Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ellen Steinbaum: Boredom, I Hardly Knew Ye

Sometimes you just have to admit you’ve been wrong. So, here I am, boredom, ready to apologize for the disrespect I’ve shown you all these years.

There were so many times I put you down. “Only boring people are bored,” I would tell my children. “Surely you can find something to do.” And I really believed it. I thought that anyone with a lively willingness to be engaged would find ready candidates for attention. Enough with the whining, that petulant kvetch.

Not so much any more. Boredom, I’m willing to acknowledge you have qualities I never recognized – let alone appreciated – until recently. Now that I have 482 e-mails in my inbox, a desk pocked with Post-it notes of well-intentioned intentions, and something I didn’t write down and can’t quite remember that I think I’m supposed to be doing this afternoon. Now that I have a constant level of tension, tongue pressed to the roof of my mouth, shoulders up around my ears, shallow breath.

Now, boredom, now I lay myself at your feet. Now I am ready to admit that you are exactly what I need. Who else could give me the time for poking through the bookshelves for an overlooked good read? Or time to take a walk on what may turn out to be the last warm afternoon for months? Or time to just think ... maybe about the poem I wanted to write....

I used to think that creativity and boredom were mutually exclusive. Now I wonder if they’re not inextricably entwined.

I may be wrong – heaven knows it’s possible – but I’d guess that boredom began looking less reprobate around the time Google became a verb. No excuses any more. No need to wait a minute more wondering who was the original Beth in the movie of “Little Women” (don’t bother looking – it was Jean Parker in the 1933 version , but there were silent versions in 1917 and – oh, never mind) or what year Congress first considered health care legislation (1943). All of a sudden we needed every piece of information that could possibly occur to us and we needed it now. We also needed to send send immediate answers to crucial questions like, “you free for lunch a week from Tuesday?” or “do you know a good recipe for chocolate chip cookies (ok, that one is important!) Suddenly we didn’t have time to get bored – we were busy – BU-SY!

But busy isn’t always the same thing as productive. It certainly isn’t the same thing as creative. In fact, if creativity is what you want, it could be that a little boredom is what you need. A chance to distance yourself from the million little pieces floating through your head. Read, Think. Kick back and ponder. Do we even use that word anymore, with its connotation of time stretching out in some way without a specified limit? That’s what creativity takes, that time to clear your head. Drift a little, aimlessly, through an hour. Or more. Dare to waste time. I know, I know – time is all we have and it’s too precious to waste. Yada yada: I’ve said it, too, and it’s true. But maybe time is also too important to fill with minutiae of the nanosecond. It’s this realization that’s brought me to my new and improved attitude toward boredom.

My aunt Alice, who was a very wise woman, often told me, “whatever you’re doing is more important than whatever you’re not doing.” Not that she knew at any given moment that I was actually making the best use of my time. But her lesson was that because whatever I was doing had seemed important enough to do, it deserved attention undiluted by thoughts of something else.

Sometimes what seems important to do is nothing. Ideas come when we invite them, leave space for them. Not when we crowd them out with the white noise of constant distraction. We need some silence to find our way into our own thoughts. We need to find the ideas that only we can have, that simmer just below the surface waiting for us to notice them. We need to respect our ideas enough to give them time to grow, respect our time enough to occasionally waste” it.

If we want to be creative people, we’re going to have to spend some unstructured time. Time staring out the window. Breathing. Unwinding. Unplugging. Just being. We may get bored. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Ellen Steinbaum is a poet and journalist, the author of two books and a one-person play. Her poems have appeared in journals including Prairie Schooner, Bellevue Literary Review, Saint Ann's Review, and Fulcrum, and on Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac." She is a former literary columnist for The Boston Globe and writes a blog, "Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe," which can be seen at

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Launch of Winter 2010 Issue

Melusine 2.1 is live at last! Check it out, if you like.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Denise Falcone: My Haunted Heart

When my heart began to race on a regular basis, I decided to see a cardiologist. It was confirmed that it had an irregular rhythm, so the technician went to work. She gave me an EKG. She gave me an echocardiogram. I left the office with a black box strapped around my waist, its wires attached to my chest in significant places to record my heart’s activity, and with instructions to return it after 24 hours for the doctor’s evaluation.

“I don’t see anything. Take it easy and see me in six months,” he said.

Not long after that the racing turned to pounding. A different technician injected my vein with a dye and monitored my blood pressure as I walked fast on a treadmill. I lay on a table, freezing in a cold room while a great moaning machine’s invisible eye moved around me slowly in a circle. “Don’t move,” another technician told me.

I waited for the doctor to give me the results. “I am thrilled to tell you that it is very good!” And again he said, “See me in six months.”

On the night before Christmas, terror from the strongest episode yet drove me to a hospital emergency room. Finally, after the tests and waiting for hours, a perplexed and tired young resident emerged through the thick blue curtain with my chart.

“There is nothing wrong with your heart that I can see. I’ll give you something to take for anxiety.”

I left the hospital with a prescription for Xanax.

My dentist said that it happened to his wife whenever she drank white wine. Someone told me that fluctuating hormone levels caused it. Was I a diabetic? No. Everyone kept asking me about my thyroid.

I was hoping the impressive-looking tome on women’s health dominating the shelves in the Wellness section at my friendly neighborhood bookstore could touch on my predicament – after all, with its 778 pages it could have spared some room for me. But it disappointingly read something like this:


The cause of my unhappiness. Then I remembered what the assistant in the cardiologist’s office asked me while I was bending over, tying my sneakers back on.

“What do you think about all the time, my dear?”

I suppose our thoughts can affect our bodies. In theory it makes perfect sense. But in practice it still feels far away, sort of like talking to plants.

If I think back to that time when one could imagine oneself a butterfly, I remember emerging from the cocoon of my childhood to turn on to persuasions such as All You Need Is Love, Let the Love Shine In, The Look of Love, and Make Love Not War. I spritzed Love cologne on my wings before flying off to the music of Love, one of the most influential rock bands of that era. I put my trust in a piano-playing angel who called herself Laura Nyro, as she sang me permission to ride a dove and build a dream with love.

After having to leave the garden, I followed the examples of Christ and Buddha. For God’s love, the ultimate love, Mother Teresa would have French kissed every leper in Calcutta. We know now after her death that she at least wanted to very badly. I had it figured that my infatuation with love and my propensity for loving regardless would someday make me wise, my multiple chins held high with the pride of broken-hearted nobility. The self-sacrifice of love was better than no love at all they said. So I held on tenaciously and kept my factory open long after closing time, long after everyone else punched out their time cards and went home.

Of course there were the unfulfilled promises and irrational expectations of ridiculous love affairs caused by, as Cosmo magazine said, a glitch in my relationship with my father at a very sensitive time in my life. Whatever. Ciao Baby! But there was the sudden death of a lover before our time was up. And there was the soul-wrenching pain of a divorce. When people turn their sorrow into something mean, they shut down in hatred and that can’t be good for anybody’s heart. There was a strong secret love. I think that when someone like this enters in, no matter how long their visit, the evidence of their presence lingers in spite of what is true, and even harshly proven. The heart can only recognize. It knows no reason. There was the eventual estrangement from siblings just when you think that you know someone, and there were the so-called friends, who in time fell short as their phone numbers and email addresses gradually faded away.

I tried not to care anymore and took a vow to don the armor of forced indifference, cold rationality, and doubt, but none of it fit or even looked good on me. Instead I pined for the chance to yield into that marvelous lift again, however brief its rapture. Or sing in the rain of a possibility, just one mo’ time! Was I to quit cold turkey my addiction to the strongest force in the universe that makes me weep but it also makes me human? Had the abundant banquet where some of us revel in our celebration anyway no matter what because Socrates says we do, evolved into a disappointing high caloric artery-clogging cold heart breaking junk food mistake?

“I want you to see a heart rhythm specialist,” said my new internist. “Go now,” he said like the Wizard of Oz. He’s someone you obey. So I took a cab to a strange new office, figuring they would tell me the same old thing, the same old thing, the same old thing... But the brilliant electro-physiologist turned out to be a kindred soul and gifted in the art of understanding over-worked, wound-up rainbow-colored candy box hearts such as mine. It took two procedures with his catheter wand for things to quiet down.

Now, the sequences that come out of the EKG machines every three months or so fail to catch evidence of the ghosts who rattled about in my chambers. But I know that they are there.

Denise Falcone is a writer who lives in New York City. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blood Orange Review, Fresh!, Foundling Review, South Jersey Underground, Why Vandalism?, J Journal, and others.