I haven’t been doing much writing lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking but that’s nothing more than just internalizing all of my thoughts and not giving them space to breath. Today, as I was out cycling, I began thinking, once again internalizing, about what it is that is keeping me from actually writing. I think it’s because I have yet to come to terms with being retired. I just don’t feel retired, I don’t yet have any grasp on the intricacies of retirement. I have been actively engaged, either as a student or a worker, for the better part of my life and now here I sit trying to sort out what this all means. So much has happened in the last few months, leaving Trinity, then selling our home in Melrose, moving to Delaware and finding a new home here in Smyrna, which I still haven’t gotten used to, yet. Now, the season of Advent is almost upon us and I have nothing to prepare for, no services, no annual Christmas fair, no visits to be made, no Christmas pageant to prepare, I just sit here while “Church” happens. To be honest, I miss Trinity, I miss the people, the activities the whole community and yet, I needed to leave, it was time. It doesn’t mean I have to like leaving, but it does mean that I now need to refocus my energies. The good news is that in a couple of weeks I will be taking a retreat up at Holy Cross Monastery in upstate New York. This retreat is actually a poets retreat, a time to get away and in the silence and solitude of the monastery to help me to get some perspective, not only my poetry but all of my writing efforts. Stories are everywhere and I do have stories to tell, I have poetry to write and so much stuff rolling around in my head that if I don’t write it will burst out anyway. One thing I need to do is get back into the GrubStreet mode, write everyday, don’t worry about being perfect, just write. That poem lurking back there among other thoughts that litter my mind, go ahead and write that also, stop worrying, no one is perfect. Take that chance, write that story, set down those internal thoughts on paper or in this case, the iPad, and allow it the space to grow in the light instead of festering in the backwash of the mind. Maybe, if I write down these thoughts, it I take some time to explore them as they take shape on the pages, then I might just discover something about myself that has lain in the dark for so long.
Will I ever know what it means to be a writer,
will I ever compose that one great love poem
or guide a reader into a realm they’ve never seen,
or am I doomed to just sit here in the darkened space
struggling with finding those elusive words
that just won’t come no matter how much I call
sitting outside of my vision taunting me as I write.
So, I sit here alone surrounded by the wisdom
of writers who have struggled in their own right
and the ghosts of so many who have long since gone
who wrote those now classic works that live still today.
Will I ever know what it means, really, really means.
In the past few weeks my life has changed. First, I retired, second, I’ve moved. Now I’m trying to figure out what shape my life will take, so I offer this small piece of reflection. It’s not perfect, nor is it finished but it is where I am at the moment.
July 11, 2018
Thanks, once again to Parker Palmer I have another mystery to unravel in my attempt at the writers life. Here he quotes Henry David Thoreau:
My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it
Now what do I do with that? What is the poem I would have writ had I the time to writ what it is that needed to be writ? For me this is the struggle, to find something that grabs at me instead of these various, meteoric thoughts that fly by quickly only too burn up in the atmosphere of my thoughts. I write, to put it mildly, trash even as I long to make sense of where I am in this world. Being deeply troubled by what I read and see, how does my small voice fit in the the greater narrative? Palmer seems to have found his voice, a voice that has been honed and worked on and re-honed to what it is today. Richard Rohr, (another spiritual author I need to read) writing about Palmer and his new book writes that “Our entire culture is in need of true elders, and you can’t be one until you have arrived there — chronologically, spiritually, and intellectually. Here’s a man who has arrived, with another book that’s a generous gift to all of us.” I am far from being anywhere near from being a true elder. I might be there chronologically, but the other two criteria are woefully deficient and need a good boost, a shot of spiritual and intellectual energy. I’m not too old to not have the desire to continue in my quest and even as the days grow shorter, I don’t feel desperate or anxious to get to that mythical somewhere. Maybe, for me, the struggle is the vocation, the purpose of my writing. The honest struggle of not paying enough attention when I was younger and now finding myself in the slow lane trying to catch-up. Now I’m back to the question, what is the poem I would have writ? What are the paradoxes that surround my life and where do they fit in with what I am trying to be as a writer, as a priest, now retired from the dailyness of being out there, yet still craving that need for contact? Now that’s a paradox, a both/and that will keep any shrink in business if one ever dares to try an unravel my inner workings. Today was a day of thoughts, not really journal material, or is it? After all what is a journal other than a place to vomit the crap that is floating on the interior and exposing it all to the light of day. It ain’t pretty and sometimes it smells, but that is the only way to come to understand who I am at this time in my life. I think that the only person that really gets me is Jane, the poor girl has had to deal with my ups and downs for the past 45 years and now she’s stuck with me on a daily basis as we negotiate being retired together.
She taped the envelope to the door
and then slowly walked away,
the years of regret and pain
had finally come to this moment.
The note was short and to the point,
the only way she knew
how to express her deepest feelings.
Her fear that he would one day explode.
as she touched the bruise on her cheek
still sore even after so many days,
yet, her heart bore a deeper bruise
the bruise of a betrayal of her love.
The years she gave to him
the children she bore,
the house she kept
now she took that note
sealed in the envelope
taping it to the one place he was sure to see it
and as she slowly walked away
out of the front door and down the path
she mused on what he might do
as she entered the taxi taking her away
back to her own true love
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger late over wine,
those who keep trying mixed wines.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
At the last it bites like a serpent,
and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your mind utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast.
Day one of retirement, day one and looking ahead and behind while trying to remain present in the here and now. Feeling like there’s something I need to do, something not quite finished, like the final touches on a painting or that last piece of a gigantic puzzle. Retirement comes with no prepared packaging. You enter at your own peril and you make of it what you will but it can also become one’s master. Finding solace, time to write, time to read and do what I like will require some discipline. New habits need to be formed and made a part of the daily routine without turning the daily routine into a rut. Reading Morning Prayer the passage from Proverbs warns against imbiding too much on wine. We could say that imbiding on anything for too long is not good and one of the dangers of being retired and without the daily habit of work, is to get lazy, bored and possibly depressed. Unfortunately, I have been down the depression road, I have been stuck in the ruts and have needed help to claw my way out. Depression is not something we easily talk about, especially men. We tend to travel down the dark path with our chin up denying that we are indeed down in the dumps. The truth is we can’t do that and survive, not to deal more openly leads us into even darker waters, abusing booze, inappropriate sexual liaisons will only create a deeper rut. Our eyes will see strange things our minds will wander and our hearts will break but that needn’t be the only path. I’m just now testing these new waters, dipping my toe in carefully to see whether or not I’ll take the plunge. That plunge is actually trying to see if any of my babblings are worthy to be published and read by others. I have the time, I just need to get over my own fears of being ridiculed and rejected. In a way it’s not about me personally but then again it is if I take rejection personally. I guess that the idea is never to quit trying, to write, send out a query letter, explore the genres and continue to try. Anne Lamott talks about writing as taking it word by word, writing that shitty first draft then purging it later of the adjectives, adverbs and useless words, writers tend to use. Then get down to really honing the craft. So here I go, day one of retirement, my shitty first draft in need of revision, but at least I wrote and didn’t drink that wine
I’ve been trying now, for a couple of days, to write something cohesive and interesting. So far all I have are bits and pieces of incomplete sentences and thoughts, a nonsensical pattern of my scattered mind. It seems that I flit from topic to topic, writing about this and that but never getting to the core of why I’m writing this stuff. I try my hand at poetry and now I have a journal full of one liners and things that have popped into my head and made it to the page. None of it is ready for prime time, as they say, but at least they are somewhere accessible instead of residing in the labyrinth of my own thoughts. Being an introvert and a major procrastinator, if I don’t write down what I’m thinking at the moment I’m thinking it, then it is lost to the ages. Sometimes it does repeat itself in one form or another later but then I’m stuck trying to remember why I thought that thought in the first place.
So now here I am, using my blog to post my writing angst for all to read not knowing what people are thinking. I think, and this is just me, that bloggers write to be heard in a way that they are not in their daily lives. If not as introverted, as I tend to be, then it becomes a question of not feeling like you’re being listened to, that your ideas, questions, deep thoughts are somehow a nuisance to others. For myself, and this is not a psychological profile (or is it?), I remember school days when you were just a number, one of many kids all vying for attention in a Lord of the Flies kind of way. Being quiet and not feeling all that smart, I tended to seek the quiet corner, what I now call, as an adult, keeping myself under that radar. Even now, as a priest, I still tend to stay back when at a gathering of my colleagues and let the more extroverted ones have their say. I find it exhausting trying to step into the fray and the few times I have tried it has been dismissed as one would dismiss a bit of fuzz on their lapel.
Maybe, I’m being too harsh. Sure, I don’t just jump into the deep end and yes, I am unsure of myself even after all these years of living. It might just be that I take all of this way too seriously and I want what I write to mean something, to have some meat to it rather than a skeleton of dried, dusty bones. I’m not saying that I need or want to be famous, or widely read. I have just started reading, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser. I have only gotten into the first couple of chapters but this caught my eye; “You’ll never be able to make a living writing poems”, and I have to guess that I will never make a living writing in my blog, but at least I’m writing.
Maybe one day, when the dust has all settled and I am in fact the dust that is settling, one of my grandkids or even a great-grandkid, will happen upon this old man’s musings and take it upon themselves to write. Maybe they will create the next great novel, or become a world recognized poet, even a poet laureate all because of these seeds I am sowing now. Yes, it’s a nice dream but isn’t that the reason why we write because we don in fact have dreams. Dreams are the soil upon which we, upon which I, through out the seeds of my thoughts. These seeds are in the words, the images, the very heart of all that I see and reflect on. These seeds come in the quiet moments, when I sit down and take pencil to paper or when I pop open my iPad and begin tapping away at the keyboard. I never really know where it will take me, or what it will look like but there I am struggling with the muse who has entered into my life.
I guess what I am trying to say is that my writing is more like wrestling jello, I just can’t seem to get my thoughts to settle down enough to write about them. Right now, I have three thousand words of a piece of fiction that I’ve been working on for months. Where will it end up, I have no idea but there it sits, on my iPad as a Pages document taunting me to delve into its mystery. I have no idea where it will end up but at least I’m writing.
I sit here
on the toilet
the porcelain throne
how many seconds
have I spent
doing just this,
what to write
and I do mean,
only to watch them
flush down the drain,
some folks get anal
(you see what I did there)
others get concerned
that I have
shape and yes, smell
and I think of time wasted
just sitting here
pushing out the toxins
and then it hits me,
my brains way
of pushing out the toxins
that pollute my thoughts
and so here I sit
writing this poem.