Tag Archives: Courage

On Starting and Stopping. {The End of Poetry}

Hiroo

On Tuesday 4th of August I stopped writing poetry.

It wants to be dramatic like that, doesn’t it?

In the middle of February 2015, I started a daily poetry project quite by accident. I had been writing poems almost every day, they came without effort or planning, and I began to wonder what it would be like to write a poem every day. Not just every day, but every day for year. “Why not?,” I thought. I had lots of ideas and lots to say. By writing every day, my writing would improve. And I love the form that poetry takes… the rhythmic pops and weaves, the hard kernels at the bottom of the paper bag of meaning, the small sparkling somethings from a regular day in a regular life in Yokohama, Japan or New York City or Ottawa, Canada. And so I began, poem by poem, to map out my world and the people and emotions I encountered there.

And it was good.

I shared these poems on my blog and on my Facebook page and people let me know, with their words, which poems they loved and, with their silence, which ones hadn’t worked so well for them. But I was not put off by the silence. Every poem found its readership even if that was just one. One Damien or Spike or Jessie or Aynne or Ashley or even myself. The world of a poem is not greedy. It does not demand more space than you can afford. It can be as small as one idea jotted on a Starbucks napkin and folded into small squares in your pocket. A marble of a poem. A one yen coin.

And even though I traveled, this summer, to Bangkok and then to New York and then to Ottawa and then to a cottage I had rented with my family, and even though I experienced a passport mishap (entirely my fault) and the subsequent high velocity issuing of a temporary passport, the poems still came, more or less every day, without stress or worry.

This was also a summer in which I’d decided to take a break from social media. Primarily Facebook and Twitter although, in truth, I have never understood how Twitter works. I feel like Twitter is social media’s great black hole and everything I put there just disappears. So taking a break from Twitter was no great loss but being away from Facebook took a lot of discipline on my part. And then not so much.

And I got to the part of my summer when I was surrounded by other writers, many of them truly lovely people (like kindred-spirit-lovely), and they were sharing their words and images freely, madly and something in me just shut off. Two somethings, actually. The creative something in me that writes the poems and takes the photos, and the courageous something in me that doesn’t overthink the sharing. That one that just jumps. She’s a sparkly bit, that one.

When you write a poem every single weekday, you get to a point where you are just going to tell the truth. Whatever the truth happens to be. This is both uncomfortable and inconvenient. Not nice. It felt not nice to have these true and distinctly unlovely things to be working through and to be faced with the task of producing a poem from those thoughts every day.

There are people who write about the darkness. Stephen King, God bless him. Stieg Larsson. People who have purchased their Writing Palace in a dark realm. That’s not the neighbourhood for me. I’m a real estate agent for the light ~ committed to helping people find the light and then live there.

So I stopped writing poems every day. I did feel a bit guilty at first. I considered writing eight more so that I could claim I had written six months’ worth of daily poems. (We’re such fragile, vain creatures, aren’t we?) But I did not write eight more. I began writing notes on scraps of paper and in my fuchsia pink moleskin and on my phone… notes about what I saw and felt and how all of those things fit together or do not.

With each poem-less day, I thought more about my novel The 37 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa. Six months ago I completed a shitty first draft. Two months ago, a friend gave me brilliant notes for some next steps. Now, in the absence of daily poems, I am working my way back to that world, to writing a second draft and then a third and as many as it takes to put that story into your hands.

And that makes me really, really happy.

This morning, in Tokyo, I started typing a poem into my phone. It’s about an old woman and a much younger man sitting on a bench in the rain and the art of sitting still and how beauty is God in the world. This is the poem I want to write.

Maybe I’ll share it.

What would you like to start if you could?

What would you like to stop?
 

Fly Anyway

plane

The man in the black Guns N’Roses shirt
and ball cap in the seat across the aisle
does not enjoy flying. He does not chat
with his partner seated near the window
or leaf through the inflight magazine. He
does not use the entertainment system.
He glances at his watch and breathes deeply.
He sits straight and stares ahead at nothing
in particular. When even that is
too much, he plays a game on his smartphone.

Solitaire.

We’re ninety minutes into a two and
a half hour flight. He tucks his phone away
in the blue leather pocket of the seat
in front of him and stares ahead again.

I want to say, “You’re doing great.” I want
to say, “I know just how you feel.” I don’t.
I suspect the only thing that’s worse than
being a forty year old man afraid
of flying is to have a stranger call
attention to it. So he sits and he
stares straight ahead. I send him empathy
and encouragement like silent little
love bombs.

And I take out my pink moleskin and write
this poem for all the courageous ones
who are afraid to fly but fly anyway.
 

Brave

brave

There are lots of ways to be brave
that don’t involve jumping out of a plane
or trekking through the desert.

Do
one
thing
differently.

Try again.
Start over.
Ask for help.

Encourage someone
even though
you’re tempted
to be critical.

Say:
“Wow! This is hard.”
I was wrong.
I am sorry.

Change jobs
or stay in this one.
Make it work.

Get out of bed.

Tell someone “I love you”
or “I no longer feel the same”
or “I want something better for both of us.”

Tell the truth.

Name your dreams out loud.
Make a joy list and do it.
Choose happy.

Do something before you feel ready
(because you suspect
you’ll never be ready)

It’s not our job
to tell others
what their bravery is.

Lots of warriors are quiet.
 

An Ode to Original Content

bicycle

i.
We live in a wild new age,
and this frontier
in which we are
cowgirls + boys
is the Internet.

Nobody knows what is possible.

ii.
In this amazing
and limitless space,
some are obsessed
with the idea of
viral.

Hundreds of thousands
of followers
starts to feels
like the norm

It’s not.

iii.
Other folks
stay inside the log cabins
of Facebook and Twitter.
With less and less
original
+ illuminating
content,
they’ve become
play-it-safe dwellings
for posting cute pics
of kittens.

And websites
tell us
in bold headlines
how their recycled stories
will transform our lives.

{When my life is transformed,
I don’t normally need a heads up.}

iv.
I wish to be
both
brave and vulnerable
in this wild frontier.

I want to tell
some stories,
perhaps fictional
but all true.

I want to describe
what it looked like
and felt like
from here.

I hope you will too.
 

Lessons learned while my partner completed an MFA in Creative Writing

At the end of March 2012, my partner DP finished his MFA in Creative Writing. His thesis was an original television show. Now that I think of it, I should have thrown him a virtual graduation party. (Wait, it’s not too late… but that’s a separate post!)

Over the past three years, I have often felt like I was enrolled in the same degree program. Here’s what I have learned:

  1. Writers write.
    Writers write on a regular basis (possibly every day) whether they feel like it or not. That’s how one gets better at writing and how one has something to publish. This is much harder than it seems.

  2. Get it all down on the page.
    Thanks to Natalie Goldberg for this one.

  3. Use the words you know.
    These are good words. You probably don’t need any more.

  4. Don’t worry about which genre your work falls into.
    That is not your job. Your job is to help the story unfold word by word.

  5. Write with your ideal readers in mind.
    Identify them… and then write for them. I write with about five people in mind including DP and my sister Megan. They are all smart, funny people (mostly women) who love words. They have all been supportive of my writing and I know that they would read anything that I wrote. Thinking about them makes it easier for me to get my words down on the paper.

Over the past couple of years, I have heard several (perfectly lovely) people say, “I don’t want to read my friend’s book just in case it isn’t good.” I am not writing for these people because their discomfort and worries about the quality of (my) writing are not helpful.

  1. Write with a tender heart. Edit with a sword.
    After you have completed the first draft, you may need/want to set aside your manuscript for a little while because the next step is going to require your most objective work thus far as well as a combination of compassion and savagery. To improve your story, you will probably have to make things harder for your characters than you did the first time around. You may have to prevent your heroine from meeting her true love or from finding the cure for cancer so early in the story. Perhaps she doesn’t fall in love at all. We edit with the story in mind – not the comfort of our characters as much as we may like them. William Faulkner claimed that, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

  2. Embrace peer review.
    Ask other writers to read your work. (Your lovely partner may not always be the ideal peer reviewer.) Listen carefully and ask lots of questions so that you can understand why certain aspects of your piece are not working for them. Decide which recommendations are helpful to your work and edit your work accordingly. You cannot please everyone or you’ll end up with tapioca pudding.

  3. Send your work out into the world.
    Oh, it is going to be totally scary and people (somewhere between one and MANY) are going to reject your work. It’s not personal (or maybe it is) but in the end, a writer can choose to accept every rejection as a simple confirmation of her magician status. You created an entire world out of nothing. Congratulations and keep writing!

  4. Know that there are many ways to be a good writer.
    Some writers have brilliant story ideas – the arc of a story appears to them intact – while other authors breathe life into their characters like gods. Some writers are able to engineer life-altering obstacles that force their characters to grow like crazy… making the ride suspenseful and exciting for the reader. It has been my experience that many writers are not snobs about other people’s writing because they know exactly how hard it is.

  5. Ignore the haters.
    There are going to be people who dislike and hate your work. They are going to use big words to describe how spectacularly you have failed and there is not one thing you can do about that. Some of this criticism will be fair and some will not be. Perhaps it will help to remember that you have created something new, original and authentic and that you sent it out into the world… an act that required enormous faith and courage on your part. (Maybe it won’t help). Don’t read the bad reviews. They’ll haunt you like a revenge-seeking ghost and fill you with anger and bitterness at a time when you need that energy for the next book.

  6. Start the next project.

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p>Thanks to DP and to the University of British Columbia for the lessons.

What have you learned about writing… novels, blog posts, graduate dissertations… whatever. Please share it in the comments section below.