Thursday, October 6, 2011

What are you sticking to?

So this morning The Onion tweets me a link on an article titled Terrible Idea Committed to Paper.  It is amusing, how we can be so in love with our ideas and inspirations.  I was struck yesterday with a personal realization about that as I walked, fully enjoying practicing contemplative photography, just seeing without conceptions.

There is a lot you can't do without the use of your dominant hand, and furthermore, a torn rotator cuff in the other shoulder - I don't feel like trying to paint, forget drawing, I can't even sign my name, much typing is out - this already hurts.  I can't even use the camera conventionally, using only one hand to hold it, focus, and click, and I can only use it vertically.  But what a pleasure it was to do that.   

And into my idle mind came Suzuki Roshi's admonition that Zen is about "not sticking to anything."  You know what I've been sticking to?  The idea that I Am a Poet.

I slowly formed this idea in 1997, when I began to write a kind and quality of poetry new to me.  My father's sudden death and my own cancer had broken me open into the need to express creatively my very difficult feelings.  At that time, my skills were only verbal.  My first serious poem was an elegy for the best friend who died when we were eleven.  Fortunately, Ellin Carter, the friendly professor I called and asked to have a look at it, was kind and supportive.  Yes, she said, this is poetry.  Very nice, she murmured, reading it.  For many years after that I worked hard at poetry, loving the sustained act of being in the flow that comes when you're just right.

Right now - maybe I've mentioned this - I am on a higher dose of a psychoactive drug called Seroquel that seems to me to cut down right-brain activity.  Even the lower dose cut my production of poetry way down when I started on it several months ago - I felt it happen and could expect the higher dose to do more of that.  I was willing to lose that kind of creativity for a while to avoid the kind of awful depression that hit me last month.  So the decision demanded a loosening up of my ideas about what I need to do to be happy.

It hit me yesterday as I stood by the pond, listening to the fountains, watching the water ripple and the hanging branches of the willow sway, as I walked, selecting big fallen leaves to crunch underfoot, that taking photographs of this was deeply satisfying and natural, while attempting to make poetry of it was a different sort of effort that took me further away from the reality.  It struck me that I've been sticking to the idea that I am a poet.  Like a noun, a fixed identity.  So this feels more free and easy, and it is another beautiful day.  October is delivering.


  1. Beautiful. Love the subtitle - which is also the subtext of all our lives, isn't it?

  2. "So the decision demanded a loosening up of my ideas about what I need to do to be happy." - Thank you!!! I'm a friend of Sue Engle's and she connected me to your amusing, insightful and thought-provoking words and work. Thank you!! - Jennifer

  3. funny...I've been sticking that idea as well, but I haven't been able to write a proper poem since my Mother died a year and a half ago, and they used to come fast and effortless.

    So, am I not a poet any longer or is it okay to take a break? Maybe we just "are", rather than are something.