Keeping things fuzzy


I don’t like keeping a journal because I like having things be fuzzy. – a writer friend

Whenever you begin with I remember, you retrieve a world. But how much precision do you owe the past? Artists who use their lives as inspiration must make decisions about how much to nail down the facts of their lives and how much to let the details remain vague, filtered, and even false. Science has shown that we can indeed form memory as early as two years of age; this will not come as a shock to most of us. But I find myself deeply reluctant to write down moments from that age, those priceless memories that have floated up from before my adult comprehension of time. Putting the whole-body experience of those memories in words is disquieting; it catches the experience in a net, pins it irrevocably to the graph of circumstance and later reconstruction. It paradoxically makes what felt real seem unreal.

Exactitude is at odds with memory’s talismanic power, and its shifting, felt nature. Memory is not fact, and does not want to be fact. Memory is, rather, a composition, a composite. Memory is experience and emotion together. This is why hearing someone else relate your history to a third party is disconcerting; the facts may all be in the right places, but the feeling is wrong. And just as concrete details can prove to be untrustworthy and amorphous over the years, so too does the emotional weight and meaning of memory change. It evolves as our emotional intelligence evolves.

In poems, this frangible world of memory is safe, because poetry is also felt, evocative, and not to be trusted with facts. A poem also lives in our emotional center, shifting its weight and its shape over time.

Early memories present like the koi in a leaf-filled pond. Not clear. More about movement than anatomical exactness. At their own pace, with a shape that is sensed and felt, but not caught. Poetry presents itself the same way, sometimes full-faced, more often gibbous.

What I learned this year, Part 2

9) When you first do something, you don’t have to be able to articulate why you are doing it.

10) For an avid reader, reading can become a substitute for doing.

11) Promote yourself. It feels super-awkward, but do it anyway.

12) Doubts don’t help you; they only undermine you. So, radically, quit indulging in them.

13) When I don’t write in my journal, I don’t write at all.

14) Not writing for even a day leaves me depressed.

What I learned this year, Part 1

In no particular order.

1) I can’t write Ted Kooser’s poems or Louise Gluck’s poems. I can only write my poems.

2) I can make them much better than I ever think I can at any particular stage of editing.

3) Forward momentum is the single most important thing.

4) I need to read poetry to feel consistently inspired to write it.

5) I don’t write for acceptance. I do it to have meaningful work, and to feel consistently alive. Of course I want acceptance from the rest of the world. But it’s really important to not get those two things tangled up.

6) I wrote about this previously, but it bears repeating: Don’t pursue the result of heightened awareness. Reach for the state of heightened awareness itself.

7) Writing anything generates motivation for writing anything else.

8) Writing anything generates motivation for doing anything else. In writing, I become real to myself. I become hopeful. My choices seem to matter. My life seems to matter.