Empowerment through Language...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

All I Wanted to Do Was Give Them Money...

Since late last spring I have been redefining my career path. I was full of expectation after 5 years of planning, proposing, drafting, editing, and finally completing Our Difficult Sunlight. When the book was in print, I was giddy with pride and accomplishment. But to be honest, there has been not one step of this process, to date, that has flowed well. I guess that is unreasonable to expect in the world of publishing these days.

I thought that the book was going to take off with a burst of energy. I was ready for interviews, for professional development gigs, for hundreds and hundreds of copies sold. I was prepared to accept success.

Instead, I lost my primary contract with a school district where I had been working for 6 years due to budget setbacks. Instead, the marketing efforts of the book were not what I anticipated and there was a tremendous amount of work for me to do. Instead, I had to look other places for my income and generate new opportunities, at the same time doing whatever I could to also generate interest in this book that I believe in wholeheartedly. Instead of an avalanche of opportunity, there is a slow roll of a rather small snowball, and I feel like the hill that it is tumbling down is miniscule as well.

I fell seriously behind in all of my bills in the past 6 - 8 months, and I scraped everywhere I could to afford the conferences and gatherings where my coauthor and I were promoting our project. I borrowed from friends and am slowly paying them all back. At one point, I ate only pasta, scrambled eggs, and carrots for days.

In January, new work started to open up. I returned to a school where I have tremendous allies and yearly do a residency with 6th graders. Although I have cut my price nearly in half from my original billing so the school can still afford to bring me in, I was making enough to know that I would eventually pay up on my debts. I also love the students and the teachers so it is worth it. In February, I did a short residency with 4th graders in two schools in another small district. That sum was figured into my catch-up plan as well and I developed another curriculum piece that I can recycle throughout New York State. I have also designed a program for an elementary school here at home that is in the early stages of implementation. All of this work is very exciting. Additionally, I started a part-time job that I love and will have lots to share on this in the near future. This position will not only fulfill a great deal of my interests but also meet at least half of my monthly expenses so now to fill in the gaps.

So I got paid for the January and February gigs last week and the checks have cleared. I plugged the phone back in after several weeks of avoiding all the bill collectors. I started making arrangements to pay up. One of them was my mortgage company. All I wanted to do was authorize two payments to bring my mortgage current after 3 months of missing the mark. This took me nearly 40 minutes of conversation with a gentleman who was just not listening to me. My proposal of one payment yesterday, with the funds readily available, and then another payment on Friday when my biweekly remuneration is automatically deposited in my checking account was so far beyond his scope of comprehension.

For some reason, this bank representative needed complication. He made the whole transaction an ordeal. He said that he needed to take a full history of my finances again, because "the program is asking for it." I did not want negotiation or opening up a can of worms. I just wanted to authorize payment of my past due balance and start paying on time again as I had been doing for years. He wanted to have set figures for my income and could not understand, no matter how many times I explained to him that I was not a salaried employee with a set paycheck. My hours vary, my work is not always consistent, and I could only give him history, not a future projection. Besides, to me, it did not matter. TAKE MY MONEY and let me move forward.

I finally got my desire and the conversation ended, easily 30 minutes later than it should have if the man had just listened to me...if he had been able to process the circumstance in his mind and expedite me moving back onto the path of solvency.

Like so many other aspects of my life, I anticipated a simple action and got drama and frustration. Like so many other times in my life, I endured the absurdity and made the choice to write about it and then move on. This morning, I am current on this obligation as well as several others. I will continue to chip away at the backlog. I have been exhausted by all of this and, I admit, completely disheartened in many ways. But I am putting one foot in front of the other and facing forward.

In the next 2 weeks, I hit the road for the Split This Rock Festival and a visit to College of St. Rose to promote both the book and the work I do as educator and poet. Then I will come home and settle into the projects right here in my own community. The book will continue to gather recognition but I have come to realize that the book is not "IT" for my career. I am the commodity and the book is a part of what comprises my value and skill that I can turn into income. So for now, I will often be working close to my house instead of 4 hours away. I will sleep consistently in my own bed rather than acclimating to hotels or friends' guest rooms. And I will write...perhaps finish the two books of poems that have taken a back seat to the goals, dreams, and immediate needs. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

So Much to Naming...

Every so often while I am weaving through school rooms, I mispronounce a student's name or I call them by someone else's name accidentally. The responses are varied and I am always both embarrassed for the mistake and apologetic. I do ask the student to accept my apology; I do what I can to cement their identity, face/name/smile, into my memory for days ahead. I also ask all of the students to be patient with me because it is a lot to learn everyone's names and remember them. Ironically, I often remember those students who are frequently challenging first. I suppose that is natural. In essence, were they not finding ways of gaining attention, although gaining attention is a far bend from seeking recognition. Like all things, there are two sides to the coin.

A name is all we have to bring the world to us.

I have had some experiences in the past year about identity that are only now revealing the lessons I have been inviting. The first was of computer-generated identity theft. The last time I was aware of identity theft was in the 90s when I was getting billed $9.99 once a month for what turned out to be an online porn site. The greater insult was that it was called something like This was approximately the same time when the AARP invitations first started arriving. I was not amused.

This summer, I purchased software for a contract job after a search brought me to a really cheap download of the program I needed. This became my lesson in "if it seems to good to be true, it is." So small charges started hitting my account and I reported it to the bank, after some research on my behalf by friends who do a lot of web marketing and commerce. It took a few weeks but the bank found in my favor. This same issue cropped up again a few weeks ago so I had to change my card again. Annoying. There is no choice but to deal with it. I can't let people take advantage of my name.

My name is precious to me for both reasons of lineage and choice. I carry my mother's family in my given and middle names; my great-grandfather George Anderson, to be exact, my mother's maternal grandfather. I claim her maiden name on her father's side in my heart: McConnell, Asheville family.

I have rejected my birth surname for many reasons but I do feel a renewed connection to that part of me as well. The Sechrengost/Custer family line has become important to me and I have found a cousin after many years. We hope to never lose each other again.

Some people only know me as Georgia Sechrengost. Some know me only as Georgia Popoff. There are some who know me through both monikers. They have seen what a difference a name can make.

To my family, I am often affectionately George. I became Georgia Popoff to finally carry the name of my father of nuture. He had cancer and there was no time to question. I was adopted as an adult and I will carry his name for the remainder of this life. There is a fierce history in the Popoff line, determination and resilience. The same with the Zeitlins, who were my Grandma Anna Popoff's people.

Professionally, I added my middle initial to keep a connection to my mother's blood. It was a very deliberate act to claim Georgia A. Popoff. It was synonymous with Poet. It has a nice ring. It creates balance. I am a Libra.

There are a number of communities in which I am recognized for my work. But I must confess that there are times in which I feel invisible, or that I am working in a vacuum. I am not sure why it feels this way but sometimes the automatic faucets and toilets don't see me either. At times I feel like a stealth bomber moving about, just under the blips.

This was my frame of mind at the recent AWP conference most often. There are many reasons for this. I will speak to that another time. For now, just hear me when I say I can slip through without recognition quite easily if I so choose. But there are times when one may not want to be invisible. Times when a person may want her name to be spoken with admiration and face connected to that regard as well.

I have experienced two fascinating and difficult circumstances regarding my name this winter. The first was in relation to vying for an award during which, for reasons that follow a certain logic, my name was not included on the nomination. This was not to anyone's blame. It was a simple miscommunication. The true challenge was to navigate the error. In spite of numerous notifications to the organization by a myriad of individuals, and via many differing forms of communication, the error was not rectified, other than in one print form. This was a tender failing. I was invisible. I felt erased. Not relevant enough to someone (or ones) to warrant naming. I was shouting into a cavern and there was no echo. It was a lonely and frustrating circumstance. It significantly diminished my joy for the nomination. Fortunately, my own community bolstered me throughout and called my name with respect and enthusiasm. I am so very grateful. I now move forward. It was what it was.

Just a couple of weeks after that turn of events, I eagerly awaited the inaugural issue of a new arts journal in which I was premiering two of my favorite cycles of poems, work that I have been absorbed in for nearly 5 years. At last, the debut of the effort and I could not wait to see them on the page, perfect bound, snuggled in with all the other writers and artists.

I glanced quickly through the two columns on the back cover; I was listed but I didn't linger there. I flipped to the table of contents, found my page number, and fanned my way to my poems. They looked crisp in print. My eye scanned up and the poems were attributed to George Popoff. I nearly swallowed my tongue. I looked again. It was not my tired eyes. I double checked all the other places where my name appeared: cover, TOC, contributors' pages, and, in each instance, I was Georgia Popoff. At least I retained my gender, but my name as I prefer to have it cited was not correct anywhere. I was crestfallen. I could have handled the loss of the middle initial consistently throughout the journal but the error on the poems themselves was too difficult to process.

When I spoke with the editor, of course he was distressed and profoundly apologetic. Mistakes happen. Particularly when up against a print deadline. But I also had to navigate the emotion I felt. My name is just not that difficult. A state, the first letter of the alphabet, and a simple compound word. There are many others, even in this particular journal, whose names go through all sorts of contortions of spelling and punctuation. Why was mine a mess?

I once inadvertently dropped a middle/maiden name of one poet whose work was being published by the Comstock Writers Group. The writer was distressed and I apologized and wrote a correction. That was what I could offer for the slight. The glitch with this journal will be rectified. But the first moment of seeing my words in print lost its joy. A sadly familiar feeling.

I wear this name with tremendous pride. I hope I do my father and our family an honor, that I bring honor to all through my work and my intention. That is all I can really muster. As my dear friend Sue Stonecash reminds me consistently, "Just keep doing the good work, Georgia. That is what truly matters."

She is right. But I am also an endangered species. I am the end of the play of genetics created by my biological parents. They had no other children together. Subsequently, I am childless. When I am no longer breathing, my strand of DNA is extinct. I have two things to leave behind. My work and the name attached to it.