Dense Headspace

My current work of poetry has become a very dense headspace for me. It is a place where poetic ideation is ordered by a strict internal protocol of structure and tone.

It is a thick place where I spend time weaving in & out of a prescribed pattern, a guide or template which overlay the thoughts of my mind. In a thick & elaborate blanket of impressions, these deep kaleidoscopic images form & reform from segments of memories & from my overly active imagination.

It is a predestined spillover from my nightmares which I can’t shake in my waking hours.

It is where I live right now. It is my reality.

Aspirations

For my entire life I have known my special purpose was to be a Creative, to make art, to write, to poeticize the language of life. I knew when I played with images in my mind or rearranged words on the paper that it was what I was meant to do. It was my insides spilling out into the world around me. It gave me power and it allowed me to be true to myself.

When I was around eight years old I decided I was going to become a movie producer.  I had always been a prolific writer and artist but that day, with my Super-8 camera strapped around my neck, I had an intense realization that no matter the costs I needed to chase this dream. I committed to turning my bedroom into a studio and tried to convince my mom to let me get rid of my bed and hang a hammock in the closet so I could have more space to work.

It is still clear to me that my calling is to be a Creative – nothing has changed there – but in the last four-and-a-half decades I have always struggled to free myself from the societal restraints which seem intent on thwarting me. Many times I got close to giving up (in many ways) but I always found myself back on the path eventually.

A few years ago I discovered Ikigai, “a reason for being” in Japanese. This concept is best explained with a Venn diagram showing the intersection of the four components: (1) what you love to do, (2) what you are good at, (3) that which the world needs, and (4) what you could be paid for. I realized that that’s where I need to be, where I needed to find myself, but the center of this diagram has yet eluded me.

I will always aspire to my dream and won’t lose sight of my calling, even if it just seems like a vague dream sometimes. But when I think I won’t ever make it I take myself back to that day when I saw myself producing movies which would change the world. I still have the power and I still have to be true to myself. I just need perseverance and to believe.

Sometimes it takes unbelievable perseverance just to cross the sidewalk.

A Noticeable Change

As I have been recently working on my latest book of poetry entitled Wild Rose & Other Poems Sung by the Window, I have found that both my voice and my style have changed. This maturation, I believe, is representative of my deepening sense of purpose as a writer, as a poet.

The change happened suddenly. Right after my mother died in April I wrote an ode to her. That poem, “Wild Rose”, was in a voice which I hadn’t used before, at once bold and soft. I hadn’t intended to change my style but it came naturally. Since that poem I haven’t been able to write with any other way – it was instantly mine.

This change in voice is happening when I am going through a lot of other changes as well.  My mindset about what I need to do to make my dreams come true has changed – I am much more earnest and resolved. I am not just writing on a whim but doing it with a new sense of purpose that wasn’t there before.

A few days ago I was writing a poem entitled “Resilient” when I noticed, on the computer screen, my reflection with the words from the screen across the image.  This new image, darkened and made harsh with filters, has become my new profile photo, replacing the worry-free image of me as a child which had been my profile photo for the last few years.  It represents my new-found focus on becoming who I aspire to be.

Inspiration

I return constantly to the topic of artistic inspiration, thinking about what keeps me (and others) moving forward in the creative efforts and various associated enterprises which fill our lives.

Though the effect of a muse can be strong, it isn’t always easy to identify the exact source of inspiration – especially when it tends to come in fits-and-spurts. I am sure I am not alone in wishing I could increase my creative energy and be able to more regularly produce work; how cool would it be to be able to identify and harness the power of the muse!

In exploring these thoughts within the framework of my own artistic output I have identified several markers that have left their imprint on my work. These clues to the muse have given me deeper insight into potential sources of future inspiration. Maybe I can’t harness it, but I hope by understanding it better I will be able to set the stage for it to happen more frequently.

From early childhood (which could be described as both unique and slightly unsettled), my creativity sprung from a need to communicate my feelings to others when conventional forms of expression were stifled by circumstance. Being exposed at a young age to the work of various authors, poets, and artists, I finally discovered a language I could use to express myself.

I trace my natural awkwardness, my hesitancy to truly open up to others, as what pushed me to start writing both prose and poetry at a young age. I found great pleasure in letting others read my work and I was better able to form connections with them in that forum.

Another early inspiration came from the miracle of having complete control over what happened within the fictional world I created. As a child (always at the mercy of others), writing conferred me with amazing powers; I loved picking up a pencil and tracing the outlines of my vivid imagination on the page without anyone telling me what I should write.

Fast forward to 2013 when I began writing my memoir, B. Coming Burl. In this endeavor I was inspired solely by my wish to let my daughter know who I was when she grew up. Eventually, through the long process, I became inspired by the act of learning more about myself than I had ever imagined possible. Each story that I told, when aligned chronologically and fact-checked (through family albums, internet research of official records, and oral conversations) revealed gaps and new strings of puzzles to be solved. The mental images that I had carried with me my entire life, my identity, had proved to only be partially true, and I was inspired to clarify my life and identity to myself. This opened up for me a new way to think about my writing and about my purpose as a writer.

Inspired by that experience, I compiled my first book of poetry, Corrected Poems, which included my artwork. Writing poetry was, from the earliest age, inspired by my self-awareness and my innate desire to reveal my feelings to others. It was a bold act, holding up my fears, faults, and fallacies in front of my peers, but I found I enjoyed it so much that I ignored the perceived social stigma it might have caused me among kids at school.

My first novel, currently a work-in-progress entitled Entrance to Hell, was initially inspired by a bone-chilling vision I had when I was sitting on my porch one morning thinking about what I was going to write about next. In the misty fog I saw, in the hedge across the street, a hole which I imagined was a portal to an evil world below our feet. Eventually this novel was further inspired by my own search for metaphysical meaning, a search for truth (which has proved to be ever elusive) and for a theology I could fully embrace.

Work on the novel continues to inspire me in ways I would have never imagined before. I was surprised to realize that writing this story has helped me to explore my troubled relationship with authority figures. Though I tested the boundaries of the topic in my adolescent years, I never fully resolved my feelings, and now my main character is also struggling with it. This work makes me think about the ways we cross over and back between the different worlds we live in, and who actually holds authority in these various realms.

I returned to poetry late last year as I entered a transitional state in my mental health journey. Like many people these days, the pandemic and societal strife took a toll on my mental health. Through mindful meditation and long meditative walks I realized that I needed to accept feelings which I had long suppressed. I was distraught, distracted, disillusioned, distant, and depressed. In the darkest depths of sobriety I decided to write.

I was surprised to find a spark of creativity, a muse, who lifted me out of my doldrums. Up until that point I had been tripping so far off the path, infatuated and immersed in my insecurities, that when I found my way again it was a watershed moment; the creative energy flowed for several heart-racing months. The result of this outpouring of self-expression was In a Past Life, published in April of 2022.

After finishing writing that second book of poetry, and before it launched, my mom passed away. Through the pain and grief of loss I began to write her an ode, a song of her life. Thus began my latest work, Wild Rose. The book is to be a collection of themed poems inspired by the beauty of life manifested through the art she created for us when she was alive.

Poetry for me is a relief valve. In transitional periods of my life I have been pushed forward by a deep something, a drive, a desire, a newly-minted yet ancient, unsettled, and unquenchable passion. These feelings manifest themselves through my poetry.

I am currently inspired by my ambition to become what I have always aspired to be. At the beginning of 2022 I made a vow that this was the year that I would emerge, that I would transition to become an artist, writer, poet. I vowed to recognize the creative energy which was inside me and to stop trying to find ways to keep my mind otherwise occupied. I needed to strip back the clutter and do the three things that would make a difference. I needed to:

1) Commit to writing
2) Connect with fellow creatives
3) Create more work

These three intentions have helped me on my path toward finding inspiration. Through these intentions I have removed excuses for not writing and have allowed myself an out when confronted with conflicting priorities.

One last source of strength for me is my devotion to living in profound sobriety. Yesterday, June 15, marked my ten years not being drunk. I have never felt better.

So whatever your muse, whether it is your feelings toward self, feeling towards someone else, or a particular inner drive unique to you, keep working towards your goals and don’t let anything, or anyone, sideline you!

Before the dawn

A Decade Being Sober

Ten years ago, on June 15, 2012, was my first day sober. First day I didn’t get drunk.  It was the first day of many (one day at a time, they say, and it’s true). I had never before wanted to be so sober. I had never thought I could be sober. But that day I looked at my daughter and my wife and I realized that if I didn’t stop drinking I would lose everything I loved. I realized that it was either going to kill me or I would lose them, and the only way to avoid this was to stop drinking. Stop for that day. And the next. And the next. And the day after that.

The amazing things I found, things I had always missed because I was drunk, made up for the scary depths of sobriety that I had to deal with. Ten years. Damn, that’s a lot of being sober.

Tolstoy in Tennis Shoes: Watching Crustaceans (Panorama of the Absurd)

Imagining myself to be Tolstoy in tennis shoes, I set off on an adventure to discover and give a name to every snail that lives in my neighborhood. Absurdity comes naturally for me but always with an asterisk; it carries a caveat signed in the very blood that was passed down to me from my truly absurd ancestors. Thus, with this disclaimer, please meet Snowflake, Alice (A-lee-chay), & Baggalooloo.

Watching Crustaceans (Panorama of the Absurd)
A casual observer may not, but an acute observer will see all these things.

Sidhartha the snail stretches his slimy green neck, 
Straight out from his shell, a coil of brown and black,
Gaining the lead in his race with Sammy the Slug,
To the other side of the sidewalk and back.

Caspar the Crawdad fiercely waving a checkered flag,
Grasped in his claws at the finish line on the curb.
You can see from the look in his steely eyes,
That he is serious about this panorama of the absurd.

From: Corrected Poems

Return to Earth

The ancient ritual of returning to the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, continues.

For nearly four billion years life on earth has gone through this cycle, continuing a chain that equalizes all life forms in one final, intentional form.

We are one and the same, our bodies, our ancestors, our descendants; the chain of life continues from the first, most primitive form, to the ashes of my parents in urns waiting to be spread. The family has gathered to spread these remains, releasing to the earth their mortal forms again.

Our souls go on forever but our bodies keep us going for the time we live. It is our bodies that become nutrients for life to arise in our place in this eternal cycle that includes, on a much grander scale, the process of galaxies dying and reforming.

Even those life forms that are ingested by carnivorous predators are digested and passed back to the earth to nurture the soil which feeds the next forms. That piece of food you picked from your teeth and spit into the wind could contain remnants of your great grandpa Gus.

Pharaohs and cryogenics tried to escape this cycle, to become immortally housed in the same form, but really they only delayed what even they must have known was the inevitable next stage.

For me, please find a way to have me roughly exfoliated and devoured by a large pack of carnivorous animals (crocodiles or aquatic life forms preferably). I want to be passed from belly to belly. If that is not possible, please refrain from cremation as I would want to keep the sanctity of the flame. Instead just wrap my body in a soft shroud and cover me with a mound of cool damp earth.

We will be honoring my mother’s wishes and combining their ashes, letting them scatter over the edge of Sheep Creek Point, on the Mogollon Rim in the Sitgreaves National Forest, overlooking the Canyon Creek Fish Hatchery.

Sheep’s Creek Point

As the ocean relentlessly laps at the shore with ever new waves, yet the same water, our bodies wash ashore again and again in new forms filled with the spirit of life.

Peace out.

It was as if I had

A magic mirror in my hand,

& whenever I didn’t like what I saw in myself 

I could look into it

& become whatever I thought I was. 

I could plausibly deny reality 

As long as I had this mirror in my hand. 

It allowed me to mask who I was 

To myself 

& to others 

& no one could stop me.

No one knew I had the power 

To mask my core identity, 

To shift my perception of self, 

& thus create a new reality 

For what I imagined others saw in me.

Magic, 

Like a powerful spell was cast 

& everything else in the world would melt away.

I was invincible.

But the mirror crack’d, 

Shattered in a million shards on the floor.

Now in the depths of reality, 

The sober morass of daily living, 

I have to face myself,

Myself.