Creativity can be a support for men when their life starts to fall apart.
Through sixteen years of ups and downs that include earning two degrees, twelve years of teaching, 4 children conceived with my wife, divorce, and, ultimately, the death by suicide of the mother of my children, poetry has been an absolutely essential tool in maintaining enough balance to be able to continue to work, and to raise my kids.
My psychiatrist tells me I’m bipolar with general anxiety. I’ve had other diagnoses at other times, but this is the one that seems to describe my tendencies most accurately. In fact, my dad had very similar problems up until he died in 1991. If mental conditions are genetic, I’m practically a carbon copy of the man.
I have not been hospitalized for 16 years. It seems ridiculous to admit this in a possible article for a website, but all that will come out anyway in my 3rd book of poetry, due out probably later this year, from Wolfson Press. I’ve very deliberately made an effort to keep it together, ever since my first child was born.
Poetry is like a Prayer
There are a number of reasons I go to poetry as a tool for managing my anxieties, my often rollercoastery moods, my attempts to make it through this world and do some good, despite an abundance of flaws any ex-girlfriend or child or former student of mine could probably tell you all about. I was raised Catholic, but no longer attend church, nor do I intend to attend any church for the foreseeable future, and probably forever. Poetry for me, as hokey as it might sound, is a spiritual exercise. I can’t pray anymore. It’s what I do instead of prayer.
Wellness and the Creative Process
There’s a sort of awareness of one’s own consciousness and of the world that can combine beautifully when one works to tune in. Tuning in is what I have to do to write. It is a calming and at times exhilarating practice.
For me, writing poetry is one way of making sense of the world, and it’s a way to make sense of the world that comes from deep within us. Usually I write a draft by hand, and rewrite it beginning to end, and rewrite again and again. I discover new things about my perception and about the experience with every draft.
I can’t say any of this comes from a fully conscious place.
Drafts of poems seem to change independent of any deliberate attempt to manipulate the language of the poems, and I’m not sure why, but something about this process is both enlightening and comforting. I discover things I thought that I didn’t know I thought. Memories materialize, philosophies coalesce, and, surprisingly enough, a sense of gratitude even for difficult experiences I’ve been through emerges.
Creativity holds you when life falls apart
I suppose that writing poetry is, for me, a self-administered form of therapy. I use it again and again to make sense of the incomprehensibility of life.
When the mother of my children died two and a half years ago, I wrote a very long poem detailing the circumstances of her life, just to get it down, and perhaps to share with my kids someday. She was a painter and suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder, and I had the need to record what I understood about her without candy coating either her failings or my own.
I’ve written about my dad’s death in this new book – a subject that can be surprisingly raw for me even now, given that I’ve lived almost 25 years past his death when I was 15. I’ve written about a friend who made a horrible choice to take a man’s life, about my love for my children and my anxieties about their maturation, about the mysteries of sex, and the difficulty of understanding what God is or might be or might not be, and of so many more things that I need to puzzle through with a notebook and a beer in the backyard to feel good enough to negotiate another day.