We talk a lot about self-care here. We’re all aware of how important it is, and as we’ve developed our policies and worked with writers, we’ve emphasized that every one of us needs to take the time for self-care. To set boundaries. To be honest about how they’re feeling. And perhaps most of all, to make sure that they have the spoons needed to do the things they need to do. We’re better off for the attention we put on self-care. It’s easy sometimes to be compassionate with others, but harder to do that for ourselves. By setting it out as a policy, as a foundational belief in how we do things, it puts us into a position where we’re always reminded about it. That’s why the Sunday Summary has been on hiatus. It’s why I took a week off from writing a column recently.
I have stories to tell when I’m ready. And stories that aren’t mine to tell that I wish I could share. But I’m exhausted. I’ve been low on spoons for weeks. I’ve got a long list of things to do. And I’m struggling to do the “have to.” Forget about the “want to” do things on my list. Not only does it hurt to do everything, but being touched, even gently, makes me want to jump out of my skin. Things are piling up. Knowing that doesn’t help me feel better. Even if I know I’m doing what I need to in order to at least manage maintenance mode.
Self-Care when Self-Care is Hard; Not Just Emotionally but Physically
It’s times like these when that emphasis on self-care is really important. When having someone remind me to do it becomes even more important. It doesn’t make me feel any less guilty about needing the time. But it puts pressure on me to take it.
What happens, though, when something you do for self-care (like writing) becomes difficult? Writing is one of the things I do that’s good for my mental health. Even on days when I struggle with the words, taking time to put things on paper helps me to feel like I’ve done something. Right now though? Between the pain, fatigue and brain fog, it’s really difficult.
There are days when I doze off at the keyboard between paragraphs. Today is one of them. And I’m haunted by freaky dreams of Antonio Banderas and Harry Belafonte taking turns stalking me throughout the music building on a college campus that appeared to be an amalgamation of several I’ve been to. And in between those naps, I’m trying to make sure I get something written.
Do the Best you Can, Obviously, but What Does that Look Like?
What I’d wanted to write this week was something back-to-school themed. About inspiring teachers I’ve had… Or a similar topic. I haven’t got the energy to do that. I can still think about what inspired me once upon a time… what captured my attention. Now that I’m trying to write myself, It’s those pieces that I still go back to reading when I need things that are comfortable, familiar, and perhaps even a little bit safe.
Diane DiPrima’s “Song for Baby-O Unborn” is one of those things.
SweetheartDiane Di Prima
when you break thru
a poet here
not quite what one would choose.
I won’t promise
you’ll never go hungry
or that you won’t be sad
on this gutted
but I can show you
enough to love
to break your heart
Reading Good Poetry Means Feeling Understood
I have always been a reader of poetry. But reading the Beat poets was eye-opening. I always liked poetry. But I fell in love with poetry when I began reading the Beat poets. I’d begun reading more contemporary women poets like Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath, and they were speaking to me in a different voice than other poets had. They were talking about things I cared about, like the roles and obligations placed upon women. It was good stuff for me to be reading as I began to develop a stronger feminist identity and to consider the opprotunities I might have as a writer.
Plath and Sexton and others were great reading… But as someone who wrote poetry and sometimes got compliments or praise for that work, I found them a little restrained. They were writing new and exciting things, but still following rules. As most teenagers do, though, I wanted to color outside the lines that adults around me set in place… while not being so weird that I’d be completely ostracized by my peers. Beat poetry fit that space. It was subversive and dangerous. It talked about sex and drugs and rebellion. Things adults didn’t want to talk about. And it wasn’t entirely uncool when classmates saw you reading it. If you were lucky enough to read contemporary poetry from the time the Beat poets were active, you were probably reading gentler offerings like what William Carlos Williams wrote about red wagons or plums in the icebox.
In a beat up anthology of Beat writing that I had picked up at a local bookstore, I read “Song for Baby-O Unborn.” Once, twice, again and again. It gave me goosebumps. Because here was this combination of the feminist voice I wanted to hear writing poetry that was outside the lines. It changed my whole outlook on writing poetry.
Poetry Outside the “Rules”
Diane DiPrima wrote sadness and hope and longing and love into words, as many poets do, but the way she constructed her stanzas, the way she used (or didn’t use) capitalization and punctuation gave me a new vision of creative freedom. Reading DiPrima showed me that I could kick the “rules” I’d been taught about poetry to the curb and write from the heart with much less restraint than I’d imposed upon myself up to that point. Her structure didn’t feel gimmicky like ee cummings sometimes did–where the use of lowercase letters felt like an affectation. It felt like an honest way for a poet to express feelings the way a painter uses different brush strokes to form softer or bolder lines.
I read this poem and I had feelings unlike any I’d had before. Like I’d instantly gained several years worth of wisdom just reading these 50-or-so words. While I was many years from having my own children, I still felt like someone got me. The first stanza felt like someone understood the pain of almost-but-not-quite fitting in. The second recognized that the world is imperfect and dark and we have a great deal of work to do to make it into the world we want people to live in and the third was love and loss and taking chances. I needed that push to take chances in my own writing. I still do sometimes.