The day after I finished the last treatment to bleach away the port wine stain that had covered half my face, Max broke up with me.
“I thought I’d like you better without it, too,” he said, tracing the oval of my face with one finger. But the corners of his mouth sagged. He used to trace the edges of the puzzle piece imprinted into my skin. I’d always thought he did it out of disappointment, the way I couldn’t help but tug at stray threads in the seams of a new coat.
“I’m happier now,” I reminded him. I’d thrown out the last of my foundation, thick as pancake batter, and a folder stuffed with bitter poems about masks.
“You haven’t been going to your poetry circle, either.”
“It was catharsis,” I said. “I’m starting a Sylvia Plath-free chapter of my life.”
“That’s not the point.” Max pulled the brim of his hat down over his eyes. “What happened to the bitter, ugly girl I fell in love with?”
One of the main hesitations I had when I was applying to MFA programs in the U.S. was that without exception they insisted I pick between fiction, non-fiction and poetry as my primary concentration. I’ve never been good at tying myself down to any one thing. I’m half Dutch and half American, I grew up celebrating two religions, and none of my friends are ever surprised to hear that the reason I like autumn the best is because I get to watch everything change. One of the main reasons I am where I am now is because they do both writing and publishing classes here, and I want nothing more than to see both sides of what I want to do with my life.
Writing works much the same way for me. I’m at UB for fiction primarily now, but I rotate between seasons of fiction and poetry, with the odd month of memoir thrown in as well. I believe the genres feed each other. When I’m running out of breath on stories, or my characters feel wan and boring, I know it’s time to return to poetry. Poems are meant to be so clean, so pure, like drops of water. Everything is essential. I’ve heard people complain about overanalyzing poems, and too much analysis is bad, but I think some is necessary. I think you’re meant to look close enough to understand how much weight each word has to carry to make you feel the way it does once you’re done.
So I write poetry for a season, and batter my head against internal rhymes, and meter, and where to break a line to make it mean two things at once, and one day I wake up and the poetry is done. The images are making me think too much or not enough, and I’m putting in people and miniature scenes with line breaks, and wondering how to work dialogue into a genre that frowns on quotation marks. And then I am back to fiction, trying to see stories through poet’s eyes.
It’s always about balance, in my life, and it’s a very difficult balance to keep sometimes. My sister is tens of thousands of words into her latest NaNo, and I’ve written maybe a thousand words this month on the story I care about right now, and sometimes it feels like a catch-22 that I have to work so many hours to pay for a program that will let me write. What I am trying to keep in mind is that these seasons of writing are something I am still learning about myself. I’m still negotiating the dry spells and writing jags, and finding out what will fill me. My goal is to send at least three pieces out before Thanksgiving. I’ll let you know how it goes.