Friday, January 10, 2020

Vulnerability

I've had a "book deal" for ten days now and I haven't quite managed to celebrate that because instead of feeling happy, I feel gripped with anxiety. I mean, I did feel happy, I think, though perhaps shocked is a better word for it. I got the email while we were in downtown Atlanta at the playground outside of the MLK museum and I just walked over to Andrew with my phone to show him what the email said. So he hugged me and congratulated me, while I just felt dazed.

Poetry is weird.


That's what I told Miriam the other day. She's been writing poems—wonderful poems (and wonderfully weird poems)—while she's been reading her scriptures and she shared them with me and they were really quite good. "They're kind of weird," she said.

"I think poetry is weird, so that's okay. Just write them if you feel like writing them."

So because I think poetry is so weird, it's weird to me to be publishing a book of poetry, poems that I've felt have needed an outlet to the world, though I don't know why they wanted to be there and I didn't know how to get them there. But now we're doing this and I'm terrified.

What if they really aren't great? What if it was just a pity publication? Do pity publications exist? I don't know how to make a book. How do you make a book? That's strange because I'm rather familiar with the book-making process. I'm an editor. My husband is a type-setter. We know the process. But how do you make a book of poetry? How do I decide how to order these poems? What themes have I unwittingly stumbled upon? Did I even manage to cobble together any sort of theme? Do I deserve this? I've told myself no so often. Is it okay that someone told me yes? Shouldn't I have been rejected a few times first? Is this what imposter syndrome feels like?

When Andrew and I first got married we adapted and adopted the slogan, "If it feels good (and you don't lose the spirit), do it!" And then we proceeded to do all sorts of wild things, like apply to graduate school on a whim (because that's a wild thing to do, right?) and get accepted and move our young family to the Middle East. And we just kept going, we just kept doing things because things felt good.

Now, I don't know that this is Benjamin's fault (it is, in fact, 100% not his fault), but his birth changed me and I started to get to know a little something I like to call Mr. Anxiety (I do not, in fact, ever call it Mr. Anxiety...until this very moment). I've always been a bit of a stress case, but his birth changed me. Things—like, every thing—no longer felt good, so our little slogan that had previously guided us through hard and easy times was, essentially, useless (for me anyway). I was just crushed with crippling anxiety no matter what I was trying to do.

If I thought about leaving the house or talking to someone new at church or going on vacation at the beach, my brain would pump me up with enough cortisol to kill a horse...or something like that. (I'm not an expert on how these things work.)

The thing is, none of those things are bad. They're all fine. And yet there I'd be, my brain armed with a thousand reasons why we should just stay home and never speak to anyone.

And don't even get me started on driving (driving is fine (she lied through her teeth)).

Anyway, I can't say, "If it feels good, do it!" with honesty anymore because I no longer believe that only good things feel good and only bad things feel bad. Because I know that sometimes good things feel awful. And, frankly, I'm surprised that I even went along with such a slogan in the first place (it must have been Andrew's idea and I must have really been in the honeymoon stage when I agreed to it) because I think I've always known that good things can feel awful and scary.

For example, I cried and cried and cried just before Andrew and I got married. We were together, waiting to be brought into the sealing room, and I just lost it. I knew that I was doing a good thing, I knew that he was a good man, and I knew that marrying him was a fine choice to make—but I was so young and I was leaving home for good and everything was just so official and terrifying and permanent. He thought for sure I was going to bolt (yet here we are).

Childbirth is awfully intimidating (and painful and stressful), but it's a good thing.

I could go on and list everything that has ever made me feel nervous (the list is long) and how those things were still good things to follow through on.

Anyway, our newer family motto is D&C 123:17 "Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power."

This allows one to embrace both things that feel good and things that feel...not so good. If you have the power to do something (good), do it (and do it cheerfully, even if/when riddled with anxiety)!

I submitted two manuscripts to publishers last month and both times I wanted to cry (and/or throw up) after sending them off—my creative efforts, my babies!—to be critiqued. It was hard to send them off into the world, to see if they could fend for themselves. But it was good. Or at least not bad.

I think? I don't know.

I really can't rely on my "gut" to tell me these things, like...ever...because my gut always says, "No way, man!" Instead I have to rely on my heart and my mind (and, often, Andrew, who gets to be my sounding board (but who always tells me my ideas are good, so...is that really a sounding board?)).

I'm pretty okay (now) with the idea that you can have peace and anxiety at the same time. Just because I feel anxious doesn't mean something is wrong or that I don't have the spirit with me. It's just...kind of how things are for me. Sometimes promptings from the holy ghost are the things that cause me quite a lot of anxiety (see exhibit A: my wedding day, or exhibit B: walking across a field to give a homeless man part of our picnic—is he even homeless? What if he's not and it's all awkward and embarrassing? What if he's mean to me? What if...). Granted, all the anxiety is coming from some place within me, not really from the holy spirit, but, I mean...you catch my drift.

All that is to say that I'm so nervous about this project and have spent the past ten days wondering if I should have even begun it in the first place. But I'm kind of committed, so we're doing this. Even though poetry is weird.

And these poems (largely) don't even rhyme (because we all know that when I start rhyming things I can't remain serious and start getting really snarky, right?)! Instead they're (dare I say) kind of Rupi Kaur-style poems, which some people denigrate, but which seems to be an "accessible" form of poetry that people are enjoying.

But they're weird. Or perhaps...not weird.

I think that when Miriam used the word "weird" she really meant vulnerable.

Poetry feels vulnerable. You can't beef it up, like you can with prose. Your words are just sit there, raw and exposed. And it feels vulnerable, which feels weird because we don't like to feel vulnerable.

I tried organizing my poems tonight but obviously I've given up to distraction, which is alright because I just (finally) finished reading Gretchen McCulloch's Because Internet and she talks a lot about giving in to distraction during her writing, so I'm very much not alone.


Even though I'm sitting here, alone (well, Alexander is here with me, technically, but he's asleep on my bed and I also have that basket of laundry begging to be folded (shhhhh, laundry, you're fine)) trying to sort through dozens of poems.

This will be fine. Weird. But fine.

7 comments:

  1. Um congratulations!!!!! There is no such thing as pity publications! This is amazing!

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  2. I second what Crys said--no pity publications. If they don't want to publish it, they just say no thanks. If they say yes, it is because they think it is worth publishing. You are amazing. And you made me cry. Or, the things you said affected me in such a way that I am crying a little bit, to put it more truthfully.

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  3. Exciting! How many poems are you supposed to submit, or does it matter?

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  4. What an honor! Congratulations!

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  5. Wow! Congratulations! And thank you for introducing me to Rupi Kaur, her poems are beautiful. I can't wait to read yours.

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  6. Thank you, everybody! You have a lot of faith in something you've never read! But, seriously, thank you! :D

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