Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.
1. I’m lonely so I do lonely things.
2. Loving you was like going to war; I never came back the same.
3. You hate women, just like your father and his father, so it runs in your blood.
4. I was wandering the derelict car park of your heart looking for a ride home.
5. You’re a ghost town I’m too patriotic to leave.
6. I stay because you’re the beginning of the dream I want to remember.
7. I didn’t call him back because he likes his girls voiceless.
8. It’s not that he wants to be a liar; it’s just that he doesn’t know the truth.
9. I couldn’t love you, you were a small war.
10. We covered the smell of loss with jokes.
11. I didn’t want to fail at love like our parents.
12. You made the nomad in me build a house and stay.
13. I’m not a dog.
14. We were trying to prove our blood wrong.
15. I was still lonely so I did even lonelier things.
16. Yes, I’m insecure, but so was my mother and her mother.
17. No, he loves me he just makes me cry a lot.
18. He knows all of my secrets and still wants to kiss me.
19. You were too cruel to love for a long time.
20. It just didn’t work out.
21. My dad walked out one afternoon and never came back.
22. I can’t sleep because I can still taste him in my mouth.
23. I cut him out at the root, he was my favorite tree, rotting, threatening the foundations of my home.
24. The women in my family die waiting.
25. Because I didn’t want to die waiting for you.
26. I had to leave, I felt lonely when he held me.
27. You’re the song I rewind until I know all the words and I feel sick.
28. He sent me a text that said “I love you so bad.”
29. His heart wasn’t as beautiful as his smile.
30. We emotionally manipulated one another until we thought it was love.
31. Forgive me, I was lonely so I chose you.
32. I’m a lover without a lover.
33. I’m lovely and lonely.
34. I belong deeply to myself.
a note to self
1. There will be several days that you daydream about stepping in front of a city bus. Don’t. It will not be beautiful. It will not be brave. It will be selfish. It will be broken. Your mother will cry.
2. Don’t write for him. Write for you. Write for others like you. Write so the girl that thinks about stepping in front of public transportation doesn’t. Don’t be selfish.
3. When you will yourself to sleep and it doesn’t come- get up. It doesn’t matter that it’s 3 am. There will be other 3 am’s. Take a shower. Take two. Wash him out of your hair. Write a poem. Read the same book you’ve read 202 times again. The 203rd time might tell you something different. Don’t stay in bed- you will think about the bus again.
4. Don’t kiss him because he’s broken. Don’t kiss him because his laughter never reaches his eyes. Don’t try and fix him. Fix yourself first. Be selfish. He can’t save you.
5. Date yourself. Take yourself out to eat. Don’t share your popcorn at the movies with anyone. Stroll around an art museum alone. Fall in love with canvases. Fall in love with yourself.
6. Dress up and wear red lipstick and get drunk with your friends. They’re the ones that will pick you up. Don’t kiss him. Or him. Don’t fall asleep on strange couches with strange boys. When his hand slides up your dress walk away. Hit him. Don’t kiss him. He can’t save you.
7. Get another tattoo. Get five more. Get another hole in your ear. Don’t listen to your dad. You will still be able to get a job. Did you really want to be employed by someone like your father? Haven’t you had enough of judgmental old white men anyway? Get fuck you tattooed in tiny letters on your hip.
8. When you feel the yearning for a new city- start over. Take 200 bucks and a three suitcases. Work anywhere that will have you. Meet strange people and forget your name. Call yourself Ruby. No one will know the difference. Remember to call your mother. Don’t be selfish. Come home when you find yourself in the strangers and the small one bedroom apartment.
9. Don’t whisper evil things into your own ear. Other people are going to shout them at you. Be your own hero. Keep a sword on your key ring.
10. Don’t step in front of a city bus. It will not be beautiful. Live. Stay up all night with a boy that promises you everything and means it. Live. See shitty local bands with a friend. Wear a different band’s t-shirt. No one will care. Live. Have a baby girl with tiny fingers and tiny toes someday. Pour love into her until it’s overflowing. Live. Wake up. Staying in bed all day is not poetic.
Do you hear that? It’s me. It’s your life. Wake up.
After twenty straight years as a student, I decided to commemorate finishing my Master’s degree in archival studies in a bookish way - a quote tattoo from one of my favourite plays, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.
In the play, one of the main characters, Hannah, has half-solved a centuries-old mystery. One of the other characters wonders why she even bothers to investigate something that matters so little. Hannah’s response:
HANNAH: It’s all trivial – your grouse, my hermit, Bernard’s Byron. Comparing what we’re looking for misses the point. It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we’re going out the way we came in. That’s why you can’t believe in the afterlife, Valentine. Believe in the after, by all means, but not the life. Believe in God, the soul, the spirit, the infinite, believe in angels if you like, but not in the great celestial get-together for an exchange of views. If the answers are in the back of the book I can wait, but what a drag. Better to struggle on knowing that failure is final. (2.7)
Hannah’s speech cuts to the core of why humans do what we do - why we learn and experiment and discover things. It doesn’t matter if we find the answer or don’t find the answer. What matters is that we keep looking. That we keep wanting the answer to whatever the question might be. As Douglas Adams so assiduously pointed out, it’s not the answer to life, the universe and everything that matters, it’s figuring out the question.
Done by Emma James at Speakeasy in Toronto.
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.
Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.
Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply.
Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.
I was so preposterously serious in those days, such a humorless little prig.
Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me.
When it comes to dying even. Nothing ponderous, or portentous, or emphatic.
No rhetoric, no tremolos,
no self conscious persona putting on its celebrated imitation of Christ or Little Nell.
And of course, no theology, no metaphysics.
Just the fact of dying and the fact of the clear light.
So throw away your baggage and go forward.
There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet,
trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair.
That’s why you must walk so lightly.
Lightly my darling,
on tiptoes and no luggage,
not even a sponge bag,
― Aldous Huxley, Island
from Andrea Gibson’s poem, “Gospel Salt”
As I was going down those ill-famed stairs
you were coming in the door, and for a second
I saw your unfamiliar face and you saw mine.
Then I hid so you wouldn’t see me again, and you
hurried past me, hiding your face,
and slipped inside the ill-famed house
where you couldn’t have found sensual pleasure any more
than I did.
And yet the love you were looking for, I had to give you;
the love I was looking for—so your tired,
knowing eyes implied—you had to give me.
Our bodies sensed and sought each other;
our blood and skin understood.
But, flustered, we both hid ourselves.