Last fall, after self-publishing my latest book of poems, I ONCE WAS SOMEONE ELSE & OFTEN STILL AM, I decided to step away from "public writing," ceasing this blog, pausing my podcast, & no longer worrying about plopping poems into the world. I realized I didn't have a good relationship with writing anymore, most notably that I was still trying to live in the same paradigm within which I was writing years previous, while I was heavily engulfed by my mental illness & also still involved in the larger poetry / writing community.
Back then, in the early 2010's, my identity was 100% wrapped up in my position as a writer, mainly a poet, but also an editor, a performer & a community member. I was editing a cool indie mag, assisting with one of my favorite small presses, running a reading series, performing a couple times a month, publishing across the scene (including my first book to soon be released by another of my favorite presses), & about to enter my dream MFA program to study with my favorite poet. I was stoked, but I also had a chip on my shoulder, a small-town hick kid bewilderingly having some "success" in academic & artistic worlds that once seemed so out of my reach.
Quickly, that all fell apart, thanks to my behavior linked to my bipolar disorder. In the spring of 2014, I physically assaulted my girlfriend-at-the-time during a mania-induced, rage attack, an episode I still don't remember. Eventually, she went public about this incident, & the majority of my writing community shunned me--publications were pulled, opportunities were eliminated, connections were cut.
Deserved or not, it was devastating on multiple levels. The embarrassment & the heartbreak was enormous, & the void left by that identity being stripped away was glaring. I fumbled to retain some sort of "public writing figure" status, self-publishing & blogging & podcasting to keep that inner urge of self fulfilled. Still, the sharp drop in "readership" & lack of real public presence left me feeling like a loser.
Then I got to know Ram Dass. His pioneering spiritual work often centered around the idea of the ego. In his lectures & writings, I witnessed what the true problem was. It had nothing to do with the community that cast me out, or the lack of a public platform, or my writing itself. It was about attachment. It was about leading with the ego, the story I'm telling myself, instead of what he calls "loving awareness," that presence that just is, open & essential.
I didn't know it at the time, but that was what I was attempting to correct last fall when I stepped away from these endeavors: the necessary step in rebuilding my life of detaching from my ego. I no longer want to write to have fans or get accolades, to change the world or have special experiences. Those aspects might be positive by-products down the road, but I am now all about letting what is be. I'm not interested in being a writer, a poet, a podcaster, a public figure. I want to create because language & ideas send an electricity through & eventually back out me, naturally, spiritually.
Still, that ego wants its taste every now & then. The other night was the first seasonal event for our local disc golf club's single league. Some of the players were complimenting my essay in the new issue of the PDGA's magazine (see below), & the director of that league kindly noted how I'm "a professional writer now." My ego jumped straight up, wanting to assert that in fact I've been a professional writing for many years now, having published a book, gotten a fellowship to a top MFA program, blah blah blah. Though I was able to wrangle that impulse, simply saying "yes, it feels nice" (also true), it was then, I knew, the work isn't over, as it never is, the journey to free myself of an attachment to ego just begun.
I must continue to cultivate an awareness that recognizes that desire & shifts the focus back to the natural energy of these endeavors. I'm posting again on this blog as a complementary act to my journey managing my bipolar disorder. I'm podcasting again, this time with my galpal Beth, vulnerably & honestly exploring our "opposites attract" relationship. I'm writing for the public sphere again, essays about mental health now, not to gain recognition or fulfill a role, but in order to advocate for myself & others with this illness.
Below is a photo of my first published piece in many years, an essay about how my local disc golf course & community saved my life after my mental health tanked & my wife left in early 2020. It appears in the latest issue of DiscGolfer magazine.