The Long Game
“So much has changed. And still, you are fortunate:
the ideal burns in you like a fever.
Or not like a fever, like a second heart.”
The nominations were announced. I’ll have more
analysis later – all you need to know is this…
If you’re well, I don’t know if living
up to expectation will make up
for the fact that we live in a world
where all could have collided.
But for those of us who love,
that’s where we find our delight.
Holy sh-t. More thoughts to come.
And don’t forget, it’ll be our only chance
of the year…
—a found poem excerpted from Lainey Gossip
So much has changed. It keeps changing, and still I find it easy-and-or-challenging to believe myself fortunate. One day I am deeply, plushly fortunate. Poetry lines the walls and there is a gleaming metaphor there – right there! Another day, piles of hardened snow are smattered with yellow piss and the letter at the end of the driveway says, “Sorry.”
But, yes, I’ll take that ideal that burns in my chest like a fever. Like a second heart and a pair of full lovely lungs, robust balloons who did not have a time in their twenties best referred to as The Lost Years. See how I romanticize those wasted years so that they begin to take on the soft form of a woman?
We dress up our past and send it down the red carpet, blind it with flashbulbs, then click through light-rooms forming Best and Worst lists. Or, is that our future?
True story: while watching a movie awards show, my son wandered in, asked, “Mommy, will you win an award like that one day?” Insert laughter here!
True story: not bloody likely.
True story: maybe.
My award is this. This life working in semi-isolation, semi-obscurity, riddled with self-doubt and daily tussles with existential angst. This life being called to arms and/or finding solace in words on a page, arranged just so. Of gasping and getting misty-eyed over the rhythms of the fevered second heart of another writer.
I’ll take it, this life, these doubts. Playing the very long game.
Literature, poetry – reading it, writing it – is a long game, indeed. Not for those satisfied with the relatively instant gratification of a regular paycheque, job security, or a dental plan. No, no, my friend. We’ve got our eyes on a distant horizon – that place where our poetry collections are award-winners, our novels are bestsellers, our memoirs made into films starring the tautest, glossiest embodiments of ourselves. How rosy is that distant horizon? So rosy! It glows! Squint. Can you see it? Nope? It was there but now the sun has gone down.
What role this envy, these pristinely unreasonable dreams?
Do accountants have professional envy? I bet they do. I should ask. One of my best friends is an accountant.
This is the belief to which I cling: That there are aspiring accountants out there who know which courses to take, that if they study hard and then study harder that they may one day pass the CGA, or CMA, or whatever it is. That once they do, they will have a job. A real one, with a nice paycheque and benefits. Right? I like thinking of those accountants, with their professionally cleaned teeth and gleaming new appliances. I really do.
This is the belief to which I cling: That there are aspiring writers out there who have no idea which courses to take, or if they should take courses at all or, rather, live harder, gentler, looser, with more depth and gusto so that they can pass this knowledge or heart, or whatever it is, into their writing. That once they do, they will not have a job. Are you kidding? They will have a way of life, a real one, not one that can be measured with a nice pay cheque and benefits. Right? I like thinking of those writers, with their neglected dental health and shuddering aged appliances. I really do.
I also like thinking about you, out there with me.
You, who responds to an email about doubt with, “just to catastrophize, what effect does tribulation – just for instance, as an extension of periodic rejections and insufficient income etc. – have on one's sense of legitimacy or commitment to go on working not only in the face of vast indifference but of immediate discouragement and oppression?” because you know that is just the thing to cheer me up. Truly. Then you mention Marina Tsvetaeva.
You, up there, up north, with whom I’ve been walking and carrying on a conversation for ten years now about writing and work and kids and how we cross bodies of water. How many kilometres we’ve walked together, most of those in our own damn minds. How good it feels to walk beside you.
You, who reads a draft and responds with an email that begins with the subject heading: HOLY CRAP!!! and this means something very good.
You, my writers’ group, spokes on a turning wheel, women who need the male gaze, male criticism, male domination in awards and tenure and what-the-f-not like fish need bicycles. You who work hard for pay, work hard for no pay, who raise kids and spirits and a little hell. Who are dogged in your craft, your art, your beliefs, your support.
You, who picks up every Lainey Gossip reference I put down. Who appreciates that gossip is as much about poetry and litratcha as anything else. And everything is.
Now is time for an epiphany, one about the writing life, the long game, the role of isolation and envy and friendship and wee morsels dangled from arts granting agencies and awards juries in navigating the way.
That epiphany is not forthcoming. I’ll let you know when my subconscious spits one out like so many seeds mucked in the juicy pith of fruit – or you can keep me updated on yours. Until then, let’s admit that we’re all a bit of a wreck. In our own writerly isolation, let’s make it collective. Let’s laugh about it, raise a festive drink or two. I’ll meet you in the lounge of the next literary event that we’re at together. We can hug and tell each other how much we love one another, okay?
As I tell my kids nearly every day: life’s not fair; that’s not the point. The literary landscape is not a flat one. Together can we agree to enjoy both the heights and the valleys? They are what make us who we are, yes? There, I found one, a kind of epiphany. Now, I’m going to keep my eyes on that horizon. I’ll will it rosy, smatter some dark clouds for texture, emblazon light-rimmed edges. Then I’ll go back to my fevered ideals, my second heart pink and plump and strong, pounding with words.
“you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.”
—Louise Gluck, October
Laisha Rosnau is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Pluck (Nightwood Editions, 2014), and the novel, The Sudden Weight of Snow (McClelland & Stewart). Her work has been published internationally and nominated for several awards, including an honourable mention for the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award, three times for the CBC Literary Award, and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Her first collection won the Acorn-Plantos People's Poetry Award. Rosnau is working on a novel about the artist Sveva Caetani. She lives in Coldstream, BC, where she and her family are resident caretakers of Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary.