Posted on March 5, 2014
This is what the index card that fell out of my notebook said.
Four words, and I was transported to a weekend four years ago that was a pivot point in my life. Now, I think of that time as my poetry colonic. For two days straight on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I purged poem after poem of my dead marriage onto the page. It was my birthday. Two months after my husband had moved out of the house. I was in that no-coherence cellular soup when the caterpillar has not yet reorganized into butterfly. And poems were my cocoon.
I was standing in front of a class teaching last night when the little yellow, weathered card presented itself with this incarnation of me. As I wobbled for a moment, I marveled at the alchemy of words. That a single phrase can be a portal to another time and place. A time capsule. Transportation. That a single page of writing can alchemize poison into medicine. That a scatter of words can organize a broken heart back into a person again.
Poetry has taught me how to think, how to navigate emotion, how to write, and how to live. This is why I am so fanatical about supporting your writing practice. Because writing is the best company I’ve ever found in the mosh pit of the heart—and in the trenches of life. The discipline of striving to align words with truths is the most powerful doorway I’ve ever walked through. And before walking through, I’ve spent thrilling, anguished decades fumbling with the key at the threshold.
Maybe the most difficult thing to understand in the early years of writing is that the high point of the writing life may be just there: before we get that key in the lock. Moments or days or years before we cross over to that imagined arrival point. It is the striving that refines us as humans and writers. And every so-called arrival is just another foothold into the mystery. We may pause an extra beat to take in the view, pat ourselves on the back, and feel the gratitude for how hard we’ve worked. And then it’s time for the next step. And the next.
When cupid hits an artery, we can simply write it down. And see what words come after that. We can trust the words as companions. They don’t have to be perfect or even good. They just have to land on the page, as we land in our lives. One foot, one word, after the other.
This is what makes a writing life.