I feel so fortunate to have an ecosystem (comprised of body/mind/mostly anonymous microorganisms/various systems/energy/intangible &c.) that’s often so attuned to the outpouring of art in all its glory. For once YouTube did me really right, tonight: It called up a suddenly-beloved-though-until-just-now-new-to-me video, Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” It seems the algorithm rewarded me for fucking around with Bill Plympton shorts and John Lurie musics. One assumes. I also got happily served that Wintergatan machine I looked up some time ago, originally thanks to Boing Boing, I think–perhaps Laughing Squid.
I was mooning around in a rainstorm today, thinking about how it was kind of a shit deal, turning 40 last year after taking a lot of mutual distance from everyone I knew–particularly those several writers’ communities that were absolutely everything to me ten years back, give or take. Towards the end of that era, I’d begun to suffer in ways that were hard to romanticize (even for me), and I’m afraid that my sadness-slash-rage does tend towards contagion, which meant I had to be hurting folks who cared for me along the way. One woman, a person I loved with the strength of twelve elephants and a bridge of steel cable, was a writer of lightning insight who possessed a heart worth twenty men, at least. She did me a solid one evening, one June, in the sweltering heat of Greensburg, PA, she peeled away the curtains of sweat and desperation separating us and saw something was wrong. So she asked one of our Cave Canem teachers if he might help direct me out of that oubliette.
Said teacher, renowned artist Chris Abani, is a creator of the utmost grace. That night, he allowed me to invade some great, until-then joyous and productive dinner table talk–and even deigned to advise me how to handle my strife. Secretly, I’d been insulting myself, calling my suffering pathetic, insignificant at best, thinking it had to be a product of my weakness and self-pity. Yet Chris, knowing me only a little, handled the matter of my sadness seriously (for which I am still thankful). He warned me that a life solely comprised of poetry was no life at all. He insisted I must, for my own sanity and survival, (re)build an existence rife with passions, interests, and attractions independent of my poetic practice–although there could (should?) exist a bridge between the poetry and the living, that the two aspects might happily inform each other. If I continued as I’d described to him, dating only poets, living with poets alone, reading only poetry books and books about poetry, exclusively working as a poet with other poets, I would most certainly end up “need[ing] a lot of medication,” as he put it. He cut to the heart of it immediately, and I had to listen.
A decade later, my life feels much more my own. I graduated from Cave Canem and my MFA program, Northwestern published my second poetry collection, and I now live with a brilliant partner whose worldview balances mine in ways I adore. I miss being in the thick of artists sometimes, but overall, I’d rather be absorbing or making art than socializing, which, I’m afraid, I spent far too much energy doing while riled up, turned on, and surrounded by packs of lovely, unruly artists in daily life. Most of us writers are actually kind of solitary, in truth; doing this kind of work is often lonesome. That’s part of what makes it difficult. And so damn satisfying when it bears fruit.
Anyway. As I was saying, as long as I’ve got art around, I’ve got my people. Messages in bottles though they be, I adore ’em. They keep me making love letters all my own.