Funk Life With Community and Woodpecker

From Flickr user DNAMichaud
From Flickr user DNAMichaud

I have traditionally avoided funks by being addicted to productivity. If I am constantly in a flurry of activity, I cannot introspect enough to be depressed.

I become anxious if I’m not getting stuff done. (I think, lately, because I’m scared of facing myself.)

But this semester, I have intentionally lightened my load.

The result? I have been in a 3-month long funk of rage and sadness.

The usual thing (writing) isn’t helping. Neither is working out. Though I’m still doing both. Less than I’d like to be.

I have been getting much, much less done; and I’m trying to be okay with that. It’s hard.

I’m not saying this to elicit pity, so if it is your impulse to say something like, “It’ll get better!” and “You go girl!” please don’t. I know it will get better. I am totally going.

I am sharing about my funk because funk shouldn’t be taboo. Because women’s funk especially should not be taboo. A lot of us have memorized lessons that say, “contentment is not your birthright: internalize and adjust, you can make everyone happy.”

I’m calling shenanigans on all that. That shit is a recipe for an eternal motherfunking funk.

There’s a lot of media about women in extreme funks: substances and addiction, abuse, approximate or near life-ending funks.

This funk I’m having isn’t anything like that.

This is a low-grade, sometimes ignorable funk. But ignorable funks are dangerous: my intuition is lower, I feel like checking out. Ignoring things that are important can have lasting physical, emotional, and financial consequences.

But funks are also a healthy part of the process. And I’m learning how to use it to be a better person, instead of just ignoring it or launching back into a frenzy of hyper productivity. I’m making conscious, deliberate, steps toward no mo funk. Or low mo funk.

Part of my funk is the result of plugging into books about women, about feminism. Intentionally becoming more tuned in to my daughter’s education (which is fucking depressing and a post for another day). Paying attention to politics.

Looking at myself and the ways in which my religious, rural upbringing has shaped the way I think about myself and other women, how I have voluntarily believed(and sometimes still believe) I am not worthy or deserving of things that, frankly, I want. Basic things like professional fulfillment and money and self-assurance, confidence, and to be taken seriously by people in authority.

I’m staring the fact that I talk myself out of a lot of self-confidence directly in the face.

I’m trying to figure out how to stop getting in my own way when I want to communicate in important and meaningful ways.

I am trying to get to the locus of my fear.

I am trying to become a better woman so I can teach my daughter to be powerful and self-actualized and know how to ask for and pursue what she wants without feeling like an imposter.

And over the last few days, I’ve had a couple of experiences in my communities that made me feel relevant. And strong. And proud.

So I want to take this moment to be grateful for my communities and share them with you.

One of the communities, the best one is the Wilkes Creative Writing community. Just being connected to so many productive writers gives me the warm fuzzies. So many of my peers, friends, colleagues, and teachers from Wilkes are doing amazing things.

This is 5 out of 900 things that just crossed my Facebook feed yesterday and early this morning.

The fabulous Trilby wrote me special to ask for a submission to her new online journal, Red Lit. (You should check it out and submit, too).

And an editor at a tiny press who has my manuscript has been sending me poems and links that my work reminds him of, challenging my thinking and being generally awesome.

And the facebook group dedicated to raising awareness to Opt Out of Standardized Testing for PA has provided assurance that I am not, in fact, insane. And encouragement and advice when I was seriously millimeters from letting apathy win.

I had a wonderful, long, simpatico conversation with a district administrator when I showed up to opt Child out of the PSSAs.

And last week, after a failed hour with Angie’s List and web searches for talk therapists in my region, I put out a Facebook update asking for recommendations of secular (you wouldn’t believe how difficult this is in my area), female talk therapists so that I can get help to untangle this mess in my head. This mess that I don’t even have specific words for. My friends delivered. And I even have insurance. Thanks, Obamacare.

It feels good to do things that give me power and that I want to do. Small steps.

Anybody care to share a moment of funk? Or a month or year? How did you get out of it? or How did you cope?

Guest Post: “You’ve survived it again, the Poem says.”

This Post originally appeared in Center for Health Media and Policy out of  Hunter College.  This post is an eloquent meditation on Andrew Merton’s poem, “Coming Out of a Depression.”  Thank you, Joy.  Enjoy, everyone. 

Joy Jacobson is the CHMP’s poet-in-residence. 

This week Andrew Merton’s first book of poemsEvidence that We Are Descended from Chairs, is being released from Accents Publishing. Merton may not be typical of a debut poet: he is an accomplished journalist and chairs the Department of English at the University of New Hampshire, where I was his student 30 years ago. I got in touch with him again when the founder of UNH’s journalism department, Don Murray, died in 2006. Murray and Merton had a strong influence on my writing life at that time, and now that I teach writing I’m grateful to recall what they taught me.

With this new book of poems Merton is instructing me in another way. As poetCharles Simic writes in a foreword, Merton’s “chief subject may be described as our human comedy mixed with tragedy.” A good example is this poem (reprinted with the author’s permission):


coming out of a depression

sleet

gravel in a chicken’s gut

flies buzzing feebly against a screen

crows

morels at the foot of a dead apple tree

shadow of a hawk, receding

whisper of snakes on stone

the sun that powers the heart of a flea

a history of oceans
written on the underside of clouds

in a worn wicker basket
abandoned by a stream,
galaxies blooming

We might see this poem as a topographic map, demonstrating in relief the hills and valleys of a particular psychic landscape. Or maybe, more aptly, it’s a travelogue of the byways leading out of Hell. Regardless, we have little choice but to trust our guide.

We start in a season of bad weather. A single word, sleet, acts as both noun and verb of its own endless sentence. This is a place of ineffectual flies and of many birds, caged or scavenging or predatory. One life form here, the morels, are saprotrophic, feeding on dead things, and I imagine the apple tree to be reaching for the memory of the forbidden fruit it once bore. Thou shalt not eat of it, God warned, and I wouldn’t dare. In this place I wouldn’t even gather the morels for consumption. It’s an environment that reduces its raptor to shadow and retreat.

Those first six lines seem to me to be in whispered conversation with some other famous literary depressives: Yahweh, Poe’s raven, Keats’s narrator “half in love with easeful Death” from “Ode to a Nightingale.” But in Merton’s seventh line a movement evidenced only by the swish of snakeskin on stone changes the view. It’s a sound I can see. I’m reminded of a friend’s sumi ink-stick drawings; one in particular depicts a gray road winding through gray-black trees. A simple, colorless elegance.

Now with the eighth line a real and measurable power asserts itself. It may be no more significant than the electroconductivity taking place in the heart of a flea, but a life can revolve around that sun. And it does, here. A couplet emerges, and in it a pairing of water and language—a natural history written in clouds that must fall inevitably down.

A rain of words: a poet’s dream of redemption.

Merton’s final tercet calls forth a basket, left behind and emptied, apparently, of its cargo—the infant Moses, perhaps? And why not? The poem has recovered itself enough to form a stanza, a complex interplay of lines and images. It’s a free-verse universe but it’s ordered. Even during a clinical depression, involuntary body processes like heart rhythm and respiration are kept up. You’ve survived it again, the poem says. You walked through sleet and ate gizzards, and your powers of observation were never lost to you. Take a peek inside the basket, the poem invites. Go on: you’ll be stunned all over again to discover galaxies so numerous they can’t be counted. But they can be contained in the worn wicker of your mind.

You can watch Andrew Merton’s recent poetry reading at UNH, a video in three parts, by clicking here. And you can order the book from Accents Publishing.

Ruminations of a Sad Sack Temporary Insomniac

Despite the obvious excess of patriotism, I like these people!

I love people.  I trust them and think–almost without exception–that they are good at their core.

I have always been this way, and most of the time–recognizing that naivete, and perhaps even foolishness, are characteristics that can describe this trust–I don’t want to change.

But when the trust throws me, it throws me far because I do it with my whole heart; when people show themselves to be ugly inside or unworthy, I feel doubly affronted because I–though thankfully less so than in my more youthful youth–connect deeply with friends, new or old, without thinking twice.

In recent history, such a betrayal occurred.  I try not to tell myself I was asking for it.  But sometimes I wonder if maybe the excuse to be sad sack and weepy for a bit is something I crave enough to put myself into positions where I befriend and finally adore difficult/nutty/damaged people.

The peculiar severity of this misfortune was brought to light earlier this evening, and leaves me feeling now like the 7th grade me who tried to change the names in a story I wrote as I read it out loud to the class because I was upset with the girls I wrote it about.  I feel the same kind of disoriented, but tricked, too.

Sweet Fella tried to cuddle me enough to make me feel better, but I need to cry.  I need to pity myself for a few moments before I can shake it off.

Even though I am a confident and competent and kind grown up, I have enough lingering protestant guilt that these kinds of things always, always leave me doubting myself–giving power to my life’s villains by missing sleep, and by feeling an exaggerated sense of loss.

I’ll live, I know.  And each time the process is a little less sorrowful.  It’s like the pain of early breakups, but with dull edges and a slower burn.

Another friend told me a few months back, “April, you have to stick up for yourself!”  And she’s right!  It’s a dreadfully fine line between being effectively assertive and being a door mat, though.  And I prefer to err on the side of doormat.  I like to think of it as the low high road.

And in this case, sticking up for myself means that I abandon an activity I really enjoy, experience social awkwardness at another activity I really enjoy, and have no recourse about the damage to my reputation with one friend and several particular strangers.  The only way to get recourse is to behave pettily and desperately, and I am too ego-maniacal and stubborn for that.

So there it is.  Vaguest blog post in the history of the world.  No, I will not dish details.  I just needed to get it off my chest.  I tried to write it in such a way that you might get something out of it too, I mean, I put in some laffs, but really I did it for me.  Which is a rule I don’t generally break: my blog is not my diary.  But people look at my blog when I use it like my diary.  You seem to love it when I get personal.  It’s a thing I’m going to try to do more of, actually.

Stay tuned for a post on the birth of my only child. It’s going to be riveting.