Relaxation and rigor. Those are the two things I need to do what I came here to do. The writing can't flow properly when I am not relaxed. The joy in the process doesn't happen when I am not relaxed. But rigor is the other half of the equation. The rigor to keep going back and refining the thing until it is right. I am constantly humbled by how long this process takes me. Perhaps rigor is another word for patience. The rigorous patience it takes to wait and work and rework and have faith that it is all adding up to something.
Yesterday I received a rigorous critique of my third (more like 300th) draft of The Recruiter. The critiquer was a friend and brilliant theater director, actor, and playwright whom I trust. I was grateful for his blunt words even though of course what I wanted to hear was, "It's wonderful! Let's stage it right away! I'm sure it will win a Pulitzer!"
I was also grateful that my friend didn't have time to read it for a week or two after I sent it to him, because had I received the critique when the umbilical cord was still throbbing and pulsing with fresh blood then I might have had a harder time digesting it. By the time he got back to me, I had moved on to obsessing about something else. Such is the nature of obsession, writerly or otherwise.
Last night I read my poetry at Good Vibrations in San Francisco, in a group reading with some other writers. We each just had five minutes to read, and the store provided wine, sparkling water, and dark chocolate truffles (there are advantages to doing a poetry reading in a sex shop). It went well; I felt present, much more present than last Sunday when we did the same reading at the Berkeley store. At that reading I wanted to sell books and to that end had schlepped in a Trader Joe's shopping bag full of 'em. I sold two and then of course was disappointed and left the reading lugging my heavy bag and queasy with ego.
I realized that I felt embarrassed at Sunday night's reading--not because of the sexual content, but because of the narcissism, my own as well as other people's. The yearning for attention, "Look at me! See how sexy, brilliant, provocative, bold, daring etc. I am!" I saw a middle-aged woman whom I think had had some work done (plastic surgery) and another who was wearing too much make-up and I realized I didn't want to be a woman like that.
Ever since I was a young 18-year-old poet I've been doing readings, dressing up a little, nothing too fancy, but definitely showing my body to best advantage. Nothing wrong with that, but there was something a little bit of the marketplace about it, "Buy me! Buy my poetry!" In a capitalist system, you're always selling something, yourself, your image, your work, your words, your time, your worth. I accept that this is the reality of trying to make a living, but it's the opposite energy from the place where poetry comes from, which is a much more quiet, receptive, humble place.
At 51, I'm dealing with how to let go of the sexy girl I was and embrace the woman I am now. It's hard to age gracefully! Some women chop off their hair and wear elastic-waist pants and sensible shoes and just call it a day. others dye their hair, slather on the cosmetics, and if they can afford it, start to have procedures that make them look like unnaturally startled deer caught in the headlights of onrushing time.
I want neither. Which is the middle way?
At the reading last night I wore jeans and a nice loose-fitting top--no cleavage-- brought no books, wore a little mascara and some lipstick, and just concentrated on the task at hand, to experience my poems as I read them. And I enjoyed it and so did the audience and that was enough.