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January 19, 2005

It's been one of those gray periods, when the words all get clogged up in my head and won't come out in controlled form. Maybe it's the lack of sleep, or too much pressure at work, or the raging sinus infection. I took a class with Doris Betts when I was in school, and she encouraged us to write when we are sick. It puts everything in a different perspective, she told us.

I've never been able to do much when I'm sick, short of feeling sorry for myself. This time I wrote a poem, though, and in the early and late scraps of time I have to myself I try to make it better. The problem is that I don't like rhymes, so I write poetry in free verse, which is unfortunately the harbor for anyone who wants to vomit on a page in short sentences stacked on top of one another and declare it art. Because I have no training, I live in fear that any poetry I write is really just vomiting, only I don't know it any more than the other vomiters know that their poetry is just, well, emotional vomit.

As you can see, illness is the theme today.

The result of all this insecurity is that I rarely write poetry, even though I often think in poetry, and when I do write it I obsess over rhythm and worry that I have no idea what I'm doing. And no, I'm not going to post it here. My creative writing must either have the chops to make it past some other editor, in which case you'll find it in the "Not Non-Fiction" section over on the sidebar (or better yet, at your local bookstore), or it languishes in one of my computer folders mourning its broken luck.

The poem comes from a dream that haunts me, a vivid dream that crept in on me early one morning and left my pillow soaked with sleeping tears. I knew that kind of thing would happen once I started the story, the one about Caroline. Did I mention that I've begun that project, the one all the "walk through your pain" people keep encouraging me to write? Since I'm groggy and sick and therefore particularly disposed to honesty this morning, let me say definitively that right now I don't like those people very much. You know who you are.

I call it a book about Caroline even though it's becoming something beyond her story. Early on I wrote: "Somehow in the years since being defined by death our family has burst forth with life. I am learning that for every broken place in my heart God sees fit to send a child with sticky fingers and a lilting voice to mend it." I didn't want it to become another I-lost-my-child-and-oh-God-it-hurts-but-Jesus-is-helping-me-through-it story. Thankfully it doesn't look like there's much chance of that, though I have to be constantly vigilant against the melodrama embedded in my genetic code. Instead it's something much more . . . maybe real is the right word.

Perhaps one day you'll get to judge. For now it's just an accumulation of memory and interpretation, and I'm clinging to the belief that some good will come from it.

Well how about this for a post. I tell you about two things I'm writing, and I don't let you see either one. They say disappointment builds character, so perhaps you can take solace in that. You're so kind the way you tolerate my little bursts of narcissism disguised as self-deprecating banter. Come to think of it, I've seen disappointment build resentfulness and depression much more than I've seen it build character. So watch yourselves.

Since I don't have much yet worthy of your reading attention, and this is the season to curl up with a good book, let me recommend a story I am thoroughly enraptured by: Leif Enger's Peace Like a River. You can read a delightful interview with the author here. This is what storytelling should be, and the readers among us need to support authors like this.

End of public service announcement, but don't stop here. Go read something lovely today.

Posted by Woodlief on January 19, 2005 at 08:27 AM


Happy 3rd blogaversary, Tony!

Posted by: Joe at January 19, 2005 9:43 AM

I'll take real life anyday. Thanks, luv.

Posted by: Katherine at January 19, 2005 12:44 PM

Acch! I hate being sick. Tony, listen. About 2 weeks ago my husband started with the recurring sinus headaches. On a hunch, he increased the humidity level on the humidifier (attached to the heating system). Presto! If you have one, you might try adjusting it. The air in houses tends to get very dry with constant heating in the winter. I know it won't help with the infection, but it might help with the pain. Best.

Posted by: Pamela at January 19, 2005 1:58 PM

With lines like "I am learning that for every broken place in my heart God sees fit to send a child with sticky fingers and a lilting voice to mend it", I look forward to reading more. Sounds like poetry to me.

Good luck with the writing. If you need help keeping it from turning into a melodrama, read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which is so melodrama-free, the characters come across as automatons. Not my first choice, but hey, he tried. A pretty interesting book, in any case.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at January 19, 2005 4:40 PM

Re Caroline, you might want to read (if you haven't already) A Grief Observed and A Severe Mercy. Cheers. And get well soon.

Posted by: Barney at January 20, 2005 12:58 AM

Whether you think so or not, there's always a lot here, in each of your posts. There really is.


Posted by: Christina at January 20, 2005 7:45 PM

I am assuming that anyone who not only reads your blog but lives within 30 miles is allowed to stop by for an autograph when the book(s) comes out?

Posted by: John at January 21, 2005 1:22 AM

You, John, get an autographed copy no matter how far away you live.

Posted by: Tony at January 21, 2005 11:46 AM

I want to read it, and I want some melodrama.

I found myself thinking, I wish Tony would post something, anything, a little more often. And this is quite good enough.

I love your stories from a distance; and will close the distance just long enough for an autograph when that's possible.

Posted by: GN at January 23, 2005 4:51 PM

I think I'm one of those you referred to...

I hope the link comes through to a picture you may have seen in my home. If memory serves, Andrew Wyeth is in boots given by Howard Pyle to NC Wyeth. Andrew put them on to take a walk while recuperating from injuries to his legs from an accident. He painted it after walking through a field and stepping on the weed at his feet. It represented for him the fragility of life. My wife gave it to me and it became an important part of my healing.

No matter how it may feel from time to time, you do not go on your walk alone.

Posted by: Anonymous at February 1, 2005 11:49 AM

Here's the link for the pic


Posted by: Anonymous at February 2, 2005 10:55 AM