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Yesterday, my son, daughter, and daughter-in-law took me for our second annual cross-country ski trip, driving up to Snoqualmie Pass and over to Hyak on the east side of the summit. (This is important, because it was raining on the west side.) A gray day, sometimes snowing, a little misty drizzle, and a whole lot of quiet. Plus fun—laughter and a few tumbles. Last year, we’d heard about some picnic tables just around the bend from where we’d stopped, and this year I was determined to find them—so determined that we skied at least half again as far. I felt good, although in the back of my mind I wondered about the trip back.

As I was working on the rhythm of the kick and glide and the poles, I started to think about that perfect moment rowing crew, when the boat is set, and everyone is in sync, every oar entering the water at the same time, everyone moving as one organism, how it is a blessed moment. I felt the same way while I was skiing—often awkwardly, but every once in a while, I would really feel the glide, feel the right muscles kicking in, my arms helping instead of flailing. For a moment. A blessing. And then another long stretch of trying to get it again—meanwhile, enjoying the snow and the trees, the general emptiness of the trail, the long ice-covered lake, stumps sticking up from the snow.

Then I thought about writing, how the flow—or getting into the zone—is the sweet spot, and one I don’t get to often, maybe less than when I’m on cross-country skis. But maybe if I keep writing, the 12-mile equivalent, I’ll have moments of flow, moments where I’m writing outside of time, outside of everything else, and it’s just the pen and me moving forward across the page. And I don’t have to worry about making it back to the car.

When do you feel flow in your writing and in your living?

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I confess that these days I’ve been thinking about Christian Wiman’s poem “We Lived,” especially the stanza

I mean
to be mean

because that’s how I’ve been feeling—angry and afraid. In between phone calls to congressional offices I was writing snarky prose poems—with a jackal, a badger, a wolverine. It was therapeutic, cathartic—but it was all on the negative side of the equation.

Anger, as a kind of energy, has its place. It can do good things. But I’ve also been thinking about something Chad Sweeney said during a class at LiTFUSE—that just the act of working on a poem puts good energy into the world.

Walking along the creek near where I work, I realized that while I was putting good energy into the world while I was also whittling it away.

I had read Jamaica Baldwin’s fierce, powerful poem “Call Me By My Name.” To me, this poem is anger in a good way.

I had read about Kaveh Akbar tweeting poems by poets who come from the seven countries listed in the ban. To me, that is putting positive energy into the world.

I was thinking about another kind of mean, the arithmetic mean, where it’s between the extreme.

For now, I’ve abandoned those prose poems, and I’m trying to balance the bad with the good. This isn’t to say that it’s going to be all sweetness and light. It isn’t. Just an absence of snark.

And last night, I had the pleasure of hearing Ross Gay read poems and essayettes (or delights!) and talk about joy as a practice and poetry as an act of radical joy, or was it a radical act of joy? I’ll take either and both.

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In a week like this–in this week–it’s hard to think about writing, and then the news of Leonard Cohen’s passing.

This morning, Advice to Writers sent out this quote:

“I can’t discard anything unless I finish it. So I have to finish the verses that I discard. So it takes a long time. I have to finish it to know whether it deserves to survive in the song. So in that sense, all the songs take a long time. And although the good lines come unbidden, they’re anticipated. And the anticipation involves a patient application to the enterprise.”

LEONARD COHEN

One of the most formative songs of my youth was Suzanne.

Thank you, Mr. Cohen, for your music and for the reminder–in writing and in so much more.

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From today’s Advice to Writers:

“Creativity is inexhaustible. Experiment, play, throw away. Above all be confident enough about creativity to throw stuff out. If it isn’t working, don’t cut and paste – scrap it and begin again.” JEANETTE WINTERSON

I confess: I cut and paste. Mostly cut, although I’m trying to learn new ways to paste—or to move and transform. But start completely over? Maybe sometimes, but then I mine all versions to patch something together—and sometimes that works, or I think it does.

I play at pushing words around, play at line breaks, but that play could become pushing past my boundaries. And even though everything is saved on paper or on the computer, I still feel like I’m stepping off the cliff. I guess that’s the point—step of the cliff.

How about you? Do you experiment with a deleting there, inserting here? Or do you sweep it all away and start fresh? Does it depend on the project? Or the mood you’re in?

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I still think about Benjamin Grossberg’s comment that, as I heard it, paraphrased, the writing reveals the subject (I’m always struggling with what to write about). This afternoon, an epiphany. It’s not that the writing, in one session (I’m so naïve) brings up the subject, but that the writing brings up more writing. Whatever is revealed comes to the surface over time.

So long, instant gratification.

After getting off work, I slipped out to the front porch and tried to write. It was mostly “meh” (if that’s dated already, you probably know what I mean anyway). But when I came back inside, I got two more ideas and something to research.

The act of writing—wait, I also read from the newest issue of POETRY before I even started, and I will say any day of the week that reading inspires writing—the act of writing might just be a warm-up, but it can get me to the real writing. It’s writing as throat-clearing. And when it doesn’t feel good, when it doesn’t jumpstart something wonderful, or something that can become wonderful, it might contain an image, a line, that will shine elsewhere, later.

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