originally this was part of a series of essays during The Sealey Challenge, all scrapped. really, this post is representative of 2020 as a whole, for m, thus--
These days I am so anchored to the house that I begin to float away, ungrounded. It has been two hundred and eight-seven days since I left the house, face uncovered, so confidently. At first, I dragged my feet forward, hoping to cling to these forced days at home like a productive staycation. My naivety kept me calm, for a moment, until the anxiety and dread settled unshaken. I don't know if one day has passed since March, or if most of the year has sifted away barely touched. I want to say I have looked at these walls so long that I have allowed them to morph into canvas, into possibility, into a forced strict sabbatical of creativity and comfort. No, instead, depression is a dust I cannot quite keep wiped away, and anxiety is a breeze blowing just hard enough not to let any pages settle without a struggle.
I've tried what has worked and what will never. In August, I began The Sealey Challenge, all starry eyed and lying on my back on my great grandmother's quilt in the sun. No, I did not successfully complete it, but I did accomplish enough. I tried, I read, I learned, I found.
I tried, and I failed by reading a grand sixteen poetry books, of which I am vaguely proud enough. I learned (again) that I approach poetry like I do people I love: I do not really like many poetry books, but when I do, I am breathtaken and dizzy and committed. I found that what loops me into the pages and sets me free is when poetry is not particularly heady, but instead grounded and raw and emotional and real, yet surprising. Environmental. A journal made more intimate by surprise. I love the moment I am shocked I did not think of the words myself, and I am so in love that I am nearly angry about it. I love the humanity of poetry. I love to recognize myself and crawl away from my reality and into my body, tucked into the earth, no matter how it trembles or burns.
Space Struck by Paige Lewis was a delight, caught double taken in a panic and laughter. Olivia Gatwood and Megan Fernandes are painters of girls, and it scares me in a way so familiar I will not look away. Kate Tempest unspools gender with Hold Your Own, and Louise Gluck's The Wild Iris takes me almost as long to read as a new leaf unfurls on the vines I bought during my first outting after spring's lockdown.
Again and again, I learn that despite the deep set exhaustion of growing from caterpillar to a butterfly trapped under the glass of a pandemic, I do not want to leave myself and my body when I read. Yes, it is true, I spend most of my time attempting to outrun myself. It's true, I wake up and decipher how I might make the time fray into nighttime again, so I can rest unconscious, smothered in dreams. I said I wouldn't download TikTok- "no matter how bad it gets"- but I scroll it for too long nowadays, and nap in sunlight, and binge every series I've ever held close. Escapism is a survival skill, until poetry.
Here I want someone to be brave enough to force the sharp edges of being alive into something I can see and hold and accept and see as beautiful, despite despite despite. It's not that I need to recognize what I read, but that I am desperate to acknowledge the pain and say that living is worth acknowledging anyway.
I want poetry that leaves me rooted, breathing, nodding, and saying yes, regardless and because of. I want poetry to remind me where I am, shaking me from where I feel I remain.
I want poetry to unravel reality into secretly named exhibitions.
"I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit," said Kurt Vonnegut.
I did not finish The Sealey Challenge, because ultimately I wanted to slow. It is a disorienting thing to be so exhausted of the oozing stagnancy of life, to hunger so deeply for speed and change and energy, to choose to slow and consider and soften into a failure of a challenge to savor each word offered to me.
I'm honored to be allowed into the hallows and corners of other lives, to be reminded that there is a world and a future and a past beyond the walls of my isolation, which such a full range of experience. To know it existed is to see proof that it will happen again.
2020 may be a holding cell shaking the shoulders of our priorities and civil rights (many shout outs to the government for forcing me to grovel in thanks for my life being slightly better than 90% of people in 1847, but that's another rant, isn't it?), but it is also a window into what we want, what we dream, and what we remember, scavengers for proof of a future.
just doin their thing
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