Sat 23 Feb 2008
days slip by and it’s like there’s nothing i can find to say…as if all the threads of narrative got wound up like dust bunnies and shoved behind the furniture, hidden by the bulk of everyday living.
but under my skin, my busy, moving skin, i am here. wanting to speak. wanting to be heard. wanting to find space in the riot of routine to make words.
i wrote poetry when i was a kid. never reams of it, but terse, crafted experiments with rhyme and free verse and the siren song of rhythm…odes to stormy weather with titles that mortify me now, and efforts to rework what i thought of as the sheer literary perfection of Duran Duran’s “Hungry like the Wolf.” there were early forays into themes of becoming, too, and a few pieces half-remembered that i wish i still had, that dart across my memory taunting me with the idea that my career as a poet peaked at fourteen. it was like alchemy for me, this writing, a spell cast with words and ideas, woven on scraps of paper but always intended, secretly, in my emo-kid heart, for the world.
i grew up listening to the poetry of Bob Dylan on my mother’s Joan Baez albums. we were not a radio family, and the years of 8-track passed us by. we had a big old streamlined veneer turntable left behind by my father, and a collection of perhaps a dozen records that i figure he deemed too lame to bring with him when he went away to find free love: John Denver, Anne Murray, Roger Whittaker, The original Sound of Music Broadway recording, Simon & Garfunkel, some Salvation Army lady singing hymns, and the cream of the crop, Kristofferson and Baez, two albums each. the anti-establishment soundtrack of my oh-so-ironically-conservative single parent home, where middle-class respectability was the heighth of aspiration. yet i grew up singing along to “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word” and “Hard Rain” and my mother wondered later where i’d picked up my iconoclastic strain. she is not a person overly inclined to listen to the words.
i was well into my teens when i discovered that it was Bob Dylan who’d written half the songs that had held me rapt with their stories and their power on those scratchy Baez albums. i developed an acute case of hero-worship. i threw myself headlong into the canon of post-folk Bob, meandering through the intro-level cool of “Like a Rolling Stone” and the rest of Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2, progressing to Big Pink and “Isis” and “Brownsville Girl” and “Tangled up in Blue” over a period of years, different rambling tales enthralling me as reflections of my own love stories and wanderings and at the same time as universal, the only universal i ever really believed in.
the one thing i ever wanted to be when i grew up, all those years, well into my twenties, was Bob Dylan, bard. it is a sad, even silly thing to long for a voice that is already taken. i wrote derivative bits here and there, but was contemptuous of their obviousness, their sub-par Dylanesque parody. i ached to be wise, prescient, conduit of a generation. but while i could see, on an instinctive level, the rawness around me in that strange early-90s recession world on the cusp of grunge, i could not speak. i wanted to reap what i could not sow. my poems shrivelled and died. i turned my back.
i learned to play guitar, instead. badly. i sang folk songs, and i made a joyful noise of other’s words.
i come now, with age accompanied by hairs on my chinny-chin-chin, to the realization that i am ill-suited to bard status in any case. even if i were able to shed all the extraneous responsibilities that eat my time and my internal narratives, i am not that type. i am no loner, no prophet. i like company, particularly in my misery. i hate being misunderstood. i fear offending. and i always fail whenever i try to frame things allegorically. but it isn’t just temperment and talent keeping me from my original life’s goal, oh no. it’s drive. i dabble. i am not courageous nor focused enough to master the craft of poetry and metaphor, to speak broad truths in permutations unending, to be the mirror of society that people quake to see themselves in. even if i could, i wouldn’t. i’d chicken out, over-analyze, get distracted by the laundry piles and fail to practise. i would assume that vocations come with no assembly required.
this doesn’t make me sad like it would have if i’d been able to see myself in this place some twelve or fifteen years ago. because i do speak, here, even if sporadically, even if sometimes only of diapers and songs i wish i’d written and themes that get repetitive after awhile. i speak as an editor at heart, the studied one who stints out her words and focuses on minutiae and details, small truths. but i keep making myself come back and speak, trying to learn my own words, to get back to that magic of alchemy that i tasted at fourteen, and keep the furniture from taking over completely.
but i marvel at those whose voices are bigger than they are. and i wonder if the opus unborn lives in all of us, somewhere under the clutter and the words we carve out from our days, or if these collections of the mundane are enough, are opus in themselves in these ether-bound rooms of our own?