Well, I was a weird kid. It seems that helps. I spent my childhood in my closet, with the door closed, reading (I was runty too; it was an easy fit). As Stephen Dunn wrote, “I was burned by books early/and kept sidling up to the flame.”
Sometimes I think it’s futile. Often I think it’s brutal—the blank page and my lame brain against endless looping Law and Order: SVU episodes on TV or the temptation of posting on a blog started by my graduate workshop where we take turns writing at length about how we don’t have time to write. Sometimes I just want to be able to afford more frivolous shoes or get my cavities fixed. And I’ve lost a lot of boyfriends to writing, because none of them, so far, has been able to compete. (I am currently accepting applications until this position has been filled.)
But then I read Rilke’s Duino Elegies, or Adrienne Rich’s acceptance speech for the US National Book Foundation 2006 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, where she trumpets, “Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Nor is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard,” and I’m reminded why it’s completely necessary in my life. I’m kind of a literate bitch, but poetry prevents me from deepening my own ruts, from failing to see the vast beauty of the world—even as Rilke reminds that beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.
Most days, I feel infinitely fortunate to be able to do this at all, even if it’s just scrawling notes on my long daily commute or scribbling a stanza while I’m hold at my (sigh) day job. To paraphrase Randall Jarrell, I’m incredibly lucky to be able to hang out in the thunderstorm, hoping to get struck by lightning five or six times over the course of my life. And even when I have a bad week, or year, I continue to be lit by what’s hitting others.