After ‘something of a hiatus’ (that’s a euphemism for block, right?), I am back writing poems again. It’s been a long and painful journey back into writing from relative silence, during which I sometimes (often, always) questioned whether poetry was actually worth it anyway – not poetry as an art, but poetry as a creative project, for me. There must be other things I could do – indeed, maybe there are an infinite number of things I could do so much better. But you don’t choose what you fall in love with, any more than you choose whom you fall in love with. When it ends… You devise your strategies. You delete their number. You avoid the old hangouts where you know you will find them. You throw out all of the photographs (well, almost all of the photographs). You pretend not to care when you hear that they have moved on with other people, to another life. You act casual. You start to do that killing thing: you rationalize. They were not that great. You argued a lot. They had their faults, too many to count – too many to even begin to count. They caused you pain – you kept mental notes. They were untidy, thoughtless, chronically late for a date, bad with money. They often put you down. A number of your friends wisely disapproved. You’re better off without them – how can you not be? They were practically George Costanza. Something not good begins to grow inside you. You drain away the colour and nuance from the memory, which is a particular brand of self-medicating deceit the bitter become exceptionally skilled at. You look at others in love and happy and so casual, and you tell yourself, I give it six months. And yet, for all of it, you’re still counting down the days since it ended. The heart is stubborn, sonny, even if it’s mangled. She will not be told; no, she will not.
I’m not entirely sure what eventually led me back to what now feels more like a hotel bar in the late hours than kicking my heels in a lively student revue. There were false signals, a number of years ago, that things were beginning again, but they were shot down. What made it eventually come together? Of course, there have been critical losses of the kind common enough by the time you reach your 40s: people I adored, gone to light – or gone to who knows where; ideas of whom I might be or to where I might travel; lovely, imaginary vistas of life you accumulate through your teens, 20s… 30s… on which the black blinds are drawn, without any ceremony… This is the sort of oh!...tough shit (as a friend has it, shaking their head) that demands attention. And working out. Embracing doubt. So I got to it, because there’s a point in life where inaction is a terrible risk; its terrible risk outweighs the tyranny of the cursor, the possibility of humiliation. What started out as a strategy for healthy survival and making peace soon turned into the most surprising thing: love, again; fun, again. Even the painful stuff has had its moments of hilarity. I can laugh at myself. DEAR GOD. I CAN LAUGH AT MYSELF. Who woulda thunk it? Not to say life’s humbling doesn’t suck and involve tantrums of epic proportion along the way, but, in the end, it’s valuable. This is how change happens. This is how change asserts itself.
I’m approaching middle-age now. Hell, maybe I’m in it. Not remotely shiny. Sometimes it feels embarrassing writing again – or sitting in that hotel bar, if you will. BUT I CAN LAUGH AT MYSELF. And I am hopeful. Hopeful in more meaningful ways than first time around, when perhaps I cared too much about material rewards – for what these can possibly be – and hungered for acclaim to solve some then mysterious (now, not so mysterious) fault inside, to knit the wound. I’m still wrestling with this. The need for approval, the pat on the back, the permission… And, of course, we all are. But somehow these matters feel far smaller in the scheme, when you finally finish your second collection. For one thing, when people ask me if I’m writing, I can actually answer, yes – and tell the truth. Whatever happens next, and whatever the reception, it feels like an enormous achievement. All this, and pleasure, too. Which is to say, to anyone grappling with similar problems with writing: things can begin again – they so often do, particularly when the mess seems irrevocable. And love, as they say, is sweeter second time around.