Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Confession Tuesday - The Monkey House Edition

Dear Reader,

It's been 7 new poems and many revisions since the last time I wrote.  I confess I've been obsessed.  Obsessed with my work and my manuscript.  I confess it's harder to be obsessed with poetry when there is celebrity news and commercials for Snuggies.  Those things take me to a different level, make me forget what's important while transitioning back into "real life" - in quotes because there's no such thing.  

So let's get going.  To the confessional--

I confess I said this to my roommates so many times during the writing residency, "I am so excited about what I'm writing, but I'm afraid I'm in the monkey house."

If you watched Project Runway a few seasons ago, you'll know I'm referring to my favorite Tim Gunn quote of all time.   I've mentioned the Monkey House before, here, when dealing with titling my manuscript.

But if you don't know the Monkey House story, here it is--

Basically, Tim Gunn goes to visit Chris (one of my favorite designers on that season, btw) and sees that Chris has decided to adorn his clothes with human hair.

Here is Tim Gunn's response:

Tim Gunn (politely gagging): 

I have this refrain about the monkey house at the zoo. When you first enter into the monkey house, you think, ‘Oh my god this place stinks!’ 

And then after you’re there for 20 minutes you think, ‘it’s not so bad’ and after you’re there for an hour it doesn’t smell at all. And anyone entering the monkey house freshly thinks, ‘this stinks!’ 

You've been living in the monkey house.


(Can I just confess right now that I *love* Tim Gunn?  I do.)

Anyway, back to the Monkey House.  

So what happens to me is that when I'm writing and obsessing, I get into this place--and don't get me wrong, it's a good productive place that is ridiculously happy, euphoric even--where I'm so highly focused on my manuscript I lose myself.  It's almost as if I've become part of the manuscript, there's no other way to explain this--everything is making sense, I'm seeing the bigger picture, I'm in extreme research mode, I'm reading and filling my brain with content, with themes, with what I need to write these poems. 

There is no NPR news, no internet (except my iPad for research when I need it), no phone (literally), my cellphone is turned off, there is no TV, no radio, nothing except other writers who are working on their work, poetry, and books.

And I begin to write what I think are the best poems in the world (and they might be)…or I might be in the Monkey House.

I confess I will not know if I was in the Monkey House until some time has passed.

It’s sort of like looking at a photograph of yourself a few years later, when you look back and say, “What the heck was I doing with that hairstyle?”  or “Oh my gawd, I was so thin and beautiful.” 

Sometimes we can’t see what’s in front of us because our perception is skewed.  This happens a lot with young women and their bodies.  They are fed all sort of garbagey, airbrushed images from the culture around them that they don’t see their own beauty.

And it happens with poems.  

A friend of mine will write a start to a poem and not like it.  I’ll say that I like it and hold onto it, maybe something will come from it.  And many times, it does.

I write a poem and think, “Fantastic!”  (How I love my newest babies best.)  Then a week will pass and I’ll say, “Holy doggerel, Batman, what was I thinking?  This needs so much work.”

I confess there is no one way to be a poet or artist in the world, but for me, I find I most love this life when I am obsessed with my work, finding a good balance between writing and family, and keeping my circle of friends tight.  Airtight.  Meaning—only staying close to my favorite friends and the GE people (good energy people).

I confess I recently had a friend tell me she’d be devastated if a certain neighbor didn’t like her (she lives in a Wisteria Lane type neighborhood filled with kids and families and everyone in everyone else’s business).  I told her that if she is living authentically and following her own values, not everyone should like her.  

Basically if everyone likes you, you’re not being yourself.

I confess this is all part of the “retreat mind” I try to stay in after I return from a writing residency.  To remember to be who I am.  

It's hard coming back because there is a large part of me that wants to still be in Apt. D writing.  I don’t want to know what I missed. I don’t want to know who is sleeping with whom.  I don’t want to know the details of who wronged who, who is no longer friends, who who who.  My small town is village of owls, sometimes. 

I'm in the Monkey House and my village is owls.  Really, I'm saying, Life is a zoo.

But I confess what I really want to know is – what are you working on?  What has inspired you lately?  What are you struggling with or the challenges in your art?   

Life is funny, the way it pulls us in and out of art, of our writing.  Sometimes things that aren't important take the place of what’s important to us.    It's life, it happens.

Though I confess, there's a game I play with myself —how can I not be part of the trivial?  How can I disappear?  How can I exist in a way where I’m still part of the community but not?  How can I make sure that my moments are filled with the people and projects I love? 

A game with no ending, I guess. 

Or maybe, it’s making sure I’ve chosen not to participate in the things that take my time or bring me down.  Not to partake in too much Facebook.  Not to read the entertainment section of HuffPost.  Not to allow myself to be sucked into what doesn’t matter.  It’s like that quote from War Games: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

How about a nice game of chess?


Or a nice dose of the arts?

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