Administrivia: Eating the Elephant

[Administrivia posts exist to tell you what I think about what I write. Writing about writing, I guess. Not necessarily boring, but not necessarily essential reading, either — unless you care about things like how and why I run lastgreypoet.com, in which case you should click on the administrivia content label and make sure you’re all caught up.]

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If you aren’t familiar, the old saw goes: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

That isn’t a metaphor, and this isn’t a political post. (Not today, anyway. Later.)

This is a list, for me and you. A list of objectives and things that are on my mind as I emerge from a long funk and get back to work. A list of obstacles and my plans to overcome them.

1. It’s lastgreypoet, not lastgreypundit. While I certainly reserve the right to write in any fashion on any topic, I need to remember that my forte is less analysis/longform/serious and more musing/essayish/whimsical. The motto “wit, whimsy, and ruminations” will remain.

2. You’ve probably heard “the perfect is the enemy of the good” or maybe¬†“don’t make it perfect, make deadline.” It doesn’t have to be perfect. (Huh. I should have put this one at the top of the list, now I think of it. Look at me, not revising!) I have always struggled with this. I will continue to struggle with this. I will cringe when I realize how much better something might have been … but I will let that go and move on to the next set of words.

3. I struggle with depression/anxiety. Maybe I’ll talk about that some time. Just keep it in mind if I disappear unexpectedly for a time.

4. Quotations. I used to always use them atop my newspaper columns, even though an editor friend called ’em a crutch and distraction from my words. Eh. Blame Joel Rosenberg. I learned the technique reading his fantasy novels. Or blame Robert Aspirin, for the same reason, only he did it earlier. (He also had a habit of making quotations up for comedic effect. And he punned like a villain.) I’d gotten out of the habit when I started lastgreypoet.com, but I dusted off the technique the other day for “My Dog Died” because it felt right. Going forward, I’ll let those feelings be my guide.

5. On a similar note: Fuck form. It may not have shown, but I spent an awful lot of time worrying over uniformity of length/appearance/pattern/tone across pieces. Even when I “loosened up” it came in the form of structural patterning (Wordless Wednesday/Caturday/Sports Sunday). I’m done with all that. I’ll write each piece the way it needs to be written, then I’ll be off to the next one.

6. Which brings me to movement. Like a shark, not a clam. Actually, no. Squid. My totem. Swift movers, but also capable of lying around if needed. Adaptable. Comfortable in the depths. Ready to fuck you up with ink when the situation calls for it.

7. You don’t have to be a liberal to like it here, but I’m not going to go out of my way running after some false sense of balance to try to please everyone who comes in the door. Related to that, it’s not exactly coincidental that I went back to the keyboard in the wee hours of the morning America voted to go back to “being great again.” In absolute candor, just between us, if you’d asked me Monday how I’d have reacted to that election outcome, I’d have told you to expect to find me in my cave, with writing the last thing on my mind. Life’s funny, though. Turns out, my anxiety is kind of a pushover, so long as I’m pushing with adequate rage. As noted above, that doesn’t mean it’s all going to be political. If you need an example, look no further than my November 11 post, “Remember, Remember …” Those are words I’ve wanted, needed, to get on a page for a very long time. This was the year.

Remember, Remember …

Everyday is everything.

If today isn’t a holiday where you live, it might very well be in someone else’s part of the world. And even if it isn’t a proper, the-banks-are-closed, light-some-fireworks occasion, you can bet there are still a dozen smaller observances, in honor of cats, or tacos, or a type of cancer.

It’s always someone’s birthday, and someone always dies.

Here in the States, November 11 is Veterans Day. Since 1954, anyway. Prior to that, it was Armistice Day, which was kinda like Veterans Day but with a name like that, veterans of wars other than WWI felt left out. Prior to 1918 and the formal end of the War to End All Wars, November 11 was, I guess, just a nice early autumn day.

On November 11, 1991, this date ceased to be anything for me but heartache.

My mother’s mother’s brother — great-uncle to me — was a month past sixty when he died that day, at home, alone in the house he had lived in most of his life. He had been my babysitter, my daycare, and my after-school watcher, a grandfather in all but name to a boy who had none.

He was my moral pole star, though I don’t recall realizing that before he died.

Certainly I loved him. He was the relative I said I’d go live with when my parents or my little sister got on my last nerve and I threatened to run away. He was who I was excited to talk to about my day at school, or my newest action figure, or my plans for this year’s Halloween costume.

If I had wanted to grow up, he probably would have been who I wanted to grow up to be.

Everyone loves and everyone loses people they love, and any day can be a sad day when the pain wells up and the memories comfort you but also make you just a little angry because the world is cruel and the only fair thing about life is that it ends for everyone.

Any day can be a dark day, but I can’t avoid November 11.

I had stayed home sick that day in 1991, and I remember standing at the bathroom sink that evening, a wet washcloth growing cold in my hand, when my parents told me about the call from a concerned neighbor, and asked me to watch my little sister while they went to make sure everything was okay.

I knew then what they weren’t telling me, and the funeral followed three days later.

I can no longer distinctly remember 1992 or 1993. They blur together. I was home sick from school on one of them, and I walked through the day in a fog on the other, and on both I visited the cemetery in the evening and spent time at his grave.

By 1994, I was two hours away at college, the day fell on a Friday, and I drove home after my last class, in time to reach the cemetery by dusk because it mattered very much to me that I be there, that I see the cold gravel six feet over his bones, that I whisper a few words, as though the dead have ears.

I drove back that night, having not stopped to see my living family, or even tell them I had been there.

Through the rest of college, I responsibly kept to my school commitments and made no further pilgrimages, instead making it my habit that day to decline dinner or game night invitations, to be alone, to walk a wooded trail, to sit and listen at nature, to ponder the dead.

Over the years that followed, I sometimes walked alone in woods or through a cemetery near where I lived at the time, I visited his grave the brief years I lived back home, I never left my bed the years I got sick, and I loved my wife for leaving me to myself every November 11 of our marriage.

Once I assembled a desk, just to occupy my mind with a simple task.

Last year, I cooked a meal he used to make, following his techniques as best I remembered, down to cooking in cast iron and brewing teeth-achingly sweet tea to wash it down. I have since learned this is a custom on the Day of the Dead, and that unintended similarity is pleasing.

This year I write.

For the first time, I am able to put twenty-five years of mourning into perspective, by putting it into words, then putting those words into the world.

Every year is different, except every year I wonder whether this is the last time I will feel this.

A hundred people die every minute of every day. I can find no statistics on how many leave echoes, or how long those echoes persist, or whether it is my particular madness that every year I make myself listen for the echoes of November 11, 1991.

Quiet, now; I am concentrating.

I Have Forgotten How It Goes

It’s embarrassing how little I remember sometimes.

I have an English degree, and the head full of dusty literature that comes with it, but all too often I fail to recollect the lines I need to recall, when I need to recall them.

Others stick forever with me, even if the context of their origin is sometimes fuzzy.

“This is history, how it sounds. What do I love? Remind me.”

That’s a line from the poet Bin Ramke, best I remember it, from his work “When Culture Was Popular,” which is part of his anthology Massacre of the Innocents.

I met him, somewhere along 1997 or so, shortly after that was published. He spoke to an advanced creative writing class I was part of, only a dozen or so students, and we sat in a coffee shop and asked endless questions about his work, his process, hoping, each of us, to capture some bit of magic from this master in our midst, each still sheltering at least some fragment of a dream that we could be the sort of practitioner he had become — stable, employed, respected. Any two of those, maybe. Hell, one, so long as it was part of an existence as a writer.

I don’t have to tell you I’m one of the ones who didn’t make it. That sort of statement is redundant to tell someone who has made it here to this neglected little spot online.

These days the very best lines of poetry I make — any writing at all, really — stay in my head for the little bit of time they last before I dismiss them, usually before even approaching a writing implement.

Then days like this come along — 50 Dead in Orlando — and all I want is to be back in that coffee shop, dreaming those dreams, because at least then I still believed that words mattered, that something someone wrote might make a difference, than any little piece of peace in this world was achievable …

But that part of the dream is as lost as the rest of it, and I just sit here wondering what any of it matters, anywhere, anymore.

I am tired of the sound of history, and I do not remember what I love anymore … but I am trying, I am here today, trying, to remind myself.