I never can remember where I’ve left my car keys. It slips my mind that I’ve been told to stop at the grocery for milk. I forget to swing by the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions and occasionally I forget to feed the outside cat. I’m always forgetting this password or that, and I’ve completely forgotten the names of some of my high school chums. People who claim to know about such things tell me this everyday-forgetting is unremarkable. A little more age here, a few things more interesting to ponder there, and the mind wanders off, unconcerned with milk, kitties or keys.
Most recently, I very nearly forgot I’d promised Ruth, of the lovely blog Synch-ro-niz-ing, that I’d accept her invitation to join with a group of bloggers and write about the beginnings of The Task at Hand ~ more specifically, how it received its title. It’s a story I’m happy to recount for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the sheer pleasure of remembering those first, halting steps onto the path called “writing”.
In late 2007, a project or two brought me to the point of wanting to learn how to post images to the web. Simply in order to have a place to “practice”, I began a blog at Weather Underground. It wasn’t an obvious choice for a blogsite, but I wasn’t a blogger. I simply was messing about, exploring and experimenting. My first entry was a pecan pie recipe. My second, about a trip through the Texas Hill Country, suddenly veered off into memoir, and I was writing. I posted again, and then a fourth time, amazed to discover people reading and enjoying my words.
Two months and a few posts later, on a whim, I joined the Bay Area Writers’ League. I certainly never had thought of myself as a writer, but I was curious to see what people who defined themselves as writers might look like. As it turned out, they looked pretty much like me: in love with words, with stories to tell and more than willing to spend their time listening to the first, halting efforts of beginners or the polished, compelling presentations of published authors.
At the January meeting, I was introduced to the concept of “flash fiction” and decided to participate in the monthly contest. The challenge was to respond to a photo posted in the group’s newsletter with a hundred words (or fewer) of either poetry or prose. When I saw the photo selected for the contest, it took less than a second to recognize Sisyphus. Too clever for his own good, Sisyphus may have brought his punishment upon himself, but images of that punishment have compelled artists for centuries. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to cross the gap from image to words without falling into cliché.
Three days later, while working on a boat and thinking about not much in particular, the first line came to mind, fully formed. The title came next, and then days of shaping words for meaning and sound. In the end – and quite to my surprise – I’d written a poem rather than a piece of prose. It’s title? The Task at Hand.
The Task at Hand did win the little “contest”, and from the beginning it seemed so right, so truth-filled, there was no question it would serve as the title for my first “real” blog at WordPress. A non-writer, I’d written a writer’s poem, with room for all of the discipline, all the surprise, all of the faith and clenched-teeth perseverance that writing requires. Did I know it then? Of course not. Even now I only know it only in glimpses, in fits and starts, and in those passing moments when a “right word” appears.
At the Bay Area Writers’ League, it’s the custom for the winner of each contest to read their poetry or prose aloud at the next month’s meeting. After I’d read The Task at Hand, a fellow came up to me. “So. This your first poem?” he asked. “Yes, I’ve just started writing.” “Let me tell you something, then. That poem’s like a suit of clothes that’s two sizes too big. That’s ok. Don’t worry about it. You keep writing, and in a few years, you’ll start to grow into it.”
I’m like a kid that can’t wait.
The Task at Hand
Even the right word takes effort.
Quarried from a crevice of the mind
it stumbles into context from a surprised tongue
then slips again toward silence.
Breaking chains of metaphor,
pulled from its page by the gravity of doubt
it defies usefulness,
heaving past frail allusion
blocking passage after passage
with its heavy presence
until turned and nudged and tried again
for perfect fit
by one who never tires ~
the Sisyphean poet.