Wednesday, May 14, 2008

'Cast a cold eye'

Over the last few weeks, have been spending about two days a week trying to write about Robert and about illness.  I avoided a lot of this while at Warren Wilson, largely because it's working on too many things at once: technique of various sorts, material, emotion.  After spending several years trying to break through the ceiling of my own technical abilities (while at WW) and feeling as though I was having some success, have turned back to creative possibilities and impossibilities, technique and application, emotion and restraint, and trying to break through the brick wall that separates creative life and actual facts of my life.  

This is all after a cold-eyed review of my manuscript, which has met with some limited success--finalist and semi-finalist a couple of places--and trying to determine what will best shape it.  Or rather, what is rising from it.  And I think that what is rising from it is something shaped around this experience of having Robert.  Probably not poetry steeped in an aesthetic realism or in incident and anecdote (though there are certainly fine poems of those types around).  It's just that the whole thing is so surreal with him: a dramatic collapse that is hard to describe and convey, a dramatic shift, virtually overnight from a normative life for all of us to a multi-year journey through not just disability, but disease and breakdown, deterioration and instability.  And no answers--although I might point out that not knowing was a strange comfort for a long time.  When you don't know and there are no available explanations, you are free to make your own narrative out of the facts as you perceive them. Which, from the outside, can look like denial or lying.  From the inside, it looks like truth and it feels like truth and a coexistence with this interiority is like looking in the face of truth.  And I would often become convinced that whomever was looking in and seeing denial was merely seeing their own surface of incredulity mirrored back at them.

And it's abstract.  I've recently discovered a handful of other special needs mothers who also blog--more professionally and for a longer time than myself.  I've never met them, but have started visiting their blogs.  One writes recently about Eliot's objective correlative ( and how a teacher's devotion to that principal has affected her and shaped her creative life (she's creative nonfiction and fiction, I believe).  On the one hand, this seems like something I need to meditate on more, on the other hand, I honestly can't come to grips with any sort of objective correlative for what has happened.  I try, and I guess some sorts of things appear in my work, but the abstractness of it all keeps driving the work in odd ways.  

The correlatives in my poems about Robert, when they appear, are like some kind of ballast around which some other linguistic experience seems to run.  I've strayed a long way away from image and concrete detail in the last few years, away from the poem as record and incident, and toward looking for or working toward some kind of different syntax, different diction, wavering emotional temperatures.  But I'm trying to reconnect to images and objects.  Or I want to, but the 'what happened' of it all then demands the acknowledgement of some other reality that I can't quite grasp or see sometimes.

Working this way, I get to the point with drafting where I feel a little nuts!  But I think some of the new material is starting to find a direction and may become more than just drafts at some point this year.  And it may be that as I force myself to write about this and push through it and enter it that I can start to understand it and 'see.'  Because sometimes consciousness sets up barriers that protect us.  Trying to dismantle these barriers has required not only a sort of dedicated toughness, but a willingness to face a lot of emotional discomfort, shall I say.  

At any rate, I went shopping on Tuesday, which is a dedicated writing day through the middle of June.  I needed objects, tangible things I could lay my hands on and own.  

If I can just get through the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be much happier.  It doesn't have a lot to do with writing; it has more to do with waiting.  In January, I was nominated for a tuition scholarship for Bread Loaf.  It's highly competitive, and I doubt I'll get it.  I'm not convinced that the various evidences of my career and publishing are yet at a high enough bar, i.e., I am under qualified.  And when I sent in my material in February, I wasn't yet focused on this work with Robert and was more focused on lyric issues.  So I'm dissatisfied with the work sample I sent.  But I guess you just do the best with the moment at hand, and leave it at that. 

I've been telling myself I've been to BLWC before and it's great but I don't need to go again this summer and it's too expensive to pay the $800 room and board fee and it would be hard on the kids and I need to spend time with my parents this August (also in VT, but way north) and I grew up in VT and get to go back all the time and I'll always have a connection with BL b/c I'm a Midd College alum--but the closer the end of May approaches, the more I really would like to go.  I hate wanting something and being in suspended animation.  I really like identifying a goal and working toward it.  I hate it when the process is at the point where it's completely out of my hands.  I had a friend at one point who would greatly criticize my tendency to go on and on, so will force a stop here.

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