The wait

I don’t believe in co-incidences. But I also don’t run away from them. Unable to write much today, I jumped from one tab to another on my browser trying to locate an idea that’d spark and open up my well of thoughts. It almost never works—I often read random things for hours before giving up on finding inspiration. I end up rambling or publishing a quick haiku.

Today, however, as I read through last week’s newsletter from the ACT writers centre (while this week’s newsletter lay open on the next tab), I stopped at this quote.

Waiting for inspiration to write is like standing at the airport waiting for a train - Leigh Michaels

I’ve heard it, or something like it, a hundred times before. It’s the standard advice any writer offers a wannabe. I’ve said it plenty of times too, to myself and to others. 

Waiting for a lightening bolt of inspiration to hit you is like taking the bus south and hoping it goes north. I know because I’ve done them both. Waiting is an excuse not to write. It’s a way to get around the larger fear that encapsulates your being, the uncertain possibility of an outcome you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. And I think that’s how writer’s block comes about. It’s a reason to avoid seating yourself on that chair and getting work done. That’s what happened to me.

This afternoon, I arrived at my local co-op ready to write. It’s a great co-working space—they sell bulk foods, snacks, and have free artisan (sourdough!) bread. The best part? It’s almost empty after lunch.

And so I propped my laptop on an empty desk, wandered around the shop, bought some onion and sesame seeds, got coffee, nibbled on some bread, read through notes from a panel discussion I attended two days ago, and got distracted at least ten times before the newsletter came as a slap in the face.

The only reason I kept avoiding the blank screen is because I wasn’t sure what to write. And yet, the moment I started, I knew what I’d write. That’s the biggest hurdle most people never cross—they linger at the beginning for too long, and give up just before they discover that a world’s waiting to unravel underneath their fingers.


If you’re interested: Read the full newsletter.

Of making art

“Do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.”

Kurt Vonnegut

I stumbled on this quote when I was least expecting to. But it made me stop and lean back in my cold, stone chair. It made me look out into the void, thinking, mind wandering, wondering about the undeniable necessity of art.

Remember when art was hobby? Singing, dancing, writing, painting, crafting—all of those were categorised as activities to do during your leisure. Stuff you do to de-stress, to clear the mind after a long day of work. That’s the mentality I grew up around. My family and teachers looked at art and creativity as an add-on to normal life—not life itself.

Kurt challenges that ideology. Creative thinking shouldn’t be allocated or limited to a specific time. Instead of looking at art as an activity for an appropriate time and place, we should think of it as part of our everyday lives.

Art is everywhere. From a puddle in the street and the graffiti on the toilet walls to an activist’s speech and signs on a protest. Everyone has it within them. And we should consciously choose to bring it forth and declare it as part of our personality—our identity.

Except, we don’t.

Think about it: what would people say if you skip home from school one evening? When and where I grew up, people would label me as crazy, undisciplined, and out of control. They’d blame my parents. A child dancing on the street is unruly.

In reality, though, it’s self-expression. Children will be children. And they shouldn’t be penalised for it. Our society has become so adept in suppressing the artistic and creative outlets of our younger generation that we’ve ended up with a group of people who’re too busy to have time for art in their lives. And thus, art is now luxury.

St. John’s Wort, a review

St. John's Wort, a poetry collection written by Alexus Erin. Published by Animal Heart Press.

It’s hard to say what Alexus imagined when she titled this book, St. John’s Wort. It’s the name of a European medicinal shrub known for treating depression. Like most of the world, if you consider the book at face value, you’ll think it’s therapeutic, that it calms and elevates your experiences. 

It does. 

However, as you read through the poems, over and over again, to make sure you don’t miss a beat or the depth of meaning folded neatly in between lines and stanzas, you’ll realise that Mayo Clinic was perhaps right. As one of the top possible side effects of St. John’s wort (the shrub), it lists agitation. Which is what you feel when you’ve read these poems.

Alexus doesn’t look at the world around her and burst into flowery language. Instead, her poems are deliberate. Each line, each syllable rings with meaning, and whether or not you directly relate to it, you feel what she sees, and you see what she feels.

Imagery is for the ear as much as it is for the eye, you learn as she describes in Laughter,

“I know God laughed
when night bathed tabletop-
tabletop cradled the New York Times, a pound cake. I sang carols over the brushed, high-hat hiss of a Vanilla Coke can.”

Alexus’s poetry isn’t simple. Layers upon layers of complexity lie in each poem, and she makes you work to reap the sweet benefits of the sadness lingering in those hard words. 

“When I learned my father had an aneurysm, I thought about the day his brother had the aneurysm.
I thought about Plath, then Hughes
then about how suddenly I needed to buy pudding
from the grocery store.”

When referencing a father dying of aneurysm, not everyone draws a parallel with Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy“, where she confesses struggling to forgive her father’s involvement in the Holocaust and his lack of self-care that resulted in a gradual demise. Alexus cleverly matches the Plath reference with the seemingly related Hughes, while instead, with a subtle streak, alluding to pulmonary artery aneurysms, a rare autoimmune disease first described by British physicians Hughes and Stovin.

Good poetry resounds though your being, leaving blotches of reality, like ink on paper, marking you for life. This collection of poems takes it further—you have to marvel at Alexus’s wordliness, the way she’s melded poetry with dark reality, and the way she’s dejargoned medicine, revealing it in bits, like droplets on whiskey, just enough to hit you with a boldness that momentarily disarms you.

It’s not, however, a book you need to pair with a high-edition dictionary—although a nice Riesling surely complements. Scattered throughout the book, in snippets that speak the truth as it is, are poems so simple and so pristine that you can’t help but pause to inhale the beauty of words.

“What among us won’t, one day,
Be turned inside out?”

She asks in such tepidity that it strikes you, slices through your pretence, as intense as hot knife through cold butter.

Alexus ends that poem, Year of the Rabbit Hole, hinting at self-help, while artfully voiding her voice of the unworthiness that comes with such books.

This collection is a chain, flaunting a range of topics, all bound by the string of tragedy. Every poem is an ode to an incident in life—sometimes personal, often not—leaving you with a shudder, questioning you, and enticing you to question the world you see.


Musings from reading St. John’s Wort, a poetry collection written by Alexus Erin and published by Animal Heart Press.

A writing tale

Anna rammed her index finger on Backspace, tap tapping at first before giving up and pressing down as the computer erased her work. Efforts of the last few hours.

No biggie. 

She was a writer, and this is what writers did. Writing every day, crouched on a supposedly comfortable desk, forgetting back support, ignoring foot rest, impervious even to the cold wheezing through the door crack, yet finicky—disconcerted by squiggly red lines on their canvas, the maniacs, telling themselves a measly coffee was all they’d needed to spew out a mash of creative fiction like an infant being sick from mother’s milk.

That’s what they did. Before re-reading and scratching it all out. 

Anna was no different. She wasn’t above any other writer who struggled to find their voice amongst the hoard of inspiration that sprung upon them through school and university.

My, how wonderfully the Bard describes a crow—Rosaline, he calls it.

Pfft, Anna scorned to herself wondering what a fool Romeo was. And Juliet. And the masses for considering them the best lovers ever to grace the unreal world.

Goodness, what a good writer the Bard had been. She’d never be as good as he—no, him?

She paused, fingers in mid air, stretched in odd angles over her keyboard, hovering, her mind racing as grammar police tailed her, sirens wailing. Did she dare go on or should she wait for the authorities to catch up?

Ah, she gasped. The horror of letting them get to her. To her, a proper writer, one who reviewed every line as she wrote it, scrutinising every syllable, reading aloud in her mind to verify rhythm, tone, and intonation. 

Definitely him.

She marched along. Better move on than get caught—and worse, taught. She was too old for that now. She had a job, for god’s sake—she was an adult. She should know the difference between he and him. Yes, she should, she nodded to herself in indignation. She did, her nod agreed back.

Pausing, she breathed deep before cruising along—a little slower now. In the long road to her destination, the police had often come along, riding too close at times, once even yelling through the window, demanding she stopped to reconsider her points of view. It hadn’t been easy to ignore them, to swerve around, overtaking their nagging voices, looking beyond their raised eyebrows and disapproving head shakes. But she’d come thus far—

Screeeeech—

Thus?

Anna rammed her index finger on Backspace.