“The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated…and the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”
I’d barely heard of Ted Hughes when his son committed suicide earlier this year. I took some time to read a few articles about his life (Ted and Sylvia Plath – celebrity poet couple?!) and Googled some of his poetry. The passage above instantly jumped out at me. The words were startling and perfectly articulated a vague feeling I had long felt but never fully recognized. Or had I? The familiarity of the sentiment – of ignoring fears, of boldness – rang all too clearly in my ears as the inverse of how I was living. Guilt pools behind the sharp edges of such realizations.
Why was I hoarding heart and energy? What was I afraid of? Why had I flattened out the highs and lows into a featureless expanse of repeating days and weeks and months?
I didn’t have the answers, but I knew this was a rare opportunity to switch the tracks and break from the withering monotony. A long history of my own writing would provide a library of insights into my thoughts and feelings. I began writing “poetry” in boring astronomy classes during my freshman year of college. The quickening of a young heart and the tactile sensation of writing brought on these urges, and by the time I graduated I had several overflowing notebooks. The poems themselves have always been in the style of free-thought or stream of consciousness, and I’ve rarely spent more than 15 minutes writing one. I began combing through the hundreds of poems I had published to another website over the last seven years looking for echoes of Ted’s poem.
And I started to find strains three years ago. Around this time Sarah and I were gearing up for a leave of absence from work originally planned for three months that wound up being six weeks. We’d been to Europe once before, and this time we’d be in Scotland for three weeks followed by Spain for three weeks. I found this poem from just a week before our departure:
every jump over that puddle
you’ve stood silent and white
-thanks don’t cut it.
the wind is lashing the copper
from the rooftop
*great deep shrieks*
and i’m still heating my office
cutting jitters lose, saying
it’s a lovely thing we do-
severing our ties to ourselves
and successfully doing
what we always think we can’t.
The final four lines are filled with exuberance and hope, and they give me the same feeling Ted’s poem did. I continued sleuthing and it didn’t take long before another one fit the mold.
wave of rain
like a limp arm hitting a table
all the dry bits thrown in the air
this is spain and i don´t understand
beyond the buses and trains,
the six faces of the weather
and billows of cloud-like thought
i always find the best bits.
sometimes it takes a 6 week breath
to cut the sh*t off your life
welcome, friends. a toast.
I had written of my epiphany just days before the six week jaunt was to end. I recall feeling like I had stripped off all excess from life and kept only those sweet kernels that mattered: family, friends, the experience. We had traveled savagely. We missed the freedom and excitement of the trip desperately for several months afterward, and the memory haunts me like some benevolent spirit even now. Two years ago I wrote this:
draped in a violin’s bowed note
as a crystal white sheet
ceaselessly erases you,
i should state
i have a refusal
to vacate until i have seen all of you:
the snows of trondheim, the shredded
coast near dubrovnik, the fishing fleet
in half moon bay, the terraced vastness
-select named folds-
but you are disappearing even now
and so am i
would lay with you beneath those snows,
but metaphors too often falter
in the realm of action.
see you soon.
It reads now like a wish or a promise waiting to be fulfilled. Many other travel blogs suggest that these types of changes simmer for years until you’re comfortable with the idea. Perhaps this was me putting the kettle on. Finally, earlier this year, just days before I read about Ted, I wrote this:
it’s an awful curse:
to find deep interests
in weakness of your own self
to never test yourself
or find the boundaries of your abilities
to misconstrue a thing as weakness
out of carelessness
to lie down in acceptance
of defeat, death, pity
you are strong
to lift this curse
The mantra of hope and boldness runs beneath the surface lament.
This post isn’t about the poems, it’s about what I’ve learned about myself through them: that traveling isn’t the answer, but that traveling ultimately yields the answers. If this blog will succeed at all, if it will produce any kind of visceral response in you, then it might be from the skein of poetics stretched across the narrative of my travels.
I am investing boldly.
Listening to: Stars of the Lid
Drinking: Ale Asylum Madtown Nutbrown