Unprepared for Joy

Creativity is a fool’s journey in the best sense. Wandering, trusting, falling into muddy ditches and lying down in sweet meadows. Then another peak, another view of the great beyond, before heading once more into the dark night, and then out the other side; a cycle of birth, death, and resurrection, a microcosm of the universal truth of regeneration.

I’ve wanted to write for most of my life, and I’ve fulfilled that desire when I could, how I could, despite various detours and dire obstacles (a universal experience) that I won’t enumerate here. But I will say this: the magic of creativity, the power of writing, the moments I treasure, have always been unexpected and have rekindled a sense of gratitude and wonder. This sense of homecoming and awe is also, I believe, universal.

painting of water moving in cycles

Salt and Other Spells: painting by Melissa McCanna.

Last Sunday was a perfect example. A few months ago, I had sent three poems to a juried committee for a local community event called Ars Poetica, a collaboration of poets’ words and artists’ interpretations. All three poems were chosen, two by one artist, one by another, who then set about making art from what they felt the poems were saying to them, in preparation for a gallery exhibition and poetry reading. When the day came to attend the public event, I was prepared.

Prepared to be very nervous. Prepared to be disappointed in my own delivery of the poems. Prepared to feel let down, or overwhelmed. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional response I would have to seeing my poems on a gallery wall, never mind the stunning impact of the art which emerged from the images I  had conjured in the privacy of my mind.

ice tongs hold a small crystal heart, which holds in turn the image of a sleeping woman with long flowing hair.

Melt: an art assemblage by Steve Parmalee

Or how momentous it would feel to meet in person, the artists who had engaged so deeply with my work, Melissa McCanna and Steve Parmalee. It was a magical experience: unexpected in it’s impact, momentous in the way it renewed my understanding of why I write. To connect, to inspire, but more importantly, to experience the creative force that is life-giving, joyful, heart-sustaining, and community-building. May we all find ways to connect with Source, with one another, and may we all remain open to the blessedly unexpected gift of joy.

The Sailor’s Daughter: painting by Melissa McCanna

A Doll is a Poem is a Woman is a Yes


She is not perfectly constructed-

and for that, I love her.

Her dress doesn’t match her hair,

sea urchin spines hang like nunchucks

from her belt and she only has one breast.

Composed of remnants

stitched together by instinct

she is beautifully flawed- like me, this poem,

and the woman who made her.

a doll made of various colored and textured yarns,  wearing a bead necklace, with a large smooth bead for a face, and two sea urchin shells hanging from a yarn belt.

Disrupting the Cycle of Despair

Everyone knows this feeling: there is no way out.  A mental hello darkness my old friend. It can be hard to locate the origin of this fatalistic story we sometimes tell ourselves about being trapped, especially when fighting and flailing from deep inside it. After all, the story of despair that we tell ourselves is sometimes based in real, intractable facts: illness, poverty, physical danger, mental illness, addiction, homelessness, abuse. (Not to mention the terrible micro-aggressions and systemic injustices our world produces, all the isms and phobias and sheer harms that damage and box us in, in various ways.) I have been at the mercy of some of these conditions myself, as have you.

Yet I do recognize my many real advantages in this world. And because of them, various awful circumstances which I have suffered from in the past have shifted, or ended, or I’ve found ways to endure, as with my chronic illness; through good fortune and privilege, yes, but also with a combination of sustained outside help, friends, love, mental growth, a higher power, and determination. 

But what of the pain caused by creative angst and personal frustration, loneliness, anger, and grief?  These are also real human conditions, occurring in the mind, the body, and the soul, as a result of the states I listed above, or simply because we are human. I’ve been in this dark place so many times; a place in which these painful conditions have become distorted in my mind beyond all reason. Where I think I’ll never write again. I’ll never feel true joy again. Nothing will ever work out the way I’d hoped. I have failed at life. 

Perhaps the body, pulling energy resources from the brain in order to cope with pain, or disease, adrenaline, or histamine, leaves the mind bereft. Perhaps an overloaded intelligence, or a sorrowful soul, releases a cascade of chemicals into the body. At times my own illness feels like a tightening feedback loop, an eternal ouroboros gone mad. 


However, perhaps simply because I’m older, these days I’m most often able to realize that my depressive state is a crying out- a need for an intervention, an interruption of that tortuous feedback loop in which my own mind no longer sustains me, but turns on me.  (And by depression I don’t mean clinical depression, for which it becomes vital to seek professional consultation).  Joni wrote, “don’t interrupt the sorrow” but (in this very rare case, Ms. Mitchell) I disagree. If the darkness says: “this is all there is, you can’t tell me otherwise”, then I will, I must, seek disruption, even if what that means is surrendering my belief that I already know the answer, and the answer is despair. In my case, in order to surrender that false conviction, I turn to what offers me spiritual comfort and solace, and I pray. 

 Sometimes my despair arrives as a result of too much focus on the gatekeepers of the creative commons: those people and systems granted with the culture’s ability to say pass, or fail, to our creative work and our desire to send it out into the world with some form of recognition and acclaim.  Sometimes it takes fortitude to keep working the system, but today I’m going to ignore the gatekeepers altogether and post a new poem right here. 

A Good Clear Out

I divested myself

of what lies downriver

the rusted cans and blackberry thorns

the animal traps lined with bloody fur

I’m boxing up whole decades

And giving them to strangers

yearbooks, prayer books

the necklace I bought for you-

the one I couldn’t bear to part with in the end


was too ashamed to ever wear out, so

Here. Take it.

It doesn’t suit me anymore. I’m going bare.

 (SES, 2019)

And Lastly, What I’m reading:

I’ve been reading a collection of poems: New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdrich. I cannot recommend this book of poetry with enough fervor. If you were sitting across from me I’d wave it in your face and read poem after poem out loud, while you poured yet another cup of tea and tried to absorb the grievous beauty coming at you in words, lines, stanzas, incomparable images.  

Because making art and experiencing art is a way of choosing life, and disrupts the cycle of despair.