8.1 Something Old

As we ease back into JAR blogging, and while uncertainty and profound change swirls around us in eddies, we have decided to explore the maxim: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Today, something old.

JODI

There is comfort in the old and I like that (even when I am always wanting to rush forth into the new or novel). I was reminded of that this week when it was finally cool enough to pull out my favourite jumper. But this isn’t an article about how much I love that jumper or how it drags up memories which have not been entirely laid to rest.

My “old” is two fold; both are forms of retreat.

The first is my poetry; a retreat in terms of space for daily moving meditation. My tools of quiet are scissors, glue, fragments of book text, cardboard, photos and a willingness to let go and allow poetry to form up through the text. This is where I can be most free and held at the same time. Where I can be true to myself but also in service to others.

Spark and Essence #19 Jodi Cleghorn 📸 Michael Rogers 📖 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

My second retreat is a formal commitment to silence and withdrawal. This has been a decision to delete my social media and messaging apps. I am in digital seclusion and I have not been more at peace in a long time.

Silence has extended to music, podcasts and recorded classes. There has been nothing but bird song and the intense symphony of multiple small children in my corner of suburbia and their emotional state in any given five-minute block.

Digital seclusion is a stillness, solitude, silence and simplicity I know well though it has been more than a year since I have retreated like this. I am not at all surprised to find myself here.

Spark and Essence #13 Jodi Cleghorn 📸 Chu Son 📖 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Both are old, but unlike my jumper, neither are worn or pulled out of shape, no matter how much time I spend in them.

ADAM

Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill for inspiration and sing about the grief.

So sang Bono in “The Fly,” the first single from the album Achtung Baby, an album which, in sound, was a radical departure from The Joshua Tree, the album that made them stratospheric rockstars. Both albums are brilliant in their own way. 

I like the old for the anchor that it can serve in our lives. The old can be a sense of certainty, a foundation, a building block. The old can be the rituals and traditions of family, the liturgy and recitation of beliefs forming the locus for who we are and what we are. The old becomes the central tenets we adhere to.

The old is what we are an apprentice to. We learn from the old, the ancient, the wise who have travelled before us and said, “This is what I have found” in their voices of poetry, music, dance, philosophy, faith. 

When we have learned enough to not be ignorant, but too little to be wise, we draw the anchor, relocate our position and fix ourselves to a new point to see how far we have travelled, or moved away from, in our own individual transformation and development, perhaps seeing those fixed points we used as our focal point in a different way. As another constellation to map our progress.

And in all this we return to the maxims and mantras of the masters, the proverbs and parables of the prophets, and understand them in a new way. It means returning to what was our first love, our awareness of what some would call vocation, or ministry, or calling, the idea that initially sparked our pilgrim’s progress. 

I like tradition for the symbolism and meaning it conveys but I look for ways that the old can be communicated for the new, in order that I may point them back to the old. As a teacher, I teach not to draw attention to myself, but to help students focus on what has come before them, to help them understand how to create their own foundations.

RUS

Our lifetimes provide us with more moments and memories than we know what to do with. Sometimes, we hold on to the older moments that keep us prisoners to our past, where we allow regret or desperation to grip us in our present. They are tempting, though, aren’t they? They lull us into “what-ifs” that make us believe the past is still attainable.

It is not.

What we are afforded from our past, however, are moments of great strength that serve us in different ways now. For me, that’s time spent living in a cabin along the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Instead of letting the “what-ifs” grip me, I embrace the still-present smells of the cool brackish waters mingling with the clays of the ancient cliffs around me, the sounds of a low-flying heron looking for a sunrise snack, the feeling of cold grains of wet sand formed around my feet like customized, natural sandals protecting me from the pin-pricks of fossilized teeth, lost millions of years ago by the sharks that inhabited these waters.

When I first experienced these things 33 years ago, I savored them for the moments in which they were born, and sometimes with the people with whom I so graciously shared them; today, though, I cherish the tranquility and solitude they bring me in the most hectic of hours; they bring peace to a present that is often far from the days living in a hand-built cabin in southern Maryland.

From this that is old, I do not wallow in regret; I bask in the glow of experiences gained to sustain my balance, my peace, on this long journey that carries me decades beyond those first hours spent along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where I pondered my own existence among the cliffs that held fossils millions and millions of years old.

We are gifted with what is old; we are lifted by what we take from it.

1.1 WRITER INTERRUPTED

PERSONAL NARRATIVE AS ORIGIN AND RESURRECTION

As writers, we are intimately engaged with the art and process of telling stories. What we can forget is the conceptual power of narrative is greater than the fiction we create, or the poetry we pen, or the ideas strung together in non-fiction. Narrative is a hardwired aspect of human existence. It forms the basis of our identity: how we make sense of the world and our place in it; how we behave, express ourselves, and make decisions; the core beliefs and values we adopt. Our personal narratives are fundamental to understanding who we are, and for those willing to go deeper, how and why we are.

As writers we are no different. We create deep and often invisible narratives about ourselves as ‘Writer’, around writing, and how we engage and seek to be seen in the worlds within and beyond us. Some narratives free us into authenticity, truth, joy and passion. Other narratives disable and disengage us, create suffering and disconnection.

This where I found myself in 2017, with deeply embedded fears (maybe a side serve of surrender) that I was Writer Interrupted, and what I was experiencing was possibly a terminal interruption in what had been a decades-long love affair with writing.

WRITER INTERRUPTED

The deeper and more profoundly dysfunctional my chronic depression became (and it’s sidekick insomnia), the harder I dug in with my writing. It was 2014, the second year of homeschooling my son, and I knew writing held the key to feeling better. It was the only space I entered and felt truly free. But as the year progressed, I became obsessive about writing. The more I was rejected, the more I wrote. Consequently, I moved further away from freedom, from all the good parts of writing, into darker places. It was like course correcting in heavy seas and each new navigational decision, born of a survival reaction (rather than a survival response), pushed me deeper into more treacherous seas.

In September 2014, I finally gave up submitting stories and within a week of this decision, I received my first acceptance for the year, for a project I was deeply in love with. I was very clear though: this was not an invitation back on the write-submit-reject-infinitum cycle which had burnt me.

There were brief and sporadic returns to writing in 2015 and 2016, but something inside me was fundamentally warped. Disconnected. Distraught. Heart broken. It kept me  distanced from what had been my greatest love—my truest passion.

As the years fed into each other, from 2015 into 2016 and beyond, I felt momentary reprieves from the bleakness when I wrote for The JAR Story project, an idea Rus had gifted the three of us. There, I was able to write effortlessly, with incredible joy, unprecedented focus, and a skill and precision I had never experienced. Outside of there, I became increasingly antagonist toward anything associated with writing – past, present and future.

KILL YOUR DARLINGS

I will be honest: things became intolerable. The only reason I stayed a peripheral part of so many writing-related things was I am loyal to the last breath. But like last drinks called, the last breaths of this incarnation were calling me to make difficult decisions. It was closing time.

I left the online writing group I’d founded, and I didn’t look back. It was an immediate weight off my heart. The whole thing had been making me miserable as I veered more toward poetry, as a survival tact, and increasingly away from fiction and any desire to invest in beta reading or editing for others.

I officially closed eMergent Publishing. I realised that even if I had money, health, focus and energy – it had been set up as a joint vision. Without Paul, there was no eMergent. It was as complicated and simple as that. With that knowledge, I let go with grace and allowed in the reminders of the incredible legacy we left (which had little to do with the back catalogue of 13 books) and moved on.

Then, as the ends were tied, I was invited to read at a local bookstore. It was a big bucket list item, yet I felt empty. I said yes to being part of the launch because I thought I needed to. As it approached, I knew this was my last hurrah and as much as I didn’t want to show up, I had to. From there, I went quietly into the night, knowing never is a very fucking long time so there was no point in invoking it—appreciating things change.

And they did.

No sooner had I taken a graceful exit than Adam messaged to say we’d been invited to directly submit Post Marked: Piper’s Reach to a publisher. Yes, I said. I had no illusions it would be successful. In fact, part of me was happy for it to be yet another failed attempt to get someone as excited by it, as we still were. We were offered a publishing contract on the eclipse on Feb1st 2018 and I knew the Universe was not yet done with me as a writer.

NOT DONE YET

So, if the Universe was not yet done with me, then I had to stop being done with me and the role of writing in my life.

Serendipity stepped in and I was gifted a six-week course on manifesting your dreams. In my work at Soul Lyrical, I spend my time unearthing, unpicking and helping people recognize where their core narratives undermine them and assist in re-writing new, cognizantly aligned ones. It was time I turned these skills toward writing and me… and the door opened.

The first thing that became apparent was I had course corrected myself so far away from my home port, I no longer remembered that I had one, much less how to get back there.

I was invited back into the beginning: to remember why I first wrote.

I was 10 when I first discovered the magick of writing.

Why did I do it? I did it because I could (and that’s not the ‘could’ wrapped up in adult notions of talent or skill) I could write because I had the capacity to pick up a biro, steal my mother’s shitty notepad, and slip away to write stories about a yellow dog who lived on a farm. In doing this, I discovered the joy of entertaining myself with writing. It’s interesting to note that my 10-year-old self never bound her stories into a ‘book’. No cover. No author name. Writing from the beginning was a deeply personal endeavor I did for myself.

Moving into adolescent, I extended the readership of one – me – into an intimate group of my closest friends and that’s how it stayed until my final year at high school when I wrote a novel, for an English communications project, with the intention of submitting it for publication. That was the beginning of the moving away… of the change which ended with me walking totally away 20 years later.

The honest truth is, I’ve only ever been compelled to write for myself. And I write because I love it. As a teenager I pursed it for escapism. As an adult the siren-song of deep immersion remains a core motivation – the different is what I am running toward, rather than running from. And the high. The fucking brilliant high of having written.

In the excavations, I saw how in disconnecting from my core narratives, I’d lost my authentic Self-As-Writer and moved into a shadow identity, obsessed with publication as a way to justify my existence as a writer (at a time when I was having a hard time justifying my existence as a human being). This identity, incongruent with my core narratives, created constant dissonance and in the end I did the only thing that made sense – I created an interruption and stopped the pain and discomfort. At some point, self-protection kicks in.

What shocked me was how quickly everything shifted when I reconnected with my writing origins and remembered those core narratives; remembered the why. Not long after, eight key points came to me, put down in a mission statement as insurance against ever losing my way again.

I hope I never forget I write first and foremost for myself; that this is the beginning and end. This is how easy and difficult love can be.

Writing is where my joy lives; what fills me, expands and nourishes me.

This is my truth. What is yours?

Image
Poetry: Jodi Cleghorn
Source Text: If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler (Italo Calvino)
Photograph: Erich Hartmann, Paris (1982) via Magnum Photos