As I write this, I’m sitting on my carpet, in the bedroom-turned-office space in my apartment, with one of my dogs laying down beside me, head on my knee. As I write this, we’re going into our eleventh month of the global pandemic. As I write this, I realize I spend a lot of time staring at my bookshelf, willing for a new world to open, for me to be able to step through.
My typical writing days do not, in fact, begin with this sense of dread, but they do involve my dogs. Since this pandemic started and the last semester of my MFA begins, I can’t help but believe the pandemic has done something important to my writing routine – something I haven’t quite put a name to. But I have noticed that despite everything, writing still happens. Poems still persist. My writing day starts with my dogs. We’re either on the couch or on the floor and I read poetry aloud to them at random times during the day. Before I write anything, I must read at least one poem. Because of my disability, I don’t have a set schedule to write. It’s impossible to say, “alright, I’m going to write every day at X time” when my body is unpredictable and can insist on my staying in bed for the day. At least, there, I can still dream.
While the majority of my writing, even before the pandemic, happened at home, I did also frequently leave the house to a café to write. I’d order a cappuccino with coconut milk and write in my notebook first, making lists or tweaking lines, then later revise on my laptop. Much of my revision took place at coffee shops, probably because I was fueled by espresso and sugar, but also the bustle helped me focus. If something in a piece was proving to be too difficult to solve, off I’d go to a coffee shop. The movement from place to place helped shift something, open an idea that was always there waiting. You drove all the way here, paid for this coffee, I’d tell myself, so write. However, since the pandemic, this method for problem solving has changed. Now, my paper quilling has become an essential part of my process and my poetry.
Whenever I come across a problem in my poetry that I can’t figure out, I try to fix it and erase and try and erase and try and erase all over again. Sufficiently frustrated, I swivel my chair over to my craft table and paper-quill, hoping to spark a solution. For those who aren’t familiar with the art form, paper quilling is the art of rolling and pinching paper strips into various shapes and designs. With each roll of a paper strip, I process what isn’t working in the poem, unroll it like I do a strip that needs to be reworked, re-coiled, pinched into something new. For me, the act of paper quilling, of building a bigger shape from various small ones, is like a poem. And often, it is this physical act of rolling strips and arranging shapes that helps me solve the problem.
Lately, the poetry I write comes to me best in the late morning to early afternoon, when my body has the most energy. On pain days when I’m stuck in bed or on the couch, I still read and make little marginal notes telling my future self take inspo from this. I go back to those little notes, reread the poem that moved me and begin. Because I’m a visual thinker, always contemplating what my paper quilled pieces will look like as their end results, my poems usually come to me with their end lines, too. Then I work backwards, filling in what I need to get to that end line. I finished a draft of my full MFA thesis like this. I had a poem that held the manuscript’s end goal within it, and I used it as a charm to get through the rest by asking: what still needs to be written?
As I finish this exploration of my small press writing days, my corgi-pom, Tonks, flops onto her back with one paw in the air (we call this her I’m a star pose). My other corgi, Ghost, steals a paper strip from my recycling bin and brings it to me. Time to start another poem, Mama.
Tea Gerbeza is a disabled poet and paper quilling artist based in Treaty 6
territory (Saskatoon, SK). She is a current MFA in Writing candidate at the
University of Saskatchewan. Tea’s poetry has most recently appeared in antilang.,
the Society, and Spring. Her poems have won an Honourable Mention in
the 2019 Short Grain Contest. Tea’s
paper art can be found at @teaandpaperdesigns.