The turnover of a year has a way about it that makes people take an inventory of things: what's working, what needs repair, what can be excised. I am more than guilty of this. Over the course of the last month, most of my reassessment energy has been spent on my writing. What do I want to write more of? How can I get the ball rolling and start churning out new drafts at the rate that I used to? Why have I fallen so out of practice? These are tough questions for me, as I didn't think much about what to write, or how I wrote, or why, until very recently.
In college, I wrote a poem a day for a year (quite literally) and didn't think it was all that exciting until other people made a big deal out of it. It was a goal, and I made space in my day to get it done. (Like this guy, who read 366 books in 2012--if you make the time and take the commitment seriously, you can get through anything.) I got an email invite to this year's installment of the 365 Project blog--a project I say 'yes' to yearly, though I've only finished that once--and almost declined following through. I didn't want to be reminded of how few new poems I've made in the late months on last year. In 2012, I wrote something near 150 poems (inclusive of both newly generated work and revised drafts) and posted them there. I'd say more than half were revisions of drafts from the first half of the year, if not cobbled-together creatures resurrected from the writing folders on my hard drive marked 2007-2011.
Since I've been keeping track of my progress via the closed internet workshop Frankenstein, it's getting harder and harder to finish thoughts. I don't know if it's the writing online aspect, or the fact that writing semi-publicly puts a specific pressure on me to produce coherent verse on the first go. It could be either, but I think it has more to do with how little my hands are involved in the whole process anymore. I don't journal the way that I used to--my notebooks are bland and colorless. I am a very visual person, and the act of writing longhand makes me feel capable magic: I made those lines, and those lines made words, and those words made sentences. It is almost embarrassing to leaf through the pages of a journal from even a year or two ago, when I would sit doodling, brainstorming, and drafting wherever I was.
Maybe working in an office sterilized my brain. I still feel creative, and I also continue to write a lot more than many of my peers, but it is daunting to see such a serious decline in what I am able to produce. The quality is still there, but the rapid change in quantity is nonetheless alarming. Maybe this is what happens when time is ever more limited. I am learning to say no to social engagements (my chronic anxiety is a strange ally on this front) in favor of staying in to work through drafts. I send out submissions during lulls in my work day. I am making the space. But the aforementioned anxiety seems to have overtaken large parts of my brain that did not used to be so encumbered. I fall into obsessive thought patterns without terminus: tragedies play out in my mind, and then I worry about why I would think such horrible things, a thought closely chased by another about something being terribly wrong with my brain or my disposition in general, and then the pattern circles back on itself.
The pattern is a clear indicator of distress, but even worse: I haven't been able to read anything longer than 20 pages in months. I just forced my way through Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil All The Time, which blew the lid off of my anxious inability to sit still long enough to get through a novel by inducing an anxiety about the fate of the characters that canceled out my own worry. When I finished the book on Monday afternoon, I almost cried. It was such a relief to simply make it out the other side of a book again. I can't remember the last novel I read from cover to cover. Before I moved to Boston, I was reading at least a novel a week. Again, this precipitous shift in numbers is scary. But I'm trying to right the ship.
I've had three poems accepted for publication in as many weeks, the most recent acceptance letter pinging into my inbox late last night as I was wrestling with thugs in Migraine City. The smaller my list of poems that are ready to be sent out for publication gets, the more compelled I feel to replant the rows and see what comes up. I wrote something funny the other night: a research poem to be performed at next week's Encyclopedia Show. I don't usually write funny, and it felt nice to move through a space without self-imposed rules of engagement. I got silly. Talked about acrobats falling off ladders, Nazis, New Jersey, ways disaster can be avoided. I had fun. It reminded me to take the words I put in rows a little less seriously. And I can't say enough how refreshing it was to not sit down once again in hopes of saying something different, only to detour back down the road of grief and loss that I've been treading and retreading in my work for over a year. I finally wrote something wry, and funny. It felt great.