My thoughts after reading that elitist college entry requirements were designed as a means of protecting the privileged are: What if we all just stop wanting what they have? What if celebrity status and zip code were one thing and character and work ethic and integrity were something to be prized far above a life of air-brushed insta-identities? What if we learned, again, to listen with discernment at content over packaging? What if how a person lived out his or her life were the measure of grace instead of where? What if trendiness were once again viewed with a certain skepticism, and ideas were required, once again, to stand the test of time? What if we woke up one morning and reserved judgement of all persons we came in contact with until we watched and listened? What if incongruities between words and actions were not so easily dismissed by self-promotion on social media and other types of spin. What if we looked at our own histories and used that light to illuminate how a champion is never born in the present tense, how “greatness” gets decided in the way of rivers–meandering, sometimes negative growth that steps forward and sometimes works against the current. Often unrecognized.
Privilege is its own vast continent. Those of us who even aspire to perfect eyebrows, envying those with ivy league associations, are already blessed beyond what we can obviously comprehend. I, for one, feel privileged to live in Kansas and to teach at a small college that is only on the radar of the few, relatively speaking. I get to invest my time and talents in hard-working, aspiring students from all over the world and from different backgrounds, many of whom are first-generation college students, as they quite daily pare down their priorities to the nitty gritty of higher education. There are no buy-outs and pay-offs here. But we do have one thing, and that is the ability to teach ourselves how to define success democratically and individually for ourselves. Like a song of ourselves. Like Whitman. It’s a privilege that those parents, who “traded-up” on behalf of their children, have forever excluded their children from. It’s a privilege to fail. It’s a privilege to lack some things. It’s a privilege to be loved and accepted unconditionally. It’s a privilege to learn in a heterogenous environment that includes and yet goes deeper than skin. It’s a privilege to have space for an invisible, inner life. I am not sure how to esteem any institution of higher learning that doesn’t protect all the privileges that money can’t buy over the counterfeits that it can.
One of the best moments in a teacher’s life is the one where you walk into the only half-filled classroom (yay…less grading!) and you meet yourself, that student who is avoiding her homework because of the overwhelming compulsion to write. That student for whom a brain is like a boxcar for every emotion she has experienced. Half-full of pre-memories and stalled on the tracks blocking a line of cars on Main Street. Fragmented like these last two sentences.
She is that student who is not only willing to enter the timeless zone, she has already, against all advice, set up permanent residency there. She knows an MFA is impractical, that she’ll probably teach, but for now the thrill of creating keeps her listening in the dead, winter air for those premises and prompts that illuminate somewhere behind the blackest part of her eyes, urging her, driving her to write, to create.
I don’t want her to ever lose that.
Starting up this blog about My Writing Life feels like reconnecting with an old friend, perhaps someone I once labeled as “best” in some way when I was a girl, someone with whom secrets were shared. Now there is a vacuous space between us. This opening sentence actually reminds me of someone–my only sister–and in all honestly revisiting my blog feels like a hospitable pursuit as compared to attempting to mend burned relationship bridges because even if I have not written here, in this particular space, I have written somewhere.
My Writing Life has morphed most days into My Teaching Life. While some inklings of drafts have abetted my belief that a second manuscript could be forthcoming, most of My Writing Life and that newness I seek as a writer has come to me in the form of new courses, new books, new plans, new faces, and new writing opportunities that, behind the scenes, I have helped to make happen for my students. Teaching is such a reward, yet it is exhausting in ways that don’t always keep the flame inside my mind constant and ready to pursue my own projects.
I am attempting to do something about that this semester. Mondays during my office hours will be reading days, and by reading I mean reading for my own pleasure/inspiration. My brain needs nutrition and Ann Fadiman again. This blog will become my place for regular writing again. I can’t tell you the thrill of anticipation: the unknown, the blank, the sprite uncontrolled, the exploration, the atmosphere. The open page.
“I Carry It With Me” a poem that is softly spoken and quietly reverent about a personal memory of mine has been named a finalist in the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize by Ruminate Magazine. I write with many tones and can project a variety of personas, but this voice is truest to my own. So…it feels especially validating that this poem has been noticed by others.
Here is something (or perhaps here are somethings) I have learned (rather I haven’t learned but that I keep learning anew over and over again: writers are weird. Writers in all of our weirdness-glory are simultaneously excruciatingly ordinary and singularly misfitted in that “All happy families…” Tolstoy-an kind of way. It’s a matter of perspective and understanding and it’s often a matter of choice for the writer and for the audience-spouse-friends-church-acquaintance-reader-reviewer-editor of the writer.
I was reminded of this recently. It’s not so much that I am clinically manic (I’m not) so much as it is I am constantly butting up against people who aren’t interested in the complications associated with peeling the layers of getting to know the artsy-creative-type. When you write, you specialize in the nurture of listening, really listening. Listening to subjects and eliminating objects of all kinds. Listening to self. To silence.
The act of writing an unshared poem is an act that 100 percent of the time will upset the internal equilibrium of the writer even if the writer is the only person who ever imagines/reads the work. The act of writing a poem and sharing a poem contains every emotional, psychological, creative, political component of revolution (albeit once-removed) whether the poem is political or seemingly refreshingly simple and pastoral. Poems are box-cutters. I wrote my first one at the age of six. I’ve been bouncing out of others’ boxes ever since. This has been my life. I think it is probably everyone’s life, even those unaware of it (which is the majority of people I believe).
Here is why publication of one of my poems matters so much to me. Not the positive affirmations, though pleasant enough. Not the fact that a publication means even four people are ever going to seriously read and consider my poem. Not the money…ahem. Publication validates me as I continue to bust through confining boxes. I can cut the tape, chew the cardboard and spit it out. I can dust off my dirty feet and move on. I can stop listening to what bores me. I can fiercely flee ideas and the speakers of those ideas when the ideas seek to silence my voice. Poetry as an end can’t seek to categorize, rate, demonize or prioritize any experience. Poetry can only re-enact, bring forth a separate and more distant beauty that compares in some intangible way with the emotion of the experience it seeks to render. A poem is word married to wordlessness.
The reader leafs through the pages and sometimes finds the love-child. The writer remembers vividly the conception. Listening, always listening, home is constructed with what might compare to this–the work, the sacrifice, the willingness to hold.
“I Carry It With Me” which was a pivotal poem in my MFA thesis manuscript has been accepted for publication in Ruminate Magazine (Fall 2017) after being named a finalist in the journal’s annual poetry contest.
I have yet to find that writing “sweet-spot” since taking on a teaching job. I find myself so immersed in learning how to become a better teacher of writers that my own Writing Life has been neglected; although, I do believe that every facet and experience works ultimately toward the same end. I just look at the map of my writing journey right now, and I can’t see how all the roads are supposed to fit together. June has been all about Netflix, tennis, physical fitness pursuits, and family time. I have reconnected with my grandsons. I am cooking in my beautiful kitchen again. Life is good. Words are not appearing on a page, which feels unusual for me, but perhaps this month has been a time for filling up. Rest. I plan to resurrect this blog and post some present-tense stuff. Here’s to July. More filling. Some planning for fall semester. Perhaps some writing.