disability & writing
To essay is to wander. if you know where you are wandering it is more an errand than an essay, yes?
Let’s say you are what you consume. I want to become more clear-headed, astute, insightful, observant, persuasive, better at listening. If I read what is sloppy or loopy, maybe I read too indiscriminately and I squander my time.
Maybe I get frustrated easily. Maybe poetry isn’t the tool for what I want to be fed.
Each media has its strengths. Hum. Haw. Hum. 10% of poetry, maybe 5% of it, knocks me back on my heels.
Maybe that is a good rate.
To honour the exploration, the edges, matters. What matters is everything not the notable and marketable golden hour that can have an elevator pitch towards one outcome. Poetry should explore, should sometimes fail, should leave gaps where new standards can emerge.
Poetry can create not only reflect. Poetry isn’t like hockey where you need equipment and support of an industry and stadium of audience. Poetry can be done collaboratively or as a whisper to and from self. Poetry isn’t mainstream capitalist. It’s jangled or can be. Not trying for offbeat or in hand.
Much has been said that the best artists are mad, suggesting madness is the path to art, while realistically madness is a time-suck that makes for periods of non-function. Somehow it is more romanticizing the Other, justifying not being the best by holding on to sanity and its outward gestures. Perhaps?
For myself when I feel high in creation I’ve learned that there’s the sensation of creation and then the merit of what’s created. The sensation of inspired is physical, chemical but its Venn diagram may not line up with good shit made. Sometimes it does but it’s more a parallel experience. The feeling of creating and the making a thing.
Sometimes what is my best writing comes in a spurt, sometimes is comes slowly, phrase by phrase over weeks. Rewritten like gum chewed at various 2 a.m. slots when the dog does a backwards sneeze or the cat decides to howl or my body decided that it is time to wake up for whatever mysterious reason. I can work on stories and poems in my head. It’s the process and it’s not the process.
Concussion disability meant I could not look at screens or concentrate for long for years. That changed how I process and write.
My window of focus was small but it did something to my attention span. I couldn’t whirl around constantly looking, even in my head. Slow-brain wanted to dwell and consequently ideas sunk deeper and ideas rolled back and forth more. is it only different than it was, as who I am and the shape of my life is different than it was. Life is flux.
Is my writing better for it?
Depends on what you like. It isn’t frenetic. It isn’t as abstract nor as oblique in leaps. Slower moving poetry is more accessible for me to read. Novels no longer go too slowly for me to follow.
My doctor, somewwere around 12 years ago, aptly described my head as being like fireworks going off all the time. It made long loops for me follow because between phrases I’d have a hundred thoughts. Meds started slowing me down before the concussion stepped in more heavy-handedly. I think differently. I have a better theory of mind because I can focus and consider for longer periods.
Previously, as in for decades there’d be a few nights a year that I would have no sleep in me and could be awake for 36 hours or so with no ill effect. I also could sleep for 18-20 hours and not move. I could high function and mask this largely. I could make continuity scripts to fit my non-neurotypical with typical moulds. This took a lot of energy, perhaps figured into my overwhelm into migraines.
How does that bit fit in? I’m not sure.
Each body lives differently. Each person knows different things. All the things one knows informs what and how you write. What is important, what is taken for granted without saying, what is said too much.
Sometimes an offhand remark sticks. Decades ago Christian Bök said (an upshot of) poetry should not be what you can do when you aren’t capable of anything else.
That is something like, if you can, you do, if you can’t, you teach. Basic disrespect for how hard teaching is.
He commented how in Iraq and India and maybe Italy (or Israel? I don’t recall but think it was some set of 3 countries) poets are respected and quoted in daily life. People there aspire to be poets who are peak intellect but here it’s low status, lower intelligence and rigour, and socially invisible in impact.
I don’t know how drifted my memory is or if he would stand by it or recall saying it.
But the impact is there. It’s true, poetry is not mainstream. A loss-leader in literature. My dad quoted Tennyson and such but his education in the 1930s was more classic than generations since.
It’s persistent, this idea that poets are the broken, the poor communicators, the ineffectively healed, the making-do rather than being doers and shakers, that seems intuitively true. That doesn’t mean you need to hold onto mental ill-health to produce poetry. You can be healthy and a creator. Just as my mom could be a high-volume reader and also pretty darn dyslexic. The combinations you are in are not necessarily ideal nor require each others. They just both happen to be the case.
You don’t have to be damaged to manage.
Is creation dependant on or intrically disability? A functional gap that needs to be leapt? Is healing the opposite of capacity? That’s different from imposter syndrome.
I feel I am an outsider, and have intrinsic wrongness. That comes from many directions. Probably Irish epigenetic depression. From being born queer in a religious conservative farming community. It may be from being foisted out of the family by my mom with her regularly saying I must have been switched at the hospital, that I’m not like anyone in the family, that I’m not really her child. It may not be far from being told chronically as a kid that I was wrong, weird, mistaken, stupid, ugly, not-trying, lazy, sloppy. I couldn’t stand, sit, eat, walk, gender, dress, write or do anything properly.
In the round constant corrections or criticisms I suppose makes me somewhat immune to people’s critiques. And encouraged me on my own path because if there was no way I’d be accepted I was free to do whatever the bloody hell I wanted.
I had anxiety disorder from age 10 or so. I was done with drinking and smoking by age 12, giving it up as childish things. I had PTSD and mild dyslexia compared with my family, and normed to a smouldering seemingly omnidirectional hatred where death was imminent between fundamentalist Armageddon and gun pulled and fists not pulled at family reunions. Escalation was instant from laid back to calmly dropped threats of someone being quiet now, or not living to tomorrow. Everyone I knew had been sexually abused over three generations by half a dozen people. This was my neighbourhood, and extended family. Perps were ubiquitous and I probably knew more people under house arrest or in prison than your average white Canadian teen.
But how is that related to disability? How is that mental illness? You know the cartoon of how can you fly like an eagle when surrounded by chickens?
20 years ago I realized I tolerated and developed relationships with people who were nasty and dysfunctional but part of my sense of self-esteem was being flexible, adaptable, able to compensate for others, to make others laugh and break tension, to clown, to be quick on my feet and quick-tongued. Add to that a messed up sense of Christian martyrdom where god tests those He loves and I had an inverse pride in being unsuccessfully provoked. Allowing people to spend my energies who made me engage those behaviours kept me in form but also needless drama and opportunity costs and a knapsack of insults. I learned about gaslighting and dignity and that I needed new strategies and to process shit.
So, I changed my life, dropped people, changed job, city, career, all of which were on the toxic scale by mature or by how I was engaging. I kept the keepers who were decent and kind and open. I thought and remembered intensively.
90% of my social contacts for twenty years have been writers. With the odd family member or neighbour for contrast. To paint with an overly wide brush there’s more depression and neurotic and non-functionalness of mental and physical illness than the general population. Self included. Being self-selected people like is drawn to like so may be a skewed sample. I forget most people aren’t readers, let alone writers, let alone poets, let alone English haiku poets in Quebec who dabble in fantasy novels. It’s bringing the matryoshka doll down to atomic size.
I want to shake the idea of Broken Writer and yet. Who wants to be plain and pedantic. Where’s the poetry in straightforward? Isn’t that more for verse? Or prose?
It’s hard to work out my obsessive relationship with poetry compared to say, obsessive preoccupation with Good Omens or disproportional distraction with all things quilting.
Does poetry necessitate disability as Montezuma’s revenge necessitates sudden fervent prayer? Poetry despite disability? People don’t speak of pulp fiction novelists needing disability to write novels. Why is that?
How much do I look forward to reading poetry and how often can I set it down compared to a novel. How much poetry is a thumbnail impression rather than a lush detailed movie. How much does poetry present vs. process or resolve or question.
Where disability is unresolvable, is a medium that resists resolution fit? Does it serve the writer or reader short term? Long term?
Am I channeling myopia? Or My Point...And I Do Have One by Ellen DeGeneres.
I don’t see why one should confine to one point, or one thesis and argument, support point 1, 2, 3, restate unchanged mind.
If you want to grow you read what is beyond you, yes? If there’s an overlap between where you started and where you ended that’s reinforcement not learning. Is it capitalism that makes me overvalue the new rather than what is?