piyp day

piyp day
Poem In Your Pocket Day

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Lists

I have had, at last count, 44 jobs. Besides writing. Because of my ferocity on the subject of writing, I have refused promotion, insisted on strange hours and manners of employ, skirted any false career that didn’t make room for writing. The first time I noticed that my fanaticism was outwardly evident was when I finished grad school; the NJ and Philadelphia colleges where I taught paid so little that I had to work in a coffee shop, too, to make my rent. I had not been at this coffee shop long, making lattes between grading essays, before people were hanging over the counter asking for prompts, pressing their journals across the counter, telling me about the book they would someday write. My writing ferocity has a big aura, it’s true. I bring my art everywhere I go, in everything I do. Taking inventory in basement bookstores, cleaning cat piss out of attics, serving champagne from silver trays, editing books on foot disease, I bring the river of writing with me everywhere.

This is what I know about the writing life: you must be dogged. Also, you must be flexible.

If you are a writer feeling like you’re not a writer because you have no time, because you have no money, because your faith is lapsing, because your good work is largely unrecognized, remember this: the river of writing is always inside of you. It belongs to you. It is ever present. Sometimes it’s murked green and filled with bloated dead. Sometimes it sparkles and slaps with fat leaping fish. Other times, it is only a watery thread in black muck. Regardless of its incarnation, it is always there. It belongs to you and only you. You are responsible for it.


Actually, I think we worry too much about the writing/product/river itself. If you are going to write, if you will not say no, then the river will always be there. What we should really focus on is our paths to the river. Our methods of returning. Will you not venture down if there are brambles or poison ivy or agendas or hidden beasties? Will you try new paths anytime you have to? Will you do it because you love it?

As a writer, you must write to grow your own innards, your own wisdom, your own sense of self in the world. If you do your writing and share it, you will teach us what you have seen and come to understand it better yourself. This is work so imperative and illuminated that the world must not be allowed to turn without our attempts at it.

So, yeah. “Making time for writing.” This is, to some degree, a fallacy. There is very little time. You can’t make time. I work hard at other things to make money for food and shelter and books. But I maintain, stubbornly, that there is always time to write. It’s already there. If the river is inside of you, then you need not take yourself anywhere, sequester, plan, scheme, schedule, extrapolate time for your writing. You must do it, whenever and wherever and however you can. Thinking counts, too. Living counts, too. Reading counts, too. Writing counts, too. This is your work. Do it however you must.

I have two testimonial lists to the opposing but necessary planets of doggedness and flexibility. Some Things I’ve Written Upon and Some Places Where I’ve Written.

Some Things I’ve Written Upon:

Receipt tape from registers
Folded looseleaf in backpockets
Sheaths of flattened cardboard in an inventory room
The blank page in backs of books
The back flaps of books (when desperate)
Tiny notebooks
Spiral notebooks
Expensive notebooks
Cheap notebooks
recycled, yellowed, fresh, lined and unlined notebooks
Old order forms
Cocktail napkins at the bar between shifts
Paper candy bar wrappers
Once, on a dollar bill, which I then burned to make a point
Receipts from the wallet
Paper ads that fall from magazines
Postcards you meant to send
Old music notation paper
Old library dewey decimal cards
Forming words on a leg, with a finger, for memorization
In acronyms, also for memorization: “The little organ is a dream.” “Dream Organ.” “D. O., D. O.”

Some Places Where I’ve Written:

Under the hedge in Chestnut Hill
In the lunchroom
On their broken chair in the garden
Next to a wheelchair with a woman in it
Beside his easel
Sitting on sand
Sitting on rocks
Sitting on curbs
Sitting on counters
Sitting on benches
Knees up, in bed
Next to 400 suitcases in an attic
In the empty bar before intermission
On the truck
In the hallways
On the edge of the stage
On the sides of mountains
In kayaks
Next to the receiving belt
In the lunchroom
In the lunchroom
In the lunchroom
In the cleaning closet, waiting for the mop bucket to fill
In her borrowed basement
In libraries
In someone else’s kitchen
In the hospital waiting rooms
In my grandfather’s abandoned study
On a box in the closet
Upstairs, with that ghost rushing around
On trains
On porches
On planes
Here, now, where I am making notes on your faces

Be dogged and fierce. Be flexible. Own it.

Elizabeth "Frankie" Rollins

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