Writing and Running–The Myth of the Muse

I was hoping to have a blog on more recent events, but I just can’t put my thoughts into anything coherent. Today Facebook reminded me that I wrote this piece two years ago today. So, here it is. It’s aged pretty well. 

Lately I’ve been lamenting the disappearance of my haiku muse, and yesterday I had a bit of an epiphany about this apparent abandonment. I was sitting on the deck, inhabiting my favorite summer writing space—our gazebo or what The Little Woman has dubbed “the man cave” (since I’m the butch in the relationship, and, I guess because I occasionally drink beer out there). Anyhooo—as I scribbled in my journal, writing random lines of bad poetry, revising, creating better lines of poetry, a thought occurred to me. If I were to think about running in the same way that I think about writing, I’d just be sitting around falling out of shape instead of getting fitter and faster.

Which is to say—my running only improves because I am out there on the trails every morning (honest to god, six days a week, 8 a.m., at least five miles each day). Even on days when I don’t want to get out of bed, when I’ve slept like shit, and my feet and calves ache, I hobble to the kitchen, put on the coffee, make a smoothie (or toast), and pull on my running clothes. I tell myself that I will feel better soon. I remind myself that my running buddy awaits, that we will have coffee after, that after the first quarter mile, the aches and pains will shake out. I know that if I can just propel myself around the lake once, the endorphins will kick in and the next lap will be so much easier.

I know these truths about writing too, but for some reason I have more difficulty remembering. As much as I remind myself how good it feels to have a new piece published, whether on my blog or picked up by an anthology, I have difficulty motivating myself to put my butt in the chair and write. And really, the process may look different from running, but they are much the same thing—do the work, reap the rewards.

third place
Third place in my age group!

Last weekend I ran in the Great Sedro Woolley Fourth of July Footrace. After a bit of a dry spell, I have entered a spate of footraces recently—a few weekends ago, TLW and I ran the Camano Crab Dash with our running buddies April and Karen, then the GSWFoJFR with Cami, Bill, April and Karen and some other lovely women from The Fit School, this weekend The Chuckanut Footrace, the following weekend, my friend Cami’s Windhorse Half Marathon, and more into the future. Probably the Bellingham Waterfront 15k, and the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon, Run Like a Girl . . . and so on.

Something happened at the race in Sedro Woolley that I never even imagined might be possible—I placed third in my age group! Like my friend Kari said, that’s some compliment, being told you run fast for your age, but THIRD IN MY AGE GROUP! Usually I’m pleased to run under 10 minute miles and come in in the top half of the total field. Last Friday, I ran 5.17 miles in 44:16—that is smoking fast for me, a series of 8:30-ish miles, sustained for 5 miles! Even on my best training runs, I don’t string together more than one or two sub-nine minute miles but put me in a crowded field and my competitive juices start flowing.

crabrunpic
Crab Dash Runners–Karen, Nancy, Moi, April

Along with the competition and adrenaline, there’s another factor:  I tell myself I can do anything for an hour. Anything? Anything. Hmmm, I thought to myself yesterday, maybe that mantra can apply to writing as well. And how had I so quickly forgotten what I could accomplish after two fairly recent months of writing a blog post a day? How did I let myself get so out of writing shape? What might happen, I wondered, if I sat down for an hour every day and just wrote? Might my writing muscles get as developed as my running muscles?

So, I sat longer yesterday and didn’t get discouraged when the muse didn’t show up right away. I kept writing, doing word maps, stretching and challenging myself to find better synonyms, more complex words, words I could use in double entendres.  It’s the same in running—I don’t just run flat courses (though I work one or two in every so often). I generally run terrain that challenges me. My favorite course has two good hills and many ups and downs in between. No matter how often I run there, I still find the hills difficult—some days more so than others. Yesterday I ran about two miles longer than I do on an average day. These runs make me stronger, mentally and physically. When I run a race on the flats like I did last weekend, I can fly (you know, for my age).

Eventually, the muse returned to me yesterday. And here’s the thing about the muse—it’s me. The muse lives in me—she is not some external ethereal creature who decides to occasionally grace me with her gossamer presence. I own her wings and her wand, as much as I own my running shoes and shorts. And just like I drive myself to the running trail every morning at 8, I need to put my butt in the chair and flip open the computer and make my hands move across the keyboard. I need to challenge myself like I did a few months ago with the blog a day or something similar, some writing exercise that will improve my writing, strengthen my storytelling abilities, improve my dramatic arc.

I read enough writing books to know that even the most celebrated authors don’t possess a magic bullet or super secret writing regimen. No writing will occur if one does not sit and write. No running will occur if one does not put one foot in front of the other. I may occasionally find my inspiration outside of myself; I may credit this person or that circumstance for providing an impetus for writing or running, but ultimately I am the one who needs to do the work. Only I can move the words from my head to the computer screen, only I can propel myself down the trail and across the finish line.

 

N is (usually) for No. But Not Today.

N

 

 

 

 

 

 

No. I usually say no.

I don’t have any spare change

Or an extra dollar.

I work hard for my money

Or I’ve borrowed it

And will have to pay it back

In spades one daycasa que pasa

Working my ass off

Just to get by

And you want a handout?

I don’t think so.

But today?

Today, feeling flush

with unexpected cash in my pocket,

a gift from a friend,

I listen to your plea,

and look

Into your youthful brown eyes,

Where I see your shy smile

And when you ask

only that I buy you a burrito,

I say Of Course.

And ask “What kind?”

You looked surprised

And offer me your sweatshirt

But I don’t need a sweatshirt

Or even a thank you

I just need to buy you this

Burrito and a bottle of water because

How can you eat a potato burrito dry?

At the counter, I place your order

And tell the guy

It’s for a kid outside

As I hand him a twenty

You appear at my elbow

Holding out a flashlight

As an offering, an exchange

For my seeing you.

I just shake my head while

The clerk counts back my change.

And I press the remaining dollars

into your hand

before I leave.

H is for Haiku

HI figured we all needed a break from mental health for a day. So, since April is not only A-to-Z Blog a Day Challenge Month, Poetry Month, BUT also NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), I’m trying to write a poem a day, following these prompts. I’ve done a few, not in order, however, but whenever my muse taps me on the shoulder and drops a few good lines into my lap. Enjoy!

April 1/Day One (which I just wrote today, April 12):
Write a lune, a poem with a 5-3-5 structure (either words or syllables):

I, too, run here blindly
Trusting my feet
Since cataracts cover my heart

April 3/Day 3
Write a poem that is a fan letter to a hero or celebrity. Martina Navratilova’s autobiography, published in the summer of 1985 gave me hope and courage when I felt very alone.

Dear Martina Navratilova,

Love. Love.
That’s the score, right?

Add.
Add-in. Add-out.

Out. Let.
Long.

Rush the net.
Backhand.

Overhead
Smash.

Summer.
1985.

I learned a new language.
Reading you.

Thank you.
Sincerely.

April 4/Day 4
In the spirit of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, write a poem about the cruelest month.

March is the cruelest month.
I am drenched
In fish and scales–
Watery.
Nearly asphyxiated
Then. Pulled
From the warm
Sloshing where I could
Hear your heart swish,
my own steady with
your beat.
My surrogate,
You cut the cord
And left me to
To nourish myself,
To find breath
On my own.
With gills.

April 5/Day 5
We were supposed to write about heirloom seeds—I wrote about weeds and how what we see isn’t always what it seems. Heirloom seed-like-ish.

Monsters skulk at the garden’s edge
Ten feet tall and hairy

Momma said I shouldn’t cry—
He wasn’t really scary

Dangers lurk in the fertile ground
And nourish dormant seeds

Fallow fields lie quiet now
But soon there will be weeds

I’m currently working on a Family Portrait poem so I can cross Day 2 off my list and move on to Days 6-12. Stay tuned for another mental health break in the not to distant.

Shadows, Poems, & Projections: Just a few haiku

It’s one thing to say I’m going to start writing the truth, as I did in my previous blog. Actually doing it? That’s quite another matter, but here’s a first attempt. When I write these haiku, whom am I speaking to? Who is the “you” in my poetry? As I was reminded in one of my classes last week (rather inelegantly, but still), whenever we point our finger at someone else, we are really pointing back at our shadow selves, those parts of ourselves we are at war with. We are always projecting our fears and hopes, desires and needs onto those around us. And so it is with my poetry. Sure, these may be inspired by a particular person. There’s a muse, to be certain, but on deeper reflection, I am “you.” You are me, and to paraphrase the Beatles, we are all together. Goo goo g’joob.

I loved the way you
Swept the door open and bowed,
Welcoming me in.

We had a language–
an undercurrent, riptide.
I drowned in your words

You bequeathed to me
This gift of desperation
Exquisitely wrapped

Stop outguessing me.
Just walk your way, and I’ll run
mine. We’ll meet midway.

You do walk alone.
Were you breathless, keeping up
With my racing heart?

I’ve been your hostage
Since I read that first poem–
Enslaved by those words.

I am the blue sky
And you are the deep green sea
Breathe the air between

New Year Haiku

Sitting, staring, contemplating
Sitting, staring, contemplating, notebook in hand.

During the holidays I had the luxury of time, during which I was able to write some new haiku. I’m always amazed at how a few moments of contemplation can result in words, images, and phrases arriving and coalescing into something more, how an hour or two staring into space or at the sea creates the space in me to realize metaphors and make connections.

I want 2016 to include more of these moments, stolen away from the pressures of daily life. I want 2016 to be a year of more poetry.

This ache, unyielding,
Spreads through my bones. Malignant
Love, metastasized.

Pulled by your tides and
Seduced by your moon, I float
Free in your salt sea

Dreams of you send me
Beyond the curve of the earth
Spinning through night skies

Wash me, erode me–
Rough surf, relentless pounding.
Can’t swim in these waves

I hope you don’t mind,
Ersatz inspiration, you
Are my makeshift muse

I want to be as
relentless as the ocean
pursuing the shore

Anxious attacks me–
All soft syllables, she bites
With ferocity

We could be breathing
Side by side. Instead you chose
Only to exhale

There’s new light on the
horizon. Nighttime will slip
Away into dawn

Some days I forget–
Even deep scars fade with time.
Blood and tears both dry.

I googled your name.
A thousand not-yous filled my
Screen. Damned imposters.

We are all blind in
Our refusal to really
See one another

Choosing blindness won’t
Render you invisible.
My vision is clear

Uninsulated
This fear electrifies–my
Body, conduit

Just a Few End of Summer Haiku

Here is my entire haiku output for August and September. Not much. Not many syllables. Haven’t felt inspired. Except for these few haiku. Enjoy.

I have stopped writing
Poetry for you each night,
My reluctant muse.

What if we just breathe
together? Inhaling the
essence of ourselves

Marriage should not be
reduced to a tally, two
columns, keeping score

Today we untwist
One last thread, our gradual
great unraveling

Still unspoken, the
Honest truth sticks in my throat.
Captive to these fears.

Our story landed
Hard on my heart–opening,
Tenderizing me.

Inhale these words—breathe.
Let me carve our script inside
of you, a rough draft

Overdue Haiku

I haven’t been writing much haiku recently—but I have managed to eke out a few in the past several months. Now is as good a time as any to share them. I’m working on a longer blog piece—my intention is to finish out the alphabet that I started in April, and I’m currently working on V. It’s proving to be somewhat Vexing—but I plan to finish it before school starts again in July. In fact, I’d like to wrap up the rest of the alphabet: V, W, X, Y, and Z before I resume my studies.

In the meantime, enjoy these, please.

We can’t finish what
we started. The pieces of
our pasts too puzzling.

You gifted me this
path. A bittersweet gesture
Since it leads nowhere.

You’re my Proof of Life
photo, ignoring this, our
relentless torture

Here’s tonight’s lesson:
Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
It’s like this. This too

You left just silence
On my altar–some off’ring
Bloodless sacrifice

Open that tightly
closed fist–you can cradle worlds
in an open palm

Paradox
Loosen your grasp. Let
me go, and in the release
find deliverance

Rise with me–spiral
Up. Let us float heavenward
Toward hope and bliss

Sink with me–spiral
Down. The depths await. Sometimes
Hope simply won’t float

This grief well runs deep
Dowse here to discover my
Tears’ artesian spring

True happiness lies
In the letting go, in the
Absence of desire

I paid your ransom
With deposits from my soul–
Some installment plan

Even in silence
the Muse inspired. In her
quiet presence, grace.

I’d steal your kisses
If I could–a thief in the
Night. Unexpected.

I have read about
the tomb of longing and find
I am trapped inside

One awakening
Or many? Dwell in the now.
Breathe deeply. Again.

I’ve electrified
The fence around my heart. I’ll
post High Voltage signs.

Drown me. Hold my head
Under your water, gasping,
Breathless. So alive.

Ignite me. Touch your
Match to this tinder, my dry
Fuel needs a flame.

Once, someone asked me to explain my poems. This is what I said:

For me, it’s all about what is churning inside of me at the moment, feelings that I can’t make sense of or get a grip on I can somehow, magically or through this alchemy of words, distill the feelings down, make them manageable. The reader brings her own feelings to the same words and the meaning changes–I love the ambiguity and the not knowing. The mystery and the freedom to interpret and wonder. I started focusing on the power in each word, the impact that just the right word could have, double entendres and deeper meanings. I’ve started bringing this consciousness to my regular writing though it’s much easier in 17 syllables than in a book length manuscript and it makes it richer, deeper when the words can have meanings on so many levels. I feel like I go on a personal journey writing these, and then when I release them to the universe I see them  differently again. Layers.

Doin’ the Blog Hop

Way back in April, my writer friend and fellow AROHO attendee and Haiku Room contributor Lisa Rizzo invited me to a blog hop. Unfortunately, the timing of that blog hop coincided with the first week of graduate school and I never had the chance to write that blog. Earlier this week, my good friend Cami Ostman accepted an invitation to a blog hop, and though she didn’t explicitly invite me to participate, she did list my blog as one of three that she “keeps an eye on.” Both of these women inspire me and when I read Cami’s blog I realized with dismay that I’d never completed my commitment to Lisa. Then today I got a ping from my good writing buddy and recently published author Kari (Rhymes with Safari) Neumeyer asking me to participate in her blog hop. I am honored and yes! I will participate. Thank you for the invites ladies.

The various blogs had different questions, so I present to you a bit of a mash up:

What are you working on?
I am happy to report that I just finished my second paper for this quarter, this one for my Systems Perspectives in Family Therapy class, entitled (hang on to your hats, kids, this is really exciting) “The Butterfly Effect: Looking at Strategic Therapy Through a Dynamic Systems Lens.” So happy to have that one wrapped up. My pal Linda read it this evening and said that while it wasn’t my finest bit of creative writing, I’d done a heckuva job making an academic topic easy to understand. I’ll take that. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a personal reflection paper for my Human Development in Context, Gender: A Lifespan Perspective course, entitled “A Heavy Gaze: My Gender Identity Development. “ I’m still pondering posting that paper to my blog—I found it much more difficult to write than I had anticipated as it touched on some very personal (and deeply seated) experiences. Between my papers for the Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) program in which I am enrolled, I dabble in haiku and non-fiction essay writing via my blog. I do, of course, still have the proverbial “book in the bottom drawer,” my memoir to which Kari referred that I pull out occasionally to work on. Mostly though, I just think about it and pilfer material from it for my personal reflection essays for school.

Why do you write what you do?
I write to make sense of my world. I know that sounds cliché, and I think Joan Didion said it first (and more eloquently, perhaps), but it’s true. Everything I write, academic papers included, puts my life in some perspective. The two essays I’ve had anthologized deal with my experiences as a lesbian and how I struggled (and still struggle) to make that identity work for me in a world that would prefer I be something than who I authentically am. I write haikus to make sense of daily occurences—quick, distilled sense of individual moments. My blog is a sort of sounding board where I put stuff up that I’ve been pondering to see if it makes sense to other people as well. Also, I write because I totally dig feedback. I love people’s reaction to my writing—I want to read and hear what they think about what I’ve written, the questions I raise, the points I make.

How does my writing process work?
I loved Cami’s answer to this question—she wrote about her very literal process, from blocking out the time on the calendar to putting her butt in the chair. For me, my writing begins with a niggling idea in the back of my head, a thought that won’t go away and begins to gain traction. I am a poor scheduler—I write when I feel so moved, when that idea can’t be contained in my head any longer. Then I pull out my laptop and sit my butt in the chair. That’s my process for essays/blogs anyway. With haiku, I’m more intentional. I write in my journal or, just as often, on my iPhone’s notepad application, and jot down a word or a phrase that has caught my attention. Then I word map/free associate and jot down related words or images. I try to think in metaphors and similes when I write haiku. Of course I count syllables. Occasionally, a haiku will come to me as if the heavens have opened up and the angels are singing the Alleluia chorus, but that’s rare. Exciting, but not very reliable.

Where do you like to write?
I am most productive when I write at home. I write a surprising amount of haiku while I’m in bed, either before I go to sleep or first thing in the morning. As I type this blog, I am in bed, in fact. That said, I am a very social writer. I prefer to write with friends in coffee shops around town or at our local independent movie theater, The Pickford where they have a nice selection of beverages and inexpensive popcorn. I like to be out and about—I begin to chafe if I am alone with myself for too long.

What are your favorite books to give as gifts?
For baby showers, I always give Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions. Other than that, it really depends on the person. I like to give books that will speak to the recipient. Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God are probably the ones I would give most often—they are absolutely one-of-a-kind books. Practically indescribable and altogether brilliant.

Three blogs—besides Kari’s, Cami’s, and Lisa’s—that I read regularly (but with whom I have not discussed a blog hop):

Jolene’s Life in Focus—Jolene takes amazing photographs and writes just as well. Her blog is a wonderful combination of travel adventure and photography. She has a great eye and is a funny, astute writer. We met in a memoir class and continue to meet regularly to write and to talk about writing and her memoir, Spirited Away which chronicles her adventures across Ireland.

Hooked: One Woman at Sea Trolling for Truth—I met my friend Tele in memoir class as well. Her book, with the same name as her blog, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books in the next year. When she’s not fishing in Alaska, she makes her home in Bellingham. A self-described feminist, yoga-posing, vegetarian, tree-hugging fisherman, Tele is warmth and grace personified, qualities that show up in her writing as well as in her life.

Jennifer Wilke—Jennifer is another Bellinghamster who writes with wit and courage about caregiving for her aging mother. Her blog is full of poignant and humorous moments—insights in the most difficult moments. She is also working diligently on a Civil War novel, The Color of Prayer, based on her great-grandfather’s letters.

Procrastination Poetry: July Haiku Wrap-Up

I should be writing a paper for my Gender Development class—six to eight pages “telling your story of how your gender identity has developed across your lifespan thus far.” Alas, I’m procrastinating. Funny, how the assignments I think will be easy turn out to be the most difficult. Instead of writing about my non-gender conforming ways, I thought I would share some of my July haikus instead.

I’ve not been terribly prolific—not quite back up to one a day, but I have managed to cobble together a handful of decent poems this month. A few have to do with running—since I ran my first half-marathon a week and a half ago; some to do with writing, and most to do with life in general.

Enjoy!

How hard must I wish,
To conjure your words from air?
Eyes shut. Hands open.

(I know, I already put this one in a blog, but I really like it, so it bears repeating)

We dwell here between
Words, beyond voice, in this our
Violent silence

Early morning run–
Lightning fast feet, pounding heart.
What’s ahead? Behind?

Catch and release these
Vivid fantasies. Unhook,
Swim fast, silver flash.

On the precipice
Staring into the void–what
Happens if I leap?

Some Sundays digging
In the dirt is more sacred
Than going to church

How many poems
Must I write to get to your
Chewy soft center?

These words, my breadcrumbs,
A crafty trail I’ve contrived
For you to follow

An itch I can’t scratch
That’s what you are, embedded
Deep. Unreachable.

Nights like this your words
Arrived on moonbeams, dancing–
Spinning into memoonbeam_1

Super moon rises–
Feel gravity’s pull and the
Tsunami’s release

Super moon rises
Between Mt Baker and the
Endless sky. Listen.

Seven hundred miles
Logged since January–I’m
Running for my life!

Distill it down to
Seventeen syllables: Life
And Love. Poetry.

Thirteen point one miles
First ever half marathon
One step at a time!

Facebook lives or Face
Book lies? What deeper truths lurk
Beneath these facades?

Do you ever walk
Alone or lonely, keeping
Pace with your own heart?

Happy Birthday Haikus

I’ll need thicker skin
If I’m going to keep this heart
On my sleeve alive

That’s it. That is the only haiku I’ve written in the past month or so.  After five months of what seemed to be inspired, non-stop poetry, the words have ceased flowing. Nothing makes sense. The metaphors seem forced, the similes thin. My haiku muse has abandoned me.

I supposed I should be grateful to have been smiled upon at all, thankful for the time we had, the syllables she gifted me, but I’m a little bitter. I thought I had a connection, a gift, a deal with the universe. If it would give me the words, I would write the poems.

But nothing in this life is guaranteed and I am grateful to have had the 120 or so haikus I wrote between January and the end of April.

Today is my 51st birthday and I want my gift to be the return of my poetry. Here are a few of my favorites in the hope I will be re-inspired:

A ribbon of words
Unfurls and I have written
The way to my heart

If I exhale words
Will you breathe deeply and find
Tattoos on your heart?

Words spark and ignite
Tender tinder, dry fuel
Strike a careful match

Play me for a fool
Or like a Spanish guitar.
My heartstrings. Your song.

Knead me with language
Release these tightly coiled
Naked emotions

Tired of falling in?
There’s a path without that hole.
Today I’ll walk there.

Starved for language and
Famished, I crave the constant
Conversation. Words.

Look. Hold the moon’s gaze
And feel gravity’s release—
Float away on waves.