Thursday, February 2, 2012

Draft Process: A Sluggish Dullness Sacrificed or Shed

48º ~ we continue on our path of upper 60s, lower 70s as we usher in this new month, and while I celebrate the warmth and the lower than normal utility bills, I worry and mourn melting ice caps & glaciers, the great self-created migration of the climate that may destroy us all (feeling a bit apocalyptic?)

Dear Reader, here are my notes on today's draft, which was a slow and steady process rather than any rush of inspiration.  Today I offer an example of the work to pull each word from thin air.

I did remind myself last night that I'd be drafting today, and I wondered if the sickly speaker had more to say.  However, I didn't dwell on it and drifted off to sleep with no new lines offering an interruption.  This morning as I bathed and readied myself for the day, I thought of the speaker and her frustration at the doctors and their lack of communication with her, and, perhaps more importantly, I wondered if she was healing.  It turns out she is, and the first few lines appeared to me: "Some days have passed without a fever."  I spun out the scenario in my head and then lost track of it a bit as I moved into the kitchen for breakfast and was interrupted from my reverie by two cats intent on being fed.  Luckily, I noticed my own distraction and grabbed the grocery list notepad and scribbled down my thoughts.  Then, I was able to feed the cats and eat my own breakfast without worry.

Some of you may wonder why I didn't just run to the computer and get to work.  Here's the deal: I do not work well without quiet and calm.  Also, I do not function well if I haven't gone through my routine for the morning.  (A little OCD perhaps?)  Also, each weekday, I make C. his breakfast to carry with him to work.  I do this because I love him not because I feel any sense of wifely duty. I make no apologies.  So, once I am showered and fed, the cats are fed and exercised (played with), and C. is prepped and out the door, then, then I am able to clear the desk, and get to work.

So, once I got to the desk today, I had my scrawled notes.  I opened my journal and transcribed/revised until I had a sense of where the poem was going.  I did not stop to do a word bank today.  I suppose I have a much stronger grasp of the speaker's diction, which relies more heavily on Latinate usage than I might and a more baroque (although sometimes broken) syntax.  With the draft gathering weight, I turned to the computer and fleshed it out.  In the process, the opening lines changed a bit.  Here's how it begins for now.

Six days have passed without a sign
of fever. I keep my own chart,
pulling loose six fragile threads

So, I'm already getting to the speaker's agency in her health care.  What the poem explores is the fact that the whitecoats refuse to share her results with her, and the nurses just go about their routines.  I suppose some of this stems from a recent visit I made to my own doctor.  I was only having a prescription refilled and didn't need an exam, but the nurse still took my temp, pulse, and blood pressure and duly noted these in my chart.  However, she did not offer to tell me the results.  The nurses never do and neither does my doctor when she comes in.  This always frustrates me, and sometimes I remember to ask, all the while trying to be polite.  So, the sickly speaker has developed a way to tell if her temperature really is gone by noting how many numbers the nurse writes in the chart. (Three digits before the single dot of the decimal point means fever is back.) 

Also in the draft, the speaker feels cut off from any offer of hope from the whitecoats, so she embraces her own feeling of recovery and begins her own exercise regime at night.  Yes, images of Sarah Connor from The Terminator (what was it, T2?) in the psych ward doing pull-ups on her bed frame ran through my head, as well as the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper creeping around her room's perimeter.  I tried to re-invent these images, and my speaker has to contend with being attached to machines, so there's that, too.

A whitecoat with his records via Science Photo Library

I said earlier that this was a slow and steady process today.  What I mean is that the answers to "what comes next?" in the poem didn't immediately surface.  There were a lot of stops and starts and "wonderings."  Finally, I arrived at something I'm happy with for now.  For a drafting day, that's a victory.

Turning to the title, I followed my old routine of seeking inspiration from other writers.  This time, I happened to pick up Louise Gluck's (forgive the omission of the umlauts!) book of essays, Proofs & Theories.  This is the first time I've turned to prose for a title, but Gluck's essay style is definitely Latinate and full of complex syntax, so I thought I'd take a chance.  It didn't take long to find this quote "What has been sacrificed or shed seems only opacity, a sluggish dullness" (from her Introduction to The Best American Poetry 1993).  I pushed and pulled at that until I came up with today's title: "A Sluggish Dullness Sacrificed or Shed."



Kathleen said...

What a fascinating speaker she is! (I can never get the umlauts on Gluck's name, either.) And I am glad I am not alone in needing some calm--or to carve some out of the thin air of some chaos--in order to write well. I DO write lines of poetry on grocery lists in order not to lose them.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen. Blogger and accents do not mix, it seems.

Thank goodness for grocery lists, receipts, edges of newspapers, and the like!

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

A poem playing with the dispassionate nature of health care workers' routines is worthy of poetry or satire (or both).

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Q. This has become one of the themes repeating in this new set of poems.

Tawnysha Greene said...

I love your draft notes, especially the observation that nurses and doctors never share their notations on blood pressure and temperature. The observation that three digits before the decimal to indicate that the fever was back is brilliant! I really can't wait to read this collection!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Tawnysha. I confess to being a "sight reader" of my own chart sometimes at the doctor, trying to decipher BP or temp by the gesture of the writing rather than feeling empowered to ask. It's a curious position to say the least and magnified a zillion times with my sickly speaker.