Monday, March 1, 2010

Making peace with the mess

I am addicted to the moment in writing when the magic happens -- when a collection of words and images I'm playing with begins to form itself into a poem, and I can suddenly glimpse order within the chaos. In that moment, though I still have many drafts to go, I feel grounded again. I am "home."

I stick to short, lyrical works in part because I know bigger subjects would mean more words, more chaos, and a longer wait before order and meaning emerge. I haven't wanted to stay in that uncertain (and often uncomfortable) place any longer than I have to.

But ... I find myself lately pestered by a subject that is far too big for a single poem. (Trust me, I've tried.) There is just too much here. New angles appear at every turn. No clear meaning or neat structure is revealing itself -- just occasional moments that whisper, Something real is here. Moments promising enough to keep me plowing blindly ahead, deeper into the uncertainty.

For perhaps the first time in my writing life, I am 10,000 words into something and I don't have a clue yet what it wants to be.

It's a little like cleaning out a closet. I began with great enthusiasm, focused only on dragging everything into the light, a faint image in my mind of a spare and tidy future. But now I am surrounded with the years of clutter I've hauled from the closet's bowels, and it's time to start organizing the mess. Suddenly I have an almost irresistible urge to flop down on the floor and stay there, weeping and twitching, until someone makes it all go away. Or to stuff it all back in and slam the door.

It's not just about writing, I know. Marriage, kids, career, friendships ... anything worth loving eventually brings me to a point where my mess spills out of the closet and all over the floor. Then I have a choice. I can do the things I've done in the past: Stuff it quickly away, make it look tidy. Cut and run, let someone else clean it up.

Or I can attempt something infinitely more difficult. Stay in the chaos. Breathe. Let patterns and meaning emerge in their own time. Wait for the magic to happen.

The stories of my life -- the one I'm attempting to write now, and the one I'm attempting to live -- are messy and complicated. Rushing to easy conclusions will not do them justice. No neat structures, no tidy morals here.

Just, every once in a while, a moment that whispers, Pay attention. Something real is happening. Moments interesting enough to keep me taking one more step, then another, into the unknown.


  1. You are an inspiration.
    You are loved.

  2. My favorite post yet. I can't wait to see what takes shape.


  3. Fascinating and brilliant. (both you and your writing!) ~CL

  4. Sends shivers up my spine...I believe in voices from within, and the wondrous things that happen when we listen to them.


  5. What a gift to find lovely comments from four of the women who inspire me daily to stay the course! Thanks, ladies.

  6. Oh Jill! Yes, yes and yes again. Thanks for letting us see the process and be inspired by it - and you. 10,000 words, eh? Sounds like "something real" definitely is happening.

  7. Very interesting and exciting!