I’ve not written much of substance on Salmagundi in a while. I’ve been too busy to write–too busy grappling with the stories I tell myself. You know the kind. The stories that go, “This has happened to me, so now this is going to happen next.” Stories that seem so common-sensical, so innocent, so natural that we hardly realize that we’re telling them to ourselves, and trying to live them out, even when it would be better not to.
Last summer I had surgery on my right knee, my fifth, this time to implant a new anterior cruciate ligament. “Now that we’ve done this graft,” I told myself, “I’ll be good as new.”
Not so fast. A complication developed. So a few weeks ago I had a sixth surgery to resolve the problem. “Now that we’ve made this repair,” I told myself, “life will soon be back to normal.”
Not so fast. My musical collaborator suddenly quit, for personal reasons. All my current work came to a screeching halt, and the direction of my future work was plunged into serious doubt. “Now that this has happened,” I said to myself, “it’s a good thing our family has a little vacation planned in California. I’ll come back refreshed and inspired, and all will be well.”
Not so fast. Our family returned from our wonderful California trip this past Saturday night to find that the city sewer line had backed up into our cellar while we were gone. (The cause: somebody in our neighborhood had flushed a t-shirt down their toilet. Hint: Probably not a smart thing to do.) Not only was there now a mess to clean up, but our furnace and hot water heater were damaged beyond repair, and neither our insurance policy nor the city’s would cover their replacement. What’s more, one of the earthen cellar walls in our century-old house had started to cave in, threatening the stability of our first floor. . . .
All will be well?
This time, I’m learning my lesson. I’m not telling myself any more stories, at least of the self-concocted-and-based-utterly-on-supposition variety. No more “now that this is so, this will be so” fictions.
No, instead I think I’ll switch, at least for today, to poetry. In poetry, our experiences of the world, and our expectations of it, aren’t nearly so linear as in stories. The relation between cause and effect, between “this and that,” isn’t so straightforward. So I figure that with poetry there will be less disappointment, maybe, when things don’t actually work out the way I want them to. Less disappointment, and more acceptance of how things actually are.
So yes, for today I’m switching from the stories I tell myself to some lines of poetry I can remember–like this little excerpt of “This Day,” in which the poet Jimmy Santiago Baca takes time to admire the “silly robins”: