I spend the first few minutes of my writing time dithering. I open screens and close them. Open books and close them. I am aware that time is running out.
I want to understand what I am trying to do, although the poets - or at least the ones I love best - say that no one knows, really, what they are doing. I know that I am here, and I know that I am constantly putting words down and thinking about making things - ideas, images, sounds - with words. I hear them in my head. I hear a kind of singing. It is a kind of music to me.
I go through the notes I have scattered on my desk, pick up one, write toward it. Here is what I write:
the mole on the side of your neck
music that is too loud for the morning; tea that has gone cold
the sock with a hole just big enough for a toe to slip through
which one does not matter
or it does
I can’t remember what matters anymore
I am thinking about your neck
It is a shrine
It is a sandwich
It is the color
we call white
You are not as handsome as I remember
But you have this neck
I move through the days. At times it seems as though I am walking through a dreamscape, shrouded in mist. Where am I? How did I find myself here, how did I come to be here, in this place, in this mist?
Then, there are days when the sun is bright on me and I move with a kind of confidence, with a kind of grace. The days of sun and grace and of knowing, in the smallest possible ways one can know a thing, with the smallest bit of certainty that can still be called certainty and go forward in tiny steps. Incremental. The pace is glacial, we often say. Say it aloud: The pace is glacial. It has a lovely sound.
I have lost myself, a little in this process. The word process sounds forced. I use it all the time. I have lost myself a little. Like I am floating all the time. It is one of the things, I think, that is useful about trying to make a thing. I will not say art. It is hard even to say useful. But bewilderment seems a valuable state. When I start setting down words, I do not know where it will end. When I start setting down whole passages, I do not know where they will end. I am living this act of making marks and making shapes or trying.
I am living this continuous act of trying.
I stayed up late last night to finish a task. I had been putting it off for a long time. It didn’t take long when I finally sat down to do it, and as I usually do, when I have put a thing off and then I have done it, I wondered why had I put it off for so long? Was I afraid it would be difficult? Was I afraid it would be boring?
I started writing it. I would give myself short breaks. The breaks would be to go downstairs and take one load of laundry out of the washer and put it in the dryer. And take the things that were in the dryer and put them in a basket. And bring the basket upstairs. And fold the things. Or hang them.
Then I would go back to writing it. And it didn’t take long. Not much more than an hour. Certainly not as long as two. And then it was done.
And my laundry was done, too.
I say I am not interested in plot. I have said this so long. I keep saying it. I think it is true.
Yesterday, I made a grand statement over dinner: “Plot is a market-driven concern, not an artistic one,” I said. I was leaning back in my chair. And then I leaned forward, as I often do, as if to signal that I think I am saying an important thing.
And what often happens after I say a bold thing, is that I follow it with several tentative things. Like I have puffed myself up to say the bold thing, then slowly deflate. My ambitions are modest.
Except perhaps when they are not.
Meanwhile, my sister only just had her power returned. They have been living for many days in the dark. She tells me about how she makes breakfast wearing a miner’s cap that she bought on a whim. I picture her, tiny woman, in her bathrobe and her miner’s cap, standing at the stove, making pancakes. “They all laughed at me when I wanted to buy it,” she says. “But no one is laughing now.”
I am not a religious person. She is, my sister. Now. She prints out bible passages on slips of paper and tapes them around her house – over the kitchen sink, on the mirror in the bathroom. Many of them concern anger. Controlling it.
When we were children, she had a quiz for her catechism class. It was a fill-in-the-blank. She had memorized the answers but not the questions, so when she asked me to help her study, she handed me the sheet with the answers filled in and before I had a chance to ask a question, she blurted: “holy spirit; holy spirit; talking to God.”
What if the questions are in a different order? I asked.
She said: “Talking to God, holy spirit, holy spirit.”
I lost God a long time ago. Or he lost me. We don’t talk about whose decision it was to leave. Best to let some realities sink in quietly. So what I think I am trying to say is that I do not have God and he does not have me, but what I have is this daily practice of sitting here at this desk, listening to the odd, staccato music trying to take shape in my head. Sounds and words and phrases conjured here staring out the window. Or driving down North Main Street past the fire station. Or stepping out of the shower. Or standing in line at the grocery store check-out. Or folding laundry in my basement. And this – writing these things down, sometimes speaking them aloud – is a kind of prayer.
In that I am brought here by blind faith in what I cannot know. In that it is a way to organize my disappointment. In that it gives me the tiniest bit of grace to go forward to the day. And again to another and another.
The petitions of the faithful: Hear us.
Holy spirit, holy spirit, talking to God.