Will you still need me, will you still feed me
when I’m sixty-four…
In 1967, the Beatles released When I’m Sixty-Four. I was about to be 14, my mother was pregnant and due in the late fall. I was the oldest of then four, I had just entered 9th grade at Levy Junior High School. Turmoil was rampant in the world but my personal world was wonderful. I had my radio full of music, some good girlfriends, I had become serious about this poetry thing, and the whole of my life lay before me like a dream. Someday I would fall in love and sing the McCartney/Lennon song to the man who would be by my side until I was old.
That was 50 years ago.
Three weeks after my birthday, my sister Erica was born. Three days later, my mother died. I blurred into 1968, when the outer turmoil clashed with my inner ache. The world was angry and I was adrift in a world I was not emotionally ready for; however, concerning the daily things, I was prepared. My mother had taught me a great deal and I was already comfortable in the kitchen, eager to create. The best lesson Betty Ann taught me was how to make a meal out of a perceived lack of food in the house. It has served me well ever since.
I have reflected on this time a great deal in the past 2 years, often sharing with friends that I feel like I have political PTSD. This is not glib. I am a duck-n-cover kid who cowered at night when I heard planes overhead. I ate dinner like the rest of the nation, with the newsreels from Viet Nam, the daily death counts for both sides. There were riots in American neighborhoods, returning troops who were no more responsible for the war than anyone else were shunned and shamed. There was clash and simmering hatred among all sectors of the nation. And there were people standing, marching, dying in opposition to a damaged system.
The brand of that time period has not lost its definition and here we are again. For me, I have been trying to set my life straight once again, still reeling from the impact that the economic crash had on my career path. But I remind myself daily that I am blessed that all my work is directly related to my identity and my purpose. Now to maximize my profit margin.
My riches are in the moments with those who choose me. The riches are in my work, the ways I strive to provide opportunity for others. And I am rich in language. In June, the fifth book on which I have placed my name was released. That is sort of remarkable to me, all of a sudden. The first book was life-changing. The second was an indicator that I really was a poet. The third was an intentional success and satisfaction in the craft I was developing. The fourth was collaborative and gave information and inspiration to others who engage with poetry and education. The fifth was an editing collaboration that honored an icon, Gwendolyn Brooks, and permitted me to honor the voices of many noted writers as they paid tribute. In reviewing my publishing history, to date these works have been finalists in several competitions, two for the Central New York Book Awards, one for the national NAACP Image Award, and a nod from the Chicago Review of Books. This was sobering to recognize in myself. I have accomplished this. And I have so much more to do.
There have been countless lessons and this past year is no different. I am not going to rehash any of it. But I am going to share that, in the lessons, I have come to a confidence in my own capacity and strengths that feels honest, well-founded, stable. I am ever a work in progress but I have looked deeply at my intentions. I have discovered what I had hoped; I operate from pure intention. I stumble at times but I am in earnest in my efforts in being a human being.
I also see that I have learned a great deal about the realm of poetry and language. I crave fuller and fuller immersion. I am 75 pages into the next collection of poetry and, having met another goal of a book project, I have only my creative work to concern myself with right now. I am tingly with what this next book is going to be, what it is already promising. And the book after that is already unfolding. And I am working on my personal memoir, a food memoir, a collaborative collection of essays with another poet I admire. I am stashing essays on the craft of writing for that eventual book.
There is so much I want to explore and share. Yet it all feels urgent, being in my mid-60s now. There used to be decades ahead of me to make up for error or missed opportunities. There is a deadline ahead that is not clearly defined but is insistent. I have work to do. But, as I tell my students when they proclaim, “Writing is hard work,”
Yes, it is work, but it is joyous work.
It is my work and I love it. Now I want to continue to develop a practice of editing and book coaching. I want portable work and work that supports others meeting their own dreams and objectives with their writing.
I want to see my work interpreted by others so I am embarking on bringing poems to the stage in the near future. I want to discover how the work imprints on others, how they hear it and see it.
I plan to learn more about what I am capable of discovering and achieving in the construction and manipulation of language, how it communicates with others and how it depicts my unique concept of this world.
I hope to travel and be more of a global citizen. I want to continue my work in community and I want to further strengthen my empathy and cultural dexterity in the hopes of being a part of the world in lighted ways. I want to project this as my truth always and I pray others are able to see me through that lens. Sometimes this is not the case and I have come to recognize that one person’s mis-view of me and my intention is not my responsibility. But I will continue to check myself always. I hope to always grow. Complacency is the path to an unsatisfying death.
To each who receives this, my annual birthday missive, I thank you for the ways you contribute to my life. To my publishers, thank you for investing in me. To those who choose to sit in classrooms where I facilitate, thank you for your open and willing hearts and the ways you are choosing to give to yourselves in writing. To my beloveds, you continue to choose me for your circle. It is an honor. I will always try to do my best in the moment.
This year, I will close by saying I’m okay. No need to worry. I feel that a shift to the more stable is in process. I am pleased with my work, my home, and especially my dear Enza, who came to live with me 4 years ago yesterday. She is the light I so needed and we make each other laugh. Who knew I would be a dog person?! But this being has taught me much and keeps me light. We have fun. And I know I am not alone when I close my eyes at night, hear her snoring from her bed on the floor at the end of my own.
Thank you all! My life has its value because of each of you and I have made it through another year on the strength of your trust and support. I hope to never fail you and your confidence in me. Keep thriving in your own lives and being inspiration to me. I am so blessed with abundance and love due to you all. Please let me know when you need me. Let me feed you. Let’s dance. Please remember always: you are cherished, admired, and adored.
Peace, power, & poetry…