“I worry that as contemporary poets we have this pressure to always be moving forward. To always be elliptical and surge ahead, for every line to floor us with the unexpected word or image or turn.”
-Max Ritvo, in a Divedapper interview
I’m on-and-off terrified of spiders. The hydraulics of their legs. Their stillness that’s also movement about to happen. I held a tarantula at the Entomologist Graduate Student Association’s bug petting zoo. It was so cool, so itself and other and familiar, and also, when it stepped onto my hand, about as big as my hand, I could feel adrenaline washing down inside my skin. I’m scared of falling behind, too: scared I’ll stop forever if I don’t keep moving forward. Scared I won’t find that line that floors you, floors me: that gives me a floor to stand on so I can turn around and say, aha, we’re here.
Earlier this month I went out to the river. I sat beside it, not thinking about spiders or moving forward, pretending I wouldn’t get wet because I hadn’t brought a bathing suit. Then I went out and sat in the water. I laid down, the little current pulling past me, the littler fish nibbling arms and legs and sides. I was with my friend, and we talked. We talked and talked, and listened, and sat in the water. We stayed, the day and our conversation and our fears and our joys and our hopes washing along us. Later that night, lying in bed, I thought back to some plays I’ve helped put on: the sawdust and the paint, the legs we screwed onto platforms, the actors on the new set, practicing, stumbling, running over their lines like they’re counting seeds with their tongues.
My friend Erin told me she “wanted to unlearn beauty.” In her writing, she’s gotten all tied up trying to write varying sentences and balanced phrases. Whatever narrative or character or worldview is actually to move through the page, through the moment, it gets tripped up on the rules of “beautiful.” The expectations of moving forward. Somehow I’ve started writing scared: trying to make sure I’m not messing anything up, not fumbling my lines, not showing my audience more of the seams and wood glue than the set and the characters. But a play is also a rush of impudent joy, isn’t it? It’s the childlike dream of this, the mature thought of maybe. We learn by practicing, we walk along the river again and again to learn what’s there, but I think I’ve been building too many dams and not letting enough water flow. Enough water go. I have my fears of the spiders’ legs, but I also have the dream of its weaving, and it has the pull of its own sharp living. That’s why I went to the bug petting zoo in the first place.