I am a maker. Thoughts are words, words are the building materials. I hesitate to say bricks as they, the words, I mean, are as malleable as play-do, as changeable as water. I am, though, inert. My being is set, not as a feeling person. That changes with the hour although there are the usual preoccupations, but as a worker, I am inert. To clarify: the usual preoccupations are family, friends, world, in any order, and surviving childhood. The work is the work.
My father called me every weekend morning, for years, to come and play baseball. Each time, for a quarter of an hour we stood a foot or two from one another and tossed the ball before spreading apart down the street and practicing throwing distances. That practice stopped when I was twelve or thirteen, sometime after he finally realized that I would never make the Major Leagues. He never fully put together, I guess, that I am a girl. I learned two things. No dream is ever impossible to achieve, since the dreaming is the point. And to keep my eye on the ball. It is a fact that every time I missed a ball it was because my eye drifted and if I kept my eye on the ball I could catch throws that even the neighborhood boys whistled at.
So whatever the day and whatever the anxieties, the crippling dislocations, the repetition in my life as an adult of what crippled me as a child, so that my children and my various husbands are also affected. Whatever challenges my different professions offered and I have been variously a social worker, a college instructor, a civil rights and criminal attorney in the South, and now a poet, there was always the eye on the ball, dreaming and, oh yes, solitaire.
The best work is impassive, follows inspiration and vision, but is not inspiration or vision. I do not expect it to transport me. I do hope for the feeling at the end of the day, or at the end of the work’s day, since the work and not me dictates that, I do hope, for the feeling of the dream: the wash of pleasure that comes with feeling that its outlines, or what William Blake called its lineaments, are palpable and real.
Some part of me is always at the work. I have learned to allow that. I carry a piece of paper and a pencil in every purse or backpack. I may have written something which I think is awful but I know there is in it a something and a vision of its somethingness may come to me at odd times, on the toilet, on a bus, or while playing solitaire. I let those comings to mind happen. W.B. Sebold once said someplace it must be hard to be married to a writer. It’s the permission you give yourself to be two places at once.
If I can’t stand to work on my piece anymore, I don’t. Hence solitaire. Yet I believe that at some point, even if it’s next year I will solve that work’s problems. There is one more thing. Writing is an act. The act is pretending to be a person, not yourself, a voice, something like yourself but not yourself. So when I am out of touch with myself and dry like a desert, I read other poets’ work. Recently I am reading Robert Lowell, who puts on the clothes of other writers manically, as if dressing and redressing like I do on a bad clothes day. Rilke, Villon, Rimbaud, whoever. He translates, imitates, gets me back to that impersonating act and back to work.
You’ll have to excuse me now, I need to play a little spider solitaire.
Alice Weiss writes: I have been published in the Alaska Quarterly Review; Soul-lit.com; Ibbetson Street 31; Liberty’s Vigil, The Occupy Anthology; Wilderness House Literary Review; Muddy River Poetry Review; and Jewish Currents. I have featured at the Provincetown Poetry Festival, and until 2011 I was the poet-in-residence at Am HaYam, the Cape Cod Chavurah. I received an MFA from New England College in 2010. During the 70’, 80’s and 90’s I was a civil rights attorney and public defender in New Orleans, Louisiana. Now I live and write in Cambridge, MA.