Friday, July 23, 2010

Break Upwards

In an attempt to give myself a break from freaking out, by which I mean packing my apartment for next week's move to Houston, here's a few thoughts about the Tinhouse Summer Writer's Workshop, which I was at last week in Portland, OR. The website describes the program as a "One-week Writing Intensive"- I might describe it as simply a one-week intensive. After attending the Juniper Summer Writing Institute last year, I was fairly certain that I knew what to expect : a spartan living environment (read: plastic mattresses), daily provocative workshops & lectures, lots of time alone, walking in circles alone, lots of reading & writing. Tinhouse was quite different though - I spent more time rattling around in my brain than I expected, read a bit less. Last year, I was able to digest information quickly, maybe.. maybe there was less of ME in the front of my brain. Maybe last year, I had less at stake. The poems I brought to the table this year are poems that I haven't been able to write, that I've been trying to write for awhile now - poems about grief, about HIV, about disease. Poems with a sense of urgency, not just narrative works that I believe are needed in our culture, written with a desire to reach a specific type of audience. This new stuff - I don't know - perhaps this stuff is the first real urgency I've understood- confessional work knit closely a sense of wanting to save someone, or something, as soon as possible. This work is insistent, it has energy - not the dull ache that maybe I became used to writing from.

I don't believe in writer's block. Either I'm writing, or I'm not. It's been rare that I beat myself up for not writing, though in the past few years I've occasionally been tossed into crisis when realizing that I haven't written in awhile. I can never blame that on writer's block though, I blame it on getting involved with other things - relationships, recovery, television, exhaustion - but it's never some vague outside force, or a type of black hole in my brain that keeps me from writing. Writing is only alwys something I'm choosing to leave time for, or not. Even when I leave time for it, sometimes it doesn't happen - leaving that time open is the important thing. I wrote bizarre, bizarre linked poems last week at Tinhouse - a reflection on a terrible, dilapidated house I used to live in, another about the crazy Chinese man who sort of lived outside of that house in the bushes, and another that was more generally philosophical about what it meant to live in an environment like that, what happened to my identity & value system there. A few random poems also came out - one influenced by that Black-Eyed Peas song SHUT UP (Yes, I'm serious.) and another sort of about being on the Oregon coast - that place simultaneously quenched some thirst & opened hunger's trap door.

Back to the boxes, the bags & goodbyes...
Something more substantial soon..


Robby said...

I don't really believe in writer's block either. But I do think that in the times when we are the most frantic and overwhelmed, the strangest words come. They are harder to read through.
I really wish you luck in Houston. Next week is soon, very soon. But changes are good, and this new chapter of your life will be good for you, too. I'm sure you've already been told this, and already know, but I'll just throw my two cents in as well.
I really admire you. You are one of the people in my life, though not in human contact, that have effected me more than I can explain. Your disposition, the way you write, makes me want to write. I am so inspired by you, though it may not be to write, but just to live.
It is hard. I apologize for writing so much. Again, good luck. As always, thank you. I have been inspired to write poems by a few things I would never care to admit (though not the Black Eyed Peas.) I bet the poem is beautiful nonetheless.

Imola said...

According to some, consistency and routine is the never worked for me, though...I dislike them equally!

sophie said...

Robby, you are the most dear. The fact that anything I've written is important to you means more than I can say. And, whether or not you believe it, you inspire me too - who am I writing for if not for you? You make me keep wanting to tell the truth, whatever it may be that day.

Imola, hi. Routine & consistency are great practices to have. I think as a younger writer, I clung to routine more clearly, using Nulla dies sine linea (No day without a line) as a guiding factor (I had it written on a post-it note above my desk). There's always room for discipline in my life, I just have to be careful not to squeeze the life out of things...