Winter is a time for little deaths—even in the desert. The three patio trees outside my window lose their leaves, mostly; it’s the only time of the year my room gets any light. Palms spread their seed upon the ground. The migratory birds go; other animals gather then hibernate away their short lives. (Only crows remain in the LA streets, sounding their beaks against the gloss-stained surface of telephone poles. Like woodpeckers.) The people stay even more indoors, cuddled into the arms of their neighborhoods. As Edith Sitwell said, “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
This winter has been a little rough. I’ve lost a dear friendship already this year—long story and blame to go around—and it makes me positively desperate. Others in my life simply get busy, always, juggling new priorities. And the landscape I live amidst is a generation, not just defined by work, but utterly trapped by its value system. Careerism and perfectionism in a failing economy; a thirst for stuff, for the perfect balance between life and work, under the nagging eyes of social media. Conversation lulls then stops entirely, to be replaced by grandstanding, curation, and the broadcasted self. I’m so sick of my culture’s obsession with status. It’s harrying—and, no, I don’t mean how fucking fantastic Harry Styles looks on the cover of Another Man.
What I mean is, when I feel harried, I tend to make stupid mistakes. Say things I don’t mean. Do things I never normally would. But mostly just allow things to go on, that I normally would never allow…
Like DA Powell says in his poem, “Chronic”:
I carry the same baffled heart I have always carried
a bit more battered than before, a bit less joy
for I see the difficult charge of living in this declining sphere
There’s no solution for this, beyond living, beyond finding more peace and being in the moment. It’s so easy to slip into routine. It’s so easy to let others define, or direct, us. It’s so easy, when enjoying the comforts beside the fire, to forget to live deliberately. (Even a blog post about this feels…performative.)
I’m trying to remember that life happens in cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. My mum, in her spare time, is a gardener. She’d likely echo the author, Ruth Stout, in this, saying, “There is a privacy about [winter] which no other season gives you... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.”
Perhaps after a week and a half of rain, and the two sunny days which followed—and the LA desert is a little less dry—I’m coming to remember something else once told to me during my first year in grad school. My instructor, Brian Teare, was talking about “writer’s block,” which he rightly doesn’t believe in; I’m gonna quote him in full, seeing as this utterance was so incredible:
As for "writer's block": I don't really believe in it. By which I mean: I think what we call "writer's block" is the self's righteous refusal of language: I mean: I think you're probably not writing for a very good reason. During this time, trust yourself, your lower wisdom, and try to figure out what that reason is. Something in you isn't coming forward, the way a deer steers itself deeper into the woods, away from a clearing, when there's something it doesn't trust in the field.
It could be that you were anxious about having [X] as a teacher, and so the words went away to protect themselves. It could be that the work you were doing on spells and incantations and magic got too close to something that's scary, and you put the words away to protect yourself. It could be that you're being a little too critical of your own work, too self-conscious, and that writing isn't fun when you're holding a magnifying glass over every word you write--so the words will come back when it's more fun to write. It could be a combination of the above. Trust that it's for a good reason. I'd do some journaling, some self-reflection and try and figure it out. Do you keep a writer's journal? You should. Go read Virginia Woolf's “A Writer's Diary.”
I think the task is: make writing safe for yourself and for words, and also make it fun. Give yourself permission to make a mess before you clean it up--"mess" means form and content, by the way. Only if you feel safe will you be able to confront fear and rage, and all the stuff that isn't polite and emotionally "neat." Only if you're able to let go of formal control will your poems and your language bloom; you can always prune later. But you need the blooms before you get the pruning sheers. I have a feeling you've got the pruning shears out and sharpened before you've even got a seedling sending shoots above ground. Hard to write in those conditions--hard for language to grow freely. Or to switch metaphors: you need marble before you can carve. Think of your first task as being the guy who brings the marble in (marble = text) from the quarry (quarry = deep mind); your second task is to be the carver who makes (wakes?) the marble into life (life = poetic language).
Consider the messiness of this post my attempt at making safe, making mess, and staying in the forest. Winter’s a little rough, yes, but I’m staying here a while longer. I’ll try to be deliberate about being here…