Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Can Poetry Change Lives?

Yes, of course poetry changes lives - or maybe puts into words the changes that we are experiencing.  Or both.  Here's a poem I first read as I was turning 20 in 1972.  It's worth revisiting at any age:

Revolutionary Letter #1
                                               by Diane di Prima

I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maƮtre de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag
this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines

This is the first poem in the book, Revolutionary Letters, by Diane di Prima, published in the Pocket Poets series by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books.

Di Prima’s letters deal with what to do if attacked by teargas and how to dress for a demonstration. Letter #9, for example, begins, "advocating/the overthrow of government is a crime/overthrowing it is something else/altogether."

Letter #1 sets the tone for the letters that follow. It begins with a sudden realization that "the stakes are myself." All we have is our selves, our bodies, our lives. If this is all I have, the poem tells me, I had better be careful how I play and what I risk.

In the last few lines of the poem, we are taken from the spinning roulette wheel to a GO board, and it is "my move."  GO is a meditative game where you win by slowly and patiently surrounding the opponent.  Each player places a stone on a point where the lines intersect, gradually enclosing territory.

In the GO board of the poem, however, we move stealthily, "stepping always (we hope) between the lines."  In other words, we may be on a GO board where all moves are made ON the lines – but we will live by our own rules, looking always from different perspectives, and slithering -- unobtrusively, smoothly, gliding and sliding -- across the landscape of our lives.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Is There a Quarter-Life Crisis? (Revisited)

Here are some signs that you might be experiencing a quarter-life crisis:

  1. A love relationship doesn't solve the problem of having to also have a life.
  2. Your parents want you to pay rent.
  3. Whatever you studied in any school didn't seem to include what you really need to know.
  4. You begin to wonder if anyone knows it.
  5. You investigate various spiritual paths and mentors.  These help briefly, then you move on.
  6. You discover that following your dreams is harder than you first thought it would be, especially if you also want to be independent, make your own rules, and eat.

And you justifiably believe that you have not contributed in any way to your problems.  You've done EVERYTHING you were supposed to do:  grew up, went to school, graduated from college, and looked for a job.  Since you haven't contributed to your problems, you do not believe your own actions will solve them.

Is the quarter-life crisis different from the mid-life crisis?

Yes.  If you experience the quarter-life crisis, you might fight with everyone who has helped you and be angry at the system they seem to have created.  The quarter-life crisis lasts until you find a place where you can more or less function, a "club," let's say, willing to have you as a member.  This "club" can be a company, job, spouse, religion, band, cause, political party, or purpose.  Within this club, you begin to flourish as a person.  You get opportunities and take on responsibilities.  You discover and develop more of your strengths, abilities, and interests.  You grow into your life.

At mid-life, you might begin to feel that the job, spouse, or religion that took you in during your quarter-life crisis spoke to only one part of you.  The secret or hidden life that you've suppressed so that you will fit into the club now needs expression.

The quarter-life crisis involves finding your place in the world.  The mid-life crisis involves expressing your most authentic self.

Is there also a three-quarter life crisis?  I don't know yet.
Can there be a zero-crisis life?  I don't think so.
Are these crises bad?  No, they are good and necessary -- but difficult.