February 6: You Say It’s Your Birthday

.
for my birthday
I suppose
the moon
.

_____________________________________________________________

.

For my birthday (yes, it’s today), I gave myself permission to write another haiku about the moon (despite their currency being even more debased than that of haiku about snow). Or rather, to post another haiku about the moon that I wrote a while ago and saved up for my birthday.

I’m giving myself another present, too. I decided to do this last weekend, when I had been sitting at my kitchen table staring at my computer for about nine hours, mostly performing various haiku-related chores delightful activities (no, seriously) like writing the Haikuverse and preparing journal submissions and replying to fascinating blog comments and visiting everybody else’s fascinating blogs and figuring out what tanka were all about anyway. Finally I realized it was going to be dark soon and I quickly stood up on my wobbly legs and put on my running shoes and headed outside.

The air was cold and the light was pure and as I walked the air started flowing more freely to my brain, and within about ten minutes I felt a sense of deep peace and I said to myself, “Self,” I said, “I give you permission not to blog every single day anymore. Because this is getting crazy.”

I know. I know I said I would post a haiku every day for a year, and it’s only been nine months and change. But think about it. Nine months is a long time. In nine months I could have created an entire new human being from scratch. (I’m familiar with the technique involved.) Though I did do this, in a way. I created, or rather re-created, myself.

Okay, melodrama. I know. I hate it too. But in this case I don’t feel that this is too strong a statement. Before I started this blog, I had been wandering around aimlessly through most of my adult life with an unfocused desire to write stuff, but not really sure what that stuff was, or what exactly I had to say. I never finished much of anything I started writing. I lost track of it halfway through; it stopped seeming important or interesting. I was starting to think maybe I wasn’t really a writer after all, except that I had an uncomfortable awareness that the only time I ever felt completely aware and fulfilled and alive was when I was writing something.

And then haiku came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and quietly told me to give it a try, and since I wasn’t doing much of anything else at the time I said, “Okay.” On a whim I wrote a few haiku, on a whim I started a blog. As it turned out, this was kind of like going to a party on a whim and meeting the love of your life. Yeah … we’ve been chatting each other up for the last nine months, haiku and I, finding out all the things we have in common, marveling at the similarity of our personal philosophies, sharing our hopes and dreams for the future … at this point, I have to say, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine living without each other.

Which is to say, the reasons for my promising, back in May, to post a haiku every day for a year have essentially been rendered moot. I wanted to make a commitment to a body of writing and not give up on it for a change. I wanted to heal myself of my perfectionism and my reluctance to put any writing out in the world in case someone saw it and laughed at it. Well, none of these things are problems anymore. In fact, the problem I have now is that I would rather write haiku, and read haiku, and write about reading and writing haiku, and communicate with my fellow haiku enthusiasts, than do pretty much anything else. And I have a lot of other things to do. You know, school, and work, and laundry, and interacting with my family more than five minutes a day.

Also, it was fine for a while for me to just write any old haiku and slap it up on the blog without much thought, because I didn’t really know any better. But if I want to grow as a poet I have to not just write a lot of haiku, I have to take the time to live with them, and think about them, and revise them, and make them not just good-enough, but the best they can be. I’m not talking about perfectionism, I’m talking about craftsmanship; I’m talking about artistic integrity … oh God, is this starting to sound pretentious?

You do know what I mean, don’t you? At some point it’s not respectful to your art, or to your audience, to produce too much. To churn out publications just for the sake of publication. I mean, I still write haiku like there’s no tomorrow, but it’s starting to make me slightly sick to post things here that either I think are not really worth anyone’s time to read, or else that I could make even better if I took the time. It’s not that I’m afraid that you’ll laugh at me and point as I walk by and say, “Look, there goes the mediocre haiku poet!” It’s more just that I’m resentful of the time I spend putting up poems on this site that I don’t respect a whole lot instead of writing better poems.

I’m not going away. And the site certainly isn’t going away, it will be here indefinitely as far as I’m concerned. I’ll probably still be posting two or three times a week — you know, when I have something worth saying. I hope you’ll think it’s worth saying, anyway. I hope you’ll keep dropping by. This blog has transformed my life so profoundly — and just writing haiku wouldn’t have done that on its own. The presence of all you fantastic readers, and correspondents, and supporters, and friends is what has made the biggest difference. Not writing in isolation, wondering if I’m crazy. (I mean of course I am crazy, but most of the time you’re nice enough not to point it out.)

Thanks for once again listening to me as I go on and on interminably. (Admit it — you’re a little relieved that you won’t have to deal with that every single day anymore, aren’t you?) Someday, I promise, I am going to learn to pare my prose down the way I pare down haiku.

_____________________________________________________________

another slice
of birthday cake
and life

 

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30 thoughts on “February 6: You Say It’s Your Birthday

  1. A good article and anyone either new to haiku, or thinks they know all about haiku should read this!

    Moon haiku, and moon verses (i.e. renku and renga verses) are important and hard to keep fresh. Moon on its own automatically means it’s the autumn, so inventive ways of moving out of the autumn time gets more difficult, and a million or two verses (since before Basho) have been composed.

    One book I would recommend to freshen up any moon verse is Helen Buckingham’s mirrormoon collection:

    Review by Liam Wilkinson on Prune Juice site

    For those of you lucky people who are Blithe Spirit subscribers, my own review on Helen Buckingham’s book will appear in the March issue (www.britishhaikusociety.org.uk for information how to purchase the magazine).

    Melissa is far from a mediocre haiku writer, but usefully catalogues the mature transition of someone who played with it, and then took it very seriously.

    Talking about serious, there are many serious haiku writers (and editors) who avidly await Melissa’s next mustread Haikuniverse post including myself, and American friend and colleague Michael Dylan Welch for starters.

    As an editor myself I can vouch that Melissa’s work is indeed worth publishing, and as Melissa says herself, it’s worth taking craftsmanship into consideration.

    Remember, your work will be out there for a very long time, and as readers become more educated about haiku, you want your “own easy to find” work on the internet to be still relevant to that reader.

    Alan, With Words

    • Thanks for reminding me (and informing many others) about Helen’s book, Alan … I read that review in Prune Juice and got very excited about it, I guess I should actually get around to reading it. 😉

      I don’t mean to put down moon haiku because I adore both reading and writing them — they are fantastically powerful. Once I get started on them I can’t stop. But you know me, Alan, I’m not really capable of writing more than a few sentences without making fun of something. 🙂

  2. Fine, fine post. I greatly admire how much you have accomplished in an incredibly short period of time (though you’re analogy to creating a life was spot-on). Your revised goal is as it should be.

    Happy birthday and, indeed, and all the best on the continued journey.

    Don

  3. Peter Newton says:

    Melissa,

    As someone who just stumbled upon your blog however long ago, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading your updates and your poems. I truly identify with the feeling of being struck by the haiku wave. Of being pulled under and into a whole new universe I never want to leave.

    But, yes, more than a few times I said to myself: “This woman’s a saint. Or crazy, or a crazy saint from the haiku gods. How does she have time to write all this stuff each day, live her life and still have any semblance of creative spirit left to craft a haiku? Well, Happy Birthday. So glad you gave yourself permission.

    Signed,
    A Loyal Follower
    (Peter)

    • Peter,

      “A crazy saint from the haiku gods?” Wow … I finally have something really impressive to put on a business card!

      Yeah, it’s true. Well, not the saint part. The crazy part. I tend to go a little overboard. I’m looking forward to incorporating a small measure of sanity in my life.

      Thanks again for reading and appreciating here. (And follower? I have followers? I could start a cult … where did I put that Kool-Aid again?)

      Yours in haiku waviness,
      Melissa

  4. Happy birthday

    another birthday
    I remind my friends
    to forget it

    “to heal myself of my perfectionism.” Back when I was an English professor, every attempt to write poetry came to nothing, because before I was halfway through line 2, I was criticizing line 1. Haiku moves too fast for that kind of self-defeating behavior. Of course, I still revise and polish, but only when I’ve drafted a complete something or other that may, with the right sort of revising and polishing, become a haiku. I make a point of drafting at least one of these something or others each day; some eventually become haiku, and some do not. But, as you know, I post 2-3 times a week, including my “afters,” which are not really original work. I’ve enjoyed your daily posts, but I think you are doing exactly the right thing.

    And, if I may: It’s no denigration of your earliest postings to say I’ve seen real growth and deepening in your work over these months. I look forward to more fine haiku.

    • Oh, perfectionism is a vile affliction, isn’t it? Yeah, I think the only thing that may have saved me from actually expiring of perfectionism was that I didn’t become an English professor. 🙂

      I don’t really plan to write less haiku. Just post less, and stress out less about them.

      I must say, Bill, I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to have your support here almost from the very beginning. Thanks for seeing some potential in those early feeble efforts and giving me your gentle words of encouragement. 🙂

  5. Sheesh! Paring down prose – tell me about it! (see Essay (revised)at Haiku Bandit Society.) First draft written “after hours” in a haze of fatigue. How come we do that to ourselves, Melissa? A birthday gift to our egoes? Or to constantly renew and reinvigorate our minds, to recreate our selves on a page, to…oh, there I go again.

    Happy Birthday, kiddo, and many happy returns.

  6. ah. whew. finally she’s going to stop this incessant ran… oh. wait. wrong blog. oops. sorry.

    ha. aloha Melissa – you know you now have us hooked and now you want to toss the fishing pole into the sea. ha. and double ha. ha. on you. we’ll still read you like a penguin reads the snow. avidly.

    i find a break from something i’m passionate about is often the best boost to where i’m going. where ever that is. because that’s where i go on a break.

    cool on you and cool on your blog and what you’ve found. and cool for making a decision when it’s time to make it rather than hanging on to something when you’ve already met your goals. every time i complete something i know it’s time to get on to something else. …even if i dont always. and even if i ramble too much getting there.

    birthday
    the best part is always
    on the candles

    fun Melissa. enjoy your birthday and your new step and next year into haiku. happy birthday – either have fun – or go kiss a balloon. aloha

    • Thanks, Wrick. Yeah, it feels good to be doing this. I’d had it half in mind for a few months but I kept thinking, “No, I can’t do that! I made a sacred vow sealed in blood, and besides, people like me, and they’d probably all stop immediately if I didn’t blog every single day!”

      See, that’s why it’s a good reason to go for a walk every once in a while, to reveal the minor flaws in your thinking. 🙂

      Besides, geez. I think it should count as a blog post to respond to all these comments you people left here. 🙂

  7. Good call, Melissa. A blog, even one not written daily, does, indeed, take on a life of its own, as well as requiring a tremendous amount of energy. Especially in your case where you present not just your own work but the work of others–scholarly and otherwise. Take a deep breath, yes. Say ah. And click those running shoes’ heels three times for good measure.

    Happy, happy birthday, my friend!

  8. alee9 says:

    birthday–
    the numbers never say
    how you feel

    Happy birthday, dear dear friend–this is late on your side of the hemisphere but here a glimmer of the so so sun still skims my window a lazy white and so, I’m sneaking in this greeting. Haiku, our love, that’s how our minds keep going like mine now talking to you. As if I’ll fail if I don’t think this way!

    Has it made us better or as the Word for today at the cathedral says, “are we ‘salting’ the earth” in a way? Yes, you have! You have and not only salted the earth of haiku but spiced it up!

    Because I and I’m sure many of our friends have had a ‘taste’ of it and that’s why like hungry bees, we await your post for sustenance each day, your announcement draws a sigh.

    But you deserve to do what you think you should do, Melissa. Slow down if you wish. Turn away from haiku for a day or two. Breathe, run, rest under the willows or whatever tree in Madison, saunter along the ‘bridges’ (what I know best of Madison), stare at the snow until it melts, shoo the carping crows…but don’t think haiku…

    Think blank. Erase words. Erase lines. Then run if they come after you…and I better end here because I don’t know where I’m leading you!

    Happy birthday–
    on melting snow uncovered
    belated gifts

    • Alegria, I really wish I could write prose as lyrical as yours!

      And thanks for the ku as well, I especially like that first one. 🙂

      I’m sitting and breathing right now. It feel good.

  9. devika says:

    Happy Birthday, Melissa…just came to wish, because i am on a break from blogging, and while rushing through reader, saw Bill’s post 🙂

    …this blog is one I always loved to read and is a resource to me…you know that…thanks for that, Melissa, the rest, i think its a good decision to be more prudent with posting and not to pressure oneself….though I enjoyed and also found most of your daily postings informative 🙂

    Best wishes,
    devika

  10. Whoops! I missed it. Happy Birthday, Melissa!

    That sounds like a very nice gift to yourself. Enjoy. I can appreciate the severity of the self-imposed pressure to post every day. I’d give myself the same gift, but, you know, it isn’t my birthday.

    😛

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