The picture on the left of the banner is me, 1993, 25 years old. The grey-haired woman on the right is also me, 2018, 50 years old. Several lifetimes have passed in those 25 years; some very hard lessons learned.
I started to write poetry when I was a child. When I was the young woman with the dark hair, I decided I would compile some of them, and I made a book I called “Life Songs – A Collection of Poems.” I did finish, but I put it away and fell into a pattern of self-destruction and failure that lasted for years. Life Songs died.
But at 50 I began to wonder; what dreams have I let go? What are the seeds of regret?
My dreams of singing professionally were done, too much whiskey and smoke had taken its toll. That one hurts.
My paintings are unlikely to hang anywhere, my photography is hit or miss, and having a business to call my own died a premature death. Don’t go into business with friends, that’s my advice to you.
But there was one thing left, my first love, my greatest love, my sanctuary, my heart, my everything.
Writing. That I could still do.
It had been 25 years since I put Life Songs together, then I drank my muse away. I killed her with my hands around a bottle of Jack.
I also made the grave mistake of majoring in Creative Writing and taking many poetry classes which put an inner critic in my head I had never had before. Everyone is different, but for me, this was a massive mistake.
Anyway, as I neared 50, I realized that I needed to complete Life Songs and get it out. So I read it over, all bright-eyed and optimistic. Then I closed it and stared into space.
Many of the poems were, well, let me put it this way, I separated it into chapters based on content, and I decided that each chapter heading would be a take on “Ten Definitions of Poetry” by Carl Sandburg. Trouble is, I’m not Sandburg now, let alone at 25, and it went…poorly. I will not be sharing any of those with you. Oh my, no. So I was stuck again.
Then on a warm summer night, after a lovely meal with dear friends, we began to talk about our projects. I never had anything to add to these conversations since I had no muse and no art in my soul. But this night I did. This night I talked about it, and as sometimes happens when thinking out loud, I had an epiphany. I am not the same person I was back then. So why not let the grey-haired lady speak to the dark-haired one? Choose poems that are relevant or particularly painful or funny and talk to her? Maybe I could find healing in that. Maybe I could help another reader find healing or hope or at least know they are not alone.
Maybe I really could finish Life Songs.
And then, just like that, my muse came home.
When I sat down to work, everything came back. The traumas and moments of life, sure, but that’s not what I mean. I mean the absolute and overpowering joy of writing, of moving my hands on a keyboard and making the words I want to say appear. I had forgotten what it felt like to write. It’s like forgetting what it is to taste ice cream or smell freshly mowed grass.
Many of my friends are writers. They post on Facebook, share funny memes, talk about their process and craft. I would be happy for them, but I would also burn inside. I was not a writer anymore. One can call it a dry spell for a while, but after two and a half decades, you’re no longer in the club.
But after I wrote a few pages, and after I started this blog, I was a writer again. I could respond to the comments, laugh at the memes, and talk about my process and craft.
I was a writer again. I was in the club.
I worked on Life Songs, I thought about it when I wasn’t, I dreamed about it at night. Then the first draft was finished. I celebrated with some non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider in a flamingo glass. It’s tradition.
Then the final was done. After twenty-five years, I was almost ready to publish.
Now, I don’t know Photoshop or anything like that, and I can’t afford a professional photographer, so I decided to stage and shoot my own photos. I had a good idea what I wanted it to look like and every single prop I used I already had, so I set up a photo “studio” in the dining room, complete with the lights with umbrella things and my husband’s Nikon D90, and got busy.
Two months and about 3,000 photos later, I got seven or so that I loved, and chose two for the front and back cover.
I sent them to the cover artist my mother-in-law, a professional writer, had recommended, and prepared to upload my manuscript to Amazon.
Then I typed up the title page
Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child
by – …….
And I froze.
Belle Chapin is a pseudonym. I started this blog under that name because I was afraid to use my real one. (Belle Chapin was my grandmother.) I was afraid of not getting a job, afraid of trolls, afraid of being so vulnerable. So I was going to publish Life Songs under that name as well.
I backspaced my real name out, and I typed
by Belle Chapin
And then I cried. And then I cried more. This girl is me. This is my life, goddammit. This is my life, my heart, my work.
It took some time with my therapist, but I finally came to a decision.
This girl is me. This is my life, my heart, my work.
I sat down at my laptop and I opened the title page.
Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child
by Sue St. Blaine
And then I closed my laptop.
The cover artist sent me the final product. I opened the attachment I cried so hard I nearly passed out. It was real.
I finished my life’s work.
The way I’ve lived my life, the choices I’ve made have left many scars and regrets. I know there are things I didn’t do because I didn’t have the confidence, I was scared, I was drunk.
I was drunk. The seeds of regret are sown.
But it’s been a year since I published Life Songs. It is sitting on the shelf behind me. My heart fills as certainly as my eyes when I think about it. I did it. I finished it.
In a life full of mistakes, this is something I did right.
I wish that for all of you.