Thursday, February 23, 2012

*Follow Your What?*

I saw the new documentary about Joseph Campbell (really, more of a rehash of Campbell's basic philosophies as interpretted by various self-help and likewise gurus) the other night at a local independent theatre. Center for Symbolic Studies and Campbell biographer Stephen Larsen apologized in advance for the film's shoestring budget. "Don't expect Steven Spielberg," he quipped. But perhaps it was those limited funds that made the film all the more moving for me. Children in costumes gathered perhaps from their own play supplies were used to dramatize the various concepts and the basic path of the Hero, a core image of Campbell's work and the common thread he found in most of the mythologies of the world.

Sprinkled in were clips from some of the many Hollywood films that incorporate the Hero's journey. Many might surprise you, such as "Casablanca" and "The Wizard of Oz". The latter should not have surprised me, since for years I've recognized its blatant similarities to "Star Wars." George Lucas makes no secret of having based Luke Skywalker's adventures on Campbell's work. The Hero's path is circular, and includes confrontation, evolution and passing the story along. In Hollywood circles, this formula makes for easy multiple sequels. In real life, the journey is not so clear cut.

"Follow Your Bliss," is the ringing refrain in Campbell's writings and interviews. But what if your bliss is just not commercially viable? What if you've spent the first fifty years of your life picking away at the edges of it, fitting in all the other journeys around it that seem to have brought you to this brick wall? Poetry is truly the only activitiy that I feel totally alive during, totally engaged. I am certainly not the best poet in the world, nor will I ever be. As I age, I do, however,have more and more to share in my own work. I have been on a few paths, many of which have felt like less than heroic endeavors. Poetry has never been my primary concern, but it has been the thing that makes most of the rest of life tolerable.

Over the last few months, these passings in my life have served to not only scare me away from toying with the romantic notion of ending my own, but to encourage me to cut away the extraneous clutter that has accumulated around me and devote more time to the heart of it all. I will never be in a better position financially, even with unemployment as my sole income at the moment. My mortgage is miniscule, and my wants are truly few. I have a basement to clear out, papers to put in order, poems to write. The office is next, to organize and truly make into a space of productivity, not merely impressive looking storage!

I still look for a day gig. I have to. "Follow Your Bliss," simply won't pay that tiny mortgage, and unemployment is bound to be cut off sometime. But I do have the time now to get a few projects back on track. I am well into the horse chapbook, the first collection I've done writing to a theme instead of putting random poems together after the fact. I am also thrilled to have two other chapbooks coming out this year. Still, I must be somewhat practical.

Can I hold bliss in my heart, know what's the fire that drives my engine while still spending my days raking the yard and washing dishes? Are these things all part of the one and same journey? What can I tell others about the paths I've taken so far?

*Poem: "North of Houdini"*

I have never seen someone
assert themselves as little in the
coffin as your father today.
Shadow of his former selves,
if it had not been for your
mother's cascade of recognition
the moment we approached the metal box

I wouldn’t have known him at all,
despite seed catalogs, chocolate bars,
lap blanket the coroner
threw upside down over his bottom half,
legs as inconsequential as Jerry Mahoney's,
formerly full, white head of
Irish sea foam retreating
back into the skull from which
it bloomed eighty-two years ago.

I would never have known
by the cemetery full of boat names,
Murphys and Donahues, lacking the
Polish alphabet of reasons
my ancestors possess in their
own private hunting grounds
just north of Houdini.

Joseph, your brother, lies patiently
at your father's bare feet, himself
small shadow of alternative ending,
wings folded, carefully diapered
in the way they diapered babies
fifty years ago, never having lived
long enough to see his father's
purple irises wave like an ocean of mercy
across one small Pennsylvania yard.

Joseph, it is your turn now
to feed him the candy bars,
help him grow strong and masterful.
Your mother is here, and on this end,
we will keep her busy, keep her from
needles and alcoholic rainbows,
until it’s time to make the hole
a little wider, accepting into it
one more lily of this man's field.

CAR  2/15/12

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

*Time, Time, Time, See What's Become Of Me?*

I'm coming up on 5 months of unemployment, and am busier than ever. I have commited to writing for about an hour a day, and this has benefited my primary project, a chapbook with a horse theme. In fact, it may grow up into a full-length poetry manuscript if things keep going the way they are. On my to-do list is to get all the stray projects I have in careful files, boxes and folders and arrange them in my writing nook to be easily accesible. This way, when each particular Muse strikes me, and they do strike, I can grab said materials and get going on it!

Other goals I have include cleaning out the basement, cleaning off the refrigerator and rearranging the corner shelves so that I can properly display my new Jadite bowls, a foolish layaway that I choose to consider an early birthday present to myself.

One difficulty for me has been something that may be common to most artists. I have trouble justifying any time I spend writing. There's a guilty little voice in the back of my head that seems to insist I look for a job twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Then the house beckonss, and cleaning chores seem to always need doing. That call is relatively faint. I am a firm believer that even a lousy poem will have more meaning to humankind than an empty sink.

Perhaps this is why I've never been able to fully commit to writing as a life. I have never been able to really, truly acknowledge that my work has value, that it is important, to me and to others. There is of course the issue of money, which really is always an issue, but there are so many hours in a day. Why do I begrudge myself just one or two of them to devote to the only thing that makes sense, the art I have chosen above all others to express myself in?

I know I'm not Shakespeare or Plath or Jurkovic. I have my limits, but I am growing. This year in particular I am striving to reach beyond my familiar circle of friends who have supported my work and my readings for many years. Part of that is being true to myself and my work. It is my account of my days here. It is my witnessing. Right now, I have black bean soup in the crockpot, chicken fat rendering on the stove and plans to be out by 12:30 to get to the gym, and an eye appointment at 2:30. I should be home in time to make dinner, the unspoken deal I have with my boyfriend, since he is out of the house all day.

I may type a poem or two up while the chicken is simmering. And oh yes, perhaps toss another resume' out to the four winds, hoping it will land in some sympathetic employer's lap who may even email me to say s/he received it.