Back from OR and CA. The holidays stretched out to include two weeks of working with my friend and co-editor, JoAn, in CA. We accomplished a lot, published the latest issue of our journal, read submissions for the next one, contacted poets . . . and in the back of my mind was my own writing. I'd written one poem on the road trip from CO, and another my last full day in CA.
In-flight, after reading a particularly negative article in Poets and Writers, I knew one reason I wasn't writing, why it seemed more a chore than a joy. I had fallen into the world of magical thinking. Someday I would be known, published in the bigger journals, and make money from writing poetry. I'm an editor of a small press poetry journal, I should know better.
Instead of despair, this latent realization brought extreme relief. I've been stuck in someone else's model for success. I can now relax and return to my previous mind-set where writing is for the joy of it, not for the pay-off of publication or an occasional check in the mail. I can go back to daydreaming and observing and just being myself. And if something does open, some wider arena, I will enter it knowing I've earned it.
Months ago I bought a used copy of the book, Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This from chapter 6:
A person who becomes familiar with the conventions of poetry, or the rules of calculus, can subsequently grow independent of external stimulation.
Sometimes having control over such an internalized symbol system can save one's life. It has been claimed, for instance, that the reason there are more poets per capita in Iceland than in any other country of the world is that reciting the sagas became a way for the Icelanders to keep their consciousness ordered in an environment exceedingly hostile to human existence.
Isolated in the freezing night, they used to chant their poems huddled around fires in precarious huts, while outside the winds of the interminable arctic winters howled. If the Icelanders hadn't spent all those nights in silence listening to the mocking wind, their minds would have filled with dread and despair. By mastering the orderly cadence of meter and rhyme, and encasing the events of their own lives in verbal images, they succeeded instead in taking control of their experiences.
Taking control of our experiences. No wonder the proliferation of MFAs in America. We as a collective are living in a hostile environment, bombarded hourly by dire political and environmental predictions. We have recently exited an "end of the planet" mania because of an ancient calendar's ending. Now we are taking in the aggression of gun control arguments. Creating order with poetry, as well as any other symbolic system, makes sense when our outer world becomes threatening.
I usually avoid new year's promises, but this year I have committed to re-connecting to my writing life. Not the magical one I found myself in, but the real one, where writing is a joy and a passion, where the work takes precedence, and all else is icing on the poetic cake.
My writing often deals with the environment, my poetry filled with allusions to natural and man-made disasters. I have unlimited hope though; there is just too much wonder in this world to become a defeatist. To quote Margaret J. Wheatley, '"Hopelessness has surprised me with patience."