Reading: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I knew enough about adults to know that if I did tell them what had happened, I would not be believed. Adults rarely seemed to believe me when I told the truth anyway. Why would the believe me about something so unlikely?

— Neil Gaiman

I’m about to go in on some work summer reading. It’s going to be a mix of professional development leadership texts as well as a good amount of culturally responsive teaching books with an emphasis on anti-racist work. I am excited to get back into my constant learner mode as that takes my mind to an open space of listening, absorbing, and contextualization.

I gotta tell you, it’s going to be a challenge. I find it hard to focus on prose or dense text. My natural inclination to poetry and graphic novels mirrors my tendencies to go in deeper with a condensed text or image over going broad.

My current plan will be to mix it up with a poetry collection in between to see if bridging these two forms of lit can keep me on track.

For now, I share one of many highlights from Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I have been a fan of Gaiman’s work since his days of writing for DC’s Vertigo line. In fact, Sandman: Season of Mists was the first graphic novel collection I ever purchased. Gaiman has a way of writing myths and memories in direct language while still maintaining a sense of the fantastic.

This all brings me back when my mom passed away when I was thirteen. It was a few months after her passing that I heard whistling in the hallways for weeks after. I recall that no one else heard it in the house but me. I would be studying and all of a sudden this specific whistling would happen and no one else responded. So I would just pretend that I was going to throw some trash out and then hang out in the project hallways waiting for the whistling. I would randomly start whistling back and hear an echo that came from a new place. It was coming from the stairs and that is where I went because I knew for a fact it was my mom. I am not sure what she was trying to say to me. I remember waiting for a while to try to figure that out. Sitting in the stairs listening. Maybe that is when the whistling stopped. When I tried to make sense of it. I think now that all my mom wanted was just to have me to herself.

Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.

“I have no liking for prisons, Master Li. Sometimes I suspect that we build our traps ourselves, then we back into them, pretending amazement the while.”
• Dream addresses Master Li (SANDMAN #74, The Exile)

There is another great quote in this issue regarding the evasion of responsibility but for now we will stick to the idea of traps, a thread that recurs through the run of Gaiman’s SANDMAN as Orpheus, a being equal parts function and devise, is quite attune to the nature of tools.

This is where I find myself today as I sweat over a manuscript that is trying to find a clear voice on the page but more often that not remains reactionary to the voice of the stage with my early writing entrenched in the first person narrative “I got a story to tell ya” voice of slam and my later pieces doing a 180 degree turn that has me running backwards from performance poetry.

I am also feeling quite foolish at the idea that I could whip up a manuscript in a relatively short time. This was going to happen sooner or later and I am glad that it’s happening now because I want to return to the point where poetry is in my mind all the time.

I have spent the last three years wearing multiple poetic hats- writer, editor, curator, host, promoter, self-promoter and performer. The last one is becoming a role that I am slowly walking more and more away from. At one point, I was on a 39 month streak where I was featuring somewhere or the other at least once a month. Current features lined up for 2006—One. And I am thinking of dropping that one as well.

None of this takes away from what I consider makes me a poet but it does signal a shift in how I am going to be attacking my poetry this year with journal submissions replacing featured gigs as my main impetus for writing. The toughest part of this will be the visualization of a core audience and how they will hear the poems in the mental stage I will be constructing since I sill feel the oral tradition of poetry is very key to my poetic voice and how I feel poetry, in general, should be experienced.

More to come later but for now, I got work to do.

• Master Li asks Dream a final question
(SANDMAN #74, The Exile)
“Lord — what was it the barbarian said, as the riders vanished?”

“‘Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.’ ‘Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost.’ Fare you well, Master Li.”