I am up at 6:00 am carefully tip-toeing up the stairs so that I can drink coffee in peace before my granddaughter awakens and fills the day with her chatter and demands. I get a poem (that’s how it works with me) as I cruise Facebook and examine my bitternesses.
Pop! Out it plopped. I have been called a diva by my partner. I told him that I would be writing about my process and he said, “Oh, so a seven-minute emotional barf and then nothing?” As a professional musician and music teacher, I will toil for hours creating a song, endlessly reviewing, tweaking, listening for flaws. I am angered when a poem doesn’t fall out fully formed. Disheartened. I have refused to work, convinced that my inability to lay a golden egg indicates that I must be a terrible goose.
More coffee. More listening to my own music, preparing to fix and to perfect. And more ignoring the poem I just wrote even though it whispers to the back of my brain like a forgotten appointment. I know there’s something I have to do, and I feel guilty for not doing it. Skipping homework. Handing in my assignment late. Forgetting to wear pants to school as in many of my dreams. There’s a lot of shame in there.
Time is ticking. My blissful morning period of creativity will be ended shortly by Esmée’s cries for breakfast and for Totoro. When I was young I could stay up all night creating. Once I turned forty, my internal clock flipped and I became a potato after four o’clock. Morning it is. Morning, with dreams still fresh. My dreams are so vivid that I’ll awaken myself talking. Apparently I also try to pee out windows and fall over bedside tables, concussing myself. So it goes. I've got a few things to work out.
Poetry does that for me. I work out my shit because maybe it’s your shit too, and so perhaps worth something. I'm trying to process horror into beauty. I don't know how else to do it. I try to veer from the confessional, but wind up clever. Which annoys me in both myself and others.
Throughout today I will visit and revisit that poem, skeptical of my own abilities and motivations. Skeptical regarding the worth of what I’m doing. I will send it to some people I love, hoping that perhaps I’ve created something that will get me the “wow!” I get for the music I work so hard to create. But I don’t suppose I work on poetry, unless endlessly chewing my own bones is work.
In order to avoid what I’ve done, I will review other poems of mine. I invariably pronounce them not good enough. The passion of the moment of writing them fades once I put them through the lens of “good poetry.” I feel self-indulgent. I beat myself up for a while. Then I do it again on another morning. And another.
Time. Up until the age of twenty my writing day was quite different. Writing time was all day, every day. I went nowhere without a journal and favourite pen. Lines and sometimes entire poems scribbled on napkins, on receipts. I worked on them just as little as I do now. I have a Rubbermaid bin filled with efforts only worthy of a glance and a cringe now and again. Time pieces nonetheless. A diary of those days in intellectual abortions.
Once children arrived, three in quick succession, this outlet mostly shut its doors. I wrote short fiction for a reading series in Vancouver. I felt that if I produced something once per month, I wasn’t quite dead. My time was eaten by responsibility and the thing that I gave myself the right to pursue—providing what I could for my children.
Now that twenty-four years of raising them has yielded adults and a mostly empty house, I suddenly have an abundance of time. Years of strain and despair from various sources have ended, and I find myself with mental space. These two factors have converged, and I'm writing poetry again without having trained myself well enough to make it a vocation. To call myself a poet.
I love to tell beginning writers that if they write poems, they are poets. I am less equitable with myself. I have been a paid musician for more than half of my life, so I am comfortable calling myself one. I have been legitimized in my own mind by remuneration. However in terms of poetry, I have difficulty not calling myself a hack. This is insecurity. It is also recognition of my own lack of discipline. My gut says that I have no right to rank myself among those who sweat and refine. Who are paid or are well published. I am no poet, so I do not toil. I do not toil, so I am not a poet. A snake eating its own tail.
However time is still a gift. I have more of it than many and I feel a responsibility to make the most of it. I am trying to create a non-abusive work environment for myself. I am trying to be kind.
I let my accomplished poet partner rest an eye on that morning poem. His eye is terrifying in its honesty and unerring in its judgments. He is gentle. Past my morning creative bloom I look at the poem again. I make changes. I work through the afternoon fueled by dill pickle chips and Gatorade.
There is hope.
Jennifer Pederson is the director of The Sawdust Reading Series. She is a mother, a grandmother, a musician, and a music teacher. Her work has appeared at bywords.ca, in In/Words Magazine, and in the Ottawa Citizen. She has a solo album forthcoming in the spring of 2018. She is finally getting happy.