The New Year

First, this post owes a big debt of gratitude to Kelli Russell Agodon. A few months ago, Kelli tweeted about “the old days” when poets blogged widely and regularly. I, too, missed that spirit of community, and in the tweets that followed from others, a movement took back its shape, and many, many poets committed to returning to blogging in 2018.

So, here I am. Here we are.

My first post in this blog was published on August 31, 2004. I was going into the last semester of my MFA program. I was thinking about poetry community and where I might find it. I was thinking about my writing, and I was thinking about LGBTQ voices in poetry. I was reading widely, voraciously, and I wanted to talk about those books. I was constantly inspired.

Through blogging, I found….everything.

Now, with six chapbooks, a full length collection, and a forthcoming second collection, my writing career is a lot different, but my writing life is the same. I still crave community, to talk with poets and share ideas and discuss books. But having rested in my efforts to challenge myself the last few years (for a variety of personal reasons both publicly known and publicly unknown), I started to fall short. Reading less. Seeking community less. Hiding in my house. Working on poems–sometimes.

There’s something about this format I don’t get on social media, and I miss that thing. I can’t wait to read people’s deep dives into the books they’ve just read and the creative questions they’re asking themselves. I hope this blog ends up inspiring people the way blogs have been such an important resource for me.

Here is my 2018 Literary To Do List. I’m trying to get back into the habit of setting good habits.

  • read 1 book per week
  • write 1 book review per month
  • write at least 1 blog post per week
  • submit to 2 publishers per month
  • attend 1 literary event per month

Maybe it’s too small. Maybe it’s too ambitious.

But here we go.

Autobiographia Literaria or, My Parents Are So Cool

I had a nice lunch with my father last week at a Polish deli near his house. Over pierogies and salad, we talked a little bit about writing, and it suddenly occurred to me that first exposure to poetry was through my dad’s tattered copy of Ogden Nash. We recapped one of our favorite:

“Men don’t make passes
At girls who wear glasses.”

On the (long) drive back to my house, I remembered all the things my parents did for me growing up that encouraged me to be an artist. I was a child in perpetual danger of falling into boredom, since I was the last child left at home, and often needed something other than He-Man or Transformers on which to put my attention.

When I was in grade school, I used to direct (and write, but not on paper) short plays with neighborhood kids, most of which included a monster of some sort and ended with a climactic chase scene that, unfortunately, had no resolution. People attended and, if I remembered correctly, even subsidized the production by playing a nickel for a seat.

One Christmas, my parents bought for me a half-sized Casio keyboard. I couldn’t play piano then, but they gave me a few remedial instruction books and from that point forward, I spent many hours. I never became “good,” but I always enjoyed it and they always encouraged me. I remember my oldest brother brought home a college girlfriend, and she sat down at the keyboard and just banged out the theme from Terms of Endearment without hesitation, a song I’d been struggling to master since I could only play the right-hand notes.

I asked for lessons. In eighth grade, when I lived on an island in Wisconsin for the year, my parents connected me with the local piano teacher. I blazed through three levels of instruction in that year, learned to read and play bass clef, and even gave a recital. I loved it! I still love piano even now, although I no longer have that old Casio, and someday, when I’m a grown up, I’ll own a real piano I can use to get better.

It was also during that time I started writing little stories. Mostly by hand, and mostly awful, as you can imagine. I wrote science fiction. I wasn’t ready for literary fiction yet. I also toyed with noir writing, too, although I never knew who committed the crime.

At my parents’ encouragement, I took up the trumpet in band. Again, while I never truly mastered it and was, for four years, relegated to second chair, I enjoyed it. I quit once I got to college and had braces put on, and then sold the trumpet for a measley $50 when I was broke in grad school. But I still remember all the fingerings. Still.

In high school, my parents were going to throw away my dad’s typewriter, having upgraded to a Mac computer, and asked me if I wanted it. It found a home in my bedroom, where I’d furiosly type out my stories and poems, which I’d recently begun to write. I loved that old typeweriter, the hum of it that shook the wall of my room, the punch and tap of the keys, the ugly Courier font. I wrote in rhyme and meter. It seemed right.

Not long after, my parents gave me a key to my dad’s office, located in the “downtown” area of my hometown (think Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls), and I was allowed to go there after-hours to write and print out my poems. I’d take these furious little poems to my high school English teacher, who would give me a yea or nay on them. I did this for several years, until I went to college.

In college, I pursued a degree in film studies, which my parents supported, even though it was sure to lead me to the soup kitchen and the unemployment line. Although they probably would have preferred I study something more practical, I’m afriad the bar was lowered after my older brother graduated with a degree in French literature. So, thanks for that, Dennis.

I never once thought about a life in the arts—nor of “being a poet”—because such things were never discussed or considered in my house. But I also never considered that the arts weren’t a worthy pursuit, even if it never led to anything gainful or anything more than personal enjoyment. Still, I have spent the past three years slowly teaching myself to play the acoustic guitar. I play the guitar more than I read or write poetry. But it doesn’t seem to matter and my neighbors haven’t complained yet, even after my 300th run through of “Tainted Love.”

Goal!

Over the weekend I cleaned out my storage closet here at home, expecting to toss a lot of junk out, but was pleased to discover the mess was due primarily to poor organization and not pack-ratishness. I did set aside some items to donate to Goodwill, though, so I’m hopefully cutting down on the number of things I’ll have to move…if I ever move…

Among my discoveries, though, was the yearbook I made for my RAs when I was a Hall Director at ASU from 2001-2002. It was my first year on the job here and I had a great year. Along with a picture page, everyone in the yearbook answered a series of questions, one of which was “Where will you be in five years?”

It might be no coincidence that nearly exactly five years have elapsed since I wrote down those goals, and honestly, I haven’t seen them since, but it was interesting how many of them have come to pass:

1. Finish my grad program (done)
2. Publish something (done and done)
3. Stop living in residence halls (DONE)
4. Be teaching poetry at a university (not done, but I found something I like better)

Interesting how time has a way of working things out…