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Archive for May, 2012

This One’s for the Poets

Reading Terrance Hayes’s Lighthead on a swing outside, overlooking ancient trees, gave me chills. If a more intimate way to love life exists, I’m not aware of it. The man is a poetry god. I saw him speak on a panel once, and spent the entire hour wondering how someone so young and stunningly good-looking speaks fluent truth and lyrical language.

I have a hard time considering myself a poet. There’s something intimidating about the label. I write poetry. It’s not my strongest genre, by any means, but I enjoy it. My prose is often inspired by poetry, and I admire gifted poets like no other. This might make me a poet. Not sure why that label makes me feel undeserving.

It took me a long while to embrace being called a writer, too. I recently reflected on the way I can’t even journal without being a “writer” and obsessing over language, crossing out weak words, or criticizing how many times I used the word “I.” When it’s a journal! Of course the whole time is spent talking about my thoughts, myself, my experiences. Who am I trying to impress? Sometimes I just want to write for the sake of writing—without worrying whether the words pack any punch or are worth writing out.

The sister who got me connected with where I live, and is also a poet, asked me to write a reflection to publish in their monthly newsletter. I’m being OCD about it, taking forever to write the thing. I’m trying to remember that many of the sisters taught grade school English and are therefore appalled by the way creative writers regularly break grammatical rules. Writing in unconventionally punctuated sentences allows me to feel most true to myself. I’m trying to return to composition-class-style writing for this reflection. It’s restrictive, though. Grammar is such a powerful tool when used properly, as well as when abused consciously. It took me forever to learn my English teacher in high school was right—that I needed to learn the rules of grammar before I could successfully break them. I was slow to catch onto grammar—never fully grasping it until college. That’s why I loved working at the university’s writing center. We strived to empower students, many of them coming in with low self-esteem about their writing ability due to some struggles with grammar.

I wish I could make all of the grammar snobs take a linguistics class. The rules for speaking are very different than the rules for writing. I’m an English major, and I still say I’m doing “good” when someone asks me how I’m doing. I know, if I’m writing—even an e-mail—to use “well.” I’m not uneducated, yet people who like black and white thinking are quick to assume such things when someone doesn’t speak like they learned a person is supposed to. What a shame there’s not more poets out there, encouraging people to test the limits of language.

Not what you see, but what you perceive:

that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement

of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.

 –From “Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Terrance Hayes

Transitions

One month until I move out of the convent. It’s hard to believe I’ve lived here since September. This final month will go quick, especially since I’ll be gone for over a week of it. In June I have to visit the college town I’m moving to in August. I also have a trip to Chicago planned to meet with my ind. study instructor. Times of transition are uncomfortable. It’s a challenge to stay present and appreciate each moment. I’m stuck in a mixture of grief and restlessness about moving away from the convent and later moving down south. I’ll stay with my parents for 6 weeks while I work my favorite summer job. It will be my seventh summer working as a teacher’s aid at a summer school for migrant children. It’s the most rewarding job. And what a joy it has been to watch some of the kids grow up over the years. 

I think I’ll keep this blog throughout the summer. I’m not sure what I plan to do in the fall. I have a blog I kept for 5 years prior to this one that I might return to. Or, I might just stop blogging. I’ll have to use the majority of my spare time toward “real writing,” meaning writing I obsess about and may eventually publish and/or turn in for a grade. 

Speaking of obsessing. I got my psychological test results back. I have ADHD (not a surprise), Anxiety (Also, not a surprise), and OCD (HUGE surprise). When I think of OCD, I think of my little sister–with her spotless bedroom and closet organized by color–or my best friend who washes her hands until they’re raw and won’t touch public doors. I don’t do either of those things. I’m, actually, a pretty messy person. There are phases in my life where I try to be more organized, but it never lasts. I blame my disorganization on my creative personality. There are plenty of neat, organized creative people. It just seems to make sense that my surroundings look scattered like my thoughts.

I do obsess about my writing (I can take hours to write a couple paragraphs). Isn’t it part of the job description of a writer? We pay attention to every word more than the average person. I didn’t think it was any sort of disordered thinking. My therapist also suggested that my OCD and perfectionism are how I survived in school even with untreated ADHD. 

When it was first suggested I might have ADHD, after my older brother was diagnosed last year, I thought it sounded absurd. ADHD kids were the trouble makers who never stopped talking and couldn’t stay in their seats. I was a well-behaved kid who did pretty well in school. Once I started researching the disorder, it made so much sense of my childhood and college experience. I always felt like things didn’t click right for me. Similarly, I avoid driving whenever possible, having developed some intense anxiety around it. I felt like something was wrong with me where I couldn’t pay attention to signs or traffic. I thought it was just some personality flaw or new form of stupidity. It’s so nice to know that my brain just processes things differently. It will be helpful to have this diagnosis while in grad school, especially since I’ll be required to take literature classes. Literature classes are insanely hard when they expect you to read complex pieces of literature in days before moving onto the next. Hopefully this diagnosis will allow me to better understand my learning style so I can excel. I’m optimistic about the future. A bit restless in the mean time. 

Miracles

Many of my atheist friends are uncomfortable with the word miracle. It’s because most folks perceive miracles as being the result of a personified deity. A brief personal religious history: I’ve identified as Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, Humanist, Atheist, and Agnostic at different points in my life. As of now, I like the terms Naturalist, Seeker, or Humanist. This angers people. Especially those who are threatened by different belief systems. They want to group me in a box as someone who thinks like them or someone who doesn’t. They can’t deal with someone floating outside of the boxes.

I tend to relate best to Atheists and Agnostics. But I have religious friends who have redefined God in a way that describes what I believe in. Many of the sisters have an evolved view of God that allows me to discuss God and Faith with them without feeling like a fraud. For example, some people define God as love or positive energy. Right on. I just can’t shake the patriarchal, violent etymology behind God. The term makes me uncomfortable. I associate it with guilt, abuse, and fear. I don’t know that I’ll ever be comfortable using that three-letter word to define my own spiritual beliefs. My experience living with nuns has helped me be more comfortable in my own beliefs. It healed me enough to have compassion for those who do not think like me. I used to be jealous of people of faith. So many of them are unaware that not everyone can make themselves believe what’s comfortable. Because I was not treated with compassion or respect when I disagreed with some religious folks, I didn’t think they deserved it back. I now understand intolerance stems from fear. And how sad it must be to feel so threatened by someone who doesn’t agree with you. I’ve lived in that sort of fear. It’s miserable. I hope by being able to reclaim some of the religious language, I will be able to have more honest and open dialogues with people of all beliefs. There’s something spiritual in respectful conversations about beliefs. When neither party is defensive, we can learn and grow so much from one another.

I’m reclaiming the word miracle, because it embraces mystery. Lately, I’ve been capturing photos of pine cones in different stages of growth. Pine cones are miraculous. I can’t believe I ever took their growth for granted. Watching the brown cap form over the new bunch of pine needles, and then slowly develop into a pine cone is mind blowing. Wildflowers are miracles too. Hopefully the photos capture some of the joy these things bring me. Still loving life.

Blank Pages

“[T]he wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon—a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding” (Henri Nouwen 86).

Blank pages excite and terrify me. Some days I love marking them up with sporadic thoughts, refusing to follow the lines or margins. Other times they induce breakdowns. The break from blogging started when my other writing was going well. I didn’t want to break up the creative flow. Then the silence continued when my writing started going poorly. In those moments, I get so frustrated with language, and my inability to control it, that typing out a reader-friendly update is the last thing I want to do.

I also had an upsetting situation happen at the pharmacy last week, and I needed some time to process it. I went to get my psych meds refilled. They informed me they couldn’t fill it, because my doctor (who is both my therapist and nurse practioner in charge of my meds) has had her license revoked. I’d just been in her office the day before for my ADHD testing. No one working there warned me about this. I also don’t think my ADHD testing is valid anymore. This was upsetting on many levels, and it caused a lot of stress that I didn’t deserve. That’s the way it goes. I coped pretty well, and I’m no longer taking the medication that made me feel drugged out at night. The side effects weren’t worth the results. I’m feeling healthier than ever these days. I think I can maintain health without replacing this last one. I’m keeping a close eye out for symptoms. I refuse to backslide.

The quote above is from The Wounded Healer. I went to a talk on Nouwen recently, and I got pumped up to read that book. Then, my ind. study instructor recommended I read it–without knowing I’d just been to a talk about it. I love when coincidences like that happen. I read it in 24 hours. I also just finished a self-help book about healing. It was a bit cheesy at times, but had some good reflection on why we subconsciously hinder our own healing sometimes and how to seek healing. I moved here to read and write, yet was unable to read or write for the majority of my time here. It was just a concentration issue. I don’t remember the last book I finished. Now, I’ve finished two in the last week. I’m making my second attempt at a book my ind. study instructor recommended earlier that I half read before quitting. Take 2 is going better. I hope to continue reading, especially since writing is going poorly. A poet I adore (Marie Howe) said when her students complain of writer’s block, she asks them what they’re reading. Being well read is just as much apart of the writing process as the actual writing. It feels great to be reading again. I spend hours out on the porch swings, reading and birdwatching. Life is good here. I hope to keep this new found peace with me when I move in with my parents for the summer in June… yikes…that’s sneaking up on me!