Log Jams and Poetry

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I wrote a poem this morning. It was really bad.

I mean, really, REALLY bad.

You’ll never see it.

I don’t like writing bad stuff. I write every day. Poems. Copy for clients. Reports. Essays. Sermons. Technical Reports. In general, writing comes easy to me now, after years of doing it. I seem to be able to tap into something and write copy that in solid, interesting and at times, even compelling more or less on demand. It’s part of how I make my living.

But sometimes……

I can’t tell you why it was so bad this morning. It just was. I could not seem to tap into “the muse”. My feelings, the emotions I mine to write poems, seem flat. Some days I can push through that to write a good poem. In fact, the very act of writing seems to break the logjam of emotions and set me right for the day.

That is part of why I write in fact. Because my emotions tend to logjam. To pile up. It is hard for me to get them out and keep them in a healthy place. The act of writing forces me to push into the emotions and get them moving again.

Which is why I keep at it even if, like today, every word is garbage.

“Begin Anywhere.”  I have a magnet on my icebox that says that. “Begin Anywhere.”

A decade and more ago, I was in a place where my emotions were frozen. Self-protection, I am sure, combined with a crippling depression and I could not feel. I was afraid to feel. I was sure I could not handle the emotions that had piled up inside me. I was sure when they broke loose, they would carry what was left of me away. I was afraid.

I didn’t realize I was afraid. I just was. I had stuffed so much, so long, I was barely able to function on an emotional plane. I was, in many ways, dead.

But not quite. I put myself in therapy.

Keep in mind that I came from an upbringing where the whole of idea of therapy was largely pooh-poohed. Therapists were quacks. Charlatans. Crazy themselves. And people who went to them were nuts, whackos, weak, pick your derogatory word, that’s what people went to therapy were.

That’s crazy talk, I realize now. If you were sick with a cancer that was killing you, you’d go to a doctor. When I had a chronic cough as a young man, a cough that got worse and worse until I could barely string together more than a sentence or two without coughing, I went to the doctor and no one batted an eye.

And the truth is, no one batted an eye when I went into therapy. All that bunkus I had been raised with was just that – bunkus.

Coming back was a long haul of baby steps. She began by learning about my journey down the rabbit hole, and then we began to work my way back. Teeny tiny changes. Reclaiming my feelings, allowing myself to name them, to claim them, to feel them was slow, hard work.

That may seem strange to you. Perhaps you are a person who lives your feelings on your sleeve. Perhaps you find it odd that I, the person you see at this stage in life, as able to express feelings, sometimes even eloquently, could not.  But that is the truth.

She (my therapist) first got me into a routine. Devotions and bible reading was part of it for me, because I had always been a spiritual person, and needed to reclaim that part of my life. And writing. I had written constantly since

And writing. I had written constantly since I was in college. But in the years before I started therapy, that side of me had whithered. And so had my emotional vocabulary. Part of my writing was journal writing. In my journal, every day, I was required to write the feelings I had experienced that day.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Not for me. At first, I had a hard time even recording one emotion I had felt that day. Once I got into it a while, I got so I could identify basic emotions. I was like a five-year-old. My emotions were simple ones. Happy. Sad. Angry. No nuance. No levels of emotion.

Every day I did this, writing in my journal. Listing the emotions of the day. “I felt X when X happened.” Simple right? Not for me.

But it did get better. Day after day.

I am not a naturally disciplined person, but the process brought a discipline to my life I did not know I was capable of. Day after day. Do the work. Write, even if I didn’t want to. Even if I didn’t feel like it. Chip away at the marble block I had become to protect myself.

From what?

Today I know. Back then I did not. It was to protect myself from the fear of being overwhelmed. I had let the logjam of emotion build and build and build until it was something massive and I was afraid that if I pried it loose, it would crash over me in an avalanche, and I would not survive.

Guess what? It did crash over me like an avalanche. Or rather, a series of avalanches. And it was horrible.

It was also healing. Obviously, despite my fear and doubts, I survived. And that survival was the beginning of healing. Because I learned I would survive. That I need not fear any longer. I was, it seemed (And I believe most of us are) far stronger than we believe. That the fear is always worse than the reality.

A decade and more later. I still follow the same routine. Day in. Day out. I write in my journal and list my emotions of the past day. I write poetry to break loose my emotions and help me sort through things in my head. Better, I have learned, to pry the first few logs loose before the logjam looms over everything.

Sometimes, like to day, there’s nothing there. Some days there seems to be too much, and I write poem after poem, just to get things out. I am no danger of atrophying any longer, but still, I am diligent. A new fear perhaps, a fear of what will happen if I let the logs pile up too long.  Perhaps I am afraid I will not survive another big logjam breaking loose. More likely I know I can survive it, but why would I set myself up for that again?

So I write. Sometimes well. Sometimes poorly. I write and I stay sane. Seems like a decent trade off to me. And in my world, pretty much everything is a trade-off.

But that is another story, for another time.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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