This Choice is Who You Are has been my mantra these past years: a mantra for becoming the person I want to be. I believe that choosing to live with the attention that poetry demands is a good start.
In the podcasts, I look to other artists to learn from their experiences.
I ask poets how their work with poetry influences the choices they make in their daily lives, and how these, in turn, affect their sense of self and their relationships.
How are they using the experience of art to shape The Good Life for themselves?
Jed Myers lives in Seattle, where he is a psychiatrist with a therapy practice and teaches at the University of Washington.
His poetry collections include Watching the Perseids(Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award), the chapbook The Nameless(Finishing Line Press), and the limited-edition handmade chapbook Between Dream and Flesh (forthcoming, Egress Studio Press). Among honors received are Southern Indiana Review’s Editors’ Award, the Literal Latte Poetry Award, New Southerner’s James Baker Hall Memorial Prize, Blue Lyra Review’s Longish Poem Award, and, in the UK, the McLellan Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Nimrod, The Greensboro Review, Crab Orchard Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Crab Creek Review, The National Poetry Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association, Rise Up Review, DIAGRAM, Canary, Solstice, Magma, the anthology Two Countries: US Daughters & Sons of Immigrant Parents (Red Hen Press), and elsewhere. Jed has for many years played a part in the open-mic community in Seattle, now helping to maintain the consortium Seattle Easy Speak. He is Poetry Editor for the journal Bracken.
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This morning nearly felt like summer. I had ran the 6K in a long-sleeve wool undershirt and thin jacket. I actually felt overdressed by the half-way mark. Oh, but how I long to sit in the sunshine! To listen to the waves, and read a good book. I have been very good this year about taking the cod liver oil every morning, so I know it is a psychological need, not a physical one: sunshine. Seeing your photos makes me happy, and only a tiny bit envious. I would hop on a plane to visit, if I didn’t need to get out of debt first. I am trying to simplify my life.
I did that once – drastically – not that long ago really. Simplified my life. My whole life in a hatbox, a terabyte, and a 55 meter square apartment – as you well know. Then, as things do, things became complex again quickly. For all the wonderful experiences I gained through it, last fall my life seemed to sprawl again. Uncomfortably. I am still getting my feet back under me.
Do phoenixes improve themselves slightly with each incarnation? Rise from the ashes just a tiny bit more beautiful than before? I’d like to think so. Some days I think I’m doing so.
It is a pattern now: I look in the mirror and see something new I dislike about myself, have some new understanding of a thing that makes me less than what I aspire to, that is hard to face. Like finding out you’ve had spinach on your teeth all these years, and no one told you directly. Suddenly all the times people averted their eyes makes sense. Only it is much more serious than a bit of spinach, and discovering the ugliness makes me burst into flames again and again. Fall into ash. And then try to build myself up again with the knowledge of having borne the ugliness under my skin, and trying so hard – not just to leave it behind – but also leave with it the shame: “Oh my god, I was a person who…”
I find it is less painful to stay in the present.
The doctor, the acupuncturist, the physiotherapist all say to stop driving myself so hard. But how else can I live with myself? It’s not like the movies, where the love of a good man (or a puppy) solves everything. Do you have mornings where you look in the mirror and say, “Right now, I like myself. In this moment, I know I am something good in the world.”?
You know what it is like when you have finished cleaning the apartment. Everything in its place. Beautiful, balanced and functional. That moment, when you can sigh and appreciate the beauty? I want that when I look at my life. Just for a moment. Do we get that, ever? Do people have those moments? Do you?
There have been two or three moments that I remember savouring that kind of contentment. I don’t mean while sipping wine in the south of France on vacation, but driving to pick up the kids from day-care. But I put it down to a chemical-tipping toward hypomania. And it was always followed by a sense of restlessness.
I know this is cryptic, and I apologize for that. If I had the patience, I would take up quilting as a meditative, metaphoric process to try and relax. I love the idea of textile arts as much as I love the idea of gardening. Somewhat solipsistic writing will have to do, I’m afraid.
I will burst now into flames again.
But, honestly, I do wonder if I’m alone in this. If you recognize this, too?
I’m wearing this silly fitbit that tells me my heartrate soars when I sleep. The doctor says it is probably PTSD, since my heart is healthy. I am unguarded when I sleep. I guess that makes sense. Lately my teeth have been falling out when I sleep. And strange men have been following me into claustrophobic rooms. I’ve been searching for poems about birds to read before bed, hoping that I can conjuring flying dreams instead.
At any rate, my point was to say that I’ve discovered that my heartrate is lowest when I’m reading. Even lower than when I sit zazen. So I’m prescribing myself reading this summer. With or without sunshine.
Caveat? No self-help books.
How long is your summer vacation? I can see you are in full swing with the photography again. That is inspiring. How is the book coming along? Are you peaceful down there? Finding peace of mind in your home?
I miss you.
This is one of a series of weekly open letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through. Category: Correspondence.
If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here