Friday, August 3, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Tag You’re It!

Why do you write? I don’t mean presentations for work, or papers for school. Why do you: ignore the pile of bills on the table, the reality show you recorded last night, the fact that you need milk and maybe that you’re out of clean socks, and sit down to write the literary writing you love to do.

It could be poetry, micro-fiction, the novel you’ve been working on for six years, or a jacket blurb. It could be a blog. Why do you do it?

I write because I can’t not. I used to say that I crunched numbers during the day, and wrote at night, and the whole thing balanced me out. That’s not really true. I want with my whole heart to connect with someone. If I can make just one person feel like they’re not alone, that is what I hope to accomplish.

I’m no saint. I get cranky. I get snarky. I have pain and I feel envy. What I try to do, besides drive my husband nuts which I’m sure I do anyway, is write that crappy person. Write a character study about a woman who hates mammograms and loves nitrous oxide. Write about some jerk who should have his name engraved on a stool at the local bar, who eats breakfast there so he can have a beer and a shot with his bacon and eggs. At least I can also write some redemption into it, and it’s not the real-life me. If someone recognizes themselves, maybe they’ll change. Maybe not.

There is no room for ego in my writing arena. If you need to make people feel small in order to feel accomplished, we will not be friends. But you can be an accomplished, well-known, well-published successful writer, and still be a good human. Then you will connect – with one person, with a thousand people, whatever. Write about someone with that ego, but try to remain personally kind.

This is part of being a good literary citizen, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

In April of 2013, my son went to France with his High School band. I gave him two assignments: go to Berthillon and have ice cream (he had vanilla, and salted caramel), and stop by Shakespeare & Co. to get anything for a friend of mine. I didn’t care if it was a magnet or a business card, just anything.

Separate from that, he had taken my newest chapbook, “Lit Up”, with him to read. He texted me from the band bus to tell me he’d forgotten how much he liked my work (what????). Then he texted to tell me when he got to the last poem, written about him, he was sobbing on the bus. I was thankful he had enough confidence to cry in front of all his friends, and thankful I’d connected with him.

But just to make sure my head didn’t get too fat, the next day when he went to Shakespeare & Co., he took “Lit Up”. And he put it on a lit display right next to Ezra Pound. I’m sure it was found and thrown away before he ever got out of the store. Of course it was.

Think about why you write. Someday, you may really have a book on display at Shakespeare & Co. I hope someone cries when they read it. Now go order more socks online and write something.

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To My Son, the Day After the Storm

The wind yowls outside like the sound of caged circus lions.  It makes me think of when my son was born, though really no sound like that came from me, rather a quiet conversation and a lie to the doctor about how no, the spinal didn’t hurt at all. The body should not have to feel the way a champagne bottle sounds, the cork flying in celebration, but there is no other way to describe the pop of the spine as it is pierced.  And now my son is thirteen and the wind is a howl.  The water heater sounds like propellers of a ship channeling past a diving bell, or whalespeak recorded by men braver than I.  I remember my newborn curled inside my flowered sleepshirt.  He slept cradled in one arm, his breath and my breath together in calm and methodical dream.  And now he is taller than I.  I open his door twice each night just to hear him stir.  He is not like me, though part of me.  Not like his father though part of him.  And the lions bellow the trees sideways, clouds like stop-action scenes from old National Geographics on the shelf that used to be pale blue, and we get older.  This is our breathing now.

 Previously published in Sugar House Review

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Back cover of "Lit Up" by Tobi

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