Friday, June 14, 2019

Erin Russell : Ctrl/Alt

Always I start small (good pentecostal girls never quite outgrow a small beginning), shrink the MS Word window to a narrow rectangle, then even it out to a flickering square patch. There’s a satisfying sense of control in this motor movement—and a sense of containment for the morning’s frenetic lineup of marsupial thoughts that already are burrowing pockets of acid-pooling logic, threatening to hook me up and zip-line me into a muggy underground place of not-real but very work-killing rumination.

It’s part of my day’s beginning, part of me: I am apprehensive in the mornings and worry a thing until it’s shred-skinned and thin as fetus fingernails but never have I worried a thing into submission. I pause wryly contemplative now before I start my writing work, lamenting all the productive hours lost to this, my twitchy feral mind. My fingers, single minded, itching to reduce the screen yet further—the phenomenology of tricking clever thoughts from an amygdala brain.

I lift one hand slightly, two fingers indented from the others and tap out a rhythm in the air, pacing out a few iambs like an alt-rock drummer, but way less cool. The workers at the café where I write are okay with this. Or they are at any rate unfazed; they usually give me bigger portions of cake than everybody else to boot. Maybe they assume I’m still a grad student and poor. It’s hipster in this place but on the edgy side—my odd hours and odder states of dress and messy hair-buns are all mostly forgiven. Someone has turned the music up. Fingers back to the computer. I navigate the arrow to the three-diagonal-lined bottom right corner of the screen and feel a swell of finger wriggle gleemove the cursor out, window bigger, relax into the flow.

My thoughts go to expanse, excess; my haunches give a little on the café’s hard wooden chair (I live in Amsterdam. There are Calvinist forms of restriction informed by a mistrust of bodies and comfort that even these edgy owners haven’t managed to work through–we none of us outgrowing certain smallnessness). I think about women I have loved, about surfaces and fingertips, insides-of-palmnessess, the taut and elastic sweep and pull and softening of flat things, the sensitivity of screens buzzing and waiting for a pawing touch. I think of the contours of skin and the way hands can smooth out a thing, make a thought/spirit level. The way planed surfaces make words/bodies come out from left to right. Make words come out right.

As a poet I manipulate form, it’s my favourite part of craft. Lyric body in poetic straightjacket—determining the shape of the things I am properly allowed to control. I don’t put contours around the angst, however; don’t write the things down that obsessive-worry me. They are morning things only and wouldn’t anyway fit the shapes I could fashion and who’d want the all-of-it-ness out on paper anyhow?

I think about how good people are who meditate and why don’t I do meditating more instead of this? A momentary regret I am not more spiritual, but I am not and in this manner I have topped the biggest hurdle of the morning: the crest of writerly unease has moved past peak crescendo now, settling instead into a full band brass inner noise of hyped-up clanging and prairie-dog twitch-y distraction seeking. I am told this is not normal, that people shouldn’t be this wrangle-innards jumpy cat-back arch-y and how do you conquer a thing at all?

Measures of reassurance in Word’s grammar function—the green slug squiggles and red-spellcheck-mistress-y underlines that simply don’t get (my) poetic license. Mild rebukes are there to be enjoyed. I pound out another sentence fragment and do not consider revising. Four corners are reliable. Expected indents. Standard fonts.

Feeling confident now, a bit cocky, and getting ahead of myself I pull out my phone and book a midday yoga class I will almost certainly cancel later. More positioning for control. I’ve emailed the better portions of the morning’s work to myself in my ad hoc Gmail filing system. Noting to myself it’s time to buy more Google storage. My words jostling for digital space with photos of the kids.

Erin Russell @etcall is a writer from Calgary living in Amsterdam. Her poetry and flash fiction have appeared in Burning House Press, Train, Scrivener, Montage, Time Out, and The Holland Times among others, and her poetry has been translated into French and Chinese. She won the Wycliffe College Poetry Award at the University of Toronto two years in a row. She lectures in literature and writing at Amsterdam University College. 

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