Posted tagged ‘Karin Gustafson pencil drawing’

Fear and Loathing on the Number 4

September 30, 2012

Boy on Number 4 Train

“The people here
are f—ing animals,” says hard-
creased mom to youngish son
as they slip between
double rubber, closing doors.

The boy, buzz-cut (mom holding Yankees cap), edges
uneasily through the crush
towards center pole–

Mom hooks him
before he can latch on–“These people push you,”
she snarls,
“I’ll push ‘em back.”

I try to angle smile that only boy
will see (so that the mom
won’t slug me), but boy
turns face to door where, nothing
to hold, he lists with the tight
till mom’s boa arm heavily

Then, even as train
smooths, even as she
releases, he bangs
his head against the dark glass—-

The bangs are soft below the train’s
now again–but
again–eyes lowered–

Mom’s harsh lines
limp; she spans one hand
to his forehead as if
to take the hits herself–
now again–

In the jumble of next,
seat empties – I point it out–
boy sits; she smiles at me,
sort of.

Then each of us consciously
looks neither at the other or
the boy,
peering instead
through the translucence of
train fug–the rumple of so many–


I am posting the above – a re-write- very belatedly for dVerse Poets Pub’s Poetics prompt about people watching hosted by the very good people-watcher Brian Miller.  

Blocking Writer’s Block – The Pen Is Mightier than the Word*

March 4, 2010

The Pen Is Mightier than the Wor(d)

The downside of being manic is, well, the down side.  There can be depression, of course, but what  I am writing about tonight is simple fatigue:  what’s left when the exhilaration, silliness, determination wears down.

For those who write, this fatigue can function (or cause not functioning, as the case may be) like a kind of writer’s block.  The feeling is not so much paralysis as apathy, apathy colored by exhaustion.  When this fatigue descends, you may feel as if the whole of your forehead (frontal cortex) is taken over by a block of blankness.  If the blankness takes the trouble to enunciate anything at all, what it usually tells you is that (a) you have nothing to say, and (b) even if you did, you’re too tired to say it.

Here are a few tools that can help when this blankness descends:

1.  Habit/Discipline. Forging a daily habit of writing, and disciplining yourself (with soulless rigidity) into maintaining that habit helps to carve a chink of opening in writer’s fatigue.   The writing habit will probably need to be started and cultivated during the non-blank times.  This sounds easy, but unfortunately, when writing is going well, you may not feel a need to set up any habitual framework for it.    Still, it’s useful to try, even when working well, to set some requirements for yourself, such as amount of time you want to devote, an amount you want to produce, a time of day, a place or notebook that you habitually use.   These requirements (even just one of them) can operate as a groove you can slip into when the blankness descends,, a practice you can use discipline (rather than inspiration) to maintain.  Use this discipline to get yourself to pick up your notebook or turn on your computer and set yourself down to it.

2.  Trust/ Let Go. After mustering the discipline to set yourself down,  let go of that same disciplined, planning, decision-making part of your brain.   Pour what’s left of yourself into your fingers, your pen, your keyboard.  Try not to think about what you are going to write, just write.   Move ink (real or virtual) across the page.

The thing to remember is that the pen is mightier than the word.   The fingers (unless you have been doing carpentry or weaving or playing Scott Joplin or Chopin on the piano) are generally less tired than the mind.  And the unconscious is usually quite happy to take over for if you allow it.

How do you access the unconscious?   How do you allow it to move into your hands?  For some this is easier than others.  Probably the most important step is to stop being your own audience.  The unconscious is shy.  It doesn’t like to interrupted; it doesn’t like to be judged.    Of course, once you start writing, your conscious brain (even your fatigued, blocked, conscious brain) will sit up and take notice;  still try to keep this conscious brain to the sidelines.  Make it a silent, unobtrusive witness, a deaf-mute who, sadly, never learned sign language.

These techniques may not give rise to deathless prose (though you may surprise yourself).  But they will help you work through the fog of fatigue (both true mental tiredness and a tiredness of the spirit).   And usually, once the unconscious mind moves into the open,  the fatigued, blocked, conscious part of your brain will also pretty quickly wake up, become engaged.    (It doesn’t really like being a deaf-mute.)

This, frankly,  is when your problems may really begin.  Your unconscious mind may be a much better writer than the conscious mind; they may have different techniques, subject matters.    But at least these are problems with writing, and not with not-writing.

*I have to give credit for the phrase “the pen is mightier than the word” to my husband, Jason Martin.

PS- I have written many posts on blocking writer’s block.  Check them out by going to that category on the ManicDDaily Home Page.

Fear and Loathing on the Number 4 (The NYC Subway Not Much Of A Tea Party)

February 17, 2010

Boy on Number 4 Train

“The people here are f—ing animals,” said the slightly hard-faced young woman to her ten or eleven year old son as they scooted onto my express.

The train was full, but not jammed; there was space not only to breathe, but even to move around a bit.  The boy, wide-eyed and buzz-cut (his mom was holding his Yankees cap), stepped towards one of the center poles, reaching in between passengers, to hold on—his mom quickly pulled him back towards the door.

“These people push you,” she said, draping an arm around him, “I’ll push them back.”

At their side, I kept thinking how unfair this was.   Saying that people push on the train is a bit like saying that a bunch of clementines slung into a bag, clothes crushed into a hamper, or lemmings urged into the sea, push. Okay, maybe we and the lemmings do.  Some.  Still, in my experience, most New York City subway riders, especially the ones whose faces are almost grazed by my forearm as I reach for something to hold onto are pretty forbearing.  (A very different f-word.)

I’m kind of a busybody, I guess, in the sense that I pay attention to strangers.  (As noted in my previous posts, I believe in a “ripple effect” of trying to be peaceful, pleasant, on the subway.)  So now I tried to smile discreetly at the boy to reassure him that he wasn’t really surrounded by f—ing animals.

But it was hard to smile at the boy.  First, because I was afraid his mom would slug me;  secondly, because I was worrying about the fact that his mother had thrust him into a spot (by the door) where there was nothing at all to hang onto.   (I envisaged lurches, collisions, a huge altercation.)

But as the train pushed from the station, the mom grabbed him again, folding her arm around his neck.

After a minute or so, as the ride stabilized, she loosened her grip, and the boy turned himself around so that he faced the door itself and leaned right into it.   This worried me even more.  GERMS.   (I’m a mother too.)

Then I realized that he was (probably) not pressing his mouth into the rubberized seam of the door, but into the collar of his jacket. And then, that the little boy was gently but firmly hitting his buzz-cut head against the door itself.  Again and again and again.

He did not look autistic.  (Who knows?)   But he did not look like he had any “organic” type of problem that might lead to headbanging.   He just looked, well, down, as he softly banged his head.

The mother gently put her hand on the back of his head to try to stop him.  When that didn’t work, she put her hand on his forehead to shield the place that was banging.  That didn’t stop him either.

Finally, we got to Union Square where she put her arm around his neck again and told him they had to get out—

“This our stop?”

“No, to let the people get off.”

As they stepped back into the train, there was one emptied seat left, which I pointed out quickly to the woman.  I felt a little guilty as there was a little old lady right behind them, but the old lady probably wouldn’t have swooped down on the seat in time in any case, and the boy, with his mom pushing him, was a pretty good swooper.

The mother nodded at me once her son was situated,  half-smiling for just a moment.  Then she leaned heavily against the center pole, her face tired, stressed.

The incident somehow made me think of the Tea Partyers again.  I don’t think I quite said what I wanted to yesterday in my post about sneering.  And I don’t mean to imply that the woman on the train was a Tea Partyer.  Only that she seemed frustrated and fearful, and I’m guessing (with really no clear evidence) that she doesn’t much like or trust government, and probably not Obama.

A big part of me wanted to say to her:  ‘Hey!  Don’t spout the f-word to your kid.  Don’t teach pushing on the train!  Enough with automatic retribution!’

But I was able to stop myself.  Besides the fact that she really might have hit me, that kind of speech would simply not have been very useful.  As it was, I was lucky enough to be able to help her get a seat for a tired boy.  And to get a smile from her.  And for both of us to feel that strangers in our society could, in fact, have a kind of connection.

I don’t mean to pat myself on the back here.   Just to say that it felt good.