Thursday, December 27, 2012

To Wield My Pen, and My Shovel

If healing is attempting to achieve (or reestablish) balance, then a writer's life is an ideal proving ground.  Because a fanatical writer would adopt a hunched posture, a bleary set of eyes, atrophied leg muscles, a deathly pallor, diminished social skills, a flat derriere, never leaving her desk.  The work of writing happens sitting down.  But the raw material of writing comes from bodily contact with the world.  I once read a wonderful biography of Georgia O'Keefe by Roxanne Robinson.  A journal entry or letter excerpt of O'Keefe's when she was young and just committing herself to her art impacted me greatly.  She wrote that at a certain point, she asked herself, with every choice she made (whether to go to a party or outing or engage in an activity) whether it would enhance or detract from her art.  If it detracted, she'd refuse it.  As a grad student, I tried that on for awhile.  But I realized quickly that a whole human being is more than an artist (or scientist, or farm laborer, or activist, or whatever our passion or vocation).  I still find the idea of it romantic.  In the abstract, it would be nice to be one of those single-minded artists believing so much in the importance of their work (and with a wife to deflect all input from the world so the great works can get written), that they live by O'Keefe's principles.  (We should build monuments to those (mostly) women, without whom, so much literature and artwork would never have been born).  But since breast cancer, my writing, healing and spiritual impulses have woven themselves more tightly together; I can't separate them.  Hence the prayer poems I've been writing, and hence this blog, and meditation, and walking, and observing the world, all of it feeding into the words that appear on a page or in a blog post.    

My love, Craig, accuses me of being an extremist and I admit he's right.  My current anti-cancer diet is evidence: no meat, no dairy, no sugar, no alcohol, no wheat.  But the holidays, and a social life in general, challenges such rigidities.  So when Don and Douglas invite us to dinner and make meatloaf, I eat it.  And when the Winters invite us to a traditional Swedish Christmas Eve dinner, I load my plate with sauerkraut, homemade potato and meat sausages, Swedish meatballs, and after, chocolate cake.  I share a macadamia nut martini with Craig, or a cosmo with my friend Ralph, who has Hep-C and also shouldn't drink.  I don't tell friends who invite me for dinner of my private cancer phobias around food.  My oncologist, Dr. S., once looked at me with dismay, I dare say sorrow, and asked, "So that means you don't treat yourself to an ice cream cone?"  I'm lucky, because I love healthy food, vegetables, fruit, salmon, rice, tofu, miso, brick-like bread, gritty crackers.  But I'm less obsessed about reading every study that suggests this or that food is good or bad in terms of cancer recurrence.  So this morning's poem reflects the balancing act, the life of the mind at play with the life of the body.  As I write these words, my love clears the ground for a flower garden outside my window with that big orange tractor that appears in the poem.  I have the opposite of Hemingway's dutiful wife: my man calls me to come outside and plant beets.  For his distracting and healing influence, I am grateful. (I am also grateful to poet Mary Ruefle's essay "Madness Rack and Honey" which also provided inspiration for this poem).

12.27.2012 Prayer

Distracted by laundry on the line, the physics of wind, which defines
whether a t-shirt wraps itself into a cocoon or flaps like an injured
bird or dangles. By him watering the eggplants. Distracted by his orange
tractor parked outside my window. By remembrance of snows past.
By a hand of bananas, half-green on the lanai. Distracted by the door
opening and him asking (not caring) where to plant fennel, where
to move the hotly inedible pepper tree. This is a prayer

for the war(p) between

a world lived on the page, unseen, in the mind, and another, of trade wind,
o-bar, pick-ax, bleach. And memory, singing in the choir loft, Our Lady
of Mr. Carmel, Lucille at the organ, the opening mouths and chords to Let
there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me constructing a poem of leaves
and debris, leaving the draft to cool, to load the dehydrator with bananas
and holes in the ground with cassava and pigeon pea. To wield my shovel.

1 comment:

  1. I love this line: "The work of writing happens sitting down. But the raw material of writing comes from bodily contact with the world." This is something I know in my bones but you put wonderfully.