“I sell mirrors in the city of the blind.”
Writing on my hand, writing in the sand, writing on half-sheets of printer paper, on the back of miscellaneous envelopes, on junk mail before tossing, on grocery store receipts (a poem on the wall, once, before painting it over) and even on toilet paper, in a poetic moment of desperation.
There are so many places to write, including the usual places like paper, typewriter and computer. Writers never really get a day off, because reading and writing is everywhere. (Although I bet most writers like it that way.)
If an idea pops into my mind, I can’t write fast enough. My husband usually looks over and smiles knowingly, catching the pen racing across the paper or my fingers typing furiously on the keyboard (which he says can get pretty loud when I’m on a writing rampage).
But, that’s only the writer-part that’s visible. If everything contains its opposite, then the opposite of writing is thinking. Thinking time. Daydreaming, mind-meandering, quiet time, time to reflect and sift and absorb, to eventually (and as gracefully as possible) spit out (in prose or poem) sparkling words.
It makes me think of our manure pile, which starts out as an odd hill of estranged green balls, and then, after Monsoon rains and lazy, sun-drenched days, transforms into a fertile mound of pinkish-brown earth.
When I was twenty-two, I took a poetry workshop in the Bowery in NYC. Wearing the necessary black garments, thick black eyeliner and Doc Martens, each weekend I draped myself in an uncomfortable chair and listened shyly and eagerly as the other poets read their best poems aloud and then laughed and chatted about them afterward.
Watching them, I could only furiously wish to be as comfortable with my writing some day. The problem was that my arms turned into long monkey-arms if I hung around for too long, and especially if I read one of my own poems aloud. Usually, as soon as no one was looking, I snuck out the door, breathing for the first time in at least two hours and searching the crowded sidewalks for the soft pretzel man.
(When we’re young, it can be hard to believe we have much to say that’s valuable. Don’t believe it; every voice is valuable, at every age and every stage.)
One Saturday morning after the usual workshop, our poetry instructor (I’ll call her Stephanie, since I’ve always liked the name Stephanie) took me aside, making small talk as the room, the basement of a church, emptied. Alone with me, she shuffled her feet and looked uncomfortable. “You write all your poetry about yourself, Em. I’m not sure how to say this and I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but maybe you need to write about something else.”
She was a very nice person, and meant no harm, I’m sure of it. But my monkey-arm self, already flustered by the weekly exposure of my most private, poetic parts, didn’t go back to the poetry workshop the next weekend. Another weekend passed, and Stephanie called me at home to find out why I hadn’t been back. I could hear in her voice that my absence upset her, especially in light of “the talk”. I can’t remember what I said to her, but I doubt it was the truth. Years later, I wish I could talk to her now, instead. It’s funny in life, the things that stick with us.
What we both didn’t realize at the time was that I was using myself as the fertile writing-ground that would eventually lead out of me and into the world around me. I was practicing and shaping my style and voice, and the subject matter wasn’t important. What was important, was writing. Writing and writing and writing, and then, writing some more.
So, I’ll tell you what I tell myself, when the young woman with the monkey arms in the black leggings and Doc Martens steps out onto the page with a scowl on her face and her hands on her hips: write whatever you want, and even write about yourself if you want to. Internet blogs are great because they encourage this kind of writing. We all share the human experience, and a little communion with our fellow human beings helps us feel less alone in our separate skins.
Who knew this all along? Our monkey-arm self, who wants to forget it, but don’t let her. Write it on her monkey-hand, if you have to; tell her it’s a special writer’s tattoo.