27 August 2013
I wasn’t feeling well the whole day. I managed to drag myself out of bed just awhile ago, took a bath, had a bit of something to eat. My body feels heavy; it’s as if gravity wants me to stay lying on the ground forever. I’m not sure if this is all because I had a late night, or my thoughts and emotions settling on me like second skin. I finished writing a letter to my friend V. last night, just before I got your e-mail, and it took a lot out of me, I suppose. I talked about death–he recently lost a friend and was trying to make sense of things. Or maybe that was just me. Then I went to bed with a book, and read myself to sleep, dreaming of men and their fists and their capacity for violence and tenderness.
Or: maybe this goes back to the conversation I had with my youngest sister, who came to me last night in tears. She’s almost finished with school, you see, and is in the last stretch of her thesis. She’s studying to be a graphic designer. Naturally, she’s looking at the works of others, and happened to come upon a website so beautifully designed, it made her cry. She cried because she felt she will never be able to make something like that, that compared to her work, her work is shit. Ah, my little bird. There was nothing else for me to do but open my arms and let her cry.
I suppose I understand. I tell her I’ve been there, too. I encounter this with my work every day: seeing people who have better skills, better ideas, better execution. However, I felt this more keenly when it came to my writing. I said, I’ve been there.
I said, I know the feeling of standing before a work so magnificent, you feel you will never be able to create again. To read a poem so exquisite, a poem that speaks the clearest truth that you feel punched in the gut; to read a poem so masterfully written, you begin to ask yourself, why do I write? What right have I to put words on the page, when I know I will never be able to create something so–so perfect as this?
And sometimes, sometimes, you realise it doesn’t even have to be perfect. That the poem before you exists with its own bruises and awkwardness and yet you know, intrinsically, that this is a poem, that this is what a poem is, that this is everything you aspire to be, everything you want your life to lead to. And to be faced with that and be stripped of all your defenses–what right have I to call myself a poet, a writer?
I tell her how many times I’ve encountered poems like that, and all I can do is lie down and cry. I tell her, it’s okay. That maybe that’s what it meant to create.
(I remember we talked about this before, but I need more time to sift through our emails. Sometimes I wish I could print all of our correspondence, make it into a book. So I can go back; so I can bookmark, so I can underline. A project for the future, maybe.)
I pushed the hair back on my sister’s face. I wipe her tears away. I tell her, you will create again. You can do it, too. You would need time, and patience, and the will to do it over and over.
Ah, it might never be over, my little bird, but that part I kept for myself. I am thinking, she needs to understand this; she needs to learn for herself, on her own, that this is her life’s work, that it is just beginning.
Here is a line that I did send you, M., in an old letter, a line from a book that I need in my life but has yet to find its way to my shelf:
A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world and the responsibilities of your life.
— Mary Oliver, from Flare, Part 12