Good morning good Monday to you — this morning there’s a good weightiness all around me; the world feels solid and maybe not entirely clear but present and necessary and open. The birds are a dawn chorus (thank you for that, Lucretia!), and the candle flickers over the words “Run your finger down the blackness behind my ribcage / make a puzzle of my womb / an alphabet of my fingers” (from the poem, taped to my wall, “Poem,” by Roberta Werdinger). How are you feeling your way into this Monday? What does the week hold in store for you? What are you carrying forward with you from this weekend?
A poem for today:
The Poems I Have Not Written
I’m so wildly unprolific, the poems
I have not written would reach
from here to the California coast
if you laid them end to end.
And if you stacked them up,
the poems I have not written
would sway like a silent
Tower of Babel, saying nothing
and everything in a thousand
different tongues. So moving, so
filled with and emptied of suffering,
so steeped in the music of a voice
speechless before the truth,
the poems I have not written
would break the hearts of every
woman who’s ever left me,
make them eye their husbands
with a sharp contempt and hate
themselves for turning their backs
on the very source of beauty.
The poems I have not written
would compel all other poets
to ask of God: “Why do you
let me live? I am worthless.
please strike me dead at once,
destroy my works and cleanse
the earth of all my ghastly
imperfections.” Trees would
bow their heads before the poems
I have not written. “Take me,”
they would say, “and turn me
into your pages so that I
might live forever as the ground
from which your words arise.”
The wind itself, about which
I might have written so eloquently,
praising its slick and intersecting
rivers of air, its stately calms
and furious interrogations,
its flutelike lingerings and passionate
reproofs, would divert its course
to sweep down and then pass over
the poems I have not written,
and the life I have not lived, the life
I’ve failed even to imagine,
which they so perfectly describe.
There is much–everything, it seems some days–that I haven’t written because I was afraid it wouldn’t be perfect. I have been thinking, recently, about the tyranny of perfection.
I misspelled tyranny as I was typing, keying it in as tyrrany, and the little wiggly red underline cued me in to my excellently-staged potential irony; I could leave that misspelling as a device, as a way to call you, out, reader, who would snag on that misspelling, almost assuredly, and want it fixed before you continued, thereby giving you an embodied experience of just what it is I’m about to continue on to write about; but I’m so deeply beholden to this tyranny myself that I couldn’t leave it sit there, that red squiggly line, that indication of my fault and incorrectness, that visible wrongness, so I went back and corrected it.
It’s one thing to say, and know (and we know, don’t we) that there’s no such thing as perfect and, simultaneously, that we’re all excellent just as we are, perfect in our imperfections, our scars and brokennesses, our fuck-ups and disappointments and celebrations and joys.
Fine. Yes. These things are true and my head knows the, but then there’s the fact that I have so deeply internalized this idea of and desire for perfection that it stops me, nearly every day, for taking some first step toward a goal or a dream because what if I get the first step wrong and then everything else about each subsequent aspect of my pursuit of this dream is also wrong because I did the very first part wrong?
Tyranny means the cruel or unjust use of power. Tyranny can get internalized. We do it to ourselves, after awhile — we get trained into these ways of thinking that are fully intended to keep us from realizing the fullness of our potential and possibility.
Here’s what’s true: whatever idea I have, it always exists as perfect while still living only in my head, only as a fantasy. As soon as I begin to move the idea from my head out into the world, no matter what I do, I will imperfect it. Period.
What if I just allowed that to be true, and moved on from there? What if I took imperfect as my goal instead?
Here is something I wrote last week, at the second Dive Deep meeting of the second quarter. The prompt was to grab one of the ideas from Bruce Mau’s “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” and write on it, or write the beginnings of our own manifesto for growth. (Look what it says right there at the top of that linked page: Begin Anywhere. The message comes to me over and over, and still I beat my head against wanting to do it right.) The idea from his list that chose me was, “Make Mistakes Faster.” Oh no.
Make mistakes faster. This is the hard one. This is five books sitting on the shelves inside me, unwritten, on the backburners of my brain and heart, this is the frozen aching, oh god what if I get it wrong? what if the idea was wrong, the premise is wrong, what if somebody doesn’t like the idea what if somebody challenges me on it and I don’t know what to say what if it’s the wrong journal the wrong publisher wrong agent wrong advance wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong? what if I just did it anyway, put out the ideas and stood behind them, what if I fucked up more publicly and more often, I mean what if I fell ass end up right on my face? My god, would I die? Doesn’t every single person know that we only learned to walk by falling forward, falling forward, falling forward? Why cares, now, the root cause of this fear of being wrong, of blueing in the face, this having someone who could say to me, you stupid girl, I can’t believe you would write that — ? Some days I would look at it and not believe that I’d written it either. But isn’t it true that most days, these days, I’d breathe into the insult, spine straightening, understanding, yes, exactly this is what I wrote and why? My tongue is working now. Some days I can fuck up. I have learned how to fumble without breaking my body open at its hinges just to offer my heart up as a replacement for the kicking.
I want to release this idea of perfection, this need to be and do perfect. I want to welcome wrongness more often, and with open arms, let the shame and embarrassment wash fully over and through me and then move on to the next step. Learn, grow, keep writing. This is my practice these days. If you got it wrong, change it, move forward. Begin anywhere, and then keep going. That’s what we do in the workshops, right? Just dive in, and know that you can come back to it later, change the beginning if you want, edit, revise, recraft, elucidate, concatenate, lengthen, alter — create the raw material first, then work with it. Do it wrong first, absolutely. What if I offered myself not just that permission, but that imperative? What if we had to do it wrong? What then? What brilliance would emerge?
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An idea for your writing for today: There’s this quote, What would you do if you knew that you could not fail? So, that’s one prompt, and a good one. Here’s a redrafting of that, though: what would you or your character take on if you knew that without question you were going to fuck it up, but that it was going to end up brilliantly anyway? Let yourself write into that idea, into all the ways whatever it is that you want to do will be wrong as soon as you start to do it — and then follow that writing wherever it seems to want you to go.
Thanks for all your gorgeous, your breathtakingly beautiful wrongnesses. Thank you for the fierce risks that you offer yourself as necessary food. Thank you for your anyway writing. Thank you for your words.