Sunday, April 17, 2005

You Cannot Win If You Don't Play...

I went to a poetry workshop this afternoon, by which I mean I drove to the location of the poetry workshop, walked around outside the building, and drove home. I also got chased around by a gigantic mutant bumblebee, and now that it's spring, you can expect a lot more stories about humongous insect abominations of God. Now, I went to this poetry workshop — or at least I planned on attending it — because my psychotherapist told me that I need to get out of my house and do things with like-minded people. He diagnoses my overall churlishness and pessimism as a symptom of my geekish lack of information and experience about the world, and it's not like I'm going to be growing as a person sitting up in my room and writing in my blog all day long.

Poetry workshop it was then. Mind you, I'm not all that into poetry, but I figured that there's really nothing else to do in Fanwood and the workshop's leader was Tom Plante, who is about as successful a poet as one can be in modern America without being Maya Angelou. Mr. Plante, a fellow Fanwood resident, runs a publication called "Exit 13" that has managed to snag some other big-name poets you've never heard of like Charles Bukowski, Gerald Stern and former poet laureate (not sure why we need one of those) Robert Pinsky. It seems like Mr. Plante would be a good person for an aspiring writer to get to know. I considered submitting some of my own poetry to Exit 13, but I get the feeling I'd be rejected despite my hometown advantage.

So I went to this poetry (click the link already, hint hint) workshop, and it wasn't a disaster. It was just that everybody there was at least twenty years older than me, and there were at most nine or ten people there so I couldn't even sit and hide in the back. Folks seemed to be on a first-name basis with Mr. Plante, although that might have just been because they're all neighbors and they probably borrow each other's typewriters and rhyming dictionaries all the time. Regardless, it was intimidating, although not quite as intimidating as the giant mutant bumblebee hanging around outside the building.

I guess most intimidating of all would've been being chased inside the poetry workshop by the bumblebee.

None of this helps my psyche though. I stay away because it's not crowded enough, or I stay away because it's too crowded and everybody looks like they're having a good time with their friends and I'm all alone. Everybody's either too old; or they've all brought their little kids, who are running around like they're on crack; or they're my age and all so much better-looking than me. (Sometimes at the gym, there's this guy who's about my age, about my weight, and twice my height, and he can only lift like three plates on the various exercise machines. Thank you, Jesus, for him.) My fellow amateur poets read their poetry and either it sucks and I'm wasting my time, or it's more vibrant, more mellifluous, more meaningful than anything my lame mind can produce and I feel like a waste of brain cells.

Back in the late nineties, I was into this whole "Chicken Soup For The Soul" movement that promoted living by a philosophy of inspirational platitudes and Ziggy cartoons, and it came to mind while driving to the poetry workshop I later wouldn't attend. I'm sure somewhere in the myriad variations on Chicken Soup, the aphorism that titles this post — You cannot win if you don't play — appears somewhere, challenging the easily-inspired among us to take control of our life experience, or some psychobabble like that. There is, of course, the converse — you also cannot lose if you don't play — but the Chicken Soupers of the world have a highly cultivated ability to disregard the logic that doesn't suit their immediate cause.

Which is why my new, five-hours-old life philosophy divides the human race into two fluid and malleable groups: the winners and the losers. The former plays this metaphorical game and expects to win, and the latter... well, you can figure it out. I seem to fall in the loser category, although I wouldn't mind getting out. The best I muster is a probationary release, like when I walk up to the counter at Starbucks, order a tall mocha frappuchino no-whip, and actually get the correct beverage for the advertised price. The good news is that this new philosophy just asks me to change the way I think about problems — instead of expecting to fail, I need to expect success. Maybe all the old folks at the poetry workshop would be thrilled to have a young whippersnapper in their midst, someone who could, say, move a folding chair across the room without snapping three or four bones.

The bad news is that this new philosophy asks me to change the way I think about problems.