It’s been quite a year. And sometimes I sit and wonder which direction to take next. I’ve been mulling over the idea of not writing poetry any more; of setting aside my cameras; of moving into some new territory where I might find acceptance and peace – from myself as well as from others.
Life has become a competition: Who can write the best poem and win the top prize? Who can create the most amazing photos with the most public applause or “likes” on Facebook? Who can garner the highest level of support for his or her position/views/candidacy/social status? And increasingly, I wonder why some of us even bother to enter that gushing stream. I wonder why I, in particular, bother. It’s rocky and the water can knock us over. In the end, what’s left but to fall and get thoroughly wet?
If I define myself by “success” – whether it’s placing in a poetry competition or getting a ribbon for a photography prize or being named to some committee or other – that seems like a narrow sort of frame. Maybe it’s time to walk outside the canvas and head into unknown lands. My view is shifting. Success doesn’t mean what it once did. Maybe I’m just too old to be taken in by veneer. I want the real wood underneath, even if it’s rough and grainy.
I have many sins to count and correct – or at least to cancel somehow. Regrets. Atonement. Stubbed toes and twisted ankles. I’m not the person I was in my younger years; none of us can remain as we were. For me, this is a good thing. We can never go back again; we can change not a single blip of time past. We can only live in the moment and hope it will matter to someone.
A poem – like a photograph – is an in-the-moment sort of creation, which is probably why I’ve enjoyed writing this form or wandering around with a camera in hand. But still, I sit back and reflect on whether or not my own moments are worth recording. It seems egocentric. Writers in general are an egocentric lot, I think. We have to be in order to push out and tame those ideas and memories, like having too many babies and not quite knowing how to afford them. There’s an uneasy line between too much of self and not enough of it; between embracing the reader and retreating behind a barbed fence. More than any other genre, poetry bares us to everyone else. We pull out our still-beating hearts and lay them bloody on the ground at our feet. We’re either mad or out-of-touch or stuffily outdated. We draw in the trampling crowds and we also drive them away.
I’m a solitary soul these days. This, too, might be part of aging. Gradually, the companions of my way have fallen behind or wandered off the road and gone somewhere else. I still hear footsteps around me; I still watch tiny figures in the distance. Whether or not I join them, or they wait for me to catch up, I can’t say. Robert Frost spoke of stopping by woods on a snowy evening – alone except for his little horse – and he seemed okay with that. Some people make camp in those woods, sit in circles around cheerful fires, talk into the late hours, with mugs of hot chocolate or beer. I’m the one stopping to gaze among the trees but going no further than that.
Meanwhile, it’s cold outside and my house hasn’t yet acquired its morning coziness. I’m sitting here in stocking feet without so much as a fire in the stove. This, friends, is what being alone can do to a person. We simply forget to worry about things, even basics like striking a match or putting on slippers. And then younger folks call us senile.
This ramble hasn’t taken me anywhere. My camera still sits at my elbow. The words still gestate in my head. A blue jay in the hedge reminds me of birds and baseball. Flight and defeat; hope and resignation. My empty coffee cup begs for attention. It’s unfilled – like me, I guess. I need to pour into it the steaming brew of bone-toasting joy. One gesture at a time, right? Then the fire, and the footwear. All is well with me; may it also be well with you.