It is never done. It is just done enough.
I’ve been circling around a collection of poetry I constructed in 2002. It was interspersed with photo/shopped images and documented a journey into denial of body knowledge and loss. I completed it as part of a course entitled Embodiment and Curriculum Inquiry. My first Master’s seminar. I passed it around to classmates, subjected it to graded evaluation and shared it with a few family members. Then I carefully bound it and put it on a bookshelf. It was done.
Or was it?
Early this year I began to toy with the idea of revisiting this work with the thought of publishing it. I was proud of what I had accomplished with this piece why not try to become a “published” author rather than the rejected author? Three rejection letters 14 years ago and I quit writing non-academic work with the hope of publishing. Oh, there was the occasional poem that popped out now and then. A few blog entries. Some first drafts of short stories and even outlines and chapters that belonged to unfinished novels. But serious writing, writing that made up my existence, was replaced with writing academic papers and such. I forgot what it was to be a writer – avoided the pain of creativity.
But the one collection of poetry on my shelf that was my own work kept pulling my attention back to it now and then. For the last few weeks it has been on the “to-do” list. The idea is to tweak it and clean it up for publication. But as I finally opened it and began to read, I realize that it is not finished. I wrote this when my children were ages 9 months, 4 and 6. A lifetime ago. So much has shifted in my life since the original writing that these poems have become fragments of an experience. And I need to start over again if I am to “finish” this collection. The “finished” collection has evolved into a rough draft.
Last winter I reread a book I hated when forced to read it as part of a Canadian Lit course more than 20 years ago. Robertson Davies Fifth Business was tedious and boring to a 19 year old lit major. And yet, I reread it in two days, I literally could not put it down. These shifts in the reader response to literature always amazes me, even as I’ve been aware of them for a very long time. There are some works that I’ve revisited regularly since the first discovery reading. Pride and Prejudice has been reread so many time that I’ve had to replace my paperback version not once but twice. This past Christmas when I began to once again read Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s story I found for the first time that I wasn’t engaged. And I can’t help wondering if I’ve “outgrown” that book.
The title of the collection of poetry I wrote in 2002 was “A Work in Progress: My Lived Experience of Motherhood.” I know now that the title is wrong. And the work is rough. So rough that some of the poems must be disgarded as reworking is not an option.
As a writing teacher, I tell my students that writing is re/writing. But I don’t think I’ve ever successfully communicated to them the painful truth of re/vision. I simply tell them it must be done. But I think I avoid addressing the disappointment, the sheer hard work and sense of mutilation that comes with taking what we so hoped was a finished piece and stripping it down to the bare bones. Starting again. Critical responses to our writing are always difficult to accept. Critical responses to our writing that emerge from our own lived experience are even more painful.
Writing is not easy. Re/writing is torture. Self-inflicted and necessary.