Getting Back In

As difficult as it is now to imagine, as I child I was beyond timid. While in my imagination I could make things that were beautiful to my child-eyes, swim all day without tiring, ride a pony into the sunset, speak my mind without shaking, in actuality I was frequently frustrated by art that didn’t match the intricate mandalas I could see in my head before I knew what a mandala was, a pony so stubborn she wouldn’t take a step without cajoling, a body so terrified of deep water that I’d rather tremble at the edge of the pool than jump in (and the ocean?–for toes only), a voice that shook and hands that sweated so badly I’d have to wipe them multiple times during any test. Now, I’m deeply grateful and certainly not complaining about what was, all told, an idyllic beginning on this planet. But the felt gap between the desire to get “out there” artistically, physically, intellectually and my perception of my ability to embody this free, artistic person I longed to be was, at times and for decades, crippling. It’s been, shall we say, a theme for me.

I blame only myself for this. It’s like knowing you’re so far from your longing that you see only a corner of it through a telescope whose eyepiece has been blacked out. You think the lens is very, very small until you realize that if you clean the eyepiece, you can see; the irony is that you were just so darn close to the eyepiece that you couldn’t see it, really, at all, much less fix it–and where you can see, one day you can go. But until the voice telling me to go for it was my own, until I could feel in my body that failure is more a possibility I can learn from than a death trap–only then could I get out of my little self in little ways and keep pushing outward from a center that knows that the extent of what is possible only grows.

Now, in a season of change when rock-solid friends are dying young and my list of must-dos seems to lengthen with every breath, I realize I’m again at the edge of the water, frustrated that my Crayola art looks little like the Sistine Chapel, that Taffy the dark, dappled Welsh pony with the gorgeous flaxen mane is snorting, stock-still. She used to keep that up for so long (it seemed like fifteen minutes but was probably more like three) that I would give up, dismount, and walk her back to the shed. My friends that said you have to get back on after any buck or disappointment didn’t understand that my ride just wouldn’t move. Welshb_shangri-la

(Wikipedia, “Welsh Pony and Cob”)

So here I am again, not that different, I suppose, from anyone else, wondering what’s next and how to reach it. The difference for me from my younger self is the richness I’ve found inside myself. (You can be brought up in the church and still take a rather long time to reach this point, I’ve learned.) The Source of all goodness is source for everyone (I’m not talking about creeds here)–I feel this in my core. It is that love I seek to embody, that that gets me out of bed. Breathing it in, filling with it feeds, resurrects. The mindfulness we now agree is transformative (in homes, in schools, in artists) is a moment-to-moment invitation. I find myself wondering, instead of whether I will evolve as an artist, how, which of several projects to prioritize artistically.

What does it mean to be in the present and still be a thinking person? (I won’t even touch Alfred North Whitehead’s paradox–or more recently, Deepak Chopra’s–that none of us is the same person in any sense that we were at some undefinable point in the past; most of our bodies’ thirty-seven trillion cells would be unfamiliar to the children we were, and yet we feel some I-ness that grows far more slowly.) Then the present, I suppose, is not limited by space and time and current perceived actuality; reality is comprised of a richer, sourced, psychological and spiritual landscape enriched by the thoughts of all those I can access in the Information Age, in my memory, in the stream-of-consciousness within my head, in the wild imaginings of the heart. The earth is present and so is the beyond when heart and mind synchronize, when we breathe/imagine/write from a single light-filled breath that widens and widens, selects, illumines, includes until limitations fall away and worlds like sci fi, telephathy, poetry, the unwritten history of a people, the unscored music of the spheres take on a body, a shape, a color, a stream in the senses that renders them as real as if they were being seen, published, written, sung, recited, read, experienced in the present moment. This is a space no longer limited by dogma, acculturation, doubt, or fear. We are liberated in the act of creating.

Yet there is always more work to do, a process with one’s own mind, with the heart, with the mind several more times, with one’s peers, with the experts before it ever reaches the public, or some sliver of the public (my writer-friends are fond of saying we must each find our “tribe”) in form of publication or performance. But the enrichment of the artist’s soul is an essential precedent to any contribution to one’s own life, teaching, family, dreams, self-actualization, philosophy, spirituality, technology, medicine, politics, artistic creation, self-healing, healing of others, and innovation in the world.

At this point, dear reader, please take a moment to read Denise Levertov’s poem “The Secret.”

Now a rare airplane buzzes over our house; locust leaves waft slightly, brooding, waiting for rain; the cat sits tucked and patient for my lap to be free of books and computers. Taffy’s stopped snorting; her right foreleg is actually lifting from the hard ground.

May your water be safe, your pony trudge forward, your art pour onto the canvas or the page in vivid color.

Black Holes, White Holes, and Rainbows

Poets know black holes. Our heads are full of them at times. As are our houses. And our calendars. Or is it just me?

I’m focusing on white holes at the moment. True, to discuss them “we may have to go out on an astronomical limb” (PBS Nova, “Are White Holes Real?”); nevertheless, the concept of an inverse to the life/time/sanity/existence-sucking power of a black hole–something that emits Hawkian radiation, a kind of poetic, albeit theoretical, brilliance–entices. It offers hope. Yes, there are holes you can’t get out of, cosmic joy-sappers, but there just may also be voids of creation, or at least light-emission zones. And if they’re out there in the cosmos, the writer speculates, maybe, just maybe, they’re also in here (the hapless poet taps her temple for emphasis).

My point is that I’m back to blogging and writing, after a hiatus for life-coping, job-learning reasons of little interest to fellow poets and writers. You all have them: times when illness, death, surgery, family needs, learning curves, job challenges (yours or your mate’s), pets, political tension, finances, and general entropy seem to conspire against the odds of your pumping extra creative juices through your cerebrum. Your black-hole times.

That’s precisely when it’s time to declare a White Hole Time.

During July, I’m participating in the 30/30 Project of Tupelo Press, committed to writing 30 poems in 30 days. This will mean a number of things, including but not limited to the following. (1) No excuse short of personal coma will keep me from writing daily this month. (2)  No procrastinating. Writing comes first. (3) Perfectionism has been given the boot. While aiming for quality, 30/30 poets have to press on, trusting their guts and knowing the revision will continue after the poems are posted. (4) My family, assured repeatedly of my enduring love, will have to deal with wife/mom who lives in her home office and lets the dishes pile up until bedtime. Occasional muttering must be tolerated.

I would be delighted if you would consider donating toward my fundraising goal. Be sure to name “Kathleen McCoy” in the “Honor” box to credit my goal for the 30/30 Project. If you would have a subject you’d like me to write about, leave a comment. It’s an exciting endeavor, gathering poets from across the country who write in a variety of styles and support one another throughout the month–all to help out an award-winning independent press that publishes high-quality poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

This week, the SCOTUS surprised and delighted us with its vote for marriage equality. There are rainbows everywhere. And in undertaking 30/30, I realize there are real benefits for the “marathon poets” who participate. We are creating a virtual space where we can focus on white holes, rainbows, sparrows–anything that engages, enrages, delights, or endures our attention.

Suddenly, my teenage daughter is focusing on her summer homework! When I took a moment to praise her, she shrugged it off with, “Well, it’s easier when you’re out of the way.” Permission to retreat can be bittersweet.

Art should be for all of us. It’s an expression of love, passion, curiosity, longing, faith, doubt, unity, dissent–all the thoughts and emotions that help us embrace our humanity. Take a moment to check out the 30/30 Project. It’s art for all of us.

Between “Human” and “Being”

Poets, like humanoids of all stripes, play a balancing game on a daily basis. Grade papers. Run to meetings. Teach classes. Run kids to events and activities. Check in with the spouse. Dust once in a blue moon. Throw leftovers in the microwave. Eat. Run some more. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s what Ekhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, calls “finding a balance between human and Being” (104). The human part of us is the ego, which is wedded to the roles we play–poet, teacher, wife, mom, etc., etc.–while the Being at our core is timeless, disembodied, the Spirit that transcends all our earthly errand-running, role-shifting, ego-propping, power-grubbing, material-minding chaos.

Today, it’s meeting with the WMDs (Women of Mass Dissemination) to tweak, update, and generally improve our web sites. Tonight it’s marking draft poems for students who are (generally) more confident about their fiction.

But soon–not now, but SOON–it will be just the page and me. Setting the “human aside.” Connecting with poetry. Just . . . Being.

Do the Catwalk

Doing the catwalk

Doing the catwalk

This year, I’m challenging myself–and any of you who care to join–to claim your own catwalk to move across steadily and with as much grace as we can muster. I’m not talking about a Kate Moss catwalk, but the kind that’s tethered near the tops of trees, a single cable you inch across for the heady experience, and just to convince yourself you can do it. Mine has something to do with picking up and moving on without one of my biggest cheerleaders, searching for contact with the wire, checking my fear at the tree and pressing on to the next one. (And yes, that’s me in the photo last year, nearly hyperventilating with a fear of heights but moving across as I’d urged my students to do. We all made it, unscathed.) The breeze will blow; my balance will not be constant; the air will grow cold. But walking the line requires trusting I can find some words, some truth. I’m harnessed in, after all, so all I love will break my fall.

In her poem, “Apples,” Grace Schulman writes, “beauty strikes just once,/ hard, never in comfort. For that bitter fruit,/ tasting of earth and song, I’d risk exile.” The act of inching across the catwalk is a deliberate pursuit of beauty, but the risk is real, and it can feel like exile. Waiting months for the response of an esteemed publication. Then getting it. Over and over. There are compliments as well as critiques. There is hope. But the rope is high and the trek is long.

This month, I’m revising (for the twenty-something time) several poems in an evolving book-length manuscript while trying to work up a new class on portfolio development for creative writers and kick out a couple of new poem drafts. Then it’ll be a recommitment to sending out small batches of poems. Step by pensive step, I inch across. I think of my lifelong cheerleader, my confidante, my first reader, whose death still does not quite feel real. She wanted to be a writer, but wrote very little. She did publish one article and write a couple of stories and a song. She really wanted me to succeed. I have to walk the walk for myself . . . but I know it’s for her, too. At this rate I may not break any land speed records, but then, I’m not touching the ground.

So, what is your catwalk? What’s your plan to get across?

For Adrienne Rich

They led a writing workshop together in Austin...

Rich (right), with writer Audre Lorde (left) and Meridel Le Sueur (middle) in Austin Texas, 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the memory of Adrienne Rich, one of our country’s finest poets who died last week, I offer the following poem, penned a couple of decades ago and revised very recently:

The New Androgyne

She will be like the deaf mute                                                 turned composer:

ink will pulse               through her veins the color

of half-lit midnight                  when grass sways slightly

By turns she will be            gardener and stargazer                  peasant

and prophet                      bag-lady                                   and carpetbagger

pointillist                                                                 and modern dancer

delivering mother                                and midwife delivering

the mother                                           and her child

You will see her                           gradually

rising with the sun                   her origins uncertain

her language                        raw and bold                       her hands stained

strong-boned                                 her eyes deep                    as Andromeda

She will take                                   by the first two fingers

anyone who will                             enter the labyrinth                               listen

to the crackling of leaves                     as she infuses them                with breath

and witness                         her gypsy dance                as she steadily

wrenches                                 an arc of bone                          from her side

–Kathleen McCoy

In the past two weeks I’ve had a house fire, attended a magical manuscript conference, and lost Adrienne Rich.  While I won’t forget any of these occurrences, one of them I can now acknowledge with this piece. For the way she championed the oppressed of all types–gays and lesbians, men and women of color, the imprisoned, the marginalized, the impoverished, and the politically oppressed (all people who have been silenced or ignored)–and did it with beauty, grace, and always, compassion, I am deeply grateful.

Rich helped to show the world the value of the women’s liberation motto that “The personal is political.” This is a good time to reread some of her unforgettable poems like An Atlas of the Difficult World, “Sources,” “Integrity,” “Diving Into the Wreck,” “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” and “Twenty-One Love Poems.” Or you may want to read one of her landmark essays such as “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision,” “Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson,” “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying,” “Split at the Root,” or her historic rejection of the National Medal of Arts in 1997, when she dared to write to Jane Alexander, then head of the National Endowment for the Arts, that she could not accept an award for a few privileged artists when “the people at large are so dishonored” in this country.

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