by Vera Constantineau
I’m entering a creative phase. I can feel it in the way I want to scribble down my observations. Everything inspires me to pick up a pen: the way someone steps off the sidewalk, the look in a person’s eyes when a car gets too close in the crosswalk, a woman’s hair shaved so close on the sides and flipped in front the way a man in the fifties who used Brylcreem would have done. Every visual is a potential writing gift.
I know I can write about these things and you will understand, because we’re writers. We all have flashes of inspiration, bursts of internal dialogue, the dream that delivers the exact word or phrase or clue we needed to finish a story that’s been nagging at us.
I stopped writing in June, just stopped.
At first I thought there was no reason. I thought that I was tired, mentally snuffed. In hindsight I think the stoppage was a little more specific than that.
I got an e-mail containing a link to a writing call. I often get such e-mails, no surprise there. This time though, when I read the fine print, the gatherers specified that in writing this submission, we, as contributors, should be gut-wrenchingly honest.
The phrase gut wrenchingly honest ran me off the writing track, slammed me hard against the imaginary bales of hay I have placed at my imaginary limits, a writers crash and burn.
I tried to settle on a topic for this essay call, tried to come up with an idea that was fresh and interesting, nothing. Or at least nothing I wanted to write about in detail. Nothing that required producing a dose of gut wrenching that would be considered effective on both the sending end and the receiving end. I stalled for weeks. During the stall I found it increasingly hard to observe in my usual way, even worse, I recognized the lack.
In 2013 I signed up for an online course in Nonfiction Creative Writing offered through the community college online network. I’ve taken more than a dozen courses over the past five years and I have been to many workshops. I am accustomed to tapping into my deep dark places, so imagine my surprise when I tried to complete my first assignment in this course and discovered I had developed a severe aversion to telling, what amounted to me, to be my secrets.
In hindsight I can see that this was gut wrenching honesty, round one.
The course came perilously close to memoir and I have always stepped gingerly around that topic.
This call for (gut wrenching honesty in our) submissions was for personal essays. I guessed I was not ready to spill blood onto a page for the benefit of a phantom reader.
Correction, I wouldn’t spill blood in large quantities. In Haiku and Senryu I have dropped my share of blood-load. Through Haiku I’ve dealt (honestly) with my mother’s death, the curse of my illegitimacy, cancer, and other topics, all of which definitely qualify as gut wrenching. I just couldn’t see myself drawing on the kind of details that would get me published in this particular magazine.
Until last week I remained snuffed big time—a snuffing of monumental proportion.
Then … I received a copy of Wah.
Wah is a Haiku journal from India with the sole purpose of developing a cultural exchange between Indian Haiku poets and poets in the rest of the world. The first of four poems they accepted was there, printed in English on page 41 and facing it on page 42, in Punjabi.
Getting this journal in the mail was exactly what I needed. I read through the list of contributors and found fellow Guild member, Irene Golas, as well as others I admire locally and in the broader world and I stopped feeling tired. I stopped feeling mentally snuffed. And Halleluiah, I returned to my favourite pastime, the observation of my fellow humans.
The writing process is not something everyone understands. I think only those of us who look past the surface and see past the green hair will truly relate to the crushing pain a good snuffing delivers.
If I am ever again called upon to deliver gut wrenching honesty I know exactly what I will say: Writing is hard.