An idea that’s been ricocheting around my mind lately is that I’m creating the art I need. The books I write are, generally, books I wish I had been able to read when I was younger, more scared, more dangerous, or all of the above. I wrote Prelude to Bruise because I longed for someone to tell me that, yes, the American landscape is dangerous. I wrote How We Fight for Our Lives because I wanted someone to explain why. And, above all, I wanted someone to talk to me directly. I was tired of sustaining myself on revelations gleaned by eavesdropping on cultural conversations between people who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) perceive someone like me as worthy of being centered in their discourse.
Maybe it would not have made a difference; maybe I would’ve shrugged off or outwardly rejected the ideas those books posed if they had somehow reached me when I was a teenager in Texas or a college student in Kentucky. But I’d like to think that if I could place my books in the hands of a past version of myself, he’d be more kind to himself and do things a little differently. At a minimum, he’d make some phone calls.
I don’t think it’s enough to save our lives in the present; I think we need to reach ourselves in the past, even if it’s only to make amends or pass on an idea we’ve come to understand years later. Who would we be now if we could connect with ourselves back then, just in the nick of time? And because, as far as I know, we cannot actually go back in time, what are we doing to rescue ourselves now, in real time? That the question is a paradox is, perhaps, why it continues to generate so much energy for me as a writer. After all, each of us will probably spend the rest of our lives working to save our lives.
Right now, I’m working on a poem about a robot in Japan that’s being taught how to experience pain. As recently as a few months ago, I never would’ve expected to find inspiration in that kind of subject matter, much less use it to write a poem I believe in. It’s a joy to realize that I am creating music where previously I did not think it would flourish. I don’t know exactly why I need this poem, but I trust that — with time — I will.