost offended, it took me so off guard (and it has been a long time since I got offended in a workshop).

Then I thought about it more, and talked with Judith a little bit, and realized that I had something to learn about the way I was perceiving my marriage and basically the way I handle anything "negative." I never thought of myself as a bottler of emotions, but I can say that the one emotion I hide from the most is shame. I will do almost anything to avoid admitting some form of shame, that I made a mistake, that I hurt someone, or did something stupid. Not so much in little day-to-day things, but bigger ones. And that is really not how life is. It's not how a healthy relationship is. How superficial it would be to only celebrate the light in someone else, the good deeds done, the positive attitude. How superficial to overlook the rest, the things that make you whole.

And then I thought back to when Ryan and I were first dating, the kinds of conversations we had then.....long ones, insanely long, and painful sometimes. The kind you can only have with the lights off when you're lying in bed and not even really looking at each other, muttering your darkest secrets and fully expecting to be laughed at, chastised, or rejected. And the joy of being accepted, even more deeply loved! Of course now we don't have a whole lot of secrets to tell....we pretty much told them all in those first few months. So what happens now that it's just daily living stuff to deal with? I began to stuff tuck away carefully so that I never appeared anything but perfect. No mistakes allowed. And when some slipped out, I still felt that old certainty of rejection, or unforgiveness.

Why do I assume this? Why do I think that someone who has already confessed unconditional, lifelong love to me will all of a sudden recant? And why then do I systematically try to avoid such a situation?

It's amazing what your writing will express even when you won't. It's amazing what gets through "under the radar" and pours out, and everyone else can see it but you. I have always thought that my writing was the key to truth in my life....the times when I stopped writing were a clue to me that all was not well, that I was lying to myself in some form or another. I barely wrote, except by school assignment, during the three years I dated Drew. And even within my relationship and marriage to Ryan, there have been dry spells.....and it's not so much then that our relationship is in any kind of trouble, but my own little dishonesties to myself clog my pen (then that circles back to, if I told the truth faster, then our marriage would be in trouble--which is a false assumption).

I remember, too, when we started dating, that I was journaling a lot more, getting things worked out privately almost as soon as issues came up. I didn't sit on them, wait for a better time to think about them, or anything. Feelings up, feelings out--nothing festered. It used to come automatically. Now that I am a little more busy and less energetic than I was then, perhaps I need to be Type A about it and actually schedule journaling time.

Because truly, it's not just in relationships that I do this....I avoid shame anywhere and everywhere. And my brain tells me that the only way to avoid shame is to avoid making mistakes, and we all know that won't happen, for as long as I'm alive.

I feel at a precipice....about to fall....but it's okay, there's something soft and warm at the bottom. And I can wear a parachute if it makes me feel safer.