Mid-Life Crisis or Dispatch from the Edge of in/Sanity

Three Musicians, 1921 by Pablo Picasso
“The Three Musicians” Courtesy of http://www.PabloPicasso.org

When COVID-19 spread in our communities and there was not adequate governmental response, so many became hopeless, so many lost their lives because of government failure. I am speaking of leadership at the national level. Many governors rallied against it and it is yet to be seen if we will ever be able to effectively deal with it. This failure is nothing less than negligent homicide in my opinion by the resident of the White House (that slaves built).

I do not think I have said enough about that but for now, I will shift to my personal experiences which are surprisingly extraordinary and blessed. I have not gotten ill. I have stayed sheltered. I wear a mask in public. I do not socialize except with remarkably close family and the few friends who I trust and believe have been taking all possible precautions.

When COVID-19 struck and it became apparent that this world had gone wilder than our worst nightmares, I could not turn to poetry to heal my anxiety and depression. Poetry, in its highest literary form, may or may not be therapeutic but the masters of it do use it as a tool for healing and processing grief, or love. They are intrinsically entwined.

I became wordless. I was in traumatic shock for weeks, as I believe many of us were. There’s a feeling of missing time in my mind of March and April that I cannot track down. My memory fell off a cliff into a great chasm of uncertainty. I was lethargic, not eating or sleeping well, staying in bed most days, only reaching out to my core family, and spending too much time doomscrolling. Poetry eluded me and felt like a great strain on me.

I decided to break up with it.

The only way I have ever been able to claw myself out of hell is to throw myself headlong into a creative activity. Making visual art, cooking, writing, and relevant to the pandemic, playing and composing music and songs. Music only comes to me when I am most vulnerable. Where poetry can be a shield, music exposes the soft flesh, the broken heart, the weary mind. Music works on our beings through vibrational resonance. It seeps into us and permeates us with magic that can carry us away into a more peaceful realm or rock us to our very core.

A musician friend sensed the danger of all of us lying around mourning and full of anxiety. He created a brief little experiment to get people moving and into the enjoyment of music. He broadcast his program at 4 p.m. daily and challenged us to move, shake a tail feather, or play along with his makeshift one-man band. At first, I could only lie in my bed and watch. It didn’t so much entertain me but nursed me and took care of me in my poorest state. By the second week, I had picked up my guitar again, to play along and when I did, I was immediately overcome by inspiration.

I have multiple diagnoses of mental illnesses. This time has been awfully hard for anyone and is especially hard for those of us who battle mental illness every day. So many new sufferers in this mass traumatic event that is continuing to this day—the day America counted 200,000 citizens dead from this novel coronavirus.

I have a strong support team and an incredible group of friends and core family who are in my corner. I’ve been at this a long time and I’ve cultivated a self-care routine and rituals that have saved my life on multiple occasions. When I picked up my guitar again, it felt so akin to my body. My rhythm returned. My musical sense returned. And joy returned.

I had to knock the rust off my body to get back into playing and of course, build up my calluses. I began practicing every day. I got smoother. I started humming and then singing melodies. Tunes came to me intuitively. Being a practiced poet, writing lyrics came fast and fit the tune perfectly.

And then it dawned on me: In this upside-down, crazy world, what harm would there be if I committed to being a Rock Star? I had to laugh at myself but just setting a goal that is just ridiculous enough to catch my interest was a brain-switcher for me. It gave me purpose and the playing and weaving songs together gave me true joy and pleasure.

Even though I’ve had a few years of experience playing guitar, I wanted to break through barriers that fear had put in place. I grew up around a lot of male musicians and hardly any women. This stunted my growth. The guys I wanted to hang around with to learn saw me as a groupie and not a serious person at all. Plus, I was a freak. Plus, I was kind of loose and easy. Made for a bad learning environment.

I taught myself for four years but never could unlock the instrument. I never ventured past open and barre chords. When I got married, I felt pressured by the mentality that a woman must put the needs of her man first, as much as I fought against that. I gave up guitar and every time I looked at my guitars, I felt tremendous guilt.

(I must add that my husband loved to hear me play but we were going through tumultuous times with a death before our wedding that took years of grieving to heal.)

Skip forward to August 2020. I had been playing solidly for a couple of months and felt I really needed to level up. So, I decided to hire a private guitar teacher. I never had a guitar teacher before. It seemed out of reach financially, but friends chipped in to this creative cause and we found the money to be able to do it. I’ve had a month of lessons and I am progressing.

I’m learning about the fretboard, some music theory, scales, power chords, mimicking songs, exploring, facing my hesitancy and nervousness, committing to a two-year trajectory of study to possibly put together enough songs to be able to perform in public. Even if I only do it once, I will be fulfilling a dream. What’s the upside of a national crisis of a pandemic and reckless, absent leadership if not to go for it—go for your positive, harmless, and constructive dreams?

You’ll see me here more often. I’ll be working on my YouTube Channel and syncing videos on Facebook. You might hear me singing vocal warmups, exploring the instrument (I like to show my process), and singing original songs and a few covers.

Two years from now, 2022, if I am given the grace of time, I’ll be ready to “come out” as a Rock Star. I’m a 51-year-old living a 13-year old’s fantasy. Dreaming big but putting into practice all that I know about discipline, hard work, having fun, and being the artist I know I can be (in multiple genres).

It’s no guilty pleasure. It’s an obligation not to give up and to pour myself into what the muses call me to do.

Thanks for reading.

~CLM

Crone by Clare L. Martin

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Available on Amazon and through Nixes Mate Books.
“Clare Martin’s Crone is a feast for eyes and ears, seductive in its use of both imagery and sound. Celebrating the sometimes terrifying, sometimes life-giving teachings of the wise woman,  Crone evokes a woman’s coming-to-power, an epic “cronesong” of spells and potions in the form of poetry.”
–Sheryl St.Germain, author of The Small Door of Your Death.
 
Clare Martin’s Crone glows equal parts magic, music, and muscle. Her lines are laced with ambergris and jasmine, ghosts and wolfbreath. I would call Martin’s art a gorgeous dream, but that would ignore the blood, bone, and heart that drive this book at its core. Crone is the creation of a poet at the height of her powers, in full voice, and mesmerizing. Immerse yourselves in these lines, friends. You’ll rise from their waters cleansed and awed.  —Jack B. Bedell, author of No Brother, This Storm, Poet Laureate, State of Louisiana, 2017-2019
 
“Clare L. Martin is a mysterious spellcaster. CRONE is a lush and dizzying monster of a poem. Coming through it made me see the world anew.”
Luis Alberto Urrea, author of House of Broken Angels

Enchantment of the Crone

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In December of 2017, I went on a women’s retreat organized by The Penchant Group, a creative collective founded by Bessie Senette. On the retreat, each woman was free to choose their focus, whether on writing or another art form. In a lovely cabin in the woods of Chicot State Park, we spent time alone with our work. We communed when we ate meals or after meals as we sat by a roaring fire. I had been experiencing a nearly four-year-long depression, triggered by my mother’s death, with some high points that worked to pull me through. This nutritive gathering was a balm to my heart and soul.
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It actually had snowed in Louisiana that weekend. On one of the full days there, a poem burst through me as I looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows onto the snowy scene outdoors. I read the poem to the group. They appreciated it and said it was strong. Later, when I returned home, I revised it several times. I absolutely hated the revisions and went back to the first draft. That poem became the first poem written for Crone.
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When I was hospitalized in March 2018 for suicidal depression, someone in the hospital, when they learned that I was a writer with two published books, asked me if I was going to keep writing. I was on the mend as a new dosage of antidepressant took root. I answered, “Yes, of course.” I had started a creative project. It was a nebulous vision but something was ahead of me.
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Shortly after I got out of the hospital, I received an email from Annie Pluto, asking if I had a manuscript of 40 to 50 pages. I was wowed to be asked but I did not have a manuscript of that length or one that was ready. I had a loose group of sketched-out poems that I was working and reworking without a clear vision of what it would be. The working title was Crone. I might have had 15 to 20 poems that needed a lot of attention. I asked Annie if I could be given some time to work. She said to take four months.
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I was driven. I was mad with poetry. I finished the manuscript in two weeks!
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I have to give credit to my therapist, J.S., who I started seeing after my release from the hospital. Weekly sessions and full disclosure to her pulled me together. Also, my nurse practitioner, who I’ve seen for a decade, worked fiercely to see me well. The intense talk therapy helped. I really scored with J.S. She’s professional, compassionate, intuitive, and agrees with me politically if that matters. (I think it does!) I’ve spent 30 years trying and failing at talk therapy with less than competent therapists and my hopes had dwindled that anyone could help me in that way, but I was wrong. I still see J.S. biweekly and I don’t foresee stopping. She’s really proud of me and owns my first two books. She has an affinity for poetry, as well. That helps. She understands creatives like me.
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Nixes Mate Books only solicits manuscripts. They are not open to unsolicited manuscripts. I finalized Crone, burnishing it to wholeness. When I sent it to Annie, she read it carefully, spent time with it, and let it resonate. She said yes to it. This achievement was a victory of life over death for me. The same year I was hospitalized for what I believed and wanted to be the end of my life, I was able to pull out a book from my psyche that I am so proud of and in love with.
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From the first poem written in December to the last edits prior to going into book design, it might have been four months. Then a few weeks after the acceptance, the contract was signed and the work shifted to book design by Michael McInnis. Michael has been wonderful to work with and his design work is impeccable. I haven’t spent time working with Philip Borenstein, but I’m indebted to him as well as a publisher of Nixes Mate Books.
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Crone is like no other work I have created. It came out in a fury. It came out after a suicidal depression. It was my hands, neck, shoulders, back, butt and thighs putting in the work at a desk. Hours and days and weeks of intuiting the narrative, intuiting the magic and myth, intuiting voices of the Crone and the Maiden.
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We have something very special in store for you. The work isn’t confessional. It’s myth and magic. It’s a poet seeing outward and into the ether. It’s a long poem, meant to be read as narrative but experimental in form and subject. It’s an exploration of mystical womanhood, and the natural and supernatural worlds.
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I hope you will read Crone. It’s available now via Amazon and soon directly through Nixes Mate Books and me. It’s not a book for the faint of heart. It saved my life. I pray it will keep in you for the ages.
`Clare L. Martin

2017: My Writing Life in Review

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In January of 2017, I facilitated “Writing Hope” with women being assisted to transition from homelessness by Acadiana Outreach, as six-week poetry writing workshop and reading of the women’s work at Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church.

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My second full-length poetry collection, Seek the Holy Dark, was released at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference (AWP) in Washington D.C. I read with other Yellow Flag Press poets, and poets affiliated with Gigantic Sequins Press and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette at George Washington University Textile Museum. I belatedly celebrated my daughter’s 21st birthday in D.C. with her!

March was the Lafayette book release of Seek the Holy Dark at Reve Coffee Roasters. Friends far and near came and it was wonderful.  As part of the promotion of the book’s release, I was interviewed on KRVS by Judith Meriwether and an article appeared locally in The Independent.

In April, I read at the Maple Leaf Bar. Such a wonderful thing to connect more deeply with poet-friends in NOLA in 2017.  Also, in April I was invited to read at the State Library by Poet Laureate Peter Cooley.

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Later in the month, I organized a reading with Jack Bedell and Darrell Bourque (current and former Poet Laureates, respectively) at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard Art Museum, to celebrate Yellow Flag Press’s Louisiana Cajun and Creole Series designees, as the three of us are.

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Mid-April, I started a new job with Childress Communications as a content writer and ghostwriter! I also joined Connections Professional Networking and PRAL Acadiana to help my friend-boss, Dr. Cynthia Childress grow her firm.

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In June, I was a featured poet at the Latter Library in New Orleans, thanks to poet Gina Ferrara. Always love my traveling Fairy Godmother, Bessie Senette, who is a love whirlwind in my life and shared so much of this exciting year with me.
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October marked the occasion of the Louisiana Book Festival at which I was a featured author. As a panelist, I read with other women poets of Louisiana, selected by Current Poet Laureate, Jack Bedell.

November was the 10th Annual Festival of Words, which was heartily celebrated in Grand Coteau.

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In December, I attended the Penchant Group’s first women’s’ writing retreat at the cabin in the woods (a wonderful spot at Chicot State Park, LA). It snowed!!

I edited and published three issues of MockingHeart Review, and interviewed several MHR poets (as many as I could muster).

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I also organized, with musician and teacher, Esther Tyree, a Hurricane Harvey fundraiser at Artmosphere. Highlights continued with readings around Acadiana with dear poet friends.

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Whew! Despite boughts of severe depression and financial trauma, I am so proud to say that I am sharing my gifts with the world.

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Clare L. Martin’s second collection of poetry, Seek the Holy Dark, is the 2017 selection of the Louisiana Cajun and Creole Series by Yellow Flag Press. Her acclaimed debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published by Press 53. Martin’s poetry has appeared in Thrush Poetry Journal, Poets and Artists, and Louisiana Literature, among others. She founded and edits MockingHeart Review.

 

“Writing Hope”

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Two years ago, I was the artist contracted to work on a grant-funded project called “Transformations” which taught creative writing skills to women transitioning from homelessness and/or were in recovery who lived at a shelter-residence run by a local non-profit. I have been contracted again to do the project this year.

I begin the “Writing Hope” sessions Tuesday and continue once-a-week for seven weeks.* In the eighth week, I will host the women at their own poetry reading at a community center. I absolutely love this work. *Taking a one-week delay for AWP.

The focus of the first session will be on seeing the good in one’s self, recognizing growth, and focusing on the positive in life. Rather than delving into aspects of craft, this is a vocational effort to uplift these women, to give them hope in the new situations they will face with greater independence.

This project for non-writers is not to be dismissed as easy work. Writing is a transformative, healing art. It is my job, over the course of these many weeks, to help the women see that they can produce something beautiful because they are beautiful, creative souls.

Please send us good energy and uplifting thoughts.

 

 

~Clare