equivalent exchange

It’s Calgary Fringe—well, it is for a few more hours, anyway—one of my favorite Calgary festivals. Located almost entirely in Inglewood, my attendance at the theatre fest is conveniently in immediate proximity to one of my other Calgary favourites—Gravity Cafe. There’s something about this place that lends itself to introspection, at least for me. The first time I was here, I felt so exquisitely at peace that the realization of it brought me a sudden pang of fear because I knew it couldn’t possibly last. Happiness is like that. If you think too hard about it, ultimately you realize that it may very well be fleeting, and that realization snaps you back to reality like a broken guitar string lacerating your filangies.

I’m not sure what it is, but it makes me want to write. Writers are like that. Well, most of us, anyway. You can’t say to a writer, “Write, dammit!” (Well, you can, but the end result is often somehow less than when they feel moved to write. This, my dear friends, is the quandary of the “professional writer” at times—chained as we are to a cubicle drafting press release after press release; this annual report or that user guide. It’s writing, but you can’t really call it that. They’re misshapen things—foundling works best left in the forest to be snatched away by The Little People (not to be confused with The Village People))*.

The presence and realization of that longing is one of the things that makes poetry, poetry. Poetry is scary. It’s terrifying! Because—I believe, anyway—in order to create a truly beautiful, meaningful poem, you have to sacrifice a little piece of yourself to do it. In much the same way parents give of themselves for the benefit of their children, poets—and writers in general—expel some embarrassing moment; some moving dance that brought them close enough to the Muse to perhaps, just perhaps, create. We can’t help it. It’s a force greater than ourselves; more powerful, even, than the pull of salted caramel milk chocolate (but only by a little).

That’s quite the image, isn’t it? Picture The Writer, seated at his local coffee shop, carving out little bits—an earlobe here, a bit of tongue, his baby toe—all in the pursuit of something he considers meaningful. It’s not such a stretch—Van Gogh lopped of an ear, remember? Out of mental instability and passion, sure, but the basic premise is sound. Shakespeare did this—he must have; his spirit is infused in every line. It’s Alchemy and The Rule of Equivalent Exchange—in order to create, something of equal value must be exchanged.

And so we live our lives, fleshing out those things the move or hold us moment by moment, and then we put them on display for the world to see and judge. Editors use an ugly term, but it fits: Killing your children. When an editor takes your work—the work upon which you’ve sectioned off said metaphorical toe—breathed life into it before sending it out into the world—and proceed to rip through it like a wolverine ravaging a four-day-old elk carcass (I’m just full of gorygeous** imagery tonight, aren’t I?), you have to be okay with it. Because, inevitably, someone is going to read it and hate it. And this is why—in my opinion, anyway—poetry is so much more daunting than most writing out there, particularly the corporate kind: because you’ve offered up so much of yourself, hating your work is like hating that little bit of your soul you’ve just bared publicly. It’s the most naked feeling.

But the fact is—it’s okay if they hate it. The worst and best thing about poetry is that it’s wholly open to interpretation. If I read The Bell Jar without knowing that Sylvia Plath took her life shortly after writing it, my reading of the text post-discovery will surely be colored by this newfound knowledge. And so if a poet bleeds out a piece filled with his or her own inner beauty, and that beauty doesn’t resonate with the reader—or listener— the reader/listener will inevitably see or hear that which connects with them most profoundly. Or, conversely, the lack thereof. It’s this fluid nature which makes poetry both exhilarating and petrifying—the purest sublime.

That’s a very long way to get to the point, right here, where I conclude that I have no idea what it is about Gravity Cafe that inspires this reaction in me. It could be the tranquil blue walls or the splendid art (though I suspect it’s the cappuccino/pain au chocolat); or perhaps it’s that whenever I’m here, I’m in the place where I’m either in search of, in need of, or open to peace. Whatever it is, like so many writers before me, I may have just found that little corner of space that calls forth the writerly spirit in me. And that, in a nutshell, is awesome.

*Double parenthesis—aw, yeah!

**I’m officially coining the term “Gorygeous”—the sublime combination of “gore” and “gorgeous”. Who ever thought the two could be joined? Aren’t portmanteaus fun?!

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