On the Significance of Real Words Trumping All My Usual Obsessions

Photo by Jose Padua
More than anything else, I’m obsessed with the endings of things. So while this week marked the beginning of Julien’s school year (Maggie’s began last week), what was more significant for me was that this marked the end of summer. Most parents, I imagine, welcome the beginning of the school year. With the kids at school, the problem of keeping them occupied with useful activities during the day is solved—they’re at school, learning at various levels. Which is a good thing.

But for me, with my obsessive compulsive mind, having them at school—where I can’t see them and where they’re in the hands of someone other than me or Heather—creates a certain amount of stress, either at a conscious or subconscious level. So while there are periods when they’re at school during which I can get a lot of work done, there are other stretches of time when—due to irrational fears and my mind’s tendency to imagine all sorts of chaos and mayhem happening wherever I’m not—I can hardly get anything done at all.

One good thing, though, about having these periods when I’m unable to focus on my work is that they’ve motivated me to walk in the morning. Even though exercise is an activity that I’m sure lifts my spirits even during those times when the only difference I can feel is the ache in my muscles, it’s something I never make enough time for.

My preferred method for lifting my spirits is to write a poem. Even when it’s a sad poem, the mental exercise is invigorating. Finishing a poem compares quite well to that sixth or seventh shot of bourbon—or whatever it took to get a decent buzz during my drinking days. The problem, of course, is that the high fades. As just as I would go through the process of drinking, sleeping it off, waking up hungover, and then doing it all over again, I go through the process of writing a poem, sleeping it off, waking up with some sort of poetry hangover, then wanting to get up to do the whole thing over again.

I have slowed down a bit in the past couple of weeks. I’m not knocking myself to write a new poem every night as I sometimes do. Instead, when I get a little tired, I stop whatever new project I’m working on and go back to revise or proofread something I’d previously written. One other thing I must do is get back to compiling what looks like the hundreds and hundreds of poems and essays/stories I’ve written over the past few years.

But I think that before I get immersed in that process I should take the time to open the front door of the house every day after I’ve dropped Maggie and Julien off at school. And walk. It doesn’t have to be a long walk. Indeed, I can’t walk for very long here in Front Royal. It’s not like when I lived in New York or even in DC where I could walk for hours and feel this energy in my blood and bones from being in the city. Here, you can only walk for so far before you get out into the country, and in the country you don’t walk—you hike. I don’t fucking hike.

Which means I’ll be sticking to those whatever smaller doses of walking are available to me here. It will, as those who have no choice but to resign to minor inconveniences say, have to do.

As for school, Julien’s first week went pretty well in contrast to those weeks this past summer when he went to the school’s camp in the morning. And today, at the school’s beginning-of-the-year picnic, his teacher told us she had it figured out. During the camp, she said, she had more time to deal with him one on one. That, she figured out, was why he had so much trouble with camp this summer—he didn’t like that attention. Indeed, if Julien’s anything like me, what he wants from most people most of the time is for them to back the fuck off. The rest he’ll make his family or else embrace them as such.

This afternoon, on the way back from the school picnic, Julien was talking to Maggie. He said, “My Max, my Max. He’s not Maggie’s Max, he’s my Max.” Max is his classmate. He’s not Maggie’s classmate.

Tomorrow we’re off to Roanoke for a memorial service for one of Heather’s favorite teachers from college, the poet Eric Trethewey, who died this past week. A tremendous poet, his daughter is Natasha Trethewey who served two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States. Poetry, certainly, was among the gifts he passed on to her.

And this is where I start to focus. Where, in a shift from my usual tendencies, I am obsessed with the beginning of things. And what obsesses me here is not so much that I may have passed on my obsessive-compulsive mind or any number of disorders to my children. No, what obsesses me here is that both Heather and I are in the early stages of passing poetry on to our children. Yeah, poetry. It’s not going to feed you very well. It’s going be a lot of work at times, and a lot of the time it may seem like all it does is make you think about all the things that are goddamn hard to think about.

But much more than money, it’s the sort of thing that makes you rich inside. Because once you know poetry—real poetry—you know that everything else is just the cheap shit. And all that talk about bombs and war and terror and enemy combatants is coming from people who, despite their money, are the poorest motherfuckers on earth.

-Jose Padua

The photo of the Wells Fargo building in Roanoke, Virginia was taken this Sunday.

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