Today, I should have been down in Olympia, Washington, interviewing Lucia Perillo for the next issue of The Los Angeles Review. While I was pretty jittery about meeting such a heavyweight in the poetry world, I was keeping my wits about it, and was anxious to ask her what I, at least, thought were some trenchant questions. So the fact that, at interview time today, I was instead in a cardiologist’s lab, having a sonogram (or echogram or some kind of “gram”) done on my heart, was disappointing both on the literary and medical fronts. It’s unclear at this point what’s wrong with me, but my doctor seems to think it’s a prolapsed valve, which, in essence, is like a poorly-plumbed faucet. So long as this issue proves to be mild–and that is the hope–there’s nothing terribly dangerous about it, other than the sudden dizzy and faint spells. But there is a certain spookiness to watching the world spin around drunkenly as one’s heart sputters and clicks audibly. It’s not a sensation or sound that lets me relax too much, even at night, even when I’m usually sleeping.
Last night (one of the relatively rare clear nights in Seattle’s autumn), the moon was fat, glowing all around the Portage Bay water outside my bedroom window as I sat in my sweats, palpitating away. I’m not usually too interested in The Glories of Nature, but I’m a sucker for a good moon-on-water display, even when I’m not feeling so hot. So rather than going with my recent routine of curling in a ball (which does seem to stanch some of the strange heart sensations) and willing myself to sleep, I spent much of the night simply staring out the moon–at the impressive quality of this light without moral attribute, existing whether I watch it or not. And even though I was in a mood to turn off the light and try to forget about valves and blood, I chose to watch. I chose not to ignore either the unpleasantness going on inside of my body or the world going about its impassive business around me, but to be aware of and present in both of them.
I think the writing life is a good deal like moon-watching time; we have the choice of allegiances between doing and not-doing; engaging and not-engaging; allowing ourselves to be filled with the world which cares nothing for us, and then making something of it, or closing ourselves, putting the painful and beautiful outside where we can’t be harmed by either one. This is not to fetishize writing: doing and not-doing each have their distinct benefits and costs. But I think the option of doing is a constant challenge the writer–one we who try to construct something worthwhile would do well to remember. A reminder that, when given the option feel rather than not feel, we should align ourselves with the former, even if our hearts keep us up all night.