Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Do Writers Retire?

As a writer, it seems that I seesaw between the fast-paced productiveness of writing and the dead end crash it leads to when the bottom falls out. When I’m inspired, I complain that can’t write fast enough. When I’m not, I whine about having nothing to say.

I know I should enjoy what is commonly referred to as “the writer’s block,” the way a person on vacation shouldn’t think about work. I thought I had gotten over the feeling I used to get when my creative outpouring dried up: that my writing had been a fluke after all and would never happen again.

When my writing becomes forced and feels empty of energy, I remember what renowned poet Nikki Giovanni said to her creative writing class that I sat in on years ago: to be a good writer you have to go out and live so that you’ll have something to write about. Nikki’s words help me to push myself away from the writing table, find a change of scenery, and get involved in life.

On the other hand, when I’m obsessed and feel that the muse is slave driver with her own agenda, I like to imagine letting go of writing altogether. I envision a day when I don’t blog, when I don’t walk around with a notebook and feel compelled to translate everything into words. During those times, I remember the words of Ruby Altizer Roberts, a past poet laureate of Virginia who was born in Floyd and grew up in nearby Christiansburg.

I interviewed Ruby for a Blacksburg art magazine (now defunct) called “Expressions” in 1999. She was 93 years old at the time. Arriving at her stately home, called The Shamrocks, in my kelly-green blouse, khaki pants, and black blazer, she opened the door and said, “Oh, I see you’re Irish.”

I thought she was psychic (I learned during the interview that she was involved in metaphysics), but I later realized my name “Colleen” probably gave her a clue. As I fumbled with the tape recorder that ultimately didn’t work, she put me at ease with her Southern charm and her bright enthusiasm.

At one point, I asked, considering her age, “Ruby, do you still write poetry?”

“No,” she answered, letting out a sigh of relief. “I have my life back.”

Post note: You can read more about Ruby and one of her poems in a past Loose Leaf post HERE. In it Ruby answers the question “Where does poetry come from?”

Originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on September 30, 2006.

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