This week I’m in Massachusetts for the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. When I was accepted I thought about whether or not to come—do I spend the money, do I indulge myself so soon after finishing the MFA, after moving across the country and uprooting my life?—but I did come. I’m here. And I’ve added more questions to the questions. I’m in workshop this week with the wild and wonderful poet Harryette Mullen (who I quite frankly imagined as totally cerebral and intimidating, but she is the nicest most unassuming woman & poet and I want to sit beside her all the time). Harryette has us thinking about what happens when a poem asks questions, when it interrogates or affirms or negates what we might believe (as readers and writers).
I look at the news occasionally this week and feel like I’m drowning, which is to say that it’s a good time for Harryette’s workshop. It’s a good time to wake up and pay attention. To question everything. To expect more of ourselves. One day in class when we were all bemoaning the fact that we want to write more, and find our rigor/discipline, Harryette said, “a bad time for anything else is a good time for writing.” Which is to say don’t mop the floor; go write. Don’t fold the laundry, don’t mail the thank-you cards. Go write. Do it first. Do it most. There will always be other things tugging at you, getting in the way. That never stops. I’m not sure if she even said all of this exactly, but that’s how it keeps resonating in my head. Stop putting off this thing that takes up most of your headspace anyway. Sit down and give it some good love, some good attention. Respond to the news. Create a discourse. Write about it. (Also, there are not simple answers to these profound current circumstances aka crises. But I must try to do something, somehow).
Also, something I’ve been thinking concurrently about, which I know that Harryette did say, with certainty, is to connect to the pleasure you experience in writing/creating your own work. Of course! Shouldn’t it be this? Shouldn’t we love it more? It makes me feel weird, this whole idea of pleasure, but maybe that is a deeper, more intricate psychological layer of mine—that pleasure and I don’t connect more. Somehow I’ve never felt overjoyed by the pleasure of writing. I’ve felt it with reading. Oh, I have felt it so many times that books vanish within me after I complete them, lines are burned on my brain and I try to hold the heat there but it goes, too, after a while. I don’t have enough room for it all. The pleasure I feel while listening to writers read, I’ve felt those palpable waves, too. But somehow, this doesn’t always translate/transfer to my own process of writing. My own creation. Why? Why the struggle, the drag, the avoidance, the fear? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve felt surprise and joy and yes, satisfaction, when a piece begins to take shape that I really like, that I really believe in and trust, but often the process is nebulous and too full of doubt or whatever to feel super joyful. Maybe it’s my content. Maybe I’m too sad and self-reflective. Maybe that’s what makes it hard? Maybe it’s a lack of permission in my consciousness, my intellect, my body, my cells, to really take in pleasure freely. Is it a lack of allowance? Is it a lack of YES? I’m not sure. Writer Joy Williams shared this Wittgenstein quote today in a panel on the intersections of art and politics: “I don’t know why we’re here, but I’m pretty sure it’s not in order to enjoy ourselves.” Well, shit. I nearly laughed out loud. He’s right, but he’s also not right. And Harryette is right, too! Pleasure. That is all. Not drowning, but waving. Paying more attention to what makes me feel good, what I like, what interests me, what matters to me about the world around me, what challenges me. Letting in the difficult questions, sending out the word.