compass rose

Fitting in versus belonging

Once you’ve been writing long enough, you start to recognize a few patterns and quirks in the creative process. Self-awareness helps some, too.

If I am struggling with prose—my preference—it’s often because the problem turning over in my mind is bigger than paragraphs can contain or explain.

Poetry is what comes out. Surrendering and letting the shit make no sense [a popular criticism of poetry] results in the sharpest clarity. Ironic, but true. For me, anyway.

Like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor said, ‘I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.’

Escape to the north

I hope you can find it
in yourself to get
some professional help

Deserves a mother’s soft-eyes. You’re not crazy, baby. You’re just
an artist. Of course you long to fly, but stop badgering the penguins join you.

They may be generous and patiently listen. But questions like this:
Isn’t sorrow just the shadow side of joy? Keep that to yourself
in the suburban kitchen.

You come dressed for the luau, they are black tied, standing still.
Fake a waddle to the bar, settle in for the chill.

You know that look. It’s fear. Fear posing as judgment, and…doing a pretty good job.

So deep and so full of need.
Do you really enjoy all that
time in the weeds? Dear God, here!
Have you read this book?
Here’s a recipe to try. It has baaa-con.

But you will keep going. Maybe this time try
showing less of yourself. Calm and terse. Freshwater pearls? Not on western night.
The waddle doesn’t feel right, but can it get any worse? Yes.

As a matter of fact it can.

You start boxing up colors, at least for the season. You do it to escape
the whispered reasons you run too hot, you need to cool off. Stop asking so much, stop
struggling out loud. No flare is permitted on a stiff, straight hem.

Here are the parentheses,
please try to stay in them.

The indignation is cute, kid,
but please nothing too raw.
Paint us the journey,
but leave out what you saw.

Open up that box, I’ll squeeze in there, too.

But wait, not yet…
maybe a little softshoe?

Where is that mother to sing me a song, a soul lullaby to quiet the wrong.
You’re not crazy, baby, you’re an artist.

But that’s just one more mistake, looking outside. Solo flights demand bravery, to fall. And to glide.
Lose the waddle, loose the wings, somehow conjure the courage to sing.

Because whoever gave me this terrible voice deserves to hear it.


This is what spilled out in response to a problem too big for the paragraph treatment. If shit still makes no sense, I did later tame it into prose here, here, and here.

As always, I have to point to what Brené Brown has to say on fitting in versus belonging. It’s an important, sanity-saving distinction.

11/2015 UPDATE: Turns out artist and crazy are equally true.


patti carlyle

Writer, feminist and activist in Cleveland, Ohio. I curate a collectic blog of quotes, links, images and long form writing. Learn more or find me on Facebook, Twitter, .

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