On Failing Better

It’s been a tough week, wrapping up with finals, keeping up with my wifely duties (mostly being door person to the cats), and contemplating a new direction in life in the form of grad school (starting in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Antioch University in April). Yesterday I attended orientation–and I’m excited to get going. That said, I’ve been wrestling with my writing too–what it means, how I do it, what will happen to it once I start school. I’m thinking there will be an intersection for me, a sweet spot between counseling and writing. Not sure yet what it will look like, but I suspect I will find it.

Mostly though I’ve been thinking about what it means to write, to be a writer. How I relate to the world via the written word.  Starting this blog a day commitment almost three weeks ago has reinforced much of what I already know–that nothing works quite so well as putting my butt in the chair–that usually even if I don’t think I have anything to say, if I just sit down and start writing, something will manifest. Not everything will be deep or terribly meaningful, but every now and then I hit on something I can work with, mold into more meaning. I’m turning out some shitty first and final drafts because oftentimes they are one and the same.

The blog isn’t a great format for me for in-depth explorations as I haven’t been devoting enough time to it. I write a piece and then spend the next few hours or days after posting thinking I should take it down, thinking “oh man, I should have said x and done more research so I could have said y” and generally wishing I was smarter or more thoughtful with more time and a deeper commitment. So many times I find blogs and articles on exactly my point that are far more articulate, funnier, and published in actual publications. And I berate myself further.

I started reading Dani Shapiro’s lovely new book Still Writing today on the plane today. I’ve been toting it around with me for several days now, waiting for the right moment to break into it. Today I needed to read what she had written. She writes about the inner censor, the one that sits on the writer’s left shoulder and says things like “that’s stupid” and “how boring” and “you’re wasting your time.”  Anyone who creates anything knows this voice intimately. We know to get any work done we have to ignore her, silence her, wrestle her to the ground and say “look bitch, I’m going to fucking write so just fucking fuck off.” She will sometimes slink away for a bit.

I’ve noticed the Censor doesn’t come around so much when I’m writing haikus. Ironically (is that the right use of this word Kari Neumeyer?), the daily haiku practice, of which I’ve written about  twice now (here and here), has actually been good for my writer’s ego. I get more bang for my syllabic buck with the haiku. For one thing, I have a venue in which I post and in that venue, a closed Facebook group, I’ve found a thriving community full of cheerful support and thoughtful feedback.

I’ve shared some of my haikus with other folks as well, people I know in real life, offline as it were (email is so luddite, it practically counts as being offline, don’t you think?). My commitment to writing a haiku a day has inspired others to do the same. Some people have shared theirs with me–a haiku exchange. I’ve found kindred spirits–it’s not everyone who understands what it means to distill an experience or a feeling or a sensation down to 17 intentional syllables. Even fewer people get excited about the process. Here it is less about ego and more about connection. There’s something holy there, sacred. A communion:

I attend haiku church
Words and syllables offered,
Received. Communion.

Words live on my tongue
Like communion, and sweet wine
Come closer, receive

(I love that I can use all of that religious imagery from my childhood to illuminate my love of writing and poetry. Finally.)

I love too that poetry is mystery–the making of it is a strange alchemy, and even when words are so intentionally selected, the meanings from person to person vary wildly. Poetry engages the imagination in a way that prose doesn’t. I know this may not be news to most of you, but I’m late to the poetry lovefest. I didn’t ever think I could enjoy poetry, let alone write it until recently someone put it in front of me and said read, this is great, expansive, mind blowing stuff. It is.

Writing is powerful, transformative medicine–for the reader and for the writer. As Dani Shapiro says

“the page is your mirror. What happens inside you is reflected back. You come face to face with your own resistance, lack of balance, self-loathing, and insatiable ego–and also with your singular vision, guts, and attitude . . . life is usually right out there, ready to knock us over when we get too sure of ourselves. Fortunately if we have learned the lessons that years of practice have taught us, when this happens, we endure. We fail better. We sit up and dust ourselves off, and begin again.”

This place, I think, in the failing, the sitting up, the beginning again, is where my career in counseling will intersect with what I know and love about writing.

6 thoughts on “On Failing Better

  1. The turmoil we put ourselves through because we listen to that censor. I am trying to learn that I can’t be a writer and critic simultaneously! I think for me that was the number one reason I never was able to get my writing projects done. Love to hear I’m not the only one.

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