I’ve been talking lately about staying fresh through a long career, but what isn’t evident in what I say—I’m aware that I always sound so sure—is the uncertainty I sometimes feel myself about being able to continue to do just that.
A small voice has been riding in the back of my brain lately, an insistent, unpleasantly whining voice, saying something like, “Okay. So the novel you’re working on now is a challenge, but still, it’s more of the same. And you’ve written a verse novella, which was new for you and fun, but then you just went on to write another, which was a repeat of a form. You don’t really have anything new up your sleeve any longer, do you? Maybe you’ll never have anything new to bring to your work again.”
But then, right while I was busy ignoring that niggling voice, a new idea bowled me over. And I thought it might be useful, since the origins of this particular idea are all here right in front of me, to describe the process that brought something fresh into being.
The idea came from three different sources, and it was the confluence of those sources that added up to a small, but welcome bit of inspiration. Something entirely new for me.
First, a writer friend said to me, “Why don’t you write a memoir?” It’s a suggestion I’ve heard before, but I said, as I’ve said before, “I can’t. To write a memoir I would have to write about other people in my life, and I have made it a firm rule of my career never to do that.”
Second, I belong to a small group called Wellspring that meets bi-weekly at my church. For Winter Solstice we were all asked to bring in something—a picture, a poem, whatever we liked—that represented both light and darkness to us. I thought immediately of my son, Peter—he was always both—and chose a photo. But I wanted a poem to go with the photo and I could find nothing out there that spoke the truth of my relationship with my son. So I wrote one and took it to the celebration.
Third, I saw a poem from Joyce Sidman’s newest book, What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings, and found myself thinking, I’m not the poet Joyce is. In fact, I couldn’t touch most of her work, but I could write something like that. In fact, I did just that in the poem I wrote about Peter.
And that was my moment of inspiration. I could write a memoir if I did it in verse, dipping in and out of my life wherever a memory might call. Moreover, it’s a project I could work on in the cracks of time without leaving behind work meant for a reliable market, and therefore it wouldn’t matter whether it ever sold. And because I could pick and choose my moments and touch each one lightly, I could assemble such a memoir without exposing anyone’s vulnerability except my own.
And suddenly the idea for a new project lay spread out before me, full blown.
I’m thrilled. As I am with any newly conceived project. And I’m reassured that what I’ve been saying remains true, I can stay fresh by taking on new challenges!
What follows is a piece of this new idea, the poem about my son. I present it with gratitude that inspiration does, indeed, continue to visit from time to time.
The wait so long,
the dream so bright,
a child is placed in your arms.
You peer into his wizened
old man’s face
“Who are you?
Who are you?
Who will you be?”
But because you are his mother,
you already know the answer.
He will be magnificent.
This child has been sent—
you know it—
to save the world.
you take him into your arms
you ask again,
“Who are you?”
And little by little he answers.
“I am not you,” he says.
“I am not anyone you called for.
I have come into the world
to show you
just how imperfect
it is possible
for your love to be.”
And you are still here.