Monday, February 9, 2015

Writing to overcome...

There's been a fascinating discussion on Facebook lately about how hard it is for writers to write because they also have to pay the bills. There's been an exchange of expressed frustrations that so many successfully published writers have partners or spouses with incomes that support them, or jobs in academia, or other sources of independent wealth - which is true, of course. The culture does not support writers

Here in Wisconsin, our fearless (and soul-empty) governor cut the state grants program for writers - because, you know, who needs them?

And so for me, too. I guess I look at how hard it has been to keep up with this blog in recent months simply because life has made it hard to keep up with this blog in recent months. You know what I'm saying? Life intrudes, the one that comes with the monthly rent check.

I'm making time to write again, whether or not I can pay the bills in the future, because it is necessary. One book draft is completed and now I'm trying to shop it. Even with 2 books under my belt, it's different this time because I have to approach a new publisher since I have shifted out of the world of my old one. We are also a culture drowning in words and book proposals, so trying to break through the noise is not easy.

It's the next book draft that is calling me, that needs attention, that asks why I have been ignoring it for so long. Pricks my conscience over and over again. Part of me knows this may be the most important of them all, and certainly some of my best writing. This is my ecological lament, my cry of pain for what we have done and continue to do to this magnificent planet. All the planet did was give us life and abundance. It didn't know it would evolve a species that would ravage that abundance to death.

Some gratitude on our part, no?

Poems, too. A couple of new ones chart some new ground for me. We'll see what comes of them.

Which, for whatever reason, drew my attention back to Muriel Rukeyser, whom I revere. Spending a few days cat-sitting for friends in a lovely semi-rural area (where an owl was hooting loudly out my window at 4:30 this morning, music if ever there was music!), I found myself grabbing A Muriel Rukeyser Reader, for some comfort, I guess, some solace, some inspiration to ease the fear that accompanies the writing life. Opened to this:
There are many causes for waste in our life. We are very sure of ourselves in some powers and wildly insecure in others: the imbalance leads to random action, waste, hostilities out of reason. Margaret Mead describes us as a "third generation" society. She does not mean, of course, that we are all grandchildren of pioneers and immigrants [though I am, for sure, and she is right, it marks the soul]; but it does mean that our parents shared the attitudes of the children of foreigners, who because of their strange families, with their old country ways, their effusive gestures, the flavor of their speech, leaned over backward to rule out any foreignness, any color at all. 
We suffer from that background, with its hunger for uniformity, the shared norm of ambition and habit and living standard. The repressive codes are everywhere... This code strikes deep in our emotional life. 
It means that our emotions are supposed to be uniform. Since that is impossible, our weaknesses send us to see any divergence from the expected with dread or conflict. 
This leads on the one hand to the immense incidence of "mental" disease which we find in America now; and, on the other, I believe we may say that it leads to a fear of poetry.
This quote is actually from her book, The Life of Poetry, which also changed my life [I can't even tell you what joy that is for me, reading a writer who can change my life. I have always loved that since I was a little kid buried in a good book]. It's in the section called "The Resistances," to which I can only say, oh yeah, absolutely - which is one reason we don't support our creative writers, why it takes a combination of luck and financial resources to break through for the big publishers - the writer providing the labor, the publishing house getting most of the profits.

Many of us think the culture is on its death bed. The evidence seems quite obvious to me. The repressive codes not only have not disappeared, they are being enforced by the internet, on Fox News, the Christian Broadcasting Network, Clear Channel, and ETWN. Yet the creative impulse still exists and in many ways is more vital, incisive, fierce, clear-eyed, and prophetic than ever. And we all have the internet, too. More and more young people in particular are not only not afraid of poetry but are writing some of the best poetry this culture has ever produced, telling very uncomfortable truths and violating every one of those repressive codes. Spoken word, spitting, slams - yes, fierce with their truth and the longing to break out of these awful times.

So, I am having a burst of energy in my writing, and working with the fear of the future (mine, the nation's, and our poor damaged globe's) to try to be a better writer, to hold nothing back, because I have got nothing at all to lose.

I leave you with this, posted on Facebook today by the son of a colleague here in Milwaukee for this Black History Month. I can't think of a better example of what I mean.

And Ms. Rukeyser - we shall overcome - the repressive codes, the fear of our strangeness; we simply will not surrender to the monoculture of the fears, shame, embarrassment, and insecurities passed down to us from that third generation.

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