"So Many Pistols I Have Borrowed to Protect Myselves!"
It's easy to be overbearingly protective of our selves. Yes, selves.
You know what I mean: The selves that revel in wasting time on BuzzFeed
, or watching episode after episode of bad TV. The selves that eat only the icing off the midnight piece of leftover birthday cake.
Sure, these selves are minor, so here is a somewhat weightier example of what I mean:
I played competitive basketball for most of my life-- right up until my NCAA eligibility ran out my senior year of college. Playing basketball was a blast and it continues to be an important part of my life. (I even have a massive painting of Steve Nash
hanging in my living room.)
But, having grown up with basketball always in hand, I often shied away from advertising my poet-self, nervous that my competitive and jerseyied comrades would think it silly.
And, vice versa: when I started establishing friendships with other writers, I began to notice that I'd grumble about the endless time commitments of playing basketball, afraid that the machismo of ESPN was too much for them to bear.
It took me a long time to stop myself and wonder, "Why am I berating myselves?"
When I moved to Houston, I met writers with amazing selves--harp-playing writers, horseback-riding writers, other basketball-playing writers--and, suddenly, I understood what Frank O'Hara meant when he wrote: "Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible."
Because the best thing is that each of these people nurture all of their selves--they live variously, which is exactly what makes them exceptional writers.
Writers carry huge responsibility. It's up to writers to document the world, its flaws, its glories. It's up to writers to sift for the beauty nestled at the bottom of a tobacco spit cup, then caress the soul that holds it.
There is a certain bravery a writer must have to do this. A certain ambition. But there is also a necessary love one must have for this world and its people, in all of their messiness.
And what better way to develop a love for the mess than by developing a love for our own? We must keep playing our harps and riding our horses. We must never stop dribbling the ball.
We must celebrate ourselves, says Whitman. Even our midnight-icing-eating selves. Even the selves that are afraid of our other selves.
Because the best writers are, perhaps, the ones who immerse themselves into as much of the world as possible, including its most haunted corners.
The title of this post comes from O'Hara's poem, "In Memory of My Feelings."
Frank is right. Grace to be born. Grace to live as variously as possible. (Just look at those eyes. He means it.)
So, go. Live variously. Nurture your selves. So that we may always write honestly, gracefully.