Letters

How do I reconnect to writing with a sense of freedom?

Asked by: Anonymous, Santa Cruz, USA

Answered by: Andrew Whiteman

Anonymous, Santa Cruz, USA

I’ve loved to write since I was a child, but since college I’ve felt like my relationship to writing has become corroded. If writing is a basket I carry throughout my days with the intention of nourishment, it often feels like I’ve filled this basket with fear, severity, perfectionism, censorship, and reprove. I recognize that much of this mentality has been created and exacerbated by institutional pressures to excel, and capitalistic constructs of self-worth defined by work. Despite trying to reframe my mindset through various approaches, I continue to struggle and sometimes question if creating with language is even healthy for me anymore. At the same time, I’m not ready to give up on a craft and practice that has provided me with so much joy and curiosity in my life. How do I reconnect with a sense of freedom in my relationship to writing?

Anonymous


AW:

Let your community, the poets, speak for you through you with you. I know where you are right now. It took finding a group of younger poets and writers whose enthusiasm and energy bowled me over to re-embody in myself the sense of purpose and life in language that only poetry gives. See if you can locate some events / jams / readings and just go. No expectation no judge no ranking no “capitalistic constructs” as you put it so aptly. When you find these Others, you will start writing again, and you will feel more free than ever. 

When I was a kid, I would sometimes buy vinyl LPs simply because of the album art – no clue what the music would sound like. I still like to do this with wine (!) and books. Here is a poem from a book I was drawn to, it is from “The Others”, by Matthew Rohrer. The book is a novel-in-verse, and a hilarious one at that. I feel perhaps you need to get truly immersed in a work of poetry to have it inundate you so that you remember how you felt back then:

The Others, pg. 12-16

And after unpacking 
I went to the closest café
for dinner and drinks

and thought – this will suit me
while a man played accordion
I had ever so much work

Ahead of me if I
were to attain glory
for my great work,

which work I never did, Reader,
which these confessions will explain,
I trust, as they go along

but unhurriedly for 
that was the life I was living
dressing in my best 

High-collars, fancy pants
and wandering the twisting streets
feeling the cold age

of the ancient buildings 
frowning on my American
inexperience

Thus one day still not quite
recovered from my sea voyage
I passed a chemist

whose disreputable
storefront was painted with mystic
symbols I had seen

in my uncle’s closet
he being an old Freemason
and a mysterious one

so I thought He’ll dose me
with some camphor that will stop
my lusting after 

Parisian women
and entered – a ceramic bell
tinkled when I did

The shopkeeper stared at me
from betwixt vials and tinctures
in a cluttered array,

dusty oilskin packets,
candle nubs, scrolls, old manuscripts, 
faded oil paintings, 

statues of obscure gods,
ancient very corroded knives
jars full of fluid

the air was close-musty
with the smell of old wet paper
and an acrid smell

This is a chemist’s?
I said with my nasal accent
In English he said 

“We have all sorts of things
of a palliative nature
from around the globe

You are American
We have drops to cure you of that”
Meaning what? I said

“Meaning your sense of self
Can be cracked open and returned
To its rightful state

with one of these” he said
holding up a strange root. . . 
I found his attention
uncomfortable I glanced around

He kept staring 
at me and humming quietly
the man was shaking

I thought to myself
Am I here seeking this man’s help?
And yet I stood still

-Matthew Rohrer

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