Donnerstag, 7. März 2013

Advice to myself - again

This is the english version, not an exact translation, of a former german post called "Advice to myself". (Please excuse my bad english and I am sure, the zillions of punctuation errors. I swear I will try and find a class to take in it!!!)  
I read an interesting post by Rachel Papers, that made me remember the german text and so the strong urge to write about it again and in English overcame me. There is also the great film Lost in Living by Mary Trunk, that is strongly related to the subject matter. I wrote about it here.
Please everybody who is a creative mom, I am very interested in your experiences and thoughts and everything!

A few months ago, I posted a poem by Louise Erdrich on my Facebook page. It was called: Advice to myself 
I exactly recall that morning and the feeling, that it was the perfect poem for me. (By the way it was the poem of the day at Garrisons Keillor's  Writer's Almanac . If you subscribe they will send you a fresh poem every morning. Not every morning they will send the perfect poem, but some mornings they will.)

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another.
Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator.
Accept new forms of life and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

~From: "Original Fire: New and Selected Poems",2003, by Louise Erdrich

The day before I found this poem I had been to Munich to attend at a writer's workshop. I went there with a novel I am working on and the other participants' comments really got to me. I had worked hard on my text and I thought, I had a little treasure there. But nobody noticed it.  A friend who attended the workshop with me said, they did notice. Well anyway: for me I heard primarily critique and it hurt me. Actually looking back I can say: it threw me into the deepest crises I ever was in since writing. And I am writing forever. Unsuccessful. 
I am trying to squeeze out time for my writing since I am a mother. Before I could just write when I wanted. But after the birth of my first child I had to take the 10 minute intervals that presented itself throughout day and night, randomly. I could never plan to write. If Holly slept I could write. If a neighbor decided to start hammering while she slept and she woke up after 10 minutes, I had to stop again. This is basically the way I write since I am a mother, since 14 years I write in the little intervals, my family and work life leaves me randomly. During these years I finished a novel, I started a second novel, I wrote about 15 short stories and countless poems in german and english. Without success. Sofar 35 publishers and agents have rejected my first novel. I did not win the only prize I ever made it on the short list of. In fact, the prize does not even exist anymore. I saw a famous author, a famous publisher and a famous literature critique display their boredom in front of us 5 unsuccessless writers on the shortlist. At least 10 publishers didn't even react to my text offer. The reasons of rejecting ranged between: too complicated and too simple. One agent wanted me to write the whole thing anew and delete two third of the former main plot as well as most of the characters. I did that. Just so. Because everything a professional tells me is something I take as a writing prompt. So now I have two versions of the novel. She rejected it again. Because, well, she thought it still wouldnt sell.
All this started me to think about why I am doing this to myself: putting this pressure on myself besides a 25 hours job, two children, household chores, a cat, a garden. I mean hello, I could have a life crowded to the edges without writing. Why do I keep writing and writing? I mean, enough people write. There is no major reason to add to the zillions of words produced daily by people who write. I pump my words into the universe and nobody cares. If I would stop writing today, I would have much less pressure in my life and much more time for my household (which could need some time and effort from my side) and nobody would even notice (my family would notice, because the house might sparkle for a change). But I can't. It's like an inner necessity. An aqucaintance to whom I complained the other day because a publisher had just sent me a rejection letter saying: my novel was too simple for their deep publishing house, laughed and said: well, if you are writing so unsuccessully for so long maybe its time to stop, to realize that you are not good enough. Maybe its time to ackknowledge that your future lies in writing restaurant menues. And he laughed his ass off about his own joke. 
This poem appearing on my computerscreen one early morning was a perfect answer to the question I pondered on the train between Munich and Berlin, devastated: Why do I write? I might as well  have asked: Why do I live? Why do I breathe? If it is not an inner necessity I might as well spend my time sorting paper clips and concentrate on every family member having a healthy breakfast, and that each member of the chaos commune my family has turned into over the years uses the right toothbrush, and not again my towel. I mean it would be easy to fill my entire life, day after day, with these kind of chores. They would eat the rest of my life up. Just like that. I would be 80 before I know it.

I want the words to suit what I would call the authentic experience of my life. I am willing to dive pretty deep under the surface of life. Sometimes I dive so deep that it is too much water I swallow and I have a hard time resurfacing to the dishes, the laundry, the child who needs to be picked up from a friends house. When I am diving after the right word, trying to overcome every barrier between me and my experience, it might as well happen, that I forget who I am, but not why I am. I write because I want to give the words I find, to others as my gift, so they might just like me, see the barriers that are put between them and their existence. When they read my words, they can swallow a little water and accompany me diving. First of all, I write for myself, because I love it to dive deep, and secondly, I always write for the others, because I hope they will have cartons and cartons of pink mold in their refrigerators, as they prefer to talk to the dead and love new forms of life, instead of cleaning the kitchen. I hope they will touch, what is authentic for them and they follow it with all their heart as soon as they have found it. I mean this heart, that probably gets cleaned out less then the floor beneath their couch.
This is a beautiful poem, a wonderful poem and keeps me company since I first read it. 

© Susanne Becker


  1. It is significant to me that the prize you sought no longer exists, but you and your writing do. I'm glad for it.

    1. Dear Ravenna, I only saw your comment now! Thank you so much! And you are right: my writing still exists and I am glad too because through it I meet people like you, who are much more interesting then anybody at this stupid prize thing :-) anyways!!!

  2. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to read this. This is a beautiful summary of the reason to create - becasue it's a way of holding on to live, giving it meaning and engaging with it deeply. I'm terrified of getting to 80 and realising all I did was work to make money and keep a clean house and let go of all the things that really make life worthwhile. Keep writing. It is the process that's important, not the reaction of others.

    1. Dear Rachel, thank you very much! I am excited you read and commented my text. Today I saw a little film on facebook about students asking their professor, what they should do after finishing and he'd ask them:; "What does really touch you?" this is what you should do. It is stupid to go after money in order to live when life will only be going after money to live..and so on and when we give this impression of life being that way to the next generation...what a waste! Made me feel again, how much I want to write and that I want to master that craft, no matter, what anybody says.