Finding a way forward

In the summer of 2019 I found an unused notebook in a box someone had set out on the curb. I had just finished writing a book about tarot. I had not been writing much poetry.

At the time I felt unsure if I would continue my work as a poet. I was uninspired, but poetry had been – has been – such a fixture in my life for long that I decided to at least keep note of ideas that came to mind.

For the last few years, it doesn’t feel like I have written much at all. From 2009 to 2019, I published seven books – almost one a year, plus a few chapbooks in between. Sure, I wrote smaller pieces here and there, but after having a good publishing rhythm with my books, suddenly I had nothing on the horizon.

My momentum was broken.

In 2020, I thought I would hit a deep creative streak. Instead, I found myself with little alone time and realized how much I rely on stretches of isolation to create. I know that some of my friends lamented how lonely they felt throughout the pandemic, but I often felt crushed by the lack of privacy and quiet time. As much as I love my marriage, two people working from home in an apartment was not conducive to my creative health at all.

I worried, often, about my writing, and who I am without it.

Still, somehow between it all, things got done. Last year, I realized my notebook had filled halfway. I started to type things up to see what was in there.

Today, it is three-quarters full. Enough material for a new book, and a separate chapbook.

I don’t know where it all came from, or when, but it is there.

I keep expecting some kind of relief to come along, or a celebratory sigh. But the same anxiety that has held tight in my chest this past year remains.

There is anti-climactic tone to the moment we’re in. So many people talk of going “back to normal” or back to “early 2020.” But that was two years ago and for me personally, there is no going back to who I was then.

Just as I can’t go back to who I was at any point in time.

When I look back at my old writing and my old journals, I am astounded at how busy I was with attending or participating in poetry performances, events, book launches.

In 2011 and 2012, I was out 4-5 nights a week sometimes.

But I gradually wound down from that and changed pace.

And in 2020, I changed pace again.

I sat at my mother’s bedside as she died. I watched her reach out for things I couldn’t see. If you have ever seen someone die, you might know what I am taking about.

As people complained about not being able to sit and eat in a restaurant, I had to decide how many people could attend my mother’s funeral.

So no, my life in early 2020 and before that will not return to what it was.

My relationships have changed, too. I have grown closer to some friends, and gained new ones. I have rekindled some old friendships, too, and found new vulnerability and openness within them.

But I have also seen sides of people that have changed how I see them, and I don’t know that all relationships will come out the same way they came in.

I have found parts of myself that were stronger than I thought, and also parts that needed more time and tenderness.

And while years ago I would have been excited to complete a manuscript, now I find myself humbled by the gap of time between my last. Will anyone care? Does anyone still give a shit?

For me there is no “back to normal” because my head is in so many new places. I have been changed by my experiences. I am in some ways, I hope, a better person than I was a few years ago but some of what I am now has come at a cost.

And as we move towards some kind of idea of a collective “back to normal” I realize that this passage of time has meant big changes in many ways.

Many of us have changed and moved on or grown or given up in numerous ways over and over again.

There will not be a return to 2020 because there can’t be. Time only moves in one direction and we must accept the unfolding of it rather than push towards that which has already come and gone.

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