Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Morass of Self-Doubt

Self-doubt spreads like kudzu. Let it in and it will cover and take over every corner of your body. It will invade your gestures, and control how you view your environment.

I used to think that if I was genuinely having fun, others would want to play too. I'll be 42 next month, and I'm not so sure that's always true now. (I spent a lot of time alone on the playground as a kid, making up stories in a dirt pile. It was genuine fun for me.)

Sometimes I'm just having fun alone. It's just me, and that's ok. This is as true for the writing parts of my life as it is for the hoop dance parts. What makes me giggle as I write it might not make the reader giggle, but I write it anyway. I have to remind myself over and over that it's alright to wear shorts with fringe on them, bleach my hair, go to a burlesque class, sing a sound poem on the elevator, wear a top hat to the grocery store, leave a painting in the woods for a stranger or a bear to find, and that it isn't some sort of mid-life crises.

Do enough people "like" what I'm doing? That smile on my husband's face - does he think I've lost my mind, or is he enjoying the show? Oh that horrible little voice inside me that says that people are laughing at me behind my back! It feels like all the worst parts of education.

Am I sorry I didn't discover that I have a body that dances earlier in my life? Yes. When I was younger my muscles were suppler and I had more energy, but when I was younger I was also wrapped in kudzu.

Right now, I'm happy that I discovered that I have a body that works with my mind at any point in my life. My forays into hoop dance have inspired others to try it. This is good.

So this post is a big screw you to strangling vines of self-doubt. If I feel like wearing shorts with fringe on them and hooping it up on the dance floor, I'm going to do it, with relish and abandon.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


I praise the beast who gave me boots,
spirit strong,
eyes that thawed winter with absolute,
fenced-in song.
Together we stamped the damp ground
with our names. I am astounded.
So stable,
to hide the animal I’ve found.

- Jennifer Hill

This is a Ronsardian Ode. It's a French stanza form, syllabic (decasyllabic and tetrasyllabic lines), rhyming, with nine line stanzas. Mine is short. I realize this poem isn't going to win me any vegan friends.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Praise for What Floats to the Surface

I don't care that your poem was published in Huckleberry Pie Review, or that you've won that prestigious award that turns every other writer's eyes into thumbtacks. I don't care that you live with your four cats and husband on an island. It doesn't matter that someone once described your writing as "the deft hand of minimalism." What matters is that you wrote a phrase in a poem that still floats to the surface of my memory as I press my foot into the ground of my backyard to check for 60 foot sinkholes. I don't own any of this land, this bland madness of snows.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Chillmonster Rhymes with Truck

It's not that I resort to unprofessional tones when it's only nine degrees outside. Really. It's only nine degrees outside and I feel the dread hand of a ghost brush along my back in the quiet of the bookstore. The cold slips under the backdoor, or from the basement, or is wheezed through a window gap.

I did not just use a word that rhymes with truck as I felt the chillmonster grasp the wedge of skin exposed from my sweater's lazy rumple. Yesterday I had a fruit salad for breakfast (not made by me, what luxury on a weekday!) and the chunk of real peach I bit into sent a spineshiver tone of summer through my body. Lawnchairs, sun on skin, dirty feet -- the parade that marches out slush and stagnacy. I'm ready.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Pleasant Cure

A friend replied to a recent email of mine: "The list of authors I have not read never ceases to embarrass and amaze me. However, there is a very pleasant cure for such things."

I agree. At fancy and not-so-fancy dinner parties with literary, intellectual, highly-educated types, I find myself struggling to remember the plots of novels I've read, the names of the authors who wrote them, and the titles of poems that moved me. I remember a phrase, but I can't quote it perfectly. I remember the feeling or color I got from reading a poem, novel, story, or excellent phrase, which is much harder to quote. I can recall whether what made me laugh or cry was on a right-facing or left-facing page, at the top or the bottom, in the book where I read it (my husband also has this quirk of memory).

I'm not totally ashamed by my shortcomings in reading. There is a very pleasant cure for such things, as my friend said. One of my favorite writers is E.B. White.

Books of E.B. White I have not yet read:

The Lady is Cold - Poems by E.B.W. (1929)
The Trumpet of the Swan (1970)

Books of E.B. White I have partially read:

Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do (1929, with James Thurber)
Here Is New York (1949)

Books of E.B. White I have read completely:

Essays of E.B. White (1977)
One Man's Meat (1942)
Stuart Little (1945)
Charlotte's Web (1952)
The Second Tree From The Corner (1954)
The Elements of Style (with William Strunk, Jr.) (1959, republished 1972, 1979, 1999, 2005)

I have a biography of E.B. White that I haven't even touched. There's a collection of his essays and poems that I didn't cite in my partial list because I can't remember the title of it. I've read a short piece of his simply titled "Note" in a 1950 New Yorker magazine (upper right of right-facing page) that reflects on a forgotten actor in a restaurant.

In Charlotte's Web, Wilbur says:

"What do you mean less than nothing? I don't think there is any such thing as less than nothing. Nothing is absolutely the limit of nothingness. It's the lowest you can go. It's the end of the line. How can something be less than nothing? If there were something that was less than nothing, then nothing would not be nothing, it would be something - even though it's just a very little bit of something. But if nothing is nothing, then nothing has nothing that is less than it is."

This appears on the lower portion of a right-facing page in the edition that I own. In fancy conversations about books I admit I feel like nothing, but I do know that my combined reading experiences account for something. I consider myself lucky to have days filled with books that I can pull from shelves and sink into, or lazily peruse. I hope it is alright that I can't quote verbatim, that I forget author names, plots, and titles. When a writer makes me laugh out loud, or connects me to another writer, or gives me an "aha!" moment that connects me to the larger world (not just the world of letters), I feel appreciative and warmed by the light of genius.