Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shoes to Fill

This is not the sentiment I expected to come up on Father's Day (and it isn't actually directed toward my father), but up it came. I don't know how to explain this poem, or even if I should - it is what it is, and it is filled with love and respect despite outward appearances.

I've followed in your footsteps more than once
but only halfway.
Always a step behind, never quite catching up
to your expectations.
Your shoes are too large for my feet to fill,
your height too tall for me to measure up, even on tip-toe,
to look you in the eye and tell you --
I wanted with all my heart to be just like you
and believe me, I tried.
But the shoes don't fit
and they don't belong to me.
Will you let me tie my own shoes instead
and walk beside you?

Happy father's day to all my fathers and father figures - I love you all, and look forward to walking side by side with you for many years to come.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Maintaining Sanity Through Poetry

Have I mentioned I love magnetic words? This is SO good for me.

Monday, June 09, 2008


I found my magnetic poetry today, while packing up my kitchen. Hundreds of words jumbled together in small boxes and yogurt containers, an eclectic mix of generic, romantic, college and marine biology themes (use your imagination). I instantly had the urge to plaster them all over my refrigerator, and then pull up a chair and “write” for hours. I didn’t, but it got me thinking…

Lately (as in, the last several years), I have lamented the fact that I do not write as often or as prolifically as I used to. More troubling is the fact that, when I do write, it often seems to lack the “punch” that I used to be able to pack. I am thinking specifically of poetry here, but this also applies to prose. When I go back and read some of the things I wrote toward the end of high school, for instance, or during the first couple of years of college, I am immediately transported back to that time, and can vividly picture exactly what I was going through and how I felt. I remember people I had long since forgotten, old stories are drawn back to light and relived, and I am surprised at how purely I was able to use words to express my truth. (Keep in mind, please, that this is all entirely from my own perspective; I may occasionally share what I write with others, but it is not their critiques that I am concerned with here, but rather how I feel about my own work.)

More often nowadays, when I write it is because I feel like I should write. No, that’s not quite right. I write because I have an experience or emotion I need to take outside of myself and examine, to put into words that can explain it to myself and make it more real (or, conversely, to distance myself from it if it is so real as to be all-consuming). But it’s not the same. I coerce the words onto the paper, with much hemming and hawing and subtle revising. I write because I want to, not because I have to, not because inspiration strikes and I absolutely must pick up pencil and paper and let the words flow, scribbling until my hand cramps, heedless of sloppy handwriting or misspellings or broken chains of thought.

I have always been drawn to magnetic poetry (and I make no apologies for my choice of words here; it is entirely true). I used to spend hours in front of the refrigerator, lost in contemplation, drawing poetry out of a jumbled collection of parts of speech. Sometimes I would scan the words, choosing the ones that seemed to jump out at me, and seeing what I could make of them. Other times, when I had the skeleton of a poem in magnets, the remainder would write itself in my head, and I would search for (or sometimes painstakingly construct) the words I needed to flesh it out. Magnetic poetry was not just a game for me, an idle way to pass the time; it was a true creative endeavor, and I still believe that some of my best poetry was composed on the refrigerator. (Incidentally, I wrote down every poem I ever wrote with magnets, and I have always been grateful that I did. Some art is made to be temporary – people might argue that this is the nature of word magnets, but I disagree – once the words become poetry, they deserve to be recorded.)

I think the thing I liked so much about magnetic poetry was that it inspired creativity, offered it up on a silver platter, a write-your-own-menu feast for the imagination. Here are the words, all you have to do is give them meaning. Play with them, put them in the right order, breathe life into them, make them your own. I wrote poetry with magnets that I would never have dreamed of writing if I had had to come up with the words on my own. I expressed emotions in full view that I would never have been able to unravel in the private pages of my diary. I think the freedom that the magnetic words offered me allowed me to open myself more fully, and brought a greater freedom to my “real” writing than I would have had otherwise.

And now I find myself wondering if that is part of the reason my writing has stagnated in the last few years: I have not had these magnets on my last several refrigerators, and have not been making use of the brilliant tools they provide for unlocking my creativity. I stopped putting the magnets up on my refrigerator because I thought they made it look cluttered, but I didn’t realize that that “clutter” on the refrigerator helped to clear my mind.

And so, after all of this contemplation, and after I finished doing all of the things I was “supposed” to do today, I came home and began plastering magnetic words all over my refrigerator. Three days before I have to take them all down again when I move, but I don’t care. As soon as the words start coming out of the boxes, I can’t stop myself – the first poem begins to write itself, then the second. Soon I have four going at once, I’m looking for certain words as I pull handfuls of them from the box, and snatching at others I hadn’t thought of but that capture my imagination. I have to do this. It is an amazing feeling, this need to write. It has been far, far too long since I’ve had this feeling, and it feels so good. One random string that forms as I slap the words haphazardly onto the freezer door expresses it perfectly:

Original banter fiery write poetry poetry woman

Poetry, woman. Write poetry. So I do.

waking my heart voice
to ask the thousand questions
burning deep in my breast
one vast star blazes in eternal answer:
there are no secrets
you have always known
give joy
that is all


soft velvet and sacred smoke
cold marble and keen shards of white glass
a carefully sculpted angel
but above all
a rose
gentle and wild at once
speaking a deep red truth

I stop when I’ve written five poems, the freezer door is entirely covered with words, and I still have two boxes to go. That is enough for tonight. But you’d better believe the rest of them are coming out tomorrow.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Only Thing I Can Draw

Let me start this post by admitting that I've always been very hard on myself when it comes to my drawing ability. Hmm, let me revise that: in all honesty, my own drawings make me cringe in mingled embarrassment and frustration most of the time. My automatic response when asked to draw something is "Oh, no - I can't draw." I freeze in fear when I'm expected to sketch something on the spot, even if it's "just for fun." Because it's not fun. I have the most beautiful pictures in my head, but I am pretty much never ever ever satisfied with the way they come out when I try to put them on paper. So, sadly, I hardly ever try. And it is sad; I really really wish I could draw better; I really wish drawing didn't scare me; I really wish I weren't so judgmental about the results. But the fact remains that (at least so far in my life) I've been far too self-conscious and self-critical to even take a class - or even to practice in the privacy of my own company where nobody else will even know I tried - to improve.

But today is Drawing Day, and I've managed to ignore my inhibitions enough to actually post something I've drawn (but look quick, before I change my mind!) The only thing, in fact, that I have ever drawn with any modicum of confidence. The drawing that graced the top hole of every three-hole-punched piece of paper that passed through my hands my senior year in highschool. The thing I had tattooed on my shoulder nine years ago (though I didn't draw that one - I'm not that brave!). Have you guessed yet?

Hey, at least I can still write about drawing, even if I don't like doing it, right? :) And I am eternally grateful that I can write.


P.S. The sunflower is now in my recycling bin. Some things never change.