Eating Perfection: On Writing
by Jessica Halsey
I have this idea: it’s midnight and I am perfect. I am perfect because I am writing. Not writing perfect things, just writing. Because writing is not only what I love to do, the mental gesture of writing helps me figure out how to see and how to feel about the world around me. So, midnight + writing = perfection because I can see and feel everything clearly. Midnight is crisp and cold but smells like fire. There are no stars.
This might make some people think I’m a person who needs to control every aspect of my life, that clarity brings certainty and certainty brings control—or at least happy feelings of security. I don’t think it does. When you write something, you have one idea that you start with and then, as you write, it can turn into something completely different, and that is seriously awesome. Control and clarity are not about bending reality to my ideals but about opening myself up to whatever happens.
I don’t have a routine. For writing or anything else. Maybe breathing and waking up at nearly the same time every day and immediately making the bed afterward could be considered a routine. I have a day job. And I can pay my bills. I am theoretically “happy” but not because my idea of perfection exists here in the real world. It does not. I can’t stay up past midnight anymore. But I want to.
I want to translate the things I see on the outside of my brain into my own words. I feel sort of like I imagine how a shark feels when it tries to touch something. It doesn’t have fingers, so it has to use its mouth. Sometimes the shark touches something soft and squishy that turns out to be food (which I would be like, OMG food! This is amazing!), and sometimes the shark touches something that is not food but is equally soft and squishy—or something hard that hurts its teeth. That’s what writing feels like for me, trying to touch something with my mouth and not knowing what it is until I touch it.
I want to be the type of person who, when they sit down to write, they actually write, they don’t stare at the page thinking, “If I get this wrong the world will explode.” If I get this one line wrong, or this one sentence wrong, the whole thing will be ruined. But I am a rational human being and I know that one line will not wreck a poem because there does, in this world, exist the mighty sword of revision.
Maybe my doubt monster just needs a hug. And more coffee. Someone to say, “You’re going to get through this; it’s going to be okay.”
Sharks aren’t afraid to touch things, though. I don’t think they care if they hurt their teeth. But I do. So I have trouble writing sometimes. But the poems do come out eventually, so I’m cool with not writing every day and not having a routine. I’m slightly less cool with being scared, but I deal with it.
One of the most important life lessons I’ve learned is you need to run toward the things you are afraid of. When you want something and you’re afraid to go get it you need to go get it anyway. Even if what comes up scares you or you think it’s crap and no one will ever read it.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten how to start writing a poem. It’s obvious, of course, you put words where there were no words. I mean, you don’t suddenly forget how to eat. But it happens. Today I was driving home from work and I thought about how much I hate this girl back in my hometown, then I thought, “I want to write a poem about that.” Then I couldn’t figure out how or why it would even be important. I had a line, but there was no beginning and definitely no end.
Sometimes poems begin as wisps of one-liners swirling in my mind and grow into full-blown poem hurricanes before I know what’s going on. Other times, like today in the car, they don’t. I’m not sure why that is. Questions like, “What is poetry?” and “What is the muse/inspiration?” fascinate and irritate me because there are a multitude of answers, depending on who you talk to and what they think you want them to say.
I sometimes feel poems are like water flowing through my mouth and over my gills; it’s important for staying alive, but sometimes you just want to bite something, you know? When I feel like I’ve written a poem well, or written a poem that I like, I can read it and my brain says, “This is food.”
Poetry is one of those things that I think no one will ever completely understand because I think no one really understands humanity or why creative expression does what it does to people. One of my teachers, Lynda Barry, said (and I’m paraphrasing), "Art/creativity/play is like your immune system, you need to express yourself in order to survive."
So, there you go, writers. Just keep swimming. Go out and eat something. Don’t die.
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1/9/2019 08:57:29 am
"Control and clarity are not about bending reality to my ideals but about opening myself up to whatever happens." Nice! This essay speaks to me. I'm going to sit here in my corner and have a an in-depth conversation now. Thanks for writing this, for sharing this <3
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