Monday, March 11, 2013
As I have mentioned in my brief blogging in the past months, I have been coping with a rough road. Redefining my career twice in 5 years has taken its toll, particularly as I am, as in the sage words of my dear friend Cathy Gibbons, basking in my late 50s and fearful of the vulnerability I face in a multitude of ways, not just in aging. I loved my work with Partners for Arts Education and I have loved my work in schools, for the most part. But this last couple of years of cobbling things together, hinging so much of it on the hope that Our Difficult Sunlight would translate into miraculous opportunities to deepen that work, I am seeking focus and stability. I need to find ways to continue doing what I do well and to support myself while fostering my work and identity as a poet.
I love everything I am involved with, most particularly my work with the Downtown Writers Center and the Comstock Review. I have been scattered over much of 2012 and now I feel there is more solid ground, I am clarifying my focus and commitment to both. One is a job, one is a volunteer act of love. The job is part time so, satisfying as it is, it is only a portion of what I need to keep the wolves at bay. I am working on additional income that is reliable, satisfying, and close to home.
I love working in schools but I am weary of it, all the stress, the travel, the negotiation, the ways I have to always be ready to shift in the immediate, the walking into classrooms that are unprepared for my lessons, the compressing a carefully designed program into half the time the process of learning actually requires. I do like the teachers (mostly), the students (mostly), the ways I learn more about teaching, and I love sharing my passion. I also love the checks when they arrive. I just am exhausted by it all, after 13 years of pursuing it as a career. And I am tired of being a living "Where's Waldo" book for my family and friends. I see much of the sacrifice that this career has entailed as well as the gains.
The real issue is that I have known my identity most of my life, at least since 3rd grade. I am a poet. I am relentlessly committed to that truth, even in the quiet decade in which I did not write and my faith was seriously challenged. But the words came back, as I had prayed. In the 20 years since, I have published consistently, with a chapbook, two complete volumes, and the textbook all in print. I have another collection being considered by a publisher now (I asked if he wanted first rights of refusal but am hopeful). I am working on two other collections of poetry that I am really excited about, a food memoir that is languishing somewhere in files on my computer, and now I know I am ready to start the notes that will result in a book on the craft of this confounding, amazing art form that is the spine of my soul.
There was a moment in the quiet time of my 30s to early 40s when I knew that I was being delivered back to the channel that results in poetry. No one but me would be able to decipher the difference. It was a cellular memory of what translating experience into image and language feels like. But now, I am experiencing another deepening of that jolt in the work I am producing. There is a maturity of craft that has come through years of teaching others what I believe about poetry and expression. It helps that I teach people in so many circumstances with such a wide range of age and skill. I have to make it tangible for anyone.
But the poems are surprising me. That is a great thing. They are mirroring to me how much I have embraced the notion that we teach what we want to learn. I hear and see the influence of all the poets I have taught as examples echoed in the images that unfold before me as I strive for the best word and challenge every syllable to earn its right to be spared the slash of my revision pen. I see complexity without obscurity. I hear musicality that makes me wonder where it even came from. The poems are in control and I am a diligent listener as well as servant.
I am close to solving the income problem but I also have the pining to spend my days just reading and writing and pondering and doing all those things that make a poet's life. Instead, I am sneaking things in around the obligations, even this blog post, and somehow getting books written, the bills paid once again, and seeing family and friends more frequently. I even have a dog. I think the spring will bring more growth, stronger roots, and maybe cause for celebration.