Monday, May 20, 2013

Work on Work Recap, Writing on Writing Update, and I Am Not the Jerk Whisperer

Work on Work Recap

I wanted to do a recap of last Friday’s Working Poet: Work on Work reading sooner, but I had to nip off to Yakima right after for a volunteer management conference, and have only just been back long enough to catch my breath.

Anyway, it was a fantastic evening. There were eight readers in total, and I was amazed at the variety of work experience among them and the rich poetry that was created from their experiences. The world of work is something that I'm endlessly fascinated by, so to be in a room with two of my favorite things—poetry and work-talk--was a joy. David D. Horowitz was a gracious and enthusiastic host as always, and created some great work-related trivia questions for the event. (His trivia questions are always a blast, although they inevitably leave me with the nagging feeling that I need to take a History 101 class.) One thing he said really struck me—that as poets, what we do for work is not separate from us; it seeps in, it becomes a part of us and begins to inform our writing.

As I write this, I’m recalling a period in the mid-nineties at the height of the New Age movement when it was trendy to go around claiming that you were a human being and not a human doing, and take umbrage when people asked you what did for work. Which was disappointing to me for two reasons—one, I’m genuinely curious to know what people do for a living and how it affects them, and two, I was a massage therapist at the time and knowing what people did for eight hours a day helped me to understand their physicality better and therefore give them a more effective treatment. And also, I hate divisive phrases like that. Yes, we are human beings, but a significant part of our humanity and our creativity is expressed through productive labor. The thought of just sitting around being seems so fist-gnawingly dull it makes my head hurt. (I guess I can cross "Buddhist monk" off my list of potential second careers.)

Writing on Writing Update

Occasionally when I am flummoxed, I go and see my writing coach. I saw her recently to talk through my fear that I have lost my ability to write poetry, because I haven't had an ounce of it in me since I finished my last chapbook, but instead have been passionately excited about exploring the short story form. In actuality, I really just went to ask for permission to write short stories instead of poetry. Mind you, I was going to do it anyway, but in the interest of tidiness, I needed some vague authority figure to say, yes it's okay to expand, to follow your instincts. Go, do it. The muses bless you. Only after someone said “okay” could I then relax and plunge completely into the short fiction format. For the first time in many months, I am actually excited about sitting down to write creatively. I’m working on a new story about a goth artisan cheese-maker gone bad, and I could not be having more fun. I don’t know What This All Means For Me as Poet, but I’ve come to realize that the form I write in is really just a vessel to hold whatever creative impulse I have at the moment, and whichever form that happens to be is, in the end, just a detail.

When I was reading some short fiction writing advice online recently, I came across an interesting thought that I’m unable to link back to now because I can’t seem to find it again. The gist of it was that writers are not actually smart people, in fact, we are fundamentally sort of dumb, because in order to be a good writer, you need the ability to be astounded by things, to never get it the first time, to stare, to be gobsmacked, to have to go back and look at a thing over and over again. That’s when it hit me—I must really be a writer. I go through life constantly feeling like I have been struck on the head by a blunt object, and gawking at things that I should be used to by now.

I am Not the Jerk Whisperer

Today I interacted with a true, bona fide jerk. The kind of jerk who makes an amusing story to tell your husband over broccoli stir-fry at dinner. The kind of jerk who seems to have no idea that others can read facial expressions and therefore do realize when their eyes are rolling and they are huffing in an angry response to your refusal to accommodate their request. See, those actions are the outward symptoms of “annoyance”, and in polite society, we make an effort to hide our annoyance during routine interactions with strangers in the interest of maintaining that linchpin of good manners, the Polite Fiction. But not jerks. Jerks just let it all hang out. Jerks don’t care about your feelings. Jerks don’t care about anything but getting their needs met, as quickly as possible, and through whatever means of bullying, manipulation, and tantrum-throwing that happens to be at their disposal. Jerks speak with open, contemptuous sarcasm and stomp off in a snit when you don’t give in to them.

There was time when I would have tried to soothe the jerk, to explain, to offer a little hint of hope, even to sympathize about what an inflexible and unaccommodating bitch I am. But not anymore. I am not the Jerk Whisperer. I am not responsible for anyone else’s lack of ability to handle the word “no”. One of the drawbacks to adulthood is the expectation of keeping our ids in check, especially in the face of disappointment. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve noticed that fewer and fewer adults seem capable of this lately. I’m not one to go around willy-nilly calling the breakdown of civilization; all I’m saying is that it starts with jerks, and there seems to be a lot more them now than there used to be.

--Kristen McHenry 

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