The Meaning of…

If I were to publish a book of poetry, I would need to include a warning label. Something like: do not read this if you are prone to depression, anxiety, or prolonged flights of fancy. Do not read near sharp objects, open flame, on top of tall buildings or while crossing bridges, etc. Do not read before consulting your therapist, having your living will notarized, and putting all your affairs in order. In other words, DON’T read this; you won’t like what happens next.

Bold statement: to say that my writing could have any effect on someone, let alone such a profoundly negative one. In my experience as a constant reader, writing must have an effect or it is a waste of paper and effort. My words will not change the world – perhaps not even one person in that world – but they are mine and have never been a waste to me. My writing keeps me alive when every moment threatens to break my soul.

My life is defined by Irony; if I believe in anything supernatural, then that is it. Irony is alive. It breathes.

A few months ago, I worked up the courage to submit my work to an unpublished authors contest in Ploughshares. I didn’t follow through because I didn’t write anything decent until two days after the deadline. Maybe next year I’ll rediscover that courage and go for it.

When I was 23, I finally forgave my dad for all the things I needed from him and never got when I was a child. It was his sixtieth birthday, and he had been dead for almost ten years. Since forgiving him, our relationship has gotten better; now, when I dream of him I feel content.

Four years ago, I wanted only to die. Then I did but not completely.

I’m in love with the one person I’m not allowed to have (cliché). He loves me too and can’t do anything about it. But the question is: would we still want each other if we could be together?

Side note: Alanis Morissette (you knew her name would show up eventually) didn’t sing about Irony. She wrote a few cute lyrics without knowing what she was talking about (past the “meeting the man of my dreams, then meeting his beautiful wife” bit). Honestly, spoons and no-smoking signs are not ironic! If, however, you argue that naming a song “Ironic” when it has little to no irony is ironic in and of itself, then you have a point. If that’s actually what Alanis was doing, then she is brilliant.

I speak as if I know what I’m saying. You know I write only because I say I write. There is no proof as of yet. So in the poetic spirit, I would like to show you. I may never be published – I may never be brilliant – but I will always be honest (with or without the rhyme). Take me or leave me.

Diminish

Someday soon, when grief has finished

dying my eyes, my vision will clear

enough for you to know

the love reflected in my gaze. This haze

will clear, and I will no longer hide.

Don’t ask me to disguise or

apologize for the flaws from years

before you knew me.

Do not steal promises from my lips

to ease your discomfort, for

I have no shame – no need for makeup

to smooth my wrinkled youth. Still,

trust my body to tell only

lies of time passing

slowly out of memory.

Trust these paling lines

to cover up their crimson youth –

the truth that still flows beneath

their age. Each brush of

fingertips across my skin makes me cringe;

I can’t help believing

your hands will reject me as I

once rejected myself. These marks,

such a small part of me, yet

they magnify the doubts –

there are always doubts –

over pain that tore me in half

a lifetime ago.

I’m not the same soul;

that one destroyed itself

half a lifetime ago.

Literary

Words are beautiful. They have unique purpose and flow before being arranged and rearranged in sentences or lines, paragraphs or stanzas. A word doesn’t need to be in a poem in order to be poetic; a word just needs to be in the right place at the right time.

Only a really bad writer could mess up something so inherently perfect and simple.

I’ve read 54 books so far this year (I’ve yet to tally the pages). In the last ten-plus months, I’ve started at least a dozen books that I’ve placed in the book drop after only a few chapters. Either first impressions mean more to me than I’ll admit or those dozen books were poorly written.

For me, the art is in the writing style; the plot is secondary.

If I had a printout of what I’ve borrowed from the library this year, I’d be able to tell you what books I gave up on…and what books I should have given up on. Those aren’t worth remembering, and I prefer to focus on the ones that have made a positive impact. Oddly enough, those two are the ones I finished most recently: Crooked River by Valerie Geary and Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville.

I checked out Crooked River on Monday and took it back Wednesday morning. Gretel and the Dark went back Thursday. I read fast, but I usually take my time. These two made reading exciting for me again. It’s been a dry few months. Stephen King’s latest (Mr. Mercedes) was a bit disappointing past the first few chapters, and, since then, my reading has been sporadic. Only six more books until I reach my goal, yet I’ve been on autopilot for months; I’m not sure how I got through the last twenty. Now that I’ve finally read something decent, in month 11 of 12, perhaps I can regain a little enthusiasm for the written word.

It takes a lot for me to stop reading once I’ve started. If there’s such a thing as Literary OCD, I have it. (This is actually good news for many writers as the second book in a longer series is usually weak.) Maybe it was my two-month illness or my upsurge of social interaction that caused me to lose interest in the books that would normally make me geek out. Maybe it was just the usual relapse of depression. Or maybe there really was a scarcity of decent literature, at least in my local library.

The library was my favorite place when I was a kid. We lived on top of a hill between one society and another – the literal fringes – so every trip into town was an excursion. The children’s section had puzzles, puppets, games, toys, and more books than I could ever hope to read (although I tried). First, I would find at least eight books: Amelia Bedelia, Where’s Waldo, Little Critters, and (because it freaked my mom out) Madeline. I’d get a puppet or two. Set my books on the bench next to me and play with puzzles. Con my brother into playing a game and then get mad when he won. In all those trips to the library – and we’re talking weekly trips – either I skipped over the books that were not only dedicated to buttons but could be unbuttoned or I just skipped that reading phase altogether.

In the nineties, I was obsessed with V.C. Andrews, Lifetime Television, and number of bleach blonde boy bands. (Sidenote: as a game one day, begin every conversation with “I saw this movie on Lifetime once…” and count how many people stop you right there.) I was still in love with the library, but I mostly went that one Saturday each year when I could buy a huge bag of cast-offs for just one dollar.

In college, I had to read books I absolutely hated because they were “classics.” Although I discovered some of my favorite authors this way (Hawthorne, Dickens, Whitman), I also discovered why book burning isn’t always a bad thing.

My son also loves the library. The one where we live doesn’t have an elaborate children’s wing; there are two puzzles missing half their pieces, no puppets, toys or games, and I can count the number of book shelves using only my two hands. Still, he loves it. Besides, he’s been spending more time in the teen room lately anyway. He still reads children’s books (so do I), but I’m happy that he’s growing up and closing the gap between our reading levels.

A couple years ago, he was obsessed with Scooby Doo chapter books. After surviving those, my resistance to bad prose is fairly high. He’s been getting into jokes lately; however, so I’m anticipating another literary dry spell.