Telling the truth is hard for me.
I don't lie very often, but I keep a lot to myself. You wouldn't know it to spend ten minutes with me, because I hardly shut up--yet my closest friends and a very few lovers have been able to hear what I leave out. (The best among them don't let me get away with it.) It's my birdsong and it sounds like a dog whistle and looks like an eyeroll.
The things I let slip out are meant to entertain and attract. I will say anything to keep you from leaving, if I like you. I want my words, my writing, my antics to please. To retain. Yet I hold back, even knowing that my readers and lovers and friends would prefer it if I didn't. I know this is true. But, you know, I know a lot of things that I am not able to use practically. For example, I recently learned that the Queen of Belgium has a hall of mirrors that is wallpapered with the bodies of over a million and a half Jewel Beetles. It glimmers a green and gold bubbled iridescence, and even the chandelier shape seems prosaic under the glow of all those little bodies. It screams out the labor that was required to create it--a staff of thirty, hunched over bugs and glue.
It is beautiful, but if my own tiny insect collection is any indication, it is also now teeming with dust mites. Even now, her guests, each time they walk through, are being peppered with microscopic scraps of leg as the mites chew the joints in each of the million point six carapaces.
Are you still here?
Today I got so frustrated that I lost my shit. And my optimism. A good friend pointed out for the millionth and a half time that I am too hard on myself. I have only managed to get one new piece of writing accepted for publication since I started my program. And. And. And. Goddamn it.
It feels like epic failure even though I can cite a number of reasons why it is not, if I was say, consoling a friend in the same situation. I don't often treat myself like a friend: I am not fair with myself. I exaggerate; I totally kitchen-sink all of my arguments with myself; I am exceedingly unkind in my judgements about myself. In this way I have a wound that never heals. That same good friend pointed out that it is this wound, and my attempt to close it--even as my broken arms clutch at the seam--that makes me a good writer. My critical eye sees a lot and its distortion, while not universal, sometimes rings a familiar note. I like that. I like it because I can reach others--not because the act of writing fixes any of my brokeness. If I could be put out of the mental turmoil in exchange for a dull life of cube walls and glue bottles, I would not do it.
When Camille Dungy spoke at the University she said she was a better person in her writing. She said she could edit out the pettiness and small-mindedness and be the better self she wanted to be through her poems. I try to be better every day but I often fail. I try to be true in my writing and I often fail at that, too. Too often, I write to please the reader instead of myself. I know too well that there's no pleasing me. I've heard it over and over and over, inside my head and out.
My taste is good, and my commitment, strong. I am stronger than I allow, and better. I know this, too. Just like I know that there is a species of woodpecker that carefully inlays acorns in the trunks of trees for winter storage, one by one in nut-shaped holes, so tightly that the acorns cannot be worried loose by the clawed fingers of squirrels. The holes are drilled first and then acorns found to just fit each one. Fewer than a million and a half to a tree, I'm sure, but no less lovely and more useful by far.
I don't know what I'm trying to say. But it does seem that I could learn something from the damn birds about what to spend my time on, and how that time will be repaid. If I were in the mood to learn anything, that is.