Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tweaking: The Year of Alchemical Messiness

Just now, I watched a giant red tail hawk come flying through the neighbor’s field and disappear right to the woods across the street. I’ll take it as an omen. I need a few omens. Good ones at that. Can we just all agree that this winter was hard? It was really, really, stupidly, stomp-your-feet-at-the devil-in-his-home, shake-your-fist-at-the-sky hard. First there was the snow, then the ice storms, then the terrible stubborn, icy cold. And the moon was all loopy. Everything was knives and ice picks.

Then, came AWP (the world series of writers' conferences) in Seattle, and I was all, “Spring is here, let me drink all the things, and eat all the things, and hug all the poets!” And then, perhaps inevitably, I came down with a two-week cold that laid me flat out like a dead bird smashed on the wet pavement. I was useless and sad and whiny. 

Finally, slowly, I am coming back to life. I can actually contemplate things like going to dinner, returning emails, going for a slow run down the lane, and writing. What strikes me again and again about life, (and yes, I am about to turn 38 in ten days so I suppose I should know this already) is that no matter how hard I try to force it to be one thing (say, spring, say warm, say easy, for example), it refuses to be that thing. Life is not a trainable dog. Life is a rogue wolf.

So, I stayed in and revisited the new poetry book, and worked on freelance work, and found myself finally tweaking old poems into new poems. It’s something I rarely do. Usually a poem is done, or it's a dud (in my world). But during this purgatory of icicles and chest colds, I found this marvelous time to rework poems I thought weren’t working.

This is when I wish we could take the word tweaking back from the meth-addicted and the chiropractors. Tweaking is a poet's word. It’s a copywriting word. We go back in and make tweaks; we tinker; we fix. It’s what we ask our students to do all the time. But we forget to tell them that it's really hard. We forget to say it's unpredictable. We forget to say they should store it away for a few months, get a cold, stare into space, change their lives, and re-do their closets, before attempting to fix a broken poem. A broken poem is like a broken heart. It takes time. Also, it’s some sort of magic. Truly. There are no words for why it works sometimes, and why it doesn’t other times.

We all go the writers’ conference and think, “writing is a business!” and then we come back to our desks and know it is not; it’s one messy alchemical experiment. 

And now I can think Spring thoughts. I will think them. There is no stopping me. A cardinal in its ridiculous cap is bouncing by the dying maple tree and I suppose we're always doing both of those things: bouncing and dying. But here's to all the little re-working in between, the new rules, the rethinking, the constant tweaking so we can get right our given hours.