I am not one for making resolutions as most seem to have the half life of a gnat, but I am going to try and write more and to keep a record for this year. It will probably be a combination of journaling, poetry and some kind of essay as I try to convey my feelings, that is if I can ever understand them. Today, on this first day of the New Year, we are in the midst of brutally cold weather and it looks to be staying around for the next few days. It has kept me away from what I love to do, road cycling and even though I can ride indoors, take the occasional spin class, they are poor substitutes for getting outside, in the fresh air and enjoying the alone time. Being an introvert, my cycling gives me the freedom to work out the noises that are in my head, the words that I want to write, the poems that I need to say, the very heart of who I am. I’m not an expert writer or blogger, I’m a hacker. I try each day to write, I try to make sense and there are more times than I care to count where I fall way short, but still I write. So here I sit on January 1, 2018 living into a resolution that I have not made and hoping that I can find the words that will make sense and even if they don’t make sense, well at least I will have written them and that will have to be enough.
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.
I ride a bicycle. There, I said it, I’m a cyclist and have been for years. I enjoy the freedom of being out on the road, the wind in my face, the sound of the tires on the pavement, and being able to see things that I would miss had I been going by in a car. I’ve ridden in the heat and humidity of a New England summer as well as in the cold and snowy days of winter. Getting out as much as possible, doing anywhere between 35-50 miles on a daily basis, was and still is my goal and my future plans are to once again cross the country by bicycle.
Cycling is a challenge, physically as well as mentally. Getting through a head wind, going up mountain roads, getting caught in a thunderstorm and negotiating streets and roads under construction, all have their own way of being a challenge. Yet, in spite of these barriers, in spite of the traffic and occasional difficulty, I still find cycling to be exhilarating and fun.
It is said that it’s not a question of “if you will have an accident” but “when will you have an accident”. Many cyclists can tell you about a crash, either self-induced or caused while racing or training for a race. Many can show you the scars caused by road rash on their legs and arms, especially the elbows and knees. Most crashes, result in no more than the discomfort of having the outer layer of your skin scrapped away by the pavement and then having to clean out the bits of gravel lodged into the wound. There’s nothing more fun than jumping into a shower after a crash and having to wash out the scrapes and scratches you came home with. Then again, there are more serious crashes. Cyclists have been maimed, some even killed, by distracted drivers and the cyclists own inattentiveness to their surroundings.
A couple of years ago, on June 5, 2015, I had my accident. Sure, I had others, experienced the road rash wounds and the times when my cleats got stuck and I fell over, but this accident was a life changing experience. I was struck by someone opening their car door, without first looking to see if anyone was passing by them. It was the crash that got me writing more, mainly because I realized that life, my life, is tenuous.
I know I’m not the only person ever to experience life changing events, however, this is my life changing event and it is one which I am still processing. In my writing, in my prose and poetry all of which is disjointed and in need of a good editor, I seek to delve into the deeper mystery that is self. Time and again, through what I write I’m seeking my true self, that person untarnished by the layers of life that have accumulated over the years. Yet, knowing that I will never recover what has been lost, I will never find that pure, true self lying embedded in the core of my soul. I dig into the tell of who I am, scrapping away the layers of dust and debris, of the loves lost and the loves gained, the heartbreak of living, which we all take part in and in which we all share.
Maybe I’m waxing a bit too philosophically, I’m not much of a philosopher, but I believe that inside each one of us is that unique story. Stories that need to be told, to be shared and talked about, to help us to heal from the fractures in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones.
My accident resulted in a broken hip, that was surgically repaired with titanium nails by one of the best surgeons. Weeks in my bed at home, learning how to get up, walk up and down stairs, and months of physical therapy were all part of the process.
Now here I sit, on a hot July day in the midst of a heat wave, writing. Doing what I started doing days after the accident, trying again to delve into the mists of time and space, to find that hidden treasure, the one St. Paul claims we have hidden in “jars of clay.” Maybe that’s my own lesson, that no matter what, I am just that a simple jar made from clay and subject to being broken, physically as well as mentally. If we as people could only learn that each of us are simply clay pots subject to our own forms of decay, “you are dust and to dust you shall return”, maybe, just maybe, we might not be so ready to dismiss and judge. A dream, perhaps, but one worth writing about anyway.
What is it that I’m trying to say? It’s the question I ask every time I sit down and begin to write, what do I want to say and why say it? Maybe every writer goes through this angst, questioning their writing, wondering if it makes sense and if it’s any good. As I continue in my own quest to find my voice, these questions arise more and more as I grind away at my keyboard. It’s a case of the flying monkeys swooping in then scattering all my thoughts like they scattered the poor Scarecrows body. My first thought is over there, my second one over there and my main one is way over there. So it’s always an attempt to take my scattered, messed up thoughts and try to corral them into one place where they can be managed.
Of course I say this knowing full well that I will never manage these thoughts anymore than I will be able to wrangle a herd of cats in a calm and cohesive manner. The introverted brain, my brain in particular, tends to shift from one thought to the other and never will the two thoughts meet. Not only will they not meet, they won’t even look like they came from the same unstructured mind that bred them in the first place. It’s a wonder that I can even get out my simple little blog never mind write a full blown memoir or story.
At some point, I need to find that place, the one that lies deep within, and drill away exposing the riches that lie beneath as well as that vein of fools gold that we all seem to have an abundance. You know, not everything is pretty, not every thought is pure and not every word is golden, yet everything is precious. My memories, our memories, are the libraries we carry with us each and every day. They are the repository of our histories and the way we interpret our surroundings. Sure, one day some historian will slog through the blogs, the Facebook postings, the Twitter feeds, other social media to try and figure out what we were thinking and doing. What will they find? Hopefully they will find our humanity. They will see that we did indeed try to make our world a better place, that we tried to set aside our differences to create a space for every human being. Yes, I know that is a fantasy, given the rhetoric we hear and the negativity of our social media feeds, but somewhere, within all of this crap, lies our better nature.
Today, I wrote a poem about my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Toro, who I remember as an autocratic, mean spirited, old lady who seemed to delight in torturing me. All I can remember is her face, dark and foreboding, looking down on me, calling me a liar and sending home notes to my mother telling her of my seedy crimes. Already I was marked and it was then that I learned that not every person, not every adult was nice, honest or kind. It was then I began to build that shell, the one that would protect me from the slings and arrows of words used to hurt. It’s my memory, it’s my history and it’s part of what has formed the person I am today. Without knowing it, Mrs. Toro began laying the foundation of my own journey into writing not realizing that one day she herself would become a topic, a memory, a history that I will mine and drill for all it’s worth.
These bits and pieces, these stories, all distorted by time and space and by my own imperfect vision, make up what I write today. It’s cutting through, right into the marrow of life, sucking on the richness that lies there, and using it, writing it, telling that story. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry or prose, I tell what I know and in these words a part of myself is revealed, and in a way healed. The shell, so carefully constructed and maintained, is slowly if not painfully being pealed back and now I’m at the time in my life where I feel that I’m ready to tell the tale.
In Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, I learned that to write one must be willing to deal with those shitty first drafts, to go through a process of just doing it, vomiting words onto a page and then basically killing some of those words to create your story. I’m not sure I’m there yet. My introversion is my security blanket and like Linus I’m loath to let it go for fear of what will happen. So each word, each sentence is a slow, painful process of letting go and learning.
Much to my surprise I now have amassed over 100 followers on my blog. Now, I realize that there are other bloggers who have well over 1000 if not more, bloggers who have found that special niche producing prodigious works. I, on the other hand, have no special niche. I just write what’s been bubbling up in my head, it’s not rocket science. I started this blog a few years ago, first it was my poor attempt at some creative writing, then it became a place where I recorded my recovery from being hit by a car door, while out cycling. It was that accident and the months of being laid up that began this journey. Having time to think, I mean really think, about what is important I began to focus more and more on my writing. Now, I’m no Hemingway, I really struggle when I write trying to find the words that express my feelings and surroundings. At times I’m a bit successful at other times, not so much but I continue to write. One of the results of all this attempted writing is that I’ve been taking classes at Grub Street in Boston, a place where one can go and learn more about the craft of writing. Yes, writing is a craft, it takes time and effort just to get something written then expose it to the world and let them see what you have composed. At Grub Street, I have been given the opportunity to experiment, to explore the various genres and take risks in my writing. Right now I’m in the midst of a 10 week Creative Nonfiction class and so far I have produced one piece and am working on a second, that I hope to have finished soon. Well, finished is not the correct term, as anyone who has been writing, finishing is a movable line that sits out there on the horizon, tantalizing one into thinking they are finished. I’ve got several pieces that are in various stages of being finished with none of them even close.
That brings me back to my blog, my little musings that I throw out there. Lately, I’ve been intrigued by poetry, something that I still don’t fully understand but still try writing about. I read poetry, I love the way in which poets use words to paint pictures on the mind, taking the reader on a journey through time and space. Some are able to do so using their words economically, sparing us the effort to slog through long, rambling paragraphs. So, I try. I try to write poetry, I try to use my words to paint that picture, to convey what I see in my minds eye and write. Am I successful? That’s for the reader to decide, all I can do is write, post and let the chips fall where they may.
So, thank you to all of you who are taking a chance to follow my blog and are reading my small offerings. I appreciate the fact that you are taking time from out of your busy day to read what I have written and also to like what has been put out there. Now, I must move on, put my Creative Nonfiction hat on and continue to write for my class. What’s in my future? Who, knows. Grub Street has many other classes that I find intriguing, from doing more nonfiction, to writing fiction, essay’s, and of course, poetry. In fact, as I write this I’m thinking that this might be a good start for a Creative Nonfiction piece, about a novice out there in the blogosphere looking for his place among the giants of that world in the words he writes.
Today I’m tired and any words escape me.
I try to write but there is a dryness to it,
a sense that what I write is far from how I feel.
At times it all feels overwhelming,
I’m in a vortex of thoughts that won’t be tamed.
I envy those who write with such ease,
their words seemingly spill out onto the screen,
every word, precise, meaningful, deep.
I feel more like Charlie Brown staring at clouds,
all I see are the simple shapes and patterns,
none of the nuances of those shapes,
adding color and flavor to the words.
I read other poems, filled with images,
I’m transported by their words into new realms,
I feel the cold, the heat, the passion and love,
I sense the longing, the losing, the joy, the death.
That is the writers task, evoking feelings,
opening up closed hearts and minds,
examining the human experience that we share.
Today, however, I’m tired,
the rhetoric feels like a heavy chain.
It drags my heart and soul into the depths.
Anger fills the pages with its toxicity,
diminishing the hopes and dreams,
of so many. The writer within me laments,
my own soul seeks refuge, my heart breaks.
The writer within also knows of hope,
hope, not broken by the darkness, or diminished.
A hope born out of the light of grace,
the love of one whose darkest day turned,
the world upside down and broke down barriers.
So, on this day of deep tiredness, when all seems,
bleak, I continue to write, poor poetry and prose.