On Writing, Ted Hughes, Science Fiction, MFA’s, etc.

Lately, I read over the things I’ve been writing (which have been mostly short poetic prose pieces) and I see a running theme. All sounds the same, etc. Constantly concerned with certain words and images that repeat themselves—is this bad or can I use it to some advantage in my writing? Read any poet’s full collected works and you see patterns.

Trying to keep up with the therapist / client voice for the Hummingbird Series I’m working on, but am having trouble. Was reading Ted Hughes’ letters and he said something about letting the characters’ speak for themselves and not to get too mixed up on the actual work once it starts progressing. I think that’s where I’ve had my trouble. I need to get more in touch with this character, her world.

I also love his description about listening to critics and reviews:

“They tend to confirm one in one’s own conceit—unless they praise what you yourself don’t like. Also, they make you self-conscious about your virtues. Also, they create an underground opposition: applause is the beginning of abuse. Also, they deprive you of your own anarchic liberties—by electing you into the government. Also, they separate you from your devil, which hates being observed, and only works happily incognito. Also, they satisfy ambition, which only works from a radical discontent and public neglect. Also, they banish your spirit helpers. Also, they falsify your life, by forcing an identification of you and your poems. Where as bad reviews are like a humiliation: you feel you must conscript every reverse including God and the Devil, and produce the absolute reality that will withstand everything. They send you into the wilderness.”

This was in a letter Ted wrote to Anne Sexton.

Well, if I can’t write, I might as well read. Still, I find it terribly dull that all I can come up with are different versions of the same thing. I think what a large part of my problem is, is that I’m thinking too much about producing…instead of just germinating. If that makes sense…perhaps it doesn’t, I don’t know. Also, I think too much about what people will like, what they will read, when really, it’s not all that important. To write is to serve something greater than an “audience” which is, in fact, fluent and changing—even in all it’s solidity. What I guess I should serve is simply the movement, the movement of my creative impulses. That’s not to say I shouldn’t take into account the history, the contemporary and the advice of people with much more experience—of course craft factors into it…as it should…. one would hope, of course, that the training, the formalism, sort of gets embedded and plays out as the background music while one creates—music that one isn’t even aware of yet—perhaps more conscious, or in the forefront, while editing. Editing is a fine thing. Of course, there is always too much of fine things. Sometimes the poem walks away feeling molested! How to balance this perfectionist slant with gentleness?

And how to stay OPEN! It’s sometimes difficult to always keep your self attentive. I think perhaps that’s half the art right there. To be like a child again in our wonderings—that’s half the battle.

And in all this creative openness…it’s amazing. How am I not falling in love with everyone I meet? My heart must be like the moon, constantly dark and light, with a sliver of balance in-between.

So on to computers and programming. Have been dreaming of numbers lately, as each has something to say. Think of the possibilities there! Of course, I need to read Sherry Turkle’s The Second Self again. I have not read that since my junior year and I took the cyber literacy class. I started reading a couple more chapters the other day and I thought: MY GOD! How I wish I could be the person I am now and go back in time to that class. I would have paid more close attention. Don’t get me wrong, I always loved the class, and it was a large part of what started me on liking things such as programming and geeky movies like The Matrix—which then, I think gave birth to my love for physics. How could one not jump from there to there? But since then, this interest and love has grown deeper, and I just wish I could go back and take advantage of the class-community. So many smart minds in that class. We were like our own giant Supercomputer! I also wish I could go back to my High School computer programming class, which I was forced to take and hated. I got too caught up in the thought of math or something; I have no clue that I actually remember I missed the final because I was at a massage appointment! However, I was allowed to finish…it was a program we had to make that designed a diner, you know, like Denny’s or something. Mine was awful, but I got a “B” for effort.

Wish that I had enough time to do and explore all that I want to do and explore. For instance, I’d love to learn programming, hacking, what all else. I also would love to learn German and Russian. And be a neuroscientist. And I think it’s Yale that has an undergraduate degree now that combines Poetry and Physics! What?! How did this happen? Who stole my desires and made them into an undergraduate degree? Seriously.

This cold I’ve been battling for over a week has allowed me to stay still, which is a good thing. I am very bad about staying still. In fact, a highlight of my life was when I was in Utah, living in the mountains with no access to the outside world, and one of the new “tribe” leaders brought a radio / CD player in with him for the week (they came and left on a weekly basis while we, of course, stayed in the wilderness). Anyway, so he came and played The Eagles song “Learn to be Still” for us…and a) you don’t know how much you miss music until you go without for months and b) that song holds a very special place in my heart, cheesy as that might be. God, I miss the mountains. I am considering being a “tribe leader” there in Utah for the summer after I get the MFA.

Anyway, yes, I think I have developed a bit of a case of ADD this semester. My mind just sort of drifts. I must not be disciplining myself enough. Or perhaps it’s the other extreme and I’ve been too rigid. This must be it. Knowing me, it is. One thing I can back up with “brain science” is that it helps to expose oneself to different environments occasionally. It builds happier baby-neurons (as does constantly learning about new topics). So, I should take this into account when I have the idea that staying in the library is more productive then going into the city.

Working on a case-study of an extreme case of Autism—actually, I shouldn’t say extreme, because really, the young man is functioning quite well, maybe borderline is the best way to put it. He’s extremely intelligent. I admire the Therapist’s ability to keep up with him, actually. But what intrigues me most about the notes and session transcripts is the language. Of course, this goes quite well with what I’m currently working on as far as my Hummingbird Series…and in fact I think my character is more Autistic perhaps than Schizophrenic—however both labels could be used. There’s an element of subjectivity in Psychology with labels. I tend to dislike labels, anyway. But yes, back to the young man. He is called “David.” David cannot express anything without metaphor, so it makes for a rather interesting read. It’s a puzzle. I was so excited to find this case because it’s exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with my Hummingbird Series (which I don’t know if that title will remain) but here it is in an actual real-life case! And of course David, the client, is interested in Science Fiction, where one can create their own universe and orchestrate all their own laws (so long as they remember to follow those created laws). It’s all very intricate and fascinating.

Just trying to keep my brain sharp and informed. I want to not only be accurate, but I’m trying to really understand and “get in the head” of this character of mine. As of now, I’ve gone through quite a dry spell with that series. Currently working on this other series, which seems to be about a conversation between a subject and their creative process, or I guess you’d call it the muse. I didn’t know that this was what I was writing until later, until more material had been made, almost as though these things must float up to the surface before being pinned down. Must wait them out–never rush things. I think my own creative process is much like a highly developed form of “playing hard to get.”

Still, back to the problem of everything sounding the same—not that they sound they SAME, but I feel I have this toolbox with the same set of tools and so that’s all that’s coming into the poetry. As though suddenly my vocabulary is quite limited…but I know every writer goes through his or her obsessions. Mine seem to hang on a bit tight, like devil’s claws to ones jeans, walking through a field. Those are horrible burrs. I once got one wrapped around my calf and still have a scar across the back to this day! Yes, my word and image obsessions seem to cling to me, which is perhaps why I’m constantly looking for another subject and more material to learn about—because with each new discipline there is a whole new set of vocabulary.

Also, this is the reason why I’ve thought a lot about considering a whole other degree after this. Why not? I could honestly pursue another passion while supplementing my writing. It’s better than roping a rich husband and lolling about all day with nothing but the Junior League or some charity auction to think about – indeed, I do think I’d turn into something of a Lady Bertram character from Mansfield Park – I’d get bored. However, if I could actually marry the Lord of a modern day Mansfield Estate…in England…I could probably find a way to manage. Haha.

But yes, perhaps I’ll actually apply myself in a whole other field. Of course, nothing too taxing, that’s the problem. I need the time to write. The job I had before was absolutely perfect. It was interesting, challenging (I basically did legal research type work) paid extremely well, better than I’ll probably hope to get again, and I had so much time and freedom to write. I wrote loads and didn’t have to worry about money. Oh, such is life. One must sacrifice for the MFA. And why even get an MFA? Because it’s about building a community and learning from each other, being in contact with one another and thriving under that intellectual environment, etc, etc.

Nice thought to end this ramble with. I was going downstairs to get more tea (I swear this cold will never go away) and the orange cat who sometimes sits outside my door, waiting for me to appear so I can pet him, followed me down the stairs like a little child and I thought to myself, this is wonderful. And I wondered to myself why I had that thought…and I realized it didn’t matter why, it just mattered that I was wise enough in that split second to realize the absolute wonderment and joy in the simplest of moments—there I was, in New York, in a lovely home with a friendly orange cat who adores me for some unknown reason, going to refill my tea before coming back to my study and books, slippers warm on my feet, Christmas decorations around—and yes, it was just wonderful.

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