People say that the particulars make stories the most universal. Not just a girl in a street but Mindy who is 12 on a bicycle on cul-de-sac on a day that just might rain but it hasn’t although it seems to have tried twice.
Twice I’ve been in workshops when we were to put our greatest fear in a hat. In one circle, 3 of us said fear of enclosed spaces, 2 even describing a similar space.
People often feel strange and unique rather than strange and beautiful. What does that? 5 months of winter so the number of unique snowflakes just add up to a logistical nightmare in concrete terms and sullies the metaphor?
Is it possible to hate music? I’ve declared it. I have a thing against music. It’s not as simple as an aversion. People sometimes exclaim that it’s not human. Music defines humans. Except other animals play with song and rhythm and voice as well. But never mind that.
I also have an aversion to meat. I’ve been questioned about meat over the years and on admitting I’ve tasted beef, pork, turkey and chicken, been told I’m not vegan and on admitting I probably have had meat a dozen times in 15 years, so am told I am vegetarian. What to do with other people’s definitions. I’m functionally amusical.
I once took a test to measure how well I distinguish tones being the same. You know that typical bell curve graph? I was way on the low side far left.
I’m remarkably unknowledgeable of instruments, bands, musicians, songs. Or so people remark. At parties conversations have broken out, do you remember where you were when this was a hit and people share stories. And I’ve never heard the song before in my life.
In a way its self-perpetuating. I am shut out because I shut myself out. You can’t make an old friend instantly. Reading about it later isn’t the same as experiencing it in the real time with others en masse. People list their favorite albums and I can’t tell which name is album and artists. Hundreds of names and I haven’t the foggiest. Or I collocated as far as I should know that is a musician. Some names come often enough that I feel I should look them up. Like Tom Waits. I don’t get the appeal but I could see how in a world where voices are supposed to be clear and peppy, croaky might be a nice flavour.
I generally value knowledge but this ignorance was intentional for various reasons. Maybe it was what I needed to do at the time. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it was a mistake that I needed to do.
Partly, originally, it was religious and suspicion of anything distracting from God. Music is a drug and I didn’t want a part. Partly I hated being manipulated. I’d be in a fine mood and be knocked out of orbit by a song and spiral down and not be able to get back up. I resented that, especially when it was muzak that no one was hearing anyway. I don’t see the appeal in the same da-DUM da-Dum and repeating chorus that repeats the same half dozen lines. I like high density content.
If there are going to be words, I like to hear them. Any lyrics impede my ability to think, or compose or read. I find that frustrating. If I do hear the words and “baby” referring to a woman is it in it, I see red and it impedes the rest of my life while I try not to seethe and rant.
Lyrics knocks the verbal out of me and I value my verbal as my primary identity. Which makes me fear a stroke in Broca’s area. A fret since I was a child. 80 years anticipating something that may never happen. What a waste of energy.
I spent years deliberately walking out of step to the ambient music just because resistance isn’t futile. It was something I could do. It was a bit of power and control I could exert.
Why should it land as it does? I like unique things, not repetition. I can’t watch a movie or tv show or have the same conversation again with grace. It follows that hearing the same song the same way would be similarly unnatural. Nature is flux, variation not injection moulded, timeless identical replays.
Live non-electrical music I understand. It’s communication. It’s quiet. If the audience is small I am part of the music. If it is canned music, my presence doesn’t affect anything. If many people are paying attention to a genre of music, for cultural survival, that’s covered. I’m not needed. I’d rather look after other knowledge.
I think I get what others get from music from language itself.
For music I can used to be able get my back up pretty fast with pop or rock. Much of classical grated on my nerves. Country takes a particular rare fleeting mood. Maybe I didn’t find the right music. To my surprise I like Stoner Rock, Doom, Sludge and whatever that is. I probably wouldn’t like it in concert since concerts are too loud. I get all wobbly nauseas in loud noise.
I love silence or the silence of a forest where there’s only leaves and small sounds of other species living. Why should that comfort be blotted out by recorded heartache. Maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe I am where I am until the whole bloody aggregate shifts for its own sluggish reasons and time.
Examining is itself change.
I used to believe things that I have since forgot. Anne Lemott in Bird by Bird related that Annie Dilliard said that if you give freely there will always be more but hoarding, protecting, dries up supply for you and everyone. I used to believe that. I’m coming around to believing it again.
When I stopped my cash economy job I had waited for probably 5 years, maybe 7 to see somewhere lateral to move to. I’d done interviews and job searches but in the end I just leapt with no where to go and no idea how to get there. No parachute or plan and while we were juggling 3 mortgages. Shortly after that we sold two of the properties, and we totalled our car then hubby got laid off and started his own freelancing. So that was an interesting year. 2006 I believe.
Sometimes it seems to make sense to refer to anything over 7 years ago as the proto-person. It can keep you from harping on your own past mistakes or others. Everyone miscalculates, and can research as much as they like but can’t predict every dealbreaker that could happen.
People don’t change but sometimes they do. The mind makes animation from stills, fills in gaps in continuity, creates continuity. It’s for people not just things, self, not just others. We make composites to make sense cohere into patterns. Sometimes we get it right.
I contend that I change, not always as visibly as some, in how I interact, in what I value, in how I value. To live is to learn. That’s not to deny that there are constants. Am I fixed like a butterfly on a pin or living?
Can I become and overcome to be anything? Hum and haw. There are certain things I lean towards, skillsets I already have. There are things that I have no idea of a way into. It would take time. 10 Creative Women Over 80 aren’t overnight successes but diligently putting in the hours of interest.
I’d have to get a move on. A century is nothing to most species of trees but to people they’re more substantial. 7 years whips past pretty quickly.
If you ascribe to 10,000 hours (of perfect practice not just killing time haphazardly at it), if you do something full time, that’s just 3 years to become an expert. I suppose that’s why job listings often ask for a degree plus 3-5 years experience. By the end of 5 years, you should know something differently, right?
Even if you’ve not attempted to train, each feeling, reaction, choice is a training or retraining.
Whether you admit something has value or doesn’t, you’re still acting as if it has value by applying your hours to it.
You may direct yourself with one notion and objective in mind but the payoff and the roads from there can be unforeseeable. There is always so much data from so much direction and all of it subtly alters the course of what is possible, or perhaps thickens shielding and threat. Which is still an accommodation and chemical cascade that changes what gets seen.
If I could control my future, I would want more cash in it. Not in the lottery sense. A paying job is a sort of daily lottery. It pays the ego. My ego’s rather in a beauty deficit somedays but then the black dog of depression hasn’t been shot. But it’s more trained. It doesn’t jump up and knock me over so much. I’m pretending that I had something to do with that but maybe that’s just how it happened.
I see people who torpedo onto scene and make quick connections, state fondness, admiration, connection for others then rocket back out of there. That groundwork done, ties may resume eventually.
Some connections are on slower waves. Haiku conferences are only yearly but after a few years, although you’ve only been in the same room for hours, you’ve known each other for a decade, and maybe seen each other’s work in between time. You have shared connection of trajectory, people in common, knowledge in common.
How does this all lead forward? What am I getting at? Yes, good questions.
Each time I’ve leapt I’ve basically leapt, eyes shut or vastly underprepared. There’s some avenue and I dive down in, or take a meander without knowing the why. I may be scared or calm. But I head out. It seems inconsistent for someone who is nervous by nature, given to panic attacks and general anxiety. Why not stay in safe places?
I bore easily. I like myself better when I’m occupied. I like to meet people who don’t have the same views. I’d rather not deal with loud and aggressive people but I’m getting better about handling that.
Much of people’s presentation is just stylistic noise, habit, reactions to motivations towards or away from something. We’re really just feeding tubes, amoebas with a lot of padding that respond to our our chemistry of light and dark, too hot, too cold, trying to effect change and something optimal, whether excitement or rest.
For all the variety we have a pretty narrow temperature range. As Souvankham’s poem, Thermometer, a diagram of says, we’re inside fairly finite confines when you pull the camera back. Air, water, temperature.
It’s the tyranny of tiny differences that catches us up. Can I throw myself into being a particular career and excel? No success at anything is guaranteed.
You can inform yourself with other lives and what range of things are likely, what tools you can access but in the end, it’s just free fall though canopies of blossoms and twigs. Pack the anti-histamine.
It’s not exactly untrue that I’ve lived three centuries. What is contemporary here except what you experience? I grew up reading books, novels, scrapbooks, and poetry bought at estate auctions from the 1880s to 1930s. Old Encyclopaedia Britannicas. Even in the 80s I was offset from other people’s now because Sundays were 8-track player bluegrass.
Is there any coherent patterns in the data coming in now? I can see how one thing led to another. And how much happenstance rules. Randomness of timing. Making what seemed like an informed choice at a time. Working with what there is to work with and ending up with something good, even if unexpected. As Oriah said it shakes your faith in yourself to not know where to trust. What is valuable? What is true?
There’s “common knowledge true” but that’s based on community and those truths by history show conventions are way off base compared to the next wave, like animals being lesser than people, or some family trees of people being lesser. And shifting true like boundaries of a country.
There’s direct experience vs. what is taught. Taught is that history was a bunch of rich men sending poor men to fight and steal in places not here. Direct experience, or close to it, was country drives in back roads and dad telling the story of the creamery that was there and the guy he knew who gave the place the name and then after a meeting years later, that name being put on the official sign.
As in grade 9 when the geography teacher showed for one class a map of our county with places I’d been on it. I thought maps were for other places and other people. I didn’t know people would record wee here. It was radical to see what I knew reflected on a map. Likewise in the late 90s when I first read Brockwell’s Wire in the Fences there was my own life in poetry — haying, mowers, stoney fields, bones, Jersey and calves, pig being hit. That was permissible. It was a radical shift.
When I walked into a used bookstore, probably 8 years ago now, beelining towards the poetry section, the clerk recognized me and zinged, “there are things other than poetry you know.”
Sure, there are. There’s biology. There’s cooking. There’re friends. Those are more for experiencing than reading about although reading helps.
My interest in poetry has always been there. I was making chapbooks in primary school of my “best of”. Poetry was a place to go rather than a being present where I was. I was head-hopping to senior’s heads, to runaway teens, to being the dispersed perception of the forest.
A lot of narrative poetry seems the Naïf Art of the story of self, which isn’t tied to an era in the same way although I suppose if it were written a century ago, it would be more likely in rhymed doggerel.
The style is a surface. Any ideology can be shoehorned into any form but then form forms content to a degree. It shapes the admissible possibilities. The dialect or language of it shapes who you can hear or who can hear you and what gets mentioned and omitted.
I was filtering very differently before I met rob mclennan, not rm as a general presence, or organizer, or as a blog to read, but in person with him saying, read this, read that. For probably I year it all washed over me with no way to get a handle. Then a click. There was enough data to perceive a new possibility in pattern.
He too my poems and put a slash thru most and said, “this line’s good. I haven’t heard it before.” or “this [circled bit] is interesting”, or he crossed all out but the last line and saying, “the poem starts here. It might be interesting to see what would happen if you write, starting from there.”
Although flabbergasting and humbling, it was real feedback which despite being part of writing groups for 20 years, I’d always got warm vague pats or little nits of typos generally. This was more the orientation I didn’t know I was looking for.
Now interest leans into poems where sense is broader and less linear. The idea of craft and language rather than clarity in relatable story that causes an awww, works in different thought-forms, assumptions. The map of unstated rules is always there in any style or form. To change the base presumption changes more. For example, if you never answer my questions I am freed. I don’t have to conceive of a question to ask what you might answer. I can ask anything and therefore we can go new places.
In a Railroad Reading the Q&A asked, does poetry need to make sense. Brockwell answered, do we ask Mozart to make sense. Why do we ask it of words? It isn’t a useful question.
What matters about making poetry and making a personal history? The process rather than the ends? The implication is that going to Hell in a handbasket is good so long as your process was engaging. Not good enough.
There may be no such thing as a dull life but telling your own story isn’t enough. Telling something well isn’t enough. There can be a fascinating story told of an uninteresting topic or a fascinating life told in a poor way. There needs to be a match of need to tell and someone who needs to hear to complete it. Maybe that full loop, speaker and listener is the same one.
Realistically, we don’t have all the time in the world. We used to. Standing in the lane running experiments on my mind to see if I could crack if if I went very fast, or refused to use words. Or let’s see how many days I can go without sleep and what that does to perception. Now no sleep and no food, just for kicks. Push prayer past the contrite and remorse, until a high breaks out.
those games of how we’d get where we were getting
without touching the brake, a no-winner dare
that often bluntly ended in the unsnapped tension
of guardrail wires, or brunt of country ditches.
Out of your head, you must have thought
you were immortal. Well, maybe we all did.
Now wild and crazy risk is taking an unplanned choice of bus that may not get me there on time, but might. Or eating a truffle at 8pm knowing my cutoff for chocolate is 4pm or else my sleep is disrupted and mood will be impacted the next day, and the clarity of mind and maybe if I’m too restless in the night, the cat will be in a bad mood and hubby will be tired the next evening and that would be inconsiderate.
All that fine tuning to optimal makes for better results, a great calibration of knowing my tolerances, causes and effect but adds a lot of safety constraints. If you genuinely can’t predict your limits or consequences, you can do things you’d never do if you knew. A little ignorance goes a long way. How to get into a place of ignorance and disorientation so the gut instinct has more to do?
I need the novel. Verified facts would be nice. On-board logic helps. And entraining compassion. I also need guidance other than that hard-wired superstition. For example, I go to send an email to a friend and the email program crashes. Um, Universe, was that you? Were you vetoing or urging me to press on despite any obstacle? Or it’s just a thing.
When I was a kid and my uncle was towards retirement he looked around at his triple-shelved books on all the walls and said in a haunted voice, I’ve read more than I’ll ever have time in my life to reread.
Twenty years later that would be echoed by my mom in a low spot where she wiped her hands of gardening saying what’s the use of planting another plum tree. I won’t live long enough to see it make fruit.
Depression also has that sort of self-limiting effect. The nature of the beastie is putting up walls, a sandstorm of reactivity looking for the mental framework to justify itself. You get to think these verbal reasons are what it’s about but its aboutness is flail.
Part of my brain of course stores it up in a drawer with bits of rafia and the snort-laugh of a friend dead for over 15 years. I’ve learned more than I can retain or explain. I have to assume my instinct is calling on all that when I make an intuitive flow. That flow isn’t one thing. Any parasitic motivation can be calling the shots. I think I crave french fries, but really my non-verbal lower brain is hoping to scope out pretty server. Or I think I had a bad dream so want to put out a deck of cards to calm the mind but actually its the anniversary of my dad’s brain injury accident and parallel solitaire is what we did together for years. Does the verbal brain need to know what the body-memory is looking after. It’s covered.
There may be reasons for the hormonal cascade, dozens of reasons in every direction of time and space of why life sucks, horrid provocations/excuses, but given the same details, it may be The Biggest Final Straw in the Universe and Life is Despair, or not. My computer ran out of memory (and dufus-ly I didn’t have it saved) when it crashed and lost hours of work. I lay as a tightly wound ball on the floor and the cat sensed distress. Little empathic being that she is she trotted over. She came, sniffed me over and then, this time, shrugged her little furry shoulders and declared this to be Not A Thing. Feline Buddha said, get over yourself. While you’re doing that, I’m going to go eat.
In 2008 I decided I would make a thank you, a narrative of formative influences, 40 words at a time.
I suppose this comes from a few places. Jenna’s Tree Seed Workshop on examining your fears, a friend saying our course is set by our age. Avonlea Fotheringham’s piece, Fragmentation. And time of year. Coming out of my 41st year I’m still weighing how I got here. It seems ad hoc to call me one story. There’s not a lot of continuity except that these are things I recall. Is there a constant constraint of “self”.
Many elements are there. Some dominate at times, while other strands recede. Sometimes I’ve been wallflower, sometimes I have been a bavarde, running a commentary at the back of the room, giving a counter narrative to the school lessons or making heckling remarks to people nearest at poetry readings.
When I took a History of Islam class in the early 90s, I was in listening mode. The man behind me was Shi’a and the teacher was Sunni. He did running commentary of where his views diverged so I got two classes in one. I understood his resistance. People don’t do things for no reason. Something made him take the class, stay on course.
When another Christian felt propelled to stand up and testify that Jesus is not a prophet but the God, I saw her turn red and shake before she did it. A few people were beginning to observe before she stood.
I’ve seen that witnessing before. It comes from a place of threat and fear and necessity and a bloom of compassion and love for the lost people around you. Powerful forces.
I was a mixture of admiration and shame. It should have been me. Why did it not even occur to me? And it should have been no one. That took guts to do. It also took a dumb head. Why come to a class to learn and not listen. But at the same time, one has to do what one has to do. People listened respectfully. There was no applause, no scorn. It was a thing. And we moved on.
To my disappointment university wasn’t a space where knowledge is holy and sought, where integrity to true is valued. It wasn’t the sanctum where secrets were hiding, withheld until you prove personal credibility so they can stamp your card and give you Englightenment. It was more sloppy workaday with people schlepping through but still. University changed my bias, which is what it is intended to do.
I took the History of Science, which was mostly history of knowledge but with a last day that was ridicule of the notion of god. The prof was still less contemptuous than the Christian history prof who thought the Bible was literary not literal. He was gooseneck fascinated by people who tried to find physical proof for Bible stories and continued to research. I felt ashamed and reproached for not being rigourous in thought and self-and world-examination.
Life is the testimony, proof and fruit of the living path. If a path leads to creating harm, or illness, or suicide, unhappiness, destructiveness, there’s something wrong in the path.
When I looked at those I knew, those who claimed to be agnostic or atheist treated me with compassion, curiosity, kindness. Their lives seemed healthier. Their bodies were healthier. They seemed lighter of spirit.
Those who were hep up about being Christian were mean-spirited, name-calling, with sneaky cruelty, actively damaging, most likely to be messed up and relying on god as a crutch. They were making choices that kept them in a place of danger. They were loud and unlistening.
It didn’t make for a comfortable reckoning. I didn’t know all of Christianity. I knew one is shaped by one’s faith but religion doesn’t entirely make you. It’s formative but any belief system has the whole range of people in it whether that’s Hindu, Atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or Wiccan. But those I knew who were struggling in a morass without end were Christian and those who were over the years becoming more centred, less angry, more considerate were coming out of therapy or out as atheist.
In 2000 I admitted aloud for the first time that I was agnostic while being pressed by a Christian student who wanted me to admit we were the same “kind”. She was a white supremacist. I kicked her out of my class in that instant realizing that the abrasion between her and other students wasn’t pre-existing. She couldn’t bear to be in the room with certain skin tones. I asked her to apologize or leave. Or she quit because she couldn’t *spit* learn from someone like me.
She was the second Christian woman to spit at me and make that declaration. The other called me queer and tried to get me fired for it. She went to my boss, my boss’ boss, the school board and they, bless them, all consistently backed me and told her that if she doesn’t like her teacher, there are other places she can learn. Or so I heard. That student quit.
Stopping is a kind of doing. It isn’t an absence, not exactly. There is no vacuum possible. I eventually quit teaching. Was part of the Editor’s Association of Canada. Quit that. Each quitting is a starting. To stop something is to do something.