Just signed on with Mass Poetry to facilitate a discussion group for the release of Common Threads for National Poetry Month in April. Featuring fabulous works that range from Shrewsbury’s own (and my former high school teacher) John Hodgen to Adrianne Rich, Derek Wolcott and Mary Oliver. Location TBD but definitely in the WOO. Stay tuned …
A writer is someone who writes.
I often say this as a gentle yet firm reminder to anyone who discredits their journalings, scraps of poetry, and pages of fiction and memoir as anything other than writing.
Publishing is a business. Writing is a dream, a habit, an art, a release, an expression, a healing, a teaching, and a journey. Writing and publishing are not the same thing and too often we unfairly judge one based on the criteria of the other. Sounds a lot like how we often judge ourselves and each other in general.
On Saturday, September 20, I have the pleasure of participating with three others in the Seven Bridge Writers’ Collaborative fall Writers’ Roundtable: Living the Writing Life. The session will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Dexter Room of the Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster, Mass. I’m looking forward to this event because I always learn something about myself when in the company of others, especially writers.
Call yourself a writer
The first step to living the “writing life” is to call yourself a writer. Not a secret writer. Not a doodler. Not a dabbler. Not a sorta, I-don’t-know, maybe kinda writer. If you are dreaming of lines of language, or writing the scenes of your youth, or feel an urgency to work through an emotion or a story by writing it out, you are a writer.
I struggled for many years to define and identify myself as a writer. I felt like the kid hovering along the edges of the playground while everyone else was in the kickball game because I didn’t think I had the right color shirt to join a team.
Too many of us do this to ourselves: we judge our worth based on outside criteria and overlook the value of the expression itself, the knowledge, wisdom, and joy that comes from the expression. No matter the level of our skills or education, we rely on communication – on words, language and expression of self – to understand who we are and how we relate to the world. We name everything. We describe everything. We try over and over to get those names and definitions right, or beautiful, or revelatory. We can’t know ourselves without communication, even when it’s communication with self.
When we do it in writing, we can make sense of reality – or multiple realities or fictions – in a way that no one else can. Healing past hurt can happen in our writing. Birthing the dream of a story and character can happen in our writing. Rich warm belly laughs can happen in our writing. Peaceful interludes can happen in our writing. We need to give credit to ourselves and value the profound nature of our efforts and our own expression. This is the approach I take with the Sirona Women’s Writing Retreats and poetry workshops. A writer is someone who expresses through writing: a writer is someone who writes.
Release your need
For me, I had set up criteria of needing a certain type of degree or accreditation after my name to be seen as legitimate. No one else set up the need for those criteria. I did. The criteria existed in a social construct but I was the one who bought into the need for it and fell prey to the judgment of standards. Because I attached those standards of expectation to my writing, to my expression, I felt bad unnecessarily and spent far too many hours trying to figure out what I needed to do to prove myself.
Working in first journalism and then higher education often reinforced my feelings of inadequacy. To be honest, it still sometimes does. There is always someone more profound, more accomplished, and with more professional letters after their name. Being a poet, this tends to be an ongoing battle of me against myself, comparing and contrasting my credentials against those I want to be like. Most publishing poets these days are created from the academic M.F.A. machines that now clutter the literary grad school landscape. As life would have it, a feasible path to an M.F.A. has yet to reveal itself to me.
Yet, I continue to write poetry. Through my writing I continue to work at making sense of my own life and the beauty and horrors of what it means to be alive. I continue to try to learn more and get better, because each little bit is like a little bit of enlightenment.
I approach writing like a practice like yoga or running. It’s a habit. Sometimes I avoid it. Sometimes I am consumed by it. Sometimes I just need to clear the clutter to make way for something else to show up. Sometimes that happens a lot. Often I begin in the mystery and find something intriguing happening along the way. I go back and work on things. I go back and work them out. I leave things undone. I wonder what might happen next. And, I am sometimes asked to give readings, to participate and lead workshops and to publish, when I am able to fit that particular effort into the rest of my busy life.
Make some music
Lately I’ve described myself as being similar to a self-taught musician. I learn by ear, and by the lessons of the art and expression of those who have come before and are still creating now. Perhaps most importantly, I also follow my own inner guidance. I may not finger the strings of the guitar as expertly as one classically taught, but we both feel good and accomplished making music out of life.
The Seven Bridge Writers’ Collaborative Writers Roundtable: Living the Writing Life, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30, p.m., Saturday, September 20, 2014 at the Thayer Memorial Library, Dexter Room, Lancaster, Mass. Free and open to the public!
Imagine today you go to your mailbox, and find there an invitation, just for you, to a healing writing retreat, where all your responsibilities have been taken care of. This day is just for you. No meal making. No children to drive around. No parent or partner to care for. Just you. Nestle up and have some tea. Put your slippers on. Share a smile with a new group of friends.
What are some of your secret hopes for writing and healing? What are your secret fears? And what in the world is writing and healing anyway? Or, perhaps you just don’t know what to write. You can write about that. Here, you have permission to just be and let the pen and words fly. You really can’t do this wrong.
Once again we have arrived at a haunting, a destination unexpected, or perhaps one we’ve done our best to avoid, yet still, we find ourselves here, face to face with a horrific, senseless death, and our need to contextualize, to root, to stammer for understanding.
In the wake of the slaying of his friend James Foley by Islamic militants ISIS in Iraq, poet Daniel Johnson has re-introduced his poem “In the Absence of Sparrows,” written about his friend, Jim, who was from New Hampshire.
Dan has also written a tribute to Jim and their experiences in Teach for America and their paths into the world thereafter.
If there is ever a question about poetry’s place in contemporary society it is answered here. Poetry and journalism are siblings in truth. They are intense and in the moment. In your face. Beg you to ask deeper questions and search for meaning, for understanding, and awaken your curiosity. Why do we need journalists? Why do we need poets? For the same reasons: we need truth, we need details, we need metaphor to explain things if we don’t understand, we need context, we need ethics unbetrothed to commodities, we need the intimacies of each other to humble our egos and to set us free.