What’s Missing?

by Jeff Oaks

I’m wondering why, with more free time this term, I seem to have less interest in writing or submitting. Is it possible that I write more when I have less time? It’s not a problem of structure; I have at least two hours everyday in which to work. I want to call it pressure or lack of a clear focus. The past couple of years I’ve had my mother’s battle with cancer to focus me, to give me something to use language on, to give my thinking/feeling selves a common ground, a way out of feeling helpless. After Ma died at the end of last March, I had those poems and prose pieces to work on, to rewrite, to send out. They kept me company in her absence by their presence.

The thing is: I still have those pieces to work on. There are at least five poems from that manuscript that still need to be revised. They’re the longer poems and I know I’ll have to cut a couple of them fairly harshly. And there’s a whole long essay that I have to shape. I’ve tried to cast it into a couple of shapes now but nothing has given the sentences the kind of energy that feels right.

Now with the anniversary coming around, I don’t even want to reread them. Right now, their presence is starting to emphasize her absence. I’m also feeling caught between needing to finish those poems and proses, and wanting to have a clear sense of another project so I have a clear sense of the future. I feel like a moon trapped between the gravity fields of two planets.

If I were my own student, I’d say, Well, go to a movie or sleep for a couple of days or go buy yourself a new pair of shoes. Disrupt the anxiety with pleasure. Be kind to yourself.

February in Pittsburgh is almost always like this, I remind myself. There is a reason I half-jokingly call it Suicide Month. The costs of trudging through cold and ice and snow, of bundling up and unbundling, of feeling always so slowed down and blanketed come due in February. March will bring an occasional warm day and strange winds from the south that shift everything in me toward green and hope and yes. Right now, though, the spirit begins to fear it’s going to starve. It doesn’t seem to help all that much to know that spring will come soon. It’s easy to get irritated and be irritating.

I love the old Iroquois names for the moons: The full moon of February was the Snow Moon. “At this time the northeastern regions can give up their most heaviest of snow falls. This full moon is also called the hunger or hungry moon because the grips of winter can make it another lean month for the belly of both man and beast,” says a website I check. I am definitely feeling that.

In the spirit of not moaning like a starving animal, I’m wondering if I might better make a list of Writer’s moon/month names:

I might call February The Making Lists Month.
Followed by the Revising Month of March.
Followed by the Submit Work Month of April.
May: Finish Something Month
June: Begin Again Month
July: Go Elsewhere Month
August: Beautiful Language Month
September: Difficult Truths Month
October: Clear Clutter Month
November: Light the Fire Month
December: Rejection Month
January: Small Paragraphs Month

I ought to add a thirteenth moon, so the routine doesn’t ever get too frozen. How about a Fuck It All Moon? 28 days of the year in which one might actually not write toward anything, might not write at all, might fall asleep beside the ocean’s constancy. You choose when.