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Stop the Block by Writing About the Block: A Resolution

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As the song says, it’s been a long time since I rock and rolled. Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of literal rocking and rolling on the drums. I’m speaking figuratively about the kind of rock and roll that typically manifests itself in poetry, fiction, and right here on the blog site. Inexplicably (or not), I have hardly written a word since September. I don’t like it. After awhile, it gets under the skin and begins to itch. Left untreated it can fester and come out sideways. So without an idea in my head, I start writing today just so I can say that I wrote something. Here I am writing words, stringing them together to form sentences, stringing sentences together to form paragraphs, the first of which ends right here, on December 25, Christmas Day, 2019.

The only way to stop the block is to write your way through it. I get that. I believe it. I tell my students this. So allow me to write my way through the block. What the block represents, I hope, is simply a lull, a fallow period before an enormously stupendous harvest. What the block represents, I fear, is a faltering of creative powers, a diminishing of skill, a kind of inspiration death. The latter possibility is too terrible to consider and I find myself fighting a mighty battle against it. After all, I’ve had dry spells in creativity before and I’ve always come out the other end and continued to create.

Perhaps, as I believe that creativity feeds more creativity, I have found myself over the last several months wanting in several of the activities or conditions that inspire productive periods for me, and engaging in too many activities that don’t.

Things I know feed my creative spirit that I have not been doing:

  • Writing regularly and consistently, anything, poetry, fiction, blog entry.
  • Reading: Freely reading, NOT the kind of reading I do in preparation for teaching.
  • Making original music, writing songs: Playing drums in a cover band, while fun, exhilarating, and somewhat lucrative, somehow does not do the entire trick.
  • Being in community with other creatives: Socially or artistically–facebook don’t cut the mustard, and convening with a writing community once a year ain’t enough.
  • Meditating.
  • April: All of the other months of the year that aren’t April, they’re just not April. I need to do more April.

Things I’ve been doing that don’t help.

  • The opposite of all of the above descriptors.
  • Facebook.
  • Generally speaking, the internet.
  • Feeling abjectly depressed about the gov’ment, fearful of another four years of said gov’ment, and unable to resist the “what horrible shit went down today on the clown car” impulse.
  • Allowing anxiety about certain monumental and impending life choices to paralyze me into making no choices about anything whatsoever, related or not.

‘Tis the season to make the resolutions, yes? Do more of the stuff that feeds the creativity and less of the stuff that doesn’t. Can we get specific? Can we find some small achievable goals that will build on each other over time so that 2020 becomes a year of productivity and creative health? Okay, then, let’s try a thing. Let’s make a damn list. Here’s a list of achievable stuff that, if I accomplish, would make me feel pretty great about the new year:

  1. Write a thing, at least one thing, once a week. It doesn’t have to be a finished thing.
  2. Read for pleasure, at least one book a month.
  3. Write an album’s worth of songs. For almost a decade I wrote six songs every month. This should not be a problem.
  4. Make arrangements to speak to people who will help me–therapist, financial advisor, friends, my courage community–toward optimum discernment regarding these monumental and impending life choices.
  5. Meditate more often–and generally speaking, take better care of my physical, emotional, and spiritual self. Regular exercise, anyone?

That’s a good list. It seems within reach, reasonable. It’s a positive list. I noticed that I didn’t list things that began with the words “stop,” “don’t,” or “resist.” It’s all “do more of” rather than moralizing about what I should do less of. I’m going to make a copy of this thing and post it somewhere where I can see it every day. Maybe I’ll make myself a chart. Get all Benjamin Frankliny up in here. I’m pretty pleased with myself. I’ve written my way through the block and have decided upon some resolutions. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, and to me. Let’s do this.

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Mindfulness in 2018: A Reflection

My meditation stats were stunning in 2018, comparatively, that is. Here’s the snapshot: one hundred and seventy-one consecutive days on the cushion as compared to one hundred and twenty four days the previous year. That’s an improvement of almost an entire two month’s worth of meditation on a cushion. However, I must confess that my daily practice has severely fallen off since the day I reached the 171 day record, way back in June–for reasons I might be able to get into here. Welcome to my fourth annual year-end reflection, wherein I try publicly to figure some stuff out about the previous 12 months and set some new goals for the new year.

I’d like to say 2018 ended well, but truth be told, the end of the year finds me in the midst of several upsetting little quandaries. Let me list them.

  • My meditation practice has fallen off considerably.
  • My writing practice has fallen off considerably. I have not been writing nearly as regularly as I would like–and that’s a common writer complaint–we’re never as productive as we’d like to be. But sometimes it’s a real anxiety machine–not being able to give yourself a little slack, worrying that the last thing you finished might be the last good idea you will ever have. The stuff of nightmares. Similarly, the last time I wrote a song was a year ago. Also not good.
  • The current state of American politics infuriates and depresses me, literally.
  • I’ve got a cold, damn it, one that’s been tenaciously holding on for dear life for the better part of two weeks now. Merry Christmas to me.
  • Apparently, I have a torn meniscus.
  • Over the last couple of years, I’ve been struggling with what appears to be my first serious health challenge of my “middle” age: I have hypertension, high blood pressure. Most of the time I feel pretty great, but blood pressure issues are sneaky and scary, my numbers waffle wildly, sometimes venturing into some horrifying territory, and since a colleague of mine recently had a triple by-pass surgery after a heart attack, I have been of late filled with dread and trepidation about my imminent demise. Truly, I do not think my demise is imminent. I am prone to hyperbole on this first day of 2019. But, I’d be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t a little worried. So my doctor keeps prescribing increasing doses of a blood pressure med called Lisinopril. We haven’t arrived yet at a dosage that works for me, and he just prescribed the largest possible dose of this stuff. Okay. I am supposed to check back with him in a month. My condition may require a cocktail of pills. Yippee. Better than the alternative, I must admit.
  • I have felt over the last year somewhat disconnected from my family. My wife, son, and I seem to be ships passing. Very busy, all of us, doing our own thing.
  • Motivationally, regarding almost anything, I have felt rather sluggish of late. I have spent too much time over the last year when I could be reading, writing, making music, or exercising, falling into the internet rabbit hole, habitually checking the national bad news, reflexively perusing the social media, and drinking too much. I have concluded that I think I drink too much. I’m noticing my choice of words there. None of this seems very mindful.

And it all seems like bad news.

We make our own realities, the wise ones tell us. Our behaviors have consequences, and sometimes our realities are shaped by the way we choose to look at them. So perhaps it might be helpful to simply try on another lens, to look at the above “issues” in a more positive light, or to think about the positive things that moved through 2018 instead of just the shitty ones. Okay. Let us try this experiment, addressing a different perspective on the above yuck in the same order.

  • I think I am learning to let go of the idea that meditation is something that one must keep track of faithfully like an athlete keeps track of their accomplishments and stats. I have meditated and will continue to meditate when I feel like it, when I am able, when the spirit moves me, when my meditation group meets every other Sunday, even, perhaps, when I am driving (remembering, of course, to keep my eyes open). There are opportunities to meditate outside the confines of the cushion, and I don’t need my Insight Timer app to be with me on a walk, or in silent moments in the classroom, or when I’m cuddling with my dogs. Is it important that I even know how many consecutive days I’ve meditated? Or how many total hours? Probably not.
  • I have written less this year, yes, but I have come super close to finishing two manuscripts. I revised the novella I’ve been working on for several years now, and I have a book of poems essentially ready to go. And yes, I haven’t written a song in a year, but I played the drums more this year than I have in the previous eight combined. I have found myself a gig in an 80s cover band that has kept me very busy and refreshed my drum set chops in a big way–AND–I’ve made new friends in the process.
  • The infuriating state of affairs in American politics was seriously shaken up in the midterm elections, especially in the House of Representatives, where democrats now have the majority, and the make-up of these elected officials actually comes somewhat close to representing the people it serves by gender, ethnicity, faith, orientation. There is hope. We are self correcting. More of that, please.
  • The cold is on the mend.
  • I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for the knee, and she is kind and lovely and an appointment with her comes with an hour of massage therapy.
  • The blood pressure, after a hair-raisingly high rating Sunday night, seems to be coming down. What was it that Twain said so famously: reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated? I have only died a little bit–rather, I have reached a sobering conclusion that as I get older I cannot ignore my body and its inner workings. My blood is telling me something and I need to shut up and listen. I’m all ears.
  • The fact of the matter is that my wife René has been working very hard and very successfully at building her own business; she is doing, most importantly, what she WANTS to be doing–and she’s making a living. This requires from both of us a bit of negotiating–a difficult balancing act–but one that we have been for the most part successful at for 33 years. We are not deterred by these challenges and have begun to acknowledge to each other that certain aspects of our lives together may require some care in 2019. My son, on the other hand, is 13. That explains most of it right there. I’m coming to that sad state in the parenting life when we begin to realize that our babies no longer need us. I mean, they do, of course, but they are eking out their independences from us, no longer see us as the center of their universes, and consequentially, are often making us feel rather superfluous. I can make this a celebration of his growth rather than a personal loss. He is significantly less needy, that’s for sure. Bonus.
  • Last night, I had my first dry New Year’s Eve celebration in memory. No alcohol. I was in a venue to play music for the big celebration and I was surrounded by alcohol. Not a single drink did I take. I am now four days clean and sober. I say that only somewhat jokingly. It has been two years since I last went a significant stretch without alcohol. Last month, once, I think I may have gone 6 or 7 days, but seriously, my modus operandi has been to drink nearly every single day. I conjecture that if there is one thing that’s messing with my motivation to do the things I really want to do (write, read, make original music, be more connected to family, feel generally more energetic and alive in my work), it is likely alcohol. That, and the stupid internet. And maybe the combination of the two. I know, I feel it in my bones, that I read and write less because of the million and one distractions on the web. And I know, not in my bones but in my brain, that it is next to impossible to pick up a good book when I’m tipsy. But I can be tipsy and easily drop in and out of these tiny little reading experiences on the web, where it feels like I might be learning something, but in reality I am like a pebble skipping across the surface of the river only to land on the other side in the dead and dry sand. It’s just not nourishing and it’s not deep. There’s writing to be done, books to read, love to make, a retreat to plan, music to hear and play–all of these things need to come closer to the forefront of my life in 2019.

Well, that’s my reflection, my act of mindfulness about 2018. The second half up there seems to be serving as a very wordy and elaborate kind of New Year’s Resolution. I could probably narrow it down, tighten it up, create some pithy and memorable slogan, something suitable for faceplant or tweeter. Something like this:

2019: More life, more love, better health, more books, less booze.

I can live with that for now.

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100 Poems by April

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The title of this little blog post, I realize, is deceptive.  Please know that you will not find included herein 100 poems by a person named April.  Rather, it is my hope and goal (hence, this public announcement) to write my 100th blog poem by April 1. My rationale is, initially, silly. In April of 2013 I participated in the National Poetry Writing Month by writing a poem a day every day in the month of April. For some reason, I think, maybe to distinguish the poetry from other things decidedly NOT poetry, I decided to number these poems. 1 through 30. But then I kept writing poems. And I kept numbering them. I just posted #73. And my secret (now public) fear is that if I participate again in NaPoWriMo (which is my plan) I will find myself in the unenviable position of writing poem number 93 on the 17th day of April. That’s just not good. So the silly reason for writing 100 poems by April 1 is so that on April 1 I can post poem #101 and on the 3oth of April I can post poem #130.

The second reason for writing 100 poems by April 1 is simply to have written 100 poems in a year’s time.  I’ve said this before.  I don’t know if they’re good poems.  Because mostly they’re written quickly, they may read kind of like Anne Lamott’s concept of the shitty rough draft. And because they’re public, they may not “delve” in the way some of the best poetry delves.  In other words, there may be subjects I’ve avoided, or incidents of self-censorship I’ve allowed. There may be artful risks I’ve side-stepped.  All of this may be true, but it’s still a pretty cool thing to say you’ve written 100 poems in a year, and if I’m able to do this, I’ll be able to say it.  I’ll say, hey, I’ve written 100 poems in a year.  Cool.

So, if I just posted #73, I will need to write 27 new poems in February and March. Over two months, it’s about half of what I will do in April. It will be good exercise, I think.  And maybe you can help.  Do you have any suggestions?  Are there kinds of poems or subjects that would amuse you in a Michael Jarmer composition? Let me know. Seriously. Really.  Please.  I have my work cut out for me anyway, but without your help, I may have even more work cut out for me.

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