The Trouble with Transitions

My daughters were supposed to be getting ready for bed when I walked into their room and found my four-year-old naked, kneeling on all fours with her butt in the air, her older sister slapping her bottom.

 

What are you doing? I asked.

 

Playin’ the drums, my older daughter said.

 

And though part of me was relieved to see my four-year-old finally using her butt for something other than a wind instrument, I immediately stopped the show and escorted her to the shower.

 

It got me thinking, though, about the challenge of transitions in both parenting and writing.

 

I am often amazed by how hard it is to get my daughters into the shower and then once they’re in the shower how hard it is to get them out – and this feels eerily similar to the difficulty of making my way from one stanza or paragraph to the next.

 

More often than not this is a result of how I go about putting a draft together in the first place – which typically involves a series of false starts and frenzied free-writes, frantic late-night calls to my muse and failed attempts at remembering the epiphany I just had moments ago in the shower.

 

Before I know it, I’ve amassed a collection of undercurrents and overhauls that refuse to be shaped into a coherent narrative.

 

When I first started writing, I thought of my early stabs as failed drafts and would delete each one every time I started over.

 

But I’ve come to think of revising as similar to film editing, where you have to disassemble and then reassemble footage to create the illusion of continuity.

 

The revision process, then, becomes a matter of culling through draft after draft after draft, pulling my favorite passages then trying to create passageways.

 

Every finished piece of writing only seems seamless. Or as Yeats said: if it does not seem a moment’s thought,/ Our stitching and unstitching has been naught. 

 

What makes transitions particularly difficult for me, though, is that despite my interest in liminality and poems and stories that explore psychic shifts, the big picture often evades me – I get easily overwhelmed by contradictions.

 

I wonder if this is what makes transitions so hard for my daughters, as well – they’re rocking out to Hairspray in their bedroom, singing at the top of their lungs: You can’t stop the music, you can’t stop the beat, and then suddenly I barge in, stop the music and the beat, demand that they start their bedtime routines.

 

What else is there to do – when faced with the dizzying disconnects of this world –but find a butt and start drumming, try to remember, as Roxane Gay writes, that nothing makes sense but still, somehow, there is a rhythm.

 

About the Author

Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, came out last year from Able Muse Press.   And his new book, Then Again, is due out in November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters. www.ben-berman.com

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