AWOL from the Army of the Upright


I want to boast
around you, like a horse rearing straight up
in the stars.

But I have nothing to say.
Like the night
when the moon is out.

(Amarusataka 1.12, Sanskrit)

This poem, borrowed from Conjunctions‘s current online previews is an imagined translation of an imagined poem that could fill a (potentially imagined) lacunae in classical Indian poetry. Cool concept. I had to share. Plus it is about communication and the sky, and so is this post.

You should head over to Conjunctions and check out the rest of the selection from The Lacunae by Daniel Nadler. They are all spectacular. Enjoy. Then, read the poet’s bio. Nadler who is apparently also a tech whiz and finance guy, seems to have an abundance of creative/mental energy. This fact is salient to me today because yesterday (while I was feeling ill, and had been for several days) I read On Being Ill, by Virginia Woolf. In it Woolf talks about how, though it is rarely observed in literature, the mind is beholden to the body:

All day, all night the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane–smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending process of changes, heat and cold, comfort and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness, until there comes the inevitable catastrophe; the body smashes itself to smithereens, and the soul (it is said) escapes. 

As I noted in my previous post, I recently read a book about the habits of various famous creatives. I was surprised to see how many writers and artists used stimulants daily: nicotine, coffee, and alarmingly, prescription Benzadrine, which is kinda like meth. Ayn Rand, for example, kinda became so addicted to kinda-meth she couldn’t write without it. A fact that makes me feel slightly better about my new minor dependence on coffee to get my brain running in the morning. I’m not trying to say anything about Daniel Nadler’s habits, just noting that his energy level must be pretty high, and high energy is good for creativity. It happens to me sometimes, and it feels GREAT. There are days when I write 3,000 words without much effort, or write long letters to all of my pen pal friends, or conceptualize an entire screenplay in my mind during a drive to State College (true story, and I actually wrote the script the next week). Then there are days when my dog wakes me up at 6 and I think, perfect, I’ll get to work, and I sit in my writing womb (my office now has Pepto-pink walls) and stare at my computer trying to ignore that fuzzy tickle at the back of my brain until the urge to slump over and pass out on top of my laptop is so strong that I go back to bed. Those days suck. They make me feel bad about myself and my resolve. They get lumped in with the days that I fill up with non-writing obligations as Guilt Days. Good writing days though, those can be Guilt Days too. Because I have to lock myself up. I have to not shower, not eat (unless my girlfriend cooks and delivers the food), not participate in chores, neglect my dog, and the accept the continued flattening of my ass.

But that is what it takes. Writing, for me to be involved in it, for it to be a fever, for it to be any good at all, has to be the ONLY THING. I spent five months this winter in a cabin 20 miles from the closest town and 100 miles from anyone I knew. I had no internet and shitty cell reception. It was often too cold for my dog to walk barefoot outside, and I was living out of my suitcase, so my obligations other than writing were zero. I was more creative than ever. I wrote an entire novel. A 250 page novel. I wrote a screenplay. And about a dozen short stories. I wrote letters and a book review. I kept a journal. I even wrote a couple of poems. 

What I’m saying is: I am officially absolving myself of the the good-writing-days guilt. Creativity is a hungry thing. It eats energy of all kinds: physical, mental, social. Maybe someday I will be able to be consistently creative and also something that looks like a socially acceptable human who is not wearing a flour covered belly shirt, no bra, and sleep shorts when you come over, but for now, I can’t. 

I want to leave you with one more quote, because she already said it better, though for different purpose. In On Being Ill, when comparing the well to the ill, Woolf notes that the well, “march to battle,” meaning work, socializing, community making, sport, while:

We [the ill] float with the sticks on the stream; helter-skelter with the dead leaves on the lawn, irresponsible and disinterested and able, perhaps for the first time in years, to look round, to look up–to look, for example, at the sky.”

So it seems I’m saying to be creative, one must be full of energy, yet function in society as if she were ill. I am not asking to be excused, I’ve already excused myself for as long as my meager savings account will allow. I guess what I’m doing is celebrating a revelation. Or recalibrating my productivity gage away from task completion and toward creative focus. That sounds too much like jargon. What I mean is: I’ll be lying about, looking at the sky, staring at my pink walls and wearing pajamas for the foreseeable future. I am working, it just doesn’t look the same as you working.   

nb: The phrase, “army of the upright” in the title of this post is from VW’s On Being Ill.

Get get

…A vocabulary of alarm stuck inside my mouth.
Like a giraffe inside a giraffe, inside a giraffe,
Inside of a lion. An arsenal of weather. How is it
going to change you? To let go of something
you’ve never held. Someone says,
Get get vulgar.”

-from “In the Inside Outside” in Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit

words in the right order

Darkness a bet you make again
and again. You are asked to accept
the fantastic. It’s so fantastic.

Accept it. Someone says, Emotions
don’t have brains. And someone is right.
It’s a different way to dance. Mind
no longer content to move around
the circumference, mind makes a big leap,
becomes a telescope ladder. A significant
vertical exposure. An altered heart.
I forget approximately.

from “How to be Responsible” in Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit

a musket, or a bat

You sleep with your fingers coiled around
the handle of a loaded musket. I sleep
with my hands coiled over your breasts.
You tell me I need to keep a weapon close
in case of mutiny, in case of boarding, in case
the lookout is caught off guard.
I tell you I am a light sleeper,
good watch dog. I will wake you
at the first sign of trouble and you will protect me.

-from “What it is Like to Be a Woman Pirate” by Keely Hyslop

the drowse of the sunlight

Conrad Aiken

IN the mazes of loitering people, the watchful and furtive,
The shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves,
In the drowse of the sunlight, among the low voices,
I suddenly face you,

Your dark eyes return for a space from her who is with you,
They shine into mine with a sunlit desire,
They say an ‘I love you, what star do you live on?’
They smile and then darken,

And silent, I answer ‘You too–I have known you,–I love you!–‘
And the shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves
Interlace with low voices and footsteps and sunlight
To divide us forever.

I remember being obsessed with this poem in college. I wrote it on the back of a postcard and hung it on my wall. All the postcards on my wall had poetry on the back side, the usual suspects–Cummings, Plath, Rumi–but this one was always my favorite. Painfully romantic, I liked to close my eyes and imagine myself in the scene. I hadn’t lived enough life to know love like this. The kind that sneaks up on you. The impossible kind. Though really, it is all the impossible kind.