“Whirled in the cyclone, I
am helpless against the storm
until it leaves me to recover
barefoot on the beach.”
I wrote those words 34 years ago as the opening of a book of poems that I never published. Finding the typewritten pages recently in a dusty black binder, I decided to type them into the computer. What I’d do after that, I didn’t know, but it has proven to be a wonderful exercise, connecting the poet and young woman I was with the poet and older woman I am now.
At the time I wrote those poems, I was going through a divorce and living alone for the first time in my life in an apartment a block from the beach in Pacifica, California. I had a different last name. I worked as a reporter for the Pacifica Tribune, drove a yellow VW Rabbit that spent more time in the shop than on the road, and dated several different men. I wrote poems, songs, stories and articles. I submitted them, too, receiving lots of rejections, but not all. One poem won first place in a contest. My prize was a thick book of poetry by William Butler Yeats and a reading in Daly City, California.
Despite my fulltime job, I was constantly asking for advances on my paychecks to make it to the end of the month. Even in 1981, $1,200 a month wasn’t enough. I had long hair, short skirts, thick glasses, and a heart full of dreams. In other words, a younger me. I had not met Fred, never published any books. My parents and grandparents were still alive. But now, widowed, living alone by another beach, I find the parallels striking.
I don’t mention all this just to take a trip down memory lane. I have a point. Writing these poems, most of which were not published, had value. Even at age 29, I was not a new writer. Not only was I a professional journalist, but I had been writing poetry since I was 7 years old. I had won some prizes, gotten some published, taken many classes in creative writing, and had aspirations beyond the weekly newspaper.
Those poems were good practice. I wrote and rewrote and became a better poet. Some of the poems are still good enough to submit.
They serve as a scrapbook that captures that time and the feelings I had then. I didn’t remember a lot of what I wrote in those poems until I read them again. Then the emotions, the scenes, and the experiences came rushing back.
They are source material for future writing. I can use it all for new poems, fiction, essays, or articles.
I find comfort in reading the voice of the younger me, validation that I was a good writer, and a tying of the strings that connect who I was then with who I am now.
What I’m saying is that even the words we never publish have value, so write. Write often in whatever form feels most natural, and save your writing in a format that you will still be able to read in 30 years (flash drive?) and say, “Oh, that’s who you were.” Think of it as a gift to your future self.
If you become famous, maybe those works will be published in a thick book of your “complete works.” You, me, and William Butler Yeats.
Let’s go write!