I see many people who clearly have grown up without a qualm about who they are, that is to say they know who they are, they have always known who they are, and they always will be that person. These are the people who stand in front of their closet and do not ever bite their lips before deciding on wearing red. I think I used to be that person in my twenties. I was awfully sure of myself and was in many ways insufferable.
Now, my computer is bossing me around. I think my automatic editor is one of those people. It corrects words that are already correct and then offers the very same spelling of the very same word and then when I click the proffered choice (just to get the bloody underline to remove itself) -- and this is the really annoying part -- it puts the word in the sentence (overwriting the word that was there, which is indeed the same word) but somehow during the insertion process swallows part of the word that follows, coughing up during the process a bunch of gobligook which sits on the page and has to be corrected again. Annoying! If you lean down close to the page, you can hear it laugh in a sly little way.
This is a symptom more than anything. It is symptomatic of me being acquiescent in the worst of ways. The part of me that married the wrong people for good reasons, the part of me, for example, that agrees to do something I'm fully capable of doing but don't really want to do. Will you do this? Oh, yes, sure, I'll do that. I seem to be sliding into and out of my true self and wheezing with the effort. Oh, my god, I am the accordion of myself!
I can be pulled apart and pushed back together and for what purpose? I have to admit, (sigh) there's a lot of sighing with accordions, that it seems unfair to reach an age of reason and then use that reason to turn around and let people boss you around, not to mention to have things like computers boss you around too.
I'm only writing this note because way back when I agreed with myself that it might be a good idea to have a blog (and it's not like I don't have opinions, I do) I didn't realize that it never ends. You have to really want to keep chatting away and honestly, I don't. So, sporadic it is. There.
The part of me that is an artist (and even though I've done plenty of art over the years I've never been comfortable calling myself that) has now separated from the writing part of me (a bit - as much as I am able).
It's taken decades to do this and it's no small thing. And while drawing and writing will always be cousins, it's writing that has carried me along --for the most part--in this pandemic. It's writing and zooming for over a year with folks I would not otherwise know but who are "regulars" to writing events, whether it's generative writing or listening to someone launch a book--whatever. And it's writing that has kept me sane (along my dear cat, Miss P). Otherwise I would truly be at my wit's end.
The part of me that is an artist and always will be what I call 'a doodler' will always be. Full stop. But I've placed that artistic web trail, including photography and drawing, at finleydesignart --where it's been for ages--and will pull out the writing side, creating a new profile; one that exists (already) and always has, but one that has not actually had its own lawn so to speak. So... this site * finleywrite launches this week and finleydesignart stays much as it has been. And sure, there will occasionally be drawings on the writing site, and yes, there will be the occasional terse thought on the drawing site, but they will have their "own-ness." And, I'm a bit terrified to admit that it's fun to see them that way.
In writing, I'm often working on stories and poems and nonfiction at the same time. It was only recently, when I heard someone say they keep their projects on different tables, that I got excited. I've started doing that too. Because when you're working on several things at once it's easy to get overwhelmed. And I am just keeping head above water as it is.
So....I'll go from desk to desk. Maybe I'll even park a hat on one table and help my person of the day slide into her persona, her profile--her way of being. And I'll continue to write and draw, but maybe I'll have more room for each thing. Hoping that is true.
It's official, I have Pandemic Ennui. I don't see many people and even if I did, I'm tired of the effort of existing. I did a comic about how we have nobody to talk to and it's like talking to balloons (I have ennui about zoom too) and here it is (it's good to have illustrations, right?). Here's the thing. I don't want to eat anymore. That is to say, I don't want to make the effort to feed myself. I'm unwilling. I'm not sure I've ever had had much going on in the way of kitchen motivation, but knowing I could run out for California roll, a burrito (not here in MA) or get some fabulous empanadas (why does this come up as misspelled?) or some fish and chips or some Japanese food, or ....(I could keep going but it's only going to make me more sad) could help me get through each day avoiding the dreaded task of having to cook for myself. I love take-out. I really do. Living where I live now, in the boonies, there are slim pickings on where to get food. Nobody eats in, of course. I miss those days of ordering chicken parm and a really good IPA and squirreling myself into a little bar corner and reading while eating (which is, oh-my-god my favorite thing to do). Okay, let me get to the point. I found a way to exist: Survival by Frittatas! Even I can cook them and the miracle of Dr. Praeger's spinach cakes, which come frozen like little hockey pucks, and eggs (they have to be jumbo eggs-take my word for it) will get you from one day to the next. I don't have a microwave (I know, I know) but you can fry pan those hockey pucks in olive oil (it sounds like it's out of my grasp but I can do it) and then chop them up and throw the eggs in and turn up the heat and voila! Even I can make a meal I'm willing to eat. The fact that I have this day after day is not as alarming as a former husband who had tuna sandwiches for lunch EVERY day but it may be, could be getting close.
[* visit me on @coastalwrite *]
A Monday is a terrible thing if you're stewing about all that you haven't done. But I was able to push out a poem. I'm not saying it's good. It's just a poem. Be gentle. Here 'tis:
I realize all I have
Is the part when I let go
And find myself staring
At the wind’s circumstance
Leaves lifted up like skirts
Or the river’s silver-white glance
I wait, I wait
Soon the weighing down will come
Reminding me of time and loss
It’s blue that cheers me
Your pale eyes remembered
Or in the evening come the moon
Blue or full or even new
In vacancy I view as grief
Could I be bear
To prowl to find that quiet place
And curl up there
Quiet that floats in evening mist
And tells me to forget the rest
Here's the first prompt for the month. I'm sharing this one, but I don't promise to share any others. DAY #1 Prompt: “I remember.”
1. Take five to ten minutes to write “I remember…” lines without stopping. Name specific scenes, moments, descriptions. You might want to try writing this by hand rather than by computer. See the sample poem below for some examples.
2. Consider copying this list and cutting it into separate lines and rearranging them, or rearrange them on your computer document. You could choose your most descriptive or striking or surprising top 10, 20, or 30… Do what you want with these lines to make a poem.
--Keep the “I remember” at the beginning of each line, or don’t. Random and optional word list: test, pleasure, stall, move, path, trace, give, unique, sturdy.
The person who mailed this prompt says this prompt idea came from the book A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry, by Gregory Orr. She sent the prompt to me and all the folks who signed up to write yesterday (for today). She said in her note, "...that way we could think about it in our subconscious," and boy, she was right. By the way, I'm hoping all the poems are not this depressing. If you'd like to get an email of my daily poem why not use my contact page to sign-up and let me know. I'll add that once I stepped into this remembering process it resulted in me remembering a bunch of things I really didn't want to - but that's the way it is with memories. You can't turn them off once loosened up. I'm posting day #1's poem here but that doesn't mean I'll post them all here. Well, anyway, just for today, here it is..a poem.
a small wading pool with triangle corners
my grandparents’ hydrangeas
the black and white movie
of driving to the hospital at night
nosebleeds that wouldn’t stop
how my teachers talked about me in 7th grade
appendicitus at eleven
how my mother dressed me like I was a paper doll
like I was her hobby
skating on new asphalt
new surfaces of survival
**LINK to my fundraising page for the Center for New Americans
I call myself writer now and it took me a long time to do it, not that I haven't written my whole life, not that I'm a bad writer, but that the permission hadn't been set in my own brain. I finally got there and that's okay, but when I began calling myself a poet it felt false because of how I had previously defined it. It was the same problem all over again. It was a definition I had constructed that didn't include me. I think we do that - define things so narrowly it's hard to shift into a different mode. And we all have a bit of imposter syndrome going on that taps us on the shoulder and makes us feel uncomfortable, unworthy.
So about this being a poet. Besides writing poetry and having a big pile of poems going back years, and besides writing every day, how can I feel more comfortable about my own definition of myself? Well, I thought of a way. I signed up for 30 Poems in November, a fundraiser for the Center For New Americans. A poem a day - and honestly I'm almost doing that anyway - but it allows me to step into poetry in a more formal way. It's like making a contract with myself to commit to being more present as a poet, to have more intention at least for 30 days. A side benefit is that I'll be connecting with other poets who are of a like mind; who whatever their motivation regarding writing is, they too want to support immigrants. I definitely do. We all struggle but those who come here with no connections are struggling to become part of a community. They're more than a little bit lost. They need connections to food, learning, health providers -- so many things, and CNA does such good work to support them. If you'd like to receive a daily poem from me in November, I invite you to use the form on my website to send me a request. And if you like, make a donation to the Center For New Americans. I'll be here writing poetry. I can do it. I'm a poet.
A blog is a great concept, but honestly it's not the kind of thing you can do every single day and also write 9 short stories in 139 days (just under 5 months if you're counting from today). Plus, I'm adding in writing a poem every day. Here's the official challenge: write like a demon, like it's a limited time we have on earth, like it's a pandemic...hello, it is.
Time doesn't wait - it just goes on and on and we, whether we're measuring our days with coffee spoons or charging around the planet saving lives, inventing new things and creating our own jet trails; we are ones doing the doing (or not). So, just saying, enough. I may come back to blogging, but for right now I've got work to do and that is the work of writing and not just an hour or two a day. My butt is in the chair. It's the perfect time to lean-in and do everything you always felt you were meant to do. Just saying. Oh, one more thing - I posted the titles of the stories on my banner. Try not to steal them.
When I'm done it will look like this...
There’s a tin dove hooked onto the window. It’s a window that doesn’t open so it’s a good spot for a bird made of metal that will never fly but which represents flying. I come in to touch it from time to time and pretend I can, like an inoculation, get a bit of bird-ness, of movement and desire to fly high from it. I suppose that’s why it’s there. I’m not even sure where it came from, but it is something that has a power as inanimate objects sometimes do. When I moved here it was in the box and I placed it without too much thought on the old sunroom window. It seems more important than ever now that we’re all stuck in one place.
We do hold onto things. We hold onto memories and objects and hopes and dreams. I carried a whole bunch of my paintings around with me for years, decades, until one day I just let go of them. Things go on until they don’t. I suppose that’s the thought most of all in these pandemic times…when normal is anything but.
The other morning I saw a bit of sunlight on the ceiling and it was bent as if by magnets or magic and it stopped me. I took a photo of it because if light can bend , if bending light is possible, right here in my living room, why not miraculous cures? Why not all kinds of miracles? I find myself thinking of the things one thinks about after a long illness or after a fever of several days. It’s a clean slate of wonder about the world and what is possible if we can truly be ourselves and not the jealous, reactive, sometimes selfish people we have a tendency to become. It’s not like we do it entirely ourselves, but we can try harder. I can, I know that.
The other day I had a conversation with someone and I allowed myself to overreact and I was not happy with myself later. Is it so hard to just allow others to be their weird selves and to be the Dalai Lama in the room; the one who accedes and concedes and smooths out, not the one pulling and tugging and making all the wrinkles? Well, remorseful, I am (Yoda speak). I resolve to try harder to not get all plugged in. But it is a delicate balance between surrendering and giving up. Big difference. On the one hand, you are accepting and contributing and on the other hand you are removing yourself and taking yourself out of the equation; just disappearing. Somewhere in the middle would be good.
Let’s all be the tin bird; not flying, but representing all that we can be. Let’s be persevering but not privately hoping we win. Let’s all value ourselves, but not above others. God, it’s hard to do! I miss Sundays when I used to try to press the reset button. Now, it’s a drifting sort of existence without Sundays or weekends. We’re just all home all the time.
But we can be our own tin bird; each one of us trying to represent and emulate and (+outside of the metaphor) reaching out to others and helping and acknowledging their efforts in the best way possible. It's not as hard as bending light, right? If this is too corny, I’m sorry. I’m a bit fond of corny. Sitting around with my cat has only made it more noticeable.
I don't want to wake up early, sometimes at 6:30 a.m. My cat hasn’t even walked up onto my chest and butted me in the face to let me know she’s hungry. The light is barely getting going. The sun is very slowly hauling itself up and into this cloudy morning. Or I'll wake up with a start at 5:30 a.m. and (after sprinkling a few cat treats to keep the cat happy) I'll climb back into bed and drift off immediately; sucked into dreams with casts of thousands, often people with whom I’ve lost touch or who have left this world in some form or another. I dream of my father who is someone I’d like to speak with about just about anything and certainly about the precarious life we currently live. He died before the Berlin wall came down and before Russia dismantled itself. I speak to him by simply tilting my head. Dad, I say, do you believe this? It’s incredible…and then I wait for him to reply. There’s no voice but I feel better having spoken aloud to him; acknowledging the weirdness of the times in which we live and that I miss him.
My timing’s off, I tell him. But he knows that. He’s seen me bumble around in life and has never outwardly cast any aspersions. He’s seen me rise early and fall asleep only to meet me in my dreams. He’s seen me unable to settle down at night, sometimes up until nearly 1 a.m., not even coming in the bedroom to lie down until after midnight. Gone is the 10 o’clock bedtime you could set your clock by. Read Jane Austen or Wilkie Collins my father would advise. It’s good advice. I always settle down after reading twenty pages of Jane Austen. And I love the Moonstone. Like a favorite chocolate, it never gets old; the desire and satisfaction combined in every (readable) bite.
I made coffee this morning as I do every morning. Once I open the bag and scoop in the blackness, like scooping earth itself, and it fills the tan pleated folder and waits for water, even at that moment, before it’s really coffee, I’m repaired. At least for a little while. The smell of it is what does it. Anticipation is all about smell in coffee and I guess in many things. I read in the NYT that a little known definitive symptom of COVID-19 is the loss of smell. That’s news that should be passed around. I’m not sure buried in a feed that information will be read by enough people. You’d notice not noticing smells wouldn’t you? That’s my thought. Slight cough, feeling off, aches and pains…and no ability to smell whatsoever. I know someone who hit his head and for nearly a year he couldn’t smell. That would be torture for me. I smell everything. I smell tree bark and weeds and (yes, coffee) and garlic and just so many things. I rush up to them and insist they produce a smell. I’m like a child that way. It’s a kind of instant happiness that invades me when I’m able to waft in aromas. And that’s not even talking about the memories they invoke; old bookstores and libraries, a funny green soap that reminds you of elementary school, that crisp, distinctive icy smell before a snowfall.
So if my timing’s off (and I suspect yours too) what do I/we do to mellow out? For me it is to look out the window as the snow falls. The luxury of being in rural pandemic-land is that the fields are laying out there unencumbered by people and you can walk down and come close to the river, the mountain standing behind it. It's the nature-cure of fixing all broken things. I’m grateful for that. Try to find your cure. Be sure and smell a block of cheese, the cat box or open a bag of coffee and put your nose in there. Take deep breaths of things. And at night, if you’re unable to sleep, read Jane Austen.
My daughter who teaches yoga and voice and something called vocal yoga and is very connected to the spiritual side of herself, and when I say that, I mean the part that is familiar with the word Chakra and all the 7 chakras and whether or not they’re blocked, tells me I should not hold in fear, or have fear govern me because it will be detrimental to my well-being.
I guess my reaction (other than being fond of these types of advisories and, of course, of my daughter) is to respond by saying I’m not fearful. I don’t have that pang or dread or physical heating up or any physical sensation at all. No out-of-breath-ness (just my regular problems in that regard) no super pangy headaches, no clamping of the jaw – nothing. I was robbed at knifepoint once so I know what fear is. I don’t have fear, I tell her and I mean it.
I just have the sense of the oddness of it all. Like we’re in an episode of Twilight Zone and Rod Serling (who wrote more than 80 episodes) is there mixing it up; serving up his twisted mix of horror, sci-fi, comedy and superstition. Except (cough) it’s real. It’s our real life. It’s (and I hate to say this) the new normal.
So I can walk in the back yard and down to the river. And I can step onto the porch. I can even drive in the car. But I can’t open the window if someone wants to speak to me. Not with a recent lung infection. Nope, can’t do that. And if a friend volunteers to pick up a few groceries I can wave from the steps but I can’t come out to meet her. She puts the bag down next to my car and knows that after she’s pulled away I can come and fetch it. If my upstairs neighbors (it’s a large gothic Victorian with two flats) come to the door I can’t open it and say hi. Nope can’t do that.
I read recently that the bank in town (the little town next to the little town I live in) has suspended in-bank banking. You can use the drive-up and if you have something terribly complicated you can make an appointment. Nobody can be seen without an appointment. I called the local general store (yes, we have a general store) and asked if they had any special things they were doing for COVID-19. She asked who I was. I said I was Fin, a neighbor from down the street. And she said, Well, no –not really. We’re washing our hands, she added. With the virus in all the surrounding counties but not having made an appearance in ours, I guess I get that. Still, I would have to wear gloves and probably a face mask if I entered the store and people were there. Rod Serling knows these rules. Out here in rural America we’re trying to figure it out. I wonder if it’s scarier in the city. At least we have nature for a distraction.
It’s funny, now that I think about it, this transition moves us not only to a different kind of being but maybe even a different time. It reminds me of a Jane Austen period of time. All of a sudden, we are much more formal. Did you notice that? We bow. We don’t shake hands. We make appointments. We don’t just show up and expect to be served. You know, I hadn’t thought about it until now. The new normal: in addition to making us value our friends and family, has made us more polite. If there are other silver linings, please feel free to tell me.
It’s deceptively normal.
C. D. Finley
Opinionated, wry, sometimes corny, observational humor mostly about writing, but you never know.