The Best Revenge: or, Writing the Human

I’m not a forgive-and-forgetter. I’m more of a I’ll-let-it-go-this-time-but-it’s-going-in-your-permanent-record type. So you’d think I’d enjoy a good revenge fantasy poem. But, having encountered a couple recently, I find I feel impatient with them. Why? Do I think art should show the best we can be, not the worst? The best AND the worst, maybe. But revenge fantasy, nor even actual revenge, is not the worst of us. It’s the pettiest of us. And for that, perhaps, it has not, at least in these few poems I read, fulfilled for me the act of art. I can do petty any old day. It takes real strength of imagination to conjure the worst of the human impulse. And the best. I ask from poems this kind of imagination. In a revenge tale, there’s always a bad guy and the victim, even if the roles reverse. And the victim’s act of revenge has an aura of holy justice about it, no matter how bad is the act. There is a god-like nature of the revenge act that is not as interesting to me as the exploration of the flawed and contradictory human nature.

This is a bit of a tangent, but I saw the movie I, Tonya recently, and found it fascinating. The filmmakers gave us no heroes, nor anti-heroes. Every character is fucked up. But somehow not entirely unlikeable. At least not 100% of the time. It’s a crazy story of crazy people in a crazy subculture in a crazy world. Just as cartoons sometimes reveal the world more truly than a photograph, so this cartoonish movie somehow showed the tragic nature of humanity. It’s billed as a comedy, but only in that comedy and tragedy are so closely aligned. I found it a deeply sad movie. And satisfyingly so, because of the manifestation of gray areas, the beautiful chiarascuro of the human plight of living with ourselves.

 

 

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Help Me If You Can; or On the Stages of Project Completion

Sometimes when I’ve just “finished” a project, I get all bouncily excited. I can’t wait to get it out into the world, CERTAIN that the world will be AGOG. At times like this I wish someone would gently wrest the “Send” button from my hand.

If I do excitedly send the fresh, new piece, fortunately it takes so long for most places to respond that the rejection letters come less as a knife to the heart of Tigger as a knife to the heart of, say, Kanga, perhaps, or Roo, or, depending on the day, Eeyore.

If I’m a sensible bear, I’ll put the piece aside. I’ll come back to it later and HATE EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. Then I’ll put it aside again and later come to it with a more measured response. Although if I wait too long, I’ll get too Wol-ish about it all, and that can be insufferable.

So, having just finished a couple of pieces about which I’m WILDLY ENTHUSIASTIC, I’m going to try to breathe through the bouncy part, and try to put my new pieces aside for a while. I’m hoping to get fairly quickly back to my usual, Piglettish state: slightly worried, somewhat confused.

Formtion, Functiorm; or On Navigating Form and Function

I had been working on a multipart essay when I wondered if it was really a sectioned poem. So I spent days and days easing, tapping, tweaking, clipping each segment into lineation, attention to rhythm, structures, and all the various things that poetic forms allow/require of us. And now I’m not sure it works. But the process has been interesting.

On the one hand, the poeming process helped me make the language and sentences more taut and efficient, catch repetitions, reorder thoughts. Creating lines allowed me to inject additional suggestions into the ideas, or even with a line break subvert what I was saying, or at least question it.

But too often, the lines gave gravitas to places I didn’t really want emphasized. It made some ideas too weighty, too self-important. Some ideas I wanted to slip in with more subtlety, subtlety that demands of lineation did not seem to allow.

So I’m going to take the newly taut language and spread it back out, give some good fat back to some of the sentences, allow a more languid pace.

But I also realized that one thing I was looking for in this poetic exercise was another layer of thinking, or a honing of direction. I am still in the process of finding that. I read a novel recently and thought, “Hm, that was a pretty interesting idea in search of a good story to find itself inside. This wasn’t it.” I fear that’s what I have on my hands right now.

Or maybe function will follow form. If I make it a play, maybe I’ll figure out what I’m trying to get at. Maybe an opera. Perhaps it’s best as a haiku.

I think I need to do more thinking work to distill what’s important about what I’ve written down. And I’m hoping this process of traveling back and forth between genres will help — the way you isolate an egg yolk by tipping it back and forth between pieces of egg shell, letting the egg white slop out.

 

Team Sport; or the Writing Group Ride

We unspool over the miles, then spool up again as the ones ahead pause to let those of us behind catch up. I am talking now about the group I bicycle with; sometimes twelve of us gather for this charitable ride every spring. But the same is true for my writing group, six of us. Some months we seem far apart: a few wrapped up in work or personal issues and far from their writing, a few deep in a project and writing fast and onward. Some months we’re closer together, all in a funk, or all on fire. Sometimes one of us is flagging. Sometimes the rest remember to wait; sometimes it’s a while until we realize we’ve lost someone in the rear. Sometimes we get what we need from each other; sometimes we don’t. It’s hard sometimes to ask for what one needs. Sometimes it’s hard to know. Sometimes I fall behind and I just want my fellow riders to wait for me. Sometimes I’d just as soon they go on, and I’ll just trundle along as best I can at my own pace. Sometimes I want my group to fuss over me. And sometimes they do. Sometimes I’m happy to fuss over them. And sometimes I remember to do so. Some days you just need to ride alone. Or maybe just stay home. It’s okay to stay home now and then. Some rides it’s rainy and chilly; some days are divine. But in general, what I remember best is the laughter, the chitchats as we roll along first beside one person, then another, the lovely end of the ride when we’re all ruddy cheeked and ready to rest. But the writing ride has no end, really. The writing group meetings are a chance for us to rest for a minute by the side of the road, catch up, catch our breaths, review where we’ve been and where we’re off to next. And see who’s remembered to bring snacks.

I Herd You; or Habits of Mind

Where I’ve been staying, most days in the early evening I hear a strange soft clatter, and look out the door to find a relatively orderly herd of goats walking down the road, kept moving along by a relatively polite and very efficient border collie. Sometimes a goat will pause to nibble at a tasty vine, but in short order the collie urges it along, and they all disappear around the corner of the stone barn next door. Often soon thereafter I’ll hear some bellowing, and I know the man down the street is calling the cows back to the barn from the field across the road, and they’ll shamble along slowly to his “Allors,” as if reluctant attendees to an obligatory meeting. Early mornings I wake to what sounds like a strangled cry which, after he clears his throat, will turn out to be a rooster’s call, soon to be joined by the dove’s ooo-ooo-er, over and over and over and over. And it occurs to me that these are my main modes of thought. And I can’t predict from one situation to the next, one impulse to the next, which of the modes will kick in. I can only hope they ultimately serve whatever the purpose: to move me along, to gather myself together, to wake me up, or get me out of the house to escape the incessant repetitions of thought. Allors.

Long, Winding; or, Getting Published

I am traveling, which is fun, surprising, frustrating, pleasant, extremely unpleasant, invigorating, exhausting, a privilege, a self-inflicted curse, the whole gamut. While I’ve been gadding about, through the miracle of modern communication systems, I’ve received word that although not a winner, I was a finalist in a contest, and also received two more outright rejections for my work. And so it goes, says the narrator watching the journey of Billy Pilgrim. I often, in the grim thick of it, wonder why I travel, and why I try to get my work published. I can’t explain either, except for some complex cocktail of ego, hubris, drive, curiosity, and this need to connect, perhaps. We sat by a tidal river in a funky little place that was playing Steely Dan, BB King, Supertramp, and ate crustaceans that we don’t usually eat, bristling with claws and exoskeleton, toasting Anthony Bourdain’s memory. We left hungry but feeling like we’d accomplished a small thing, as I felt when I heard of my finalist spot. Staying home is nice too. Not doing the research required to send work out, not girding the loins for the inevitable rejections, just either doing the writing or doing something else entirely — that’s nice too. But before long I start listening keenly to others’ tales, pore over maps, surf the Poets &Writers deadline pages, pack my bags and set out. Again and again. That’s the only Way.

Let Us Now Praise; or Word Power

Paris’s Pantheon is devoted to honoring the Republic’s “great men”…and Marie Curie. By now there are some other women, finally. In the crypt lie the remains of defenders of the Republic; soldiers many, and statesmen, but also scientists, and, of great interest to me, writers. The Pantheon in some ways is devoted to the power of words, words that roused the citizenry, words that safeguard  laws and rights and philosophical ideas of how to be citizens, words too that rendered by imagination tell stories and orate poems that stir us and remind us of the best, and the potential worst, that lies within us. In 100 years, if we’re still here, we humans, whose words will we still be quoting? Who will be our great writers who by their ideas and imagination will safeguard our humanity?